Archives for category: Los Angeles

A commission by a group called Los Angeles 2020 called for mayoral control of the public schools, blaming low test scores on the elected school board. The commission seems to think that getting rid of democracy will solve the children’s academic problems. In z curious contradiction, the commission commended Superintendent John Deasy, the official most responsible for policies that affect test scores.

Of course, the commission might have pointed to Chicago and Cleveland as less than stellar examples of the glories of mayoral control.

When Mayor Villaraigosa tried to take control of Los Angeles’ schools a few years ago, he was stopped by a lawsuit. He did manage to gain control of a number of low-performing schools to show what he could do, but apparently those schools have not seen a miraculous transformation despite mayoral control.

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times says that experienced teachers get better results than inexperienced teachers!

It might seem too obvious to be a headline, but the fake reformers have railed against “last-in-first-out” and veteran teachers for years. Those “reformers” insist that the veterans are burned out while the new teachers are great on Day One.

There is even a lawsuit in Los Angeles to eliminate tenure.

Will wonders never cease!

A highly regarded high school science teacher at Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts was suspended in February because someone thought that his  students had created inappropriate projects that looked sort of like weapons. The teacher Gregg Schiller was suspended after two students turned in devices that could shoot small projectiles. Schiller reports daily to a district administrative office.


One project used compressed air to propel a small object but it was not connected to a source of air pressure, so it could not have been fired. (In 2012, President Obama tried out a more powerful air-pressure device at a White House Science Fair that could launch a marshmallow 175 feet.)
Another project used the power from an AA battery to charge a tube surrounded by a coil. When the ninth-grader proposed it, Schiller told him to be more scientific, to construct and test different coils and to draw graphs and conduct additional analysis, said his parents, who also are Los Angeles teachers.


The story notes that President Obama tried out a more powerful air-projectile at a White House science fair in 2012, which launched a marshmallow 175 feet.


Schiller’s suspension removes a popular science teacher who held a number of valuable roles in the school. Parents, teachers, and students have rallied to oppose his removal. Some think that the real reason he was removed was because he is the representative for the teachers’ union.


“As far as we can tell, he’s being punished for teaching science,” said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.
Schiller teaches Advanced Placement biology and psychology as well as regular and honors biology. Students are concerned about Advanced Placement exams for college credit in May.
“The class is now essentially a free period,” said 17-year-old psychology student Liana Kleinman. “The sub does not have a psych background and can’t help us with the work.”
Schiller initially prepared lesson plans for the substitute, but the district directed him to stop in an email.
“This is really hurting my students more than anything else,” Schiller said in an interview. “I would never do anything to set up a situation where a student could be harmed.”
He coaches the school’s fencing team, and administrators have determined the team cannot compete safely without Schiller in charge.
Schiller, 43, also was the teachers union representative on the campus and had been dealing with disagreements with administrators over updating the employment agreement under which the faculty works. His suspension, with pay, removed him from those discussions.,0,5329192.story#ixzz2yVcx9Gwy

Yesterday I gleefully reported that Karen Klein, who writes editorials about education for the Los Angeles Times, had opted her own daughter out of the state test. The Los Angeles Times has supported most aspects of what is called “reform ,” so I was glad to see that Klein had realized how the current overuse of testing had undermined the love of learning , not only for her child, but for all children. Far be it from me to criticize anyone for changing their mind. Klein has a powerful role, and her epiphany could signify a recognition by the LA Times of the harm that standardized testing inflicts when allowed to become both the measure and the goal of education.

Robert Skeels was not so forgiving.

He writes:

“I’m glad that you’re sparing your own child the abject effects of this year’s test. However, I recall sitting across a table from you in early 2013 when you conducted the school board endorsement interviews and having to endure your scoffing at me for suggesting that we end the high-stakes standardized test regime for all students. Your exact words were “if we do that, we’d go back to the ‘Johnny Can’t Read’ days.” I remember how astonished I was that a professional journalist covering education could be so ignorant of pedagogy that they’d cite Flesch’s right-wing phonics garbage as their defense of the unholy policy trio of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and Common Core State Standards.

