| Public Core
Public Core is an organization of West Contra Costa County parents, teachers, community members, and school staff who fight for public control and accountability in our schools. We believe that public schools, open to all, are essential to the health of a democratic society. Our goal is high quality, inclusive public education for all students. We believe that the proliferation of privately-operated schools using public money will increase inequalities in education and in our society. We are dedicated to informing the public about the impact of publicly-funded, privately operated schools on our community.
Pro-Charter Groups Keep Up
Constant Derogatory Drumbeat
In April, a group of college students appeared at a WCCUSD Board meeting to hand-deliver a document to the Board. The group belongs to the West Contra Costa chapter of the New York-based “Students for Education Reform” , a charter school advocacy group. Their document, the results of a “WCCUSD Board Watch” effort, rated the district on how transparent it is (2.7 out of 5), how focused it is on students (3), and how engaged it is in the community (3.3). Not incidentally, two other pro-charter groups in our area, GO Public Schools WCC and Education Matters also conduct WCCUSD Board Watches.
In their presentations and materials, all of these groups claim to be acting as good local citizens, the guardians of our taxpayer money and public school system. Yet, however justified they may be in demanding accountability and transparency from our school district, they do so while ignoring the urgent need for accountability from the private schools operating in our district with public money (charter schools)--despite the fact that, unlike the WCCUSD board, charter boards are 1) not elected (or even locally based), 2) do not hold public meetings, and 3) do not televise their proceedings.
The fact is, the billionaire-funded “astroturf” groups operating in the WCCUSD and nationwide exist to deliberately keep public school districts on the defensive and deflect attention from charter schools’ own lack of transparency and indifferent performance.
PublicCore.net has documented how a single ultra-wealthy couple and the “community organizations” they fund worked in 2014 and 2016 to purchase three of the five seats on the WCCUSD School Board (see 2016 summary and 2014 detail). In service to their agenda, SFER-AN WCC, Go Public Schools WCC, and Education Matters follow the national education “reform” script scrupulously, cultivating, inculcating, and coordinating local surrogates. Last fall, for example, they provided facilitators for “parent council” meetings at the Latina Center, and packed it with lawyers to fish for stories of negative experiences. That negativity is important: the more negative a picture these groups paint of public schools, the better it is for charters.
Like other pro-privatization groups around the country, SFER hypocritically ignores WCCUSD success stories, evidence of excellence and progress, and the vitality present in many of the district’s incredibly diverse schools.
Recently, an email sent out by Go Public Schools WCC as ‘BREAKING NEWS’ pointed to a set of policy recommendations demanding that the Board of Education
“Provide funds in the 2017-18 budget to allow WCCUSD to restructure and, if necessary, expand its central data infrastructure and capacity.”
The widely broadcast GO email implies peril for all district students, and demands reform without any recognition that the WCCUSD has, over the past five years, made steady progress in both transparency and academics by:
The email dishonestly implies that district staff does not use data and evidence to make decisions. It suggests that the best way to improve learning for our historically underserved populations is to fund the expansion of the data dashboards already on its site to include disaggregated data for these populations. It does not matter that most of the additionally disaggregated data GO wants the district to spend program money on is already just a few clicks away, with links provided right from the WCCUSD data dashboards.*
While the letter the email links to is right to express urgency about providing an excellent education for every student in our community, said letter is addressed only to the Board of Trustees of the WCCUSD, and not to a single one of the over one dozen private boards that operate charter schools in our community, most of which have the same achievement gaps and lag far behind the WCCUSD in offering comprehensive transparency on their local data.
Despite all of this, the tone of the pro-privatization surrogates is always one of crisis. WCCUSD is beyond salvaging, they claim, and the only solutions are the ones demanded by their hand-picked, billionaire-backed community coalitions, who have no actual expertise in education. Such privatization surrogates offer nothing but a constant derogatory drumbeat concerning our large and diverse district that permeates their social and public media. Their unmitigated criticism is justified, they say, by their concern for our underserved population, yet they uncritically embrace charter schools and see no need for accountability from them, even though such schools ultimately cherry-pick their students and expel those that don’t fit their agenda. These groups are silent about the fact that the deep-pocketed founders and promoters of charter schools often have investments in the real estate and technology their schools plan (in their LCAPs) to use. And they make no effort whatsoever to shine a light on these conflicts of interest.
We reject the blanket charges of failure made by SFER and other privatization advocates; we say “Hell no!” to their proposal to overturn the public school system, handing it over to charter schools and online education enterprises. These private efforts to hold the WCCUSD accountable for elements that aren’t working should be scrutinized in turn, because they have a vested interest in the district’s failure. Every school in our district that takes public money should be held to the same standards of transparency, responsibility, and ethical norms that the WCCUSD Board is subject to. The misrepresentation, hypocrisy, and conflicts of interest of SFER, Go Public Schools WCC, Education Matters, and their funders disqualifies them from being honest brokers of our community’s public schools.
Dear Public Core Supporters,
The election has untold implications for all of us. If nothing else, it is an invitation to become more involved, to work for the world we seek for our kids, and to take nothing for granted.
The results have reset the landscape on our efforts to gain accountability and transparency for the privately operated schools that are funded with our tax dollars.
Locally, Mister Phillips and Tom Panas were elected to the WCCUSD school board.
Tom Panas accepted almost $300,000 from charter PACS. He allowed charter interests to control his campaign with paid canvassing, robo-calls, phone-banking, nearly a dozen mailers, and ubiquitous online ads. He joins Val Cuevas and Liz Block to make a 3-member pro-charter majority.
Mister Phillips didn’t accept money from charter school interests, and was even a target of a negative mailer from them, that by all accounts, backfired. He takes a middle-of-the-road approach to charter schools.
