Archives for category: Los Angeles

A 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles public school district, who is also NBCT, explains the Rafe Esquith situation here. The writer has the nom de plume of Geronimo. I know who he is; I have met him. But I am not telling.


ON RAFE ESQUITH’S SUIT AGAINST LAUSD

Education has been on trial for a long time in Los Angeles.

We have seen it in many forms, most notably in how business interests in education trump pedagogical interests on many fronts…corporate technology, standardized testing, Charter Schools and billionaire influence on public policy.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is misnamed. It is not a “unified” entity. It can be divided in two using hoary Edu-Marxism (apologies, but I beg your indulgence!). There is the 1% at the top of the District apparatus (or apparatchiks) who control and set policy and then there are the actual educators who are supposed to be the reason for the season–but have been demonized by the structure that ostensibly is supposed to support their efforts.

On Wednesday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Wednesday denied LAUSD request to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought by the internationally renowned fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith, whom they fired last October.

A veteran of the district for over 30 years, Esquith filed the defamation lawsuit against the district in August after he was placed on paid leave and assigned to “teacher jail” pending an internal investigation after a fellow teacher complained that Esquith made a joke about nudity in front of his students in regards to the production of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” the students were performing.

Huck Finn began the entire sorry process that led to Esquith’s dismissal and the current class action suit against LAUSD; it is a top level farce that Twain would have ridiculed in his day but would not have been the least surprised about.

It is most helpful to think about the people who actually run LAUSD as proprietors of a brand that should be called LAUSD, Inc.

LAUSD, Inc. is not interested in good teaching. It is not interested in good pedagogy. It is not interested in what inspires students to want to learn.

LAUSD, Inc. is interested only in LAUSD, Inc. itself.

LAUSD Inc’s greatest concern is for its brand. The apparatus set up in LAUSD headquarters functions only to propagate a self-serving system. In Ken Kesey’s famous “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, Chief, the deaf-mute Indian narrator, calls this system “The Combine.” Not that many of the people who run LAUSD have actually read that novel, but their day-to-day priorities are very different from what Education SHOULD and COULD be; it is much more mundane–the business of Education is the Business of education.

Alas, I also can not say with any confidence that many of the District’s top brass have actually read America’s most famous novel, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”–the literature that got him into trouble in the first place. They would insist that it wasn’t part of their job description and irrelevant to their duties.

Without going down the rabbit hole of all the anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-student policies that LAUSD, Inc. has championed over the years, let us examine this one emblematic case that sort of sums up all that is wrong with how education is viewed by the LAUSD Corporation.

Rafe Esquith’s case should give people who are interested AND vested in true, meaningful education great pause.

Depressing as this telling fact is, I will not go into how completely unsurprising that not any single District Big Shot ever could make it down to Hobart Elementary School to watch Esquith’s magic in action. The author of many acclaimed bestselling books on teaching and an instructor responsible for changing hundred of young lives, his Room 56 had international guests and world class educators parade through marveling at his unconventional teaching methods–but nobody of any authority–not an LAUSD Superintendent nor even one solitary School Board member could be bothered to visit.

They were not interested in anything Hobart Shakespearean related.

Beaudry HQ gave it a big yawn.

The reality for LAUSD, Inc is, they couldn’t really care less what happens in a classroom–just don’t cause it any grief.

The LAUSD, Inc. brain trust in Beaudry is not made up of a bunch of smartypants.

This is not a group known for its inspired, intellectual curiosity.

This group who runs LAUSD, Inc. adhere to the same dynamic, corporate thinking that you would find populating the board rooms of Mobil Oil or Ralston-Purina.

Education–how you and I might think of it–does not disturb their machinations.

So much about Esquith’s case is troubling and indicative of a school district that has zero concern for the intellectual well-being of the students. If it did, LAUSD, Inc. would be championing a pedagogy VERY DIFFERENT from the one that they foist on LAUSD’s children. The leaderships view of what good education is in Rafe Esquith’s individual case is a personal tragedy for him; the leadership’s view of what “good education” is for the 600,000 students in their charge is a tragedy of grand proportions.

The investigators asked Esquith who he dated in college and who at the school disliked him. They asked for all his financial records since 2000. The “incriminating” evidence they used as the backbone from their case, the district searched his personal emails to obtain. According to the LA TIMES article http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-rafe-esquith-lawsuit-20160713-snap-story.html, Esquith’s attorney, Ben Meiselas claimed that the emails were taken out of context. Elsa Cruz, one of Esquith’s former student whose email had been singled has denied that he ever sent her anything inappropriate as alleged in LAUSD’s charges. “The communications described in the statement of charges between Mr. Esquith and myself are small pieces of much larger conversations that are taken wholly out of context.” She claims that the district.”cherry-picked points “to depict our conversations as having an inappropriate or sexual nature that is completely inaccurate.”

This is the modus operendi of LAUSD. A little history lesson is in order before going back to Esquith:

In the dark days of Supt. John Deasy, the entire elected School Board was mum on his pedagogy and methodology. The Board gave him tacit cover to do whatever he wanted. It is not an exaggeration to say that Deasy went after teachers with a Dick Cheney zeal using David Holmquist, the District’s General Counsel, as his John Yoo to give him the legal cover.

This is a school system that offers cover to those at the very top. David Holmquist, whose base salary is $260,552, has fought vigorously to protect the District from any bad publicity and loyally served John Deasy’s call to purge hundreds–maybe thousands–of teachers from the ranks and vigorously prosecuted LAUSD’s Teacher Jail program. A different set of priorities and standards were devised by Holmquist for the those who screwed up and abused their positions if they were in District power offices.

Some in Los Angeles Unified were definitely more equal than others.

“I will never apologize for putting students’ interests ahead of teachers,” was Deasy’s righteous mantra during his tenure where this man arrogantly placed business and corporate interests ahead of both students and teachers time and time again. His moral courage was how much he could bully teachers such as Patrena Shankling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlIuF1em_Y0 and never to any person of power above him who was politically connected with money and influence.

If you are not sickened by what happened in Shankling’s classroom and believe that John Deasy should ever be allowed to be near educators OR children again, then you and I have very different standards of classroom behavior and decorum.

Like all of his patrons, Deasy was a man who never apologized and took great pride in his use of executive and autonomous power and privilege. This was encouraged by many of the management team whom he worked with at District Headquarters and rewarded.

Deasy enjoyed and served a life of patronage from powerful men who paid for his entire, hopscotch career through the moneyed power corridors of education. Even when he left LAUSD in abject disgrace where the toady LA TIMES editorial board could only manage to bluster about the tragedy of his downfall, he could count on the largess of the corporate benefactors who puffed up his churlish bravado. Currently, Deasy remains obscenely well-paid in the Fortress of Solitude of Eli Broad’s empire, an opulent private world where he answers to no one except the rich and powerful, re-emerging only as a paper phantom, issuing friend of the court briefs to Vergara and offering his insights to Edu Reform Managers-to-be.

One day there will be a full accounting for what happened to all those teachers and their “rights” and “due process” that LAUSD assured the public they received.

Sadly, if Rafe Esquith’s and the other hundreds of teachers in similar situations were just the work of John Deasy and David Holmquist, that would be bad enough.

The current LAUSD President Steve Zimmer, with chest thumping vigor, thundered in a campaign speech that he has proudly voted to fire EVERY SINGLE teacher who came before him for justice. Zimmer put on his most concerned, self-righteous face channeling some Texas Governor on steroids, stating that in his eyes, those hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of teachers were guilty and should not be teaching in his system.

There was zero doubt in his blankly, incurious mind.

Were the students of LA protected from a thousand dreadful teachers?

No.

LAUSD, Inc was protected.

LAUSD claims Esquith’s emails weren’t hacked, so one supposes they got them off his school computer when they sealed his classroom and his personal account was open on it. Under the pretense of an investigation, LAUSD went through thousands upon thousands of personal emails to find evidence against him. It is a chilling abuse of employee privilege that claims that right. Obviously if they were a law enforcement agency, they couldn’t do that, but LAUSD doesn’t believe it is bound by the same rules of engagement.

It begs the question if any employee is safe from their employer going through every personal detail of their lives to render judgment on that individual.

Could anybody withstand someone going through twenty years worth of emails to figure their moral worth? Would something invariably crop up?

The emails of John Deasy and David Holmquist are scrupulously under lock and key.

Reading the entire 32 page document of LAUSD’s “case” against Esquith–and please do!– http://laschoolreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Responsive-Documents-Esquith-SOC_redacted-final.pdf it clearly shows that they threw in EVERYTHING they had into their “findings”.

EVERYTHING.

They didn’t leave anything out. What is also indicative of LAUSD’s mindset is the fact they STILL used the initial Huck Finn joke as part of their indictment against Esquith despite the ludicrous nature of that comment.

This is not the work of intelligent scholars in an academic institution.

This is the work of lawyers who want to get rid of an employee that has proven troublesome to the corporation.

David Holmquist is planning to appeal this latest ruling hoping to stem Esquith’s suit. Hopefully he will fail and the dark files will be open on what LAUSD, Inc has perpetrated over the years. The East German Stassi nature of those cases highlight the brute force and cruelty that LAUSD, Inc. perpetrated on so many teachers who thought they were working for an organization called Los Angeles “Unified” because it worked for the betterment of all–not just those on the corporate end.

I have no special insight to Esquith’s particular case, although the fairness and justice LAUSD, Inc. administers to its employees is eerily similar to the justice cops administer to poor neighborhoods compared to the inhabitants of rich ones.

You may be predisposed to place your faith in the justice and righteousness of LAUSD Inc.’s wisdom and sense of proper pedagogy.

So much of the intellectual evidence is contrary to granting that good will, however. In the cases of many teachers in the system, Deasy, Holmquist and the School Board have a finger on the scale that instinctively forces teachers to prove themselves worthy of their bankrupt leadership.

I’m as anxious as you are to see this Shakespearean play’s ending. Misuse of power, according to Shakespeare, never ends well.

Rafe Esquith has many admirers around the country. Rafe was a fifth grade teachers at the Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles. He was fired by the district based on allegations of sexual misconduct. Rafe has demanded a trial. This week, a judge heard his request for a trial and LAUSD’s request to dismiss Rafe’s request. The judge ruled that the trial may move forward.

One of Rafe’s strongest supporters is Jay Mathews of the Washington Post. This is Jay’s account of Rafe’s current situation.

Rafe Esquith, the celebrated Los Angeles public school teacher and founder of the Hobart Shakespeareans, won an important legal victory. He is suing LAUSD, which fired him, as a class action on behalf of all teachers in the district who have been removed from their jobs and placed in limbo awaiting due process. LAUSD moved to dismiss his lawsuit, but the judge denied the district’s request. This brings the fifth-grade teacher to a trial of his claims.

http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-rafe-esquith-lawsuit-20160713-snap-story.html

JUST IN: Judge denies LA Unified request to dismiss lawsuit filed by fired teacher Rafe Esquith

We were told when “Great Public Schools Now” began functioning, it would support all schools, whether they were public schools or charter schools. This is the group funded by Eli Broad and his friends that intends to take over half the student population in the Los Angeles public schools and put them into privately managed charters.

But Great Public Schools Now made its first grants, and none of the money went to public schools.

A group that has vowed to start high-quality schools across Los Angeles on Thursday announced its first grant recipients: a charter school that is expanding, an after-school and summer enrichment program for children, and an organization that recruits recent college graduates for two-year teaching stints.

None of the money went to the Los Angeles Unified School District, although it’s likely to benefit from the teacher-recruitment effort.

Of course, it is doubtful that the public schools will benefit from a program that recruits more inexperienced, ill-prepared Teach for America recruits. Why not fund a program that recruits experienced teachers or creates a pipeline to develop career teachers?

What has logic got to do with it?

We knew all along that Eli Broad and his fellow billionaires don’t want public schools in Los Angeles, except as a dumping ground for kids kicked out of charters.

My bet is that the group will make a contribution to a public school to maintain the illusion of even-handedness. But we know where its heart is. Privatization.

Your advice is needed. What is the best way to improve graduation rates, without cheating or gaming the system.

The Los Angeles Times recently published two editorials about high school graduation rates.

The first looked at the new phenomenon of “online credit recovery” as a means of helping students get credits to graduate. As a general rule, online credit recovery has a poor reputation. A few years ago, the NCAA conducted its own investigation and found online programs in which the questions were so simple that students breezed through them. In some cases, they were given more than one chance to answer a multiple choice question. The Los Angeles public schools are using a program with a better reputation than most, but questions still remain about the educational value of online courses for students who should have face-to-face encounters with teachers.

The second editorial reviewed the methods that states have devised to boost their graduation rates, such as lowering standards, eliminating exit exams, online credit recovery, reclassifying students as “leavers” rather than dropouts, etc.

The editorial contains some startling good sense, as in this section:

Russell Rumberger, director of the California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara, is not a fan of measuring a school’s success by its graduation rate for precisely that reason: Doing so encourages schools to lower their standards or to use misleading numbers or to find ways to get failing students out of their schools without having to count them as dropouts. In any case, he says, “a diploma is a blunt instrument” for measuring learning; one study found that low-income students need to show better mastery of the material than merely a pass in order to have a real shot at reaching the middle class.

Under pressure to produce better numbers, school officials in California and nationwide have often done whatever it takes to get to those numbers.
Like it or not, Rumberger says, higher standards — such as those in the Common Core curriculum standards recently adopted in California and most other states — tend to mean lower graduation rates, and it’s disingenuous for states to say they can raise both at once, and quickly.

This is the first time I have seen a public admission in the editorials of a major newspaper that raising standards lowers graduation rates. This is a contrast with the usual blithe claim by pundits and legislators that making tests harder will force kids and teachers to try harder, to “up their game,” thus producing more learning. Rumberger is right: When the tests are harder, more students will not pass.

The editorial concludes:

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which never did much to encourage higher graduation rates, might be dead, but its successor will have little chance of succeeding if policymakers aren’t realistic about the work and patience required to raise standards, test scores and graduation rates. It’s slow, hard, incremental work without magic solutions, and improved numbers aren’t always evidence of better-educated students.

The editorial is thoughtful, and I don’t mean to cast aspersion on the writers’ efforts to puzzle through this dilemma. But the quest for higher test scores and higher graduation rates was the singular goal of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. An honest assessment compels a frank admission that NCLB and RTTT failed. Even if one can find examples of higher numbers, do they really demonstrate that students are better prepared or do they reflect the result of twelve years of test prep?

Chasing better data is not the purpose of education, and we make a grave error by doing so. As the LA Times acknowledges, most of what has been produced at a cost of many billions over the past 15 years are creative efforts to game the system.

It would be far more fruitful to ask different questions: How can American schools do a better job of preparing students to succeed in life after high school? How can they encourage students to pursue learning on their own? How can they awaken a need to know? How can we reduce the growing racial segregation in our schools? (If only the $5 billion wasted on Race to the Top had been used to promote desegregation and to collect data on successful efforts to do so!) Are they adequately resourced and staffed to meet the needs of children growing up in extreme poverty, students without medical attention, students who come to school hungry, students who are homeless?

Until we ask these questions, the data are meaningless, as are such noble aspirations as “No Child Left Behind” by the magic of annual testing or “Every Student Succeeds” by a combination of standards, testing, and data.

Forget about the elected L.A. School board. Eli Broad has picked his own school board, one run by his surrogates and the charter-happy privatizers of the Walton Family Foundation. Why not make the elected board irrelevant and let a billionaire from L.A. and a billionaire family from Arkansas run schools for half the children in Los Angeles?

This is one of the boldest, brashest, most outrageous attempts to destroy public education in the history of education in the U.S. What a legacy Eli Broad and the Walton family will leave behind. Destructive, anti-democratic, union-busting, a need to control whatever they can buy, a belief that everything–even public schools–are for sale. They are utterly shameless.

Here is Howard Blume’s report on the story.

The Eli Broad-funded group “Great Public Schools Now” (sic) has released its plan for the destruction of democratically controlled public education in Los Angeles.

Despite the failure of charter schools to improve the education of low-income students unless they are free to choose the students they want and kick out the ones they don’t want, billionaire Eli Broad wants to put 160,000 children who are now in public schools into privately managed charters. The twist in this plan is that Broad and his allies have promised to take control of public schools, magnet schools, and other schools as well as their own charters. It seems that the billionaires and their minions know how to create successful schools. One wonders if this means that even the public schools will adopt “no excuses” discipline and kick out the kids who refuse to conform. To do this, the corporate reformers have to retain some public schools where they can drop the kids they don’t want.

The goal is to expand access for 160,000 students GPSN has identified as attending failing schools in 10 low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods to successful schools it wants to help replicate or expand.

The neighborhoods are in South LA, East LA and the northeast San Fernando Valley, chosen because they have “chronically underperforming schools and few high-quality school choices for struggling families,” the plan states.

GPSN says it will provide funding and support to high-performing schools no matter what type of school — charter, traditional, pilot, magnet or partnership — so they can be replicated and expanded. It will also support proposed schools with the potential to be high quality.

The widening focus is a shift from an early plan leaked last year that was developed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation to expand charter schools in LA.

“This is a different kind of initiative, very different than has been attempted in Los Angeles before,” said Myrna Castrejon, GPSN’s executive director. “I am particularly excited about the opportunity to really work across sectors to really strengthen all of public education.”

GPSN also is revealing today the makeup of its seven-person board, all of whom boast decades of experience in education. In addition to Siart and Flores, who is also a senior fellow at the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, the board members are Gregory McGinity, executive director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation; Maria Casillas, founder of Families in Schools; Virgil Roberts, chairman of the board of Families in Schools; Marc Sternberg, K-12 education program director for the Walton Family Foundation, and Allison Keller, senior vice president and chief financial officer and executive director of the W.M. Keck Foundation.

All of these are corporate reformers with “decades” of privatizing public schools.

Bear in mind that in California, charter schools are not only deregulated, they operate without any supervision. There have been numerous charter scandals involving fraud and misappropriation of funds.

This is a disgrace. Eli Broad was educated in the public schools of Michigan, and he has become–along with the rightwing Walton Family Foundation–the major destroyer of public education in the nation. Naturally, the Walton Family Foundation’s education director Marc Sternberg is on the board of Eli Broad’s latest venture, bringing together the two most powerful and union-hating, public school-hating organizations in the US.

Expect a billionaire-funded drive to take control of the Los Angeles school board in the spring of 2017, to pave the way for the end of democratic public education in Los Angeles.

Listen to the students who are graduating!

Their optimism gives us hope for the future.

Those of you who teach know these young people.

For an old-timer like me, it is good to hear their voices.

As readers know, the Los Angeles a Times published a scathing indictment of Bill Gates and his ill-fated forays into education policymaking. The Times noted Gates’ serial failures, one of which was his naive belief that teachers should be evaluated by the test scores of their students. This idea appealed to his technocratic, data-driven mindset.

Some cheered the Times’ about-face, but Anthony Cody did not. He argues that Los Angeles Times was complicit in some of Gates’ worst ideas, despite the absence of evidence for their likely success. It gave full-throated support to John Deasey when he ran the city’s public schools with a heavy hand and spent profligately on ed technology. While wiser heads were skeptical about Gates’plan to evaluate teachers by test scores, the Times decided to create its own test-based rating system and published the results.

Cody calls for accountability. The line between advocacy and reporting is thin, and he believes the Times’ reporters crossed it. They should have investigated the Gates’ theory, but instead they acted on it, assuming its validity.

Cody writes:


“I have a question related to journalistic integrity. How can the LA Times chastise the Gates Foundation – and their disciple John Deasy, without acknowledging their own embrace of Gatesian reforms? The LA Times did not just report on the issue – they created their very own VAM system, and criticized Los Angeles Unified for not using such a system to weed out “bad teachers” and reward those identified as “effective.” They were active advocates, instrumental in the war on teachers that has been so devastating to morale over the past decade.”

Howard Blume reports that charters in Los Angeles are trying to avoid the cost of paying pensions by advising teachers who near retirement age to go to work for the public school system.

 

His fascinating story begins:

 

 

“A Woodland Hills charter school recently made an unusual offer to its veteran teachers: We’ll give you $30,000 if you return to the Los Angeles Unified School District before you retire.

 

“It wasn’t the teachers that El Camino Real Charter High School wanted to get rid of. It was the cost of their retirement benefits.

 
“The school’s cost-shifting strategy is one of many flashpoints between traditional public schools and the independent charters they compete with for students and money.

 

“In this case, it’s a battle over who should pay for an employee’s health benefits after retirement — the charter school or the larger school district.

 
“Financial challenges are all-but-universal in the education world, and retiree benefits are particularly costly. L.A. Unified’s unfunded liability for employee benefits has escalated to $13.6 billion.

 

“The El Camino plan would add from $2.5 million to $4.2 million to that deficit, based on district estimates. The idea is that teachers would spend their careers in the charter school, but later transfer to LAUSD to qualify for the huge institution’s retirement benefits.

 

“Except the district has decided not to play ball.

 

“Teachers who return to the district, simply to retire, are not entitled to district retirement benefits, general counsel David Holmquist said.

 

“This would be an obligation that in my view would be the charter’s responsibility,” Holmquist said.”

 

Blume points out that this decision raises interesting questions about Eli Broad’s plan to open 260 new charter schools, which will require some rethinking when they can’t dump their pension obligations on the public schools.

 

Guess Eli’s charters will have to stick with Teach for America, whose teachers are usually long gone before qualifying for a pension.

 

 

 

 

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