Jul 30, 2014
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Opinion: Trustee Bennett Kayser Occupies LAUSD

Silver Lake resident Kayser represents Los Angeles Unified School District 5, which includes Northeast Los Angeles. He sent this Opinion piece

Opinion: Trustee Bennett Kayser Occupies LAUSD

I am an admitted sympathizer with the Occupy movement. Recently individuals set up tents on the sidewalk outside the school district headquarters.  I said to Peggy, my wife of 40 years, “Load up the Prius while I get the tent.”  Then it occurred to me, I had already taken the most important step to “Occupy LAUSD,"  I was successfully elected to be an educational leader at the Los Angeles Unified School District.  To the surprise of many, I defeated a better-funded opponent, giving me and others concerned with the fate of public education in our community great hope.

Everyday, I am working to support public education and the children of our community.  I am a warrior against the status quo.  We are in a battle against a well-funded opposition interested in privatizing education that has millions to spend promoting an Orwellian doublespeak that claims reform as their own and paints those who have actually worked in a classroom as defenders of the status quo.

Fellow activist Sue Peters of Seattle described the sorry situation we find ourselves in saying, “the status quo is currently a beleaguered, under-funded system…ravaged by damaging policies...pushed by those who want to privatize our public schools.”  I am for properly funding education, hiring the best teachers, and for serving all of the nation’s children; the poor, the recent immigrant, the advantaged and the disadvantaged. I am saying out loud that we have a great school system filled with caring adults who could do better if better supported.

All children deserve the education currently reserved for those who already have every opportunity.  My work will be done when every child can “choose” to attend a public neighborhood school that is funded as well as Phillips Exeter.  That will be real public school choice.

Our schools and teachers are targeted as those responsible for a society that is failing our children.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I have never met a teacher who did not enter the profession with the single purpose of helping children.  Teachers are the warriors by my side giving their all for children. Yes, they are not all the best, but most of them want to be.

My fellow activist in New York, Leo Casey, has identified that 9 of the 10 billionaires on the Forbes’ list of the richest Americans are “engaged in active political warfare against public school teachers and teacher unions.”  They are joined by a host of financial players who, in a demonstration against any principle of accountability, brought the world’s economy to its knees and then profited again from a taxpayer-funded bailout. 

While teachers and public employees are vilified for having retirement plans, bankers and CEO’s are receiving bonuses and income at the highest levels in history while we have a staggering unemployment rate and increasing child poverty. In 2007, the US Department of Education spent $14.8 billion on disadvantaged children, less than the net worth of school privatization proponents Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Larry Ellison that year.

New Jersey activist Stan Karp put it best when he stated, “The same people and politicians who accept no accountability for having created the most unequal distribution of wealth in the history of the planet, an economy that threatens the health and well being of hundreds of millions, want to hold you (teachers) accountable” for student test scores. 

Study after study indicates that poverty is the real problem creating educational inequity.  It is the dividing line of the “achievement gap”.  It explains the distance between suburban and urban achievement and the disparity between suburban and rural educational success and the difference in race and ethnicity.  Yet, even in the highest levels of LAUSD we have people saying, “poverty is not destiny”.  Well, poverty is sure an important factor.  As Karp says, “Saying poverty isn’t an excuse has become an excuse for ignoring poverty.”

As the Occupy movement forces are indicating, if the billionaires really want to do good, they would advocate for good paying jobs.  They would advocate for a retirement system that rewards those who have dedicated their lives to public service with an opportunity to step aside for the next generation to take their place.  Instead, they seek a villain as they advocate for raising class size, taking teachers away from children that need a hug and replacing teachers with “technology”. 

They advocate for a rapid expansion of the yet to be proven turning over schools to unaccountable private organizations, the closing of “low performing” schools which face overwhelming difficulties; more testing; elimination of seniority and tenure which came into existence to protect teachers from mercurial political forces; and test-based teacher evaluations, which everyone acknowledges uses testing instruments in ways they were never designed.

If these so-called “reform” policies were enacted today, they would do little to close the achievement gap, nor increase the college-going rate, attendance, safety at schools, or raise parent engagement. We really know what to do, give parents jobs and put children into nurturing, rich academic environments and they will exceed all expectations.

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