“So don’t expect those of us who have been trying to defend all children from the effects of standardized tests—the worst of which robs them of that very fleeting joy of learning—to welcome you aboard. Unlike your offspring, privileged in every regard, there are countless other children who have had their opportunity to love learning stolen by mind numbing test preparation in the name of profits and propaganda.”

I understand Skeels’ anger. But I will welcome the repentant sinner into the fold with open arms if she does understand that her decision was not just about what’s best for her child but what’s best for all children. If her views change the LA Times’ editorial policy on high-stakes testing, then I count it as a signal victory for those who have fought this issue for many years, including Robert Skeels.

I know how hard it is to change sides, to admit error, to admit in public that you were wrong.

Those who oppose the current misuse of testing should seek more converts and welcome them with own arms.

John Thompson, teacher and historian, here reviews the testimony in the Vergara trial of economists Raj Chetty and Tom Kane. They are believers in economic models for judging teacher quality. Thompson concludes they are seriously out of touch with the real world of teachers.

Thompson reviews their testimony and writes:

“Chetty, Kane, and other expert witnesses are assisting in an all-out assault on teachers’ most basic rights. I disagree with them, but I can see why they would believe that their research is relevant to 3rd through 8th graders in math and, to a lesser degree, elementary reading classes. But, even though they have not studied high schools, they are participating in an effort to also destroy the rights of high school teachers.

“And, nothing in their research could possibly support the opinion that once current laws are stricken that data-driven evaluations in non-tested subjects would likely benefit students in those classes. Up to 80% of students are in classes that remain virtually unstudied by value-added researchers. Yet, they are so confident in their opinions – based on their goal of addressing the bottom 5% of teachers – that they are helping a legal campaign (based almost completely on the opinions of some like-minded persons) to strike down duly enacted laws.

“Of course, I would also like to understand why a few corporate reformers are so convinced in the righteous of their opinions that they have initiated this assault on teachers. But, I’ve already gone too far down the path of trying to speculate on why they engage in such overreach. I just hope the Vergara judge has the inclination to look deeply into both the testimony of expert witnesses and how it is very different than the evidence and logic they have presented in written documents.”

Karen Klein, who writes editorials for the Los Angeles Times about education (and other topics), told her 16-year-old daughter she could opt out.

Like many other parents, Klein reached the breaking point where the tests didn’t make sense any more. After years of complying with the testing regime, she realized that this test was pointless. She even envied home-schoolers, who could take their children on field trips and explore what interested them. Imagine that!

Most touching was her story about the teacher who offered poetry teas. By the time her child was old enough to take the class, the poetry teas had disappeared. Test prep.

And then there was this event: “After one of the earlier versions gave a low score to my eldest on reading comprehension, my husband and I shrugged and knew there had to be something wrong with the test. That’s the daughter who is now finishing off her dissertation for a doctorate in literature.

The Los Angeles Times has been a reliable supporter of the new era of corporate reform, with occasional deviations (I recall an editorial scoffing at the parent trigger).

High-stakes testing is one of the Golden Calves of the Corporate Reform movement.

Karen Klein’s defection, rooted in her experience as a parent, not a think tank ideologue, suggests that there is hope for the future, that the patina of certitude attached to the standardized testing regime may in time crumble as more parents realize how flawed, how subjective, and how limited these tests really are.

She says, “Take that, world of Scantron.”

We say, “Right on. Welcome to the fight against the status quo. If it’s right for your child to opt out, it’s right for other people’s children.

I met a Los Angeles named Geronimo at the Network for Public Education meeting in Austin. Of course, that is a pseudonym. Geronimo, who often comments here, met Joanne Barkan, who wrote a post about philanthropy here.


Here are Geronimo’s reflections:


One of the great pleasures of my NPE experience in Austin was getting to talk to Joanne Barkan at length.

In Los Angeles, we have felt the full brunt of “philanthropy”. It has been used as the cudgel to infiltrate the entire operating status of LAUSD by dictating the terms of the pedagogy our kids receive and the orders we teachers are expected to follow. The fact that Gates and Broad have placed not only “their man” John Deasy in the top position, but they have funded other positions in District Headquarters.

