xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Don't Forget South Central: August 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

For those who believe the Yolie Flores Aguilar Resolution that turns over management of public schools to non-public entities is not about business interests who fiercely believe in a completely unregulated free market, read the blog entry below written by a proponent at the Cato@liberty blog.

By Andrew J. Coulson

LA School District Vote Shows Further Cracks in Education’s Berlin Wall

America’s large urban school districts are often the lowest performing, least efficient, and most resistant to change. The poster children for this reality are perhaps Detroit and Washington, DC, but the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has long been in the running as well.

Yesterday, there was a sign that LAUSD would like to get out of that race for the bottom: the district’s school board voted 6 to 1 in favor of a plan that would hand up to a third of its public schools over to private management. Ignoring for a moment the question of how well this policy will work, it is categorically, undeniably, a sign of change. In the past, such private contracting arrangements in large districts have usually been the result of state or mayoral takeovers. This is the first case that comes to mind in which the plan was the product of an elected school board that has just had enough with its own administrators’ unsatisfactory performance.

Keep in mind that school board elections suffer low-turnout, and that support for candidates is dominated by public school employee unions looking out for their own members’ salaries and job security. If THAT process can produce such a clarion call for parental choice, competition, and diversity in educational provision, times ARE changing.

Now let’s stop ignoring the question of whether or not it will work. There’s not a whole lot of research on the subject. The most recent and detailed review of a similar contracting-out arrangement in Philadelphia, by Harvard’s Paul Peterson and Matthew Chingos, finds that non-profit management organizations in the city underperformed the district somewhat in reading and math, though the reading difference was statistically insignificant. The same study found that for-profit management organizations outperformed the district in both subjects, though the reading difference was again statistically insignificant.

Honestly, though, I don’t think anyone believes that the LAUSD plan was the result of a painstaking comparison of all the policy options and the choice of the one most supported by the empirical research. It is a cry of frustration with the status quo, and an implicit recognition of what most people already know: monopolies are bad at giving consumers what they want at a reasonable cost; choice and competition drive up quality and drive down costs in every other field, so why not bring them to bear in education? And finally, the LA school board’s action represents a desire to get something done NOW, that is actually within the board’s power to accomplish.

My sympathies are with the board members who are trying to make a positive difference within the system we have, but the question for voters and legislators is: why stick with the status quo at all? Why not open up the field of education to all the freedoms and incentives of the free enterprise system, rather than trying to cobble together a pale, ad hoc immitation of it? Because what the massive body of international scientific evidence shows is that the freest, most market-like education systems are the ones that outshine public school systems by the greatest margins.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Done Deal

image from 3.bp.blogspot.com

They say you should wait to write a response when you are frustrated or disappointed. This school community is outraged at the passage of the Flores-Aguilar privatization act. So after waiting two days, we will attempt to share how teachers in South Central are reacting to the news that schools such as ours, LA Academy, might be outsourced to a private organization.

1. School board decisions have a way of trickling down to us in a different incarnation. When the layoffs were announced in March, we knew that if our young staff was laid off, few veterans would want to take their place down here in South Central. We were right. We continue to have unfilled positions, some taught by the very same laid-off teachers who are working in their own classes at substitute pay sans benefits. This is free market theory at its clearest. We think its wrong. We are concerned that the policy passed yesterday will also be implemented in a convoluted way in South Central.

2. The passage of this act now means our school is one of the most likely to be submitted for takeover. We are a high priority school (HPS), one of 34. This means all the work we have done in the last three years is in danger of being eliminated because board members who have never visited our school site feel business leaders will do a better job with our students than the educators at the school site. Just a few of our successful initiatives have been:
  • changing the school schedule to a Copernicus 4 x 4,
  • scheduling intervention classes for struggling students within the school day
  • scheduling enrichment classes for proficient/advanced students during the day
  • dividing the students into small learning communities with teachers who have common conference periods,
  • implementing a full-fledged arts program with credentialed art, dance, chorus, and drama teachers,
  • reducing teacher turnover to zero with a comprehensive new teacher support program
3. Staff is worried. Will we be allowed to submit a proposal to the school board? We already took one entire school year to write our HPSG proposal during the 07-08 school year. The plan writers met 10-15 times for 1/2 days of planning. Substitutes had to cover their classes, and it was a difficult process. What can we write today that would be so different?

