Posted by David A. Lehrer
Earlier this week I blogged about the decision of the leaders of United Teachers of Los Angeles (LA Unified’s teachers union) to torpedo the School District’s application for $40 million of federal Race to the Top funds. The funds were to be used to benefit 25,000 students in 35 low performing middle and high schools.
As I noted, the reason proffered by UTLA for not co-signing the grant proposal was that it was “budgetarily unsustainable” because the District was required to come up with $3.3 million to receive the feds $40 million; monies which LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy pledged he would raise separately from the District’s budget and which would have no negative impact on the District’s personnel budget.
The blog pointed out that the real reason for the union veto was the US Department of Education’s demand that student test scores be a “significant factor” in the evaluation of teachers in the District by 2014. That was the deal breaker for UTLA---even partial accountability for student performance is so toxic that the union was willing to be the insurmountable hurdle to the cash-strapped LAUSD receiving $40 million.
Parenthetically, there are sizable districts in which unions have agreed to the condition----Riverside, California for one.
As transparent as UTLA’s dissembling on this issue is, it simply can’t be acting on its own, it needs enablers to take such an obstinate and politically untenable position and continue to have moxie in the District. This week revealed an enabler who is so brazen in his commitment to the union’s specious arguments that it is jaw-dropping.
Board of Education member Bennett Kayser wrote a letter to Superintendent Deasy on November 1 (the tone of which was closer to what a principal might have with a fourth grader than a letter among colleagues) excoriating him for allowing the role of UTLA in negating the federal funds to become public (as if the reason for losing $40 million could be kept a secret),
I am terribly concerned about your outreach to the Los Angeles Times and the press effort underway highlighting your inability to gain United Teacher Los Angeles (UTLA) signature on the application….I specifically requested that you hold your fire with regard to public statements criticizing UTLA until after next Tuesday.
At a time when we are stressing the terrible fiscal condition of this institution and that of public education across the State of California, you choose to hammer UTLA for failing to pursue the funds tied to the grant.
I must again ask that you take note of the context in which you are speaking. [Emphasis added]
The “context” in which this controversy arose is the election next Tuesday and Proposition 30’s fate. Kayser reprimands Deasy for daring to speak the truth and allowing the public to know who vetoed $40 million for LAUSD. Kayser admonished Deasy to “hold your fire” (i.e. shut up) and not let the public know the truth until after the election on November 6th. When was he planning to let us know?
Kayser is rightfully concerned that the public may not take too kindly to the school district seemingly thumbing its nose at $40 million when considering a large, statewide bond measure. But he isn’t excoriating UTLA, his closest ally, who is the culprit and the source of the problem, but rather the victim, as embodied in the superintendent.
Kayser seems to care only about doing UTLA’s bidding---he avers that their unwillingness to sign on to the grant is due to Deasy’s “inability to gain UTLA’s signature on the application.” Unless Deasy can “channel” UTLA’s leader, it’s not clear how he could have “gained” their signature.
Kayser knows full well what the Department of Education’s demands are and that it is not within the Superintendent’s power to waive those requirements. Kayser simply can’t bring himself to acknowledge that UTLA, his patron, is the obstacle that has cost this financially desperate district $40 million.
Kayser’s coup de gras is to threaten to “reconsider my vote” and possibly vote against the grant application unless Deasy “finds common ground with our teachers.” Since today is the deadline and UTLA hasn’t agreed to the federal strictures---that threat has about as much substance as his illogical and intemperate missive.
Ironically, Board member Kayser ends his letter to Deasy by noting that he has “sworn to serve” the District---perhaps he ought to remind himself of the fact that kids are at heart of this District and the reason why it exists.
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October 30, 2012 | 4:02 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The last few days have seen Americans preoccupied, understandably so, with Hurricane Sandy and next week’s election. The attention that might normally have been paid to two items in the Los Angeles Times just isn’t there, but it ought to be.
Last week, the Times disclosed that John Deasy, the superintendent of Los Angeles schools, had urged United Teachers of Los Angeles (the District’s union) to “lay aside its concerns and back a federal grant application that could bring $40 million to the cash-strapped district.” Noting that the District was facing difficult financial times, the superintendent observed that, “It’s a critical opportunity in these painful fiscal times.”
