Bill Boyarsky
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Cortines and Villaraigosa

Depending on how you look at it, school superintendent Ramon Cortines'̻ schedule for implementing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s school reform plan is either a great way of getting parents involved or a classic example of bureaucratic delay.

Curious about how the mayor’s plans to turn over 250 Los Angeles public schools to charter organizations, I went to the Los Angeles Unified School District web site and found Cortines’ implementation plan, contained in a letter to teachers and staff.
Amid all the criticism of the district from Villaraigosa and others, people forget that Cortines is the mayor’s guy—or at least was. He was Villaraigosa’s education advisor, and then was sent over to take the reins from a failing superintendent.

Since becoming superintendent, of course, he has assumed control of the districts many teachers and bureaucrats and can’t insult them in the media, like the critics do. It’s sort of like being manager of a fractious baseball team while working for a headstrong, know-it-all owner. Joe Torre, formerly of the Yankees and now in charge of the Dodgers, knows all about this.

The school district, non-profit charter organizations, unions, a teacher collaborative or other non-profit groups, said Cortines, can seek to run a charter school. In other words, any group, except for a profit-making organization, can come up with an idea for one of these schools, which are part of the district but are free from many of its rules.

If you want to start one, you first need community support. It’s unclear how such support will be determined, except Cortines speaks of community meetings. I’ve been to enough of those to know they can quickly turn into shouting matches—or worse—between hysterical parents, implacable neighborhood activists, and anyone who just happens to wander in.

After passing this obstacle, a charter school founder must then win approval by department bureaucrats. If that happens—think an IRS audit—then you go back to the community. If the community approves again, the plan goes to Cortines, and if he approves, to the board, which makes the final decision.

“Parents and community members need more information and time,” Cortines said. I agree with him on that. But this process could take years.

Meanwhile, I found a report that sheds some light on charter school performance compared to non-charters. It comes from Ed Source, a non-profit founded in 1977 by the PTA, the League of Women Voters, and the American Association of University Women.
Based on an analysis of various 2009 California test scores, Ed Source said charter high schools score “moderately higher” than non-charters, outscoring them in English but not in math. Middle schools charters beat non-charters but the “differences (are) relatively small.” Charter elementary schools score lower than non-charters.

In addition, there are all sorts of models for charter schools around the state, ranging from home schooling to academic boot camps.

Being a parent is never easy, but figuring out all this out and making the best choice will be really tough.




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