Friday, October 17, 2008


The Homeroom

●●smf 2¢: I have a catalog from a SIAS International University in China that poses an excellent question:

What should a

21st century

education do

if not prepare us

for the 22nd?

Charles Kerchner, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and a specialist in educational organizations, educational policy and teacher unions, writes the LA Times Homeroom Blog:

Oct 17, 2008 - While the financial markets have reached the point of panic, a longer-running crisis has enveloped Los Angeles’ school system. For at least a decade, people have called the Los Angeles Unified School District a system in crisis. Even when it does things well, it gets little credit.

In a crisis, a special type of politics is supposed to take hold. People of all political stripes are supposed to come together to fashion a solution, the very kind of politics we are witnessing in response to the financial markets' dysfunction. But unlike that situation, there is no sure resolution of the school’s systemic failure, and no sense of urgency. So LAUSD bumps along in a state of permanent crisis.

Getting past permanent crisis and creating a 21st century institution of public education requires only that those interested in the district’s future learn from its history. After half a decade of studying efforts to transform the district, my colleagues and I have five policy ideas that we think would move the district beyond permanent crisis.

Central to all the policy ideas is for the district to legally recognize what it has in fact become. LAUSD is rapidly becoming more of a modern network organization and less of an old-fashioned hierarchy. It needs to be helped along this path. All the past reforms have sought ways to decentralize the District and the big reform programs of the 1990s gave decentralization a big audition.

Although other cities, such as Philadelphia or New York, have gained notice as having adopted a “diverse provider” model of education, LAUSD is well on its way to becoming one. Currently, about 10% of the city's public school students attend charters, magnets, Mayor’s Partnership schools, Innovation Division schools, or Locke High School, run by Green Dot.

The district needs legislation that would allow other groups of schools to follow a similar developmental pattern. By creating legally autonomous networks, groups of schools would be freed from direct operating supervision and restrictive state regulations, just as charters are, but they would remain within the LAUSD family of schools, subject to the same outcome expectations as district-operated schools.

Creating networks of autonomous schools would allow people in the district a safe and protected environment to innovate, one not tied to the tenure of an existing superintendent or subordinate. It would turn those who want to develop schools that operate differently from mavericks, who are organizationally punished for their differences, into leaders of new ventures. It would also allow clusters of schools to seek autonomous status over several years rather than being forced into a new mode of operations for which they are not prepared. The school district could follow a normal developmental pathway to change rather than being jolted from one plan to the next.

We need the advantages of autonomy, direct dollars for schools, positive incentives for both teachers and students, a student-learning infrastructure, and a variety and choice of instruction.

These steps to resolve the educational crisis in Los Angeles are all possible. Beginning implementation does not need to wait until California recovers from its fiscal recession. It only requires that we structure politics to create the will to do the job. The country is responding at huge cost to protect its fiscal assets; shouldn’t we do the same for its children?

No comments: