California

Advice for L.A. Superintendent John Deasy: Should he stay or should he go?

There is no shortage of advice for embattled Los Angeles schools chief John Deasy, who is expected to address his future after being evaluated by the school board Tuesday.

John Deasy

At stake is leadership of the second-largest school district in the U.S., a sprawling system of more than 677,000 students, beset by a litany of crisis, including budget shortfalls, intense board politics, tougher academic standards, a troubled one-to-one Ipad initiative and a teachers union where 91 percent of members proclaimed to have no confidence in Deasy’s leadership.

Deasy’s two-year tenure has suffered since his staunch ally, former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa left office this year; he also faces a new school board that has questioned many of his positions.

Deasy has yet to make a definitive statement about his plans since the Los Angeles Times reported last week that he’d told several board members he was leaving. The critical juncture he now finds himself at should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the rough-and-tumble world of school politics and education, which are often one and the same. (Ramon Cortines, who led both the New York City and Los Angeles school systems, famously said that even Jesus Christ could not run the school system.)

In the meantime, Deasy has plenty of supporters who are pushing hard for him to remain at the helm, including Mayor L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. Civic, business and philanthropic leaders are rally to keep him, reports EdSource. Yet there are many others who anxious to see him leave.

The Hechinger Report is compiling an array of advice for and commentary about Deasy, which we will be updating throughout the day. Below is a selection:

Sara Roos, blogger, LAUSD parent

Let me count the reasons he is reviled.

Sara Roos

1. Class Sizes of 50 and more — in breathtaking defiance of our elected board’s order to reduce them.

2. Inadvisable spending priorities (machinery before human resources; corporate mandates before families’) followed by tantrums when questioned.

3. Unbearable management style alienating teachers (91% voted “no confidence” in him), yelling at and denying the prerogative of parents and intimidating students.

4. Neglect of physical facilities, misappropriation of funds dedicated to their maintenance, and wholesale giveaway of real estate to unregulated pedagogical pretenders, resulting in child endangerment both physical and pedagogical.

5. “Education Reform” demagoguery belying ambivalent loyalties — students or corporatizers first?

6. Engaging an illusory wedge of racial divide among stakeholders while the schism of note appears properly along class lines: it is the 1% driving the politics of Education Reform, who enable this educational pretender and substitute entrepreneurialism for education.

Carol Jago, former English teacher at Santa Monica High School and past president of the National Council of Teachers of English

Carol Jago

I worked under John Deasy in Santa Monica Malibu USD. He was a man I could always trust to:

– put what was best for students first
– articulate his vision clearly
– support innovative instructional practices

Is it nobler to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” or to move on? As Rick Hess says, it’s easy to comment from the sidelines. Much harder to “take arms against a sea of troubles.”

 

Michael Petrilli , analyst, Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Michael Petrilli

I do think Deasy should put it to his board. Say: here’s my reform plan. Are you behind me or not? Force them to take a vote.

Brian Hassel, co-director, Public Impact

Brian Hassel

I’d stay if you think you have the chance to make quantum, rather than just incremental, gains.  For us, that means dramatically increasing the percentage of students who have access to great teachers.  You could move this over 80% by redesigning roles and using technology so your top quartile teachers take responsibility for more students.  These models also produce savings you can use to pay teachers much more within budget, which should help you attract and retain great teachers.  Stick around if you can commit to putting great teachers in charge of 80%+ of students’ learning.

Ben Austin, director, Parent Revolution

Ben Austin

“Parents need a great education for their kids right now and I don’t see any plan from anyone else to make sure our kids the education they deserve. He [is] the most talented superintendent in America and it will be impossible to replace him. John is a change agent and the system is designed to repel it

Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute:

Frederick Hess

Selfishly, I’d love for him to stay, because he’s doing important work in an important district.  And, having survived a brutal budget crunch, I think he’s made some hard choices and is in a position to do good things.  On the other hand, the superintendency is an exhausting, bruising job in a district as big, challenged, and political as LAUSD. And it’s a whole lot easier to shout “stay” from the sidelines when one is insulated from all the catcalls, pushback, and frustration. 

Diane Ravitch, author, education historian:

Diane Ravitch (Photo: tbfurman)

Deasy has the support of the business community but not the educators, the people who work every day in the schools. Without their support, he is not a leader. A leader encourages, inspires, supports, and leads. When the troops don’t trust their general, he cannot lead. He can give orders; he can issue edicts; but he can’t lead. Since he can’t lead, he should leave.

Jeffrey Henig, professor of political science and education at Teachers College, Columbia University

Jeff Henig

The real challenge in big city school leadership these days is less to come up with the “right” assemblage of reform initiatives than to show that you can assemble a broad constituency to support sustained improvement despite the heterogeneous and often fractious political environment. If John Deasy leaves now he’ll leave with a solid reputation that will make it easy for him to find another high profile position in the public or private sector, but he would leave without having demonstrated that he is up to mastering this higher order challenge.

Robin Lake, Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington, Bothell

Robin Lake

It’s hard to see how kids are going to be better off as a result of his departure. No one knows whether the gains he made will be kept or frittered away. It is difficult to imagine the fractured board can agree on another superintendent with strong ideas. If you are honest with yourself (and older than 20), you may find yourself believing that if a leader like John Deasy can’t make real progress, the urban superintendency truly is an impossible job. We need to stop relying on heroism and instead start dismantling special interest-captured school boards and other governance structures that get in the way of school improvement for urban students. …. If and when Deasy, yet another promising superintendent, leaves, the conversation should not be—as it usually is—about the man. It needs to be about the systems that stood in his way.

Dave Welch, founder of Students Matter

We are deeply disappointed that Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District Dr. John Deasy has come under fire for his steadfast support of pro-student policies. Under Dr. Deasy’s leadership, the LAUSD has seen its dropout rate decrease and its test scores increase. More high school students are completing the coursework necessary for college attendance and are now taking college entrance exams. The district has also facilitated successful school transformations through the parent trigger process, reached a groundbreaking agreement with the local teachers union on a new teacher evaluation system that takes into account student achievement, and implemented a nationally acclaimed breakfast-in-the-classroom program and a ban on suspensions for willful defiance. Removing Dr. Deasy as superintendent would cause a devastating loss in momentum for the district, and the students are the ones who would suffer.

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