Economic and Community Development Strategies - San
Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys
Strategies for Restructuring the Los Angeles Unified
Los Angeles River Renaissance
Editorial, Joel Kotkin and Bob Scott
MTA Pushes Orange Line Mixed-Use Development
Recent years have seen modest progress in the Los
Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Test scores have improved in
some elementary grades and there have been a number of reforms
instituted. Voters approved bonds allowed for an unprecedented building
program, providing school facilities all over the district, particularly
in areas of great need.
Nonetheless, as the 2005-06 Presidents’ Joint
Commission on LAUSD Governance points out: “challenges remain,
particularly with student performance at the middle and high school
levels, in terms of academic attainment, dropout rates, and violence
within some schools and surrounding communities . . . too few LAUSD
students complete high school and even fewer graduate having passed the
requisite coursework to attend and succeed in college or the workforce.”
The Los Angeles Unified School District needs
major reform. There are many hardworking and dedicated teachers,
administrators and other personnel; but the system often stands in the
way of their attaining maximum results. Within the existing framework,
it is not clear, that more spending would provide a solution, or that
the dollars would even reach the classroom.
Once again, political considerations have brought
education in general, and the LAUSD in particular, to the forefront in
the public debate. As a result, stakeholders have an extraordinary
opportunity to implement needed reforms.
These reform proposals are not mutually
exclusive; they contain many common elements. Most could be combined to
create an effective new framework for education in Los Angeles.
Reformers are generally focused on determining the right size for
schools and districts, funding priorities, and the appropriate level for
decisionmaking on a wide range of education functions.
Many of the proposals deal with reducing
education to the scale of an individual student, avoiding top-down
approaches. Students are not all the same, and education cannot be
operated as an assembly line. The process of education depends primarily
upon the teacher-student relationship: professional educators working
with each individual student. Each teacher and student has their own
unique qualities; those can become liabilities in an inflexible
Students need to be treated as individuals rather
than part of a group. Funds weighted to meet their unique needs can then
travel with them to the campus or cluster of their choice, giving
parents and students an array of options and opportunities for success.
Each school site should be empowered to innovate,
to compete, and to develop programming reflective of the community it
serves. Autonomous schools and small learning communities can provide a
personalized and continuous learning experience. These campuses can form
into clusters and smaller districts offering an efficient
community-based model, where more money reaches the classroom. With
fewer schools in a cluster or district, the school board and
superintendent can be fully involved with every school, including
regular interaction with teachers and with each school principal.
Rightsized schools and clusters encourage
accountability to the communities they serve, rather than having to
channel through a centralized and distant bureaucracy. With community
involvement and oversight, teachers and students can be more readily
held to standards of performance and achievement. Flexible formats allow
schools to reward excellence as well as operating more efficiently,
including contracting out for non-core services.
BIG IDEAS FOR REFORM
Accountability and Consequences
– Improved accountability is the most
prevalent recommendation. Without a means of keeping track, and of
dealing with relative success or failure of students, teachers and
campuses, no system will succeed in competently educating LAUSD
students. Conduct should have consequences, including rewards for
Charter Schools and Charter Clusters
– For more than a decade, charter
schools have been making amazing strides in enhancing school
environments, serving communities of greatest need, and improving
student outcomes. Charter schools operate independent from the district,
and have the freedom to innovate and to address the unique needs and
goals of each local community. More than 100 LAUSD campuses are now
charters, and many more are in progress.
Small Learning Communities
– Widely embraced, Small Learning Communities include small campuses and
communities of 500 or less pupils, within existing campuses. This
student-scaled educational model helps to assure personal attention, and
that no child is left behind. Principals know their students, and their
students’ families. They remain together from grade to grade, and when
needed, vigorous intervention is provided.
Decentralization – Creation of Smaller Districts
– The public has traditionally been supportive of initiatives to
dismantle the LAUSD and replace it with a number of smaller autonomous
districts: districts more manageable in size, more transparent, and more
accessible to the communities they serve. Legislation and initiatives
have traditionally met with stiff resistance from the existing district
and from its employee unions.
Mayoral Intervention – A
relatively new concept would allow for a Council of Mayors of the 29
cities served by the LAUSD to intervene in district affairs and to
exercise certain powers. In such case, the Mayor of Los Angeles, who
governs 80% of the district’s population, would have a majority of
control. As currently proposed in state legislation, the Council would
participate in the selection of, and render advice to the
Superintendent, review the budget, and form a “partnership” to take
control of three clusters of the district’s poorest performing
schools—except for union contracts. The role of Superintendent would be
strengthened: to seek waivers, to manage, appoint and dismiss personnel
and to manage fiscal operations and contracts—except union contracts.
Staff would all report to the Superintendent, and no longer to
individual board members; the board would appoint the Inspector General.
School Transformation Plan
– Proposed by Green Dot Public Schools, an active charter school
operator, the School Transformation Plan offers a strategy to
create small, high-performing college-preparatory schools in Los Angeles
neighborhoods. Under the plan, over a period of ten years, the LAUSD’s
46 comprehensive high schools would be transformed into some 500
autonomous small schools. Programming in Green Dot schools is organized
around what are called the Six Tenets: 1) small, safe, autonomous
and personalized schools, 2) high expectations for all students, 3)
local control with extensive professional development and
accountability, 4) a higher percentage of dollars directed to the
classroom, 5) parent participation, and 6) schools kept open later.
Zone of Choice – Belmont Pilot Schools Network
– Reform developed from within the LAUSD, and based upon Boston’s Pilot
School Network, this proposal would create five to ten autonomous,
college-preparatory small schools to serve 9-12th grade
students from the Belmont High School attendance area. Scheduled to
start in 2007, students will be able to select between the schools based
on the unique programs offered by each 500-pupil campus.
Weighted Student Formulas & Local School Autonomy
– School principals should be entrepreneurs, and given as much autonomy
as possible. One way to achieve this is to attach funding to individual
students based on their needs. By allowing the student the freedom to
choose which school to attend and to take their funding with them,
schools have the incentive to compete for students, and to accommodate
those with greatest needs.
Contracting for Non-Educational Services
– Schools provide a number of services outside the realm of teaching. In
most cases, they would be better served to confine themselves to
education and given the freedom to contract outside for other non-core
services such as transportation maintenance, security and food service.