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Blog: Let’s Flatten the Curve on Anti-Charter Politics

Lest anyone still thinks the teachers union in Los Angeles cares a whit about school children, its president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, has again demanded that L.A. Unified School District block any expansion of charter schools. These schools educate almost a quarter of Los Angeles County’s public school students—and do it far more effectively than district-operated schools.

In a letter to Superintendent Austin Beutner and the school board, Caputo-Pearl used the COVID-19 health crisis as his excuse this time. He demanded that the board not approve any new charter schools this spring, since board meetings will probably take place by audio or video conference. Conveniently, he seems to believe the public could not submit comments in such a format. 

Caputo-Pearl also said the board should not make any new decisions to allow charters to share space with district-operated schools—something charters have a right to do under state law. Any new sharing would not begin until next fall, but Caputo-Pearl apparently believes the health crisis will still be underway then.

Or perhaps Caputo-Pearl just wants to make life as difficult as possible for the thousands of children on charter school waiting lists.

Charters are free public schools, operated by nonprofit organizations, that cannot select their students. In today’s world, the majority of publicly funded services are delivered by private organizations—in health care, in transportation, in almost everything the public sector does. Charter schools are the manifestation of this trend in education. 

Because they have freedom from most bureaucratic rules and are closed if they perform poorly, they produce better results than schools operated by district bureaucracies. In Los Angeles they produce higher test scores, graduation rates, and college preparedness than district-operated schools. 

The most detailed study of test scores was done by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, an organization embraced by the teachers unions after its first charter school report, more than a decade ago.  Its 2014 report on Los Angeles found that charter students in L.A. gained months of learning every year, compared to demographically similar students with similar past test scores in district schools.

But the teachers unions hate charters, because most of their teachers choose not to unionize. Hence as the number of charter school children grows, the unions shrink. 

During a strike last year, Caputo-Pearl and UTLA demanded a moratorium on charters and broadcast the false claim that charters were responsible for the district’s financial woes

Clearly, Caputo-Pearl and United Teachers of Los Angeles don’t care about students’ test scores, graduation rates, or preparation for college or careers. If they did, they would support the expansion of charter schools. They care only about keeping their coffers full of union dues.

While we all do our parts to flatten the coronavirus curve, is it asking too much for teachers unions to flatten the curve on their anti-charter lies? Our crisis today calls for truth and unity, not propaganda and division.

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David Osborne, author of Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System, directs the education work of the Progressive Policy Institute.

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