A private education reform group in Los Angeles, Great Public Schools Now, on Wednesday announced plans to increase the number of “high-quality public schools” within 10 communities where students attend “under-performing schools.”
The effort is the latest iteration of a plan unveiled a year ago by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which focused on doubling the number of charter schools in L.A. Unified, the largest school district in California and home to more charters than any other school district in the country.
But the plan announced this morning shifts the focus away from charter schools exclusively to using private grants to replicate successful schools of any type, including traditional district schools, with a goal of drawing 160,000 students away from schools that are struggling.
That number represents 30 percent of L.A. Unified’s current student population.
“Far too many families in Greater Los Angeles struggle to access a great public school in their neighborhood,” the group said in its announcement. “Despite improvements in public education over the past decade, far too many students across Southern California are attending schools that leave them unprepared for the future.”
The thrust of the group’s efforts, the plan said, is to create new schools in neighborhoods with large numbers of English language learners and children from low-income families receiving free and reduced-price lunch in schools “that are not preparing them for the success of which they are capable.”
The plan drew a tepid response from L.A. Unified Superintendent Michelle King, who said in a statement, “As I have said from the beginning, we are always looking for solutions that address the needs of all students. Any plan that looks to replicate high quality public schools, including District schools, is one we look forward to hearing more about.”
The L.A. Unified board last fall put itself on record as opposing the original plan, objecting to any effort that helps “some kids and not all kids,” as board President Steve Zimmer said at the time.
On Wednesday, Zimmer questioned the real intent of the plan’s authors, pointing out that L.A. Unified has continually improved academic performance over the last 10 years.
“They’re projecting an air of desperation that I believe is unnecessary,” he said. “They are definitely assembling tools, but I’m not sure they’re for building something up or for tearing something down. If there really is success to build on, why are they promulgating a narrative of failing schools, unless this is really all about something else.”
Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the district’s teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, was critical of the new plan, calling it “a public relations move meant to distract from the original proposal, which was greeted with widespread condemnation.”
He referred to the Great Public Schools Now board of directors, most of whom are considered advocates of charters, and contended that “the goal remains the same – to rapidly expand unregulated charter schools at the expense of neighborhood schools. It is deeply irresponsible for this group to continue to pursue its agenda.”
The seven-member board includes William Siart, the chairman, a founder of a firm that provides business support services to charter schools; Gregory McGinity, executive director of the Broad Foundation and a member of the California Charter Schools Association board; and Marc Sternberg, a senior education official with the Walton Family Foundation, a leading advocate for charter schools.
While the 15-page plan defines the problems to be addressed and ways the organization intends to proceed, it omits any information about cost or timing for opening new schools. It also does not identify its donors. And while it names 10 targeted neighborhoods of greatest need (see page 3 of the plan), it does not mention any under-performing schools in them.