The Broken Promises of Choice in New York City Schools

by Elizabeth A. Harris and Ford Fessenden, New York Times, May 5, 2017

The city’s high school admissions process was
supposed to give every student a real chance to attend a good school. But 14 years in, it has not delivered.

"The sorting of students to top schools — by race, by class, by opportunity — begins years earlier, and these children were planted at the back of the line.

"Under a system created during Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration, eighth graders can apply anywhere in the city, in theory unshackling themselves from failing, segregated neighborhood schools. Students select up to 12 schools and get matched to one by a special algorithm. This process was part of a package of Bloomberg-era reforms intended to improve education in the city and diminish entrenched inequities.

"There is no doubt that the changes yielded meaningful improvements. The high school graduation rate is up more than 20 points since 2005, as the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has built on Mr. Bloomberg’s gains. The graduation gap between white and black or Hispanic students, while still significant and troubling, has narrowed.

"But school choice has not delivered on a central promise: to give every student a real chance to attend a good school.

"Fourteen years into the system, black and Hispanic students are just as isolated in segregated high schools as they are in elementary schools — a situation that school choice was supposed to ease."

Continue reading the article here.



Plan B: LAUSD's latest corporate reform scheme is being lobbied from the inside

This is the third post in a series. We’ve been deep diving into a Unified Enrollment scheme, a top priority of the charter lobby, that’s being pushed on LAUSD officials without a discussion of policy implications and almost no public input.  

In the first post, we laid out some of the scholarly research that finds Unified Enrollment systems exacerbate inequitable access to schools. They’ve been funded by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation in New Orleans and Denver.

In the second post, we revealed a process that looks a lot like the iPad scandal, complete with secret meetings to lobby board members and slick, pseudo-public presentations. Policy implications are not on the agenda.

In this post, as promised, we’ll introduce the privatizers who have infiltrated the school district to advance the interests of the charter lobby.

Conspiracy theory? Hardly. This just looks like the new business model. Since the iPad scandal, privatizers have had to find new ways to move their agenda. The scandal made direct corporate lobbying behind the scenes too risky. But there’s no need, if you have managed to plant your sales force inside the school system itself.  

The District personnel pitching the Unified Enrollment scheme are not just any LAUSD employees. They are Broad and Walton acolytes, trained and placed in the school system to move the corporate reform agenda forward from the inside.

Ani Bagdasarian Packard started working at LAUSD while corporate reform poster boy, John Deasy was Superintendent. For two years, she worked in LAUSD as a Broad fellow, just as Broad’s education empire shifted its focus. Previously a training academy for Superintendents, it would now focus on lower level staff “to make it easier for superintendents to define policy agendas, influence public opinion, coalesce political forces, and advance bold reforms on the ground,” according to a Washington Post article from that time.  

Bagdasarian Packard is now “advancing bold reforms on the ground” as Program Policy Development Advisor for LAUSD.

In her presentation to LAUSD’s Early Education and Parent Engagement Committee on February 28, 2017, Bagdasarian Packard explained that after the technology scandals that led to John Deasy’s ouster from LAUSD, “…my colleague and I decided to move forward with this, and we worked with IT to go with solution B, Plan B.”

Her colleague?

Maybe she was talking about Jodie Newbery, who presented with her at that meeting as well as at last week’s Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) to try to get the secret project funded with $24 million in school construction bonds.

Newbery was also hired when Deasy was Superintendent, in October 2011.

Where did she come from? Her three previous positions were in charter school promotion, according to her LinkedIn profile. First for the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence and then for the California Charter Schools Association. Her most recent job was as "Senior Manager, Walton Family Foundation Grant and Los Angeles School Development." Then she made the jump to LAUSD as Program and Policy Advisor, Portfolio Management. That doesn't require a conspiracy theory. How much more explicit could you get?

So a couple of low level co-workers inside LAUSD are behind a major policy shift for the District? That *is* bold. And could be great, if it meant that LAUSD were truly becoming receptive to bottom-up innovation. But the dynamic seems to be about something other than welcoming diverse input.

At the BOC, District administrative staff balked when BOC member Rachel Greene asked what Board policy the project was advancing before approving its funding. The answers were vague at best. District staffer Diane Pappas said the policy was Board approved in the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan. She neglected to mention that the Board has refused to vote on the Strategic Plan. Anyway, she said, they'd been meeting privately with individual board members to get buy-in.

I have found no evidence that a policy decision about Unified Enrollment has even occurred.

The BOC agenda materials claim that the Unified Enrollment System falls under the catch-all “School Upgrade Program” which is for “upgrading, building and repairing school facilities to improve student health, safety and educational quality.” Seems like a stretch in this case, as it did when Deasy used the same rationale to use bond funds to pay for the iPad Common Core Technology Project.

Just as with the iPad scandal, District staff is pushing hard. When BOC member Stuart Magruder, largely credited with first putting the brakes on the iPad boondoggle, asked if they were sure the District could meet the short timeline for Common Enrollment, Pappas answered, “We’re ready.”

Bagdasarian seemed more than ready. “These are just some snapshots of what it will look like—“ She stopped herself. “What it *may* look like,” she said in the February presentation.

And what multi-million dollar “reform” would be complete without a PR campaign?

Reports of a new coalition to advocate for the inclusion of charters

Cue PEAPS-LA, a coalition of nonprofit education reformers to champion Unified Enrollment. The Partnership for Equitable Access to Public Schools Los Angeles includes Parent Revolution (of Steve Barr and Ben Austin acclaim) and Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (of Antonio Villaraigosa and Marshall Tuck acclaim), among others.

So once again, all the pieces are in place, and the public only gets a seat to watch the result. With the iPads, the scandal surrounded alleged private lobbying efforts by corporate execs at Pearson. This time, the lobbying is hidden in plain sight, by LAUSD staff themselves. All they need now is the School Board's green light. No discussion necessary.



Is LAUSD’s $24M Unified Enrollment system another technology boondoggle?

LAUSD keeps trying to put its technology demons behind it.

But the ghost of tech projects past is still haunting. Yesterday, it visited the school board room during a Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) hearing.

At the meeting, the Chief Information Officer Shahryar Khazei promised an end to the past streak of “massive failures of Biblical proportions,” such as the iPad scandal and the MiSiS crisis (student information system) that sent former superintendent John Deasy packing.

But a sweeping technology agenda item #7 (page 81), encompassing four huge projects, seemed awfully resistant to being coaxed into the light. What could be seen looked eerily familiar. All were being pushed by LAUSD administrative staff without any meaningful public input.

4 Tech projects.jpg

The four projects:

·         Learning Management System – $23 Million – A platform that allows for personalized learning, online gradebook, deployment of professional development, teacher/student/parent communication, teacher collaboration, and integration with other instructional tools.

·         Unified Enrollment System – $24 Million – Unified Enrollment will provide a one-stop online search engine and application system that allows families to locate and save their school program preferences, rank schools, submit a placement application.

·         Enterprise Reporting System – $8 Million – A self-service report generator for MiSiS, Welligent, MyData (existing data systems).

·         40 School Telecommunications Modernization Projects – $24 Million – Replacement of telephone and P.A. systems at school sites.

That last one might be the only project that seemed to reflect what voters intended when they passed five school bond measures. Is an enrollment system used in a school district’s central office an operating expense? If so, it might need to be paid for out of the General Fund rather than the Bond Fund. The BOC seemed unconcerned about that though.

Standing at the bond trough, administration staff from the I.T. department strangely touted the Learning Management system as so good that the country of Uruguay uses it.


The Learning Management system and Unified Enrollment system raised so many questions that two committee members tried to divide the matter to allow the other two projects to be voted on unencumbered. Ultimately, all four projects remained together, but a vote failed for lack of a quorum. Why the BOC bothered to vote without enough active members present is a mystery. Only six of the Committee’s ten members even attended the meeting, and a whopping four of the 15 seats are vacant.

Without a recommendation from the BOC, the projects are still expected to advance to the School Board for its May 9th meeting. The rules call for a hearing, not for approval.

Whether the School Board will vote without the information that seemed to be lacking for the BOC is anybody’s guess. With the Unified Enrollment alone having a price tag of $24 million, one would think that both the advisory BOC and the School Board would get to see a budget, or at least a list of items that the $24 million would buy. Or is it lease? Or is it develop? Is it hardware or software? Is training for users included? We don’t know because the RFP #2000001340 is under a “Cone of Silence”.

BOC member Rachel Greene got the stink eye more than once during the meeting, maybe for interrupting the expedited presentation to ask some exploratory questions. Greene, a parent who represents the PTA on the committee, wondered if the School Board had even voted on a policy of Unified Enrollment before the BOC would approve spending $24 million to implement it. She said that before heading down the road toward what might be a district wide enrollment lottery system, it would be helpful to know the Board’s policy intent.

“Cart before the horse?” she asked.

LAUSD's CEO of Project Management and Digital Innovation, Diane Pappas tried to reassure the BOC by explaining that they had been meeting privately in individual board members’ offices and had gotten their buy-in.

So much for public scrutiny.

Continuing to make their pitch, I.T. staff said that of course the Board backed this policy. After all, Unified Enrollment was even in Superintendent Michelle King’s Strategic Plan.

They must have missed the memo—or news articles—reporting the Board’s refusal to vote on the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan.

LA Times: L.A. School Board won’t vote to approve superintendent’s strategic plan

KPCC: LAUSD’s King urges school board to approve retooled 3-year plan

If this is where the Unified Enrollment policy exists, it hasn’t been approved by the Board. So far, all we have are sales jobs. (I wrote last week about the slick presentation at the Early Childhood and Parent Engagement Committee meeting.)

BOC member Greene's comment about approving a bond before approving the policy that justified it applies equally to the whole process. Instead of a truly public process, the LAUSD administration seems to have done an end run: a sales job on the Board of Education in private meetings, without the benefit of input from critical or moderating points of view. It seems the BOC was expected to harvest in public what had already been planted and watered in private.  A thumbs-up from the little-known BOC would have taken the heat off the Board of Education and made its vote a foregone conclusion.

It seems the only lesson we’ve learned from the iPad fiasco is that the iPad deal was bad, but nothing about the flaws in the process that produced that terrible deal.

Let’s bring the ghost out into the spotlight. We’ll look at who’s driving this in my next post.



In the one stop shop of common enrollment, it's buyer beware.

We know a lot about what happens with common enrollment from New Orleans.
— Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, California State Sacramento

The pro-privatization LA School Report (LASR) spun a school board committee meeting last month to say that just about everybody in LAUSD wants charter schools to be included in a universal enrollment system. This was alarming since universal enrollment is an urgent priority of the charter lobby.

“Common enrollment is a big Walton idea to put charters on the same footing as public schools,” education historian and national treasure Diane Ravitch told me in an email.

Whether they call it universal enrollment, common enrollment, unified enrollment, or OneApp, charters want to piggyback on the establishment. Always insisting that they are “public schools”, they want to be viewed that way by every parent, “regardless of zip code”. Similar enrollment systems in New Orleans and Denver were funded by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation.

Yet the headline to the meeting recap cheered, “All sides push for earlier inclusion of charters as LAUSD readies its Universal Enrollment site”.

This caused a bit of a stir because the article said that even the privatizers’ nemesis, UTLA, was on board.