Fatima Alleyne was elected to Ward 1 of the Contra Costa County Board of Education
Pam Mirabella, a multi-term incumbent for County Board of Education, lost her seat to Fatima Alleyne, a Caliber Beta parent and strident WCCUSD critic. Alleyne will now vote on and oversee charter schools rejected by WCCUSD, which includes Caliber Beta, the upcoming appeal of Caliber High School charter, Making Waves Academy, and Summit K2.
Measure T passed easily
WCCUSD’s Measure T, which provides $9.8M annually for the librarians, counselors, and sports at our traditional public schools, was easily renewed. It needed 2/3 of voters to say yes, and more than 3/4 of us did. This money is also shared with charter schools in our district because in 2015, the California Charter Schools Association sued WCCUSD for those funds, and the District settled.
Proposition 55 passed
California’s Proposition 55 also passed, which renewed funding for school districts statewide. Though not enough to bring per-student spending up out of the bottom half of U.S. states, these K-12 funds keep our schools from plummeting back to the 48th slot.
Cities in our District elected pragmatic progressives
A few of the cities that make up our district had council elections that will also impact our schools.
In Richmond, the Richmond Progressive Alliance candidates Melvin Willis and Ben Choi were elected, along with incumbent Jael Myrick, another middle-of-the-roader on charter schools.
In San Pablo, two incumbents won their re-election, Cecilia Valdez and Rich Kinney. Kathy Chao Rothberg lost her seat to former Council member Arturo Cruz. The San Pablo Council will continue partnering with WCCUSD with their support of Community in Schools Programing in San Pablo elementary and Middle Schools.
Three El Cerrito candidates running as a slate won seats: incumbent Mayor Greg Lyman, intensive care nurse Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, and BART program manager Paul Fadelli. The latter two will be be replacing Mark Friedman and Jan Bridges, who are retiring after their second stints on the council.
The existence of public education in the United States is threatened
Donald Trump has said he might eliminate or scale back the U.S. Department of Education:
He has proposed a $20 billion voucher program:
and he has nominated Betsy DeVos, a strident charter school advocate whose experience is limited to her ideology, to lead the Department of Education.
We invite you to become involved locally. We welcome your skills, connections, and mutual resolve as we work together to remind West Contra Costa, California, and the world that truly public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy.
Simply Ticking the Boxes is all it Takes
The ease of starting a charter school is threatening resources for the majority of students
The unsettling truth is, any organization in California that can fill out a template can start a charter school. The bar is low, and the incentives are high.
California has both the fastest growth rate of charter schools, and the most charter schools of any state in the nation. This is partly because California is not fully committed to funding public education for its amazing and beautiful melting pot, and partly because the California Ed code is written for the schools Beaver Cleaver attended.
Hedge Fund managers, real estate developers, and ideologues will do what they're born to do, of course. They find holes in a weak law and exploit them while making a great return and while reshaping society.... continue...
A Better Way to Rate Our Schools:
California's New Multiple Measures for K-12 Accountability
Does it all boil down to one number? Growing up, most of us had at least one adult in our lives who reminded us that we are more than our latest test score. It was a comforting point when we stumbled, and it helped us to keep working when we were already doing well. However, for the past 20 years, each of our public schools has been reduced to one or two numbers, such as the "Great Schools Rating" or the collective Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test scores. Dozens of websites like Zillow, and charter-funded organizations like GO promote these meaningless numbers, especially when they are looking for ways to trash public schools.
This new way of reporting on school performance is a big boon for parents and employers who are serious about supporting the quality of public education in their communities. It will require more from each of us, as education businesses, and other media, lose the ability to sum up a public school’s performance with just one number. The new reports require everyone to cross-reference multiple factors and pay attention to the trend lines. Just as labeling people with a single number for intelligence or physical attractiveness or potential is demeaning and simplistic to the point of distortion, a system that labels schools with just one or two numbers is inadequate and amoral.
Also, on Wednesday, Feb 8 at noon, the California PTA is presenting a free live webinar on this information. Register here.
Trump Nomination for Education Puts Public Education in Jeopardy
The pending appointment of Betsy DeVos as Trump’s education secretary should be a wake-up call for those straddling the fence on charter schools. The voucher system that she and Trump support will take a huge amount of students and resources from the public school system, leaving it with the most-expensive-to-educate students, and the full burden of costly special needs programs. DeVos promotes charter schools as a way around legal restrictions on vouchers. She has also funded campaigns to prevent charter schools from being more tightly regulated.
Charter schools were originally intended as a way for parents and teachers to experiment with innovative approaches to educating students. And experimentation is still needed. But current laws were written by and for wealthy interests, some of whom, like DeVos, have a conservative ideological agenda, others of whom have simply found a way to make of charters a lucrative, low-risk investment vehicle that allows them to triple their money in as little as seven years.
Charters claim to be public schools, but most are subject to little public oversight and no transparency requirements. Their secret enrollment mechanisms allow them to cherry-pick students and expel “difficult” students at will. They weaken already struggling public school systems that still must try and meet the needs of ALL students. Until now, DeVos has focused her privatization campaign on Michigan schools, and the results have been disastrous. The Detroit Public School System has become overwhelmingly charter, and now ranks among the lowest-scoring in the country (See Politico)
The DeVos appointment intensifies the threat to districts like WCCUSD because it will likely tie federal public education dollars to further advantage public charter schools over public schools. Well-funded charter school networks already have a huge financial advantage in electing school board members and state legislators sympathetic to their cause. We saw this in the WCCUSD in 2014 and 2016, where wealthy charter school promoters gained a majority on the Board by outspending independent candidates 10:1.
We agree with the statement of the California State PTA: