Tony & Diane: The Call

From Diane Ravitch's blog:



Many of the readers of this blog were disappointed, as was I, to see that the new Superintendent of Public Instruction in California, Tony Thurmond, appointed a task force to review charter law in which six of the 11 members are or were connected to the charter industry. We know how hard that industry has opposed any regulation or accountability. We know how many billionaires have used their influence to support the charter industry, both financially and politically. We know that they spent millions to defeat Tony Thurmond, and they lost. Many of us were disappointed in the task force’s composition, because we had supported his candidacy, believing that he would fight charter abuses.

The task force is expected to analyze the fiscal impact of charters on public schools. I wrote several critical posts, because I didn’t like the optics of having this review conducted by a committee in which a majority of the members were associated with the charter sector.

If I had had Tony Thurmond’s phone number, I would have spoken to him first to understand how this happened. I didn’t have his number.

This morning, Tony called me. He had my number.

He assured me that the task force will present recommendations for reform of the charter law. He assured me that he is personally in charge of the task force and its work product. He asked that I (we) (all of us) judge the task force and him by results.

I told him that I thought that was a reasonable request and that I would suspend judgment until I see what the task force produces.

I reminded him, though he needed no reminder, that California has one of the worst charter laws in the nation. It is a law that the charter industry has fought to keep weak and to allow bad actors to proliferate. I pointed out that it is wrong to allow a district to authorize a charter in someone else’s district, without its consent, especially when the authorizing district is hundreds of miles away.

California has more charter schools (more than 1300) than any other state, in part because it has such a large population. It has also seen more charter closures (more than 300) than any other state, including charters that opened and closed on the same day or within a few months. Under current law, a charter begins by applying to a district. If the district says no, the charter operator appeals to the county board of education. If the county says no, the charter operator appeals to the State Board of Education. Under Governor Schwarzenegger and then Governor Brown, the State Board of Education has rubber-stamped charters, no matter how awful their record or their application.

California charter law is in desperate need of reform. Tony knows that.

The charter sector is not going away; but it should play by the same academic, ethical, professional, and financial rules as public schools, and it should not drain resources away from the public schools. Charters should be audited and monitored to the same extent as public schools. Certification requirements for charter teachers and principals and superintendents should be no less than for public schools. Only educators, not entrepreneurs, should be allowed to operate charters. Charters should open only in districts that approve them and need them, and when they close, their students and property should revert to the public schools. Charters should enroll the same demographic as the district in which they are located. If I had my druthers, charter chains would be banned, as would charters managed by foreign entities. That’s my view.

I pledged to Tony that I would withhold judgment and see what his task force produces.

I think that is fair.

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