“One of the committee members, Robin Potash, a teacher representing UTLA, said it was important for the district to include charter schools in the list of options and to do it faster than their present timeline.”

“We all know there are many new charters opening in the district and they should be included as soon as possible,” Potash said. “These are all our students and they should be listed as options.”

Given that universal enrollment is such a boon for charters, could it be true that there is consensus among the California charter lobby, the UTLA representative and all three LAUSD board members on that committee?

The common enrollment approach is a major cornerstone of how schools end up selecting students (instead of the other way around).
— Dr. Frank Adamson, Stanford University

I called UTLA’s Robin Potash to find out if LASR quoted her accurately.

She explained that her comments at the meeting came after a rosy presentation by the LAUSD School Choice department (you can watch here).

One LAUSD staffer said it was like a shopping cart. “What this will allow parents to do now is a one stop shop.”

We’re “hoping to increase the equity and access,” said another.

That resonated with Potash. She said her school, located in South Central LA, has four co-located charters impacting it. She was hopeful that the inclusion of charters in LAUSD’s enrollment application would also bring some much needed oversight of them.

Potash was looking for solutions to a problem that is so common that the ACLU issued a report last year admonishing the one in five California charter schools that were found using discriminatory enrollment practices, according to the report. The NAACP found discriminatory enrollment by charters to be such a significant problem that it called for a national moratorium on charter expansion until that and other issues were corrected.

Maybe including charters in LAUSD’s enrollment process would be a way of making them more accountable for using the standard enrollment methods employed by district schools. At least that’s what Potash hoped.

She’s not alone.

Last year, California’s State Senate Education Committee held a hearing about charter oversight. The committee was asked to push school districts for common enrollment for the same reasons Potash thought it might help.

In testimony to the committee, Silke Bradford, the Director of Quality Diverse Providers for Oakland Unified School District, suggested that a common enrollment system like New Orleans uses, would go a long way toward providing the oversight and accountability that charters need. You can watch her testimony here.

She said for charter schools to be “pure public schools”, a term she coined to distinguish charter schools that are using public funds transparently from those that are not, they have to do better about including all students. Specifically, she asserted that the increased oversight of a common enrollment system would prevent exclusionary enrollment because all parents would get applications rather than just the parents handpicked by a particular charter or those savvy enough to navigate a complex system. She said charters would no longer counsel out students who proved challenging or expensive to educate. She also thought it would give foster students a better shot at enrolling. Left on their own, charters set application deadlines before foster youth are placed in homes.

To be clear, Bradford is a charter oversight authority—a former Green Dot Charter School administrator--who was asking the State Legislature to push districts to enact common enrollment in order to help hold charters accountable for their failure to provide equitable access.

It should not be surprising, then, that someone would sit through a presentation about the wonders of universal enrollment and conclude that it could help provide some oversight that charters are currently lacking.

Plus, LAUSD’s School Choice department was so convincing. You can watch their presentation here.

So it seems the policy makers are all in. What does the research say?

Let’s visit the petri dish—or swamp—of charter takeover, New Orleans. Researcher and author, Mercedes Schneider previously examined the New Orleans’ unified enrollment experiment, “OneApp”, in July 2013. That post might have been the most in-depth review of the topic at the time. She said the selective enrollment has continued under OneApp.

In fact, four years later, we now know that inequity is worse in New Orleans than it was before implementation of the common enrollment system, according to a Stanford University study.  

Education researchers Frank Adamson, Channa Cook-Harvey, and Linda Darling-Hammond have issued a report called “Whose Choice? Student Experiences and Outcomes in the New Orleans School Marketplace”.

In an email, Dr. Adamson told me, “The common enrollment approach is a major cornerstone of how schools end up selecting students (instead of the other way around). This usually occurs through a variety of loopholes (some schools maintaining neighborhood, sibling, or other preferential treatment), lack of equal access in the stratification by race and class in terms of access to higher performing schools.”

You can read the full report here.    

They make us believe that we actually have a choice and we’re involved in the process of picking our children’s school, but ultimately, if the computer didn’t pick your [lottery number], it doesn’t matter.
— New Orleans parent

Even a Walton funded report conceded problems. It quoted a parent as saying, “They make us believe that we actually have a choice and we’re involved in the process of picking our children’s school, but ultimately, if the computer didn’t pick your [lottery number], it doesn’t matter.”

Last year, when Oakland Unified School District was considering common enrollment, Dr. Adamson was joined in a panel discussion by Julian Vasquez Heilig, the head of Cal-State Sacramento’s education leadership PhD program. He also chairs the education committee of the NAACP of California and is a board member of the pro-public school Network for Public Education co-founded by Diane Ravitch. His blog is called Cloaking Inequity.

Dr. Vasquez Heilig said, “We know a lot about what happens with common enrollment from New Orleans.”  

He explained that the higher performing schools fill up and many kids get stuck in lower performing schools. The more elite or higher performing schools create additional hoops that some parents don’t have access to, such as attending seminars or filing extra applications.

“OneApp is disingenuous because there are alternative pathways,” into the higher performing schools, he said.  

He summed up the lessons learned in New Orleans this way: “They’re last or nearly last in every single education indicator.”

The research on New Orleans provides extensive evidence about the consequences of unified enrollment. LAUSD officials should do their homework before implementing such a system in the second largest school district in the country.



How I got schooled at the NAACP hearing

The NAACP Charter School Task Force held a hearing in Los Angeles on Thursday, February 9.

NAACP Task Force Chair Alice Huffman, at a January, 2017 hearing in Memphis. Photo by Laura Faith Kebede.

NAACP Task Force Chair Alice Huffman, at a January, 2017 hearing in Memphis. Photo by Laura Faith Kebede.

After calling for a national moratorium on charter schools until certain concerns were addressed (see below), the NAACP received blowback from charter school advocates. But Jitu Brown, of the Journey for Justice, defended the moratorium in the Washington Post's education blog, the Answer Sheet, saying, "corporate reform has failed to bring equitable educational opportunities to all children."

This hearing was one in a series, a listening tour, making its way across the country.

The distinguished members of the Task Force, all pre-eminent civil rights leaders in cities from Boston to Sacramento, states from Mississippi to Minnesota, gathered testimony from people with direct experience of the issues the moratorium seeks to provide the breathing room to address.

There was massive organized presence by charter advocates. One charter supporter stacked the speaker sign-up sheet with people who would speak against the moratorium, by copying a typed-up charter school roster she had brought. 

The unions showed up, too. UTLA brought a contingent from Dorsey High School and CSEA came. The Santa Ana Teachers Association’s charter school task force came. Former Education Chair of the California Assembly, Jackie Goldberg, gave public comment.

I was part of a group of the California Badass Teachers Association (BATs), a grassroots group of about 2000 teachers and education activists. I testified as a recovering charter school parent, but what I heard was more important than anything I said.

I go anywhere that people are willing to talk about what charter schools are doing to public education because of their lack of oversight. Few official bodies in California, and perhaps none in Los Angeles, will openly discuss the need for charter school oversight for fear of the powerful California Charter Schools Association lobby (Gubernatorial candidate and California State Treasurer John Chiang is a rare exception).

So the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in our country, provided us with a rare opportunity. I was grateful for my two minutes at the mic.

When the charter advocates in the back of the room shouted me down, Alice Huffman, the chair, promptly regained order.

I’m sure for some in the audience it wasn’t my anti-charter message that got them riled up. Some were rightly suspicious of a white westsider telling them anything about educating urban, black youth. Heck, my own school board member’s chief-of-staff told me not to go to school board meetings, and to find a Latina instead, because it made things awkward for him in our primarily Latino district.

But I didn’t come to tell them anything about educating black youth. I came to share how charter schools are being used in my neighborhood to segregate our schools.

The west side of Los Angeles had, for a while, more charter schools than anywhere else on the planet (that distinction now belongs to South LA). In my neighborhood, charter schools marketed themselves to white, middle class families as a way to send their kids to school without “those kids”. Of course, they phrased it differently. At the charter elementary school my kids attended, we considered our mostly white, middle class school community to be “like minded".

That’s where better oversight might have turned good intentions into fairer access for all children, not just mine. That is what I wanted to tell the NAACP task force.

After my children transferred to the district middle school across the street, we drove past the charter school every day. One day, my then 11-year old daughter looked out at the charter students during our drive to school and said, “why was my elementary school almost all white and my middle school is almost all black and brown?”

Remember, these two schools were separated only by a little street. The middle school was half Latino and half African American. There, my children’s race was indicated as “statistically insignificant” on demographic reports one year. It was a neighborhood school and a magnet school, part of LAUSD's voluntary integration program, for black and Latino children living in parts of the city beleaguered by poverty, violence, and other harms of racial isolation.

Yet LAUSD has approved nearly every charter school that has been proposed to compete with that school, and offered little of extra support to our neighborhood schools. There's no question that charters deserve credit for pushing district schools to step up, but the charter brand also benefits from a grass-is-greener mentality among parents. More choices mean fewer students in each school. That, in turn, means less funding in district schools which results in fewer elective classes and less support.

I am grateful to the NAACP for the opportunity to share my experience. 

However, far more important than my comments were those made by the Task Force members themselves. (I’m counting on the formal presenters like LAUSD board member George McKenna, California NAACP education chair Julian Vasquez Heilig, Green Dot's Cristina de Jesus, and UTLA's Cecily Myart Cruz, to post their presentations on their own widely read blogs and other forums.)

The room was mostly cleared out by the time the committee members made their closing remarks. Unsurprisingly, they revealed deeply thought out views by pre-eminent civil rights leaders who are immersed in the issues of equity for black youth in regions across the country. Their thorough understanding of the charter school issue shone in stark contrast to some op eds that have portrayed the NAACP as out of touch with its members.

Here is a transcript of their closing remarks.

Michael Curry is a civil rights leader in Boston, an attorney and President of the nation’s oldest NAACP chapter. He has been involved in redistricting, pushed for Police body cameras and helped to press for a federal inquiry into racial incidents at an elite Boston school.

…about their history and about Du Bois and Booker T and Marcus Garvey. Excellent school. So I think the conversation is somewhat twisted. Because people believe that they’re here to tell us not to oppose charter schools, and that’s a false premise. This was never about opposing charter schools. I think we need to lift that up again. That this was a conversation about a traditional public education system that we fight all the time. Another false perception. We fight unions at times about policies. We fight school systems. We just sued--not sued--we brought a civil rights complaint against the Boston Public Schools just a few months ago, and had a civil rights finding against the Boston Public Schools. So it’s not like we don’t fight on the other side too. This is about, now you have a new evolving system.

And I love to hear the great stories, but what I need to hear from the charter advocates for expansion is that you have problems, too, and how you’re going to work together to solve the problems within this new system. It’s disingenuous if you come and tell a great story about what’s happening in your school, but right down the street, is another charter school that’s expelling kids, suspending kids, not accepting kids, not enrolling kids. And as you have this national conversation about charter schools, let’s keep it real. It’s a problem. It doesn’t mean that your school—that it’s an attack on your personal school but we’ve got to have an honest conversation about what’s going on across the country. My last point on that is I’m always concerned about any new, evolving solution that’s finding us by people who don’t look like us and people who quite frankly wasn’t on the front lines of solving public education since the problem before. So it makes me question why they’re putting this money where they wouldn’t put this money when we were fighting traditional public school. We were asking for higher funding, and trying to pass legislation and bring lawsuits. They weren’t there. But now, all the sudden, they’re putting all this money behind charters. You need to ask that question. I don’t know what the answer is, but I look forward to having that conversation soon.

James Gallman is a civil rights leader, the retired President of the NAACP South Carolina which, he said, has “the longest running lawsuit in the country because our state refuses to fund all schools the same way.”

My comments, on comments that Michael made early, very early on in this process. This is my fourth hearing. And I think that we need to clearly understand what we have called for and then I think we need to understand how the NAACP operates. There was a resolution, or there have been resolutions, coming out of our national meetings. It was not the Board that made that decision. We get a unit that would bring forth a resolution. That resolution is presented to a resolution committee, and it is screened and decided how we move forward. And then it goes to those delegates who come to the convention, and they say that this is what they want to have happen. So just being a member is one thing, but you need to understand how the NAACP operates. It’s not just having a $30 card, it’s how we operate. So when we got to the discussion about it, we made this decision. Let’s call for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools at least until such time as--and we identified four things that we wanted to see happen. Nobody said “let’s stop these charter schools”. We said we need to clearly—we need to be sure that there are things that are being done that fit all schools. Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools; public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system; charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate; and cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet obvious. So we want to make sure these things are happening at every school. So we didn’t come here tonight to beat up on charter schools or to praise public schools. This young lady here, I can’t remember her name, but she said something about, “we’re on a listening tour”. We are trying to get information from both sides. Then we will, at the end of these hearings, go back and sit down as a group, talk about what we’ve heard, present that to the board and then let the board make a decision. We didn’t come here angry with you. We came here to share with—to hear from you—about what is it that’s being done in your community. What’s going on in this country? And then we can make an intelligent decision as to what’s the best way to move forward with ALL children being given a quality education.

(Audience: Is the moratorium for a specific amount of time?) No.

Da’quan Love is a civil rights leader, a charter school administrator, and community organizer. As president of the Virginia NAACP Youth and College Division, he led an effort that defeated attempts to invalidate over 16,000 voter registration applications in Virginia during the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

I saw a lot of students, a lot of scholars here today. Are there any scholars still here? Probably left. But nevertheless, as someone who has worked since July in a charter school—a little history on myself. I have worked elementary all the way up to the higher ed level in North Carolina, Virginia, and now Minnesota. As someone who’s worked since July to build a first-year charter school. I was a fifth grade teacher, I was recently promoted to Dean of Institutional Advancement, I understand how difficult it is to get a charter school up and running. So before I move any further, I heard a lot of folks say that ‘I started this school,’ or ‘I started a network of schools’. And I just want to applaud your efforts because you saw a need and you are trying and you are fulfilling that need in your community. I want to first say that. We should give them a round of applause. It’s no easy fete to do that. Secondly, as it has been stated previously, we are not against charter schools. We want top quality, fair, equitable education for all our kids. Now, if that’s at a charter school, that’s fine. If that’s in a public school, that’s fine.  We just want transparency, as Board member Gallman stated. And we want those four things to be outlined. As I prepare to leave this hearing, one of the things that I am taking away is, quite frankly, many of us have the same objectives. We all want our scholars to be on a pathway to college, and/or career, and ultimately to be successful. We all want to ensure that our teachers have access and are able to feel, as I forgot who said it from, I believe the Green Dot schools, making sure they feel like they’re being empowered, they’re appreciated and they’re ultimately being successful. We’re really all pretty much on the same page. It’s just the manner in which we are approaching reaching these goals. And so I think that there are some things that we can do, and there are some things that we as a task force can take away from this and listen to the ideas and suggestions that you all present. But, moreover, the folks that are in this room and many of the folks who have testified today are the good folks. The bigger folks aren’t here. The folks who we’ve been talking about all afternoon aren’t here. Those are the school management organizations, those charter management organizations, those big folks, who we really need to be having those conversations with. Those tough schools, those tough charter schools that have not really made adequate performance progress. Those are the schools we need to be really concerned about. And the same for our public schools. So thank you. I appreciate you all for coming and I applaud your efforts. I think that we as a task force have some helpful information to move forward with.

Derrick Johnson is a civil rights leaders, an attorney, founder of One Voice, a social justice nonprofit, and President of the NAACP Mississippi. He lectures annually at Harvard University and throughout the country on Voting Rights Act, civil rights, civic engagement, and redistricting.

I want to thank Da’quan Love for speaking up because he is a charter school teacher. He’s now a charter school administrator. We are perhaps the worst public school system in the country: Mississippi. We have the weakest teachers unions in the country: Mississippi. So for me, it is not about charter versus public. We have a system of education in this country that has pitted poor and Latino and black children in the worst position possible. And now what I’m seeing is the distraction of charter versus public because many folks do not want to fully fund education for all children. And every time we come to one of these meetings, we have well intended, good people—be them charter or public—speaking from their positions, not understanding that we are being used as a distraction. And the real question is why have we not transformed education to ensure that all children are provided with a quality education? Now, in that process, it’s disheartening to see the multi-billionaire class utilize tax dollars to extract, to increase their wealth, on the back of our communities and then give talking points to folks in our communities to say this is where we want the NAACP, when in fact, they never show up here. Ms. Jesus had one of the best comments today: bad schools is our common enemy. And let’s be real. We have some really bad public schools and we have some really bad charter schools. And our children are being exploited and used as pawns. Our role, as the NAACP, is to do all we can to be the stopgap. And that’s [inaudible]. So I fight public education all day long in Mississippi. But I see the problem. When you privatize tax dollars, people are exploited. And if we don’t have transparency and standards and accountability, we will find ourselves just like Detroit, all the charter schools you can find. And I grew up in Detroit and education is worse now because it's like the wild, wild west. So we’re not, anyone in this room, enemies. I think we all want the same thing. But let’s not be fooled about what’s really going on. This is about who gets taxed, who’s not taxed, and how those tax dollars are being utilized to increase other people’s profits.

Alice Huffman is a civil rights leader and has been a political powerhouse in California for decades, as a political consultant. She earned her degree from UC Berkeley, Cum Laude, in two years. She is President of the California/Hawaii NAACP.

I want to thank the board members. I do want to make a comment. I came from public schools. And we sat in here and bashed the public schools like they’re all bad. They’re not all bad. They educated most of us in this room, that we’re now educated to run charter schools. And for my [charter] friends in the back, what I wanted to tell you, you need to stop bashing your NAACP. Like you don’t want us to bash charter schools, don’t bash your NAACP for doing its job. Thank you for being here.

Next stop on the listening tour: New Orleans.



A California mom writes a letter to a Nevada Senator

Honorable Dean Heller
United States Senate
Fax: (702)388-6501   (775)686-5729   (202)228-6753

Dear Senator Heller,

I am a mother, not a teacher, and I urge you to vote no on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos is wholly unqualified. She knows less about public education than I do. She showed up to her confirmation hearing the way a high school student might have who had forgotten there was a test that day. Ethics experts from both Republican and Democratic parties have said that her refusal to address fundamental ethics concerns regarding her investments and her role in her family foundation disqualify her for a Cabinet position.

I am a proud Democrat from the great state of California, the state that helped turned Nevada blue. Because our elected officials stand firm representing our progressive values, we are able to devote our energies to helping to support our neighbors, your constituents in Nevada as they try to convince you to stand up for things like public education. My Democratic Club was able to donate to senatorial candidates in five other states because our candidates in California were secure in their elections and didn't need the money we had raised. There were fundraising events in my own neighborhood for candidates from as far away as Florida. We chartered busses and spent the weekend walking your precincts and talking to your voters about the things they care about. We spent days and evenings making calls from Santa Monica, Venice, Culver City and other places in California, talking to your constituents, our Nevada neighbors.

Nevadans aren’t very different from Californians. They want good schools. They want charter schools to face the same accountability that traditional schools face. They want their state legislature to fund public schools. They want stable faculties in their schools. They want the federal government to protect the rights of college students so that they can attend their classes without the risk of rape or sexual assault. They want a fairer student loan system. None of these values will be protected or advanced if Ms. DeVos is confirmed as Secretary of Education.

In November, one of our proudest moments in California was seeing Nevada turn blue. We can't take all the credit. Nevada voters are changing. Your great state voted for a Democrat for President, flipped two Congressional seats from Republican to Democrat, and elected a Democratic Senator, the first Latina woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Now we are looking for more outlets for our activism. My children both marched with me and other family members in the Women’s March in January. It was a beautiful civics lesson. You might have seen the news reports; Los Angeles had about 750,000 marchers demonstrating for the values we hold dear, values that we know our neighbors in Nevada hold dear, too. Who knows? If we had known about their demonstrations outside your Las Vegas office ahead of time, we might have joined them!

I hope you will stand up for those voters today and vote No on Betsy DeVos.

Karen Wolfe



Is more school choice the answer to declining enrollment on LA's west side?

This post was originally published as an Op Ed in the Argonaut Newspaper under the heading:
Science, Technology and Social Justice
Is LAUSD abandoning its core values by creating a new school for Playa Vista families?

The new Playa Vista Middle School approved last week by the LAUSD board illustrates how school choice can clash with the ideals of public education.

Every parent wants what’s best for his or her child. And in this era of education as a competitive marketplace, there is no shortage of products to fulfill the demand. But are we oversaturated? Even the high-performing Palms Middle School enrolled 100 fewer new students this year than previously.

Still, the bureaucratic Los Angeles Unified School District is vying with the massively funded charter industry for a bigger share of the school choice market by promising to create even more schools.

“One of our priorities has been to increase choice across the district,” LAUSD Supt. Michelle King said at last week’s school board meeting.

In the case of Playa Vista Middle School, other LAUSD officials twisted themselves into pretzel shapes trying to explain that this school was a new, different option responding to the demand from Playa Vista Elementary School — a “pathway,” they kept calling it.

“If there is a break in that pathway for our community, then that’s where we need to invest our dollars and our ideas in our thinking,” LAUSD Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson said. “In this particular case, with [support from] LMU, you see a STEM pathway that is different than the STEAM pathway [available at the existing middle school].”

Are Playa Vista families really so invested in keeping the arts (the A in STEAM) out of their middle school that they need a whole new school to avoid it?

Why so convoluted? Are Playa Vista families really so invested in keeping the arts (the A in STEAM) out of their middle school that they need a whole new school to avoid it?

Of course not.

Concerns have been raised at public meetings that this is an exclusive school only intended for certain families. LAUSD board member Ref Rodriguez said he was concerned with the emails he received about the school.

“So there’s this idea that we want to segregate kids … we don’t want them with the other kids coming from the surrounding — ” he said, stopping abruptly. “It’s very important that we take a real aggressive stand around that for obvious reasons.”

Added board member George McKenna: “If people look for their own best interests, then there is separatism.” He warned that the district needed to do more to prevent that than offer “lip service.”

LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer, who represents this area, said he had “absolute hope in the better angels of this community.”

But a couple of years ago, he didn’t sound so confident in an interview for the LA School Report.

