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RISK-TAKING IN EDUCATION? NOT LIKELY IN LOS ANGELES SCHOOL SYSTEM.

Byline: Lewis C. Solmon

BAD schools are hell, and we all have heard that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Several weeks ago, Eli Broad announced he intends to donate $100 million ``to launch risk-taking ventures to improve principal training, labor relations and school board practices.''

Local leaders have applauded Broad's intentions and suggest the Los Angeles Unified School District be used as a laboratory, building on the experience of the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project, where $53 million was spent to ``accelerate reform in school districts across Los Angeles County''; and the Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now, which has been humming along for over six years.

Despite their good intentions, LAAMP, LEARN and hundreds of other monetary infusions large and small have failed to reverse the decline of most of the public schools in Los Angeles.

Broad has consulted with a teachers union leader and a UCLA education doctorate recipient, among others, to get ideas about risk-taking ventures.

Teachers union, education doctorate, risk-taking - I sense an oxymoron here somewhere.

He is thinking about a graduate management program for principals and administrators, possibly at UCLA, but the School Management Program has been going on there for a number of years.

He wants to improve labor relations, also a goal of the Teacher Union Reform Network, which is housed at UCLA and seeks to ``reverse a century of hostile labor relations . . . replacing them with a compact that says, `We are all in this together.' ''

I, too, praise Broad's generosity and good intentions, but suggest that until we get better people into the K-12 education profession, all of the training, reorganization and good intentions will go for naught.

No matter how well-trained the principal, he will not succeed as long as his teachers come from the lowest-achieving college graduates and as long as they teach subjects in which they never majored or minored.

Moreover, teachers have less incentive to do well than other professionals do because they get paid the same, regardless of the achievement of their students and their other professional accomplishments, know they cannot be fired, see no path for advancement and work in isolation without much mentoring or collegiality.

New resources should be targeted toward developing challenging career paths so qualified teachers can do more and be rewarded for doing so as their careers develop.

Unless talented college students can see the possibility of six-figure salaries and commensurate status and influence, why should they become teachers?

And we can provide these incentives by redeploying the money we already spend on K-12 education.

We also need new, less costly and less time-consuming methods of identifying and certifying quality teachers and principals - based upon demonstrated effectiveness, not seat time in often worthless teacher education and administrator training courses.

We need ongoing recertification that is efficient and effective and that is accepted across the states.

We need to find alternative routes into teaching and administration, so people with talent are not forced to spend excessive or redundant time in artificial college classroom settings.

We need ongoing hands-on professional development conducted at real elementary, middle or high schools, not just one- or two-day summer seminars.

We need fundamental changes in how teachers and principals are recruited, trained, certified, rewarded and retained in the profession in order to see improvements in student achievement.

Until these things happen, throwing more money at the schools to tinker at the margins, will have no more positive effects than have the reforms of the past 20 years. The result could be a tidal wave of skeptics arguing that we blow up our current system of public education through the use of publicly funded voucher programs and the like. Is this the solution we want?
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 31, 1999
Words:621
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