Make Up or Break Up?

How not splitting up the Los Angeles Unified School District has driven education reform.

Every three months, GOOD releases our quarterly magazine, which examines a given theme through our unique lens. Recent editions have covered topics like the impending global water crisis, the future of transportation, and the amazing rebuilding of New Orleans. This quarter's issue is about cities, spotlighting Los Angeles, and we'll be rolling out a variety of stories all month. You can subscribe to GOOD here.
For the greater part of a generation, student achievement in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), once known as one of the best school systems in the nation, has been at a standstill. Reformers have long blamed LAUSD’s problems on its massive size and centralized bureaucracy, aptly nicknamed by the media, the “Los Angeles Mummified School District.” Indeed, LAUSD, the second-largest district in the nation, educates almost 617,000 students daily, kindergarten through 12th grade. That’s more children than the entire population of the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.
The district is equally astonishing in its scope, covering 710 square miles and consisting of more than 800 schools. In the 1990s, residents frustrated with the district’s lackluster student achievement results began thinking that changing LAUSD’s size was the key to education reform. The push to splinter the behemoth into separate, autonomous entities that would give parents, teachers, and community leaders a say in children’s education began in earnest.
Since then, countless district-wide breakup initiatives have come and gone. Those failed efforts helped Los Angeles learn that splintering the district would not only be pretty impossible to achieve without wasting countless years and taxpayer dollars on litigation, but it would also further exacerbate inequalities between schools in low-income and wealthy areas—potentially doing even more damage to students. With divorce not an option, education reformers had no choice but to innovate at the grassroots level.
Mark Slavkin grew up in Los Angeles, went to school in LAUSD, and works as the Vice President for Education at the Music Center of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County. But, from 1989 to 1997—when the breakup movement bubbled up—Slavkin served on the city’s school board.
“My message when I ran was one of local control and the need to empower communities instead of having all decisions made by a remote central body,” he says. Student achievement data at the time was nonexistent, there was no accountability, and the amount of red tape in the district was epic.
As a solution, in 1993, the district adopted a grassroots reform strategy called LEARN (Los Angeles Educational Alliance for Restructuring Now), which was the brainchild of former Mayor Richard Riordan. LEARN brought parents, teachers, administrators, and school allies together, and helped organize reform efforts at 375 schools. The district also began experimenting with different iterations of local mini-districts: 27 local clusters, then 11, and then eight local districts, its current number. “At the same time,” says Slavkin, “some of the very first charter schools in the United States were being born in Los Angeles as part of the effort to bring decision-making back into the hands of local communities and free schools from bureaucracy.”
The LEARN effort fell apart in 1999 when LAUSD recentralized its authority and the effort’s leader, Mike Roos, quit; these events came in the wake of the death of teachers-union advocate Helen Bernstein, who was struck by a car and killed in 1997. With the core leaders gone, reform floundered and breakup talk began anew.
Slavkin says the mood at the time was fraught with simmering racial and class tensions due to the city’s changing demographics. Angelenos sensed that schools in the whiter and wealthier Westside and San Fernando Valley wanted to flee from the poorer, more racially diverse southern and eastern parts of the city. Indeed, a 2001 proposal to dismantle the district failed after the California Board of Education determined that the potential loss of the Valley’s property-tax dollars would have a catastrophic effect on the rest of the city’s schools. A UCLA study commissioned by Riordan also indicated that a Valley breakup would create even greater racial and educational inequality and foster new levels of bureaucratic inefficiency.
The district is equally astonishing in its scope, covering 710 square miles and consisting of more than 800 schools
A year later, the 2002 San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession movement—a ballot initiative that sought to make both areas separate cities—was fueled in part by the desire for local control of schools. However, the city’s electorate voted the initiative down, choosing instead to keep one unified Los Angeles, and thus, one unified school district.
Slavkin says the idea of a large breakup of the district began to fall out of favor “in part due to the public’s fatigue with the arguments over who would have control of the schools instead of discussions about what to actually do to help kids learn.” There was also the realization that it would be a logistical and legal nightmare to break up LAUSD. “Who would own the assets and physical buildings?” Slavkin asks. “How do you share the current pension obligations for district employees? Should the liability for when a kid trips and falls be borne by a single neighborhood?”
In recent years, the district’s demographics have changed significantly. Seventy-four percent of the LAUSD student body is Latino and 78 percent is low-income. Instead of fixating on breakup plans, progressive reformers hoping to address student needs have facilitated a quiet, de facto devolution of the district. In the past decade, more than 150 charter schools have sprung up across the city. And, in a bid to win more decision-making autonomy and control over their budgets, some of the city’s highest performing high schools, like six-time U.S. Academic Decathlon champion El Camino Real High School, are breaking away and becoming charters as well.
Michelle King, LAUSD’s Deputy Superintendent for School Operations, acknowledges that the days of top-down districts are over. She points to LAUSD’s innovative pilot schools, as well as campuses where teachers themselves are bidding to take over schools and implement reforms, as evidence of grassroots movement. “The district doesn’t have to break up to put students first,” she says. Instead, “allowing more flexibility about what path individual school sites take to reach the goal of all students being college or career ready is key. We’re learning that every school doesn’t have to look the same to accomplish that.”
King says the recently opened Esteban E. Torres High School, the first high school built in East L.A. in 85 years, is a prime example of what’s working in the district. “There are five separate schools on one campus—five different pilots—and each one is unique and listening to the needs and concerns of the community.” Indeed, what makes Torres really stand out is that it’s designed and run by a collaborative group of LAUSD teacher-leaders and community members. Together they planned the campus’s cutting-edge college- and career-preparation pilot schools—including an urban-planning and design school, as well as an engineering and technology academy.
In 2007, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the LAUSD also managed to work out a groundbreaking collaboration deal. Villaraigosa now runs 21 of the district’s lowest-performing campuses through his nonprofit, the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. Partnership schools are able to cultivate community involvement, harness resources, and incubate reforms that can, ideally, be deployed district-wide. But do they get results? For the 2009-2010 school year, the Partnership and Villaraigosa reported a 21-point increase on the State of California’s Academic Performance Index, outpacing the results of the average LAUSD campus.
Slavkin thinks the decentralization process could go even further than it has. He sees a future where “neighborhood councils for education” would enable local teachers and parents to “meet regularly and work out the challenges of their school cluster.” He also has confidence that incoming superintendent John Deasy will continue the move to local control and further propel Los Angeles as a national example of what’s possible when people are empowered locally. But, he says, “There’s a question: Will Deasy be here long enough to bring about further change?”
“The ground is littered with superintendents in LAUSD. God bless anybody who wants to take that job.”
Art by Ely Kim\n
Learn more about mayoral control in the nation's other large districts here.\n
via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