“In reference to issues on L.A.’s west side, Zimmer argues, ‘The parents buying up the houses, who have more resources, have a lot of fear about public schools … and when you give them the opportunity to really engage and create integration and diversity in their neighborhood public schools, they don’t want to.’ Instead, he says, they exercise their right to start their own charter schools or they send their children to private schools,” reads that May 2014 article.

So what makes Zimmer so optimistic about the better angels now?

It might be political. Playa Vista Middle School would operate on the Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnet campus, and it was only a few years ago that LAUSD botched an effort to build up the “family of schools” in Westchester. Many Westchester families fled LAUSD schools and put the blame squarely on Zimmer’s shoulders. Now up for re-election, Zimmer could benefit from an influx of new families into LAUSD.

But we’re still a long way from this school opening. Other contrary measures have been passed that never came to fruition. There will be plenty more discussion about this school, including after the March election, as bond funds need approval, etc.

Before LAUSD leaders open a new school, there are many more questions that need answering: The board members need to ask themselves if they’ve done everything they can for the existing schools in Westchester.  

Have they reduced class sizes?

Have they increased electives?  

Have they budgeted for more adults on the campus so everyone feels safe?

Have they supported wraparound services so higher needs students are cared for and don’t disrupt classes?  

Have they made sure campuses are clean and in good repair?  

Have they increased outreach budgets to forge meaningful relationships with neighborhood families?

Have they funded libraries so each school is fully stocked and employs a specialist who helps children learn essential 21st-century skills to differentiate fake news from real information?

If they haven’t done those things and they still open this new school, they need to create a real plan to make equitable investments in other Westside schools.

But that will only happen if those school communities demand it.



In a Trump world, Rhetoric vs Reality in LA Schools

This post has been updated to correct the project cost information.

At Tuesday’s LAUSD board meeting, the school board will take on public school destroyer Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for US Education Secretary.

Board President Steve Zimmer will introduce a resolution, which reads in part:

…the Board of Education calls on the President-elect and his Nominee for Secretary of Education to re-affirm the role of public schools to serve every student that comes to the school house door, acknowledge that our public school[s] are an essential foundation [of] our democracy and indicate that they will support policies, initiatives and investments that serve all students and not some students and that they will support and invest in policies and initiatives that support equity, achievement and excellence while stabilizing instead of destabilizing our public school systems…
— Agenda item #38 here: 

It's sure to be popular in blue, blue California. And it will keep board members, including those running for re-election, in the news.

But at some point, the press conferences will be over and we will be begin to navigate our new reality in real situations.

Turns out “at some point” is already upon us.

On the very same agenda, Board President Steve Zimmer is proposing a school that contradicts this lofty resolution. The Playa Vista Middle School is on the Board’s consent calendar. So, no discussion necessary. (Although, we’ve discussed it in the blogosphere.) A previous proposal for the school estimated a $10 million (to start) cost and didn’t even face a quorum to be vetted at the Bond Oversight Committee.*

The Playa Vista Middle School that caters to certain westside families cannot be described as a policy, initiative and investment that serves *all students*. It specifically serves *some students*. It does not *support equity*, but gives greater resources to a more affluent and less diverse population than at any of the surrounding schools. It specifically *destabilizes our public school system* because the district is doing nothing to enhance the existing middle schools in the area as it creates the shiny new school for a select few.

So when the rhetorical flourishes fade away, are LAUSD’s board members committed to implementing policies that reject the new Trumpian reality they keep declaring is so objectionable? Or are they caving to the worst parts of ourselves that his campaign revealed to be more prevalent than any of us dreamed?

We’ll find out on Tuesday.

*A previous version of this post stated that the current proposal costs $10 million+. The current cost has not yet been estimated. 


To be the public in public education

Last week, the LA School Board held a Committee of the Whole meeting at a special location. The address was not announced on the school district’s website, but it was revealed if you drilled down into the supporting documents, or if you were in the know.

I showed up at the District board room, the usual venue, after paying $8 to park. A security officer told me the meeting must be somewhere else because his boss was off campus.

Once I drilled down on the web, I got the new address and drove to the special location. No street parking was available in the bustling downtown Los Angeles location. I re-parked in the garage of the building, and found the meeting room on a plaza shared by a few popular restaurants.

The meeting was in full swing with board members and Superintendent Michelle King discussing the revised Strategic Plan, which was not posted with the board materials for the public. Some people in the room had printed copies, but I didn’t see a stack of them anywhere. So I listened and figured I’d get a copy later, off the web.

An hour and a half later, I left to pick up my daughter from school. The parking attendant told me I had chalked up a $38 parking tab!

That's a Betsy DeVos price tag! And it wasn't even for valet! Joking aside, that hefty price is shocking to me. It would be impossible for the many Title I moms whose children attend LAUSD schools.

As I fumed on the way home about the $38, I got to thinking about how hard it is to be the public in the 2nd largest school district in the country.

I already wrote about the Bond Oversight Committee voting to lighten its load, public disclosure be damned. That was just one example of the public being less and less a part of our public school district.

There are other challenges. We, the public, see the board agendas three days in advance. We have 72 hours to sift through upwards of 400 pages of documents to see if there is something of particular relevance. Important expenditures are stuffed into voluminous reports, so much goes unnoticed. Policy changes are sometimes disguised as innocuous actions. In three days, we are usually only able to react rather than thoughtfully participate in the issues of the district. Hence, the bug eyed looks and breathless comments sometimes seen and heard at those meetings.

Even if we were prepared to provide input on various agenda items, we would not be permitted to.

California has a good public meetings law and a strong FOIA-type public records act. But different agencies handle the public differently. While the Los Angeles City Council and the State Coastal Commission, for example, encourage public input by providing time for comment on each agenda item, parents attending five- or ten-hour long school board meetings with upwards of 50 items on the agenda are only permitted to make one comment during the entire meeting. That, of course, is absurd for a public school district. To add insult to injury, labor union representatives, on the other hand, may comment on every single agenda item they wish to. When the unions don’t bother to comment, that’s sometimes a sure sign that they’ve had internal meetings with District and Board staff to hash out concerns before the Board votes—and before the public weighs in.

It isn’t that employees should be prevented from participating in District business, of course. But public school parents shouldn’t be kept out either.

Some parents are accommodated, such as parents whose kids attend charters. Charter petitions are now heard at their own separate meetings with a “time certain”.  According to an article in the LA School Report, Steve Zimmer, Monica Ratliff and Monica Garcia worked to ensure charter parents do not sit for hours waiting to make their case for a charter renewal amidst 50 other agenda items.

So, old school, public school parents, it seems all we need is a labor leader, a lobbyist or a lawyer to lead us so that we might be accommodated once in a while, too.

This is more than an exercise in alliteration.

It might be more efficient to run a public school district without the public. But before we start advocating for that, let’s remember that it’s largely what Betsy DeVos has achieved in her state of Michigan. It’s what we are sure to see more of coming out of Washington, DC soon.

Will LAUSD resist that?

E-mail, call or write your school board member:

And the Superintendent: 213-241-7000

Write a letter to the LA Times editor:



LAUSD watchdog group calls off the dogs

The watchdog group that oversees LAUSD’s construction bond funds wants to call off the dogs.

The Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) voted at its monthly meeting last week to make it easier to pass LAUSD construction bond projects.

A lot easier.

In fact, why bother holding meetings at all?

If the school board approves the BOC’s revised Memorandum of Understanding, the Committee will be able to approve billions of dollars in bond projects with just four votes. Currently it takes seven of the 13 members.

It's easy to imagine a project like the now infamous “iPads are a Civil Right,” aka Common Core Technology Project, getting pushed through when particularly active committee members are home with the flu.

But let’s go back even further.

The Committee was formed in 1997 in order to ensure rigorous oversight of school construction and repairs contracts before they approved a $2 billion+ ballot measure, Proposition BB, which had been narrowly defeated the year before. The ballot information included in the new measure reassured voters:

"To ensure that the bond money reaches the schools and is spent as the voters want, Mayor Riordan insisted that a strong independent Oversight Committee monitor the bond expenditures.
"The Oversight Committee included in this measure is comprised of accountants, engineers, architects and auditors. It will review projects and will report directly to the public.
"The oversight Committee findings and recommendations will be available at schools and libraries so that local voters can follow the progress of repairs at their neighborhood school. The committee will make sure that the contracts guaranteeing the repairs at each school will be completed on time and within budget."

So why call off the dogs? The committee says it’s about bureaucratic efficiency.

One BOC member told me the change is the outcome of a workgroup with the Superintendent's staff. And some of the recommendations are good. Insisting that the charter school association's seat is filled by a parent rather than a lobbyist makes sense, especially since the charter lobby's common assertion that it is the authentic voice of parents is not always true.

The BOC might also consider following its own rule that bumps members off the committee if they stop regularly attending meetings.

LAUSD is a public school system. If it continues to find ways to keep the public out, it will find that its only constituency is its own employees. That’s a problem when it's the public that's footing the bill.

Plus, as we saw with the iPad boondoggle, LAUSD makes better decisions when the public is involved.

The Los Angeles School Board, whose members are elected by the public, will have the final say.


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It's over.

This is what the world's best cartoonists are saying about the election results.

This is what the world's best cartoonists are saying about the election results.

Well, it’s over.

I mean OVER.


“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” --André Gide

I posted some analysis of the election at the bottom of this post. But let’s move onto public education.

There was plenty of local coverage of the education propositions that passed in California: 51, 55, 58, 59.

Georgia and Massachusetts both refused to open the floodgates to charter schools. Perhaps after all the national coverage from the Network for Public Education’s Carol Burris, they saw California as a cautionary tale.

Myra Blackmon explains what’s next for Georgia here.

Edushyster tells us why the statewide ban on the charter cap went down in flames in Massachusetts.

Since the presidential campaigns included almost no talk about federal education policy, we can look to Indiana to see what is coming our way. We have good reason to believe that Mike Pence will play an active role in the administration. He already booted Chris Christie from Trump’s transition team. He’s a grown-up Republican, rather than a pre-verbal toddler. Pence speaks the language of the Republicans who still hold a sweeping majority in the House and a narrower majority in the Senate.

So let’s call Indiana the Trump/Pence pilot program.

Hoosier buddy in education? Not Mike Pence  
Stop feeling reassured by checks and balances on federal executive powers. Pence is not a Republican in the traditional “local control” sense. This is the governor who signed a law that allowed businesses to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. The NCAA (that’s not a typo) pressured him to moderate it, saying they’d pull their lucrative Final Four tournament from the state otherwise.

He also signed a law preventing Indiana municipalities from passing any laws restricting the use of plastic bags.

Pence stripped the independent State Superintendent of Schools, Glenda Ritz, of most powers and created a second Department of Ed that he could control. She received more votes than he did and their terms were rife with conflict. Read about their war here.

If advocates for public education across the country fought against charters and testing with Bush/Obama, think now about a fight for local control, more testing than you can possibly imagine, school letter grades, merit pay, and federal incentive programs for vouchers in addition to charters.

Don’t tell yourself, “At least he’ll get rid of CCSS.” Out of political expedience, Pence essentially renamed Common Core for Indiana and required a new battery of standardized tests.

