Something puzzling emerged from a research project looking at the number of charter school graduates who go on to earn four-year college degrees.
Of the nine charter networks I was profiling, three were California based — and all three ended up on the bottom of the college success list. Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and Aspire Public Schools scored no better than 25 percent of their graduates earning four-year degrees within six years of leaving high school, and the rate at Green Dot Public Schools, while a bit iffy due to rough data, is probably lower.
Now compare that to New York-based Uncommon Schools or the KIPP New York region, where roughly half their graduates earn four-year degrees in that time period.
What’s up with that?
For me, this was surprising. Only a year ago my book, “The Founders,” came out, documenting the origins of the nation’s high performing charter networks. The state that turned out to be the star? California.
The origins of today’s high-performing charter school networks can be traced to California. That’s where a state law signed in 1998 opened the spigot for charters and allowed one board to oversee multiple charters. That led to Aspire Public Schools, the nation’s first charter management organization — a model copied nationally that now produces nearly all the best charters.
California is also home to the New Schools Venture Fund, which applied Silicon Valley startup investment strategies to charter school startups, an innovation that allowed the nation’s highest performing charter networks to expand quickly.
How could California not be a leader in boosting college success for charter alumni?
Higher poverty rates? More students with limited English proficiency?
But serving those students is also true of YES Prep in Houston and the Uncommon schools in Newark — networks with far higher college success rates.
Perhaps it’s a matter of state school spending; California charter schools receive only about half of what the Uncommon schools can spend.
But then how do you explain that IDEA Public Schools, which got its start in the high poverty Rio Grande Valley, gets roughly the same funding as their California equivalents and yet their college success rate is 35 percent?
There is one common trait shared by the three California networks: they all got late starts in setting up tracking systems to follow their alumni through college.
Back in the 2008-09 school year, KIPP changed the name of its KIPP To…