Since opening its first charter school in Chino four years ago and another in Mission Viejo two years later, the good ship Oxford Prep Academy has sailed into troubled waters, foundering in its attempts to establish ports in Oceanside, Carlsbad and Pomona. The school is appealing Carlsbad's charter denial to the San Diego County Board of Education. The Board will vote Wednesday night, after receiving a staff recommendation to deny the appeal.

The day after Carlsbad rejected OPA's charter on December 5, the school's spokesperson declared the district had done so because school officials claimed the charter school presented an "unsound educational program." She pointed to the school's impressive state test scores to suggest the shortsightedness of the decision.

But had she quoted the entire finding, rather than cherry picking those three words, she'd have revealed the many reasons the educational program presented was indeed unsound. It complied with only half of the elements in the Education Code required of charter schools. It overstated enrollment projections, claiming it would serve from 800 to 1,000 students when only 38 of the 500 surveyed expressed a "meaningful interest in enrolling. The board found the petition's policies will have a disparate impact on minority students, lower income students, students with disabilities and English learner students.

Sound familiar? Check out a sample of the reasons Oceanside turned down the charter school in 2011: overstated enrollment projections, unreasonable spending estimates and the likelihood of promoting a disparate impact on minorities and poor families.
The Pomona School District rejected OPA's petition for a charter on January 23. The reasons cited, in addition to failing to meet 11 of the elements required in the Education Code, included concerns about how the educational needs of English language learners and economically disadvantaged students would be addressed.

Here are five specific reasons the San Diego County Board of Education is likely to deny the school's petition for a charter. They can be found in the findings of the SDCOE staff's report to the board.

  1. "Report cards are aligned to outdated state standards for English Language Arts (ELA) and Math and do not report progress related to language development for English Language Learners."

  2. "The petition does not provide a clear description of the specific strategies that will be used to support students who are not achieving at or above expected levels."

  3. "The petition does not clearly describe a plan for how the school will meet the needs of English Language Learners by helping them gain English proficiency and also make progress in all academic subjects."

  4. "The petition does not indicate how the Charter School will identify and meet the needs of Students with Disabilities or how the special education plan aligns with the core educational program."

  5. "The petition fails to adequately describe the methods that will be used to achieve racial and ethnic balances at the Charter School."

Meanwhile, up in Mission Viejo, there may be a hint of buyer's remorse. When the Capistrano School District granted OPA a charter two years ago, the school submitted documentation in the form of Intent to Enroll forms from 679 students "meaningfully interested." After staff reviewed the proposal, the school accepted a projection of 501 average-daily-attendance in-district students for 2011-12.

How did that work out? The school's 2012 enrollment at STAR testing time, according to the California Department of Education, stood at 382. It's hard to understand why OPA asked the Capistrano school board to raise the school's projected enrollment in 2012-13 from 628 to 772. Not surprisingly, school board staff recommended the request for revising the charter enrollment agreement be denied.

Oxford Preparatory Academy rightfully points to its student test scores as a measure of its success. It ranks in the top ten percent of all schools and schools with similar student characteristics. But the legislative intent of the California Charter Schools Act of 1992 stipulates charter schools should increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.

Test scores show the low-achieving groups are economically disadvantaged students, students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners. The three campuses of OPA have enrollments of these groups that are proportionally about half of those enrolled in the districts' other public schools.

With OPA's inability to give evidence they can fulfill the promise of the charter schools act, it's no wonder their expansion has encountered rough seas.

Richard J. Riehl writes from LaCosta. Contact him at [email protected]


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