06/14/2011 06:58 pm ET | Updated Aug 14, 2011

It's Their Right: Our Children Deserve Access to a Quality Education

Education is a basic right for every child, regardless of race, religion, the street on which they live, or family dynamic. Not only is education a basic right, but it is a key pathway out of poverty, crucial to helping prepare children for further education and the workforce.

Right now, our public schools are failing to educate far too many students. Nearly one-half of LAUSD students are not graduating on time, and current conditions in the schools are cheating our children out of a quality education that ensures they will grow up with a real chance to build a career and a fulfilling life. The number of children and families living in poverty in our society will not decrease if we don't adequately prepare youth to be productive members of our community; graduating from high school college- and career-ready is the straightest path to that goal. If we continue on the path we are on, we will further harm our students and our future workforce, and we need effective schools to end poverty in our community.

While we may not be able to control all of the external factors facing our students, we can control what happens in the classroom.

Key to education reform is attracting and retaining great teachers that can motivate students and drive better outcomes in our classrooms and our schools. But to do this, we must put a system in place that rewards results, provides educators with adequate feedback, and maintains a work schedule that enables collaboration and planning. Currently, this system does not exist.

This week, several civil rights, parents and nonprofit groups led by United Way of Greater Los Angeles released an in-depth study conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). The report highlights what is and is not working in our schools, and identifies local and state reforms that will facilitate current efforts to attract and retain highly effective teachers.

The report makes clear recommendations around key LAUSD and state policies that must be reformed to drive an effective public school system where our students can learn and thrive.
Reform is crucial in order to drive systemic change in our schools, and that reform does not solely lie in the hands of our educators. There is much rhetoric blaming teachers and the District for these problems in our schools, and we recognize that LAUSD, UTLA (the teachers' union), and the AALA (the administrators' union) are all taking steps to improve education in Los Angeles.

But change is not happening fast enough.

Despite calls for reform from many internal and external groups, our system is still stymied by antiquated practices that are not reflective of the sum of its parts. NCTQ spoke with leaders from LAUSD, teachers, principals, parents and city government to inform this report and found that, across the board, people want this change. Teachers want change. Principals want change. Parents want change. This report gives teachers, parents, principals, administrators and -- most importantly -- students a voice.

If we make a few critical changes, we can and will accelerate change in our schools.

We are advocating for a system that screens, recruits and staffs teachers based on rigorous and effective processes, in order to bring the very best and brightest teachers into our classrooms.

We support a revised system to evaluate teachers based on multiple measures, including student performance, classroom observation by principals and experts, academic growth and test scores. Performance evaluations need to be meaningful and conducted on a regular basis. 98 percent of LAUSD teachers get a "passing" grade, yet only 52 percent of its students are graduating on time -- something is not adding up.

Tenure designations must be based on evaluations, including student achievement data, and high performing teachers should be rewarded through salary and tenure. Keep in mind that California is one out of only eight states that continues to award tenure at two years of employment.

One LAUSD student recently reported: "I was told only half of us in my classroom would graduate high-school." No student should feel this way.

Our children cannot wait another day hoping for a better education and chance to graduate prepared for college and the workforce.

Improving our schools is a moral and economic imperative. This is especially true for the majority of students who live in poverty and attend our public schools. It is up to the adults of Los Angeles to do the right thing and work together on providing the highest quality education for all of our students, making way for fulfilling careers, stable lives, and a strong overall workforce.

Reform is possible and the time is now. Our students cannot wait.


Elise Buik, President and CEO, United Way of Greater Los Angeles