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Commentary: New Year’s Resolutions for LAUSD

Ellie Herman | January 7, 2014

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images-1Happy New Year! 2014 is going to be an amazing year; I know it because I found LA Unified’s list of New Year’s Resolutions scribbled on a napkin at Philippe’s French Dip. Okay, I didn’t. But wouldn’t it be great if I did? I mean, if anyone needs to change, isn’t it LAUSD? Here’s what I’d like to imagine those resolutions would be: 1. Just admit it was a gigantic mistake to spent a billion dollars on iPads. Come on. Everyone knows it. Yes, we need to provide district students access to technology. Giving each one a laptop is a great idea and should happen as soon as is reasonable. But buying each one a $700 gadget (above retail? Is that even possible?) loaded with software that nobody seems to understand or think is very good? That’s a bunch of middle-aged people who don’t know much about technology going into a panic and buying a bunch of shiny stuff because it looks cool. So, LAUSD, just admit you made a mistake. Pop $200 or so on Chromebooks and acknowledge that it may take a little time to find the right software, if we even need any. If you need tech advice, ask some teenagers. They know this stuff. We’ll all forgive you when we get back the hundreds of millions you haven’t yet poured into above-retail gadgets. And you’ll be a role model for every child who’s ever made a mistake but is afraid to admit it. Re-brand the whole fiasco a “learning opportunity,” claim you meant it all along as an experiment in Common Core-style creative thinking, and you’ll go from national laughingstocks to education rock stars overnight. 2. Spend those millions in savings to get Title I students out of overcrowded classrooms. We all know that it’s insanity to claim that we’re going to close the achievement gap when students in low-income communities are crammed into classes of 45 and 50. All this talk of Common Core is meaningless if students in underserved communities have little or no access to a teacher. Sure, the funds used for iPads are not earmarked for hiring more teachers. They are also not earmarked for buying iPads. The entire purchase is based on some fancy legalistic footwork that re-interprets a bond meant for school repair and maintenance so that somehow this bond funding can be used for gadgets. I propose that since the idea of a “school building” now includes detachable necessary instructional instruments that can leave the school, those detachable necessary instructional instruments can also be teachers. In fact, LAUSD will soon have an inconceivable $7 billion to spend on this kind of maintenance through a bond sale approved in 2008 to ease overcrowding. Most district schools are actually in very good repair these days, and many have gleaming new campuses due to earlier bond issues. We don’t need fancier, better-equipped classrooms in which to cram 50 students. If the district is going to engage in clever legalistic maneuvers, for heaven’s sake, please do it to address the disgrace of overcrowded classrooms in our schools, which was the real intent of that bond measure in the first place. 3. Stop all this bickering and infighting. It’s childish, embarrassing and, above all, damaging to our children, who have urgent needs you are not addressing. Charters are not going away. Many of them are excellent and are developing innovations everyone should try. That said, charters are draining resources from students with special needs and students without parents who can advocate for them, students who are currently warehoused in overcrowded LAUSD classrooms. These are our city’s most at-risk students; we are all responsible for figuring out how to meet their needs, which can only be done if all of us admit that no one yet knows how. So let’s get down to business, okay? We don’t have time for your stupid fighting. We need to lower class size in underserved, low-income communities, fund universal preschool and offer wraparound services to families in poverty. We need to fund summer school and after-school programming for kids who come in below grade level so that we can make a good-faith effort to get them up to speed. If we have money left over—and trust me, we will, with $7 billion on the table—we need to start developing pilot programs to reach our most at-risk students, the ones no one has been able to reach because there is no one to advocate for them. Studies show that lists of three items are more persuasive than longer lists so I’ll stop the resolutions here. I think these would be a pretty realistic start, don’t you? After all, I’m not telling anyone to do anything crazy like lose weight or stop drinking. So, LAUSD, I’m going to let you off the hook: you can work on your body issues next year. For now, go ahead and throw down a French dip roast beef sandwich and a Martini. You’re going to need them. You’ve got a lot of work to do.

Ellie Herman is a guest commentator. Read more of her thoughts at Gatsby in LA.

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