Thursday, September 24, 2015


by Peter Greene in his blog CURMUDGUCATION |

It's nothing short of amazing-- a plan to do away with democratically controlled, publicly accountable education in LA.

I am absolutely bowled over at the magnitude of this power grab. Imagine if Broad and his friends said, ‘We're not happy with the LAPD, so we're going to hire and train our own police force, answerable to nobody but us, to cover some parts of the city. Also, the taxpayers have to foot the bill.’

Or if they decided to get their own army?

Or their own mayor?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015  ::  The LA Times published further confirmation of the story they broke in August-- Eli Broad and friends would like to replace public education in Los Angeles, taking over half of the district's "business."

The confirmation comes by way of an extraordinary document-- the Great Public Schools Now Initiative. It's nothing short of amazing-- a plan to do away with democratically controlled, publicly accountable education in LA.

Granted, LA schools have never been short of people willing to just go ahead and impose their will on the school district. It was just last week the Times ran the news that a group of "concerned citizens" had gotten a meeting with LAUSD school board president Steven Zimmer to tell him what they think he should do about filling the superintendent spot. How cool is that?! I think I will call the mayor of my town and tell him I want to meet to discuss my recommendations for how to make a budget. In fact, speaking of budgets, maybe I'll just summon my state's governor and some key legislators to a meeting where I'll tell them what they should do about the budget impasse. Because, you know, representative democracy is for suckers and little people-- People Who Matter just pick up the phone and tell elected officials what's what.

But the Great Public Schools Now (GPSN)  Initiative puts the "aud" in "audacious" and the "balls" in "holy schneikes but you have a big brass pair on you!" It's forty-four pages of How To Completely Circumvent the Public School System For Fun and Profit.

The Times coverage hits some special highlights, so I am going to skate across this pond of barely frozen pig poo as quickly as possible. But just in case you think some of what you're seeing about this plan involves scrutinous depalabration (my new term for close reading-- patent pending), here are the goals of the plan in the plain executive summary English:

This effort will be structured over an eight-year period from 2016 to 2023 with the following objectives: (1) to create 260 new high-quality charter schools, (2) to generate 130,000 high-quality charter seats, and (3) to reach 50 percent charter market share.

That is, not incidentally, almost doubling the current charter capacity in LA. But the creators of this plan say that "the opportunity is ripe for a significant expansion" of charter baloney in LA.

Big Ripe LA Dreams

GPSN thinks that LA is redolent with potential, positively fecund with charter possibilities, because reasons. [Insert Chamber of Commerce boilerplate here.]

But the dream is not just to tap into the huge market of students trapped in failing blah blah blah waiting for their chance for high-quality seats (and, man, I would love to see one of these seats, sit in one of these seats, visit the High Quality Seat Factory and see how these seats are made) blah blah blah.

No, the dream is to "create a national proof point for other states and cities seeking to dramatically improve K-12 education." GPSN wants LA to be the new New Orleans, the exemplar for charter champions everywhere, as they head out to double down, buckle up, and cash in. Gosh, let's see what kind of program they have in mind, because I'm sure it won't turn out to be a hollow, costly, unscaleable, irreproduceable, unsustainable plan at all.

But first...

Background: LA Schools Suck

Urban minority students trapped in zip codes blah blah blah no change in last years blah blah blah. Poor minority students have potential for success, and that potential goes untapped because of schools and not at all because of systemic racism and poverty. Nuh-uh. Just bad schools. Which, incidentally we keep throwing money at, but they don't get any better. Also, achievement gap.

Charter Schools Fix Everything While Riding Unicorns Across Rainbows

LA is filled with parent demand for charters, plus the suckiness of LAUSD. Oddly enough, the Deasy-loving tablet-pushing reformsters behind GPSN are not going to pause to consider their own role in the LAUSD suckness. But it doesn't matter because they have the biggest charter sector in the world, and it's awesome.

Charters "have maintained impressive growth" and  now show a "total market share" of almost twenty-five percent. This is because of "the success of charters to push past environmental and political factors and achieve sustainable growth over time." So success = more of them, It's almost as if we're discussing an investment business, and not a school. And indeed, we go on to discuss charter unit growth and enrollment trends.

We will also discuss student achievement, relying on API (Academic Performance Index) scores, and we don't have time right now to discuss how much baloney is stuffed into this mostly-standardized-test-scores measure. But GPSN wants you to know that the charters do better at the API stuff, mostly, pretty much. The state also has a special sauce for setting predictions of outcomes, and while I'm not super-familiar, it sounds like one more variation on "We're going to compare your students to other imaginary students over here that are more or less the same even if they are imaginary."

