Union v. charters in Los Angeles

A Broad Foundation plan to double the number of Los Angeles charter schools has sparked fierce pushback by the teachers’ union, writes Richard Whitmire in Education Next.

The $490 million proposal, which aimed to enroll half the district’s students in charter within eight years, was leaked last fall.

Not surprisingly, United Teachers of Los Angeles is using the plan “to pursue the national anti-charter theme of billionaires trying to privatize public schools,” writes Whitmire.

Teachers voted a big increase in union dues to fight charter expansion.

Los Angeles charter schools “are among the best in the nation at helping low-income minority students succeed in school,” Whitemire writes.

In 2014, Stanford’s CREDO found that L.A. charter-school students, on average, gained the equivalent of 50 additional days of learning per year in reading and 79 additional days in math, compared to district school students.

Currently, about one in five students in the district goes to a charter.

Parent Revolution, an advocacy group, has launched Choice4LA to help low-income parents apply to charter and district schools.

In some cities, parents can fill out one application to apply for district and charter schools. Superintendent Michelle King is working on “creating a unified application system for district schools only,” reports Ed Week.

Los Angeles explores all-charter district

Los Angeles Unified is exploring conversion to an all-charter school district, but the school board’s real goal seems to be gaining more autonomy to compete with expanding charters, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Philanthropist Eli Broad, who's proposed a huge charter-school expansion in Los Angeles, at Harlem Success Academy.

Philanthropist Eli Broad, who’s proposed a huge charter-school expansion in Los Angeles, at Harlem Success Academy.

“It’s not fair that the current system provides autonomies to the charter schools and not to traditional public schools,” board member Monica Ratliff said.

Charter schools will have space for half the district’s students, if the Broad Foundation’s eight-year expansion plan becomes a reality.

Converting the huge district to charters would require state approval and the support of a majority of teachers.

Richard Vladovic, another board member, said the chances of L.A. Unified becoming an all-charter district were “slim and none.”

Twice as many charters in LA?

Los Angeles teachers protested the Broad Foundation’s charter plans at the opening of the Broad art museum. Photo: Ed Mertz, KNX

Charter advocates hope to create 260 new charter schools in Los Angeles with space for half the district’s students, reports the Los Angeles Times. The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and others want to raise $490 million to double the number of charter schools and add 130,000 students in the next eight years.

Currently, 16 percent of LA students are enrolled in charter schools.

There will be plenty of political opposition, of course. The school board is divided. The teachers’ union picketed the opening of Broad’s new art museum in protest.

Tenth grader Jasmine Payne, 14, in class at Animo College Prep on the campus of Jordan High School in Watts. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Jasmine Payne, 14, in class at Animo College Prep on the campus of Jordan High in Watts. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Billionaires should not be running public education,” said United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said.

In an editorial, the Times endorsed the idea, citing Stanford studies that show “significantly better academic outcomes” for Los Angeles charter students compared to similar students in traditional district schools.

Creating so many schools so quickly will be a huge challenge. Where will they find 260 principals capable of launching new schools? Can they find enough good teachers? I have a feeling the grand plan will need to be scaled down.

Are iPads worth it?

Are iPads and Other Classroom Gadgets Really Helping Kids Learn?  Maybe not, writes Peg Tyre on Take Part.

Wall Street is pouring money into education technology companies, but the enthusiasm may be cooling: Investment in education technology declined in 2011, Tyre writes.

Every new wave of technology that has been tried in classrooms—radio, television, videocassettes, desktop computers and smartboards—has ridden a wave of enthusiasm, rapid adoption and, then, brutally dashed expectations.

“First, the promoters’ exhilaration splashes over decision makers as they purchase and deploy equipment in schools and classrooms,” said Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and author of Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classoom in an email to me. “Then academics conduct studies to determine the effectiveness of the innovation [and find that it is] just as good as—seldom superior to—conventional instruction in conveying information and teaching skills. They also find that classroom use is less than expected.

While some teachers are using iPads in the classroom in effective ways, most are not, writes Tyre. And hoped-for savings may be illusory.

Adding in training, network costs and software costs, iPads cost school districts 552 percent more than textbooks, writes Lee Wilson of PCI Education on his blog. Wilson’s chart is below.


In a Broad Foundation debate, panelists ask: Which is more important, great teachers or great technology? (I guess we can’t have both.)

Productivity or the poorhouse

Is the Golden Age of Education Spending Finally Over? In Time, Andrew Rotherham warns schools to adjust to the new reality.

In 1970 America spent about $228 billion in today’s dollars on public schools. In 2007 that figure was $583 billion. True, some of the increase can be traced back to growing enrollments, better programs, and improved services for special-education and other students, but much of the increase is just a lot of spending without a lot to show for it.

School districts pay little attention to productivity, Rotherham writes. While businesses have used technology to improve productivity, public schools are going in the opposite direction.

For example, while the private sector gets more work out of each employee, schools have hired more and more teachers to bring down class sizes even though the research is crystal clear that other reforms pack more bang for the buck. What’s more, schools lowered class sizes a little across the board rather than a lot for the most at-risk students — and in the key early grades — where it does make a difference. And when teachers are laid off because of declining enrollments or funds, it is almost entirely based on seniority rather than their performance. In Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union is suing to change that practice because of its disproportionate effect on low-income and minority students. That case could ricochet around the country. 

Productivity innovations are rare, writes Rotherham, but there are a few examples.  Rocketship Education, a charter school network in San Jose, uses a blend of traditional teaching and online learning to produce “good results at substantially lower costs.”

With $1 million from the Broad Foundation and $6 million from the Charter School Growth Fund, Rocketship hopes to open 30 new hybrid schools by 2015.  The nonprofit charter network is exploring partnerships with cities including Denver, Chicago, Tulsa, Okla., Houston and Phoenix.