Saturday, July 23, 2011


Daily News Editorial |

7/21/2011 -- Los Angeles Unified's landmark Public School Choice program will look different this fall, when communities are due to start reviewing the third annual round of bids from groups seeking to take over the management of low-performing campuses.

School district officials are looking at ways to improve the reform-minded plan they adopted in 2009. So far, give them an A for effort. But give them an "incomplete" on results.

Unfortunately, the proposals on the table right now would be less likely to strengthen School Choice than to chip away at its intent.

The first proposal is to change the way parents and students select their preferred bidder to run a campus, replacing a system of community advisory votes with a series of meetings and structured reviews of groups' applications.

The second idea would alter the application process itself, giving the district's own educators first crack at submitting plans for struggling or new campuses.

Some improvements are needed if School Choice is to live up to its promise to transform a failing school and start out the district's new schools on an innovative path.

Most glaringly, the original School Choice plan contained the flawed advisory-vote mechanism. Intended to let parents, teachers and other school stakeholders to express their preferences, it immediately devolved into the cheapest of politics. In the first two years, too few votes were cast, and those may have been influenced by election-style mailings -- plus one campaign billboard -- and reported cases of intimidation and attempted vote-buying.

That was no way to gauge community sentiments on the complicated question of which of perhaps several bidders would do best at running a local school. So the LAUSD board voted in May to eliminate the votes. A gold-star move.

But the suggested replacement seems to go to the other extreme. Put forth by Superintendent John Deasy, it would require parents, students and community members to attend a series of meetings, develop their own benchmarks by which to judge applicants, and then dive into the task of separating the bids. If the voting system was an invitation to frivolity, the meetings sound like an invitation for all but the most dedicated (and underworked) members of the public to avoid getting involved.

As for the second proposal: School board member Steve Zimmer argues it is only fair to give the district's own educators a leg up in competition with outside bidders to run charter schools that would not have to honor teachers' contracts. This would be good for the teachers union. It also would dilute the spirit of School Choice.

School Choice, which last year produced 48 bids to run all or part of 13 existing or new campuses, has great potential to improve education in Los Angeles -- if the program is helped instead of hurt by the changes ahead.

District officials should go back to the chalkboard and develop better ideas than we've seen so far.


2cents smf: The United States invented free universal public education. And the US has been trying to reform public education ever since Horace Mann in the 1830’s. The current ‘reform” board majority likes to think they invented school reform …or maybe they just think they raised it to a high art with Public School Choice.

T’aint so.  They didn’t even invent the name. There has been a federal program of that name since long before it sprung fully formed from a computer in the mayor’s office in 2009. The Public School Choice Resolution was a quick-fix to solve the ills of the school district and keep some promises to some election donors by giving some new schools to charter management companies.

The idea of adding low performing schools to PSC was an afterthought – a leftover - (and not a very popular or successful one)  -- like Special Ed and English Language Learners and Parent Involvement are in the mayor’s office: “Oh yeah, we’re for too!!”

The kids are working hard. The teachers are working hard. The board thinks it has too many meetings.

Reform and education is hard, nose to the grindstone work. You work at school and you take the work home and you work on it there long into the night.

Or you can just change the rules and update the version number every six months – that way it will always look like you’re making progress.

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