Morning Read: UCLA symposium studies U.S. children struggling at Mexican schools

Nearly half a million U.S. citizens are enrolled in Mexican schools, and many are struggling

This week, more than 100 academics, advocates and lawmakers from both sides of the border met for a symposium organized by UCLA at a conference called: “The Students We Share.” They are studying the estimated half a million U.S. children struggling to integrate into Mexican schools because they cannot read or write in Spanish. Others aren’t in school at all because they lacked the necessary accreditations. In all, nearly a third have either been held back a grade or have missed a year or more of school. By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

LA leaders take on common accusations against charter schools

utlaThis is part of a series looking at the various types of schools in LA Unified. This week the focus is on independent charters. Follow the series with magnet schools and affiliated charters.

They don’t take special education students. They screen during enrollment for students with high academics. They are funded by billionaires out to bankrupt the unions and take over LA Unified. They are unregulated monsters run amok on our school system.

There is no lack of accusations that are frequently hurled at independent charter schools. Since the first independent charter school was started in LA Unified in 1993, charters have over time become one of the most polarizing issues on the educational landscape. Whether it be their financial impact, enrollment practices or educational philosophies, there seems to be no shortage of critics.

• Read more about charters: How charters went from a ‘novelty’ to dominate the conversation of LAUSD, 9 questions and answers about LA’s charters and Alliance College-Ready Public Schools: A replicable model or unique success?

Last week the Washington Post ran an article that was heavily critical of charters in California, and it also cited an August report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California which found that 20 percent of all charter schools in California had enrollment policies in place that violate state and federal law.

While some of the accusations in the ACLU report are true of some charters or were true of some in the past, other accusations that are commonly thrown at charters are hard to prove one way or another or boil down to philosophical differences. In light of the recent high-profile criticism of California and LA charters, here is what several prominent charter leaders in Los Angeles had to say about the frequent accusations that are made against the charter movement.

Accusation: The ACLU report found many instances of enrollment violations regarding students’ academic performance, English proficiency and immigration status, despite the fact that charters are not allowed by law to consider these factors. 

Jacqueline Elliot, co-founder of PUC Schools: “Our movement is big. It has gotten huge, in fact, in LA and California and across the nation. And frankly, I don’t think we can expect that we are going to have perfection across the nation, and we are going to have charter schools that are doing things we don’t like and that are perhaps not legal, and it is our responsibility in the charter movement and also of the authorizers, which is how the legislation is set up, to weed out and stop those practices. But I do think that the vast majority of charter schools are run by dedicated educators who have integrity and who will abide by the law.”

Caprice Young, founder of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) and CEO of Magnolia Public Schools: “If I did a Lexus Nexus Google search of every abuse at every school district in the state of California, the list would be about 40 times that long… What I would say in response to (the ACLU report) is that charters are required to have their entire enrollment procedure approved by whoever their authorizer happens to be. And almost all of the schools identified in the ACLU report were actually implementing the enrollment procedures that had been approved by their local school districts. So the issue is not charters, in so much as if they are complying with what they put in their charter, but the issue is really more a question of oversight and if the school districts feel comfortable having some guidelines in the context of charter school lotteries.”

Cristina de Jesus, president and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools California: “I think it’s unfortunate that a few bad actors are being used to paint the entire charter sector with a broad brush. They are not representative of the great majority of charters who are actually changing the odds for kids across the country every day. I can say in general, Green Dot feels that bad actors should suffer the consequences if they are employing policies and procedures that are not on the up and up.”

Jason Mandell, spokesperson for CCSA: “We are still dealing with in some cases myths that are very much outdated or maybe were never true, and so it continues to be an issue. If a small number of schools have an issue, all charters tend to be grouped together in how they are reported on in the media. Something happens at one charter school and that charter school speaks for all charters in some cases. With district schools, people don’t necessarily group them all together in that way.”

Continue reading

Villaraigosa criticizes new school accountability system


A panel discussion at Cal State Long Beach moderated by Judy Lin of CALmatters, with former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, Carl Cohn and Marquita Grenot-Scheyer.

Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who once attempted to take over LA Unified and later founded a public school network, criticized the state’s new accountability system Wednesday at a panel discussion with education experts.

The event, “A for Accountability: A Report Card on California’s New Public-School Assessments,” was sponsored by CALmatters, Southern California News Group and Cal State Long Beach.

About 100 people, many educators, attended the panel discussion in Long Beach.

The State Board of Education last week unanimously approved a new accountability system for schools, replacing the Academic Performance Index, which assigned a single number to schools that was largely based on standardized test scores. The new system will use a number of indicators like academic progress, college and career readiness, school climate and parent engagement to determine how schools are performing. Many details must still be worked out, including how each indicator will be measured. The new system was the topic of the panel discussion.

Since his term as mayor expired three years ago, Villaraigosa has remained in the public eye, stumping for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and making appearances at events like a discussion in June at The Commonwealth Club. He is expected to run for governor in 2018.

Other panelists included state Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, former longtime Long Beach Unified Superintendent Carl Cohn, who is now executive director of California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, and Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, assistant vice chancellor for teacher education and public school programs for California State University’s Office of the Chancellor.

