California poised to adopt new school-grading system

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

In a significant shift in how it grades public schools, California is crafting new report cards with the goal of capturing a more detailed snapshot of what each campus accomplishes.

Critics call the new accountability measures an avalanche of confusing numbers and jargon that downplay test scores, obscure schools’ failings and make it impossible for parents to tell how well schools are serving their kids.

The proposed school evaluations, expected to be adopted when the California State Board of Education meets Thursday and Friday in Sacramento, succeed the three-digit API scores that measured schools’ worth.

For 14 years, Californians could get a clear — albeit limited — snapshot of how local schools and school districts were performing, with the state issuing a single number representing achievement of schools, districts and student groups. The Academic Performance Index pegged schools’ worth to results of math, English and science tests, graduation rates and high school exit-exam passage. …

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California Supreme Court Strikes Down Vergara Appeal

560px-School-education-learning-1750587-hHere’s an axiom of California politics. When it’s the teachers union against everyone – that’s right, everyone else – the teachers union wins. Yesterday’s decision by the California Supreme Court to not hear the Vergara case is just the latest example.

Prior to losing on appeal, which brought the case to the attention of the State Supreme Court, the original Vergara ruling upheld the argument of the plaintiff, which was that union supported work rules have a disproportionate negative effect on poor and minority students. As reported in the Los Angeles Times in June 2014:

“Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu tentatively ruled Tuesday that key job protections for California teachers violated students’ rights to equal educational opportunity. Treu struck down state laws that grant teachers tenure after two years, require seniority-based layoffs and govern the process to dismiss teachers. He ruled that those laws disproportionately harmed poor and minority students… [writing:]

‘All sides to this litigation agree that competent teachers are a critical, if not the most important, component of success of a child’s in-school educational experience. All sides also agree that grossly ineffective teachers substantially undermine the ability of that child to succeed in school. Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.’”

And the evidence was indeed compelling. Watch these closing arguments in the case, and note that the plaintiff’s attorney used the testimony of the expert witnesses called by the defense attorneys to support his arguments!

But it isn’t just the union’s hand-picked experts who are against the teachers unions, when they reveal under cross-examination that union work rules indeed harm students, and disproportionately harm low-income and minority students. It’s every interest group, every stakeholder. Why, for example, would a teacher want to work in an environment where you come in and you care about students and you’re talented and you work very hard to get through to all of your students and get good educational results, and in the classroom right next to you somebody just shows up every day and doesn’t do anything? They make as much money as you do, and if they stick around, they get increases every year just like you will. If they are incompetent, they will not be fired. And if there’s a layoff, if they’ve been on the job one year longer than you, they’ll stay and you’ll go.

No wonder there’s a teacher shortage. Consider these statistics that measure teacher sentiments regarding the work rules that were challenged by the Vergara plaintiffs:

  • Teacher effectiveness should be a factor in granting tenure:
    72% of teachers agree, 93% of principals agree.
  • Students’ interests would be better served if it were easier to dismiss ineffective teachers:
    62% of teachers agree, 89% of principals agree.
  • Students’ interests would be better served if layoff decisions took teacher effectiveness into account:
    67% of teachers agree, 83% of principals agree.

Then there’s the social agenda of the teachers union. Their social agenda, in essence, is to indoctrinate California’s students – most of whom are people of color, and millions of whom are members of recent immigrant families – into believing they live in a racist, sexist nation, where they are condemned to lives of discrimination and thwarted achievement, when precisely the opposite is the reality. In reality, America is the most tolerant nation in world history, rejecting sexism and racism, and has provided opportunities to people of all backgrounds in measures that dwarf all other nations and cultures. But not according to the teachers union.

But this is California, and what the teachers union wants, the teachers union gets.

One small encouraging sign is the fact that two of the three dissenting attorneys are Brown appointees. The fight is bipartisan. It’s disappointing that judges appointed by Wilson and Schwarzenegger ruled against the plaintiffs, and it is possible that part of their motivation was judicial restraint, i.e., to not legislate from the bench.

