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Here’s The Peace Dividend In Los Angeles Charter School Wars

Posted on | December 28, 2017 | Comments Off on Here’s The Peace Dividend In Los Angeles Charter School Wars

Learning from L.A., our book about institutional change in public education, was published a decade ago.  Then, we saw charter schools as a logical force in the transition of an institution built for the industrial age to one designed for the 21st Century.

Instead, in the space of a decade, charter schools in Los Angeles morphed from a highly popular innovation to a political wedge issue.  One’s favorability toward charters has become a political litmus test for school board elections, and efforts to regulate them have become front-page news. Plans to replace traditional, district-run schools with charters have been characterized as bringing the district to a tipping point.  The question is “tipping to where”?

In the case of the Los Angeles Unified School District, “where” depends on how the ongoing battles over charter schools intersect with two realities.

First, the nation’s second largest school system is in the midst of profound institutional change.  LAUSD is not a failed school district.  It is not an unchanging monolith.  It is an institution that is struggling to reshape itself, moving from early 20th Century assumptions about how to organize teaching and learning to a form better suited to our times.  Often it does this unknowingly, because for the most part people within LAUSD have a strong institutional culture but a very weak institutional memory.  They don’t spend a lot of time trying to understand how they got to where they are.

Second, the politics surrounding the school district are dysfunctional.  Simply put: the politics we’ve got won’t get us the schools we need. Instead of crisis resolution we have gridlock, obscenely expensive trench warfare, and politics that turn our attention away from solutions that are staring us in the face.

Because charter schools have become the wedge issue in politics, it is through the politics surrounding them that a new district will emerge.

The linked paper develops this theme of working through the charter school politics as a way of finding a way forward for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and perhaps by extension for American public education.  Also, see this ‘On California’ column and others linked to it.




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Charles Taylor Kerchner is an Emeritus Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Claremont Graduate University. My daily musings appear in the blog. The archives of my EdWeek blog are available via link under the 'On California' head. Some of my photography can be seen by clicking on 'Gallery.' And numerous links to academic work and other research and commentary can be found by clicking on 'Projects.'


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