Parental Engagement

By Carl J. Petersen

Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.

It Is Not Enough to Claim Inclusion

2017-summer-edition-of-living-education-emagazine.jpgMainstreaming of students with special education needs requires training, effort and a focus on student need.

My wife sat heartbroken as she watched my daughter’s classmates shunned her as she tried to interact with them. Despite the fact that most children on the autism spectrum have difficulties establishing social interactions, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had decided that the chaos of lunch period was an appropriate time to provide a “mainstreaming” opportunity. Without any professional assistance, she would leave the confines of her self-contained classroom to eat with children without disabilities in an effort to improve “academic achievement, self-esteem, and social skills.” She was making a valiant effort, but the other students also lacked training and could not get past her quirks. It was hard to see how this was doing anything but damaging her self-esteem.

The results did not get any better as my wife entered into a general education classroom to observe another effort at mainstreaming.  While in the special day classroom, my daughter had received focused attention to keep her on task in the curriculum. However,  in this general education classroom the teacher was responsible for teaching an entire class and did not have time for students who could not keep up. Therefore, the students with special needs were placed in the back of the room and given games to play with on their computers. Was just being in the same classroom as students without disabilities supposed to provide academic achievement? Segregated from the rest of the class, she certainly was not improving her social skills.

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The Blackwhite World of LAUSD's Charter Schools

BLACKWHITE...a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.

- George Orwell, 1984


Catherine Suitor, the Chief Development Officer of Alliance College-Ready Public [SIC] Schools is correct when she states that “encouraging parents to be involved should not be seen as a negative thing.” However, her response ignores the real issue raised by my testimony before the LAUSD School Board which is how far can a charter go before “encouragement” is actually “intimidation”? If volunteering “is not mandated,” then why does her organization keep track of the number of hours for each student? If publishing this data on the school’s website was truly meant to be “completely [the] opposite of shaming”, why are the number of hours included on the list? If the publication of this information “is a way to recognize and congratulate those who are involved”, why are the hours listed under the students’ names and not according to the people who actually “volunteered”? If the school’s “parents are eager and welcomed to be involved”, why are they not allowed to vote for their representation on the Governing Board? Instead, this Board, itself appointed by an outside organization, appoints two parents ensuring that dissension is not given a voice.

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Is the LAUSD Charter School Division Providing Any Oversight?

We look at their websites, not only at that time but in their oversight.

Our oversight is “proactive and responsive.

- Jose Cole-Gutiérrez, LAUSD Charter School Division

The LAUSD is “the largest district charter school authorizer in the nation, with about 250 independent and affiliated charter schools serving over 130,000 students.” The Charter School Division is responsible for ensuring that these schools comply with the law and their charters. Unfortunately, this oversight is not as thorough as it needs to be. On Tuesday, June 20, 2017, I brought this issue to the attention of the LAUSD School Board with the following public comment:

Good Morning. My name is Carl Petersen and I am here to follow up on the public comment that I made last week regarding Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS). Specifically, I’d like to respond to José Cole-Gutiérrez’ statement that the Charter School Division is “proactive and responsive” in their oversight.

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A Charter School Violates Its Student's Privacy to Shame Parents Into Volunteering

When work is required, it's not voluntary. It's wrong and unlawful to punish a child for what his or her parents can't or won't do.

- Hilary Hammell, Public Advocates attorney

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In return for their receipt of public funding, charter organizations are not allowed to charge parents and guardians any type of fees for their students to attend these schools. This includes forcing them to fulfill a minimum quota of “volunteer” hours. As stated by the California Charter School Association (CCSA): “it is not legal nor appropriate for a student to be excluded from a charter school or a school activity because a parent did not volunteer or make a financial contribution to their school.” Still, a 2014 report by Public Advocates “found that 168, or almost one-third of the 555 charter schools [they] surveyed, explicitly require unpaid parent or family ‘service hours.’” Included in the report’s examples were two charters authorized by the LAUSD.

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The LAUSD Turns A Blind Eye as Charters Cherry-Pick Their Students

It is time to answer his question.

