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29% of grade 9-12 charter high schools in California have failed

November 25, 2009 is not an opponent of charter schools.  As we’ve dug deeper into charter schools, however, it is clear that charter schools are a blunt instrument, risky to setup and heavily dependent on parental support (both donated time and donated dollars).  As a result there needs to be a very strong motivating force behind a charter school – a charter school brought into a community needs to be a “must have” not a “nice-to-have” in order to overcome all of the challenges inherent in creating a new school.  This is true for an elementary school or middle school, but is especially true for a charter high school.  In a high school the stakes are higher – and the impact greater – if the school fails.  Failure of a charter high school impacts students on the home stretch to college.

This is not intended to be a fear tactic, but rather puts a spotlight on the significant concerns we have with the charter school initiative proposed by Dublin Learning Corp (DLC).  The lack of any experience on the DLC Board of opening or managing a high school (or a school of any kind) is a concern.  The lack of any parents on the DLC board with children currently in a Dublin school is a concern (one board member without children, one board member with children who graduated from Pleasanton schools, and one board member with a toddler more than a decade away from high school).  The reliance on Livermore Charter School administrators – who are just now opening a high school for the first time – is a concern.  And Livermore Charter School has seen it’s fair share of controversy including disputes regarding how the lottery system may have been abused by school administration and a financial crisis that nearly closed the school.

The stats on charter school high school failure rates are telling.  The data shown below was aggregated from the California Department of Education website which lists every charter school.  Looking at all charter schools, 25% of the 1,152 charter schools opened since charter school #1 opened in 1992 have either been closed or had their charter revoked.  That’s only part of the story – that includes charter schools of all types – elementary, middle and K-12 combined schools (and variations in between).

Looking at charter high schools covering grades 9-12, there are 112 Active and 45 Closed/Inactive/Revoked.  That means only 157 of the 1,152 charter school in California are charter high schools covering grades 9-12.  And of those 157 charter high schools, 29% have been closed for one one reason or another.  The numbers aren’t better for charter high schools just trying to get started – for example, there have been 19 charter high schools with just grades 9 and 10… 12 are still Active and 7 have Closed.

Charter high schools are highly dependent on parent donations and fund raising to offset the funding gap for charter schools from the state.  Here are some examples: Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz is asking each parent to donate at least $3,000 per student per school year; Community Harvest Charter in Sherman Oaks is asking families to donate at least $1,000 per student per school year and Downtown College Prep in San Jose states on their website that they need to fundraise annually $1 million to be able to offer a full program (which is 1/3 of their annual budget).

All of this reinforces that starting a new school – especially a new high school – is extremely hard.  A “nice-to-have” charter school driven primarily by location is a shaky foundation upon which to embark on such a risky venture.  In’s interactions with Dublin Learning Corp. the number one reason cited for creating a new charter high school has been location.  Ironically, an “east-side location” is likely years away and may never happen.  It is an aspirational goal of DLC – but cannot be guaranteed.  The driving time from Dublin Ranch to Dublin High is 10 minutes, and Wheels provides a bus route specifically for students from Dublin Ranch.

And what if this venture fails like too many other charter high schools?  There will be an impact on Dublin High School – the temporary loss of per student funding will almost certainly require cuts in programming at Dublin High – reducing choice – and creating chaos when students from the failed charter high school have to be re-integrated into Dublin High in a scramble.

Everything else DLC is promoting – college prep, strong academics, ability for parents to influence the school – is already offered by Dublin High School.  Dublin High School, because of scale, is able to offer a lot more – diverse choice in AP course, diplomas, athletics, performing arts and clubs.  Dublin High – if we unify as a community and focus our energy – can be even stronger.

Charter schools do not hold a monopoly on parent input and impact.  Dublin parents that get involved make a difference.  This isn’t theory or spin – I’ve gone to battle alongside many of you to make Dublin schools better – when the school board is against us, when the schools are reticent – when we have unified we have been heard.  We were heard when bond funds were nearly redirected away from the high school.  We were heard when we pushed for more advanced course offerings including 9th Grade Advanced English.  We were heard in our calls for more diploma options (including the recently announced Advanced Scholars Diploma).

If I wanted to be on the inside going with the status quo I would run for the school board – I’ve chosen instead to put pressure from the outside with the help of many people receiving this email – and I’m asking for your help now to make our schools stronger.

Send an email to for more information on how to help improve Dublin schools.

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