In Partnership with The 74

How LAUSD’s superintendent intends to make every school ‘a place of great teaching’

Laura Greanias | September 18, 2018



As the Los Angeles teachers union is poised to strike amid stalled contract negotiations, LA Unified’s new superintendent, Austin Beutner, held his first big policy speech Thursday before about 100 parents in the library of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.

Beutner outlined what needs to change in the nearly 570,000-student district, as well as the “opportunities within our grasp.” He emphasized that while there are big challenges facing the district, with its teachers’ support, every school can be “a place of great teaching and learning.”

“This needs to be about making sure every student gets a great education, not arguing while students and families bear the brunt of the consequences,” he said.

Here are highlights of Beutner’s speech:

What he wants:

“For every school to be a place of great teaching and learning, and that each of our students be on a path to college or a 21st-century career.”

What needs to change:

“We are not living up to our values in public education. In a generation, we have gone from leading the country in education funding to being near the bottom.”

• Of 100 students who enter our high schools, 12 will drop out, 77 will graduate from high school, and only 12 will graduate from college — any college, two-year, four-year, or online.

• For those who are still English language learners in 11th grade, only 2 percent are on grade level in math and 5 percent in English.

• For students with disabilities who are segregated from their peers, less than 2 percent are able to read, write, and do math on grade level.

What he is calling for:

• equity for all students

• quality teachers in every classroom

• transparency in all schools and the district

• a shared commitment to grow beyond the current limits of the district’s financial resources.

Equity:

• Fund schools based on attendance, rather than enrollment, which hurts the schools serving students most in need.

• Make it easier for parents to volunteer without sacrificing student safety.

Quality teachers:

• Make sure “our best teachers … feel appreciated, are rewarded”

• Pay teachers more

• Provide necessary support so teachers can excel

• Protect tenure, but “we need a transparent, efficient, and fair process to manage ineffective teachers out.”

• An ineffective teacher can cause students to lose more than a year of learning

• More than 80 percent of effective teachers maintain standards for good attendance, but more than 40 percent of ineffective teachers do not.

Transparency:

• Clear performance expectations for every school

• If schools don’t meet fair expectations, they need to be held accountable.

• If schools are doing a great job, we should help them serve more students.

• Labor contracts must be available for parents and students to view. There should be less negotiating in secret and more conversations in public.

Money:

• Better track how resources are spent at individual schools and at the district level.

• Support a 2020 ballot measure to increase state funding to schools.

• Lobby for more funding from Sacramento. “We want smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, and additional counselors, librarians and support staff in every school – but we will need more money to pay for it.”

“We can only spend what we have,” Beutner said. “We’re facing a fiscal cliff. It’s not theoretical and it’s not debatable. If nothing changes, we are headed for insolvency in the next two to three years. If that happens, a fiscal adviser will be appointed by the state and we’ll no longer have local control over our schools. Budgets will be slashed, class sizes will rise, and decisions won’t be made in the best interest of our students and families. Los Angeles Unified is not too big to fail, and no one is coming to save us if we do.”

After the speech, Myrna Castrejón, executive director of Great Public Schools Now, said:

“I think his proposals about guiding the district toward an effective work agenda are very accurate. … In this moment of friction with the teachers union, the dominant issues are whether or not there is money, how much money is needed to fund the district, and who is going to blink first. But Beutner’s speech pointed to the same priorities that I have constantly heard among parents. Of course we value teachers, but we know that not all teachers in the classrooms of greatest need are the best in their field. How will the district ensure that those children who need more experience, greater capacity, and commitment from teachers receive the best of the best?”

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