Remember the old saying that everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it? These days you could apply that sentiment to the subject of public schools: Everybody's got ideas but few are willing to invest the time to put them to work.
This week a group of Angelenos came together to start trying to make changes in the sprawling, somewhat troubled Los Angeles Unified School District. We use the word somewhat because it's unfair to generalize by applying a word like troubled to such a big institution without acknowledging that good things happen every day in local classrooms. However, the public's perception is that not enough good things are happening.
That perception is reflected in a public opinion poll taken by Lou Harris and Associates for a pro-education coalition that includes the new LEARN (Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now). Harris' poll of 2,400 area residents found 68% believe that the schools are doing a poor job preparing students for the job market. Yet in an almost contradictory but certainly hopeful stance, eight out of 10 would give the city schools more money if--a big if --they knew it would be spent more efficiently. That's where LEARN comes in.
The coalition includes leaders of the business community, activist groups, the teachers union and higher education. They are folks who know how to get things done. They plan to use the poll results as the starting point in a campaign to bring down-to-earth reforms to local schools. Starting early next year, LEARN will hold forums to listen to all those ideas that people have for improving the schools, identifying areas where consensus for reform exists. They will consult with school district officials to see which reforms are doable here and to draft plans to put them to work. They will even push the Legislature for any legal changes and funding needed to carry out reforms.
It won't be easy going. With the economy struggling to get out of the recession, even good and practical ideas that require more taxes are hard to sell.
But remember the Harris poll's finding: People will pay if the money is well spent. This offers something to work with. We wish LEARN well and will watch its work with interest.