4. If we our model is not selected, and a charter one is, will teachers be released and forced to reapply for their positions, as this is a common practice at conversion schools? How naive! There is no line of teachers waiting to come teach in South Central. Many veteran, highly qualified teachers will have to make a tough choice of possibly giving up their job protections and benefits to continue working with the kids who need us the most. How unfair for both parties. If veterans are forced to transfer to another school, bumping will occur, further disrupting school communities all over the district.

5. Long term, charters nationwide have either knowingly or coincidentally ended up with the more proficient kids at their schools, leaving the troubled, learning disabled students behind in public schools. Will this new policy create a district of the haves and have nots? Is this a whole new era of separate and unequal? Who will protect the interests of these children, many who have no advocates at all?

Right now, we are trying to get more information about the effect that this new policy will have on our school. We will blog from ground zero to see if indeed, the school board made the right decision.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Build a School, Close a Prison

Mark Twain knew 100 years ago what we fail to understand today. In 1900 he said,
Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog.
It is not a new fact that strongly investing is public schools helps eliminate the need for an increase in prisons. Educators stay abreast of important educational studies, and the Schools to Prison pipeline theory has only been one in a string of such studies that shows the strong ties between a solid education and a decrease in crime-filled futures. But just building new schools is not enough to eliminate the risks for disenfranchised youths and communities. It means also investing in your human capital, and valuing an educated populace that may one day grow up and think differently than you.

Much has been said about the LAUSD proposal to privatize new public schools by handing them over to charter organizations for management. Every politician, community leader, union leader, business leader, philanthropist, grassroots/astroturf parent organization, newspaper and blogger has an opinion on what should be done, and why.

Has anyone asked the teachers?

Not the union. The teachers.

The teachers who have chosen teaching as a career, the lifers.

We are the ones who will implement what all of you choose for us. We are the ones who will experience the success or failure of whoever you assign to "manage" us. We will witness first hand the effects these decisions will have on our young, vulnerable students, who have no voice of their own. Shouldn't we be asked what we think will work?

Should the Flores-Aguilar Privatization Motion Be Approved?

No. There is already a process in place, and a state law to enforce it, for charter schools to open and operate within the LA Unified School District. In fact, LAUSD operates over 140 charter schools, with new applications being submitted on a regular basis. This motion simply gives charter organizations new state of the art physical plants to add to their list of clear advantages they hold over their public school brethren.

Will All Students Be Guaranteed Access to New Schools if Operated by Charters?
Maybe. The new language in the proposition states, "Resolved further, That the student composition at each identified newly built school must be reflective of the student composition at the schools it is intended to relieve (in terms of demographics, including but not limited to race/ethnicity, gender, socio- economic status, English Language Learners, Standard English Learners, Special Education, foster care placement) and that there are mechanisms in place to review enrollment of those students at yearly intervals to ensure their retention and that
the overall composition at the schools continues to reflect the overall school

But that's what charter law was supposed to require in the first place:
...the school will achieve a racial and ethnic
balance among its pupils that is reflective of the general
population residing within the territorial jurisdiction of the school
district to which the charter petition is submitted...
and it is a well known fact that charter schools DO NOT teach the same percentage of special needs and English Learners as their public school counterparts. A million reasons are given for this, but the fact is that public schools like LA Academy constantly readmit students who were removed from charters due to strong parental pressure, or threat of non-promotion. Contrary to popular opinion, this is the first and foremost reason why career teachers are against this motion, and were against the massive teacher layoffs that are greatly affecting the academic and emotional states of our students at this very moment.

Should Charter Schools Be Allowed to Exist Given Their Unfair Advantages?
Yes. Because its not about the adults; its about the students. Many individual charter schools have done a tremendous job of educating students and are run by ethical people with the same goals and motivations as public school career teachers. The whole purpose of the charter school concept is to remove the layers of bureaucracy imposed by individual districts, and allow a certain innovative idea or program to be administered without interference of outside forces. Schools that have done this, guided by ethics, have achieved success, and parents should have the choice of sending their child to that school.

Unfortunately, many people in the public (guided by slanted articles and editorials such as those by Jason Song in the LA Times) believe that ALL charters are run this way and that they are the antithesis to the worst we have seen from LAUSD. There have been too many disturbing events at charters, namely financial mismanagement, gross labor practices, and a move toward bare-bones, test-prep curriculum to declare at such an early stage that charters are the answer to public ed problems.

Charters should have a seat at the table, not run the restaurant.

What Should Be Done About Public Schools, Given That They Are In Need of Assistance?

1. First and foremost, don't give up on public schools! We need support, both financial and moral, to keep the American ideal of public ed for all alive. Remember, most Americans were educated at a public school. And if you really think hard, you most likely had a teacher that made a difference in your life.

2. Make education funding a priority. Throwing money at the problem isn't a solution in and of itself, but it is fundamental. With adequate funding, you can keep class sizes low, provide more than the bare-bones curriculum, parenting classes, counseling, nutritious food, up to date technology, security forces where they are needed, and quality professional development for teachers.

3. Reduce the layers of bureaucracy that hinder schools, and allow the teacher experts (perhaps a committee of National Board Certified Teachers and outstanding educators) to develop the curriculum at their school sites. This is our field. This is what we do. This is how we know that the Twilight series is the hottest young adult literature in recent years, but that many kids prefer the Mortal Instruments series instead.

4. Require all school site administrators and coaches to teach one class per year. This will remind them of the ever-changing face of education today. The challenges we face today are not nearly the same as those of 5, 10, 20 years ago.

5. Require new teachers to be evenly assigned throughout the district, not relegated to the most challenging schools, which tend to be in the inner-city.

6. Have accountability measures for ALL members of the educational system. For example, when Yolie Flores-Aguilar declared she had failed to do the job she was elected to do and therefore wanted to hand over governance to the charters, there was no consequence to her admission of failure. Imagine if a teacher stated, "I have tried and tried to improve student performance but have been hindered by my administrator, the parents, and unmotivated students. Therefore, my solution to this problem is that my class should be taught by my neighbor at a charter school." This teacher would be out of a job, right? So should Yolie.

When Local District Superintendents allow child molesters to return to work and say they didn't get the memo, they should be fired. Not housed at the district offices until public furor passes, but fired.

When Principals prefer to be popular with teachers/parents/cronies instead of doing truly right by the kids, they should face discipline and/or be stripped of their principalship.

When teachers don't cut it, Principals should never allow them to become tenured to avoid an even lengthier dismissal process in the future.

Teachers can think of more solutions, but who's asking?

Monday, August 17, 2009

On Townhall Meetings

Tonight was the fourth townhall meeting regarding the LAUSD New School Giveaway proposal, held at Hamilton HS on the Westside. We have to wonder if this is an exercise in futility as was the effort to retain the dozens of new teachers our school lost during the massive budget cuts that occurred at the end of the last school year.

At tonight's meeting, there were a scant 110 or so adults present. We would say 20% were parents, 50 % were teachers, 20% were charter school advocates, and 10% were District staff. The presentation revealed that aside from the 50 new schools that would be open to a new governance system, all PI 3+ would also be deemed "struggling" and subject to takeover by any of the following:

1. Charter school organizations
2. Pilot school programs
3. University affiliated programs (LMU Family of Schools, UCLA Community Schools)
4. Traditional schools

The LD3 Superintendent, Michelle King, said teachers would be welcome to submit proposals as well. This is interesting. While this may seem equitable, most outstanding teachers we know want to concentrate on their craft, not write business plans for a new charter. If by teachers she meant UTLA, then that is another story.

The gentleman who co-hosted the meeting made sure that questions from the audience were either asked at the microphone or written on an index card so that "[the people] can feel like they are being heard". The use of this language was quite revealing; let's not actually hear what the people are saying, let's just give them the impression we're listening. Yes, indeed.

There were no interruptions, boos, or shenanigans. The charter group proponents were from a group called Families That Can, yet most seemed not to be families, but teachers. They clapped loudly when one of their members spoke, and whenever anyone said anything in favor of the proposal. The speakers were evenly divided between anti-proposal people, pro-charter factions, and parents who are frustrated with LAUSD.

