Leaving Finland

Lake Jyvasjarvi I have never lived anywhere for 5 months other than Jyvaskyla, Finland. As my Fulbright journey concludes, there is so much to still digest. It will take months, if not years, to truly assimilate all the learning. Before I left Southern California, I wrote about the what I would miss the most from home and what I  looked forward to experiencing in Finland. It is safe to say I met my goals. Top 7 Goals 1. Discussing Education Helsinki Workshop Through professional development programs, Fulbright Finland connected teachers with scholars and researchers, for the purpose of putting inquisitive minds together. The Making Democracies Resilient to Modern Threats seminar provided participants with fascinating research and presentations. 2. Nordic Model Bus station in Espoo What does an efficient and earnest country look like?  It looks like Finland. Yes, people pay higher taxes, but get so much in return. I for one appreciated the well-maintained ro

Build a School, Close a Prison

Mark Twain knew 100 years ago what we fail to understand today. In 1900 he said,
Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It's like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won't fatten the dog.
It is not a new fact that strongly investing is public schools helps eliminate the need for an increase in prisons. Educators stay abreast of important educational studies, and the Schools to Prison pipeline theory has only been one in a string of such studies that shows the strong ties between a solid education and a decrease in crime-filled futures. But just building new schools is not enough to eliminate the risks for disenfranchised youths and communities. It means also investing in your human capital, and valuing an educated populace that may one day grow up and think differently than you.

Much has been said about the LAUSD proposal to privatize new public schools by handing them over to charter organizations for management. Every politician, community leader, union leader, business leader, philanthropist, grassroots/astroturf parent organization, newspaper and blogger has an opinion on what should be done, and why.

Has anyone asked the teachers?

Not the union. The teachers.

The teachers who have chosen teaching as a career, the lifers.

We are the ones who will implement what all of you choose for us. We are the ones who will experience the success or failure of whoever you assign to "manage" us. We will witness first hand the effects these decisions will have on our young, vulnerable students, who have no voice of their own. Shouldn't we be asked what we think will work?

Should the Flores-Aguilar Privatization Motion Be Approved?

No. There is already a process in place, and a state law to enforce it, for charter schools to open and operate within the LA Unified School District. In fact, LAUSD operates over 140 charter schools, with new applications being submitted on a regular basis. This motion simply gives charter organizations new state of the art physical plants to add to their list of clear advantages they hold over their public school brethren.

Will All Students Be Guaranteed Access to New Schools if Operated by Charters?
Maybe. The new language in the proposition states, "Resolved further, That the student composition at each identified newly built school must be reflective of the student composition at the schools it is intended to relieve (in terms of demographics, including but not limited to race/ethnicity, gender, socio- economic status, English Language Learners, Standard English Learners, Special Education, foster care placement) and that there are mechanisms in place to review enrollment of those students at yearly intervals to ensure their retention and that
the overall composition at the schools continues to reflect the overall school

But that's what charter law was supposed to require in the first place:
...the school will achieve a racial and ethnic
balance among its pupils that is reflective of the general
population residing within the territorial jurisdiction of the school
district to which the charter petition is submitted...
and it is a well known fact that charter schools DO NOT teach the same percentage of special needs and English Learners as their public school counterparts. A million reasons are given for this, but the fact is that public schools like LA Academy constantly readmit students who were removed from charters due to strong parental pressure, or threat of non-promotion. Contrary to popular opinion, this is the first and foremost reason why career teachers are against this motion, and were against the massive teacher layoffs that are greatly affecting the academic and emotional states of our students at this very moment.

Should Charter Schools Be Allowed to Exist Given Their Unfair Advantages?
Yes. Because its not about the adults; its about the students. Many individual charter schools have done a tremendous job of educating students and are run by ethical people with the same goals and motivations as public school career teachers. The whole purpose of the charter school concept is to remove the layers of bureaucracy imposed by individual districts, and allow a certain innovative idea or program to be administered without interference of outside forces. Schools that have done this, guided by ethics, have achieved success, and parents should have the choice of sending their child to that school.

Unfortunately, many people in the public (guided by slanted articles and editorials such as those by Jason Song in the LA Times) believe that ALL charters are run this way and that they are the antithesis to the worst we have seen from LAUSD. There have been too many disturbing events at charters, namely financial mismanagement, gross labor practices, and a move toward bare-bones, test-prep curriculum to declare at such an early stage that charters are the answer to public ed problems.

Charters should have a seat at the table, not run the restaurant.

What Should Be Done About Public Schools, Given That They Are In Need of Assistance?

1. First and foremost, don't give up on public schools! We need support, both financial and moral, to keep the American ideal of public ed for all alive. Remember, most Americans were educated at a public school. And if you really think hard, you most likely had a teacher that made a difference in your life.

2. Make education funding a priority. Throwing money at the problem isn't a solution in and of itself, but it is fundamental. With adequate funding, you can keep class sizes low, provide more than the bare-bones curriculum, parenting classes, counseling, nutritious food, up to date technology, security forces where they are needed, and quality professional development for teachers.

3. Reduce the layers of bureaucracy that hinder schools, and allow the teacher experts (perhaps a committee of National Board Certified Teachers and outstanding educators) to develop the curriculum at their school sites. This is our field. This is what we do. This is how we know that the Twilight series is the hottest young adult literature in recent years, but that many kids prefer the Mortal Instruments series instead.

4. Require all school site administrators and coaches to teach one class per year. This will remind them of the ever-changing face of education today. The challenges we face today are not nearly the same as those of 5, 10, 20 years ago.

5. Require new teachers to be evenly assigned throughout the district, not relegated to the most challenging schools, which tend to be in the inner-city.

6. Have accountability measures for ALL members of the educational system. For example, when Yolie Flores-Aguilar declared she had failed to do the job she was elected to do and therefore wanted to hand over governance to the charters, there was no consequence to her admission of failure. Imagine if a teacher stated, "I have tried and tried to improve student performance but have been hindered by my administrator, the parents, and unmotivated students. Therefore, my solution to this problem is that my class should be taught by my neighbor at a charter school." This teacher would be out of a job, right? So should Yolie.

When Local District Superintendents allow child molesters to return to work and say they didn't get the memo, they should be fired. Not housed at the district offices until public furor passes, but fired.

When Principals prefer to be popular with teachers/parents/cronies instead of doing truly right by the kids, they should face discipline and/or be stripped of their principalship.

When teachers don't cut it, Principals should never allow them to become tenured to avoid an even lengthier dismissal process in the future.

Teachers can think of more solutions, but who's asking?


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