Before the rebranding of Eli Broad's attack on LAUSD, he had put fellow billionaire David Geffen on his team roster. Geffen and Broad teaming up would be even more serious than Broad bringing in charter vendor ExED to manage the effort. Was it even likely that Geffen would have suited up with his fellow billionaire?
“Not in a million years.” That’s what Geffen said ten years ago when Broad suggested they buy the LA Times together.
There’s no indication they’ve patched things up. So is the enemy of my enemy my friend? Could LAUSD count on Geffen’s help defending the school district?
That’s not likely either. It isn’t because Geffen is uninterested in education. Last week, the LA Times announced his $100 million donation to UCLA for a private middle and high school for the children of professors.
LA Times columnist Steve Lopez, the conscience of Los Angeles, is the only one who has cried foul. The world class public university smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles feels the need to create its own school district and LAUSD considers it a neutral zone.
Somebody blow a whistle!
Forget for a moment how the children of professors would strengthen LAUSD’s nearby University High School in terms of seats in classrooms and the funding that comes along with them. Though that is an important loss that seems to have been written off. But why is LAUSD not bending over backwards to forge relationships with this brain trust for research, policy advice, and vision? It’s a neutral zone, not a gated community.
UCLA is the university that Gary Blasi has called home for decades. Blasi’s scholarship, policy advice and legal services include improving learning opportunities in substandard schools, racial and other stereotypes, and how large bureaucracies can better respond to the needs of poor and disabled people.
UCLA is the same university that just recruited Pedro Noguera, famed scholar in community development, youth violence, and race and ethnic relations. He wrote a book called Schooling for Resilience: Improving the Life Trajectories of African American and Latino Boys. The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District has already enlisted Noguera's help.
Finally, UCLA is the same university where John Rogers’ co-founded the Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA) 15 years ago "to confront what may be the most pressing public issue in Los Angeles and in California today: bringing neighbors together across the many communities of Los Angeles to address the critical problems of public education.”
I swear, I didn’t write these descriptions with LAUSD in mind; I didn’t write them at all. Do the very scholars whose research could make a real difference in school districts like ours not want to have anything to do with our schools?
Perhaps they know too much. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a disconnect between ideals and practice in LAUSD. Even supporters of former Superintendent John Deasy agree with critics that his implementation of lofty goals was problematic (though his critics never believed those were his goals in the first place). Sure, he could gather a parade of civil rights organizations to cheer his banning suspensions, but teachers and parents complained about a lack of resources for authentic positive discipline programs that would improve the learning environment for everyone.
But Deasy wasn’t alone in that disconnect. Board President Steve Zimmer has been waxing poetic lately about some of these lofty issues in interviews and he, too, seems light on the details. Is he going to be wowed by a superintendent who gives lip service to civil rights and equity goals that should simply be the starting point of the vetting process? What are the policies they have experience implementing?
Which brings us back to these scholars and others like them. They know a thing or two about connecting lofty ideals with policy and practice. Some of them may have even sparred with Eli Broad a time or two.
Yet the news of UCLA’s private high school underscores just how closed off LAUSD is. Why are the policymakers of the country’s second largest school district not talking with some of the best minds in public education policy? Doesn’t LAUSD think there is something to gain from some of UCLA’s six Nobel laureates, a Pritzker Prize winner, 12 MacArthur geniuses, an art department that features some of the most important artists working today, an engineering department that helped invent the internet (Yes, THAT internet.) and on and on and on?
With a meaningful relationship with the scholars and academic programs at UCLA--and any number of the universities in Los Angeles--LAUSD would be a better district that would then withstand the “choices” of parents and, therefore, be more resilient to an attack like Broad’s. The best superintendent candidates in the country would be clamoring for the job as head of LAUSD.
Why is no one asking, “Would some more scholarship make LAUSD a better school district?”
I’m not a scholar and I’m not a school board member. But I’d be glad to escort some of both off the field for a chat. The theme: The best defense is a good offense.