As a parent I am overwhelmed by all the new education changes flying toward us, straight in the face:  ‘NEW!  ALL NEW!!!  Look, Learn!  Listen up, this is what’s gonna be different.  Waaay different but good luck even grasping what’s happening before a whole new, even bigger initiative blindsides you…’.

I literally cannot find the time to absorb a sketched outline of what’s new on the horizon, and there is so much that has happened in the immediate past that not even imminent change can muster high priority.

So let’s try just to catalog the change, sacrificing a modicum of understanding for simply spitting out a listing which under the circumstances, is frighteningly long:

Breakfast In The Classroom; in an effort to alleviate hunger as an impediment to learning among the nearly ¾ of our pupils who are title-I-compliant, breakfast is no longer to be served in the cafeteria by food service workers in a space designed for food, prior to class, but instead in the classroom itself, eating into instructional time, served by students who will multitask their food prep (collection, really – it is all highly processed of necessity) and cleanup responsibilities with homeroom functions.  Janitors, whose numbers have been literally decimated in recent years, will be no more present for this new, vast lateral stressor on their environs.  It is a huge new undertaking of LAUSD’s.  And as big as it is, this is perhaps the most trivial, uncleanliness, overeating and unhealthiness taking second-fiddle in an education setting to you know, actual education.

Charter school proliferation.  In recent years traditional district schools have been overrun in some sections of the city very literally, by privately run quasi-public entities, housed within and in some cases crowding traditional schools right out of the classrooms on their very campuses.  The implications for the ideology of public education are as huge as philosophy can be:  what does it mean to establish a separate, parallel system utilizing the same resources as the old?  The ramifications are mind-boggling in terms of segregation, equal opportunity and access, pedagogy, tracking and so forth.  Fundamentally affected is absolutely every ‘group’, every strata:  special education students, English Language Learners (those for whom English is not a first language), gifted students, teachers, administrators, at-risk students, etc.  It is an upheaval of the most momentous proportions.  Public education is being rewritten in physical classification and space and money reconfigurations.  Schools are being made over in widespread duplication and diminution of resources at the expense of children’s formerly legally protected, fundamental education rights; their best interests — all at the expense of ideology at best, base commercial gain at its plebeian worst.  The concentration of charter schools here in Los Angeles is greater than anywhere else in the world.

Local Control Funding Formula, aka LCFF.  Formerly education funding trickled down to your local neighborhood district school from a plethora of puddles, pots and purses.  A little from the Feds for this, a snippet from the county for that, a grant from the state for the other.  It is very confusing, hardly anyone up to and including the LAUSD board, knows what’s owed, spent or comes from where, conditions are difficult to comply with therefore, and harder still to track.  LCFF will corral all these disparate funding sources under a more centralized umbrella, and allow more of the spending decisions to be decided upon not at a state or county or federal level, but at the local school district level (which is hierarchically above the level of your local district school itself, with its iconic principal invigorating the local school-at-the-end-of-the-street).  Consequently it is claimed, perhaps for reasons of efficiency but the underlying reality is unclear, but there has been a gleeful proclamation that this new system will result in more education dollars available at the school site itself, and those bigger dollar-amounts will be under greater control of leaders at the school district level, at least.

Got that?  Education monies will soon arrive in one big bucket instead of lots of tiny pots, and decisions about that money will be made at “Beaudry” and not “Sacramento”.  Even while it appears any savings derive primarily from rearrangement and centralization of administrative costs, still it is promised there will result a windfall from what appears principally to be just reorganization, a “rearranging of the deck chairs”.

Personally, I have opted not to hold my breath awaiting this bonanza.  And whether it is wise to shift control of monies from state to local officials depends entirely, it seems to me, upon the serendipitous presence of local officials who happen themselves to be wise.  If there were, say, a prevailing bias in favor of codifying segregation, say by withholding poverty funds from schools populated by anything short of an overwhelming preponderance of the poor, then relegating more spending control at the local level could be a risky modification.

Common Core State Standards, aka  CCSS or CC.  If you thought the previous changes were big, just wait.  This is an effort as huge as our whole nation.  The intent is to wrench our formerly constitutionally patterned, decentralized, state-mediated system of education, under explicit control of a single, federally-championed, centralized and standardized pedagogical ideology.  While nationally the economy of scale afforded large school districts is dismantled systematically, at the same time monolithic control of education theory and practice, “standardized” pedagogy, is being literally coerced via federal funds contingent upon CCSS adoption by each and every state, the better to trickle a common curriculum throughout every local school district across the country.

The new CC being promulgated is not the work of any coalition of states as implied by the name, but rather the CCSS is a label indicating the level at which this standardization is administered.  Indeed these “standards” are not evolving from any body of educational theory or the experience of teachers; they are not “data-driven”.  Teachers were at best tangentially involved with the construction of these standards.  The true force behind the standards is in fact the testing companies tasked with evaluating their efficacy, and the technology companies that would supply the tools for this evaluation as well as the tools for preparing for the evaluation (the “curriculum”).  It is as if the contract to electrify a rural community were approved by the singular entity that manufactures all cables and poles utilized, and analyzes and maintains subsequent ongoing capacity as well.  The input of linemen and consumers should be brought to bear.

