Charter schools and children in poverty

The high test scores of the Oakland Charter Academy and American Indian Public Charter schools have surfaced again, this time in a brief released today by the California Charter Schools Association.

The charter schools advocacy group performed a simple analysis that compared the composite test scores — the API — of high-poverty public schools in California (those in which 70 percent or more of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch). Guess what it found?

Twelve of the 15 schools on that list are publicly funded (tuition-free), privately run charters. Six of the top 15 are located in Oakland, and all but one of those (Lincoln Elementary) are American Indian or Oakland Charter Academy charter schools.

You can find the list, along with the two-page report, here.

As you can see, this analysis only looked at the schools with the highest API scores, which isn’t necessarily indicative of how rest of the state’s charter schools and traditional public schools perform. And, obviously, the charter schools association isn’t an impartial research organization. Still, I wanted to hear your responses to the report.

photo of Oakland Charter Academy classroom by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • John Garrett

    This report primarily relates to API scores for charter schools. In the previous post on this topic, it was suggested that charter schools have the ability and motive to conduct API tests unethically.

    So I suppose one’s reaction to the report depends on one’s position on the ethics question.

    I perceive the anomalous academic performance of these schools in comparison to similar institutions, but in the absence of greater evidence of ethical lapses – which is an extremely serious accusation, by the way – I will continue to give the schools the benefit of the doubt.

  • Katy Murphy

    Just to clarify: It was not my suggestion in this post or in the previous one that “charter schools have the ability and motive to conduct API tests unethically.”

  • John Garrett

    Katy said: “It was not my suggestion in this post or in the previous one that “charter schools have the ability and motive to conduct API tests unethically.”

    Yes. Thanks for clarifying, Katy. You didn’t make that suggestion or observation, several of those who posted comments did.

  • Sue

    I’m not sure what to think. One thing that jumped out at me was the 70% cutoff they chose for the study. Younger son is in middle school now, but in his 4th and 5th grade years his public elementary school received Title I Academic Excellence awards, and the cutoff for Title I schools is 60% low income students.

    I wonder if that 10% difference – 70% in the study instead of 60% – was chosen because it somehow changes the results. What if including all Title I public schools would have dropped most of the charter schools off the list of “most successful”?

  • Jose, Former Student


    Even “if” you used 50% as the cut off, do you think it would change the list of the top 10 schools?

  • Sue

    I don’t know Jose. It possible that it wouldn’t change anything in the study’s results.

    I was wondering why the 70% cutoff was selected, because I understand statistics well enough to know that it’s quite possible to manipulate results by the criteria used. And I was also wondering because my children’s former elementary school is likely – pretty much a guarantee – to pass 800 on next spring’s tests, and it’s a Title I school, but it’s not included in the study because it didn’t have 70% low income students.

    Someone else would have to spend the time (and money) to do another study with a different low-income cutoff – or maybe use a range of different cutoffs. That’s the only way to get a definite answer to our questions, Jose.

  • Jose, Former Student


    Could you ask your children’s principal about the 70% cut off for title I schools?

    How can you say your children’s former elementary school,”pretty much guarantee-to pass 800 on next spring’s tests?”


  • Sue

    It’s at 79x-something (I think it’s 796, but not sure) now, and rose 15 points from a year ago. It’s consistently raised aggregate scores for the six years that my children went there, always made more gains than Adequate Yearly Progress required. It would be and extrordinary change for the school to not make another 7-10 point gain this coming spring.

    The cutoff for Title I schools isn’t 70%, it’s 60%. That’s State Education law. And I know that the school is/was a Title I school because they have two huge state-provided banners hanging in their lunchroom/multipurpose room for the two years of Title I Academic Excellence awards they’ve received.

    So, we’re back to the question neither of us can answer – why did the California Charter Schools Association choose 70% low-income as the cutoff in their study?

  • Jose, Former Student


    Where did you get the 60% number from as a cut off for Title I?

  • district employee

    Title I funds are available to schools with 40% or more students eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Or, conversely, 60% non-eligible students is the “cut-off” for a site to receive Title I funds.

  • another hills parent

    Actually it is 30% or more students eligible for free or reduce lunches.

  • Sue

    Here’s a link to a Federal guideline for Title I:


    It’s much more complicated than I remembered. First there’s a 75% rule – all schools with 75% or more low-income students must receive funds.

    There’s also a 35% rule, and an average percent of poverty – basically, the Local Education Area (LEA) can either A) use a 35% low-income cutoff and use Title I funds at all the schools that have 35% or more low-income students; or B) use the average of low income over the entire area, (say it’s 50% just to make the example easy) and use Title I funds at all the schools that have low income students at that percentage or higher (so schools with 50% or more low income students would get Title I funding in my example).

    I think the number was 60% when Carl B Munck Elementary – the school my sons attended – received its last Acedemic Excellence Award from the state, and the school had about 60% of low income students. This year, Munck is at 53% or 54% low income, so I don’t know if it is still eligible for Title I funding – depends on whether the district is using the 35% rule, or the district’s average percentage, and what that average is. I’m not sure what the current percentage of Oakland residents at or below the poverty level is – anybody else know?

  • Jose, Former Student


    Thanks for the information.

  • Tracy

    Hey Guys-
    I think that when a school has a 98% free lunch/breakfast—its a big deal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Also-they are giving the kids pizza for breakfast?

  • Tracy

    The kids should get healthier breakfast choices

  • Tracy

    The kids should also get to have real salad-not bowls of pickles, jalapenos, or fruit salad.

    I started this salad bar implementation at Edna Brewer Middle School 5 years ago. It was started with kids getting the right foods for their bodies. The kids worked the salad bar and it was great. The leadership class and myself managed it so the entire 578 student population could have healthier lunches.
    Now-it is just want I regret-pickles, jalapenos, fruit salad. Not a fresh salad.
    So I have to go back and fight-although “salad bars have been implemented>” It’s not true.

  • Susan


    What the heck are you talking about? Pizza, pickles? We need to ask why these schools are so succesful- are the charters in Oakland on the up and up? I doubt it.