Charters edged out in L.A.
A six-month stab at school competition with nationwide interest ended Tuesday when Los Angeles Unified school board members turned control of more schools to groups of teachers than Superintendent Ramon Cortines had recommended. There will certainly be an injection of experimentation in schools organized by unionized teachers as a result– but also fewer quality charter schools than had been predicted in August when the trustees opened up 12 low-performing schools and 18 new schools to bids by outside groups.
United Teachers Los Angeles, which has seen a decline in membership and could lose hundreds more teachers to layoffs next fall, lobbied hard to keep the 30 schools under its control. In the end, board members gave union-affiliated teachers 22 of the 30 campuses, with four new schools turned over to charters and three to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s non-profit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.
The board’s decision to shut out three of the city’s respected charter school outfits – Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and Green Dot Public Schools from sharing five small schools at the new Esteban Torres High School, and ICEF (Inner City Education Foundation Public Schools) from sharing the campus at the new Barack Obama Global Prep – frustrated charter advocates. Jed Wallace, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association, said in a statement that “the supporters of the status quo and adult concerns trump(ed) making good decisions on the behalf of children.”
Ben Austin, an organizer for the group Parent Revolution, was more blunt in an e-mail: “Parents are going to take back and transform their schools by any means necessary because they only get one chance to give their kids the education they deserve.”
If anyone is worrying about bloodshed on the streets, Austin is talking about the metaphorical “parent trigger” – the law that the Legislature passed last month allowing a majority of parents to petition local school trustees to turn around their struggling school. One option, which some parent groups will demand, is to invite in a charter school, though the board has the final say. Within a few months, Los Angeles may see the first petition.
Los Angeles Unified’s public school choice motion is designed to create innovation through competition. That will happen in some of the 30 schools, where teacher groups, threatened with a loss of jobs, came up with interesting plans. But charter participation is the leverage to make change happen. Whether the board’s vote shutting out some of the charters will discourage more from applying in the next round remains an open question.