Disclosure: Greg Good served as Steve Zimmer's campaign manager four years ago. He has known Steve since 1992, when they converged on Los Angeles together as Teach for America corps members.
Steve Zimmer has done a fantastic job. Period. With all due respect to Kate, Bill Gates, Nick and others, to ascribe the totality of LAUSD's perceived failures on Steve - whether it's layoffs or the achievement gap - is patently absurd. And while a rejoinder to that may be..."...I don't blame him, he's a good guy/policy wonk, etc., we just need change,"...that response, in effect, suggests that he hasn't done enough. Otherwise, why wouldn't you vote for his re-election?
To the contrary, Steve has worked relentlessly on a micro and macro level. He addressed and initiated substantive pedagogical issues and initiatives (ranging from pushing hard for dual-immersion programs to creating wrap-around services that bridge external resources with student needs in middle and high schools, for example) in a way that reflects 17 years not just as a teacher (and I don't say "just as..." pejoratively - but for context), but as a campus leader and community organizer. Steve knows the marrow of this system because he's fought for kids in it for over 20 years. Should that alone determine who to vote for? Probably not. However, it is not something that should be brushed off as sweet, but..blah, blah, blah. It matters and should matter.
Meanwhile, even as he has dug deep on pedagogy and systems within the system that directly impact kids, he has tackled THE fundamental external factor that plagues achievement levels in LAUSD and California's public schools with equal vigor: funding. Say what you will...there is an impenetrable bottom line: the state of CA ranks 49th in the union in per pupil spending. Anyone - whether named Bloomberg, Gates, Anderson or Zimmer - who doesn't acknowledge that as the elephant in the room is delusional. What has Steve done on that front?
The nice, wonky teacher has fought like a pit bull for the passage of Prop. 30; he has fought equally relentlessly, in collaboration with Senator Tom Harkin, on federal legislation that would require the feds to finally pay what is legally mandated for special education funding (an absolutely appropriate, but nonetheless enormous piece of LAUSD and other public district's budgets); and he fought relentlessly - even if unsuccessfully - to get then-Supt.
Cortines to loosen up more stimulus funds to prevent the lay-offs of teachers and in-school personnel during the Great Recession (remember that?); and he helped the district navigate one of the largest financial nightmares that a public school system has ever had to deal with. These efforts are not wonky...they reflect leadership, and they reflect hard-ass politics.
On a micro and macro level, Steve's performance has been that of a leader...identifying the core issues, inside and outside the system - and scraping and clawing to address them purposefully and aggressively.
With all due respect to Kate - and I genuinely mean that - this is really not about her. This race is about the charter, privatization and education "reform" elements of the public education landscape wanting to take Steve out. Kate's fabulous...but this is about Steve. They want him gone.
Why? In a nutshell:
- He called for a moratorium on new charters in Los Angeles
- He ostensibly wants Deasy removed
- He's too close to UTLA
- He doesn't adequately embrace standardized, high stakes testing - and its attachment to teacher evaluations
LA has more charter schools than the entire planet - despite the fact that: a) the research on their efficacy at this point - here or anywhere else - is, atbest, mixed. Moreover, we know for a fact that there are hideously under-performing charters operating in this city right now. Notably, Steve's only voted against granting or renewing one charter in four years. Still, reasonably given the research, he called for a strategic plan (don't Bloomberg and Gates believe in strategic plans? most Masters of the Universe do) - and a moratorium until that plan exists. Virtually everyone agreed (including the LA Times) that a strategic plan was called for...yet many decried the moratorium. Common sense question: When in life do you say "I do need a plan...but I'm going to keep blindly plowing forward - without said plan - in the meantime?" The charter establishment took such violent umbrage with this because it has become an alternate institution (rather than the visionary petri dish it was meant to be). In a betrayal of its origins, it is hell-bent, with crusade-like zeal, on self-perpetuation and growth. In fact, it has become its own parallel universe that feels it must grow or die. Steve's crime? Recognizing that charters are not a panacea - and calling for a pause before continuing to grow that parallel universe...one that has already expanded much faster, with questionable results, than anywhere else in the nation.
Steve has been generally extremely supportive of Deasy - and voted for his continued employment. He's told me personally that he thinks he's one of the smartest folks in public education - and he's worked closely with him. Steve's crime?Not rubber-stamping whatever he wants. Sorry, Mayor Bloomberg - but we need leaders who collaborate and question.
Beware of those who, in a landscape of unyieldingly shrinking resources, vilify and undermine the practitioners we count on. UTLA has its challenges, unquestionably...but union contracts are not the problem with public education. It's a Trojan horse diversion. Teachers are awesome - and they have to be respected if we're going to accomplish anything transcendent in the LAUSD.
Making them the boogie-people doesn't get anyone anywhere...and it certainly won't get them to look holistically or collaboratively at training, support and evaluation (as they have, by the way, with Steve and Deasy, in a recent landmark agreement), to look at new teacher placement, or to buy into any reform. Steve is close to UTLA because he believes in teachers, first and foremost. They are professionals, they are human beings, they have a right of association, they have the right to collectively bargain - and students, including my daughter, are better off as a result.
As importantly, though, Steve is also close to UTLA because it's a fools errand not to be. You can pillory the union all you want...but progress will go through - not over, around or under - the teachers. Steve wants to achieve - not posture - and that means fostering close relationships with every 800-lb. gorilla in the room...be it Deasy or UTLA.
On high-stakes testing and teacher evaluations
As a former teacher myself (I taught at Worthington Elementary in Inglewood, Inglewood High School and Compton High School), I can tell you...it doesn't work. Moreover, in a universe where we won't meaningfully address children's poverty, health care, nutrition, safety, transportation, protective services, etc., etc., to peg someone's professional evaluation to arbitrary numbers that are invariably impacted by innumerable factors - numbers which also, by the way, most often mean nothing to the kids - is pointless. The goal here is student achievement and growth - and not a shred of scholarship or research shows high-stakes testing or connecting test scores to teacher evaluations gets you any progress toward those goals.
In contrast, there's unlimited scholarship showing that more holistic, diverse and qualitative measures and evaluation tools are not only more effective ways to help teachers improve - but also the best way to help students achieve. THAT'S why Steve eschews high-stakes testing. Alas, the qualitative path is also more expensive...and we know where that gets us.
Nonetheless, Steve has called for - and helped negotiate the deal making reality - some portion of teacher evaluations to include test scores. Unfortunately, that's not enough for the Gatsby/J.P. Morgan/Bloomberg set. They want a clear unobstructed view of the assembly line...and qualitative learning and assessments don't provide that.
Bloomberg & Friends:
If you read nothing else here, I hope you read the two articles linked below. If you're tempted to put faith in Bloomberg's or Gates' visions for education "reform" or their choices for who should implement it, please remember:
- Bloomberg's Cathie Black saga
- And the Gates' Foundation now-discredited small schools plan, and other enlightenments:
Finally, I really, really like and respect Kate Anderson. She seems fantastic. However, as a parent, constituent, former teacher, democrat, and education "reformer", I will stand firm with the incumbent - a man who has fought for our kids fearlessly, insightfully and independently in extremely difficult times.
I will proudly and fiercely vote for Steve Zimmer for re-election to the LAUSD School Board.
I hope you'll join me...