Heroes versus Stooges
Every once in a while the Los Angeles Times prints something intelligent and I feel compelled to offer a nod of appreciation. Yesterday the lead editorial headline was “Small classes aren't a cure-all.” In the seventh paragraph the stark truth emerged: “There is still no evidence that the multibillion-dollar investment in small primary classes has made more than an incremental difference in achievement.”
The State has been investing $1.7 Billion yearly in class size reduction and it has had, maybe, an incremental (read miniscule) effect on student performance. Meanwhile this “well-intentioned” expenditure of our money swelled the ranks of the teaching profession and has led to fraud at some school districts. In one case, the Santa Ana district fudged the books to make it look as though there were no more than 20 students per teacher in the primary grades so the schools could receive $16 Million from the state for reducing class size. The Times recommends a “public spanking” for the Santa Ana school board and superintendent. How about some jail time?
I have two friends who retired from engineering and went into teaching hoping to make a difference. Roger went to a high school in a tough LA neighborhood. He lasted four years and finally gave it up, quite discouraged. Bob is sticking it out in a school near Watts, but it’s tough. The quality of teachers at their schools was not the problem. The size of their classes was not the problem. The composition of their classes was. If classes could be restricted to those kids who wanted to be there, who did not want to cause trouble, who could spend their time thinking about biology rather than their babies, class size would not be an issue. One partial solution to this problem is school choice.
Friday the Times printed a column about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decisions on two charter school issues. In the first, the LAUSD board rejected the application by Green Dot Public Schools to build eight new charters in a Watts neighborhood, one of the city's worst. The board members who voted against the charters are allies of the teacher’s union. Despite the promising results Green Dot has produced at its other charters, they remain skeptical of the group's reform model, whatever that is.
In denying the charters the LAUSD board violated state law.
My friend and school board member Mike Lansing, who represents Watts, accused his colleagues of bending to the wishes of the influential United Teachers Los Angeles, which opposes the charter movement, and which donated over $1 Million dollars to the election campaigns of their three board stooges. “It's really disappointing that we keep talking about wanting to do what's best for children first, when without a doubt that vote was about a teacher’s union and three board members not having the backbone to stand up and do the right thing for kids over their ties to the union,” Lansing said after the vote.
For those of you who don’t know Mike, he is the full time director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Los Angeles Harbor. Like Roger and Bob, Mike is a hero.
In the other LAUSD board decision, it voted to renew the charter of Academia Semillas del Pueblo despite the fact that the unconventional school has had terrible test results for five years. The school’s absurd multilingual curriculum includes Spanish, English, Mandarin and Nahuatl-Mexicano. But the board bowed to pressure from political stooges Richard Alatorre and Jackie Goldberg and Spanish groups to keep it open, the kids be damned. Until the unions lose their hold on politicians and school board members, the kids have little to no chance.