Ordinarily, we'd rail against a decision by the Los Angeles Unified School District to hand over a school to outside operators without a vote of the teachers, without consulting parents, without an open discussion or an opportunity for existing staff to offer a competing proposal. But Jordan High School's record isn't ordinary. The school performs so poorly that only 2% of its students are proficient in math; the picture for English isn't much better.
According to school officials, Jordan will be split into three separate entities, each run by an outside group: Green Dot Public Schools, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. These are three well-run organizations that have demonstrated particular diligence in working with inner-city schools. However, both the mayor's partnership and Green Dot have learned from some of their other schools that when outside operators have to accept all of the students within their boundaries, they don't often see the same stellar results that they typically get when they enroll their students via lotteries. It's always easier to look good when motivated students and parents from a broader area sign up to fill a school.
Jordan's teachers should receive credit for raising standardized test scores for several years at the school with a largely impoverished population of students who come from gang-infested housing projects. The improvements were incremental, but they did meet most of the state's targets and over time were significant. Jordan has fallen short of federal targets year after year — a failure that gave the district the authority to hand the school over to outside operators — but the federal standards are so poorly crafted that many a good school has been labeled a failure.
Ultimately, it's the on-campus reality that matters. Jordan is not a good school. Not even mediocre. It's in the bottom 10% in the state. Its students have about a 1-in-3 chance of graduating at all, much less graduating ready for a job or college. It failed to test enough students this year to have the state take its full measure. The school was given the opportunity to turn itself around by joining the mayor's partnership in 2008, but both parents and teachers rejected that option, yet did little to improve the situation on their own.
In the future we would rather see L.A. Unified make more of an effort to improve its own schools — as it did by reconstituting Fremont High — than outsource them without public discussion or competing proposals. This might be the only viable option right now for Jordan, but it's not the way to build a stronger school district in the long term.