Young: Anaheim Union Needs to Live Up to Its Own Standards for Accountability

In an unprecedented move by any California school board, all five members of the Anaheim Union High School District board and the superintendent called for a statewide moratorium on all public charter schools last month.

They based their call on the tired argument by opponents that too many, in their words, “operate in the shadows with no transparency, no accountability, and no public review.”

The Anaheim leadership singled out Magnolia Public Schools, a group of eleven high-quality science academies I now lead. The school board went so far as to falsely accuse Magnolia of operating charter schools all over the nation and being controlled by Turkish nationals.

These statements are incorrect. The Anaheim Union board members and superintendent didn’t do their basic homework. As former president of the board for California’s largest school district, I have known these schools well since they submitted their first charter petition to Los Angeles Unified 14 years ago.

(Editors Note: Click here to read a copy of a Magnolia demand letter to AUHSD.)

In my nearly two decades of experience in public education, I’d be hard-pressed to find another school system that has been reviewed, audited and examined more than Magnolia Public Schools.

The State of California conducted an exhaustive audit of Magnolia schools in 2015 and simply found an organization that was financially solvent. The independent statewide investigative body even went so far as to praise Magnolia for having academically well-performing schools. Having Anaheim Union generate this hoopla reminds me of one of Winston Churchill’s finest: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

The State of California reaffirmed its confidence in Magnolia this year by investing in its continued growth with $17.4 million toward a new state-of-the-art facility in Santa Ana.

What allows charters—public schools that are held strictly accountable to meeting high academic and operational standards while complying with federal and state laws—to overcome the charges of critics has been their strong academic performance, particularly within low-income communities.

The most recent study, a 2015 analysis of urban charter schools by researchers at Stanford University, found that charter schools provided significantly higher levels of annual learning growth in both math and reading than their traditional public school peers, and particularly larger gains for Black, Latino, low-income and special-education students.

Charters are helping the broader school systems in which they operate serve families more successfully, so a call for a moratorium, which is an indictment against all charters, simply makes no sense.

But this unprecedented call by Anaheim Union came without the input of the public that would be most affected by the decision. Anaheim Union is ignoring state law to the detriment of the community by proposing to deny them access to new high-quality public school choices in their community.

The Anaheim school board took a significant, potentially illegal public policy position that can affect thousands of its neediest students based on false premises. But what’s ironic is the very position they took was done without public input or discussion and did not take place at a school board hearing where it could be subject to public scrutiny.

Instead, it was coordinated in secrecy, resulting in a violation of public trust and governance, and even blindsided the respected Orange County Office of Education. So much for Anaheim’s charge of operating “in the shadows with no transparency, no accountability, and no public review.”

Our hope is that the Anaheim board will do right by families and embrace the opportunity for collaboration. Here’s why. Magnolia is successfully serving more than 3,400 students and we have hundreds on our waiting list.

Anaheim Union just needs to look at the evidence. Each year, we send anywhere between 92 to 99 percent of our students to some of the best colleges in the U.S. Last year, 65 percent of our graduates became first-generation college attendees. Our students are winning the top prizes in the most prestigious robotics and math competitions in the nation. These are predominantly low-income White, Latino, African-American kids, who now are well on their way toward achieving their full potential.

The school district needs what we offer and we want to help. This success is why enthusiastic Anaheim families and community members have come to us expressing their desire for a new public high school to open.

When you look across California and the nation, forward-thinking, cutting-edge school districts are embracing charter schools as part of their solution. These school districts that choose to incorporate charter schools into their reform efforts have seen first-hand that when you give kids and parents access to a quality education, everyone wins and all schools rise to a higher level.

Let’s expect more from our educational leaders. We did not elect them to make legally questionable public policy decisions in secrecy that are not in the best interest of the thousands of families in their own community. Listen to those who elected you into office, be open and transparent about your actions and make decisions based on what will allow students to thrive. Let their futures drive your decisions. Years from now, it’s them you’ll be answering to.

Caprice Young is the CEO and Superintendent of Magnolia Public Schools, a network of 11 high-performing public charter schools that serves 3,400 students in Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara and San Diego Counties. She is a longtime public education leader and former Los Angeles Unified school board president.

Anaheim Union High School District Board members wrote an earlier Op-ed calling for a moratorium on charter schools like Magnolia. 

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr. at nsantana@voiceofoc.org