Sunday, February 21, 2010


By A.J. Duffy - Op-ed in the la dAILY nEwS  ::  A.J. Duffy is president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

2/19/2010 -- THIS week has been filled with news about our schools and our school administrators, from a proposed parcel tax to a shortened school year.

But one vital topic has been missed: The vote by thousands of parents, students, teachers and community members across the city to determine whether 30 Los Angeles public schools will be turned over to outside companies to be run as charters, or instead embrace the personalized reform plans created by existing teachers, parents and stakeholders.

Some media outlets covered the vote, but did not cover the results and have taken great pains to characterize the results as "meaningless." Because this was an advisory vote, the results are not binding on either Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines or the L.A. Unified Board of Education, despite the fact that, overall, 87 percent of parents voted for reform plans created by teachers. Charter plans did not win parent, teacher or student votes at a single one of the campuses in question.

On Tuesday, Cortines will present his own recommendations on the fate of these schools, and the board will vote on the final outcome.

However, this vote is meaningful only if Cortines and the board choose to respect the opinions of the parents and students they claim to serve. With money and powerful forces on the side of the charter plans, that may not occur.

Over the next few days, Los Angeles teachers and this union are going to fight hard to make sure this mandate from parents and students is not ignored. We believe Cortines and the board have an obligation to listen to the will of the families who will be affected by reforms.

The collectives of teachers, parents and administrators who have developed these customized reform plans have put in hundreds of hours and personal resources to create visions of the future that serve and include all children. This process has allowed them to break out of the district's business-as-usual bureaucracy and create innovative, bottom-up, collaborative plans that work, based on years of their professional expertise as educators.

And unlike charter schools which have a history of cherry-picking high-performing students while shunning special needs and struggling kids, the plans put forth by teachers uphold the promise of public education - that every child will be welcomed and educated.

Clearly parents and students understand the value of that promise, as this vote shows. They also trust that the teachers at their local schools have the knowledge, passion and drive to help create successful schools.

One thing I know for certain is the dedicated teachers who have helped to craft these plans over the past months represent the best and brightest of our profession. They are engaged in a labor of love working with the families they serve to build schools that reflect the complex needs of Los Angeles' kids. The insight they bring from working every day in classrooms cannot be replaced by theories and unproven models put forth by corporate interlopers.

When making the final decision on who will run these schools, Cortines and the school board must listen to the parents and respect their choice, regardless of political pressure from outside operators. If they don't, then this democratic vote will indeed be meaningless, and the parents, students and teachers of Los Angeles will learn a disheartening lesson about power and politics.



TAKE ACTION! Tuesday, February 23rd
School Choice "Decision Day" at the School Board
On Tuesday, the School Board will make the final decision on whether to give away our schools to outsiders or to respect the voice of parents, staff, and students. We need to hold the School Board accountable by taking part in the following actions throughout the day.

ACTION 1: Pre-dawn Candlelight Vigil
ACTION 2: Pack the Board
ACTION 3: Rally After School

(Read more for details of these "Decision Day" Actions)

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