Thursday, April 9, 2015

Is Mayor Garcetti being Taunted by Corporate Education Reformers?

By Karen Wolf, Member of the BAT Leadership Team and LAUSD parent

originally published 4/7/15 on 

EDUCATION POLITICS-Easter Sunday was the perfect day for a resurrection. 

That was the day Steve Barr’s article appeared in the Los Angeles Times, prodding Mayor Eric Garcetti to revive the role of his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, in pushing private takeovers of public schools. 

From Steve Barr (photo)—co-opter of Rock the Vote, and now head of a statewide group funded by right wing billionaires who push the privatization agenda—it is likely that this move to reawaken Los Angeles City Hall to corporate takeovers of public schools is part of a slick public relations campaign. 

The timing is certainly suspect. Just a few days prior, the Fox News of education reform had published an article that also called on Mayor Garcetti to enter the fray. A misleading headline in LA School Report (LASR) aimed to place Garcetti at the center of a “grim picture for LA girls, women.” 

Rather than commending him for commissioning the “Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Los Angeles,” most of which is yet to be released, LASR tied his report into LAUSD by editorializing the “findings that reflect, in part, the experiences of female students in LA Unified.” It’s a wonder LASR didn’t connect Mayor Garcetti and the LAUSD with the stat that women across the world make less money than men. 

But Steve Barr was more subtle. Or slick. 

Barr hides in broad daylight, disguising his chiding the Mayor as just a “chat”. Just a cell phone “selfie”.  

Isn’t he folksy? He even tells us he thinks “all teachers are badass.” This is a nod to the grassroots progressive group, the Badass Teachers Association (BATs), which exploded onto the scene a year and a half ago, quickly boasted 55,000 members, and received national news coverage for pushing support of public teachers and schools (in the Washington Post and Time Magazine and on MSNBC). 

The group backed Tephyr Teachout, the candidate who embarrassed Andrew Cuomo into a runoff, and is supporting Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in his runoff against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

But just like teenagers fail to acknowledge that selfies last forever, Steve Barr, too, apparently needs to be reminded that his history of hostile school takeovers is well documented from Los Angeles to New Orleans to New York. 

Even if that seems like history, one would expect the Los Angeles Times to at least inform readers that today Barr is more than his folksy persona. Despite its corporate editorial slant, the newspaper should disclose that he is now head of the California Democrats for Education Reform (C-DFER), the deceptively named organization backed by hedge fund billionaires to support a privatization agenda. So right wing is DFER, that the LA County Democratic Party demanded DFER stop using the word “Democrat” in its name. 

Taunting Mayor Garcetti into disrupting LA schools is a desperate maneuver that flies in the face of what Angelenos want. In every election related to public education in Los Angeles over the last few years, from school board members to the State Superintendent, Los Angeles voters have rejected corporate reform candidates. Mayor Garcetti has eschewed the tactics of his predecessor. He has not raised millions of dollars to defeat popularly elected school board members. He has consistently—and rightly—left Los Angeles education policy up to professional educators and the autonomous school board. 

In the coming months it will be more important than ever that Mayor Garcetti holds the line. In addition to the release of the Education section of Garcetti’s report, LAUSD will embark on selecting a more permanent superintendent; California’s exemptions from the punitive measures of federal education policy will sunset; the drive to teach to the test may reach fever pitch and threaten to eclipse comprehensive curriculum. In light of all of this, Los Angeles needs education policy determined more by experts than by political agendas. 

If the past few Los Angeles elections are any indication, that might just be the best assurance of a long political future for a mayor anyway.

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