Within weeks of each other, New York City and Los Angeles, the nation’s first and second largest school systems, respectively, in the nation, named new leaders (“L.A.’s new schools chief Beutner pledges to learn and to take action,” Los Angeles Times, May 2). Both Richard Carranza in New York City and Austin Beutner in Los Angeles face uncannily similar challenges. If history is any guide, neither will be able to achieve anywhere near what they promise.
I say that because both systems have been struggling financially and academically for years. Much of the problem is the result of similar demographics. The large percentage of students from low-income homes bring huge deficits in socialization and motivation to the classroom through no fault of their own. It’s hard to find a solution, but when the districts are huge it’s impossible. Yet no one dares talk about breaking up the two behemoths into a more manageable size. I made this point in a letter to the editor published in the Los Angeles Times on May 3 (“Another experiment”).
This has nothing to do with ideology. Instead, it has everything to do with management. I don’t believe that diversity and excellence can exist simultaneously when schools are faced with overwhelming numbers of students who are so needy. I wish Carranza and Beutner well, but I remain highly skeptical about their ability to turn their respective systems around.
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