Vouchers are hardly ever discussed in California, but in Indiana, they’re a mainstay of “school choice.” My high school US History teacher, who now works for the Indiana State Department of Education (you can thank/blame him and a couple others for my interest in public policy), sent me this article a couple of weeks ago to explain what vouchers have done in my home state:

The report by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University called Indiana’s voucher program one of the most expansive in the country. No annual audits are required and there is no cap on the number of vouchers that are distributed. Sounds like California charter law. Poking a hole in the phony argument that vouchers are an escape ticket for poor children from their failing public school, in Indiana, most vouchers pay for private and parochial school for children who never attended public school in the first place. Rather, vouchers have proven to be an expeditious way to get the state to pay the private school tuition parents were already paying. This has reduced funding to public schools.

Remember how Race to the Top based funding to states on adherence to federal policies? Now think of Pence controlling such a fund.

The race to unseat LAUSD incumbents just got very interesting

Two candidates may change the entire race to try to unseat incumbents in the March LAUSD board elections, according to a City Ethics report.

Running against Board President Steve Zimmer, Allison Holdorff Polhill is an attorney, a Palisades Charter High School board member and a parent. Pacific Palisades is one of the most affluent areas in LAUSD.

Until November 2, 2016, she was also listed in the staff directory of the California Charter Schools Association as a Parent Organizer, according to my computer’s cache.

Across town, teacher Lisa Alva has rocked the “Cradle of Reform,” as board incumbent Monica Garcia calls her district, by joining the race to unseat the corporate reform queen.

Alva’s entry into the race is sure to rock the reformers' world, who will now have to divide their resources and energies. She became nationally known when she very publicly quit the reform movement. She had given Educators 4 Excellence, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, and Teachers for a New Unionism a try.

Things are about to get very interesting. I posted about this two days ago.

(Stop here if you’re tired of the Presidential election.)
More on the Presidential Election
Analysis of the election falls into two groups. Just like standardized testing, it’s either Math or Language. It will come as no surprise to those who know me (that includes you, Jose V.) that I will focus on Language.

Data ruins everything (Thank you, Rachel, for sharing):
According to Bernie Sanders’ digital creative director and Obama’s videographer, It sacrifices inspiration for incremental growth, it promotes races to the bottom, it is the walnuts on the political brownie.

Data is often cited in the U.S. as the difference between a cutting edge team and, say, the "Remain" campaign in the United Kingdom.

Still, having served in creative roles for both President Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders (videographer and digital creative director, respectively) I can tell you that data wasn’t what catapulted them into the culture and toward a metric ton of votes. It was their message, the moment, and their authentic manner that was forefront in these contests. Read more here.

For a campaign or a school district or even a school to craft an effective message, you have to know your audience. There are a few researchers who have spent the last few years studying rural America. We will probably spend the next few years studying them:

The deep story of the right goes like this
You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs. Read more here.

Backlash against big city elites
For the better part of the past decade, [Kathy Cramer] the political science professor has been crisscrossing Wisconsin trying to get inside the minds of rural voters.

…Cramer argues that this “rural consciousness” is key to understanding which political arguments ring true to her subjects…

…politics have increasingly become a matter of personal identity. Just about all of her subjects felt a deep sense of bitterness toward elites and city dwellers; just about all of them felt tread on, disrespected and cheated out of what they felt they deserved.

It’s absolutely racist to think that black people don’t work as hard as white people. So what? We write off a huge chunk of the population as racist and therefore their concerns aren’t worth attending to?

How do we ever address racial injustice with that limited understanding?

Of course [some of this resentment] is about race, but it’s also very much about the actual lived conditions that people are experiencing. We do need to pay attention to both. Read more here.

Garrison Keillor ain’t havin’ none of it
To all the patronizing B.S. we’ve read about Trump expressing the white working-class’s displacement and loss of the American Dream, I say, “Feh!” — go put your head under cold water. Resentment is no excuse for bald-faced stupidity. America is still the land where the waitress’s kids can grow up to become physicists and novelists and pediatricians, but it helps a lot if the waitress and her husband encourage good habits and the ambition to use your God-given talents and the kids aren’t plugged into electronics day and night. Whooping it up for the candidate of cruelty and ignorance does less than nothing for your kids. Read more here.

I’m a coastal elite from the Midwest—the real bubble is rural America
We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.

We must start asking all Americans to be their better selves. We must all understand that America is a melting pot and that none of us has a more authentic American experience. Read more here.

This is how the world’s best cartoonists are reacting to the presidential election results (thank you, Sharon).

We’re going to need the artists, the musicians, the writers to get us through these next years. It’s fitting that the last week has filled the airwaves with tributes to Leonard Cohen. RIP

For a chilling analysis of the election, KCRW’s Left, Right and Center discussed last Friday:  

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate:
"This isn’t just about policy disagreements. This is a man who, really, in every way, telegraphed that, if you are a woman or a minority, you should be very afraid.”

David Frum of The Atlantic Monthly:
"Over the next four years, a lot of things are going to happen that are going to be very alarming and disturbing. The future of the rule of law in the United States really is in question."

"Don’t concede the flag to the people who are attacking the Republic and the Constitution. That’s not their flag. The people who are defending the Republic and the Constitution own the flag."

“It’s ALL about growing up. One of the things that has destroyed the left and one of the things that has made this victory possible is precisely that it validates feelings and self indulgence, “my identity as an—fill in the blank—over any political end.”

California's Legislative leaders issued a statement

"We have never been more proud to be Californians.
By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny.

"The largest state of the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy has shown it has its surest conscience as well.
California is – and must always be – a refuge of justice and opportunity for people of all walks, talks, ages and aspirations – regardless of how you look, where you live, what language you speak, or who you love.

"California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future."

Full statement here:…/joint-statement-from-california-legislat…


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The race to unseat Los Angeles school board incumbents just got very interesting

Two candidates squeaked in before today’s deadline and entered the race to try to unseat incumbents in the March LAUSD board elections, according to a City Ethics report.

Running against Board President Steve Zimmer, Allison Holdorff Polhill is an attorney, a Palisades Charter High School board member and a parent. Pacific Palisades is one of the most affluent areas in LAUSD.

ntil November 2, 2016, she was also listed in the staff directory of the California Charter Schools Association as a Parent Organizer, according to my computer’s cache.

“As a parent organizer for CCSA Families, Allison builds teams of parent leaders who advocate to protect and expand charter schools for all families in Los Angeles.”

Holdorff Polhill is the second corporate reform candidate to put their name on the ballot for School Board District 4. TFAer nice guy Nick Melvoin was the first.

Melvoin has raised the most money at $161,000. Zimmer, who has been endorsed by UTLA in previous races, has raised about $29,000, and Gregory Martayan has raised $40,000, according to the City Ethics webpage. Martayan held a fundraiser emceed by Mark Geragos, the celebrity attorney who announced a class action lawsuit against LAUSD while representing famed teacher Rafe Esquith. Tracy Grand is also running. Neither she nor Holdorff list any campaign contributions yet.

But when it comes to elections and charter school lobby, we all know the drill. The big money will be in Independent Expenditures. If previous school board elections are a guide, some of those will be State rather than local, with a less frequent reporting cycle. So we may not *technically know* who the donors are until after the election. But I bet we could all guess today!

Across town, in the “Cradle of Reform,” as board incumbent Monica Garcia calls her district, teacher Lisa Alva has joined the race to unseat the corporate reform queen who has enjoyed steady support from SEIU.

Alva has been asked many times by many people to run for school board. She became nationally known when she very publicly quit the reform movement.

Her wake-up call came in the form of a conference call coordinated by the United Way to organize an astro-turf demonstration outside the LAUSD Board meeting to show support for the now disgraced, now departed superintendent Deasy in October, 2013.

Alva's Dear John letter was addressed to the reformers and posted on a teachers blog. Picked up by the Washington Post, and Diane Ravitch, it was a light shone in the dark corners where astro-turf groups, civil rights groups and corporate funders huddled while they thought no one was looking.

After what I heard, I couldn’t stay any longer working with these ‘reformers.’
— Los Angeles School Board candidate, Lisa Alva

Another light-shiner, parent activist Carl Petersen, is running in Board District 2, as are Manuel Aldana Jr. and Miho Murai. Garcia has raised $132,000. 

The primary election will be held on March 7, 2016 and the general on May 16.  

Things are about to get very interesting and, hey, it's not even noon yet. That's the final deadline for candidates to file.




EEK! elections - emails - education

It's Halloween and the fate of the Republic is in our hands. A double whammy, if you dare.

There’s much talk about how little talk there has been about public education in the presidential election. I guess the Russians just aren’t interested enough in American education policy to dump emails on the topic. Quick, somebody call Finland and tell them to check their firewall!

One leaked email did have particular relevance to public education though. David Dayen in the New Republic calls it “the most important Wikileaks revelation.”

A month before the 2008 presidential election, a senior Citicorp executive sent his appointment picks to Obama advisor John Podesta. Those preferences included Arne Duncan as Education Secretary. So now we know for sure why schools started to feel like franchises. Duncan, who put the public-education-as-a-competitive-marketplace on steroids. So destructive was Duncan that his legacy turns out to be a backlash. The years-in-waiting revamp of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act removes most of the power from anyone who becomes the Secretary of Education.

Flash forward to 2016, when some education activists are crying foul that their union leaders might be, well, leading. Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelson Garcia appear to be having discussions about education with Hillary Clinton. For shame!

While many education advocates are grateful that the frontrunner’s advisors this time around include actual educators, the more militant activists see something nefarious. They could be relieved, though, that leaked emails show that the Clinton campaign recognized Rahm Emanuel as a liability for the civil war he has stoked against Chicago public schools. These are indicators that we might be in for some change of thinking about public education policy.

You do not need WikiLeaks to see that education issues are out in the open in other elections.

Massachusetts is having a hu-u-u-ge public debate about lifting its charter cap, which even LAUSD ex-pat and Boston Supe Tommy Chang opposes. Edushyster tells us that elected officials in that state, from mayors to Senator Elizabeth Warren, oppose lifting the cap, and the massive out-of-state and decidedly right-wing money backing “Question 2” has raised eyebrows enough to show the charter agenda is about a lot more than charter schools.

In Oakland, the charter group deceptively named Parent Teacher Alliance (the same PAC that ran the disgusting campaign against L.A. school board veteran Bennett Kayser) gave money to an anti-rent control group. It’s connections like this that show the charter lobby has far bigger interests than putting students first, or in this case, even under a roof.

Salon reprinted a post from Capital and Main about what those billionaires really want out of the charter industry (and a third installment is coming soon).

Closer to home, local reporters are a little too helpful to the charter lobby (CCSA) as far as I'm concerned. KPCC helped make CCSA's point by highlighting the highest priority of the charter lobby: to transfer the power of charter authorization away from those pesky elected school boards. Afterall, it would be a lot easier for the charter lobby to control one appointed state board than to pick candidates in so many messy local elections for school districts up and down the state.

That drew the ire of Curmudgucation, a.k.a. Peter Greene, who had a thing or two to say about Kyle Stokes’ framing of the board as the fox in charge of the henhouse. This notion that the school board is somehow too biased to make decisions about the school district it was elected to represent is lifted right out of the charter lobby's playbook. KPCC gave it serious consideration last week.

I’m no reporter, but, no, simply asking school board members for reactions to the CCSA's talking points does not count as in depth reporting.

