L.A. Unified embarrassed again by its act-fast habit

In its rush to adopt an ethnic-studies requirement, L.A. Unified paints itself into another embarrassing corne

It's all too typical at the Los Angeles Unified School District: Leaders want to make a change to help the district's students, but instead of investigating costs, options and whether the change is even achievable or desirable, the board forges ahead. Only after it has committed itself do the very foreseeable problems emerge.

The iPads-for-all project that blew up in the district's face. The requirement that every high school student pass the full set of college-prep courses with at least a C, which has left most of its current 10th-graders unlikely to graduate unless the policy is reconsidered.

The newest example is the requirement that every student take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate, a policy scheduled to take effect in 2019 — meaning it will be imposed on the freshmen who enter high school this fall. The new rule was adopted in December even though numerous questions were unanswered. How much would it cost? Would students have to give up an elective, such as art or music, to make time for the semester-long course? Could the policy be implemented within the very tight deadline?

As it turns out, according to a district panel convened to study the matter, the respective answers are: It will cost tens of millions of dollars more than anyone thought; yes, students will have to sacrifice something else; and no, it absolutely cannot be done in time.

The board's objectives are generally laudable. L.A. Unified students should have more access to better technology. Far more of them should be succeeding in college-prep courses. Ethnic studies can be a valuable part of a public-school education, and the district should look for ways to integrate more of that into its curriculum.

The problem lies with the board's propensity to take sweeping action without considering options or even reality. When it passed the ethnic-studies requirement, school officials estimated that it would cost several million dollars for the rollout. The district committee examining the issue threw some cold, wet reality on that: Try $72.6 million over four years, with permanent annual costs for additional teachers and training.

The board is scheduled to discuss both the ethnic-studies and college-prep requirements at its June 9 meeting. In addition to figuring a way out of these two tight spots, board members should think more broadly about how not to paint themselves into embarrassing corners.

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