More school: great idea .... right?

by Joe Ferullo

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Giving our children more education seems like one of those Mom and apple pie issues: who can possibly have a problem with that? Well, here in the Los Angeles archdiocese, we're about to find out.

Last week, the archdiocese announced it was implementing a plan to extend the elementary school year by twenty days -- a month extra. The notice came with much fanfare about the need to compete with China, India and Singapore.

I have one daughter in sixth grade at our local parish school, another in junior year at a nearby Catholic girls' school -- so this story peaked my interest, to say the least. My first reaction -- and my wife's -- was: this is great. More is more, right?

But that initial enthusiasm has mellowed as we've heard from other parents in various parts of Los Angeles County. They are upset.

The surface reasons are many. The extra month of school cuts into outside sports and arts activities for students who excel in those areas, reduces chances for remedial summer learning for kids who need that, and steals together time from families already stressed about the busy lives they lead. Other parents have said they are all for doing more with school -- but instead of just tacking on twenty extra days, how about putting those resources into reducing class size, or focusing on more individual educational attention?

Beneath these concerns lies a brewing resentment over how this very important decision was made. The new plan was announced by Kevin Baxter, the archdiocesan superintendent of elementary schools. And it made known this way to the public, to parents, to teachers, principals and parish pastors all at the same time.

That's right: none of the "stakeholders" in this scheme were involved in the decision-making process. The archdiocese could have held a series of "town halls" at parishes to discuss their proposals; teachers could have been invited to a day-long conference downtown for their ideas and input; principals and pastors could have met with archdiocesan officials to review and comment. Over several weeks, outside concerns and comments, from professionals, religious and parents, could have informed the final outcome.

None of that happened. As Catholics, we should perhaps not be surprised. But education -- our children's lives and futures -- is the third rail of any system, Catholic included. To be exempted from these discussions has left many parents stunned, angry and humiliated.

At one parish near the beaches south of Los Angeles, leaders had to move a meeting about this new plan into the huge church itself -- that's how many upset parents clamored to get in and finally have their voices heard.

It's a shame -- in the end, more education really is a Mom and apple pie issue. It really is the one thing everyone can come together about, rally around, and work together on.

But the top-down nature of what has happened here in Los Angeles threatens to undermine all that.

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