Saturday, September 12, 2015

Equality in Educational Opportunity ... Charter Schools, Active Citizens, Teachers Unions and One Green Beret ... The Lousy State of Public Education in Too Many of America's Communities ... The Anaheim Example

We hear much about income inequality today, but government and the public education bureaucracy, and especially the leadership of teachers unions, won't discuss openly and honestly the primary factors which contribute most to that result.

The evidence is clear --- education is the primary differentiator when  it comes to income inequality. Thus, providing our citizens with better and more equal opportunities to pursue the education of their choice would seem to be a no brainer on which we could all agree. Not so.

Of course, even if every citizen has an equal opportunity to receive a good education, not every citizen will take advantage of that opportunity in an equal manner. That's called human nature. Thus, the inevitable result will be income inequality, but the playing field will have been leveled. And that's very much the American way --- except when it comes to the right to pursue and get a solid education.

To repeat, educational achievement is the greatest economic and least discriminatory societal leveler of all. So who can argue with that? Well, the public education infrastructure can --- and does --- very much so.

It's not fair and it needs to change. So let's change it.

Freedom of choice, including the right of parents and their kids to choose to attend charter schools, should be a no brainer, especially when the 'government schools' are underperforming ones. It's simple common sense and an example of American freedom and the pursuit of happiness in action. Besides, education is the answer to global competitiveness, more jobs, a higher standard of living and higher incomes for those who would make the effort to get that solid education.

But teachers unions and their political allies in government make these common sense measures a virtual impossibility.

For far too long, We the People have sat by and ignored the obvious. Maybe some us haven't even seen it. As broadcaster Edward R. Murrow once said, "The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer." Hence, it's timely to ask ourselves the following question: How much longer?

Because without enough public pressure being applied to alter the status quo, the fundamental right of every American to have the opportunity to pursue a solid education, leading in turn to higher incomes and a better and more just society, won't ever become our American reality. So now let's look at what one Green Beret is making happen in Anaheim, California.

The Education Gangs of Los Angeles is subtitled 'Meet the decorated former Green Beret who is rallying Los Angeles parents to fight the unions and reform the worst public schools, one school at a time:'

"Anaheim, Calif.

When most people think of this quintessential California suburb, the Angels baseball team or Disneyland probably comes to mind. But a five-minute drive from the “happiest place on earth” takes you to Palm Lane Elementary, ground zero in a fight between teachers unions and parents who are trying to fix California’s broken public schools. The conflict—as so often in American education—boils down to unionized teachers trying to stop minority children from attending charter schools.

Ninety percent of Palm Lane students come from low-income families. About 85% are Latino, and more than half aren’t native English speakers. Palm Lane has been on the California Education Department’s list of underperforming schools since 2003. In 2013 a mere 38% of students scored proficient or better in English on state tests. And Palm Lane is hardly an exception in the area: Four other elementary schools in Anaheim rank even lower on the state’s Academic Performance Index.

But Alfonso Flores is leading a grass-roots insurgency against the union-controlled regime at Palm Lane. The former teacher and father of four kids who attend public schools in Hesperia has used the state’s “parent trigger” law, passed in 2010, to force changes at a half-dozen schools in California. The law stipulates that if a majority of parents at a struggling school sign a petition, they can compel changes in school management or personnel. Sometimes, the parents contract with a charter-school operator. In one case, they hired a new principal. . . . The 45-year-old decorated Gulf War veteran has plenty of stories to tell about doing battle with teachers unions that bring heavy artillery to every fight.

“It’s grass-roots,” he says of parent-trigger efforts, “and that’s what scares the teachers unions.”

Mr. Flores, a self-described “anchor baby” of Mexican immigrants, knows firsthand the value of escaping bad schools. As a child in the 1970s, he spent three hours daily on a bus trekking to and from a school in the San Fernando Valley under the Los Angeles Unified School District’s desegregation plan. Busing to achieve racial integration is hardly optimal, but Mr. Flores says it did allow him to avoid the horrendous schools in the Los Angeles inner city.

