A Teachers College, Columbia University panel convened Friday night in downtown Los Angeles for a Superintendents Roundtable titled, "School Turn-Around Efforts in Los Angeles: Urban Policy & Practice Options," in honor of the 125th anniversary of Teachers College. The panel was led by Brian Perkins, Teachers College faculty and Director of the Urban Education Leadership Program, Dewayne Davis, Director of Secondary Instruction, and David Tokofsky, a strategist with the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles and former Los Angeles School Board member.
Topics discussed by the panel, which covered national and local issues in Los Angeles impacting education, included poverty, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school board elections and teachers unions.
Some of the most prominent, and in some cases alarming, points raised by the panel included:
- The upcoming LAUSD school board elections, a district which serves 662,140 and 1,124 schools, is being funded by 17 people donating large amounts of campaign funds to support candidates.
- LAUSD possesses some of the highest performing schools in the county, in areas such as Brentwood, but is being denied funding due to low test scores and teacher evaluations based on several low income schools which are not performing due to factors such as extreme poverty.
- The panelists cited an ongoing "war on teachers unions" which has adversely affected quality of teaching and student performance.
One of the most salient examples cited by panelist David Tokofsky from his time as a history teacher discussed a class which contained 45 students, four of whom were "problem" students. Tokofsky explained that three of these students were following the one "bad apple" in the class, therefore in reality one out of 45 students in his class were truly disengaged from learning. He went on to say that if he had spent class time disciplining those problem students, it would have been at the price of 41 other students in the class, detracting from their learning and engagement.
The special education parallel that is drawn from this example lies in special needs students, with autism or other developmental disabilities, who have an aide present in the classroom. This aide assists the special needs student so that the teacher does not have to take time away from the rest of the class. Were the aide not present, the teacher would have to devote time to assist the special needs student, who is not necessarily a "problem" student.
Therein lies the danger in the upcoming school board elections, and national issues such as sequestration, which threaten to cut education and special education funding, thereby valuable resources such as aides for special needs students. The panel stressed influences such as community engagement to avert such deleterious impacts on education and special education in Los Angeles, as well as the nation as a whole.
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