The teachers’ strike this last week was a victory for public education. Of course, there were important pay issues at hand, but the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) put other issues front and center in this fight.
The most fundamental issue was how they and others saw public education versus the business model that has been emerging with charters school and other privatization strategies at the heart of LAUSD efforts.
When I served on the Board of Ed in the LAUSD, two terms/eight years, the board hired two superintendents. The one already in place was from Dade County, Florida, the two I helped hire were “home-grown,” but all three were educators. Since then the educator-as-the-superintendent trend has for the most part continued. but with exceptions.
At one point, the district hired a military general as its superintendent because the belief was that he was an expert in logistics and could efficiently move large numbers of bodies and equipment around. Then in Los Angeles, the education environment became so political that a seasoned politician, ex-Colorado Governor Roy Romer, was hired as superintendent.
Now, after a failed attempt by past Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to take over the school district, like in New York and Chicago, where the mayors run their school districts, a belief that the district should be run like a corporation or business has emerged.
This emergence is co-joined with the charter schools’ movement and other privatization battles on the horizon for public education (i.e. school vouchers). The current superintendent, Austin Beutner, is an investment banker, businessman, a short-lived publisher of The Los Angeles Times, and has no education background. Beutner was hired by the recent charter-centric school board, who briefly had a majority before Ref Rodriguez was indicted and had to resign (that seat is currently open with a special election scheduled for the spring, vote Goldberg!).
A basic underpinning for this business model is standardized testing. It leans heavily on these test scores to determine the success or failure of the students and their teachers. In this model, testing is viewed as the bottom line, with test scores the end result rather than a means to an end and valued diagnostic tool. The goal seems to be rote regurgitation rather than creative, thoughtful and critical thinking.
The business model makes for better drone bees to just make the honey and not ask the questions that go beyond the when and where and expand the thinking to how and why!
Public education should be a well-rounded liberal arts education that embraces the arts and physical education, along with language acquisition, math and science, as an interactive whole. UTLA’s view takes it even further with schools being at the center of community life. They want the school nurses back, the school libraries staffed, and social services, with some the purview of other government entities, to be housed at “community schools.”
Since all the issues in our communities and in our families come through the public schools’ doors, it makes sense to make schools the heart of our communities.
Lastly, the holistic and community-centered view of public education, rather than the privatization of public education, is at the heart of our American democracy. The belief was that if the country was to be a democracy, with every citizen having the right to vote, we should have an educated electorate.
Our democracy was to be the great equalizer where no matter your station in life, you could advance yourself with hard work and an education made available to the general public. It was and is a fundamental democratic right and the quality of the education should not be determined by how much you can pay. Of course, this belief had to be expanded and rigorously fought for so that it included all races, genders and religion.
So, this battle, not the war, was won by the proponents, not only of public education, but for those that believe a quality public education is at the HEART of OUR DEMOCRACY.
But the struggle continues. “La Luta Continua!”
Warren Furutani has served as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and California State Assembly. The Rafu Shimpo’s management and staff continually strive to maintain high editorial standards for professionalism as well as accurate and balanced news coverage. The inclusion of a particular piece, including columns and op-ed submissions by contributing writers in print and/or digitally, does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the owners, management, individual staff members, and editors. The Rafu Shimpo welcomes responses to any article published in print or digitally. Responses may be sent to author directly or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.