LA's Historic Moment

01/05/2010 01:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

California lawmakers this week reached agreement on statewide education reform efforts, which promise to make the state more competitive for up to $700 million in federal support, providing much needed resources to teachers, parents, and ultimately California's six million students. What is notable about this is not only the boldness of the California reforms, but also the fact that many have already become established policy in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country.

While the legal framework governing the use of student achievement data was only changed in November to reflect federal funding guidelines LAUSD is already well on its way to implementing a comprehensive system for using data to inform instruction. From 2008-2009 LAUSD piloted a new system for tracking student achievement data and linking it to teacher performance with the leadership teams at 40 schools across the district. In the current school year, this system is available to teachers and administrators at 140 additional schools, with plans to expand the program throughout the district.

LAUSD is also engaged in innovative efforts to incorporate the use of data into its evaluation systems. Responding to a series of articles in the LA Times, in April the LAUSD School board voted to establish a Teacher Effectiveness Task Force under the leadership of Dr. Ted Mitchell, President of the California State School Board. The task force, which is examining the use of data in evaluation systems, among other critical reforms, includes representation from unions, district officials, parents, teachers, administrators, and members of the broader education reform community. With a laudable sense of urgency, these efforts are being accompanied by increasing efforts to enforce existing policies regarding evaluation of provisional teachers.

With more than 60,000 students in charter schools Los Angeles has more students in charter schools than any other major city in the nation. While charter schools have been a key factor in education reforms in Los Angeles over the last decade, 2009 was notable in that the charter movement grew by nearly 20%. Combined with innovative school designs such as the Mayor's Partnership for LA Schools, I-Design Schools and the new Pilot Schools initiative developed in collaboration with United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the union which represents LAUSD teachers, LA has become a fertile environment for innovation in public education.

Formal involvement of parents has been a distinguishing factor in education reform in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project (LAAMP), whose parent engagement initiative impacted more than 35,000 families in LA County over a five year period from 1994-1999 found that schools with formal parent engagement processes significantly outperformed schools without them, a result supported by independent research. As a result the Board of Governors of LAAMP created Families in Schools in 2000 to support effective parent engagement throughout Los Angeles. UTLA has launched its own initiatives to engage parents, most notably in the work that is being done to transform Crenshaw High School.

Following this trend, a distinctive element in the statewide reform effort is the inclusion of a "parent trigger." This reform allows 51% of the parents at "failing" schools to vote to require local education authorities such as school districts to engage in one of the federally stipulated school transformation efforts defined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The idea was originally conceived by Executive Director of Green Dot Public Schools, Marco Petruzzi, and CEO of the Parent Revolution, Ben Austin. As Marco Petruzzi described their efforts in an interview for the LA Times, "what was really missing (in education reform) was a value proposition for parents." This value proposition came in the form of giving parents a formal vehicle to demand change in their schools. In October 2009, Superintendent Cortines formally authorized a "parent trigger" for schools to enter into L.A.'s much discussed Public School Choice process. The expansion of this prerogative has been supported by editorial boards across the state including the Sacramento Bee, the San Jose Mercury News, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and numerous political and civil rights leaders.

When Secretary Duncan visited Los Angeles in November he mentioned his earnest hope that Los Angeles would become a national model for reform in large urban school districts. Thanks to the leadership in Sacramento, Los Angeles appears to have already become in many ways a model of reform for the Golden State.

Paul Miller is Executive Director of Teach For America - Los Angeles. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position, or opinions of Teach For America.