Key questions that stood out were: 1. Why was this townhall meeting held during summer vacation? 2. Why are we focusing on new schools when we haven't finished fixing the old ones? An older gentleman also pointed out that previous reforms had proponents laughing all the way to the bank. Who stands to profit from the privatization of public schools?

In the audience was Ramon Cortines, Marguerite LaMotte, and Steve Zimmer. The LA Academy contingent had a chance to speak to LaMotte and Zimmer and reiterated their concerns about privatizing public schools, including our own. We made it clear that above all, we are concerned that inner-city students with special needs are the ones being left behind by many charter schools. We know; our school is the one that takes them back when the charters reject them. The board members pointed out that the new language of the proposal guards against any exclusions based on such things as language, socioeconomic status and special education needs.

It was also pointed out that the Obama administration clearly wants to advance the charter school agenda. If Washington wants it to happen, and the little people believe they are wrong, are we powerless to stop them?

Naomi Klein's shock doctrine theory maintains that unpopular changes should be made when opponents are in a state of shock. As a district that has dealt with massive budget shortfalls, legions of layoffs, and three superintendents in three years, the proposal to privatize public education is inopportune, to say the least. Ideally, such a proposal would be planned, discussed, and successful models would be used as guides. But these meetings have the flavor of an already done deal, and the only discussion the district is having is with district people themselves. Parents are not aware or involved in this process as stated by a parent at the meeting tonight, who only happened upon it "due to the robo-call."

We will have to trust that the board members will do what is best for all students when it comes time to vote for or against the proposal. Until then, interested gluttons for punishment stakeholders should continue attending these meetings.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Layoffs, Charters, and Giveaways

According to this report, the language in the LAUSD New School Giveaway proposal will open up the possibility of not only giving governance of new schools to the highest bidder best proposal, but will also put the 34 LAUSD high priority schools on the chopping block. LA Academy is one of them.

This blog has chronicled the pain and heartache of the budget cuts, the marginalization, and the massive teacher layoffs on the South Central community. In addition to these issues, we have had to deal with the skimming of the cream of the crop students by charters who have opened up shop in the neighborhood. While parent choice is important, it is also crucial for them to know what they are getting into. Do parents really know, or are they being blinded by propaganda? For sure, many parents have been let down by dysfunctional schools in the inner-city. But how much of that is the function of our society as a whole, which doesn't really seem to care what happens to black and brown kids? The state of California school funding reflects that value.

Do parents really want their children to attend no-frills, military-style schools such as American Indian Public Charter and KIPP? Do they want to expose their children to a governance system that does not allow for dissent? Will their child's teachers and support staff be around 3 years, 6 years down the line when they will need them for college guidance, or will they burn out? Are their children angelic, because if not, they may be expelled with much less due process than at public schools. Can parents volunteer 30-40 hours a year at the school?

Will the funding that is flowing so freely now be sustainable in the future? (Find the sentence buried in this glowing LA Times editorial: "Locke, which holds its graduation today, remains a troubled school, and Green Dot's strategy has relied on extra funds that may not be sustainable or readily replicable."

When the charters et al. have finished fleecing public schools, all that will be left are schools with the students no one else wanted. Our scores will go down, we will be certified as "failures" and we will be shut down. Then, all schools will be privatized, vouchers will be approved, and the last of the public school children will be forced to be absorbed by the new system. But by then, those that were the fierce advocates of charters, will have made a buck and moved on to bigger and better things. What will be left? New Orleans schools are a charter school experiment that we can monitor to see what can happen when you dismantle public education.

If you are interested in making your voice heard regarding the new proposal, you can attend community meetings scheduled in the next month. District 5, where LA Academy is located, will hold their public meeting at Griffith MS, Monday, August 10, 2009 at 6pm.

UPDATE 8/11/09: According to reports on Twitter, many parents and teachers were turned away at the door of tonight's "community meeting" in Maywood. Apparently, the meeting the night before at Griffith was packed with the majority of people voicing concern about the motion. It seems that tonight, the critics and opposition were excluded from the discussion
. This blog post deconstructs Monday's meeting, perhaps explaining tonight's events.

Correction 8/12/09: The exclusion of attendees happened at Mayor Villaraigosa's "Townhall" held separate near downtown, not at the LAUSD meeting in Maywood.