May 1, 2006
Who Should Run L.A.'s Schools?
On May 19 and 22, KPCC will present special coverage of the controversy over Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to take control of the L.A. Unified School District away from the school board. Villaraigosa's proposal would effectively give L.A.'s mayor control over public school policy and budgets. He is asking for a change in state law that would create a council of mayors from L.A.U.S.D. cities that would hire the superintendent and approve the budget. L.A.'s mayor would dominate the council, because Villaraigosa wants representation to be proportional to population. Villaraigosa wants the elected school board's role reduced to overseeing teacher discipline and transfers, creating school "report cards," and surveying parent attitudes.
The school district, the teachers' union, and some cities in the L.A.U.S.D. have criticized Villaraigosa's plan. Governor Schwarzenegger has endorsed it. Some wonder whether it would address the fundamental problems confronting the public schools. Others say a change might bring more accountability. A political battle now looms in Sacramento, where Villaraigosa hopes to get the state legislature to pass a bill implementing his plan.
What do you think? Will mayoral control help improve the public schools? What about some of the mayor's other ideas, such as a longer school day and longer school year?
KPCC News Director
P.S. - Visit our Special Coverage page for recent and upcoming stories, the mayor's speech, "School Takeover 101," and other resources.
Posted by Paul Glickman at 10:35 AM
I am a mother of a 5th grader. I don't have a problem with the takeover in principle. However, if some of the actual changes the mayor is proposing are any indication, I think he'd better leave running of the schools to educators.
My biggest concern is the proposed lengthening of the school day. Believe me, I am not one of those parents who are worried about their kids working too hard. You won't find me complaining about too much homework - if anything I'd complain about too little of it. But even for an adult 8 hours of classes is often too much - by the end of it your brain is fried. It becomes counterproductive. And if kids then have to go home and do their homework, they'd be working longer hours than their parents!
I know the idea is to possibly fill those extra hours with enrichment programs. And those are great - in a voluntary afterschool program, not a compulsive one. What if my child wants to do a sport that is not offered in school, like swimming or tennis? What if I want him to take piano lessons? Making every kid stay at school until 5PM kills any opportunity for individual enrichment.
And last but not least, there are plenty of schools that are doing well on the existing schedule. Why punish them with longer hours? And is it possible that the fact that these schools are doing well means that the hours are not the problem and therefore extending them won't provide the solution?
Oh yes, and what about those schools that are still on a year-round schedule and already have a longer school day?
I like the idea of extending the teachers' workday though. And what I think needs to be done is this. The teachers should be required to check and grade homework for ALL grades - from elementary to high school. I think one of the major reasons why so many inner city kids fail at school is because there are no conditions at their homes for them to do their homework. So, all schools should offer afterschool care. And not just glorified babysitting, but homework clubs and study halls. The attendance would be voluntary, except for those kids who consistently fail to do their homework.
Posted by: Olga Gorelik on May 10, 2006 12:36 AM
Had I known Antonio Villaraigosa was interested in becoming the LAUSD superintendent, I would not have voted for him as mayor.
It is very disappointing when someone distorts information about the LAUSD for one's own political purposes and advancement. It is no secret that Antonio has aspirations to become governor of California.
The LAUSD in the past 5 years has had tremendous success under the leadership of Roy Romer. All of our teachers are now fully credentialed with a few exceptions of the hardest to fill positions like math and science. All administrators have been fully trained in gay and lesbian issues in regards to the legal rights of students and employees. And...by 2010 LAUSD will have 160 new schools built to relieve overcrowding.
One major thing that the mayor can do to help our schools is to begin by working to create safer communities for students and employees. No child can learn if their community is not safe.
I believe that before the mayor wants to take on the second largest school district in the country...perhaps he should prove himself as a mayor. There are a lot of major issues LA faces: 90 thousand homeless people, 70 thousand gangs, graffetti all over the city, affordable housing, transportation, environmental issues, and creating incentives for our citizens to take part in making LA a cleaner city.
Posted by: Steve on May 19, 2006 8:53 AM
I like many of the mayors' ideas for LAUSD. But what about the next mayor? Will he take a real interest in education? Will he use the schools as a political football? Will he use teachers as whipping boys? The school system should be run by individuals who have education as their ONLY concern.
