The Tranquilizing Drug of Gradualism in Los Angeles
May 10, 2011 | 8084 views | 0 0 comments | 117 117 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The new superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest in the country, recently gave credit to the initiatives that New York City has attempted.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) last week, Deasy stressed one major point in his 40-minute speech. He explained that going forward, schools in Los Angeles that were not being run properly, and with good results, would have their agenda open to whoever wants to help. Corporations, foundations, philanthropists, and charters, would all be potential saviors to a particular school. Deasy stressed accountability, but all schools chancellors and superintendents do that.

If Deasy can show that he means business by actually stepping into some of the dying schools in Los Angeles and take control, that will make all the difference. In his speech, he mentioned the New York City Robin Hood education programs, where corporations and other entities are utilized to help public schools.

Although Deasy only mentions the economy in California in his speech once or twice, there was a tone in his voice that conveyed disappointment that if he only he had New York City’s economy instead of the Los Angeles economy, he could do much more.

Only in recent years, and maybe because of the yardage that some politicians like Mayor Michael Bloomberg have gained, have school officials openly embraced the idea of charter schools. You can watch this speech on the AEI website (, where Deasy explains that help basically will have to come from some place other than his current budget, because the economy may not be robust enough for reform.

But why was Deasy at the conservative AEI in the first place? He said that he is willing to discuss education and ideas with whoever can help, but perhaps Deasy is anticipating future battles with school professionals. If his ideas about school takeovers are met with hostility from labor groups, he will need help, and that might come from think tanks like AEI.

“I am at a loss as to why it is so controversial to measure results and hold people accountable,” said Deasy.

Deasy stressed choice throughout his speech at AEI. Students and parents should have a choice, he said, but then he made sure to say “a choice in public schools.” The last thing you want to tell a room of conservatives is that you favor school choice and perhaps even vouchers. They would have made him a hero, but his bosses in Los Angeles would not be too happy.

He quoted Martin Luther King, when he stressed that pace would be a factor in improvement, “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” he repeated.

But why not support a voucher program in Los Angeles if a school is performing at dramatically low levels? Deasy mentioned literacy rates that were almost unbelievable, and Los Angeles has very high dropout rates. Would it not be worth trying something new?

Vouchers might take some of the autonomy away from private schools, and that is a legitimate risk. But if there are too many students to adequately teach in the public system, and the system is hurting for funds, maybe it is time to explore some bold alternatives.

If the system were able to close a few schools and increase the workload of private schools, then maybe that could be a win-win situation. Good luck, John Deasy, with a 30-day warning before you can be replaced, pace is definitely a factor.

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