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Why LAUSD Does Not Work?

Leonard isenberg: By what standard do people who continually fail to fix public education remain the leaders of public education reform
william ouchi

Are You Able and Willing to Learn: Why LAUSD Does Not Work?

While the mainstream media is willing to continue to irrationally vilify teachers for what is wrong in public education and to ignore the proverbial 850-pound gorilla of LAUSD administrative incompetence and corruption that really has always had the power to bring about change, but consciously chooses not to, I am not.

Clearly the not-so-clever folks running LAUSD who continue to run public education into the ground for their own benefit and that of their corporate patrons, who seek the privatization and monetization of public education, could not do so unless they got some help from respected academics, politicians, and others whose judgment might just be colored by their own egos and financial self-interest.

Case in point, I just got off the phone with Professor William Ouchi from UCLA's Anderson Graduate School of Management, who not only was the chairman of LEARN (Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now) back in May 1999, but wrote an article entitled Education Reform Lessons from the Trenches, where he sings the praises of this now destroyed public education reform program that was designed to "increase accountability and strengthen reading instruction."

Although Dr. Ouchi proclaims in his May 1999 article that "we have begun to turn the tide of falling test scores," nothing could be further from the truth. Now 12 years after this article was written touting how LEARN would create "Decentralization with Accountability" by giving "decision-making and budgeting authority" to local schools, while holding "principals accountable," expensive LEARN reforms are a dead letter at LAUSD and yet mainstream media never addresses "allegations that District[LAUSD] administrators and the school board never intended to decentralize the budget as LEARN called for and were being clever by feigning cooperation and devious in finding ways not to decentralize the money," according to Professor Charles Taylor Kerchner of the Claremont Graduate University in his book Learning From L.A. - Institutional Change In American Public Education.

Not only were no "measurements to hold principals accountable" ever implemented, but the second element of LEARN to increase collaboration by bringing in all stakeholders was never given anything but lip service. The same was also true of the third element of LEARN which was involving all stakeholders in developing a School Site Action Plan. And finally, no Professional Development was ever given to teachers or training given to parents to empower teachers in the LEARN process or parents who had the interest to have better schools for their children, but not the education and social capital necessary to take power away from "administrators two or three levels removed from them," who continue today to call all the shots in what remained what even Dr. Ouchi refers to as "the state's largest and perhaps most bureaucratic school district."

Dr. Ouchi's complicity as Chairman of LEARN can be seen even in this May 1999 article by the atypical example he gives of a successful LEARN school, when he discusses the success of Mulholland Middle School in West Los Angeles in redressing their lack of lab science facilities and courses. In reality, their success in this predominantly white affluent Westside school would logically seem to have more to do with their parents' social capital in knowing how to get the public education system to respond to them, rather than anything to do with LEARN reforms, that as of this writing in May 2011 is clearly a premeditated LAUSD failure that Dr. Ouchi has chosen to ignore. He's moved on and nobody in the mainstream media seems willing to hold him or anybody else associated with LEARN accountable.

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By what standard do people who continually fail to fix public education remain the leaders of public education reform?

In the final analysis, one is hard pressed to find today what Dr. Ouchi and others referred to at the time as the "significant cost savings it [LEARN] generates over time" or the savings of "money by giving local principals, teachers and parents the freedom to redirect funds misspent on inappropriate staff and programs" that seem to have continued unabated over the last 12 years at LAUSD. Could that have anything to do with why LAUSD continues to fail?

At Palisades Charter High School, a school Dr. Ouchi also sites as an example of LEARN success, we now see a top heavy and top-down mini-LAUSD model of public education, where corruption in administration of the school and the spending of over $5 million on a completely unnecessary swimming pool have broken every promise that LEARN status and independent charter status was supposed to accrue to the school.

Among the things I wanted to ask Dr. Ouchi this morning was how much money he personally made in addition to his quite substantial salary as a UCLA professor at the Anderson School for being chairman of LEARN? But then I remembered what Professor Kerchner said in his book about LEARN: There was "no data" nor anyone willing to go "on-the-record" with an opinion..."that [LAUSD] never intended to decentralize the budget." It is no wonder that Dr. Ouchi refused to talk to me this morning on the record, since his apparent complicity in this farce of LEARN remains uncontroverted by time or the facts.

And he is not alone at UCLA and elsewhere in academia in taking advantage of the revolving door between LAUSD and other school districts that continue to benefit from lucrative consulting contracts, endowed chairs, and academics going to work in various capacities for public school districts that often include their serving as superintendents of these less than functional public school entities that have every interest in not upsetting the status quo of longstanding public education planned failure under which only they seem to benefit.

Alas, the L.A. Times and other mainstream media do not find this worth reporting, when a simplistic and repetitious attack on teachers does not require an education or the sequencing of enough facts by their readers, who continue to be encouraged to scapegoat teachers for a purposefully failed public education system, that really dedicated educators who make up the majority of teachers and other LAUSD employees, have never had the power to remedy.

leonard isenberg

Leonard Isenberg