Reading “Reinventing America’s Schools” by David Osborne was a difficult and time-consuming affair. I’ve seen how the charter school movement has operated in Los Angeles, which caused me to look for flaws in the data and examples given in the book.
The charter efforts in Los Angeles have been successful in enrolling students. But recruiting students and teaching them effectively are different things. Osborne’s book often misses a key component to the latter point: accountability.
Osborne is correct that heavy-handed bureaucracy and teachers-union agendas have in most cases stifled real reform in public schools in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles school board has recently been elected with a majority of the members being in strong support of charter efforts.
Almost immediately, the president of the school board became the target of investigations for illegal use of campaign funds. Next, his own charter organization became the center of an investigation into misappropriation of funds, and an audit is under way. The other school board members asked him to resign, and he refused. He continues to vote on charter school issues. This is not effective accountability for leaders who haven’t behaved the way they should.
Osborne gives many examples of “innovation schools,” some of which are successful and some of which are not. He presents a huge amount of data to support giving school leaders the “freedom to mold school cultures.” He is a proponent for student and parent choice in establishing school standards and goals.
I believe his reasoning begins to show flaws when he addresses accountability. The measurement of performance is always an issue in schools, and Osborne cites examples of schools closing due to student and parent dissatisfaction and/or teachers quitting. But he’s missing the other side of the coin—ensuring that these students and teachers perform to the best of their abilities.
How Do We Make These Schools Successful?
Osborne gives examples of “innovative” school models such as single-sex schools, “magnet” schools focusing on science, technology, etc. and schools concentrating on maintaining cultural and ethnic identity.
My many years of experience in education have been spent serving the Los Angeles Unified School District, so I know that my point of view is limited. But the many versions of reform and reorganization I experienced during my career left me with a somewhat cynical and jaded outlook.
I saw “reforms” established, abandoned and re-established years later. I experienced the growing power of the teachers union, with accountability often falling on the shoulders of school-based administrators. This experience leads me to believe that, much like the author, I see accountability as the central issue in all education-reform efforts, especially charter schools.