Posted by David A. Lehrer
The news over the past few days offered distressing images of the harassment that the family of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder was subjected to when they buried the young soldier in 2006. As most Americans know by now, the Phelps family of Topeka, Kansas and members of their fundamentalist church carried signs and called out epithets with the message that God is punishing America and its troops because of the country’s tolerance of homosexuality.
The signs included, “Thank God for IEDs” (improvised explosive devices) and other generalized protest signs plus “personal, targeted epithets directed at the Snyder family.” Additionally, the Phelps posted messages on their website that accuse the Marine’s father of having raised his son “to defy the creator” and “serve the devil.”
It’s hard to imagine many folks who aren’t disgusted by this behavior and the crass effort to exploit the grief of mourning parents to garner attention for the Phelps family’s hateful message. And yet, there are constitutional issues that impose serious hurdles to allowing monetary damages to the Snyder family for emotional distress they suffered. The trial court ruling that awarded them $11 million was overturned by the Court of Appeals on First Amendment grounds (hence the appeal to the Supreme Court).
The Los Angeles Times reported on yesterday’s Supreme Court debate and offered a brief glimpse into the marvel of our divided government and its unmatched system of a truly independent, respected and obeyed judiciary. The Times quoted from a dialogue between Justice Stephen Breyer and Margie Phelps—the daughter of the offending minister and also his counsel. Justice Breyer unabashedly stated that, “What I’m trying to accomplish is to allow this tort to exist [the Marine’s family right to sue for emotional distress], but not allow it to interfere with an important public message.”
The entire Court discussion is a fascinating example of our government at its very best—- civil, intellectual and honest debate of weighty issues with forthright give and take. The discussion is almost dramatic because of the obvious commitment of the justices to principles that constrain what they would “like to accomplish.”
The debate is a reminder of how complex issues of this type are and how vapid most of the political debate is that occurs (especially in an election year) around equally difficult issues in our society. Complex issues get reduced to slogans and simple black and white characterizations, the nuance and thoughtfulness that the Supreme Court argument demonstrated rarely appears in Congressional debates, to say nothing of the charades that pass for discussion on the local level.
I suspect this is not an infrequent occurrence at the Supreme Court, but I also imagine that the contrast between the visceral response of what most people would like to have happen and the constraints of the Constitution is rarely so stark. It is impressive to witness the justices’ anguish in grappling with their desire to do justice and their obligation to adhere to principles that may conflict with that intent.
It’s a striking reminder of the vitality and intellectual richness of the Supreme Court and the quality of its deliberations—-especially as contrasted with so much that passes for “discourse” in our political bodies.
Take a look at the record, it’s worth it.
12.20.13 at 12:40 pm | The California Supreme Court unanimously agreed. . .
12.12.13 at 3:52 pm | When two heroic Prisoners of Conscience met
11.5.13 at 2:23 pm | America’s energy revolution has the potential. . .
11.4.13 at 11:26 am | Visit the Getty Villa to see the Cyrus. . .
10.24.13 at 2:01 pm | The Los Angeles City Council, in the wake of. . .
8.30.13 at 9:35 am | Intolerance, no matter its motivation, is. . .
12.20.13 at 12:40 pm | The California Supreme Court unanimously agreed. . . (39)
12.12.13 at 3:52 pm | When two heroic Prisoners of Conscience met (21)
7.29.09 at 7:24 pm | Young black men commit murder at ten times the. . . (19)
October 5, 2010 | 3:31 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Tens of thousands of people gathered this past weekend in Washington, D.C. under the banner of One Nation Working Together
with the avowed aim of “building a more united America—-with jobs, justice and education for all.” A benign goal with which very few could disagree.
The rally, addressed by the likes of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, and a variety of leaders of organized labor and progressive organizations hammered home the message of “jobs, justice and education.”
The rally received widespread media coverage, most of it straight reportage of who was there, what they said, and when they said it. What most, but not all, of the coverage missed was the decision by the march sponsors to extend the approved list of endorsers to virtually any organization that simply said they agreed with the rally’s goals.
This “big tent” notion of collaboration sounds wonderful in theory but in the real world of politics and extremism doesn’t work and, in fact, can be dangerous.
A brief review of the some 400 organizations that are listed as “Endorsing Organizations” on theOne Nation Working Together
website reveals both the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition.
These two groups alone demonstrate the folly of the rally leaders’ decision.
The CPUSA and ANSWER are extremist organizations that have demonstrated again and again their warped agendas and their support for, and links to, dictators, repressive regimes and terrorist groups around the world. They are interested in “justice, jobs and education for all” when it suits their larger ideological aims; when that is no longer the case, those goals will be discarded and ignored in an instant.
“Justice” was neither the watchword in Communist regimes of the past century nor of Lebanon and Gaza where ANSWER’s friends (Hamas and Hezbollah) prevail.
The history of the twentieth century is littered with individuals and organizations which paid heavy prices for thinking they could make alliances with extremists and radicals who, seemingly, shared a bit of their agenda. If there is one clear lesson from the tragedies of the past century, it is that one can’t ally with extremists and radicals, because they don’t play by the same rules moderates do. They keep allies so long as they are useful and they exploit any hint of legitimacy for their own awful ends.
For NAACP head Benjamin Jealous (one of the rally’s key sponsors and spokesmen) to say about the event and its endorsers, “This is a big tent and anyone who wants to stand up to create jobs and defend the jobs of teachers, police officers, nurses, firefighters——I say come on and join us,” betrays either naiveté, his youth, or a hidden, unfortunate, agenda. He is quoted by The New York Times as saying, “That did not mean that the organizers agreed with all the policies of every group that endorsed the rally.”One sure would hope not!
In his desire to swell the ranks of demonstrators he, wittingly or unwittingly, aided the crazies. His group’s and the March’s accomplishments can and will accrue to the benefit of extremists who made the “Endorsing Organizations” list.
For decades, an understanding prevailed among mainstream American political leaders—- ostracize the extremists, no matter how tempting such alliances might be. The Republicans, after some flirtation, steered clear of the John Birch Society and the Democrats treated the Communists like the plague. Bigots were eschewed by both parties with regularity and consistency.
Now come some new rules as enunciated by the NAACP’s Jealous, “We welcome them because they endorse our views…even if we don’t endorse theirs.”
If these groups weren’t officially listed as “Endorsing Organizations” one could make the case that the March organizers had no obligation to go out of their way to distance themselves from crazy groups that want a free ride. But once the March officially sanctioned them, the game changed.
There are certain groups—-the CPUSA and the ANSWER Coalition (there may be others in the list of 400 “endorsers”) among them—- that are so vile, their lack of commitment to principle so apparent, their ideological dishonesty so manifest and their track record of wreckage so obvious that to not ostracize them is to commit a political sin.
How self righteous or effective can liberal critics be of right wing groups who fail to ostracize racists and militia-like folks? Even several Tea Party leaders have distanced themselves from racists and extremists who sought to join up; they could simply have answered their critics, in a mirror of Jealous, “We don’t endorse all their views, we just agree with them on less government and lower taxes.”
It shouldn’t work for them and it doesn’t work for the Saturday marchers!
Allowing extremists to acquire some legitimacy by associating with mainstream organizations—whether it’s the NAACP or organized labor or children’s’ advocacy groups—-is a tragic mistake. The Communists and ANSWER folks will exploit this moment and gain adherents by touting the fact that they “marched with and were part of” a demonstration featuring mainline groups with a storied history of accomplishments; they will simply assert “how bad could we be?”
Leaders of the left and the right in this country, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to William F. Buckley knew to stay away from the political edges—-some among us seem not to remember that valued tradition.
September 17, 2010 | 3:49 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Los Angeles is a wonderful city. As a native I have a love for the climate, the landscape, the diversity of peoples—-all of which make for a unique and dynamic and interesting place to live and raise a family.
What doesn’t seem so dynamic is the profound dysfunction that has marked our political environment over the past few years. This blog has written about the pension issues that plague LA and so many other jurisdictions, the mishandling of the Autry National Center, and several other matters that have displayed the vacuum in leadership that seems to be especially marked these days.
But of all those issues, none strikes as resonant a chord with me as a story that appears in this week’s LA Weekly about the dismantling of the Los Angeles Public Library. Having served on the Library’s Board of Commissioners and as its president over a decade ago, it is especially painful to watch as budget cuts destroy what is probably the best run institution in local government.
Clearly, the city, as virtually every other level of government, faces a financial crisis; cuts in budgets are inevitable and hard to criticize. Libraries in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Detroit faced budget cuts too—-but as the Weekly points out, “political leaders who control the purse strings for the biggest cities fought and saved their libraries from severe harm.” Not so in LA. The Weekly argues that “Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa executed an unprecedented, and punishing, raid on the libraries.” The LA City Council unlike New York’s put up no fight in the face of the mayor’s budget cutting knife.
Los Angeles has the ignominious distinction of joining Detroit asthe only big city to close down its entire library system two days a week
. And, according to the Weekly, we are the only major city to close its central library two days a week.
One might make an argument that tough times call for tough actions, and libraries shouldn’t be exempt from the pain that everyone else is undergoing. But….when the cuts make no sense and are counter-productive in the face of other city expenditures, it makes one wonder what’s going on.
Where the Weekly’s analysis piercingly strikes home is comparing the amounts cut from the library (restoring all 64 branch libraries on Mondays and the nine regional branches and Central on Sundays and Mondays would cost $10 million) against the amounts spent on questionable “gang-reduction” programs that receive millions.
As City Controller Wendy Greuel pointed out, no one knows if the anti-gang program (Gang Reduction and Youth Development) works and yet it received $18.5 million from the City Council. An analysis cited by the Weekly concluded that the “the mayor and City Council’s confidence in the GRYD’s central programs isn’t grounded in quantifiable facts.”
