Sat, Apr

California Superintendent Tom Torlakson: Governor for a Day (or So)


EDUCATION POLICY ALERT-Well, here's our chance! Imagine my surprise when I heard on NPR this morning that State Superintendent of schools Tom Torlakson -- my very favorite State official -- is Acting Governor of California for the rest of the week. 

This is what happens when your whole state government comprises the biggest delegation at the Democratic National Convention. 

While every other force in Golden State politics is looking for unity in the City of Brotherly Love, my mind leaps to the education priorities we could advance! 

It wouldn't be the first time an Acting Governor did a whole lot of governing when Jerry Brown was out of state. 

So I’ve penned a letter to the Superintendent to offer my assistance: 

Dear Acting Governor Torlakson, 

First off, congrats! 

I am writing you to offer to rush to the State Capital and work feverishly alongside you to advance our public education priorities while the rest of California’s political wish lists languish in the Philadelphia International Airport baggage claim. (It’s not their fault they exceeded the 3.7 ounce limit.)

I admit, I’ve been feeling envy what with all the selfies my friends have been posting. Betsy pictured with Dolores Huerta. Randi pictured with Bill Clinton. Carolyn and Dallas were even interviewed about their experiences as mother and daughter in Hillary’s and Bernie’s respective delegations.

But, oh, the things we can get done for our schools while they're distracting our elected officials! 

By the way, Tom, I hope you don't let the “Acting” qualifier get in the way of the work we can do together. The philanthropists and politicians certainly haven't let their lack of credentials get in the way of dictating what our teachers and principals do. So let's give it a go! 

Just say the word and I’ll be on the next Southwest flight to Sacramento. I’ll use carry-on, so my only baggage will be emotional -- a decade of mourning for the once top-funded California public school system and my more recent PTSD from the assault on public schools by the charter lobby. 

But there’s no time for a pity party. Here’s my short list of what we mice should do while the cats are away.



What’s that? Charter = accountability? That’s so funny you say that because...they’re lying.

Charter schools claim to receive autonomy in exchange for more accountability. But this is just a slogan because--have you opened a newspaper lately?! 

There’s the report of Principal David Fehte of El Camino Real Charter High School in the Southern part of the state who’s been flying first class and buying expensive wine and charcuterie plates at fancy hotels (does he wine and dine alone?) while he moonlights as a scout for the NBA. (Now that Arne Duncan has resigned as US Secretary of Education, I’m pretty sure basketball connections no longer exempt alleged cheaters from scrutiny.) 

Then there’s the LA Times report of a charter school paying $566,803 to a teacher who sued because the director, Kendra Okonkwo, forced her to travel with her to Nigeria to marry Okonkwo's brother-in-law to gain US citizenship. 

And Gulen.

I know, Caprice Young is cozy with the politicos -- but they’re all in Philly this week! (Note: send Philadelphia Inquirer reporter list of California Democrats who have ignored the Gulen scandal said reporter has been covering for years. Pitch idea of confronting them on the Convention floor.) 

And I get it -- geopolitical conflict is complicated. But the moms at the PTA meeting said there isn’t room on Tuesday’s agenda between the bakesale and ordering “I’m a proud public school parent” t-shirts to debate which side of an attempted foreign coup our middle school should be on. They just want the money for our schools that the cult leader in the Poconos is allegedly sucking out of the US education ATM through the vast network of charter schools he has “inspired.”

Here are a few articles in preparation for our discussion: the Washington Post, the New York Times,  60 Minutes, The Atlantic Monthly, just for starters. 

I can't make any promises, but I’m pretty sure the expert, researcher Sharon Higgins, would rush right over to Sacramento from Oakland to brief us on this. Shall I tell her 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday? (Note: Locate entrance closest to freight elevator for her BOXES of documents.) 

Tom, do the blinds in the Capital totally block the sun? I ask because we could co-host a screening of Killing Ed, the Mark Hall documentary that tells this story. The Nigerian forced marriage has not yet hit the big screen, but we can discuss with Hollywood producers if you wish. Geronimo could write the “based-on-a-true-story-I-swear-I’m-not-joking” screenplay. (Note: clear 4 front parking spaces for stretch limo and ego of Hollywood producer.)



Voters were hoodwinked and they know it. Here's a 4-minute video to brief you on how the parasitic law creates conflict, featuring “me.”    




Just throw away the whole project. Period. (Note: Do not exceed 5 minute discussion on this item.)




Some politicians might think kids need more reading and writing drill-and-kill just because I said "ain't" but I know you can take a joke. KPCC’s Mary Plummer covered this law when she was the knock-out arts education reporter for the NPR affiliate. Guess what? Now, she’s the knock-out  "political” reporter, so she can go exactly where the story takes us. I would imagine she could cover a political angle for a lot of the reports she covered in education.




My own LAUSD middle school’s library has been shuttered for five years since LAUSD cut all the school librarians in an effort to offload pension costs of elderly teachers. It was shameful. And, no, telling principals they can cut something else in order to fund a librarian is not funding libraries. 

Google could provide wifi, HP could provide the printers, VOX could create a digital version of The Weekly Reader (I know--I'm showing my age), etc. etc. In exchange, hang a plaque in each library saying they did something for humanity by helping to make this generation literate.




Sure, AB1369 was progress, but “suggestions” rather than requirements don’t go far enough. One in five students have dyslexia, and most cases go undetected for years. Can you imagine sitting in school and not being able to access written curriculum for years? We currently don’t test until two years after a teacher notices that a student is suffering. There is lots of evidence that this would put a major dent in the high school dropout rate, too. Now that’s a Data Wall I’d like to see in every school! I could pretty much promise that the dedicated folks from Decoding Dyslexia would rush over to help us with the details. They’ve been working on it for years.

12:00 lunch meeting on Wednesday? (Note: Search yelp for good lunch deliveries near the Capital.)




Charter schools should not be offloading their pension costs onto the public school districts. That's like charging the US Postal Service for the pensions of FedEx drivers. 
(Note: Are the union leaders away this week, too?)




I hear Eli likes to send his money to Arizona.  Getting Eli out of education policy is our best chance of returning education funding to levels that are not a national embarrassment, and eliminating all number of his “disruptions.” 

That about covers it for now. If Jerry has a long layover, I'll make further plans. I await your call! 

(Karen Wolfe is a public school parent, the Executive Director of PS Connect  and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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