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

A Teacher's Opinion on the Governor's Proposals

photo by Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / January 7, 2010

The new year ushered in even more rapid change in California education, with Governor Schwarzenegger passing new legislation that allows parents to transfer their children from low to high performing schools. It also authorizes a parent trigger at 75 schools statewide, that will begin the process for a change in administration, or possible transfer of management to outside entities, like charter management organizations.

The Governor also reintroduced proposed legislation on revising the criteria to fire teachers, to make it easier to do so.


It seems the Governor's focus is on making it easier for families to flee the public school system. This is, basically, a vote of no-confidence in public ed. Instead of focusing efforts on how to improve the public schools that exist now, the efforts are geared to how best to convert schools to charters, which have not been proven to be more effective instruments of instruction for California's students.

Is public education dead? Has it truly been a failure?

The focus continues to be on the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself. Allowing for a parent trigger, revising the criteria for firing teachers WILL NOT improve public education. In fact, it will create an even wider chasm between higher performing and lower performing schools.

Take Bethune Middle school, for instance. This was the site of the Governors photo op as he signed the legislation allowing for triggers and transfers. The article written by Howard Blume in the L.A. Times stated:

The signing ceremony occurred at Bethune Middle School in Florence, which officials cited as successfully serving the low-income minority students who stand to benefit most from the new laws

Bethune Middle, as well as many other schools in South Central have suffered from decades of neglect, not just from LAUSD, but from society in general. Staffing at this schools has been haphazard, with extremely high teacher turnover rates, and administrators who do a short stint on their way to bigger and better places. How do I know this? I worked there for 12 years, as the new teacher adviser. It also seems to be an elephant dying ground for wayward teachers who know they can fly under the radar with little to no supervision from transient administrators and Local District staff. This is, for example, the part of town that allowed Steve Rooney to molest children, brandish firearms at parents, and instead of firing him, promoted him to Assistant Principal.

I have many fond memories of Bethune. But some are not so fond. Like...

*being punched in the chest
*car scratched 6 times, included twice on the first day of bringing my brand new car to work
*theft of cell phone
*being cursed at profanely countless of times
*being told by a higher-up that I should be grateful for sexual harassment because when I get older it won't happen as much
*consoling a new, pregnant teacher who was kicked in the stomach during a fight

Bethune has a core staff that has fought relentlessly in the face of abandonment, but to say it has "successfully served low-income students" is a stretch of the imagination. With an API of 607, it barely escaped being a focus school by a hair, and had the Superintendent not made a final revision of the criteria, it would have been on the list of schools available for takeover. So why was it chosen as the location for the photo-op? Let's just say, in my opinion, leadership at the school is willing to do anything to play along with the politics du jour. A good many administrators are in prime Beaudry positions because they have followed edicts unquestioningly, whether they were good for students or not. Bethune is rewarded for all this with a fun visit from the Governor.

The photo-op concerns me because children are being used as pawns in this movement to transfer public schools to private entities. The children in the photo don't know what they are clapping for. This legislation means that there will be a further segregation at Bethune, where families that can flee will, and those that can't will remain.

Families in LAUSD already have many choices in schools:

Schools for Advanced Studies
Open Enrollment
Permits Without Transportation
No Child Left Behind Public School Choice
Charter Schools

Schwarzenegger's new legislation will now allow them to transfer to other districts. But what about the homebound parent with diabetes? The single mother working two jobs who will be fired if she misses work? The troubled parent with an addiction whose last concern is her child's education? The mother in a homeless shelter who is trying to escape domestic violence? Will that person be able to drive their child to Birmingham High School, a 60 mile round-trip from South Central? No.

What Bethune Middle and other high-priority schools need is not new protocols that will "set the students free". The students are already free, for all intents and purposes. How about legislation that reflects a true investment in the inner-city, like:

*incentives for teachers to commit to such a school for a minimum of five years
*recruitment of top administrators to high priority schools
*a web of social services that mitigate the effects of poverty, family dysfunction, and gangs
*parent education classes that start at birth for low-income neighborhoods
*a reduction in class size to 20:1 from kindergarten to 12th grade
*counselor positions at 200:1 maximum
*security protection by well-trained personnel until schools such as these are in control by the adults, not the student

A twitter reader commented to me, "A nearly impossible process to fire teachers for even the most blatant offenses casts a dark cloud over the credibility of all." I responded, "so does a nonstop, concerted effort by LA Times, school board, politicos, and corporations to besmirch the teaching profession." The fixation on firing teachers and the portrayal of the charter school movement of being one of unions being reluctant to lose control completely misses the mark. The problem isn't the teachers. It is about priorities. When you are 47th in the U.S. in pupil spending, education is not a priority.

I guess what is frustrating is that again, no one is bothering to ask the professionals what should be done to fix the system. Decisions are being made by everyone BUT the teachers. Would people want medical advice from politicians and philanthropists instead of doctors? No. But when you are working hard to de-professionalize the teaching profession, you portray teachers as incompetent, greedy, power-hungry individuals who care more about their paycheck than their students.
As a history teacher, I cannot help but make comparisons to the dehumanization of Jews during Nazi Germany.

As for LAAMS, this first week of our spring semester was spent working with the many new teachers who have BARELY ARRIVED on our campus due to red tape and politics imposed on us by the Personnel office. The students, understandably angry and acting out at having yet ANOTHER teacher (for some, as many as 5 teachers in 4 months) come to their classroom, have been giving the newbies a run for their money. Massive support has been needed to make sure these new teachers don't crash and burn. Let me add that to the list of legislation needed from the governor.


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