August 3, 2020

Who’s accountable for California’s public schools? Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Californian Dan Walters raises a good point about how the focus on holding charter schools accountable in his state have intensified recently even as the same fervor for accountability misses the entire K-12 education system.

Walters writes in the Orange County Register “[e]ducational accountability is attracting a lot of political attention — or perhaps lip service — these days in California.” He also touches on Governor Gavin Newsome’s signing of laws that make life harder for charters schools, using the fig leaf of “transparency” and “accountability” for schools union activists have tagged as nearly lawless, but he says this isn’t new.

Color me amazed by the Jedi trick public school supporters have used to push political leaders to call charter schools on the carpet, probably because it takes heat off of traditional school districts, but they fail to address the biggest problem facing their schools: less than half of California’s students are reading proficient, and even fewer are math proficient, and, California is home to the 14th worst public education system in the country.

Please look at these achievement gap rates (below) and tell me how it makes sense for one of the world’s biggest liberal economies?

If you read my blog long enough you’ll begin to predict what I’ll say next, so, stop me if you’ve heard this next part before.

Drill down a little into the most wealthy, most progressive enclave of California – that being San Francisco, the city where the streets are paved with avocado toast – and the picture is just weird.

The city’s small number of black students are doing worse academically than their peers in much poorer districts.


And, look at how these students are doing school-by-school (notice the performance in charters).

Excuse me, remind me how unionized school districts and the governor they elected were allowed to spend the past year trolling charter schools when the administration of their schools is an unnatural disaster?

Their deflection is marvelous example of how the organizers representing fallacious bureaucrats and their “workers” taking power from the sheeple.

Jerry Brown, Newsome’s predecessor, was more reform-friendly, but he too sidestepped efforts to hold K-12 schools accountable for tracking the success of students in the way public colleges and workforce development agencies had too. Walters says Brown injected new money into schools without adequate systems for tracking how it would be used, because he “trusted local school officials to do the right thing as he gave them extra money to improve outcomes for poor and English-learner students.”

That has made California something of an outlier, one that should change. Walters points us to research coming from Stanford supporting the case for California to join other states with better records on accountability.

Morgan Polikoff,  an associate professor of education policy at USC’s Rossier School of Education, advocates the individual student growth model in a recent article published by Policy Analysis for California Education, a research consortium sponsored by the state’s major universities.

Polikoff points out that California is one of just two states that lack such an accountability model now, and is critical of the state’s “dashboard” as “insufficient for the task of contributing to continuous improvement.”

“Forty-eight states have already done so; there is no reason for California to hang back with Kansas while other states use growth data to improve their schools,” Polikoff writes.

So will California get serious about holding public schools accountable for how well students learn?

If we’re willing to do so for for-profit schools, charter schools and community colleges, there’s no reason traditional K-12 schools should escape such scrutiny.

The fact is, the new insurgency that has been plotted and executed by groups representing public workers more than the public has little interest in the types of accountability or transparency they call for from charters. As an example, look to Jackie Goldberg, a union-first firebrand who was elected to the LAUSD school board and immediate set about sabotaging the implementation of the district’s “School Performance Framework,” a data system intended to help parents evaluate how schools are doing. It was an attempt to be transparent about school information and inform the public of schools that do well or others that struggle.

Goldberg fears giving parents this information might “shame, penalize, or stigmatize schools, education professionals, students, and entire communities,” and “promote unhealthy competition between schools.”

So, in her view, the public is not entitled to the district’s public information, and it’s better for the establishment (and its staff) if information is withheld from parents and community members.

That position mimics the fight in Oakland and elsewhere against common enrollment systems that allow parents to enroll in district or charter schools through one application. Foes of those systems want enrollment for parents to be more time consuming and difficult if they plan to make an unpopular school selection for their family.

Remember that next time a neo-socialist gives you a speech about how private systems aren’t as democratic or transparent as public ones. The truth is, public systems are protected by people who see it in their best interest to keep you ignorant and without alternatives to what they offer.

If there is any justice in the world the unions, the governor and state superintendent they supported during elections (I know, “there was no quid pro quo!”) and all of the “grassroots” nonprofits that work with them to attack the 10% of students in charters, will face the music themselves for 90% in their own schools (the ones currently serving the lion share of low-performing marginalized students).

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