Posted by David A. Lehrer
The past few days offered an interesting confluence of events that serves to highlight the importance of moral consistency, principle and the danger posed by religious true believers.
In this weekend’s Jerusalem Post and this week’s Jewish Journal, Judea Pearl, president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation [named after his son] wrote a wonderful op/ed analyzing the reasons for some of the opposition to the Ground Zero mosque. In a nuanced and incisive piece, Pearl argues that the most significant underlying reason is the American public’s
vote of no confidence in mainstream American Muslim leadership which, on the one hand, refuses to acknowledge the alarming dimensions that anti-Americanism had taken in their community and, paradoxically, blames America for its creation….
The American Muslim leadership had had nine years to build up trust by taking proactive steps against the spread of anti-American terror-breeding ideologies, here and abroad….evidently, however, a sizable segment of the American public is not convinced that this leadership is doing an effective job of confidence building….
Terrorist acts, whenever condemned, are immediately “contextually explicated” (to quote Tariq Ramadan); spiritual legitimizers of suicide bombings (e.g. Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi of Qatar) are revered beyond criticism….”
No sooner did Pearl’s words criss-cross the globe then press reports from Israel quoted a Jewish New Year’s sermon by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, and now the spiritual leader of Israel’s leading ultra-Orthodox party, Shas.
Yosef, not one known to mince words (he has called Netanyahu a “blind she-goat” and proclaimed that “Sabbath desecrators are worse than cattle”), wished for the demise of the Palestinian Authority’s President, Mahmoud Abbas, “Abu Mazen (Abbas’ nom de guerre) and all these evil people should perish from this world….God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians…..evil, bitter enemies of Israel.”
These comments were delivered on the eve of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s departure for this week’s Israel-Palestinian summit in Washington.
In short order, the US State Department appropriately, “regretted and condemned the inflammatory statements…they are not only deeply offensive, but incitement such as this hurts the cause of peace.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “the words of the rabbi do not reflect my approach or the position of the Israeli government…Israel comes to the negotiating table out of a desire to proceed with the Palestinians to an agreement that would end the conflict and ensure peace, security and good neighborly relations.” Hardly a ringing condemnation, but clearly a distancing from Yosef’s nuttiness.
Much to its credit, the Anti-Defamation League is one of the only American Jewish organizations (if Google is to be believed) to unequivocally condemn Yosef’s bigotry. ADL expressed outrage at the “offensive and incendiary comments made by Ovadia Yosef…..these comments do not exist in a vacuum—such incendiary expressions contribute to a potentially dangerous environment of intolerance and hatred.”
These two events—-Pearl’s commentary and Yosef’s remarks—-complement each other perfectly.
Pearl’s call for forthrightness in condemning extremism and decrying the wishy-washiness of “contextual explications” that avoid calling hate by its name, is no less relevant when the purveyor of bigotry and hate is an Israeli and a religious leader. Intolerance and extremism are no less reprehensible when cloaked in religious garb that looks and sounds familiar; in fact, it is even more insidious because of the veneer of moral authority.
For those who rightfully call upon American Muslim leaders to speak out in unequivocal terms against Hamas, Hezbollah and other Muslim haters, can less be asked of Jewish leaders to condemn an advocate of plagues and mass deaths from within their ranks?
Hopefully, before the Jewish New Year arrives there will be multiple voices in the Jewish community, beyond just the ADL, who will clearly and forcefully meet the Pearl test of “condemning terror breeding ideologies” no matter their source.
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August 27, 2010 | 4:45 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The LA Times ran a modest item this week reporting that California had lost its bid for a federal Race to the Top
education grant. As Howard Blume of the Times noted, California stood to receive as much as $700 million in federal monies—-Los Angeles Unified alone stood to receive $120 million.
What the Times didn’t fully explore, and after its recent battle with Los Angeles Unified’s union, UTLA, one can understand why; is the role that the UTLA and several of its colleague unions in California played ininsuring that California didn’t receive the federal funds
If one goes to the US Department of Education’s website and reads the assessment of the California application, it becomes transparently clear that the dysfunction in our state, where teachers’ unions can virtually veto any reform effort, was obvious to the government’s reviewers. Despite the state’s education leaders’ best efforts to convince the feds that needed reforms had been implemented and the “reform agenda was comprehensive and coherent.” The glaring refusal of two thirds of the state’s teachers’ union leaders to sign on to the Memorandum of Understanding regarding reform was too much for the feds to ignore.
Indeed, as a reviewer wrote,
the state’s inability to garner support for the reform agenda from less than 20% of the LEA’s and only union support in 33% of the participating districts may signal programmatic or collaboration obstacles that may prevent the state from achieving its proposed reforms. The number of points awarded to this section is due to the concern that the number of participating LEAs and the limited number of union leaders that signed the MOU may indicate insufficient commitment to attain the designated reforms.
In the section of the grant proposal where the comments regarding the non-participation of the unions in reform efforts were cited,
California’s proposal received only 100 out of a possible 125 points
. That loss of 25 points (out of the total of 423 points for all the sections of the proposal) was more than the 17.8 points that stood between our 16th position with zero dollars and the tenth position held by Ohio which received its requested amount of $400 million.
Clearly, the collective decision of many of the state’s teachers’ unions to not participate in the
Race to the Top
proposal ended up costing the taxpayers of California 700 million dollars. Seemingly not a big deal to the unions’ bigwigs, one of whom described the $700 million earlier this year as, “peanuts.”
Next time UTLA’s A.J Duffy or California Federation of Teachers’ president Marty Hittelman protest the cuts in education funding emanating from Sacramento, let’s ask them to first find the missing $700 million of “peanuts,” maybe they’ll know where they are. And the next time they tell us how concerned they are about the education of our kids, we can ask them why they turned away $700 million because they didn’t like the reforms and accountability that might have inconvenienced them but would have changed countless lives of young Californians. Clearly, kids aren’t number one on their agenda.
August 17, 2010 | 3:50 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The financial troubles of the Los Angeles Times are no secret. The Tribune Company’s bankruptcy filing, the frequent staff cuts and “buyouts” have become chatter in countless media blogs and at cocktail parties across the Southland. The conventional thinking seems to be that the Times just can’t cut it anymore, the reduced staff and the diminished “news hole” have left it a “shadow of itself.”
If the past few weeks’ product is any indication, the reports of its demise are definitely premature. Despite the challenges facing the smaller staff, they continue to produce important news stories that have enormous impact on Southern California.
Last month, the Times broke the story of the exorbitant salaries earned by several of the officials of Bell, California. The investigative series prompted cities across the state and the nation to examine what their local leaders earn and how transparent their salary structures are.
Apparently, local groups had sought the data on what the Bell officials earned but were stone-walled since no one in the small city had both the resources and the motivation to go to court and spend the time and money on lawyers to demand release of the documents. Only the Times had the interest and the resources to demand and legally force the release of the explosive information. That information is leading to the exposure of the corruption that existed in Bell and likely in many smaller communities across the state.
This past Saturday the Times did another Pulitzer-worthy story. In what was an exhausting culling of seven years of data, the Times, in one fell swoop, dismantled some of the mythologies that have permeated discussions of student achievement, teacher quality, and the public schools for years. Their eye-opening study uncovered some of the key reasons why some teachers are effective, others aren’t and how to assess each as to their effectiveness.
In examining years of math and English test scores of the Los Angeles Unified District the Times rated teachers on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. As the Times pointed out, “each student’s performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.”
Incidentally, this data and method of analysis that the Times used have been available to the LAUSD as a means to test teacher effectiveness, but they have never been used. Among the reasons is that California law forbade the utilization of test score data in the evaluation of teachers, a testament to the strength of California’s teachers unions. It’s a bit like telling Joe Torre that when he picks his pitchers for the Dodgers he can’t look at their ERA or their won-lost percentage—-that data, to Sacramento’s way of thinking, would be “misleading.”
