Jewish parents have good reason to be interested in public school test scores released by the California Department of Education on Aug. 31, although they may need help deciphering them.
In 1997, the last time a study was done, The Jewish Federation found that 64 percent of Jewish children attended public schools in the Los Angeles area. Given rising security and insurance costs since then, and a far weaker state economy, that number is probably at least as high now.
There are basically two flavors of tests involved: those based on state standards and those on federal standards called Adequate Yearly Progress, which are tied to President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). NCLB penalizes schools or entire districts that don't improve fast enough.
Six entire districts and 36 percent of all schools in California failed to satisfy NCLB requirements on the spring 2004 tests. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is fortunately not among them, but the tests show that even its improvement is slowing.
"The growth is there, but after having four very good years it was somewhat disappointing," said Esther Wong, assistant superintendent for planning, assessment, and research at LAUSD.
Elementary and high school test numbers reached a "plateau" at LAUSD, Wong said.
"It would have been surprising if the [district's] numbers had been better," said Howard Lappin, who was the principal of Foshay Learning Center in South Los Angeles for 12 years. He helped transform Foshay from a failing school into a national success story by adhering to strict measures of progress -- he says LAUSD needs more of the same.
"My wife works at Heschel [Day School] -- the kids at Heschel are going to do a lot better than the kids where I was at Foshay, and Foshay did much better than [other public schools]," said Lappin, who explained that there's no gap between what the kids can accomplish at those schools, but rather that "We as educators have to stop making excuses for failure."
Lappin, a lifelong educator, should be taken seriously. Whether NCLB is the best way to set standards -- requiring 100 percent proficiency in reading and math by 2014 without providing schools any additional funds -- is a lot less clear.
To see how your local school did on the tests, go to www.latimes.com/schoolscores.
Money Problem Closes Valley Hospital
For Californians, only the best medical care will do, at least in theory: Our hospitals must not collapse during an earthquake. No nurse in an ER must ever be responsible for more than four patients at a time. And if you arrive at a private hospital in Los Angeles County with no insurance, they cannot simply transfer you to a county facility.
Sounds great. Unfortunately, 70 hospitals have closed over the past decade in California, six of those in Los Angeles alone since January, partly because they couldn't afford those improvements.
Here's the latest: Northridge Hospital Medical Center's Sherman Way Campus in Van Nuys, the oldest hospital in the Valley, announced on Aug. 19 that it will shut down by the end of the year. The large Jewish communities in the East Valley can receive their care from the next nearest facility, Valley Presbyterian Hospital.
"The life is being sucked out of [the system] even to deal with normal demand. [In a] regional emergency, an earthquake or a terrorist attack, where will we put people who need a hospital?" County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. "The pressure on the remaining facilities is growing to the breaking point."
The mandated renovations will cost hospitals at least $24 billion, and the nursing ratios will run them about $1 billion per month. But the problem goes far beyond expensive regulations.
The insurance issue is the real problem. Private hospitals can't secure loans to pay for building improvements if creditors don't trust them to pay back the money. If one-third of the people in Los Angeles lack health insurance, then hospitals stay equally poor: They must then depend on state Medicaid reimbursements instead (which in California in 2000 came to $2,068 per patient compared to $7,609 in New York).
"We are each only a drunk driver away from needing a trauma center and a heart attack away from needing an emergency room," Yaroslavsky said. "And if the ER closest to you was [the closing] Northridge Hospital or Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital or Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, and the next nearest ERs are overcrowded, you could literally be in an ambulance calling ER after ER, asking 'Are you open?'"
Welcome to the GOP Revolution
"The convention floor was dotted with kippot," said Larry Greenfield, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Southern California, about the Republican extravaganza in Madison Square Garden.
According to one unofficial estimate, about 170 Jewish Californians acted as party delegates. "I think we were all saying to each other, 'Wow, what enthusiasm, what commitment, what pride we have as Republicans,'" Greenfield said.
In a Cheviot Hills rally organized by the Bush/Cheney team on Sept. 9, talk show host Dennis Prager said Jewish Republicans are "at the cusp of a revolution in Jewish life."
Prager told the crowd of about 100, "We feel for [Democrats] benign contempt: You haven't thought clearly and therefore you're a Democrat."
Prager said that there is no such thing as a well-thought out liberal opinion, and that many older Jews vote Democratic because they still believe they're voting for FDR.