Indeed, if UTLA agreed to sign on to the grant application to the US Department of Education, the District stood to receive $40 million which would potentially have to be matched by $3.3 million from the District. The grant would have helped 35 low-performing schools and their 25,000 students.
In last week’s article the Times reported that UTLA was reluctant to agree to the grant application because it was concerned that the grant would not cover all the costs of implementing the District’s proposal. “We do not think it’s budgetarily sustainable…we don’t want to mortgage our future,” said UTLA president Warren Fletcher. He noted that the $3.3 million that would be the District’s share of the new program was equivalent “to the cost of 39 teachers.”
The objections he raised last week were countered by the District’s pledge that no District money would be used to fund the program, but rather the additional money would come from “fundraising efforts.”
Deasy’s pleas and his promise to not negatively impact the District’s budget fell on deaf ears. Yesterday the Times reported that UTLA had “declined” to sign on to the District’s grant application (which was due today but whose deadline has been extended because of Hurricane Sandy). The effort to secure an additional $40 million for the children of Los Angeles is dead.
Despite the District’s commitment to fundraise for the grant’s $3.3 shortfall, UTLA’s Fletcher proffered the absurd argument that “there was greater risk than likely reward.” Hopefully, Fletcher didn’t teach economics when he was in the classroom,; paying $3.3 million in order to receive $40 million has greater reward than risk---no two ways about it.
The transparent silliness of UTLA’s veto betrays their real motivation in terminating the grant for LA’s kids---their antipathy to any suggestion that student test scores can legitimately be even a part of teacher evaluations. The Race to the Top grant would have required that student test scores “or other measures of academic achievement” be a “significant factor” in teacher evaluations by 2014. Clearly not the only factor or the factor, just a "significant" factor,
So there we have it---it’s not about the kids or their education (time was when UTLA’s press releases included the pro forma language, “will do the most good for our students”) that pretense is gone. This is all about not ceding ground on the process by which teachers are evaluated—not even a hint of accountability will be tolerated. If it takes kissing off $43 million in a financially desperate District to make the point, UTLA seems perfectly comfortable in doing so.
UTLA seems unconcerned about stonewalling the District even if it means instilling doubt into voters’ minds, just a week before an election when related issues are on the ballot--- Proposition 32 about public employee unions and how they operate and Proposition 30 about how public funds are expended. UTLA seemingly has no compunctions about their decision---no measure of academic achievement can enter the realm of teacher evaluation---public relations and election outcomes be damned.
It is a sorry story about the priorities of UTLA. The raison d’etre of the District—the education of its students—obviously takes a back seat to the union’s (not necessarily the teachers’) priorities. After all, Race to the Top is not the creature of a right-wing, anti-union cabal out to undermine unions and their members; it is the proud achievement of President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, an effort to reform a dysfunctional system that cries out for change.
But even the administration’s modest move towards some use of metrics that assess teacher quality and effectiveness is toxic to UTLA. They just won’t allow it, no matter if LA's kids pay the price.
A very sad story and a dreadful outcome. .
August 28, 2012 | 4:15 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
The news is bittersweet. On the one hand a public servant who has dedicated nearly forty years of his life to the Los Angeles community will be unburdened from the demands of a public that wants him virtually every day and night of the week (whether it’s this group’s board meeting or that neighborhood council or the major donor who would like to “show him off” to friends), Zev Yaroslavsky has led a career of rarely saying no to his constituents. On the other hand, Los Angeles will be losing the chance to elect the one potential mayoral candidate that might have set our fiscal house in order.
Last year I blogged about county redistricting and noted that “ Zev Yaroslavsky is the most important local elected Jewish official is beyond dispute. For over three decades he has been a voice of reason and courage for, to and in the Jewish community.” That observation could easily have been expanded to say he has been among the most thoughtful, principled, and straightforward elected officials in California over the past forty years and his presence will be sorely missed.
In my previous position as the counsel and director of the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles I had the opportunity to work with and observe Zev since he first came to office as a city councilman in 1975 (some thirty seven years ago). Besides virtually always making himself available for speaking to and enlightening audiences and attending community events he was a voice of reason, thoughtfulness and courage. There are no other local politicians I can think of who spoke as honestly and forthrightly to his audiences, no matter their makeup.
