My, what big teeth you have

There is no confusion about the historical impetus for the California charter school movement: Californians had grown frustrated, even panicked, by the perception* that their public schools were failures and something needed to be done about it.

Enter the reformers.

In an article they wrote for the Phi Delta Kappan in 1996, former State Senator Gary Hart and Sue Burr, the sponsor and author of California’s Charter Schools Act of 1992, say a major, credible threat to public education had begun to coalesce: vouchers.

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingThe idea of school vouchers with libertarian portability of per-student funding, redeemable by private and even religious schools, was not new. It had been promoted by Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and other free-market economists and politicians since the 1950s. Proponents pointed to supposed failings of public schools and promoted abandoning the public-private dichotomy altogether on the idea that market competition for students and funding would lead to improved learning.

Hart and Burr wrote about the emerging California voucher movement, “This was not a modest voucher pilot proposal, but a full-blown effort to reconstitute public education in California.”

Continue reading

Moving the goal posts

magic-trickIt’s an old rhetorical trick, but in skilled hands it still works like new.

Like magic.

Here’s an argument for “education reform” and charters from the Broad Foundations that few people would take major issue with (assuming it’s factually correct):

“With one-third of students dropping out and many of those who graduate from high school unable to succeed in college, our public schools are failing our nation.”

Now here’s a clever pivot by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) that skirts a requirement of unmet student need. In its November 13, 2013 amicus brief filed in support of the California Charter Schools Association in a lawsuit against LA Unified School District, the table of contents reads:

“The Charter Schools Act of 1992 was adopted in response to a growing crisis in public education.”

But their Summary of Argument reads:

“All too often, traditional public schools provide a dissatisfying one-size-fits-all model resistant to improvement.”

Poof! The justification for breaking our constitutional “common” public school model just morphed from crisis “We must do it for the children” to preference “We must do it because… well, because people like choice.” It’s just more satisfying, even if it’s not right.

shopaholicQ:  “I’m accustomed to choosing ordinary things like my car, a restaurant or my smartphone. Why don’t I get to choose something as important as which public schools my children attend?”

A:  Because public education operates by different principles than a private market for goods and services. In the public domain, we prohibit the discrimination and inequality inherent in a market system because all citizens are entitled to an equal measure of benefit from our laws and public institutions. In public life, we’re responsible to and for one another under a social contract. This is why when some students are shortchanged or under-served by their public schools, we create supplementary or remedial programs to ensure they get a fair share—and a fair shot at life.

But I digress.

At least the Broad Foundation was unambiguous by defining the dropout problem as “one-third of students.” You have to marvel at all the ambiguity from PLF:

  • All too often
  • Dissatisfying
  • Resistent to improvement

There’s something for just about everyone inclined to be even a little bit critical of traditional public schools. Any school parent who’s honest about their experience will say they’ve been “dissatisfied” at one time or another with their teacher or their school, and “all too often” can mean as little as “once.” Given typical parental focus on their children’s achievement, who among us would say they’ve never felt a program, teacher or administrator was “resistant to improvement”?

This is the tap root of privatization of public education, a vital civic institution, obviously related to The Great Misdirection. It’s also known as the “consumerization” of public education. The underlying justification for “education reform” and charter schools has become less about leveling the playing field for under-served and struggling students and more about giving parents free market, consumer choice for the sake of… choice itself.

But “choice for choice’s sake” can—and is—being deployed by parents to create separate, unequal quasi-private “public schools of choice” that segregate students by ethnicity, socio-economic status, educational achievement or other “consumer” preferences. Choice unrestrained by demonstrable educational need breaks the back of our equity-based constitutional system of common schools.

Here’s basically how it works: I grab your attention by railing against the moral injustice of under-achieving public schools and high school dropout rates, then I get you nodding your head “Yes” as I prescribe a “choice and charter” remedy for these urgent social ills, then with a pandering appeal to your self-interest, it’s a trivial challenge to convince you that every parent and child is entitled to public education on their own terms.