Villaraigosa served as mayor from 2005 to 2013. He won approval from the legislature to take control of LA Unified from the school board but lost the battle in the courts. He founded the nonprofit school turnaround initiative Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a network of 19 schools in Boyle Heights, South LA and Watts. He has also raised millions of dollars for school board candidates he has supported.

“For primary school kids and for middle school kids and for high school kids and when you go to college, you get a grade. Here, you get colors. The colors of the rainbow, and one could argue they roughly represent grades,” Villaraigosa said of the state’s new accountability system.

Continue reading

El Camino Real calls for emergency meeting Friday to discuss possible discipline


El Camino Real Charter High has back-to-school night this week.

An emergency meeting has been called for Friday morning by the El Camino Real Alliance Board to discuss an internal investigation and the paperwork left to satisfy an LA Unified inquiry. On the agenda is “public employee discipline/ dismissal/ release” in closed session.

Meanwhile, the El Camino Real Charter High School already sent new documentation to LA Unified to answer questions of their Notice of Violation which could lead to the district taking back the independent charter school. The school plans to give more documentation before the Sept. 23 deadline next week.

Before Friday’s meeting was announced, Marshall Mayotte, the school’s chief business officer, said Wednesday that the board has been trying to schedule a special meeting since LA Unified issued the Notice of Violation at last month’s LA Unified school board meeting. The El Camino board is made up of three teachers, a parent, a classified employee representative and two community representatives.

“We are not sure what they will discuss, but it could have to do with the Oracle report,” Mayotte said.

The school spent $20,000 to hire Oracle Investigations Group earlier in the summer when LA Unified charter division officials were asking about what they called “seemingly exorbitant personal and/or improper expenses.” It is possible that some results of the investigation will be revealed on Friday, and it’s possible the board could decide whether or not the results could be made public. But it’s also possible the report may fall into attorney/client privilege and never be released to the public.

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real chief business officer

Marshall Mayotte, El Camino Real Charter chief business officer.

These next few days are important to the future of the academically successful charter school. Thursday is back-to-school night, which will not be a forum for anyone to address the issues before the LA school board, according to ‎the school’s Director of Marketing Melanie Horton. Parents have been notified by a weekly newsletter and staff is informed regularly at staff meetings about the progress of the school’s response.

Friday’s emergency meeting will be followed next Wednesday by the El Camino regularly scheduled board meeting. El Camino isn’t expected to be scheduled for discussion at Tuesday’s LA Unified school board meeting, but issues or updates could be brought up while other charter school issues are addressed. Then, Sept. 23 is the school’s final deadline to answer all of the district’s questions.

“We feel confident that all of the questions will be answered to their satisfaction and that we will be able to put this behind us,” Horton said.

Continue reading

Morning Read: Jill Biden and Mayor Eric Garcetti launch free community-college tuition program

Mayor Eric Garcetti promises free community-college tuition as Jill Biden helps launch initiative 

Speaking in a theater packed with cheering students, Mayor Eric Garcetti reiterated his promise Wednesday to make one year of community college free for eligible high school graduates, beginning next year. Inside the doors of Los Angeles City College’s El Camino Theater, a band played while staff distributed promotional T-shirts to high school and community college students in the audience. Onstage, elected officials congratulated each other on the launch of the plan, L.A. College Promise, and on drawing the attention of their high-profile guest: Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden and a longtime educator. The program held enormous potential, everyone agreed. But five months after the mayor dropped a mention of the free-tuition proposal into his annual State of the City speech, Garcetti had few details to offer. By Anna M. Phillips, Los Angeles Times

JUST IN: City High School closes suddenly after charter loses students following facilities, financial woes


(Courtesy: City Charter Schools)

Citing financial woes due to low enrollment and problems with its private facility, the governing board of City High School voted Monday to close the charter school immediately, leaving 116 students scrambling to find new schools.

The school, located in Pico-Robertson on Los Angeles’ Westside, had been offered a location at Dorsey High School through Proposition 39 but turned it down because it was too far away from its middle school, according to Valerie Braimah, executive director of City Charter Schools. Choosing a more expensive option of leasing a private location on the Westside at 9017 W. Pico Blvd., the school struggled with enrollment and experienced electrical and air-conditioning problems at its building, which hurt enrollment more, Braimah said Wednesday evening.

With the only option being to cut staff to the point that academic viability of the school would be hurt, Braimah said the board opted to cease operations at the high school immediately. The school expected 150 students on the first day, but only 125 showed up and more dropped out in the first few weeks, leaving the school in financial trouble, Braimah said.

“This was an extremely heart-wrenching decision. This was not a problem with our educational program, this was an operational problem,” Braimah said.

The high school is part of a network of schools called City Charter Schools that includes City Language Immersion Charter, a dual-immersion elementary school in Baldwin Village, and The City School, a middle school. The middle school has been operating for five years, and the network’s leaders wanted to create a high school to serve its outgoing middle school students, but the school struggled to keep its enrollment up.

Braimah said the school was originally offered space from LA Unified at Emerson Community Charter School in Westwood through Prop. 39, a law that requires school districts to offer space to charters at district schools if it has unused classrooms or facilities. This can lead to charters sharing a building with another school, referred to as a co-location.

