When it comes to education reform, what change will have the biggest impact on student achievement? This question was before the School Board on Tuesday as we discussed a resolution to transform large LAUSD schools in to schools of approximately 500 students.
I feel very strongly that the size of a school is far less important than the quality of the teachers and the principal at that school. I also feel that any large scale transformation requires a thorough, thoughtful analysis. Before I could commit to breaking down all of our large schools into smaller schools, I needed to know: Are schools of 500 too small to offer students everything we want and need to provide? What is the right number that achieves both a sense of personalization and improved student outcomes? How much will the changes cost and what do we forgo by using our resources to make schools smaller? How do we ensure that schools have the right conditions – from quality teaching staff and a strong principal to rigorous curriculum – for increased student achievement in a smaller setting and in every setting?
Tuesday’s debate was long and in the end, I was pleased that the authors of the resolution listened to my concerns and accepted amendments from Board Member Galatzan and me to do the requisite analysis and planning before declaring unequivocally that LAUSD will be transformed into a district of small schools by 2020. I look forward to receiving the Superintendent’s analysis in December and hearing his recommendations for making large schools smaller, where it makes sense.
I also look forward to the pilot phase, which will begin no later than 2010, focus on high priority schools and large middle schools, and which will be guided by the results of the Superintendent’s analysis. I know from my business career that you always start small, learn from your mistakes, and then scale up if the results warrant it.