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Rentseekers of Los Angeles

by: Peter Allen

Thu Nov 21, 2013 at 09:02:35 AM PST

In the latest chapter of the "Rentseekers" of Big Energy stifling growth in the disruptive rooftop solar industry, consider for a moment the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), which is trying to change the rules on rooftop solar customers in the middle of the game.

Since 2009, thousands of LADWP's customers have signed lease agreements with third-party providers and had systems installed. These contracts were approved by DWP. Now, LADWP is trying to force hundreds of the city's most recent solar customers to re-sign their contracts, attempting to force solar companies to insert amended language even though the utility acknowledges they had approved the contracts on no less than three separate occasions.

On precisely none of those occasions did their reviewers catch what they suddenly perceive to be language that may in fact violate their own standards for contract language.

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Emails Show Controller Wendy Greuel Campaigning Out Of LA City Hall Offices

by: Marta Evry

Thu Apr 25, 2013 at 07:47:20 AM PDT



LA City Controller Wendy Greuel's campaign for mayor has come under scrutiny after a Cerritos newspaper published emails showing the Controller soliciting campaign contributions, discussing endorsements and communicating with campaign staff during office hours using her official lacity.org email address, in apparent violation of Los Angeles' Ethics laws.

In January,  the Los Cerritos Community News sent a public records request to Greuel's office asking for any emails between Greuel's office and campaign managers John Shallman and Rose Kapolczynski, as well as emails from  Brian D'Arcy, the head of IBEW Local 18, whose SuperPAC, Working Californians, has spent millions in support of Greuel's mayoral campaign.

According to LCCN, Greuel's office initially balked at the records request saying it "was voluminous and encompasses tens of thousands of pages", but relented after the newspaper sent a letter on April 12th threatening to file a lawsuit.

In the end, LCCN received only 130 pages of material, including dozens of emails sent to and from various campaign staff and contributors using Greuel's official governmental email address during normal business hours.

Campaign consultants I talked with said such activity violates section 49.5.5b of the LA Municipal Code which states:

"No City official or employee of an agency shall engage in campaign-related activities, such as fundraising, the development of electronic or written materials, or research, for a campaign for any elective office or ballot measure

  1. during the hours for which he or she is receiving pay to engage in City
    business or 
  2. using City facilities, equipment,
    supplies or other City resources.

"The emails confirm that Greuel is running her mayoral campaign out of the Auditor/Contoller's Office of Los Angeles using taxpayer resources, a clear violation of California state law," said Brian Hews, President of Hews Media Group, and Publisher of Los Cerritos Community Newspaper. "The emails document in great detail how Wendy Greuel is using one of the most powerful offices in the City of Los Angeles to leverage campaign support, coordinate political events, and garner major endorsements from some of the biggest political forces in Southern California,"

Greuel campaign spokeswoman Laura Wilkinson characterized the email exchanges using Greuel's governmental email address as "inadvertent".

"As Controller and as a candidate for Mayor, Wendy Greuel has worked 18-hour days for quite some time. She inadvertently forwarded a few emails when using her personal iPad or iPhone and most of the emails were for scheduling purposes or as an FYI including documents that were scheduled for public release," Wilkinson said in a written statement.

However, the emails include numerous conversations between a Who's Who of political players in Los Angeles, Greuel's campaign staff, campaign contributors and the staff of the Controller's office discussing everything from scheduling issues to how to handle media relations. And in one case, Greuel may have violated yet another statute prohibiting the sharing of confidential information acquired in the course of her official duties when she forwarded a Preliminary Financial Report her office prepared for fiscal year 2011-2012 to her campaign staff two and a half hours before giving the document to Mayor Villaraigosa, the City Council and the City Clerk.

An investigation from the LA Ethics Commission of these issues will likely take months, stretching well past Election Day. Regardless of their findings the damage may already be done.

During the campaign, Greuel has tried to portray herself as the best candidate to root out "waste, fraud and abuse" in City Hall, and in recent days stepped up her attacks against opponent Eric Garcetti, attempting to tie him to developer Juri Ripinksy, a convicted felon, and also claiming Garcetti had taken "illegal" votes on a Clear Channel billboard settlement. It's unclear how much traction these claims will have once LCCN's allegations are more widely known.

A poll released by the LA Times on Sunday showed Garcetti leading Greuel by 10 points.

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Los Angeles Mayor: Garcetti takes lead as Greuel goes hard negative

by: Dante Atkins

Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 12:04:36 PM PDT

Mayoral Candidate Eric Garcetti at CicLAvia
Candidate Garcetti at CivLAvia. Photo: Marta Evry

For Los Angeles voters, there is light at the end of the tunnel: Only four weeks remain until the city finally elects a new mayor to replace Antonio Villaraigosa. Ballots are hitting mailboxes this week, and the sprint to the finish has begun.

Councilmember and former City Council President Eric Garcetti won the March 5 primary election by a hair over four points over his general election opponent, City Controller Wendy Greuel. The big question at that point was: who would win over the voters of the three major candidates--Jan Perry, Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez--who didn't make it? So far, Garcetti seems to be winning that battle: all three of those primary opponents endorsed him, and the latest Los Angeles Times/USC poll shows him with a 10-point lead over his rival as mail ballots drop. The poll indicates that in most cases, Greuel is failing to win over the bases of support she is depending on for victory: Garcetti leads among women, even though Greuel has made gender a key selling point in her campaign. She is effectively tied with Garcetti in the San Fernando Valley, which should be her base. And perhaps most troubling, Greuel actually trails among Republicans by a wide margin, when conventional wisdom early in the race dictated that Greuel would have natural advantages in that constituency against Garcetti, who is widely viewed as a progressive liberal. Instead, the poll indicates that Greuel's dependence on $3 million in independent expenditure spending from the Department of Water and Power union, IBEW, is damaging her standing with a constituency most observers would have expected her to win.

