This is an original guest post for MomsLA from Marcy Winograd.
I am a laid-off LAUSD teacher who lost my job as a Crenshaw High School English teacher after returning late from a congressional run and losing a dozen years of seniority. Because I am a laid-off permanent teacher, I am first in line on the substitute teaching list, which means that five days a week I am teaching in various schools from East LA to Downtown to Hollywood to West LA, working with students from 6th grade to 12th grade. I teach English and history classes with as many as 44 students, mourn dozens of shuttered school libraries, and wince at unfilled teaching positions staffed by substitutes when 1,000 laid-off teachers remain on the school district’s rehire list.
It feels like someone wants us to fail, to close up shop, to kiss good-bye the last remnants of public schools, and surrender to the forces of privatization using the fiscal crisis as an excuse to declare the death of public education. Starve the schools and then seize them.
I am one of the organizers of #Occupy LAUSD, a joint action with OccupyLA to reclaim our public schools for the 99% of students, parents, teachers and community members who support a quality public education that engages students in problem-solving and creativity, rather than endless test preparation – a hallmark of the current obsession with statistically-troubled standardized testing.
Our vision for a quality education requires more teachers, more counselors, and more classroom resources – including books and basic necessities, like paper and pencils and classroom libraries – and first aid kits. We know, from our years of teaching and from our appreciation of diversity, that our neighborhood schools can be vibrant and exciting places to learn, where students can create their own newspapers and produce plays based on great literary works, where they can explore the mysteries of plant life in student-designed vegetable gardens, where they can make connections between ancient civilizations and modern power struggles, and where they can build energy-efficient geodesic domes in geometry class.
Exciting learning is still underway – despite efforts to dull the curriculum with a barrage of tests that prepare students for more tests, which can then be used as the basis for teacher evaluation. The latest buzz word or phrase is “value-added,” meaning teachers would be evaluated based on a student’s relative score from one year to the next. Never mind that value-added test scores have a 30% margin of error, which makes them virtually useless. How many politicians running for office would pay for a poll with a 30% margin of error? That’s the difference between a resounding victory and a brutal defeat; between a highly-effective teacher and an ineffective one.
Recently, public school teachers outraged by the massive cutbacks at the Los Angeles Unified School District marched from LA City Hall to the school district’s headquarters, pitching tents in front of the school board’s office on Beaudry. When darkness fell the police confronted the teachers, demanding their tents be removed at once, only to soon face a hundred OccupyLA allies who marched almost a mile at midnight to defend the right of public school teachers to reclaim their district. The tents stayed.
We weep for the demise of public education, and for the raid on our public treasury.
Billionaire businessmen and developers, such as Eli Broad and Bill Gates, have poured billions of dollars, into corporate charter schools that use public money to privatize education. With LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on their side, they have elected a school board all too willing to give away LA’s public schools to charter companies with no record of success – only a record of cherry picking students, seizing school infrastructure, and subverting California law by giving preferential treatment in admissions to students whose parents (“founders” of the charter school) are rich or skilled in the marketplace.
At non-union charter schools, teachers can be fired at will – and have at Celerity Nascent Charter School, where two teachers were fired for defending students’ right to recite a poem about Emmet Till, a 14-year-old African American youth lynched 57 years ago for allegedly whistling at a white woman.
This fall, under LAUSD’s Public School Choice Initiative, the school board plans to give away 37 schools, 22 of which are most desired by the corporate charter companies because they are the newly constructed architecturally-sleek schools built with public bond money.
A comprehensive (2009) Center for Research on Education Outcomes study at Stanford University revealed that “17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.”
And that’s with fewer special needs students.
In fact, last year the court appointed Office of the Independent Monitor for the Modified Consent Decree for LAUSD stated that children with disabilities are “significantly underrepresented” at corporate charter schools.
“A report issued in June by the independent monitor found that special needs students are numerically underrepresented in charter schools, accounting for only 7.6 percent of the student body as opposed to 11.3 percent in district-operated schools. In addition, only 8 percent of the charter schools surveyed had “special day programs” for students with disabilities, while 87 percent of the district operated schools have such services.”- USC Annenberg Schools of Communication and Journalism. Hence, corporate charters use government funds, while discriminating with regard to whom they will educate.
Betty Olson-Jones, President of the Oakland teachers union, charges that many charters recruit the best students and push out the poor performers, increasing the schools’ test scores while leaving traditional public schools with a concentrated number of students with learning and emotional disabilities, behavior challenges and limited English language skills.
“You end up with schools that are filled with kids that are really struggling,” Olson-Jones told Associated Press.
In order for the corporate charters to dismantle our public schools, they must first show that massive numbers of students are failing to perform on standardized tests. Unfortunately, the over-emphasis on mandated standardized testing only serves to narrow the curriculum, defund the arts, and disengage students, while providing the pretext for the district to “restructure” a school, lay everyone off, and rehire only 20% of the faculty. The other “displaced” teachers must find work at another LAUSD school, as long as they still can – for LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy would like to strike the union contract clause that requires the District to rehire displaced teachers.
I have submitted a public records request to LAUSD for the number of unfilled teaching positions “temporarily” staffed by substitute teachers – and am patiently awaiting the answer. In the meantime, I have compiled a list of demands for the leadership of LAUSD:
1) In the interest of transparency and democracy, post the LAUSD budget on line for all stake holders to examine.
2) LAUSD’s enrollment figures per school, including non-union pilot schools, be made public to determine the degree to which enrollment has declined
3) LAUSD, its current budget approved in haste, justify why every other personnel (certificated, classified) allocation went down, except the allocation to the Superintendent’s office for salaries. Several items increased (supplies, contracts, leases) by almost 100- million dollars between 2010 and 2011, while students received less instructional time due to teacher furloughs.
4) LAUSD release the number and location of unfilled teacher positions in order to immediately provide those classes with a permanent teacher.
5) LAUSD use its 55-million dollar surplus, in addition to funds saved from re-evaluating other unnecessary expenditures, to open all school libraries and rehire 1200 laid off teachers, as well as other vital school personnel – including counselors, nurses, librarians, library aides, custodial and clerical staff.
6) LAUSD reduce class size, which is now routinely 40 plus in academic classes.
7) LAUSD cease giving away our public schools to corporate charters far less accountable to the public. Preference for management of 37 schools under the LAUSD Public School Choice initiative should be given to LAUSD teacher and teacher leaders with a proven track record of success in the classroom.
If you agree with any or all of these demands, join us in our struggle to save Los Angeles’s public schools. Support your neighborhood school, get involved, show up at school board meetings, make some noise, and follow us on Facebook or visit www.occupylausd.org
Marcy Winograd, a former congressional candidate, was first hired by LAUSD in 1993 to teach English and English as a Second Language. She chaired the English department at Paul Revere Middle School, worked as a district literacy coach, and taught English at Crenshaw High School.