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A YEAR AT LOCKE

Green Dot connects

The charter is being used as an example for other groups that hope to operate new LAUSD schools.

July 25, 2009

When Green Dot Public Schools took over Locke High School a year ago, the thinking was that a well-run charter might prove an instructive model for improving Los Angeles' public schools. That might yet prove true. What few expected was that Green Dot would set a new example for other charter schools. But that's exactly what has happened, as evidenced by a recent proposal to allow charters and other organizations to compete for the right to operate 50 new L.A. schools over the next few years.

Public schools have long and justifiably complained that charter operators play by a different, more advantageous set of rules. Instead of drawing their students from within neighborhood attendance boundaries, they enroll students through voluntary registration. By the nature of this process, they generally attract motivated families from a broader geographical area that have the passion and wherewithal to seek out the schools. So it's no wonder charters often produce higher test scores.

At Locke, long an underperforming public school, Green Dot changed the equation by agreeing to accept all the students from within the attendance boundaries. That meant welcoming not just teenagers with their eye on a diploma and possibly college, but also gang-bangers, potential dropouts and students so impoverished or lacking in family support that just showing up at school each day was an achievement. It also meant accepting hundreds more students than Locke had capacity for, a reality regularly forced on public schools.

Though discipline and safety at Locke improved quickly, it will take a few years to see whether Green Dot's reforms result in more graduations and higher test scores.

Here's a more immediate benefit: Under a resolution sponsored by Yolie Flores Aguilar, vice president of the L.A. Unified school board, charter operators, along with unions and community groups, could submit proposals to run any of more than 50 new campuses that will open over the next three to four years. Laid out in the resolution, which the board is slated to consider next month, are stipulations that these operators would enroll students from within the regular attendance boundaries, mimicking Locke.

Several well-regarded charter groups are eager to submit applications under those rules. Charter school doors would open to students who otherwise wouldn't have a shot. By approving Flores Aguilar's resolution, the school board has a chance to do even more than provide innovative new choices for students; L.A. Unified could become the national model for a fairer, more open charter school system.

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