Friday, March 25, 2005


About a year ago, along with a million other parents in Los Angeles, I was anxiously waiting to hear whether my 13-year-old son got into private school. We had applied to two Catholic high schools, and the process had been sufficiently grueling as to make me want to skip college applications altogether. There were open houses to attend, letters of recommendation, transcripts and test scores to collect. We could also write a letter pleading our son's "special circumstances." In other words, if he didn't have a 4.0 and the musical gifts of Yo-Yo Ma or the footwork of David Beckham, what did he have to offer that might win him one of those sacred slots? We wrote the letter.

And then there was the religion issue. My son had to go through interviews, but equally nerve-racking, so did his father and I. Would we pass? Would they care that my husband is Jewish and that I'm Episcopalian? It was no small point, we thought. Applications to private schools in and around Los Angeles have soared, making the schools even more selective. Everyone we knew, it seemed, was applying where we were applying: boys on my son's soccer team who not only were bona fide Catholics but had Parents Who Knew People; most of his public school friends, including one whose siblings had already graduated from one of the schools, thus scoring legacy points.

On the morning of one interview, we sat in the school's beautifully refurbished Craftsman-style library along with half a dozen other parents. We smiled at each other, but no one talked. My son, who had been opposed to this school before he'd set one skateboard-shoed foot on its serene campus, now was on board. He loved its neat classrooms, its manicured grounds, its state-of-the-art track. Even seeing an occasional Roman-collared Jesuit and imposing religious statuary didn't put him off. As we waited, he sat quietly in his white dress shirt, dark slacks and tie, glancing around the book-lined room. "I really want to go here," he finally whispered.

I think part of what he was responding to was a seriousness lacking in his own dispirited school, with its trash-strewn campus, bulging classrooms and harried — and often lousy — teachers.

And yet I was full of conflict. What kind of socially responsible parent was I, bailing out of public education? My son was supposedly in one of the "good" schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Since third grade he'd also been in its highly touted and absurdly mercurial magnet program. If I was standing in line at Trader Joe's and the name of his school was mentioned, parents would appear and fall on me like suitors. We were so lucky, they'd swoon.

I didn't feel lucky. After nine years of constant fundraisers and fractious school politics, I was fed up. I know, I know — it's easy to get fed up with the LAUSD. The boondoggle school construction projects. The dirty bathrooms. The implacable resistance to change, including principals who claim to embrace parental involvement and then turn around and accuse parents of meddling.

But the real force compelling me out of public education was my son. The system I had always defended was failing him miserably. What "magnet" meant was plenty of homework but a dearth of teacher support. We were hardly alone — nearly half the students in his grade fled the magnet that June. I knew we'd made the right decision when, just days after mailing off his applications, a gang shooting erupted yards from the school swimming pool.

More here


And the failing one had a Bachelor's degree! Obviously a black degree

A Bronx teacher who repeatedly flunked his state certification exam paid a formerly homeless man with a developmental disorder $2 to take the test for him, authorities said yesterday. The illegal stand-in - who looks nothing like teacher Wayne Brightly -- not only passed the high-stakes test, he scored so much better than the teacher had previously that the state knew something was wrong, officials said. "I was pressured into it. He threatened me," the bogus test-taker Rubin Leitner told the Daily News yesterday after Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon revealed the scam. "I gave him my all," said Leitner, 58, who suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a disorder similar to autism. "He gave me what he thought I was worth."

Brightly, 38, a teacher at one of the city's worst schools, Middle School 142, allegedly concocted the plot to swap identities with Leitner last summer. If he failed the state exam again, Brightly risked losing his $59,000-a-year job. "I'm tired of taking this test and failing," Brightly told Leitner, according to Condon's probe. "I want you to help me."

Along with being much smarter than Brightly, Leitner is 20 years older. He also is white and overweight while Brightly is black and thin. Yet none of those glaring differences apparently worried Brightly. "He said no one would ever know," Leitner said outside the Brownsville, Brooklyn, building he has called home since briefly living on the streets.

The two men met years ago at Brooklyn College where Leitner earned bachelor's and master's degrees in history in the late 1970s, and Brightly got a bachelor's degree in 1992. After meeting in the alumni office, Leitner began tutoring the teacher as he struggled to pass the state exam, officials said.

Brightly has been charged with coercion, falsifying business records and other crimes. He has been taken out of his Baychester classroom pending the outcome of the case. About 19,000 teachers across the state take the certification exam each year and roughly 95% pass. Teachers are required to be certified - but the city has a temporary waiver from the state because the Education Department has not been able to find enough qualified instructors.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here


No comments: