Failing the Test: Charter Schools, Privatization, and the future of public education in Los Angeles and California

Source: Capital & Main, May 31, 2016

With Los Angeles at the forefront of the national debate over public education, Capital & Main will examine the potential impacts of large-scale charter school expansion in the country’s second-largest district. “Failing the Test: Charter Schools, Privatization and the Future of Public Education in Los Angeles and California” will explore the uneven results of California’s charter school growth, and the potential impacts of further expansion on public education. This weeklong series is based on extensive interviews with education experts, community advocates, parents, teachers and elected officials on both sides of the escalating controversy over charter schools. “Failing the Test” documents how charter advocates are aggressively pushing for dramatic growth despite evidence that these schools do not improve overall student performance. The series reports on how privately operated charter schools leave some kids behind, even as they enjoy taxpayer support and broad exemptions from the laws that govern traditional public schools.

School Solutions and Turnarounds
Source: Bobbi Murray and Bill Raden, Capital & Main, June 3, 2016

… Charter schools were first created partly as alternatives to just such top-down bureaucracy. Yet while charters are increasingly becoming scrutinized for their pedagogical and managerial philosophies, traditional public schools are developing their own solutions to problems that typically plague the education system. These schools are showing a creative resilience and ability to change that have not received much media attention. Many parents of students who have successfully matriculated through the Los Angeles Unified School District believe that the key to a successful education means viewing a school as a community. … Veteran education researcher Jane L. David literally wrote the book on Sanger, with co-author Joan E. Talbert of Stanford’s Center for Research on the Context of Teaching. One of the lessons she took away from places like Sanger, she told Capital & Main, is that the very language of “broken” and “fix” that charter advocates use to describe public schools wrongly characterizes the systems nature of public education as something mechanical. …

UCLA’s John Rogers on the Struggle for Democratic School Improvement
Source: Capital & Main, June 3, 2016

Nine Solution Takeaways
Source: Julian Vasquez Heilig, Capital & Main, June 3, 2016

Despite the trendy popularity of charter schools in some circles, their wholesale replacement of traditional public schools is unnecessary. Not only do decades of data and research show this, but in each city there are plenty of successful public schools on the other side of the tracks or highway or river. The wealthy in the United States, regardless of locality, continue to have access to quality public education. So what should all parents already be able to choose from in their existing neighborhood public schools?

UCLA’s John Rogers on the Positives & Negatives of Charter School Autonomy
Source: Capital & Main, June 2, 2016

Charter School Powerbrokers
Source: Capital & Main, June 2, 2016

… But why do so many charter advocates embrace privatization? “I don’t think it’s about the money,” says Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “They like charters in part because they decrease the publicness of public schools. They want a system much more based on market forces because they don’t trust democracy.” … But should the private sector be in charge of public education? … The direct funding of charter schools is only one of several strategies charter advocates are using to influence public opinion and school policies. They also fund academic studies and “grassroots” organizations such as Parent Revolution, along with powerful political lobbies such as the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Just as important, they contribute millions of dollars to school board elections in order to replace those perceived to be anti-charter with pro-charter board members, as seen in recent elections in Los Angeles and Oakland, two cities where charter-expansion partisans have been particularly aggressive. …

Searching for Accountability in Charter Schools
Source: Bobbi Murray, Capital & Main, June 2, 2016

The original concept of charter schools emerged nationally more than two decades ago and was intended to support community efforts to open up education. Albert Shanker, then president of the American Federation of Teachers union, lauded the charter idea in 1988 as way to propel social mobility for working class kids and to give teachers more decision-making power. … But critics of today’s market-based charter movement say monied interests have turned those learning labs into models for capital capture in the Golden State and beyond–“the charter school gravy train,” as Forbes describes it. Charters are publicly funded but privately managed and, like most privately run businesses, the schools prefer to avoid transparency in their operations. This often has brought negative publicity to the schools – last month the Los Angeles Daily News reported that the principal of El Camino Real Charter High School charged more than $100,000 in expenses to his school-issued credit card, many of them for personal use. …

UCLA’s John Rogers on Charter Schools and Exclusion of Special Needs Students
Source: Capital & Main, June 1, 2016

How a Major California Charter School Gave Up on a Special Needs Student
Source: Capital & Main, June 1, 2016

Charter Schools’ Winners and Losers
Source: Capital & Main, June 1, 2016

Charter school supporters, such as Broad and the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), argue that the schools provide a superior education and give opportunities to children in poor neighborhoods. For that reason, they say, it makes sense to increase the number of charters in Los Angeles and elsewhere. … However, interviews with educators, charter school proponents and opponents, and a review of respected academic studies, show that some highly motivated students benefit from charters while others do worse; that the growth of charters places a huge financial burden on traditional public schools that send them into a tailspin and that charters may increase racial and economic segregation. Furthermore, the percentage of total LAUSD charter school students with severe disabilities is less than one-third the percentage of students with disabilities in LAUSD public schools. …

Measuring Charter School Performance
Source: Julian Vasquez Heilig, Capital & Main, June 1, 2016

Charter schools, their lobbyists and choice proponents often discuss the underperformance of traditional public schools in the public discourse. But what data should be trusted by parents and policymakers alike when comparing charters with traditional public schools? Peer-reviewed research literature is the gold standard in all fields, including education — and the predominance of such studies in the United States does not show positive impacts on average for the charter school sector. While it is true that one can find an occasional peer-reviewed study that identifies small effects for particular charter schools, studies that show a positive achievement effect are often produced by researchers primarily funded by foundations and think tanks that are ideological school-choice advocates. …

UCLA’s John Rogers on Eli Broad’s Charter School Takeover Dreams
Source: Capital & Main, May 31, 2016

Oakland’s Charter School Tipping Point
Source: Bill Raden, Capital & Main, May 31, 2016

Last September’s sensational leak of the Great Public Schools Now Initiative, a half-billion-dollar plan to double the number of charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), sparked a firestorm of controversy. Citing the plan’s potentially crippling fiscal impact on a financially troubled district that already leads the nation in its number of charters (around 230), critics denounced the plan as “an outline for a hostile takeover” and “a declaration of war on public schools.” … Yet Capital & Main has learned that a similar private initiative has been on the table for the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) for at least a decade. Virtually unknown to Oakland’s parents, and without the benefit of public exposure or open debate by its school board, the Oakland charter expansion scheme has been quietly driving policy under the political radar for a number of years. (The OUSD school board did not respond to Capital & Main’s request to comment for this article.) …