Which leaves the legislature to change these rules that are destroying public education in California – jobs for life after two years, nearly impossible to fire incompetents, and seniority over merit in layoffs. Virtually any honest legislator in Sacramento will admit, off the record, that they don’t agree with the agenda of the teachers union. Plenty of retired democrats, including Gloria Romero, former Senate Majority Leader, and Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor of Los Angeles, have leveled withering criticism at the teachers union. But active politicians are targeted for political destruction if they stand up to the union machine, and they toe the line.

Parents, students, judges, legislators, and teachers themselves are all subordinates of the teachers union. It will take an extraordinary combination of bipartisan cooperation and raw political courage to change the status quo. But let’s be clear – the teachers union has won again, and everyone, everyone, was on the other side.

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

ACLU Joins Unions to Attack California Charter Schools

560px-School-education-learning-1750587-hAbout 6.2 million students attend California’s K-12 public schools. Of those, over 570,000 are enrolled in public charter schools. Most of these charter schools operate with a degree of management autonomy and teacher accountability that goes well beyond what is permitted by the union work rules that govern traditional public schools. These charter schools themselves are accountable – if they don’t deliver better academic outcomes cost-effectively, they are closed down. They are a laboratory for excellence in education and administration, and they’re working. And their success is a tremendous threat to teachers unions.

Enter the ACLU. In a study released earlier this week, the ACLU said it had identified 253 schools with “exclusionary policies,” and noted “this is just the tip of the iceberg.” The exclusionary policies were (1) exclusion based on academic performance, (2) discrimination against English learners, (3) pre-enrollment essays or interviews, (4) illegal parent/guardian volunteer requirements, (5) requirements that discourage undocumented students.

If you consider the ACLU case on its merits, there isn’t much to argue about. Traditional public schools receive funding to admit all students, and charter public schools must do the same. But the entire premise is flawed: schools should be able to develop unique identities in order to offer a diverse set of educational choices to our diverse student population.

Examples of such diversity are inspiring, and range from the Eagle Academy in Harlem, which is attended almost exclusively by African American young men, or the Detroit International Academy for Young Women. These schools deliver outstanding academic results, they cannot possibly admit everyone who wants to attend, and they are exclusionary.

Some of the premises underlying the ACLU’s case are easily contestable, because they are rooted in a concession to mediocrity that has taken over public schools. Instead of making charter schools change their policies, why not change the rules? For example, why aren’t all public schools engaging in “pre-enrollment essays or interviews”? Why don’t all public schools require parents to volunteer some time at the school?

As for violation No. 2 – our public schools are academically segregated as it is, with the high-achieving students exclusively taking AP courses that relegate their exposure to the rest of the student body to hallways and common areas. Should a charter school focus on attracting top students? And if some of them did, how would that differ from what already occurs with AP courses?

The ACLU’s case with respect to the other violations is, at least, easier to justify on moral grounds. Of course we should be admitting students who don’t speak English as a first language. Of course we have to educate children regardless of their immigration status. But the vast majority of charter schools aren’t trying to exclude these students. Most charter schools are non-profits, with supplemental funding provided by philanthropists with the noblest of intentions. Charter schools are an attempt to deliver educational excellence in communities with some of the worst-performing traditional public schools in the U.S. The ACLU is missing the forest for the trees.

If the ACLU wants to fix public education, it might throw its considerable legal might behind the upcoming final round of the Vergara case, likely to be heard in the California Supreme Court next year. The plaintiffs in this case argued that the right to a quality public education is a civil right, and that students in low-income communities are denied that right through inferior public schools. They specifically challenged three union work rules which they demonstrated had a disproportionately negative impact on education in low-income communities: (1) granting teacher tenure after less than two years of classroom observation, (2) “last-in, first-out” policies whereby seniority trumps merit in layoffs, and (3) dismissal procedures so onerous that incompetent teachers are almost never fired.

Where is the ACLU with respect to Vergara?