The public deserves a fuller picture of what charter corporations stand to gain if school boards get out of their way. Articles about it should explain the inherent conflict between the CCSA and LAUSD. The school board is elected by the public to oversee public assets and investments of the school district. The fact that the board is pushing back against the massive giveaway to charter school corporations is a result of voters throwing out the rubberstamping board members of yesteryear. Presenting CCSA's perspective without explaining that its mission is to displace the public school system is misleading at best.

The time is NOW to make it clear that our own elected leaders are the only officials who should authorize schools in our district. Tell your elected officials at every level how important this is. It's the week before a presidential election. Chances are, you'll be hearing plenty from them in the next few days. And the backers of the agenda to have someone else make those decisions are probably sending their own Citicorp-style lists to the Governor already. So don't delay.

LAUSD does not always make it obvious that we're looking out for our schools either. For example, why is this neighborhood school advertising Great Public Schools Now's takeover of the district as just another parent choice? Is somebody in LAUSD wanting to give away our schools?

It's confusing enough to find our who's on our side. Take a look at this convoluted web:

Button your hatches! In my neighborhood and all over the west side, the CCSA has paid parent organizers and a group called SpeakUp Parents! infiltrating grassroots school groups, promoting *choice* and trashing the district for being non-responsive to parents. Are they haunting your neighborhood yet?

There is still a thing called a public school system. If California and LAUSD are going to sell it off to private corporations--Citicorp, Magnolia, Green Dot, KIPP, or franchise it through the Great Public Schools Now syndicate, we should at least have an open debate about it.

Did you see this? PSconnect got mentioned in the Washington Post for fighting on behalf of Los Angeles public schools!

Please support our public programs. We really want to engage the community in discussion about the issues that matter for the survival of public education in Los Angeles. We've lined up awesome speakers! Can you donate $10 today?








This week in LAUSD

Such is life in the 2nd largest school district in the country that nearly every news report about education issues has something to do with what is going on in LAUSD. Let's take a look at some of the week's news.

But first, one of the biggest disruptions to schools was not discussed publicly at all.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the LA school board delegated its authority to make Prop 39 charter co-location decisions to the Superintendent. Prop 39 is the state law that requires schools to turn over “available” classrooms to charter schools. Following a court settlement, this is based on a count made at every school every single year. this has turned the school district into a land baron negotiating invasions on many fronts. The item was placed on the Consent Calendar. So, with no discussion, the Board took the public out of the process. More on this later. Much more.

Turning principals into compliance managers:
How gratifying for a parent to read the broad perspective expressed in the Administrators’ newsletter. We expect principals to lead efforts of the whole school community in the newly created “marketplace” of competitive school options. They can’t do this if they’re filling out reports 10 hours a day. We need them out in our communities developing partnerships, pondering possibilities, leading discussions about curriculum and instruction, talking about a place called school. Not filling out flushing logs. I encourage every parent, teacher, principal--anyone who cares about our schools--to read this:
From AALA's Update last week 

ICYMI – I attended the school board’s marathon meeting on charters and lived to tell it. No need to repeat.

NAACP moratorium:
That’s rich: The Wall Street Journal tells the NAACP it’s out of touch. You know, the newspaper whose "Home" section is called "MANSION".

Steven Rosenfeld explains in Salon who is really out of touch on the issue.

Alan Singer of Hofstra University weighs in in HuffPost. He also quotes Carol Burris from a Washington Post column. As a principal, Burris disaggregated the data to show how a neighborhood school really compares to a charter.

Jitu Brown of the Journey for Justice writes a letter to the New York Times. A community leader in Chicago, Brown has fought devastating school closures.

Author Mercedes Schneider looked ahead at Huntington Park’s moratorium on charters based on land use and zoning issues.

Reports on the outcome of the vote: The Wave Newspaper and the Los Angeles Times.

Charter school co-locations often come up as land use issues because public schools were impeccably designed—to be one school. When 200-400 cars suddenly descend upon a neighborhood twice a day on top of an existing school campus, neighbors freak.

Is anyone else in our LAUSD community working with City Councils that overlap our 700 square miles to address charters through land use and zoning policies?

Last week, a California appellate court ruled that charters cannot expand outside the district that authorized them. Recent legislation would have accomplished something similar if Governor Brown had not vetoed it.

POLITICS: Mixing politics with school
Dorsey High School hosted a Black Lives Matter discussion. CBS News covered the event. There were reports that LAUSD had tried to prevent the event from occurring on campus. What is the appropriate balance between community movements and schools? There are many views.

Last week, Yohuru Williams wrote an eloquent (as always) piece for The Progressive on how Seattle teachers are using the issues raised by BLM as a teaching moment. Well, more like a teaching day. Williams is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University in Connecticut. He regularly contributes to the national discourse on racial and social justice issues impacting schools, with his thoughtful commentary. He even makes it to L.A. let's invite him.

In his article, Williams shared this golden nugget from MLK speechwriter Vincent Gordon Harding:
"I wonder how, with the resegregation of our schools and communities, do you get to know the content of anyone's character if you're not willing to engage in life together with them?"

Yes, Virginia, there is DUAL LANGUAGE
Quick! Which states are the fastest growing for dual language learners? If you didn't guess Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, think again.

A new report from the New America's Dual Language Learners National Work Group explains, including how one Virginia school district has become a leader in dual language learner education.

Virginia is where Anne Holton served as Secretary of Education until recently. She resigned when her husband, Tim Kaine, became Hillary Clinton's running mate. So there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll be seeing more of programs like this in the immediate future. When is this policy, which has been prioritized by Board President Steve Zimmer, going to be discussed at a public meeting?

POLICE ON CAMPUSES: The Right to Remain a Student
A new report by the ACLU looks at best and worst practices—and names school districts in both categories—for questioning students as witnesses, arresting students suspected of crimes, and the role school officials play. This report and how LAUSD policies compare to best and worst should be discussed in public by the school board, senior staff and the community.

KPCC’s Larry Mantle talked with attorneys and school officials.

Anna Phillips’ article in the LA Times says: “Los Angeles Unified School District receives some kudos for its policy requiring police officers to have a warrant or court order before removing a student for questioning. But the report notes, disapprovingly, that the district continues to require school staff to screen middle and high school students randomly and daily, using a metal detector wand.

“While the policy expressly states that police should not conduct the searches, the ACLU’s review of the district’s search logs revealed that police frequently perform the searches,” the report says. “This policy has led to the unnecessary criminalization of students who possess minor contraband or do not wish to comply with the searches.”

What's the agenda description for this item? Which board committee would address it? Which resources are impacted?

ATTENDANCE: In School + On Track
State Attorney General Kamala Harris released a report on suspensions + drop outs. Which California school districts are doing it right?

Lawndale spent $22,000 and reaped $260,000 for its efforts. Long Beach launched its All In campaign for under $100,000, and increased its revenue by half a million.

What does LAUSD’s program look like? What does it cost? How much revenue are we projecting?  Who in the LAUSD community has the best ideas that could inform district policy? There is an Attendance and Truancy agenda item at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting. Will we have a robust discussion? Hopefully, board members will do their own homework because the materials on the agenda look like they're from a time capsule.

These are our issues. If news outlets are devoting so many resources to covering them, if advocacy organizations are bothering with policy recommendations, shouldn't we be looking into them, too?



[Updated] LAUSD loses over 6000 students to charters in one vote. And some charters get slapped, too.

I was at the Los Angeles school board meeting for 10 hours yesterday. I missed the morning session, figuring that since the charter approvals were on the consent calendar, there wasn’t much point. I was right. I guess UTLA made the same calculation because they did not show up either. Four charter revisions or renewals were approved and one new charter got the green light. Eight more charters--including four KIPP--were publicly noticed for hearing next month. According to one boardmember, that's 6000 students.

Magnolia Charters' Caprice Young

Magnolia Charters' Caprice Young

Parent activist Carl Petersen joined me for the last half. All three Magnolia Charters were denied renewal. So they will likely appeal their case to the County, which rarely rejects charters. I don't know what was in the report that was not made public (why?) but even charter champions Monica "Cradle of Reform" Garcia and Ref "Never met a charter I didn't like" Rodriguez voted them down. The report that was public contained a letter from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson telling Magnolia that it was in violation for failing to respond to repeated requests for information.  Still, Caprice Young told a television news reporter that Magnolia had provided everything the state requested, the state gave Magnolia a "clean bill of health" and that she thinks LAUSD just does not want good charter schools.

Citizens of the World charter was approved to expand from elementary to middle school. It is located within three miles of five other LAUSD middle schools. For an introduction to their citizenship, take a look at this 1 minute video clip in which they explain that they're the vibrant vine strangling the dying tree of Stoner Elementary School.

Carl and I were two of only three parents at the board meeting advocating for district schools among nearly 200 people in attendance. Dozens more charter supporters had been bussed and waited outside. That’s what happens when a school is threatened with shut down. I guess when LAUSD starts closing our schools, parents might start showing up to board meetings, too. We shall see. We shall see very soon.

UTLA finally showed up in the form of one person, its president. He did not speak even though "labor partners" are allowed to speak on any agenda item. This plays into the charter lobby's favorite device: the fictional teachers-against-parents narrative, always claiming that it’s just doing what parents want.

For the evening session, we parents were only allowed one public comment for the entire meeting even though there were nine agenda items. Carl focused on details of El Camino and the harassment he has been subjected to since blogging about them. There was a collective, audible cringe from El Camino supporters when he approached the podium.

I implored the board to stand up for neighborhood schools and reminded them that they were our only hope because the CCSA has the governor on speed dial. That comment might be why the CCSA started following me on twitter last night.

One charter dad told the board that it should not oversee charters due to its "implicit bias" on account of the district competing with charters for tax payer dollars. But, he said, don't worry. We're going to get the law changed. In the meantime, here's a great NPR story for that dad to find out what implicit bias really is.

Here is Howard Blume’s report. I’m sure KPCC will have one later today. LA School Report will have several. That’s what they do to influence opinion. They tell the story from the charter lobby's point of view over and over until people believe it.


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Los Angeles school board will consider rejection of charter schools

Public education supporters in Los Angeles are shocked and gratified to learn that the staff of the Los Angeles school district has recommended rejection of several charter school petitions to be considered at next week’s school board meeting. For years, it seemed there was no reason to ever expect LAUSD to reject charters and recent reports show senior district staff coordinating with Eli Broad's nonprofit to expand charter choices even as it grapples with decreasing enrollment.

The board will decide whether the staff recommendations will stand at the Tuesday, October 18 meeting. Presumably, that meeting will include heated discussion among the school board and district staff, as well as comments from charter advocates and the public. It’s common for charter schools to organize large showings of supporters at their hearings, usually with matching t-shirts.

The recommendations were posted on the district’s website today. The district’s Charter Schools Division made the recommendations after facing heavy criticism for its perceived mishandling of oversight responsibilities in the wake of financial scandals at El Camino Real Charter High School.

The recommendation which has drawn the most speculation is the one to approve the issuance of a Notice of Intent to Revoke the charter of El Camino Real.

