Parents know better than lawmakers what’s best for their children

Across the nation, education reform is the topic of conversation among families and teachers, legislators and even the courts.  The discussion has turned into unrest among parents who know their children deserve a high-quality education, but are not seeing results.

Today, parents and children are fighting back against the “norm” — they want more from California’s education system.  They know every child is unique and processes information in different ways.  For this reason, parent options in public education are vital in today’s fast-paced, high-speed, globally connected world.

California has been on the forefront of parent choice with its many charter and public virtual schools.  These schools bring new and exciting learning methods that are designed for each student as an individual instead of the student conforming to the school.  Charter schools have literally changed parents and students lives—for the better.

Of course, with change comes adversity.  Despite the positive aspects these schools bring to the lives of the students they touch, some in the Legislature, such as Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, think they know better than parents.

Under the disguise of “accountability,” Simitian and Brownley have created a “death by thousand cuts” scenario targeting charter and public virtual schools and the students they serve. For example, AB 440 and SB  645 would give the State Board of Education new authority to impose arbitrary standards that would result in fewer schools having their charter renewed.

As it stands, local school districts determine the fate of charter schools seeking renewals and give parents, teachers and school administrators the ability to voice their support for their charter school. AB 440 and SB 645 would grant new powers by shifting the final authority over certain charter school renewals from the local school district to the State Board.  This added layer of bureaucracy would create obstacles for low-income parents and teachers unable to travel to Sacramento to advocate on behalf of their school.

Under AB 440 and SB 645, neither local school districts nor the State Legislature would have any oversight authority on the State Board’s ability to close down a school – even if the school is supported by the local district and parents. This “guilty until proven innocent” inquisition would only apply to charter and public virtual schools.

Worst of all, the bills undermine a parent’s right to choose the best school for their child.  If the charter school is working for a student whether they are an at-risk or an advance-learner, the State Board would now have the authority to eliminate that choice, should the school close.  Parents make a decision to enroll their child in a charter school for a variety of reasons such as a school’s unique curriculum or student safety. Parents are in a better position to determine these factors than a state agency

Parent choice was a major factor in the original creation of the charter school statute in California.  Any metric that judges charter schools must include this important component.  There is no denying, the accountability of our schools is essential.  However, removing local control and transferring more power to Sacramento bureaucrats is certainly not the answer.

Parents deserve the right to choose what’s best for their children.  And parents deserve the right to choose the type of school — brick and mortar, online or charter — that best suits their child’s educational needs.  Throwing up more barriers as demonstrated in AB 440 and SB 645 in front of a parent’s choice is just plain wrong and parents just won’t stand for it.

Maureen Schultz, president of California Parents for Public Virtual Education, a non-profit organization made up of volunteers whose primary objective is protecting access to a quality, virtual public education in our state. For more information about California Parents for Public Virtual Education, please visit: www.calvirtualed.org.

14 thoughts on “Parents know better than lawmakers what’s best for their children

  1. CarolineSF

    What this commentary refers to as “throwing up more barriers” should also be described as “providing adequate oversight and accountability to charter schools.”
    Shady, crooked and otherwise problematic charter school operators have ripped off our kids for millions and millions and millions of dollars in California due to inadequate oversight and lax accountability, with the powerful and mightily funded charter school lobby fighting tooth and nail against accountability for years. (That message has newly changed, at least on the surface.) Clearly, more accountability and oversight are needed to prevent more ripoffs and costly failures at our kids’ expense.
    As a public-school parent and founding member of Parents Across America, I disagree that most parents want less accountability and oversight for charter schools.
     
     

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply
  2. Doug Lasken

    The current struggle between public schools and charters is a sad travesty, a cover story for a failing system that thinks its healing itself while all sides are clearly losing.  The education establishment and all its followers and hangers-on needs to lie down and apply zen meditation techniques.  I suggest this chant, “Love, not charters!  Free our districts from the yolk of tyranny!”

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply
  3. Sharon

    /* Style Definitions */
    table.MsoNormalTable
    {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
    mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
    mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
    mso-style-noshow:yes;
    mso-style-parent:””;
    mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
    mso-para-margin:0in;
    mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
    mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
    font-size:10.0pt;
    font-family:”Times New Roman”;
    mso-ansi-language:#0400;
    mso-fareast-language:#0400;
    mso-bidi-language:#0400;}

    As an informed, longtime public school parent in a district where nearly 20% of the students attend 35 charter schools, I applaud any and all efforts to improve charter school oversight and restrict their expansion. As a close observer of charter schools, I don’t buy their superiority and I am acutely aware of how easy it is for them to rip off both parents and taxpayers. Some might be good, but plenty aren’t and others are absolutely terrible. Many are engaged in abuses of the public trust that we will never learn about.
     
