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Network of Green Dot Schools Raises Performance, Study Finds

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Students attending a cluster of Los Angeles schools overseen by the charter operator Green Dot significantly increased their test scores and persistence in school, and took more challenging courses than comparable peers, a newly released study has found.

The schools were part of what was originally Alain Leroy Locke High School, an academic low-performer located in an impoverished neighborhood in the south part of the city.

With permission from the Los Angeles Unified School District, Green Dot took over the school in 2007 and began its transformation into a series of smaller charter schools.

The study, conducted by researchers at UCLA's National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, known as CRESST, compared Locke students entering 9th grade against demographically similar students from the same set of feeder middle schools who ended up attending different high schools. Two cohorts of students, one of them entering the Locke schools in 2007 and another, larger group entering in 2008, were compared against against peers in other schools.

Green Dot students in the first cohort outperformed the comparison groups in persistence through high school and college-readiness rates—as judged by their completion of a set of courses used in California public university admissions—as well as in other areas of academic performance, albeit in a more scattered way.

But students in the second cohort had a much stronger showing, significantly outperforming their counterparts on a number of state test score measures, as well as in remaining in high school over time, and in taking and passing challenging courses, in subjects such as Algebra 1.

The results for the second cohort of Locke High School students are particularly significant, given that those teenagers were more fully exposed to the Green Dot academic model over time, said Joan L. Herman, who led the study team as director of the research center at UCLA.

"The full takeover of the school did not occur until Cohort 2," Herman said in an interview. "Cohort 2 is the better test. ...The consistency of the findings surprised and impressed me."

One of the main criticisms of charter schools is the suspicion that some of them screen students and select those who are easier to educate, and that they push out the students they don't want over time, essentially leaving them a population that is more likely to succeed.

But the UCLA researchers found that the Green Dot schools at Locke that they studied had a positive impact on student achievement while serving a student population that was both similiar to what existed at the school prior to its tranformation, and similiar to the control group of nearby schools they studied.

"There is no issue with cherry-picking or selecting kids," Herman said. "Kids are persisting more in [the Locke family of schools], and they have more kids staying in school."

Green Dot operates 18 charter schools, which include 14 high schools and four middle schools, in Los Angeles, with a focus on serving impoverished communities. The charter operator's model is based on setting high expectations for students, creating strong parent involvement, directing a significant amount of money to the classroom, keeping schools open on extended hours, and maintaining a safe learning environment, among other areas of emphasis.

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