Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Ben Austin's picture

By Ben Austin in Fox & Hounds DAILY -- austin is Executive Director of the Los Angeles Parents Union


Tue, March 2nd, 2010 -- Last week’s LAUSD school board vote was a stark reminder of the lesson we have all learned many times before – parents can’t rely on politicians to advocate for their own children.

In a remarkable show of political cowardice, several LAUSD school board members overrode Superintendent Cortines’ thoughtful recommendations and removed three of the highest quality charter schools in America from having the opportunity to serve children. In an even more stunning display of the backroom deal making, the school board voted to remove high-quality charter operator ICEF from the new Barack Obama Middle School after exactly 0.0 seconds of debate.

What started six months ago as an historic break from a failed past, was exposed Tuesday as the same old business-as-usual politics played by grown-ups, for grown-ups, about grown-ups that got us into this mess in the first place.

While there was deep disappointment amongst the hundreds of parents who showed up to demand change -- including the dozens who literally camped out outside district headquarters the night before -- we believe there is a huge silver lining in last week’s outcome: For the first time in the history of Los Angeles Unified, the teachers union and the District are actually going to be accountable for student performance. While UTLA has traditionally opposed performance-based contracts, they just signed the biggest performance-based contract in the history of LAUSD, if not the nation.

Groups of teachers and LAUSD administrators spent the past six months promising parents that they could produce better student achievement than high quality charter operators. And now they will have the chance to prove it.

While parents are clearly skeptical of many of these plans, and cynical about the backroom deal making that gave them control, we truly wish them the best of luck. Even though parents are encouraged by increased local control, many still believe that a system that sucks 40% of dollars out of the classroom to a centralized bureaucracy and that contains little to no adult accountability is unlikely to succeed. We deeply hope, however, that our skepticism is proven wrong.

It is critical that we all find ways to work together to develop in-district, unionized reform models that can out-perform high quality charter schools. The parents of Los Angeles desperately need more kids-first options, and if UTLA-run pilot schools or other in-district models prove to be successful, parents will be the first to march with UTLA and work for their expansion.

Just before last week’s vote, Parent Revolution leaders sat down with a lead teacher to chat about one of their plans. They came away incredibly impressed with the energy, passion, and thoughtfulness that had been poured into the UTLA plan, but also expressed some skepticism that the teachers would be able to pull it off. So they asked: “You have gone and made all these promises to parents, and said that this plan will finally give you the ability to deliver – what if it doesn’t work? What if student achievement doesn’t drastically improve?”

The teacher smiled and simply said: “Well, you just passed that Parent Trigger law, didn’t you?” That pretty much sums up the state of education politics in Los Angeles and throughout California. We wish the teachers luck. We not only want them to succeed, we need them to succeed. But parents are no longer on the sidelines. We don’t buy into the stale and false choices between charters vs. district schools or unions vs. reformers. It is about recognizing that many of our schools are failing because they are not designed to succeed.

They do not serve children because they are designed to serve grown-ups. So whether it’s through charter schools, district schools or teacher-led academies, parents will ensure that our schools are designed to serve children, not grown-ups. We also don’t buy into the notion that parent involvement is about bake sales and volunteer days. It’s about a revolution. Whether it’s through the LAUSD Choices Resolution or through California’s historic new parent trigger law which empowers parents to transform their failing schools simply through community organizing -- parents across California are going to take back and transform our schools for one simple reason: because we have no choice.

●●smf's 2¢: While I welcome Mr. Austin’s new-found-if-skeptical acceptance of the teacher/community/school plans, I worry that he is one of the politicians he’s warned us against.  see this.

There seems to be a direction in education reform – and that is to pick up one public sector salary (such as Mr. Austin’s as an Assistant City Attorney, $119,031.66) and another in the private/public shadowland – such as Mr. Austin’s salary/consulting fee/whatever as executive director of The Parent Union aka The Parent Revolution aka Green Dot Public Schools. . This is not as much revolutionary as it it pure capitalism … nor is it unique …or even new.

  • Tamar Galatzan picks up a city check [DEPUTY CITY ATTY III, $100,980.38] and another as an LAUSD boardmember.
  • David Tokofsky picked up checks as a LAUSD boardmember and others as a consultant for Green Dot.
  • Ramón Cortines, until last week, picked up his checks as the LAUSD Superintendent and others as a member of textbook publisher Scholastic Corporations’ Board of Directors.

The scary thing about these relationships is they have received the blessings of  ethics commissions and/or  watchdogs – and it in that one must raise questions of the ethics or the efficacy of the ethics folks.

The City of LA is in very tight financial straits – and the City Attorney’s office seems to be subsidizing/enabling Mr. Austin’s and Ms. Galatzan’s outside efforts.  Mr. Trutanich:  If your deputies and  assistants have all this extra time maybe they should be tracking down some mega-billboard scofflaws? …or potential ethical transgressors?

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