Emerson is 2.2 miles away from The City School, but the district changed plans and ultimately offered space at Los Angeles High School, which is 7.5 miles away in the Mid-Wilshire district. After a year at LA High, the school asked LA Unified for another location and was offered space at Dorsey High School, which is 6.4 miles away near Baldwin Village.

“Unfortunately, last year we ended up with a Prop. 39 site at Los Angeles High that was an adequate site facilities wise, but was geographically far for a lot of our families, and so a lot of our 8th-grade class did not matriculate to the high school and we started with a class of 60,” Braimah said.

City High only has 9th and 10th graders because it began last year with a freshman class and planned on adding a new class each year. After being offered Dorsey, the school chose to rent a private facility near its middle school, but the problems with the building added to financial woes and also led to several students dropping out, Braimah said.

“Long term, without a permanent facility in our sights and with the lack of predictability on Prop. 39, this problem really would have persisted. We are still young in our program, and we felt it was better for our kids to have another option that is college preparatory,” she said.

Braimah said the district has been helpful in getting students placed in schools and has extended the magnet enrollment deadline for its students. She also said the school has a partnership with Bright Star Secondary Charter Academy, which has offered to take as many students as are interested and has also offered them free busing to their campus near LAX from a central location.

LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer, who represents the Westside, said late Wednesday, “The only thing that we are concerned about in this moment is the students and families impacted by this closure three weeks into the school year.”

When asked about the Prop. 39 issues and if City High had been offered an adequate facility, he declined to comment.

“When something like this happens, we should all remember that these are all of our kids and everyone has a role and a responsibility to make sure every family has the services that they need to make sure that there is not academic injury that would compound the stress that happens when the school closes,” Zimmer said. “So that is what is most important right now. There will be time to talk about what we need to do in terms of our early warning systems to know about when enrollment is at a point where viability is a question so that we know about it before it becomes a disruption.”

The school employs 10 teachers and three administrators, and City Charter Schools is working to find them new jobs, Braimah said. She also said the goal is to have every student placed in a new school by Friday.

Steve Jobs’ widow grants 2 LA teachers $10 million to start charter school for homeless and foster youth

Los-Angeles-Times-logoBy Joy Resmovits

Instead of going to school, school will come to you.

That’s the prize-winning idea behind RISE High, a proposed Los Angeles charter high school designed to serve homeless and foster children whose educations are frequently disrupted.

Los Angeles educators Kari Croft, 29, and Erin Whalen, 26, who came up with the idea, won $10 million in XQ: The Super School Project, a high school redesign competition funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs.

RISE is one of 10 $10-million winning school projects nationwide. Winners receive the prize money over five years.

XQ officials, in announcing the winners on Wednesday, described RISE as a “completely new” model. The idea is to have three to four physical sites sharing space with existing nonprofits as well as an online learning system. A bus would also be turned into a “mobile resource center,” to bring Wi-Fi, a washer/dryer and homework help to the neediest students.

Click here for the full Los Angeles Times story.

Read more on another winner: Washington Leadership Academy, a public charter high school in D.C. that’s using virtual reality to simulate learning opportunities that are beyond our wildest dreams of what’s currently possible in a typical classroom. By Richard Whitmire, The 74

Commentary: The future of education reform at LAUSD depends on collaboration


Jacqueline Elliot

By Jacqueline Elliot, Ed.D.

When PUC Schools opened the first start-up public charter school in the San Fernando Valley in 1999, I never imagined we would be at the forefront of a movement that has grown to 274 charter schools in Los Angeles, serving over 138,000 students and thousands of students being the first in their families to graduate from university. On Saturday, these pioneering leaders will come together in Pacoima with thousands of parents and students for a triumphant celebration honoring the rich history of public education reform in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

I was inspired to start Community Charter Middle School to help solve the high dropout rate at the local high schools. Along with the 100 families from the community who desperately sought a safer, higher-achieving middle school, we created a learning environment that was small and focused on meeting every student’s needs. We were quickly successful. Our state test scores far exceeded those of the surrounding district schools within our first two years.

We’ve now grown to 16 schools throughout Los Angeles and serve more than 5,000 students. In what is perhaps the biggest validation of the work we’re doing, we see every year that many of our graduates are returning after going on to pursue a higher education, to contribute to their community in which they grew up. Some PUC alumni are returning to work at PUC and other schools in the community, helping us realize our founding mission to uplift communities. We’ve witnessed firsthand living conditions improving, crime rates dropping and families getting empowered.

PUC is proof of what real collaboration can produce. We never would have opened our doors if leaders from different parts of our education community had not stepped in at the last minute to help. When we were opening our first school in 1999, our facility was not yet ready. Los Angeles Unified gave us two days to find a temporary facility or they would not allow us to open that year. My four teachers and I were about to fall to our knees in the Cal State University Northridge quad, to beg a staff member from the dean’s office to allow us to use a few classrooms until our campus was ready. He agreed and Los Angeles Unified board member David Tokofsky secured free transportation for our 100 students to travel to the university campus for six weeks.

Today, we’re at a critical juncture. The charter movement is a significant force for change in the district. Graduation rates have increased, but too many kids are still dropping out.

Somewhere along this journey, we lost sight of the spirit of cooperation that allowed PUC to open. Superintendent Michelle King has started making significant inroads toward collaboration, most recently by hosting a “Promising Practices” forum with a series of workshops aimed at sharing best practices.

It’s time now for all educators to elevate the discussion from the type of school, be it charter, traditional or magnet, to what makes great schools. We must adopt a student-centric approach where everyone comes to the table with those innovative, scalable ideas that are good for all kids.

Continue reading

Alliance College-Ready Public Schools: A replicable model or unique success?


Students at Alliance Margaret M. Bloomfield High School in Huntington Park.

Alliance College-Ready Public Schools is the largest independent charter network in LA Unified, with 28 middle and high schools serving over 12,500 students. Ninety-four percent of Alliance’s students come from poverty, yet the charter management organization has a proven track record of outperforming the district and state schools when it comes to key factors like graduation rates and standardized test performance.

But how scalable is the Alliance model and that of other CMOs like it? Are there answers inside their halls to the big questions that have dogged the district for years? Or are charters actually the problem, not the solution, when it comes to the district’s woes, as some detractors like the LA teachers union, UTLA, have charged.

• Read more about charters: How charters went from a ‘novelty’ to dominate the conversation of LAUSD, and 9 questions and answers about LA’s charters.

These questions were raised to new levels of importance about a year ago when an early draft of what was to become the Great Public Schools Now funding plan for Los Angeles schools was leaked to the press and sent shockwaves through the educational world. The plan called for expanding independent charter schools at LA Unified to serve half of all its students.

The plan received significant backlash and has since been modified to include all kinds of successful models, including traditional district schools, but the early draft raised an interesting question: Could charter schools be scaled to size to overtake district schools?

Independent charters already serve 107,000 of the district’s 665,000 students, but there has yet to be a charter management organization that has proven ready and willing to declare itself a scalable, cookie cutter model that could replace district schools.

Alliance is certainly not ready to declare itself that. In fact, Alliance has no plans to add any new schools over the next four years, according to Dan Katzir, Alliance’s president and CEO, who has been in his role since March 2015. Katzir said in his interview for the job he floated the idea of pausing on adding new schools.

“The fact of the matter is even if we stop growing for four years, we need to catch up with our growth from a systems perspective, an infrastructure perspective and a behavior and cultural perspective,” Katzir said.

Katzir also added that even if Alliance doesn’t add new schools, it will continue to grow because six schools in the network are still adding grades in the coming years.

However, despite the pause on growth, Alliance does believe its model is replicable. On its About Us webpage, the title reads, “Proving exceptional at scale is possible.” And Katzir said, “We can scale. We are bigger than 75 percent of other districts in the state, so we can scale.”


Ninety-eight percent of Alliance students are African-American or Latino, 94 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, 9 percent have special needs and 17 percent are English learners. The district as a whole during the 2015-16 school year was 82 percent Latino and African-American, 77 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, 12 percent have special needs and 22 percent are English learners.

Continue reading

Morning Read: Southland school districts say English learners monitoring list is wrong

School districts baffled about why they’re on English learners monitoring list

Days after California and federal officials agreed to improve service to English learners, most of the school districts on the list the state agreed to monitor more closely said they were surprised they were on it. The settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the California Department of Education compels the state to, among other things, respond in a “timely and effective manner” to information that schools are not serving English learners, improve online monitoring technology and include charter schools in English learner reviews. By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, KPCC

‘The data is miserable’: LAUSD board members rake academic officer over the coals for ‘crisis’ in test scores


“We have a crisis with our youngsters,” board member Richard Vladovic told the district’s chief academic officer.

LA Unified’s chief academic officer came before board members Tuesday with an upbeat-titled report called “Breaking Our Own Records,” but instead of resting on the improvement in overall test scores, the four school board members in attendance grilled her for nearly two hours throwing out terms like “frustrating,” “depressing” and “disappointing” and saying the district is in “crisis” when educating certain segments of the student population.

“I had to say this because it depressed me as an educator and after eight years I was told it was going to get better, and I’ve been assured it will get better,” said board member Richard Vladovic, chairman of the Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee that met Tuesday. “I’m most concerned about those children not getting what they deserve, and that is quality education.”


Math scores highlighting groups that need attention.

Board member George McKenna said, “I’m as frustrated as I can possibly be. The data is miserable. Test scores are still almost embarrassingly low. It is continually depressing and disappointing.”

The committee was discussing the list of lowest performing schools and other test score numbers that the district was touting as “breaking our records!”

Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson pointed out that the district’s record 75 percent graduation rate is up from 72 percent last year, and she showed other upward trends in the Smarter Balanced Assessments. She also noted that 265 schools are now participating in the Early Language and Literacy Plan, up from 85 in the 2015-16 school year.

“Some of the scores are record-breaking, but we have not hit the finish line yet,” Gipson said. “Our goal for graduation is 100 percent.”

Gipson tried to paint a positive spin repeating district catchphrases including “A District on the Move” and “All Hands on Deck” used by Superintendent Michelle King. But the four of seven board members on the committee were having none of it. Other members of the committee included representatives of three unions and USC and UCLA.

She pointed again to the increase in students meeting or exceeding English Language Arts standards, to 39 percent, up from 33 percent last year. Math scores rose to 29 percent from 25 percent in 2014-2015.

