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
WEEKLY:There are some model schools in this city for poor kids and kids of color. On the other hand, it's the exception rather than the rule. I can walk into schools all over South Los Angeles, all over parts of the Valley, all over the Central City and East Los Angeles, and find substandard educational experiences in classroom after classroom. What do we do about that?
LAPPIN:You have to say to schools, "Okay, something is going to happen because you are not meeting the needs of your students. There are consequences that are going to happen to the staff -- from the principal, to the teachers, to the classified employees -- if this continues. But it takes an effort, and it takes a commitment. That's the ultimate role for the Central Office, to say to under-performing schools, "You are going to do well. We will give you A, B and C to help you accomplish that. And if you don't, then D, E and F are going to happen."
WEEKLY:And that can happen in some schools, certainly. But I go into other schools where I think you might as well tell them that by the end of the year every child has to fly. The staff is not capable of making it happen.
CASILLAS:There's a lot of thinking now that if you just mandate accountability, then immediately you're going to increase quality. But I have to tell you that all you've really got is a bureaucracy mandating that the rest of the bureaucracy comply. You've just got one group of bureaucrats talking to another group of bureaucrats. And guess what they're talking about? The bureaucracy. You don't have authentic conversations between the superintendent, the principal and the teachers based on what the data really say. You don't have them really examining the achievement gap that exists between some kids, or really looking at classroom teacher quality. You know, there is a science here, and people can learn it. You have to look at one teacher in one school and ask, "Why does this teacher have such high-performing students?" And next door, the same grade, the same type of kids, that another teacher, in terms of value added for the school year, didn't produce. You have to ask, "What is the difference?"
LAPPIN:At my school, we're part of a national model of school reform that says, basically, if we work together at a school, and have people involved in making decisions, and have people buying into the decisions that are made, then we can come up with a way of helping kids learn and succeed. When I got to the school 11 years ago, they were going to take it over as one of the 31 worst schools in L.A. That meant I didn't to have to hit people over the head to get their attention, because we had their attention. So we looked at the research, at what helps kids learn, at what we could do to raise test scores, and we looked at how to create a learning-support system. Today, we have a school-based health clinic, we have a parent center, we have very active involvement with the school's families.
BURTON:We have to take note that Howard has been there 11 years. That's 11 years of consistency in leadership. And the other thing that Howard won't say about himself, but I will, is that he stayed actively involved. He didn't do a few things and then sit back on his laurels about those one or two things. He's constantly performing as an entrepreneur in terms of bringing new programs and ideas into the school. But what the test will really be is, What happens when Howard goes?
WEEKLY:I've never been an advocate of breaking up LAUSD. But listening to this discussion, I get a sobering sense that the sheer scale of the district creates a very daunting obstacle to real change. Do the people who say that the district is simply too large to be effectual in implementing any of these reforms system-wide have a point?
CASILLAS:I think that more important than the size of the district is the issue of quality control. We work with 15 districts scattered across Los Angeles County. We have small districts with one high school, two middle schools and maybe six elementary schools. And you know, the level of student achievement in some is about the same as in some of our schools in Los Angeles. You don't see a significant difference.
MITCHELL:I think where size matters most in education is in school size. I would even trade off school size against class size. If you were to take the cut of the modest-size schools in a larger district -- I don't care whether they're in L.A., Chicago or New York -- I believe that you would see them performing at the same level as like-size schools in much smaller districts. You need small schools for a sense of community. You need to have adults who know kids and kids who know adults.
LAPPIN:You can make big schools small. You can work it.
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