16 Jun West Contra Costa Charter School Report Raises ‘Uncomfortable Questions’
“It’s disturbing to me that there is a narrative out there that the charter schools do more, give more than what our WCCUSD schools are doing,” Jamela Smith-Folds said. “And that’s not backed up in what we just saw.” (Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / Richmond Pulse)
By Samantha Kennedy
As the first week of summer break in the West Contra Costa Unified School District comes to an end, the WCCUSD school board is already preparing for the next school year.
At its Wednesday meeting, the board discussed student achievement and retention in the district and charter schools it oversees. Charter schools have long promised a better model for students, but the board believes their shortcomings can be used to improve keeping students in WCCUSD schools.
WCCUSD provides oversight for eight charter schools that serve over 6,000 students. The board provides oversight by making sure schools are accountable for goals they’ve made in their charter and monitoring financial dealings and student success.
In a report presented by Robert McEntire, the outgoing associate superintendent of business services, and Margarita Romo, the coordinator of business services, student groups at all eight charter schools either underperformed or were similar to WCCUSD schools in English and math performance.
Several groups that are often underserved in education, including Black students and students with disabilities, are overrepresented in poor English and math performance at both charter and WCCUSD schools. At five of the charter schools, data for Black student performance in these areas was not available due to low enrollment. No schools had any student groups performing at a very high level, and only WCCUSD had one group of students performing high in English.
“It’s disturbing to me that there is a narrative out there that the charter schools do more, give more than what our WCCUSD schools are doing,” clerk Jamela Smith-Folds said. “And that’s not backed up in what we just saw.”
Smith-Folds said much of the data on the charter schools disturbed her. State data shows that two of the charter schools failed to meet all local indicators, which include family engagement, instructional materials and the school’s climate. Another two failed to submit data by the deadline.
“If the goal was to provide innovation,” Smith-Folds said, “my question is, how innovative are our charter schools, or are they just better with PR?”
The board also noticed the skewed ethnic distribution in the charter schools.
During the 2021-22 school year, each charter school’s student population was made up of at least 70% Hispanic or Latino students. Over 80% of students enrolled in a charter school are Hispanic or Latino.
McEntire said that, unlike Latino students, other students, especially Black students, are not enrolling in charter schools like they are in WCCUSD schools. But McEntire said there is currently no data to understand why this is happening and uncomfortable questions need to be asked to determine the cause.
“Do African American students feel safe and have true access, or is there something driving them away?” McEntire said. “Is there a preference for Latino students that’s driving them in at the expense of the other groups?”
School board President Demetrio Gonzalez-Hoy and Smith-Folds said polling students who transfer between the charter schools and WCCUSD could help retain future students by addressing concerns.
“If we can start gathering some of that data,” Smith-Folds said, “we can start making some real concerted effort to keeping our kids from leaving and then making sure we keep them when they come back.”
Gonzalez-Hoy said many WCCUSD high schools, including Richmond High, have told him that they receive multiple transfer students from charter schools.
“We should use that as a tool to hold them accountable,” he said. “If they have tons of students that are leaving — even if it’s just 5% — that’s a large amount. We need to know that.”
The next WCCUSD School Board meeting is July 12.