Voila! Magically, everyone is entitled to public “school choice” even if they’re not struggling in school or at risk of dropping out. Even if they’re on the ‘winning’ side of the achievement gap. Isn’t it just fair that we all have equal right to choose?

Did you see what I did there? I moved the goal posts on the “reform” argument, and you ate it up. Yum.

Almost nothing sells like vanity and self-interest, especially when it’s “for the children,” swaddled in moral indignation, victimhood and entitlement.

Tastes great. Less integrated.

Do it like a pro

Q:  How do you influence elections with a big money war chest without jeopardizing your efforts by publicly exposing yourself and donors?

A:  Start a stealthy PAC and file campaign disclosures so late no one knows until after the election who your donors are or how much they donated.

You do it like a real pro—or two.

abramoff.bannerYou’ll recall Election Day 2012 was Tuesday, November 6. Sensitive campaign information disclosed on Fair Political Practice forms filed in early November would become public too late for opponents to use in any attempt to inform voters and influence the election.

A political action committee named “Santa Clara County Schools PAC, Supporting Grace Mah and David Neighbors for County Board of Education and Opposing Anna Song 2012” was organized in 2012. With that name, its goals were not very stealthy, which explains why its name changed to “Santa Clara County Schools PAC.”

The mailing address on SCC Schools PAC 2012 Forms 410/460 filed Nov. 2, 2012 was 300 South First Street, Ste. 340, San Jose, CA 95113, also the address of Catapult Strategies, Inc. owned by San Jose political consultant Jude Barry, next door to the former location of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce.

According to “Catapult Strategies, Inc. is a Silicon Valley-based social media, public relations, and political consulting firm with strong ties to and extensive knowledge of Silicon Valley business and political communities. [Jude] is a member of the Board of Directors of the University of San Francisco and Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Leo McCarthy Center for Public Service and Common Good at USF.”

The phone number on SCC Schools PAC 2012 Forms 410/460 filed Nov. 2, 2012 was 415-689-8939, also the phone number of Jay Rosenthal, owner of JMR Strategic, based in San Francisco.

According to “JMR Strategic is a strategic communications firm focused on public affairs, public relations, politics, and media. JMR Strategic excels in challenging situations where government, politics, and media intersect. [Jay] is a former Vice President for Public Policy at the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce serving as the chief architect of the Chamber’s public policy and political efforts and as the organization’s spokesperson. Prior to the Chamber, Rosenthal served as Vice President of Catapult Strategies, Inc. for four years.”

FPPC filings indicate that Santa Clara County Schools PAC paid Creative Strategies, Inc. and Jay Rosenthal at least $32,500 each, but $65,000 is just a drop in the proverbial bucket in this intriguing story.

It’s important to know that prior to the Nov. 2012 election, campaigns for Santa Clara County Board of Education were ‘penny ante’ stakes. In recent years, campaigns have been run entirely without a campaign committee, some campaigns spend as little as $100 and the big spenders report $10-15,000 in costs. (For her 2008 re-election to the Board of Education, Mah’s own campaign committee reported just $11,500 in expenditures.)

Education reporter Sharon Noguchi tried to get the word out via this article published in the San Jose Mercury News on Oct. 31, 2012, but it was obviously far too late for anyone to act on the news if they even read it amidst all the noisy campaigning going on at that time. At press time, $196K in donations had been reported, which candidate Song rightly called, “[…]an outrageous amount of money[…]” but that wasn’t even close to the final total.

SCC Schools PAC eventually raised $296K to re-elect Mah and defeat Song.

Given all the turmoil in Santa Clara County today with regard to charter schools created by the County Board of Education, I think voters would’ve liked to know:

  • Who’s donating that kind of money, why do they so badly want to re-elect Grace Mah and what has Anna Song done to make someone want to oust her?
  • Who’s paying Jude Barry and Jay Rosenthal $65K to run a low profile campaign to control two seats on the Santa Clara County Board of Education?

