To the editor: Thank you for the editorial reminding us how far the Los Angeles Unified School District has come recently. As someone who has worked as a third-party evaluator of schools and district programs, there is a nostalgic gravity of the status quo in the school system that is perpetuated by adults and not necessarily in the interest of students. ("The bad-old days at LAUSD," Editorial, Sept. 17)
Student and parent input is often pro forma, and change requires strong leadership and policies that are "disruptive" and advocate for research-based changes. One might argue that unless some proportion of district staff is feeling uncomfortable, then leadership is not doing its job.
The LAUSD has improved and can continue to do better. I pray that we do not go back to the days of chronically underperforming schools left to fester and protected by collusion between Board of Education members and district unions looking out for their short-term interests.
Michael Butler, Los Angeles
To the editor: No assessment of the LAUSD would be complete without highlighting the district's emergence as a national leader in school discipline reform under Supt. John Deasy and the school board. A growing body of research has documented the powerful effect of school suspensions in derailing student success.
Students and community leaders brought the overuse of school suspensions to Deasy's attention a few years ago, when the LAUSD was issuing more than 50,000 suspensions a year. Deasy first sent a strong message that he would be scrutinizing the justifications for suspensions, the majority of which were unrelated to violence or drugs, and the numbers began dropping.
Last year, the LAUSD became among the first school districts in the nation to ban suspensions for the catch-all category of "willful defiance." This year, the district established new rules to govern the activities of school-based police to refer students to counseling rather than charge them with crimes for minor infractions.
Suspensions have dropped 67% in the last five years. There is still more work to do, but Deasy's leadership in this area should be commended.
Robert K. Ross, Los Angeles
The writer is presidents and chief executive of the California Endowment.
To the editor: How can we ensure that all our young people have the opportunity to gain needed competencies in meaningful work and living healthful lives? We must prepare teachers capable of teaching communication skills to all students, including English language learners.
Individualized instruction at all grade levels must include inquiry, critical thinking and problem solving. In training, the emphasis for teachers should be on how, not what, to teach.
In the "good" old days, we taught life skills, food preparation, child development and financial literacy; we required more physical education classes; we allowed students to choose among college preparatory and vocational programs; and we offered a greater variety of interesting electives.
We didn't waste money on meaningless standardized tests and several years of math for everyone. Oh, if only we could go back!
Ruby L. Trow, Whittier
To the editor: The Times blames the teachers and our union. We realize that we're not respected by many and that we are thought of as a bunch of selfish, lazy blokes who are only concerned about our benefits.
But everyone who has actually worked in the classroom educating our children knows how unrealistic and foolhardy Deasy's major programs for the district are.
Let the big-name billionaires who have never taught in a public school praise Deasy. They and The Times seem to think they know more than the people who are helping students learn every day.
Sam Platts, Sylmar