[Marxism] Charter Schools Suffer Setback in Aftermath of Los Angeles Strike

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jan 29 07:44:57 MST 2019

NY Times, Jan. 29, 2019
Charter Schools Suffer Setback in Aftermath of Los Angeles Strike
By Jennifer Medina and Dana Goldstein

LOS ANGELES — Carrying protest signs, thousands of teachers and their 
allies converged last month on the shimmering contemporary art museum in 
the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Clad in red, they denounced 
“billionaire privatizers” and the museum’s patron, Eli Broad. The march 
was a preview of the attacks the union would unleash during the 
teachers’ strike, which ended last week.

As one of the biggest backers of charter schools, Mr. Broad helped make 
them a fashionable and potent cause in Los Angeles, drawing support from 
business leaders like Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix; 
Hollywood executives; and lawmakers to create a wide network of more 
than 220 schools.

Mr. Broad was so bullish about the future of charter schools just a few 
years ago that he even floated a plan to move roughly half of Los 
Angeles schoolchildren — more than 250,000 students — into such schools. 
In 2017, he funneled millions of dollars to successfully elect 
candidates for the Board of Education who would back charters, an 
alternative to traditional public schools that are publicly funded but 
privately run.

His prominence has also turned him into a villain in the eyes of the 
teachers’ union. Now Mr. Broad and supporters like him are back on their 
heels in Los Angeles and across the country. The strike is the latest 
setback for the charter school movement, which once drew the endorsement 
of prominent Democrats and Republicans alike. But partly in reaction to 
the Trump administration, vocal Democratic support for charters has 
waned as the party has shifted further to the left and is more likely to 
deplore such schools as a drain on traditional public schools.

When the Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, announced a deal between the 
teachers’ union and the school district after the weeklong strike, it 
became immediately clear that the fate of charter schools was part of 
the bargain: The union extracted a promise that the pro-charter school 
Board of Education would vote on a call for the state to cap the number 
of charters.

It was the latest in a string of defeats for a movement that for over a 
decade has pointed to Los Angeles and California as showcases for the 
large-scale growth of the charter school sector.

Backers of charter schools argue that they provide a much-needed choice 
for parents in poor neighborhoods, where low-performing schools are 
often the norm. Many supporters expressed frustration that student 
achievement had not been a focus of the debate around the Los Angeles 
strike. Overall, the city’s public school students tend to perform worse 
in reading and math than their counterparts in many other large urban 
school districts across the country, according to the National 
Assessment of Educational Progress. The low performance of district 
schools, charter supporters say, has led to about a fifth of the 
district’s students being enrolled in charter schools.

“Why would they dive in to make this political statement?” said Myrna 
Castrejón, the president of the California Charter Schools Association. 
Addressing the teachers’ union, she said: “Do you hate us that much that 
you would bargain away the future of poor children and Latino children 
for this?”

Charter schools, which are generally not unionized, were not officially 
on the bargaining table in the protracted negotiations between the union 
and the district. It is the state, not the school district, that crafts 
the laws governing charter schools and their growth. But it was always a 
central message of the union during the strike: Charter schools, they 
argued, were taking students and money away from traditional public schools.

Still, charter schools have proven popular among many parents in Los 
Angeles. Some schools have long waiting lists and the district already 
has more students enrolled in charters than any other public school 
system in the country.

It is still unclear how much practical impact the deal will have on 
charters. Charter school supporters are lobbying the school board, which 
has steadfastly supported charters for more than a decade, to vote down 
the resolution for a charter school cap this week. Even if it passes, 
advocates are certain to take the fight to Sacramento, where a bill 
calling for a moratorium seems likely. They will argue that charters 
have given poor students and students of color essential options for 
better schools.

But the defeat in the court of public opinion is clear: After years of 
support from powerful local and national allies — including many 
Democrats — charter schools are now facing a backlash and severe skepticism.

Over the past two years, charter school supporters were dealt painful 
political defeats in California, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, 
Michigan, Wisconsin and other states.

As the push for alternatives to traditional public schools has come to 
be more associated with President Trump and his secretary of education, 
Betsy DeVos, the shift in Democratic Party politics has been especially 
pronounced. President Barack Obama supported expanding high-quality 
charter schools, and pushed teachers’ unions to let go of some of their 
traditional seniority protections and put more emphasis on raising 
student achievement.

