By Ralph E. Shaffer | Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Daily News
Updated: 08/03/2009 05:40:59 PM PDT
Nearly 40 years ago the Los Angeles Unified School District and its public schools stood at a tumultuous crossroad not unlike the current "reform" proposal that awaits unsuspecting students. Then, the issue was court-ordered busing. Today, the crisis will be self-imposed if the LAUSD board approves a resolution to surrender to outside operators fifty soon-to-be built schools.
Even those who believed that the busing for integration experiment would have a beneficial effect on the educational system were moved by one student's testimony. "I have only one eighth grade," he said, speaking in opposition to the forced busing experiment in social engineering.
Today, the Daily News, the mayor and possibly a majority on the school board are ready to make another attempt at social engineering. They admit this is an experiment but do not see that the plan is fraught with sink holes that will swallow up innocent students. This time the kids will lose more than just their eighth grade.
This proposal will destroy public education in Los Angeles. At stake are not only fifty new schools but all existing schools as well. The mayor has already called for all low-performing schools to be offered to private operators. The lust for power and profit will entice the privateers to gobble up every school in the district. For political advantage board members and other officeholders will acquiesce.
Who will run these schools? The proposal invites a variety of community organizations to apply. But it is obvious that its supporters not only expect but hope that charter operators would receive the lion's share of the fifty schools.
Which charter operator is so superior that it is the prototype for what these fifty schools should look like? Why, Green Dot, of course. The Daily News cites it as the prime example.
Green Dot's operation of Locke High is touted as the model of a modern public high school. What makes Green Dot Locke a model? It isn't the test scores because they aren't available yet. Apparently it's not the after-school programs either since the extracurricular activities there are no greater than they were as a traditional school.
Nor is Green Dot's success measured by anything occurring in the Locke classrooms, for no one has lauded that. No, all the model high school needs to do these days is to be safe and instill discipline, which Locke reportedly has done. Hang the test scores! If the kids learn to say "Yes, ma'am" and get home safely we've accomplished something.
Has Green Dot really tamed the Locke students? There is a mistaken assumption that the same kids who previously caused disruptions are still on campus. Since Green Dot didn't want them, they either dropped out or are causing problems at another traditional school.
Have charters proved that they are more capable at running schools than LAUSD teachers and administrators? A recent Stanford report on charter schools makes clear that charters perform no better than traditional public schools. While some students do better in a charter than they had done in traditional schools, twice as many do worse. Most charter kids perform at about the same level as before.
Last year's college readiness test given by the state university system revealed that a disproportionate number of charters are at the bottom of the list in this county.
Turning fifty schools over to private interests will Balkanize education. Each school will seek more than its share of tax dollars. Competition will not improve academic quality. It will only encourage each fiefdom to fight for a bigger cut of the pie, to cheat on test scores, or dismiss low-performing students just prior to giving standardized state tests.
Surrendering schools to charter operators is a cop-out by the LAUSD board. What is needed is for board members to do their job, encouraging innovation in traditional schools and offering both vocational education and a college prep track at all high schools. To require, as Green Dot does at Locke, all students to take college prep classes is madness.
LAUSD doesn't need charters. It needs a board that believes in public education.
- Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona.