Throughout the Los Angeles Unified School District, the recession is prompting middle-class parents to take a look at public middle and high schools they have long disdained.
I write about education a lot because it's important for the Jewish community to have a strong public school system. Education is part of the Jewish culture. Many Jews can't afford private schools, and their kids deserve an education good enough to send them to college. Moreover, strong public schools are good for everybody, Jews and non-Jews.
I sometimes wonder what the Prophet Isaiah would think about Pasadena.
It's 7:55 a.m., and parents are dropping off their kids in front of the Ben Gamla Charter School along busy Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, Fla. Amid a noisy melange of languages -- English, Spanish, Hebrew, French and Russian -- the uniformed children say their goodbyes and rush off to class at one of the nation's first Jewish-oriented charter schools.
When the school year starts Aug. 20, Schorr's daughter and Barnett's daughter will be among the 430 or so students attending the new Ben Gamla Charter School in Hollywood, Fla. The taxpayer-funded institution says it will offer two hours of instruction a day in Jewish-related topics but not religion.
To raise a child to young adulthood who knows herself, who has a sense of what she loves, an ability to relate to others and a command of the things she needs to learn -- that is a gift far beyond the right school and the best scores.
In contrast to the 1960s, when the fabled and overblown black-Jewish alliance was obsessively chronicled and debated by Jewish academics, journalists, essayists and community leaders, the rise of the Latino population has not seemed to capture much Jewish interest, either pro or con. That is especially true now, when so many activist Jews are focused only on Israel.
On the first rainless Sunday morning in weeks, hundreds of Los Angeles teens have forfeited the chance to soak up the sun and opted to learn instead.
"Pay me to read? That would be awesome," my son Jeremy says.
Not only is he perpetually in debt, but he was also faced with a formidable list of books to read before beginning sixth grade at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge on Sept. 5.
"But it would be wrong," he immediately adds.
Four years ago, when Robyn Ritter Simon's eldest son was ready to start kindergarten, she looked at her local public school and found it lacking. It was not that Canfield Elementary School fell short academically. The Simons live in a West Los Angeles neighborhood that is heavily Jewish and her son would have been one of the few white children -- and perhaps the only Jewish child -- in his class.
The subject arose over dinner in a neighborhood restaurant. Have you heard, asked a friend who's generally up on current affairs, that the new governor wants to open the University of California system to the top 4 percent of every high school graduating class? The implications seemed obvious: If 4 percent of the graduating seniors of every public high school in the state were to receive automatic admission to UC, this would be one more signal that diversity was being prized over quality. Why, we all wondered, was Gov. Gray Davis putting his clout behind the dumbing-down of a once-proud university? And, more to the point, what would happen to our own teenaged children? As parents, we had worked hard to enroll them in public schools with high standards and large numbers of high achievers. If our high school seniors didn't fall into the magic 4 percent, would they be out in the cold? Would they end up wishing they had gone to school in South Central instead of Santa Monica or Beverly Hills? As parents, as UC graduates, and as taxpayers, we were sorely perturbed.