L.A. Board Advances Broad Accountability Measures

By Kerry A. White — May 12, 1999 2 min read

Despite union opposition, Los Angeles school leaders are moving ahead with an accountability plan that promises cash rewards to successful schools and tough consequences for those that consistently aren’t up to par.

The school board approved the frameworks of the new plan April 27. Under it, low-achieving schools could lose decisionmaking authority and could ultimately face intervention and restructuring by the district.

The 697,000-student system’s highest-performing schools would be rewarded with some sort of awards--including cash--that teachers and administrators could use for school improvement. High-poverty schools that showed significant gains in achievement would also qualify.

But it’s the other end of the scale--the last-resort intervention known as reconstitution--that has the teachers’ union fuming. The drastic overhauls force out some, or all, of a chronically failing school’s staff.

Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles say that, with reconstitution’s mixed record in several urban systems, Los Angeles should take a more cooperative intervention tack. (“A Mixed Record for Reconstitution Flashes a Yellow Light for Districts,” July 8, 1998.)

“It sounds simple. It seems like a magic bullet, but it hasn’t worked,” said Day Higuchi, the president of the 41,000-member UTLA, a joint affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. “The teachers’ union is very interested in getting help out to low-performing schools,” Mr. Higuchi added. “But we want a helpful process ... not this musical chairs.”

But others argue that teachers who can’t make the grade even after focused, sustained intervention should look elsewhere for work. “Underperforming teachers should be out of the classroom,” said Theodore R. Mitchell, an education consultant and a former dean of the graduate school of education at the University of California, Los Angeles. “The union wants to say yes to everything but this.”

School officials insist that the accountability plan is fair to teachers and administrators and does not have to be negotiated with the union. “It’s not something that’s bargainable,” Assistant Superintendent Gordon Wohlers said last week.

Intervention Not New

The Los Angeles Unified School District began identifying its 100 lowest-performing schools in 1997, and a new list is compiled each year. Those schools receive guidance and financial help from the district, including some $10 million in federal poverty aid to buy new textbooks and provide services such as tutoring. Schools that move off the list receive $5,000 cash bonuses. But last fall, Superintendent Ruben Zacarias warned schools that had stayed on the list for a second straight year that unless they showed improvement, they faced intervention and major shake-ups.

Mr. Wohlers said he and other district leaders acknowledge that the best intervention strategies are cooperative. “Our best efforts aren’t punitive, and focus almost exclusively on getting employees to perform better,” he said. “But if we’re providing all the help and all the resources to turn these schools around, and they continue in a downward spiral, the superintendent has a responsibility to do something major.”

A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 edition of Education Week as L.A. Board Advances Broad Accountability Measures