Commentary: The problem with teacher tenure

NYT logoVia NY Times | by Frank Bruni

There are perils to the current tenure talk: that it fails to address the intense strains on many teachers; that it lays too much fault on their doorsteps, distracting people from other necessary reforms.

But the discussion is imperative, because there’s no sense in putting something as crucial as children’s education in the hands of a professional class with less accountability than others and with job protections that most Americans can only fantasize about.

We need to pay good teachers much more. We need to wrap the great ones in the highest esteem. But we also need to separate the good and the great from the bad.

Read the full story here

Commentary: Teaching and business do not mix

NYT logoVia NY Times | by David Kirp

Today’s education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.

Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.

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Commentary: To those who live with Parkinson’s, you’re not alone

Bennett Kayser LAUSD

Bennett Kayser, representing district 5 on the LAUSD board of education

By Bennett Kayser

As we learned yesterday that Robin Williams had been in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, I felt the need to step forward and share my story, and perhaps let others know they are not alone, that there is hope and that life with the disease can be joy-filled.

I was recently honored to be the guest speaker at a Parkinson’s conference in Pasadena and delivered the address, which follows below.

The sad loss of Mr. William has caused me to recommit my energies, as a member of the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, to serving children and adults, burdened with seen and unseen physical and mental challenges. I am here to help, as are others, never give up.

My speech was called, “What Parkinson’s Has Done For Me”

     About seven years ago, my right hand would occasionally tremble, and then it would stop. I attributed the shaking to cold weather and air conditioning. When the frequency of my hand’s shivers increased, I decided it was time to see a doctor. He told me that it was likely Parkinson’s Disease and referred me to a neurologist who confirmed the diagnosis.

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Opinion: Teachers unions oppose change — why?

wsj-wallstreetjournal-convertedVia Wall Street Journal | By Antonio Villaraigosa

President John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” This message has apparently been lost on some people in our teachers unions who used their recent national conventions in Los Angeles and Denver to argue against desperately needed changes in our public schools.

At a time when only one in 10 low-income children is earning a four-year college degree and two out of three jobs of the future will require one, change is needed. At a time when more than half of young people attending community college need to retake high-school classes because the education they received was not rigorous enough, change is needed. At a time when American 15-year-olds trail their counterparts in 30 countries in math, 23 in science and 20 in reading, change is needed.

For some time now, teachers, elected officials, community, business and nonprofit organizations have advanced bold changes in education. America is raising standards, investing in teachers, rewriting curriculum, bringing technology into the classroom and exploring new learning models like public charter schools that are getting results in higher graduation and college-enrollment rates.

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Commentary: When educational options reverse fate of location

New OCRcom logo final 3

Via OC Register | by Jalen Rose

Many young people in America today face a harsh reality. Their fate in life is determined by their ZIP code. For an overwhelming number of African Americans and other minorities, having the wrong ZIP code keeps you from a high school diploma, a college degree, and a future that offers you opportunities that match your talents.

That’s wrong. And it’s entirely avoidable.

We are not assigned to certain grocery stores or restaurants based on our ZIP codes, which is why it makes no sense that between K-12, children are required to attend a school solely based on where they live.

The fact of the matter is that the high school graduation rate for African American males is just 52 percent – 26 percentage points below the national average of their white counterparts. In other words, more than half of all African American children in America will never have the basic skills to compete in the 21st century workforce. Odds are many of those children will turn to crime, violence or drugs, causing problems for every single American who pays taxes or simply seeks to live in a society that allows people to realize their full potential.

There is an obvious solution at hand to deal with this chronic crisis – educational choice.

Read the full story here

Commentary: Vergara decision on tenure — and our union

Teacher tenure LAUSD Vergara

Cartoon by David Granlund

By Ron Taw

I came to education out of the business world. Before entering the classroom, I was making my way up the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 company. But then, over 15 years ago, I realized that I wanted a job where “success and advancement” would mean changing more lives, not just earning more money.

