As California schools fall even further, charter school shows how to succeed: News: The Independent Institute

Only about one in four California students masters math. Or in English. Or in science. California’s K-12 school system has been in shambles for decades, and it’s getting worse, despite a school budget that now averages nearly $500,000 a year per classroom. It is a large-scale failure, and what makes it even more serious is that our children are paying the price.

It could be reversed quickly, and it wouldn’t require more expense or new educational philosophies. All we have to do is follow the K-12 success stories that are quietly moving the buck: schools that spend less, have less bureaucracy, and whose vision is centered on their students. Kairos Charter School in Vacaville, California can teach so much to the rest of California schools. Kairos has generated so much excitement in their small community that their school of 650 students, which only admitted its first students in 2015, has an admissions waiting list that recently reached 1,000 students.

It’s obvious that parents are flocking to Kairos School. Compared to students in traditional schools in the district, Kairos students have very high performance. Since Kairos began in the 2014-2015 school year, student English proficiency has averaged 64% in Kairos, compared to 48% for traditional schools in the Vacaville School District and 48% for all schools Californians. This performance advantage exists across all demographic groups: among poor households, 52% of students are proficient in Kairos, compared to 35% for the district and 36% for California; among Hispanic households, proficiency is 54% for children in Kairos compared to 38% for the district.

There are similar performance differences in math: on average since the 2014-2015 school year, 52% of Kairos students demonstrated their skills, compared to 36% of students at the two traditional district schools and all schools in California. ; among poor households, 37% are competent in Kairos, compared to 23% in the district and in all schools in California; among Hispanic children, proficiency is 42% for Kairos versus 26% for the district.

These performance differences are huge. To put them in perspective, if California schools could largely deliver Kairos-level learning outcomes, the ranking of California schools in the United States would go from well below average to one of the best performing public school systems. from the country.

Kairos also runs an out-of-class homeschooling program to help families homeschool their children. During the pandemic, the school’s experience with this program has helped Kairos manage instruction during mandatory school closures much more effectively than many other schools. Kairos has also opted to reopen its school much earlier during the pandemic than traditional schools, offering its students an additional seven months of in-person learning in the 2020-2021 school year.

Kairos’ mission statement describes how it puts students first: “Kairos Public Schools is committed to empowering generations of learners to think critically, analyze and apply the knowledge of strategically and use relevant tools to interact thoughtfully within a global community.”

I had the opportunity to speak with Jared Austin, the school’s co-founder and executive director. He explained how the school has economized on the number of employees, which not only increases the funding available for education, but also creates a management team of a manageable size. The 650-student main campus and homeschool enrichment program operate together with an administrative staff of just six. Austin is not only the executive director (superintendent) of the school, but also the school’s principal, facilities manager, and technology manager.

Kairos is efficiently managed. Kairos is building a new campus on a 27-acre site, land that was recently acquired with funds the school had saved. The first phase of construction – a 12,000 square foot learning center that will provide enrichment lessons in areas such as math, science and robotics for homeschooled children – will be completed early this year. ‘next year.

I asked Austin how they could possibly design the project, receive permits, and finish building a project of this size in less than a year. For California, it’s the construction equivalent of traveling through space at the speed of light. “We have a great relationship within the community, including the fact that our students complete 5,000 hours of community service each year. The community really came together to help us get this done as quickly as possible. A 45,000 square foot campus to meet the waiting list will follow.

Academic success requires passionate and dedicated teachers. Austin described how teachers are included in key decision-making within the school, including the decision to reopen the campus long before other California schools reopen. Interestingly, the Kairos faculty chose not to unionize.

Kairos Charter School’s recipe for success can be replicated. But a recent California law has made it difficult to create new charter schools. California Assembly Bill 1505, passed in 2019 despite strong opposition from the Senate Republican caucus, changed the approval process for new charter schools. Under AB 1505, an application for a new charter school may be denied if chartering would have a negative tax impact in the district. Traditional schools do not want to face the competition created by a charter school because students who enroll in a charter school take with them much of the associated per-pupil funding.

Under the new law, an application to a charter school could be denied if it significantly compromises existing services or the academic or programmatic offerings provided by existing schools. A new charter school could also be denied if the existing school was performing so poorly that it was in state receivership or if the introduction of the charter school would take enough resources away from the existing school that she cannot meet her financial obligations.

Yes, the new law is written to keep students trapped in underperforming schools. The truly horrifying aspect of this new law is that the worst performing schools tend to be in low-income neighborhoods, where parents cannot afford private schools or other educational alternatives. If this law applied to any other good or service provided today, it would represent a flagrant violation of our antitrust laws. Somehow, we continue to tolerate a horribly successful monopoly, which is seriously harming our children and our future.

The Kairos Charter School shows that we don’t have to put up with California’s failing school system. The California school system could improve quickly and significantly if our political leaders were willing to allow competition in our educational sphere. This would encourage traditional schools to adopt best practices. But the California school system is not focused on educating our children. If so, the performance of our schools would have been reversed decades ago. Instead, the system focuses on distributing a multi-billion dollar budget to satisfy a wide range of vested interests. And if you doubt that, just ask your local elected official where they send their own children to school.

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