But then came the board members’ harsh reaction to zero improvement for English learners’ math scores: only 5 percent met standards, and only 4 percent met English standards, up one point. There was no improvement for students with disabilities: 6 percent met math standards two years in a row, and 8 percent met English standards.

Continue reading

Charter supporters to ‘Rally in the Valley’ Saturday


Charter school supporters outside LA Unified headquarters in 2012. (Courtesy: CCSA)

Over 2,000 parents, students and supporters of charter schools are expected to attend a “Rally in the Valley” on Saturday to advocate for pro-charter policies, as well as to celebrate the 25th anniversary of charter schools coming to LA Unified. The first several charter schools to open in the district were in the San Fernando Valley, including Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Pacoima, where the rally will begin.

The rally, which is being hosted by California Charter Schools Association Families, will include a march from Vaughn Next Century Learning Center at 9:30 a.m. to nearby Vaughn G3 (Green Global Generation) before a public program that will feature speeches from LA Unified school board member Monica Ratliff and Congressman Tony Cardenas. Board members Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez are also scheduled to be in attendance, as well as Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra and the four candidates running to replace Ratliff on the LA Unified board. Ratliff, who represents the East San Fernando Valley where the Vaughn schools are located, announced in June that she will be running for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council.

“Ratliff has proven herself to be a thoughtful, independent voice on the board and so results focused. She has been a model for what her community is looking for from a school board member,” said Jason Mandell, spokesperson for the California Charter Schools Association.

The rally comes after a year of increased tension between LA Unified’s charter supporters and traditional school supporters, as well as some more peaceful moves recently. In February, 23 charter operators sent a letter to the school board complaining about what they said was increased scrutiny of charter schools during the application and renewal process. Another point of conflict was an early draft of what became the Great Public Schools Now plan to fund successful school models at LA Unified. The early draft called for expanding charter schools to enroll half of all the district’s students in eight years and was met with strong opposition, including from board President Steve Zimmer, but has since been amended to include magnets, district schools and other successful models.

Since taking office in January, Superintendent Michelle King has sought to ease tensions between charters and traditional supporters. Her efforts culminated in a “Promising Practices” forum in July that brought together charter leaders and traditional school leaders to share ideas and practices. At the forum, Zimmer gave a speech that was seen by many charter leaders as a call for détente when he said both sides should “work together” to make students’ dreams come true.

Despite the forum, conflict still exists. The LA teachers union, UTLA, recently launched a media campaign that includes an anti-charter agenda and also announced a 10-point plan that includes a push to change state law to increase oversight of charters.

Aside from celebrating charter schools, the rally “will also call upon elected representatives in local and state government to support pro-charter policies, including the expansion of high-quality charters, better facilities for charter students, and an end to the politics and rhetoric challenging parents’ right to choose the best public school for their children,” according to a press release from California Charter Schools Association Families.

How charter schools went from a ‘novelty’ to dominate the conversation of LAUSD

This is part of a series looking at the various types of schools in LA Unified. For facts, comparisons and maps of charters in LA, click here. Follow the series with magnet schools and affiliated charters.

Independent charter schools have come to often dominate the conversation surrounding LA Unified. Proponents hail them as a savior to the district; their detractors blame them for the district’s financial woes.

The California Charter Schools Act was passed in 1992, but it took more than a decade for charters to become a significant part of the district. Part of the reason is the original act only allowed for 10 schools per district, regardless of its size, and it wasn’t until 1998 that the law was amended to allow for unlimited expansion.

By the 2001-02 school year, there were only 13 independent charters authorized by the district.

“At the time I came on the board, charters were seen as kind of a novelty and a place to send your principals who were a little too creative for their own good,” said Caprice Young, who served on the LA Unified school board from 1999 to 2003 before founding the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) in 2003. Today she is CEO of Magnolia Public Schools, which operates eight independent charters authorized by LA Unified.

David Tokofsky served on the board from 1995 to 2007 and said in the early days he was a supporter of charters, but when large charter management organizations (CMOs) started to open multiple schools around the turn of the century, his opinion changed.

“Most of the people at that stage (in the ’90s) were respected LAUSD veterans. I think in the machine politics of government organizations, they were more individualistic than if you were in this guy’s machinery or that guy’s machinery. They were mavericks,” said Tokofsky, now a consultant for the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles.

“They were people who thought they knew some stuff about good schools. They knew the district well, but they felt that the standard operations systems were not necessarily maximizing creativity. That’s what the law was all about. It wasn’t about that you are free from all regulations of government.”

Irene Sumida is executive director of Fenton Charter Schools, which today has five schools in its network. When Fenton Avenue Charter converted from a traditional school to a charter in 1993, it was only the seventh charter school in the district.

“I think the school district saw us as a novelty or an experiment that might succeed, or that might not. I cannot say that I felt real support for what we were doing, and we were very much treated like outsiders,” Sumida said.

After the charter law was changed to allow for unlimited expansion, slowly more CMOs began to open multiple schools in the district, and that is when both supporters and detractors started to take notice. PUC Schools, which operates 16 schools today, opened its first school in 1999. Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, which operates 27 schools in the district, opened its first school in 2004. Magnolia Public Schools opened its first school in 2002.

In 1999, both Dorsey High School and Crenshaw High School converted to independent charters but within a few years converted back to being traditional schools.

