CASE STUDY 9: Options for Youth Charter School, Victorville, California

Offering students an independent study program, Options for Youth Charter School (OFY) serves 480 students age 12 through adult. Students come from nine different school districts in southern California and are served in five OFY centers spread throughout the region.

In 1993, the nonprofit OFY was chartered by the Victor Valley Union High School District under California’s charter-school law, which allows charter schools to be operated by private companies. Students attend OFY free of charge. Because OFY operates as a charter school, students may voluntarily enroll in the charter school without being referred by their home district.

OFY specializes in dropout recovery. Students, 80 percent of whom have been expelled from or dropped out of their previous school, work at their own pace toward graduation, a GED, or reenrollment in their regular school.96 The student population includes expulsions, dropouts, and students in need of an alternative education environment. Teen mothers make up between 20 and 40 percent of OFY female enrollment at any given time.97

The OFY Charter School receives $17.60 per student per day in funding from the student’s home district. Unlike conventional schools, which receive funding for enrolled students, OFY collects payment from the district only after students have completed their assignments.98 Ten percent of all student funding is retained by the Victor Valley school district for administrative costs.

Upon entry, students are assessed and given a personalized education program. Students complete their assignments at home or in the OFY centers and typically meet with their teacher twice a week for one hour. Students must score at least 70 percent on tests of completed work before continuing with the next assignment.

California charter law requires that the charter school demonstrate student success. Outside evaluations of OFY by assistant dean of UCLA Graduate School of Education James Catterall, Ph.D., reports that in 1995, "of those students leaving the Options for Youth Program, 44 percent returned to their regular schools or graduated." Writes Catterall, "Since the nature of the OFY Charter School mission is to ‘recover dropouts,’ the more than 200 students returning to school and the 27 graduating during this year should be counted as direct successes."99 (Note: these figures do not include the students who continue attending OFY.) John Hall, OFY president, estimates that OFY has a student retention rate of over 75 percent.100