Ask the highest-performing charters the most important thing, they'll say the ability to staff schools the way they need to.
Where I differ with some of my Republican colleagues, I don't think charter schools are the answer. They're a part of [it]; I do believe we can fix the traditional public school system.
Should there be a dual message to lawmakers -- let’s reform union contracts, pension reform, evaluations -- but let’s also put more money into smaller classes, more teacher pay, for example?
The overall message right now is not we need to put more money into the system. [In] Washington, D.C., or Newark, N.J., we’re putting in $22,000 per kid and the outcomes are absolutely abysmal. You have to change the fundamentals of how the system works first or you’re going to be throwing good money after bad.
The California Assembly passed a bill allowing districts to deny charter school petitions if they "negatively impact" a school district's finances.
That is ridiculous. Districts have an incentive to keep children regardless of whether they're serving those kids well. [So] we basically chain the doors instead of allowing kids the option of a higher-performing [charter] school, simply because it would be bad financially for the district? Why should they be able to keep the dollars for a kid they're not serving [well]?
Some argue that charters cherry-pick students and schools end up re-segregated.
I just don't see that playing out in reality. There are laws that if there are not enough spaces for the demand, you must hold a lottery and choose [students] randomly. Now, some charters try to game the system. If a kid gets into their school who has significant special needs, they say, “We can't serve this kid.” But you have to make sure charters are not allowed willy-nilly to do that.
Atlanta teachers and principals corrected students' wrong test answers. USA Today reported too-good-to-be-true scores in other states and in Washington, D.C.
What should be our takeaway[s] from that? One should be that school districts should have very tight security test protocols in place and ensure these kinds of things are minimized. Unfortunately, you're always going to have people who make the wrong decision.
What about another takeaway: that the cheating was a consequence of pressure to get good test scores, which may not be the same as learning?
I would guess cheating has happened for a very long time, in all kinds of circumstances, whether you've got high potential rewards and consequences or not. I can't tell you what is motivating these people. We made it clear that if you were caught [cheating], you would lose your job.
The ACLU in L.A. is suing districts that have been charging for books, for tests, for supplies that don't seem to be extracurricular only.
That's absolutely right. In California, ask any school district how much money [it] gets per kid, and they'll tell you a much lower amount than California is allocating per child.
There's a huge disconnect because a lot of the money is not actually going to the districts; it's going to pension funds and pension-and-benefit liabilities.
Is there anything you'd take back -- perhaps your firing of a principal in front of PBS cameras?
[I would take it back] to the extent that [it] communicated a message that I was unfeeling or didn't care about people. [My] point was that it's important to hold people accountable. That principal was leading a school that was a hot mess. If you're not serving our kids well, we're not going to let you work in our school district anymore.
Did you have an ideal teacher?
I had a high school English teacher named Chuck Lundholm. He was the kind of teacher who made you want to come to school -- not necessarily because he was super-fun or easy, but you learned something every single day.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. Interview archive: latimes.com/pattasks.