California's Charter Schools are Putting African American Students on the Path to Success

July 25, 2017

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Zip code, skin color and income level still determine the kind of education children receive in California and across the nation, contributing to a persistent gap between African American and white student achievement.

Despite this problem plaguing public education, California's charter public schools are providing families of color with more choices for their child's education, allowing them the opportunity to choose the learning environment they feel is best for their child. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools open to all children and are transforming the lives of more than 48,000 African American students across the state by helping them unlock their full academic potential.

Charter public schools have an important role to play among the wide range of school options for parents, as we have seen a healthy increase in enrollment since 2008 of more than 15,000 African American students at California's charter schools. In fact, in key districts across California, more African American students are choosing to attend charter public schools than traditional district schools. For example, there are more than two times the number of African American students who attend charter schools in Sacramento City Unified School District (30 percent vs. 14 percent) and San Francisco Unified School District (21 percent vs. 7 percent) than those who attend traditional public schools.

Beyond enrollment, charter schools are a popular choice for African American families because kids can not only get a great education, but also build the skills and confidence needed to succeed in life beyond high school.

African American charter school students are reaching grade-level proficiency.

In 2016, a greater percentage of African American students attending California charter schools (30 percent) in seven out of eight major school districts were outperforming their traditional public-school counterparts (27 percent) in meeting or exceeding standards on standardized tests known as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). These strong academic results may be because across California, African American students gain 22 more days learning reading and seven more days learning math at charter schools than at traditional public schools.

African American charter school students are graduating at high rates across the state.

In the 2016-17 school year:

  • 95 percent of African American students attending Sacramento City Unified School District charter high schools graduated (versus 68 percent at traditional public schools);
  • 63 percent of African American students attending Los Angeles Unified School District charter high schools graduated (versus 50 percent at traditional public schools); and,
  • 62 percent of African American students attending Oakland Unified School District charter high schools graduated (versus 57 percent at traditional public schools).

Charter schools are creating a college going culture for African American students.

Overall, charter schools are doing a better job igniting a passion among African American students to attend a four-year college. California's charter school students more likely to complete all college prep courses required to attend a four-year university, known as A-G courses.

  • Statewide in 2015, 31 percent of African American high school graduates completed A-G requirements at charter schools, compared to 20 percent of students at traditional public schools.
  • In fact, when you look at school districts like San Jose and West Contra Costa, 100 percent of African American high school graduates completed A-G requirements at charter schools, compared to only 43 percent at San Jose traditional public schools and 31 percent at West Contra Costa traditional public schools.

Additionally, more African American students at charter schools applied for UCs in 2013 (35 percent) than those who attended traditional public schools (19 percent). The UC Acceptance rate for African American charter school students was nearly two times greater than students at traditional public schools (19 percent vs. 11 percent).

Every child, regardless of where they live or the color of their skin, deserves the opportunity to attend a great public school that meets their academic needs and places them on the path to success. We must do more to increase access to public schools that provide a safe, structured, and nurturing environment for all students so that they can focus on what matters most: their learning.