Sunday, August 09, 2009



08/09/2009 -- Here are two things that virtually everyone involved in education in Los Angeles agrees upon: First, that the current educational system is failing. Second, that reform is crucial.

Unfortunately, that's where the agreement ends. When it comes to how to reverse Los Angeles Unified School District's years-long decline in school enrollment, graduation rates and reputation, there's little consensus. Any truly reformist plan comes with too many uncertainties that threaten the interests of those who wield power at the district - the teachers unions, classified workers, administrators and elected board members who are all engaged in protection politics. The result has been years of lip service to "reform" but only watered-down, feeble attempts to fix the broken system.

Parents get it. They understand that there's been no commitment to change and responded to the lack of improvement with their feet. Those with means abandoned the district years ago, sending their kids to one of the many high-achieving private schools in the area.

Those with less means, but plenty of determination, seized on the opportunities afforded by the charter school movement and used their tools to create schools that reflect their families' educational goals. And parents everywhere who could vote chose Antonio Villaraigosa for mayor in 2005 in large part because he promised to fix education.

Into this grim picture of a district relentlessly sinking into oblivion has come two lifesavers - one from within the top echelons of the district, the other from without. What they do is simple, and elegant - they offer choices.

The first comes in the form of a surprisingly innovative resolution from LAUSD board members Yolie Flores Aguilar and Monica Garcia that opens the operations of 50 new LAUSD schools up to competitive bidding and lets the community decide the winner.

That means the organization with the best, most cost-efficient plan will win the opportunity to design and run the new school - and it might not be LAUSD.

Not surprisingly, this idea terrifies the entrenched special interests in the district who envision a diminished power base. And well they should. By definition, choice gives people options that may not include caving to union demands.

The second is a not-unrelated campaign by school reformers that include Ben Austin of the Parents Union, the Eli Broad Foundation and Green Dot Public Schools that is using technology, networking and old-fashioned petition-signing teams to whip parents up into a "revolution." These parent power blocs aim to force the LAUSD to reform education under the very real threat of replacing district-run schools with charter schools.

Not surprisingly, the forces of the status quo are already working to defeat these initiatives. The first vote on the school choice resolution in July was put off until later this month for more study. No doubt the teachers and classified workers are desperately trying to scuttle the resolution or bully elected officials into voting no when it does come back.

There have been some valid concerns raised about the school choice resolution, ones that ought to be addressed in the revised resolution. One issue that boardmember Tamar Galatzan and others have pointed out is that existing schools are left out when they ought to be a priority for reform efforts.

We agree. That's a deficiency in the current resolution and we hope that the revised version includes competitive bidding for existing, failing schools. At this point, a bold risk is exactly what those schools need.

With that change included, we're calling on the LAUSD board to be pro-choice and support the school choices resolution and the Parent Revolution.

Board members may not like some aspects of the choice resolution. That's not surprising. No piece of legislation is perfect, and politics is the art of compromise. And we understand that supporting reform might also put them at some political risk.

They might get pushback from their political supporters. They might have some difficultly explaining their vote to the teachers union, which seems intent on destroying the district by opposing all efforts at reform. They might be threatened and cajoled by those afraid of what they may lose in an LAUSD where communities decide how the schools work.

In the end, if board members decide to put students first, then there's only one right decision - to support the school choice reform measure.

The LAUSD is going to be forced to change one way or another. Either the district can embrace this reform measure and work with communities to develop successful schools, or the Parent Revolution and other organizations will open more and more charter schools that will slowly dismantle LAUSD by siphoning its students and education funding.

We strongly encourage all wavering school board members to embrace this reform. It's not perfect, but it will happen. They can either help guide reform, or be run over by the reform movement. They, too, have a choice.

●● smf's 2¢: Today is the 35th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation – but, with apologies to President Ford, our long national nightmare of spin and deceit is not over. George Orwell described his future and our past in 1984 – where language and proles are tortured and truth and lies become the same.

The “surprisingly innovative resolution from LAUSD board members Yolie Flores Aguilar and Monica Garcia” was authored on the same word processor as the “not-unrelated campaign by school reformers that include Ben Austin of the Parents Union, the Eli Broad Foundation and Green Dot Public Schools”

“Not-unrelated?”   How tortured, how oxymoronic, how linguistically dishonest can a double negative get?

Let’s get real. Under Ms. Flores Aguilar’s resolution only large charter school operators like Green Dot, ICEF, KIPP and the Alliance for College Ready Schools – plus the mayor’s partnership – all supported by the deep pockets of Broad and Gates - will be prepared  and equipped to respond to the Request for Proposals to operate LAUSD’s new schools.  Follow the money. This is a very opaque strategy to contract-out the operation of new schools to either the highest or lowest bidder – masquerading as transparency.

It wasn’t me, it wasn’t a clever lawyer or a glib pundit who questioned the mayor’s previous school-takeover strategy by asking if the underlying premise didn’t mean that Jiffy Lube could operate public schools. It was Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs – who ultimately ruled that the mayor – and by extension the oil-change company – can’t.

The Daily Breeze editorialist threatens readers with the bogeyman of the status quo; this is the favorite stratagem of those who would privatize public education. Should the Flores Aguilar resolution pass it will be challenged in court. The first thing that will happen is an injunction will enjoin this so called reform – and by extension all ongoing reform. Whether you like them or not, test scores are up. Dropout rates and grad rates are up. An injunction – and the sorry state of education finance in California - will set the status quo in stone. The legal costs of the court action will bankrupt the district quicker. And the new  schools we have built could sit empty.

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