Saturday, September 03, 2011


By David Tokofsky, Editorial  in the Los Feliz Ledger |

Sept 2011 - I just received my daughter’s state test scores for the 2010-11 school year in Math and what they call “Language Arts.”  (I guess that is reading and writing.)  My Rachel, who enters 5th grade this year, is doing well.

Then I heard the new Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy—with a Kennedy-like Boston accent—declare the scores are improved in Los Angeles, but not high enough.

As a former Los Angeles Unified School board member for 12 years, I agree: scores should be higher—after all, these are our kids and we want them to be slightly better than average—but not at the expense of true learning and student enlightenment.

Scores motivate. They do in athletics and in the classroom. Other than my work on the school board, I taught ESL at John Marshall High School as well as Spanish and AP Government. I was also the soccer coach and the coach of Marshall’s first national championship Academic Decathlon team. In these capacities, I chose to emphasize scores in my classroom and on my teams. Doing so created a self-imposed benchmark for progress for my students and created the excitement of trying to “best” yourself competitively.

Thirty years ago when I became a teacher I moaned about California public schools lack of measurement of student progress. Today, however, I feel we have lost touch with what matters in learning in order to “teach to the test” and reduce our kids to just a Math and Language Arts score.

Today, kids and teachers are exhausted from the focus on standardized testing that doesn’t even ask what our kids know about science, social studies, art, music, physiology, history or psychology.

As we start school this year and particularly in the Los Feliz, Silver Lake, East Hollywood and Echo Park areas, lets try to remember how excited we are for our kids every September and how excited they are to see their friends and teachers and principal and to start to read together and to study again.

Let’s try to retain that excitement through the entire school year. Let’s try to remember the crowds at the “back to school” sales fighting to get our kids the supplies they need.

Let’s remember the experiences of summer and how much experiential learning matters:  how excited our kids were to go to the beach or the mountains or to see their relatives or travel across the U.S. or abroad this summer.

Let’s try to help our school educators—who deal with public attacks on their efforts regularly—and instead, offer our skills, time and knowledge to help the classroom and school.

Excitement of course is not enough. The teacher is fundamental and we should fight for the best. The teacher your child gets matters more than anything in their schooling.  And yes, some, sadly, may not measure up.

For these policies and lapses we cannot control, we need to be present to our neighborhood schools, public, charter, private, parochial or French. We need to lend our expertise, our resources—our time.

When my students at Marshall High won soccer seasons, Mock Trial state competitions or the national Academic Decathlon for the first time for a Los Angeles school, I relied on all the faculty at Marshall to lend a hand or a lecture.  I relied on local parents to lecture or coach.  I relied on University professors and other knowledgeable friends to assist. In the end, people cheered the victories.

What else but success can happen when everyone chips in?

If Harry Potter taught us anything about school, it is that school is about magic—not testing.

  • David Tokofsky is an educational strategist, father of two school age children, and former teacher at John Marshall High School and Los Angeles Unified School board member.

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