The Times’ findings are a revelation: highly effective teachers propel students from below grade level to advanced in a single year; some students land in the poorest performing teachers classrooms year after year—“a devastating setback”; contrary to popular belief, “the best teachers are not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas”; although many parents fixate on “picking the right school” for their kids, “it matters far more which teacher the child gets;” many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers’ effectiveness were not (neither experience nor training nor education had much to do with whether teachers were effective).
Each of these findings is buttressed by convincing data in the Times analysis.
One might imagine that teachers and administrators alike would welcome the analysis and the eye opening insight into their effectiveness that the “value added approach” of evaluation offers. If one isn’t doing well, there are ways to improve. But, sadly, that is not the case.
In a mind-boggling assault on reason, A.J Duffy and United Teachers of Los Angeles, our teachers union, first asserted that the Times article “added nothing which would lead to a legitimate discussion about how best to improve teaching and learning in our schools”—-hardly true. Then, a day later, Duffy called for “a massive boycott” of the Times because the Times “is leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by a test.”
Neither the Times, nor any reasoning person, would suggest that a teacher be judged by “a” test. However, if, over several years, a teacher consistently fails to improve his/her students’ achievement while other teachers facing the same demographic and socio-economic factors do better,
what other conclusion can one draw but that something is wrong
That’s what Duffy and the UTLA fear, a way to assess competence and, inversely, incompetence. Apparently, Duffy and his cohorts want seniority, and seniority alone, to be the criterion for evaluating and paying teachers——a prescription for the disastrous mess we are in.
The Times made clear that “standardized test scores don’t tell us everything about learning.” The Times isn’t even urging what the Obama administration itself suggests—-that test scores be utilized for at least half of a teacher’s evaluation. But that’s not enough for Duffy and the UTLA. UTLA’s answer seems to be that if you don’t like the message—-however moderate and reasoned it is—- kill the messenger. Through their boycott they aim to intimidate the Times in the hopes that it will retreat from pursuing and publishing the balance of its research.
The Times deserves bravos not boycotts. It has injected into the debate about one of the major ills confronting our society—-the decline of the public schools—-meaningful data, analysis and reason. It is a shining moment for the Times. It has taken some courage, especially in economically challenging times, to take on some well entrenched preconceptions and the powerful and large UTLA (whose onslaught was all too predictable).
The Times is alive and kicking and doing what the Fourth Estate should do: illuminate, analyze, expose and bring reason to difficult issues.
August 3, 2010 | 5:11 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
A bit over a year ago, on one of our first blogs, I wrote about an opinion filed by Attorney General Jerry Brown before the California Supreme Court.
His letter opinion had been requested by the Court in a case involving the constitutionality of Proposition 209 and its applicability to laws adopted by the city of San Francisco. The proposition amended the California Constitution in 1996 to prohibit the state from discriminating against or giving preferences to anyone on the basis of “race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.” The measure was approved 54% to 45%. It was tested in the courts, and its constitutionality was previously affirmed by the California Supreme Court in 2000.
I took issue with Brown’s opinion describing his letter as an example of “legal gymnastics that defies description.” I questioned his theory that the ban on race conscious programs in Proposition 209 was unconstitutional because it would prevent race and gender conscious programs that might be permissible under the federal Constitution. In essence, Brown opined that the barring of discrimination is impermissible because it has made the re-imposition of discriminatory governmental preferences difficult (i.e. a further constitutional amendment was required).
The Attorney General responded to my blog and snarkily dismissed my “wanting to play lawyer.” Parenthetically, I have been a member of the California bar for nearly forty years.
The California Supreme Court has just “played lawyer” too, and voted 6-1 against the theory propounded by Brown (the “political structure doctrine”). It clearly and unequivocally ruled that Proposition 209 is not “invalidated” by that ideological and illogical doctrine. Proposition 209—barring discrimination for or against anyone on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin—-remains good law in California.