Thomas Ultican / Tultican
California’s lame-duck Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, has formed an Action Team to review laws governing charter schools. Six of the thirteen Action Team members work for the destroy public education (DPE) movement. Ninety percent of the state’s students attend public schools yet 23% of the Action Team are charter school management executives. Also, 23% of the team are graduates of Eli Broad’s unaccredited school administrators’ academy.
Torlakson is quoted in the announcement,
“In the past few years, we have updated virtually our entire K–12 education system. Now it’s time to look at the key laws governing charter schools, which have not been significantly changed in 26 years, to see how they can be modernized to better meet the needs of all public school students, including those who attend charter schools.”
This statement is malarkey. The original 1992 law capped charters growth at 100 schools statewide with no more than 10 in any one district. In 1998, Assembly Bill (AB) 544 expanded the statewide cap to 250 and allowed for an additional 100 charters each year thereafter. In 2000, Proposition 39, which was advertised as a means to pass school bonds, had a little-noticed provision that mandated charter school co-location with public schools. Legislation enacted in 2002 created the Charter Schools Facilities Program, which authorizes bond financing for new charter school buildings. A 2004 EdSource paper stated, “Since the passage of Senate Bill 1448—the Charter Schools Act of 1992—more than 30 other laws have addressed the operation, oversight, or funding of charter schools.”
“Aren’t charter schools better quality than public schools?”
I have often heard this question from many otherwise well-informed people. It indicates a victory for marketing when this destructive myth persists.
The Executive Director of Network for Public Education (NPE), Carol Burris, spent a year studying California’s charter schools. In her 50-page finalized report called “CHARTERS AND CONSEQUENCES: An Investigative Series,” she wrote,
“The majority of charter vs public studies indicate that overall achievement of charter schools is the same or worse than public schools. Like public schools, charters vary in student outcomes.… The charter high school graduation rate is 70%, far below the public high school rate of 85%.”
Charter schools operating outside of local democratic control should not exist because:
- Elected school boards administering local schools are the bedrock of American democracy. Charter schools are private companies that are not accountable to voters.
- Charter schools introduce inefficiency into the public education system by necessitating multiple administrations. It costs significantly more to fund these duplicate systems. The added costs reduce money supporting classrooms in both charter and public schools.
- Charter schools are exacerbating school segregation. The AP reported in 2017,
“National enrollment data shows that charters are vastly over-represented among schools where minorities study in the most extreme racial isolation. As of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”
In June, the Schott Foundation and NPE published “GRADING THE STATES A Report Card on Our Nation’s Commitment to Public Schools.” California was given a D+. The state’s charter school law is considered one of the nation’s most damaging. The reports says,
“Although the public school system is not perfect and has continual room for improvement, it is still the cornerstone of community empowerment and advancement in American society. The required inclusivity of the public school setting provides more opportunity for students to learn in culturally, racially, and socioeconomically integrated classrooms and schools, and that promotes social-emotional and civic benefits for students.”
“We look forward to the day when all charter schools are governed not by private boards, but by those elected by the community, at the district, city or county level.”
The California charter school law is causing real damage. In The Public Interest (ITPI) published “Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts” written by University of Oregon Professor, Gordon Lafer. The Introduction states,
“In 2016-17, charter schools led to a net fiscal shortfall of $57.3 million for the Oakland Unified School District, $65.9 million for the San Diego Unified School District, and $19.3 million for Santa Clara County’s East Side Union High School District. The California Charter School Act currently doesn’t allow school boards to consider how a proposed charter school may impact a district’s educational programs or fiscal health when weighing new charter applications.” (emphasis added)
These three districts are not the only ones in financial trouble. Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) reportedly lost a half-billion dollars to charter schools in the 2014-2015 school year. LAUSD just claimed, “L.A. Unified faces a $504 million deficit for this current school year.” Their smaller neighbor in Inglewood is also having a debt crisis caused by unplanned charter school expansion.
Earlier this year, besides publishing Professor Lafer’s paper, ITPI also did their own research and published “Fraud and waste in California’s charter schools.” This paper begins,
“Public funding of California’s charter schools now tops $6 billion annually. … Most public school districts aren’t given adequate resources to oversee operators, especially large charter management organizations (CMOs), while all lack the statutory authority to effectively monitor and hold charter schools accountable. … waste in California’s charter schools has reached over $149 million.”
The California charter school law is in desperate need of reform, but is the Torlakson “Action Team” up to the task?
