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One bad board

LAUSD reform is a joke. And the roadblocks start right at the top, with a dysfunctional school board.

May 04, 2007

READ THE LATEST REPORT on the Los Angeles Unified School District and weep. Then marvel that anyone manages to accomplish actual education in an organization so profoundly broken.

The review, commissioned by district Supt. David L. Brewer (and available at latimes.com/lausd-report), lays out a woeful scenario of policies never adopted, or adopted but never carried out, or carried out incompletely and confusingly. Progress is stymied by bureaucratic inertia, lackadaisical attitudes and, far too often, because people don't know what they're supposed to do.

A school board election May 15 could begin to transform the district's governance, if the two reform-minded candidates backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa win. Or it could consign the schools to a few more years of same-old same-old.

The report, by Evergreen Solutions, makes the status quo unacceptable. Not that its findings are exceptionally new. The district has been studying itself for years, with similar results. But what the latest analysis details is how little progress district leaders have made on the recommended reforms. And few among the district staff worry about it because they're seldom held liable for their actions. The lack of consequences is such a far-reaching problem that the study mentions accountability 120 times in a 115-page report.

It all starts at the top. There, the school board neglects its two key functions: setting policies and holding top administrators responsible for carrying them out. A district report in July said that the "role of the school board needs to be clearly focused." It was the most important job the board faced -- defining its own job. Yet the Evergreen study noted that "no action has been taken to implement this recommendation." Instead, the board has frittered away its time naming schools, lauding its own accomplishments and micromanaging textbook selections.

One consequence is that there is no instructional plan to see students smoothly from their first days of school through graduation, to make sure that what they're learning in elementary schools is what's needed in middle school and so forth. And though former Supt. Roy Romer ordered up a comprehensive guide last year, with a deadline of Feb. 23, 2007, staff who knew Romer was a short-timer simply waited him out.

And why shouldn't they? In a perfect organizational Catch-22, the district's own Accountability Office has no authority to enforce deadlines.

There's a chance for this to change if both Tamar Galatzan and Richard Vladovic win seats this month. Anything less will stick the schools with a board majority that fails time and again to fulfill its proper role -- and in fact continually illustrates it doesn't understand what that role is in the first place.

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