The 8 Simple Rules For Fixing LAUSD Overnight

With all the brouhaha about fixing public education, people are left with the false impression that this is some herculean and incredibly complicated task that borders on the impossible. In actuality, nothing could further from the truth. What is hard is maintaining archaic disproved models of public education that only serve to maintain the relatively small number of people who benefit under the present regime. Instead of reconstituting teachers in failed schools, try reconstituting administration. Instead of accommodating teacher and student dysfunction, look at why they fail and stop lying to yourselves -- enforce objective standards for all, instead of continuing to socially promote students to inevitable failure, because their needs have never been addressed in a timely manner. Stop adapting to failure and assaulting those who have more than good justification to complain. Create independent oversight instead of blind loyalty to failure, which regrettably remains how you move up at LAUSD.

1. Presently, administration just follows the rules. Since administrators have no tenure, if they fail to blindly enforce the rules, they will be busted back to the classroom that most of them escaped from in terror. If teachers are failing, for the most part it is because the education environment that continues to be maintained is untenable for both teachers and students. 50% of LAUSD teachers either quit teaching altogether or get out of the classroom within 5 years. People who go into teaching do so out of idealism, since there are many other professions that pay far better. If they are leaving, it is because classroom reality is impossible. Short-sighted LAUSD administration sees this constant turnover as a benefit, where they can continually hire lower priced novice teachers. Since most LAUSD administrators have no business experience to run an enterprise that has a budget significantly larger than that of the City of Los Angeles, they fail to factor in the costs of no continuity of instruction or the cost of constantly replacing its work force.

2. While there are truly awful teachers within LAUSD, the vast majority of them did not start out that way. When I started at "Cineplex" Aububon Middle School in the Crenshaw community 27 years ago as a substitute, teachers showed Robocop, because it was impossible to teach given administratively tolerated bad behavior and the subjective academic levels of the students who had been socially promoted without mastery of prior grade-level standards. Isn't it a normal reaction for students without foundational skills to be disruptive, rather than allow themselves to be humiliated in front of their peers? How does a teacher teach a substantive secondary course when their students have no basic language skills? 

3. In most European and Asian countries students who do not master yearly grade-level standards are forced to repeat the year in a timely manner before being promoted. When we moved to France, my child was not put into regular classes until language mastery was achieved. This effectively eliminates the majority of behavior issues under those systems. In Japan, classes are as large as 60, because although you have a right to a public education, you do not have a right to destroy it with the tacit approval of many parents who were themselves my students under the present failed LAUSD model when I started teaching. Yes, LAUSD failure is now multi-generational. Remember Groucho Marx's comment about not wanting to be a member of a club that would have him as a member? Well sadly, this applies to a great many teachers.

4. 50% of all courses given to receive a teaching credential have nothing to do with subject matter or teaching methods, but rather deal with how you maintain order. This is an example of public education bureaucracies adapting to dysfunction, rather than dealing with it. When teachers are actually able to teach, there are never discipline problems of this magnitude. I taught at Palisades Charter High School for 7 years and rarely had to refer a student out of class.

5. Evaluation, with a form that Jason Song (who recently wrote an article on tenure) points out as "pretty subjective," is rarely used to determine if a provisional teacher is good enough to be tenured, rather it is used against any teacher who is "trouble," which means that they have the temerity to stand up to all the outright fraud and deception that they see on a daily basis. When I was at Mark Twain Middle School, my principal refused to sign my request for a transfer until I signed passing grades for students who had done no work all semester -- something that I refused to do.

6. Grievances of teachers handled by LAUSD and UTLA never seem to go anywhere, although they can drag out for years...or until the teacher is forced out. According to the LAUSD/UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement Article V, section 4.0 dealing with Grievance Procedure, "Neither UTLA, the District nor the grievant shall make public the grievance or evidence regarding the grievance." Roughly translated, this means that LAUSD could fire you until June 2009 if you discussed your grievance. As of June 2009, when UTLA renegotiated this term, they can only drop your grievance. While this term surely violates issues of 4th Amendment due process and 1st Amendment Freedom of Speech, what it has also succeeded in doing, under the guise of "harmonious disposition of grievances," is to function as an extra-legal gag order to censor any criticism of LAUSD continuing fraud and malfeasance.

7. Evaluating teachers is not the most important thing that administrators do and if it is, it shouldn't be. What needs to be put into place is a system of "two-way accountability" (Professor Samuel Culbert, UCLA Anderson School of Business) where teachers, who have a full-time job, meet with administrators and frankly discuss how they can work together to assure an academic culture, where both principal and teacher divide up what needs to get done. The lousy teacher, who presently feels no pressure, will self-select themselves out of this environment faster than you can say Bob's your uncle. And an imperial principal who lays all the work on the teacher- which is now the norm- will no longer be tolerated.

8. Leadership always reflects rank-and-file culture. If you are going to reconstitute public education, such reconstitution must include everyone --  especially administrators. Mikara Solomon Davis, a Teach For America teacher with no teaching or administrative credential or experience was able to get 868 API scores (equal to Beverly Hills), after 3 years, out of a 50% Black and 50% Latino Bunche Elementary School, which had recently been taken over by the state for poor performance, because of her pragmatism and refusal to accommodate to mediocrity. Since she has left, things have started to slide backwards to the old way of doing business. Although I have a masters degree in education, a doctorate in law, years of business experience in the motion picture industry and real estate, and a California Administrative Credential, I am not qualified to be an LAUSD administrator, because I do not have a year out-of-classroom experience. Something that the entrenched LAUSD bureaucracy has made a new qualification to insure that nobody will come into administration that has not clearly shown that they will go along with the dysfunctional status quo.


12 2009

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H.L. Mencken: "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong."

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