Fremont High School in Los Angeles has been getting a lot of attention lately, as it is that city’s biggest “experiment” with restructuring schools. However, insiders say that there is more wrong with the reporting than there is right. For instance, some of the reports suggest that the school had been shut down between December and now, which clearly isn’t true– a basic fact that could easily have been checked, but wasn’t. The local Fox affiliate’s video contains aerial footage of a riot that happened there in 2006, visually suggesting that this level of violence was commonplace, when it wasn’t. The district officials have been touting staff changes as the key improvement that has been made, but according to some students, they’ve had as many as three or four substitutes a day. In general, there has been a problem getting a straightforward accounting of how many staff members there are, and how many of them currently hold valid teaching credentials. Likewise, the only reason there has been teacher input in the reporting at all has been because a few dedicated, mostly displaced former teachers have followed the stories and commented vigorously (In the actual stories themselves, we mainly hear from district officials and union leaders, not new or former Fremont teachers). Student input is mostly just an odd quote here or there.
These kinds of staff overhauls are controversial for a reason, and not just for the commonly assumed reason that unions simply want to protect the length of their membership rolls. They’re disruptive to student learning, and there is little evidence to suggest that they work. As you watch these turnaround stories unfold, make sure to question the coverage. Ask yourself who is represented, and what their interests might be; what other reforms were tried before such drastic action was taken; and what other support the school will have to overcome its struggles. After all, putting new people into a still-problematic situation probably won’t yield any better results than leaving the original people where they were. Indeed, the loss of community ties and institutional memory will likely make things even harder.