Tuesday, March 02, 2010


By Mike Piscal -- Mike Piscal is the founder and CEO of ICEF Public Schools, a network of 15 high-performing charter schools based in South Los Angeles.

March 2 -- PERHAPS we were naive to believe that Los Angeles was at the tipping point of reform last week.

The district chose once again to embrace a watered down reform aimed at appeasing adult interests, rather than to do what's best for kids. They failed to follow through on their bold promise made in August with the Public School Choice Resolution, instead putting a new jacket and hat on the same old broken district model and betraying thousands of students.

Eighteen successful charter school organizations, representing close to 100 existing public charter schools, answered the district's call and proposed to operate new campuses as the resolution intended. The school board voted overwhelmingly last week to reject nearly all to appease political constituencies - the local teachers union among them - rather than to promote partnerships with these proven models of success. Instead, these new campuses will largely remain in the hands of the administrators who run many of the district's low-performing schools.

The warning signals that the school board would fold were evident early on, as some members labeled any group not in their direct control - particularly charter schools - as "outsiders." This mischaracterization fails to recognize that charter schools succeed because they are deeply ingrained in the community through our partnerships with parents, teachers and community-based organizations, with all focused on improved learning.

The resolution's intent was to grant these campuses based on merit; the applicant with the best academic track record of success backed up by strong evidence of community demand would be chosen. Charter schools should have fared well by these standards, considering that most have waiting lists and a recent report, which found that three-fourths of Los Angeles's charter schools are outperforming their nearby district peers.

ICEF Public Schools, in South Los Angeles, which has expanded to include 15 public charter schools serving more than 4,000 predominately African-American students, has seen every student in our first three graduating classes accepted to college. This is in a community where fewer than 10 percent of incoming ninth-graders receive a college diploma. We significantly outperform our neighborhood schools while our waiting list has at times exceeded 6,000 students, with families desperate to enroll their children. We're deluged with applications from teachers eager to teach in an environment that empowers them.

Our comprehensive application made us a perfect fit for the new campus built in our neighborhood - the Barack Obama Global Leadership Academy. Our plan to administer the campus includes a $2.1 million partnership with nearby USC, tapping into their nationally ranked programs to operate four small charter middle schools, each with an emphasis in law, medicine, design and engineering, and the performing arts.

When the community voted several weeks ago, more than 60 percent of them voted to request that ICEF run the entire campus. Most of these voters were African-American parents, desperate to get their children into a high-quality option.

In the end, the school board sided with the teachers union. The message they sent was clear: The district still believes that a top-down, centrally-administered bureaucracy is the best way to improve our public schools.

Sadly, while progressive unions throughout the country are working with charter schools, having concluded that charter schools are bettering public education, local teachers union head A.J. Duffy told the Daily News, "We're never happy when a charter school opens up."

Despite ICEF's track record - 91 percent of our graduates remain in college - and the fact that the community spoke, the school board denied our sound proposal. This vote denied hundreds of families currently on our waiting list the opportunity for an education that will prepare students not only to get into college, but to compete well when they get there.

We live in a great city that is entering its fourth decade with a high school dropout rate that hovers near 50 percent. As the school board reflects on its vote, it should consider this: Residents of Los Angeles are tired of fake reforms.

The public is weary of a school board promising reform and then making business-as-usual decisions. We can't be satisfied with a district mind-set that saves so few students because of an inherent thirst to micromanage and a need to cater to adult interests. We need to give proven, successful organizations like charter schools the resources to serve our community now.

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