I received some provocative e-mails from readers after my column urging Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to give a clear explanation of his plan for charter organizations and other private entities to take over many Los Angeles public schools.
One was from David Abel, a public affairs consultant and managing director of New Schools Better Neighborhoods, which promotes construction of smaller and better schools. "You've written another poorly researched column for LA Observed," he wrote. "Your column would benefit from even a cursory review of the 1000's of articles/papers that have been written about charter school pedagogy/results ect."
Abel missed the point. I wasn't saying charter schools were good or bad. I just want the mayor to explain them to parents. I think parents have a lot of questions. One mother, a public school mom, e-mailed my daughter (also a public school mom) that I was expressing what was on a lot of parents' minds. Abel should realize the importance of explaining the complexities of school reform to such families. He should have learned something by watching President Obama damage himself by being too vague on health reform.
I received a much more thoughtful e-mail from Robin Kramer, Mayor Villaraigosa's outgoing chief of staff. She objected to my implication that the mayor was sort of a goof-off and answered some of the school questions I asked. I'll let her speak:
"Hi, Bill. Nice to hear your cybervoice.
"However I believe you've missed some important facts in your recent musings under the headline, 'Mayor, Please Explain This School Reform Thing.'
'The first and most important point - considering the sweep of Los Angeles history that you have observed over these many decades, and given the often desultory pace of progress we have collectively seen in our town on significant challenges ...come on! I disagree strongly with your suggestion that Mayor Villaraigosa has not made definitive strides during his first term to address nagging city problems and serious challenges -- to name four areas of marked success: growing the Los Angeles Police Department and its significant turnaround in community relations and protecting civil rights; creating what is now a national strategy to successfully reduce (yes it is true, not yet end) gang violence through parallel focused efforts on intervention and prevention; securing voter support in the middle of macro-economic meltdown to tax ourselves to provide homegrown funding for mass transit and mobility; and taking definitive action to make public education reform come to life. These tangible realities occurred because of a great deal of hard work by the Mayor, who has brought together people who often disagree to achieve these goals and milestones.
"The public school choice legislation passed by the LA School Board last week was a breathtaking, actual and historic turning point for LA's students and for all of us -- parents and students, along with business, union, education and civic leaders -- who have worked for decades to make our schools beacons of excellence and opportunity. The legislation means that the 50 new schools and the approximately 200 current schools that are most in need of academic improvement will be opened to a competitive process to operate them and turn them around.
"This process will be overseen by the Superintendent and will be open, transparent, and inclusive. As I type, the Superintendent is creating criteria for potential operators to apply to run the new schools. He will then share this criteria with the School Board, parents, and other community members for public scrutiny and review. Following this, potential operators (which include charters, teacher collaboratives, pilot schools, university sponsors, current operators, and other civic icons such as organizations like the Urban League) will submit plans to run the schools. After plans are submitted, the Superintendent will recommend to the School Board the operator he found with a proven record of success and metrics-based plan for the new school. (We could and should spend a lot of time discussing what measures matter and are meaningful.)
"The operators chosen to run the schools will be held accountable for results. If after a period of time, they do not succeed in meeting the goals articulated in their plans, the Superintendent and district should change operators.
"The measure passed last week is a prologue, aimed at improvement; ultimately, it will be the human enterprise and systems brought into existence, including bright light review, sharp accountability and our collective voice, to ensure there is follow-through and smart execution. The ultimate goal here is a more educated citizenry, workforce and community -- with the very future of our city bound up in the futures of these students and their families.
"Education has always been a top priority for the Mayor. Your questions have not fallen on deaf ears and I hope I've answered many of them here.