Oakland Charter Academy
The challenge: How to send inner-city Oakland kids to college
Located in the Fruitvale district of East Oakland, the area surrounding Oakland Charter Academy (OCA) is best known for gangs, violence and prostitution. OCA's student population is comprised mainly of Latino (94%), first generation, low-income students where 91% quality for the federal Free and Reduced price lunch program. For many students in this area, college was not something they believed was part of their future.
In 2004, Oakland Charter Academy started the year with a new goal in mind: to educate low-income, minority students to compete at a high level and to apply, attend and succeed in college. To meet this goal, OCA's hard working administration and a carefully chosen staff work tirelessly to ensure that students are challenged and working hard.
The solution: Set high expectations and challenge students
Students and teachers are held accountable to a strict attendance policy. As a result the student and teacher attendance rate is between 98% and 99%.
All OCA students participate in a three week mandatory summer school program. Students who are below grade level in a subject must participate in mandatory after-school tutoring. OCA's highest achieving students participate in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth which allows them to take college courses during the summer. Approximately 37% of OCA's students volunteer for after school tutoring to prepare them for the examination to get them into the program.
Upon acceptance into Oakland Charter Academy, parents and students are immediately oriented to the school-wide culture of high expectations. Students must adhere to a uniform policy and strict behavioral and academic expectations.
The school day starts promptly at 8:25 a.m., and parents are required to bring their children to school on time. Annual goals for academic progress are posted throughout the school. An independent review of Oakland Charter Academy performed by Cambridge Associates found that parents and students clearly understand what is expected of them.
Teachers and the administration are also held to high levels of accountability. Teacher lesson plans are reviewed weekly; administrators frequently visit the classroom and provide feedback to teachers. The school's administration regularly refines and improves the school's academic program. Teachers and administrators are disciplined about using data to drive instructional decisions. The school uses quizzes, essays, projects and formal examinations to assess student progress. Teachers and administrators analyze the results of these assessments to develop individualized student learning plans with defined goals.
Oakland Charter Academy teachers and administration challenge students to reach their highest potential. OCA augmented the time allotted for math and English/Language Arts so students spend more time on task in key areas. Each OCA student spends twice the amount of time on math and English - 90 minutes in math and English daily compared to 45 minutes of math and English instruction mandated by the state. In addition, students receive at least 2-3 hours of homework nightly.
Students remain with the same teacher throughout the entire school day (with the exception of PE) and throughout their tenure at the school. This system of looping allows students and teachers to have a dynamic and robust relationship that helps to inform teachers of the best way to accelerate progress for his/her students.
OCA students are challenged outside of the classroom through innovative extracurricular activities. A group of students in each grade level participate in the Youth Orchestra Program where they read, notate, listen to, analyze and describe music. OCA's rugby program offers students a unique opportunity for academically and athletically achieving students to compete for selective college scholarships.
The results: The Academy outscores neighborhood schools
The Oakland Charter Academy story demonstrates how a public school can successfully close the achievement gap through a culture of hard work and high expectations. Oakland Charter Academy achieved success by implementing the following strategies:
- Promoting and rewarding hard work.
- Creating a culture of high expectations. Ensuring students, teachers and parents clearly understand what the school expects of them.
- Challenging students to achieve and raise the bar to empower students to reach their full potential.
From 2004-2007, OCA's API score increased by an unprecedented 247 points, bringing the school's API to 897 ('06-'07). In 2008, OCA reached its' highest API, just reaching over the 900 mark, at 902. Oakland Charter Academy stands as the highest performing school in the area - scoring over 250 points higher on the API than neighboring schools.
In 2008, Oakland Charter Academy received the Title I Academic Achievement Award and the National Blue Ribbon School Award.
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