Friday, June 07, 2013

Conversation with CA GOP Chair Brulte and Sen. Huff staffers

Re-posted from Flashreport, 6/7
http://www.flashreport.org/blog/2013/06/07/postscript-to-open-letter-to-ca-gop-chair-jim-brulte/

On May 20 Flashreport ran my open letter to California GOP Chair Jim Brulte (http://www.flashreport.org/featured-columns-library0b.php?faID=2013052011262262). In this letter I urged Mr. Brulte to consider working towards a condemnation of the Common Core Standards (CCS), the Obama administration’s signature education initiative. New CCS academic standards will cost CA $1.6 billion, per the state Dept. of Education, and will do nothing more than replace our current world-class standards. Unless you’re a stockholder of Houghton-Mifflin (new standards require new textbooks) or Educational Testing Service (new standards require new standardized tests) there is no reason to expect a dividend, either educational or financial, from the purchase of these new standards.

I pointed out in my letter to Mr. Brulte that Gov. Brown made much show of approving payment for CCS out of Prop. 30 funds (although he understated the CCS cost at $1 billion), meaning that Californian’s have voted to tax themselves to pay a windfall profit to special interests in publishing and testing. On its surface that sounds like a ready target for GOP attack, but no attack has been forthcoming. In fact it seems that no matter what Brown does, he does it with impunity and increasing praise. No one is calling him out on Prop. 30, CCS or anything else. My proposal was intended to help insert some balance into state politics so that we don’t already have to concede Brown for next governor.

Very much to his credit, Mr. Brulte wrote me back thanking me for expressing my views and informing me that he had forwarded my Flashreport article to GOP legislative leaders, who, he said, are “at the very moment fighting this issue in Sacramento.” Mr. Brulte also suggested I write to Senator Bob Huff’s chief of staff, Kevin Bassett, and Assemblywoman Connie Conway’s legislative director, Deborah Gonzales.

It was exciting news to me that the CCS was under consideration in the legislature, though I was somewhat skeptical that legislators were “fighting this issue,” as there has been no news of such struggle in any capitol news source that I’m aware of, and, of course, there have been no public, high profile attacks from GOP leaders on CCS or Brown’s acceptance of it.

Per Mr. Brulte’s suggestion, I wrote to both Mr. Bassett and Ms. Gonzales. Ms. Gonzales did not return my email, but I received a very cordial and encouraging email from Mr. Bassett. Within a week, Mr. Bassett had arranged a conference call between me, himself, and three staffers from Sen. Huff’s office. I am very appreciative and grateful for this effort, and for the time the staffers and Mr. Bassett spent talking to me on the phone.

I can’t say, however, that I am particularly pleased with the outcome, as it appears certain that CCS is not at all on the front burner of discussion in state GOP or legislative circles, nor indeed is there anything like the immediacy the issue deserves. Sen. Huff’s staffers told me that it’s too late, given the current state of the budget approval process, to do anything regarding the status of CCS, and this alleged lack of usefulness of the budget process was characterized as the epitaph for the issue. Clearly, if legislators had an idea of the potential for GOP recovery of the high ground and attendant large numbers of GOP votes inherent in opposition to CCS, they would find ways, if only using the “bully pulpit,” to oppose CCS and help expose its abuses to the public

I would like to close by referencing another problem with CCS, other than its unjustified and mammoth cost: its implementation in CA will create several years of confusion, which will spread quickly to children and parents, because in the coming school year the current standards, approved textbooks and standardized tests will all be technically obsolete. There is considerable debate as to whether CA can even conduct standardized testing next spring. Cancellation of the tests in itself would be a calamity of wasted money, confused data and upset children and parents. Aside from testing concerns, teachers will have no English Language Arts materials next year that are designated state aligned to the CCS, and LA Unified is telling principals and teachers to use “whatever is at hand” next year, an astounding policy in itself coming from education leaders who insist on the importance of new standards. In addition, there is no certainty as to what educational approach the approved material will adopt. To the shock and horror of many, Utah approved, as its Common Core aligned K-5 English Language Arts text, a series in which teachers are to keep extensive track of students’ “feelings,” and changes in those feelings,on a huge range of subjects, many of them personal. What this has to do with English Language Arts is unclear, but it was enough to inspire the Utah GOP to come out against CCS, in direct opposition to the Utah Dept. of Education. The CA GOP should be proactive now, before Sacramento approves CCS aligned materials, and demand to know what pedagogy will be inherent in those materials. The current standards, for instance, reinstated phonics and traditional math to California schools- to the great benefit of test scores. Will these approaches be maintained, or will the “whole language,” anti-phonics, anti- grammar gurus stage a comeback in our state, under cover of CCS? Why are we paying $1.6 billion without knowing these things?

