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Despite Objections, U.C.L.A. Weighs Shifting Lab School to Local District

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By Debra Viadero

The University of California at Los Angeles is considering a controversial proposal that would turn the management of its internationally renowned laboratory school over to a public school district.

Under the plan, the 107-year-old lab school, which serves as an experimental research facility for ucla's graduate school of education, would become part of the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District. The university would continue to staff and operate the school under a long-term contract with the district.

Moving the facility, known as the Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School, is being considered for a variety of reasons, according to Cheryl Fagnano, executive assistant to the dean of the graduate school of education. Primary among them, she said, is a concern that its "atypical" atmosphere, as part of a wooded, nine-acre campus in a suburban neighborhood, may not reflect the university's commitment to producing research on the "real world" needs of public schools.

"Almost all the important issues in education research today tend to be about difficult-to-teach children, children from urban areas, children in poverty," Ms. Fagnano said. "U.e.s. just doesn't have a very representative sample for what would be a typical urban school district."

In Santa Monica's Ocean Park neighborhood, she said, the school could draw its students from an area rich in ethnic and economic diversity.

In addition, the per-pupil funding the school would receive from the state and the district would enable the university to construct a state-of-the-art facility to house it. The current building, constructed in the 1950's, cannot accommodate the kinds of advances in instructional technology revolutionizing education, according to Ms. Fagnano.

University officials also see the plan as a way to gain much needed space on the Los Angeles campus, which has the largest enrollment and smallest land mass of the nine campuses in the state's university system. Plans to build a new graduate school of management on part of the grounds the lab school now occupies have already been announced.

The proposal, however, has drawn protests from many of the parents of its 450 students and from system faculty members who question what it portends for the school's future.

"It's the sharks feeding on the bloodied low status of educators," said James W. Guthrie, professor of education and director of Policy Analysis for California Education (pace) at the University of California at Berkeley.

Parents have warned also that the school could lose what they characterize as its "uniqueness and sensitivity" if it becomes part of a public system. Seeds students now have easy access, they note, to a rich array of university resources, including an art gallery and concert facilities. The school also has its own redwood grove.

In addition, pupils at Seeds, who range in age from 4 to 12, are not grouped by traditional grade levels. Classes are team taught by faculty members given as many as 22 "pupil-free" days to plan curricula, and letter grades have been replaced by detailed written evaluations of each child's strengths and weaknesses.

A final decision on the proposal, Ms. Fagnano said, may pivot on whether the school would be allowed to continue using such nontraditional practices. In some cases, she indicated, waivers from state rules may be needed.

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