LAUSD's flashy partnerships won't cut it
Updated: Jun 1
In a May 12 Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner wrote that "COVID-19 has highlighted fundamental gaps in the public education system caused by woefully underfunded budgets" and that the “crisis has shined a light on the challenges in public education."
First of all, it's rather convenient for him to "forget" that the nationwide teacher strikes of 2018-2019 put these gaps and challenges front and center, long before the pandemic began.
But as critical as state and local budgets are, however, the issue is also one of pedagogy, or the philosophy of teaching. For some time now, leading cognitive scientists and education researchers have been sounding the alarm over the country's pedagogical crisis, making the case that what our students desperately need is a rigorous, knowledge-based and content-rich curriculum. This means that from kindergarten to senior year, students should be exposed to a challenging and stimulating array of academic subjects, not simply assessed on whether they've "mastered" generic standards and so-called "21st Century skills."
While it might be fun for LAUSD to boast about its flashy partnerships with Fender, Amazon, Snapchat, and Hollywood directors, how far can this really go? Yes, our students must have access to digital technology, but they also need access to real musical instruments and paperbound classic novels, both of which are benefits of the technology of mass production.
While celebrities and corporate sponsorships come and go, only well-trained, dedicated teachers implementing a coherent curriculum can prepare students for college, work, and civic life. Maybe online guitar classes with Fender are worth trying, but why do so few schools have music departments in the first place? And why are there so few jobs for music teachers?
Beutner and his people will say it's all a matter of securing "adequate funding" from the State of California. Yes, of course, funding is critical. But simply repeating this over and over is a stalling tactic. Who can be sure how committed they are to "adequate funding"—and what will they even do with it? Why don't they articulate some kind of vision for the future? Do they even have one?
Educational leaders, especially those at the head of the second-largest public school system in the nation, should inspire in both teachers and students a passion for scholarship, artistic excellence, and self-improvement—whether we’re living through a pandemic or not. They should have experience in teaching, leading teachers, and designing curriculum. Instead of power-brokering and trying to please everyone, they should have something substantial to say about our common purpose, even if it means ruffling a few feathers.