Opinion: Fighting for the future of California education

As a parent and active member of the California Parents for Public Virtual Education (CPPVE), I have a vested interest in items of education policy. Regardless whether a student attends a public school in a brick-and-mortar classroom or at home in the virtual environment, a student deserves the best in academic and social opportunities.

As parents, we want to give our children a chance at a bright future. However, it seems that even those with the best of intentions can sometimes stray from their original goals and neglect the interests they originally sought to serve.

Recently, the California Charter School Association (CCSA) announced a new initiative that would have tragic ramifications for a number of California public schools. CCSA suggests that any charter school failing to meet its (CCSA’s) arbitrary standards not be permitted to renew their charter. After close examination of CCSA’s assessment methodology, the educational community may want to rethink CCSA’s assessment rubric and their ability to bully individual schools and limit students’ academic opportunities. Included in their list are two public virtual schools: California Virtual Academies at Kern County and Insight School of California-Los Angeles.

While CCSA’s plan appears sensible and straight forward, the devil is in the details: it unfairly casts negative evaluations on certain charter schools.  For starters, a study commissioned by CCSA, “Portrait of the Movement: How Charters are Transforming California Education,” fails in its assessment of non-classroom-based schools by utilizing methods that reach a flawed conclusion. Under their current methodology, entire schools and grades are assessed together statistically; this doesn’t allow for a more thoughtful look at the actual academic growth of individual students. A significant number of students in non-classroom-based charter schools have already faced considerable academic setbacks in more traditional settings. These students are already behind the curve and are working hard to catch up with their peers. This reality can lead to skewed results even when the non-classroom-based charter schools are making substantial progress.

Another shortcoming in the CCSA assessment is the imbalanced representative sample of charter school students. More high school and middle school students are represented than those at the elementary level. California Virtual Academies at Kern is a K-12 charter school and to rank and compare the school-wide testing numbers and proficiencies to an elementary school’s results does not provide an accurate picture. The fact is that elementary students score highest on standardized tests, schools that have higher numbers of high school and middle school students are adversely affected in the scoring process. We all agree schools must be held accountable, but they should be held accountable to parents and local school districts, not a rogue association pushing a destructive agenda. The underlying problem is not with the schools themselves but with an organization that uses a broken barometer for determining success and failure. The parameters outlined by CCSA are irresponsible, especially at a time when we need educational solutions instead of unnecessarily revoking charters.    

The president and CEO of CCSA, Jed Wallace, has even gone as far as stating, “the closure of a few charter schools will be better for the cause.”  Mr. Wallace’s approach is unfortunate because it assumes CCSA knows what is best for students and schools.  Rather, it is parents and local school boards that should be determining the success of a charter school.  CCSA’s recent announcement and general outlook is troubling because this is an organization that should be a champion for charter school education and parental choice.  If a charter school is having difficulty demonstrating student achievement, then it is the responsibility of parents, teachers, school administrators and the local school district to look for innovative solutions to get the school back on track.

A report from the University of California, San Diego says, “Broadly speaking, there is ample evidence that charter schools out-perform traditional public schools in some areas, and, to a slightly lesser degree, that charter schools under-perform in other areas.”  Certainly there will be challenges along the way and charter schools still have room for improvement, but we cannot turn our backs on those schools that are utilizing creative and groundbreaking ideas to help some of the most underserved and academically challenged students in California.  This is why parents from around the state – including those from California Virtual Academies at Kern County and Insight School of California-Los Angeles – must stand up to the special interest in Sacramento. Charter schools are simply too important to our children’s future.

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