Monday, July 5, 2010

Grand Jury push for District Consolidation

The Santa Clara Count Grand Jury recently released a report urging consolidation of a number of local school districts, including LASD. (Article here, Grand Jury report here)

I have been asked about this by a few folks, particularly during the budget discussions. There's a general thinking that says "businesses consolidate to save money, why shouldn't school districts?"

I am not in favor of merging, either with Mountain View-Whisman, or with the MVLA High School District.

First, our district is already extremely efficient. Thanks in no small part to Randy Kenyon, our Assistant Superintendent for Business Affairs, we run one of the leanest operations in the State of California. We have received an award from the State for the past six years for our exceptionally low overhead. (Roughly speaking, LASD spends just under 9% of our budget on administration. The State average is substantially higher.) Businesses that merge and achieve greater efficiencies do so by cutting overhead. Since we're already lean, there's little to be gained in this regard.

The other big reason to remain independent is to retain local control. LASD has achieved exceptionally strong results academically. Our tight-knit community is very active in the education of our students. I am not convinced that we would retain the same great engagement if our district size suddenly increased to 3x our current size. We hire for different skills, and we serve different needs. By remaining separate, we are able to continue to provide the best possible education to our students-- and do it in a financially responsible manner.

There are some that would argue that we could improve continuity with our high school if we were of the same district. I'll never rule out activities which improve our program. I will point out, though, that our administration and faculty meet with their counterparts in the High School District to constantly examine what we're doing and how we can better prepare our students for the next step in their educational journey. Individual student tracking has shown that our kids are doing a great job when they reach high school, whether they attend MVLA or one of the many local private high schools. (See results sheet here)

I'm always willing to learn new information that may change my opinion, but for now, I'm convinced that remaining separate is in the best interests of our students.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Tenure Reform, part II

A follow-on to the previous article about Tenure.

Chicago Public Schools have stated that they will use teacher performance as the primary mechanism by which they decide which teachers get laid off. Specifically, when pink slips are relesaed, they'll go to the roughly 200 teachers in the district who have received "unsatisfactory" ratings from their principals.

The step is described as
a) radical
b) common sense
c) long overdue
d) illegal
e) an abuse of power

Which answer you choose depends on your perspective. The Chicago Teachers Union is strongly opposed. (Insert mock surprise here.)

I strongly support the move of the Chicago Board, but probably not for the reasons you might think.

We don't have a long list of "bad teachers" in LASD. Most of our teachers are dedicated, hard working educators. Those that aren't are often coached by their colleages. Yes, there are a few that we hear about, and as a Board we know the cost of removing those folks is high (roughly $300,000).

I favor this change, though, because I think it is on the leading edge of reinventing education.

Education today is much as it has been for the past 100+ years. School Districts today are not run much differently than they were in the 1950's and earlier. The problem is that the world has changed. Business and government have changed in big, radical ways over the past several decades. We can search government records on the web, and we have embraced Just In Time manufacturing and outsourcing of any number of functions. School Districts are still the same as they were when I wnet to school and when my parents went to school. Meanwhile, the rest of the world has changed.

If we want to compete, to continue to lead the world, we're going to need to think differently. It's time to reinvent education. Maybe Chicago is taking the first big step. I wish them great success.