In a stunning reversal, Board Member George McKenna (BD1) has dropped his name from the school rating resolution that he had co-sponsored with Board members Kelly Gonez (BD6) and Nick Melvoin (BD4), saying that he now opposes the plan to rate schools that he had introduced last week.
“I didn’t change my mind. I was misinformed, but nobody’s fault, that this was simply an opportunity for us to bring information to the community about the progress of a school, not to rank the schools,” McKenna told Speak UP when reached by phone Wednesday evening. “The ranking part, I think is inappropriate. It gives a false sense of tiered success or lack thereof. And what does a school do with that information? What do the parents do with that information?”
The resolution that he put his name on last week clearly states its purpose is to create “a single, summative rating for each school.” McKenna said he did not realize what the resolution entailed until he read comments from Gonez and Melvoin describing it.
“When I see it in their notices to their parents and the stuff they are writing on their own blogs, they are using the word ‘rankings’ so their intent is to rank,” McKenna said. “I don’t think they consciously tried to mislead me,” but “that was not my understanding. I said to them. ‘I will not be a part of it as long as we’re ranking.’ I would oppose that. If they’re willing to take the ranking off, I will offer a friendly amendment, I’d be willing to support it.”
Melvoin had no comment on McKenna’s reversal, and Gonez could not be reached for comment by deadline.
Speak UP welcomes the resolution, which would provide parents with much-needed information to choose the best schools for their kids. It would also help identify schools most in need of support to improve student achievement. The California State Dashboard has been widely criticized for failing to provide parents with a single school rating and for being too complicated for many parents to understand.
McKenna, however, believes that parents don’t need a ranking or letter grade because the district already knows which schools need help. “They are identifiable right now,” he said. “We can look at their data. And we know what their ranks are. So if we publish that, what does that say about the children who are in those schools? I’m not saying the people ought to remain naïve and uninformed.”
But he asked what good would come from parents knowing how their schools stack up to others. “Why are we comparing one school to another when we’re in different situations, different circumstances? What does that information do for the people living in that community when their school gets a ranking?” he asked. “This comparison thing has a sense of elitism…That data is used by many people for other issues. Where will I buy my home? Where will I send my child to school?”
Many of the lowest-performing schools in LAUSD are concentrated in McKenna’s South LA Board District, and McKenna has been speaking for weeks about the need to take responsibility to fix these underperforming schools. But now that the time has come to take the first step – merely identifying those schools and giving parents the information -- McKenna has balked.
Speak UP believes that shining a light on under-performing schools can help change the situation or, at the very least, can inform parents that they may have better options. McKenna, however, seems more concerned about sparing kids the hard feelings that may stem from knowing they are receiving a sub-par education.
“We know the reality. We know the torment. We know the injustice. We know all of that,” he said. “The question is, how much worse can we make them feel?”
McKenna promises he will soon release his own plan to turn the schools around. “I’m writing a proposal,” he said. “Let’s stop all the BS. Let’s make it happen. I know what to do. I’m going to write this thing. I’m forcing myself to write it because I keep telling people ‘it’s coming, it’s coming,’ which means I can’t keep BSing myself.”