The ACLU has a well-earned reputation for impartiality. When it comes to civil rights issues they are as likely to defend someone on the far right as someone on the far left. For this they have earned animosity and respect, depending on whom you ask. But if the ACLU intends to be truly impartial on the civil right to a quality education, at the least it may use its resources to support the plaintiffs in the Vergara case.

As for the ACLU’s salvo against charter schools? The organization should realize that charter school operators are almost invariably motivated by nothing more than providing excellent education to underprivileged students. They should be making it easier for them to do that, not more difficult.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Quality Education Remains Thwarted by Teachers Unions

shocked-kid-apAn article in today’s American Prospect, of all places, offers an in-depth look at just how little progress has actually been made toward restoring quality education to California’s public school students. Because the article appears in a publication that is “dedicated to American liberalism,” and because “American liberalism” depends more than anything else on billions in annual political contributions from government unions, you almost have to read between the lines to realize who the bad guys are.

Nonetheless, “California’s Ed Reform Wars,” by Rachel Cohen, all 3,200 words of it, is a fine piece of work. Read it closely, if you can stomach the facts. The bad guys – a matter of opinion, of course – are the government unions. The victims? California’s students, and the future of this great state.

Covered first is the uncertain fate of the Vergara case, funded by wealthy activists – many of them liberals – in the Silicon Valley. The plaintiffs are public school students whose case was founded on the argument that union work rules, specifically the policies governing tenure, layoff and dismissal policies, cause disproportionate harm to students in low-income communities. During round one, two years ago in a Los Angeles courtroom, reformers were mesmerized by the brilliant closing arguments of the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, along with the ruling by the judge in the case, who emphatically agreed.

That was then. In April of this year, by a 3-0 vote, the California Court of Appeals unanimously struck down the original Vergara v. California decision. The case will now go to the California Supreme Court. Its chances aren’t great.

But shouldn’t elected officials, not the courts, make policy decisions? In a perfect world, that would certainly be true, but in California’s state Legislature, as Cohen herself writes, “Following the original Vergara decision, Republican lawmakers introduced a package of three bills to extend the time it would take a teacher to earn tenure, to repeal the “last-in, first-out” statute that makes layoff decisions based on seniority, and to establish an annual teacher evaluation system. These bills, however, got nowhere in the Democratic-controlled statehouse.”

Here’s where the story gets interesting. Because then a democratic assemblywoman who takes money from government unions, Susan Bonilla, tried to push legislation through that might reform at least some of the employment statutes that protect bad teachers. Cohen writes:

“Bonilla proposed, among other things, giving principals the option of waiting until a teacher’s third or fourth year to grant tenure, and placing poorly performing teachers in a program that would provide increased professional support. If the ineffective teacher received another low performance rating after a year in this program, Bonilla’s legislation would enable schools to fire the teacher through an expedited process.”

Might that be watered down enough? Might that not have a chance? For the children?

Forget it. Despite endorsements including one from the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, the teachers union issued an “action alert” to their members, calling the bill “an all-out assault” by “corporate millionaires and special interests.” The bill was going to go nowhere in California’s union-controlled legislature. So Bonilla tried again. As Cohen reports:

“In June, Bonilla introduced an amended version of her bill, one that would require new teachers to work for three years before becoming eligible for tenure. Her bill no longer included provisions to create a new teacher evaluation system, to require teachers with poor performance reviews to be laid off before those with less seniority, and to remove many of the dismissal rules that administrators found frustrating.”

Not much left there. Just a bill to marginally extend the probationary period before teachers acquire tenure. But still it was opposed by the unions, and it died in committee by a vote of 9 to 2. The two legislators who voted in favor were due to be termed out and therefore could vote their consciences.

When it comes to government unions, perhaps the teachers union most of all, the lack of support for bipartisan reform is not a mystery. Government unions in California collect and spend over $1 billion each year, which gives them the ability to financially dominate any election, anytime, anywhere, whenever they choose. But there’s more to it. These unions use their financial and organizational power to anoint not only politicians, but also bureaucrats, teachers, and anyone in the business community who may have any need to work with the government bureaucracy. They can anoint, or they can target. Best friend or worst enemy? Take your pick.

