The statewide debate over charter schools has hit Sacramento, as lawmakers consider a series of bills that would reform the system, including placing a cap on the number of charter schools in the state.
The bills are linked to two recent teachers’ strikes; in Oakland, and in Los Angeles, where teachers’ unions demanded a moratorium on new schools as major cities grapple with declining enrollment in public schools.
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Los Angeles County has the greatest concentration of charter schools in the state.
They vary widely in size, philosophy and graduation rate. At the city's oldest charter school in Inglewood, teachers believe keeping students in line doesn’t have to be boring. Wilder’s Preparatory Academy is known for its traditional uniforms, strict curriculum and first-rate education.
During a recent lesson, English Language Arts teacher Kimberly Paggett-Willis began one lesson with some drums and then pivoted to a serious subject.
“We’re going to learn how Frederick Douglas identifies as it relates to his family,” Paggett-Willis said.
Slavery is a heavy subject for the seventh grade, but the students dove right in.
“Family history is important because you want to know what your family did and they can inspire you,” said student Violet Cueva.
When Cueva was just five-years-old, her parents entered a lottery to get her into this school. She was one out of hundreds competing for just 60 open spaces. Because the school's is a public charter, enrollment comes down to the luck of the draw.
Parents believe an education from Wilder’s is as good as any expensive private school in Los Angeles. Because while luck gets you in the door, it takes hard work to stay here.
"Kids need a struggle and they need to struggle in order to do better,” Cueva said.
Between 2008 and 2017, the number of African American students enrolled in California charter schools increased 60 percent, to nearly 50,000 students, according to the California Charter School Association.
But in Los Angeles, those students don’t necessarily do better than their counterparts in traditional schools. But Charter school advocates say Wilder’s is an example of what’s working well.
“This is an environment that I know works for the children with whom we work, specifically black and brown children, African America and Latino children, who we are preparing to be successful in a society where there is a great achievement gap,” Paggett-Willis said.