Watts Learning Center Charter School

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The challenge: How to successfully narrow the achievement gap in African American student populations

Since its opening in 1997, Watts Learning Center Charter School (Watts Learning Center) in Los Angeles has grown to be one of the most successful schools in Los Angeles. In 2008, the school, which was originally housed in a Baptist church, opened a brand-new 12,500 square foot facility with lots of natural light and spacious classrooms. Watts Learning Center has been referred to as a "beacon of hope" in the neighborhood. In 2009-10, the school served 352 students, 93% African American, and 91% eligible for the Free and Reduced Priced Lunch program.

The solution: With clearly defined roles and expectations, a school has created an environment of where students can get a world-class education

Founded on the basis of high expectations and the belief that all children can succeed regardless of their background or life challenges, Watts Learning Center is now part of a network of schools that also operates a middle school.

The Watts Learning Center will build on the success of Head Start and other pre-school programs by creating a culture of learning in which all stakeholders -- students, parents or guardians, faculty, and staff -- have clearly defined roles and expectations. The Watts Learning Center will be a world-class, child-centered elementary school with strong ties to families and the community. WLC will produce high academic achievers who are self-confident, ethical, and motivated to be lifelong learners.

Watts Learning Center Core Values:

  • Achievement, Respect
  • Commitment, Integrity
  • Community and Acceptance.

The results: African American students outperform their public school counterparts

Watts Learning Center has a track record of consistent high performance as well as growth over time. Since 2007, its API score for African American students increased by 39 points to reach 858. The school outperforms similar nearby public schools and consistently performs in the top decile statewide when compared to demographically similar schools. In 2009-10, Los Angeles Unified's African American students' API score was 725 - 133 points below Watts Learning Center's. The school also demonstrates success in accelerating the performance of its students. For example, in 2010 the school's fourth grade class increased its ELA proficiency by 29% and math proficiency by 31% when compared to their performance from the prior year. The school has received numerous accolades, including being named a California Distinguished School and the California Charter School of the Year in 2007.

These results are highlighted in CCSA's Chartering and Choice as an Achievement Gap-Closing Reform: The Success of California Charter Schools in Promoting African American Achievement, which shows that, overall, charter schools in California are effectively accelerating the performance of African American public school students, and are earning higher Academic Performance Index (API) scores and proficiency rates statewide, in many urban districts and across all subjects when compared with traditional public schools. In addition, African American students are enrolling at higher rates in charter schools than traditional schools at all grade levels, in some cases at close to twice the rate, and are experiencing better outcomes.

Watch a video that includes Watts Learning Center's work educating African American students.

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