L.A.’s business community last week got a much needed signal that the Los Angeles Unified School District finally may be poised for some big improvements.
It’s just a sign, but it was the most concrete one yet when 181 groups bid to take over management of 36 failing schools. Many more schools could be taken over under the plan. The idea is to get some fresh blood managing schools. The new operators presumably will be able to innovate, mainly because they’ll be free of many of the stifling mandates from the central office.
Now, of course, plenty can go awry. Maybe in the coming weeks and months the winners will be chosen more on politics than merit. Maybe the new operators won’t be free to innovate as much as we were led to believe. Maybe the outcomes won’t be as good as we hope. LAUSD does have a record of disappointing us.
But on the other hand, maybe the new system will let schools flourish. Maybe it will inject some competition, which would pressure other schools to improve or perish. Maybe the outcome will be as good or even better than we hope. Sometimes a simple change unleashes a furious, pent-up revolution that is stunning in its speed and sweep. After all, no sooner had the word glasnost seeped into our collective conscious when suddenly the Berlin Wall got hammered apart and a few years later the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
But even if the improvements in the school district are merely noticeable and not revolutionary – if they fall in the category of “pretty good” – they would be welcomed warmly by the business community. Many surveys of companies in Los Angeles say the state of public education is a serious impediment to doing business.
The businesses that hire high school graduates are directly affected, of course, but the state of public education hurts all businesses, even those that hire college graduates who were born elsewhere.
For example, the reputation of the LAUSD makes it difficult to recruit out-of-town job candidates, who pretty quickly figure they’ve got this choice: They could live in the distant suburbs and face L.A.’s day-killing commutes, or they could live in town, send their kids to private school and face family budget-killing tuitions. And those tuitions are unusually high, I suspect, because of the strong demand for private schools owing to the LAUSD. You can understand why a job recruit may say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
What’s more, as L.A.’s middle-class and upper-middle-class families move outside of the LAUSD boundaries, many new businesses choose to locate near them. That, in turn, contributes to L.A.’s sense of a scattered business community, one that struggles to stay cohesive.
An improved school system, most importantly, would benefit the children and help them reach their potential. But it would help L.A.’s business community and the local economy, perhaps immeasurably.
What we saw last week was a welcome signal. What we need to see now are real steps toward meaningful change.
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The California Energy Commission last week banned electricity-gobbling big-screen televisions largely because the energy savings may forestall the need to build a power-producing plant.
But has anyone asked how many power plants will need to be built if, as everyone seems to want, California’s motorists start buying lots of electric cars and plug-in hybrids?
Read more at Fox & Hounds Daily.