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Commentary: Ravitch’s view on charters polarize rather than help

LA School Report | July 24, 2015

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Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

Editor’s note: In the LA Times yesterday, Diane Ravitch argued passionately that the future of public education in Los Angeles depends on whom the LA Unified board selects as its next superintendent.

She wrote, “The ideal superintendent would have the courage, and the support of the board, to resist those who seek to undermine and privatize public schools.” The entire commentary, which was included in yesterday’s LA School Report, can be read hereIn a response, Sarah Angel, the California Charter Schools Association Managing Director, Regional Advocacy—Los Angeles, offers a different view. 

In a recent L.A. Times op-ed, pundit Diane Ravitch called on the LAUSD board to hire a superintendent who would prevent new charter public schools from opening. Vilifying charters as an enemy of public education, Ravitch hurls her usual accusations against the charter school community, including its teachers and students. But just because she repeats the same incendiary messages over and over again, that doesn’t make them true.

Ravitch accuses charter schools of excluding students, but the data here in Los Angeles says otherwise. Independent charters in LAUSD serve 1 percent more English learners and 2 percent fewer students with special needs than traditional schools do. In other words, there’s basically no difference in the students being served. It’s also worth noting that both English learners and students with special needs perform better in local independent charters than in traditional schools.

Ravitch laments charter schools’ lack of accountability, but charter schools are held to greater accountability standards than other public schools. How? Each charter school has to petition for renewal every five years using data that shows how well it is educating its students; if it has failed to perform, it gets shut down. No other type of public school has to prove that it is actually helping students learn.

Ravitch also complains that charter schools have influence in Sacramento. Meanwhile, the California Teachers Association has long been the single most powerful and well-funded lobby in the Capitol by any measure. Ravitch’s rhetoric is forceful, but it’s not grounded in fact.

Even worse, Ravitch demonizes parents who exercise their right to choose the best education for their children. She seems to suggest that charter school students are traitors or second-class citizens, and she seems intent on punishing them for seeking out learning environments that meet their needs.

There are more than 140,000 students in charter schools in LAUSD, along with roughly 40,000 more who have put their names on wait lists for charter schools. Instead of respecting their needs, values and choices, Ravitch would prefer to scapegoat them.

Does LAUSD need a superintendent who shares Ravitch’s polarizing, politicized views? No. LAUSD needs a superintendent who will advocate for all students, regardless of the type of public school they choose to attend.

LAUSD board president Steve Zimmer has recently spoken of “healing” and avoiding ground wars of the past. It’s up to Mr. Zimmer and the rest of the board to reject Ravitch’s battle cry. Instead, the board should seek out a superintendent who does not let ideology outweigh every student’s right to a quality public education.

Sarah Angel is  Managing Director, Regional Advocacy–Los Angeles for the California Charter Schools Association.

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