The LA Compact Gives A 'Dollop' Of Hope

If the Los Angeles Compact's public education reform proposals that Professor Charles Kerchner talks about in his Huffington Post article or any other proposed public education reform has any chance of bringing a "dollop of hope" to public education, it must concentrate on causal factors of present public education failure and not monitoring the effects one at a time after the fact when the horse is already out of the barn. The "parochialism and pettiness" will not be stopped unless the soil in which it has flourished for generations is treated to make it toxic for such counter productive behavior.

The results that the L.A. Compact proposes have no chance for success, unless the underlying causal factors as to why they exist in the first place are addressed:

Getting all students to graduate from high school...

This is just an edspeak platitude unless subjective student reading and math abilities are first dealt with by teachers who have the specific skill set necessary to address these deficits in a timely manner, while the developing student brain is still amenable to learning these foundational skills. Single subject credentialed middle and high school teachers do not have these teaching skills. "High quality teaching can be endorsed by teachers and the union" and "peer review" might be a good approach to achieving it, but not if the teachers who are being reviewed remain untrained in the relevant skills that they need to succeed with the significantly diminished student population they have. If the political will does not exist to hire teachers that do have these skills, clearly, there is no chance of increasing high school graduation rates.

Access to college...
Even a relatively successful schools like Palisades Charter High School only has a 30% college graduation rate. The systematic closure of the industrial arts program in furtherance of the lie that everyone is going to college- or should go to college- shows a total lack of understanding as to what are the requisite educational preconditions for a  society and culture to be able to pass on what it has learned, while maintaining what it has already built.

Sidenote: I used to have an undocumented German mechanic friend named Uve who worked for Hollywood Honda as their BMW mechanic. His skills allowed this business to bid on and service the motorcycles of the Highway Patrol. Although Uve had never been to college, he spoke fluent English and taught himself Spanish, so that he could train two Latino mechanics -- before he sold his boat and retired to Thailand. Not going to college doesn't make you stupid, if the education you receive is rigorous like what Uve received as a matter of course in Germany. This was the level of vocational education I received in addition to my academic studies when I was offered automotive, wood, electrical, printing, agriculture, and drafting skills at Northridge Junior High in the 1960s when LAUSD seemed to have a more complete and rational view of what it meant to be educated as a potentially productive member of this society.

As a child, when people would exhibit irrational behavior, my father would always say, "Consider the source." While there is no question that "unrealistic timetables" for acquiring minimal English and math skills as President Clinton did will not succeed, neither will establishing "benchmarks and annual progress indicators" in a vacuum were the underlying causes that have lead to past failure remain unaddressed. The signers of Los Angeles Compact can rightfully call for reforms that are "organized to hold signers accountable for results," but what happens if teachers and administrators don't reach the unrealistic goals that they have set? Unlike the 3rd Reich, the failed bureaucrats that run LAUSD are not looking for a system that functions for 1000 years, rather, they are just hoping it lasts long enough for them to make it to retirement. Superintendent Cortines has already succeeded at this goal several times and risks nothing by continuing to do the same old same old he has done for the last 50 years. How can you have the chutzpah to talk about all children going to college, while you are in the process of objectively gutting whatever potential remains in Los Angeles public education?

It is hard to have "relational trust as a connective tissue to hold school improvement together" when there is clearly no evidence to support the "reforms" that LAUSD continues to blindly push. Small Learning Communities (SLCs) were something that both the Gates and Broad Foundations initially pushed in a big way, until several years ago the Gates Foundation found that there was no evidence to show that SLCs had any more success -- if anything, they did not offer the possible diversity of educational experience there was on a tradition school campus. Even though Gates has dropped this, LAUSD continues to push this failed idea.

It is clear from the results of the relatively few administrators/teachers who have had recent success that we need a new vision of how to build a working public education system. People like Wendy Kopp, Mikara Solomon Davis, and Michelle Rhee have had success, because they eschewed the traditional top-down model of urban public education for a system of "collaborative leadership" or what Professor Sam Culbert calls "two-way accountability."

In blindly proposing decentralization of the present big urban school district model as a panacea for what is wrong, one need only look at Palisades Charter High School that became an independent charter based on this rational and then proceeded to squander the windfall in freeing itself from LAUSD by creating a mini-LAUSD -- replete with unnecessary administrators -- while doing nothing to lessen class size, which was the primary reason for going independent charter in the first place. 

There is a certain irony to the fact that the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce is the umbrella organization that has organized The Los Angeles Compact, since LAUSD has always adamantly refused to take the proffered help of either this business savvy community or that of past City Controller Laura Chick, when she offered to audit LAUSDs books. Again, true "transparency" in the budget is among the first factors that must be addressed, if the reforms being proposed have any chance of succeeding.

"Skills of innovation, critical thinking, and financial and economic policy" are higher level functions that cannot ultimately come to fruition unless one initially takes notice that their precursor skills are presently nonexistent in the vast majority of LAUSD student. However, to suggest that "college is required for access to many jobs" is to ignore the reality of my friend Uve, who never got a traffic ticket or was ever questioned as to his illegal status, because he had skills that this country needed. If LAUSD is ultimately successful in dismissing me for ideas like the ones I have just espoused, my Northridge Junior High School shop training will assure that I can still make a living in a way that earlier paid for my university education.


03 2010


There is something that I still have not heard: bringing our children up to the standards that everyone seems to want will not happen overnight, in one year, or even in five years. The fundamental change that we need must start in kindergarten and proceed up the grade levels year by year. With competent teachers each year, these students should have the skill sets they need to progress. (Note the key word: competent.) Retention needs to happen in the primary grades, as the students fail to acquire the skills they need - not in the eighth (or even fifth) grades, when they are so very far behind that there is no conceivable way for them to succeed.

I am in full agreement that there are many "senior" teachers who need to retire (or be retired), but there are many more of us who still have rigorously high expectations for our students. I have taught kinder, first, third, fourth, and now middle school. My behavior and achievement expectations have not changed -- only the curriculum I teach. If we can help our new teachers to have these types of "high" expectations (the kind that were standard when we were growing up . . .), then we may stand a chance at reforming our education system. But it will take about 12 years for the results to show.

As long as people are looking at the short term, they won't see the results they are looking for.

You analyze this well.

Welcome to the club--I was treated badly in LAUSD despite being a highly successful teacher, because I was outspoken and proactive. I believe a professional cares about his/her profession, not just about a paycheck.

I work with teachers right now, very part-time.

Unfortunately, LAUSD spent decades getting rid of the effective teachers.
Schools don't want $70,000 experts like you and I, Leonard, they want the youngest they can get so they can push them around.

Now the charters are being run by 27 year olds with one year of experience in Teach for America. And by stalking horses for the right-wing.

Good luck, education in L.A. Good luck, America.

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