But after a wave of mass teacher walkouts across the nation, and with a 
noticeable shift to the left in the party, ambitious national Democrats 
now seem more hesitant to criticize organized labor. Senators Cory 
Booker, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders 
and Elizabeth Warren were among those who said they supported the 
striking teachers in Los Angeles. The city’s charter school leaders 
couldn’t help but notice that no equally prominent elected Democrat rose 
to the defense of Los Angeles charter schools as union leaders attacked 

“The brand of charter schools is damaged right now,” said Ben Austin, a 
Democrat who helped craft a law that allows parents to turn traditional 
schools into charter schools. “It’s not a coincidence, it’s because the 
teachers’ union has done an effective job of demonizing them.”

One of the union’s more potent criticisms of charter schools is that 
they are supported by billionaire corporate philanthropists, who are 
often from outside the communities in which the schools exist. 
Supporters of the Los Angeles charter school sector have included donors 
such as Mr. Broad and Mr. Hastings; Michael R. Bloomberg; Laurene Powell 
Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs; Donald Fisher, founder of the Gap; and 
members of the Walton family, heirs to the Walmart fortune.

That assessment was evident on the picket lines all over Los Angeles 
during the strike, with signs railing against “privatizers” and the 
“greedy side” of the philanthropists. Most of the donors, particularly 
those with ties to the Democratic Party, declined or did not respond to 
interview requests. Aides to Mr. Broad said he was not available for 

During the strike, Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the union, said 
that the criticism had “clearly touched a nerve” among the public.

“The reason it’s touched a nerve is because our neighborhood public 
schools have been neglected,” he said. “Rather than fund them at an 
appropriate level, the agenda is to try and privatize them and turn more 
and more over to privately run charters.”

But supporters of charter schools dismiss that notion, pointing out that 
the district has many financial problems.

“I am supremely disappointed and almost angered at some of the funders 
of the charter movement, who have put hundreds of millions into charters 
and have not taken the time to explain what they are doing to the 
public,” said William Bloomfield, a donor who said he gave more than $8 
million last year to EdVoice, a political action fund run by charter 
school advocates.

“For people to reach the most ridiculous conclusion that this is about 
profits is absurd,” he said. “This is about giving every kid a chance 
for a world-class education.”

But many see the competition for students as a downside of charter 
schools. Critics have said the district should study the impact on 
existing schools before allowing new charters to open.

“Competition can be healthy, but hyper competition can be very 
damaging,” said David Rattray, executive vice president of the Center 
for Education Excellence and Talent Development for the Los Angeles Area 
Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve turned education into a commodity — if that 
kid walks across the street, you’re chasing after him for the money 
attached to his seat. That’s ridiculous if you think about the long 
term. Nobody meant to do that.”

A 2014 Stanford study that compared traditional and charter schools in 
Los Angeles found that 48 percent of charters outperformed traditional 
schools in reading and 44 percent of charters outperformed traditional 
schools in math; the rest of the charter schools were either similar to 
public schools or lower performing. On the 2017 National Assessment of 
Educational Progress, eighth graders in the city’s charter schools 
scored better in reading and math than their peers in traditional schools.

Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, a 
national organization that supports alternatives to traditional public 
schools, said there were still prominent Democrats, like Senator Booker, 
Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, whom 
he considered strong supporters of the charter school sector. And at the 
local level, he said, many Democratic mayors and state legislators 
continued to support charter schools, especially those offering 
additional options for low-income black and Latino students, like those 
in Los Angeles.

“Charters exist because the parents demand them and want them,” Mr. 
Jeffries said. “I do wish more leaders would step up and stand up and 
deliver that message.”

Ana Ponce began teaching in a Los Angeles charter school more than three 
decades ago, drawn by an idealistic desire to improve schools for Latino 
students who, like her, had come to the United States knowing little 
English. Now, Ms. Ponce is the chief executive of Camino Nuevo Charter 
Academy, a network of charter schools. She will soon take over Great 
Public Schools Now, an organization created by Mr. Broad to help charter 
schools in Los Angeles.

“We all want good schools,” Ms. Ponce said. “We’re all public schools. 
People like me are starting charter schools and people like me believe 
in these schools.”

Jennifer Medina reported from Los Angeles and Dana Goldstein from New York.

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