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L.A. Unified gets praise for authorizing, overseeing charter schools

January 27, 2011 | 12:54 pm

A nonprofit that examines the authorization of charter schools gave good marks Thursday to the Los Angeles Unified School District -- a finding that may surprise some local charter school operators who have long battled the school system.

The thumbs-up comes from the Chicago-based National Assn. of Charter School Authorizers, which is “devoted exclusively to improving public education by improving the policies and practices of the organizations responsible for authorizing charter schools.” The organization is regarded as pro-charter schools; in fact, its board chair, James Peyser, is a partner in the NewSchools Venture Fund, which has provided funding to propel the growth of charters.

Charter schools are free, publicly funded schools that are managed independently of the education agencies that allow them to open.

The researchers noted that L.A. Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system, has authorized more charter schools than any other school district.

The largest five authorizers in the nation are, in order, the Texas Education Agency, the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Chicago Public Schools and the North Carolina Department of Education, according to the report. All told, these five agencies oversee 26% of all charter schools. 

The commendation for L.A. Unified goes beyond just allowing charters to operate.

L.A. Unified lands in the “top quartile” based on its overall “best practices,” said Courtney Leigh Beisel, a spokesperson for the organization. These include how the school district handles its application process, contracting procedures and performance evaluations as well as its general monitoring and oversight of charters.

The caveat is that the finding is based entirely on survey information provided by the district itself.

Charter operators have credited the district with some recent improvement, but some also have sued L.A. Unified, claiming that the school system has violated a legal obligation to provide sufficient classroom space to charters. And this week, once again, many charters were unhappy over the amount of school space the district said it could offer.

At the other extreme are critics of charter schools, who contend the school system has kowtowed to charter advocates at the expense of traditional schools and failed to hold charters accountable for poor performance and a legal obligation to provide services to all students.

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-- Howard Blume

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