Posted by: Ron Hitchcock on May 19, 2006 9:16 AM
The idea of adding another layer of bureaucracy to a district that is already overburdened with bureaucrats is going to help the situation seems a little silly. I like Villaraigosa, but I doubt that he can do anything at all to help the students of Los Angeles. The proposals he has made so far do not address any of the real problems with the schools (problems which are real everywhere in America, regardless of where the media spotlight happens to be). Lengthening both the school day and the school year are only going to make it worse. Children do not learn exactly like adults. They need more down time to process what they have taken in. Educators and scientists know best how children learn, so if we are going to take the schools out of the hands of the Board of Education, which is made of businessmen like Canter, let's put it in the hands of educators and researchers who actually know what they are dealing with. As an educator myself, I can tell you that overcrowding is by far the biggest problem in our schools, and is the one problem that has to be fixed before any other change can have any lasting effects. When children have fewer distractions from crowds of other students and from their own needs that cannot be met in the classroom, maybe then we can tinker with the length of the school day and year. Everywhere in America that class sizes have been reduced, test scores have gone up. Educators know this, but they also know that politicians won't spend the money to build smaller schools and hire more teachers to reduce class sizes. I am not impressed with the School Board, but I doubt the Mayor will do any better.
Posted by: Paul Shen-Brown on May 19, 2006 9:47 AM
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the mayor is advocating this change; he made it clear during his campaign. As an educator with 30 plus years of experience, I'm totally supportive of the mayor's proposal. Let's be real, the only reason people are opposed to the change centers on giving up their power -- NOT on what's best for children. If adults stop behaving like children and put education first, I wouldn't be taking time to write my position. Thank you for this venue.
Dr. Robert Jaurequi
Posted by: Robert on May 19, 2006 12:46 PM
As a citizen of Lomita, (one of the LAUSD cities) I have often felt frustrated by the fact that the local representative to the board represents a district drawn and detrmined by the city council of a city that I do not live in, nor do I vote for. The board, its number, and the voting districts that they represent are all determined by a mayor and city council that do not represent me. It is a foregone conclusion who will come out the winner in any political test of wills. If mayor Villaraigosa gets his way, I hope that there will be more political equity built into this council of mayors - but I doubt it. I don't vote for him. The best thing he could do for me and my town is to let us go.
Posted by: Stan Bailey on May 19, 2006 1:54 PM
I wonder what will be the changes to the exit exams then?
Posted by: Helen, school teacher on May 21, 2006 5:37 AM
I would like to state at the outset that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. However, while I find the Mayor to appear to be a basically humble unassuming man, I find his plan to take over the LA school district a curious mix of pompous naivete.
I am new to California, but I have been an educator in various capacities for many years in Minnesota, one of the nation’s highest rated states in education. However, it doesn’t really matter what state you’re in, the discussion is always the same: There is always talk of more accountability, the need for hiring more competent teachers and principals, complaints about the teachers’ unions, and the need for increased standardized testing. To be honest, I find these discussions nauseating in their intellectual laziness and their desire for quick, easy, and superficial fixes. I find it interesting that non-teachers always assume they could do better. I find it equally interesting that they mistakenly believe that a paradigm useful in measuring success in the business world, is the same paradigm that would be useful in measuring success in other fields.
It is not accountability that needs to be improved. It is not the principals or the teachers who are at fault. It is not more and better standardized testing that needs to be implemented or the ousting of the union. The problem is deeper than any these easy fixes can remedy. The problem lies at the core of society itself and is illustrated by an incident that occurred in my office while I was tutoring a student several years ago.
At the time I was working in a community college in Minnesota as a professional English writing tutor in a program based on the knowledge that first generation (parents who haven’t attended college), low income, and students with special needs are at a statistical disadvantage for staying in college. The student I was tutoring was an adult black man who was back in school, trying to earn a degree after being permanently laid off from his job. He was in his late 30’s, grew up in a low-income area in Minneapolis. He had been having trouble writing essays for his English class and had been coming for weeks to work with me. This session, he had brought a literary analysis paper he was working on, and I wasn’t quite sure of the direction his professor had wanted him to take in this assignment. It was the professor’s day off, but this particular instructor always left her home phone number for me to call if there were any questions. It was 9:00 am when we called. I put the professor on the speaker phone. In the background was her three-year old daughter. “Excuse me a minute,” she said, and my student, Ramon, and I could hear her talking to her daughter: “Honey, we’ll have the tea party in a few minutes. Go play. Mommy has to help a student for just a little bit.” She returned to the phone and said, “I’m sorry, I just read a Beatrix Potter story to Emily and we were going to have a little tea party like the one we read about.”
I looked at Ramon’s face, and he was dumbfounded. We finished discussing his essay with the instructor, and hung up the phone. I turned to Ramon, and, knowing full well what his response would be, I asked, did you ever read with your mother when you were little? He laughed out loud and replied. “Yeah, right, Billie, in between her two jobs and trying to feed us, “Yeah,” he said mockingly, “I think she read us Shakespeare right before she tucked us into our comfy beds.”
You can counter this story all you want with examples of heroic mothers who work 60 hours a week and still are able read to their children and take them to museums, etc., but I can tell you, that those are the mothers who are blessed with the stamina and fortitude to do so.
If you want to solve the problem in the schools, solve the problems of society. Solve the disparity of wealth in this nation. Every parent wants his or her child to succeed. When you’re worried about how to pay the electric bill, however, or wondering where next month's rent is coming from, there isn’t much time to read Beatrix Potter or have an experience afterwards to reinforce the language and concepts that build a foundation for education.
It is not difficult to predict the future of the professor’s daughter. The handwriting is on the wall. Emily will go into kindergarten ahead of her peers. She will get A’s and B’s all through school. She’ll go on to college. She probably will surpass her mother in the number of degrees and most likely will have a lovely home with flowers planted just like the ones in that story her mother read to her.
We need to forget about accountability; forget about the unions; forget about more multiple choice standardized tests that can't even begin to assess the higher level thinking skills needed in society. We need to stop saying bilingual children aren't learning English and start worrying about the children who never get exposed to a 2nd language.
The proverbial bottom line is this: If you want better schools in this state, create a better life for the parents. Create the climate for affordable homes in California. Develop programs that give hope to young men and provide positive male role models for them. Lessen the disparity between wealth and poverty. Create communities that are clean and pleasant to live in and elevate people rather than discourage them. That’s the harder, braver, politically less popular path, but that’s the only path that will lead to excellence in education.
Posted by: Billie Pagliolo on May 22, 2006 2:23 AM
It is soviet of us to look to a commissar to kick the factory back into acceptable levels of production. Unfortunately, Los Angeles is not yet the Soviet Union. And so his excellency the mayor is at best a candidate for Head Cheerleader and ill-prepared to be commissar.
The factory is to some degree the model for our public schools, as the U.S. Manufacturing Age generated them. The assumption that the product is amenable to improved production methods is nonetheless erroneous. Faculty and staff do not build kids. The kids build themselves.
Nine years a high school teacher, coach, and administrator, I know a few things: kids do respond to positive stimuli like necessity, the halo of encouragement faculty and staff can provide, the competition with peers, the encouragement of peers, recognition for achievement, and the profound power of personal belief which grows from choice, challenge, and the joy of success in the process and experience of growing.
If money were the problem, we'd give the money to the kids in the form of tuition credits beyond secondary education. If money were the problem, we'd give the faculty a piece of the earnings of all the kids who went to the schools they taught in when the faculty retire. But it isn't money.
It's trying to get the bad factory to fix itself.
Posted by: Kevin J McCarthy on May 22, 2006 9:02 AM
I truly agree with the Mayor's plans to take over the LAUSD first and I hope that he doesn't end up with the same problem: that the district spends and wastes too much money on salaries of people who do not have it in their heart to teach and to prepare the children who now have to pass the exit exam. To the teachers union I say, get a grip and concentrate on what you do best: SPEND YOUR TIME AND ENERGY TEACHING. Inform your members to expect to get raises based only on their qualifications and the progress their students made, and not on how much time they spend complaining.
It's a shame that the richest country cannot educate its children because of TOO MUCH BUREAUCRACY. Let the Mayor fix the problem and we'll finally see our children getting the education they deserve.
Posted by: Carlos Fuentes on May 22, 2006 1:33 PM
No! The mayor should not assume responsibility for the school board. However, the mayor is the representative of the taxpayers of Los Angeles and as such should be allowed to audit the school board to make sure that funds are used with accountability.
As for charter schools being a model of what the district can be, magnet schools were also thought of as a new posibility for all L.A. schools. I do not see the point of giving all of the school board power to the mayor to do something we all know won't happen. All Los Angeles schools will not be charter schools just like today every L.A.U.S.D. school is not a magnet.
If the citizens of Los Angeles want their schools to change they will have to become envolved in the change. Not write a check, not elect a mayor, not call into a talk show, but physically become activitive in commuinity change. As long as no one shows up at board meetings, PTA meetings, or just come together to protect their investment (our future citizens), then the schools will continue to show slow if any progress. But no one person is to blame. Blame "We the People."
Posted by: D.Smith on May 27, 2006 2:02 PM
I am a father of a 3rd grade and a 10th grade daughter. I attended both LAUSD and private schools. I am also a former Math teacher who moved to private industry, and now am a civil servant with good benefits of vacation, health and retirement, should I live long enough to qualify.
One of my daughters wants to be a teacher, inspired by wonderful LAUSD teachers she has had. The other daughter wants to become a nurse, and then continue to train and pursue a music and acting career. Her music teacher has convinced her that being in entertainment does not pay the bills, so some other career is a good thing to have.
1. Compare teacher salaries of 40 years ago to other salaries. Raise teachers salaries accordingly, at least by subject areas, to be competitive with other opportunities, so teacher candidates are attracted in greater numbers and retained.