Worse, we have no idea how much money they give to Deasy personally nor others in Deasy because they are “private” donations.

It is easy to call yourself a “philanthropist” but often times, philanthropy is politically motivated. I guess this can be good or bad depending on whose side of the “giving” you are on and if this sort of barter is good for your cause.

In an article in THE LA TIMES by Howard Blume on September 15, 2011
(, we read about how the drive to “philanthropize” LAUSD became public:

“Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy and Hollywood philanthropist Megan Chernin have launched an effort to raise $200 million over five years to benefit local public schools.

“The collaboration, in the works for several months, was announced in a letter signed by Deasy, Chernin and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

“The letter strikingly lists failures of the Los Angeles Unified School District but also asserts that “for the first time in the District’s history, the conditions for bold change are present…. The time is now to harness this potential and it is our responsibility to do so.

“Besides Chernin, the nascent board of the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education includes education philanthropist Casey Wasserman — who has given directly to L.A. Unified in the past — as well as former educator and artist Nancy Marks and Jamie Alter Lynton, a former journalist who is married to the chief executive of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

“‘Donations could support districtwide initiatives, such as a new training program for principals, among other things. They could also bring to the district effective approaches used at charter schools,’ said spokeswoman Amanda Crumley.

And here is the unquestioned-Philanthropic-philosophy-in-a-nutshell kicker of the LA TIMES article:

“One selling point for participants is that the elected L A. Board of Education would have no direct control over the money.

“‘As you know, the innovation Los Angeles’ students need cannot start within a rule-bound bureaucracy,’” the letter states.

“Key education donors have refused to give much, if anything, to L.A. Unified because they question how well the nation’s second-largest school system would use the money.

HOW WOULD THEY USE THE MONEY? At least the decisions would have been democratic and transparent.

HOW HAS DEASY USED THE MONEY? I’ll let history judge.

During the Great Recession, LA. Unified, like other urban districts, had been hard hit by state funding shortfalls, resulting in thousands of layoffs, larger class sizes and a shorter school year. It was the perfect opportunity for “philanthropists” to come in and work their magic under the pretext of providing schools with much needed assistance.

The unions were at their weakest point (and currently, in LA, the union is on life-support).

Deasy, who became superintendent in April, 2011, has made pursuing outside philanthropic financial support a high priority. But this financial support brought political support with all the quid pro quos that have made LAUSD more of a corporation than a democracy. The Big Money is steep inside LASUD and has definite favorites as to who gets to define what “good education” is. Just look at all the money that now gets poured into the School Board races and who “philanthropy” backs. Look at how philanthropists treat teacher unions and the quality-of-life issues they raise.

If this was the NRA who had this sort of inside influence to organizations, people would be outraged. These Philanthropists and our Superintendent uses kids as human shields. They say they will withdraw their money if their policies are not implemented. This sort of hostage taking is obscene and Deasy stays in power because of this implicit threat.

Philanthropy where these multi-billion dollar decisions truly affect the profits of the ones giving the “donations” taints the whole process. Gates and Broad put their money and their “charity” to the very areas that they profit from.

Education is political BECAUSE it is Big Business. To ignore that reality is to be willfully ignorant.

And the Philanthropists have tried very hard to turn Education into Big Business behind the scenes while maintaining their pretense of Switzerland-like neutrality in their public persona claiming to the public: “We just want to help education be better.”

Kind-hearted souls indeed as they write their pro-Reform Op-eds in The Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, on the micro-scale of my individual classroom, my kids have to hoe a vastly different path that the Reforms now prescribe their net worth. The billionaires say this is what you get.

Kids. Your education is NOT a Democracy.

If you don’t like it, your solution is very simple. You can always leave the public system to where Gates, Broad, Alter-Lynton, Duncan or Obama send their kids to school.

And finally you will get the education these philanthropists truly believe in.

Thanks again, Joanne for your insight and commentary and commitment to the cause. You continue to be inspiring.


The Los Angeles school district is making short-term and long-term decisions that are fiscally and educationally irresponsible. Having committed to spend $1 billion to give an iPad for Common Core testing to every student and staff member, the district is short changing or eliminating essential programs.

