Charter Schools Lose in Los Angeles


Last week, the Los Angeles school board had the opportunity to fundamentally improve its lowest-performing public schools by transferring them to successful charter school operators.  Instead, the board handed the schools right back to the teachers' union that was responsible for their inferiority in the first place.  Once again, just when major reform appeared to be right around the corner, the unions stepped in and crushed the opportunity for change, says Marcus A. Winters, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute. 

Los Angeles has some very bad public schools: 

  • According to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress -- a standardized test administered by the U.S. Department of Education -- just 39 percent of L.A.'s fourth-graders are even basically literate, and only 46 percent of the city's eighth-graders have basic math proficiency (this helps explain why fewer than half of Los Angeles high school students graduate).
  • Things were looking so bad in the nation's second-largest school district that the school board commissioned proposals from outside groups interested in taking over 13 of the worst schools and running 25 new campuses; many pointed to this experiment as a potential national model for school reform. 

Charter school operators were an obvious choice to run the struggling schools, says Winters.  Charter schools are public schools that are not subject to the burdensome restrictions imposed by collective-bargaining agreements, which spell out all the tasks that teachers can't be required to do and make it impossible to remove even the most ineffective instructors.  Eager to expand, Los Angeles charter school operators excitedly applied to run the failing schools. 

But the local teachers' union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles, didn't relish the prospect of transferring public schools to charter-school operators and their non-unionized teaching staffs.  So the union helped groups of teachers submit their own proposals to run the schools, says Winters. 

In the end, the school board awarded 28 schools to the union-sponsored groups, two schools to the mayor's group, and one to a nonprofit.  Only seven will be run by charters -- and they don't include any of the 13 failing schools.  This is a huge missed opportunity.  Freedom from the teachers' unions is precisely what makes charter schools so good, says Winters. 

Source: Marcus A. Winters, "'Charter Schools Lose in L.A.,"' National Review Online, March 2, 2010. 

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