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.