Saturday, July 13, 2013

Los Angeles: ground zero in the fight over class size and corporate reform

The Los Angeles school board has a new president, Dr. Richard Vladovic, and a new member, Monica Ratliff, a working fifth grade teacher, who won her seat despite being hugely outspent more than 10-1 by the corporate reform crowd, including $1 million from NYC Mayor Bloomberg.  (UPDATE: counting independent expenditures, it was more like 42-1; see comment below.)

Vladovic was elected president by 5-2. The two votes against him came from outgoing president Monica Garcia and her ally Tamar Galatzan.
LA Superintendent John Deasy
The Los Angeles school district also has, for the first time in years, an increase in funding from the state, and has decided to spend a large portion to reverse the increase in class sizes that has driven class sizes in many classrooms to 30 to 40 students or more.
Here is a video of the June 18 school board meeting, showing Los Angeles parents, many of them Mexican-American, pleading with the school board to pass the resolution that had been introduced in support of reducing class size.  It is well worth watching in its entirety.  
At the behest of some LA parents and activist Robert Skeels, I wrote a short research brief supporting the resolution that is posted here.
The class size reduction resolution was approved by the board 5-2.  The two votes against it came, again, from Monica Garcia and Tamar Galatzan. The board  postponed a vote on a competing resolution, introduced by Galatzan and supported by Superintendent John Deasy, that would have given schools more “flexibility” in spending these funds.
Deasy had already pushed through a program to give iPads to all LA students, and expand digital learning to teach the common core, all favorite experiments of the corporate reform crowd and especially the Gates Foundation.
Deasy was appointed straight from the Gates Foundation, which  remains the nation’s most powerful opponent of reducing class size, despite the voluminous evidence for its efficacy in boosting learning and narrowing the achievement gap. 
After the vote of the school board in favor of reducing class size, Deasy said he would ignore their wishes and would implement Galatzan’s resolution:
 “The Board voted down the directive to have me come and do it,” said Deasy, referring to Galatzan’s local spending resolution: “…we’re doing it anyway. If they had voted to prevent me from doing it… well they didn’t think of that.”
He said his spending plan will somehow combine both resolutions, including the one supporting class size reduction, which he derisively described as a “directive to hire every human being on the West Coast.”   

The LA principals and teachers unions subsequently sent a letter of protest to the board about Deasy’s intention to defy their decision.
Below is a video clip of the most dramatic part of the board’s debate over class size, as Steve Zimmer, the new vice-president, also a former school teacher, explains the hypocrisy of those who opposed this resolution by showing how many LA charters boast about their smaller classes.  (Deasy is proud of the fact that LA is now the largest charter authorizer in the United States.)
Here is a description/explanation from a LA insider, originally posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog:
With mounting irritation, Zimmer starts shouting—quoting and throwing the paper printouts from the charters websites wildly over his shoulder (where the charters’ websites’ main page touts and specifically cites their exact student-to-teacher ratios.)

This was breathtaking. You can’t see this because of the camera angle, but Board Member Galatzan was visibly angry at this point. A little subtext here.

Both Galatzan and Monica Garcia have strongly backed the private charters in general—and the ones mentioned by Zimmer in particular, while at the same time, lambasting teachers in the traditional public schools and those teachers’ union, UTLA for doing a lousy job, and “obstructing reform” and being “defenders of a failed status quo,” and on and on… (In the process, Galatzan and Garcia are parroting the talking points of the “reform” organizations who pumped millions into their campaigns… but that’s another story).

In 2009, Galatzan and Garcia also voted to raise class size in the traditional public schools—and saying nothing about the ratios at their beloved charter schools. While the state budget was a contributing factor to the vote, Galatzan and Garcia also cited in part the following reasons for raising the class size in the traditional public schools:

1) “Lowering class size is just about teachers unions wanting more members and more dues, and more power… with no proof that it helps kids.”

2) “Lowering class size is about advancing adult interests at the expense of children’s interests.”

3) “Lowering class size is just so teachers, who have it easy enough already, will have it even easier, with less work required from less students.”

Zimmer makes brief reference to these objection ”to those who think that (lowering) class size is solely about jobs.. ”

For Galatzan and Garcia, they take a seemingly contradictory (hypocritical?) stance on this, as again, they bend over backwards supporting and praising the charter schools whose success is in part due to their low class size—the low class size the charters tout on their websites.

Anyway, back to the video.

Galatzan starts picking up the papers that Zimmer flings indiscriminately over his head and slapping them down angrily on the counter, and says to him, “Are you gonna clean this up?”

Not flinching a bit, Zimmer continues his laser-like focus, not even looking sideways at Galatzan as he snaps, “I’ll clean it up!” as if to say, “Don’t butt in… I’m on a roll here.”

Again… a breathtaking performance.

It is especially breathtaking for those of us here in NYC, whose children continue to suffer from rising class sizes because of mayoral control and a lack of democracy, with a school board whose decisions are in lock step with their master, Michael Bloomberg.


Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

Class Size Matters' research brief went a long way towards swaying several board member. The intractable and incorrigible Deasy's propensity to want to use funds to line the pockets of his backers instead of helping students hasn't gone unnoticed. Activists have begun a public campaign to search for his replacement. ¡Venceremos! Join the community search for a new LAUSD superintendent!

Anonymous said...

Ratliff wasn't outspent by 10-1. It was 42-1 if independent expenditures (more than $2 million) are included. Final totals won't be in until after July 31, but the numbers may be found at

Anonymous said...

Excellent, spot-on debriefing.

There is not a parent in the room or across the district who could possibly be fooled by the Bog Lie that 'reducing class size is just a personnel issue'. It is nothing short of surreal that anyone entertains this notion for an instant. Let alone votes in support of it for years.

Children need to be taught, by human teachers, who care about them so that the children can form a connection with that teacher. This is an impossibility in a classroom with too many children. period.

Period!!!! No one thinks otherwise, as evidenced by all the walking with their feet parents have been doing for schools where their child has a functional teacher "in front of them".

The real question is: who could have the temerity to suggest some special children don't actually have the same need as others to low class-size. Who could possibly have the audacity to suggest that what's critical for their own kid -- low class size -- is not important for another's child???!

This notion of "special-ness" needs some long, serious close looking at.

Leonie Haimson said...

glad to hear I got it right from LA residents! I'm always worried that from the outside I will have missed some nuances. I did write more than 10-1 outspent -- but I will clarify on the blog that it was 42 to one. thanks!

Anonymous said...

The paragraph in the above post implies that the Gates Foundation boosts learning and narrows the achievement gap:

"Deasy was appointed straight from the Gates Foundation, which, despite the *voluminous evidence* for its efficacy in boosting learning and narrowing the achievement gap, remains the nation’s most powerful opponent of reducing class size."

But I think you mean REDUCING CLASS SIZE boosts learning and narrows the achievement gap. Right?

Leonie Haimson said...

Anonymous: thanks for the correction! I have changed the post accordingly to make clear that it is reducing class size, not the Gates Foundation, that boosts learning!