Here’s a list of the big money donors to Santa Clara County Schools PAC 2012:

SCCS PAC LA-LAH Donors 2012

Almost none of this money came from within Santa Clara County but it’s pretty obvious that charter school heavyweights want Grace Mah on the Santa Clara County County Board of Education. The opposite is true for Anna Song.

Coming from Palo Alto as she does, you might imagine that a PAC formed to re-elect Grace Mah would attract Palo Alto donors, but this isn’t true of SCC Schools PAC. Maybe Palo Alto is still stinging from Mah’s 2005-2007 battle against the PAUSD over creating a Mandarin Immersion program.

My hunch is that the really big money gets committed early but not actually received until the dates shown on the FPPC forms. For example, California Charter Schools Assn., Reed Hastings and Eli Broad made $100K in donations less than 2 weeks before election day. I doubt they decided at the last minute to go big with donations. Someone cleverly and strategically floated campaign expenses for SCC Schools PAC until the last minute.

There is an LASD angle to this. Donations to SCC Schools PAC from our community were some of the first recorded. What has Grace Mah done for, and what has Anna Song done against, the pro-charter movement in LASD? Much more on that yet to come.

SCCS PAC Big Donors 2012

We’re going to need a bigger boat

Bruce Barton’s Nov. 20 Los Altos Town Crier editorial asks, “Can’t we all just get along?” and correctly adds that we’re all exhausted from this decade-long BCS-LASD conflict, which has been intensely “us versus them” since the beginning. For one side to gain has meant that the other must lose, and we’ve been searching desperately for a win-win.

But the conflict seems to be getting worse, not better.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 3.49.53 PM

BCS-LASD lawsuits are multiplying, tense public negotiations over facilities are ongoing, peace-making gatherings were held in church, district-run citizen focus groups held, grass roots citizen activist committees formed, parent protests and photo ops staged, political campaigns launched, government leaders enlisted, full-page ads and magazine articles expertly crafted, endless citizen letters and responses have been lobbed online and off.

It seems we’ve tried almost everything to bridge this community divide.

I used to think very much like Barton, but I now suspect I was wrong. No amount of small town kumbayah seems to mitigate the ferocity with which BCS leadership opposes and confronts the LASD leadership and community at large, in person, in the press or in court.

I know I won’t win any popularity contests by saying so (and I could be wrong again) but I’m going to predict that this community conflict isn’t going away any time soon.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 3.51.24 PM

My reason is simple yet daunting: This is no quaint suburban kerfuffle. Major external forces promote this community divide. BCS vs LASD is an important strategic battleground in an expansive CA charter school movement propelled by significant political and financial interests from far beyond our community.

For charter insiders and promoters, Bullis Charter School is the sharp point of the spear in the California movement, so even if we agreed locally to end things peaceably, outside interests would likely interfere to discourage such a settlement. There’s simply too much money, ego and legal precedent at stake to allow this cat fight to end. We must look up and out—beyond our city limits—and take aim at the real causes.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 3.54.49 PM

Like Captain Quint, we’re going to need a bigger boat.

The Reform acid test

The historical impetus for education reform was to provide extraordinary support for students on the ‘losing’ side of the achievement gap, and the idea of ‘charter’ schools came from expert educators within the public education system itself.

Today some reformers at least appear to ground their efforts in this view. Here’s a photo and quote from the Education section of The Broad Foundations’ 2011-12 annual report:

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.32.45 PM“America’s public schools determine the strength of our democracy, the health of our economy and the ability of our middle class to thrive. Yet with one-third of students dropping out and many of those who graduate from high school unable to succeed in college, our public schools are failing our nation.”