The Action Team
Carl Cohn was twice appointed to the California State Board of Education (SBE) by Governor Jerry Brown. His second appointment announcement said,
“Cohn has been a professor and co-director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University since 2009. He was a distinguished leader in residence at San Diego State University from 2007 to 2008 and superintendent of schools at the San Diego Unified School District from 2005 to 2007. … Cohn is a Democrat.”
In 2015, the Governor removed Cohn from the SBE and appointed him as the first executive director of the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, a state agency created in 2013 to help local districts navigate the state’s new local control funding formula.
Cohn has always been friendly towards charter schools if not a promoter. In 2007 he commented to the Voice of San Diego, “I want to make it clear that I like what’s going on at some of these charters, and I believe that district schools can learn from them.” Last year, Cohn was a featured speaker at the San Diego charter schools conference hosted by the Charter School Development Center, a non-profit that claims, “We Fight Against regulatory creep that distracts charter leaders from improving student achievement.”
Susan Bonilla was a high school English teacher at Mount Diablo Unified School District before she entered politics. After three years as a county supervisor, this Democrat won a seat in the state Assembly in 2010.
Bonilla was especially focused on STEM education and still promotes it. She surprisingly wrote a legislative proposal that would have reduced teacher work protections, increased probationary time and undermined seniority rights. It would have essentially made the decisions in the Vergara case state law.
Regarding another piece of legislation, the San Jose Mercury News reported, “Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla introduced Assembly Bill 1084 in response to this newspaper’s investigation of K12 Inc., the publicly traded Virginia company behind a profitable but low-performing network of ‘virtual’ academies serving about 15,000 students across the state.” The article pointed out that a student logged in for one-minute was considered present and that fewer than half the students graduated. Eventually, Bonilla shelved the bill when it became watered down.
Although not taking any other actions against charters, this bill to stop the fraudulent K12’s practices infuriated charter supporters. In 2015, the Sacramento Bee reported on her losing a race for the District 7 state Senate:
“The race attracted unprecedented levels of outside spending, with more than $7 million streaming into the district during the two-month runoff alone, more than three times what the candidates were able to raise.”
“Labor unions backed Bonilla, while the business community, charter schools and Los Angeles businessman Bill Bloomfield supported Glazer.”
Since 2017, Bonilla has been State Director in California of Council for a Strong America, a national organization focused on increasing spending on children and families.
Cristina de Jesus is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Green Dot Public Schools California. She oversees twenty-two middle and high schools across Los Angeles serving 11,500 students for which she is compensated handsomely. During the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, Green Dot’s tax forms revealed her total income as $326,242 while the schools took in $148,484,811.
Cristina is an alumnus of the Broad Administrators Academy class of 2016-2017.
Ana Ponce is the Chief Executive Officer of Camino Nuevo Charter Academy which is a neighborhood network of 5 elementary and secondary schools serving about 2000 students within the greater MacArthur Park neighborhood near Downtown Los Angeles. Tax records show that the Academy took in $43,377,256 in the fiscal year ending June 2016. Ana was compensated $193,585.
Originally from Mexico, Ana grew up in the neighborhood where her schools are located. She is an alumnus of Teach for America and The Broad Academy class of 2015-2016. She was profiled by the Aspen Institute.
Gia Truong is Chief Executive Officer at Envision Education. Envision has two strategies: operating charter schools and providing training and consulting services to others through its Envision Learning Partners division.
For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 tax records show that Envision took in $16,558,401 and Gia was compensated $229,127.
Gia attended Brown University where she earned a master’s in teaching social studies. She gained her administrative credential through the New Leader Principal Residency program. New Leaders (formerly “New Leaders for New Schools”) was founded in 2000 by a group including Jonathan Schnur, former education policy analyst for President Bill Clinton.
David Rattray oversees the Center for Education Excellence & Talent Development at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and UNITE-LA, the School-to-Career Partnership of Los Angeles. Rattray officially joined the Chamber in 2003.
Rattray and UNITE-LA have called for “a common, unified enrollment system for all public schools serving Los Angeles children ….”
Rattray also sits on the Board of Directors at Learning Policy Institute. It is a “think tank” financed by many foundations associated with school privatization. These funders include S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Nellie Mae Education Foundation; David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Stuart Foundation.
Charmain Mercer served as a Senior Researcher for the Learning Policy Institute and is now a Program Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Charmaine received her Ph.D. in politics and education policy from Claremont Graduate University, as well as her master’s degree in political science.
In a previous role, she served as the vice president for standards, assessment, and deeper learning at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Former Virginia Governor, Bob Wise, leads the Alliance which promotes “personalized learning” a misleading euphemism for isolating America’s children at digital devices.
