|Photos by Slobodan Dimitrov|
L.A. WEEKLY: The people of Los Angeles seem to have lost faith in their schools. Are the schools really as bad as the people of the city perceive them to be?
MILISSA GLEN-LAMBERT: I think that public schools in general are good schools, with hard-working teachers, with results, with good kids working hard, and I think a lot of the people who criticize public schools don't go to them and don't really see them.
LYNNE SHEFFIELD: I've been teaching at public schools for 10 years, and I've seen and worked with many great teachers who have a lot to offer our students. As a mother I trust the system to work with my girls, who attend my school.
ANA VALENCIA: I think there is a tremendous amount of teacher bashing going on lately. Also, it's very fashionable right now, for some reason, to attack public education instead of trying to make positive changes. People are trying to implement Band-Aid remedies at a very rapid pace. I think we need to stop that.
ALAN KAPLAN: I teach at a high school, and my school is notworking. We have both a magnet school and a regular high school, which we call a community school. The average community-school student I encounter is three years below grade level. These are kids who were born in this country. If I have an average class with 30 ninth-graders, and the first day I give them a problem such as "You've received a 30 out of 80 on a test, what's the percentage?" I have no more than five kids who know how to attack that problem. I have very few kids who can write a sentence, who know the mechanics of writing. They're very intelligent -- they understand concepts when they want to. These kids have come from somewhere that's not working well. I'm not blaming the teachers. There's plenty of blame to go around. It's very hard to work with this school district, very hard to work with administrations. But my evaluation is that public education as I see it in Hamilton High School, outside the magnet school, is not working.
SHEFFIELD: I believe that many issues out there are not really the school's problem, but the school and the teachers seem to be expected to solve these problems. When I say that public education is working, I'm thinking of the many excellent teachers out there trying really hard and helping many students. But I do also have middle school students who are at a lower level than my third-grade daughter, which presents a problem. Is it my problem exclusively? I don't think so. It's also the parents. It's poverty. It's the language. We need to have a lot more parent involvement. I believe my daughter succeeds because I'm involved with her education. Teachers can't do it alone, but a lot of parents send their children to school and just expect us to solve all problems. At my school we're lucky to have a health clinic and other social services. We need that in all our schools if we're to be expected to deal with societal problems.
GLEN-LAMBERT: Let me state the obvious: If you want an excellent system, you've got to make teaching a profession where teachers are paid a good, fair salary, a salary that is comparable to what they could make doing something else. You would then have people sticking around longer.
Over half of the newly hired teachers are uncredentialed, and 21 percent of all teachers haven't received their teaching credential. How does that affect schools?
SHEFFIELD: It affects schools hugely. I know I don't want my daughter in kindergarten with a new teacher who really doesn't know how to teach. I want the teacher to teach my daughter to read.
LUCIA ARIAS: The problem isn't as much the new teachers as it is that the district isn't giving these new teachers support. They're spending the money on these new minidistricts, on offices, phone machines, faxes, clerical support. But the new teachers are just put in classrooms -- if they have them -- with no support, with nobody to help them or even to show how to fill out paperwork or do the testing.
VALENCIA: I think that one of the main reasons why we have so many new teachers is because of the class-size reduction that Governor Wilson put together. That was done very quickly, without a lot of thought. We have no room oftentimes for these additional classes. We've had to build modular classrooms and bungalows that take up needed playground space. And we have all these new teachers with just a college degree, no credential, stepping up to the plate. I think it takes a lot of courage to do that, and I'm not knocking them at all. But the whole thing was not well thought out in advance. CONTINUED ON PAGE 24
KAPLAN: New teachers aren't just thrown into a school: They're thrown into a district culture. It's a culture of arrogance, it's a culture of denial, and it's a culture of incompetence at the district level. I know stories at my school where the new teachers are fighting for books because we experienced teachers are hoarding them. We're hoarding them because the school district has been run by superintendents -- and I don't mean the current one -- who come out in the paper saying things like "I wasn't aware there was a textbook shortage." Now, this is what you're throwing new teachers into. It's dog-eat-dog.