I continue to hope for GOP cognizance of this issue. Again to Mr. Brulte’s credit, he supported the recent RNC resolution against CCS, though this was initiated largely by Alabama, which has its own reasons for opposing CCS. Missing from the RNC rationale is anything about California’s unique situation of paying for something it already has- excellent standards. We need the state GOP and legislators to come out forcefully against CCS, in a way that makes headlines and shakes up the Dems, and with a rationale that includes the California perspective.

Doug Lasken is a retired 25 year veteran classroom teacher for LA Unified, a consultant and debate coach. Write him at doug.lasken@gmail.com

Monday, May 20, 2013

Lasken re-post from Flashreport: Letter to CA GOP Chair Jim Brulte

http://www.flashreport.org/featured-columns-library0b.php?faID=2013052011262262


I am pleased that you have achieved the chairmanship of the California State GOP, and that you intend to grow its membership in response to recent electoral setbacks, both nationally and at the state level.

I am writing to you because I feel strongly that the only way the state Republican Party can increase membership is through understanding of issues. Efforts to increase the Hispanic membership in the GOP, for instance, show no such efforts of understanding. The party faces generations of Democratic money funneled towards Hispanics through unions and Democratic-leaning institutions like school districts, and this will not be offset by vague promises of a “big tent." I have written in these pages about concrete steps other than immigration reform that the state GOP could take to increase Hispanic membership (http://www.flashreport.org/featured-columns-library0b.php?faID=2013030710523370) and do not need to repeat these here.

My goal in this letter is to point out events occurring last week involving Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget, which the party could use to its advantage if it were properly directed. As we have all been reading, the Gov. claims that, because of passage of Proposition 30, we have a healthy state of affairs in the California budget, at least as far as education. Never mind, for now, that Brown has achieved this through piling debt upon debt (everyone has read this in the papers but it has failed to make an impression- people tend to care about the immediate picture). Yet on May 14, the Gov. gave the state GOP a potential gift, the Achilles heal of his budget and in fact his governorship: The Governor announced that he would allocate $1 billion of state money to pay for the Common Core Standards (CCS).

What are the CCS? They are the Obama administration’s signature education initiative- national academic standards to replace the standards of individual states. Certainly like most of the public you’ve heard of them, and may have been impressed by what appears to be a 100% bipartisan buy-in. Even Mitt Romney, who you would have thought could have benefited from criticizing CCS, showed remarkably little understanding of it, in particular believing that the federal government would pay for it. It is to be paid for by the states- all of it. The national price-tag is estimated at $10 billion, and the bill for California is low-balled at $1.6 billion by the state Dept. of Education. Brown has rounded this off to $1 billion, which he says we can now afford because we have agreed to tax ourselves per Prop. 30.

And what is it that we’ve agreed to tax ourselves for? We are purchasing brand-new standards, touted as the latest and greatest. Certainly they are better standards than those found in many other states, especially Southern states (as I found when I did an assessment of state standards for the Fordham Institute). But the problem in CA is that we already have world-class academic standards, for which we paid a few billion twelve years ago. We spent a few billion more on textbooks to match our standards, and a few billion more on state standardized tests to match the textbooks. Brown has put us on the hook for several billion, not one billion, for a product that will have virtually no impact on the classroom, siphoning precious funds away from our bankrupted schools and entailing several years of confused transition, while Brown seeks political cover by transferring funds from “wealthy” districts to “poor” districts. If he used the several billion he’s throwing away on CCS, he could raise per pupil funding for all kids.

The Governor’s announcement that he will fund CCS was on Tuesday of last week. As of Friday, the reaction and/or criticism from the Republican Party, or anyone else, has been…let me check…yep, non-existent. Like Romney at the national level, our state GOP does not understand this issue at all. Perhaps what it doesn’t understand is that in order to prove itself to be a party with principals and understanding, it may have to buck some powerful lobbies, in this case the publishing and testing industries, poised now to clean up in California, as the Governor cleans up politically.

Mr. Brulte, I appreciate your attention to my argument, and it’s an honor to be able to address you through the Flashreport, the journal of cutting edge Republican thought in California. I would very much like your reaction to these thoughts, as well as the reaction of other state GOP activists. As someone who wants to see actual improvement in state GOP health, rather than feel-good words ad nauseam, I would appreciate your response.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Lasken FlashReport post: Bilingual ed. & the CA GOP

Reposted from FlashReport, March 7, 2013


CA GOP NEEDS SENSIBLE HISPANIC OUTREACH

By Doug Lasken

Publisher's Note: As part of an ongoing effort to bring original, thoughtful commentary to you here at the FlashReport, I am pleased to present this column from Doug Lasken, a retired public school teacher. 
Jon Fleischman

In its current soul-searching, the state and national GOP is finding that it must reach out to blacks and Hispanics, whom the party has lost to Democrats. The problem, as conceived by some, is that the GOP has become the de facto “white” party, with “white” interests often defined in xenophobic terms that appeal to few Blacks and Hispanics, and in fact repel many whites, resulting in a white/minority party.

The advice for outreach is timely. Certainly in California the state GOP needs to regain a share of the Hispanic vote. But how will it do this? Should the party adopt liberal positions about solving everything with money, perhaps praising the Los Angeles Unified School District for recently showering thousands of I-Pads on inner-city Black and Hispanic kids in furtherance of Bill Gates' theory that technology = learning? As a 25-year veteran of LAUSD, I can guarantee that a third of those I-Pads will be sold or lost before the end of the year. Reading scores will be unaffected. The Gates foundation will not object to replacement orders of I-Pads. Blacks and Hispanics will continue to vote Democratic in spite ill-considered policy promoted by party allies. The state GOP would gain nothing by copying such liberal policy.

Then how will the GOP change its “message” to include Hispanics? I suggest that, for a change, GOP leaders do their homework and actually study policy and history.

For starters, party leaders need to understand the difference between Proposition 187 in 1994, and Proposition 227 in 1997. The first decimated membership in the state GOP; the second should have grown Hispanic membership in the party, but didn’t.

Prop. 187 passed but was thrown out by the courts. It would have prohibited illegal aliens from using health care, public education, and other social services in California. The financial logic was acceptable to a majority of Californians. LAUSD, although it refuses to disclose the figures of undocumented students, has, per public estimates, several hundred thousand. How is their education paid for? No one knows, or if they know, they do not say. The same for the county health-care system. The problem with 187 was not the financial logic, but the social reality. I taught inner city Hispanic kids at the time 187 passed, and I could readily see the chaos it would have promoted. Without figures it’s hard to know, but I anticipated that a third or more of the students at my school would have been denied enrollment and health services. Los Angeles would have been a dangerous and dark place, with thousand of primary and secondary kids roaming the streets and getting sick without care.

It was not a pretty picture, but the state GOP, lead by Pete Wilson, pushed hard for 187 passage, alienating most of the Hispanic electorate in the process. The party has perhaps learned the lesson of 187. Now it has to learn the lesson of 227.

Prop. 227 eliminated bilingual education in California, mandating that non-English speaking children be taught English upon enrolling in a California public school. It passed by a healthy margin, which included many Hispanic votes, and was upheld by the courts. Many Republicans supported 227, and it should have been a boost to the state GOP. As noted, however, it did the party no good at all. That’s because the party leaders did not understand 227- why it existed, why it was upheld- just as they had not understood 187.

