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Public Charter Schools in the Bay Area: Are They Delivering on Their Promise?


 Host: Joseph Pace

Producer: Victoria Thorp 

There are more charter schools in California than any other state in the nation. And the Bay Area is home to some of the most well known in the country, such as KIPP, Aspire and Rocketship schools. In this state, charter schools have seen tremendous growth since the first enterprise opened in 1993. Nearly two decades later, charter schools in California number around a thousand and collectively enroll over 400,000 students.

The concept behind a public charter school is to create learning environments that foster innovative practices by waiving many of the regulations that govern traditional public schools. The result of this arrangement, advocates say, is improvement in achievement especially among economically disadvantaged and underserved students. In turn, they hope their successes can serve as a model that could be spread to traditional public schools. Critics, however, claim that public charter schools as a whole have a mixed record when it comes to impacting student achievement and are a drain on public education dollars especially in this time of ever dwindling resources for public schools.

Tonight we look at public charter schools and examine their impact in the Bay Area. What makes a school a charter school? How are charter schools different from traditional public schools? Why are more parents choosing charter schools for their children and how is this choice affecting school districts? And are charter schools fulfilling their promise to raise student achievement and improve public schools as a whole?


  • Sebha Ali, Chief Academic Officer for Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Bay Area Schools, and the founder of KIPP Heartwood Academy in San Jose. KIPP Bay Area operates seven charter schools that serve over 2,000 mostly minority, low-income students..
  • Devora Davis, Research Manager for Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). CREDO is a research group based at Stanford University that is committed to improving the body of empirical evidence about education reform and student performance at the primary and secondary levels.
  •  Jill Wynns, Member of the San Francisco Unified School District Board. She was recently elected President of the California School Boards Association.