On April 20, 1889 at the Braunau am Inn, in Upper Austria Salzburger located at Vorstadt 15, Alois and Klara Hitler brought a son into the world. They named him Adolph.

Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

RELATED: He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

RELATED: 'High Castle' producers destroyed every swastika used on the show and the video is oh-so satisfying

In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

Austria has strict anti-Nazi laws that aim to prohibit any potential Nazi revival. The laws state that anyone who denies, belittles, condones or tries to justify the Nazi genocide or other Nazi crimes against humanity shall be punished with imprisonment for one year up to ten years.

In Austria the anti-Nazi laws are so strict one can go to prison for making the Nazi hand salute or saying "Heil Hitler."

"The future use of the house by the police should send an unmistakable signal that the role of this building as a memorial to the Nazis has been permanently revoked," Austria's IInterior Minister, Wolfgang Peschorn said in a statement.

The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

Center for American Progress Action Fund

Tonight's Democratic debate is a must-watch for followers of the 2020 election. And it's a nice distraction from the impeachment inquiry currently enveloping all of the political oxygen in America right now.

For most people, the main draw will be newly anointed frontrunner Pete Buttigieg, who has surprisingly surged to first place in Iowa and suddenly competing in New Hampshire. Will the other Democrats attack him? How will Elizabeth Warren react now that she's no longer sitting alone atop the primary field? After all, part of Buttigieg's rise has been his criticisms of Warren and her refusal to get into budgetary specifics over how she'd pay for her healthcare plan.

The good news is that Joe Biden apparently counts time travel amongst his other resume-building experience.

Keep Reading Show less
via Mike Mozart / Flickr

Chick-fil-A is the third-largest fast food chain in America, behind McDonald's and Starbucks, raking in over $10 billion a year.

But for years, the company has faced boycotts for supporting anti-LGBT charities, including the Salvation Army, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

RELATED: The 1975's singer bravely kissed a man at a Dubai concert to protest anti-LGBT oppression

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

RELATED: Alan Turing will appear on the 50-pound note nearly 70 years after being persecuted for his sexuality

Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr and nrkbeta / flickr

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dropped a bombshell on Tuesday, announcing it had over 900 emails that White House aide Stephen Miller sent to former Breitbart writer and editor Katie McHugh.

According to the SPLC, in the emails, Miller aggressively "promoted white nationalist literature, pushed racist immigration stories and obsessed over the loss of Confederate symbols after Dylann Roof's murderous rampage."

Keep Reading Show less