Op-Ed: Mayor’s Education Appointment Presents Pivotal Opportunity
By Karen Wolfe, special to K12NN. She is a public school parent and member of the Venice Neighborhood Council Education Committee
Rumors that Mayor Garcetti will appoint Thelma Melendez to be his education deputy are causing grave concern among public school parents.
In making this appointment, the Mayor should follow his creed to lead by listening and consider first and foremost the concerns of public school parents, the only “special interest” group whose only concern is children. In so doing, he can resist appointing a staffer who will advance the so-called “reform agenda” which tends to view schools as business franchises in need of a quick corporate turn-around.
Two-thirds of public school parents reject reform policies including an emphasis on standardized testing, closure of struggling schools, shifting resources from traditional schools to charters, narrowing curriculum, reducing teacher pay and benefits, and budget cutting. This was revealed in a national poll of public school parents (including those at charters). Conducted last month, it reflects the same views Angelenos have already demonstrated at the ballot box.
In the mayoral election, which pundits claimed exercised voters’ abilities to distinguish between the candidates, many public school parents (myself included) voted for Mayor Garcetti because Wendy Gruel was endorsed by education “reformers”. In the school board elections, which put Los Angeles in the national spotlight, voters rejected the hyper-funded “reform” candidates. Both Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff overcame an avalanche of opposition fundraising by billionaires, some thousands of miles away. Some watchers tried to explain Zimmer’s re-election as a victory for the union, but when Ratliff won without UTLA support, our former mayor, political consultants, and other observers scratched their heads over the upset. But parents, disillusioned by the venture capitalist model of school reform, were not surprised. Even in lopsided elections in which millions of dollars competed against thousands, it came down to individual votes.
Voters rejected the hostile takeover model and so should Mayor Garcetti.
Parents know the “reform agenda” itself needs reform. The highly political movement, largely funded by business plutocrats, has become as inflexible and oppositional as the unions it points to as the root of all educational evils. Parents are caught in the middle. We want reform, but reform that helps our children, not an imposed agenda that eviscerates neighborhood schools. Reform that aligns city resources to support and to strengthen local neighborhood schools along the Community Schools model makes sense. Mayor Garcetti succeeded at this kind of political leadership as a city councilman when he helped direct anti-poverty grant funds to Mount Washington Elementary School’s new community center and library.
Taking a cue from both local elections and the overwhelming evidence from the recent parents’ survey, the mayor should appoint an education deputy who will support public schools. That means professional development over teacher bashing, improvement of neighborhood schools over increased competition, and broadening quality curriculum over teach-to-the-test.
Appointing an education deputy to advance parents’ priorities would send a clear message that there’s a new mayor in town.