Why is there so much strife among the daily unfoldings of LAUSD?

> Parents protesting the mid-year re-organization of designated “English Learner’s” classrooms. > National astonishment at the scope, pace and decisions underlying our “special” LAUSD ipad rollout. > A series of “Town Hall” meetings where one speaker after another speaks to needs quite different from those on which LAUSD prefers to focus.

Some of the answer seems to be the overt suggestion that there is an inherent adversarial construct to the system with four camps of special interest: parents, teachers, administrators and students. For a time one school board member’s website explicitly showed this boxing ring schematically. Perhaps there were arrows drawn between the camps, but the implication of vested interests advocating for scarce resources was clear.

It should go without saying that these constituencies ought not to be adversaries but rather an intertwined coalition advocating for children’s educational needs. The best ones to know how to educate children are any of these groups; the way to an answer is to ask, and to facilitate cooperative dialogue among them.

It is the absence of asking that is the common denominator between these very public instances of the public’s very great unhappiness. In all these cases — Town Hall “discussions” of funding priorities, “ipadgate”, English Learner classroom reorganization — there is one very dismaying, very common theme: there stands a group of people with hands outstretched asking: “Why didn’t you ask”?

And the answer to that seems to be more than a mere function of the vast size of our public school system. While it is true the job would be big, manifesting a cacophony of opinions and the passing quip to “be careful for what you wish”, the bottom line is that there is no moral or practical authority derived from issuing complex, high-stakes decisions concerning hundreds of thousands of our cities’ youth, by an out-of-touch elite.

When there is no “buy-in” from those receiving the edicts, those fiats will fall apart. They will not be followed, will not be fixed as needed, will not be respected, will not be accepted.

If the family of an English Learner feels – knows – their child learns best in a bilingual community, then in concert with professional educators this is a possibility that must be explored. If research and evidence and district policy dictate a different understanding of best practice, this situation must be negotiated. Any parent knows “Because I Say So” only works for so long. Mature children, mature adults – all sentient human beings expect and deserve to be involved in important decisions that concern them.

So… what can it possibly mean when they are not? How can such an obvious prerequisite as involving the component parties to a decision, not be solicited for their needs and opinions? Why would a program to spend $1B for electronics not be undertaken with the highest level of teacher and student involvement? With the highest degree of scrutiny and deliberate evaluation? Why are title I-eligible families not involved intimately with decisions regarding the distribution of enrichment monies? Why are English Learners not partners in decisions about how to mainstream their education most effectively?

Perhaps because in an atmosphere of limited resources, when political priorities are not negotiated, a “political wedge” gets installed between constituents. Sometimes deliberately, even. What results is precisely the sort of system we are all suffering through right now, with constant strife between constituencies that ought otherwise to be natural allies.

In LAUSD we have a hired leadership team that distributes decisions without reference to those being distributed upon. It results in all-too-frequent public scandal and chaos, the “churn” referred to by professionals, and the excruciating internal distress so many of us parents feel as we worry that our children’s best interests are not being safeguarded. No one can learn amongst upheaval; calm is the irrefutable sine qua non of learning.

It is high time that the high-priced leaders responsible for so much incompetence of procedure and policy in Los Angeles’ public schools be held accountable for their misdeeds. Our LAUSD school board needs to do some sage, honest accounting for the needs of all their constituents, not just those they are most afraid of. Our children do not really have all that much time during their short childhoods to learn. It is past time that we call in better management who can affect the educational needs of our children. That means more teachers in better surroundings with skilled help in a cooperative team, peacefully and truly.