Why do charter schools score better than others?

Debbie Flores

Our local charter school, Gilroy Prep School (GPS), has had very strong test scores on the CAASPP in both English Language Arts and Mathematics. Gilroy Unified School District (GUSD) is pleased with their achievement. GUSD and GPS have a good working relationship and there has been collaboration and sharing of best practices for years.

For example, GUSD has integrated programs and concepts utilized at GPS, such as Thinking Maps, ST Math software, Whole Brain Teaching, reading intervention programs and instructional slides. Some GUSD elementary schools, including Rod Kelley, Las Animas, and Luigi Aprea, have also shown strong performance on the state tests and others are making steady gains.

In 2017, over 1,100 GUSD students scored at the highest “Standard Exceeded” level in ELA, with a similar number in mathematics. Another 1,600 students scored at the target “Standard Met” level in ELA, with approximately 1,300 in mathematics. While the overall percentages are not as high as our charter school, it is important to recognize that many students in Gilroy Unified are performing at a very high level.

Broadly speaking, there are some major differences between charter schools and public schools, including:

• The funding model for charter schools often results in more funds available for innovation, staffing, technology, longer school days, and more support for teachers.

• Charter schools often provide more professional development days for staff. For example, during this school year, GUSD has 3 professional development days and GPS has more than 10.

• Many charter schools employ a highly-skilled staff that provides ongoing professional development and coaching in the classroom. GPS has two academic coaches on its campus, while there is only one coach for all eight GUSD elementary schools.

• Charter schools have more flexibility in regards to staffing. GPS uses highly- skilled non-certificated staff in most classrooms. Public schools must abide by the California Education Code and contractual agreements and cannot use non-credentialed teachers to provide instruction.

• Extensive use of technology is often an important difference between charter schools and public schools. GUSD has recently made great strides adding technology so that our elementary schools have a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio of computers to students. However, GPS has a 1:1 ratio.

• Many charter schools, including GPS, have longer school days and thus can provide more instruction. GUSD cannot lengthen its school days due to lack of funding.

• Public schools, such as those in GUSD, serve a greater percentage of students with special needs, such as homeless students, newcomer English learners, migrant students, and students requiring special education services. Charter schools have a lower percentage of such students.

• It is difficult to compare schools that are self-selecting by nature, where only those who choose to attend do, with schools that serve every student in the community. Parental choice has been cited as a contributing factor for success in numerous studies about charter schools.

GUSD is committed to increasing achievement and performance for all Gilroy students, regardless of their school of attendance, their background, or their special needs. The District has taken many steps to increase achievement including the recent adoption and implementation of new, state-of-the-art, standards-aligned textbooks in math and English language arts.

GUSD is happy with the successes of our charter school, GPS. The District continues to work with GPS to share successful strategies. GUSD is committed to providing the best programs and services possible for our students. Our goal is for our students to achieve at the highest possible levels with many GUSD students achieving at the high levels of our charter schools’ students.

By Deborah Flores. Flores is the Superintendent of the Gilroy Unified School District.

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