Liberals know this, but they tolerate the teachers union because along with all that money the union gives their candidates, the union political agenda matches their own – bigger government, more regulations. They don’t understand, course, that more regulations favor big business and destroy entrepreneurs who deliver the competitive innovations that have improved our lives. And they certainly don’t put enough importance on innovation in education.

Someday liberals may care enough “for the children” to stand up to the teachers union. Don’t hold your breath.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

California charter schools involved in multiple political battles

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

A major front in the perpetual war between California’s educational establishment and school reform groups is the role of charter schools, which function outside the traditional structure and are semi-free to experiment with new methods of teaching.

Like the larger conflict, the charter school battle is waged in multiple venues – within school districts, in the Legislature, in the courts and, ultimately, in the electoral arena.

It pits charter school advocates, who range from billionaire Eli Broad to immigrant parents, against the California Teachers Association and union-allied school officials.

It is almost entirely a battle within the Democratic Party, as this year’s elections in a number of legislative and school board elections will demonstrate anew. Broad and other wealthy reformers are backing Democrats who agree with them on charters and other reform issues while the CTA and its allies have their own slates of candidates. …

Teachers unions trying to take back O.C. board

As reported by the Orange County Register:

In addition to making known their presidential preferences, Orange County voters on June 7 also will make critical decisions impacting the continued on a path of supporting greater parental choice in public education and jump-starting education reforms in local schools.

Orange County Board of Education Trustees Kenneth Williams and Robert Hammond are seeking re-election. The board has become a model for championing choice and opportunity for students and taxpayers alike. Williams and Hammond served as the minority on the five-member board until the previous election cycle, when they were joined by Linda Lindholm, forming a refreshingly candid and courageous new majority.

Not beholden to county teachers unions or other special interests, they saw to it that petitions were no longer summarily denied to grant rights to independent charter schools seeking to start schools in Orange County. This switch came much to the chagrin of teachers unions, and even some school board members, because it meant an end to a default geographically based monopoly for school enrollment. …

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Are LAUSD graduation rates legitimate or triage?

LAUSD school busFrom a document unearthed by LA School Report in early February, we learned that just 54 percent of Los Angeles high school seniors are on track to graduate this June. The eye-opening 20 point gap from last year’s 74 percent was blamed on the new “A through G” requirements, which ensure that graduating students are ready for acceptance into California public universities. Subsequently, the projected grad rate was raised to 63 percent due to the district’s credit recovery plan, which allows students to take online classes, crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. The latest happy talk by some is that the grad rate could now be as high as 80 percent.

Upon hearing the latest numbers, school board member George McKenna gushed, “I’m really enthusiastically encouraged.” However, a more skeptical board member, Monica Ratliff, asked, “But are these credit recovery courses really rigorous [college-preparation] courses? How do we know? What is our evidence? How do we make sure the … diploma is the same for everyone?”

Put me squarely in Ratliff’s camp. There are still way too many questions for anyone to be exchanging high-fives at this point.

First, where has the school board been on the implementation of the new “A through G” requirements? The plan was originally formulated in 2005, but the board did nothing to ensure that its schools were following through on them. So now, instead of pushing harder for success, the board lowered the ceiling and decided that in 2017 students could pass with a grade of “D,” instead of the “C” as was in the original plan. (This year’s class had been green-lighted for a “D” passing grade all along.)

Second, last year’s 74 percent grad rate (and whatever it turns out to be this year) is itself a stretch; it would be lower had the state decided not to kill the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). The test was done away with a few months ago by the California Legislature, which chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

It should be noted that the CAHSEE was hardly a rigorous test. According to the California Department of Education website, the English-language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I.

