A list of 10 schools the California Charter Schools Association would like to see closed including four in the Sacramento area has caused an uproar within the charter school movement.
CCSA officials say closing low-performing schools demonstrates that charters are willing to be held accountable. The schools on the list do not meet the minimum criteria the organization has established for academic achievement, said Jed Wallace, president of CCSA.
"We thought it necessary for the well-being of the students attending the schools, as well as for the charter school movement," Wallace said of the recommendation.
But other charter school proponents say the association's criteria are flawed and that it is overstepping its authority.
"We already have laws on how this is supposed to work in California," said Eric Premack, president of the Charter School Development Center. "For a third-party group like CCSA to try to rewrite the law and impose their own standards is illegal or extra legal."
The issue has caught the attention of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who applauded the list and the leadership of CCSA. "This is an important conversation for California to have, and one that we need to have across the country," he said in a prepared statement.
The association is asking the schools' authorizers usually school districts or county offices of education not to renew their charters.
The local schools on the list include the California Aerospace Academy in McClellan, Antelope View Charter in Antelope, West Sacramento Early College Prep Charter in West Sacramento and Yuba County Career Preparatory Charter in Marysville.
But do these schools deserve to be closed?
All four of the local schools rank near the bottom in performance on standardized tests compared to schools with similar demographics, according to a Bee review of state data.
At the California Aerospace Academy last year, fewer than 10 of the 137 students scored proficient or better on any STAR math test last year from basic seventh-grade general math to 11th-grade geometry.
None of the 62 eighth- and ninth-graders who took algebra I at West Sacramento Early College Prep Charter scored at the proficient or advanced levels.
Only two of 31 10th-graders who took the STAR world history exam at Antelope View Charter scored at the proficient level. And no seventh-graders at Yuba County Career Prep passed any STAR test English or math.
But there are some bright spots. Antelope View Charter's eighth graders posted respectable English and life science test scores, eclipsing or nearing the statewide average for proficiency. The 11th-graders at the California Aerospace school did well on their U.S. history test, also collectively beating the statewide average.
The West Sacramento Early College Prep Charter School's website boasts an 83-point API gain last year and says the school has met all the criteria in the California Education Code to be reauthorized.
"We can assure you that CCSA has no legal authority to close down a charter school, and their organization is overstepping its boundaries by showing non-support to its paying members who turn to them for support," said a letter to parents on the West Sacramento Early College Prep website.
Wallace said the CCSA is just doing its job. "We see ourselves as a professional members organization like the American Medical Association," he said. As such, the CCSA would set professional standards and sanction charters that don't meet them.
But the boards of the school districts and county offices of education that authorized the charters will make the final decision about whether to approve charters when they come up for renewal.
"Obviously, we are going to take a hard look at their application for renewal when it comes up in the early part of 2012," said Dave Westin, a school board member at Washington Unified the authorizer for the West Sacramento charter.
The CCSA criteria say schools must have either an Academic Performance Index of at least 700 in the most recent year, have a three-year cumulative API growth of at least 50 points or have exceeded the performance expected of a California school with a similar student population. It looks at schools that have been in existence for four years or more.
"They want to get rid of charter schools that don't score well, so they look better compared to public schools," Premack said.
Wallace agrees that the CCSA wants to improve charter scores. "The central tenant of the charter school movement is that charters can generate higher levels of academic success," Wallace said. "In order to keep the momentum, we have to show that our schools are successful."