Staff has also recommended the denial of the renewal of three Magnolia Science Academy Schools, part of the Gulen chain of charters which are associated with the Turkish Imam suspected of organizing a coup against the government of Turkey. That California chain has been under fire since a legal complaint was filed last February, calling on the California Department of Education to investigate. The complaint was first reported on the PSconnect blog. It cited more than accusations, and included findings made in a state audit such as 69% of Magnolia's financial transactions being unaccounted for; that Magnolia routinely awarded large contracts to vendors with overlapping connections to their own employees and board of directors; and that Magnolia had illegally used hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to pay for visas for Turkish nationals. A report in today’s Los Angeles Times shows that number is closer to $1 million.

Other charter proposals facing the new wrath of the LAUSD: WISH Charter is hoping to add more grades to its school. Citizens of the World wants an additional school and to grow an existing school. Celerity Dyad and Celerity Troika schools are petitioning to renew their charters. Staff is recommending that the board reject all those petitions.

It is unprecedented in recent memory for the LAUSD staff to recommend rejection of so many charters since the district began instituting market based reforms years ago. A top priority of so-called reformers is charter school expansion, and the wind has been at their backs. One year, LAUSD voted for 67 out of 72 charters. California lifted its cap on charters when Netflix founder Reed Hastings forced the California legislature to accept a measure similar to the one currently on Massachusetts' November ballot. Senator Elizabeth Warren has taken a stand against that measure, called Question 2, and it's more and more common to see criticism of charter schools in major news outlets. The Washington Post recently published two pieces (here and here) by the Network for Public Education's Executive Director, Carol Burris. Capital and Main, a leading Sacramento political blog, has been posting a series (here and here) featuring the billionaires funding California's charter industry, and the NAACP has recommended its board pass a moratorium on new charters. (Diane Ravitch posted phone numbers to call to express support for the moratorium.)

Whether next week’s agenda represents the beginning of a reversal of fortune for the charter juggernaut in Los Angeles remains to be seen.


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Is California's new accountability plan "gobbledygook"?

Joe Mathews of KCRW's Zocalo thinks so.

I listened to Mathews complain about California's new accountability plan today on Los Angeles' NPR affiliate. He said the new program, which gives feedback on multiple measures rather than API, is confusing and lacks coherence.

He's missing the purpose of this shift.

“People want simplicity (that test scores provide) but simplicity hasn’t gotten us very far,” said former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig, in an Edsource interview. “We really have to look at the breadth of what is going on.”

If we encourage parents to choose a school based on a Yelp-like rating, we're encouraging a superficial look--usually based on test scores.

The new accountability plan aims to give parents a picture of many aspects of a school. That's important, because more and more research shows that test scores are a result of a lot that is beyond a school's control.

Encouraging parents to look at the many aspects of the school is a good thing.

Through most of the years of my children's education, schools were reduced to a single number. That meant that schools that were well-resourced, with students who were well supported at home and easy to teach scored high, while those schools that served needier students scored lower.

Should I look only at schools with one type of student? No. Diversity is better than division.

Walgrove Elementary school in my neighborhood of Venice has had a stellar special education program whose families are embraced by the whole school community. It's a large part of the culture of the school. So special ed students come from all over. This impacted the school's overall test scores for a while, making it look like there was a problem. One parent tried repeatedly to get the rating website to broaden its criteria, to no avail. I told LA Times columnist Steve Lopez about it, hoping he'd write about it. But he found it hard to believe that many parents really picked schools based on online ratings. (Isn't that almost sweet?)

The new accountability plan gives a school like this a better chance of continuing to do its good work because it provides some context to parents.

There's another reason the broader focus is better. The obsession with test scores pushed too many schools to narrow class offerings to what is tested.  

We want to help parents navigate, but we don't want to be overly simplistic. It's important we get it right, too.

"All across the country people are paying attention to what California is doing,” Stanford's Linda Darling-Hammond recently said.

What do you think? You can leave comments on Joe Mathew's story here: KCRW Zocalo.



100% graduation is not a mission, but LAUSD has better ideas

The Los Angeles school board gathered last week under the premise of discussing Superintendent Michelle King’s draft Strategic Plan.

The morning session was a discussion of how to connect what the board and the district do to what happens in the classroom. In other words, what is the mission? 

Remnants of special interests were apparent. The discussion was framed as what reform (or as LA’s late, great Scott Folsom used to say ®eform) should look like.

Board President Steve Zimmer bristled at the term. “School reform has become a vulgarly distorted term that I’m not actually interested in anymore because I don’t know what it means.”

The news reports following the meeting mostly announced the board’s mission of 100% graduation (KPCC's report gave a fuller idea of what was discussed). 100% graduation is neither a mission nor a vision, but a goal. The morning conversation was about more than that anyway.

It would have benefited from some preparation in the form of research and policy analysis presented to board members ahead of time. Without that, each board member was left to his and her own devices in a loosey goosey rumination. Some were better informed than others.

PUC Charter Schools co-founder Ref Rodriguez blamed regulation: The regulatory environment keeps us centralized rather than ultimate school reform. Not sure what that means, but ®ef must be thrilled that Governor Jerry Brown vetoed two bills this week that would have required charter schools to adhere to California’s transparency laws that all public bodies in the state follow. He was the least helpful. He later suggested that empowered parents should be considered "just noise".

There was discussion about why parents and even employees go directly to board members instead of to the many district employees whose jobs are to do the things the board hears about. That might be because board members are elected and therefore accountable to the people. This should not be glossed over, but it's a topic for another post.

Some board members elaborated on their vision. The longtime school principals, Richard Vladovic, George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson, and classroom teacher Monica Ratliff described school communities as the center. Vladovic cited Edmonds’ research and talked about bringing in parents and the whole school to improve student achievement. Monica Ratliff grappled with whether and how board resolutions can make their way into the typical classroom. They discussed the need for district employees at every level to know that their whole purpose was to serve students. These were ideas that you could imagine parents, teachers, principals and aides coalescing around. They were talking mission and vision.

It’s hard to understand how hours of exchange about the goals and obstacles for a huge and diverse school district got reduced to a single number.

Maybe it’s because, by the afternoon, the Board Bully, Monica Garcia had joined the meeting. But why did Zimmer, too, insist on narrowing the focus “laser like,” as he said? And why was King so ready to reduce the district’s mission to one goal?

The superintendent, whom Zimmer reminded everyone, has the most trust of any superintendent in recent history, will now be judged by her ability or inability to achieve one target. The headlines will write themselves.

George McKenna understood that this was the wrong direction, knowing all the factors that are beyond the school’s control. There’s plenty of research about this, too.

But it seemed that having the Superintendent declare an easily stated goal was more appealing than grappling with the exigencies of a diverse and massive school district.

Reducing LAUSD’s mission to 100% graduation is downright baffling when you contrast it with California’s recent move toward the use of multiple measures in evaluating schools (after years of leading the country in bucking the Obama administration’s Race to the Top policies). Amidst ESSA's rejection of 100% proficiency goals of NCLB. In light of the shift in the national discourse from achievement gaps to opportunity gaps.

But this background was not even discussed.

Michelle King is a good listener. Recent reports say she has been listening to the Great Public Schools Now (GPSN) folks who plan to award grants to open more schools in LAUSD. Last week, the LA Times wrote:

Emphasizing possible collaboration, [GPSN’s] news release on Wednesday included a comment from L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King.

“I am excited about the opportunities to increase the number of high-quality choices for our L.A. Unified families,” King said. “We have schools in every corner of the district where students are excelling. Investing in these campuses will allow more of our students to attain the knowledge and skills to be successful in college, careers and in life.”

She added: “I have encouraged our local district superintendents to identify our most successful models and to work with their teams to develop competitive and forward-thinking proposals,” King said.

As enrollment is dropping and the superintendent is considering consolidating and closing schools (according to this TV interview), how are more schools the answer? Where will those students come from? But these are ideas brought to her by GPSN.

Michelle King is known as a good listener. Those of us who care about our schools should consider giving her something more to hear.

What do you want included in the strategic plan?



Reforms in disguise: a report on the LAUSD board meeting

Sometimes corporate reforms come in disguise, like the "iPads are a civil right" that turned out to be a boondoggle for someone's favorite vendor.

LAUSD's school calendar may have been the same. For years, a so-called reform effort to boost achievement cut summers short. It seems no reform is worthwhile unless it punishes someone.

No evidence was shown that connected higher achievement to an earlier school year. Remember, the number of school days did not change, just the start and end dates of the school year. Reform means starting school on August 16th in sweltering southern California rather than after Labor Day.

When three retired principals on the school board, George McKenna, Scott Schmerelson and Richard Vladovic brought the issue to the board on September 20, they had their own experience to dispel the myth that hijacking families' summers led to higher achievement.

“I think the quality of instruction does not change based upon the calendar,” McKenna said.

Vladovic, who has championed a later start for four years, brought a ream of research, including data showing school districts like Torrance Unified's 96% graduation rate with a post-Labor Day start date.

Schmerelson had said, "My biggest concern is with family time. People from all over the world and the United States come to California to enjoy the beaches and the entertainment that we have, especially during July and August. And the people who cannot partake of that are the actual students in L.A. Unified."

Sounds reasonable. But the backlash was fierce.

Howard Blume was right when he wrote that senior staff seemed awfully invested in keeping the calendar as is. He wrote that the staff's extensive report rationalizing the early start seemed to evaporate on closer examination.

Staff seemed baffled by parents. The report said, "most parents express a strong preference for late start," but dismissed it as "tradition (what they recall from their school days)." Howard Blume wrote that although thousands of parents have signed petitions supporting a later start date, "the school system has not determined what the majority wants."

Corporate reform champion Monica Garcia knew what she wanted. She launched into an aggressive showdown, portraying the change as a slide back to low standards. In doing so, she dismissed the thousands of parents who had contacted the school district asking for their summers back.

She said the district should not roll back successful reforms simply for parents' convenience--and just because they had enough votes on the school board.

That's quite a departure from last week when she shouted at the charter schools Rally in the Valley: "When I say 'Parent!' you say 'Power!'"

Parent voice is important when you're trying to advance the reform of *parent choice*. But at other times? Not so much.

That's when I decided it was important to speak up. So I testified at the board meeting, reminding board members that education is not just about test scores, but about creating citizens. Parents play a big role in that, along with educators.

It's ironic that while the calendar was being deliberated, the LAUSD board room was bracing for a stampede of parents to testify on behalf of the 17 charter applicants that were next on the board agenda. The parents were organized by well-funded charter groups ready to give them voice--as long as they turned over their right to transparency of decision-making, access to financial records and notice of public meetings by going charter.

After the calendar passed in a compromise that would move the school year start date closer to Labor Day, the board voted unanimously in favor of renewing eight charters without any discussion. The other nine were simply announced and will be voted on next month.

Among the charter applications was the controversial Magnolia, now run by the founder of the California Charter Schools Association, Caprice Young. Young is also a former board member of LAUSD. So she was right at home. From my seat in the board room, she appeared to be warmly received by senior staff and some former board colleagues. She even had a well respected former LAUSD principal, John White, testify on behalf of Magnolia charters.

The Magnolia posse of parents left the board meeting feeling victorious. Outside, they were congratulated by White, who said "One thing LAUSD has not figured out is how to engage parents."

Dyslexia Awareness could lead to important changes

It's not all bad news though. There are examples of successful parent engagement. Scott Schmerelson's Dyslexia Awareness resolution showed patient listening. With good reason, too. It might show that listening to parents goes far beyond making parents feel heard. If LAUSD could tackle the extremely common learning disability (it's estimated that 1 in 5 people in the US has some form of dyslexia), the district would have a very good chance of actually proving it can improve student learning. There are already established evidence based interventions that have proven results. Dyslexia Awareness is the first step in that direction. With little fanfare, the board might have started something huge.

