Saturday, July 08, 2006


By Walter Moore to MS2 | Mayor Sam's Sister City [original post]

Friday, July 7, 2006 Should we transfer control of the LAUSD's $7.5 billion annual budget, and the future of its 727,000 students, to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa?


Here's why:

First, the Mayor has failed to produce a scintilla of evidence that he -- or anyone else, for that matter -- can do a better job than the LAUSD is already doing right now.

The LAUSD's graduation and drop-out rates do not prove mismanagement. Sure, those statistics may be worse than they were 30 years ago, or worse than other schools in other parts of the nation. But the LAUSD, unlike any school system anywhere in the world at any point in history, has been asked to educate massive numbers of children from a foreign country, who do not speak the language, whose culture does not value education, and whose families' economic plight requires them to spend their time after class on work, not homework.

Unless the Mayor can point to another school system with a comparable student body and better statistics, he cannot legitimately criticize the LAUSD based on its graduation and drop-out rates.

Second, the Mayor has expressly excluded from his plan the one element that supposedly improved schools in other cities that adopted mayoral control. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg required all schools to adopt the exact same curriculum. Besides assuring control over the content in the classrooms, this measure was intended to make it easier for children to keep up with their classes if their parents moved from one district to another. By contrast, Villaraigosa's plan specifically eliminates central control over the curriculum, leaving each school free to "do its own thing."

Third, the Mayor has neither identified exactly what changes he -- or his appointee -- would make, nor explained why the LAUSD is unable to adopt the same changes right now. Does he have any particular plan, other than to take control of the $7.5 billion annual budget by appointing a proxy? Or are we simply supposed to trust that his "vision" will somehow translate into concrete change at some point?

Fourth, this particular Mayor has no special expertise in education. It is not as though he has an advanced degree in education, or ever worked as a teacher. On the contrary, he apparently had his hands full just being a student. Under the circumstances, it seems more reasonable to assume that the LAUSD Board Members, each of whom has had a career in education, will tend to make better education decisions than a busy Mayor who is supposed to oversee the police department, the fire department, the airport, the harbor, etc.

Fifth, the plan does not increase accountability, but instead decreases it. Right now, the Superintendent is responsible to the Board, and the Board is responsible to the voters. The voters, in turn, can now vote for a Board Member solely based on his or her educational platform. Under the Mayor's plan, by contrast, the Superintendent will have two masters, namely, the Board and the Mayor; and individual schools will be accountable to no one, apparently, with respect to their curricula.

Sixth, the Mayor's plan would put everyone through massive upheaval, only to have us revert to the status quo in six years. Experimental programs are fine, but not when conducted on the entire 727,000-student system. If the Mayor has a few ideas about running schools differently, let him propose a charter school, and let us see how well it works before we hand the whole system over for six years.

Finally, the Mayor's plan would violate the City Charter insofar as it calls for the Mayor to take immediate and direct control over the "bottom" five percent of the schools. The plan is therefore guaranteed to result in expensive litigation, with taxpayers likely footing the bill for both sides as the City and the LAUSD "duke it out" in court. Nor does it make any sense to split these schools off from the rest: if Villaraigosa's appointee is going to improve the other 95%, then why not let the appointee control these schools, too?

Under the circumstances, the Mayor's plan deserves an "F." Reform for the sake of reform is a mistake. Public policy should rest on informed analysis, not a knee-jerk impulse to "do something." Unless and until the Mayor can show that the LAUSD is mismanaged, and that the Mayor can do a better job, we should focus on real reforms, like smaller class size.

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