As a senior in high school, he signed up with the U.S. Army and after graduating served tours in Colombia, the Persian Gulf and Somalia. . . . In 10 years the Green Beret earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts, and he lost a kidney after being wounded in the 1993 rescue mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, that was depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down.”

During his military service, Mr. Flores says, he was struck by his fellow soldiers’ deficient educations. They had to “redo grammar school” because they “couldn’t write a simple report,” he recalls. “The Pentagon has complained about high-school kids not able to pass the ASVAB”—the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

After an honorable discharge in 1998, he got his teaching credential from California State University at Dominguez Hills. His first teaching job was at Normandie Avenue, one of the worst elementary schools in L.A. . . . A new principal tried to raise standards, he says, but if she entered a classroom without the teacher’s permission, she would get slapped with a union grievance.

In 2007, after being named a district teacher of the year, Mr. Flores was hired as the founding principal of the Global Education Academy, a charter school in South Los Angeles with an almost entirely black and Latino student population. Although most teachers were young and inexperienced, the charter far outperformed neighboring public schools. In 2008, 88% of its students scored proficient or advanced in math, compared with 37% districtwide.

The key to improving student performance, Mr. Flores says, was engaging parents. At most public schools, “parents are treated with hostility,” but at charters, administrators and teachers tend to “embrace parents as partners.” Teachers unions and their liberal allies blame poverty for bad schools, but Mr. Flores calls that an insult to good teachers who are helping poor children succeed: “Poverty is not an issue.”

In 2011 Mr. Flores joined the . . . campaign, at McKinley Elementary in Compton. McKinley parents wanted a high-performing charter operator to take over the failing school but were stymied by the teachers union, which had joined forces with the school district. . . .

“Before you begin a petition drive, you have to start a parent organization,” Mr. Flores says. Parents “have to be aware of how the system works and how the system is broken.”

For instance, “parents are unaware that principals don’t have power to dismiss or even hire their own staff. Districts do a really good job of keeping parents away from all of this information,” Mr. Flores notes. “Once they learn, it agitates them even more.”. . .

In 2014 he . . . got a call from Gloria Romero—the former Democratic state Senate majority leader, who co-authored the parent-trigger law—about organizing a campaign at Palm Lane in Anaheim.

Palm Lane had cycled through five principals in three years. Mr. Flores says the catalyst for the petition drive at the school was the removal of a principal who had “started making teachers accountable” by taking steps like requiring them to assign homework. Teachers howled, and soon the school board reassigned the principal—to work as a teacher at another school.

Parents went public with their outrage. Ms. Romero proposed that Mr. Flores help mobilize them for a petition drive. When presented with various trigger options, parents chose to go for a charter-school conversion. . . .

Once again, the union pulled out its playbook. . . . The matter moved to the courts, and in July a state superior court judge reprimanded the district’s conduct as “unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious and unfair” and ordered the school board to accept the petition.

The school board has appealed and doubled the contract for its legal firm, to $678,000. The fight has garnered plenty of headlines in California, but state leaders like Gov. Jerry Brown and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson have been notably silent.

Mr. Flores notes that the Democrat-dominated legislature in Sacramento has made a point of spending big on schools with a high concentration of disadvantaged students, with little to show for it. “You could throw millions of dollars into these schools,” he says, “and if there is no accountability, you have the same situation.”

When it comes to education reform, Mr. Flores says, . . . sometimes “you have to force change.”"

Summing Up

Accountability is the key, but none exists when teachers unions and the public school bureaucracy are in control.

Active hands-on leadership by private citizens and parental involvement are required to bring about needed change and provide a more equal educational opportunity for kids living in 'challenged' public school districts.

The evidence is overwhelmingly clear. No real and lasting improvement will ever come from a failed system which perpetuates the status quo. And the status quo absolutely stinks in far too many of our very expensive yet poorly performing public schools today.

It's definitely a fight worth having, and it's very much a necessary and long overdue fight to have --- for both today's kids and America's future.

Freedom and equal opportunity go together.

That's my take.

Thanks. Bob.

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