"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Giving Up on Democracy in LA Public Schools?

Taking a play from the Bloomberg playbook, LA's Mayor Villaraigosa has big plans for LA schools, plans that include turning the publicly-elected school board into a glorified committee to do surveys and handle discipline and transfers. The Mayor's share of the power to run the schools? Just 83%.

Here is clip from the LA Weekly that has an extended and excellent analysis of Villaraigosa's big roll of the dice as he makes his case in Sacramento for becoming Dictator of Los Angeles Unifed School District:

Appearing last week at the Kipp Academy of Opportunity, a charter school just north of Inglewood, Villaraigosa repeated his call for a state audit of the school district’s budget. With the city controller by his side, the mayor casually portrayed L.A. Unified as a system approaching meltdown. What he didn’t say is that many of the statistics he used to condemn the district come from President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, an education initiative that he used to criticize. No Child Left Behind designates schools as failing when they don’t achieve a specific level of improvement on standardized tests and other criteria, an event that serves as the first step toward stripping away their federal funding.

“When you have a failing school district, a bloated bureaucracy, 50 percent of the kids dropping out, 81 percent of the kids in [middle] schools that the state and the federal government have described as failing, there’s something wrong, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

Two days later, Villaraigosa traveled to the opposite end of the city, stopping off at the West Valley Playhouse to honor Herman Katz, the retired high school teacher and counselor whom the mayor portrayed as a pivotal influence. The ceremony could have been a chamber-of-commerce mixer anywhere in the Midwest, with an MC delivering corny one-liners and a man at a piano playing an instrumental version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Yet on another level, it provided a much-needed service in Los Angeles — honoring quality teachers. The eight teachers who walked across the stage will soon see their names engraved in the Walk of Hearts, a stretch of sidewalk in the San Fernando Valley that recognizes excellence in education.

Facing a theater full of teachers, Villaraigosa imparted a message that was decidedly different from the one he delivered two days earlier. He didn’t say the school district is failing. He didn’t bring up takeover at all. Instead, he described how Katz repeatedly pushed him to enroll in college, offering to pay the cost of his SAT exam and even drive him personally to take the test. Villaraigosa also revealed that when he was reunited with Katz in 1994, during his first campaign for political office, his onetime teacher had no memory of him. “He was a much bigger influence than he understood in my life,” Villaraigosa said.

Once the ceremony was over, teachers milled about the theater, clutching oversize bouquets of flowers and drinking cranberry punch. Standing near the podium was Katz, now a part-time middle school counselor, who described Villaraigosa as someone who was like so many other kids — without a father and floundering academically, yet with great potential.

Looks like Villaraigosa has found one.

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