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.


  1. Yolie,
    Congrats on the new blog. I like your open minded approach to this very challenging issue.
    While charters may be controversial, they are one potential solution to help in fixing a school district that has been plagued with problems and that has been failing to provide a learning environment and education that its students need and deserve.
    With respect to the contention that charter schools are outperformed by traditional public schools, a cursory review of "charter schools" on wikipedia ( shows that a number of studies have been conducted, and the majority tend to conclude that on average, charters tend to in fact perform better than public schools. Of course each charter school is run separately so your mileage may vary.

  2. Yolie,

    I love the blog and the basic premise you've set forward.There isn't any magic bullet and the dialogue about school reform has been polarized and polarizing. From my perspective, anything that helps all children receive an education that will prepare them for a future none of us can predict is worth trying. How we transform all of these efforts into a system of education for every child is one of the most complex of issues. How we integrate everything that we know works all at the same time is as challenging an undertaking as any we have seen in this country. Working within individual urban schools and districts, I've come to the conclusion that public schools can not be changed in bits and pieces, but must be radically transformed organizationally, pedagogically, and socially so that the aim of every adult working with children is focused on their needs first and adult needs a distant second. Can we get the political will to do this? Can we learn from all the experimental work being done and integrate the best into our public schools so that mass education works for every child and re-establishes our sacred social contract? These are some of the questions that keep me up at night.

  3. Hola Yolie-
    First of all is great that you have this type of conversation and that you allow for others to have the opportunity to write to you directly. As you know I love politics at my young age of 19 but hate the polarization as well of an issue that is not democratic nor republican. I would like to bring more young people at the forefront of any conversation about "school reform". They live the everyday life in campus and unlike UTLA we do not have an organized body to directly discuss our issues with elected officials in a constructive way.

    I hope this helps,

    Ari Ruiz

  4. Hi Yoli,

    I love this start. I have also struggled with the impact of fiscal responsibility where education is concerned (public and private). It's unfortunate that a school's ability to perform (provide opportunities for students along with teachers who are dedicated to each student's education) are so directly affected by outside sources that quite frankly have nothing to do with education nor the goal of raising healthy communities.

    I'm very pleased that you have joined the fray so that all practical voices can be heard. Also, I can continue to look up to you as you help to shape our collective future.


    Eddie Smith

    Should you have the need, I'd love to chat. Keep up the great work!!

  5. With the 2010 deadline for removing all bungalows from LAUSD schools, why not let high performing schools keep the bungalows and allow more students to enroll via open enrollment or through creation of SAS programs?

  6. Hi Yoli

    Congrats, we the parents of Los Angeles could not have done this on our own. It took a great reformist and someone who believes in our children like yourself, to get it done. Again Thanks for standing with us and our kids. I love you and your vision. Kudos to those up there who were with you on this from the start and hats to Mr. Cortines. Keep believing in the children.

    Your Biggest,Fan Mary N. :0)


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