Our place in history ...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Diversity Director, Melinda Wright,
 One Day magazine, & "The Evolution of DCA," by Ting Yu

(Originally published on January 11, 2012, as part of Leadership for Educational Equity's "Teach For America Alumni of Los Angeles" blog: http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2012/1/11/02311/9807).

DCA should be integrated into every aspect of pedagogy and classroom management. It shouldn't exist as a siloed discussion series, or be reduced to a headcount of representatives of marginalized communities. It is not a free therapy session for people who don't wish to feel guilty because of who they are/how they were raised. DCA must seek out voices capable of contributing to the vital dialogues educators and education policymakers must engage in. TFA ought use its “participant survey” culture to identify the specific ways DCA serves or fails educational and social justice movements, writ large.


Perhaps, like me, you received an email from Melinda L. Wright,
Teach for America’s Senior Managing Director, Alumni Diversity Initiatives, (on December 14, 2011) reading as follows:

“Among the many things I'll be up to in the coming weeks, I'm adding one thing that I hope you'll join me in doing: reading the current edition of One Day magazine, which is a diversity-themed issue.
I recently read this issue and was particularly inspired by both the cover story and the editor's letter written by fellow alumna, Ting Yu (NYC '03). Ting's letter grounded me in the importance of sharing our stories and engaging in authentic conversations around the role of diversity in making ‘One Day’ a reality. Below I have highlighted a bit more about the cover story and an article of particular interest entitled ‘The Evolution of DCA.’
‘The Evolution of DCA’ speaks to our challenges and progress with respect to diversity programming at the Institute. While these sessions have sparked conversations that have often proven difficult, they have also provided an opportunity for us to examine the intersection of race, class, and privilege in our work.”

Intrigued, I took Melinda Wright’s suggestion to heart, and read the latest issue of One Day magazine cover to cover. Doubly intrigued, I opened a Google search window and began rooting around the Internet, in search for published articles and blogs discussing people’s experiences with DCA. Teach for America’s summer institute for new corps members I attended in 1998, did not include a Diversity & Community Awareness component of the same ilk as the one currently in existence. I have, of course, through my own relationships with TFA corps members and staff, developed a notion of what DCA has come to signify and entail. But I did not wish to proceed with the process of documenting my thoughts, without first reading and discussing the opinions of others with an open mind.

Among corps members and staff identifying themselves as members of communities of color, one of the themes I noted was the notion that DCA was essentially designed for white, middle class, corps members in need of exposure to the realities of socioeconomic privilege, and the building blocks of racial/ethnic identity. In plain English, DCA was all about sending white people off to educate students of color without perpetuating the model proffered by Rudyard Kipling’s infamous text, “White Man’s Burden.”

Among corps members and staff not identifying themselves as members of communities of color, one of the themes I noted was the frustration white, middle class, corps members felt at having to sit and listen to tales of how horrible it was to confront racism, classism, etc., when it was not at all clear to them how exactly they were to apply the lessons of DCA to their classroom practice. In this context, DCA was, at best, a reminder of how different they were from the community in which they would teach, and how no matter how hard they tried, they would never fully fit in. At worst, it was a blob of mushy, politically correct gobbledygook, designed to instill the jargon and ideology of cultural and moral relativism.

Because this is a topic of such tremendous importance to me, I am going to try my very best to make my comments relevant to those of you who are still in the classroom, as well as to those of you who have gone on to lives in which you seek to impact district wide, statewide, or federal policy. Trust me when I tell you that I would love to engage in extensive debate over the themes I noted and have taken the time to highlight above. However, in the spirit of the new year, and in accordance with the predictions of the Maya and Hopi people that 2012 marks the end of one world, and the beginning of another, I will remain forward looking.

DCA should be integrated into every aspect of what corps members learn about pedagogy and classroom management. It should not exist solely as a siloed discussion series. It should not be reduced to a headcount of representatives of historically marginalized communities. And it should not be a free therapy session for people who do not wish to feel guilty because of who they are, or how they were raised.

In terms of pedagogy, Jaime Escalante always made mention of the fact that the Mayas invented the zero when teaching students whose parents were predominantly Mexican and Central American. He could have just as easily made mention of the ways in which Cambodians or Egyptians used advanced mathematics to build temples, or how nomadic Native Americans learned how to compensate for gravity, wind, and other variables in aiming during hunts and fishing expeditions. These bits of information, while they might seem trivial to some initially, very clearly paint the notion that the concept being introduced is one that has been and will be applied across cultures, nations, and contexts. Said quite plainly, even calculus does not belong to Isaac Newtown. Every concept has multiple fathers and multiple mothers. We may attribute one idea to one person because that is how we learned it, and because that is what helps us avoid getting accused of plagiarism in college. But our job as teachers is to make our students the owners of ideas and information. They are not empty vessels awaiting one cup of our vast knowledge each. And in order for our students to accept ownership of ideas and information, they must feel as though these are theirs to take. They must not feel as though these are being forced upon them from a source outside of their own experience, outside of their roots of racial/ethnic identity.

In terms of classroom management, I will relate quite plainly my frustration with teachers who send letters and notes home and then complain when parents do not respond to them, or who issue punishments, and then take offense when parents seek out the principal to voice a complaint about the punishment or the reason it was doled out. Doctors used to make house calls. The milkman used to follow the same route as the post office. But for a variety of reasons, teachers avoid, or are told to avoid, home visits. Race, class, privilege, these are all vestiges of power. On campus, the teacher and principal have the power. The difference in level of educational attainment the average TFA corps member boasts, versus that of the median parent of a student in that corps member’s classroom, plus the difference in annual salary an average corps member will clear after food and living expenses, versus the net pay the median parent will clear, is already enough to make it unfair for an average corps member to expect all dealings with parents to take place on school grounds, or via formal written communication. Add to this any other dynamics informed by race, language, religion, etc., and from where I stand, you’ve got to be incredibly naïve not to note the tremendous disadvantage the median parent must bear.

Whenever a fellow teacher would ask me to translate a letter or note home to Spanish speaking parents, I would always ask that teacher if the parents who were to receive this letter were able to read at all. Forget what language the darn thing is in if they only have a few years of school under their belts. Of course there are best practices for classroom management that do not depend at all on a solid relationship with a student’s parents, or any other caregiver in their lives. But when it comes to students who are constantly sabotaging their own education, knowing who has an influence on them, and having a relationship as equals with that person can completely turn everything around, and cause that student to flourish. Developing a relationship as equals with that person means meeting them somewhere where s/he feels comfortable speaking, opening yourself up, and confronting matters you might otherwise wish to avoid.

In my eyes there is a very direct bridge to the policy world here. Obviously we could speak ad nauseam about our racial, class, or other identities as teachers, or those of our students, or their parents. But what do we measure? Since our TFA culture is so data driven, once we step into the world of district policy, or statewide education code, or federal terrain, what exact outcomes should we be seeking in this department and how do we know if we’re making progress? The answer, fortunately, is remarkably simple: follow the various achievement gaps. Using value added instruments, and other constantly improving statistical tools, we are able to disaggregate standardized test scores and see if patterns emerge regarding the role each teacher plays in adding to, or reducing the achievement gap born by black male students who are part of the free or reduced cost meals program. As a teacher, when presented with evidence that I may very well work wonders when it comes to proof of learning for some of the students in my class, yet I have completely failed others, I am able to then demand professional development, tailored for eliminating that achievement gap, from my principal, organized labor representative, school district staff, and elected board of education members. Further, I am able to demand that those observing my classroom also receive the training and tools necessary to help me truly guarantee that all of my students are receiving an excellent education, not just the ones scoring at or above the range predicted by value added tools. By this logic, a policy maker’s job is clear: (1) Provide everyone with access to value added instruments, (2) Reform the structure of professional development so that it focuses on identifying and eliminating achievement gaps, (3) Change teacher certification, credentialing, and tenure so that they include cultural competency components, value and incorporate parental engagement, as well as include the planning time, curriculum flexibility, and resources needed to eliminate existing achievement gaps.

Now that I’ve said this part, I would like to indulge in a little bit of storytelling.

I have written extensively about race/ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and other factors related to privilege, identity, power, politics, and pop culture throughout the course of my adolescence and adult life. In 2005, shortly after the passing of Rosa Parks, I began posting some of my thoughts on a page entitled, “OurPlaceInHistory.Blogspot.com.” If you have an interest in discussing how I believe these factors impact elections, historic events, mass media, education and immigration policy, as well as headline dominating events, please take a moment to review its contents. As there are relatively few entries, doing so shan’t prove daunting or overwhelming. Here are four essays to get you started:





Stephen Colbert’s television persona often jokes that he doesn’t see race. This quip is humorous because the notion that perceived racial differences are inconsequential to a man whose ancestry lies exclusively in Northern and Western Europe is particularly ironic given human history over the last two thirds of a millennium. Although it is undeniably true that the racism we must confront and overcome is the result of a colonial, imperialistic, paternalistic, patriarchal, oppressive, exploitative power structures imposed on people of color, what I wish to posit and ask you to consider, are the ways in which we all, regardless of our appearance or identity, actively or passively perpetuate them.

The temptation to live in a world that denies racial difference is in fact one of the traps that we fall into quite often. When society views race as something of no more significance than manner of dress, then it loses a sense of the harm that can be caused by reducing the entirety of a culture to a collection of consumable costumes, foods, beverages, music, dance, and ritual. In the extreme, this manifests itself as a modern day minstrel show such as the one Spike Lee creates in the film Bamboozled, the dissolution of the line between social critique and perpetuated harm that caused Dave Chappelle to walk away from his successful, multi-season sketch series on Comedy Central, or a rise in crass disguises and Halloween garb, such as those highlighted in the “We are a culture, not a costume campaign” (http://lissawriting.wordpress.com/2011/10/23/racism-think/).

In the quotidian, it means casting Taylor Swift as Éponine, and Anne Hathaway as Fantine, in the upcoming film version of Les Misérables, after years of casting actresses of color, such as Felicia Curry, Lea Salonga-Chien, and Daphne Rubin-Vega in these roles. Most don’t see this as even a minor offense. After all, Les Misérables, takes place in France, and French people are now and always have been fair skinned, right? Wrong. Much as it is offensive to ignore the histories and contributions of Americans of color in recreations of the Revolutionary or Civil War, it is simply blatantly inaccurate to whitewash a nation with an extensive Mediterranean coast populated by Mesopotamians, Persians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Iberians, Greeks, Byzantines, Romans, Italians, Illyrians, Thracians, Levantines, Gallics, Armenians, Arabs, Berbers, Jews, Aragons, Slavs, Turks, as well as a wealth of East Asians, Pacific Islanders, Amerindians, Caribbeans, and Northern and Sub-Saharan Africans displaced by French colonialism. In other words, just as it is offensive to use blackface, brownface, yellowface, or redface to turn a character into a caricature, like Mickey Rooney’s Mr. Yunioshi, in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or Chloe Michalopolous’ Soledad from East L.A., in Ask A Chola, it is equally offensive to eliminate the presence of people of color when recounting or recreating history, however fictionalized those recountings and recreations may have been intended to be. Whether portraying the population of France as a homogenous collection of tall, thin, small-featured, fair-complexioned, Aryan-propaganda poster models, making a film version of the lives of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, while glossing over the existence of Paul Jennings, and Sarah Hemings, or casting Angelina Jolie as Cleopatra, (after already having cast Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra) the refusal to acknowledge the undisputable, inexpugnable, prominent place of people of color, as well as linguistic, religious, and other diverse peoples throughout history, is a form of perpetuated prejudice unfortunately few are disposed or prepared to confront. As educators, and education policymakers, however, we cannot lose sight of the impact this form of bigotry can have.

Since this is a Presidential election year, it’s impossible to ignore the dog whistle and overtly racist rhetoric that permeates political discourse. It continues to perplex me, for instance, that so many from the Tea Party to Donald Trump have managed to capture headlines and hog the media spotlight questioning Barack Obama’s citizenship. Never before has a Presidential candidate, much less a President, had to produce any sort of birth certificate, much less had the validity of such a legal document challenged. Mitt Romney’s father was born in Mexico. John McCain was born in Panama. Yet no such controversies have ever dogged these men. Barack Obama’s racial identity is a factor. When Newt Gingrich calls Barack Obama a “food stamp President,” it is not a race neutral slander. When he specifically says that if the NAACP invites him to speak, he’ll “go to their convention and talk about why the American-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps,” that’s not a statement whose true intent depends on the context in which it was delivered. The same can be said of Rick Santorum’s claim that he, “doesn’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them someone else’s money.” Similarly, nearly every argument uttered against amnesty, welfare, education, and healthcare for “illegal immigrants” is tied to a notion of racial supremacy that deifies Americans whose lineage ties them to Europe (and an arrival date between Plymouth or Jamestown and the zenith of Ellis Island traffic), but demonizes those whose lineage ties them to Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, or Latin America (regardless of arrival date). All of this, of course, in a nation whose federal government is housed in a city whose NFL team, the Washington Redskins, won’t be changing its dehumanizing name anytime soon. Don’t even get me started on the unparalleled influence the states of Iowa and New Hampshire have, despite the fact that they are two of the least diverse in the country.

The political landscape, and the above-described environment created by consumerist industries, polarize and aversely influence our views on racial difference. Our passive acceptance of, or active participation in these worlds, without objection to their language, images, mindsets, and so forth, contribute to preserving racist macro-power structures. As educators and education policy makers, we must prioritize the cultural competencies and critical thinking capable of countering racist macro-power structures, and doing away with micro-aggressions, micro-assaults, micro-insults, and micro-invalidations. If you are unfamiliar with these concepts, their impact on student achievement, and what research tell us about altering problematic patterns, please review the following:










As I write these words, a number of my friends are still embroiled in a heated discussion about what it means that the “Sh*t White Girls Say to Black Girls” video has already garnered 4.5 million views (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylPUzxpIBe0). After all, the “Sh*t ____ Say” meme arrived relatively soon after the countless parodies inspired by the “Asians in the Library” rant (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DoLLEZlpUxk). Concurrently, a video rant made by two white teenage girls in Arizona in 2010, following the passage of SB 1070, has officially gone viral. Spreading through social media like a wildfire through kindling brush desiccated by drought, thanks to reposting by Latino bloggers and watchdogs who monitor the escalations in violent rhetoric when advocates of anti-immigrant policies inflame racist and xenophobic sentiments, this video is painful (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO1PIauwBWs&oref=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DnMBz1q9RUl4%26feature%3Drelated). Beyond explicitly threatening to kill Mexicans with guns, the girls explicitly state their belief that their teachers “are holding the entire class back,” and that the fault lies with the students who are “obviously not American citizens, because if they were American citizens, they obviously would have already learned English.” The fact that over two thirds of English Language Learners are US Citizens by birth, notwithstanding, what is most disturbing is the outright accusation that students from non-English speaking households are to blame for the decline of the public education system, and by extension the demise of American exceptionalism. China will overtake the US economy by 2020. India will do so by 2050.

As I feared, what I intended to be a brief blog entry on my reactions to reading the most recent issue of One Day magazine has turned into an endless assault on the senses of the limited readership these blogs enjoy. Regardless, I feel there is value in what I have shared. I am grateful to all of the work that went into this latest issue of One Day, and utterly indebted to the corps members, staff, advisors, and critics, who have contributed over the years to the creation and evolution of “Diversity & Community Awareness.” Moving forward, I hope DCA will continue to seek out voices capable of contributing to the vital dialogues educators and education policymakers must engage in, such as Tulane Professor, Melissa Harris-Perry. (Seen here on January 9, 2012’s episode of the Colbert Report discussing her new book, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/melissa-harris-perry-colbert_n_1196634.html). And more importantly, I hope that TFA will take advantage of its “participant survey” culture to learn more about the specific ways that DCA serves or fails corps members, staff, alumni, and the educational and social justice movement writ large. I would imagine one of the things that might emerge is how little time we’ve spent examining the factors that influence notions of race across cultures.

As a Mormon, Mitt Romney knows that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, (the LDS Church) had an explicit policy against ordaining black men to the priesthood until 1978. Yet, 5% of LDS Church members are black, and missionaries have made tremendous inroads in Latin America, the Caribbean, and West Africa, where they’ve built to major Mormon temples. Over 80% of Indians are Hindus, despite Gandhi’s contribution toward the emancipation of the “Untouchables,” the influence of the Hindu caste system is still felt in what, at times, openly denigrates into a disdain for dark skin. Bollywood headliners and other pop icons, especially female stars, tend to have fair skin. Moreover, skin-bleaching creams are not only sold throughout India, but marketed without shame, much less concern over political backlash, or economic repercussions. These products are made by multinational corporations, not just local “beauty product” producers. Yet these multinational corporations are astute enough not to flaunt these wares in nations like the United States, where the legacy of the Civil Rights movement continues to have enough palpable weight to strain their profit margins and public relations (PR) budgets. By offering these examples, I do not mean to attack these two communities of faith, or the membership of any organized religion, for that matter. I merely wish to point to the kinds of viewpoints we can overlook when discussing race.

When I went to school in Mexico as a child, the federal Secretary of Public Education, insisted that all Mexican children learn the contents of, La Raza Cósmica, (The Cosmic Race) an essay written by José Vasconcelos Calderón, and La Raza de Bronce, (The Bronze Race) a poem by Amado Nervo (also known as, Juan Crisóstomo Ruiz de Nervo). From Vasconcelos, we were to learn that the Mexican people were a new “fifth race,” created by merging the Aztecs and the other indigenous empires of the Americas, as well as the peoples of Europe, Asia, and Africa. From Nervo, we were to learn about the greatness of Benito Juarez, the self-made man, born in a tiny adobe home in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, who became a successful lawyer, resisted the French occupation of Mexico, overthrew the Napoleonic Empire, and used liberal efforts to modernize the country, while serving five times as President of the Mexican Republic. In other words, as a child in Mexico, I was taught to ignore racial difference. That there were no white Mexicans, black Mexicans, brown Mexicans, and so forth, there were only Mexicans. Other countries, like the United States, were racist because they lacked the mestizaje that gave Mexico its social cohesion. By deifying Benito Juarez, a dark skinned man with pronounced indigenous facial features, my teachers were attempting to inculcate me into the propagandist fiction that discrimination on the basis of racial appearance did not exist in Mexico. Yet racism was everywhere. Television and film screens, magazine covers, billboards, people walking down the street, sang the praises of the fair skin, light-eyes, and European features. The “güero” aesthetic was better than the “moreno” or “prieto” alternative. When people complained about how hard their bosses were working them, they’d call them “negreros.” I never once witnessed anyone with white skin being called a “naco.” And there could be no greater insult rendered than calling someone an “indio.”