That’s why I came into teaching, and why I stay. So as someone who deeply loves his job and his students, I am disappointed in the reactionary response of many of my colleagues to the ruling in Vergara v. California, in which California’s teacher tenure laws were ruled unconstitutional.

Rather than an attack on teachers, Vergara has given us an opportunity to completely rethink the systems of teacher tenure, support, evaluations and lay-offs. When I received tenure, it was the result of an arbitrary and opaque process, divorced from my work in the classroom helping students. At the moment, tenure remains the only official milestone for most teachers’ careers. So rather than an empty stamp, we want tenure to be meaningful, impactful, and part of a career-long system of professional development.

This ruling presents a rare opportunity for actual classroom educators to own our profession and lead the nation in creating an innovative, student-focused and teacher-driven system for how we hire, evaluate and retain educators.

The impending wave of retirements and decline in new teacher credentials being issued means we have to do something new to ensure that we are not facing understaffed classrooms in the coming years. Changing tenure is not the silver bullet, but it can be a key part of the solution.

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Letter to Editor: Parent finds Zimmer comments ‘offensive’

letters to the editorEditor’s Note: This letter, by Michael Schlesinger, an LAUSD parent, is in response to an article published May 30, entitled, Zimmer: LAUSD ‘culture war’ over co-locations on the west side.”


I’ve never been accused of racism before, so I was surprised to read board member Steve Zimmer’s comments last week, pitting neighbors against each other in an alleged “culture war.”

 

I know I speak for thousands of Westside parents when I say that I don’t have “a lot of fear about public schools,” as Zimmer suggested. In fact, I decided to send all three of my children to public schools – two to a traditional public school and the other to a charter public school – because I believe deeply in public education.

 

I also believe there’s a value in choosing a school that will provide a child with the type of education that will best enable him or her to thrive academically, culturally and personally. For some students, that might be a highly structured environment, while others might gain the most from project-based learning. For my eldest son, I chose New West Charter because I believed it would provide him with the type of social and emotional support he needed to thrive, which it has.

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Commentary: What I learned in school this year

Teachers with students LAUSDWith this essay, Ellie Herman concludes her year in the classroom — and sharing her observations and insights with LA School Report.


This year, I had the remarkable experience of taking the academic year off to visit high schools across the socioeconomic spectrum in L.A. in an attempt to understand better what we mean when we talk about education.

As the school year ends, here are the five biggest things I’ve learned:

1. A great teacher serves the needs of the community—not some pre-packed top-down agenda.

It’s axiomatic these days that “all effective instruction looks alike.” That may be true. But so-called “effective” teaching, or teaching whose primary intent is to produce test score growth, does not necessarily meet the needs of all students. The great teachers I’ve seen first listen to the students in front of them and then try to meet those needs, often in a variety of ways and in different styles. Some teachers are wildly entertaining and charismatic; others rely on clear, consistent routines. Some teach from the traditional canon; others teach from high-interest pieces. What all of these teachers have in common, though, is a deep understanding of the needs of the students in front of them and a willingness to balance high standards with the reality of meeting those needs.

2. Teaching in a high-poverty community is a far more complex and difficult job than teaching in a more affluent community—and should be at a higher pay scale.

I’m not saying that teaching is ever easy. But teachers in affluent or middle-class communities are primarily dealing with students’ academic needs. In high-poverty communities, first of all, students are often coming in with skills so far below grade level that the standards-based reading expected of them is inaccessible. To get students closer to grade level, teachers need to learn a variety of reading intervention tactics, along with strategies for working with English learners. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Students often have multiple symptoms of trauma related to poverty including hunger, chaotic living situations, abuse and violence. Teachers in high-poverty communities need to become experts in dealing with all of these issues. Their pay should reflect the higher complexity of their job.

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Commentary: It’s not the outsiders to blame, it’s the system

System prevents us from listening to teachers Larry Sand Commentary LAUSDThis commentary is written in response to Ellie Herman’s commentary last week, asking why policy makers don’t listen more to teachers.

By Larry Sand

Why aren’t we listening? Well, in fact we are. There are organizations whose members include current and former teachers. Teach Plus, Educators 4 Excellence and StudentsFirst take positions on education policy issues, exchange ideas with the likes of LAUSD honcho John Deasy and pile into Sacramento attempting to affect legislation.

Are they as effective as they should be? No. But blaming the likes of Eli Broad, Bill Gates and Wendy Kopp who have “little or no experience in the field” is way off target.

The real villains are much closer to home: the sclerotic, union-dominated state education code, school boards which are, all too often in the unions’ thrall, and strangulating industrial-style union contracts. Hence, there is realistically only so much that can be accomplished by straight-jacketed teachers in California and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Ms. Herman indulges in shibboleths to make her case. For example, she bangs on the small class-size drum, taking Stanford’s Eric Hanushek to the woodshed because he “never spent even a single day facing down a classroom of squirmy, perspiring, cranky, hormonal children.”

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Commentary: Why aren’t we listening to our teachers?

Listening to our teachers LAUSDI’m fed up with the inefficiency of the judicial system! I’m going to become a judge. I may not be a lawyer, but I’ve been a law-abiding citizen all my life, I mean, how hard could it be? I have 20 years of business experience in the TV industry. When I blow into the courtroom demanding accountability, I am going to shake things up! Who needs legal experience when you understand the bottom line?

Wait—no. I’m going to be Surgeon General. Sure, I’m not a doctor, but I’ve seen a million of them! You should have seen the pair of “specialists” who nearly killed my grandma. It’s time for me to roll up my sleeves and set some standards. Patients first, dammit!

No, you know what? I think I’m going to be a Rear Admiral in the Navy. I grew up right near Lake Michigan, a large body of water, and with my business experience . . .

Okay, all of these ideas are preposterous. Common sense and business savvy are no substitute for a lifetime of training and expertise. What’s crazy, though, is that in education, the opposite view prevails. I cannot think of another profession in which major policies are set by people with little or no experience in the field.

Look at who’s driving education policy these days: Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Wendy Kopp. None of them has ever been a teacher. Three years ago, I participated in a roundtable discussion led by one of the U.S. Department of Education’s Deputy Secretaries. His years in the classroom? Same as everybody else high up in the DOE: zero. He had an extensive background in . . . improv theater. That was gonna be your next guess, right?

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Commentary: UTLA needs online voting for a wider union voice

online votingBy Linda Yaron

A vote for online voting next month might be the most important decision UTLA members make as a union. It has the potential to systemically increase teacher participation at a foundational level of our union and make it far easier for all members to have a voice.

As a 10-year teacher in LAUSD, I’ve seen, and have experienced, various levels of participation in the union. Though some teachers are engaged in union processes, many are not. Teacher and online voting proponent Marisa Crabtree states, “The majority of the union is disengaged from the voting process.  This is disconcerting when the union leadership is directly responsible for decisions that directly affect our workplace.”

At the very basic level, voting itself can be a transformative tool to leverage the union as a vehicle to improve student learning and teaching conditions.  Yet, in the 2011 leadership elections, only about 10,000 teachers voted — less than a third of our members.  In both rounds of voting in this year’s elections, barely a quarter of our members cast ballots as they elected Alex Caputo-Pearl the next president.

If we are to truly have a union that represents the voices and needs of teachers and the students we teach, we must both examine the causes of low participation and take steps to make it easier for our busy and overworked teachers to have a voice. The first step is to make it easier for teachers to vote.

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Commentary: Another test, but what is it, exactly?

common core standardsIn a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, “When the Circus Descends,” David Brooks derided opponents of Common Core Standards, implying that they were ideologues on the far left and far right making “hysterical claims and fevered accusations.” But as I visit classrooms across the city talking to teachers about the Common Core, I don’t hear any hysterical claims or fevered accusations. I do hear one deep concern:

That the test will be a disaster.

Here’s the thing: I haven’t talked to anybody—anybody!—who objects to the actual Common Cores Standards. The Standards are incredibly vague; basically, they value the processes of analytical reasoning, reading, writing, speaking and listening. In other words, the Standards are like the education version of Peace, Love and Understanding. Who could possibly object?

