Sunday, February 27, 2011


Q: L.A. Times A: smf

The Los Angeles Times posed questions to the candidates in LAUSD Board District 5 – in an article called Candidate Q&As: Los Angeles Unified School District election: District 5 |  …but neglected to ask me.

I am an official write in candidate – so I guess I have to write in! 

Here are my answers to their questions. Please compare and contrast with my opponents’  -the Times article follows.

Scott Folsom: Parent/Parent Activist/Member of the Bond Oversight Committee/Blogger

TIMES: What are the three biggest problems facing the school system and what would you do about them?

    1. The budget crunch and the lack of political will in Sacramento to address it - and the specific impact on public education-- short term, medium term and long term.

    2. LAUSD's own lack of ability to do long-range-planning, driven partially by the budget crunch - but also by it's own lack of visionary leadership and intractable focus on responding to the crisis of the moment instead of driving a meaningful vision of the future. I have on my wall a poster from a Chinese University that asks the question: "What is the purpose of a twenty-first century education if not to prepare us for the twenty-second?" I doubt if the current LAUSD and/or LA city leadership understands the question; I know they don't understand the answer.

    3. A failure to understand that the bunker mentality of reacting to crisis isn't going to work - and a blind faith that somehow 'change' and 'reform' are one and the same. We are all LAUSD whether we are teachers or administrators or school staff or students or parents or community members. Together we must be the change we want to be.

What is your view of the role of charter schools and how they are functioning within L.A. Unified?

Los Angeles is ground zero in the charter movement. LAUSD has more charters than anywhere else in the country and has no mechanism or metric to measure how well they are-or-are-not doing. Charter schools, for the most part, are not what they started out to be: Parents ,teachers and the community running their neighborhood school and running it advantageously without outside interference for benefit of the the community. They are instead franchises of corporate entities - some non-profit, some not-so-much-so - run by outside Charter Management Organizations and accountable to boards of directors ....but spending public money with a private agenda.

What is your opinion on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's statement that United Teachers Los Angeles is standing in the way of reform?

Mayor Tony has been running "his" schools now for almost six years now - and pretty much (mis)running the school district with his board of education for the same length of time. For all his claims of 'reform' and whining of 'urgency' and 'failure' he has become the status quo he maligns- and it is a status quo of conflict with the union and blaming others for his own program's mediocre progress or lack thereof. I don't believe that he or UTLA are paragons of reform.

Mayor Tony and A.J. Duffy deserve each other - and the kids deserve better!

I'm holding out for a third way.

How do you feel about the linking of teacher evaluations to their students' standardized test scores?

As it is The Times posing this question let me state unequivocally: Whoever evaluates teachers- IT SHOULDN'T BE THE THE LOS ANGELES TIMES! The role of a free press in a free society is to report news, not create or make it - The Times Value Added Teacher Evaluations devalued the newspaper and the teachers and the discussion. And probably drove a good man to suicide.

Students' test scores and their work over time and peer review and administrator assessment all have a place in evaluating teachers' performance. There is a role for scholars and statisticians and parents and the students themselves. Newspaper reporters and mayors of major metropolitan cities need not apply.

pencil SMF2

Candidate Q&As

Los Angeles Unified School District election: District 5

The Times posed questions to the candidates for the Los Angeles Board of Education. The following are their responses in full.

by Los Angeles Times Staff Writer|

John Fernandez: Retired teacher

What are the three biggest problems facing the school system and what would you do about them?

Privatization as a threat to public education

I believe that the continual path towards privatization in the LAUSD in the form of charter schools and give-away schools, will lead to the destruction of public education. Charter schools deprive the majority of students in the LAUSD of an equitable and quality education. Charter schools are exclusionary in nature, and benefit a few at the expense of the majority. As a result, the continual privatization of our schools will create hundreds of schools with different agreements and large discrepancies in the quality of education at each school. It will be very difficult to implement any effective oversight because it will expand an already bloated bureaucracy.

The problem of increasing student achievement

I support early intervention and remediation for students that start to fall behind. Students who fall behind must have a complete academic assessment done and an educational plan with yearly goals. Parents should be notified as early as possible when their child is falling behind, and should attend meetings at their child's school with their child's teachers, counselors and administrators. Summer school and tutoring must be mandatory for students who continue to fail classes or start to fall behind. All LAUSD instruction should be data driven and personalized. Scores on various standardized tests, grades, attendance, and number of credits must be used to aid teachers in meeting their teaching goals. Team teaching and interdisciplinary teaching should be expanded. Parent involvement must be made mandatory, especially for students that fall behind.

The need for school safety at all LAUSD schools

Another major component of my platform is that I will advocate for safe, clean, and secure campuses with adequate LAUSD school police at each campus. Before learning can take place, schools must be safe, clean and secure. I will call for the strict enforcement of California ED. Code provisions regarding school safety. Specifically, all LAUSD schools must have a comprehensive school safety plan; teachers must be notified that they have dangerous pupils in their classes pursuant to Section 49079 of the California ED. Code; students should not be subjected to harassment, discrimination, and bullying at their schools pursuant to Section 35294.21 of the California Ed.Code. Lastly, random metal detection of students for weapons should be used on a regular basis pursuant to California Ed. Code 35160.

What is your view of the role of charter schools and how they are functioning within LA Unified?

Charter schools are not the only alternative to traditional schools. Magnet schools outperform charter schools. They should be expanded. New alternatives to charter schools are Extended School Based Management Schools, Pilot Schools, The Family of Schools, and Partnership Schools. According to a recent Stanford University study, only 17% of charter schools outperform traditional schools. If elected, I will push for the creation of an independent oversight committee to provide stronger oversight and accountability to charter and choice schools. And I will move for a tough LAUSD renewal Charter School Policy. That means that charter schools must adhere to existing state and federal mandates, including the Chandra Smith consent decree, which protects the rights of special education students. Further, charter schools also must adhere to state and federal mandates, which protect the rights of English Learners. Thus, unsuccessful and noncompliant charter and choice schools must not be allowed to continue, as they drain money from the District's general fund. Reform efforts must be focused on all schools, especially the lowest performing schools.

What is your opinion on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's statement that United Teachers Los Angeles is standing in the way of reform?

What is needed from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is more collaboration and less confrontation. I was shocked to say the least by the Mayor's statement because under his Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Mayor Villaraigosa has entered into a collaborative effort with UTLA and LAUSD in an effort to reform 15 schools under his control. Clearly, reform efforts at low performing schools take years. But in order to succeed, all stake holders must be involved in the process. Furthermore, school board members, administrators, and all LAUSD unions must work cooperatively for the benefit of our kids. Division only complicates reform efforts and hurts our kids. It is imperative that Mayor Villaraigosa and UTLA work in a relationship that is based on good faith, mutual trust and cooperation. If elected, I will facilitate that process.

How do you feel about the linking of teacher evaluations to their students' standardized test scores?

There is consensus that a new teacher evaluation system is needed. Proposals are being made to link student's standardized test scores to teacher evaluations. Using standardized test scores of students in teacher evaluations is very problematic and unreliable. For instance, many students know that their grade in the class will not be affected by their score on a standardized test. As a result, many students are not motivated to take the test seriously. Secondly, standardized test for students are not designed to evaluate teachers. Thirdly, standardized tests have been proven to be culturally biased and are not a fair measurement of intelligence. Any teacher evaluation system should be predicated on multiple areas of assessment, not on standardized test scores. The California Standards for the Teaching Profession has thirty-one areas that teachers must be competent in. UTLA and the LAUSD should negotiate a new evaluation system that gives assistance and support to teachers and weeds out incompetent teachers.

Bennett Kayser: Retired teacher

What are the three biggest problems facing the school system and what would you do about them?

a) High drop out rate. Too many kids are not finishing their K-12 education. In part, it's because of the economy. Kids are staying home to work or to babysit so other older family members can work. Safety is also a big issue. Although school is generally -- but not always -- a safe place, many kids are afraid to make the trip between the campus and their home. Other kids leave school because they are unable to keep up with the curriculum and frustration drives them away.

If we truly believe that no child should be left behind, we must change the culture of the campuses. LAUSD should provide free or very affordable daycare for siblings of the District's students. The cost can be offset by improved Daily Attendance dollars and federal and state programs such as Head Start.

More programs such as the City of Angels Independent Studies school should be implemented. This "home school" like program allows K-12 students to work at home with daily access to their teacher. The program doesn't require the creation of campuses by operating out of satellite classrooms in rented office space.

b) Crowded classrooms. Even though LAUSD's total enrollment is declining, the number of students in many classrooms exceeds the number of desks. Kids sometimes sit on counter tops or share desks with their classmates. They do this even if the classroom next door sits empty. The "Norm" system which locks the number of teachers at a school even when the number of students goes up is much to blame. A school's staffing requirements -- not only for teachers, but for administrators, counselors and classified workers as well -- should reflect the needs of the campus throughout the year, not just the attendance on an arbitrary date.

c) Under-funded classrooms. As an LAUSD middle school Science and Health Teacher, I was given a budget of $1.95 per student to teach them for a year. And it's not just my classroom. Too much of LAUSD's budget is directed away from the classrooms, and not enough is allocated to meet the students' educational needs. With a shortage of hundreds of millions of dollars in the budget, the District has no business building new campuses when there are nearby schools with empty classrooms. It hurts to see a new school built at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, plus the eminent domain eviction of 50 families from their homes when there are under-enrolled campuses nearby. Even with non-transferable bond money for construction, additional costs such as staffing, infrastructure, etc. would significantly help to balance LAUSD's budget.

