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L.A. Unified bests reform groups in most cases, data show

Struggling schools under district control see test scores rise more than most operated by the mayor, a charter organization and others, a Times analysis finds.

August 18, 2011|By Howard Blume and Sandra PoindexterLos Angeles Times

Green Dot board Chairman Shane Martin said the goal is to create a new campus culture, with everyone committed to the same vision. "It's about limiting the distractions and focusing on what's truly important," said Martin, adding that the Green Dot approach could be a model for improving the lowest-achieving district schools.

At South L.A.'s Manual Arts High School, which is run by L.A.'s Promise, a locally based nonprofit, reading scores rose 4.6 points and math scores 3.4 points.

Promise also points to rising high school exit exam results and higher college acceptance rates, among other milestones.

The approach at Promise and the mayor's schools is thematically similar: Bombard schools with high-quality teacher training, support and high expectations, while hiring strong administrators to pore over achievement data and insist on results.

From the start, the mayor's organization — Partnership for L.A. Schools — has been made up of elementary, middle and high schools, which has enabled it to reach some struggling students earlier.

The mayor's high schools showed a 5.7 percentage point increase in English and a 1.5 point increase in math, a smaller rise than the district's.

The head of the mayor's education team, Marshall Tuck, said the proficiency gains did not take into account other evidence of improvement, including the "large number" of students who made progress but still weren't proficient. He also said the mayor deserved credit for initiatives that benefited all district students. Those included identifying more gifted minority students and leading a successful bid to prevent disproportionate layoffs at any school because of budget cuts.

Villaraigosa also quietly endorsed the management shake-up that brought his top education advisor at the time, Ramon C. Cortines, to L.A. Unified in April 2008. Cortines directly supervised the work of improving the low-achieving schools that remained under district control, first as deputy superintendent, then as superintendent. The veteran educator critiqued school-improvement plans and personally removed some principals, while authorizing various approaches — some with broad support, some controversial.

New Supt. John Deasy, who took over in April from Cortines, said that the district and the reform groups could learn from each other and that L.A. Unified was ultimately responsible for students at every school.

"We have lots of room to grow, but the growth over time is important," he said. "These types of schools have been the most difficult to improve across the nation…. We're making progress in that area in L.A."

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