Why not Martha? Her actions. (Part 1)

I’ve previously written about my experience with Martha McClatchie, and why I find her an ideologically inappropriate candidate for LASD Trustee. Ideology aside, there are a number of actions she has taken as a pro-BCS, anti-LASD activist that more then give me pause:

  1. Political flip-flop on BCS facilities litigation
  2. Obscuring BCS legal and PR expenditures
  3. Organizing a media stunt to shame LASD (coming soon)
  4. Close ties to charter movement leadership (coming soon)

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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.”

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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.

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.