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
If you look at the Inglewood school district, which is always cited as an example of the marvelous success of the Open Court program, there are some questions raised. You do see a real bump in test scores at the elementary level. But the district's high school scores are not so impressive. And the district has a high dropout rate. Some of the high-scoring elementary students leave the district prior to high school, but you have to wonder if maybe the battle isn't won simply because you've successfully taught phonics in elementary school. Another question raised by Open Court is what happens to the kids who master reading early? Are those phonics drills really serving a kid who's ready to readHarry Potter?
I think what the good Open Court teacher does is identify those students and give them extra enrichment and challenge parallel to Open Court. Everybody knows how badly we're doing on reading. We have to do something different. And we have other handicaps: 58 percent of our new teaching hires are uncredentialed, and many of our schools are low-performing. We're gambling that this program, which takes a kind of Marine-drill approach, will work, and that's a fair gamble. The test of whether or not this was a good decision will be whether it works.
The district is in the middle of union negotiations with its teachers. What are some of the important issues there from your perspective?
One has to do with my desire to improve instruction. We pay teachers for an eight-hour day, but we have a rule that says teachers only have to be on campus six hours. And I am very firm about trying to get one additional on-site hour a week for professional development, for teachers to have collegial time together. That's a sticking point, that extra hour a week on campus.
Another sticky issue is classroom assignment. Currently, teachers have the right to bump other teachers with less seniority in order to get a different grade or on a more desirable track at a year-round school. The teachers won this right during tight times in a year they agreed to take a 10 percent pay cut. They say it protects them from the whims of principals. What is your position?
Let me ask you something. At this newspaper, let's say the editor wants a reporter to do a particular job. And let's say that reporter has been here longer than anybody else and decides that, no, he wants to bump someone else from a different job that the other person is doing extremely well. Let's say he comes in and says, "I don't care what skill I've got; I want to do that, because I'm senior." Could he do that even without having the skills of the person doing the job? Would that be good for the paper? That's the way it is now at schools. At year-round schools, we have three tracks: A, B and C. A is the track most like traditional school, with a long break in the summer. Go look at where the senior teachers are. They get the best track. Look at where all the inexperienced teachers are -- jammed into the undesirable tracks. Now when I came here, I said, that's not just bad management; it's immoral! You have to remember that in this district, a significant percentage of our teachers are uncredentialed, and still on probation because they're in their first two years. I'd like to see a system that honors seniority, but doesn't lump all the inexperienced teachers on a single track.
What about the point teachers make that some principals aren't competent to make assignments, and do so in a frivolous, even vindictive, way? Aren't you asking them to take a leap of faith that their principals -- who may not have managed well in the past -- are suddenly going to be good managers?
It's not a leap of faith to expect a principal to have the ability to make some judgment. If you have the editor title, you're expected to exercise responsibility as editor, no matter how people feel about your competence as editor. That's structurally what ought to happen in an organization. We don't buy that structure in public schools in this district. I'm willing to allow for a shared decision. Right now, teachers assign themselves.
You said something a minute ago that I think gets to the core problem of this district. It's astounding that so many teachers are uncredentialed, with very little experience. How do you begin to address the problems of an educational system where that great a number of people don't really know what they're doing?
First, we can't assume that all those teachers are bad just because they're inexperienced. But we've also got to look culturally. What is it about the culture of the district that has produced the condition we're in? And what do we do to change it? There are other central problems. I don't have the power to assign teachers to particular schools, but let's look at who teaches in which part of town. We have real inequality of who teaches in what portion of this town. Now, how do I get over that? I can't do it by ordering teachers to go somewhere, because they'd leave the district. But I've got to find a way to address the inequity.
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