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Los Angeles: Austin Beutner’s Plan to Disrupt the Schools and Impose the Portfolio Model

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The Los Angeles Times exposed school superintendent Austin Beurner’s no-longer secret plan to reorganize the district by downsizing the central office and decentralizing authority to 32 “networks.” You May recall that the Gates Foundation set aside money to support “networks,” so this may be an effort to get Gates money or simply jumping on the latest fad. It is not as if this is a new idea. Joel Klein created networks about 10 years, as one of four different reorganizations during his time as chancellor of the NYC schools. Beutner seems to think that decentralization to networks will raise test scores. Uh-huh. What part of reorganization raises test scores?

Capitol & Main explains the logic (or illogic) behind the plan.

Times education writers Howard Blume and Anna Phillips say highlights [of the plan] include a purge of “discretionary” staff at the district’s Beaudry Avenue headquarters. Budgeting, hiring and curriculum authority would be transferred to LAUSD’s 988 district-managed schools, which will be organized into 32 geographic “networks” under the oversight of regional offices. The theory is that cost savings and “charter-like” autonomy will improve student outcomes. Beutner is expected to unveil details next month.

Reimagining’s actual reimagineers are outside consultants who carried out a similar reorganization of Newark, New Jersey schools using a highly controversial approach borrowed from Wall Street. Called the “portfolio model,” it means each of the 32 L.A. networks would be overseen like a stock portfolio. A portfolio manager would keep the “good” schools and dump the “bad” by turning them over to a charter or shutting them down much like a bum stock. Why that should fare any better than a short-lived LAUSD reform in the 1990s that also divided the district into small, semi-autonomous clusters but failed to budge academic performance remains unclear. The changes in Newark included neighborhood school closures, mass firings of teachers and principals, a spike in new charters and a revolt by parents that drove out former Newark supe — and current L.A. consultant — Cami Anderson.

One wrinkle in LAUSD going portfolio is the March 5 special election to fill the District 5 seat left vacant by the August resignation of disgraced board member Ref Rodriguez. District 5 veteran Jackie Goldberg’s October 26 announcement that she is running for a third term in her old board seat could effectively make the contest a local referendum on the Beutner plan. The progressive, twice-elected L.A. City Councilmember and two-term California Assemblymember has never lost a race in her political career. The pro-charter forces on the current one-vote board majority might consider having a kinder, gentler-to-public school families Plan B waiting in the wings.

If Beutner seems clueless, it is understandable. He has no experience in education, and he doesn’t know anything about the past. His ideas are based on his experience in corporate America. The people he brings in are reformers who believe in disruption.

The race to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of charter founder Ref Rodriguez after his conviction on various felony charges may well determine the future of Austin Beutner’s plan and Austin Beutner.

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