The problem is that we are about to test the standards—and people do not like the tests. The teachers on the East Coast who are protesting, the children fleeing classrooms in tears, the parents forming an “Opt Out” movement are not a bunch of ideological clowns. They are angry because this new Common Core test, which has been implemented sight unseen by almost any teacher or principal, may have enormous power over their future without any serious public discussion. What are these tests, exactly? Do they even measure the standards?

Here in California, where the launch has been much slower, teachers across Los Angeles are administering a field test version of the Common Core test this month. There are two versions being rolled out nationally — here, it’s the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test.

This morning, I took the online practice test for 11th grade English. Here’s a breakdown of what it is, what it isn’t and whether it measures the standards:

First, it’s not only multiple choice but it does have some multiple-choice elements. As on the California State Tests or the Verbal SAT, students are required to read short passages and answer multiple-choice comprehension questions. The content tends to be grounded in practical real-world concerns: whether a city should fund public art, whether teenagers should have a curfew, whether water should be fluoridated.

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LA Times endorses McKenna for District 1 board seat

Los Angeles Times logoVia Los Angeles Times | By the editorial board

The seven candidates for the District 1 seat on the Los Angeles Unified School Board include several teachers, a reality-show contestant and a former member of the board. The one who stands out, though, is former principal and district administrator George McKenna.

In 1985, years before “school reform” became a buzz phrase, McKenna was profiled in People magazine for refusing to accept the high truancy, campus crime and terrible academic performance at George Washington Preparatory High School in Westmont, where he was principal. He enlisted help to clean up the rundown, low-performing school physically, socially and academically. Students signed behavior contracts, teachers were required to submit lesson plans and assign daily homework, and truancy plummeted. A year later, his efforts became the subject of a made-for-TV movie.

Though there are several qualified candidates on the ballot to replace longtime board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who died in December, McKenna strikes us as the one who would put the needs of District 1′s largely low-income and minority students above any particular ideology or political alliance. The victor in this election will serve out the last year of LaMotte’s term, which ends in mid-2015.

Read the full endorsement here.

 

 

 

Analysis: Just what does Caputo-Pearl’s first-round victory mean?

Caputo-Pearl at the podium; Fletcher, on the right

Caputo-Pearl at the podium; Fletcher, on the right

The first round of the UTLA elections produced two stunning results.

One: For the first time in recent memory, a political faction within the union — Union Power – has gained near total control of the union. In a field of 10 candidates for president, Alex Caputo-Pearl out-polled his nearest competitor, incumbent Warren Fletcher, by a 2-to-1 margin — a runoff is now underway — and Union Power candidates won outright nearly every other union leadership position.

Two: Not that many people cared. In a turning-point election, barely a quarter of UTLA’s 31,000 members bothered to vote.

The combination is a real head scratcher because it makes entirely ambiguous just what members were saying if they were saying anything at all. Even Fletcher bowed to the inevitable, announcing he would no longer actively campaign for another term.

On the one hand, the true believers lined up behind a change agent and his deep bench of compatriots with a lengthy platform that included a focus on raises and the end of teacher jails.

On the other, a silent majority declared they have enough on their hands, with crowded classrooms, curriculum changes and the challenge of providing the best for kids with the least.

It’s as if most teachers, feeling beaten down and demoralized over so many years, considered the options — more of the same under Fletcher or new activism under Union Power — and decided, “Yeah, whatever.”

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Commentary: Best gift of more money is gift of more time

images-2Under the new Local Control Funding Formula, LA Unified schools in underserved communities will be given $837 million to meet the needs of students in poverty, English learners and children in foster care. It’s not yet clear exactly how that money will be allocated, and it’s still less than what we’ve thrown at iPads. But it’s desperately needed.

As a teacher who worked in a high-poverty high school and is now spending a year observing classrooms across the socioeconomic spectrum in L.A., here’s how that funding could help:

Giving teachers time to plan multi-level lessons for each class.