Also, if the quickie classes taken on free periods, weekends, online, etc. are effective, what does that say about traditional education? Could it be that traditional classes are not necessary and that students can just take filler classes here and there to get what they need? Former L.A. school board member David Tokofsky is unconvinced, pointing out that, “Credit recovery is not content recovery.”

What the school board won’t acknowledge is that while so many students in L.A.’s traditional schools are having trouble meeting graduation standards, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students attending charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools. Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools. Among its findings are that charter school students gain 79 more days of learning than their traditional school peers in math, as well as 50 additional days of learning in reading. Latino students living in poverty gain 115 additional days of learning in math and 58 additional days in reading. And African-American students living in poverty gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 36 additional days in reading.

The sad truth is that nearly half the students entering into the Cal State system need remediation in math or English. If you are a parent would you rather your kid go to a charter school where they will have good chance to be genuinely prepared for college, or take a chance on LAUSD’s quickie triage program?

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher who taught for over 24 years in LAUSD, is the president of the nonprofit California Teachers Empowerment Network.

California bill tackles teacher tenure, firing, layoff rules

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

A California lawmaker is introducing legislation to answer a court ruling that could upend California’s teacher employment rules.

Currently on appeal, a 2014 decision in the Vergara v California lawsuit ruled unconstitutional laws that dictate how long it takes teachers to earn tenure, how underperforming teachers can be fired and how teachers are laid off during budget pinches. Judge Rolf Treu agreed with plaintiffs that the laws hurt disadvantaged students by keeping inept teachers in classrooms.

The group pursuing the lawsuit argues they went to the courts because a Legislature cozy with teachers unions will not act. Since Treu’s ruling, Republicans in the Democrat-dominated Legislature have unsuccessfully pushed bills to change teacher employment rules. They failed, opposed by the California Teachers Association and other unions.

But Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, believes her new bill will …

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School Choice Week Aims to End ZIP Code Mandated Education

 shocked-kid-apYou: I’m going out to dinner tonight.

Me: You are going to the restaurant down the street from where you live, right?

You: No, it’s not very good. I am going to a restaurant across town; it has food more to my liking and superior service.

Me: Uh, uh, you can’t go to that restaurant; you must go to the one closest to your home. It’s the law.

You would proceed to tell me that I am crazy. And I did make a nutty statement, didn’t I? But sadly this is exactly how we deal with education in California and throughout much of the country.

Why do we have Z MESS (ZIP code Mandated Education System) in the 21st century? Because it serves the adults in the education blob, aka, the Big Government-Big Union Complex, that’s why. There is no other reason.

The teachers unions especially are sworn enemies of choice, particularly when it involves privatization. This is totally understandable because, except in rare cases, private schools are independent and not unionized. That’s a major reason why – given a choice – parents frequently opt for private schools. In fact, school choice is really about empowering parents to pick the best school for their kids. As the Friedman Foundation’s Greg Forster points out, “School choice would be a big step toward strengthening the family. It would reassert the primacy of parents over every stage of education until the point where children leave home and gain the rights of adulthood.”

How do the unions try to sell their argument against choice? Feebly.

As a rejoinder to National School Choice Week, which began Sunday, National Education Association writer Tim Walker posted “‘School Choice’ Mantra Masks the Harm of Siphoning Funds from Public Education” on the union’s website. In a piece amazingly devoid of honesty, he rails against charter schools, claiming they are rife with “waste and fraud.” He slimes vouchers, which he refers as “an entitlement program.” (!) He dismisses education savings accounts, asserting that they come with “little or no oversight over student outcomes.” And to top it off, Mr. Walker never gets around to explaining why so many parents avail themselves of choice and eagerly flee the highly regulated, overly bureaucratized, child-unfriendly Big Government-Big Union complex whenever they get the opportunity.

Sillier still is a Huff Po entry by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Writing “When Unions Are Strong, Families Are Strong,” she claims that unions like hers are “strengthening our families, schools and economy – at the bargaining table, ballot box and beyond.”

