Charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District on the whole perform better than traditional schools, according to the California Charter Schools Association. Overall, charter schools in the district scored 29 points higher on California's Academic Performance Index, with low-income students, Latinos, English language learners and blacks all outperforming their peers.
What's more, an analysis of data from the 2010-11 academic year found that "all but one of the new charter schools authorized by the Los Angeles School Board during the first phase of its Public School Choice initiative outperformed similar new schools run by LAUSD."
So what did the board do this week? Made it much more difficult for independent charter school operators to participate in the Public School Choice program, that's what.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
The Los Angeles Board of Education made a major change in its controversial, 2-year-old policy allowing charter groups and other outsiders to take over new campuses. The board unanimously agreed Tuesday to give teachers and administrators first chance at those schools.
If inside groups' plans are unacceptable, then charter operators, who mostly run schools that are nonunion, and others can apply.
The rules remain the same, however, for existing, low-performing schools; any group can compete for those campuses.
The district was preparing to accept new proposals for 15 new campuses by mid-October; that deadline has been changed to Nov. 18. Since the policy began, 11 charter schools won bids to run new district campuses and one existing campus is being operated by a charter organization. About 40 campuses are operated by inside district groups, mainly led by teachers.
The Times' editors on Friday lament the board's decision. While noting that the program has been far from perfect (what policy initiative ever is?), the board "scaled back" on its promise to "give educational excellence the highest priority."
"The board should instead have decreed that when competing applications are of equal quality, the advantage must be given to internal groups," the editors conclude. "That would have given all applicants an incentive to deliver outstanding proposals without depriving students of what could have been a knockout application from an outside organization."
The Los Angeles Daily News sounds a similarly disappointed note, but tries to locate a silver lining: "While charter schools have probably done more to advance reform in the district, they were never the only solution to the district's problems. If some charters decide not to participate in the School Choice program after this, it would be unfortunate but not insurmountable. The reform movement the charters started has its own momentum now."
So, what's really going on here? RiShawn Biddle at the Dropout Nation blog argues the board has just handed the teachers union a huge victory, and the decision "simply proves that the district is better at talking about change than actually doing it."
Biddle notes that, "All but 11 of the 51 schools spun out by L.A. Unified in the past two years have been handed over to groups led by [union] rank-and-file. Given that the [union] now controls the majority of seats on the district's board after four years of control by a group backed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, this was also predictable."
The board supposedly made the policy changes contingent on future contract concessions from the United Teachers of Los Angeles. Nothing is guaranteed, but district Superintendent John Deasy says he wants to implement a teacher evaluation system that factors in student achievement, something the union has generally opposed. Deasy also wants tenure reforms and would like to experiment with some sort of merit pay system.
Timing is everything, however. Under the old policy, the deadline for new proposals for the program's third round was mid-October. The board moved the proposal deadline back to November 18. The deadline for the district to reach a new contract with UTLA, however, is November 1. No contract, no new policy. The problem is, of course, that leaves a much narrower window in which to submit a bid.
If that weren't discouraging enough, consider this tidbit from the L.A. Times story: "Teachers union leaders said the district could not force them to accept any conditions.'It's all bargainable,' said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles."
Yes, bargainable. Even excellence.