When I first came to town, the big issue was forced busing under court order intended to integrate the schools.
Roberta Weintraub and Bobbi Fiedler on one side hollering about preserving neighborhood schools. Jackie Goldberg and Rita Walters on the other yelling about racial equity.
It was the start of “white flight” from the schools — and the city — that now, 30 years later, has become “middle class flight from the schools and the city.
We’ve spent billions and billions of our money to build new schools and fix old ones. We’ve ended forced busing and brought back neighborhood schools and pretty much ended year-round calendars.
Yet, most schools are racially impacted and outcomes in terms of test scores and dropout rates are abysmal and many parents are choosing to transport their kids to schools outside their neighborhoods in hopes of getting them a better education and keeping them safe.
We’ve gone through close to a dozen superintendents. We’ve tried school-based management and LEARN and gone back to top-down management. We’ve created mini-districts and dissolved them. We resisted independent charter schools and then embraced them as a means of breaking up the mammoth and dysfunctional district school by school.
And now we’re giving parents the rights to close down failing schools and rebuild them the way the want and opening the door to teachers, non-profits and everywhere else with an educational theory to start their own public schools.
Maybe the problem isn’t governance, as a friend of mine who’s closely followed the devolution of LAUSD has long argued. Maybe it’s a teaching and learning problem and somethiing more.
The something more was visible in Howard Blume’s story in the Times today about how LAUSD laid off thousands of teachers and other employees and still overspent its budget for salaries by an astonishing $200 million.
What’s even more incredible is that the army of bureaucrats in LAUSD don’t know how they did that and apparently didn’t want us to know since the internal audit was completed a month ago and probably wouldn’t have come out at all without the efforts of a good reporter.
Superintendent Ramon.Cortines offers little insight beyond “we’re cleaning it up.”
Inspector General Jerry Thornton is somewhat more helpful.
“The system is broken,” he said. “We really don’t have adequate position control and we don’t know
where our funding comes from for all these positions.
“There’s no suggestion of impropriety or fraud. We didn’t see people being paid who aren’t working or who aren’t there.”
There it is, the smoking gun. Incompetence is the problem and all the experiments, all the money haven’t fixed it.
That’s why parents rights, charters, anything that frees parents, teachers and principals from the reign of incompetence seems like a step in the right direction.
I spoke with a principal recently whose grade school test performance has soared from the mid-400s to over 800 in the last 10 years and heard how creating a shared vision and empowering teachers and supporting them was responsible for the improvement.
That’s the heart of the matter as far as I’m concerned. It’s what makes any enterprise successful: Shared beliefs, individual empowerment, strong leadership.
I call it democracy and I don’t see why those with power in LA are so afraid of it, so resistant to embrace what makes America what it is — or at least what it was.