Friday, August 26, 2011

MAKING THE GRADE -- Transforming LAUSD is no easy task, but so far, Superintendent John Deasy is on the right track

Daily News Editorial |

8/26/2011 - It's the start of another school year, but maybe not just another school year. Kindergarten through 12th-grade students are going back to class this month and next amid encouraging signs of a change in culture in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Standardized test scores were up a bit last year, although they leave a lot of room for improvement, and layoffs and school-calendar reductions forced by budget cuts aren't making educators' jobs any easier.

Appropriately, educators are being held to higher standards, a difference reflected in tenured teachers being fired in the past academic year at a rate four times that of the previous year.

That, in turn, reflects the approach of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, whose aggressive actions and tough talk in his first four months in the district's top job have ruffled union feathers but suggested great things may happen on his watch.

Maybe it's going to take Deasy's sometimes heavy-handed approach to break through cumbersome rules and recalcitrant union leaders and rededicate the LAUSD to raising the performance of teachers and students.

Key to this is the effort to make over the method by which teachers are evaluated, using a combination of observation, input from students and parents, and students' standardized test results.

The teachers union said no to even a limited pilot program meant to help develop a permanent evaluation system by 2012, but a court denied the teachers'

request for an injunction and Deasy pushed ahead. That's the Deasy way, and it deserves a chance, given the acknowledged shortcomings of previous evaluations.

The new LAUSD boss seems to be doing what the community has asked for, looking for the best data by which to measure results and moving past excuse-making, not just moving poor-performing teachers from one campus to another. He takes to task those who are "willing to believe almost anything as a reason for students' lack of achievement except (the teacher's) failure as an educator." More talk like that, please.

Critics say Deasy is merely a smooth talker who is more concerned with making speeches on the national stage than about the nitty-gritty of local campuses and communities. But they also say his agenda for the L.A. schools is overly ambitious. Can both be true at once?

Speaking recently, Deasy showed a pleasing grasp of the unique challenges facing San Fernando Valley schools: The distance from other parts of town to the Valley, which makes it harder to get talented teachers to commute here. The frequent isolation of one school from another within the Valley, making cooperation more difficult. East Valley violence.

Deasy has been operating like a man with a mission, building on the work of retired Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who set the stage for reform while Deasy served as understudy.

Most eye-catching are the statistics about firings in the past school year: 56 tenured teachers (up from 13 the year before), and a total of 758 teachers among the district roster of 30,000, not including 105 who resigned to avoid dismissal. And it's not just teachers: 18 administrators were fired or demoted last year for poor performance.

Deasy should be held to the same high standards as his employees. His three-year contract includes financial bonuses if his district achieves specified performance goals. But his success will depend as much on the less easily spelled out changing of old LAUSD attitudes and expectations.

As Deasy's first full school year begins, there is reason for hope.

No comments: