Progress Report: Do Los Angeles’ public schools work? L.A. Weekly investigates in a collection of stories featured in its December 1-7 issue. First, a group of the newspaper’s editors and writers talk to Roy Romer, the former Colorado governor who became superintendent of the troubled Los Angeles Unified School District about six months ago. “We’re in such shape, we’ve got to think of every idea,” Romer says. He reveals his top priorities: “to increase the ability of teachers to teach and to increase the ability of principals to manage instruction.” One of Romer’s ideas is to team up beginning teachers with experienced, “master teachers” for on-the-job training. Romer also wants to give LAUSD principals back some of the authority that has been taken away from them—particularly the power to assign teachers as they see fit, and not necessarily based on seniority—and then hold them accountable for what goes on in their schools. “You can’t put principals in charge of schools and hold them responsible for performance without giving them authority,” he says. The section on education also includes a conversation with a panel of L.A. teachers and excerpts from Samantha Trumbo Campbell’s 1997 journal, in which she chronicles her frustrations as an uncredentialed first-year teacher in the city’s tough South Central area. On her first day at school, she confesses, “I am terrified.” In November, she writes, “I don’t belong here,” as she describes her school’s system of playground punishment, in which troublemakers are forced to walk around the schoolyard perimeter with their hands behind their backs until recess ends. “I can’t shake the prison image.” To Campbell, the district’s weekly training program for uncredentialed teachers is a joke. “I come faithfully,” she writes, “but rarely learn anything I can practically apply in the classroom.” As time goes on, Campbell alternates between “bouts of elation and despair.” By the end of the year, Campbell feels as if she’s finally getting somewhere. “To actually see the children’s accomplishments, whether on their papers or their faces, is enough to keep my hope alive that someday I’ll know what I’m doing, someday I’ll live up to those impossible expectations of what a teacher should be.” Burned out after three years of teaching, Campbell is currently on a one-year leave of absence from the profession but plans to return.
Schools They Like: In its January/February issue, the American Enterprise profiles 14 schools “where kids really learn.” The conservative magazine “emphatically did not seek institutions that turn out all Harvard students,” Editor in Chief Karl Zinsmeister explains in his introduction, but picked schools that “push kids and demand effort.” The public, private, and charter schools on the list are culturally very different but share common traits: strict discipline, high standards, a rigorous curriculum, a dress code, an insistence on patriotism, a sense of purpose, and an emphasis on old- fashioned virtues and morals. And, lumped together, Zinsmeister contends, they make an argument for school vouchers: The schools, he says, offer “a glimpse of how rich and multi-faceted childhood education could be in a freer world of de-monopolized education.”