A New Conversation About Charter Schools in Los Angeles

The "We Choose All Forum" offers research and policy recommendations for a path forward.

In recent years, schools and educators in Los Angeles, as well as those across California and the nation, have found themselves engaged in an at times contentious debate about the role and impact of charter schools in public education. Among educators and advocates, there sometimes has emerged a bitter divide between those who see charter schools as sources of inspiration, innovation and opportunity, and those who view them as a force focused on dividing and conquering educators and public schools, bent on the undermining of public education. The conversation has been at times, a hard one, with folks choosing sides and taking rigid positions.

But this week, maybe, just maybe, there has been a crack in the ice, the beginnings of a change in the conversation.

On Wednesday, July 25thin a conference room at the California Endowment in downtown Los Angeles, a mix of educators, researchers, advocates and community leaders gathered for a forum hosted by We Choose All, a small coalition of organizations that has been working to inform public debate about the challenges and changes facing public education in Los Angeles, and to promote interest in supporting an educational system that provides high quality education for all students. The crowd ran the gamut from LAUSD Board president Monica Garcia and UTLA president Alex Caputo Pearl, to charter school principals and advocates, to foundation and nonprofit leaders.

“The Idea was to reset, to create a conversation that asks how can we create a system that serves all students in Los Angeles,” says UCLA Education Professor John Rogers.  We wanted to ask what would it take to create a system that chooses all?”

To do so, the conversation drew on a new series of research briefs by leading educational researchers in California and policy recommendations for an inclusive, interdependent and excellent public school system in Los Angeles.  Led by Rogers, a panel including Maria Brenes of Inner City Struggle, Patricia Gándara of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, David Rattray of Unite LA and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, Robert Ross of the California Endowment, and Sylvia Rousseau of the University of Southern California shared their perspectives on the research and recommendations and challenges ahead.

“If the conditions are that If I win, you lose, we won’t share,” said David Rattray of Unite LA said.  “The advantage needs to be for the kids.”

“The humanity of our children needs to be lifted up,“added Rousseau.

Writing about the research and policy recommendations UCLA Emeritus Professor and Learning Policy Institute Senior Fellow Jeannie Oakes notes, “We need a system to develop all people, not just some, into highly competent and caring community members.”

Much of the morning was spent in small group sessions with participants discussing the recommendations and their implications.

It was Rogers notes, a remarkably civil discussion.

“In recent years, battles between advocates for Los Angeles district and charter schools have eroded trust, undermined public confidence, and diverted attention from critical issues of educational equity.  I think the We Choose All forum set a new tone.  Drawing on insights from leading researchers, we shared a set of principles for guiding district and charter relationships moving forward.  But more than that, we created a space for civil dialogue about how we as a community can move forward together.”

The “We Choose ALL” forum was hosted by organizations in the We Choose All coalition including UNITE-LA, the Advancement Project, UCLA IDEA, and In the Public Interest. Research briefs and policy recommendation for We Choose ALL were developed by noted researchers including Linda Darling Hammond, Jeanne Oakes, and Patrick Shields, Learning Policy Institute; Charles Kerchner, Claremont Graduate School; Patricia Gándara, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Sylvia Rousseau, University of Southern California; Kevin Welner, University of Colorado; and Janelle Scott and Tina Trujillo, UC Berkeley.

Information about We Choose ALL and the full series of research and policy briefs is available online at unitela.com/We_Choose_ALL


Above: UCLA Professor of Education Patricia Gándara speaks on policy recommendations for an inclusive, interdependent and excellent public school system in Los Angeles and California at the We Choose All Forum, held at the California Endowment headquarters in Los Angeles.

Photo by John McDonald