In the world of the organized Jewish community, there is nothing easier than to come to meeting of Jewish leadership and talk about anti-Semitism, the fate of Israel, or hate crimes—-those were the trifecta of issues that would assure a warm reception and lots of applause. It was the rare politician who came to the ADL and talked about an issue that might make the audience feel uncomfortable or insecure as to where the speech was going.
I distinctly remember Zev coming to board meetings and talking about homelessness and the horrible living conditions that prevailed in many areas of Los Angeles with two and three families living in one apartment, etc. It was not a topic the attendees had expected or felt at ease with but Zev felt it was an important one that needed attention and his listeners needed an education. It wasn’t the easy route, just the right one.
I remember his principled and vocal position against unauthorized surveillance by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Public Disorder/Intelligence Division (“PDID”) in the 1980s. A not particularly popular position, especially at that time, but, as it turned out, it was the right one.
Years later when the Orange Line Transit way was under consideration across the San Fernando Valley (in the existing railway right-of-way) in North Hollywood it was Zev who was willing to stand up to constituents who alleged that their religious observances might be compromised by having buses running in the right-of-way on the Sabbath. He was roundly criticized, but he stood his ground as few politicians would—-especially in dealing with constituents who populate his base.
His courage in speaking out on the mess that was health care delivery at King-Drew Medical Center—-despite charges of being a racist when he demanded that the quality of care at King-Drew ought to be the same as at the best hospitals in LA; his tough stand on plans to decimate his supervisorial district in the latest reapportionment effort; and his steadfast commitment to fiscal integrity and transparency (one reason that the County of LA is in much better financial shape than the City which he left nearly two decades ago) are all further evidence of a commitment to principles that is all too rare among politicians, local or national.
There are precious few politicians, at any level, who have accumulated the record that Zev has amassed over the past four decades and done so without any hint of scandal, double dealing, or compromising values; no mean feat in an environment where every move a politician makes is scrutinized and open to bloggers, political paparazzi and plain old cynics.
To Zev, congratulations on a job exceedingly well done—and good luck on two more years of accomplishments and a long and rewarding life after public service.
July 20, 2012 | 4:46 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Yesterday seemed like the first really hot day in a long time, the temperature was in the high 80s to 90s and the evening remained warm with virtually no breeze. Despite the heat, it was remarkably clear.
From my thirty third floor perch in a Downtown office building I couldn’t help but notice how remarkable the vistas were. I could watch the planes as they descended into LA International and on the drive home the San Gabriel Mountains were exceptionally sharp—virtually no haze or smog, no brown gunk obscuring the view.
Just a few years ago, the notion that the temperatures could be in the 80s and the sky could be blue seemed impossible. In fact, Angelenos of my vintage recall that when they participated in PE or physically exerted themselves in the 1950s and 60s the effort of simply catching a deep breath on a smoggy day was daunting (one’s chest would grip up and a coughing fit was inevitable).
Yesterday’s view was so crisp and clear that I had to research how far we had come in the past few decades.
Sure enough the data are impressive yet, surprisingly, little discussed. In 1976 the LA Basin had, depending on which federal clean air standard you use (the “old”, the 1997 or the 2008 standard), 28 times [old], 3 times [1997 standard] or more than twice [new standard] as many days exceeding “Health Standard Levels” as in 2010. We have gone from 102 days of Stage 1 episodes of high smog concentrations in 1976 to having one day of a Stage 1 episode since 1999.
This dramatic turnaround of what seemed like a hopeless endeavor just a few decades ago—-more people and more cars seemed to insure worsening air quality—-has taken place despite a dramatic increase of 38% in the population of Los Angeles County (from 7,082,000 in 1970 to an estimated 9,800,000 in 2010) and a concomitant increase in cars, trucks, trailers and motorcycles of 20% in the last thirteen years alone. I suspect the increase in cars and trucks would mirror that of the population were it extrapolated back to 1970 (I couldn’t find the data).
