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Archived: All Sides Must Live Up To True Intent of Public School Choice

This past August, the LAUSD Board of Education passed the Public School Choice Resolution, a reform effort designed to shake up the status quo by challenging our own institution to offer up significantly better educational plans for failing schools and new schools.  By inviting proposals from teacher groups, charters, and other non-profit educational groups, we created the conditions for interested stakeholders to put forth their best thinking and creativity to offer a quality education to all of our students.

As never before, the leadership of the District – namely Superintendent Cortines and his management team – embraced this reform effort and, together, they have worked diligently to implement the resolution with integrity, transparency, and overall great skill.

Further, this process has engaged thousands of parents, students, and community members in ways not seen previously in LAUSD. We have also become a less insular organization by partnering with civic organizations, such as United Way, League of Women Voters, Families in Schools, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, and others. And, perhaps more importantly, the process has energized and empowered hundreds of LAUSD teachers and administrators to put forth ideas and best practices they had been eager to implement but had been shelved because of archaic and bureaucratic rules or because of a culture of mediocrity that had become the way of life at LAUSD.  Urgency has become the new watchword at LAUSD.

Indeed, Public School Choice is bringing about exciting change at LAUSD on behalf of kids.

Simultaneously though, and not unexpectedly, the forces most resistant to change are hitting hard and, in some instances, even using despicable and unethical tactics to ensure that the status quo lives on.  We have seen flyers to immigrant parents telling them they could be deported if they sign a charter petition; and parents have shared with me that some LAUSD employees are telling them that other operators will charge them tuition and the cost of meals, that an LAUSD high school diploma will no longer be valid, that their special needs children or English learners will not be serviced, or that their children will be kicked out of school if they do not perform well on tests.  Other parents have shared that charters have paid parents to sign petitions.  These lies, manipulations, and fear tactics are disheartening, deplorable, and an affront to those who want see the best for our children.

History has shown that there will always be those who look to thwart the Democratic process. With Public School Choice, this has been evident by those that have maligned competitor proposals and spread falsehoods rather than compete on the merits of their own proposals.   This is politics as usual and why the advisory vote has had the potential to go awry.  Our intention was and is to give parents the opportunity to have a voice in this process and engage them in the education of their children. It is about accountability.  What we owe our parents is straightforward information, an understanding of best practices, an unbiased explanation of each plan, and a process to have their interests heard – not a vote influenced by fear and rhetoric.  This approach is an insult to their capacity and right to make an informed decision for themselves and their children.

We knew going in that the process would be less than perfect, particularly the first time out, but we refused to let that deter us from taking bold action.  Given where we are, the Board and Mr. Cortines must celebrate the change that is occurring, and at the same time embrace the lessons learned to improve the process for the next cycle.

To start, we must have a more thoughtful parent engagement process that truly and objectively builds the capacity of parents to understand the current system, learn about educational best practices, and know the pros and cons for the choices they have. Then we must develop a less politicized and more streamlined process to hear the voices of parents, students, teachers, and others.

Second, Mr. Cortines must develop and carry out real consequences for violating the rules he has set up for the Public School Choice process – including, if necessary, disqualifying plans that come from those violating those rules.  He must also ensure that no one has an unfair advantage and that he specifies clear conflict of interest activity for internal and external applicants, as well as how we will hold everyone accountable for their actions.

Finally, we must have an improved community outreach and communication plan to continue to build public will for the reforms that our children deserve.

This is a historic time for LAUSD.  As singer and songwriter Seal says, “change is gonna come.”  But we must overcome the resistance to change and stand strong, making our decisions based solely on what is good for all students.

Yolie Flores is Vice President of the LAUSD Board of Education and the sponsor of the Public School Choice Resolution.