- Scott Schmerelson, LAUSD Board Member

As I have reported previously, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) has items on the enrollment page of their website that appear to violate the law and clearly violate their charter. During the past six months, I have been unable to get anyone at the school, the LAUSD Charter School Division or the State Department of Education to take the appropriate action to bring the school into compliance. On Tuesday, June 13, 2017, I brought this issue to the attention of the LAUSD School Board with the following public comment:

Included in the information that I am giving to you is a page from the Granada Hills Charter High School charter which states:

Granada Hills Charter shall not request or require submission of a student’s IEP, 504 Plan, or any other record or related information prior to admission, participation in any admissions or attendance lottery, or pre-enrollment event or process, or as a condition of admission or enrollment.

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Standing Up For Our Public Schools

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Charters are publicly funded but privately managed and, like most privately run businesses, the schools prefer to avoid transparency in their operations.

- Bobbi Murray / Capital and Main


In the past five years, the LAUSD Board had denied nine charter renewals while renewing at least 162. The charter industry, therefore, considered the Board to be hostile towards charters and spent $9,695,351.00 on the last School Board election, purchasing seats for Board Members who will do their bidding. Now, with a majority secured, charters like Celerity (whose offices have been raided by the FBI) and Magnolia (which according to the California Charter School Association, operates academically inferior schools) can be assured that the pro-charter majority on the Board will see that these privately run schools are not held accountable at all for the public funds that they receive.

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The Politics of Retribution

A plan for ensuring best and fair practices for charter operators, including results that indicate positive impacts on the achievement gap, inclusion of all students, fair labor practices, and parent engagement practices.

-Steve Zimmer, 11/13/12

 Betsy Devos, Eli Broad, and Michael Bloomberg have spent millions of dollars pushing to privatize our public schools with disastrous effects for school districts like the LAUSD. Much of this spending is not used to benefit students in any way, but to influence elections. This spending has swelled to the point where once again Los Angeles has broken the record for “the priciest school board race in U.S. history.”

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You Can't Keep a Bad Charter Down

No question about @MagnoliaSchools academic superiority - questioning your reading skills.

-Alex Johnson, VP LA County Board of Education

 

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.

- LA County Office of Education Staff

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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.

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Steve Zimmer: A Last Stand Between Public Education and the Privatizers

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As a special education and parent advocate who has run twice in LAUSD elections under the rallying cry of “Change The LAUSD”, my first inclination is to recommend against a vote for the incumbent in the District 4 Board race. However, as the election of Trump has shown, voting with a “throw the bums out” mentality can be disastrous if the people who fill these voids are less interested in fixing what is broken than burning the whole thing down. Nick Melvoin and his supporters’ plans to push even more students into charters falls into the latter category and will only serve to bankrupt the District, taking away opportunities for those left behind.

In some ways, Melvoin represents the Status Quo for the District. After all, the LAUSD “already has the highest number of charters - more than 200 - of any school system in the country”. These privately run organizations are largely unregulated by a Charter School Division that is headed by a former employee of one of the groups pushing to elect Melvoin. While tagged as anti-charter by the CCSA, this Board has only rejected nine charter renewals during the last five years. This includes the several from Celerity charters, whose offices were raided by the FBI. This inadequate scrutiny of charters would be lessened even further by a Board with a pro-charter majority.

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Stacking the Deck?

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Moreover, ‘lower achieving students’ is not a protected class.

  • Brian Bauer, GHCHS

This week, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHCHS) will attempt to win its sixth national Academic Decathlon championship in seven years. If this were a high school sports team instead of an academic one, the improbability of this accomplishment would probably be more of a focus but instead, it is blindly celebrated. No one seems to ask how it possible for a school that is supposed to draw from surrounding neighborhoods to consistently dominate a competition in a way that can only be compared to the winning streaks of the Harlem Globetrotters or the USA’s Olympic basketball Dream Teams. There is no doubt that members of Granada’s team work hard to achieve their success, but does the demographic makeup of this school give their team an unfair advantage?

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