To Live and Learn in L.A.

In a move that affects nearly 40,000 students, the Los Angeles Board of Education has let teachers' groups -- instead of charters -- take over failing schools in the city's Unified School District (LAUSD). Twelve failing campuses were overhauled, as were 24 newly built ones. Though charters were selected to operate a portion of the new campuses, the teachers' groups are charged with improving the failing programs.

The teachers' groups, composed of instructors previously under LAUSD authority with local union support, fought hard to maintain a certain level of autonomy -- they argued that greater control over staffing, budget, and curriculum allows teachers to target specific school needs that may not be addressed by district mandates. And so far, giving teachers a more active role in campuses has been an effective tool in fixing the problems of L.A.'s public schools, with various pilot programs receiving high remarks from district administrators.

The board's decision is a good one: It avoids the politics of the charter school debate and enforces a program that's best for students. Whatever you may think about charter schools, they have an unproven track record in addressing the problems facing failing campuses like these. With few exceptions, L.A. charters are not exactly tailored to urban communities. Their smaller presence in urban education is apparent: While one-third of LAUSD students are learning English, charters enroll only a fifth of such students. Meanwhile, teachers' groups are backed by organizations that have routinely come out with innovative reforms improving student performance in urban areas, like creating smaller learning communities within a school so that teachers can better understand students' strengths and weaknesses.

Additionally, many of the educators among the teachers' groups have forged important relationships with students, parents, and the immediate community, winning their support over charters in independent votes. Maintaining continuity in neighborhoods is important; just look at the outrage in Rhode Island when every teacher was fired from a failing school.

The dialogue over the role charters have in a public school system is important. But when a school board can rely on teachers' groups with successful methods that benefit students and please parents, trusting the teachers' groups makes sense.

--Mikhail Zinshteyn

Mikhail Zinshteyn is a Prospect winter 2010 intern.

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