Here’s another synopsis of the historical justification for ‘education reform’ and charters:

  • High quality taxpayer-funded education is vital for the current and future success of our democracy and our economy and all students deserve equal access to it.
  • Some children struggle more than others in school, and family history and socio-economic status are the most predictive of student academic achievement.
  • We must do all we can to help low-achieving and under-privileged students be successful in school so that they become prosperous, contributing citizens.
  • If the standard academic program available to students fails to adequately prepare them for a successful future, an alternate program should be available to them.
  • By liberalizing rules of the public education system, school administrators, staff and parents can create alternative programs that meet the needs of struggling students.
  • The ‘charter school’ idea was originally conceived by expert educators as a novel remedy to help close the pernicious achievement gap.

The acid test of whether a reformer or charter school is legitimately aligned with the movement’s historic intent is if they offer and advocate for an admissions preference for students achieving below the mean in their school or district, for students on the ‘losing’ side of the achievement gap.

Any purported reformer of public education advocating for charters and privatization that serves students already on the ‘winning’ side of the achievement gap should be exposed as a fraud. Especially when they’re able to force their ‘reforms’ onto thriving and high-performing public school districts against majority will of the community and a democratically elected Board of Trustees.

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 9.58.19 AMIf the intent of education reform is to level the playing field for under-served students, then under-served students should be first in line to benefit.

In the words of the late Milton Friedman, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” When the results of an ‘education reform’ initiative are a widening of the achievement gap and re-emergence of racial and socio-economic segregation and discrimination in public education founded on equity, we’re rightly judged to have made a great mistake indeed.

Tyranny of a tiny minority

Democracy settles differences between competing visions of public life, so after every election there are inevitably happy winners and unhappy losers.

Under our traditional “50%-plus-1” majority rule, a whopping “50%-minus-1” losing minority could feel jilted after an election, which is an awful lot of unhappiness within a community. Rarely are ballots evenly split, so the unhappy losing camp is usually far less than half the number of voters.

Here in the US, mythic birthplace and bastion of ‘majority rule,’ we sometimes intentionally allow a minority to win on election day. This was possible in LASD a couple years ago when we voted on Measure E, the school parcel tax increase. If just one third of voters had voted against Measure E it would have failed, since a two thirds supermajority is required for such tax measures. (Luckily, Measure E passed, but only just barely.)

Allowing a one-third minority to overrule majority sentiment is like political leverage; each No vote cancels out two Yes votes.

Parcel tax measures require a two-thirds majority Yes vote, and so can be particularly difficult to pass, because even semi-organized opposition can be hard to overcome even if it isn’t richly funded. But “one-third/two-thirds” is the farthest we stray from majority rule. We would never dream of allowing a 10% minority camp to win over a 90% majority. That would be tyranny of a tiny minority.

If someone’s rights are at stake, it’s an altogether different story. “Majority rule” is suspended when fundamental rights are on the line.

We recently learned this (again) through our experience with California’s Prop 8 and the ensuing legal fight over marriage rights and equality. When the courts ruled that marriage is a fundamental right of all adults, including homosexuals, then even overwhelming majority voter sentiment in favor of outlawing same-sex marriage is disallowed. Even a 99% majority opinion is insufficient to deprive someone of fundamental rights.

How does this relate to charter law? I think it’s important to consider whether we want local school districts to be governed democratically or whether anyone has rights that trump majority rule.

Q:  Does any child have a fundamental right to a seat in a ‘choice’ school if their democratically-run district doesn’t want to operate ‘choice’ schools? Is ‘choice’ a fundamental right in California public education?

A:  No.

Then on what basis is a school district’s authority usurped by a county Board of Education in re: charter petitions? If voters in a local school district prefer a consistent, high-quality educational program across all its schools, and if the schools are successful by government measures, on what grounds are local voters’ ballots nullified by an external agent of government?

This is most definitely the situation we are in today in Santa Clara County.