"That's an untenable situation for Greuel," said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy/Los Angeles Times City Election Poll.
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Jan Perry: Speaking Power to Truth

by: The Frying Pan

Thu Jan 24, 2013 at 08:19:19 AM PST

By Madeline Janis

A recent Los Angeles Times profile portrayed mayoral candidate and L.A. City Councilmember Jan Perry as a politician with a "willingness to speak her mind" and, quoting Perry herself, as someone who likes to "cut to the chase in my words and deeds." The Times also quoted dignitaries who credit Perry for being a leading force behind Downtown's revival and for creating thousands of jobs that she has promoted with tax subsidies.

The Times added that, "On occasion, Perry has also stood up to unions, as she did in 2008 when labor allies tried to force the Fresh & Easy market chain to guarantee 30 living wage jobs in return for city approval of a housing and retail project in a Historic South-Central area that needed a grocery store. 'This puts the project in serious jeopardy,' Perry wrote in a letter to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa."

I was the "labor ally" who pushed for a living wage in exchange for a $2.5 million subsidy for that 18,000 square-foot market on the border of Downtown and South Los Angeles. As a member of the Board of the L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency for 10 years, I repeatedly interacted with Perry on hundreds of development projects. In my view, the real question about Perry's record is not whether she has been willing to speak her mind to "labor allies" and community groups, who have seldom supported her financially during her political career. Rather, it revolves around her opposition to policies like the living wage - and who she was advocating for.

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Operation Game Changer

by: Fera Dayani

Thu Sep 08, 2011 at 10:55:26 AM PDT

(Thanks to Fera, the CDP's online specialist - promoted by Brian Leubitz)

Step Up and Become a Game Changer to Increase Democratic Turnout in California.

This month the California Democratic Party launched Operation Game Changer in Los Angeles County. The goal of the project is to increase statewide Democratic turnout by increasing the number of Democrats registered to Vote-by-Mail (VBM) in LA County.

"There are more than 2 million Democratic voters in Los Angeles County alone, more than any other County in California. But only 19% of those Democrats are registered to Vote-by-Mail. The statewide average is actually 39%. This is a problem for Democrats.  If we can improve our VBM percentage in LA County it will have the effect of boosting statewide Democratic turnout," said Shawnda Westly, executive director for the California Democratic Party.

Voters registered to Vote-by-Mail are more likely to turnout to vote. Our field representatives love VBM because it allows campaign Get Out The Vote operations to target base-voters for turnout weeks before Election Day.

That's why we need more California Democrats to step up and commit to becoming Game Changers and convert as many LA County Democrats over to Vote-by-Mail as possible.

Please visit our special Operation Game Changer site: www.operationgamechanger.com and sign up to volunteer.

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We Can Do Better

by: Mike Bonin

Tue May 17, 2011 at 07:33:34 AM PDT

Here in California's 36th congressional district, our special election to fill the seat vacated by U.S. Rep Jane Harman could have been a high-minded affair, an honorable contest among progressive heavyweights.  Instead, it has become a schoolyard brawl.  

Yes, the campaigns went negative in the final stretch.   But it started as a grass roots grudge-fest, with the nastiness percolating furiously from the campaign partisans.

In a left-leaning district with a 16-candidate field and a new jungle primary, there are three solid, substantive progressive Democrats - Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn; Secretary of State Debra Bowen; and activist Marcy Winograd.  (I decided to back Janice.)

From the start, the back and forth between the candidates' supporters has been crazy.  The exchanges on progressive listservs and social media are as practiced in the fine arts of distortion, exaggeration, and snarkiness as anything you could expect from Fox News.   Too often, we act more like campaign attack dogs than community organizers promoting progressive change.

We can do better than this.  We're all fairly like-minded lefties.  Our differences in this race are matters of judgment and style, not matters of values.   The voters deserve more, and so do the candidates.

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Why I Support Janice Hahn for Congress

by: Mike Bonin

Tue May 10, 2011 at 23:18:36 PM PDT

When Jane Harman abruptly resigned from Congress in February, three strong, smart Democratic candidates quickly emerged.  All of them shared my progressive values.  I had worked alongside each of them, and considered two of them to be friends.  This was going to be a tough choice.  

But as I considered this moment in history, the stark choices in Washington, DC, and the pressing issues facing Southern California, my choice became clearer and my conviction stronger.  I decided to support Janice Hahn for Congress in the May 17 special election.  Here is why:

1.  Janice has a genuine plan to jumpstart the economy

Every candidate for Congress will tell us they intend to create jobs.  Janice has told us - in remarkable detail - just how she plans to do that.  With a keen understanding of the dynamics of the Southern California economy - and especially the unique opportunities in the 36th Congressional District - Janice published a plan to jumpstart the local economy, promote new businesses, invest in environmentally friendly technologies, and create a new skilled labor force.

You can read her plan in its entirety here: http://janicehahn.com/wp-conte...

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Pushing for a Ballot Measure - Measure L

by: shayera

Sat Mar 05, 2011 at 21:33:01 PM PST

I'm going to do something I haven't done in a very long time. And actually, before I start, I should be clear that I am writing this on my own personal time and my own personal computer. The why will become evident soon.

This really only affects you if you live in the City of Los Angeles.  Some things you should know about me. I'm a public librarian. I manage one of the 73 branches in the Los Angeles Public Library system. It's the largest public library system in the country.

It's also hurting greatly.

And that's why I'm writing this. On the ballot for next Tuesday's election, there is a measure up for vote. Measure L.  You can find out the basic information about the measure here: Measure L Information

Basically Measure L will increase the portion of the City's budget that the Library receives from 1% to 3%. This will happen over a 4 year period. The funds will be used to restore the library hours, which were cut from 7 day service to 5 day service. It'll be used to restore some (not all) the staff that were laid off last year. Due to the massive shortfall of the City's budget last fiscal year, there were over 700 people laid off across the City. The Library system accounted for 1 in 7 over the layoff. L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti Claims Library Cuts Went 'Under the Radar' -- Despite 10,000 Postcards to His Office, Billboard in His District This is the first time in the history of the Library system that 7 day service is not available. Even during the Great Depression, LAPL offered 7 day service.

A few things you should know about Measure L:

1. It is not a new tax. That one's kind of important. You should know that what you pay in taxes will not at all be affected by this measure.

2. Last fiscal year the Mayor required 2 departments to take on all their operating costs. The Library Department was one of those 2 departments. That's about 20 million dollars. Yup. MILLION. It takes a lot to run 73 branches. So whether or not L passes, that's 20 million dollars we're going to have to pay. And if L fails, well, people are going to get laid off and branches are going to close.

3. The Police Union and The League of Women Voters are against L. The Police Union for a couple reasons. One, because they kind of hate Bernard Parks. And two because they say that public safety will lose money if L passes. I'd just like to point out that police and fire get approximately 70% of the entire City budget. And they're currently about 10 million dollars over in just their salary costs. 18 City Departments Could Be Combined $31.9M Over Salary Budgets (notice that the Library is not on that list? We're the ONLY department in the City that stays within it's budget every single year.) The Police Union claims that public safety will be adversely affected. But tell me, don't you think that having a safe place like, oh, I don't know, a library, increases public safely? Just a thought. The League of Women Voters calls it ballot box budgeting. Which it may be. But unfortunately, we really don't have much other choice. And it was the City Council who proposed the Measure.

Some of you are probably saying, yeah, well it's in your own self interest to push this. Yes. Of course it is. But that doesn't mean it's a bad thing.

So please, if you live in Los Angeles, I would really greatly appreciate it if you would please consider voting Yes on Measure L next Tuesday, March 8.

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Keep Special Interests at Bay in Los Angeles

by: Anjuli Kronheim

Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 15:15:03 PM PST

          We know the Citizens United  v. FEC Supreme Court decision has unleashed a torrent of undisclosed corporate and union spending at the federal level.  It overturned a century of laws and decades of legal precedent.  Common Cause has decided to stand up and take action! Common Cause has joined forces with a number of other organizations to build awareness and educate citizens across  the country about the amounts of money corporations are emptying out of their own pockets to to steal our democracy. The goal of this new coalition is to strengthen the voice of the people and prepare to battle these corporations to save our democracy.

         So far, we have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice asking for an investigation of Justices Thomas and Scalia for attending a strategy session hosted by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch in Rancho Mirage, California, at the same time the Court was considering the case of Citizens United v. FEC in 2008.

         On January 30, 2011, Common Cause, along with over 30 organizations including the California Nurses Association, Courage Campaign, California Labor Federation, Greenpeace, held a peaceful public demonstration to  "Uncloak the Kochs" and turned out 1,500 protesters to Rancho Mirage, CA for the Koch Brothers annual meeting. This event in CA had legs - and people all over the country are starting to following the Koch Brothers money trail. From Wisconsin to Nebraska, people are starting to wake up to special interests stealing our elections.

         In Los Angeles, we're preemptively stopping the Koch Brothers and other special interests from pushing money into our elections. We are working to strengthen campaign finance laws to keep special interest money at bay with our support of  Measure H, which will do two things:

1. Lift the cap on the public finance trust to create a more robust public financing system.
2. Ban prospective private companies with pending bids on city contracts from making campaign contributions.

         We are pleased to be standing with LA City Council President Eric Garcetti, City Council members Tom LaBonge, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, Jose Huizar, Bill Rosendahl, the California Clean Money Campaign, the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, Public Campaign, Public Citizen, the William C. Velazquez Institute and others to pass Measure H on March 8.

         All politics is local and we believe that!  Ifnot, then when? When Los Angeles succeeds in passing Measure H, we will send an important message that we are taking back our democracy.  It does not belong to We the special, well-financed interests.  Our democracy belongs to We the People.

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Bowen for Congress

by: Robert Cruickshank

Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 21:14:49 PM PST

Tonight CDP Chair John Burton emailed party delegates to announce Jane Harman's resignation. But what was most interesting was who he mentioned as the only candidate who has told the CDP they're running for the CA-36 seat - and it wasn't Janice Hahn:

As of the sending of this email, the only candidate that has officially informed the California Democratic Party that they are running in the 36th congressional district is Debra Bowen. Bowen has been our Secretary of State since 2007 and she is a former State Senator and State Assemblymember from the area.

Yep. Debra Bowen appears to be running for Congress. She has an ActBlue page up as well. Although she's made no formal announcement, she did tell Bob Brigham earlier today that she was "giving it very serious thought".

It makes sense for Bowen to jump into the race. She's termed out in 2014, and in 2018 the race for governor will be a slugfest between Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, and maybe some other folks as well. Bowen has served her terms in the Legislature, and so there isn't much else for her to do in Sacramento. As much as I liked the idea of Governor Bowen, Congresswoman Bowen works too.

So too does Senator Bowen - as in United States Senator. Dianne Feinstein is likely to run for re-election in 2012 and will probably win. But by 2018 she might be ready to hang it up, and the House of Representatives would be a good place to launch a campaign for Senate - just ask Barbara Boxer.