Jonathan Raymond has led the Stuart Foundation as its president since July 2014. In the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2016, his total compensation was stated as $522,725. It may be unfair to say this foundation is for privatizing public schools. They appear to be focused on how to improve education and have not taken a strong stand either for or against charter schools.
President Raymond, on the other hand, has taken several positions embraced by school privatization leaders like Eli Broad.
In July 2014, the Sacramento Bee reported,
“Jonathan Raymond came into the Sacramento City Unified School District nearly five years ago as a hard-charging superintendent, bucking the teachers union on tenure rules and seeking to use test scores in performance evaluations.”
“Forget about the flourish that was Raymond, who was a product of The Broad Superintendents Academy, which trains business and education leaders how to run school districts. Raymond arrived at Sacramento without a traditional schools background, having served as a nonprofit leader and private lawyer rather than working through the ranks.”
“Teachers also were angered over Raymond’s “Priority Schools” program to overhaul struggling campuses. The district inserted new principals, who were given authority to remove teachers regardless of tenure protections, which led to a legal battle.”
Raymond closed seven Sacramento schools in minority neighborhoods through his “Priority Schools” program.
Wes Smith, Ed. D. is Executive Director for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA). In 2014, Smith and the ACSA refused to endorse either candidate in the heated Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) contest between, former charter school administrator, Marshall Tuck, and incumbent, Tom Torlakson.
This year the former investment banker, Tuck, is again running for SPI. Shockingly, after personally interviewing both Tuck and his opponent, Tony Thurmond, the ACSA endorsed the school privatization candidate, Tuck.
A tweet from the ACSA read, ‘“ACSA is proud to endorse a candidate who not only understands education leadership but is committed to working with educational leaders to improve student access and outcomes as well.’ – ACSA Executive Director Dr. Wesley Smith.”
John Rogers is a Professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education. He also serves as the Faculty Director of Center X, which houses UCLA’s Teacher Education Program, Principal Leadership Program, and professional development initiatives.
He lists his research interests as
- Re-envisioning public engagement and democratic education today in light of John Dewey’s scholarship and practice.
- Understanding what and how youth learn about economic, social, and racial inequality inside and outside of schools.
- Examining and developing strategies for engaging urban youth, community members, and educators in equity-focused school reform.
In a Capital and Main release, John Rogers noted that if Eli Broad is successful in taking over half the students in LAUSD then the district would lose its ability to maintain its financial integrity.
Sylvia Rousseau is an expert on diversity, urban school reform and school leadership. She is Professor of Clinical Education at USC’s Rossier School of Education. Sylvia is a former principal of Santa Monica High School; a former LAUSD assistant superintendent of Secondary School Services and a former superintendent of Local District 7, which means she took on the problems facing education in Watts.
Testifying about charter schools Rousseau commented,
“In the midst of the many conversations about charter schools offering a choice to parents, districts have the responsibility to ensure that parents have viable options. Otherwise it is not choice. As we move forward in the name of reform and progress, it is important to keep asking the equity question: who is benefiting and who is not. … When charter schools infringe on districts’ ability to fulfill this public mandate for all children, they have violated the public mandate.”
Terri Jackson has years of experience with both teaching and involvement in California Teachers Association (CTA) activities. She was re-elected as CTA Board member for District C representing Alameda and Contra Costa counties. This term ends June 25, 2019.
Jackson is the only practicing teacher on the Team. She has taught for 33 years and is currently a fourth-grade teacher at Stewart Elementary School in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
Camille Maben: A seven-member First 5 California Commission selected the 16-year veteran of the California Department of Education, Camille Maben, as its executive director in November 2012. Maben was a strategic advisor to Superintendent Delaine Eastin from 1998 to 2003. Maben, a registered Democrat, has served on the Rocklin Unified School District Board of Trustees for 16 years.
Not too Hopeful about Torlakson’s Review Team.
With so many members of the team drawing huge salaries if the status quo is maintained, it is unlikely they will create many policy ideas for ending the destruction of public education.
I agree with the Schott Foundation, NPE and the NAACP that we need a charter school moratorium. During the moratorium, legislation can be written that carefully puts existing charter schools under the management of elected school boards.
The argument that says “remove rules and let educators do what they know is best” being the path to improved education is foolish and disingenuous. It is like saying “remove automobile safety rules and allow manufactures to build the kind of safe fuel-efficient cars they know are best” will insure safer more efficient vehicles. It is a silly argument and the reality is that large privatized charter school management organizations will continue to impose rules on teachers.
Let us embrace democracy for running schools instead of plutocratic nonsense.