Very little that is attempted in public life is more important than the education of our children. But in recent months the Los Angeles Unified School District has scarcely seemed up to the challenge. Beset by daunting money problems, dispiriting internal bickering and voracious backbiting, the L.A. public schools have everyone worried. Will the entire system collapse of sheer ineptitude? Will the calls for the district's breakup--a very risky move--win even more converts? Is some revolutionary, and potentially destructive, tumult inevitable for our schools?
Such questions are the very reason why many people have come to place hope in the public schools reform program called LEARN. Cautious but progressive in its reforms, careful but committed in its timing, elaborate but realistic in its details, LEARN has now arrived at a major crossroads. Will it be officially and sincerely adopted by the city's powers that be?
Until now, LEARN--the school reform master plan produced by an unusual coalition of civic leaders, public-spirited business people, professional educators and parents--has been in its pre-launch refinement and preparation period. Until recently LEARN was but a plan--a gleam in the eye of reformers, and the answer to the prayers of educators and parents alike.
Now it is on the verge of becoming a real-life program.
That's what is at stake today when the Board of Education takes up the question of whether to authorize the LEARN reforms. Should it choose to do so, by summer more than several dozen L.A. schools will begin the process of becoming LEARN schools.
And what is a LEARN school?
It's something very different from the kind of school most teachers, parents and students have had to live with these past years. It's one that would have far greater authority than current schools over its budget, what is taught and how it is run.
A LEARN school would be liberated from the oft-stifling central control that is all too characteristic of L.A. schools now. LEARN would empower a school to break free of such chains to do a better job for our children--all without blowing up the whole system.
It is widely believed that the Board of Education will in fact vote to implement the first phase of this historic reform program. It is not necessary that the vote of the seven-member board be unanimous. But for a Los Angeles that seems increasingly fragmented and a school system that has been reeling with a million problems, wouldn't a unanimous vote for LEARN send the very loud and clear message that perhaps L.A. schools may finally be getting it together?