Most importantly, Bowen has shown herself to be a strong progressive leader during her time in Sacramento - not just as one of the best Secretaries of State in the country, but as a good progressive legislator during her years in the State Capitol. She won't be just one of 435 Representatives - she'll be a strong voice for change and for 21st century solutions to our problems.

Janice Hahn has run for the seat before and has a local base, but so too does Bowen. Bowen's ability to raise money statewide outstrips Hahn's, and Bowen is likely to get more grassroots support, although one should never dismiss what Hahn can bring to the table.

It should be an interesting race between Hahn, Bowen, and who knows who else that jumps in. Either one would be a huge upgrade over the anti-Constitution Jane Harman, even if my support will ultimately lie with Bowen.

Discuss :: (21 Comments)

Obama USC Rally Liveblog

by: David Atkins (thereisnospoon)

Fri Oct 22, 2010 at 12:29:47 PM PDT

It's almost trite to point it out by now, but if there's an enthusiasm gap out there, it's not evident in the early voting, and it's not evident at rallies like this one today at USC, where an estimated crowd of 40,000 is thronging to hear the President talk about what's at stake this election season.  Even though things are getting started more than a wee bit late and getting in through security was a hassle, this eclectic crowd of voters is eager in anticipation.  Sitting here on the media riser, the atmosphere is electric.

Liveblog is below the fold.


Our own Calitics alum and current FDL correspondent Dave Dayen in the press pool

EDIT BY BRIAN: I added the press release from OFA about the speakers at the rally below David's wonderful commentary.

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Teacher Rated Poorly by LA Times Commits Suicide

by: Robert Cruickshank

Mon Sep 27, 2010 at 15:00:00 PM PDT

Even though education experts slammed the LA Times for ranking LA Unified teachers based on a flawed metric emphasizing test scores above other factors, the Times went ahead and published the article anyway. Last week we learned that the lowest rated teacher was, in fact, a successful and beloved teacher who eschewed the tests in order to ensure her students had the English language skills they needed for a lifetime of success.

Today comes a much more dark and tragic story of another teacher who was given a low ranking in the flawed LA Times article. Rigoberto Ruelas, a teacher at a school in South LA who had been missing, was found dead of an apparent suicide in the Angeles National Forest above LA:

"Based upon the entirety of the investigation, the evidence indicates he took his own life in this tragedy," Los Angeles County Sheriff's Capt. Mike Parker said....

KABC-TV Channel 7 quoted family members as saying that Ruelas was distraught about scoring low in a teacher-rating database recently made public by The Times. He had been missing since Sept. 22. South Gate Police Officer Tony Mendez told KCAL-TV Channel 9 that Ruelas was unhappy at his database ranking....

In the database, Ruelas is listed as "less effective than average overall." He rated "less effective" in math and "average" in English.

The president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has come out strongly against the public release of teacher names and "value-added" ratings, released a statement calling on The Times to take down the database, saying the union "predicted there would be problems."

The Times issued a statement of "sympathy" for the family, but they have still not retracted their extraordinarily flawed articles and rankings. This shows why the Times was reckless to arrogate to itself the task of providing a high-profile and flawed teacher rankings system.

As billionaires and hedge funds are launching their own effort to privatize public schools under the guise of "reform," it's more important than ever that we get educational assessments - of schools, teachers, and students - right. The Times has gotten it very wrong, and the consequences have now become tragic.

UPDATE: UTLA is calling on the LA Times to take down the flawed teacher rankings:

United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy called the publication of the list of teacher ratings "despicable," and the union -- which had opposed publication of the list -- issued a statement calling on The Times to remove it from its website.

"UTLA is appalled at the L.A. Times," Duffy told KCAL. "We predicted there would be problems. This teacher was a great teacher by all accounts -- loved by students, parents, and respected by his colleagues.

"I will be reaching out to Superintendent (Ramon) Cortines and Deputy Superintendent (John) Deasy to join forces to implore the L.A. Times to take the names of individual teachers and test scores off the website and cease and desist from publishing any in the future."

Good to see UTLA fighting back against the LA Times' indefensible use of methodologically flawed data. It was bad enough that the Times went ahead and published the rankings in the first place. Now that someone has died as a result, the Times should do the responsible thing and take them down.

Discuss :: (4 Comments)

How the LA Times Got the Teacher Ratings Wrong

by: Robert Cruickshank

Mon Sep 20, 2010 at 16:22:49 PM PDT

Last month the Los Angeles Times decided to publish their own "ranking" of teacher "effectiveness" in the LA Unified School District, based entirely on test scores. The move was extremely controversial, and the Times was slammed by education experts for their flawed methodology.

Today, however, comes a story that proves just how flawed and misleading the LA Times teacher ratings really were. It's a story of a recently retired LAUSD teacher who was ranked as "the worst" by the LA Times - a ranking that came as a huge surprise to her former students:

Faye Ireland knows that she was a good teacher. She doesn't depend on test scores to tell her that. She has stacks of letters from former students, enduring relationships with their parents and a reputation for managing the most challenging kids on campus.

But it bothered Ireland plenty when she was publicly branded "least effective" last month in The Times' ratings of elementary school teachers. The ranking, in an online database with the "Grading the Teachers" project relies on students' progress on standardized exams to measure teacher effectiveness.

What happened? Is Ireland just making herself sound good to cover up a flawed teaching style?

Nope. What happened is that by actually giving her students - particularly her ESL students - the help and instruction they needed, instead of wasting time on a test, she made a huge and positive impact in the lives and in the educational futures of her students, but at the expense of her "ranking" in some bullshit test-driven metric:

Ireland knew that if they landed in ESL programs in middle school, they would have few chances to take challenging academic classes. "Their parents worked with me like crazy, and we got them through all the things they had to do."

By the end of each year, "every one of my students was fluent in English," she recalled. "That's what I set out to do."

Other teachers warned her that her test scores would take a hit...

But she was looking beyond the test, beyond the classroom, even. "I wanted to transition those kids into English. I wanted them to know they could accomplish this, that nothing was off limits to them."

In other words, she could have done what the state and the LA Times wanted - teach to the test - or she could have actually paid attention to her students, understood their actual educational needs, and made sure those needs were met so that they can thrive in their later years of schooling.

She did the latter, and that's what makes a truly great teacher. By any standard her work would be seen as a huge success, and she would be held up as a model educator.

That is, under any standard except the one the LA Times used to brand her as the "least effective" in the entire LAUSD.

Now it's possible that Ireland succeeded in some areas, was weaker in others (such as test scores). Only a full and comprehensive evaluation of teachers that includes an assessment of all their skills and accomplishments can truly tell whether a teacher is "good" or not.

That is precisely what the teachers' unions are calling for. And that is precisely what the LA Times rejected in their reckless and flawed ratings, based only on test scores - which as most teachers, parents, and students understand, should not be the only thing education is about.

Ireland's story shows what will happen if the attack on public schools, led by people such as US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and the LA Times, succeeds. Schools will become full of students who are taught to do well on a test, instead of having their other educational needs met.

If that's what the education privatizers want, then that's their choice. But for those of us who actually want good schools with good teachers in them, we would do well to continue to push back against the flawed LA Times teacher evaluations, and ensure that whatever LAUSD and California come up with next to assess teachers, that it is holistic and not focused on tests to the exclusion of actual educational needs.

Discuss :: (6 Comments)

Education Experts Slam LA Times Teacher Assessments

by: Robert Cruickshank

Thu Aug 19, 2010 at 10:15:00 AM PDT

There's a reason why a newspaper should not be making public policy on its own: their interest is in getting eyeballs and readers, not in providing policy tools that are actually useful.

At right is a short but very effective and informative video from Daniel Willingham, an education policy expert, explaining how the method used by the LA Times to evaluate teachers - known as "value-added measures" - is deeply flawed as a basis of comparing teacher effectiveness. The LA Times acknowledged these shortcomings in their Sunday article, but blew right past those concerns and used the flawed method of analysis anyway:

No one suggests using value-added analysis as the sole measure of a teacher. Many experts recommend that it count for half or less of a teacher's overall evaluation....

Nevertheless, value-added analysis offers the closest thing available to an objective assessment of teachers. And it might help in resolving the greater mystery of what makes for effective teaching, and whether such skills can be taught.

In response to this, Willingham explained further why the LA Times was wrong to use "value-added measures" and offered his own thoughts as to why the Times did it despite the widespread concerns from education policy experts about the usefulness of such data:

I think their reasoning might be revealed in the story's subheadline: "A Times analysis, using data largely ignored by the LAUSD, looks at which educators help students learn, and which hold them back." LAUSD is the Los Angeles Unified School District.

I'm guessing that the editors at the Times are frustrated by the inaction of the LAUSD on teacher evaluation, (or on school quality in general) and they are trying to goad them into doing something.

This seems likely to me as well, though I don't think the Times was merely interested in getting UTLA and other teachers' unions to accept some sort of ranking system. They seem interested in promoting the idea of merit pay itself, as their Tuesday editorial on the issue made clear:

When one teacher's students improve dramatically while those of another teacher down the hallway fall back, and those results are consistent over years, schools are irresponsibly failing their students by placing them with ineffective teachers, and continuing to pay those teachers as though they contributed equally.[emphasis mine]

Predictably, President Obama's right-wing Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised the LA Times, and his shock doctrine-style "Race to the Top" program forces states to adopt these kind of unproven measures to be eligible to win federal education grants. Arnold Schwarzenegger's own Education Secretary added in the same article that this suited their ideological agenda of "creating a more market-driven approach to results."

Other education policy experts slammed the LA Times, including Diane Ravitch:

This has the odor about it of naming and shaming. It's going to create dissension on school staffs. It's going to have parents say, "I want my kid in the class of those who are in the top 10 percent," and I don't know how you squeeze 100 percent of the kids into the classes of 10 percent of the teachers.

Of course, that's the entire point of the whole merit pay and charter schools discussion - to introduce "market forces" that cause parents to demand exactly that - try to squeeze 100% of the kinds into the classes of 10% of the teachers. As with any "market force," you can then blame student failure on either themselves, their parents, or their teachers, for failing to win in the marketplace.

In the market, if you fail it's your own fault, and nobody should be expected to help you. When applied to public policy, this means governments can be let off the hook for needing to ensure every child gets a good education - and it also means private companies can start gaming the "education market" to make money off of those students and teachers who succeed, while ignoring the growing numbers of those who don't.

Which is exactly how the LA Times report is being used. Just look at this post on NBC's Prop Zero blog from Joseph Perkins:

What is needed by the parents of underachieving students mired in failing public is a financial assist from their state government in the form of a school voucher that can be used for tuition at non-public schools.

It is the best way to the level the educational playing field between California's haves - parents who send their kids to the state's best schools - ands have nots - those whose kids are least proficient on the state's standardized tests.

So it's back to vouchers again. And merit pay. And other right-wing policies designed not to help all children learn, but to destroy the public school system in order to impose their right-wing ideological agenda on California's children. It suggests this McSweeney's satire of parents demanding other kids follow Ayn Rand's sociopathic philosophy isn't far from the mark.

Willingham agrees that these policies are flawed. But he also believes that the teachers' unions cannot simply resist this, and should instead get out in front by offering their own solutions:

I have said before that if teachers didn't take on the job of evaluating teachers themselves, someone else would do the job for them. The fact that the method is they are using is inadequate is important, and should be pointed out, but it's not enough.

No one knows better than teachers how to evaluate teachers. This is the time to do more than cry foul. This is the time for the teacher's unions to make teacher evaluation their top priority. If they don't, others will.

He's probably right about the politics here. Still, I think teachers are better off making a stronger attack against the right-wing policy outcomes that these metrics are designed to produce. If they can turn the public against test-based pay, against vouchers, and against privatization, then they'll have a better chance of producing some sort of teacher evaluation process that is more holistic, less focused on the short-term, and less damaging to the quality of education in this state.

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

Teachers Take Issue With LA Times "Evaluations"

by: Robert Cruickshank

Mon Aug 16, 2010 at 14:30:00 PM PDT

In a major front-page story on Sunday, the Los Angeles Times rated teachers based on student test scores they'd obtained from the LAUSD:

Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers - something the district could do but has not.

The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students' progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student's performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

Though controversial among teachers and others, the method has been increasingly embraced by education leaders and policymakers across the country, including the Obama administration.

Although the Times article later acknowledges the limitations of this method, they still plowed right ahead and are using it - with the names of actual LAUSD teachers - to evaluate teachers in a massively public way:

No one suggests using value-added analysis as the sole measure of a teacher. Many experts recommend that it count for half or less of a teacher's overall evaluation....

Nevertheless, value-added analysis offers the closest thing available to an objective assessment of teachers. And it might help in resolving the greater mystery of what makes for effective teaching, and whether such skills can be taught.

As most of you know, I was a teacher myself, teaching history and political science at the University of Washington and at Monterey Peninsula College from 2002 to 2009. I love teaching and hope to do more of it someday. I also taught a graduate seminar on pedagogy (the study of teaching), where we extensively examined the literature on student testing and teacher evaluation.

In both my experience as a teacher and my review of the literature on the topic, it is extremely clear that it is a very bad idea, highly likely to produce misleading results, to rely solely on test scores to evaluate either student learning or teacher effectiveness. Testing is very useful, but it is NOT the only way to evaluate a teacher.

That in turn is a primary reason why you haven't seen districts like LAUSD publish this information. They and teachers alike prefer to conduct more holistic reviews that don't reduce teaching to test scores. And that's why UTLA is slamming the LA Times article:

One of the biggest critics is the L.A. teachers union. The head of the union said Sunday he was organizing a "massive boycott" of The Times after the newspaper began publishing a series of articles that uses student test scores to estimate the effectiveness of district teachers.

"You're leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by ... a test," said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has more than 40,000 members.

Why would it be a "dangerous" direction? Because by naming teachers and providing a flawed ratings system for those teachers, it gives the public a deeply misleading view of teacher effectiveness. And it can undermine public support for teachers as a result.

The LA Times would have done better to not take into its own hands the making of education policy for the LAUSD. That's a matter more appropriately done by parents, teachers, and the school district, in collaboration with each other. So I share the UTLA's concerns with how this analysis is unfolding and proceeding.

Discuss :: (12 Comments)

Why Bell - and Maywood - Matter

by: Robert Cruickshank

Mon Jul 26, 2010 at 13:00:00 PM PDT

So there's been a LOT of discussion in Southern California over the last week or so about the situation in the small city of Bell, one of the hundreds dozens of incorporated cities in Los Angeles County, where top city officials were making truly stunning salaries, nearing $800,000 in one case.

The story is being pushed hard by the right, which sees an opportunity to undermine both government and public employee unions - although these salaries weren't the product of a union contract, conservatives are ignoring that detail to imply that Bell is symptomatic of a bigger problem of "overpaid" public workers, so that we should simply impoverish everyone instead of making the relatively minor fixes to address the occasional abuse of the system.

But another story in the region has gone relatively underreported. Maywood, which borders Bell to the north, has laid off its entire police force and contracted with the LA County Sheriffs Department to police their city. In the SF Bay Area, San Carlos is considering a similar move. Here in Monterey, the Peninsula cities have been considering integrating their fire services, and already Pacific Grove has contracted with Monterey to oversee its fire services.

The real issues aren't that government is incompetent or that public workers are greedy, as the right-wingers would have us believe. Instead the truth is that California's city governments are in need of some fundamental reforms - including city consolidation - and that we need to do a better job of ensuring residents are fully engaged in the process of local government.

Joe Mathews and Mark Paul have argued that one problem is that we simply don't need all these cities, especially in Southern California - there's no need for these populations to be divided up into dozens of small cities. I tend to agree here.

The only reason cities like Bell, Maywood, South Gate, Huntington Park, and Compton - among the other so-called "Gateway Cities" - existed in the first place as separate cities and not part of the city of Los Angeles was a desire to maintain racial segregation. In an excellent book about the mid-20th century history of this region titled "My Blue Heaven: Life and Politics in the Working Class Suburbs of Los Angeles, 1920-1965", historian Becky Nicolaides explained that many of these cities incorporated to prevent being annexed not just by the city of LA, but by the LA Unified School district. The goal was to keep nonwhite residents out of these white working-class suburbs and to keep white students from having to share a school with other students of color in the LAUSD.

For a while it succeeded. My dad was born in South Gate in 1957, at a time when my grandparents recall the city being uniformly white. The nearby Watts Riots in 1965 began a trend of white flight to the suburbs (my family had moved to Orange County several years earlier) and in the 2000 census, South Gate was reported to be 92% Latino. Many of the other Gateway Cities also have large Latino populations, some of which are undocumented and therefore denied full citizenship in this country.

Steve Lopez made this point in a recent column:

Those cities have largely poor, immigrant populations that are too busy working to pay close attention to City Hall, which means they can be easily exploited. Voter turnout is low, in part because many residents are undocumented and even many legal immigrants aren't yet qualified to vote. And there's not much media presence because of cutbacks by everyone in the industry, including The Times, so the rascals are left to steal with impunity.

"It's a very predatory type of mentality," said Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens resident who is an adjunct professor at USC.

The right-wing is already trying to reject this argument. Pete Peterson (not the same person who is trying to destroy Social Security and Medicare, unsure whether they're related) writes in Fox and Hounds Daily that Lopez is wrong:

First, even understanding that there may be a sizable number of undocumented residents in cities like Bell, with a stated population of 36,000, the special election, which allowed the city to set its own pay for the city council back in 2005 was won on a vote count of 336 to 54.  A quick addition and division shows that about 1% of the total city population made the decision to put the municipality on its ruinous course; there's low turnout, and then there's civic malpractice. It stretches credulity to believe that 99% of the city's residents could not have been more involved - either directly through the ballot box, or indirectly through reading local press - in Spanish or English. Certainly, Bell's citizens are engaged now, as the hundreds protesting around City Hall demonstrate.

Peterson's claim is basically that it's the residents' fault for not showing up. But he simply dismisses Lopez's reasons without any real explanation. It's not just the number of undocumented residents, but the fact that if 99% of the city's residents aren't engaged, then there is some kind of structural problem.

Should city council meetings be held on a weekend? Should the city undertake more aggressive ways to reach out to the public, instead of just assuming that whoever shows up shows up and if they don't, tough luck?

Or do we need more fundamental reforms, such as same-day voter registration, a comprehensive immigration reform to bring more people into the ranks of the voting population? And should we finally examine some kind of local government reform, whether it's city consolidation with neighborhood representation structures or something else entirely, like turning LA County into a kind of Madrid-style city-state with dozens of elected representatives?

Joe Mathews wonders if Bell has ended local government reform:

Bell's leaders may have set back the cause of restoring more local control over finances. While the particulars of each proposal are different, several good government groups are arguing for allowing local government to keep more control over tax revenues. But it's hard to make the case for trusting municipalities after the abuse of power in Bell.

I disagree here. What's more likely is that Bell will fuel the desire to return power to local governments so that Orange County isn't "subsidizing" Bell, or that Carmel isn't "subsidizing" Seaside. Cities with more prosperous residents and more effective governments will want to cut themselves off even further from places like Bell, Maywood, Vernon, and others that have had problems in recent years.

At the end of it all, we ought to conclude that here, the system worked. The free press learned about the story, and the public demanded and have now won action to address the abuses. Compare that to the private sector, where Goldman Sachs still spends over $1 billion in bonuses even after helping destroy the economy, and the rest of us are essentially powerless to stop it.

I'm not surprised the right-wing has been silent as the night on that matter.

Discuss :: (9 Comments)

Why Antonio Villaraigosa's 30/10 Plan Matters

by: Robert Cruickshank

Sat Apr 03, 2010 at 11:57:29 AM PDT

Last year, when Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa won an underwhelming 55% of the vote in his re-election bid, David Dayen wrote here at Calitics that this was due in part to Villaraigosa's inability to finish what he started:

The enduring image of the Villaraigosa tenure is a crane alongside a half-built skyscraper. He is full of good ideas that never get the follow-through they deserve.

In 2010, Villaraigosa is working to shed that image through one of the most important and innovative proposals California has seen in a long time. It's known as the 30/10 plan and would deliver the long-desired build out of a true mass transit system for Los Angeles by the end of this decade. It is Villaraigosa's moon shot - and is essential to Los Angeles's future viability.

30/10 is a shorthand for building in 10 years the mass transit projects projected to take 30 years to complete that voters approved in the 2008 Measure R sales tax increase. The projects include flagship routes like the Subway to the Sea (at least as far as UCLA), but also important workhorse lines like the regional connector, Crenshaw light rail, extending the Green Line to the LAX terminals, and finishing the Expo Line out to Santa Monica. It also includes routes out to the suburbs, such as the recently-approved Gold Line extension to Azusa, the Gold Line eastside extension toward San Gabriel, and even commuter rail along the West Santa Ana Branch line - all the way into central Orange County.

The key to the 30/10 plan is getting the federal government to loan Metro (LA County's transportation agency) the money to build these projects now, to be repaid using Measure R sales tax revenue over the next 30 years.

Congress is quickly warming to the idea. Senator Barbara Boxer was the first to champion the 30/10 plan, and is being joined by Senator Dianne Feinstein and other federal officials who hail the 30/10 plan as a model for accelerated funding of mass transit.

For all its innovativeness, the 30/10 plan isn't the ideal way to fund mass transit. The federal government built the interstates on the 90/10 plan: the feds paid 90% of the construction cost and the states only 10%. That model ought to be applied to mass transit as well. Until it is, the 30/10 model is the next best thing.

That's because LA, like the rest of the state, has no time to lose in building out a mass transit network that can handle the travel needs of its population. As oil prices rise later this year, part of a long-term trend upward that will lead to a sustained price of $175 a barrel by 2017 according to Deutsche Bank analysts, the LA economy will grind to a halt unless more effective mass transit options are provided.

Even without the price spike, the traffic-choked nature of Southern California means that there would be significant economic benefits to mass transit. Fewer time spent in traffic is more time spent with family or innovating new ideas. Fewer dollars spent on driving leads to a Green Dividend that has already pumped more than $2 billion into the economy of Portland, Oregon. It will also provide for greater housing affordability - the most affordable places to live in SoCal are those nearest mass transit. Villaraigosa isn't just going to put people back to work with 30/10, he's going to ensure that the whole economy can continue to function in a post-cheap oil era.

Notably absent from this is the role of the state government. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been waging a war on mass transit, trying to kill it by slashing operating funds. Already he may have claimed a high-profile victim in the form of Caltrain.

The 30/10 plan will need those state operating funds to be restored, and that ought to include a higher statewide gas tax. If it was good enough for Tom Campbell it's good enough for California. Prices at the pump will rise anyway, but voters won't notice even a 10-cent increase. Trust me on this, I lived in Washington State when the gas tax rose by 10 cents between 2005 and 2007. Nobody noticed.

As we can expect Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner to continue Arnold's war on mass transit (and therefore, a war on California's future), we can hope that Jerry Brown wins back the governor's office and that he will reverse this trend. If Brown loses, however, Antonio Villaraigosa's 30/10 plan would make him an extremely compelling candidate for the governor's office in 2014.

No matter who occupies the governor's office, the 30/10 plan is a model not just in California, but around the world. As Jarrett Walker, an Australian transit blogger, put it this week, the 30/10 plan will make LA "the transit metropolis":

The big-picture Los Angeles talking point is still an inspiring one: The most aggressive mayoral transit advocacy in America is coming from the largest American city that was mostly designed for cars. And because film and television will always tell this city's story to the world, the rise of transit in Los Angeles will be a globally resonant event. Is anyone studying how film and television images of how people travel in Los Angeles are evolving over time? Those things really matter.

For those reasons and more, let's hope Mayor Villaraigosa is successful in his push to make the 30/10 plan real and secure Los Angeles's future prosperity. Villaraigosa's "enduring image" would no longer be the construction crane and the unfinished skyscraper, but the Subway to the Sea and a more sustainable transportation system for the region.

(30/10 map from The Transport Politic)

Discuss :: (3 Comments)

"Profiles in Cowardice" Gov Lite Candidate Hahn: Ax Private Workers, Not City Workers

by: curtislwalker

Sun Feb 28, 2010 at 07:11:03 AM PST

From the Los Angeles Daily News today comes one of the more sickening stories I have read about the LA City Council mishandling the operation of the City of Los Angeles. Unlike many cities in financial meltdowns, the LA Council is actually blamed by bond rating companies for the financial disaster--NOT JUST THE ECONOMY. Council Member and Lt. Governor Candidate Janice Hahn was singled out for her words and recommendations without knowing the impact of her recommendation. As the Daily News said:
Last week it stopped being funny.

L.A. council dithers as city nears fiscal cliff

Those were real tears in the City Council chamber as members of the various public employee unions made their case why 4,000 of them shouldn't be fired due to the budget sinkhole that promises to swallow us all.

Moved by the tears, Councilwoman Janice Hahn proclaimed, "It's time for us to lay off private contractors and keep our city workers!"

In Hahn's world there's a hierarchy of sorrow. A city worker losing his job is somehow worse than you losing your job. Unemployment is clearly more tragic if the laid off worker has a union card in his wallet. This must come as a great comfort to the thousands upon thousands of private sector taxpayers in L.A. who have been fired over the past 18 months. Sure you lost your job and your health insurance. OK, so you're upside down on your home, your taxes have been hiked and your pension has plummeted, but at least you are not one of those poor city workers who might lose his job.

Janice "Evita" Hahn cavalierly suggests firing private contractors, as if their children's stomachs fill themselves. Fired is fired, Ms. Hahn. Nonunion tears are just as salty.

There's More... :: (2 Comments, 193 words in story)

Anthony Adams' Head Saved From Pike

by: Robert Cruickshank

Fri Nov 20, 2009 at 14:55:40 PM PST

Back in the February budget battle, notorious right-wing SoCal talk show hosts John and Ken put the heads of Republican legislators who voted for the tax increases on sticks as a threat of grassroots wingnut revolt. Their primary enemy became GOP Assemblymember Anthony Adams (AD-59), who they targeted with a recall effort, gathering and submitting signatures to put a recall on the ballot. It was to be the biggest demonstration yet of the power the KFI duo have over California politics - and the Republican Party.

Except they failed.

We learned today that the recall effort will fall 11,000 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot, according to the random sampling projections. John and Ken turned in 58,000 signatures but the sampling projects less than half - about 24,500 - will be valid, short of the 35,825 they needed to make the ballot.

Chalk this up as a pretty big FAIL on the part of John and Ken and their own SoCal version of the teabagger movement. Armed with one of the West Coast's most powerful radio signals and one of the highest rated shows in the region, they still couldn't muster the signatures to even get this before voters.

On Twitter I noted that if they couldn't get the recall on the ballot, maybe John and Ken aren't so powerful after all. Anthony Adams agrees. Once again, the great anti-tax revolution of 2009 is a mouse that failed to roar.

Discuss :: (8 Comments)

LACDP Summit Lunch Liveblog: Coalition Building

by: David Atkins (thereisnospoon)

Sun Nov 08, 2009 at 14:13:03 PM PST

Following is the liveblog of the LACDP Summit Lunch Panel on Coalition Building with:
  • Assemblymember De La Torre
  • Peggy Moore of OFA
  • Henry Vandermeir of the CDC
  • Arisha Michelle Hatch of the Courage Campaign
  • Dorothy Reik of PDA
  • Gary Vaughn of SEIU 721

This very interesting panel was moderated by Assemblymember John Perez.  

There's More... :: (0 Comments, 3466 words in story)
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