Economic Engines Run on STEAM


This commentary originally ran in Living Education eMagazine

 

You know the good ole days weren’t always good

And tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

- Billy Joel

Living Education eMagazineWe are in a national funk. A bright “Morning in America” has given way to a stormy afternoon as the headlines scream that America’s best days are behind us. It seems that when we lost our position as the largest manufacturing country in 2010, we also lost our can-do spirit. It has been replaced by a fatalism that proclaims that our greatness can never be reclaimed.

When discussing our alleged demise, China is the country that is mentioned most often. However, this ignores the facts behind their success. For example, it took a Chinese population of 1.34 billion to manufacture $1.92 trillion worth of goods in 2010.  While the United States only manufactured $1.86 trillion during this same period, we did so with a population that is 23% the size of China’s. Furthermore, in 2012 the average hourly wage for a Chinese worker was $1.36 - hardly something Americans should aspire to.

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Finding the Balance of Power in the LAUSD

The failure of the MiSiS implementation, which contributed to what Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. ruled were “severe and pervasive educational deprivations,” is an example of how the established roles of the Board and the Superintendent are not being followed. The Board is supposed to set policy and hold the Superintendent accountable. In turn, the Superintendent is in charge of running the daily operations of the district based on the policies implemented by the Board. When a Board member openly admits, as in the case of the MiSiS disaster, that “we don’t supervise anyone who works for the superintendent”, the Superintendent is clearly not being held accountable.

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Confronting the LAUSD's Massive Bureaucracy

Almost every major problem facing the LAUSD can be traced back to the size of the massive bureaucracy. With more than 640,000 students spread over 720 square miles in over 900 schools, the easiest way for the district to provide oversight of the system is by establishing a one-size-fits-all policy and mandating that everyone blindly follow it. This cookie-cutter technique may work fine in a factory where every widget must come off of the line exactly like the one before it and the economies of scale help drive down costs. However, the product of our public education system should not be identical bricks in the wall but individuals capable of critically thinking.

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The Administrator Who Stole Christmas

Every Who Down in Whoville Liked Christmas a lot…

But the Grinch, Who lived just north of Whoville, Did NOT!

The grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!

Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all,

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

- Dr. Seuss

 

The Grinch in our LAUSD tale does not actually live north of Whoville, but works in the fortress located downtown at 333 So. Mt.Crumpet.jpgBeaudry Ave. He is a faceless bureaucrat who does not actually work with children. Instead he sits in his cubicle crunching numbers and reading the latest education theories written by people who he deems qualified on the subject because they have a lot of money. According to his calculations, our students are not failing because of furlough days, poorly maintained buildings or the lack of funds for music, art and vocational training. The problem is Christmas!

Then he got an idea! An awful idea!” He sent out a memo to schools far and wide: Christmas is cancelled and those found celebrating will be properly admonished. The fearful principal at Nobel Middle School quickly complied, sending word to teachers at the last minute that there was to be no celebrating before winter break. It did not matter if goodies had already been baked, supplies purchased or lesson plans completed. Policies make the oversized-district easier to manage and cannot be ignored.

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LA School Report: "Cortines Springs an Art Teacher After Months in 'Teacher Jail'"

Read the article here: http://laschoolreport.com/cortines-springs-an-art-teacher-after-months-in-teacher-jail-lausd/#more-33011

Mishandling funds is certainly a serious allegation but not one that jeopardized student safety. Why was it necessary to remove Mr. Lutz from the classroom during the investigation? Wouldn’t it have been enough to suspend him from any after school activities until they found out that there was actual wrongdoing? Why was the board not asking these question as part of their oversight of the Superintendents office?

To those who think that tenure laws give teachers too much protection, I ask how they think that these cases can continue to happen. It seems to me that Mr. Lutz did not have enough protection.

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Together We Can Change The LAUSD

It's about a disastrous year for the nation's second-largest school district, which has managed — thanks to bungling, sloth and political squabbling — to let down more than 600,000 students.

- Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times

Our students and the taxpayers cannot afford another year like the one we just had:

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Class Warfare

 

Earlier this month, Tamar Galatzan spoke to the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council and repeated her familiar refrain of the schools in her district having to hold fundraisers to buy toilet paper. She says that the reason that they have to do this is that the Board increased the threshold that a school needs to meet in order to receive Title I funding. She also maintained that “a lot of that has to do with the fact that the LAUSD has not paid much attention to middle class, non-Title I schools.”

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A Bureaucracy That Creates Policy Instead of Results

After writing about Calahan Street Elementary school last week, I received an email from Dr. Liane Jacob, who was the school’s principal until her retirement in September. From reading her correspondence, it is clear that she still has immense pride in the school that she led for 12 years and is deeply disturbed at the disruptions that the district’s interim replacement has caused. In her own words, “Calahan was a successful, warm, positive school in September. Now there is anger, bitterness, distrust, and change...Minor adjustments will occur with a change in leadership but the devastation that is currently ripping the school apart is tragic.”

In a district victimized by bullying from the top, it was refreshing to hear from someone who was free to speak her mind. Retirement has released her from control of the district so she is able to set the record straight from her new home in London. Her deep knowledge of how the school worked before her departure gives an indication of just how much the situation has deteriorated since the district has imposed their will on the school.

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She Was For It Before Being Against It

 

Last week, Tamar Galatzan told the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council that the LAUSD school board did not approve the controversial policy to automatically delete any email that was not specifically saved after one year. She maintained that it was “a staff decision. We did not approve it.” She also said that the “board doesn’t like” the idea.

While it is true that the Board has suspended the program while it holds hearings on the matter, this was only done after it voted 6-0 in September to spend $294,500 on a program that would make these deletions. When George McKenna, who abstained from the vote, asked why the one year term was chosen, the specific answer was because this was the term specified in the two-year old policy bulletin that Ms. Galatzan is now trying to distance herself from. Even if the Board did not approve the original policy, the vote for the computer program to make the deletions was a de-facto approval of the bulletin.

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Fool Me Once...

According to the LAUSD’s Director of Maintenance and Operations, “it’s inevitable” that the district will have to place a request to sell more bonds on a future ballot. He says that “we want our students and staff to be in buildings and on grounds that are in good condition, where the roofs don’t leak and the air conditioning works.” I agree, but wonder why the last construction funds that the voters approved were not used for this purpose. They were supposed to be for repair and construction but then they diverted $1.3 billion dollars to purchase iPads.

I have always used a basic set of rules to decide if I will vote for a bond measure. First I determine if the item being funded is important. Next, I ask if there is an alternative funding mechanism. Finally, I make sure that whatever is being funded will have benefits over the entire life of the bond.

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