The money for the iPads is mostly from a bond issue intended for construction and facilities. Consequently, there is not enough money for necessary repairs.

As the previous post showed, the libraries in half the district’s elementary and middle schools are closed due to budget cuts.

A reader comments about the failure to plan ahead:

“The closure of libraries comes on the heels of the “Repairs not iPads” facebook page detailing the fiscal priorities of LAUSD.

“There are 55,000 outstanding repair orders at present, school libraries are shut down all over the city, and the district’s proposed arts plan suggests increasing “arts integration” as a cost savings measure instead of bringing back the hundreds of arts specialists let go over the last few years.

“All this while, Deasy still maintains that all students will receive their own device.

“While we now know that superintendents like Deasy believe in the “corporate-style” of education, the one gaping hole in this plan is that corporations want to stay solvent and make decisions that will ensure present and future financial viability. This is the one missing element in Deasy’s iPad project……no plan to pay for it beyond the first few years.

“When asked, district officials provide answers like “we just can’t not do this”(Bernadette Lucas), “this is the cost of doing business in the 21st century” (Board member Tamar Galatzan) and “I can’t speak to that”(project leader Ron Chandler).

“Any business considers what it will take to stay in business, but not LAUSD. The bond funds will be gone, so the only other source of income is the general fund.

“Is the State of California going to bail out LAUSD? They have already demonstrated that they can’t or won’t even provide the basic needed services, like nurses, counselors, libraries, working bathrooms and water fountains, siesmic safety, etc., etc.????

“The problem is that Deasy won’t be around to be held accountable.

“But, we, the citizens of Los Angeles will be left with a totally bankrupt school system and no way to put the pieces back together.”

Due to budget cuts, half the elementary and middle schools of Los Angeles have been forced to close their libraries due to a lack of librarians or aides.

This is a disgrace. The district committed to spend $1 billion for iPads for Common Core testing but can’t staff its libraries.

“In the sun-filled space at the Roy Romer Middle School library, thousands of books invite students to stimulate their curiosity and let their imaginations soar. There is classic “Tom Sawyer” and popular “Harry Potter,” biographies of Warren Buffett and Tony Blair, illustrated books on reptiles and comets.

“But the library has been locked. The tables and chairs have been empty. That’s because budget cuts in the Los Angeles Unified School District have eliminated hundreds of library aides, leaving Romer’s library unstaffed for months at a time over the last four years.

“Principal Cristina Serrano said the situation has handicapped students — especially as new state learning standards require them to use more research in their papers and projects.

“The students need access to books; they need guidance on how to use the library for research,” she said. “But funding is not easy for us.”

“Romer isn’t the only L.A. Unified library that has had trouble. About half of the 600 elementary and middle school libraries are without librarians or aides, denying tens of thousands of students regular access to nearly $100 million worth of books, according to district data.”

Having fully staffed and open libraries are necessary for students. But they won’t make anyone rich.

Where are the billionaires of Los Angeles? Where is Parent Revolution? Where is Eli Broad? How about those movie stars who make millions for a single picture? Does anyone care?

For shame, Superintendent Deasy.,0,5992443.story#ixzz2uD79Nq8W

The Vergara trial in Los Angeles prompted this National Board Certified Teacher to reflect on the power dynamics in LAUSD. And how it affects the students. The trial is funded by a very wealthy tech entrepreneur whose legal team claims that due process rights for teachers denies the civil rights of minority students because it is harder to fire teachers if they get a hearing. Superintendent John Deasy testified for the plaintiffs who are suing his districts because he says he can’t fire ineffective teachers.

The classroom teacher wrote this commentary on the trial and the issues:

“The Vergara case is truly the epicenter of everything wrong with the direction of American public education.

“Sorry in advance for this long post, but this case connects a lot of dots…from my classroom in Los Angeles…to Wall Street…to The White House.

“The words in this case are twisted in Orwellian ways, where a term like “Civil Rights” gets to be used by the oppressors instead of those trying to liberate kids from their dictums.

“Teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District is an exercise in futility these days. Watching this court case unfold with its Trojan Horse arguments about the best education for students is like hearing the 1% argue that what the financial system needs is less regulation so that the poor people of the country can be free to achieve their American Dream.

“Their words are all about “liberty” and “justice” and “equality”, but it is obvious who reaps the benefits of those terms.

“It is no coincidence that our District Superintendent John Deasy, was the first witness called to testify against the teachers of his own district.

“He knew that he had the backing of the very rich benefactors who have paved his life in education. He keeps winning because there is no realistic way to challenge his authority.

“The Editorial Board of the LA TIMES, like the Editorial Boards of papers like The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune are enamored by this sort of superintendent–a man who is brought in to kick teachers’ whining butts and bring up test scores. The cosmetic nature of HOW they do it is apparent to anyone who looks at it.

“They have lowered graduation requirements and (as in our school) have brought in empty BS “Advisory” classes that the kids can get full credit for attending (that’s 40 additional credits after four years!!!) so that graduation rates can be boosted. No one is going to do an in depth analysis of this because the public wants results! Arne Duncan can give a big hooray for Deasy and company because the graduation figures are going up! Numbers don’t lie!

“Are our kids “smarter” because John Deasy is our superintendent? No. The pedagogy that Deasy believes in is small-minded and literal. If a teacher in LA is doing great things in his or her classroom, the chances are it’s IN SPITE of the District, not because of it. The only true education emphasis that Deasy champions is the same one that most of the 1% from Bill Gates to Barack Obama to Arne Duncan adhere to: Get the most kids through the education factory they oversee (and often profit from) towards the goal of making them somewhat competent in the world to not go out and steal. It is a very low bar. Very few schools and administrations treat education as a mind-blowing, explosive and subversive experience. That would be about the last thing on John Deasy’s agenda.

“For Deasy and those who back him, Education is defined by them alone, using their own, limited metrics about what they think constitutes “education”.

“For Deasy’s system, creative teaching is seen only as an added bonus–not a primary function. If it happens, great, but it is not the most important aspect of education. Creativity and the emphasis on a critical understanding of the world is not the thing the system values most. Deasy, Duncan, Gates and Pearson value kids responding to its metrics. Actually, if those metrics are achieved, then the Education System says the “product” is successfully educated.

“The truth is that the System will NEVER get the results from this urban population of kids (or for most others either) because they neglect to deal with a variety of factors: Poverty, environment, lack of parental wherewithal, economic forces that dictate a certain path for the working class that Deasy oversees.

“But Deasy’s route to “success” was vastly different from that likely of the students he oversees. In fact, ironically, his path was much more “American” in its orchestration of how the country actually works: Inheritance, privilege and obsequiousness. Although most people are tired of hearing about Deasy’s PhD “controversy” ( it is always worth remembering because it is a perfect metaphor for how Deasy has always gotten his way throughout his entire education life. With the tremendous support of a financial power structure that has bolstered his career from Day One, Deasy has been the beneficiary of those whose interests he promotes. First it was the financial interests of billionaires Bill Gates and later Eli Broad which morph conveniently into the political interests of the neo-liberal Democrat agenda.

“Brought in and imposed upon the city by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Deasy consolidated his support by having Eli Broad pony up millions into LAUSD to “buy” support for him. Deasy has enjoyed the unfaltering support of The United Way, the Chamber of Commerce, multi-millionaire Jamie Alter-Lynton’s LA SCHOOL REPORT and The LA Times…behind these entities are all men and women of great wealth who have thrown their considerable influence backing Deasy’s “Reform” Agenda but do not send their own kids to LAUSD. Our current Mayor Eric Garcetti is a product of the UCLA Lab School and the tony Harvard Westlake Prep (as Mayor Emmanuel sends his kids to University of Chicago Lab where the Obama kids also attended).

“No matter.

“Like many other inner cities with very separate education agendas for other people’s children, these socially-liberal Titans of LA Power pull the strings for a school system that is both racist and classist. The type of education that Deasy prescribes for the kids of LAUSD would never go over in his former school district of Santa Monica. Educated, mostly white and financially secure parents would not tolerate the low bar for their own kids. They would not tolerate the class size that our students endure and are supposed to “buck up” and learn in, nor the pitiful lack of electives, art, drama or field trip opportunities.

