LAUSD board’s so-called reform

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The Los Angeles Unified school board looked transformation in the eye -- and blinked. By overriding several recommendations of its top experts and cutting three of the region’s most respected charter organizations out of the picture, the board sadly demonstrated once again that it is devoted more to the politics of running schools than to the education of students.

Charter school organizations submitted relatively few applications to run 30 new or underperforming schools -- part of a multiyear initiative to give outside operators a chance to manage perhaps 250 -- and in many cases they were passed over in favor of teacher groups by Supt. Ramon C. Cortines and his panel in charge of vetting the applications. Cortines gave a thoughtful, precise analysis of his choices, and we’re not going to second-guess his decisions.

But then, in a shameful turn, the school board overruled him on several choices, pushing severalcharter groups out of the running and in one case introducing an amendment to the Public School Choice initiative with no discussion.

There is no way to ignore the effect of heavy lobbying by labor-related groups against the charter applicants. One board member reportedly voted against a certain charter because of personal dislike of its leader. Another said privately that the board is already liberal in its approval of new charter schools; why give them district campuses as well? If those are among the prevailing opinions, it’s hard to see why the board bothered with the initiative in the first place.

What was supposed to be one of the most important factors in the decisions -- whether the applicants could demonstrate a record of educational success -- ended up not being a factor at all. The board gave Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a third school he sought against the recommendation of staff, who had proposed giving just two to his Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. The partnership has made a sincere, concerted effort to improve the schools it already runs, but its record is mixed. Meanwhile, charter groups such as Green Dot Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation and the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, known as committed school operators with excellent records, were given none. In all, charter groups ended up with only four of the 30 schools.

We stand by our original support for the idea of creating a competitive mix of innovative educational models in the school district -- and we applaud the teacher groups that devised their own, strong plans for reform. But we’re also forced to stand by our original suspicion that the board would find many ways to make a mess of it.