Through the years and for a wide variety of reasons having nothing to do with remediating poor education, tiny minority groups have created (or threatened) a charter petition to extract from the district that which it was not otherwise willing to provide:

  • Los Altos School District: “Trustees closed our neighborhood school and consolidated our student body with another at a different campus. We parents don’t agree with the Trustees’ decision, so we want to create a charter school. The charter’s location, size, curriculum and student body will all be the same as the neighborhood school that was closed.”
  • Palo Alto Unified School District: “Trustees refused to create a Mandarin language magnet program in response to parent requests. The district offers a Spanish language immersion program and we want a similar Mandarin program. Since the Trustees won’t accommodate us, we’ll start a MI charter school.”
  • Sunnyvale Elementary School District: “Trustees denied parents’ request to expand the district’s K-5 magnet program to middle school grades. We love our magnet program and don’t want our kids to be forced out and into district middle schools. If the district refuses to expand the program we will form a charter school.”

In all cases, district Trustees elected by voters to balance the needs, priorities and resources of the entire district must decide whether modifying their educational program to suit a tiny group is justified. If they refuse the demands of these groups, they instead face a secessionist charter petition. The group might be just 2% of voters in the district or 5% of households with school-aged children, but in all cases, CA charter law is used to force the hand of district Trustees. That’s huge leverage. That’s tyranny of a tiny minority.

If a district board denies a charter application, the applicants can appeal to the County Board of Education, and unlike the locally elected District Board, a County Board of Education is prohibited by law from considering what impact the proposed charter would have on the remainder of the district’s students.

In other words, upon a district’s denial of a charter application and its appeal to a County Board, the petition evaluation methodology is completely different. By law, County Boards need not, and cannot, balance and defend the rights and priorities of the entire district community, as an elected district Board quite obviously must.

County Boards may ONLY consider the merits of the charter application in light of the students to be enrolled in the charter, so a tiny minority can put their own interests ahead of everyone else in their district by simply appealing a charter denial to their county Board.

In this way, California’s charter law is used to deny equal protection to the majority of public school students in district schools after a charter group secedes. Charter law is being deployed by county Boards of Education to strip control of school districts from democratically elected local Trustees, overriding the majority will of district voters to serve the demands of a few.

That’s just wrong.

The Great Misdirection

What I hear in this audio clip from the Santa Clara County Board of Education’s Oct. 19, 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop is either an embarrassing muddle or an illuminating confession.

This Charter Schools Study Workshop was convened by the county Board to allow the SCCBOE to publicly air “the big questions” about charter schools in Santa Clara County. In addition to all seven member of the Board, County Superintendent Xavier De La Torre and members of his staff were in attendance, as were a number of district and charter administrators and Trustees. The complete 3-hour audio recording can be found here.

Here’s the setup: Previously during the meeting, Board Member Anna Song asked that all members of the County Board of Education express their views about SCCOE’s role in authorizing and overseeing charter schools. In this clip we’re treated to an empassioned response from Dr. Joseph Di Salvo, former SCCBOE President:


Either Joe Di Salvo doesn’t grok his non-sequitor or he lays bare The Great Misdirection.

California charter law is ideologically grounded in unmet student need but has morphed into a political weapon that allows activist, separatist parents to extract program concessions or outright independence from their district.

When the Charter School was invented 20 years ago—by expert educators, no less—it was meant to be a special remedy to help failing students stay in school and succeed. Today charter schools are the thrust of a privatization movement that is re-introducing racial and economic segregation to public education, and the largest study ever conducted of charter outcomes found charters to be no better or worse on average than district schools.

Free market “school choice” is fracturing traditional school districts and dividing communities, thinly veiled beneath the noble cloak: We must do it for the children.

disalvoDi Salvo begins by bemoaning the moral injustice of, and urgent need for (his) leadership to cure, a 40% Latino dropout problem in Santa Clara County. BTW, here’s the real data. He points blame at district boards for not capitalizing on parent activism to improve student outcomes. If local district boards did a better job capitalizing on parent energy and activism, he believes their schools would be more successful and SCCBOE wouldn’t need to intervene.

As evidence that district boards don’t respond to parent demands, Di Salvo bizarrely shares a 7-year old story of a non-Latino parent in a high-performing school district lobbying her Trustees unsuccessfully for two years for a Mandarin Immersion magnet program. The school district in question was Palo Alto Unified, the parent was current SCCBOE President Grace Mah.

