-Alex Johnson, VP LA County Board of Education
– LA County Office of Education Staff
As the LAUSD prepared to take the unusual step of not renewing the charters of three Magnolia Science Academies last October, their chief executive claimed that “it would be wrong to punish kids [for poor management] by closing strong schools.” After the vote, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) released a statement complaining that charters were no longer “evaluated mostly on the degree to which they were helping students learn.” Ignored by both parties was the fact that the CCSA itself had ranked one of these schools as a one out of ten, which in no way can be considered “strong”. The other two were at best average with ranks of four and six.
The Magnolia organization appealed the LAUSD’s decision to the Los Angeles County Board of Education. In a meeting right before Christmas, this Board ignored the findings of both the LAUSD and their own staff and renewed these charters. This means that they will continue to operate within the borders of the LAUSD without any oversight by the District, will be eligible to use District facilities under Proposition 39 and will continue to offer an inferior education to their students.
In a recent exchange on Twitter, I asked the VP of this Board, Alex Johnson, why his Board had approved an academically inferior school. His response was as follows:
I provided him with the information that the CCSA had reported and he replied:
I followed his suggestion and looked up the staff report.
The first thing to stand out in the report is that the staff found that none of these schools had “Sound Educational Practice”. This was based on findings such as:
“The data for MSA-1 does not show increases in academic growth for all groups of students served by the school. Specifically, the CAASPP results in ELA and Math indicate that in both 2014-15 and 2015-16, 0% of the school’s English Learner (EL) population met or exceeded proficiency.
The school’s CAASPP data over the past two (2) years shows a decrease in achievement for some student groups. Between 2015 and 2016, the percentage of Hispanic students who met or exceeded proficiency on the ELA assessment decreased in grades 8 and 11; and the percentage of students meeting or exceeding
proficiency in math dropped at the 8th grade schoolwide and for the Hispanic and Economically Disadvantaged student groups.
Additionally, the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measure of Academic Progress (NWEA MAP) data provided by the school indicates that fewer 6th and 8th grade students met ELA growth targets in 2016, compared to 2015. For math, the percentage of students achieving growth targets dropped for 8th graders as well.”
The staff also found that “the program provided to EL students has not demonstrated positive results”, “the school’s program for EL students does not contain the legally required ELD instructional components” and that “while the school’s mission emphasizes Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM), a review of the school’s academic program, including the current master schedule, does not reflect that focus. Specifically, there are no course offerings relative to engineering.”
The problems at these schools were not limited to academics. The county staff found that “the charter petition presents an unsound educational program for Students with Disabilities and ELs based on evidence that the program involves activities that would present the likelihood of physical, educational, or psychological harm to the affected pupils.” This was based on findings such as the following:
“The duties for Special Education staff include responsibilities that place students at risk. The duties of these positions include handling crisis situations and physically restraining students; however, the qualifications do not include skills or training in this area. Without specialized training in behavioral interventions, such as Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) nonviolent crisis intervention training, the program presents the likelihood of physical, educational, or psychological harm to the affected pupils.”
Johnson has refused several requests to explain how these findings represent “academic superiority”.
The members of the Los Angeles County School Board are appointed by the County Supervisors. In Johnson’s case, he failed upwards after losing to Dr. George McKenna in an LAUSD special election where the CCSA registered $80,781 as independent expenditures for his campaign. Rejected by the voters, he was appointed to represent them anyway by Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Under consideration in the state Senate is a bill that would change the way that county boards can interfere with the decisions of elected School Boards. Under SB-808, rejected charters could still appeal to the county if they felt that “the school district committed a procedural violation in making its decision”. However, instead of taking control of the oversight, the County Board would “remand the charter school back to the school district to reconsider its decision to revoke the charter.” This bill would also prohibit local districts from authorizing charters that operate in another school district.
Like most other attempts to increase local oversight of charters, The CCSA is opposed to SB-808 and is lobbying heavily to defeat the measure. They and their supporters are also spending millions on the campaigns for LAUSD School Board candidates Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez to ensure that schools like Magnolia are not subject to oversight by the District. Melvoin is already giving them a return on their investment by also opposing this bill. On Tuesday, voters will get a chance to tell the CCSA and our representatives in the state senate that they want the doors shut on failing charters like Magnolia by voting for Steve Zimmer.