Union-run schools are getting stronger? Only in a perverse sense. That “strength,” as exhibited by restrictive contracts and tenure and seniority mandates, only serves to weaken education and hurt children.

And Weingarten and her cronies show no love for schools that aren’t organized. The wildly popular and successful Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which serves predominantly poor and minority kids, has battled the union since its inception. As Michael Tanner writes in NRO, “… to preserve the program for the 2016–17 school year, Congress will have to either push through a stand-alone funding bill in the face of ferocious opposition from Democratic lawmakers and the teachers’ unions, or hope to include the funding in some future budget deal.”

Clearly, Weingarten doesn’t give a rip about “strengthening” the families that want to enroll their kids in the DCOSP program. Just the backbones of their union-owned legislators.

Celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday last week, the unions were oozing with platitudes about the civil rights leader. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García penned a piece which refers to King’s “legacy in our classrooms.” While it’s true that there is no way to know how King would have responded to charter schools or voucher programs, his oldest son is convinced his father would approve. In fact, Martin Luther King III spoke at the “Rally in Tally” where over 10,000 people converged on Florida’s Capitol building in Tallahassee to urge the state’s largest teachers union to drop a lawsuit challenging a voucher-like education program that benefits low-income families. The state teachers union, the Florida Education Association, is claiming that “the tax-credit scholarships divert state money away from a quality public education system the state is required, under the Florida Constitution, to provide.”

MLK III said, “I just find it interesting that in our country we have the gall to debate about how our most precious resource – our children – are treated.” He cautioned that he couldn’t say with certainty how his father would feel today, but insisted that he “would always stand up for justice. This is about justice.”

The union, undeterred by the rally, plans to forge ahead with the lawsuit, claiming that the “voucher scheme is not legal.” Matthew Ladner, senior advisor at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, snapped, “If there is a moral difference between redneck governors standing at the school house doors to keep kids out of school with a baseball bat, and union bosses wanting to go into schools to kick kids out of schools with legal baseball bats, the distinction escapes me.”

It escapes me too. But what is inescapable is that we are in the middle of a war which pits parents and kids against teachers unions, at the heart of which is our failing, antiquated way of providing education. It is now time to ignore the teachers unions, straighten up Z MESS and give parents the right to choose the best education for their kids … traditional public, charter or private.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

A Half-Charter School District for L.A.?

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Eli Broad made his fortune in construction and real estate. But he’s building a legacy as a philanthropist and an education reformer. In September, the Broad, a $140 million museum of contemporary art, opened in downtown Los Angeles at the corner of a revitalizing Grand Avenue and 2nd Street, across from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That same month, the Los Angeles Times published a leaked memo detailing Broad’s proposal to revitalize L.A.’s sclerotic public school system. Working under the auspices of his family foundation, Broad would gather some of the biggest names in private philanthropy — Gates, Walton, Ahmanson, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett, as well as David Geffen, Kirk Kerkorian and Elon Musk — to open 260 new charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District over an eight-year period, with an enrollment goal of at least 130,000 students. The memo discusses how to raise $490 million to pay for the effort, which includes recruiting teachers, acquiring real estate, providing outreach to parents and navigating political battles. If the octogenarian Broad succeeds, half of L.A. Unified’s schools would be charters by the mid-2020s.

Naturally, L.A.’s education establishment detests the idea. The LAUSD board’s president, Steve Zimmer, denounced Broad’s plan as “a strategy to bring down LAUSD.” In November, board member Scott Schmerelson pushed a resolution announcing the board’s opposition to the Broad Foundation’s plan by name. Later, Schmerelson changed the language to say the board opposed any “external initiatives that seek to reduce public education to an educational marketplace and our children to market shares while not investing in District-wide programs and strategies that benefit every student.” As an L.A. Times editorial pointed out, by that standard, “the board would have to oppose many of its own programs — magnet schools, programs to teach students fluency in English and alternative schools for students with chronic behavioral problems.” (In response, Broad’s new educational nonprofit expanded its proposal to support traditional public schools, including pilots, magnets, and other high-performing schools that serve low-income children.)