I’m reminded of a television program my partner, Joe Hicks, and I hosted for several years on KCET. In one program we had an anti-gang maven and a Los Angeles Times’ reporter, David Zahniser, who had reported on anti-gang programs. Zahniser had documented the bias in favor of these programs and the hope that funders often harbor that they will deliver redemption if only enough money were spent on them. In one instance he recounted an anti-gang program that in its annual report to the City Council
….filled out all the forms and, when they finished the assessment, they concluded that that program had diverted exactly two people from gangs.
The reaction that the Council had to that assessment was, “Oh, my gosh, this program has not been getting the resources they need to do the paperwork right.” What happened was that that program got more money, not less. They didn’t say zero out the money for the program with the bad numbers. They actually said, you know, they’re having trouble with the administrative side, and they actually went the other direction.
The data from GRYD’s 2009 report the Weekly cites is the heart of the article. Apparently, last year the program enrolled 2,702 at risk 10-15 year olds and 825 older kids. According to the Weekly, that comes to $5,245 for each at risk kid.
The Los Angeles public libraries serve approximately 15,000 young people daily
; many of whom come in after school to a safe and positive environment because their parents aren’t home or their neighborhood isn’t safe and they have homework to do.
You can do the math, but that comes out to about 65 cents per kid contrasted with the GRYD’s $5,200+ per youth.
Putting aside romantic notions of what a library should be and the disturbing notion that the repository of our civilization’s ideas is being short-changed, in a plain, pragmatic dollars and cents reckoning closing down libraries and telling 15,000 kids that they better find someplace else to go, makes no sense. Take two thirds of the GRYD kids and send them to the library, they may learn something and we’d save a lot of kids, money and libraries.
September 1, 2010 | 4:13 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
In writing yesterday’s blog about Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and his inflammatory comments urging a plague on Palestinians and their leaders, I recalled an op/ed in the Wall St. Journal by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. that I return to from time to time (“The Worst Corruption”). It dates from November 22, 1995, in the days following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Schlesinger’s prescient analysis is as apt today in the light of increased religious and secular fanaticism as it was fifteen years ago.
Herewith a segment of Schelsinger’s wonderful piece:
Most of the killing taking place around the world in recent years has been caused by religious conflict, whether in Yugoslavia or Ireland, India or Lebanon, Sri Lanka or Tibet or the Philippines. The killers all believe they are doing the Lord’s work.
Yigal Amir has not yet explained how God communicated the order to kill Mr. Rabin. But according to a recent study conducted by the George H. Gallup International Institute and reported in the current issue of The Public Perspective, more than a third of American adults claim that God speaks to them directly. Am I alone in finding this a scary statistic? What in the world do they mean? How does God talk to them? Do they hear voices, like Joan of Arc? And what does God say to them?
Nathaniel Hawthorne showed long ago in “The Blithedale Romance” where delusions of this sort too often lead. Such people, Hawthorne wrote, “have an idol, to which they consecrate themselves high-priest, and deem it holy work to offer sacrifices of whatever is most precious; and never once seem to suspect—so cunning has the Devil been with them—that this false deity, in whose iron features, immitigable to all the rest of mankind, they see only benignity and love, is but a spectrum of the very priest himself, projected upon the surrounding darkness.” Hawthorne called it the Unpardonable Sin—the sin of self-pride, of confusing oneself with the Almighty.
Fundamentalism in one form or another has been the scourge of the 20th century. Fundamentalists are absolutists—people who believe they are appointed carriers of a sacred gospel and feel so sure they are right that they have no compunction about killing heretics or doing anything else to advance their cause. Secular fundamentalists see themselves as executing the will of History; religious fundamentalists see themselves as executing the will of God.
The zealots who believed they were commissioned by History shadowed the middle half of the century. But the collapse of the totalitarian faiths—fascism perishing with a bang, communism with a whimper—has somewhat reduced the threat from secular fundamentalism. What has arisen to take its place is religious fundamentalism, long repressed by the Cold War, now bursting forth in all righteous and murderous rage. The fanatic, said Mr. Dooley, “does what he think th’ Lord wud do if He only knew th’ facts in th’ case.”
Beware, Hawthorne warned, of those who thus surrender themselves to a single overruling purpose. “
They have no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience. They will keep no friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the more readily, if you take the first step with them and cannot take the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly strait path.
There is awful arrogance in claiming access to the divine purpose. We must never forget, wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, the pre-eminent American theologian of the century, “the depth of evil to which individuals and communities may sink, particularly when they try to play the role of God to history.”
As the most religiously sensitive of our presidents, Abraham Lincoln, put it in his great Second Inaugural, “The Almighty has His own purposes.” When this thought offended true believers who were sure they knew what God intended, Lincoln observed,
“Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a difference of purpose between the Almighty and them.
” And he added that this was “a truth which I thought needed to be told” because to deny it is “to deny that there is a God governing the world.”
“Religion,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values.”
Religion’s proper role is to induce, not a sense of infallibility, but a sense of limitation; not complacency, but contrition and repentance
It is surely time for our religious leaders to invoke true religion against those who degrade religion by using it to promote their own agendas and to inflate their own egos. Unrebuked and unchecked, fundamentalists of all faiths will continue to believe that they are serving God by mayhem and murder.
August 31, 2010 | 3:36 pm
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.
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.