John Deasy has gone on a tour of South Korea, to learn about how the students in that nation get such high test scores. Perhaps he will learn of the pressure to succeed, the high cost of after-school tutoring, the suicide rate among teens, and other problems that seem to come with demanding that children conform to the state’s desire for test scores.
But amazingly, in his absence, the Los Angeles Times–which has reliably cheered on his every move and excused his every failure–published multiple stories critical of the superintendent.
Here is columnist Sandy Banks, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, blasting Deasy for his failures at Jefferson High School.
John Deasy notched what he considers a win this week, when an Oakland judge ordered state education officials to rescue students trapped in chaos and dysfunction at Jefferson High in South Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Unified superintendent called the ruling a “victory for youth in challenging circumstances.”
What Deasy didn’t say is that those circumstances have been made considerably more challenging by his inaction and his district’s ineptitude.
Jefferson was thrown into turmoil in August by the failure of a new computerized system the district relied upon to schedule the school’s 1,500 students. Hundreds of students have gone without schedules, been assigned to courses they’ve already taken or been locked out of classes they need for graduation.
Eight weeks into the semester, their schedules are loaded with space-fillers — periods labeled Service, Adult Class or Home, that offer no instruction and waste the time of teenagers already at risk of falling academically behind.
Those “content-less” classes are the target of a Northern California lawsuit alleging the state has ignored its obligation to ensure that all students have access to an adequate education.
Jefferson became a focal point because its troubles illustrate the issues at stake: Students hanging out in the auditorium or performing clerical tasks, or simply being assigned to go home because their schools don’t have the will, the resources or the leadership to engage and educate them.
“We have kids at Jefferson with four of those classes in a day,” said Mark Rosenbaum of Public Counsel, the pro bono law firm that, along with the ACLU, is asking state officials to correct conditions that deprive the students of their constitutional right to an adequate education.
The case won’t be resolved for months, but after hearing the stories of students, counselors and teachers at Jefferson, Judge George Hernandez deemed the school’s problems so outrageous, he ordered immediate fixes — and laid the blame squarely on Los Angeles Unified officials.
“There is no evidence of any organized effort to help those students,” Hernandez’s ruling declared. Deasy “expresses appropriate outrage,” but doesn’t seem to have done anything “to remedy this shocking loss of instructional time.”
So Deasy was celebrating the outcome of a case that criticized his own ineptitude and mismanagement.
Karin Klein, the Times’ education editorialist, sounds as though she is fed up with his unending parade of excuses for his own inaction. In a column titled “Definition of Strange: John Deasy Lauds Ruling Confirming His Failures,” she writes:
Los Angeles schools Superintendent John Deasy weighed in on behalf of a lawsuit against the state, contending rightly that students were unconstitutionally assigned to do-nothing classes instead of the academic courses they needed. His action would be wholly appropriate if the state ran the schools where this was happening. But as it happens Deasy runs those schools. Or at least, he was supposed to.
“I can’t think of a better gift to give this school district than to expose this indefensible practice,” he said in a declaration in support of the lawsuit.
By indefensible practice, was he referring to his not having taken concrete steps to resolve the problem? Was this an admission of incompetence? A request for the state to take over schools that he and the school board could not manage properly?
I called Deasy to ask these questions last week before a judge ruled that the state of California had to step in and get the situation ironed out at Jefferson High School. A combination of a shortage of teachers and the fouled-up student tracking and scheduling system that Deasy oversaw had led to an educational crisis.
Deasy’s responses during our conversation covered a range of rationales. The problem was the school board — even though he conceded he hadn’t raised this with the board, offered suggestions to them or asked for guidance. But he was concerned that they would not do what was needed to fix the problem. Maybe he’s right, but it seems to me that not talking to them is a guaranteed way to make sure they don’t fix the problem.
It was local autonomy for schools that was to blame, he said, even though Deasy is one of the biggest proponents of that autonomy.
It was lack of funding, even though the district got a big increase in funding this year but chose to spend the money on other items. (No, not iPads — bond money cannot be used to increase the number of teachers.)
Of course the additional funding doesn’t restore the schools to pre-recession levels. Things are still far too tight. But the district beefed up many other programs while leaving students in an untenable predicament at various high schools, not just Jefferson. It’s not that the district spent money on unimportant things. But there is simply nothing more basic than teaching students. Teaching them, not assigning them to sit in the auditorium or worse yet, go home for a period or two.
Deasy better hurry home from South Korea. His excuses are wearing thin, even with his usual supporters.