One of the biggest differences I’ve seen between classrooms in affluent communities and in high-poverty communities is the range of skill levels. In affluent communities, students generally read at or near grade level and have a history of positive or neutral experience with school, as well as at least one parent at home always available for help.

In high-poverty communities, in any given class, you’ll probably have a handful of kids who fit that description and who need and deserve all the challenge and stimulation of a fast-paced class to compete for spaces at top colleges alongside more affluent students.

But right next to them, you’ll have kids who are still learning English.  Those kids need “scaffolded” lessons with shortened readings; they also need writing assignments with fill-in-the-blanks support so that they can learn academic phrasing.

Right next to them, you’ll have kids with serious behavior issues, sometimes from growing up in multiple foster homes.  All over the classroom you’ll have kids who, in the absence of libraries, bookstores or books at home, have never read a book. And you’ll have several empty seats because of the kids who, despite your pleas and phone calls home, are truant for large chunks of time.

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Commentary: Mayor Garcetti’s elephant in the room

Via KPCC

Via KPCC

In his first State of the City speech, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti laid out a plan to boost job creation, safety and the city’s ability to compete in a global economy.

Noticeably absent, however, was any mention of the vast education challenges facing the city.

The Mayor’s vision of Los Angeles was notable for its optimism and his passion. And the half-hour speech (transcript here) was heavy on specifics — including a focus on neighborhood improvements, DWP rates and carpool lanes. He cited how he “pushed and prodded” the feds to open a lane on the 405 earlier than expected, and he pledged to “pave more streets and fix more sidewalks.”

But wait, is he talking . . . potholes?

I couldn’t help but flash back to my home town, Chicago, where the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, ran the city with an iron fist for more than 20 years in the 60s and 70s. Boss Daley knew how to fill a pothole, but sadly, at the same time he presided over a disastrous decline in the city’s pubic education system.

Mayor Garcetti’s goal, of “building a better city,” while admirable, is ultimately not achievable without addressing the elephant in the room — education — and his hands-off approach is bad for students, parents and ultimately the economy. The recent departure of Thelma Melendez, who carried the title of education deputy but in practice was almost invisible makes matters worse. And, so far, he hasn’t named a replacement.

Granted, the mayor’s office in Los Angeles officially exerts very little control over the vast LA Unified School District, run by an often fractured seven-member elected board. But that didn’t stop Garcetti’s predecessors from using the bully pulpit to try and enhance the educational opportunities for city students. The outgoing Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who considered improving public education his mission, devoted a large portion of his 2013 State of the City address to education and saw it as vitally linked to job-growth and the economy.

The district is slowly improving, but challenges like high dropout rates and low student achievement are so profound that it’s hard to argue that all hands should not be on deck, especially those of the mayor.

And the excuse of not having mayoral control? Well, the last time I looked, the mayor doesn’t have much influence on the 405 federal highway project, either.

Commentary: An extraordinary effort for extraordinary need

Ben Austin

Ben Austin

LAUSD School Board Member Steve Zimmer’s recent commentary “Standing with Beatriz” hit the nail on the head on one key issue: for our children, the stakes are high.

Let me acknowledge first that Mr. Zimmer is a good person who is doing what he feels is best for the children of LAUSD. On this issue, however, we have a principled disagreement about what that is.

Mr. Zimmer portrays himself as a grassroots underdog taking on a phalanx of nefarious billionaires who aim to “privatize” public education. What he fails to mention, is that he was also supported by over one million dollars in campaign contributions from the biggest and most powerful special interest group in the state. That fact doesn’t make him right or wrong, but it does make him part of the system. It isn’t a coincidence that the same adult special interests that bankrolled his campaign are now bankrolling the opposition to Vergara.

Mr. Zimmer wrote about the “Vergara fiction,” that the status quo is broken. But this harsh reality is unfortunately not fiction for the children who lose their talented, dedicated and loving teachers to layoffs each year just because they were hired last. And it’s not fiction for the children who have been molested and for those who were literally forced to eat semen by a teacher who was paid $40,000 to retire, with full benefits!