Former LAUSD superintendent Ramon C. Cortines was more charitable. At a forum with Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez earlier this month, Cortines didn’t ascribe ill motives to Broad, but rather suggested the billionaire was ill advised. “I think somebody brought him an elixir without having it be tested to see if it will really do what it is promised to do,” he said. But United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl was predictably unsparing in his vitriol. “Billionaires should not be running public education,” he said. The union boss also claimed that charter schools are unregulated and “deregulation doesn’t work.” Not to be outdone, retired kindergarten teacher Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education.”

Broad’s plan is ambitious, to be sure. In addition to fighting the school board and union, Broad and his foundation allies would need considerable community support to succeed. Charters already make up a sizable portion of schools in the district: nearly a quarter of LAUSD students — about 150,866 students — are enrolled in 282 charter schools from San Pedro to the San Fernando Valley. Another 40,000 students languish on waiting lists. The demand is there; it’s the supply that’s lacking, though procuring facilities for 260 new schools would take some doing.

California’s 1992 charter school law gives local districts the power to approve or deny charter applications, though applications cannot be denied without good reason, such as questionable management or shady finances. However, the district doesn’t have the last word. Charter applicants have the option to appeal first to the county board of education, and then to the state board of education, if necessary.

A closer look at many of the antagonists’ complaints reveals less anger about billionaires’ meddling in education than envy that Broad’s largess doesn’t extend to traditional public schools. But the schools already receive plenty of money. Official per-pupil spending in Los Angeles is $13,490, which is greater than the national average and doesn’t include expenses such as the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds and so forth. When those expenditures get added in, per-pupil spending comes to about $30,000 per year. If the new California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication, the money is not being well-spent. Only a third of the city’s students performed at grade level in English, while about a quarter performed at grade level or better in math. The district’s charter school students far outpaced their peers in traditional schools.

Don’t believe the anti-reform hype about lax regulation and looming public school destruction, either. Charter schools are public schools, funded by tax dollars and subject to regulation — just not to the same extent as traditional public schools, which are strangled by bulky union contracts that put seniority ahead of competence. Broad’s plan anticipates that 5,000 union members could be put out of work and replaced with staff hired through Teach For America, TNTP (formerly the New Teacher Project), and other groups that work with young instructors. The proposal makes no mention of recruiting teachers from within L.A. Unified.

Clearly, hundreds of new charter schools would find it difficult to fill their ranks with newbies. And therein lies an important but unstated aspect of the Broad plan. Those rehired from the current crop of experienced teachers would be the good and even great ones working now because they are qualified, not because they are protected by the state’s seniority statute. Needless to say, Caputo-Pearl has a different take. “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union,” he said, “which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.” That’s absurd, of course. Where is it written that that only unionized teachers speak up about “curriculum and school conditions”?

Some of the naysayers claim that a half-charter district would leave too many children behind, but other cities’ experience suggests otherwise. Washington, D.C., and Detroit have moved in recent years to a 50 percent charter model. New Orleans may offer the best evidence of how charter schools can serve a low-income and underprivileged population. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Crescent City in 2005, a much more vibrant charter system emerged in the aftermath. Today, 92 percent of the city’s students are enrolled in a charter school. Ten years ago, 62 percent of schools in Orleans Parish were failing. Today, just 7 percent of schools are failing. During the same period, the portion of city schools with students performing at or above grade level rose from 35 percent to 62 percent. As it happens, Paul Pastorek, the former superintendent of public education in Louisiana who helped oversee the turnaround, has been appointed to lead Broad’s effort in L.A.

Philanthropy has the power to transform institutions for the better. More charters in Los Angeles would certainly disrupt the dismal status quo—likely to the advantage of good teachers, their students, and taxpayers. Opponents see Broad’s proposal as a way of “bringing down LAUSD,” but building up alternatives to a dysfunctional system may be exactly what L.A.’s children need.