Before I make my proposal, I would like to establish some foundational principles, some of which we have already discussed over the last nine months in the context of why the present regime that runs LAUSD and other public education bureaucracies around the country aren't likely to be successful in the future:
1. While circumstances change over time with any problem, doing the same things that you've always done in the past (that have failed) don't increase your chances of success.
2. Leadership in public education reform requires mastery of the totality of what has transpired in public education in the United States.
3. The ability to say "I was wrong" without feeling obliged to be dishonestly optimistic in discussing and implementing public education policy.
4. The politically driven decisions that now are the exclusive litmus test in the administration of public education policy must be replaced by apolitical leadership that is not dependent on economically driven political constituencies and the money they have continued to pour into and distort public education policies. In striking a balance between justices that sit on the United States Supreme Court, who have a lifetime term of office and members of the United States House of Representatives that only serve for two years, I would propose that a Superintendent of LAUSD would be appointed for life with their continued employment in the job being contingent upon receiving a simple majority of the public's vote in biennial elections without initially having to contend with an opponent and the financial dependence such a campaign would entail.
5. There must be a melding of historical knowledge about public education and the present reality which is the context in which this historical knowledge plays itself out. This can only be accomplished if those in charge are not dependent on entrenched bureaucracies with public education as their exclusive sources of knowledge and implementation of policy. The success of the Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy characters in the movie Trading Places, which was modeled after The Prince and the Pauper is that they both brought equally indispensable parts to the problems that they were confronted with.
6. Be enough of a realist to know what has a chance of succeeding while not being so cynical that you refuse to try.
Over the last couple of months in addition to writing posts for perdaily, preparing my defense against never ending bogus charges and proposed punishment from LAUSD, and doing life's more mundane tasks having to do with home and family, I have started to immerse myself in the writings of others who have a profound knowledge of where we have been with public education in this country. At the very least, what this endeavor has shown me is that there are people in our society who have a clear vision as to what is wrong with public education and, more importantly, how to fix it.
Two of those people are Professors Charles Taylor Kerchner, presently of the Claremont Graduate University, and Diane Ravitch, who is now teaching at New York University. It is clear from what they both talk about in their latest books in inspiring careers in public education that they fulfill all of the aforementioned prerequisites for leadership of a long failed public school district like LAUSD as its superintendent. While it is clear at this point in their lives probably the last thing they would want to do is get into the den of inequity that is presently LAUSD, I would at least like to make the case why they should:
1. Both Kerchner and Ravitch have the historic knowledge about public education and previous policies that would allow them to not step into the traps that a more politically driven Superintendent Ramon Cortines has continued to fall into throughout his tenure in public education over the last 50 years. This historic perspective would allow them to narrowly tailor policies best designed to have the most success.
2. Bother Kerchner and Ravitch have been involved in virtually all prior proposals for academic reform on the macro level, but have never been charged with the day to day implementation on the micro level where their prior ideas have been systematically sabotaged. In Professor Kerchner's present book Learning From L.A. Institutional Change in American Public Education, he makes this distinction early on in the book with the distinction between "institutional change" and "project failure." Neither Kerchner nor Ravitch can hope to "set things right within the existing institutional shell" if their clearly thought out policies are left to others with baser motives to implement and maintain "islands of power and privilege."
3&4. In reading both Professor Kerchner and Professor Ravitch's books with their matter of fact historical knowledge and practical experience of what has transpired juxtaposed with the positively naive recycling of old ideas expressed by present Superintendent Ramon Cortines, there is a greater expectation that if either of these people were willing to take on the monumental job of fixing LAUSD, they would stand a good chance of accomplishing it. Add to this the fact that Ravitch has had no problem in acknowledging the mistakes of her earlier analysis as to what would fix public education and one is assured that the necessary pragmatism that is presently lacking in Cortines' traditional glad- handing approach to the problems he faces would finally be changed.
5. The late Republican and former California Governor Earl Warren was a very different man when he was released from the political realities that he had faced up until his appointment to the United States Supreme Court. Some have speculated that his position as Chief Justice with a life time tenure of office allowed him to make amends for his regretted implementation of the Japanese Exclusion Act at the beginning of WWII. Freeing a person from the political necessity of running for office and the money and IOUs one has to give in order to accomplish this is something that needs to be gotten out of public education. On the other hand, while periodic running for office has its negatives, it is also the only way to assure that those in power remember that their power derives from the citizens. If the LAUSD Superintendent had to get at least a plurality of the votes every two years in a plebiscite, accountability and freedom from the presently corrupting political process might be achieved. If a sitting superintendent did not receive a plurality, then an appointment might be made by the governor with the advice and consent of the legislative branch. At the very least, this would have a chance of establish checks and balances in a presently unaccountable public education bureaucracy that doesn't even feel it necessary to respond to overt corruption in its midst.
6. No matter who has run LAUSD, whether it is Ramon Cortines, David Brewer, or Roy Romer, they have all relied on the dysfunctional LAUSD bureaucracy populated by people whose success can be measured by their willingness to go along with failed policies. Offers of assistance from ex-City Controller Laura Chick, the business community, or parents, teachers, and students have never been given input in the management of LAUSD, because they do not have the access given to the entrenched bureaucracy. The real input of these constituencies would be invaluable to supply the expertise that is lacking in an administrative cadre that either never had or has long since lost touch with the issues of students, teachers, and parents.
7. Most cultures of the world venerate age because of the common sense notion that older people have greater experience to draw from in their decision making process. While Ray Cortines might be an exception to this rule, those closer to the end than the beginning might be more predisposed to propose policies to fix public education that express the totality of what they have learned in their lives than try and save face by going with policies they know don't work. At the very least its worth a try and God knows they couldn't do any worse than what we continue to be subjected to by LAUSD.