What Does Every Plan For Reforming Education Have In Common? Big Goals, No Specifics.

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One of the greatest hurdles to overcome in creating a vibrant education system out of LAUSD is the realization that the difficult work necessary to undo generations of poor public education can't take place until greater specificity is given to the catchy phrases that continue to be proposed as reform. Sadly, much of LAUSD administration is also the product of the same educational system that many years ago failed to give them the analytical skills necessary to sufficiently define and implement a reform model to address complex problems, many of which require something more than just money and  "yes or no" answers.

In any business, one of the cardinal rules that can never be broken, if you expect what you are proposing to be adopted and ultimately effective, is never posit a program without first addressing how it will be implemented. This program must be outlined in clear terms and give consideration to worst case scenarios. LAUSD and the politicians who continue to support it still see themselves as immune to this very basic principle of good business practice.

Two days ago, leaders got together at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and signed the supposedly specific L.A Compact document that purposed to be a detailed blueprint for finally fixing public education. Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who was there said, "This is an historic day for the young people of Los Angeles. The L.A. Compact has been working hard towards outlining a cohesive strategy that will help achieve the goals of graduating all students from high school giving them access and preparing them for success in college and giving them access to sustainable jobs and careers." Nothing could be further from the truth, because the superficial approach only poses more questions like -- just for starters -- exactly how would this be accomplished?

In attendance were:

Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District
Board President, Los Angeles Unified School District
Mayor, City of Los Angeles
President, Los Angeles City Council
President & CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
President, Associated Administrators of Los Angeles
President & CEO, United Way of Greater Los Angeles
Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor/AFL-CIO
Institutions of Higher Education (greater Los Angeles basin, 11 total

The L.A. Compact partners are working together to accomplish the following agreed upon goals:

  • All students graduate from high school
  • All students have access to and are prepared for success college
  • All students have access to pathways to sustainable jobs and careers

To achieve these goals, the L.A. Compact partners will be undertaking joint strategies and initiatives to:

1. Achieve high quality teaching and learning in classrooms
2. Build collaborative leadership capacity
3. Streamline and decentralize operations
4. Expand innovative practices that are working
5. Implement a new accountability system
6. Coordinate advocacy on priority educational policy and funding issues
7. Provide students multiple pathways for workforce and career preparation
8. Ensure support services for all students and families

Back to reality:

1. You do not offer "high quality teaching and learning in classrooms" by degrading teacher compensation and work conditions, so that the only people who you attract to the teaching profession are not your best and brightest. A dynamic teacher credentialing program whose curriculum early on integrates teachers-in-training into the classroom realities that they will soon be required to deal with on a daily basis. This will do more for creating "quality teaching" than the present curriculum that spends 50% of its required coursework teaching future teachers how to adapt to and deal with student discipline problems as if that was a given for being a teacher. There was no Los Angeles School Police when I went to LAUSD.

2.
Given LAUSD's longstanding top-down model of school administration, it is impossible to create a "collaborative leadership capacity," when those below realize that advancement in this system is contingent on blind obedience to those above you and that principals are gods, no matter how ill-conceived their actions might be. Sam Culbert of the UCLA Anderson School of Business school talks about the effectiveness of two-way accountability, where there is true give and take between leadership and subordinates. If LAUSD administrators said something as simple as, "I know you have a full-time job as a teacher, what is it you need me to do for you?" this would create the collaborative leadership environment that Los Angeles leaders say they want in education. Employees who think they are part of the process of running a school are much more willing to support administration, as oppose to the present process where teachers feel loathe to ask an administrator for anything, because administrators always turn it around to make more work for the teacher. One gets the feeling that LAUSD administrative training actually teaches future administrators to always deflect teacher's requests by having the teacher meet endless preconditions before any type of action can take place.

3.
While LAUSD has become an example of "decentralized operations" with the formation of 8 local districts, they have also become an example of the Peter Principle, where this decentralization has done anything but streamline the District's operations. Under LAUSD, money seems to go everywhere except to the fundamental necessity of education, which is to have a reasonable teacher to student ratio, a luxury that presently exists only in private schools.

4.
There is something that is common to all supposedly "innovative practices": they identify and support their future student population as early as possible and they all deal with students where they currently function academically and not where LAUSD administration and politicians would like them to function.

5.
In Europe and Asia, students do not move to the next grade unless they pass their annual examinations that test minimum grade-level competence. If they fail, they are given one chance at the end of summer to pass the exam again or they are required to redo the whole academic year. Furthermore, seniority systems that give the most problematic students to the most novice teachers must be changed immediately if any "new accountability system" is expected to work. Holding the present teacher responsible for the multi-year permissive failure of students that are inappropriately dumped in their classes undermines any accountability system.

6.
The cost of $125,000 worth of geometry books in a school where nobody is at basic level in math is money not well spent. Let's take active cognizance of the fact that only 32% of African-American and Latino LAUSD students are scored as proficient in English. These students need the appropriate teaching from people who are not single-subject secondary teachers with no training or capacity to address their real needs. 

7.
Somebody needs to take notice of the fact that the total capacity of all colleges and universities in this country is only 40% of high school graduates. A revitalized partnership between business and schools must be instituted to do what has been done in France and other European countries, where the private sector picks up the cost of paying for the shop facilities and equipment, while they get a trained workforce right out of high school.

8.
The cost of incarcerating a young adult in the criminal justice system in California considering court costs, probation, education, medical, and housing is anywhere from $49,000 to $150,000 a year. The 334,000 California prison population with an $8 billion federal judgment against it is also the largest factor in California's budget deficit. The incremental redirection of this money into "support services for all students and their families" would have to get us more bang for the buck.

It occurs to me that often the problem my students encounter in writing is finding a way to  support their ideas with specifics. Ironically, LAUSD and Los Angeles leadership seems to suffer from the same malaise.

admin@perdaily.com and lenny@perdaily.com

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