Charter schools making gains under Obama's education plan

Charter schools have come into vogue as an attractive alternative for parents and kids looking for innovative learning environments and higher test scores.

They've also become a priority in President Barack Obama's plan to overhaul the nation's education system.

And California legislators have pushed through laws that simplify charter funding and lift a cap on how many can operate in the state.

A new report by the California Charter Schools Association shows that more charters have opened this school year than in any year since 1992, when legislation first made them possible. The addition of 88 charter schools this year brings the total to 809 schools in California. Collectively, they enroll 341,000 students – about 5 percent of the state's student population.

"I think we are seeing a fundamental shift in the way our education system is being structured," said Jed Wallace, president of the California Charter Schools Association.

Will the shift toward more charters be the answer for a cash-strapped state where only 45 percent of its students passed standardized math tests last year and five out of 10 weren't considered proficient on English tests?

It's hard to tell from test scores. On the Academic Performance Index, California's primary yardstick for student achievement, charter schools and district-run schools score similarly, on average.

Sacramento County students at traditional district schools scored a little lower on standardized STAR tests this year than the area's charter school students.

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