After Carlsbad's Board of Education rejected its plan to open a charter school campus in the city, the Oxford Preparatory Academy signaled it would appeal to the San Diego County Board of Education. But the board canceled the agenda item scheduled for its regular February meeting because the school added supporting documents not included in the plan Carlsbad officials had rejected.

That reminded me of OPA's bait and switch technique inviting parents to sign what they were assured was only an "expression of interest" and later misrepresented to the school board as an "intent to enroll." One of the reasons the petition was denied was the lack of evidence the school could deliver on its promise of more than 800 students on opening day.

The County Board is scheduled to hear the school's appeal on March 13, based, as required, only on documents presented to the Carlsbad school board.

On its website OPA optimistically lists Carlsbad as one of its three campuses, joining Chino and Mission Viejo. Click on the Carlsbad link and you'll get an invitation to attend one of three informational meetings scheduled at the city's senior center, the latest of which was held March 7. It will be interesting to see if they've gathered additional signatures of "interest" in the school and offer them as "intent to enroll" in their appeal to the board next week.

Unlike its neighboring North County cities, Carlsbad has no charter schools. Maybe the reason can be found in the California Charter Schools Act of 1992. On its website the California Charter Schools Association, an activist group, quotes only the first part of the law's legislative intent preamble: " provide opportunities for teachers, parents, pupils, and community members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently from the existing school district structure..." It stops short of the top two reasons for their creation: ..."as a method to accomplish all of the following: (a) Improve pupil learning. (b) Increase learning opportunities for all pupils, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving.

In her recent book, Radical, Fighting to Put Students First, education reformer, and self-described liberal Democrat and union supporter, Michelle Rhee describes how she came to be a promoter of parental choice and charter schools. She was appointed in 2007 to the position of School Chancellor by Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. Because of the dismal performance of city schools, the city council had dissolved the school board, placing the entire responsibility to improve them in the hands of Mayor Fenty.

Rhee was appalled at what she found. During her three years in the position she fought the teachers union to improve schools by rewarding the best teachers, firing the worst, and closing failing schools. Her tenure ended when Mayor Fenty lost his bid for reelection, having become targeted for defeat by the teacher's union.

There's no question D.C. schools needed radical change. But it would be wrong to generalize about parental choice from that experience. I think most would agree that universally high quality public neighborhood schools is the ideal. Charter schools that appeal to parents primarily because they feel more comfortable about who their children's classmates will be won't produce the goal of equalizing educational opportunity.

The Carlsbad School Board rejected the Oxford Preparatory Academy for good reason. The students enrolled in their two schools in Chino and Capistrano do not reflect the ethnic and socio-economic population of the communities in which they're located. With no evidence OPA is "expanding learning opportunities for pupils who are identified as academically low achieving," as required by the Charter Schools Act, the County Board of Education should endorse Carlsbad's ruling.

Richard Riehl writes from LaCosta. Contact him at [email protected]


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