    As far as the brick-and-mortar charter schools go, the highest performing ones have tons of extra funding, or attract a self-selecting set of families, or are well-known to cherry pick and deselect students. And there are the charter schools where the CMO CEO’s, CFOs, and CAOs pay themselves a salary which is way too high for the number of students they are responsible for. Then there are the charter schools with huge church/state issues or questionable intentions, e.g. those 125 schools being run by the Gulen movement. Then there are the schools that earn high APIs and call themselves ‘college preparatory’  but are producing incredibly low SAT scores.  Cyber charter school abuses are widespread, and the educational outcome they produce is so iffy the diplomas aren’t accepted by the U.S. military.
     
    And beyond all of that is the deeper issue about why the movement cannot be trusted at all because of its close ties to corporate-minded, anti-public interests which have poured many millions of dollars into the generation of pro-charter propaganda, etc. I’m not foolish enough to believe that all the oligarchs and hedge fund managers who are busy pushing charter schools into our communities are as interested in the well-being of our society’s children than in tricking people to support their tactic for privatizing yet another American public institution.
     
    And I appreciate what E.D. Kain wrote: “Private actors who simply take state services over by profiting off of taxpayer money are no different than the government, after all, they’re just for-profit government.”

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply
  4. Jon

    It’s very glib to say so, but no, I don’t think parents always know better, even for their own kids—and are especially bad at deciding policy that’s good for all.
    The political reality may be that parents have the right to decide what their kids learn and the political power to make that happen. But they don’t always have the skill, knowledge, or lack of conflicted interests to know what’s best for everyone.
    In a representative democracy, everyone gets together an elects representatives. Those representatives or their agents are charged with the specialized knowledge of policy and executing that policy. Part of their job is making sure they represent everyone. Parents neither are nor should be charged with that level of special policy knowledge. Sure, they know what’s best for their individual child—sometimes.
    If you’re going to write a policy statement, to a policy-oriented audience, you can probably leave the tautological political sound bites out.

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply
  5. Paul Muench

    It’s not clear that all provisions of AB 440 are more stringent.  A charter is eligible for renewal if the school obtains an API of 700 or higher.  No improvement is required after that, even if comparable schools are making improvements.  I believe the current regulations require improvement until a school reaches an API score of 800, although there are more options when it comes to comparative performance.  I wonder how this would play out in the long term.  Setting a performance level less than what we generally expect of schools seems like it could potentially cause problems.

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply
  6. Stephanie Dingman

    Public schools are paid for with my tax dollars.  My taxes go for the public good.  I believe that what every child should have is an excellent education in a diverse classroom, within a diverse school setting.  We have been resegregating our public schools since NCLB and the charter movement took hold in America.
    I am a native Californian, educated in public elementary schools, State Colleges, and a graduate of the University of California system.  I worked as a teacher for 27 years and taught everyone’s children:  English learners, children in poverty, the gifted, the abused, the children with physical and emotional  special needs, the children with parents who did not care about them or their education, and children with various autism spectrum disorders.  We were a community of learners in our classroom, with respect for each other and our diverse interests.  Our  diverse natures, cultures,  and individual  needs supported our successes inside the classroom and out.   We learned to appreciate our honor our differences socially, academically, and as participants in society.
    If a parent needs to  have a  private school education, then they need to pay for it with private money.  Our future as a democratic society depends on a highly educated public, not a highly educated (segregated) charter of people who believe they deserve a different outcome for their child.   Investing money in public schools under state and local control is the best way to return California and its children to our former greatness.

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply
  7. Mary Thompson

    At the heart of the matter is that somewhere along the line, parents and agenda shapers have fed the idea that something resembling private school can be provided through public funding.  The idea has come to be a movement euphemistically called “school choice” which advocated vouchers  first, then charter schools.   As Stephanie implies, parents have always had a choice.  The cognizant dissonance has come when the choice of private type school has become something reflecting an entitlement mentality for the public to pay for it. 

    The idea that charter schools can be the best of both worlds,an idea  which will be proven to be a short lived delusion, for it is an oxymoron to think that any government funded entity (schools included) can prevail without government regulation and control.  That is a reality, part and parcel of  concepts of elected representation and taxation with representation.  

    The familiar names associated with billionaire’s foundations, etc. provide the smoke and mirrors
    to obfuscate the issue.   If they  simply opened their own schools to conform to the models they envision,  throwing them open, tuition free to all comers on a first come, first served basis, no one would have any objections to their toes in the education waters.  But instead they drop seed money for schools to be transformed to their ideas to create a workforce, and have the public pay for it long term.  Charter Schools are the short range vehicles in the long range scenario for transformation of brick and mortar schools to Distance Learning in which a real live teacher will be expendable.

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply
  8. CarolineSF

    It was interesting to see a commentary by Ms. Schultz in the Ventura County Star, in which she essentially accuses the California Charter Schools Assn. of selling out by  agreeing that there should be some oversight and accountability for charter schools.
     
    The polished website of California Parents for Public Virtual Education tells us that there’s some heavy-hitter funding behind it (despite the claim that it’s  “made up of volunteers”– oh, is that a pig I see flying by?). So I wonder if this indicates a Godzilla vs. Mothra-type split in the reform sector — the virtual sector vs. the old “status quo” charter sector.
     

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply
  9. Pingback: Parents exercising choice have a right to expect high-quality charters | Thoughts on Public Education

  10. Manuel

    Every organization that runs as a non-profit must register as a charitable corporation with California’s Secretary of State as well as file Form 990 with the IRS annually. Since it is a charity, it is also listed in the Attorney General’s web site page for charities which makes available many of their 990s. The last three 990s are also available at guidestar.org (registration is required but it is free if all you want is access to the 990s).
    Thus, every parent who wants to investigate the CMO or organization behind a particular crusade, information is available. For instance, California Parents for Public Virtual Education was set up by a lawyer who works for a Sacramento firm whose only product is lobbying. This makes it an AstroTurf™ organization, in my view. The current split is evidence that a new outfit with even lower overhead is trying to muscle into this newly lucrative field, hence the resistance. It is no wonder that so many are not getting into this business instead of, say, finance.
    Happy reading!

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply
  11. Jim Mills

    Maureen, I have been traveling and missed your article when it was posted, but given the abuse and innuendo that you are being subjected to above, I’d like to tell you that I think you are doing the right thing by opposing AB 440 and SB 645.  There is nothing wrong with having charters conform to a few basic groundrules, but these bills will force charters to pass tests that many of our public schools will not be asked to meet.  The irony, of course, is that every charter already faces the strictest form of accountability that any organization can meet:  if it can’t fulfill parent and student needs, no one will attend and it will have to close.  Our traditional public schools, on the other hand, rarely face substantive consequences when they fail to meet student needs.  They remain in “school improvement” year after year, as class after class of students passes through, underserved.

    I am not a big fan of virtual schools, at least for a large part of the student population.  That instructional model is simply too difficult for many students, particularly younger or struggling students, to use to pursue a rigorous curriculum  But virtual schools do serve a critical role for students who are in circumstances that apparently don’t matter to some of the people posting above.  I have personally met gifted students who benefitted from an online curriculum that let them move at an accelerated pace and cover subject areas that were not available at their local traditional school.  I also know that there are many home-schooling parents who are providing a better education for their children than they could otherwise, using the content and structure available through virtual schools.  I have also met students who were so poorly served by their “assigned” traditional school that they could not remain there, and relied on a virtual school to continue their education until a suitable bricks-and-motar charter option became available.  And of course, there continue to be many students in rural (and some urban!) areas that do not have access to any decent traditional or charter school, and may find themselves in that predicament for a long time.

    The work you are doing is important, and I hope that you persevere in advocating for more choices for the students of California.  The attacks on School Choice are becoming more strident, even downright nasty at times, as Choice options and enrollments grow, and the defenders of the status quo become more desperate.  But the flow of history has tended to be toward more choice and more individualization for more and more people, and that, more than anything else, is what will work in your favor.  There is every reason to believe that virtual schools can and will fulfill important needs for an important group of students who have no other alternatives.

    Report this comment for abusive language, hate speech and profanity

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>