Saturday, January 16, 2010


—Howard Blume | LA Times L.A. NOW Blog

January 14, 2010 |  6:51 pm

A four-year-old high school that became a 2009 California Distinguished School was formally named today for a respected expert on education and business management and his civic activist spouse.

The new William and Carol Ouchi High School is in its first school year in its new, $17-million Hyde Park-area campus, which was built in 56 days, officials said. The simple, two-story structure has two computer labs and updated technology hookups, but no cafeteria, no gym and limited recreation space on its 2.5-acre site, which includes an adjacent middle school.

The school’s test scores dipped slightly this year but its Academic Performance Index score of 799 ranks it among the best-scoring high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The school is operated by the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, a locally based charter school management organization that also operates other high-scoring schools.

About 100 of the school’s original 189 ninth-graders will be in the school’s first graduating class this year, said Principal Ena LaVan. All graduates must fulfill entrance requirements to apply for the University of California/Cal State system. And the first class had to endure a temporary location and a stint in trailers while awaiting the completion of the campus.

Charters are independently run and free of some restrictions that govern traditional schools, including strict state school-construction rules that drive up construction costs and slow down the building process for schools built by L.A. Unified. Charters instead can erect their schools under city building codes.

As a fundraising tool, the Alliance sells naming rights for its schools, and in this instance, Ouchi was nominated by former Mayor Richard Riordan, an education philanthropist and political power broker who has long relied on Ouchi, a UCLA professor, for expert guidance. Riordan has donated or committed a total of $2.8 million to Alliance schools.

Ouchi has long promoted a form of school decentralization. He says principals — not a school district central office — should make decisions on how to spend a school’s money and then be held accountable for the results. In his most recent book, “The Secret of TSL,” he chronicled how principals, especially in New York City, have used autonomy to reduce the total number of students that each teacher must manage in a year. He says this allows teachers to get to know and to better assist each student. Principals have accordingly reduced support and administrative staff to pursue this strategy — because it yields results, Ouchi wrote.

At his namesake school, Ouchi helped establish a Saturday business academy offering tutoring and enrichment classes to introduce students to potential careers.

Carol Ouchi has served on the boards of philanthropic organizations including the Santa Monica YWCA, Santa Monica College Foundation and Children’s Home Society.

●●smf’s 2¢: The story above is reprinted entire as it appeared in the Times blog – in the print edition the Times editors removed all reference to the school being a charter school. As it is the poster child for successful charters one would almost think anti-charter forces were at work in the newsroom. Almost.

Ouchi is an educator – but his expertise is in business, not in education. And in politics – he was Mayor Riordan’s chief of staff. Ouchi’s book: Making Schools Work -   championed the concept of local control – empowering principals to run their own schools at the expense of central district control. He did this at the time when centralist Roy Romer was LAUSD superintendent – and UTLA has a hard time empowering principals to do anything except take notes at faculty meetings.

4LAKids supports much of Ouchi’s message – but as a business school graduate and a retired businessperson I question how far business school business practices go in public education. Balancing the checkbook would be good, but in K-12 education Return on Investment is measured a generation later, not in a quarterly report.  And today’s LAUSD principal; has not been prepared to run their school – especially in a world where entrepreneurship collides with governance by the pink memo from downtown. Today’s pink memo seems to say: “You will be independent and that’s an order.”

Ouchi’s original message wasn’t in advocacy of charters,but the charter community has embraced it and made it their own.

Timing is everything;  troubling is this announcement against the backdrop of the Haiti Earthquake. One must remember that charter schools built with private funds – such as the Ouchi School – “Built in 56 days!” - are not subject to the same stringent building codes and earthquake standards (“The Field Act”) as publicly funded/publicly owned schools; charters only conform to local building codes. Haitian schools and Sichuan schools conformed to local building codes. The California charter law permits this …but how many parents with their children in charter schools are aware of this?

And how will they feel after the Big One?

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