A Fox Watches Over the Data Hen House

Carl J. Petersen
Oct 4 · 3 min read
Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

- 1984

As students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) enjoyed their summer vacation, Michael Kohlhaas dot org was giving the public a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes in the charter school industry. Among the many damaging revelations in these confidential documents was the fact that LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin had collaborated with the California Charter School Association (CCSA) in the creation of the School Performance Framework. Under this plan, data would be manipulated to give these publicly funded private schools additional access to public facilities. However, the CCSA would oppose any efforts to use this same ranking system in the renewal process for charter schools.

Instead of listening to the calls to investigate Melvoin for his actions, the board appointed him to lead the “Continuous Improvement Data Committee.” The inaugural meeting of the foxes guarding data’s hen house was held on September 24. I joined other LAUSD stakeholders in addressing the conflict during public comment:

Imagine if all of the board members had a Yelp score and we took those and lined them up. Then we assigned staff members or maybe office space based on how those rankings went. Perhaps someone like Nick Melvoin who has a .5 ranking on Yelp would have his vote count less when it comes to deciding matters before the board.

It seems preposterous but that is what you want to do with the School Performance Framework.

Mr. Melvoin you started off this meeting by saying that we should presume positive intentions and that would be a great thing to do except, when it comes to the School Performance Framework, you presented it as a way to provide data to parents. But confidential documents from the California Charter School Association show that you were working with them and what they wanted from that framework was a way to take facilities from district schools. “Low performing” schools would lose their space to charters.

That is the opposite of open data because this School Performance Framework took data and manipulated it so that it wasn’t presenting raw data to parents; it was presenting what the people who devised this program wanted parents to see. A score of one to five weighted with factors that were not designed by parents but by the charter school industry.

One of the limits of data is that it is subject to manipulation. Another limit is that everything can’t be measured. For example, how do we measure the success of special education? Are we going to punish schools that devote their resources towards special education because they are not going to get improved test scores all the time? Nevertheless, they could be doing a great job at providing services that those students need.

We have to remember that Data is not the be-all and end-all to everything; there are parts of teaching and education that can’t be reduced to a number.

I’d like to close by offering some suggestions to you, Mr. Melvoin. If you want to improve that Yelp score, one thing to do might be to stop giving away confidential information to the CCSA. Another might be to start representing the 80% of the students that go to LAUSD schools instead of the 20% who go to charter schools. And finally, why don’t you start holding meetings when more parents, teachers, and students can attend.


Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.

Carl J. Petersen

Written by

Parent, special education advocate and former LAUSD School Board candidate. Still fighting for the children. www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com

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