It’s hard to believe now, 16 years after 227 passed, that for decades California enforced something called “bilingual education.” I put “bilingual education” in quotes because it is a misnomer, purposely devised by bilingual supporters to cloud the issue. “Bilingual” denotes two languages, and a bilingual person is a person who speaks two languages. However “bilingual education,” as practiced in California (with supporting regulations from the Department of Education in Washington) mandated that an immigrant child study a single language: his or her native language. When a kindergarten student entered LAUSD, if the native language at home was determined to be Spanish, the student was designated Limited English Proficient (LEP) and put into classes that spoke only Spanish (the "bilingual" system was offered almost entirely to Spanish speakers, not, for instance, for Armenian or Korean speakers, per the theory that Hispanic kids cannot learn a new language as well as other ethnicities, a theory stated explicitly by leading "bilingual" theorists. The LAUSD Bilingual Master Plan permitted English to be spoken thirty minutes a day- the English as a Second Language (ESL) component- but ESL could only be conversational English. No academic English was permitted at any time. All textbooks and academic instruction had to be in Spanish. Parents were told not to speak English at home, lest they confuse their children. An extremely difficult English exam was required to “re-designate” into English, and most kids could not pass this test until middle or high school, so that entire generations of Hispanic kids in California got no English instruction at all. Needless to say, English literacy skills plummeted and the Hispanic community is still recovering.

The real-life differences between 187 and 227 are clear. 187 would have thrown thousand of children out of school and into the streets. 227 gave immigrant children an important civil right: the right to learn the common language of their adopted country.

Why did the state GOP not get behind the very popular 227 and the struggle against bilingual education? One problem was that no party leaders understood the issue, and leadership did not know it could effectively rebut the inevitable charges of "racism," "discrimination," etc.

Most Hispanic parents supported 227. Every Hispanic parent I talked to over 25 years in LAUSD was opposed to bilingual education. Parents wondered why their children could not start English instruction right away. Hispanic students as well did not understand the policy. After I became a high school teacher in 1999, many Hispanic high school students asked me why they hadn’t been able to study English before 9th grade.  227 had come too late for them.

The state Democrats opposed 227, and the GOP should have moved in as an advocate for Hispanic education, but the party, which had been scorched by 187, was not up to the creative act of learning about an education policy (from anyone other than a publisher's rep) and acting accordingly. Today, even after 227's passage, millions of dollars are spent on classifying Spanish speakers, with special efforts to promote waivers to 227 so that students can be put back into Spanish only instruction. None of this is on GOP radar.

The same know-nothing (or know-it-all) approach to policy doomed George Romney’s presidential campaign. Romney’s advisors saw no need to understand Obama’s signature education initiative, the Common Core Standards- a $10 billion piece of pork that will do nothing for schools outside the South (where academic standards were low and needed to be replaced)- so Romney never attacked Common Core, except to claim, incorrectly, that it is bad because the federal government will pay for it (the states pay).  Even now in California, no GOP figure will criticize Governor Brown for supporting Common Core, which will cost the state $2 billion, paid by Brown's Proposition 30 (in other words, by us).  Common Core offers the perfect formula for a GOP issue: Big Publishing sets the agenda for public education, a conflict of interest of epic proportions.  But it is not on the GOP's radar.

No one should be surprised that a party with no intellectual leadership, no ability or desire to understand a changing political and cultural environment, has fallen on hard times. My message to Mr. Brulte and others who have challenged themselves to bring back the state party, is that they should start by promoting a culture in which policies are evaluated, not for their emotional impact, or the baggage attached to them by liberals, but by their real-life merit.
_________________________________________________________________

Doug Lasken is a retired Los Angeles Unified teacher, freelancer and consultant. Write to him at doug.lasken@gmail.com.

Postscript, May 8, 2018: In September, 2016, the implementation of Common Core in California and the replacement of the state's previous standardized tests with new tests aligned with Common Core - rushed for political and financial reasons- resulted in a meltdown of testing and instruction from which California school districts are still recovering.  Yet the state GOP remains mute on the subject.  They don't want to win, it seems, which is why Donald Trump was able to pick-up the party for a bargain basement price.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When last I looked...

Said the captain to first mate,
"It must be something that I ate,

for when I look across the sea
and think of what it all could be-

I feel that with my senses sate
I’ve found the will to recreate

that empty canvas I did see
when last I looked across the sea."