Saturday, December 24, 2011


“The Los Angeles solution, if it can be called that, could set off a bureaucratic brawl once the PTAs, site councils, interested parents and others get involved in setting the agenda for the individual campuses.”

L.A. schools plan a worrisome approach

The Monterey County Herald Editorial |

12/18/2011 :: A new plan in Los Angeles to allow principals and teachers to choose different teaching methods at individual campuses sounds like a fine and maybe even a good idea until one remembers that most of the new and improved approaches pushed onto the education system with remarkable speed and frequency also sounded good at first.

It probably is true that Monterey Peninsula schools should teach somewhat differently than the Carmel schools or the Salinas schools. It absolutely is true that national and statewide attempts to standardize teaching methods has taken some of the life and creativity outof the schools. But it is worrisome to think that Los Angeles Unified could start a new trend by taking flexibility to an extreme.

The teachers union in Los Angeles overwhelmingly ratified an agreement this week that gives each campus nearly as much freedom as charter schools—as long as test scores continue rising.

The plan requires administrators and teachers at low-performing schools to come up with detailed plans for quick improvement while allowing officials of higher performing campuses to draft improvement plans of their own. The plans cover curriculum and teaching methods and schedules. Principals are to get more authority over staffing.

We believe teachers and principals at individual schools can do a good job of setting direction, but only in the short term and only at the risk of dangerous fragmentation. Keeping the school-by-school approach going long term ultimately could create more bureaucracy, not less, and could aggravate the existing disparities between schools in rich and poor neighborhoods.

Numerous teachers in Peninsula schools say the administration pays too much attention to outside consultants and too little attention to students, parents and teachers. Teachers almost everywhere say they have received a constantly changing set of messages from the educational hierarchy, and that they are tired of a one-size-fits-all mentality. Educators and not legislators should be in charge of what goes on in the classroom, but if a relatively small group of educators in Reseda, for example, or Baldwin Park gets it wrong, the results could be devastating for individual students.

The Los Angeles solution, if it can be called that, could set off a bureaucratic brawl once the PTAs, site councils, interested parents and others get involved in setting the agenda for the individual campuses.

Clearly economics is driving the Los Angeles plan as much as educational philosophy. It is to a large degree an attempt to become more competitive with charter schools, which are draining students and tax support from the district. But chaos in the name of choice is still chaos.

We wish them luck in the southland but fear that this experiment will become just another flavor of the month, another in a never-ending series of quick fixes that have seldom lasted long enough to accurately measure.


Letters: Urban schools, big hurdles

The Monterey County Herald |

12/24/2011 :: Urban schools, big hurdles

The thoughtful Sunday editorial on the teacher autonomy rules being introduced in the Los Angeles Unified School District omitted mention of two factors that have bedeviled such approaches in the largest urban school systems (LAUSD is the nation's second largest).

First, roughly one in four LAUSD students who enter a given school at the start of the year is no longer enrolled there by year end. Many have moved to other LAUSD schools. Think about the plight of the student who makes such a move only to find that his/her new teacher is covering the course material in an entirely different order.

Second, a large percentage of LAUSD teachers are in beginning probationary status. Roughly half the new LAUSD teachers leave teaching within five years or less, so turnover is fierce. The standardized curricular coverage systems mandated in LAUSD in 2001 reflected a new superintendent's assessment that most teachers were unprepared to make good use of the autonomy that might make sense to give to master teachers. The current move represents a reversal of that judgment.

There are powerful arguments on both sides of the debate about the merits of autonomy vs. scripted teaching systems. If LAUSD is to be used by the Monterey district as a basis for comparison, it is important to determine how similar or dissimilar the two districts are in these as well as other terms.

Edward K. Hamilton

Big Sur

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