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Schools Can't Afford Reform Failure

March 19, 1995

Has the Los Angeles Unified School District become the last remaining major obstacle to significant reform in the public schools?

This is a harsh question, but clearly it has been raised by the first-ever outside audit of L.A. school reform. A draft report of the audit, done by the respected McKinsey & Co., accuses district officials of foot-dragging.

Everyone agrees, of course, that the LEARN program (Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now) got off to a lethargic start in May, 1993, when just 39 schools signed up to participate. These campuses were widely dispersed and included only three middle schools and no high schools. That meant that the components of the reform program designed to shift authority to local schools could not even begin to develop all-important clusters--complexes involving high schools and their feeder middle and elementary schools. The program's intent in this regard was to offer consistency to students so they would not have to move from a middle school with site-based management to a high school still laboring under the old style.

But now, almost two years later, there is plenty of interest in LEARN. More than 100 more schools have applied for membership, which would double the number of LEARN campuses. Before schools can even apply, they must have action plans and the approval of 75% of their teachers. In other words, these schools are serious about making changes.

But if, as the audit suggests, the school district is undermining LEARN with delays in implementation and a failure to lead, what chance does public school reform really have in Los Angeles?

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