Saturday, August 22, 2009

Proponents Explain Why LAUSD Should Allow Charters and Non-Profits to Compete – and Potentially Take Over New Schools and Failing Schools; The School Board Will Consider This Proposal Tuesday

Dear Readers: Please read the opposition this plan in an earlier posted story.

By Diana L. Chapman

The chief-of-staff e-mailed a few weeks back and queried – after reading my anti-resolution article against outside operators taking over some Los Angeles schools –whether I understood how hard he and his boss were doggedly working to move Los Angeles Schools forward for all children.

David Kooper, who heads Los Angeles School Board Member Richard Vladovic’s staff, asked if he could share why the resolution – which would alter the fate of LAUSD’s newly constructed schools and those currently failing – was a necessary move to fix the trouble-plagued school system, the second largest in the nation.

“Charters are flourishing all over the place,” Kooper explained. “To keep our schools, we will have to compete and be better. We need the competition. It’s not meant to give away the district.”

If the motion passes, those campuses will be up on the block – so to speak – and will force Los Angeles Unified to compete against non-profits and charter schools to operate newly constructed schools or those that continually fail. This includes Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s partnership for schools.

It’s hard for me to quibble with Kooper’s request for fairness – and since the resolution will be on the school board’s table on Aug. 25, it seemed right to put Vladovic’s arguments forward for the healthy debate – despite my feelings that the district needs to break up.

“The district needs to shrink and inevitably it will need to de-centralize,” David Kooper wrote. “ However, you can't just rip out the cord. You have to plan and empower and train those who will be left to run the districts long after we leave.

“Trust me when I say I am not even a fan of charter schools. I
taught in this district for five years and I loved it and despite everything, I
still believe that we can do great things. But we also need competition or the
threat of competition to get what we need to ensure that we are hiring and
retaining the best teachers and removing the bad ones.”

For example, district officials point to the newly constructed Los Angeles Santee High School – which was failing prior to receiving a spanking new school – and continued to fail afterward.

“I am so tired of accepting failure and our system currently accepts it,” Kooper emailed. “We accept high drop-out rates in some schools and promote excellence in others. I believe the answer is about being accountable. The intent is to make ourselves better, not to sell off our problems. Having said that, we can learn a lot from successful charters and from our own best practices across the district. We have Harbor Teacher Preparatory High School with a drop-out rate of 1.5 percent and Banning High which is over 30 percent.”

In addition, school officials working closely with the process say it will force the actions of school takeovers to be more “transparent,” and even the mayor’s partnership for schools will have to compete – and not just snatch away schools, as it did recently of with the new, Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center, which is to open this fall in the Boyle Heights area.

While I got few emails in support of this resolution, I was surprised when former LAUSD school board member, Mike Lansing, who Vladovic replaced, agreed that the resolution might be a refreshing approach to make the district operate better.

His only caveat was to make sure LAUSD – which has reflected test scores improvement each year –remain continually part of the competition. The district, he said, must have a plan to ensure that the staff of each school runs at an optimum level.

“I believe it was Einstein who said "Idiocy is doing the same thing over
and over again and expecting a different outcome,"” wrote Lansing, the executive director of the Los Angeles Harbor Area Boys and Girls Club. “Therefore, I am for initiatives that challenge the status quo and put competition in the mix when it comes to public education

“Everyone should be allowed to "apply" including LAUSD - but there has to be a "plan" that includes ways to better motivate all employees to provide improved instruction and support of the children in their charge.

“ Although I am supportive of Charter schools as a whole, the same expectation up front for charters or whomever else is applying - don't just hand over the keys because not all charter school operators do a good job. Also, there must be a level of "expertise" and capacity for any organization that wants to operate one of these schools - if you think it can't be worse - think again.”

Granted, despite these debates, I’m still running scared. I just can’t help myself.
There are still so many unanswered questions. As they always say, the devil is in the details. And many kids, will remain as they already are, still guinea pigs.