School reform facing hurdles

first_img“This plan is not baked yet. We’re still in the process of working our way through this plan,” Brewer said. “Everybody’s got to take a deep breath here.” Corrective actions And perhaps offering a glimpse of what he might use for leverage, Brewer said the district is required to develop a restructuring plan under federal No Child Left Behind regulations. “Nobody can get around the fact that we’re under corrective actions because of NCLB and the state,” Brewer said. “That is a fact.” But the teachers union is strongly opposed to elements of Brewer’s plan that include merit pay for teachers, incentive pay for principals and scripted teaching at middle and high schools. And in meetings on the plan, teachers have been urging Brewer to provide resources so they can carry out individualized reform efforts – rather than pulling them into a district of low-performing schools. The dispute puts Brewer in a politically sensitive position, trying to show results in his first year at the district’s helm. Meanwhile, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is in his third year at the city’s helm and facing his own pressure to perform, union leaders are jockeying for a February election and a new school board is trying to make its own mark. In such a politically charged environment – with each of the key players driven by personal gain – broad agreements on LAUSD reform are difficult to attain. “What you’re seeing is political safeguarding, quantifying results and players thinking about taking something with them for the next political office,” said Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. “They’re going to fritter away money on the parts and not on the whole. You’re going to have piecemeal approaches that will be more expensive in the long run than a unified approach.” And while New York City schools announced an agreement this month on a merit-pay system for teachers at the lowest-performing schools, experts note that the LAUSD has different challenges. “Politically, in New York, there hasn’t been over the decades the union playing as heavy a money contribution in the elections of school boards,” Chan said. “Therefore, school board members in New York can very likely be less beholden to unions than in L.A.” While education leaders note that Brewer has charisma, they also say the former Navy admiral is politically inexperienced and lacks a solid senior staff. They note that he initially said he wanted to get rid of ineffective teachers, but a year later now says professional development is the answer. But Brewer vows that he is committed to moving forward in a district that has had its hopes raised often in the past, only to see them dashed. “There’s so much cynicism in L.A. and one of the challenges I have is to build confidence in our ability to change,” Brewer said. Officials wary Still, community leaders who in the past have enthusiastically embraced proposals aimed at increasing achievement and reducing the dropout rate are wary. And education leaders say teachers union contract conditions stifle the ability of the LAUSD to get to the root of the problems of low achievement and high dropout rates. “The elephant in the room is UTLA,” said Bob Scott, chairman of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association. “One of the things that’s been proven is the schools function better when out from under the yoke of the California Ed(ucation) Code and also when they can be relieved of some of the restrictions of the union contracts.” Villaraigosa’s own reform effort is an example of the union’s influence. While the mayor first proposed that he control the entire district, he failed to win union backing. Eventually, he brokered a backroom deal with the UTLA and ended up with legislation that gave him partial control. But that legislation was struck down by the courts and Villaraigosa is left now to work on a plan to manage two groups of low-performing schools. And while the plans by Brewer and the mayor are heavily modeled on successful charter practices, charters don’t have to contend with union contracts. Charter schools also have the freedom to implement practices they believe will allow them to reach goals – including merit pay and the ability to remove ineffective teachers. “They’re unwilling to adopt all the ingredients of charter schools and `Charter Lite’ is not reform,” Chan said. Chan said the current LAUSD reform proposals need to define work hours, teacher evaluations, grievances and due process. She said that when she was writing the charter for her Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, officials reviewed all of the LAUSD’s codes and rules – and decided the answer was to scrap all of them. “That is the premise. We pushed it to the limit,” Chan said. Instead, the charter focused on getting more dollars to its school site and improving working conditions. Not a single teacher filed a grievance or complaint with UTLA. Opting out of the UTLA Five years after the school opened in 1993, its teachers opted out of the UTLA. Steve Barr, president of Green Dot Public Schools, has successfully kept the UTLA out of his schools and recently won the right to convert schools near Locke High into charters. His teachers are members of the California Teachers Association, the UTLA’s umbrella organization, and they operate under a contract that he negotiated the terms for. Regalado said the growing disillusionment and series of reform failures may be pushing the LAUSD toward a tipping point that could force a breakup. “What people are now talking about – either directly or around the edges – is the current structure is too large and ungovernable,” Regalado said. “It’s far too large to be able to control with far too many decision-makers to appease.” For the latest school news, go to www.insidesocal.com/education. naush.boghossian@dailynews.com, 818-713-3722160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Just two weeks after announcing an ambitious effort to reform Los Angeles Unified middle schools, Superintendent David Brewer III finds his plan already foundering amid fierce opposition from the politically powerful teachers union. Brewer, who proposed creating a special district of 44 low-performing schools, already has had to eliminate 10 of the sites and still faces opposition from teachers over the remaining schools. Only one San Fernando Valley school remains on the list. And new rumblings have surfaced that union leaders and teachers in the proposed schools intend to kill the plan entirely. “This plan of his – which was created in a vacuum by noneducators in a think-tank environment – is bad for students, it’s bad for education, and we are going to oppose this with all of our will,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.“If he tries to bring this plan about, we will organize actively against it.” The discord between the union and new superintendent is raising questions about whether reforms that challenge long-held collective-bargaining agreements can be implemented in the beleaguered school district. And education observers said they believe that if Brewer’s plan does survive, it will likely be a diluted version of the original in order to get the approval of the UTLA. “Reform at LAUSD has been consistently negotiated away,” charter school pioneer Yvonne Chan said. “I’ve been around for 15 years and if you say reform, are you willing to take on those major challenges – including the union contract and giving schools financial autonomy?” But Brewer on Wednesday defended his plan and said it is not yet complete and will eventually reflect input from all stakeholders when it is presented to the school board later this month. last_img