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New Test Scores Show Trouble For Jerry Brown’s Charter Schools

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday August 22, 2006

Student test scores at Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown’s Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) charter school dropped significantly in two key areas from last year to this, according to a report on the California Standards Test (CST) recently released by the California Department of Education. 

Meanwhile, students at the mayor’s Oakland Military Institute College Preparatory Academy (OMI) continued to test at the lower end of the scale.  

The drop in test scores at OSA and the continued low test scores at OMI put both of Mayor Brown’s charter schools at risk for being placed on the No Child Left Behind “school watch list” when the NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report comes out later this month. 

Both OSA and OMI failed to meet its AYP goals mandated by the federal law last year. A school receiving Title I money begins facing escalating consequences if it fails to meet AYP goals for two consecutive years. 

OMI operates at the old Oakland Army Base through a charter issued by the Oakland Unified School District, while OSA operates in temporary quarters near its proposed new headquarters—the Fox Oakland Building—under a charter issued by the State Board of Education. The arts school charter was turned down by both the OUSD board and the Alameda County Board of Education in 2003. 

A year ago, Mayor Brown was highlighting the academic achievement at his Oakland School for the Arts in his now defunct weblog, writing, “The Oakland School for the Arts (OSA), a public charter school I founded in 2002, scored a 9 out of 10 possible points on the Academic Performance Index (API).” 

When compared to other schools with similar demographics across the state, OSA scored a “similar schools” rank of 10. The nearest score attained by any other Oakland high school was a 4.” 

Brown also quoted a spring, 2005 Oakland Tribune article that “the arts high school opened by Mayor Jerry Brown in downtown Oakland 2.5 years ago is now officially one of the best schools in California, at least according to the latest rankings assigned to all public schools by the state.” 

In the same blog entry, Brown wrote that the Oakland Military Institute “uses ceremony, military courtesy and discipline to create a focused academic environment.” 

Two months later, another Brown blog entry said that “the mission of OMI is to provide a disciplined and inspiring framework so that students master college prep courses. The school aims to foster good character and leadership. Success is measured by how many students qualify for four-year colleges.” 

But the latest test scores provide a less enthusiastic picture of the mayor’s two charter schools in the past year. 

OSA student scores dropped 17 percentage points in ninth-grade English Language Arts (from 73 percent to 56 percent at or above proficient) and 8 percentage points in ninth-grade Geometry (from 42 percent to 34 percent at or above proficient) in the CST between 2005 and 2006.  

At the same time, OSA 11th-grade students made significant gains in English Language Arts testing between 2005 and 2006 (from 46 percent to 57 percent at or above proficient) and held virtually even in 10th-grade English Language Arts testing from last year to this. 

Overall, OSA students tested weaker than the statewide average in math and science stronger in English Language Arts this year. In 9th grade Geometry, OSA students tested 11 percentage points below the statewide average with OSA students at 34 percent at or above proficient to 45 percent statewide. OSA students tested below the statewide average in 10th grade Algebra and Geometry and 11th grade Chemistry as well. OSA students tested 24 and 21 percentage points above the statewide average in 10th and 11th grade English Language Arts, though the OSA testing advantage in the same subject dropped to 8 percentage points in among 9th grade students.  

Only in 10th grade Science did OSA students hold even with the statewide average in non-English courses, testing at 38 percent proficient or above to 35 percent statewide. 

The drop in OSA testing is reflected in a growing dissatisfaction with the staff and administration at the school posted by parents at the website. Great Schools is an independent national rating and evaluation website for K-12 schools. Parents are allowed to post anonymous evaluations. 

In March of this year, one parent wrote that “teacher and student turnover is extremely high. Our experience has been that the director and the board only want to showcase the ‘best of breed’ in order to raise funds for the school without regard to the artistic development of all the students.” 

In May, one parent wrote, “There is a lack of communication between parents and staff,” with another adding “Oakland School for the Arts may ‘seem’ like a good school, but it really isn’t. The administration does not like to keep the lines of communication open between themselves, the parents, and the staff. Forty nine teachers have left the school so far between one year.” 

In July, another parent wrote that while their son “loves the school … he has been disappointed in some of the staff being let go. … I wanted to take my child out because I am unhappy with the way the school operates but my son does not want to leave. … He is a visual art student and is willing to put up with all the problems in order to accomplish his goal.” 

Meanwhile, test scores at Mayor Brown’s Oakland Military Institute remained low, with sixth-grade students testing 14 points below the statewide average in English Language Arts and 11 points below in math, seventh-grade students testing 30 percentage points below the statewide average in English Language Arts and 20 percentage points below in math, eight-grade students testing 17 points below the average in General Mathematics, 10 points below the average in English Language Arts, 18 points below the average in Algebra, and 21 points below the average in Geometry, ninth-grade students testing 6 percentage points below the statewide average in General Mathematics, 8 points below the average in English Language Arts, and 38 points below the average in Geometry, and 10th-grade students testing 9 points below the statewide average in Algebra, 15 points below the average in Science, and 23 points below the average in Chemistry. 

OMI students tested better than the average in one area, with eighth-grade students beating the state average by 14 percentage points in Science. 10th-grade OMI students tested at exactly the statewide average in English Language Arts.