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Sat, Feb

New Year: The Road In Front of the LA School Bus

EDUCATION POLITICS-What’s ahead through the windshield of the 2014 LAUSD school bus?

Certainly one must wonder front and center about the tenure of Superintendent John Deasy.  He’s threatened to quit at least twice now, first if/when now-board president Vladovic were to be chosen for that role from among his colleagues, and following on the heels of this hollow threat came a flurry of feints, further threats and countermoves immediately prior to his ultimate job contract extension.   

 

Deasy’s relationship with his political board of bosses seems balky at best.  The citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee has given him as close to a vote of no-confidence as one could get shy of a roll-call in their most recent meeting.  

Deasy’s iPad rollout has unfurled as an administrative disaster from questionable contracts to dubious legalities surrounding funding to dicey logistics and horrifying cost overruns.  As the administrative leader of this procedural morass, one does have to wonder when the buck will stop in front of him and level its antlers at the problem.  Incompetence requires accountability.  That is, after all, the rallying cry of the public education privatization movement so disingenuously branded “Education Reform”.  

John Deasy is one of the few generals left standing in this assault launched by corporate foundations on the public commons. 

But as there seems little doubt that Deasy is desirous to use this superintendent gig as a springboard to larger fry, this will likely be the year he either springs the coop for greener, headier pastures (is Arne Duncan’s office likely to come free?), or is finally brought to task for the record of bullying, favoritism and controversy strewn throughout his wake.  How he has enjoyed such a long run unchallenged is a study in politics thoroughly confounded by the mixing of public and private monies and motivations. 

What else is seen ahead? 

Ms LaMotte’s board seat must be filled somehow, either by board fiat in deference to the time, cost and inordinate external interest in a special election, or by the people’s vote in denial of the extenuating circumstances that would likely render such an election a biased expression of democracy.  The task of carrying forth a true succession of her spirit will be as vital to the future tenor and function of the board as it will be difficult to effect. 

Also looming across the vast horizon are matters of money.  These take various forms, with vast reach.  The budget will be allocated differently this year, with money from the state nominally distributed closer to its “local” source through an as-yet-to-be-hammered-out Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).  The attempt is to wrest some order from the former array of funds handed out as restricted pots of gold.  When spending requirements become so rococo and narrow eventually no one knows how much money there even is and whether the spending restrictions remain sensible or in the children’s best interest.  The scrambling to iron out the rules of LCFF should be hair-raising.  

The claim is there will be more money than formerly when the dust settles, but it is not clear how rearranging the furniture will increase volume.  Hopefully proposition 30 will yield more money but at risk from the LCFF negotiations is whether these funds will simply replace monies gained from restructuring or augment them.  The promise is for the latter but past political performances suggest there is much to be feared from the threat of the former.  We parents and others who are dedicated truly to furthering our children’s best interests, must remain vigilant in seeing realized the promise of restoring and actually increasing public education funds.  Shell games are outlawed with good reason:  it is very easy to fool the eye when a lot is being shuffled about all at once. 

While billions are being restructured at the state level, billions are being apportioned within our district.  Remaining is acute distress here from previous restructurings that defunded libraries and librarians; health offices, programs and health personnel; artistic programs and teachers of performance and visual and technical art, music, instrument repair, dance, physical education; vocational and technical classes of all sorts, shapes and colors aiding every single one of our students directly and indirectly; adult school assisting the caretakers of our learners so that they may learn how to learn; administrative and behavioral support from office workers, aides, deans, counselors, administrators.  

This list of staffing and physical infrastructure deficiency is as big as the district itself.  Money has not just been curtailed, but the principle core foundation of the education system itself is in arrears.  All fat is gone from this patient and most muscle even has been resorbed.  

There are breaks to the framework itself that have hobbled the patient’s core educational function even further.  The system is exhibiting Failure To Thrive, so this year’s promised funding reformulation will be critical.  We can afford no further draining from the system in the form of dollars to outside corporations or students to privatized charter schools.  Our monies and budgets should be scrutinized most carefully for we cannot afford sweetheart deals to anyone save our own sweet children. 

For without this sort of support, the most important parameter of them all cannot be addressed: classrooms and the number of children they hold in relation to those who would teach them there.  For while technology is a key piece of the changing educational landscape, and will indeed be a critical part of 2014′s future in LAUSD, what is not changing and never will, is the development of our human brain as a response to learning within a dynamic, social, interactive atmosphere.  

Technology is the tool most adults are using today to assist in their professional and even personal lives.  But the learning that develops critical thinking, the ability to assess validity, and to apply principles and methods from one context to another, these are skills born iteratively of interaction and human guidance and encouragement.  

At the risk of sounding a Luddite, our educational imperative is not to assess, but to interact.  To the extent that technology is employed to contemplate our navels rather than learn about them, we are missing its purpose.  For the cost of technology to supplant the cost of teachers who teach, we will lose sight of the purpose of our existence as a teaching enterprise.  

Teachers must teach and teachers need support, in the form of technology and all the other long list of staff, faculty and services supplanted.  This year will be critical in returning funds to classes of a size that would fit not in a lecture hall, but in a classroom. 

Finally, there is a last, vast sea-change afloat in 2014.  As a culmination of a several-years long effort to shift the way teaching occurs in this country, a concerted, federalized effort to standardize learning nationally will be implemented.  Called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), much of the rest of the country has been more opposed of late than California.  

Perhaps because we have long had state standards, the notion of standardizing curriculum is not foreign here.  However many educators and educatees across the country have been quite sanguine in their reaction to the initiative.  It is not so much the ideal of standardization as the specifics of this particular implementation that cause concern.  

The standards were not written by educators and not tested, they are peculiarly lax and stringent at the same time.  It is charged they were not initiated by states but by the political action committee ALEC via states – criticism is rampant.  And yet a train this heavy has tremendous inertia; the Common Core is coming.  Its implementation has belied the imperative to provide $1B worth of iPads because “Our youth deserve the best we can afford“.  We are providing our children not with what we can afford, and not with what they need, but with what the CCSS initiative dictates. 

As all these issues blend together in the view out the front of the bus, it is difficult to separate one from the other.  Issues of money mingle with issues of technology which are part and parcel of the CCSS.  California schoolchildren have long learned a common curriculum crafted of a piece for consistency.  

This year will see a shift to a different underlying motive, curriculum crafted toward a national movement to privatize education and gear it toward the needs of a corporate testing and teaching model. 

This year may see a shift in perspective on the privatizing of public education.  There are signs across the country of a shift in awareness; whether this will or can happen here in Los Angeles is unclear.  

We are a vast district under strong control by strong privatizing influence.  While Mayor Villaraigosa has left office, his influence on things educational is still manifest.  It is said he affected the board’s recent decision to retain his choice of superintendent.  Some of the country’s largest privatizers are Angelenos.  

The country’s largest concentration of charter schools – the manifestation of public schools, privatized – is right here on the LAUSD’s Westside.  Organization among stakeholders is key but weak in such a vast megalopolis.  Instead we are prey to groups of feigned authenticity, so-called “astroturf", to distinguish themselves from “grassroots” collaboratives. 

The more things change the more they stay the same.  As always, what is not new in the New Year is the rule of thumb: Follow the Money.  It’s for our children that we earn it.  We must follow it all the way back to them.

 

(Sara Roos is a politically active resident of Mar Vista, a biostatistician, the parent of two teenaged LAUSD students and a CityWatch contributor, who blogs at redqueeninla.com

-cw

 

 

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 1

Pub: Jan 3, 2014