Amalgamation Proclamation

With a baseline of public sector services and benefits available to all, afforded by progressive taxation, we knit together diverse citizens of uneven means and needs to create community. The animating ethos of the public sector is empathetic collectivism. It empowers us to build a civil society despite our inequality and diversity.

Our national motto proclaims: E Pluribus Unum. Out of many, one.

If you are among the fortunate, realizing extraordinary personal gains from our economic system, be sure to convey your outsized contributions to the collective with a spirit of gratitude for your prosperity, not with grudging contempt for your greater burden.


To whom much is given, much is expected.

California’s local government agencies, including city and county administration, police, fire, libraries and public schools, are funded with property taxes assessed and collected by counties. And while the benefits of public agencies are evenly available to all, taxes to pay for them are unevenly imposed: only on residential and commercial property owners.

Continue reading


Why not Martha? Her ideology.

My objection to Martha McClatchie’s candidacy for LASD Trustee is based on my personal experience with her. I’m certainly not accusing Martha of being a bad person. To the contrary, she’s a tireless volunteer for causes she supports, which is admirable.

I know for a fact that Martha has performed many great services for children in her community, but this does not necessarily qualify her for the LASD Trustee role she seeks.

Martha has lots of passion and amplitude, but passion and amplitude can be either an asset or a liability.

I think Martha is ideologically poorly suited to be an LASD Trustee, and some of her projects and tactics over the past few years raise questions about her judgement. Because of choices she has made, Martha’s passion has become a liability, and the truth about her choices and allegiances are obscured from voters in this election.

Continue reading

Meet the new Boss

Same as the old Boss

The Santa Clara County Board of Education has a new President: Leon Beauchman. Beauchman has been a member of SCCBOE for 13 years and previously served as SCCBOE President in 2002 and 2005. He was re-elected in Nov. 2012 in an uncontested race for the Area 3 seat—unfortunately, resembling a single-party election.*

Beauchman has been on SCCBOE continuously since it forged the BCS-LASD conflict in 2003. Prior to the county board’s approval of the Bullis charter, only one charter school operated in Santa Clara County. As of now, SCCBOE has approved 38 charters. Beauchman has been a driver of this aggressive pursuit of charters, an approach the county board calls “bold” and “courageous.” Others call it “reckless” and “privatization.”

beauchmanI had an opportunity in May 2013 to speak in person with now-President Leon Beauchman and then-President Grace Mah after a public meeting on charter school issues in my community. The dialogue was intimate, including just Beauchman, Mah, one or two other people and myself.

mahOur conversation naturally, eventually turned to the BCS-LASD situation, and I mentioned the LASD community’s perception that SCCBOE didn’t perform proper oversight of BCS. I said the LASD community had, over time, communicated to SCCBOE some troubling BCS policies and practices, but rarely (if ever) did the community receive any response or action.

I mentioned specifically that a citizen had inquired about a $250K personal loan made by Bullis Charter School to Principal Wanny Hersey. (It’s illegal for a public school funded with public tax dollars to make a personal loan to an administrator, yet…) In BCS’ annual Form 990 filings across multiple years, a $250K loan was reported as a “personal loan.”

Continue reading

Student needs not applied

greenAt the October 2013 Charter Schools Study Workshop convened by the Santa Clara County Board of Education, new member Darcie Green asks a clarifying question about official Board Policy on Charter Schools.

“On page number one of the Policy, in Purpose and Scope: ‘In granting charter petitions the County Board shall give preference to schools best able to provide comprehensive learning experiences for academically low-achieving students.’ What does that mean to us? What does ‘preference’ mean? This is just my ignorance. I would say we give preference to charter schools, but how does that play out in our values as a Board?”

“Do we want to focus more on truly serving the academically needy student? Or does that word preference really not… I don’t know why it’s in there… it doesn’t seem to be what we do, so I don’t know way it’s in there. But I like that it’s in there.”

Uh oh, now you’ve done it. You asked a serious question, in public no less, about the County Board’s values and intent vis-a-vis serving unmet student needs, with a particular focus on under-served or academically low-achieving students.

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.

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.

Tyrrany 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.