2. Part of junior high school should be looking at the world of work opportunities, and salaries for the typical person in thousands of different jobs. This information should be reviewed by students so they can make decisions on the orientation they need for their high school experience. Imagine a class in which the required assignments are in different careers, salaries in different parts of the country for different jobs, advancement prospects, and the improved salary that comes with greater responsibility. Can there be a year-long careers class, in which a different working parent speaks each day about their job and working career? Students wold find out about different adults' life long work.
The district could use material similar to that found in the book, "What Color Is Your Parachute?" Ask students what would be the nature of the work for their first three entry level job choices. Then they can have that broken down into the kind of training necessary.
3. High schools should be able to offer specialization areas, similar to the magnets now, but broader. More counseling by teachers, so students are assessed on what they learn toward what they want to do. If they change their mind, they need to pick a new orientation.
4. Part of graduation requirements is demonstrating ability in the area that they hope to work, or in the subjects that they hope to work towards in college.
5. College prep still exists, but work prep does also, and kids graduate with better knowledge of the world of work, advancement, salaries.
6. Perhaps a class on independence. Planning for their own life after living at home with parents.
Posted by: Laurence Wagner on June 4, 2006 9:25 AM
I thought we voted for the mayor to improve our schools, not run them. What is the position of superintendent then? I have heard him speak a few times and it's like he knows nothing, having others answer questions directed at him. This man surely represents what theses schools are about: disappointment after disappointment.
I have not gone to the schools in LAUSD, but my sister did, and when we moved over here, my sister (an honor roll student) was behind in classes and had to waste her time going to summer school because LAUSD sucks. I went to school in San Diego County, but LA is now my home and this is where I plan to raise a family. I saw prop 82, and it's wack. Pre-school is important, but not as important as these high school kids who are learning to really think for themselves. I did not go to pre-school, nor did my three sisters, and we are all okay. We all have degrees except for my little sister, who is currently attending UCLA. Kids can go to pre-school and it will not make a difference if these children are not taking the proper courses. Bad grades as a child will not reflect on your college applications. I have never voiced my opinion about the schools i went to because it was not necessary, but when i started living here in LA I am looking at a lot of kids who are being deprived of an education they deserve.
Here is what I am trying to say: money is going into the wrong places, and if the mayor is allowed to run our schools this will continue.
Posted by: Ivan on June 4, 2006 5:34 PM
Well, I didn't vote for this mayor, but I do see that I probably should have. For the most part, he is a great mayor that deeply cares about every community. Wherever there is a major disaster, there he is trying to help out. Let me tell you, that when he does show up, he doesn't do it for photo ops, he's there for hours, sometimes days, helping. So he is a positive person for all of our communities.
As for him taking over...why not?? The current LAUSD had failed tremendously! So why not change something that hasn't worked?
I'm a product of the system and I'm not working with the system for my children.
My son went to Winnetka Ave school and he's an English student. However, 90% of his classmates didn't speak english. My son had the preshool advantage and even his teacher said that my son was very advanced, but she wasn't about to have him moved because he was good for the 'other' students!!!!! She wanted to use my son as an example for others to learn what they should have already known!!! At the same school, I would go into the office and the ladies in there would just ignore me. They would be too busy talking to each other rather than trying to help a parent. I would have to literally yell towards them to get their attention to try to help me. I think the prinicpal is great, however her vice princiapal really needs help. It was such a shame that the principal at Winnetka wasn't on campus enough. She wasn't involved with the parents enough. I tried to join the PTA and even that was discouraged. I found myself fighting an uphill battle. So I yanked my son out and am currently paying for a private education.
Now I've got him placed in Serrenia Ave school, and the quality of education, the responsiveness of the staff and the caring principal that is always around is amazing!!!!
I'm all for extending the days in our schools. Nowadays the schools get off every tuesday at 1:30 pm, why??? For the teachers I guess. So if we extended the hours, they would probably just go to the regular hours that our children should be in anyways. I do think that going until 5 is a bit long, unless they are incorporating the Arts. I think every child should be required to take either an Art, music, drama, or the like.
I went to SOCES and I started school at 7:45 and got out at 4pm and I wasn't burnt out at all. Let's give our kids more credit. In this school, I was also involoved in drama and choir. I also had a homeroom class that was my first period. In this period I was able to catch up on any homework from my other classes.
Personally there are more problems outside of our classrooms. So I guess the bigger question to ask is, would you rather have your kids running the streets after school, or would you rather be picking up your kids after school??
For those students that commute into other districts, those districts need more schools. It's not fair to bus anyone for over 2 hours just to get to school.
Posted by: Erica on June 11, 2006 9:13 AM
Why can't the moms, dads and people of LAUSD's jurisdiction vote on this plan? I thought Arnold and the Democrats believed in "going to the people"????
Posted by: David Tokofsky on August 19, 2006 9:40 AM