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Education

L.A. Charter School Takeover: Teachers, Superintendant Cortines Defeated as Mayor, Reformers Get Their Way With 7 New Charters

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Wed, Mar 16, 2011 at 2:25 PM
click to enlarge Not this time, Cortines.
  • Not this time, Cortines.

Private charter-school giants are pushing their way into the Los Angeles Unified School District one low-performing campus at a time -- or, as was the case yesterday, seven at a time, out of 13 district schools up for grabs.

The Los Angeles Board of Education's reform-minded decision to hand seven of the district's failures over to charter schools -- to the horror of unionized L.A. teachers and their supporters -- is a far cry from last year, when Superintendent Ramon Cortines and pro-union board member Marguerite LaMotte led the board in approving more insular plans, hatched within the district.

But the very apparent shoddiness of those plans...

... may have been what pushed education officials to the edge yesterday, lobbied by charter schools, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and radical education experts into defying their leader and welcoming in what many in the teachers' camp believe to be the enemy.

"I am much more satisfied this year than I was last year," school board member Yolie Flores, who authored the very Public School Choice process that put 13 L.A. schools on the reform block yesterday, told the LA Daily News. "I think we took more seriously our sense of urgency and the quality of the plans."

Flores is perhaps the most charter-friendly of all the board members, and for that, she was attacked earlier this month by the official student newspaper at Huntington Park High School (which happens to be Flores' alma mater, located in the notorious southeast circle of East L.A. County).

In a piece called "The Parent Center Smack Down," young Spartan Shield reporters accused Flores of mis-evaluating their school as needing change -- even though only 25 percent of students meet California standards in English, and only 5 percent in math. A mere 66 percent of Spartans graduated in 2008.

Their discourse smacked of classroom influence; arguments made by the same teachers, of course, who would have to reapply for their jobs in the case of a charter-school takeover.

Yesterday's school board meeting was a heavy-hearted one for outgoing L.A. Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who had recommended that many more in-district proposals be implemented. From the Los Angeles Times' Howard Blume, who takes a noticeable "political machine" stance against charters throughout his piece:

Cortines, for example, had wanted low-achieving Clay Middle School, in Athens, to be split between a team from the school and Green Dot Public Schools, a charter organization. He talked of the potential to demonstrate how a charter and a district operation could collaborate; charters are publicly funded and independently run.

Board President Monica Garcia pushed instead to have the entire school turned over to Green Dot.

Here are the final decisions, with charters in bold:

  • Clay Middle School: Convert to Green Dot Public School charter campus.
  • Mann Middle School: Make all teachers re-apply, but let Pride Responsibility Excellence Preparation at Horace Mann Middle School (an in-district group) help with school's overhaul.
  • Muir Middle School: Convert to union-friendly (but non-charter) MLA Partner Schools campus (even though Cortines rejected their application).
  • Central Region Elementary School 14: Convert to Camino Nuevo charter campus.
  • South Region Elementary School 6: Convert to Aspire Public Schools charter campus.
  • Central Region Middle School 7: Convert to Synergy Academies charter campus.
  • Central Region High School 13: Convert to Alliance College-Ready Public Schools charter campus.
  • Central Region High School 16: Convert to Synergy Academies charter campus.
  • East LA Star Academy: Reject in-district plan, accept more applications.
  • South Region High School 2: Convert to Public Service Community School charter campus.
  • South Region High School 4: Hand over to Local District 8.
  • Valley Region High School 4: Hand over to Local District 1.
  • Valley Region High School 5: Convert to (non-charter) Academy of Scientific Exploration campus.

Villaraigosa's statement was predictably triumphant following the big charter win:

"Today, the lives of more than 20,000 students and their families will change for the better. The opportunity to attend a revitalized school will set students on the course to a brighter future."

Incoming Superintendent John Deasy, who formerly worked for the biggest piggy bank in school reform -- the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where board member Flores is headed next -- is likely to be smiling today, too.

The same cannot be said of board member and United Teachers Los Angeles favorite LaMotte:

"We're having a meeting at a time that only charter people can be here in the audience, and it's not fair,'' she said at the meeting. "Who speaks for the teachers? Nobody out here speaks for the teachers.''

But if we're taking that route, we'd like to know: Who, exactly, speaks for the students?

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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