Let Me Propose A Wager With Superintendent Ramon Cortines

Here's the deal: I bet Cortines my whole salary against his, approximately 3 to 1 odds -- since I am obviously the long shot here (without considering the $150,000 a year he gets from Scholastics) -- that I can balance LAUSD's budget without firing or laying off any employees necessary in the actually rather straight forward process of teaching students. In the group think world of public education where Superintendent Ramon Cortines has spent his 50 year career, he has become so accustomed to accommodating to this failed system that it is unrealistic to think that he could ever implement the difficult changes that must be put into place if we are to finally create a successful 21st century education model.

The reasons for Superintendent Cortines' being incapable are the following:

1. Cortines' first principle in any proposed "innovation" is to protect the existing administrative structure of LAUSD, which is in itself at the root of all the other problems. There is nobody in the Superintendent's office that does not come from having moved up in this failed bureaucracy without questioning the existing authority. From his Chief of Staff Jim Morris, all the way down the line, these administrators have achieved their leadership positions by blind adherence to policies that have lead LAUSD to consistent failure year after year. Why would anybody reasonably think that they would or could presently act in a way diametrically opposed to how they have comported themselves throughout their whole professional careers?

2. The sole justification for the very existence of LAUSD is the economics of scale, which proposes the idea that a large school district like LAUSD would be able to get better prices on the goods and services it buys. This has never been true, because it has been subverted by LAUSD's only dealing with preferred suppliers of goods and services that are often engaged because of their political or business ties to LAUSD and not because they offer the most competitive prices.

3. Given LAUSD's underlying commitment to the status quo in #1 and #2, Superintendent Cortines and those under him in administration can only pick reforms that in no way change the power structure of how LAUSD is set up, even if it means that such "reforms" are doomed to failure before they are even implemented, because the real changes that need to be proposed are never even considered.

Charter schools need an LEA oversight under state law, so LAUSD has the ability to so hobble new charters with LAUSD's unnecessary requirements, that the charter model can never reach its potential where LAUSD is the LEA oversight. There are 5 possible models of school reform that could be implemented, but LAUSD administration only wants models that it can subvert into some approximation of the status quo that keeps them in power. This is why pilot schools remains their first choice, because they have veto power over who will be principal and they can degrade the LAUSD/UTLA Collective Bargaining Agreement in being able to get rid of anybody who questions the principal's authority.

The only reason why charters are even necessary in the first place is that nobody has been able to hold LAUSD or any other public school district in this country accountable for failure of this billion dollar effort year after year. If social promotion and grade inflation was ended immediately, the cost of true remediation of students would be far less than the continued use of these failed policies year after year. It is also true that the failure to educate in a timely manner does irreparable harm, so we need to face the varying degrees of damage that have been done to the students already in the system to salvage whatever we can that is clearly worse depending on how long the student has been in the public education system. Feel good vacuity like No Child Left Behind and Life Long Learns flies in the face of a clear and uncontroverted reality that the majority of LAUSD students have already been left behind and, if nothing is done, will be anything but competitive life-long learns.

Like the poorly educated students that are turned out year after year by LAUSD, the District's administrative bureaucracy keeps coming up with a knee-jerk response to what have become a series of self-perpetuating crises, without seeking the expertise to definitively address the underlying problems and often contradicting its previous actions. Last year, Cortines proposed extending the school day to address the academic deficits of far too many students in LAUSD. No thought was given to why these students were significantly behind grade level. So this year, the budget goes south and proposing a six day cut to the school year becomes an innovative way to address the latest catastrophe in a district that always seems to be in triage mode. Cortines clearly shows by this proposed action that he thinks maintaining  bureaucracy and not educating students is his first job. For as long as I can remember, students and their education have taken a back seat to: administrators, construction, computers, books, police, local district offices and personnel, coaches, and just about any and everything else that really has little impact on the crucial teacher to student ratio necessary to educate students in a timely manner.

I must confess that I thought of another way of making my wager with Superintendent Ramon Cortines; give me 1% of the savings I am able to implement at LAUSD without cutting back on NECESSARY teaching functions. The problem with this formula for me was that with a $640 million short fall, I might wind up with $6.4 million in compensation as a minimum.

I know it is un-American to say this, but as I approach my 63rd birthday and although I am far from being a rich man, I don't really need any more money and would probably put such a windfall into building a great school. You see, I truly believe that the greatest threat to my well being and that of my children is not how much money I have, but the quality of life in Los Angeles and elsewhere in this country, which I believe is most profoundly affected -- for better or worse -- by the quality of public education. The question I don't seem to be able to get answered is why it seems so many don't feel the same?


Flickr: Tiago Daniel

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