February 24 2010
"Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss" in La La Land
Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D
Once upon a time, California was ground zero for all things progressive. But Tuesday's vote by the Los Angeles Board of Education showed they have long since abandoned a revolutionary belief in power to the people.
Last year, the Los Angeles Board of Education passed a resolution allowing charter school organizations and others to manage failing Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools. Superintendent Cortines whittled the list of 250 failing schools down to 30 schools, which are attended by some 38,000 students. Of those schools, the board handed over eight schools to charter school organizations and a group led by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The remaining 22 went to district teachers groups affiliated with the local union.
"We think it's a victory for students and the collaboration between teachers and parents and administrators," said United Teachers Los Angeles (ULTA) President A.J. Duffy. "The world is going to see what we've been saying all along: Give the authority to teachers and we will create quality schools." Well, based on the district's latest report card, parents and students should brace themselves for a whole lot more of the same if the UTLA leaders have a hand in running things.
According to district data compiled by the state education department, less than one out of four LAUSD students is proficient in English language arts. Less than one out of four elementary students is proficient in math; and only around one out of 10 high schoolers is proficient in math-even though the district receives close to $15,000 per student-about $3,000 more than the statewide average.
Of the 85 organizations that applied to operate LAUSD schools, the board chose three and rejected three charter school operators recommended by Superintendent Cortines. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the charter organizers turned down by the board are recognized leaders: Green Dot Public Schools, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, and ICEF Public Schools. "We find this to be an appalling decision," Jed Wallace, chief executive of the California Charter Schools Association, told the Times. "Merit was not at the heart of the matter today. The three organizations taken out of the process today . . . are understood at the national level to be the gold standard as far as charter operators go."
ICEF's Lauren Carter echoed that sentiment, according to the Wall Street Journal, "We were looking for more bold action from board members to make decisions for what was in the best interests of the kids. It's a sad, sad day for us" Charter schools typically aren't unionized. Mike Piscal, ICEF founder and chief executive, told the San Francisco Chronicle, "Big labor has such control over these school board members...I'm appalled at the lack of leadership." Mayor Villaraigosa agreed.
In a prepared statement to the board he said, "School choice has always been about reform. It is about promoting engagement and innovation through competition. Other communities are begging these operators to open schools in their districts..." Letting so few charter operators manage LAUSD schools, he added, is "a terrible blow to reform and would give credence to those critics who say this is [a] system trying to protect the failed status quo."
The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" was an anthem of the 1960's revolutionary generation. It also holds some good lessons for anyone who still thinks bureaucracies and the special interests that help prop them up are capable of change we can believe in.