Charter School Reclaims Los Angeles Locke High School

Back to March 2013 Ed Reporter

Charter School Reclaims
Los Angeles Locke High School

Alain Leroy Locke, who taught at Howard University for 40 years, might be pleased by the transformation at the high school bearing his name. Locke High School near the Watts area of Los Angeles has changed from a place where gangs ruled the bathrooms and fires were set, to several smaller centers of learning that are encouraging students to have high expectations, to study hard, and to achieve their goals. The charter school’s stated goals to increase safety and graduate more students are being achieved.

Once a troubled traditional public school, Locke started its transition to become a charter school in 2007. According to the The New Yorker magazine, when the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) refused to allow Locke to be taken over by a charter, Green Dot “became the first charter group in the country to seize a high school, in a hostile takeover.” (05-11-2009) Teachers signed an agreement forcing the district to let the school become a charter.

According to the Los Angeles Times, before the transition to Green Dot, Locke High School employed two full-time workers just to paint over graffiti. And, in May of 2008, just before Green Dot took possession of the main campus, as many as 600 students rioted. In that incident, fights between rival groups of black and Latino students got out of hand, resulting in the dispatch of 50 school police officers and 60 Los Angeles police officers rushing to campus to restore order (05-10-2008).

Like all charter schools, Locke is publicly financed. It is independently operated by Green Dot Charter Schools, which receives less money than the average LAUSD school, but more than some charter schools due to Locke’s designation as a low-achieving school. Additional monies have been donated by philanthropic funds and individuals; the per student expenditure is roughly one-quarter of the amount spent per student before the charter school takeover. (Fast Magazine, 05-13-2012)

Instead of the usual charter school student selection process, Locke’s geographic location determined who attended the new school. “Locke is a full test of the charter model because the agreement with Green Dot is [that] they will take all children in that attendance area,” said L.A. schools Supt. David L. Brewer. “We expect they’re going to have the same kids we have had there before.” (Los Angeles Times, 11-18-2008)

Green Dot split Locke into several smaller charter schools that run semi-autonomously, making decisions about personnel, curriculum, class size, budget allocation, and which teachers union stipulations to ignore. Although operating with unionized teachers, Green Dot can disregard large portions of the union contract, and the teachers are okay with that.

According to the Los Angeles Times, when Green Dot took over Locke High School, only 1 in 9 Locke students scored proficient or better in English on state tests, and in math the number was fewer than 1 in 25. (09-18-2008)

Green Dot is currently monitored by several entities, including a University of California, Los Angeles multi-year study being conducted on the Locke campus and which is funded by the Gates foundation. According to Fast Company magazine, the UCLA study has so far shown an improved graduation rate from Locke’s previous 55% to 80%, and improved college readiness from 13% to 48% (05-13-12). This study examined how Green Dot Locke (GDL) students performed on a range of outcomes across multiple years compared to groups of carefully matched control students attending demographically similar high schools in the LAUSD. The UCLA study states that it “found statistically significant, positive effects for the [GDL] transformation including improved achievement, school persistence, and completion of college preparatory courses.” The study was released in May of 2012.

Green Dot School runs 18 charter schools in California and was the only Los Angeles area finalist in the 2012 competition to receive “Race to the Top” grant money. Among Green Dot Public Schools’ basic tenets are: small, safe, personalized schools, high expectations for all students, parent participation, maximized funding to the classroom, and local control with extensive professional development and accountability.

Quoted in the Los Angeles Times at the time of the Locke High School transition, A.J. Duffy, then president of the United Teachers Union of Los Angeles said, “The task Green Dot’s taking on is monumental. The school district has shown for 20 years or more [that] they can’t do this job.”