By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
MITCHELL:That was, I think, one of the key decisions that LEARN made early on under Mike's leadership, that faculty support -- not just from the teachers, but from other school staff as well -- and parent support were necessary to launch a school in the direction of real reformation.
ROOS:I think that at the root of trying to reform schools, you find a tug of war between those who believe that decentralization will lead to higher achievement, versus those who believe that you have to centralize and have an off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all solution dictated from on high. And until that is reconciled with some finality, I think, you're going to continue to see mixed results.
And so what does it take? It first of all takes a leadership structure that says, "We're going to hire good people, we're going to set standards, and then we're going to trust the people we've hired to meet those goals. I give Ruben Zacarias some amount of credit for being the first guy who came in and said, "There are under-performing schools, and those schools have to improve." That was, for the first time, a kind of a goal statement. What he's failed to do is empower the schools themselves, and the local and regional administrators to solve the problem. A lot of the people downtown really believe "We know a lot better than these idiots we have down in the schools. We know a lot better than they do, and so we are going to call the shots."
Another impediment to true reform is that there is no respect for entrepreneurial leadership. You have a system that basically ensures that the only people who can advance all the way to the top are people who have teaching certificates. This makes no sense.
Arguably, the reason you run into Belmont-type catastrophes is that you had someone who started off with a teaching certificate, who got promoted into the real estate division and was one day told, "By the way, you really look like you know what you're doing in real estate. We're going to give you $200 million to put up a high school."
WEEKLY:I'd like to hear an assessment of the LEARN program, the most widespread attempt at school reform that the LAUSD has tried over the last decade.
ROOS:LEARN accomplished some extraordinary things. We brought together real leaders who made the investment of time and energy and intelligence to change schools. We organized the countryside and generated real enthusiasm at numerous schools. Where we failed, miserably, was in thinking that intelligent, tough-minded, committed people could sit across from Sid Thompson, Bill Anton and Ruben Zacarias, and basically negotiate them out of a hundred years of culture. That's what we tried to do. We tried to say, "Look, it's clear the community wants change. This is your moment. Here's our agenda."
And countless times they said to us, "No problem, absolutely, you've got it." Then nothing happened, and we'd ask them, "Well, what's happening?" And they'd respond, "Well, we had a meeting, and you can't do this because of state law. And you can't do that because . . . " It was always "You can't."
MITCHELL:Starting with "We can't give the budgets to the schools."
OAKES:I think the public wonders if this was all â so terrific, why are we in such bad shape right now?
ROOS:I would argue that we are in eminently better shape than we were nine years ago. First of all, you've just changed, in eight years, the whole vocabulary. When we got on the scene, everybody was talking about more teachers, more pencils, more money, more this, more that. Now, at least, everybody starts off with student performance. That's a sea change. Everybody is talking about accountability, whether it happens or not.
OAKES:But they still don't have the teachers or the curriculum or the pencils. I go back to what Ted said about this being a social movement, and I keep wondering if perhaps our reliance on organizational metaphors -- and especially organizational metaphors from profit-sector companies -- is maybe what's gotten us into so much trouble. When I think about a social movement, it looks very different to me than a restructuring of a corporation. It's more about grassroots political organizing, a bottom-up kind of movement where people demand a transfer of power. If you look at the civil rights movement, it took place not through powerful leaders mobilizing people, but through small groups of people working at the local level.
JUDY BURTON:I think that did occur. The first groups of LEARN schools that we worked with met ad nauseam, and they demanded changes that they felt were crucial to implementing what LEARN was supposed to be about. Every change that got put into place was the result of parents and teachers and principals and classified folks getting together, convening meetings, with or without leadership, to move things forward. It felt very much to me like a ground-up movement.
OAKES:So what happened? What's your assessment of why this stopped short? I think Mike put it beautifully when he said that the movement couldn't overcome a hundred years of culture. What does it take?
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