At any rate, charters are awesome. This report does not address the possibility that charters are creaming and skimming, nor does it discuss the value in regular, intense test prep. Charter are awesome. Awesome! And CREDO, a group that exists primarily to promote charters, says so, too, so it must be true. So many days of learning (whatever the hell that is) are added.


If you believe that waitlists actually provide meaningful data, we have some charts for you. Everyone else can just move on. Unless you want to look at the map that highlights some great market opportunities.

Things We'll Need Our Friendly Elected Officials To Do

The California Charter School Association has helpfully dragged the LAUSD into court so that judges can 'splain to them that they have to give us whatever we want. Kewl, because we're going to need space for all those super seats.

We made some headway on the last school board elections. We just need to get more people involved in the elected school board who will roll over and let us stomp them in the head.

The public support is growing. As proof, they offer a picture of a rally. You know, the kind where charter operators get all their parents to come, or else. The data point GPSN likes? There are now more charter parents than unionized teachers.

Any Obstacles?

GPSN spots a few.

Real estate and builders are needed to get enough snazzy charters built and filled. But the state's tax-exempt bond market is opening up to charter operators, so that's a plus.

Human capital. Yes, that's what they call it. They are going to need many, many teachers, even as the teacher pipeline in California is choking and sputtering (teacher ed program enrollment down 53%). The charters will have to compete with LAUSD for both quantity and quality (And--update-- as commenter Jack Covey notes below, the LAUSD actually got back in the game by actually giving teachers a range, and free marketeers never want to apply the free market to teacher salaries). Charters look to "high quality providers," by which they mean TFA and Relay Academy, so it's possible they have some different definition of "high-quality"-- anyway, TFA is tanking and Relay hasn't arrived in LA yet, so charters are stuck trying to hire actual teachers with actual training. Of course, some charter outfits like Aspire are creating their own fake teaching credentials, but those don't serve the larger cause.

Also, finding principals will be a real bear.

GPSN wants to double the charter market in eight years, but by gum, they just won't sacrifice quality to do it. So funding. And closing down crappy charters that don't belong to the Right People.

Let's Talk Money

Speaking of sustainability.

Remember when a charter's selling point was that it could do more with less. That was apparently not in LA, where, if I'm reading these charts correctly, GPSN will need almost a half a billion-with-a-b dollars of outside money over the next eight years to pull this off (excluding any potential overruns, which I'm sure won't be an issue when building a few hundred new schools). In fact, late in this report, it starts to become clear that this is, in part, an investors prospectus.

That half-a-billion includes funds for building schools, "scaling" schools, getting teachers (this includes pumping up TFA and Relay), recruiting principals, organizing and advocacfy, and fund management (because you don't just stick $500 million in a desk drawer somewhere).

I am now really curious about what outside investors are spending on LA charters right now, but clearly, LA will be one more place where the effect charter schools will be to raise the total cost of the complete school system a whole hell of a lot. I'll say it again-- only charter school operators believe you can live in two homes for the cost of one.

They have many hopes, including parent groups, CCSA, and Emma Bloomberg's new Big Data group, Murmuration-- plus the United Way and other community groups who will, apparently, contribute to replacing a public school system with private profiteering.

Okay, "replace" is too strong a word. Fifty percent of LA students will be allowed to stay in the public schools, or whatever is left of them after the charters have sucked them dry. But don't worry-- I'm sure that the charters will call first dibs on the most challenging, difficult, expensive students in the system, taking on the challenges of students with special needs, English language learners, and the most vulnerable students, leaving the public school with the strongest, most capable, most resilient students in the city.

Bottom Line

I am absolutely bowled over at the magnitude of this power grab. Imagine if Broad and his friends said, "We're not happy with the LAPD, so we're going to hire and train our own police force, answerable to nobody but us, to cover some parts of the city. Also, the taxpayers have to foot the bill." Or if they decided to get their own army? Or their own mayor?

Who does this? Who says, "We can't get enough control over the elected officials in this branch of government, so we will just shove them out of the way and replace them with our own guys, who won't bug us by answering to Those People."

This is not just about educational quality (or lack thereof), or just about how to turn education into a cash cow for a few high rollers-- this is about a hamhanded effort to circumvent democracy in a major American city. There's nothing in this plan about listening to the parents or community- only about what is going to be done to them by men with power and money. This just sucks a lot.

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