-By Larry Sand
Parents send their children to school assuming that kids are its number one priority. But as recent events have shown, public schools are Ground Zero for a culture that puts children last and doesn’t hold adults accountable.
In Waiting For Superman, Michelle Rhee stated that it took her a while, but she finally realized that public education is really about the adults, not the kids. No truer words have ever been spoken. In too many cases, a small group of inept and corrupt adults – district administrators, school boards and teachers unions – is in charge of what has become an increasingly incompetent public education system. Recently, several scandalous events point to deep-seated problems.
First and foremost, we have the Mark Berndt case in Los Angeles. This man sexually abused children for years at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles. For many reasons — including careless dismissal of children’s claims, missing teacher files and operating in a culture of non-accountability — Berndt got away with doing unspeakable things to his students for over 20 years. The system is so perverse that the school district couldn’t get rid of Berndt without going through a lengthy appeals process costing over $300,000. So, when his crimes were exposed, Berndt gamed the system by accepting a $40,000 bribe and retired – but only after racking up another year of credit toward his pension.
And what was the Los Angeles Unified School District’s fix? It decided to ban the blindfolding of children and classroom-made butter. Yes, because Berndt would blindfold his kids and do revolting things to them including feeding them semen-topped cookies, LAUSD responds by slapping a small Band-Aid on a malignant tumor.
The Berndt situation really is just the tip of the iceberg, as case after case of abuse has bubbled to the surface in LA. In California, all school districts have a mandate to report any and all cases of abuse to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which then makes the decision whether or not a teacher’s credential should be pulled. But LAUSD, ignoring the law, never bothered to notify the commission about Berndt or any of the many cases of abusive teachers in Los Angeles classrooms.
Then, across the country in New York, we have the unfirable physical education teacher Valerie Yarn. All Ms. Yarn did was sexually harass her bosses, writing her principal sexually laden emails to the point where the principal had to get a court order banning Yarn from contacting her. After violating the court order, Yarn was imprisoned. Upon her release, however, she was allowed to go back to work at a middle school where she regularly had girls illegally strip to the waist so she could “examine” them. For this she got a one-year suspension, though the district continues to pay her health insurance. It’s anybody’s guess whether she will get her teaching job back and resume her hobby of fondling her female students.
Who is at fault here? To be sure, union lawyers make certain that a bad or criminal teacher can’t be fired, but the local school board in this case makes The Three Stooges look like Navy SEALs. In short, the intersection of Inept Avenue and Evil Street can be the scene of many an atrocity.
Back in California, we have the ongoing saga of parents rising up and trying to take control of a miserable school. As I wrote last week,
Tired of low test scores, (at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town in eastern California) some parents organized and got more than 50 percent of the parents at the school to sign a “Parent Trigger” petition, which would give them the right to choose a different type of school governance.
However, the Wall Street Journal reports that the California Teachers Association, a union that will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo and thus its political power, sent out “representatives” to Adelanto to disseminate “information” to the parents there. (“Union speak” alert: “Representatives” and “information” really mean sending unidentified operatives to petition-signers’ homes and feeding them lies about the petition that they just signed.)
The unionistas’ door-to-door rescission campaign managed to scare enough signers into revoking their signatures, thus nullifying the proposed action. CTA pulled the same stunt in Compton, the first time parents rose up and “pulled the Trigger.” But after a legal challenge, in which the parents were successfully represented pro bono by the firm of Kirkland and Ellis, the Trigger went forward, and produced the opening of a new charter school. Apparently, Kirkland and Ellis are ready for a second go-round and will represent the parents in Adelanto.
According to follow up stories by AP writer Christina Hoag and the Wall Street Journal, it is apparent that the rescissions were falsified and it looks as if the parent takeover will go forward. But no thanks to the California Teachers Association, which was happy to throw the kids under the bus in order to maintain the status quo at a failing school.
Finally, we have the stunning case of 13 year-old Jada Williams in New York. Honoring Black History Month, Jada wrote an essay about Frederick Douglass and his refusal to be passive in the face of cruel and inhuman slave conditions. Jada compared Douglass’ situation to today’s inner cities where she feels that many teachers have given up teaching African-American children. Whether or not one agrees with her premise, it was an eloquent essay from an 8th grader. So what did her teachers do?
According to Mary Theroux at the Independent Institute:
One would think that Jada Williams would be every teacher’s dream. Given a book above her comprehension, she takes the initiative to use a dictionary to work her way through it, grasps the most salient point of the narrative, and produces an essay applying its lessons to today.
Jada has instead been hounded by her teachers and administrators out of the Rochester Public School system. Her teacher gave copies of Jada’s essay to the school’s other teachers and the principal. Jada, once a solid A and B student, started receiving failing grades, and her parents were called with reports about Jada’s “anger.” Teachers refused to show Jada’s parents the tests and assignments she had supposedly done so badly on, and branded her a “problem” student.
Successfully driven from that school, the family quickly found Jada shut out of any other than the district’s “warehouse” school for what used be known as “incorrigibles.”
Jada’s mother is now homeschooling her and trying to figure out what to do about her daughter’s education in the future. Fortunately, Glenn Beck got hold of the story and now the entire country knows just a little more of what passes for public education in Rochester. The speech that Jada read is available here on YouTube. (H/T Carrie Remis, director of the Parent Power Project in Rochester.)
While the above cases of child abuse are particularly egregious, they are unfortunately not isolated incidents. Due to school boards that have forgotten their mission, bought-and-paid-for legislators, bureaucrats who have become much too comfy in their jobs and teachers unions which never gave a damn about students in the first place, the school children of America are being used as pawns by the entire education establishment. Parents must become aware of this pathetic situation and take action.
Homeschool your kids, if at all possible. If not, visit their school regularly and meet every adult who comes into contact with them. Run for school board. If you can’t manage that, go to as many school board meetings as you can and let these elected officials know that you are watching their every move. Insist on seeing evidence of the effectiveness of your child’s teacher. Find other concerned parents, march on your state’s capitol and demand an end to all laws – seniority and tenure, for example – that favor adults’ needs over children’s. And while you are dealing with legislators, urge them to pass laws that will give parents a choice as to where to send their children to school. Involve yourself with organizations that have parents and children as their number one priority. Two of the more prominent national organizations are StudentsFirst and American Federation for Children. In California, Parent Revolution is an organization that works with parents at underperforming schools.
Parents, no one loves and cares for your children like you do. It is imperative that you realize that leaving your kids with absolute strangers for six to eight hours a day can be very risky business. Blind trust in public schools is a recipe for disaster. Proceed with great caution.
Larry Sand began his teaching career in New York in 1971. Since 1984, he has taught elementary school as well as English, math, history and ESL in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where he also served as a Title 1 Coordinator. Retired in 2009, he is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues – information teachers will often not get from their school districts or unions.
“CTEN” was formed in 2006 because a wide range of information from the more global concerns of education policy, education leadership, and education reform, to information having a more personal application, such as professional liability insurance, options of relationships to teachers’ unions, and the effect of unionism on teacher pay, comes to teachers from entities that have a specific agenda. Sand’s comments and op-eds have appeared in City Journal, Associated Press, Newsweek, Townhall Magazine, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Daily News, San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and other publications. This past May, after his weekly blog proved to be very popular, he began writing a monthly article for City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s policy publication. He has appeared on numerous broadcast news programs and talk radio shows in Southern California and nationally.
Sand has participated in panel discussions and events focusing on education reform efforts and the impact of teachers’ unions on public education. In March 2010, Sand participated in a debate hosted by the non-profit Intelligence Squared, an organization that regularly hosts Oxford-style debates, which was nationally broadcast on Bloomberg TV and NPR, as well as covered by Newsweek. Sand and his teammates – Terry Moe of the Hoover Institution and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, opposed the proposition – Don’t Blame Teachers Unions For Our Failing Schools. The pro-union team included Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. In August 2010, he was on a panel at the Where’s the Outrage? Conference in San Francisco, where he spoke about how charter school operators can best deal with teachers’ unions. This past January he was on panels in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Mateo in support of National School Choice week. Additionally, CTEN has hosted two informational events this year – one addressing the secret agenda that is prevalent in many schools these days and the other concerning itself with California’s new Parent Trigger law. The latter event was covered by both the English and Spanish language press.
Sand has also worked with other organizations to present accurate information about the relationship between teachers and their unions, most recently assisting in the production of a video for the Center for Union Facts in which a group of teachers speak truthfully about the teachers’ unions. At this time, he is conferring with and being an advisor to education policy experts who are crafting major education reform legislation.
CTEN maintains an active and strong new media presence, reaching out to teachers and those interested in education reform across the USA, and around the world, with its popular Facebook page, whose members include teachers, writers, think tankers, and political activists. Since 2006, CTEN has experienced dramatic growth.
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