In late February, the Los Angeles Unified School District voted to turn over 22 of 30 underperforming and new schools to groups of union-affiliated teachers, rejecting a number of applications from some well-known charter school groups.
A bit of background. The decision to turn over management of 30 schools is just the first round of changes to be made as a result of an August 2009 board decision to tackle the chronic underperformance of 200 L.A. schools and the opening of 50 new ones over the next three years. The board decision also jumpstarted an unprecedented applications process in which both district and outside groups could submit proposals for running schools.
While district superintendent Ramon C. Cortines recommended seven charters for the job, only four were accepted. But the three groups that were voted down--Green Dot, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools and ICEF--made a lot of people call foul. "It's ridiculous that they were not included," said Jed Wallace, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.
The board's vote, Wallace added, was based on "politics, not merit." And indeed a lot didn't smell right about the process. Members of the affected school communities were asked to vote on which of the proposals they preferred in early February, and the press reported that some people voted more than once. During a campaign by the union, some members engaged in tactics one board member, Yolie Flores, found "infuriating." Citing an example, she said a flyer was passed out to parents claiming that, if they signed a charter petition, they'd be deported--not the kind of thing a sizable immigrant population wants to hear.
While Wallace believes that an official district endorsement of even a single charter organization signals the beginning of a turnaround in L.A., he admits that the board's vote did produce something of a "chilling" effect among charters--but only temporarily. Charters have too good a track record in the city to give up now, and many plan to submit proposals for the remaining 220 schools.
"We are the next generation of the way schools are operated," Wallace said. "We're not going anywhere. It may take a while, but we'll get there."