“As for LAUSD teachers? Most suffer in silence. Our system’s teachers are cowed and intimidated. Where do they look for support? How did they become the enemy? Hundreds of teachers in “jail” in LA. Deasy gets a 91% disapproval rating from the very people he leads and it doesn’t garner a shrug. Imagine if the Secretary of Defense got that rating from the troops or any municipal Police Chief from the officers on the street? There would be calls for firing immediately, but teachers are demonized and can be ignored. Everyone from Obama to Bill Gates to Arne Duncan gives lip service to “WE LOVE TEACHERS!” but it is in much the same way as Colonel Sanders LOVES his chickens.

“Only a neo-liberal, corporatist agenda could get a piece of agitprop like the anti-union teacher film WON’T BACK DOWN at the last Democratic Convention. Wall Street loves people like Arne Duncan and John Deasy and Barack Obama. No matter that these people never had any experience in public urban education before they rose to power, they have sought to undermine teachers and student opportunities at every level.

“They have no shame of putting my students in a real-life movie that actually SUBVERTS their interests. They will back law suits like Vergara v. California stating its “for the kids”. Deasy will claim that his teachers are the problem, instead of the social issues that hold students’ lives in their sway. Ghastly, Deasy then claims that its HIS OWN self-serving, self-aggrandizing, self-benefiting educational policies (and those of Gates, Broad, Pearson, et. al) that are the life preservers for the kids.

“Our kids are afloat in a desperate sea and the “rescue” ship they send is manned by cannibals.

“The LAUSD School Board is a feckless lot. It is too much inside baseball to go into the individual psychologies of the seven members. Suffice to say they read the newspapers and are always VERY concerned how they appear to the editorial boards who keep them in line. Education is political and its big business. To say otherwise is ignorant at best and downright disingenuous at worst. I do not hold out much hope for this sorry lot because they are all in over their heads.

“Without rehashing the iPad story, LA’s citizens got upset because they saw it as a ridiculous waste of their money–while teachers saw it as horrifying waste of resources and priorities. We were told by our leader, Deasy, that iPads were a Civil Rights issue which was met with universal derision. We are now forced to figure out some way of threading the needle of asking the public to actually give MORE to public education which actually IS a Civil Rights issue, but it has been polluted by Deasy’s “version” of Civil Rights. When our own district stabs us in the back, undercutting our desire to make the public understand what the system truly needs, then what hope do we have to actually do right by our kids?

“John Deasy, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama have miserably failed all urban kids. Their education is a disaster for my students. But the people who have the influence and power to change it don’t realize it (charitably?) or they simply BELIEVE the “philanthropists” when they say something is true and necessary because they also NEED those people for their political survival. And they get their backing because they back them. And so on and so on and so on….

“To connect the dots even further in this depressing spirit, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has announced that Bill Gates will be a keynote speaker at their 2014 Teaching and Learning conference next month. As a National Board teacher, I am horrified by this entity that is supposed to recognize the excellence in teaching is becoming just a shill front. Education is political and the National Board steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the destruction of public education. In fact, Gates has given so much money to this organization that it has created a toxic influence in the organization, reducing the “reliability” of what National Board constitutes great teaching.

“My disenfranchised classroom loses out simply because we can’t buy our way into a seat at the table.

“My kids can’t “buy” their way into a PhD.

“My kids have to accept what Deasy and The LA Times tells them is necessary for them.

“Who is our court of appeal in this system?

“Vergara v. California is the rich’s power grab. American public education is on trial not by “the people” but by the oligarchs who use it as a punching board to misdirect the culpability of many of these elites in creating the societal pathologies these kids navigate everyday.

“The true enemy of the nine students whose names are cynically being used in the suit are not their teachers–but those who exploit their desire for a true education–and will replace their trust with fat bank accounts in someone else’s name at a desk very far away (and with a much better window view) than theirs at the school’s they originally came from.”


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