In an unprecedented move, the L.A. Unified School Board decided not to renew the charters of five independent charter schools, a move that could lead to the schools’ closures at the end of this school year.
All together, the five schools serve approximately 13,000 students. Three are operated by Magnolia Schools and the other two by Celerity. And it appears that school quality was not the driving force when you consider that two Magnolia schools this year found themselves on US News and World Report’s list top 100 high schools in California; one of the schools, Magnolia Science Academy 2, was the top-ranked charter high school in L.A. Unified. It also happens to be one of the schools that was just denied a charter renewal by the LAUSD board.
According to an EdSource piece by Michael Janofsky:
Never before has the L.A. Unified board refused so many applications for charter renewals at once. Over the last five years, the board has approved 155 of 159 renewal requests, according to the California Charter Schools Association. More unusual is that in each case discussed during Tuesday’s meeting, board members praised the schools for superior academic performance but based their denials on issues of governance.
The California Charter Schools Association was quick to respond and the language is strong, citing the ‘political environment’ as the driver of the refusals to grant renewals and not concerns over the quality of the education and services they provide to their students.
For a long time, charter schools were evaluated mostly on the degree to which they were helping students learn. Those days are over. Now charter schools are judged on whether they are able to fit squarely into the box they were designed to break out of. They are judged on how much revenue they generate for school districts, cities and special interests. They are judged on whether they’ve done anything to offend the peculiar and often petty tastes of the politicians who get to decide which schools live or die. And at LAUSD, they are judged in never-ending witch hunts by an opaque third party, the Office of the Inspector General, that has no obligation to publicly share its findings or allow schools to address or refute them.
Imagine a political environment in which charter schools were evaluated openly and objectively, without bias or secrecy. Imagine a political environment in which charters were rewarded, not punished, for outperforming the traditional system that they were created to improve upon. Imagine a political environment in which charter schools were celebrated for reclassifying English learners, for insisting that students with special needs can learn in the same classroom as other students, and for ensuring that students take the classes they need to qualify for college admission. Imagine a political environment in which city officials, instead of blocking high quality schools from becoming part of their community, welcomed those schools with open arms. Imagine a political environment in which students living in poverty did not have to line up and beg politicians to preserve the schools they depend on.
We will continue fighting for the political environment that we know is possible — an environment in which learning is prized above all else.
Caroline Bermudez calls the hypocrisy “glaring” in a piece for LA School Report and goes on to say this:
A flagrant double standard exists here. All schools, charter and traditional alike, should be held to high standards. When they fail to educate their students, they should be shut down. But if they excel, yet have some financial or operational problems, they must be allowed to rectify them, not endure onerous bureaucratic hoop-jumping.
The five schools can and likely will appeal the decision to the Los Angeles County Board of Education. If they do not approve the renewals, it will then be taken up by the state authorizer. Barring a reversal on appeal before the start of school next year, the schools will have to close.