LA Times: Teachers as Reformers


Teachers as reformers

L.A. Unified teachers won the right to run several new or underperforming schools. Can they pull it off?

March 6, 2010

Los Angeles schools did not undergo the transformation we had expected from the Public School Choice initiative, which in its first year opened more than 30 new or underperforming public schools to outside management. Top-notch charter operators applied for relatively few schools and then were removed from the running at the last minute. The school board once again mired itself in political maneuvers instead of putting students first.

What transformation there was came, more surprisingly, from the teachers. They agreed to allow and create more pilot schools, which are similar to charter schools but employ district personnel. They formed partnerships and, with the help of their union, United Teachers Los Angeles, drew up their own, often strong applications for revamping schools. It would be wrong to underestimate the effort and skills needed to pull this off. The time frame was short and the list of requirements long. Unlike charter operators, which submit such applications as a matter of course, the teachers had no particular background for this work. They met with parents who have long fumed that the schools discourage their participation. They listened. They responded.

This is a tremendous step in a school district where, too often, teachers and their union have not been the agents of change but impediments to it. In fact, had the process worked as it was supposed to, the reform initiative would have served as a much stronger application for federal Race to the Top funds than anything the Legislature came up with.

Pulling together the applications was an intense but short-term task for the teachers, born of a desperate attempt to preserve jobs in Los Angeles Unified, which this week sent out thousands more layoff notices. The harder task lies ahead: carrying out those plans for the next several years. The applications promise radically new efforts at the same time that the district lacks the money to support those efforts. And now, much of the pressure is off. The main competition came from charter operators, which aren’t sure whether they want to be full participants in the future. And the board has shown a clear unwillingness to go against the wishes of union lobbyists.

If the district leaders want a worthwhile outcome from this initiative, there are several steps they must take in coming years: Do a better job of educating parents, many of whom didn’t fully understand what the options were. Do away with the obnoxious “advisory” votes, which were riddled with misleading campaign tactics and ballot boxes weighted by groups on both sides that brought in their own supporters to vote. And most important, hold all of the new operators — whether charters, teachers or Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools — to their promises of meaningful progress for students.

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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Interesting new concept that has come up in the midst of the budget crisis is the recreation of schools and the university in the way they operate and service the public.  More information can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/group.php?gid=278505619309&ref=ts

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