national newsletter

How consultants ‘re-imagined’ L.A. schools

Welcome to Chalkbeat’s national newsletter! Sarah Darville and Matt Barnum here, working to help you make sense of efforts to improve education across the country. Sign up for any of Chalkbeat’s newsletters here. Also, we’re hiring! Come work with us. The deadline to apply is April 22.

The big story

A new schools superintendent hoped to “re-imagine Los Angeles Unified.” So, using money from foundations, Austin Beutner hired a slate of consultants to get to work on a plan to make the district more efficient and effective. Last November, Beutner said a plan would be made public within weeks.

We got the documents those consultants created — and they’re a fascinating window into the ideas district leaders were weighing in 2018 before the district was consumed by a six-day teachers strike. The consultants discussed adopting some of the ways the school systems work (or have worked) in New York City, Denver, Dallas, and other cities.

Before getting into the substance, one important thing to know: The district declined to comment on the documents, which board members have been pushing to be made public. Since our piece published yesterday afternoon, Beutner told the Los Angeles Times that he will only be pushing a modest restructuring.

“We went through an exhaustive exercise,” Beutner told the Times. “We listened to suggestions and ideas and we dismissed many of them that might have been tried elsewhere in the country.”

What were those ideas? The 300-plus pages of memos, presentations, and plan drafts suggest breaking up portions of the central office into 32 “networks” to provide schools with more targeted support, reminiscent of an approach used in New York City years ago. The documents recommend that schools be given more control in exchange for stricter accountability for results. And they lay out key decisions facing L.A.’s leaders, including how to handle low-performing schools — something even a less dramatic reshuffling will have to address.

Read the full story, and the draft plan, here.

Also from the national desk

  • Julia Keleher, the embattled ex-Puerto Rico secretary of education, defended her tenure in defiant terms at a Yale education conference last Friday. “Somebody had to be the responsible adult in the room,” she said in reference her decision to close about a quarter of the island’s schools amid sharply declining enrollment. We were at the conference and have all the details.
  • “Undermatching,” when students attend less-selective colleges than they’re qualified for, disproportionately affects low-income students. The Achievement First charter network is going to see if offering scholarships of a few thousand dollars can help address this.

Local stories to watch

Research roundup

  • New York City’s big school turnaround program has produced uneven results, according to the most rigorous study to date of the “Renewal” initiative. The program flooded struggling schools with support, including wraparound services and an extended school day. It did improve  student attendance, but it didn’t lead to any clear gains in test scores or high school graduation rates after two years. The full report — which was forced out by a public records request from Chalkbeat — is arguably a setback for the mayor’s education vision, which advocates hoped would offer a successful alternative to his predecessor’s strategy that relied on closing struggling schools.
  • Women face a glass ceiling in education leadership. A new report by the group Chiefs for Change examines the demographics of the leadership in each state’s five largest school districts. Although women make up more than three-quarters of U.S. teachers, just 31 percent of those district superintendents are women. Only 11 percent are women of color. The analysis offers recommendations to try to reach gender parity, including pushing search firms to put forward more women as superintendent candidates.

DeVos watch

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is testifying before Congress again today. The hearing started this morning and just ended.

Education Week and the Washington Post took a closer look at DeVos’s claim that her proposed tax credit–funded voucher initiative would not take money from public schools.

And in an appearance before the Council of Chief State School Officers, DeVos said the teaching profession had “gotten a bad beating over the years.”

2020 vision

Sen. Kamala Harris is pitching her teacher pay plan as a way to recruit more teachers of color.

Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar all have policy plans designed to appeal to teachers. Education Week has details.

The Intercept, CNN, and the Texas Tribune have all taken a look at Beto O’Rourke’s views on charter schools, particularly in light of the fact that his wife founded one.

Not yet tired of stories about how Cory Booker is approaching discussion of charter schools? Here’s another one from CNN.

Names to note

Javier Abrego was removed as acting superintendent of Colorado’s Adams 14 school district, which is set to be run by an external manager due to low performance.

Adrienne Battle is the new interim superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, after Shawn Joseph departed amid fierce debate about his tenure.

Andrew Goldin was named director of TLP Education, which spun out of Summit charter network. TLP will focus on spreading the Summit Learning, an online tool and pedagogical approach supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Simon Obas was named principal of Achievement First Amistad High School in New Haven. The school’s previous principal resigned after shoving a student, leading to a network-wide reckoning.

Eligio Hernández Pérez is Puerto Rico’s new interim Secretary of Education, succeeding Julia Keleher. (Oddly, the island’s governor initially named someone else, but replaced him Monday with Pérez.)

Rebecca Feiden was appointed executive director of the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority.

Here are the five people vying to become Michigan’s next state superintendent.

What we’re reading

  • Charter school advocates in Texas are trying to align themselves with traditional public schools, as charters and vouchers face pushback. Texas Tribune
  • Migrant students often arrive with significant trauma. Here’s how schools are responding. Education Week
  • This principal improvement program — including “wide-ranging reforms in training, hiring, mentoring,” and performance evaluation — seemed to work in a number of districts. Hechinger Report

(Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)