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LWV League of Women Voters of California Education Fund
Los Angeles County, CA March 3, 2015 Election
Smart Voter

Carl J. Petersen
Answers Questions

Candidate for
Board Member; Los Angeles Unified School District; District 3


The questions were prepared by the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles and asked of all candidates for this office.
Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).

Questions & Answers

1. What is the single most important issue facing LAUSD today? As a Board Member, what would you do to deal with it?

Almost every major problem facing the LAUSD can be traced back to the size of the massive bureaucracy. With more than 640,000 students spread over 720 square miles in over 900 schools, the easiest way for the district to provide oversight of the system is by establishing a one-size-fits-all policy and mandating that everyone blindly follow it. This cookie-cutter technique may work fine in a factory where every widget must come off of the line exactly like the one before it and the economies of scale help drive down costs. However, the product of our public education system should not be identical bricks in the wall but individuals capable of critically thinking.

Teachers, parents, staff and administrators of a local school community are closest to the students and know best how to meet their own unique needs. As a Board Member I will actively work to get the district's bureaucracy out of the way so that these local communities are not hampered by red-tape. This will require a direct assault on the district's culture, including moving a lot of the staff who now sit downtown in the Beaudry building to school sites where they have to interact with the students that they serve. I will push to move Board meetings to times and locations where working parents, teachers and students can participate. If these initiatives fail, the only other solution may be to break the district into smaller, more manageable districts that can put the needs of the students first.

2. What is the role of the Board, and what is the role of the Superintendent? How should they interact?

The failure of the MiSiS implementation, which contributed to what Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. ruled were "severe and pervasive educational deprivations," is an example of how the established roles of the Board and the Superintendent are not being followed. (1) The Board is supposed to set policy and hold the Superintendent accountable. In turn, the Superintendent is in charge of running the daily operations of the district based on the policies implemented by the Board. When a Board member openly admits, as in the case of the MiSiS disaster, that "we don't supervise anyone who works for the superintendent", the Superintendent is clearly not being held accountable. (2)

According to the Los Angeles Times, former Superintendent John Deasy "accepted the job in 2009 with the understanding that he would be able to advance his own aggressive reforms." (3) This was an abdication of responsibility on the part of the Board. Additional problems are caused by the fact that the Superintendent and his senior staff are not exclusively loyal to the Board that they serve. It has been reported that, at one time, Eli "Broad partnered with [Bill] Gates and media executive Casey Wasserman... to fund some of [the] top administrative positions in Los Angeles Unified's central office. All of the recipients of these positions make six-figure salaries." (4) As a Board member, I would work to ban these types of arrangements so that these staff members answer exclusively to the elective Board.

In turn, the Board must also avoid micro-managing the Superintendent. The policies that they set must be broad enough so that they can be implemented in each individual school. A good example is the recent vote to include an ethnic studies class to the graduation requirement. Through this vote, the Board made it clear what they wanted the outcome to be, but allowed the Superintendent to study what the best way would be to implement it. This is how the relationship is supposed to work. The Superintendent must now report his findings and actions to the Board and the Board needs to make sure that the Superintendent meets their directives.

(1) (2) (3) (4)

3. What are your criteria for an effective teacher evaluation plan?

First and foremost, we must stop using standardized tests to evaluate the progress of teachers and schools. These tests were designed to help evaluate a student's progress so that teachers could target students' weak areas. Using these tests for other purposes results in undue stress being placed on students. It also causes schools to emphasize subjects that are tested over the arts and other subjects that are not tested. Critical thinking skills are also short changed as test-taking skills are emphasized over the ability to employ knowledge. For these reasons, I have chosen to opt my children out of these tests.

Any successful evaluation system needs to recognize the unique nature of each child. Unfortunately, the district's current data-focused system ignores this. For example, a Level 4 (Highly Effective) teacher needs to have a classroom that "functions as a community of learners with student assumption of responsibility for learning." Under this description, my daughters' special education teachers will never be considered highly effective, since my children are not capable of assuming this type of responsibility. Even in a typical class, this type of evaluation places responsibility on the teacher for the student's behavior. A better system would judge teachers on their ability to help each student achieve their full potential.

Eliminating blind adherence to data requires administrators who are well-trained, have actual classroom experience and have the ability to work with teachers on an on-going basis. This is the only way that they can understand the intricacies of each class and determine if the teacher is meeting the needs of the students.

The system also needs a way to protect teachers who speak out against policy or inform parents when their children are not getting the services that they need. Today they are simply categorized as "bad teachers" and removed from the classroom. When this happens, we lose good teachers and hurt our children.

Responses to questions asked of each candidate are reproduced as submitted to the League.  Candidates' answers are presented as submitted.

Read the answers from all candidates (who have responded).

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Created from information supplied by the candidate: January 3, 2015 10:38
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