“Partly because the whole Dorsey cluster and Crenshaw cluster gave up their charter status people kind of thought, ‘Well, maybe this charter school thing is going to stay just being a novelty.’ It really started hitting the stratosphere in 2003 to 2008,” Young said.

In 2003-04, there were 24 charters in the district. By 2007-08, there were 114.

Continue reading

9 questions and answers about LA’s independent charter schools

This is part of a series looking at the various types of schools in LA Unified. Read more on chartersmagnet schools and affiliated charters

Question: What is an independent charter school?

Answer: Independent charter schools at LA Unified are publicly financed but independently run educational institutions. Charters are authorized and overseen by a local school district, county school district or the state. The schools must come before their authorizing board every five years for renewal, and their authorizers make sure the school’s finances and educational approach are in order.

Charter schools are tuition free and are open to all students who apply. By law they may not discriminate for enrollment based on academic performance, race, economic background or special education status. Some have waiting lists and enrollment is based on a lottery.

Q: How many independent charter schools are there at LA Unified?

A: At the beginning of the 2016-17 school year there were 228 independent charter schools authorized by LA Unified serving over 107,000 students, or roughly 16 percent of the student body. LA Unified has the most charter schools and students of any district in the nation. In the 2014-15 school year, there were an estimated 41,830 students on charter waiting lists at LA Unified, according to the California Charter Schools Association.

In the state of California, there were 1,228 independent charter schools in the 2015-16 school year, and roughly 3 percent of them were for-profit, according to CCSA. No charters at LA Unified are for-profit.

Q: Do charter school students perform better than students at traditional schools?

A: On the 2015 and 2016 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) standardized tests, independent charters outperformed the district in all key categories.

On the 2015 tests, 40 percent of independent charter students met or exceeded the English language arts (ELA) test standard, compared to 33 percent of district students. On the math test, 27 percent of charter students met of exceeded the standard, compared to 25 percent of district students. On the 2016 tests, 46 percent of charter students met or exceeded the ELA standard, compared to 39 percent for traditional schools, and 30 percent of charter students met or exceeded the math standard, compared to 28 percent at district schools.

Q: What about other metrics, like graduation rates and A-G completion?

A: Charters also outpace the district in graduation rates and completion of A-G courses, which are a series of required classes that must be passed with a C or better in order to be accepted into California’s public universities.

According to the California Charter Schools Association, charter schools had a cohort graduation rate of 84 percent in 2014-15, compared to 72 percent for the district. And A-G completion with a C or better for charters was 78 percent in 2013-14, compared to 28 percent for the district. However, the district has predicted large gains in A-G completion last school year due in part to a $15 million credit recovery program, and preliminary data show the graduation rate will be 75 percent.

Q: Are there demographic differences that should be taken into consideration when comparing these numbers?

A: Yes. In some areas, charters and the district match up closely on demographics, and in some areas they do not.

One key difference is in special education. Recent numbers show that in the 2015-16 school year, special education made up 11.04 percent of enrollment at charters and 11.96 percent at the district after years of gains by charters. But there is a key difference in that the district still has a larger number of students with moderate to severe disabilities, who are more costly to educate. The district’s enrollment of students with moderate to severe disabilities in 2015-16 was 4.72 percent, compared to 2.1 percent for charters.

Continue reading

Morning Read: Rising waters of climate change about to claim first U.S. school in Alaska

The last days of one Alaska Village, as climate change swallows its first U.S. school
In Dawn Wilson’s classroom, fourth-graders are writing a story about what they would need to survive if their families were forced to quickly leave their homes and relocate upriver. Astutely, her young students tick off the essentials: food, clothing, guns and ammunition. In this remote Yup’ik tribal community on Alaska’s southwest shore, this sort of brainstorming is not an abstract academic exercise. It’s a real-life lesson built around the environmental forces now threatening to upend the already hardscrabble existence of some 400 people for whom hunting is essential to eating. By Mareesa Nicosia, The 74

Poll: Californians have rosier view of their schools and want to fund them more

California’s voters have an improved view of public education in the state and want to increase the funds schools get, according to an annual PACE/USC Rossier School of Education poll.

Researchers noted that voters’ optimism regarding their local public schools has reached a high point since the poll began five years ago.

Twenty-three percent of Californians said their local public schools have “gotten better” over the past few years while 30 percent said they have “gotten worse.” When asked in 2012, only 14 percent said schools had gotten better and 45 percent said schools had gotten worse. In the 2015 poll, 17 percent said schools had “gotten better” and 34 percent said they had “gotten worse.”

The poll’s authors noted that the changes in Californians’ opinion about their schools come as recent national polling data have shown that the public’s views toward their local schools have remained relatively unchanged since 2000.

“Those changes (in California) are quite dramatic, and while not a stellar view of how things are going, but compared to how things were in the dark days of massive budget cuts and increasing class sizes, voters have a much rosier view of public schools in California and local public schools in particular,” Ben Tulchin, president and founder of Tulchin Research, said on a phone call with reporters. “There is still a long way to go but that is — you rarely see that kind of shift in opinion in public schools.”

Morgan Polikoff, associate professor of USC Rossier School of Education and a researcher behind the poll, said some reasons for the improved view of schools include the increase in funding since Proposition 30 and relatively less turmoil in the state over Common Core, testing and accountability, in large part because the state has not linked teacher evaluations to test scores. 

On the other hand, what voters don’t know might prop up those rosier views.

“Over last several years, California hasn’t had an accountability system statewide,” he said, so without the old API score, “it could be that schools are perceived as getting better because there is less information out there.”

When asked what California can do to improve perceptions of schools even more, Polikoff said: “Actually improve the schools. While voters want to spend more money on schools and teachers, they really see that reforming schools and improving teachers as inexplicably tied to that increased funding.” Accountability “could go a long way toward improving attitudes toward schools.”

The bipartisan poll was conducted by Tulchin Research, which is known for polling for Democratic candidates, and Moore Information, which is known for polling on behalf of Republican candidates.

Voters are also showing strong support for Proposition 55, a measure on the November statewide ballot that would extend for 12 years an income tax increase on individuals earning $250,000 or more per year to help boost education and healthcare funding. Sixty-nine percent of voters showed support for the measure. Seventy-seven percent of voters also said the state should be spending more on education.

“As you can see, voters feel there has been progress with schools and they don’t want to lose this source of funding since progress has been made over the last several years,” Tulchin said.

The poll found that Republicans in the state appear to be in favor of raising taxes to help improve schools, even though that voting block traditionally is against higher taxes. Sixty-two percent of Republicans responded as being in favor of spending more money to help schools. They are also split on Prop. 55, with 51 percent being in favor of approving it or leaning toward approving it, compared to 47 percent being opposed or leaning in opposition to it.

“It’s remarkable in a ballot measure that is going to cost more money for Republicans not to be widely opposed,” said Bob Moore, principal and founder of Moore Information.

But the poll found that the new money for schools needs to be paired with accountability; 96 percent said they believe public schools and districts should be held accountable for spending education dollars efficiently. Sixty-two percent of the voters said they believe increasing funding for schools and reforming operations are critical for improving public education.

When asked what is more important in improving schools, reforming operations outscored increased funding, 26 percent to 15 percent.

“Our results suggest that California voters see some improvements in their local schools,” Polikoff said. “What these results indicate is that voters want to keep funding schools to sustain these improvements. However, voters are also saying that money alone won’t solve our education challenges —accountability must be an important part of the improvement effort.”

The poll also found very low awareness among voters on the state’s school funding law, the Local Control Funding Formula, and a high level of support for increasing pay for teachers.

LAUSD tries to make it easier for charter families to address the school board


Waiting to speak about a Green Dot charter school.

Charter families have lined up at dawn in biting cold winds holding babies. They’ve sweated it out for hours standing around ice chests or taking turns under canopies. They’ve waited hours—sometimes nearly a full a day—to get into an LA Unified school board meeting. Then, they wait hours more just to be heard.

School Board President Steve Zimmer is out to change that, especially since next week’s school board meeting on Sept. 20 is expected to have many items involving charter schools.

“First and foremost, I want folks to know that we are committed to changing that so they will not be waiting all day and not know when their items will come up before the board,” Zimmer said at the last board meeting. “We are actively trying to get better on this.”

It’s an idea that will help all speakers on any topic who come to address the LA Unified meetings, but it will specifically help charter school families. Many of the agenda items that draw the most speakers involve charter renewals or questions about charter schools that the school board oversees. Parents, teachers and students come to sign up to speak to the school board.

The once-a-month marathon-length school board meetings typically go from 9 a.m. for closed session personnel items until well past 9 p.m. Zimmer promised the public and his fellow school board members that when he was elected as president for the second year he would try to fix the long waits by the public.

“When charter items are being heard, having folks wait all day is not something we want to continue,” Zimmer said.

During the open section of their Closed Session meeting on Aug. 23, other school board members weighed in on rectifying the situation about 54 minutes into the meeting. Board member Monica Ratliff considered making a motion or resolution to come up with a solution.

“I feel like we talked about it, but I do not feel like it’s moving forward and I’m concerned that it’s not happening,” Ratliff said.

Zimmer assured Ratliff and the other board members that the request would be followed. Board member Monica Garcia suggested that the district’s Charter School Office also help notify the schools on the agenda.

“There should also be some trust that when you say something is going to happen, that it actually happens at that time,” Garcia said.

Jason Mandell of the California Charter Schools Association said he welcomes the new procedures planned by the school board because the long waits have resulted in complaints and frustration for the charter school families. He said he has been notified of a “time certain” for charter school issues for the next meeting. And although his group would prefer an entirely separate meeting for charter issues, this is a step in the right direction, he said.

“Anything is better than it was before, and overall we are happy because it is easier for families, teachers and school leaders to speak to the school board without having to wait eight to 10 hours,” Mandell said.

Board secretariat Jefferson Crain said emails will be sent to 1,600 people who receive school board news that will indicate specific times for agenda items, most likely after 6 p.m. to make it easier for working parents and teachers.

“Despite past efforts and speaking directly to some people, they still chose to come at 6 in the morning,” Crain said. “We do not want to have a separate meeting for specific types of issues.”

Superintendent Michelle King said her office would conduct a survey to get some input into how to best solve the long lines and waiting issues.