Here’s the non-sequitor between Latino dropouts and Grace Mah’s Mandarin Immersion:

  • Mah’s children attended Palo Alto schools, widely regarded as a top-flight public school district. Not exactly evidence of unmet student need.
  • Mah’s children were already enrolled in an extra-curricular Mandarin language program, which she liked. The children’s language instruction needs were being met.
  • Mah tried many times to convince PAUSD to establish a Mandarin program, but the district repeatedly refused citing insufficient demand to justify it over other priorities.
  • Mah’s program was not intended to close an achievement gap or reduce dropouts, it was just one more programmatic choice for parents in a district already full of choice.

Grace Mah’s experience in Palo Alto is totally irrelevant to the county’s Latino dropout problem, but it’s a textbook example of how CA charter law is being used today to contravene democratic rule in public school districts up and down California. Joe Di Salvo holds up this long-running, bruising PAUSD battle as an example of “getting it right.”

The clear message from Di Salvo’s bluster is, “Parents should get anything they want from their districts, whenever they want it, and if district boards don’t give in, I’m fully prepared to usurp local control by approving charter petitions.”

Don’t let something as antiquated as democracy or the needs and constraints of the community at large keep you from eating first at the education trough. If your district board doesn’t give you what you want, threaten them with a charter. Lack of a choice program is itself reason enough to justify introducing a charter school against the community’s wishes.

This abusive, intrusive, anti-democratic approach to public education adminstration is maintained by Joe Di Salvo, current member and former President of the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

mahGrace Mah is the current President of the Santa Clara County Board of Education.

Student needs vs Parent demands

Knowing when and for whom to employ the charter school remedy is tricky business. Some people believe public education is in desperate straits and see charter schools as a panacea for all ills, so they favor aggressive expansion of charter schools irrespective of demonstrable student need. But they are wrong on all counts.

The language of CA Charter Law and the history of charter schools nationally are perfectly clear that charter schools were and are intended for students struggling in a standard public school program, which historically has been economically disadvantaged or otherwise under-achieving categories of students.

That said, I believe the decision whether to create a magnet or charter school within a district should ultimately rest with the elected district Trustees responsible for balancing the educational needs, priorities and resources of their community.

From time to time, a group of public school parents will coalesce around an idea or desire they have for their children, and they want it to become part of their district’s educational program. Sometimes these ideas are adopted by the district, sometimes not.

veruca_saltIt’s terrific that parents petition their district for changes to the academic program, but professional educators and administrators should be trusted to decide whether to change the program based on what students need and not necessarily what parents demand.

After a recent meeting with a public school district (District X) Superintendent who has been presented with a charter school petition that is fundamentally about creating a “parent participation” program, I sent him this stream of consciousness note after reflecting on his challenge, putting myself in his shoes:

The mission and statutory duty of the [District X] is to provide high quality K-8 education to all students residing within district boundaries who choose to attend a district school. We employ expert staff, deliver a comprehensive, enriched curriculum to all students and strive for continual improvement. As a public agency, we are prohibited from showing preference and bias in the provision of educational services, except as special remedy. Whenever necessary, appropriate and possible, given our various constraints, we supplement our program with exceptional services for students in need, bearing in mind our duty to defend equity among all district students.

Upon review and before approving any charter school application, we must ask and answer the following questions, with a strict focus on the needs of [District X] students:

