Editorial in the Daily Breeze http://www.dailybreeze.com/ci_18827178
9/04/2011 - The leaders of Los Angeles' schools are gambling with the district's future. Hopefully, they are playing the odds, because there's a lot at stake for the future of education reform in Los Angeles.
The district's chips are its new schools. The payoff is a significant rewriting of the district's contract with teachers that includes a number of reforms in the methods used for evaluating, paying and firing teachers. The game ends two months from now.
Last week, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education agreed to a plan that will give district educators first crack at bidding to operate new schools.
Currently, both new and underperforming schools are part of the district's groundbreaking School Choice. Under this program, a number of schools each year are opened up for bidders to compete to operate those schools. In the first years of bidding, schools have gone to charter operators, to the mayor's partnership schools and to district teachers.
In exchange for priority to bid for new schools, the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has to agree to contract reforms yet to be determined. If no agreement is reached by Nov. 1, the deal is off and the third round of School Choice will proceed with 15 new schools up for bid.
Taking new schools out of the mix is a blow to charter schools, which are justifiably proud of the recent test scores. The Standardized Testing and Reporting Program data released last month
was consistently dismal on academic gains at School Choice schools - except for the new schools operated by charters. Three of those four schools outperformed district-run neighborhood schools.
Charter school advocates lamented the board's decision as a step away from reform. From their perspective, they may be right. But the ramifications are significant for education districtwide, particularly for all of the students stuck in mediocre schools that aren't bad enough to qualify for School Choice.
If, that is, the school district holds out for contract reforms that include every teacher. Superintendent John Deasy said he's seeking a number of reforms, such as better teacher evaluation, which would include student achievement, flexibility in teacher pay to reward good teachers, and changes in the tenure process.
While charter schools have probably done more to advance reform in the district, they were never the only solution to the district's problems. If some charters decide not to participate in the School Choice program after this, it would be unfortunate but not insurmountable. The reform movement the charters started has its own momentum now.
Deasy paints this wager as a win-win for education and district reform, but seems willing to consider those reforms just for the teachers at new schools. That's a losing bet for sure. He must hold out for something that pays off for every student in the district.