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Standing Still Won't Save the Schools : L.A. Unified: The LEARN plan could save the system from devastation, wrought by a voucher plan or total collapse.

June 03, 1993|WILLIAM R. ROBERTSON | William R. Robertson is the executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. and

It is the nature of a man as he grows older ... to protest against change, particularly change for the better. -- John Steinbeck

Steinbeck's words were never so true as in the battle being waged in the Los Angeles Unified School District over whether to implement the comprehensive plan developed by LEARN to decentralize the schools.

This plan represents real change and as such it is being opposed by those who fear the unknown. But there is no justification for such fear. The LEARN plan deserves support because it is the right approach at the right time. And, without a revolutionary approach to reforming our city schools, the very future of our public school system is at risk.

In November, the voters of California will be asked to decide if they want to change our public education system so radically that they will institute a system of taxpayer-supported vouchers that would rob our public schools of desperately needed revenue. It is estimated that vouchers would cost California taxpayers an additional $1.3 billion every year by siphoning tax dollars from our public schools and giving them to private schools.

It is clear that school vouchers are the real threat to our public schools, not the LEARN plan. If LEARN is given the opportunity to succeed, it may be the best defense against vouchers. We must raise student achievement and help restore public confidence if the voucher initiative is to be defeated. LEARN would help boost public confidence in our public schools by:

* Refocusing every school activity to improve student outcomes and measurably improve their academic growth and achievement.

* Empowering teachers and principals who best understand the local needs of their community to make real, important day-to-day decisions. School principals should share decision-making authority with teachers and parents.

Under LEARN, principals are required to make decisions in consultation with teachers, thereby allowing shared decision-making, as the teachers' collective bargaining contract provides.

* Placing a high value on teacher development, recognizing that an investment in training pays high dividends.

* Providing every student with career/vocational training options for success in the work force, in addition to the college-oriented curriculum.

The LEARN plan, which could well become the model for the rest of the country, gives individual schools autonomy by allowing them to make the decisions on what is best for them. This process genuinely involves these five groups: the teachers, who best understand the needs of their students; the parents who know what they want for their children; the principals, who have an understanding of the needs and the resources available; classified staff, who know how schools work, and the students themselves.

This plan wasn't hammered out in some smoke-filled back room by a handful of people. It was developed over two years by more than 600 educators, business leaders, community activists and labor leaders. The LEARN plan was debated, discussed, revised, re-debated and, eventually, adopted by the Los Angeles Unified School District because it is a sound plan.

The LEARN plan does represent change. But it also represents progress. As a long-time admirer of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, I find his words particularly meaningful today, as I look with sadness at the opposition to LEARN being generated by some who appear to be motivated by misplaced fear and a lack of understanding. Kennedy said, "Progress is a nice word. But change is its motivator, and change has its enemies."

I call on all the enemies of change, and of the LEARN plan, to understand that this plan may well be what saves our public schools from devastation either in the form of school vouchers or in the total collapse of the system because of its inability to move forward.

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