LA Daily News/Daily Breeze Editorial | http://bit.ly/tFsErQ
12/2/2011 - For the past few years, Los Angeles schools have been a surprising model of education reform that has been closely observed across the nation.
Los Angeles Unified's revolutionary Public School Choice program opened up failing and new schools to outside operators. Meanwhile, a Compton school was the first where parents tried out the state's innovative new Parent Empowerment Law that gave them tools to completely upend the status quo in historically failing schools.
It has been an exciting time to be involved in education reform in California. Hopefully, the momentum won't be sidetracked by a deal announced this week that all but replaces the innovative School Choice Program with one that keeps control with the LAUSD.
Superintendent John Deasy and teachers union president Warren Fletcher on Wednesday jointly announced an agreement that they say will replicate what makes Public School Choice great, notably charterlike autonomy for schools, but keep the schools under district operation. As part of the deal, failing schools will not be put up for bid to outside operators but will have to reform their education plans. To do that, they will be liberated from district rules and accorded the same flexibilities in choosing staff and curriculum that outside bidders had under school choice.
Sounds great, in theory, but it comes at a steep price. What made Public School Choice such a transformative tool is the competitive aspect that acted as a lever to force badly needed innovation inside. Without it, the impetus to change is seriously diminished.
The two-year-old Public School Choice program opened up chronically failing schools and new campuses to nondistrict management. Each year of the program, a certain number of schools were put up for bid. Outside operators would pitch an education plan for a school, and the school board would pick.
Some of the schools went to charter operators. Some went to the mayor's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. Some went to groups of teachers.
This idea of putting public schools up for bid for the best educational model was revolutionary, to say the least. But it was despised by the unions, as their influence and control at the Public Choice schools were diminished.
Deasy put School Choice on the table Sept. 1, saying he was using it as a bargaining chip to leverage contract reforms during negotiations with teachers. He said at the time he was betting that he could extract some serious educational reforms as part of the process in exchange for reining in School Choice. Those reforms included merit pay, changes in seniority, and teacher evaluations that would include student achievement.
If he didn't get serious concessions by Nov. 1, nothing would change, he said. And the third year of School Choice bidding would commence. Nov. 1 came and went, and nearly a month later the deal that did emerge to replace Public School Choice is a question mark. It didn't come with all the teacher reforms Deasy wanted, though he said he can change evaluations without union approval. And it's unclear just how effective it will be. Can it take the school district to the next level? Yes. Will it? Who knows?
The district's failing schools will have to revise their programs or be taken over by the district. But internal reforms have been tried and have failed for decades at LAUSD.
Deasy calls this week's deal historic and is optimistic this will be the next step in education reform. We hope his gamble pays off, because putting aside the powerful School Choice Program comes at a potentially heavy cost.
There is and should be no surprise: LAUSD has got exactly the model of reform Mayor Tony, Eli Broad and Bill Gates have bought and paid for. Charter Schools galore. Gifts of new schools to charter and other outside operators. Teacher evaluations based on student test scores. A superintendent trained by Broad and formerly employed by Gates. Parent engagement sub-contacted out (or sub-contracted in …the insider-0utsider lines blur) like Special Ed was when the superintendent was at Santa Monica Malibu. Value Addled and Data Driven decision making. Union busting and teacher bashing. Arts and Music programs slashed. Libraries shuttered. The District papered with RIF notices.
The previous bad LAUSD governance document was the UTLA union contract. LAUSD had a brief flirtation with “The Schoolyard” and an infatuation with “Race to the Top” - but the current overarching governing authority is the Excel spreadsheet. And what company makes the software that runs the spreadsheet? (This proves nothing but the ubiquity itself ; this blog is written on Microsoft software and runs from servers running Microsoft software – and unless you have a Mac you are reliant on MS …but what the heck, over.)
Los Angeles Unified's revolutionary Public School Choice program opened up failing and new schools to outside operators.
Revolutionary? This is Orwellian doublespeak. Turning public schools over to private management is correctly “reactionary” or “counter-revolutionary”. Or maybe they mean “opened up” as in a can o’ worms.
The “choice” in PSC was never defined, unless it was akin to the USDA’s rubric of Prime, Choice, Select – a way to judge meat. (Advanced/Proficient/Needs Improvement.) . Whatever “Choice” there was was exercised by the Board of Ed and the Board of Ed only. They divided up the PSC schools as they saw fit – ignoring the community input and often that of the superintendent and their expert advisors. When parents complained that their input was being ignored, the methodology of parent input was challenged and eventually done away with – vermind that that input was a vote run by the League of Women Voters. PSC was a system of patronage enough to make Boss Tweed blush.
And “outside operators” made no bids on Focus Schools– the ones the Daily News calls “failing” schools.
Meanwhile, a Compton school was the first where parents tried out the state's innovative new Parent Empowerment Law that gave them tools to completely upend the status quo in historically failing schools.
The Daily News forgets that the Compton Board of Ed, the courts and the State Board of Ed threw out the Compton Parent Trigger case. And when the charter operator of choice started a charter in the neighborhood the parent signators to the original petition stayed at their community school in droves.
4LAKids hopes and wishes the new UTLA/LAUSD compact works – but it’s an agreement between the District and the Teacher’s Union that leaves parents far out in the cold. Itwill require far deeper approval than that of the UTLA membership and the Board of Education to succeed over the long run.
The long run must be the intent.
For any of this to work parents need to be invited in. Real parents, not parents with similar t-shirts. Not sub-contracted parents organized by sub-contracted parent organizers.
We are knocking – the folks at the table need to say “Who’s there?”