Mexico is not alone in seeking a path forward from a troubled racial past through the creation of a nationalist propaganda that seeks to join its diverse people in one new harmonious race. This mindset influenced all of the Spanish speaking Latin American countries, and Portuguese speaking Brazil as well. There, mestiçagem was explained by the “less severe” Portuguese caste system that accommodated widespread interracial marriage and miscegenation. Yet nothing can erase the history and legacy of African slavery and indigenous genocide in Brazil, not even the fame and fortune of international non-white Brazilian superstars, from Pelé, (also known as, Edson Arantes dos Nascimento) to the present. It is this very history of slavery and genocide throughout the Americas, followed by relentless efforts to do minimize the damage of these histories through a propagandist narrative of a “rainbow” past, magically molding into a common, cohesive, social present, that makes the real work of unpacking privilege and confronting racist power structures so amazingly difficult. If you don’t believe me, take a few minutes to review the responses Latinos gave when confronted with the “race question” on the 2010 Census. As someone who participated in the campaign to guarantee that a record percentage of US residents completed their Census forms, I was asked to take on the prickly assignment of writing an unofficial set of instructions for how “Hispanics” might answer the race question on their Census forms:

Latinos who do not consider themselves racially “white,” or racially “black,” or racially “Asian,” are encouraged check “American Indian.” In the tribe section write “unknown” and then indicate country (countries) of family origin–Mexico, El Salvador, etc.–in parentheses. Also, please note that each individual is allowed to identify him/herself as belonging to more than one racial group. We are free to write “Latino” or “Chicano” or whatever we like on the Census in the race section without checking the “American Indian” racial identity box. However, after quite a number of years advocating that ethnicity, culture, and race are in fact different things, it makes most sense to identify one’s self using as many identifiers as possible. Further, from an objective standpoint, the “brown” most people of Latin American heritage wear on the outside, or can point to in their family line, comes from, in whole, or part, the indigenous peoples of the Americas that were living and flourishing here long before people from the continents of the Eastern Hemisphere arrived. Just because the explicit text of the current Census form ignores this fact, does not mean we should. At the end of the day, the borders of current nation-states (Canada, the USA, Mexico, Guatemala, etc.) are not the borders that nomadic or agrarian indigenous peoples adhered to. From a “racial” standpoint, all of the peoples of the Americas, whether Mapuches in Chile, Inuits in Canada, Navajos in Arizona, or mestizos in Mexico are related. We share a genetic ancestry, and a history of sudden and forced, as well as gradual and peripheral assimilation into the countries (El Salvador, Argentina, Nicaragua, etc.) we now call home. Again, it is important to check all of the boxes we know apply to making us who we are in terms of racial and ethnic identity. If I had an Asian great-grandparent, for example, I would most certainly indicate that fact, even if that person died before I was born. There are rumors that my father’s family includes an individual of African descent, but I have no real proof of this, and therefore I did not include this when filling out my Census form. I did, however, make note of the fact that my Mexican identity includes “American Indian” and “white” racial components. No matter what, it is critical that we complete and return the Census so political representation and material resources can be appropriately apportioned. So make sure you fill out and mail in your household form!

As a final thought, Id like to share a Vivir Latino blog entry I feel highlights why the Civil Rights movement shouldn’t be viewed as a 20th Century historical happening, but rather as an ongoing introspective and outward-looking endeavor. Entitled, Filling Out the Census While Latina or How My Mom is White and I’m Not, it stresses the need to revisit it for the sake of future generations (http://vivirlatino.com/2010/03/18/filling-out-the-census-while-latina-or-how-my-mom-is-white-and-im-not.php):

“I don’t claim Afro-Latinidad, as that hasn’t been my personal identity experience... but I also don’t claim whiteness... Rather, as a Puerto Rican I identify as mixed race, including ‘white’ Spanish colonial roots, African roots, and Indigenous. So, I check off all three... My mother is horrified by this. She checked off Puerto Rican and white for herself and my sister, without asking my sister how she identifies racially. This doesn’t surprise me but it makes me sad. When I was a child, the aunt that raised my mother would pull out old Puerto Rican history books and point to conquistadors with my same last name. As a middle schooler, I identified as ‘Spanish,’ denying my Rican roots. So this is a common narrative that has been passed on in my family, a narrative that shifted directions with me through my own process of politicization. The narrative my children are growing up with is complicated but clear in it’s complexity of not denying any part of our real history.”

TFA & Poverty... What is LEE's role?

(Originally published on December 13, 2011, as part of Leadership for Educational Equity's "Teach For America Alumni of Los Angeles" blog: http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/12/13/12252/453).

We talk a lot about how our students can overcome poverty if we end educational inequity. We talk a good game about social justice and civil rights, but can we truly live up to our mission until we confront all the measurable factors that impede student success, every statistically significant thing that stands in the way of, “One day”?

Now is the time to change educational outcomes for kids by advocating on behalf of value-added measures, as well as the federal DREAM Act, and in opposition to LIFO, as well as laws leading to inequity in sentencing, incarceration, and recidivism.


Later this week, my blog, aimed at the “Alumni of Los Angeles,” group will discuss the results of the vote to approve or reject the Tentative Agreement between UTLA and LAUSD. However, before analyzing that terrain I urge all of you to revisit what I wrote regarding the proposed contract, “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” (http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/12/5/113037/558). My hope is by posting twice this week, I’ll “hook you” into a discussion before your attention spans become completely consumed by travel, shopping, etc. Please leave a comment. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

On the Saturday, December 10, 2011, a number of TFA alumni and LEE staff were able to take advantage of a comprehensive workshop session facilitated by Brianna Twofoot. I won’t dwell on too many of the details in this entry, but I do wish to open up the talk we had regarding the rhetoric of TFA’s public critics:

The diversity of opinions in the room seemed comfortable countering the critique that TFA stood for “teach for awhile” with the data on teacher burnout, RIFs (threatened or actual layoffs), wages (low salaries, lack of bonuses, slow pace of growth), high stakes pressure, and poor working conditions, that explain teacher turnover and attrition writ large (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/11/top-5-reasons-why-teacher_n_924428.html). If the problem of recruiting and retaining talent in the classroom were not an industry-wide issue, major organized labor wouldn’t be spending their time and energy researching solutions to the problem (http://www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/genyreport0411.pdf). Nevertheless, we did agree that two years is a random number, and data demonstrates teachers hit their effectiveness stride at year three, and if TFA is a data driven organization, it should reconsider its fidelity to the current model.

We split over how to counter the critique that TFA is populated with white, middle class to affluent, Ivy League graduates, who seek to apply a competitive, private sector, corporate (for profit business) model to America’s public schools. We split over whether or not the (historically self-described) characterization of TFA corps members as the “best and brightest” was something we should combat. There was a time when “respect and humility” were core organizational values, and it was stressed that our job was to learn from more experienced teachers, and partner with other forces in the community seeking to make change. After No Child Left Behind came into existence, TFA sought to prove that corps members were just as qualified and effective as traditionally selected and trained instructors. This established the rift we live in today in which TFA lives in one corner, and organized labor bodies representing teachers in the other. Many questions arise as a result of this perceived shift away from “respect and humility.” Is it antithetical to, “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education,” to be so elite, effete, and exclusionary that only one out of every ten college graduates who applies meets TFA’s selection criteria? Is it the selection process guaranteeing student gains, or are support structures, observational feedback, and high performance expectations the engines of success? What would happen if half of acceptance in TFA’s future generations of corps members ran like a typical charter school lottery? Would the randomly selected underperform their pedigreed peers? Or would the data show otherwise? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/campus-overload/post/teach-for-america-2011-acceptance-rate-11-percent/2011/08/03/gIQAqX8bsI_blog.html & http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2011/08/tfa_selection_criteria_linked.html)

The most important and revealing dynamic in our discussion dealt with the amount of funding available to school sites for the provision of wrap around services. We took on the terrain of arguing that what public education needs is not more money, but a better strategy for spending the money it has. Discomfort abounded with the wholesale embrace of this narrative. We were, after all, holding this discussion in California, 43rd in per pupil spending, whose budget shortfalls threaten to shorten the school year to below 170 instructional days, despite the fact that 3/5 of all other states found $ to prevent the school year from falling below a minimum of 180. (http://toped.svefoundation.org/2011/01/12/now-43rd-in-per-student-spending/ & http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/11/17/471008ccaliforniabudgetschoolyear_ap.html). With RIFd teachers in the room, the discussion delved head on into LIFO, and seniority based layoffs, but it also acknowledged the Occupy L.A. and Occupy LAUSD protesters gathered in nearby Pershing Square. Teachers, librarians, counselors, etc. were fired because of budget cutbacks, not because of the results of an already implemented, tested, and proven, performance evaluation system. School funding is in crisis. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t see multiple efforts to tackle the issue publicly, through statewide ballot propositions that circumvent the broken legislative process (http://toped.svefoundation.org/2011/11/04/reformrevenue-plan-for-12-ballot/). The most important and critical part of the discussion, however, came from the frank admission that students and their families need more than just highly effective classroom teachers. They need (and deserve) advocates, access to information, protections from domestic abuse and street violence, as well as free or truly affordable (low cost) resources such as doctors, dentists, mental health services, etc.