  • Is the proposed charter school program educationally necessary?
  • What is the specific educational problem the charter school seeks to solve?
  • Is the charter itself dependent on the identification and successful remediation of an educational problem?
  • For which students does the educational problem exist and how have we identified/qualified the students?
  • Does the educational problem to be solved manifest within the [District X] student population generally or does the problem exist in only certain demographic segments?
  • Has the charter school identified a new educational problem we previously were unaware of?
  • By what method/metrics/means have we defined/identified/measured this educational problem?
  • Does the educational literature support a claim of this specific educational problem?
  • What is the charter school’s proposed solution to this educational problem?
  • Does the educational literature support the theory that such proposed remedy will be an effective solution for this specific educational problem?
  • Are there other remedies known or suspected to be effective in remediating this educational problem?
  • Would the charter school’s program create for [District X] an opportunity to learn more about the alleged educational problem and potential remedies?
  • How can we ensure that students enrolled in the charter are, in fact, impacted by this educational problem and how will we measure remedial progress?
  • Will it ever be possible for a student enrolled in the program to progress to the point where they no longer manifest the educational problem, and therefore become disqualified from participation?
  • Are the program outcomes measures captured and analyzed in a statistically valid way?
  • Are the findings arising from the charter school experiment extensible to other [District X] schools/programs so that [District X] students in general can realize a benefit from the charter?

In short, I think it’s very important to focus (your board) entirely on student needs rather than parental desires:

  • Is there a problem for students and how do we know that?
  • Is it something we didn’t know about before, or have we seen this show before in other districts?
  • If we already know about it, how do we normally solve it?

If the solution is, in effect, to partition an equity-based program into higher- and lower-performing castes, this is illegal and discriminatory in public education.

Parent participation is not a student problem, it’s a parent desire, and not for all parents. The fact is that, just like financial wherewithal, volunteer time is unevenly distributed among [District X] families. By allowing families of greater financial means, higher volunteer availability and more focus on education in general to secede from the “commons” you actually undermine many important values in the classroom.

An integrated classroom, with both higher- and lower-achieving students, provides important benefits for all students.

PS – CA courts have recently ruled that requiring parents to volunteer in the classroom as a condition of their child’s enrollment in a magnet or charter program is illegal.

Of the people, by the people, for the people?

lincoln-gettysburg-address-speech-analysisIt may come as a shock to the Los Altos School District community to hear that it doesn’t control its public schools. We think we control our schools, we love to brag about how our activist and generous community sustains its amazing schools, but in a very real sense we’re not in control.

You might argue that we do have democratically controlled public education because LASD voters elect our district Trustees, and you’d be somewhat right. We believe our elected Trustees defend our collective interests and run our schools, but this belief is somewhat misplaced. Even our democratically elected Trustees do not have full control over LASD’s finances, facilities and curriculum.

In important ways, the Santa Clara County Board of Education exerts greater control over LASD than our locally elected Trustees through their interpretation and administration of California Charter School Law.

The seven members of the county Board of Education are elected but LASD voters have only minority influence over just the single ‘Area 1’ member since LASD represents a minority of the total Area 1 voter base. The Area 1 representative on the county Board of Education is elected by voters from Palo Alto Unified School District, Los Altos School District, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Mountain View-Whisman Elementary School District, a majority of the Sunnyvale Elementary School District and the Fremont High School District.

Even if 100% of LASD voters opposed an ‘Area 1’ candidate, if enough voters in the rest of Area 1 supported them, they would win election to the county Board and LASD voters would hold no sway over the outcome of the race.

Because LASD voters have no meaningful representation on the county Board of Education, in a very real sense, when the County Board of Education asserts control over LASD, it effectively disenfranchises LASD voters and suspends democratic control over our state-leading public schools.

County Board policies may be created that we cannot meaningfully influence, decisions may be taken that oppose or even override the majority will of LASD voters and burdens may be placed on LASD that undermine our top-notch public schools, but there is almost nothing our community can do about it. This has been our situation for at least ten years, and arguably since 1992, but most of us don’t understand that it’s true or how it could happen.

California Charter Law in the hands of the current Santa Clara County Board of Education represents a real and present danger for local democracy and traditional public education. 

LASD is not uniquely compromised in this way. The same is true of voters, Trustees and school districts throughout Santa Clara County. Until Charter Law or the members of the Santa Clara County Board of Education change, this threat to democratically-controlled public education will persist for LASD and all other public school districts in Santa Clara County.

Santa Clara County Board of Education