The Los Angeles school board gathered last week under the premise of discussing Superintendent Michelle King’s draft Strategic Plan.
The morning session was a discussion of how to connect what the board and the district do to what happens in the classroom. In other words, what is the mission?
Remnants of special interests were apparent. The discussion was framed as what reform (or as LA’s late, great Scott Folsom used to say ®eform) should look like.
Board President Steve Zimmer bristled at the term. “School reform has become a vulgarly distorted term that I’m not actually interested in anymore because I don’t know what it means.”
The news reports following the meeting mostly announced the board’s mission of 100% graduation (KPCC's report gave a fuller idea of what was discussed). 100% graduation is neither a mission nor a vision, but a goal. The morning conversation was about more than that anyway.
It would have benefited from some preparation in the form of research and policy analysis presented to board members ahead of time. Without that, each board member was left to his and her own devices in a loosey goosey rumination. Some were better informed than others.
PUC Charter Schools co-founder Ref Rodriguez blamed regulation: The regulatory environment keeps us centralized rather than ultimate school reform. Not sure what that means, but ®ef must be thrilled that Governor Jerry Brown vetoed two bills this week that would have required charter schools to adhere to California’s transparency laws that all public bodies in the state follow. He was the least helpful. He later suggested that empowered parents should be considered "just noise".
There was discussion about why parents and even employees go directly to board members instead of to the many district employees whose jobs are to do the things the board hears about. That might be because board members are elected and therefore accountable to the people. This should not be glossed over, but it's a topic for another post.
Some board members elaborated on their vision. The longtime school principals, Richard Vladovic, George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson, and classroom teacher Monica Ratliff described school communities as the center. Vladovic cited Edmonds’ research and talked about bringing in parents and the whole school to improve student achievement. Monica Ratliff grappled with whether and how board resolutions can make their way into the typical classroom. They discussed the need for district employees at every level to know that their whole purpose was to serve students. These were ideas that you could imagine parents, teachers, principals and aides coalescing around. They were talking mission and vision.
It’s hard to understand how hours of exchange about the goals and obstacles for a huge and diverse school district got reduced to a single number.
Maybe it’s because, by the afternoon, the Board Bully, Monica Garcia had joined the meeting. But why did Zimmer, too, insist on narrowing the focus “laser like,” as he said? And why was King so ready to reduce the district’s mission to one goal?
The superintendent, whom Zimmer reminded everyone, has the most trust of any superintendent in recent history, will now be judged by her ability or inability to achieve one target. The headlines will write themselves.
George McKenna understood that this was the wrong direction, knowing all the factors that are beyond the school’s control. There’s plenty of research about this, too.
But it seemed that having the Superintendent declare an easily stated goal was more appealing than grappling with the exigencies of a diverse and massive school district.
Reducing LAUSD’s mission to 100% graduation is downright baffling when you contrast it with California’s recent move toward the use of multiple measures in evaluating schools (after years of leading the country in bucking the Obama administration’s Race to the Top policies). Amidst ESSA's rejection of 100% proficiency goals of NCLB. In light of the shift in the national discourse from achievement gaps to opportunity gaps.
But this background was not even discussed.
Michelle King is a good listener. Recent reports say she has been listening to the Great Public Schools Now (GPSN) folks who plan to award grants to open more schools in LAUSD. Last week, the LA Times wrote:
Emphasizing possible collaboration, [GPSN’s] news release on Wednesday included a comment from L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King.
“I am excited about the opportunities to increase the number of high-quality choices for our L.A. Unified families,” King said. “We have schools in every corner of the district where students are excelling. Investing in these campuses will allow more of our students to attain the knowledge and skills to be successful in college, careers and in life.”
She added: “I have encouraged our local district superintendents to identify our most successful models and to work with their teams to develop competitive and forward-thinking proposals,” King said.
As enrollment is dropping and the superintendent is considering consolidating and closing schools (according to this TV interview), how are more schools the answer? Where will those students come from? But these are ideas brought to her by GPSN.
Michelle King is known as a good listener. Those of us who care about our schools should consider giving her something more to hear.
What do you want included in the strategic plan?