The Spanish word “adelante” translates to “ahead” or “forward”. It is something that Monica Garcia, the incumbent District 2 representative, uses as a rallying cry at the end to many of her Tweets. Unfortunately for the students of the LAUSD, Garcia seems to be content with the satisfaction of simply moving ahead, even if the direction is unclear. In the ten years that she has spent on the LAUSD School Board, including six years as Board President, the District has moved in the wrong direction. Instead of improving the public schools under her control she brags about enacting “reforms that have created new charter schools” and was instrumental in bringing John Deasy and his $1.3 billion failed iPad initiative to the District. Failure is a predictable outcome from a politician who continues to campaign on slogans instead of well thought out goals or plans of action.
One of Garcia’s favorite slogans is “100% graduation”, which at first glance seems like an admirable aspiration for the students of the LAUSD. However, this goal does not hold up to scrutiny when one remembers that the mission of the District is to provide an education, not a piece of paper. After all, if “100% graduation” is achieved but a LAUSD diploma holds no value to colleges or employers, then no benefit has been transferred to graduates.
Much has been made of the fact that the District says that graduation rates have dramatically increased over the last couple of years. One of the ways that they have accomplished this is through “credit recovery”, which puts emphasis on the wrong measurement. What students who fail classes need is knowledge recovery. This requires mastering a subject, not just simply spending more time in a classroom. Any program that gives away credits without insisting that the student understand the subject shortchanges all students and needs to be ended immediately.
Ensuring that 100% of students stay in school long enough to actually earn a diploma or certificate of completion would be a worthy replacement goal. This would require placing an additional emphasis on early intervention and ensuring that all schools are sufficiently staffed with counselors. Giving students more access to music and art classes would help keep them more interested in going to school. Reinstating vocational programs would signal to students not on the college path that they still matter to the District. The size of the LAUSD could be used as a benefit by allowing Saturday classes and other non-traditional class times to accommodate those whose family’s economic situation requires them to work. Adult education should focus on recruiting parents so that they can be better prepared to assist their children with homework.
Another goal of Garcia that has not been completely thought out is her desire to reduce suspensions. On her LAUSD funded website she even brags about decreasing “the number of instructional days lost to suspension from 46,006 in 2010-2011 to less than 9,000 in 2014.” While it is imperative that we eliminate the “school to prison pipeline”, suspensions are not the way to measure progress. Simply leaving a disruptive student in class threatens the education of the other students in the class and does nothing to help the student learn how get along in the work world. The District must instead measure how well it is reducing incidents of disruptive behavior.
Reducing disruptive behavior requires a commitment to intervention programs. It is not enough to give lip service to programs like Restorative Justice; they must be given the funds to be thoroughly tested. Programs that are proven to work should be quickly rolled out to other school sites.
Unlike the charters, the District cannot get around its obligation to serve all children. Therefore, even for the most challenging of students, expulsion should never be an option. While the safety of other students and staff may require them to be removed from the school site, they should automatically be enrolled in an alternative program, either at a specialized school site or through supervised home study.
Given the amount of money that charters have spent to keep Garcia on the School Board, it is not surprising that they flaunt her belief “in giving greater flexibility and choice to parents, teachers and students.” Unfortunately, her actions have narrowed “choice” to simply expanding privatized charters. When parents of children with severe special education needs sued the District to make sure that the schools that served their needs remained open, Garcia voted to continue fighting these parents in court. If the District is successful these parents will have less choice in shaping their children’s education.
Improving the schools in the District requires fighting to make sure that they receive adequate funding. Charters divert these funds to unregulated private institutions that lack democratic accountability. There are also concerns that instead of ensuring that our students work together as a common community, charters are causing divisions. The NAACP is currently considering a resolution that proposes a moratorium on additional charters based in part on the allegation that “charter schools have contributed to the increased segregation rather than diverse integration of our public school system.”
A Board member who wanted to ensure the success of District run schools would have forced the charters to accept all types of students who reside in the district, not just the ones who are the easiest, and least expensive, to educate. Like Garcia, who does not include those with special education needs among “our own kids”, charters fall short when enrolling children with moderate to severe disabilities. Even when including students with high incidence disabilities – such as specific learning disabilities, charters count 10% of their population as receiving special education service. The LAUSD reports that 12.7% of their population receives these services and “that District schools have a higher number of students with moderate to severe disabilities.”
While District schools have to spend much needed funds to comply with the state education code, Garcia and her fellow Board members have looked the other way while charters have flagrantly ignored the rules. For example, a recent study by the ACLU found that “over 20 percent of all charter schools in California have enrollment policies in place that violate state and federal law”. This has resulted in students with low “academic performance”, “English learners”, those with parents or guardians who could not meet “volunteer requirements” and “undocumented students”, having diminished access to charters. They had no choice but to attend the schools that Garcia had badly mismanaged.
As the March 2017, LAUSD elections approach, there is a clear choice for the parents, teachers and taxpayers of the District. If you are happy with the status quo and appreciate meaningless slogans, you can give Monica Garcia another five and a half years on the School Board. However, if you would prefer to move ahead on a well-planned, strategic path, then I ask for your support. “Adelante!” with a purpose and direction.