Zimmer said, “We want to make the best way for people to be heard. I want the maximum amount of people to speak and don’t want folks here late into the evening.”

He added, “Clearly the way we did it last year is not something we want to continue.”

The next regular board meeting is set for Sept. 20 with closed session items discussed at 9 a.m. The open session is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at the School Board Auditorium at 333 S. Beaudry Ave. Charter school items will have a “time certain” starting at 6 p.m., and the order of business will be posted on Sept. 14.

Commentary: No surprise, Carol Burris misses the mark on California charter schools

Carol Burris

Carol Burris

Note: This post originally appeared on Education Post.

By Caroline Bermudez

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, writes about “a never-ending stream of charter scandals coming from California” in Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet, a blog more slanted than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

But as is typically true with Burris, her writing is long on bloviation and short on accuracy and reason. It seems as if she’s setting the stage for a report on charter schools her organization, the Network for Public Education, will publish next spring.

She mentions a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Advocates contending 253 charter schools in the state, or approximately 20 percent, have illegal admissions policies.

Since the report’s release, Southern California Public Radio reported more than 50 charter schools have been removed from the list. A number of the violations were the result of poorly worded language or outdated documents posted on schools’ websites, hardly nefarious orchestrations.

An ACLU attorney, Victor Leung, said, in the same SCPR article, “the vast majority of schools contacting us have been in a really constructive way.” He added, “Most of these schools were quite concerned they had bad policies posted on their websites and they all wanted to change them pretty quickly.”

Contrary to Burris’ assertion that they shun accountability, charter school officials have called for better oversight instead of the hodgepodge system in place whereby 324 local, county and state agencies act as authorizers.

Jed Wallace, CEO of the California Charter Schools Association (a group that draws Burris’ particular ire), has written about the need to close failing charter schools. Greg Richmond, president of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, penned a recent op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, explaining how the current system of oversight falls short:

Continue reading

Commentary: New state accountability system signals progress


(Courtesy: YouthTruth)

By Sonya Heisters

There is a growing, and arguably overwhelming, array of ways to measure school performance. Many researchers and policymakers say that we’ve been measuring the wrong things and, in some cases, I think that those naysayers are on to something.

Then, in Thursday’s California State Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously adopted a new accountability system that, in addition to state indicators, favor four local indicators over the single Academic Performance Index (API) score. This is great news for those of us who tire of a single data point representing a complex system. The API was well and good, but we’ve got to have more — and better — measures. My perspective is one of a parent, educator and nonprofit leader. And also as someone who believes, and sees that research shows, that we need to do metrics better.

Two of the local indicators are particularly worth celebrating: one on parent engagement, and another on school climate. Both can be measured through local surveys of parents, teachers and students.

On the first measure, districts need more nuanced data to engage families. Since parent involvement is linked with academic performance, districts have to get the parent-school relationship right. The Harvard Family Research Project comments, “As schools increasingly focus on building parent capacity to support their children’s learning and on promoting positive home-school relationships, schools and districts need new measures to ascertain which types of approaches work best.” 

Just as family feedback can help prioritize the agenda for parent engagement programs, school staff need a voice too. The suggestion box will not suffice. We need a valid, reliable and third-party feedback instrument about the school as a workplace. This is critical to improving the teaching profession and helping districts find and keep talent. With 20 percent of experienced teachers leaving the profession before retirement, districts are well-served to seek and act on staff feedback to make schools great places to work. 

So what if parents had an anonymous way to tell their child’s teacher and principal if they felt valued by their child’s school? And what if there were easy and accessible tools for school staff to give feedback on the degree to which their school is managed effectively?

We might have stronger relationships in our communities. We might have more committed staff. We might have better schools.

But we need to go beyond that. The first step toward achieving those goals is to measure and learn from family and staff members’ alternate, yet complementary, perspectives and attitudes. The second step is to incorporate that feedback into school improvement initiatives.


YouthTruth feedback data on students’ experience of academic rigor at a school.

That’s what led us at YouthTruth to create and launch this month Family and Staff Surveys: 15-minute online tools that complement our core student surveys to provide districts with feedback data to identify what is working and not working. As a national nonprofit, we’ve surveyed around a half-million students and coached hundreds of education leaders in using student voice data to drive change. Through this work we’ve learned that student voice is not enough – we need multiple perspectives paired with multiple measures.

Critics of the new accountability system worry that measuring school climate is too nuanced and gathering perception data too complicated. We’ve solved for that. Check. Now let’s get back to focusing on what matters.

Education leaders have a responsibility to build partnerships with staff and the community to drive learning and achievement. Like students, the families, teachers and staff within a school system are uniquely positioned to provide actionable feedback about performance that simply can’t be captured through other measures. When evaluating the effectiveness of systems, strategic plans, programs and interventions, considering the perceptions of those you seek to help is key.

Continue reading

Morning Read: California settles with feds over services to English learners

Feds say some students went a decade without help learning English. After lawsuit, state pledges new support
Up and down the state, for at least a decade, according to the federal government, tens of thousands of English learners in elementary, middle and high school received no services to help them learn the language and keep up academically while they did, even though the law required that they get it. Under pressure from a lawsuit and federal authorities, California pledged Friday to make sure that all 1.4 million students who are English learners receive special academic help. By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times