Commentary

Charter School Competition Works: LA Edition

Over at Flypaper, Liam Julian offers more proof that competition has positive effects on public schools. He writes about how competition from charters is helping Houston public schools:

HISD school board member Diana Davilla told the Chronicle about KIPP, “They’re attracting more students than we are. Somewhere, we’re missing something because they’re building schools and we’re closing them.” The district hopes to change that: Leaders said they’re also working on ways to use data, including performance pay information, to create a profile of ideal teaching candidates. They plan, for instance, to use the data to determine which universities are producing HISD’s best teachers.

I’ve noticed an interesting effect of competition from charter schools here in Los Angeles. More than 7 Percent of Los Angeles students are enrolled in charter schools. The big education story in California this spring has been the school district pink slip mania where around 20,000 teachers were given preliminary layoff notices in March. Curiously, Los Angeles Unified, the largest school district in the state with 700K + students and more than a $430 million estimated budget deficit did not issue one single pink slip to a teacher. In July 2006, the Los Angeles Times ran a story with the headline: L.A. Unified Losing Staff to Charters; Frustrated teachers and administrators are being lured by independent schools with promise of more support and freedom.

Amid the continuing growth of charter schools in Los Angeles, hundreds of teachers and administrators have left the city’s school system to take jobs at the independently run campuses… The loss of teaching and administrative talent has angered and worried some members of the district’s Board of Education. “It is not a healthy competition. It’s not healthy for us at all,” said board member Julie Korenstein, a staunch critic of charters. “We have groomed these teachers and they have risen up with us,” and then the charters “come in and harvest them.”

Flash Forward to 2007-2008 Green Dot takes over Locke High school and the district loses an entire high school staff. Reason TV’s Drew Carey Project covered the takeover in: UnLocked: Education Revolt in Watts. Therefore, with a recent history of teachers abandoning the district for charter schools, I guess the district administrators thought it was prudent to avoid teacher layoffs. The official version: Roger Buschmann, Los Angeles Unified’s chief human resources officer, told the Los Angeles Times, “We gave it a lot of thought and decided, ‘Why worry them unnecessarily?'” The media has made a lot out of other states like Nevada recruiting California teachers. Yet, in Los Angeles the teachers would not have had to leave the state, they have local charter schools. Today when I went to EDJOIN.org which offers a comprehensive listing of teaching positions for the entire state of California, I counted more than 314 teaching positions listed for charter schools in Los Angeles for 2008-2009. Here’s a few examples from a long list: Alliance for College Ready Public Schools has 29 openings, Aspire has 10, Environmental Charter High School 8, Green Dot 13, KIPP LA 5, Rosie the Riveter charter 5, Accelerated School 4…. Bright Star Schools with six openings even advertised in their posting: “We pay 10 percent over LAUSD Scale.” So who did get pink slips in Los Angeles? Los Angeles Unified notified about 3,000 administrators and senior management contract employees that they may not return next year. While it is doubtful that 3,000 central administrators would be let go in Los Angeles, it is apparent that except for a few principals or heads of schools, charter schools are not competing for administrators. In two recent columns for Reason, I cover the education budget and teacher layoffs as a rhetorical strategy. Closer Look at California’s Proposed Education CutsState budget deficit makes some cuts necessary Are Over 100,000 California Teachers Getting Pink Slips? When it is time to make budget cuts, teachers shouldn’t be the first to go

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Snell has frequently testified before the California State Legislature and numerous other state legislatures and government agencies. She has authored policy studies on school finance and weighted student funding, universal preschool, school violence, charter schools, and child advocacy centers.

Snell is a frequent contributor to Reason magazine, School Reform News and Privatization Watch. Her writing has also appeared in Education Week, Edutopia, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications.

Ms. Snell is also an advisory board member to the National Quality Improvement Center for the Children's Bureau; is on the charter school accreditation team for the American Academy for Liberal Education; and serves as a board member for the California Virtual Academy.

Before joining Reason Foundation, Snell taught public speaking and argumentation courses at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a Master of Arts in communication from California State University, Fullerton.