Anyone who’s been paying attention doesn’t need a 115-page report to tell them that a number of things are going fundamentally wrong at the Los Angeles Unified School District. All you need do is hang around some of the district’s troubled high schools for a few months, while, say, simultaneously attending a few months worth of school board meetings. I promise you, the feelings of dismay kick in pretty early on.
Still and all, it’s important to give credit to new LAUSD Superintendent, David Brewer, for ordering up a study by a neutral consulting firm, Evergreen Solutions, to find out once and for all what was working in the district and what wasn’t.
Here are some of the report’s pithier F-Grade observations:
1. A lot of good recommendations have been made to the district, year after year, in study after expensive study, and around zero of them have ever been successfully implemented.
2. Despite the obstacles, there are a number of schools and programs within the district that are getting good results, however there has been virtually zip effort to examine and replicate them.
“…principals of schools that had made exceptional progress in raising student achievement reported to the board and identified five strategies they believed had contributed to their success,” said the report. “When asked what had been done in the district as a result of that report, the answer was ‘nothing.’”
3. There’s “no sense of urgency” in responding to the districts most pressing problems, and “no accountability” when directives aren’t followed.
The report goes on from there, very little of it complementary.
Plus, in addition to its criticisms, it also makes some smart suggestions —like a number of practical yet innovative strategies for drawing parents into closer involvement with their kids’ educations.
“Since the early 1970s,” says the report, “high levels of parental involvement have
been identified as one of a few common characteristics of high performing schools
regardless of student socioeconomic level, educational level, personal school experiences, or ethnicity.”
In other words, stop blaming the parents when the students don’t do well. The report talks about ways to get past parents’ “barriers to engagement,”—adding that such approaches are “associated with rises in student achievement.” .
Again, most of it’s nothing that district critics haven’t been shrieking about for years, but it’s weirdly refreshing to see it on paper.
Moreover, the fact that Brewer has gone out of his way to make the report very public suggests that he has the intention of doing something other than using it as another $350,000 paper weight—a heartening change from the defensive, leave-us-alone, we’re-making-progress stance we’ve seen for far too long.
Brewer has promised to “overhaul” the district, which is exactly what is needed. No more ineffective tinkering at the edges.
Whether he has the diplomatic chops and the personal force of will to persuade/cajole/threaten the board and the union to his way of thinking remains to be seen.