They'll have plenty of other opportunities to practice engaging parents, too.

Soon, the superintendent will propose a way to explore parents' reasons for withdrawing their children from the district.

Also, in an effort to save a ton of money in the form of 600 tons of organic waste per week including milk, LAUSD will consider studying the issue of why students don't drink milk in their school lunches. Think parents might have some insights there?



Making Education Great Again - A charter rally in the Valley

Oh, edu-friends! Sometimes I can hardly keep a straight face at the forces trying to destroy public education. So, this time, I didn't even try. I hope you'll laugh at this video, too.

I wish you could have been in LA LA Land with me last weekend! I made this video for you in case you missed the charter rally in the valley!

Now that headlines from across the nation, of the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, the Network for Public Education, and the ACLU have all made clear—and John Oliver made hilarious—that the charter emperor has no clothes, the California charter lobby took its carnival to its favorite corporate reform playground, Los Angeles. Pacoima to be exact. The last bastion of that little inconvenience of democracy, the largest school district in the country that still holds school board elections, LAUSD.

Edu-friends, I thought I had stumbled into a Trump rally. It really made me feel like these folks are our only chance at *making education great again*. (watch video here)

“When I say ‘parent’ you say ‘power’!” corporate reform champion and LAUSD board member Monica Garcia shouted.

There were t-shirts with catchy phrases like “Fierce Learner”. Although I don’t know who let the guy slip in with an off-message t-shirt that read, “Public education is not for sale”. Ha!

There were t-shirts with metaphors like Phoenix! I could almost smell the smoke rising from the ashes. Although, let’s face it, that might have been the fresh aroma of bull****. Some hoped you’d forget they were any metaphor at all. Could the M.I.T. t-shirts actually, officially, almost be connected to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Oh, who cares? Details, details!

The point is, these kids have a great shot at getting into a school like that because they received extra credit for attending this rally! Several of them told me so.

There were other ways to tell this was no ordinary rally. It was literally on—wait for it—AstroTurf! That’s right, edu-friends. Mere grass isn’t good enough for these disrupters!

It was like a carnival!

Just listen to this charter school principal, Yvonne Chan, shriek--I mean lead--the crowd.

“You have MORE accountability for MORE student learning! Can we do it? YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! SI, SE PUEDES [sic],” she cheered.

Only 5% of California’s students attend charters, but this rally looked like the whole world had descended to celebrate charters! They boasted 3000 attendees. The cop I asked estimated 900-1000.

So how did these folks get here? Nothing is left to chance by the charter lobby. They had buses! But it was billed as a march, so a march it will be! Buses dropped folks off three blocks away so they could march into the rally!

And at the pilgrimage to Pacoima, the messianic theatrics did not disappoint.

The charter principal used a waste basket to tell the story of “throwaway schools,” and trashes the idea of integration.

And if you think anyone in LAUSD has the solution, you just don’t know how to let private enterprise capitalize on a good old fashioned crisis. I couldn’t find anyone in LAUSD there to set folks straight.

Chan ends her dramatic oratory with the 1993 miracle of miracles, the charter school law. That’s the law that lets some students into a charter if they win the lottery.

By the way, what rally could be complete without a drawing of its own? Just fill out the address card and give it to CCSA Families. Gotta capture your personal data somehow.

And it’s going to take a lottery—or maybe that principal’s miracle of miracles—for our public school system to survive charter schools sucking them dry.

What are our district leaders doing about this? What of LAUSD Board member Monica Ratliff, a headliner at the charter rally?

“I believe that parents should have the right to choose the school that they think is best for their children: Charter schools, magnet schools, pilot schools, private schools, traditional public schools…” Ratliff said.

And if you think a debate about opposing views was a good idea, think again.

“Rhetoric that turns discussions about education into an us against them narrative is never, ever helpful,” Ratliff finished.

A narrative. So it seems that it’s all about a story. Is the story about re-segregation of schools? Or discriminatory enrollment practices? Or the bilking of millions of public dollars into private hands?

Edu-friend, that rhetoric is never, *ever* helpful! Especially with a new campaign beyond LAUSD where the charter debate is just icky. In fact, maybe she’s right. Maybe the real problem is those of us who *talk about* the problem.

But hey, politician’s speeches are nobody’s favorite part of a rally. And at this rally, EVERYBODY loves charters! In fact, they’ll pledge their allegiance to them, and that’s exactly what they did before boarding the buses to return home.



Is the road to charter school accountability paved with good intentions?

It’s 9/11. Read the recollections on the web. Watch the tributes on television. Ponder. And please remember that Democracy was the target. The cornerstone of Democracy is public education. Can we redouble our efforts to save and support public education?

Wall Street Journal says elected school boards are passé—especially in big districts
Last week, blogger Peter Greene, aka Curmudgucation, told us:

Behind the paywall at Wall Street Journal, Chester Finn (honcho emeritus of the Thomas Fordham Institute), Bruno V. Manno (Walton Foundation), and Brandon Wright (Fordham) are happy to announce the death of one more piece of democracy in this country.

The trio reports that charter schools are spearheading a "quiet revolution" in local control. Because, like Reed Hastings (Netflix), they are happy to see the local elected school board die.

Oh, the elected school board was fine back in the day. "This setup functioned well for an agrarian and small-town society in which people spent their entire lives in one place, towns paid for their own schools, and those schools met most of the workforce needs of the local community." But this set-up does not work for a "country of mobile and cosmopolitan citizens." Not with money coming from the state and feds, and not when "discontent with educational outcomes is rampant." What does that mean? Where is the evidence? What do you mean?! Didn't you hear him? The discontent is rampant! Rampant, I tell you!

Also, they want you to know that some school districts are really, really big. So big that elected boards are no longer "public spirited civic leaders" but are now a "gaggle of aspiring politicians and teacher-union surrogates." Because gaggles of aspiring politicians are far worse than gaggles of aspiring financial masters of the universe. Hedge fund managers are known for their altruism (remember how altruistic Wall Street was back in 2008). Not that these guys are going to mention that the folks behind the great charter revolution are mostly hedge funders and money changers…There's more at


El Camino Real = The Royal Road
After blaming its own alleged financial violations on the Los Angeles Unified School District for failing to provide enough oversight of the independent charter school, El Camino Real Charter High School is refusing to hand over the investigative report it commissioned. That’s rich.

Such is the Royal Road to charter accountability in California.

El Camino can’t quite get its story straight on the reasons it’s hiding the report. The Royal Road’s attorney says it’s because the report contains personnel matters. If the report is used for a personnel evaluation, that evaluation is subject to confidentiality, not the report. Just like a report about a robbery would be public, and then also might be used in a personnel evaluation that would be confidential. Just like an iPad contract would be public, and the evaluation of the superintendent who might have fixed it would be private. Other examples abound.

Then there’s the Royal Road’s argument that it’s covered under attorney-client privilege, according to the Los Angeles Daily News (full article text below).  

The investigative vendor, Oracle Investigations Group, is not a law firm. How can its report be covered under attorney client privilege?

If the school’s attorney commissioned the report, it seems that would have been part of the discussion when the president of El Camino’s board asked his board colleagues to approve the hiring of Oracle. But it never came up.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported that discussion back in June:

“Now the El Camino high board of directors has decided to launch an independent financial probe of the popular principal’s spending. The forensic accounting comes ahead of a year-long management assistance review by a state financial turnaround agency prompted by the credit card scandal.

“I want guidance from agencies to tighten up the (school fiscal) policy,” El Camino board Chairman Jonathan Wasser said after a unanimous vote late Wednesday to pay for the probe of its principal. “I believe in due process.

“We need to have the forensic accounting look over all the information because it’s big, and I’m not an accountant, and it requires somebody trained to look over the evidence.”

El Camino might not be an outlier.

Everybody's doing it
In this KPCC report, charter schools advocates are blaming school districts' lack of expertise in oversight for the ACLU's recent report showing 1 in 5 California charters illegally discriminating in enrollment. They say it's all just a big mistake and if the school boards had the expertise, they could have just told the charter schools to stop requiring a birth certificate or a student essay or a parent's volunteer contract in their enrollment packets. A state oversight commission would seem like a good idea if you wanted to focus on one appointed board instead of all these hundreds of pesky elected school boards throughout the state. 

The wild, wild west
The Washington Post asks “How messed up is California’s charter school sector? You won’t believe how much.” Education reporter Valerie Strauss gives her column to Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education (NPE) who visited the wild, wild west to write a report on California’s charters. I’m glad to have had a chance to sit down with her and highlight the lowlights. The report is the first of four she will be writing.

Perfect timing! There are two charter accountability measures on the Governor’s desk.

Legislative update
Is the Charter Schools Association supporting El Camino’s earlier call for more oversight by urging its members to push the governor to sign them? Nah.

In an email to its members, it urges:

Ask Governor Brown to veto AB 709. AB 709 would apply a series of conflict of interest laws to charter schools. CCSA opposes AB 709 because it would impose Government Code 1090 on charter schools, remove important flexibility for charter school governance, and cost charter schools time and money spent on compliance that is better spent in the classroom. AB 709 is nearly identical to a conflict of interest bill from the last legislative session that was opposed by CCSA and vetoed by Governor Brown.
Please help us ensure Governor Brown hears loud and clear that AB 709 is bad for charter schools and charter school students, and should be vetoed. Send a letter today!

At last count, the CCSA was looking for 8,350 more letters.
The CCSA is also urging passage of AB 1198 – Assembly member Matt Dababneh proposed this bill to help charter schools buy or build facilities or refinance existing debt, even through personal deals with their own board members. 1198 passed through the legislature unanimously.

The NPE is circulating its own letter:

It is time for sensible regulation of charter schools in the State of California. Stories of illegal selection practices and even outright fraud and corruption are far too commonplace. Millions of tax dollars are wasted, even as millions more are drained from public school districts.

If you have not read our recent report on California charter schools, please read it now.  You can find it here.
Write Governor Brown today. We make it easy. Just click here. Ask him to sign two bills that are sitting on his desk today.
AB 709 requires charter schools to abide by the same oversight as district public schools, like the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act, because they spend public funds. Yet this reasonable measure is being fought by the powerful California Charter School Association lobby.
SB 739 puts a stop to one school district approving a charter in another district. It’s hard to believe this is allowed, but it happens. This bill would allow charter authorizers to place charter schools only in their own districts.
Write today by clicking here. Then share the link with neighbors and friends.

I listened in on a short conference call about AB 709, with its author, Assembly member Mike Gipson, State Treasurer John Chiang, LAUSD Board member George McKenna, Anaheim Superintendent Michael Matsuda, the California Teachers Association, the ACLU, and the Center for Popular Democracy, and now you can, too.

My favorite school district
Last week, the LAUSD board held its first Budget and Facilities meeting at which board members were to bring ideas for the year’s agenda. I was told no one mentioned Prop 39, which requires school districts to hand over empty classrooms to charter schools. I was told no one mentioned bond measures.

Tuesday, September 13th is the first Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting. 10am in the Board room.