I can understand the reluctance to “crow about the success” by air quality officials and others who are responsible for the transformation; as one former official told me, “the AQMD doesn’t brag enough about it because we have much left to do.” Additionally, he noted that “the air we can’t see is really quite harmful…because we have crushed the particles.”
So, I offer the caveats and admonitions that there is much left to be done and that the “invisible” air that doesn’t mar our vistas still has microscopic particles that are harmful….nevertheless, the reduction in visible smog and the marked decline in both Stage 1 episodes and days in which the various Federal clean air standards are exceeded are achievements to celebrate. On an 87 degree day when the vistas stretch from the ocean to Mt. Wilson and are unsullied by brown gunk and you can take a deep breath without seizing up your lungs, you know that we are moving in the right direction.
July 6, 2012 | 11:35 am
Posted by David A. Lehrer
l has an op/ed by law professor Michael Meyerson titled “Was the Declaration of Independence Christian?” which concludes that the document was “deliberately designed to be as inclusive as possible, it was a quintessentially American achievement—-specific enough to be embraceable by those with orthodox religious views but broad enough to permit each American to feel fully included and equally respected.”
The Declaration of Independence (1776) antedated the Washington letter (1790) to the Newport community by fourteen years, yet its sentiment clearly set the tone of tolerance that Washington later reflected as president.
Was the Declaration of Independence Christian?
The religious phrases in our founding document were deliberately designed to be as inclusive as possible.
By MICHAEL I. MEYERSON
Americans of all political stripes invoked the Declaration of Independence this Fourth of July week. Some read the document and found, as Harvard Prof. Alan Dershowitz has, that it “rejected Christianity, along with other organized religions, as a basis for governance.” Others saw the same language proving the opposite, that our nation was founded on “Judeo- Christian values.” Such definitive statements do not tell the full story. The American Framers, in their desire to unite a nation, were theologically bilingual—not only in the Declaration of Independence but beyond.
Read more at The Wall Street Journal.
July 5, 2012 | 4:25 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Last Friday, while on a family vacation in Philadelphia, my wife and I visited the new National Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Square. We toured the wonderful exhibit that chronicles American Jewish history from the first immigrants to the current period. The permanent exhibit alone is worth a few hours of touring.
We were especially lucky to be present the first day of a new exhibit that runs until the end of September: “To Bigotry No Sanction—George Washington and Religious Freedom.” The exhibit centers on the August 1790 letter that Washington sent to the “Hebrew Congregation at Newport, Rhode Island.” The Museum recently acquired the original letter which had been hidden away for the past decade. Due to the delicacy of the original, it can only be on display three months a year.
It is an extraordinary document that is especially worthy of attention in the days surrounding July 4th. The letter was handwritten by Washington shortly after he received a letter from Moses Seixas, the “warden” of the Newport synagogue. In the letter Seixas welcomed Washington to Newport and thanked God for having led the Jews to America:
Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People…generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine….we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days, the great preserver of Men beseeching him, that the Angel who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness to the promised land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of mortal life. And when, like Joshua full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your Fathers, may you be admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to partake of the after of life and the tree of immortality.
In Washington’s response a few days later he laid out a vision of religious tolerance that likely had no historic precedent (the French legislation emancipating its Jews was not adopted until September, 1791).
In a few, terribly moving few paragraphs, Washington declares that, “the citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.”
In beautiful prose he invokes the words that Seixas had included in his letter that, “happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving on all occasion their effectual support.”
In what is a rather prescient view of societal dynamics, Washington makes clear that it is really not for one set of citizens to express “toleration” for another, acceptance is not theirs to give. Liberty is, after all, the exercise by the minority of their “inherent natural rights.”
Below is the full text of Washington’s letter, it’s worth a read.
It probably needn’t be noted, but the exquisite language of tolerance that Washington expressed in 1790 did not extend to either slaves or women or Native Americans and did not reflect itself in the laws of many of the states which had attitudes that were considerably less benign. The Emancipation Proclamation (freeing the slaves) was seventy three years and a civil war away. And as recently as the past decade seven states still had statutes on the books (though unenforceable) that had religious tests for holding office.
