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Commentary: Topangans Supporting LAUSD Incumbent Steve Zimmer
February 21, 2013 - By Kathleen Hernandez, Social Justice Educator
VOTE MARCH 5
On February 15, incumbent Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Trustee Steve Zimmer visited Topanga to meet and share his positions on issues regarding education in the second largest school district in the nation.
Zimmer came to Topanga, at my invitation as a longtime resident of Topanga and a teacher employed by LAUSD, and Roger Harrell, also a Topanga resident and a teacher at Topanga Elementary School. Both of us are supporting Steve Zimmer in his reelection campaign because we believe he is a strong and important independent voice for the students of Los Angeles County. We believe that he has stood up and addressed crucial and controversial issues pertinent to the survival and improvement of public education.
Zimmer is seeking reelection on March 5 against Kate Anderson. He prides himself on being an independent thinker not beholden to any political group except the students in LAUSD. His goal, as he sees it, is to bring parties together to resolve issues that the school board is facing in education. On hard-line issues such as civil rights and parity issues for all students, he holds fast to his principles of equity.
In the 2013 school board race Zimmer does not make any promises to the teachers union, although he has an open door policy in efforts to work together with teachers and parents to support the children in our public school system.
Steve Zimmers dedication to students and their civil rights in our district is clearly evident. In November, 2012, Zimmer presented the Updating Charter Authorizing and Oversight resolution that asks for a moratorium on authorizing more independent charter schools until there is an oversight plan in place to address issues raised by the exponential growth of charters in LAUSD, which are growing faster than anywhere else in the nation. This has created uproar from some independent charter school proponents.
I want to stop for a moment and clarify the difference between affiliated charters like Topanga Elementary School that has autonomy within LAUSD and must provide district services, and independent charters that are not currently held to those same guidelines. It is important to understand the difference.
Zimmer believes that LAUSD must improve its oversight of independent charter schools. His concern was raised after becoming aware of the affect charter schools are having on the civil rights standards that came to light with a UCLA published study, Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards, published by The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. (www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu)
Zimmer wants clear guidelines defining accountability in providing services in behalf of students that depend on them for educational success. Two examples are English Language Learners and Special Needs services. His resolution implores LAUSD to insure that independent charters have the same obligation as any other public school to serve any child who walks in its doors.
Currently, the problem is that ELL, Special Needs students and other population groups of students do not fairly reflect the same student body as LAUSD public schools. By creaming from the top test-takers and performing students it undermines the quality of the overall public educational system, the core of our democracy.
The UCLA author of the study remarks: The charter effort, which has largely ignored the segregation issue, has been justified by claims about superior educational performance, which simply are not sustained by the research. Though there are some remarkable and diverse charter schools, most are neither. The lessons of what is needed to make choice work have usually been ignored in charter school policy.
The Jewish Journal (July 2011) wrote that: His (Zimmer) altruistic spirit, while admirable, has also earned him criticism; hes been accused of putting the needs of his Eastside constituents before the concerns of his more affluent constituents on the Westside. Indeed, dividing his focus is a struggle both internally and externally, but Zimmer maintains that his bottom line is to ensure equal opportunities for all students, irrespective of where they land on the socioeconomic continuum. To bridge the education gap between the haves and the have-nots, he says, is the civil-rights struggle of our day.
Last Spring, Zimmer countered Superintendant Deasy's slash-and-burn budget, and fought to save Adult Education and SRLDP: Special Resource Language Development Program.
As an elementary school teacher, I can tell you the readiness of young children and parents who have had both of these programs. Strong community-based schools are established by promoting high levels of parent involvement with successful programs, such as Adult Ed and Family Literacy that exist at my neighborhood school. These programs ensure parents are able to help children at home, and can acquire English as a second language.
During the budget crisis, Zimmer supported a community budget transparency forum held at Grandview Elementary School with a critical eye towards these proposed cuts.
On what basis and how teachers are evaluated is another key issue where Zimmer has been front and center. Zimmer has an excellent understanding of the complexities of this issue and has considered research data, teachers evaluation proposals along with pushing for fair leveled evaluative measures to support parental concerns. He wants teachers to use data collaboratively across grade levels as one of many tools to determine support for improving student outcomes, but at the same time wants training and support of teachers front and center in the process.
He understands that using Academic Growth Over Time (AGT) for individual teachers evaluations, views teachers and children as being one-dimensional and does not employ researched-based best practices. Zimmer believes using AGT while looking at data across grade levels serves as a tool, but using aggregated data is highly misleading to root out poor teachers. What it does do is pit teacher against teacher and is not conducive to collaboration.
In 2005 RAND Corporation stated, The research base is currently insufficient to support the use of VAM (value added measures) for high-stakes (tests) decisions about individual teachers or schools.
A 2009 Letter Report from the Board on Testing and Assessment, National Research Council reports that VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable.
Studies find that teachers value-added effectiveness is highly variable and influenced by: the measure of achievement used, the effectiveness of peers' class size, curriculum, instructional supports, and time spent with students tutoring and out-of-school learning student characteristics and attendance.
During the Meet-and-Greet, Zimmer shared with community members these positions which are quite different then his opponent's who would widely expand charters without accountability first and oust teachers on a classs poor test data.
Julie Levine commented: Steve Zimmer is a breath of fresh air on the LAUSD School Board. He is honest, humble, hard working and not a bureaucrat. He is accessible and cares about the children. He is committed to saving public education and pursues these goals intelligently and without rigidity. I deeply hope the voters will turn out and support Zimmer's re-election.
Zimmer is endorsed by the Democrats of San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles Democratic Party and the Progressive Democrats of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Dorothy Reik attended the Meet-and-Greet for Steve Zimmer at Abuelitas and had this to say: Steve Zimmer showed a genuine concern for the school children of Los Angeles. He has no further political ambitions other than to improve the LA Unified Schools. Too often, we have had the school board used as a stepping-stone to higher office. We need school board members who are interested in schools, not political advancement. We need school board members who are supported by the community, not by billionaires in New York City whose motives we can only speculate about. We need to re-elect Steve Zimmer.
I have tried to highlight the issues that I believe especially separate Steve Zimmer from his opponent and in doing so, doing my part in making sure that this electoral contest is not just about individual candidates and personalities, but is about highlighting issues that we need to go to battle around, and about building coalitions with parents and community.
We need an incumbent like Steve Zimmer, who has the creativity, capacity for analysis and fortitude to be an independent voice for all our studentsyoung and old.