As it now stands, many of my colleagues and I have supported our classrooms out-of-pocket. I typically spent $3,000 ± each year for items such as a skeleton model, dinosaur fossils, plants, books & magazines, videos, field trips, enrichment activities, etc. These paraphernalia made my Science and Health classes more meaningful to my students, so they were worth my non-reimbursable expenses.

What is your view of the role of charter schools and how they are functioning within L.A. Unified?

I have yet to hear of a definitive analysis that finds charter schools to be better or worse than regular public schools. I have heard that they are under-serving students with special needs when compared to their traditional counterparts.

If it turns out that charter schools do provide an overall better education than their traditional partners, then their methodologies ought to be considered for both programs. I think that it is a mistake to essentially pre-approve 50 new charter schools while the jury is still out on their effectiveness.

What is your opinion on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's statement that United Teachers Los Angeles is standing in the way of reform?

It doesn't help the kids to get a better education when the grown-ups around them argue. I think both the Mayor and UTLA want LAUSD to do a better job of preparing its students for a successful adulthood. They need to go to a quiet place away from reporters and audiences to find the common ground.

When I represented the 13th City Council District on The Elected Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission, and chaired the Education Committee, there was a proposal to have LA's Mayor run LAUSD and appoint the School Board members as if they were another City commission. There was little support for the idea, and a lot of opposition. That is why the City Charter now keeps the Mayor from running LAUSD.

How do you feel about the linking of teacher evaluations to their students' standardized test scores?

This seems like such an easy question, but it has a complex answer. First of all, there can be no single metric for a teacher's evaluation. There are many issues that should be considered as a group. For example, should a Physical Education teacher be judged by how fast his/her students can run a mile? Or should a teacher with students who have disabilities that make it difficult to sit still and complete a 60-minute test be judged on that child's score? Or what if the Academic Year is shortened by 30+ days due to testing schedules and furloughs? Or is there a different rubric for every situation.

The LA Times' "value added" exercise on teacher effectiveness shows potential to improve the validity of test scores as one performance indicator. More study of the Times' conclusions should be done after validating the database which I found to have several errors or inconsistencies.

Luis Sanchez: Chief of staff to school board president, Monica Garcia.

What are the three biggest problems facing the school system and what would you do about them?

1. We need to drastically reduce the dropout rate. As a non-profit director, I helped create after-school programs that keep youth off the streets and away from gangs and secured funding to hire counselors in local schools. We need to meet the different needs of our student population. "One-size-fits-all" does not get us there. We need to reach out to students on the verge of dropping out and help them graduate.

2. We must work on getting the district's finances in order by calling for an independent audit to cut wasteful spending.

3. We must prepare kids for college or a job upon graduation. We must develop academic partnerships with small businesses and local colleges to create internship, mentorship, and after-school programs to prepare students for careers and increase job training in our high schools.

What is your view of the role of charter schools and how they are functioning within L.A. Unified?

Charter schools are a viable option and part of the solution of serving all students in LAUSD. Charter schools can help to provide more local, neighborhood control by empowering parents and teachers to meet the needs of local kids in a very personalized way. We need to increase access to quality schools in every neighborhood and for every child. We must not accept failure, be it a charter or traditional school. High quality public schools in whatever form: magnets, pilots, small schools or charters must be scaled up to serve every community.

What is your opinion on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's statement that United Teachers Los Angeles is standing in the way of reform?

The Los Angeles Unified School District has a lot of problems and no single entity is to blame. In order for our schools to succeed, teachers need to be a part of the solution. Unfortunately, the leadership of UTLA has not been receptive to the needed reforms that will benefit students and give teachers more tools to be successful in the classroom. We need to bring all stakeholders together, united in the common goal of fixing our schools. I have brought together unions from throughout Los Angeles, including those unions who represent employees who work in our schools such as school police officers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, as well as business leaders and school reformers in a coalition to bring meaningful changes to LAUSD.

How do you feel about the linking of teacher evaluations to their students' standardized test scores?

Our current evaluation system is broken and we must develop an evaluation system that holds teachers accountable to clear metrics and responsibilities and supports their growth and professional development. LAUSD must ensure that an effective teacher leads every classroom, and that an outstanding leader, who is surrounded by a team of excellent support personnel, leads every school. Student test scores are one of the many indicators that are a part of a robust evaluation system that includes classroom observation, peer review and student work. As a parent, I want both a teacher that keeps my child engaged and excited about learning and ensures that he is reading at grade level and on track to pass the high school exit exam.

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