Notwithstanding the fact that Washington’s vision took a while to realize—-“every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid”—it was an aspiration that helped set the bar for what America was to become, a nation that “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
Letter to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for,
happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
May 31, 2012 | 1:02 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
It isn’t often that one reads an article that connects dots that have long seemed disconnected, but it does occasionally happen
Last night I was reading one of my favorite magazines, The New Republic (I have been a subscriber for decades) and came across a book review of From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965 by John Connelly, the review is by Peter E. Gordon.
Admittedly, I haven’t read From Enemy to Brother but the lengthy review is, in itself, fascinating. It details the book’s analysis of the development and adoption of the revolutionary document, Nostra Aetate (In Our Times), which may have been the single most significant development in Catholic-Jewish relations in two millennia. Adopted as part of the transformational Second Vatican Council convened by Pope John XXIII, Nostra Aetate changed the liturgy of the Church as well as its attitude towards its “older brother”, the Jewish community.
The new teaching of Vatican II implied that the relation between Judaism and Christianity was no longer understood as competitive or successive (with the former a mere preparation for the latter) but complementary. The revolutionary idea of a “two covenant theology” drew upon a variety of theological sources (including Jewish ones, possibly including the medieval writings of Maimonides and the modern writings of Franz Rosenzweig).
What is intriguing about the article and the book it describes is its revelation that essential to the process of the Church transforming its two thousand year old attitudes was the world view and input of key converted Jews and Protestants in the hierarchy (e.g. John Osterreicher and Karl Thieme) who brought a new and different attitude to doctrinal anti-Semitism and notions that had pervaded the Church for millennia.
According to the review, it was the role of these “border crossers” that made the transformational change of Nostra Aetate possible. As it points out,
The revolution would not have succeeded at all were it not for the curious phenomenon of border-crossing by which outsiders became insiders who then transformed the Church they had joined.
It’s a fascinating look at one of the seminal events in inter-religious relations of our time which also speaks to the importance of “border crossers” and diversity—-getting different opinions from different folks who can offer new perspectives and attitudes.
I have often wondered how the enormous changes of Vatican II came to an institution reticent to change itself (as are almost all religious institutions) and impact many of its adherents who favored tradition and the rituals they had grown up with and been taught. This article offers an interesting insight how such epic change happens and the dynamics of it.
April 30, 2012 | 12:39 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Tomorrow night Community Advocates and KPCC are presenting an important panel discussion on the topic of
What to Do About Iran?
We Invite you to a live taping of 89.3 KPCC-FM’s Award-Winning program,
AirTalk with Larry Mantle
Negotiations with Western powers in Turkey, internal turmoil in Iran, the Stuxnet virus, harsher sanctions, tough talk from Prime Minister Netanyahu….the headlines continue. What should the West, America and Israel do about the looming threat of a nuclear Iran—-muscular military action, a “wait and see” approach, or a “learn-to-live with a nuclear Iran” approach?
These and other options will be discussed by a distinguished panel of experts.
of MIT is an expert on international security with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Security Studies Program. He is one of a handful of experts who has traveled to both Iran and North Korea for talks with officials about nuclear issues and has written articles on the Iran issue for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books and numerous other journals. Walsh has taught at both Harvard and MIT.
Robert G. Kaufman
of Pepperdine is professor of public policy at Pepperdine University where he specializes in foreign policy and national security matters. He earned his law degree from Georgetown University and his doctorate from Columbia University. Kaufman’s articles have appeared widely including in The Weekly Standard, The Washington Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Philadelphia Inquirer. His most recent book is In Defense of the Bush Doctrine. Kaufman has taught at the Naval War College, Colgate, and the University of Vermont.
is an acclaimed writer and scholar of religions. He has authored the international best seller, No God But God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam and How to Win A Cosmic War. He received his doctorate from UC, Santa Barbara and is on the faculty at UC, Riverside. He is the author of a widely-read article in The Atlantic, “Do We Have Ahmadinejad All Wrong?” Aslan was born in Iran and immigrated to the United States as a child after the Khomeini revolution.
Tuesday May 1, 2012
6:30 PM-8:00 PM
KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum
474 South Raymond Avenue
RSVP or call (213) 623-6003