When I hear about the millions of dollars the Broad Foundation wants to raise to open 260 charters within the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) it makes me cringe. Why? Let me count the million reasons why.
I will be honest I don’t have a million reasons, but I do have a few ideas of how to turn around low achieving schools that would be a lot more cost effective and save a lot of jobs in LAUSD. (LAUSD is the second biggest employer in Los Angeles County, around 60,000 jobs.)
I have said this before and I will say it again, “No one wants to be the worst teacher in the building.” Or for that matter be the lowest performing school in the neighborhood. You can’t tell me that out of the two hundred and sixty schools that the Broad Foundation is targeting that ALL of the teachers in those schools are lousy; statistically it’s not even possible. So if I were the Broad Foundation I would find the points of excellence, those pockets of teachers who are truly there for the students. If I were Eli Broad, I would go into those schools and say to those teachers, “Let’s work together to create a school that you would be proud to teach at and that students would love to attend.”
There is an infrastructure within LAUSD and the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) contract with the district, to support teacher driven schools, they are called school autonomy models. They go by the names of Pilot School, Local Initiative School, and Expanded Site Based Management Model School. The reason why these school models are not widespread across the district is because it takes a lot of time, resources, and money to help teachers create these schools.
These models were developed under the LAUSD policy of Public School Choice. Anyone could write a plan to open a brand new school, or for a current underperforming school. I was part of a team who developed a plan for the school where I currently teach. I gave up many hours after school and some time over the summer to help develop and write the plan. Sometimes, our local superintendent treated us to dinner but most nights we survived on granola bars and water. We also had the help of a professional “plan” writer/consultant who walked us through the early part of the process. The district and UTLA put on various workshops for our team to learn about the different models. We were lucky to have the support of the local district that wanted to ensure the brand new school they were building would not go to a charter school operator.
Many of these autonomous school models are performing quite well. Most of them take students from within their neighborhood boundaries. We don’t recruit for students. My particular school doesn’t have a magnet program (a program for Gifted and Talented Students). Lastly, we adhere to all the guidelines for student discipline and behavior like any other neighborhood LAUSD School. My particular school has a waiting list. We (autonomous school models) are not widely touted by the union because all of the school autonomy models operate with waivers to the union contract. That being said teachers at my school work the same amount of hours as required by the LAUSD contract. We are required to stay one hour later on Thursdays to plan with our grade level or department colleagues for which we are compensated our hourly pay rate.
Schools like mine can exist throughout the district if only there were enough resources to gather those teachers who want to work at a school they are proud of and that students love. The district and the union don’t have the money to invest in expanding school autonomy models but we all know someone who does.
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