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L.A. now has 160 charter schools, making it the nation's leader, Times analysis shows

January 9, 2010 | 12:13 pm

L.A. charter schools flex their educational muscles

Los Angeles has become the epicenter of the burgeoning charter school movement, according to a new Times special report.

The city is home to more than 160 charter schools, far more than any other U.S. city. Charter enrollment is up nearly 19% this year from last, while enrollment in traditional L.A. public schools is down. And a once-hostile school board has become increasingly charter-friendly, despite resistance from the teachers union. In September, the board agreed to let charters bid on potentially hundreds of existing campuses and on all 50 of its planned new schools.

Charter schools now are challenging L.A. Unified from without and within. Not only are charter school operators such as Green Dot Public Schools and ICEF Public Schools opening schools that compete head to head with L.A. Unified, but the district's own schools are showing increasing interest in jumping ship by converting to charter status.

In the most recent example, Birmingham High School in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Lake Balboa broke free from the district last summer after a wrenching battle among members of its teaching staff. Under state law, a school can apply for charter conversion if a majority of its tenured teachers petition for the change.

Charters are taking students not just from traditional public schools but also from private schools. Particularly as the economy has soured, many parents see no reason to pay for school if they believe that a charter might offer a similar education without tuition.

Read the full story by Mitchell Landsberg, Doug Smith and Howard Blume.

More findings and data analysis:

-- Charters generally perform better than traditional schools, not as well as magnets

-- Graphics, photos, interactive features and more.

Photo credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times