Power to the Schoolhouse : Los Angeles Board of Education votes to give 27 schools more autonomy

Parents who are increasingly apprehensive about the management of Los Angeles' troubled public schools can probably take a measure of comfort from the recent decision to permit 27 schools a degree of self-governance.

In many cities around the country, there is deep doubt about the ability of a large school bureaucracy to manage from its aloof, insulated, centralized fortress the affairs of so many schools in so many different kinds of neighborhoods. The record is generally one of failure--and no doubt contributes to the crisis in public education in America.

Admittedly, there is never enough money for education; but the management of public schools often seems impoverished as much by a paucity of ideas and energy as a lack of dollars and public support. Such concern is certainly widespread in Los Angeles.

The decision Monday by the Board of Education was in effect a partial self-divestment of power--and is thoroughly welcome. Only 27 schools are affected, but this is presumably only a first step in what could be a tortuous march to decentralized decision-making that could ultimately liberate the district's 600 schools from the restrictions of centralized control.

It is almost unheard of for a bureaucracy to give up real power. So it is inconceivable that the process of devolution will go all that smoothly. But it must go forward.

L.A.'s public schools are in trouble, and it is vitally important that the 27 schools, which are suddenly more autonomous than other schools in the district, make good on their end of the deal. This means performing for the children, not for the politicians. It means doing education, not politics. It means exercising power responsibly, not taking advantage of the reduced oversight and the waiver of requirements from the central board. It means using the freedom to improve student achievement.

Much is riding on this experiment--not only the education of the children in these 27 schools but perhaps in the way public schools will ultimately educate all children.

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