Earlier this year, S. Paul Reville, the Massachusetts Secretary of Education, blogged in Education Week that reformers need now to think beyond the numbers and “admit that closing achievement gaps is not as simple as adopting a set of standards, accountability and instructional improvement strategies.” In Massachusetts, he wrote, “We have set the nation’s highest standards, been tough on accountability and invested billions in building school capacity, yet we still see a very strong correlation between socioeconomic background and educational achievement and attainment. It is now clear that unless and until we make a more active effort to mitigate the impediments to learning that are commonly associated with poverty, we will still be faced with large numbers of children who are either unable to come to school or so distracted as not to be able to be attentive and supply effort when they get there.” Reville called for “wraparound services” that would allow schools to provide students with a “healthy platform” from which they could begin to work on learning.


Fortunately, there are some programs in place that have had real success in providing “wraparound services” that help children come to school ready to learn. In Northern California, for example, the Making Waves Foundation has for decades run a program providing tutoring, academic advising, college counseling, after school enrichment programs, mental health services, nutritional food, transportation and parent education to more than a thousand low-income children, selected by lottery. In Cincinnati, where more than 70% of children live in low-income households, a program called the Strive Partnership coordinates services and support for school children that include mentoring, health care, arts programs, quality preschool and financial aid for college — and the result, according to a new report from the independent think tank Education Sector, is that, over the last four years, Cincinnati schools have made greater gains than any other urban district in Ohio and have had the most success in reducing the percentage of its students who score at the very bottom on achievement tests.

(http://www.kappanmagazine.org/content/93/3/48.abstract & http://www.educationsector.org/publications/striving-student-success-model-shared-accountability)

John Kuhn, the superintendent of a small public school district in Texas, recently wrote the following:

“As a public school administrator, I have been a steadfast critic of the legacy of No Child Left Behind. But I’ve recently figured out a way that school reformers can get me on their side. It’s very simple… Reformers such as former Washington D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and Sandy Kress — a lawyer who was a principal architect of the school accountability system in Texas (during the administration of then Gov. George W. Bush) which served as the basis for NCLB — assure us that all their reforms are really about the children. They repeatedly call on get teachers and administrators to quit making excuses and hold themselves accountable for the educational outcomes of poor and minority students. Who could be against that?... NCLB has done one important thing: By disaggregating data, it has forced teachers and administrators like me to agonize over the outcomes of our neediest students… The deck is stacked against kids who live in poverty not just because their schools are on average worse than others, but also because of the circumstances of their lives when they leave campus… I’m calling on reformers — Kress and Rhee included — to lend support for a new kind of reform, one that steps outside the schoolhouse and shares the onus for achievement with more than just teachers. I’m calling for data-driven equality, modeled on Kress’s work, expanding it to force greater societal changes that will help teachers bridge the achievement gap.”

“Let the 50 states disaggregate equality-related data by ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, and let us rank the states and reward them for closing all the societal inequalities that are truly at the heart of our achievement gap. There should be an incentive for voters to elect lawmakers who will craft policies that minimize inequalities. Let’s have national benchmarks for equality in incarceration, equality in college enrollment, equality in health coverage, equality in income levels, employment rates, rates of drug addiction and child abuse. Let the states figure out how to close their gaps, but reward results. Citizens in states whose data shows progress toward equality benchmarks should be rewarded with a lower federal income tax rate. Note that the states can figure out how to get there, so no one can accuse me of urging socialist fixes to inequality. I don’t care how you fix it, just fix it.”

“As a teacher I am calling on society to do its part to save these kids! The kind of plan I am describing leaves mechanisms to the states — it merely incentivizes equality. We should all insist that our leaders build a system that guarantees the demise of inequity on these shores. Let’s move together toward a broader social accountability, driven by data and gauged by progress toward statistical, measurable, social equality. Here’s an incentive: As a state moves closer to demonstrable equality according to data, then Washington could reduce the federal income tax rates charged to citizens in that state. Let citizens who opt for equality in so doing opt for lower taxes and more individual liberties. Incentivize equality, and see if kids don’t do better in school. Let’s publish the data in newspapers. Let’s label all 50 states once a year. Let the states stand on their records and compare their progress. Let’s ensure that no more American Dreams get deferred because of unequal opportunity… As soon as the data shows that the average black student has the same opportunity to live and learn and hope and dream in America as the average white student, and as soon as the data shows that the average poor kid drinks water just as clean and breathes air just as pure as the average rich kid, then educators like me will no longer cry foul when this society sends us children and says: Get them all over the same hurdle… And so I as an educator now say to a nation exactly what it has said to me for years: No excuses! Just get results…Disaggregating data forced me to pay attention to minority students. Let’s force society to agonize over equality like teachers now agonize over test scores!”


As TFA corps members, alumni, as LEE members, we talk a lot about educational equity and poverty. Our go to refrain is that we are overcoming poverty by ending educational inequity. Yet, despite the fact that we talk a good game about social justice and civil rights, we have yet to even take the small step of embracing the conclusions reached by researchers who have tracked the successes and failures of wrap around services (http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/04/pdf/wraparound_report.pdf). TFA cannot truly live up to its mission until we utilize LEE to take on the big issues that impede progress in education. We need to take on prisons, immigration, housing, unemployment, and everything else that stands in the way of, “One day.” Just as an LAUSD school needs a cooperative Board of Education, and a California district needs a cooperative set of policies from Sacramento and Washington D.C., TFA corps members and alumni need the backing of a LEE that is willing to stand up and change educational outcomes for kids by advocating on behalf of value-added measures, as well as the federal DREAM Act, and in opposition to LIFO, as well as laws leading to inequity in sentencing, incarceration, and recidivism.

Teach For America is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.
Today, poverty limits educational opportunity - but it doesn't have to be that way.


The Education & Poverty Debate Since NCLB:

Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?


No one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.

Ending Poverty through Education


As the leader of a school system in a privileged country, I know we cannot have the same conversation about poverty in developing nations as we can about urban and rural poverty in the United States. But when we ask what it will take to ensure that no child anywhere has to "beat the odds" to have viable future choices, the answer is the same whether we are in Washington, DC or in a brave Haiti enduring disaster from a poverty-stricken stance. The obstacle is not one of knowledge but of social and political will, with education as the lynchpin.

Poverty Is Rooted In US Education System, Research Finds


Inequalities are rooted in many areas of the U.S. education system, and the current system's relationship with poverty has not improved, according to a Kansas State University researcher. Kay Ann Taylor, associate professor of secondary education at K-State, has studied the historical and modern aspects of poverty, including its relationship with education. When teachers are not well informed about issues like poverty, Taylor said they are unable to relate to situations students face. For instance, when a child acts out, many teachers neglect to consider possibilities for the student's actions that could be effects of poverty. Taylor said educators should be respectful, caring and empathetic and should create a challenging and engaging learning environment for children at all levels. She said the essential characteristics include a small teacher-to-student ratio, relevant curriculum where the students see themselves represented and an environment where children feel safe.



Just getting through elementary and middle school can be a challenge for children from lower income families. They are faced with obstacles that more-affluent families are not. Since I come from one of those lower income families, I have first hand experience with some of these obstacles: schools running out of paper by November, staying at the free after-school program at the local library until my mother came home at dinner time, apathetic teachers who weren’t motivated to teach a bunch of “unruly” children. Of course, these are merely examples, and they aren’t necessarily the experience everyone has had. However, I know that systematically the quality of education children receive in lower income neighborhoods is severely lacking compared to the wealthy neighborhoods. Where I grew up, we were lucky to have some Apple computers donated to our elementary school by the local bank, yet in a wealthy suburb several miles away, the children had plasma screen TVs in their state of the art gymnasium.

Is Education the Cure for Poverty?


Economists may disagree a lot on policy, but we all agree on the "education premium" -- the earnings boost associated with more education. But what role can education play in a realistic antipoverty policy agenda? And what are the limits of that role? First, it depends on whether you're talking about children or adults, and schooling versus job training. And second, the extent to which education is rewarded depends on what else is going on in the economy. As Greg J. Duncan's companion piece (page A20) suggests, investment in early childhood has immense benefits. And at the other end of the schooling spectrum, college graduates' wage advantage over those with only a high-school diploma went up dramatically in the 1980s and early '90s. But the premium that high-school graduates enjoy over dropouts has been flat for decades. In 1973, high-school grads earned about 15.7 percent more per hour than dropouts, 15.9 percent in 1989, 16.1 percent in 2000, and 15.5 percent last year. And for adult workers, the historical record for job-training programs is pretty dismal, though more recent initiatives -- with their focus on more carefully targeting training for local labor markets -- show much more promise. Nobody doubts that a better-educated workforce is more likely to enjoy higher earnings. But education by itself is a necessary insufficient antipoverty tool. Yes, poor people absolutely need more education and skill training, but they also need an economic context wherein they can realize the economic returns from their improved human capital. Over the past few decades, the set of institutions and norms that historically maintained the link between skills and incomes have been diminished, particularly for non-college-educated workers. Restoring their strength and status is essential if we want the poor to reap the benefits they deserve from educational advancement.

Importing Poverty: Immigration and Poverty in the United States: A Book of Charts


Since the immigration reforms of the 1960s, the U.S. has imported poverty through immigration policies that permitted and encouraged the entry and residence of millions of low-skill immigrants into the nation. Low-skill immigrants tend to be poor and to have children who, in turn, add to America's poverty problem, driving up governmental welfare, social service, and education costs. Today's immigrants differ greatly from historic immigrant populations. Prior to 1960, immigrants to the U.S. had education levels that were similar to those of the non-immigrant workforce and earned wages that were, on average, higher than those of non-immigrant workers. Since the mid-1960s, however, the education levels of new immigrants have plunged relative to non-immigrants; consequently, the average wages of immigrants are now well below those of the non-immigrant population. Recent immigrants increasingly occupy the low end of the U.S. socio-economic spectrum.

Why Segregation Matters: Poverty and Educational Inequality


Much of the discussion about school reform in the U.S. in the past two decades has been about racial inequality. President Bush has promised that the No Child Left Behind Act and the forthcoming expansion of high stakes testing to high schools can end the “soft racism of low expectations.” Yet a disproportionate number of the schools being officially labeled as persistent failures and facing sanctions under this program are segregated minority schools. Large city school systems are engaged in massive efforts to break large segregated high poverty high schools into small schools, hoping that it will create a setting better able to reduce inequality, while others claim that market forces operating through charter schools and private schools could end racial inequalities even though both of these are even more segregated than public schools and there is no convincing evidence for either of these claims. More and more of the still standing court orders and plans for desegregated schools are being terminated or challenged in court, and the leaders of the small number of high achieving segregated schools in each big city or state are celebrated. The existence of these schools is being used to claim that we can have general educational success within the existing context of deepening segregation. Clearly the basic assumption is that separate schools can be made equal and that we need not worry about the abandonment of the movement for integration whose history was celebrated so extensively last year on the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision even as the schools continued to resegregate. There has been a continuous pattern of deepening segregation for black and Latino students now since the l980s.

Every Nine Seconds in America a Student Becomes a Dropout


In 2004, there were 27,819,000 18-24-year-olds in the United States. Of these, 21,542,000 (78%) had either graduated from high school, earned a GED, completed some college, or earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The balance, 6,277,000 (22%), had not yet completed high school. Some scholars exclude GED holders, resulting in a much higher noncompletion figure. Similarly, if researchers count the adult population over age 24, the high school noncompletion rate would be higher still. An estimated 3.8 million youth ages 18-24 are neither employed nor in school—15% of all young adults. From 2000 to 2004, the ranks of these disconnected young adults grew by 700,000.5


High Performance in High Poverty Schools: 90/90/90 and Beyond


The 90/90/90 Schools have the following characteristics:
• More than 90 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, a commonly used surrogate for low-income families.
• More than 90 percent of the students are from ethnic minorities.
• More than 90 percent of the students met or achieved high academic standards, according to independently conducted tests of academic achievement.
The educational practices in these schools are worthy of notice for several reasons. First, many people assume that there is an inextricable relationship between poverty, ethnicity, and academic achievement. The graph in Figure 1 expresses the commonly held belief that poverty and ethnic minority enrollment are inextricably linked to lower levels of student achievement. While the impact of poverty clearly has not been eliminated, the prevailing hypothesis that poverty and ethnic minority status are invariably linked to low student achievement does not conform to the data. Our research on the 90/90/90 Schools included both site visits and analyses of accountability data. The site visits allowed us to conduct a categorical analysis of instructional practices. In the same manner that the authors of In Search Of Excellence (Peters and Waterman, 1982) identified the common practices of excellent organizations, we sought to identify the extent to which there was a common set of behaviors exhibited by the leaders and teachers in schools with high achievement, high minority enrollment, and high poverty levels. As a result, we found five characteristics that were common to all “90/90/90 Schools.” These characteristics were:
• A focus on academic achievement
• Clear curriculum choices
• Frequent assessment of student progress and multiple opportunities for improvement
• An emphasis on nonfiction writing
• Collaborative scoring of student work

Poverty has a Powerful Impact on Educational Attainment, or, Don't Trust Ed Trust


The powerful impact of poverty on literacy development has been well documented. Children of poverty, in addition to the obvious problems they face, have very little access to reading material; they have fewer books in the home, inferior public libraries, inferior school libraries,and inferior classroom libraries, (e.g. Duke, 2000; Neuman and Celano, 2001). This means, of course, that they have fewer opportunities to read, and therefore make less progress in developing literacy.

The Ed Trust report is actually a stunning confirmation of the overwhelming effect of poverty. Even with a very loose definition of high performance, few schools perform in the upper one-third and a careful look at one state reveals that even fewer qualify. California has about five million children in school. Ed Trust claimed that about 230,000 were in high-poverty high-scoring schools for reading. According to this analysis, the real figure is less than 400. It is extremely difficult to "defy the odds." Poverty has a powerful effect on educational attainment.


Why Do High-Poverty Schools Have Difficulty Staffing Their Classrooms with Qualified Teachers?


The failure to ensure that the nation’s classrooms, especially those in disadvantaged schools, are all staffed with qualified teachers is one of the most important problems in contemporary American education. The conventional wisdom holds that these problems are primarily due to shortages of teachers, which, in turn, are primarily due to recent increases in teacher retirement and student enrollment. Unable to compete for the available supply of adequately trained teachers, poor school districts, especially those in urban areas, the critics hold, end up with large numbers of underqualified teachers. The latter is, in turn, held to be a primary factor in the unequal educational and occupational outcomes of children from poor communities. Understandably, the prevailing policy response to these school staffing problems has been to attempt to increase the supply of teachers. In recent years, a wide range of initiatives has been implemented to recruit new candidates into teaching, especially to disadvantaged settings. The data indicate that school staffing problems are not primarily due to teacher shortages, in the sense of an insufficient supply of qualified teachers. Rather, the data indicate that school staffing problems are primarily due to a “revolving door” – where large numbers of qualified teachers depart from their jobs long before retirement. The data show that high-poverty public schools, especially those in urban communities, lose, on average, over one fifth of their faculty each year. In such cases, ostensibly, an entire staff could change within a school in only a short number of years. The data show that much of the turnover is accounted for by teacher job dissatisfaction and teachers pursuing other jobs. The analyses indicate that one reason for high rates of turnover in these schools is, not surprisingly, teacher compensation. Teachers in these schools are often paid less than in other kinds of schools and depart accordingly. But, the data also indicate that low salaries are not the only reason for the high level of turnover in disadvantaged schools. Significant numbers of those who depart from their jobs in these schools report that they are hampered by inadequate support from the school administration, too many intrusions on classroom teaching time, student discipline problems and limited faculty input into school decision-making. From a policy perspective, the data suggest that schools are not simply victims of large-scale, inexorable demographic trends. In plain terms, the data suggest that recruiting more teachers will not solve staffing inadequacies if large numbers of such teachers then leave the profession. This report concludes that if schools want to ensure that all students are taught by qualified teachers, as the No Child Left Behind Act now mandates, then they must be concerned about low teacher retention rates.

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly... MOU: LAUSD/UTLA School Stabilization and Empowerment Initiative

(Originally published on December 5, 2011, as part of Leadership for Educational Equity's "Teach For America Alumni of Los Angeles" blog: http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/12/5/113037/558).

Despite the fact that exactly zero of you have officially left comments under these entries on the official LEE blog page, I’ve gotten enough face to face, text message, and social media comments regarding them, that I know that my words have not all been in vain.

Thank you for the love. But please, let’s get a little discussion going. We need it.

This week’s words are dedicated to the tentative agreement regarding the new teacher contract (a.k.a., the new collective bargaining agreement) between LAUSD and UTLA…

Do you want the good news or the bad news first?


Despite the fact that exactly zero of you have officially left comments under these entries on the official LEE blog page, I’ve gotten enough face to face, text message, and social media comments regarding them, that I know that my words have not all been in vain.

Thank you for the love. But please, let’s get a little discussion going. We need it.

This week’s words are dedicated to the tentative agreement regarding the new teacher contract (a.k.a., the new collective bargaining agreement) between LAUSD and UTLA…

Do you want the good news or the bad news first? I’m guessing good, so let’s start there.

Good: In theory, this pact, if ratified by UTLA members, would give unprecedented freedom to all LAUSD campuses in the foreseeable future. Allowed to operate with a number of autonomies that charter schools enjoy, schools would place teachers on the basis of mutual consent, and tailor teaching practices unbound by previous district and/or union rules. This brings wide-scale reform to the entire landscape as opposed to relying on charters alone as a strategy for overall LAUSD transformation, something everyone agrees is not sustainable. The popular refrain from education historians is that charters were created as incubators of education, and that public schools were supposed to learn from their successes and then scale them. If this is indeed the case, then LAUSD’s John Deasy has done something really great here. He’s learned from charters what works, and he’s ready to take that to every corner of the district. By every measure, LAUSD has some exceptional schools, and a whole lot of schools that have not worked well for a very long time—schools in which students, parents, teachers, and even principals have been marginalized, and forced into looking for charters, smaller districts, or simply pushed out.

You’re probably asking how this will work. What is entailed in this move to free teachers and principals in the nation’s second largest school district from a range of previously established LAUSD policies and historic UTLA contract restrictions? First a 60% supermajority of teachers at individual school sites must approve flexibility over working conditions and educational decisions rules. Ever since Superintendent John Deasy took the helm, LAUSD has been UTLA to adopt a “thin” union contract in the hope that, liberated to make their own decisions, teachers would take the lead on school transformation. As per this new agreement, from a menu of 15 options that create more autonomy, teachers will be able to select school curricula, replace the district’s pacing guides, choose teaching materials, hire new principals (and, to an extent, other teachers), set daily school schedules and, to a degree yet to be determined, the school site budgets.

The principals and teachers must agree on alternative plans, which LAUSD must approve and monitor, and they must show evidence that they consulted student family members in the process. Specifically, two parents chosen by the School Site Council would be on an eight or nine person committee to hire staff, subject to the principal’s approval. The committee is required to give priority to laid-off teachers, but not forced to hire “lemons.” The first campuses eligible to become “local initiative schools” will be Focus and Service and Support schools (a.k.a., priority low-performing schools, whose API scores are in the lowest four deciles). These campuses will apply for the 2013-14 year. Staff members at the low-performing schools that would otherwise have gone through PSC will be required to seek flexibility waivers next fall. LAUSD and UTLA have agreed to find intervention strategies for these schools. All local initiative schools are expected to be variants of the 31 LAUSD pilot schools already in existence. Based on the Boston model, pilot schools came into being thanks to an agreement UTLA negotiated under former President and now charter school executive, A.J. Duffy. Pilot school teachers with experience drafting and/or implementing school plans based on autonomies (in budget, schedule, calendar, curriculum, staffing, assessment, and governance) for consideration under PSC, have committed to a detailed process leading the transformations intended to turnaround low-performing schools. This is as good an avenue for the voices of teachers in school reform as any, but there’s nothing to compel UTLA members to embrace teacher led reform. It takes an incredible amount of work to plan, open, and operate a school. It’s one thing to claim expertise is in schools and not at Beaudry (a.k.a., LAUSD’s central headquarters) or in Local District offices, and another to take up the mantle of change. This exciting opportunity has tremendous potential. I hope it’s more than Tinkering Toward Utopia.

Don’t get me wrong, the tentative agreement is just that, tentative. It is by no means a done deal. UTLA members may decide in bulk that they don’t want to trade seniority protections and guaranteed placement for the authority to dictate how their school is run. This trade-off could prove a major stumbling block. Many teachers may not be eager to trade away job security in an uncertain economy for the tremendous risk and responsibility of revamping their school. That said, competition from CMOs in the Public School Choice process has pushed several generations of teachers to step up. In the two years since PSC began, dozens of teacher-led teams have partnered with reform groups, or have developed plans on their own, and won the right to run their schools. Today’s LAUSD is like never before. Thanks to the largest school construction program in the nation, (100 new schools in 10 years) the district is populated with pilot schools, magnet schools, charter schools, partner schools, ESBMM schools, and traditional schools. Innovation is encouraged and failures are very much public and subject to deserved scrutiny and accountability. The proposed model makes cooperation on behalf of students easier—without handcuffs, or anything to block a school from undertaking the reforms in their single plans, as UTLA or LAUSD can no longer deny them anything.

Bad: This deal throws CMOs under the bus. Charters, and the push to proliferate them in high poverty areas, not just suburban, middle class, “white flight” neighborhoods, looking to exit LAUSD, have been cut off at the knees. As I alluded to in my last blog entry, the fact that the California Charter School Association failed to make the case for their role in delivering educational, social, and racial justice to L.A.’s families when Steve Zimmer first proposed to cut off CMO access to new LAUSD campuses, meant that charter schools and Public School Choice—the district’s two-year-old program the allowed charters to bid for control of new campuses and failing schools, and helped make LAUSD the center of a movement toward alternative schools—would suffer. This has occurred, indeed. And families that saw charters as alternatives to unsafe LAUSD campuses, populated by burned-out LAUSD teachers, are forced to place all of their eggs in one basket, as the pact wipes out PSC. By this standard, it’s not clear where parents fit in to the conversation between Superintendent Deasy and UTLA President Fletcher.

Both know perfectly well that a primary motivating factor for parents and legal guardians to seek spots for their kids in charters has nothing to do with test scores. If not overwhelmed with safety concerns, the differences in personal attention, class size, and possibilities for enrichment and/or intervention, are major drivers. What now for them? Sadly, families are seen as disengaged and incompetent, or confused and overwhelmed. When given a chance to weigh in on whom should run their campuses, approximately 1% of eligible parents turned out to vote in the advisory process. Yet neither LAUSD, nor UTLA really ever cared to understand why. When the advisory vote component of PSC eliminated, UTLA did a good job of spinning it to their advantage. But if either side actually cared about parental voice they would have assigned parent opinion a fixed percentage in the final decision-making matrix, incorporated parent voices from the brainstorming phase through plan writing, and found the funds needed to conduct the necessary outreach to parents for plan presentation and election events. But I digress.

While both Superintendent Deasy and President Fletcher declared the agreement, which UTLA members will likely ratify by December 12, a win-win, there’s no way of getting around the fact that for charter schools, it was a loss. Although it is subject to debate whether Superintendent Deasy agreed to a moratorium on LAUSD’s two-year PSC experiment (in which the district invited community groups and charter school operators to bid on the operation of newly built schools, or the chance to take over some failing schools) as an enticement or a concession to UTLA is irrelevant. The result is the same. The dozen charter schools, including high performers like Aspire and Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, that were selected through PSC, and opened in the last two years, designed to share large campuses, won’t be joined by any fellow charter compatriots. President Fletcher is quoted as characterizing the end of PSC as an “overdue corrective,” insisting the district and Board of Education had become “enraptured” by the prospect of turning to outside operators to solve LAUSD’s problems. He’s made sure to cite the L.A. Daily News study finding that in the first year, a majority of PSC schools (charters notably excepted) did no better or worse than neighborhood schools. More importantly, he’s argued the new LAUSD-UTLA agreement will save 690 district teaching jobs.

Though this calculation assumes the unlikely scenario that every campus in the next round of PSC would have gone charter, President Fletcher was very astute to hardline negotiate the gutting of CMOs. After all, L.A. has more charters than any system in the country, with one in five LAUSD campuses housing a publicly funded, charter-run school. The UTLA argument has always been that charters siphon money from the district, as education funds follow students enrolled in charter schools. And every time LAUSD has faced a budget shortfall because of the sorry state of education funding statewide, UTLA has been able to successfully spin the argument that no RIFs, furlough days, or academic calendar cutbacks would be necessary if LAUSD had not gone through a “giveaway of neighborhood schools intended to privatize public education.” Again, as I pointed out in my last blog entry, the real resistance to the spread of charters is the dilution of UTLA’s membership base, and its accompanying financial, political, and lobbying power. It is much easier to demonize CMOs than attempt to unionize them, or incorporate unionized charters like Green Dot into UTLA. While it’s noteworthy that Superintendent Deasy, President Fletcher, Educators4Excellence, and Randi Weingarten are all very excited by the prospect of teacher-led reform via this new contract, former Board Member Yolie Flores has made it clear that the tentative agreement “completely undercuts” the Board’s 2009 Motion because it, “eradicated the entire intent and purpose of PSC, which is to use choice and competition as a powerful lever [to improve outcomes for kids]… Autonomy’s great but without accountability you’re going to have a mess.”

Accountability is, in fact, king. And it’s in the accountability piece that the biggest problems with the proposed pact and the conditions surrounding it are found. While I agree with Superintendent Deasy that, “teachers and parents are uniquely qualified to have a relationship with their school.” The problem for teachers continues to be that they are subject to an uphill battle if they’re in pursuit of change. Requiring a supermajority just to get to the point where autonomies can be earned means it is unlikely any changes will take place at schools where teachers are satisfied with the conditions of the current contract, and aren’t at all excited by the prospect of taking on more responsibility, or risking workplace instability. If Superintendent Deasy hadn’t shown his hand by making changes to PSC prior to entering into negotiations with President Fletcher, it might have been possible for him to make it possible for all eligible teachers participate in LAUSD’s value-added teacher evaluation model, Academic Growth Over Time. As it stands right now, UTLA may have dropped its court challenge to LAUSD’s plans to roll out AGT on a voluntary participation basis. But that most certainly does not mean that President Fletcher is going to allow Superintendent Deasy to use data on actual student outcomes versus predicted scores on standardized exams such as the CST, part of the multiple measure teacher evaluation system LAUSD was hoping to rollout districtwide in 2013. Without AGT data professional development for teachers cannot be specifically tailored on the subset of students they are not reaching. For instance, a fifth grade teacher might be great with African American males, but lousy with English Language Learning girls. This kind of specific information is not often gleaned by classroom observation alone.

The unresolved issue of AGT data is most troubling for parents. Although LAUSD’s Programs and Policies office headed by TFA alum, Drew Furedi, has always insisted that AGT data should remain confidential, (as opposed to the approach taken by the L.A. Times in its application of its less sophisticated value-added model) the fact is that a parents have a right to expect that their children won’t find themselves trapped in a classroom with someone completely unaware of his or her role in perpetuating racial, ethnic, gender, etc. achievement gaps. Were I still in the classroom I would want to know which students I was consistently letting down so that I would never do such a thing again. Were I to discover that my failings were with African American girls, for instance, I would demand professional development to help my teaching improve, and I would make sure that my parental engagement efforts were much more focused on delivering the best possible outcomes for the students who AGT revealed I consistently let down. I would ask all parents to keep me accountable, but I would insist that the parents of the African American girls in my classroom found another resource at my school, or in the community where I taught, to make sure they understood every lesson, and has every question answered. This kind of unrelenting parental engagement is not taught or expected in teacher credentialing programs. And based on the fact that LAUSD has done absolutely the bare minimum with the recommendations presented to it by the Parents As Equal Partners Taskforce, I doubt it’ll become the norm under this new pact. LAUSD is already getting sued by parents claiming it failed to evaluate teachers under the Stull Act, and Parent Revolution successfully pulled the Parent Trigger in Compton long before it received the California Education Policy Fund monies that allowed it to expand statewide. If no accountability exists to meaningfully engage parents in this plan, if no real power is extended to parents to accept, or reject, teachers, and principals, at neighborhood schools, then they won’t play ball, and many teacher-led reforms will fail.

Beyond what the proposed deal does or doesn't include, or whether it’s ratified by the rank and file this month, the real issue of concern for TFA corps, alumni, and LEE members, is the failure to retain former Board Member Flores’ seat when she made public her decision to not seek reelection. Former Board Member Flores said she had to leave for financial reasons and was talking to a handful of folks about replacing her. But no clear candidate emerged. Luis Sanchez, Chief of Staff to Board President Monica Garcia, and founded of Inner City Struggle, ran and lost to Bennett Kayser, a candidate who emerged as the “official” UTLA nominee one month after it withdrew its financial support and public endorsement of John Fernandez. Red flag. The failure to find another candidate, one the reform-minded community would have supported, and/or the failure of the reform-minded community to get behind Luis Sanchez’s candidacy explain the deficits in the LAUSD-UTLA agreement on the table. Be clear, Superintendent Deasy was hired by one Board of Education. But he now works for another. He doesn’t have a majority, commanding strong, broad support from throughout the multifarious expanse that is LAUSD, to back him up, to take on a tough, long fight over contentious issues. Hence the end of choice and competition in LAUSD, the lack of mention of the role of student outcomes in teacher evaluations, much less any mention of differential pay, etc.

LEE friends, LEE-Angelinos, LEE countrymen, lend me your ears! I come here not to bury the reform-minded community in L.A., but to praise the dirty work of running candidates, getting out the vote, and instilling a Board with the power to un-encumber reform and provide public schools with the power and resources needed to offer each and every youth an empowering and transformative academic experience. Students deserve a path out of poverty, not a possible one, but one that is probable. If LEE members are willing to come together, that which was once only rhetorical, will be real: And one day all children will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education, will finally arrive.

Read more (New contract):

MOU: LAUSD/UTLA School Stabilization and Empowerment Initiative of 2011 http://www.scribd.com/doc/74649096/LAUSD-UTLA-LOCAL-SCHOOL-STABILIZATION-AND-EMPOWERMENT-INITIATIVE-OF-2011

Labor agreement would give more control to L.A. schools http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/11/school-labor-agreement.html

LAUSD & UTLA Agreement To Give Autonomy To Individual Schools And Put A Moratorium On Charter Schools http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/30/lausd-utla-agreement_n_1121359.html

#LAUSD: The Story Behind John Deasy's Mystifying Labor Deal http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2011/12/lausd-utla-reach-agreement-granting-wider-autonomy-to-all-schools-on-teacher-placement-and-budgets-893-kpccthe-los-angel.html

LAUSD/UTLA MOU: 5.9 more years of failure http://edobserver.blogspot.com/2011/12/lausdutla-mou-59-more-years-of-failure.html

Big choices for LA teachers http://toped.svefoundation.org/2011/12/02/big-choices-for-la-teachers/

Individual Los Angeles schools gain new autonomy http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-1130-lausd-teachers-20111130,0,1644115.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+latimes%2Fnews%2Flocal+%28L.A.+Times+-+California+|+Local+News%29

News Release. November 29, 2011. #11/12-073. LAUSD Superintendent and UTLA President. Jointly Announce Historic Tentative Agreement notebook.lausd.net/.../TA%20RELEASE_SC_FINAL.PDF

LAUSD's promise of school freedom is progress, but no panacea http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-banks-20111204,0,6348666.column

UTLA reaches agreement with LAUSD to provide stability and local control to struggling schools http://www.utla.net/node/3550

Reform: What To Make Of The Proposed LAUSD-UTLA Deal? http://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2011/12/la.html

LAUSD announces tentative labor agreement with teachers http://www.dailybreeze.com/ci_19436546

LAUSD & UTLA reach agreement granting wider autonomy to all schools on teacher placement and budgets
LAUSD and UTLA Announce Contract Agreement http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/LAUSD-and-UTLA-Announce-Contract-Agreement-134725183.html

LAUSD Contract Deal Between John Deasy and Warren Fletcher: Bad Teachers Might be Ousted at Schools Freed from Old Rules http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2011/11/utla_deal_allows_bad_teacher_firings.php

Groundbreaking LAUSD school-by-school reforms unveiled http://www.contracostatimes.com/california/ci_19437314
LAUSD, Teachers Have Tentative Contract Deal http://www.myfoxla.com/dpp/news/education/lausd-teachers-have-tentative-contract-deal-20111129

UTLA Gives Away Collectively Bargained Rights http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2011/12/utla-gives-away-collectively-bargained.html

Read more (UTLA’s stance toward evaluation):

L.A. teachers union drops legal challenge to evaluation system http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/12/la-teachers-union-drops-legal-challenge-to-evaluation-system.html

LA teachers' union drops case against new reviews http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_19460829

Time to step up.

(Originally published on November 28, 2011, as part of Leadership for Educational Equity's "Teach For America Alumni of Los Angeles" blog: http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/11/28/8377/3412).

May this note find you and yours as well as possible.

This is intended for TFA alumni interested in what's happening in and around L.A.'s schools. Usually a new entry is posted during the latter half of each week. Welcome back from Thanksgiving weekend!

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights came to Los Angeles to make it clear that policies and practices contributing to the achievement gaps plaguing ELLs and black students must change. http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/11/28/8377/3412

We will enjoy a tremendous window of opportunity to change statewide education policy in 2012.

We have arrived at a great moment to improve L.A. schools through a new LAUSD-UTLA contract.

Learn. Network. Take action.
Attend E4E’s first event in L.A.
RSVP: http://www.educators4excellence.org/events/nov30lattb

Sign the pledge www.dontholdusback.org
Email Felicia Jones & Edith Sargon
Let them know you’re a former/current teacher with something to say!

Please take a moment to check out this week's blog entry, and these as well:

Was it a mistake to implement changes to Public School Choice before concluding LAUSD-UTLA contract negotiations?

ABCs of lawsuit filed by parents claiming LAUSD failed to enforce the Stull Act. (http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/11/4/121226/173)

Lessons "Don't Hold Us Back" coalition should glean from the 11/08/2011 "Issue 2" election in Ohio.

Future pieces will address "Occupy LAUSD," "The 2012 Kids Education Plan," the tax overhaul proposed by "Long Term," ongoing collective bargaining negotiations, public school choice, teacher education and credentialing, as well as Regular, Special, and Committee of the Whole, Board of Education meetings.

Remember that the advantage of the LEE blog is the fact it's not public: Whatever you write will only be seen by TFAers, so please comment and share your inklings freely.

I hope you don't mind me reaching out to you via email. I've been asked by LEE (educationalequity.org) to reach out to all Teach for America alums in L.A., and get a dialogue going regarding the "perfect storm" shaking up the educational establishment. Please join the discussion, and join LEE's "Alumni of Los Angeles" group if you haven't already!

Thanks ever so much in advance for your willingness to contribute your thoughts!
Best of the best today and always, - Unai -


The Dept. of Ed.’s Office for Civil Rights says policies contributing to the achievement gaps plaguing ELLs and black students must change.

We will enjoy a tremendous window of opportunity to change statewide education policy in 2012.

We have arrived at a great moment to improve policies and practices at L.A. schools through the new LAUSD-UTLA contract.

Learn. Network. Take action. Attend E4E’s first event in L.A.
RSVP: http://www.educators4excellence.org/events/nov30lattb

Sign the pledge www.dontholdusback.org
Email Felicia Jones fjones@familiesinschools.org
Let her know you’re a former/current teacher with something to say!


