Just after Groundhog Day last week, the Brookings Institution released its annual Education Choice and Competition Index report, grading 110 school districts on the degree to which they empower parents with easily accessible, broadly available, publicly funded school choices and the degree to which the choice system results in greater access to quality schools.
The report’s findings for California could have been summarized as “Groundhog Day in Education,” revealing that another year elapsed with school districts failing to significantly expand and enhance parental choice options in education for our state’s 6 million public school children.
Nationally, school districts are transitioning from the traditional model of assigning students to a school based on their residential address to systems allowing families options, such as public charter schools, affordable private schools, magnet schools, virtual schools or regular public schools in which enrollment is based on parental preference.
Over the past two decades, we have witnessed notable advances in parental choice for middle-class and poor families (the more-affluent can enroll their children in a high-performing private school). California made some strides, including enacting the Parent Empowerment Act in 2010.
Parents of children enrolled in Anaheim’s Palm Lane Elementary have become the first parents in Orange County to use the law to try to restart their chronically underperforming school, which had been state-identified as underperforming since 2003. Those 12 years are nearly equivalent to a student’s entire K-12 career. By comparison, parents mobilized and submitted petitions with 332 parent signatures in less than six months.
The ECCI incorporates several factors in ranking districts, including availability of alternative schools, policies on virtual education, open enrollment, transportation opportunities, whether funding follows students and school quality.
Thirteen larger California districts were evaluated. How did they fare? Think Groundhog Day: Nothing changed. Once again, you probably won’t be pleased. Once again, no California district received an A, or even a B. California’s highest scorer was San Diego City Unified, repeating its B-minus grade.
The only grade change was in the wrong direction: Los Angeles Unified School District dropped from last year’s grade of C to a C-minus, joining the Fresno, Oakland, San Juan and Corona-Norco districts.
San Francisco Unified boasted a C-plus. Long Beach Unified retained its D, joined again by San Bernardino City Unified and Sacramento City Unified.
Once again, not one school district in Orange County received a passing grade. Capistrano Unified led the pack with a D, the same as last year. Santa Ana retained its F grade, as did Garden Grove.
Imagine if you brought home report cards that never improved.
Although the ECCI is imperfect as a grading tool, it provides the public a valid snapshot of the quality of educational choice and competition within several of our larger districts.
With too many California students not graduating and too many others falling far below the academic proficiencies of international students – with whom Americans will compete in a global economy – we can no longer ignore these districts’ grades. Even so, districts continue to resist providing parents a portfolio of options for making the best educational decisions for their children.
But the demand for change persists. With district grades like these, no wonder parents are taking the lead, as they have in Anaheim. Last week, the Orange County Board of Education – with new leadership – approved a charter school denied by Santa Ana Unified. Groundhog Day in education can no longer be tolerated.
About the Author: Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the founder of the California Center for Parent Empowerment, established by in order to empower public school parents–especially those with children trapped in chronically underperforming schools–to understand and use the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.