There is a strong push for change in education policy in America. As with the nation, school reform in California is at its beginning stages and, as a consequence, it is messy. In LA, the reformers themselves have fractured into warring camps, with one camp frequently accusing members of another of everything from personal profiteering to belittling and disempowering the lower-income parents they claim to champion.
The issue of charter schools one of the biggest areas of contention. Some reformers love the possibilities that the charter movement suggests, others decry it as the privatization of public schools.
After reporting on and observing education reform in LA since 2005, I’ve drawn a few personal conclusions about some of the issues and about which of the various players are worth taking seriously. But these are, as I said, personal conclusions.
Kevin Grant at Neon Tommy has written a story about some of the squabbling that is going on between various progressive factions and he lays out the issues informatively and evenhandedly, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
Kevin’s piece is just a beginning, a glimpse really,as education reform in LA alone is a topic that could easily be covered at book length.
But it is a good beginning. Below you’ll find the opening to Kevin’s story. I urge you to read the whole thing.
On his first day as a member of the California Board of Education, Ben Austin voted against a proposed charter school at Piru Elementary in Ventura County.
“I think most outside observers would consider me an easy vote in favor of a charter school,” said Austin, the executive director of LA-based school reform group Parent Revolution, after his first day in Sacramento. “But there’s nothing inherently good about a charter.”
A group of teachers at the school had petitioned to take Piru out of the control of the Fillmore Unified School District. They contended that parents and teachers could run the school more effectively than the district could. However, the board rejected the request by a 6-2 vote.
Speaking from his hotel room May 5 after what he described as a 12-hour first day, Austin said he voted against the charter proposal because the district was already making steady progress improving student performance. He wanted to make it clear that the charter model is not desirable in every case.
“We don’t support all charters,” Austin said. “It doesn’t help to have underperforming charter schools representing the charter movement.”
Austin’s star has been rising as the head of Parent Revolution, a non-profit started by charter school operator Green Dot Public Schools in 2006 as “a coalition of parents who tired of sending our kids to broken schools.”
In Los Angeles and across California, the charter school model has been promoted by leaders ranging from Schwarzenegger to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to Senator Gloria Romero.
But as Green Dot prepares to close one of its 19 Los Angeles schools, Animo Justice High School, after just four years in operation, Parent Revolution is coming under fire for failing to support parents and students at the south LA school.
At the same time, the aggressive growth of Green Dot, which made its name working to overhaul the underperforming Jefferson High School and Locke High School, appears to be slowing.
Given that Education Secretary Arne Duncan was reported to have told Green Dot’s founder Steve Bar that he had apparently “cracked the code” for reforming education, the organization’s challenges may be a matter of national significance.
You’ll find the rest here.
PS: By the way, Kevin Grant is one of the 13 grad students whom I had the privilege of teaching this past semester at Annenberg, and this story is a version of his final paper for the class. You’ll be happy to know that right this minute there are 12 other wonderfully interesting final papers, each on different topics, in my class “assignments” file. With any luck, some of those will be posted on Neon Tommy soon too.