Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Credit Were Credit is Due

For once, politicians put principle before politics. The Los Angeles Unified School District has voted to allow 250 of their worst schools to be run by private organizations.
In a startling acknowledgment that the Los Angeles school system cannot improve enough schools on its own, the city Board of Education approved a plan Tuesday that could turn over 250 campuses -- including 50 new multimillion-dollar facilities -- to charter groups and other outside operators.

The plan, approved on a 6-1 vote, gives Supt. Ramon C. Cortines the power to recommend the best option to run some of the worst-performing schools in the city as well as the newest campuses. Board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte dissented.

The action signals a historic turning point for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has struggled for decades to boost student achievement. District officials and others have said their ability to achieve more than incremental progress is hindered by the powerful teachers union, whose contract makes it nearly impossible to fire ineffective tenured teachers. Union leaders blame a district bureaucracy that they say fails to include teachers in "top-down reforms."

"The premise of the resolution is first and foremost to create choice and competition," said board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, who brought the resolution, "and to really force and pressure the district to put forth a better educational plan."

For several board members, particularly those with strong union ties, the debate was heated and often agonizing. Steve Zimmer, for one, sought to require that teachers, other union members and parents approve any school's reform plan through separate majority votes. At high schools students would also vote.

Lacking support from his colleagues, he settled for a watered-down process that includes only advisory ballots.

This will probably get ugly, with the Teacher's Union threatening to sue the school district. However, the mayor had this to say:

"We're not going to be held hostage by a small group of people," Villaraigosa said, referring to the teachers union and other opponents. "I'll let you infer who I'm talking about."

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