Why It Doesn't Matter Who's Running Your Charter/Public School...

In fixing public education in LAUSD and elsewhere I must confess that I am more concerned with what people actually do than who is doing it. In the first round of deciding who was going to get a chance to run certain failed LAUSD schools that were up for grabs there was a tremendous amount of media coverage about the battle between charter operators and groups headed by teachers and administrators, but little or no discussion of what they would actually do to accomplish this herculean task of trying to turn around long failed LAUSD schools. 

While occasionally we hear groups like Ben Austin's Parents' Revolution talk about finally empowering parents or LAUSD talk about small learning communities as if just saying these things was all that is necessary to accomplish the difficult task of charting a new course for LAUSD schools that in the final analysis actually gets us somewhere other than more failure. Without the specificity and the well thought out and methodical approach to undoing the damage to our student population, you can rest assured that like the much touted LEARN reforms of the 1990s nothing will change.

"Los Angeles Unified officials released a list Monday of 17 new and chronically underperforming campuses that will be up for grabs under a district reform plan that allows teachers, charter operators and nonprofits to apply to operate campuses." Let me suggest what should happen in this second round of alternate operators running LAUSD schools and what will most likely happen. One of the 17 schools up for grabs is Audubon Middle School where I started my own teaching career 24 years ago. In checking on its status over the years I have found that little has changed their because most of the students age-determined grade level has nothing to do with their actual ability. Irrespective of whether a teacher, administrator group or charter group gets this school, the only way that things will get better is if the approach of the operators addresses the students actual levels and educates them accordingly.Another and more simpler way of stating this problem is that everybody else's interests come first before those of the students:

1. The whole teaching structure of LAUSD schools is based on the fallacy that all students are at grade level or close enough to it that remediation can be handled as an adjunct to a regular secondary school curriculum- nothing could be further from the truth. Giving teacher-administrators control of LAUSD schools without first confronting this fallacy with a real pedagogic proposal makes any school reform program dead on arrival.

2. Charters are really no better, because they are stuck with a sales pitch that they are the new kid on the block and for that and no other reason they can do it better. When I interviewed Steve Barr of Green Dot shortly after Green Dot took over Locke High School, I asked him what was he going to do different? His response basically said that Green Dot was able to turn around years of neglect in teaching fundamental skills and substantive curriculum that was never mastered in one year. The 539 score of Locke and similarly underachieving Green Dot schools shows that there is no magic snake oil remedy for that which ails inner city Los Angeles schools that continue to be criminally neglected.

"We are working to create the conditions for success for all of our schools," said LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines, he just refuses to tell us in concrete terms how this will be accomplished. Telling us that "I remain committed to our three guiding principles: educational quality, community involvement and urgency. Our students deserve the best we can offer" is not a substitute for:

-- A specifically defined program of educational quality that self-corrects in real time as to whether it is being successful in raising the students academic levels, because the students are finally being asked to do work that they have the possibility of being engaged by. 

-- Community involvement is all well and good, but many of the parents were my students not that long ago and did not get the education they needed to either be good parents or effective advocates for their children. The "community" is not a monolith and within it are incredibly divergent points of view that span the spectrum from "I drop the kid off at school and from 8am to 3pm he's your problem" to "My children are being held hostage in a mediocre school without academic rigor or the minimal discipline necessary for teachers to teach and students to learn."  

-- Urgency is not a substitute for TLC which takes time. All educational reform posited up until now always talks about urgency when the reality is that it is going to take a great deal of time and effort on the parts of students, teachers, parents, and administrators to finally show some real gains. In finally implementing a clear and systematic approach to public education there will finally be accomplishments that all the urgency that present and past slogan spouting reform programs have never attained.

The clear fault with this second round of trying to fix "chronically underperforming schools" is that "Applications are then reviewed by district officials and voted on by parents, educators and community members. Cortines then makes a recommendation to the school board, which makes the final decision." Where in this process is the anybody with the power to decide that doesn't have a vested interest in the failed status quo at LAUSD? 

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