Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.
By Carl J. Petersen
My neighborhood school holds a “Summer Transition Academy” for all incoming Freshmen to help them “understand the school’s expectations both academically and behaviorally.” This two week program is mandatory to the point where anyone who misses more than four hours “will earn a grade of FAIL and will have to repeat STA next year…[and] THERE ARE NO PERMISSIBLE/EXCUSED TARDIES OR ABSENCES.” Students who are late for school are punished with detention. It is a program that establishes itself on paper as very serious and important one for setting the proper tone for a successful high school education.
Imagine my surprise when AFTER the academy was completed I received an email informing me that all ninth grade students completed “a computer based, adaptive test that helps identify a student’s individual learning level” with questions that “are aligned to the Common Core State Standards.” Instead of receiving her first experience in front of a high school teacher, my daughter was being tested by a computer that was classifying her and providing research material for the Northwest Evaluation Association. Welcome to the new world of “reformed” education.
It has been my experience that my children are unduly stressed by the administration of high stakes tests and I, therefore, signed the appropriate “opt-out” forms last year. Had I known that testing would also be part of the summer program I would have sent my daughter with a new form. This exposes a flaw in the system. Instead of parents having to work to exempt their children from a battery of tests that they consider to be harmful, they should have to give their permission for the tests to be administered.Read more
Too many of us with children enrolled in LAUSD’s special education programs are familiar with Rosanne Walden’s experience. As a parent, she knows what services her son, Adam, needs in order to unlock his full potential. The experts at the school Adam attends agree with her assessment. Unfortunately, some faceless bureaucrat with an office in the Beaudry headquarters has formulated a policy that prevents Adam from getting these services. That person has never met Adam or witnessed the progress that he has made, but that has not prevented him from enforcing a policy that stands in the way of unlocking Adam’s full potential.
At the last LAUSD board meeting, Ms. Walden testified about her experiences with the district’s bureaucracy. She explained that Adam is on the moderate to severe range of the autism spectrum and has severe communication issues. Despite these challenges, he is on an academic track to receive a high school diploma. In fact, in middle school he was even included on the honor roll. Adam’s mother gives a lot of credit to his Inclusion Specialist, Adrienne Johnston, for helping him to achieve this success.Read more
We are taught from the time we are young that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and this is backed up by science. For example one study found that “the impact of breakfast was evidenced by the increase in positive mood and alertness, and a decrease in negative feelings.” Certainly the goal of making sure that every student has a nutritious breakfast every morning so that they “start the school day ready to learn” is a good one.
Unfortunately far too many children are growing up in poverty and may not have access to the nutritious breakfast that they require. Even in families where money is not an issue, mounting responsibilities outside the home have created a scarcity of time to prepare a nutritious breakfast. To compensate for both deficits, subsidized breakfast programs have been created to make sure that students have a chance to eat before they go to class. The LAUSD has decided that this is not enough and is rolling out a program to force all schools to serve breakfast in the classrooms.Read more
With a national push to increase the amount of time that children spend in the classroom, it would have been understandable if the LAUSD had pushed back the start of the school year into August so that they could extend the school calendar. Unfortunately, the school year now also ends earlier. All they did was shift students into the classroom at a time of the year when temperatures are soaring and increased the costs for air conditioning.Read more
Students returned to school on August 12, under the promise of a new year. While summer vacation always seemed like it was ending too soon, I do remember the excitement of a fresh start afforded by new school supplies, new teachers and new classes. Unfortunately, parents were confronted by the same old district policies and the LAUSD’s habit of ignoring laws that they find inconvenient.
In 2012, Governor Brown signed AB 1575 which reinforced “the Free School Guarantee which has been in our California constitution since 1879.” This law specifically prohibits schools from selling “gym clothing with school logo, if the specific uniform with logo is required in order to be considered properly dressed for class.” Despite the straightforward wording of this law, both of the district supervised schools that my children attend are still trying to sell gym uniforms and are taking advantage of parents who are not aware of the rules under this legislation.Read more
When I was in the Boy Scouts, the organization introduced a Handicap Awareness Merit Badge. To promote this new badge, they gave campers at the National Jamboree a chance to try sports that had been modified so that they could be played by people with physical challenges. This included playing wheelchair basketball and trying to catch a beeping baseball while blindfolded. Participating campers, by temporarily stepping into another’s shoes, were given the opportunity to gain some empathy for those who deal with these challenges on a full time basis.
Unfortunately for those on the autism spectrum, it is not as easy to replicate their experiences for those who are neurotypical. The communication difficulties that people on the spectrum experience often prevents the most severely affected from even describing how they experience the world. However, advances in technology and understanding are helping to close the gap. One result is The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida and translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell.Read more
In The Reason I Jump, Naoki Higashida invites the reader to “a nice trip through our world.” However, the only reason that he was able to explain autism through his point of view is that he had a parent and an educator who had the perseverance to get him the tools that he needed to tell his story. Unfortunately, my experience with the LAUSD has shown that the district is not always willing to provide special education students or their teachers with the tools that they need to allow students to achieve their full potential.Read more
My father was given the opportunity of a free college education and used it to rise from some of the toughest neighborhoods in the South Bronx. He appreciated the ability to raise his family in the middle-class environment of the suburbs and made a point of donating to his public college throughout his life. “They helped me become who I am,” he would tell me in a very proud voice.
I am also appreciative of my public school background. As a member of the “baby bust” generation, my schools faced budgeting difficulties that came with a suddenly dwindling school-age population. Programs that were available to my older peers were cut but I still had access to enough AP and other college-level classes to skip almost a full year of college. Music and art were considered part of a well-rounded education as they encourage the creative thinking needed to be successful in business. Administrators were smart enough to recognize the upcoming computer revolution and found the funds to equip our schools with their first computer labs. This encouraged me to teach myself to code, study computer science in college and later take on the project of transferring an entire business from a manual based system to one that ran more efficiently with computers.Read more
On Tuesday the members of the LAUSD school board will meet behind closed doors to “discuss what criteria they would like to include in the superintendent’s upcoming annual performance review.” To be clear, this is not the actual evaluation and “under no circumstances…[will] a vote be held to determine Deasy’s employment.” Instead, “board members will have the opportunity to discuss what they consider fair game for Deasy’s annual performance evaluation.”Read more
If children have a constitutional guarantee of high-quality teachers, why does the LAUSD allow institutionalized bullying to keep great teachers from the classroom?
“The Vergara ruling has presented California schools with an opportunity to rectify a catastrophe. Now it will be my responsibility and privilege to ensure that L. A. Unified students have highly competent and effective teachers in their classrooms. This guarantee must be not to some students, or most students. It must be to every single student every single day.”
- John Deasy
The LAUSD’s Policy Bulletin on Workplace Violence, Bullying and Threats (Adult-to-Adult) includes in its definition of bullying “severe...verbal act or conduct...committed by an individual...directed toward one or more adults that has or can be reasonably predicted to [have a] substantial interference with work performance.” Superintendent John Deasy was surely in violation of this policy on the morning of September 8, 2011, when he walked unannounced into a classroom at the Washington Prep High School, quickly decided that the work that had been assigned to the students was an “insult to their potential” and proceeded to engage in “a tirade of statements including that the assignment was ‘a total waste of instructional time.’” He then told the teacher, in front of her students, that she should have been “ashamed to have given them such an assignment.”Read more