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L.A. School Board Vote Is Harbinger for the Nation

In the most expensive school board race in the nation's history, voters  elected a pro-charter majority for the Los Angeles Unified School District ("Charter-backed candidates win L.A. Unified majority, but can they lead from within?" Los Angeles Times, May 18).  Despite spending millions, United Teachers of Los Angeles was no match for better funded charter school supporters.

But the victory cannot be explained simply by how much was spent by either side.  Instead, I believe it is a watershed that reflects deep frustration and anger over the state of traditional public schools in the nation's second largest district and in other large urban districts across the country.

Despite a slightly higher graduation rate, the LAUSD has been slowly losing enrollment.  It's easy to attribute the loss solely to the growth in the number of charter schools. But I think the situation reflects a far deeper conviction that traditional public schools are an anachronism.

I saw the beginnings of that attitude as far back as the late 1980s at the high school where I taught for my entire 28-year career.  Once considered among the best high schools in California, the environment began to change as the city changed.  Students arrived at the door with huge deficits in socialization, motivation and intellectual development through no fault of their own.

Teachers at my school began to take early retirement, as conditions deteriorated.  At the same time, many upper middle-class parents began to enroll their children in private and religious schools.  I never saw any evidence of racial prejudice at work.  Instead, I heard parents complaining that educational quality had eroded.

It was not much later that charter schools were approved.  They offered the hope of a better education in the eyes of a majority of parents.  I don't blame them for acting as they did.  They did not want their children to be deprived of the education that my high school once provided.

Now that the seven-member board of education has a majority of charter school supporters, I expect to see far more being approved.  Although they vary in quality, most parents are willing to take their chances.  I foresee similar changes in the years ahead in other districts.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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