A Los Angeles school district policy called Public School Choice has allowed groups from inside and outside the Los Angeles Unified School District to compete for the right to run dozens of new or low-performing schools, writes Howard Blume at the LA Times.
The school board has often selected winners amid a fierce competition for the rights. Painstaking reviews and intense politicking are often factors of the races that have, in the past, led to acrimony, litigation and layoffs.
This competition looks to end, however. If teachers approve a tentative three-year pact with L.A. Unified this week, the district would no longer have the jurisdiction to hand over campuses to outside nonprofit organizations.
As we've only seen one full academic year under Public School Choice, it's difficult to give a fair assessment of the effects. Last year, five charters opened in new campuses. This fall, six opened in new schools and other nonprofits have claimed four schools. The new charters this year eliminated about 150 jobs formerly held by district teachers.
Many believe this move may be a step backwards.
"What we created, by way of a competition, helped people behave differently," said former school board member Yolie Flores, who wrote the Public School Choice policy two years ago.
Public School Choice has always been under some controversy, however.
School board member Steve Zimmer claims that charter operators campaigned almost exclusively for the new campuses rather than trying to take on existing schools, which was the original remit, writes Blume.
If this vote is successful, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy will be charged with tossing aside a promising program, having gained nothing meaningful.
Former state Sen. Gloria Romero criticized Deasy, saying that he "gave away a crown jewel of education reform that put L.A. on the national map."
But Deasy said the agreement with the teachers union could give all district schools the advantages of charters – it would mean all schools could gain new freedoms be able to opt out of provisions of the union contract as well as district policy.
This comes after the Academic Performance Index (API), California's primary academic accountability metric for schools released a study showing that Los Angeles charter schools outperform Los Angeles Unified School District across all grade levels.
"Charter schools in Los Angeles are showing incredible academic growth," said Jed Wallace, President and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.
"They are demonstrating that charters are fulfilling the promise of reinventing public education."
The number of charter schools has grown dramatically in Los Angeles, from 10 schools in 1994 to 183 LAUSD-authorized schools serving more than 77,000 students in the 2010-11 school year.