Archives for category: Los Angeles

Read this disturbing article by Maggie Terry, who teaches at Locke High School in the Watts section of Los Angeles, and stop and think.

She describes the day that the tenth grade students were scheduled to take the math portion of the state’s exit exams.

The morning was disrupted by gunfire outside, and the school went into lockdown. The teachers immediately sheltered their students:

“When my colleagues and I began ushering kids into our school’s main hall, away from the outdoor lunch tables where they’d been chatting and eating their breakfasts, we held our arms wide like wings, like we knew exactly what was going on and that there was nothing to be scared or worried about.”

As if their arms were shields that were bullet-proof.

One commenter wrote that teachers like to whine about testing, but he missed the point.

I saw a different point altogether.

I see a snapshot of a society where the powers that be ignore the poverty and violence in children’s lives and think they are helping students if they take away any job protections for their teachers. The Vergara trial is about the claim that any due process rights for children violates the civil rights of their students. Garden-variety millionaires and billionaires agree with this assertion.

Maggie Terry, sheltering her children with her outstretched arms, understands the challenges these children face. Suppose they get a low score on their math test because of what they experienced that morning. Should Maggie Terry be fired? Is she a bad teacher?

Or should those millionaires and billionaires address the poverty, segregation, and violence that mar the lobes of the students?

I think they should. But it is easier to fire teachers. And cheaper.

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


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