Wednesday, August 26, 2009

LAUSD Board of Education Stands up for Kids

After weeks of discussion and robust public debate, this past Tuesday the LAUSD School Board voted 6-1 to approve my
Public School Choice Resolution. Outside of the board room, thousands and thousands of parents came out in support, demanding better education for their children. The Board responded.

This motion stemmed from my growing frustration at the seemingly casual approach to what should be a “911” emergency response, given the numbers of children’s lives and futures that are at stake. It is also a response to the chorus of parents and communities who are demanding better schools, more options, and a voice in how their schools are run.

Indeed, because LAUSD continues to make slow, steady achievement gains, there is no sense of urgency or collective outrage about the crisis in our schools, where only one third of our third-graders can read at grade level, where far too many students drop out of school, and a dismal number are prepared for a decent job or to go on to college. Our current growth path could require at least 20 years before our elementary kids are 100% proficient in reading and math, and many years beyond that for our high school students. At this rate, entire generations will be lost… lost to poverty, the streets, or jail.

What we desperately need is rapid, large-scale, student-centered reform – not business as usual. And the time could not be more opportune. We have the best Superintendent in the nation, a reform-minded board, and a host of civic and community leaders that continue to challenge the status quo.

My Public School Choice resolution – co-sponsored by Board President Monica Garcia and Dr. Richard Vladovic – opens the door for us to act with conviction and courage to transform an archaic school system that has not served all children well. Specifically, it targets new schools opening up over the next four years as well as underperforming schools, and is based on four main ideas: 1) choice and competition; 2) replication and expansion of successful school models; 3) parent engagement and input; and 4) collaboration and partnerships.

By opening up the process and inviting proposals from internal and external organizations – including LAUSD, charter operators, unions, teacher collaboratives, and other public, non-profit entities – we create the pressure to offer something better to parents and their children. We open up opportunities for partnerships and collaboration. And we invite innovation and creativity where students and teachers and learning are the center of gravity.

While I am a supporter of high-functioning charters, the resolution challenges LAUSD to replicate successful models that it currently offers to only some students. These include our magnets, the pilot schools, and our small schools. At the same time, it encourages a network of other partners to introduce and offer new ideas that respond to the learning needs of all children. And it establishes a process by which parents then have a voice (and a choice) in identifying what they want from their local neighborhood school.

Clearly this resolution ruffled the feathers of those that fear change or benefit from business as usual. But our children deserve that we stand up to those defenders of the status quo.

On this historic day, the Board of Education responded to the 911 emergency, took a stand, and made a commitment to focus on the needs of students and brings excellence to all of our schools. On August 25, 2009, we, acted as the school reform leaders that we were elected to be and genuinely put the interests of children first.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Public School Choice

Ten days ago, I introduced a resolution for the LAUSD School Board to consider. This resolution, called Public School Choice: A New Way for LAUSD is up for a vote on Tuesday July 14, 2009.

I introduced this resolution after two years of observing very little reform taking place. Despite my efforts and those of my colleagues on the Board and our Superintendent, Ray Cortines, too little progress has been made. The majority of our time has been spent on institutional problems, not problems related to the education of our students: the payroll fiasco, the Rooney case, and most recently, the budget. The distractions are real, but no excuse for not attending to our students.

Further, the reform-minded resolutions I have introduced (small schools, world languages, teacher quality) have paid little dividends to date. It became very clear that something different needed to be done to shake things up.

My Public School Choice resolution attempts to do that. I believe that choice is a strong lever for change. My proposal is that we develop a process that invites internal (LAUSD) and external (partnerships, charters) stakeholders to submit proposals to run our newly constructed schools that will open up, starting September 2010. In a period of four years, we will have over 50 schools.

The centerpiece of my resolution, however, is that parents and students will weigh in on the decision of which plan to approve. They will play an important role in determining WHO should run their neighborhood school and HOW.

This proposal is the perfect opportunity for LAUSD and UTLA (our teacher's union) to step up and deliver better schools for our kids. We have a handful of extremely effective models that we can replicate. And if we don't, then we should give others the opportunity to deliver a better educational model for our students. Anything less is immoral and unacceptable.

We must stop pretending that we own the educational choices for our kids. Especially when we haven't delivered a proper education to close to 50%. The truth is, we shouldn't own these choices, but we can make them available.

The true choice must be that of the parents and the students. Engaging them, providing choice, and putting kids first is the new name of the game.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Education Reform: The Great Debate

I have the privilege of serving on the board of the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) representing the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Yesterday's executive committee meeting -- on which I also serve -- provoked a bit of a discussion on a topic I've been thinking about: who gets to define "education reform" and which definition is the right one.

At the center of the debate is whether frequently cited "reformers" -- Michelle Rhee (DC), Joel Klein (NYC), and Arne Duncan (formerly CEO of Chicago public schools and now U.S. Secretary of Education) -- are "the" reformers and everyone else that is doing great work in education (or at least think they are) is not.

Also at the center of the debate is the issue of charters. While most of my colleagues on the CGCS Board, including myself, say they embrace and support the idea of charters, there is great consternation that charters get all the attention despite the evidence that, overall, they do not do better than our traditional public schools. In fact, in many communities, the traditional public schools are out-performing charters.

As a school board member at the second largest school district in the nation, I can confidently say that everyone and no one has the answer to what our schools need to appropriately, adequately, and successfully give every child a good education. I think I know. And sometimes I don't. And that's because there's no magic bullet. There's no one definition of "reform" -- just a lot of people trying to get it right. We know one thing: education -- or the act of giving kids, ALL KIDS, a good education -- is complex. It's not just about one thing and it is certainly not about your reform vs. my reform. To be sure, the debate is needed. But polarizing ourselves is not.