Tough times and tough questions face the Los Angeles Unified School District: slashed budgets have caused teacher and staff layoffs, increased class sizes, and cancellation of arts and career training courses; test scores are low and drop-out rates high; conflict over evaluations threatens the relationship between teachers and the district; and it’s a constant challenge to reach parents who want to be involved but struggle with busy schedules or language barriers.
With nearly 700,000 K-12 students in the second largest school district in the nation, all parties involved are feeling the urgent need for reform. KPCC’s Patt Morrison recently sat down with the leaders of LAUSD and the teacher’s union in a KPCC-sponsored Education Summit to discuss community concerns about the state of public education in the city. College-readiness was the primary worry of many parents in attendance, who wondered whether passing classes approved by the state and graduating were really enough to prepare students for the academic challenges of university life. Getting students college-ready has proved a challenge for LAUSD since its inception, and with massive budget cuts and limited support for teachers, it is more difficult nowadays to offer the rigorous material and extracurricular activities that students need for admission to selective colleges. Teachers agreed that more had to be done to prepare kids, but firmly voiced their need for more educational resources, less job uncertainty, and less administrative interference. A combination of these factors, replicated at school districts throughout California, has caused the state to lag behind in public education, something that Superintendent John Deasy emphasized was not acceptable. LAUSD, Deasy hoped, could regain its power to lead the nation, but this would require “civil discourse” among those who have traditionally butted heads in negotiations—namely, entrenched district officials and members of the teacher’s union, United Teachers Los Angeles. The passionate assurances of reform by the leaders on-stage were tempered by the skepticism of the audience, which questioned whether LAUSD was ready to dispel the practice of “protecting the institution” at the expense of its students. All agreed, however, that the forum discussion represented a smooth start to the inevitably bumpy journey toward a better educational system. With so many conflicting efforts for reform and parental patience wearing thin, what does the future have in store for the nation’s second-largest school district?
John Deasy, superintendent, Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD)
Monica Garcia, president, LAUSD Board of Education
Warren Fletcher, president, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)
Pilar Buelna, former director of the Parent Information and Resource Center with the educational non-profit sector at Families In Schools, where she worked in partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District to promote parental involvement for increase student achievement