Back to School, Mayor V and the LAUSD
Before long I came to my senses. The mayor’s play is, of course, calculated and not so daring at all. Whatever the outcome he will position himself as an action-oriented proponent of education. Assuming he succeeds in truly broadening mayoral influence over the district he may declare any improvement a sign of successful leadership. Alas, as with so many issues, the public’s wealth of ignorance surrounding the LAUSD is astounding and thus it will be especially easy to spin any outcome. Here is where the councilman must do his civic duty and help to educate his constituency.
It may surprise some of you to learn that this old dead councilman has several years of first hand experience in the very district of which we speak. In this, my first article in what will be a LAUSD series, I will lay the foundation for discussion with a clarification of basic facts. In future articles I will expose the folly that currently passes as addressing problems in our schools and I will outline steps the school district (and possibly the mayor) must take to achieve any meaningful results. Lastly, I will discuss those issues the district will face that it has little control over – larger societal issues that are impacting our schools with tremendous force. I promise to pull no punches…
Fact 1: Academic performance is truly in decline (captain obvious has arrived) and we must be willing to face this reality in order to address it. Ask any seasoned teacher, academic performance has been in decline for 20 years. Common lie: tests are inaccurate measuring “cultural capital” rather than knowledge. As so many Los Angeles students are not native to this culture they do poorly. Counter: Tests check specific knowledge sets and to a lesser degree discipline/willingness to cooperate and intelligence. Let us not forget: math = universal, LAUSD math scores = unacceptable. Furthermore, those with the highest test scores of all are quite often not persons who could possibly be described as having the most “cultural capital.” Teaching to students with diverse cultures and languages is a challenge and a valid issue to discuss. Tests, however, are accurate and are proven to be a valid indicator of future academic success – big points for creativity but put more effort into improving the situation and less into creating the impression that the system is bias and designed to oppress you left-wing bastards.
Fact 2: Student attitude is the most important factor in determining student success and said attitude is formed by the student’s family, community, peers and culture. The educational institution’s influence alone is significant but secondary/limited. We can and will reap benefits by improving our schools, however, problems exist beyond the school yard. We must avoid the temptation to point the finger solely at the school system and instead we as a society need to take a good hard look in the mirror. With rare exception, even schools that are largely dysfunctional are able to maintain functional programs for the willing (magnet school, honors programs, and the like). Common lie: Students will meet the expectations of the institution, thus it is the teacher’s fault when students fail for too little was expected, too little compassion was shown, too little effort was expended, and thus the students were “written off” (this is a VERY common theme in teacher training courses and Hollywood movies alike). Counter: Nothing misleads quite like a partial truth. It is true that children meet expectations and demands, those set fourth by all in their sphere of influence. Students must be immersed in a culture that demands results - a foundation of parental, peer, and societal/cultural support in addition to that from the educational institution. To their dismay, new teachers quickly learn that the attitudes and behaviors the student enters the classroom with largely dictate his or her performance. Colossal effort is required to turn a student around who has chosen the wrong path. Teachers have upwards of 200 students at a time (Hollywood teachers have only one class – lucky them!). Parents have only one to three (or so) students to keep tabs on… hmmm who’s responsibility is this anyway? Note that seasoned teachers will attest to the fact that the once solid middle ground of average performance is disappearing. Teachers serve honors and advanced placement students in one sphere and an ever increasing number of students that are below grade level in another. Our society as a whole, is dividing more and more into the rich and the poor. The middle class is disappearing – too coincidental to be a coincidence?
Fact 3: Our teachers are the district's greatest asset. Common lie: Bad teachers abound and can not be fired. Counter: It takes heart and great dedication to become a teacher and even greater dedication to continue to serve as one. Yes there are bad teachers (at least a couple at every school to the councilman’s experience), and yes the union will stand up for them when perhaps it should not, but the exception is not the rule. The notion that the district is full of terribly underpaid, under-qualified people is completely false. Note that a bachelor’s degree, a teaching credential, and testing (CBEST at minimum) are required for a teaching position. Starting pay at the LAUSD is 42K plus benefits for ten months of work.
Fact 4: The lack of discipline and the lack of real institutional support are our teacher’s most severe and discouraging challenges. A common misconception: Teachers can simply send misbehaving students to the dean, bad apples are expelled, discipline is maintained.
Now you all know that the councilman has taken his share of shots at the conservatives, now allow him to give the other side its due. Years and years of increasingly liberal policy have severely crippled the schools ability maintain discipline and the integrity of the institution. An example: Student X is a severe discipline problem who has gone through all of the school’s usual channels. His behavior shows no improvement and so we expel him right? Not so fast, the councilman has learned from the dean of a local high school that it is incredibly difficult to remove a student. The dean actually calls the parents and asks them to remove the student and then hopes they check him into another school. If this does not work the dean institutes an “opportunity transfer” for the student. The bad news is that the dean must now accept a severe problem student from another school. Now imagine how effective your workplace would be if individuals that were not only unproductive, but actually disruptive, had the right to stay no matter what?
Number one on the agenda must be laying down the law. Rights should require responsibilities. The student has the right to attend class so long as he can conduct himself in an appropriate manner. Some of our schools are overwhelmed by unacceptable behavior and unfortunately have chosen to bend and turn a blind eye rather than to stand up. Once again too much responsibility is dumped on the teacher who receives little support from the administration (busy kissing up to parents) or the dean (overwhelmed). Amazingly, even Hollywood realizes that to turn a school around one must first clear out the bad apples and lay down the law (Stand by Me).
The district provides little meaningful support that is felt at the classroom level and the manner in which it spends its money must be changed.
Blog away dum dums