On Tueaday, October 11, 2011, the L.A. Times reported on the 19-month investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that found the Los Angeles Unified School District LAUSD) fails to provide an equal education to English language learners (ELLs) and black students. Via a press event featuring Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, LAUSD’s Board of Education announced the district’s agreement to sweeping reforms intended to become a model for school districts around the country. The Department of Education did not find that LAUSD intentionally discriminated against ELLs and African Americans. Nevertheless, the settlement requires LAUSD to engage in a top-to-bottom revision of the district's Master Plan for ELLs (already under way), and to provide ELLs and black students with more effective teachers. Improved teaching is to result from “ongoing and sustained” training. LAUSD is to develop the details under continuing oversight from the Ed. Dept.’s Office for Civil Rights.

LAUSD is the nation’s second-largest public education system and has more students learning English than any other school district in the United States—about 195,000 students, or 29 percent of enrollment. In 2009-2010, only 14.4 percent of ELLs were reclassified as fluent. The investigation also found that black students, who make up an estimated 10 percent of the district’s enrollment, are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs but overrepresented in suspensions and disciplinary actions. LAUSD schools with predominantly African American populations also lack technology and library resources. These findings and LAUSD’s demographic makeup writ large, explain why the Obama Administration was prompted to launch their investigation to determine if students who entered school speaking limited English, most of whom are Latino, receive adequate instruction. LAUSD’s program for ELLs had long been criticized for allowing students to remain untransitioned through the majority of their schooling. Even when meeting redesignation criteria for mainstream integration, ELLS fell or remained behind grade level proficiency, and ended up dropping out (without passing their CAHSEEs, or fulfilling their A-G course requirements). Consequently, under the settlement, LAUSD must focus on the academic progress of ELLs before and after redesignation, concentrating efforts on students who reach high school without mastering the reading and writing skills necessary to enroll in a college-preparatory curriculum—thereby more at risk of dropping out.

In previous blog entries, I’ve discussed how the civil-rights movement was and continues to be inextricably tied to the state of public education systems that fail to provide equal opportunities for learning and success. The dismantling of de jure segregation policies were supposed to ensure that all students had equal access to education. Yet, this goal remained largely elusive because de facto segregation, and disparities in academic achievement among students of different economic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds persisted. When I bagan teaching in 1998, California passed SB2042, legislation inteded to overhaul teacher education programs statewide. Uncreatively named, “Teacher Preparation Is Changing,” SB2042, led the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) to “establish and implement strong, effective standards of quality for the preparation and assessment of credential candidates” (a.k.a. classroom instructors applying for licenses to teach in California). When I left teaching and went off to graduate school in 2003, a report entitled “California’s Lowest-Performing Schools: Who They Are, The Challenges They Face, and How They Are Improving,” classified 109 of LAUSD’s elementary schools among the lowest-performing statewide. I can’t remember how many middle or high schools earned this rating, but I do recall the report recommended the adoption of a uniform curriculum, set of instructional tools, professional development programs, and common assessments. And this meant Open Court for all.

I’m not a fan of Open Court, Success For All, or any of the other form of “scripted” teaching. But based on what I’ve read and seen, the ultimate success of a Language Arts program depends, to a great extent, on a teacher’s training regarding its components, and application in meeting instructional objectives, as well as his/her efforts, commitment, and resourcefulness—creative use of (non)existing resources. Yet, while an effective teacher can often compensate for deficiencies in curriculum, materials, etc., his/her perspectives and views are vital in evaluating the effectiveness of a curricular program. It is a teacher’s expectations, theories, beliefs, educational knowledge, practical application of academic skill sets, as well as his/her reflections on classroom successes (and failures), that serve as the basis for any judgments and decisions about a program’s workability and relevance. Because a teacher’s role is so critical to its success, if his/her beliefs, values, and perceptions contradict or even conflict with objectives set forth by district officials, a program that does not take into account a teacher’s expectations, interests, and perspectives will instill anxiety, doubt, and diminished professional efficacy that translates into failure for vulnerable students.

Over a decade before this year’s settlement with the Dept. of Ed’s Office for Civil Rights, Eliezer Williams, et al vs. State of California, et al, a class action lawsuit argued that students received a fundamentally inequitable education statewide on the basis of wealth and language status. Around that time, California ELLs totaled around 1.6 million, or 40% of all ELLs nationwide. The primary claim related to inequity to the education of ELLs dealt with the lack of teacher training and credentials. At LAUSD’s Cahuenga Elementary for instance, 83.7 percent of students were ELLs, but 28 of the school’s 65 teachers lacked full, nonemergency credentials, and therefore were determined to lack adequate training to teach children in need of second language instruction. A lack of equal instruction, and therefore a lack of equal outcomes, were tied to the assignment of ELLs to less qualified teachers, inferior curriculum and less times to cover it, facilities segregated from their English speaking peers, assessments that provide little information about actual academic achivement. The case was settled in 2004, resulting in the state allocating $138 million in additional funding for standards-aligned instructional materials for schools in the first and second ranks (known as deciles) based on the 2003 Academic Performance Index (API), and another $50 million for implementation costs and other oversight-related activities for schools in deciles one through three.

Studies do not claim to prove a “causal relationship” between student achievement outcomes and teacher professional development, yet the view that a relationship between teacher preparation and pupil academic achievement is advocated by a preponderance of research experts, including criticis of current efforts to evaluate educators on the basis of student test data, such as Linda Darling-Hammond. It has been demonstrated that good professional development increases a teacher’s sense of competence and provides him/her with tangible strategies for better meeting student needs. Yet, while teacher professional development has been a cornerstone of many states’ education reform plans, surprisingly little emphasis has been placed on the specialized needs of teachers whose classrooms are comprised of ELLs. The instructional demands placed on teachers of ELLs have always been intense—expected to provide instruction in English language development while simultaneously or sequentially attempting to ensure access to the core curriculum. Sadly, the historic data is clear. Even where teachers have been teaching a majority of English learners, the professional development they’ve received dedicated to helping them instruct these students has been minimal. During my Corps years, the amount of hours dedicated to the instruction of ELLs represented a single digit percentage of professional development, despite the fact that California had very publicly, and controversially, eliminated bilingual education via Prop. 227 in 1998.

States that have passed ballot measures to get rid of bilingual education like California and Arizona, have greater gaps in achievement between ELLs and non-ELLs in math and reading, based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, than do states such as Texas and New Mexico, that require bilingual education. This of course, should not prove surprising to anyone who has studied the role of first language development in learning the English language, or any scholars out there who follow what research proves about the advantages of developing reading and writing skils in multiple languages. I was never in support of Proposition 227, and it is my hope that after years and years of evidence, everyone has joined me in asserting that dismantling bilingual education in California was a mistake. Nevertheless, the most important point is that the road forward for ELLs in California will be a long and difficult one without the support of teachers who view parents and families as allies, and embrace their role as agents of change.

Since 2008, California has required candidates for preliminary Multiple and Single Subject Teaching Credentials to pass assessements of their teaching performance designed to measure their knowledge, skills, and ability with relation to California’s Teaching Performance Expectations (TPEs), including demonstrating their ability to appropriately instruct all students in Student Academic Content Standards. Whatever happens with Felipe Fuentes’ educator effectiveness legislation AB5, or the Stull Act lawsuit, current and former classroom instructors are the ones who are going to have to advocate on behalf of a system that takes communicating educational progress and needs to parents and families, as well as student outcomes into account when it comes to training, coaching, and evaluating teachers—especially those with Culture, Language, and Development (CLAD) preparation and full credentials. We do not live in a time where it is enough to focus on delivery of instruction, and the development of pedagogies capable of meeting the needs of diverse students. The Dept. of Ed.’s Office for Civil Rights says policies contributing to the acivement gaps plaguing ELLs and black students must change. Believe me when I tell you that the final policies that will ultimately harm or benefit students have yet to be written. It’s time for us to step up.

We have a tremendous window of opportunity. 2012 education policies in Sacramento are still being written. There is still plenty of time to impact what state legislators will vote on when it comes to educator effectiveness evaluation, for instance, and how they will vote. 2012 education campaigns tied to statewide ballot initiatives are coming together, and there’s still time to educate your peers over social media, make phonecalls, knock on doors, and write letters to the editor in order to provide more education funding. Most importantly, we have arrived a great moment to improve policies and practices at LAUSD schools:

Learn. Network. Take action. Attend E4E’s first event in L.A., “The Behind-the-Scenes Work of Turning Around Schools: Lifting Morale & Performance,” featuring award-winning principal, Howard Lappin.
Date: Wednesday, November 30. Time: 5:30-7:00 pm. Location: Downtown Magnets High School. RSVP Here: http://www.educators4excellence.org/events/nov30lattb

Sign the pledge www.dontholdusback.org and join 26 organizations, and a growing number of parents and teachers calling for a reform contract between LAUSD and UTLA. Once you’ve done so, email Felicia Jones fjones@familiesinschools.org to let her know you’re a former/current teacher with something to say.

If you doubt me, just read L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez: “Politics, ego, endless skirmishes between school districts and teacher unions — it all gets in the way of the kids’ best interests. And California spends less per pupil than all but a few states when you adjust for regional cost-of-living differences, leading to an annual ritual of laying off thousands of teachers and other staffers… But in Los Angeles, the status quo is under attack… It’s time for the grown-ups to stop mucking things up for the kids.”

Read more: