First published on Echo Park Patch on September 20, 2013
"If the American public understood that reformers want to privatize their public schools and divert their taxes to pay profits to investors, it would be hard to sell the corporate idea of reform." — Professor Diane Ravitch
"However, within this market, competition exists in several forms" — (Alliance CRPS Corporation's Business Plan, 2010 p.9)
Over a decade ago Republican venture capitalist Richard "Dick" Riordan joined forces with other profit-hungry businessmen and foundations funding several quasi-education outfits. The melding of two nonprofit industrial complex groups allowed Riordan and his cabal to blend two of their favorite things — lucrative real estate deals and school privatization. Hiring a widely despised Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) administrator named Judy Burton, who was known for instituting the Open Court (McGraw Hill) police and strict use pacing plans, the charter corporation known Alliance for College-Ready Public [sic] Schools was born. Unlike many charter corporations Alliance doesn't try to hide their penchant for big ticket real estate deals, and publishes business plans with the words "business plan" in their actual title. Rather than deny the damning exposure of financial motives revealed in the recent Forbes article entitled Charter School Gravy Train Runs Express To Fat City, the Alliance folks embrace the fact that they're in it for the money.
Wanting to muscle in on Echo Parque
Already occupying part of the Belmont High School campus, Alliance now wants to to build their own campus on a lot that will cause major disruptions to parking and safety in the community. Taking advantage of the loopholes in SB740, Alliance Charter Corporation will stick the public with the bill for everything in the end. They will then extract a premium rent from the site to their LLC, while using little of the money allotted to them from the state to actually educate students. More importantly, they will be sapping resources from our already underfunded and resource starved public schools.
That last point is very important. Depending on how one counts there are already between 7 to 9 High Schools in our attendance area. Most of them are public schools, and there are a few privately managed charter schools as well. All of these schools are under-enrolled, a problem that will be further exacerbated if the Alliance Charter Corporation is allowed to add yet another campus to their burgeoning real estate portfolio. Diverting much needed resources from our public schools so that Alliance can further expand their coffers is something our community should be opposing strongly. Moreover, there's still some perplexing legal questions about who the property belongs to if and when the charter decides to stop operating. Purchasing prime 90026 real estate at the public's expense, but not offering the title to a public entity should be an issue of grave concern.
The truth about Alliance Charter Corporation
With access to a bevy of professional marketing and public relations experts, Alliance has been able to build an unearned reputation of being "high performing," and preparing all their students for college. Like all Miracle Schools, this reputation is pure fiction and propaganda. Using selective data criteria, Alliance and their allies in the corporate media make claims that their schools are in the top of the country. Scratch below the veneer, and a very different story is evident.
What's in a name? Alliance for College-Ready Public [sic] Schools name alone bears scrutiny. First off, like all charters the word public doesn't belong in their name. It's well established by the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals, The California Court of Appeals, The US Census Department, and The National Labor Relations Board that charter schools are private entities (eg. not public agencies). Now that that's out of the way, let's examine the College-Ready part. Despite claiming that their schools produce top college prospects, Alliance College "Ready" Schools boast 6 of the 80 lowest SAT performers in Los Angeles County, and 5 of the 75 lowest in LAUSD. (Source: "California Schools Guide." Lowest Average SAT Scores in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles Times, 01 Jan. 2013. Web. 19 Sept. 2013.).
Alliance's dismal SAT scores are in line with their astronomical remediation rates of the students they place into colleges and universities. Remediation means that students have to take remedial classes in order to become proficient enough to take 101 level college coursework. In other words, they need to take their high school classes over again. Since Alliance's Belmont colocation is too new to have statistics, let's look at their nearby Gertz-Ressler campus' figures for the past five years. The California State University (CSU) makes remediation data available for all schools sending them students.
- 2008 CSU Alliance proficiency 7% in math and 13% in English.
- 2009 CSU Alliance proficiency 29% in math and 29% in English.
- 2010 CSU Alliance proficiency 29% in math and 17% in English.
- 2011 CSU Alliance proficiency 50% in math and 33% in English.
- 2012 CSU Alliance proficiency 57% in math and 50% in English.
Their other campuses sport the same astonishingly high remediation rates. These figures put to lie their claim that they are "ensuring that less than 15% of students need remedial English or Math in college." To Alliance's credit their Gertz-Ressler is no longer in single digit proficiency, but even their best year still only sees half of their students ready to take college level courses.
Many education experts point out that when charter schools have "miracle" API numbers, but awful SAT scores and terrible college entrance exam scores like Alliance does, that it means they are most likely teaching to the test to boost their APIs. At the end of the day, Alliance's claims to college-readiness are smoke and mirrors. They do these students at diservice getting them matriculated in schools without being prepared. Many students are discouraged by having to take remedial courses, and frequently don't complete their degrees.
Not educating every child
The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates wrote in their watershed Charter Schools and Students With Disabilities Final report: "It is not legally or morally acceptable that these so-called 'schools of choice' that are concentrated in urban communities and supported with public funds, should be permitted to operate as segregated learning environments where students are more isolated by race, socioeconomic class, disability, and language than the public school district from which they were drawn." (p. 41). LAUSD's Office of Independent Monitor has consistently shown that students with disabilities (SWD) are disproportionately under-enrolled at charter schools.
When the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council's (GEPENC) executive committee questioned Alliance Charter Corporation on their percentage of students with special needs enrolled, they made the outrageous claim that they serve 15%. The 2009 OIM data tables (page 2) not only discredits this, but demonstrate that the SWD they do enroll are high functioning, not needing highly specialized Individual Education Plans (IEP). We are waiting to obtain more current figures from LAUSD, but experience has shown that charter corporations have not improved their special needs enrollments. What this means in practice is that while the neighboring public schools are obligated to educate every child (as all schools should be), charters like Alliance aren't. This creates a disparity in funding since the public schools are using more of their funds to implement things like special day classes, while the charters get the same amount of money per student without the associated costs.
Under-enrolling SWD, English Language Learners (ELL), and children with disciplinary issues is the hallmark of privately managed charters. Allowing Alliance to open in Echo Parque will further drain the local public school resources and further disadvantage the students enrolled there that Alliance would never accept.
Time for GEPENC to represent Echo Parque
In a calculated public relations move, Alliance Charter Corporation is asking GEPENC to approve their project to create yet another school in an area over-saturated with under-enrolled high schools. While GEPENC's role in the overall process is merely advisory, telling Alliance our community doesn't approve of them and their project would go a long way toward protecting the interests of our community and our students. The shady nature of Alliance's real estate dealings, their dismal SAT scores and CSU remediation rates, and their refusal to educate every child are all compelling reasons for our Neighborhood Council to say no. For me that last point is the most important. Allowing these private entities to cherry pick students and avoid educating the most vulnerable and needy students is immoral. Taking a strong stand as a community against that kind of discrimination sends a strong message to these corporate schools that we demand equity for all our students.