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CHARTERS DO MORE WITH LESS, STUDY FINDS.

Byline: Helen Gao Staff Writer

Although they often have to rent classroom buildings and have fewer resources and less funding, California's charter schools perform as well as - or even better - than conventional schools, according to a study released Monday.

Considered the most comprehensive report on the topic to date, the government-commissioned study by the Rand Corp. largely confirmed the findings of earlier studies pointing to charter schools as a viable public education alternative.

The study showed that startup charter schools outperform conventional counterparts in elementary school reading, secondary reading and math.

``The bottom line - that charter schools produce student learning gains comparable to those of conventional public schools, despite resource limitations - provides reason for cautious optimism about charter schools,'' Brian Gill, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

For that reason, the study concludes, charter schools ``may prove to be cost-effective.''

However, study co-author Ron Zimmer cautioned against characterizing the charter movement as a cure-all for public education.

``I don't think our study should prevent charter schools from continuing in California, but it doesn't necessarily endorse them as a silver bullet either,'' he said in a phone interview, noting charter schools do not all do well across the board.

Charter schools have local control of their finances and curriculum and as a result, they are able to experiment with innovative programs.

Authorized by a 1992 state law, charter schools now enroll more than 150,000 California students in more than 430 campuses - including 33,000 students in 58 charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Gary Larson, spokesman for the California Network of Educational Charters, said the Rand study gives the thriving movement another boost.

``The evidence confirms that we are really on a promising path to genuine education reform,'' he said. ``Many charter schools are outperforming noncharter public schools because they are better able to give teachers the flexibility to design programs to cater to a specific student population.''

According to the California Network, startup charters have to spend as much as $1,000 per student per year to lease and build facilities, equivalent to 15 to 20 percent of their per-student allotment.

Jacqueline Elliot, founder of Community Charter Middle School in San Fernando, said her staff makes up for the lack of resources through good management and dedication to raise student achievement.

``The lack of middle management and the lack of bureaucracy within the charter has yielded a greater benefit than the challenge of finding our own facilities with our own public funds,'' said Elliot, who converted a dirt lot with two houses on it into a campus.

``There is no waste on this public campus. The money goes directly to the students and teachers,'' she said.

Community charter scored a perfect 10 two years in a row on the state Academic Performance Index when stacked against schools with similar demographics.

Joe Lucente, head of Fenton Avenue Elementary School in Lake View Terrace, a conventional campus that converted into a charter, attributed Fenton's success to a fundamental shift in how the school is operated.

``The bottom line is charters are a structural change to the way education is delivered,'' he said. ``It's taking the decision-making process and control of the finances away from the district and into the school community.''

Helen Gao, (818) 713-3741

helen.gao(at)dailynews.com

SURVEY SAYS

Here are some key findings of the Rand Corp. study on charter schools in California:

--Contrary to concerns that charter schools draw white, affluent students away from public schools, the study found that their enrollment is ``more likely to be black and less likely to be Hispanic or Asian, but no more likely to be white.''

--While charter schools tend to be staffed by less-experienced teachers, their faculty members are more likely to participate in training and mentoring programs.

--Conventional schools that convert into charter schools achieve at about the same level as conventional campuses, while startup charters tend to achieve slightly higher.

--Elementary charter schools tend to offer more enrichment programs, such as fine arts and foreign languages, than conventional schools.

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

Community Charter Middle School students Susan Lupercio, 13, left, and Marisol Figueroa, 12, cut a rug at a dance party Monday on the last day of school.

Charlotte Schmid-Maybach/Staff Photographer

Box:

SURVEY SAYS (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Words:719
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