Early returns from the field register a groundswell of opposition and dismay from teachers (here is just one example of dozens upon dozens online).  Children are by definition young, lacking therefore the perspective to understand how new curricula will effect them, though parents can observe an emotional toll.  Parents are by and large ignorant of the scale of change being applied in the classroom with their children as guinea pigs.  The revision is esoteric and of monumental proportions, being leveraged upon everyone in the classroom, both students and teachers, with zero regard for experience felt there and about as much effort expended to determine and analyze it.  Testimonials galore fill the internet from teachers aghast at the philosophies’ age- and skill-inappropriate expectations.  But adoption of the standards seems independent of the experience on the ground.  The acronym might be better understood as Coercive Companies Selling Stuff.

ipads – case in point.  As if there were not enough brand new implementation of massive ideological change, LAUSD has decided to revolutionize the physical learning environment of all children in all schools with one broad, untested stroke.  Rather than introducing or upgrading – even counting — actual existing computers in our schools, it was summarily decided to purchase individualized testing devices aka ipads, for every child in the system, including those in charter schools.  Originally the first phase of this gargantuan spending project involved no evaluation of the devices purchased except regarding the actual physical distribution of the machines.  No inquiry as to their utility, effectiveness or value.  Following extensive review of the staff’s performance from device choice to site preparation to implementation, it seems it may be possible to revise the plan’s staggered rollout to yield some mid-stream evaluation of efficacy.  But after-the-fact catch-up studies cannot yield as high-quality data as properly planned a priori ones.  And the LAUSD board just disbanded the very ‘Common Core Technology Project’ committee that has been watchdogging this $1B-plus component of CCSS so admirably.

Understanding a project on the scale of $1B or more is as huge an endeavor as new gets, at least locally.  Tapping construction bond monies to pay for part of the project is also “new”, and disregarding citizens or oversight committees tasked with reviewing use of and safeguarding our public construction bond money is yet another new challenge to the status quo.  The purpose and conduct of our present education processes are all being “churned”, with new political relationships looming between and among school board officials, city politicians and oversight committees.  If the present system of advocacy bears no relation to tomorrow’s power structure, all grass roots efforts to be involved in the system are threatened with imminent redundancy.

High Stakes Testing (HST) is of course related to both the CCSS and ipads.  The implications of this innovation are huge for both teachers, students and the operations of the district.  Part of the function of the testing that underlies CCSS and that is to be conducted on ipads, is to create a process for filtering teachers the better to cull their ranks.

The viability of unions has been challenged since their inception but organized labor has been on the wane for a generation now.  Systematic assault has been applied to the largely female, very powerful teachers’ unions for some while.  And introducing tests to nominally “measure” validity of an individual teacher “objectively” is a powerful instrument in the arsenal bombarding this corner of the world of organized labor.  With Teach For America effectively supplying scabs sotto voce, the system is primed to renovate the teacher class from one of experienced, entitled professionals into one of youthful, inexpensive technology-monitors.

On the face of things HST would sound like a device for measuring student comprehension and achievement of a common curriculum in a systematic way across the country.  But with reports that the quality of these tests are execrable, and they effectively disenfranchise most students, the hidden agenda assumes greater relevance.  HST is in itself, anti-intuitively, yet another whole new innovation topic that clamors for understanding that is opaque at best.

CORE waiver is an enormous policy and budget consequence that has remained largely undiscussed publically.  Last summer LAUSD’s superintendent joined a group of 8 other renegade school districts in asking for a controversial waiver from federal No Child Left Behind requirements, bypassing state-level jurisdiction.  The budgetary consequences of this maneuver are significant yet abidingly obscure and as usual, felt most keenly by the population with the least available resistance to being short-changed, our title I-eligible students.  Not even the media has covered this important budgetary fillip, never mind its consequences for HST and teacher-evaluations.  This is a completely under-appreciated “new” issue with ramifications so obscure that even veteran insiders are confused as to their stance on it.

Budget surplus as declared by Governor Brown in his recent state-of-the-state address suggests that quite apart from LCFF, it is indeed possible more education funds will eventually trickle down to the school site.  As complicated as the funding formulas and chimeric sources of additional, new revenues may be, simply tracking new promises is hard enough:  when was the last time proposition 30 “windfall” money was invoked?  Certainly the root of many education woes is an absence of money, and an infusion of cash would be of colossal importance.

Infrastructural Woes highlighted at LAUSD’s January 9 Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee meeting (at approximately 1:34) indicate that “more than $60B of unmet capital needs” were identified districtwide in 2008, and “despite $19.5B spent constructing new schools and repairing/modernizing existing facilities”, a ‘capital needs gap’ of unclear vastness remains, spanning the gulf between need and available monies.  This translates to decrepit, unsafe conditions in some schools inhabited by thousands of our precious children.  It is an issue on the horizon that is not hard to understand, while harnessing the inertia behind a gargantuan LAUSD remains perennially perplexing.  Our aging infrastructure is an issue of crisis proportions sidelined by the sweep of so many vast and urgent initiatives.

I, for one, don’t even know what issue to swivel attention toward first and in aggregate, the effort to comprehend today’s modern education politics so essential to my children’s well-being, feels nothing short of futile sometimes.

I sympathize with a teacher who, paraphrased, wailed: ‘If only they would let us just try to implement last year’s change before launching a new one’!  While much of what flashes past leaves me sputtering, it serves none of us to be sidelined by the education revolution.