Takeover of Inner City Educational Foundation (ICEF): What that really means for independent quality education

Ph.D. | 10/6/2010, 5 p.m.

The big community splash that is being made over the news about the takeover of Inner City Educational Foundation, better known as ICEF, the parent company of the popular View Park Prep Charter Academy, is sending shivers through the nation's independent charter school movement. A community-based charter school system that grew the old fashioned way, through community and parent empowerment, ICEF currently operates 15 schools, mostly in South Los Angeles. Despite a lack of cooperation, and, in many cases, opposition from the city's dominant (and the nation's largest failing) public school system, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), ICEF grew as parents bolted to View Park Prep and ICEF's other schools, to save their children from the failing schools in LAUSD.

ICEF was not one of those "big box" charter school "warehousers" that came in and took over schools or constructed elaborate (and largely unproven) learning models to pull down millions of state and district dollars.

ICEF grew because of community demand, and therein may have been part of the problem. ICEF may have grown too big, too fast as South Los Angeles parents rushed to be a part of something successful, once they recognized that there was a viable alternative to the dysfunction of an outdated and overcrowded public school system.

Oh, and one more thing ... ICEF is mostly low income and overwhelmingly African American. It's as close to a Black independent school district as we're going to get in Southern California (and maybe Northern California).

ICEF's "takeover, "because of it's demography, will have a host of unfortunate stigmas tied to it, most of which doesn't apply to ICEF, if we let the negative buzz gain salience. But the news around its "rescue" is troubling, only because, in this instance, hindsight is better than foresight.

Yes, Los Angeles' "civic fathers," former Mayor Richard Riordan, Eli Broad, and Frank Baxter (all developers posed as philanthropists) came to the rescue with $700,000 in short-term capital. In reality, those three have the wealth and resources to pay off ICEF's short-term debt (estimated at $3 million).

If it was solely about "the good deed.

Dick Riordan is into growth stocks. Anybody who knows how ICEF is positioned, knows its potential "upside" is much brighter than the financial reality of its downside. ICEF had a plan to build (buy or acquire) 11 schools over the next three years, some of which were failing LAUSD campuses. Don't think Riordan missed that for one second.

All ICEF needed to make their plan happen, as "ambitious" people want to say, was capital, something Riordan and Broad have plenty of. But, they shouldn't have had to give up control of their charter school system to get it. What Riordan and Broad don't have are community folk who want to run successful community-based charter schools.

They do now. They've played this game a long time as the "Godfathers" of the West Coast charter school movement. Sort of like "Looking for Superman" in reverse, we've never had to look for Riordan on a charter school opportunity. He just shows up conveniently ... like Superman, but he doesn't do the "good deed" (in this instance, drop money) and leave. He becomes part of the deal.