Member Perspective: Embracing Excellence

January 30, 2012

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On Feb. 4, charter school parents, teachers and students from across the city will stand up and speak out at the "Schools We Can Believe In" rally in front of LA Memorial Coliseum to tell our elected officials to put students first and ensure great schools and equity for all public school students. We are featuring different perspectives from community members leading up to the rally, sharing what this event means to them. Today, we have a piece from Judy Burton, President and CEO of Alliance for College Ready Public Schools.

I was with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) for 30 years, as a teacher, principal, administrator, and finally as Local District Superintendent, overseeing a District that, if it were freestanding, would have been one of the nation's 25 largest School Districts.

So it was a difficult decision for me to leave my home for so long in order to head up the Alliance for College Ready Public Schools. And one of the questions I was asked most often was why I did it. For me at least, the answer was simple: leading a charter management organization, we would have the autonomy and the flexibility to try innovative approaches, truly tailoring our schools to meet our students' unique needs. After leading such a large organization within LAUSD, I knew full well that one size does not fit all.

For instance, we have embraced a new approach to education called blended learning or, in our vernacular, BLAST - Blended Learning for Alliance School Transformation. Our BLAST classrooms are truly different, utilizing 21st century tools to meet the needs of the 21st century student. Students rotate throughout the class period, each of which is two hours. They are at one of three stations: individualized online learning, collaborative learning, or teacher-led instruction, with only 16 students in each station at a time. With the online instruction, they are learning at individual laptops that let them move through the material as fast as they can, or as slow as they need to. The collaborative stations teach students to work together to model or demonstrate the subject on which the teacher is focusing. And this allows teachers to focus on a much smaller group of students during teacher-led instruction, helping each student receive individual attention, informed by real time data that the teacher is receiving from the technology. To learn more, see our video.

And it's so effective. In just one year, students at our first BLAST school jumped four grade levels in reading and math. The point is, it works. It's relevant to today's students, who love it. Teachers get more time with students. And it's cost efficient, so important during these budgetary times.

We were excited to participate in the Public School Choice program, seeing it as an opportunity to share best practices. And, indeed, we are implementing the BLAST model at a Public School Choice school that shares a campus with 4 other academies. However, as we all know, not only has the Public School Choice program been effectively discontinued, but charter organizations have effectively been shut out of LAUSD for three years. While we are big supporters of education reform, and anything that will help bring more flexibility for the District to improve, we also support expanded opportunities for students to attend high quality schools, and closing Public School Choice has only limited students' options. We are further disappointed that the change came at the expense not only of organizations like ours, who are helping blaze new pathways for better education in Los Angeles, but at the expense of students and their families who so need access to high quality public schools.

That is why we are participating in the Citywide Rally for Excellent Schools on February 4. Our philosophy is simple: we should do more of that works, and less of what doesn't. Anything else doesn't make sense. We know people need to hear from the parents and students who are benefiting from more choice, better schools, and a wider array of options. We know the voices of parents and students can cut through the cacophony of voices that so often seem focused on narrow, adult-oriented agendas, and refocus us on the only thing that matters: educating kids better, and preparing them for successful futures. We hope you'll join us.

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