Friday, August 15, 2008

It's as Simple as A-B-C, right?

For a year and a half, myself and my bearded friend were substitutes in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I was lucky enough to make friends with the staff and faculty of a neighborhood school, loved and cared for by its students and families. The kids were pretty typical, slightly less sophisticated than you might find in a private school, but overall eager to learn and excited to hear what you had to offer. I taught every grade from Pre-K to 5th while I was there including 3 special education classrooms. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and if it had not been for the fact that I was about to graduate with my Master’s in a completely different field, I could have imagined myself getting a Special Ed credential and staying.

My bearded friend has had quite a different experience teaching middle and high school. He also happened to get assigned to a few of the District’s biggest eyesores. Schools where fights and lockdowns are a common occurrence, students still attend year-round and the physical state of the buildings and equipment are in disrepair. As a result, this made for many long discussions about what could be done to even begin to help the nation’s 2nd largest school district. We couldn’t come up with a lot of real solutions, but did believe there were a few things that HAD to change.

  1. Better Administration at the School Level: Schools that were pleasant to sub at always seemed to have administrators (Principals/Assistant Principals) who seemed in control, and hands-on. These were the type of people who took the time to get to know your name and remembered it when you showed up on campus a week later. LAUSD seems to have a dearth of good administrators, because it’s a very different thing to manage versus teach. One does not necessarily translate into another.
  2. Better Oversight and Administration at the District Level: There is no place scarier in the world than 333 Beaudry St. Things literally go there to die. Every person I’ve ever talked to there told me and other subs I knew a different story. At LAUSD, there is always at least two unnecessary steps that must be taken in person or over the phone. Here’s a prime example, the State of CA renews your credential online, its simple and fast, and takes about 3 minutes. Anyone can go on the site and search for a person by first and last name to determine if they currently hold a valid credential. LAUSD requires you call them to tell your “credential assistant” that you have renewed online and then prints out a copy. There must be thousands of jobs at that building that are unnecessary, but continue because no one has any clue about how money is being spent/wasted.
  3. The union: Unfortunately it is a necessary evil, because of the disastrous management of the District at the top. If it hadn’t been for them threatening to walk out, who knows how long the District would have taken to fix the paycheck debacle. At the same time, the union creates a safety net for a lot of mediocre and straight-up bad teachers to stay employed at relatively decent salaries. Subs can usually tell a good teacher from a bad one based on the state of their classroom (complete disarray vs. relatively organized), to the level of detail left on the Lesson Plan (watch a movie all day vs. several different options with distinct time limits for each). There really are teachers that come in everyday and read the newspaper, while giving their kids mindless assignments, and kicking out the kids that give them a hassle thus interrupting their morning coffee.

I really hope that one day I will get the nerve and the strength to go back to work in the education field. Often I feel that it’s too big of a mess, that there’s no good place to start, and too emotionally charged for most people to have an honest opinion about it. Which is why for now I’ll stick to buses, people can be a lot more level-headed about transit.

For further reading, check out the Times Magazine article on what people are doing in New Orleans to transform public ed.


DRE DAWG said...

My recomendation is to chop the district into manageable sections. Who cares if LAUSD is the 2nd largest school district, the bottom line is that Admin can't handle it.

Also, all schools should align themselves with Think Together, the non-profit, after school tutoring organization.

Finally, repercussions needs to be brought back in a huge way. Students should fear the repercussions when they break the rules. Teachers should fear the repercussions when they slack off. Administrators should fear the repercussions when they drop the paying millions for bogus payroll software.

Oh, and a final finally...all students should be in school from 7:30am to 3:30pm. None of this getting half days bullshit. If they've satisfied all the requierments to apply to USC or UCLA, then have them continue to distinguish themselves through electives.

toeknee said...

Hmm...what dre suggested sounded like the Asian education system. In which most of us have migrated over here to Northern America to get away from that...