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
ROBERTS:I'd like to tell you about some genuine bottom-up reform in this district. Pacoima had been in a program called Healthy Start for 10 years. This reform began at one elementary school, 10 years ago. It spread to five public schools in Pacoima, and it was the parents and the principals who spread it. Ultimately, a group of involved people got on an airplane and went to Houston and looked at Project GRAD, a program that was having real success there, and they said, "That's what we want." Reform takes time.
OAKES:Let's take another example. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of four students at Inglewood High School, because these students are very capable students who would like very much to be taking advanced-placement courses in mathematics and science. But they're not available for them in the way they are at many schools in more affluent neighborhoods. So now there's a lot of talk about "Well, let's construct a sound policy solution to this problem so it won't go to court." Now, here's another opportunity for a social movement that affects some real change. And I am very interested in watching how the system will try to solve the problem, cover it over, quiet things down and really not end up with much that's very different.
LAPPIN:I'll tell you what they're going to do. They'll mandate to the schools that "You are going to offer X number of AP classes per students." They're not going to say, "Come up with some solutions." They're not going to say, "Is this a good thing?" They're not going to say to the community, "This is your community school. How shall we solve the problem?" They're going to mandate a solution from above.
MITCHELL:And as sure as they mandate the number of AP classes per student, they will not address whether or not the people teaching the new courses are qualified.
BURTON:Reform needs to be both bottom-up and top-down. There has to be an appropriate balance so that the district's role becomes setting standards and then freeing people up to accomplish those standards. But I think that what happened with LEARN is that a lot of Central Office folks tended to view it as "In order for LEARN to be right, then what we have been doing was wrong. In order for LEARN to be right, then we have to buy into all of the stuff that we're hearing about what an incompetent bunch of boobs we are." You'd often hear the phrase downtown "Those LEARN schools think they can do anything." I think that we didn't really do enough to build the critically needed support at the Central Office. Schools couldn't do it alone. They had to have support downtown.
ROOS:I accept the overall thought, but you have to remember we thought we had that support. We got a 7-0 vote from the school board to implement LEARN, a unanimous vote from the constitutionally authorized governing body. When you think you have cut a deal with the leadership, which is the board and the superintendent, you have to wonder why you'd need anything else. Now I believe that we misgauged the support from the leadership.
TOKOFSKY:We've been talking about Martin Luther -- I mean, Mike Roos -- and his nailing of the reform theses on the wall. That opened up much in L.A. Unified. But we're not just talking about L.A. Unified, and we're not just talking about LEARN. We're talking about school reform across the nation.
I'd like to think back to the year 1983, when the "A Nation at Risk" report came out. That was 17 years ago. We're now one kid's education later. And I would say -- having taught just today at Marshall High, where I taught for 12 years before becoming a school-board member -- that we're worse off. The quality of instruction, the physical atmosphere of the campuses, by and large, are worse than they were 17 years ago.
I hope that the current intense focus on education portends something dramatically different. But I'm very worried that there are not enough good people going into education. When you walk onto campuses today, there is a deep depression in students that is clinical. I think it's a national tragedy that a place that is supposed to unleash creativity, identity and spirit is instead so depressing.
ROOS:I think Howard would say that in the last 17 years Foshay has transformed itself from a place of failure and discouragement into a place of success and optimism.
TOKOFSKY:Right, and that would be the pattern, that would be the example that other schools could look to.
OAKES:At UCLA we lay out teaching as a career that is intellectually rigorous and demands an enormous commitment of principles. We tell people, "This is a social-justice teacher-education program. Don't come to UCLA unless you want to teach in schools that are majority kids in poverty, majority kids of color. In fact, if you come here you've got to sign your first-year contract in one of those schools, and we'll help you negotiate it, and we're going to stick with you for that first year."
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