Steve Zimmer Anti-Reform, Yolie Flores For Reform: The Stark LAUSD School Board Drama Unfolding After Historic ACLU Settlement

Steve Zimmer, elected by "sophisticates" on the Westside, is starkly shown as the leading anti-reformist on the LAUSD Board of Education in a fascinating LA Times story about how United Teachers Los Angeles got snookered by the pro bono American Civil Liberties Union, Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster when those groups won a settlement for inner-city children.

Zimmer's role: trying to stop fellow LAUSD board member Yolie Flores, a gutsy reformer, advocate of the poor, and UTLA enemy, from improving classrooms by measuring teacher effectiveness.

It's yet another episode in which Zimmer was the ringleader against reforms hated by UTLA. Flores wanted to use cumulative student test scores to ID the teachers whose students chronically fall back even when students down the hall are doing great. Zimmer fought her, but Flores won some key changes. Boy that's set off a frenzy:

Flores "urged her colleagues to reject any settlement that did not take on the wider issue of teacher evaluation," the Times reported. She wanted the district to look at students' progress over time, using their scores on standardized tests to estimate a teacher's and a school's effectiveness. It's called "Value-Added" assessment.

Value-added is the future for judging if a teacher is holding his or her kids back, or pushing them forward. (See the brilliant L.A. Times coverage of this issue here.)

Flores idea for using test scores over time to judge teachers was backed up by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's team as well as the newbie LAUSD Deputy Superintendent John Deasy, according to Times reporters Howard Blume and Jason Song.

But Superintendent Ramon Cortines -- a good man, but a guy who quite plainly has never never reformed a school district, and never will -- utterly lost his nerve, as he often does. He opposed Flores, citing cost concerns.

Then along came Zimmer, spokesman for UTLA.

Zimmer and Cortines convinced the LAUSD board to water down Flores' language to read simply that campuses and teachers will be judged on "student growth over time."

Except the ACLU-Public Counsel-Morrison & Foerster settlement won on behalf of inner-city kids gives that language oomph. It creates an opening for real change. So UTLA is talking about suing to toss out the big victory for inner-city kids.

You might recall another Zimmer incident: a slam-down last March in which Cortines tried to shift 30 neglected schools from LAUSD to well-known charter operators -- solely in order to save those schools.

Again, Cortines is a good man. Just not very tough.

Yolie Flores, who is very tough, pushed hard for it.

But Zimmer attacked the idea on behalf of virulently anti-charter UTLA. UTLA slammed the plan. The board buckled. Eventually Cortines' turnover of 30 troubled schools to charters with solid track records fell apart.

Thanks to Zimmer and School Board President Monica Garcia, 26 of those schools were instead shifted to untried LAUSD teacher groups blessed by the union.

The Weekly reported on this repudiation of the well-meaning but ineffective Cortines' by his own Board of Education and Zimmer's religious devotion to UTLA.

And take note: Zimmer is only on the LAUSD Board because of a bizarre Election Year error.

In 2009, Ben Austin, a former aide to President Bill Clinton, failed to gather 500 to 1,000 qualified signatures needed to put his name on the ballot for the school board race. It was a strange snafu, never fully explained.

Austin would have won the seat handily, the pundits, consultants, etc., believed.

Austin is now on the California Board of Education.

We in Los Angeles got UTLA's man, Zimmer, instead.

No wonder Yolie Flores has announced she won't seek re-election to the LAUSD School Board in 2011.

Flores is leaving next June to fight for teacher change, and classroom change -- but from the outside.

She's going to run a major new project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- that's yet another group disliked by the United Teachers Los Angeles.


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