And Now it’s Time for Teachers to Rise

As of this publishing, the Oklahoma teachers are in their fifth day of a statewide strike.  The starting salary for a teacher there is $31,600, third lowest in the country.

The teachers began their walkout after rejecting a 6 percent pay raise over three years, and $50 million in education funding. Why?  Because the last time teachers in the state received any raise was in 2008.  Several school districts in the state are only open four days a week because they don’t have the money to literally keep the lights on.  Their demands:  a $10,000 raise over three years and $200 million in funding.

It’s not just about more money in teachers’ pockets, but more textbooks in students’ hands.

Last month teachers from West Virginia went on strike for nine days to earn a 5 percent pay raise.  Last week there was a sickout in Kentucky to protest cuts in their pensions.  Now Arizona teachers are pondering action as well.

Whether inspired by the #MeToo movement or the student-led March for Our Lives, teachers now feel emboldened to speak out on the national stage about their working conditions, charging en masse to state capitals.

While I have reservations about teachers going out on strike, such action is rattling the status quo.

Upon hearing what the teachers want, Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin told a reporter that teachers wanting more money was “kind of like having a teenage kid that wants a better car.”   Such a condescending comment underscores how teachers are perceived by some.

Taxpayers who have no sympathy for higher salaries base it primarily on the amount of time teachers are at a school.

While hours from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. may not seem overwhelming, the teacher is working nearly every minute of that timeframe, hosting club meetings at lunch, tutoring students after school.

Yes, teachers have many holidays and summers off.  It is the off the job hours, however, that justifies a higher teacher’s salary.

When do teachers develop lesson plans, create assignments, and grade work?  They do it at home, at their children’s practices, in doctors’ waiting rooms, stealing away minutes whenever they can.

Then there is the mental toll on teachers, always thinking about the next lesson, even while celebrating Thanksgiving, or lugging a bag of student papers while vacationing over Spring Break.  Rarely is a teacher’s mind not thinking about how to spark students’ curiosity.

Some teachers are paid decently, no question.  California teachers do enjoy the second highest average salary in the nation at $78,711, but the state has the second highest cost of living as well. The majority of teachers who work in Glendale can’t afford to live in Glendale.

The rent for a one bedroom apartment goes for $2,284 based on Rent Jungle averages; the median home is priced at $816,500 according to Zillow.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia told the New York Times that recent teacher uprisings is an “education spring.”

Time will tell if these events are the beginnings of a sustained movement or just a passing phase.   Still, it is refreshing to see educators get out of their soft shells and show how much they care about their work with America’s youth, and how much Americans should care about it as well.




Legalizing Illegal Bicyclist Behavior

Drivers are often reminded through posted signs to “share the road” with bicyclists.  But what about “share the laws”?

If assemblymen Jay Obernolte and Phil Ting get their AB 1103 passed, this will no longer be true.

AB 1103 would allow bicyclists to run stop signs legally.

Obernolte told the Times that bicyclists’ “loss of momentum causes them to spend a substantially longer amount of time in the intersection.”  In other words, those two-ton monsters roaming the streets ruin their cardio workout.  Well, drivers could argue that stopping for bicyclists and providing a three-foot clearance for them impedes their progression as well.

Bicyclists will be the one type of vehicle traversing the highways that follows Mad Max-type of rules, leaving the rest of us drivers and pedestrians at our own peril navigating along Fury Road.

Imagine the confusion as you pull up to a stop sign, and when it appears to be clear, you press the accelerator only to quickly slam on the brakes due to a blur of wheels speeding in front of you.

If the rule of thumb is to change laws to reflect the way drivers and bicyclists operate their vehicles, then you might as well do away with stop signs and red lights altogether since so many people run through them.

Whenever I see a driver or a bicyclist speed through a four-way stop intersection as I alone obey the complete stop, I think about what would happen if the other person met someone like himself.   The result?  A crash.

Instead, these menaces count on law-abiding citizens to keep them safe.  How loony is that notion?

Once I observed a bicyclist going at least 30 mph downhill in a residential neighborhood, blowing through a four-way stop.  A driver honked his horn at him to which the bicyclist stopped, turned around, and gave him the middle finger on both of his hands.   The bicyclist knew what he did was illegal and wrong, but didn’t care, even about his own life which could have ended right there if not for the driver following the law in stopping at the intersection.

It is amazing that there aren’t double the number of traffic accidents when one sees on a daily basis blatant disregard for rules of the road.  No wonder Glendale has the distinction as one of the least safe cities in terms of traffic in America.

And before we unleash anti-immigrant venom into the discussion to explain this behavior, I have seen young and old, driving jalopies and jaguars, all perpetrators of bad driving.

The cause is complex, but much of it is rooted in the increasing selfishness of people.   They don’t care who is around them on the streets; they are determined to do whatever they want without risk of being caught or shamed.

What motivates a bicyclist or a motorist to make a complete stop when there is no one else around?

I feel embarrassed if I do something wrong in public; too many others do not feel the same.

To bring sanity back to the streets, I have three suggestions.

One, hire more parking enforcement officers.   Provide them with more training so that they can issue moving violations such as running stop signs.   Station them at four-way stops.  The revenue from all the tickets will more than pay for the additional jobs.

Two, have a public service campaign that educates the public how to behave on the road.

Three, contact Assemblymember Laura Friedman who represents the Burbank/Glendale area and express your opposition to this proposed law which will legalize bad behavior, something for which there is no drought.

Doing the right thing can’t be legislated, but neither should be doing the wrong thing.


This year’s 10th graders have reason to celebrate since they no longer have to take the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).

Last October Gov. Brown signed into law SB 172 suspending the test for three years through the 2017-18 school year.

Since 2004, the CAHSEE was administered to the state’s sophomores to test their ability in math, English, and writing.

Former Glendale superintendent Jim Brown served on the original committee whose intent was to develop a rigorous enough test to certify that a high school diploma meant something. If a student did not pass either portion of the test, he did not graduate.

However, when the test was piloted, it was discovered that half of all students could not pass the test.

Since schools could not have survived the public relations nightmare of a 50% graduation rate, CAHSEE was redesigned, or dummied-down, testing 8th grade level math and 10th grade level English to represent 12th grade competency.   The original two essays were downsized to a single piece of writing.

The writing prompts demanded little on the part of students, asking them to discuss a place they would like to visit or a toy from their childhood. And with such competency they are ready for college?

Even with a passing threshold of 55 percent in math and 60 percent in English, plus a host of free intervention classes and one-on-one tutoring, along with multiple chances to pass the darn thing, one out of every ten California seniors still did not pass it.

For those reasons, I never knew a single student who proudly proclaimed, “I passed the CAHSEE!”

State Sen. Carol Liu of La Canada Flintridge who sponsored SB 172 told me that she agrees “passing the exit exam in and of itself [did] not ensure students [had] mastered grade 12 standards.”

Think about the tens of millions of dollars and dozens of school days wasted on this endeavor. The biggest impact CAHSEE made in the past decade was enriching testing companies.

Besides suspending the test, the measure that went into effect the first of this year allows the 32,000 students who never passed the CAHSEE to now receive their diplomas. In other words, all the students who ever took the exit exam have officially “passed it” making the rationale behind it in the first place a very expensive joke, a high-priced feel good award akin to all kids on a sports team earning trophies regardless of merit.

Unfortunately, CAHSEE may return in a different form in the future.

One foreboding element of the law stipulates that “the Superintendent of Public Instruction convene an advisory panel to provide recommendations . . . on the continuation of the high school exit examination and on alternative pathways to satisfy the high school graduation requirements” as worded on the California Department of Education website.

Sen. Liu believes that future students could be looking at “multiple measures, such as an exit exam, coursework, and a project-based assignment” to prove they have earned a diploma.

Um, whatever happened to using a student’s course grades in determining achievement as colleges do? No college was ever interested if a student passed the CAHSEE or not.

The costly lesson of politician-produced initiatives such as CAHSEE and NCLB (which officially ended last month) is that elected officials need to stop thinking of themselves as experts on how to improve education.


GUSD Should Copy BUSD Calendar

January will be a busy time for Glendale Unified school board members as they tackle two of the most significant issues left over from 2015: the search for a new superintendent and a new starting date for school.

While the public has a minor say in choosing a superintendent, parents can have a major impact voicing their views on when schools should open their doors by attending one of the upcoming meetings: Jan. 11 at Glendale High, Jan. 13 at Hoover High, and Jan. 14 at Crescenta Valley High.

As reported before in this space, opening schools in early August makes no sense. The desire to finish the fall semester before winter break pertains only to 7-12th graders who have final exams.

And the idea that high school students need more time to prepare for Advanced Placement tests before the May testing period is just that—an idea. There is no proof that students have performed better on AP tests ever since school was moved up several weeks to early August.

In fact, AP test results have suffered in recent years ever since pre-requisites to taking AP classes were eliminated. Plus, this affects only a small portion of high school students. The majority of the K-12 student population does not need to follow a college calendar.

Thumbs up to parent Sarah Rush for spearheading an online petition to start school later that garnered 2,000 plus signatures. It definitely got the attention of GUSD more than this writer’s musings.

Thumbs down to GUSD for shelving this discussion even though parents expressed themselves back in August allowing plenty of time to alter next year’s calendar.   One school board member rationalized that they could not change the calendar because people already have made plans based on the Aug. 8th start date. Really?

Number one, how many parents cement August 2016 vacation plans in August 2015. And, number two, if they did, so what. School would not be starting earlier, it would be starting later.

Unfortunately, GUSD was not interested in renegotiating the already approved 2016-2017 calendar. Understandably Glendale’s school board members had their hands full with myriad issues this year including labor negotiations with employee groups, a proposed charter school (recently denied), future realignment of the district, as well as the continuing Sagebrush saga.

On the plus side, GUSD finally followed what Burbank Unified has done for years by posting an online survey for parents between Jan. 8 and 22 on this issue. And the district has formed a 27-member Superintendent’s Committee on Calendar Development that will meet five times (do we really need 27 people to devise calendar options?).

I find Burbank’s school calendar the most efficient. School opens Aug. 15 and ends on May 25. The 11-week summer allows more time not just for travel but for kids to enroll in enrichment classes or to get jobs. Conversely, Glendale schools start Aug. 8 and end June 1 with a 9-week summer.

I’m not sure why GUSD’s 27-member committee needs five meetings to devise a new calendar when their municipal neighbor already has one that they can adopt. Not having the Friday off before Labor Day, limiting the Thanksgiving holidays to three, and keeping Winter Break to two full weeks is how they do it, fitting the state-mandated 180 days of school within 284 calendar days instead of 298.

There, you can cancel four of the meetings right there.

Both cities share similar demographics and the same delicious bakery, Porto’s. So, to start the New Year right, hold a joint meeting of BUSD and GUSD and come to a consensus on the same school calendar. Potato balls, anyone?


Boy, do we need Father’s Day now

Sunday will mark my 17th Father’s Day, a special accomplishment for me considering that I have been a dad longer than my father was for me.

Even though my dad died when I was 14 years old, I often wonder what he would think about everything that has happened since 1973.

Warehouse-size retail stores and gridlock traffic in the Glendale-Burbank area.

The extinction of LPs and record stores and the birth of cell phones and personal computers.

Explicit lyrics in songs and violent scenes in movies.

Tattoos on people who didn’t serve time in the Navy or in prison.

The astronomical cost of living compared to 1973 when a gallon of gasoline was 38 cents, not enough for a candy bar today, and a home sold for $30,000, currently the cost of an average automobile.

The end of the Vietnam War to the beginning of terrorist attacks.

The resignation of President Nixon and the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Firsts for women including astronaut Sally Ride and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

The legalization of gay marriage and the proliferation of children born out-of-wedlock.

The escalation of crazed individuals murdering innocent groups of people in schools, churches, and theatres.

Dad never saw the completion or destruction of New York’s Twin Towers.

He also didn’t live long enough to see any of his children marry, their children born, or his wife’s final 30 years.

A man of extremely modest means who rarely owned his own house or a new car ended up with three children each of whom have enjoyed a standard of living that would make him burst at the seams with pride.

I’d be curious to find out how my father would react to the relaxed mores in today’s society.

The blurring of what defines a person’s sexual preference, gender and ethnicity with

David Furnish, Elton John’s husband, identifying himself as the “mother” on the birth certificates of their adopted sons and ex-NAACP official Rachel Dolezal born white identifying herself as African American.

What would dad think?

He was of the generation when men were the breadwinners and protectors of the household.

Such father figures were portrayed in movies and television shows as the parent who meted out punishments to the children, but who also offered sage advice, the glue that held the family structure together.

Then the 1960’s happened and it became cool to make fun of establishment figures.

Unable to employ old stereotypes of minorities, dads nicely filled the roles for Hollywood, becoming metaphors for incompetent imbeciles.

The lowering of the prestige of being a father mirrors the decline in two-parent households.

It’s almost as if dad has become irrelevant.

The decline in fathers and their impact on rearing children cannot be overstated in terms of the residual decline in cultural standards.

We should celebrate the contributions of fathers, and encourage their resurgence in the home and in society.   Let’s build them up not break them down. Kids need their daddies.

Of all the lessons fathers pass down to their children, the one about mortality is perhaps both the greatest and saddest. Since men don’t live as long as women, their passing is the first death that hits immediate family members.   Just as there are ways to live one’s life, there are also ways how to survive a death in the family.

Often it takes the loss of a loved one for those left behind to appreciate the life they have ahead of them.

Still, I wish I didn’t have to learn that lesson until I was much, much older.

Student Test Scores Should Not Be Used to Evaluate Teachers

A lasting legacy of the No Child Left Behind federal legislation has been the notion of tying student test scores to teachers’ job evaluations. Due to the controversy of such an idea, the school districts around the country who have implemented it have limited its impact on a teacher’s overall performance.

Now, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is proposing to make test scores the primary factor in rating teachers, increasing the weight to 50 percent and downgrading the impact of traditional principal classroom observations to a scant 15 percent.

Teachers’ unions are not happy about this development especially considering that many of the politicians who support this trend are Democrats, the party that teachers financially support.

The question is: Is it possible for students to perform poorly on tests but still have a skillful teacher? The answer: absolutely. Is it possible for patients to be in poor health but still have a skillful physician?

Let’s say a doctor gets paid based on how healthy his patients are. Looking at this nation’s fitness statistics, an awful lot of physicians would be taking a pay cut.

Some aspects of a person’s health are based on lifestyle, while other ailments come on randomly or genetically. A doctor can only control a small amount of the choices a patient makes. And the same concept applies to education.

Yes, brilliant teachers can make a difference in some students’ academic life. But there will remain others that a teacher can’t reach, reasons entirely out of the influence of the educator. Teachers are not miracle workers. Learning is a two-way street.

An Advanced Placement teacher may falsely appear as a master of pedagogy since his students score high while a special education teacher of higher quality could have her job in jeopardy since her students score low.

As noted education writer Diane Ravitch said on her website, “ The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.”

To primarily use test scores to determine teacher quality is insulting. Education should not be so finely defined to view academic success as a high score on a test. I have had plenty of hand-raising young people who stimulate discussions, yet who struggle with expressing themselves on paper.

As a teacher, I use multiple measures to determine if my students meet language arts standards.   This includes class participation, speaking ability, writing competency, as well as test-taking skills.   A student can’t be judged solely in one of those areas and be given a grade that meets all the standards.   And neither can a teacher be judged competent on a test that is not even created by that instructor.

Numbers drive our society and No Child Left Behind with its standardized test scores that determine rankings of schools fed into that mentality. Remember when schools were rated according to their Academic Performance Index or API scores? Parents in Glendale bragged about their children attending the La Crescenta schools with the highest API numbers in the district. Did that mean that the teachers up on the hill were better than those in the southern part of the city?

No doubt looking at test results versus having principals make classroom visits takes less time. But it also reveals less information. Having humans observe a teacher live in front of students is a much more accurate assessment tool. The dynamic between teacher and student, the energy level in the room, the enthusiasm of the student doing work all don’t appear in a test score.

Those in charge of change in education, i.e., non-educators, should wake up and realize that there is a growing sentiment among educators and parents to lessen the influence of standardized test scores in classrooms.

Job number one is to attract people to the profession; job number two is to ensure that those good teachers already in classrooms remain there. Teaching already has enough negatives to dissuade people from entering the field. We don’t need to worsen how educators get evaluated to further erode the confidence of this country’s faculty.

Strangers Doing the Right Thing is the Neighborly Thing to Do

Call me old-fashioned but I’m the type of person who believes in doing the right thing. It is a philosophy that flows through the way I conduct my life, including my teaching.

So it never ceases to boggle my mind when others don’t do the right thing.

Take, for example, the suspected driver of the car who killed the four-year-old girl in Glendale last week. No one can fathom the depth of that family’s grief. And no one can fathom what goes on in the mind of a driver who upon hitting another human being decides the best action to take is to flee the scene.

One can debate whether the driver or the girl was at fault. One cannot debate, however, about the one indisputable fact—the driver did not stop.

It goes beyond cowardice. How can a person treat another person like that? What kind of people are amongst us?

It was amazing that the individual turned himself in . . . the next day. All the more remarkable considering that the majority of hit and run drivers never get caught.

Based on an internal LAPD memo last fall that Channel 4 News obtained, “nearly four out of every five hit-and-run cases are never solved” with arrests made in “less than 20 percent of the 20,000 hit and run cases that get reported each year.” So, 54 hit-and-run events occur each day in Los Angeles. That is a lot of people who are menaces to society while driving around in 2-ton vehicles.

A few weeks ago the Florida Supreme Court ruled that hit-and-run drivers can’t be prosecuted if they have no knowledge that they were in an accident. Yes, read that sentence again. The case involved a 15-year-old skateboarder who was dragged 90 feet by a truck and whose board was cut in two with witnesses observing the truck going up and down over it. Yet the driver had no clue what had happened.

Glendale is ranked 194th out of the 200 largest U.S. cities in terms of safe driving in the 2014 Allstate Best Drivers Report where there is a 72% chance of a driver being involved in an accident.

Hitting walkers is not just an L.A. thing. Pedestrian incidents have gotten so out of control in Chicago averaging 3,000 a year, 30 of them fatal, that hundreds of signs were posted actually using drawings as to what drivers need to do when encountering them—stop—and we’re talking about marked crosswalks. Wow, do we really need to have a sign to remind drivers to stop for those walking? Evidently since over 250 of the nearly 350 signs costing $500 apiece were damaged by cars.

Another kind of do-they-really-need-to-spell-it-out signs can be viewed on Kenneth Road in Glendale where an electronic message board flashes a reminder that bicyclists need to obey all traffic rules. Unfortunately, such a memo needs displaying. Think about how many times you have actually noticed a bicyclist slow down (forget about stopping) at a 4-way or signaled stop. It occurs so rarely that when I actually see it I feel like high-fiving the rider if only he would slow down long enough.

It used to be “share the road” meant that drivers should take caution when passing bicyclists. However, the new slogan should read “share the road rules” for so many cyclists seem hell bent on never stopping while on a bike.

Pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers make up the traffic mix that we all traverse. When my son passed his behind-the-wheel driving test last week, I felt like celebrating his achievement until I realized what jungle he will have to survive in as a solo driver.

As a community, we depend on all of us to obey the laws. When just a small number don’t, all of us get impacted. And when accidents happen, we count on adults doing the right thing.