Vergara shifts the focus from the interests of adults to where it should have been all along: children.

Putting children first must be the “north star” by which all decisions are made in our public education system. Ninety one percent of likely California voters support a children-first agenda, but far too often the interests of powerful adults trump the interests of children.

This is not a coincidence.

It’s because kids don’t have a political action committee, and kids don’t have lobbyists.

Beatriz Vergara and the millions of children attending California public schools can’t vote.

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Commentary: The years when learning matters the most

imagesThe architects are huddled in an intense meeting. Problems have arisen: the supports for the tower appear insufficient, causing balance issues. Should they proceed with the plans they’ve envisioned or make modifications for a less ambitious approach?

The leader is unequivocal: the vision will be executed. His team shrugs, then proceeds in accordance with the original plans. There will be no compromise on the dream.

Moments later, the tower of wooden blocks teeters, then comes crashing down on their heads. “I told you so,” yells one girl accusingly. But there’s no time for argument; they need to start over. They decide what went wrong and begin again, more carefully this time. It’s clear that the base needs to be broader and the blocks need to be stacked more carefully, with less airspace in between.

It’s 9 am in the Woodpecker Room at the Harry Pregerson Day Care Center and these three year olds are hard at work. In the last five minutes, they’ve learned about gravity and balance, set a goal, collaborated, discussed expectations, learned from failure and demonstrated persistence.

Throughout, their teacher asks them gentle questions, coaching them to analyze the situation and understand what might have gone wrong. Are they sure they need to build their structure on top of a wagon? If it didn’t have to roll across the room, wouldn’t that make the project easier? Or is motion important for their vision? Are everyone’s ideas being heard?

I’m sitting in a corner, blown away by the amount of learning that’s going on here every minute. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent time with a group of toddlers, and I’ve forgotten how eagerly and relentlessly they learn. Every waking moment, these toddlers are negotiating with each other and with themselves as they come to find words for their emotions and learn to control their bodies.

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Analysis: Vergara approaching time for Treu judgement

Judge Rolf Treu

Judge Rolf Treu

Closing arguments are scheduled for tomorrow in Vergara v California. Lawyers for the nine public school children who are the plaintiffs will speak from 10 to noon, followed by their defense counterparts, from 1:30 to 3:30.

The plaintiffs have the option to get in a last word after that, but, really, is there much new to say by now?

The positions are clear. For two months, the opposing sides have put on AM/FM cases as they try to persuade Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu of their superior wisdom.

Plaintiffs have taken a systemic approach, using the experiences of nine students as a motif for showing why California needs to legislate a more efficient way to get ineffective teachers out of the classroom. The fact that one child’s education could be compromised means all children are at risk.

No, say the defendants — the state, with the California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers Association, as “intervenors.” Their case has been more granular. These kids might have had problems with their teachers, but is that enough to blow up state laws that offer employment protections for public school teachers, whose effectiveness in the classroom is dependent on so many factors outside of it?

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Commentary: Listen adults, it’s time for a student on the board

Cindy FigueroaDo you know how many students attended the LAUSD school board meetings last month? In my circle of friends, you’d be lucky if a single person could name a school board member or tell you what the school board does.

As an active LAUSD student who cares about my community, I wonder how the second-largest district in the nation can make decisions about the futures of thousands of students without hearing our perspective on issues that matter. Most importantly, aren’t we the ones most affected by decisions on issues like the Common Core curriculum, school spending, iPads and new schools?

How can a school district that prides itself on leadership and preparing future citizens not have a seat for a student to exercise that leadership on the District level?

California Education Code states that governing boards have student representation. Also, students have the right to petition the board for that student representative to have an advisory vote if they collect more than 500 signatures.

LAUSD would not be alone in choosing a student representative. Over 200 districts in California have a student sitting on their schools board, including Oakland and San Francisco. There are hundreds more throughout the United States that have given students a seat at the table. Even our own State Board of Education has a high school student who participates on its board.

It’s time for LAUSD to come around.

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