Leonard J. Martin and Diane Ravitch

There is an alternative to the corporate candidates in the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in the upcoming California primary elections. Not just a candidate who isn’t entirely beholden to corporate interests, including the lucrative charter-voucher industry, but a candidate with a progressive platform. That candidate is Leonard J. Martin of Santa Clarita.

Martin has distinguished himself not only in that his platform and principles are highly progressive, but as a candidate that actually attends events and meets with parents, students, teachers, and community members. I’ve run into Martin at many events, and at those events he is constantly trying to learn what communities want. Lacking the high handed arrogance of corporate sycophant State Senator Gloria Romero, Martin is interested in serving the people of California. Martin understands that taxing the rich instead of robbing resources from working people is the only way to begin solving the problems with our schools. In California that will require serious organizing, given the regressiveness of Prop 13, the absurd two thirds majority required in Sacramento for tax increases and budget decisions, and the lack of an oil extraction tax. However, unless candidates are willing to take a principled stance, those issues will remain off the table, to the advantage of the wealthy.

Most of the teachers’ unions are endorsing Tom Torlakson, who in comparison to Gloria Romero is considered the progressive candidate. Of course, given Romero’s reactionary stances on nearly every issue that isn’t saying much. Romero, who has been funded to the tune of nearly a third of a million by some the most repugnant members of the DFER/DLC crowd including school privatization puppet-master Eli Broad, is actually far to the right of several of Republican candidates running for the seat. Her close relationship with fellow Milton Friedman/Ayn Rand acolyte Arnold Schwarzenegger has produced a financial bonanza for the already deep pocketed California Charter School Association leeches.

Glorio Romero’s recent homages to the burgeoning charter-voucher industry above include SB 592 which hands public school property over to private corporations, and SBX5 1 which was California’s failed attempt to cave into corporatist Arne “Katrina Schadenfreude” Duncan’s misnamed Race to the Top blackmail scheme. Romero’s (co-written by Ben Austin) RttT legislation contains the ultra reactionary “Corporate Trigger” (often misleadingly referred to as a parent trigger) language that became California law earlier this year. This “Corporate Trigger” language lets billionaire bankrolled 501c3 organizations collect signatures of parents in the attendance boundary of schools victimized by NCLB’s punitive provisions. Even conservative Republican Lydia Gutierrez points out myriad problems with “Race to the Top.” So Romero finds herself to the right of proud right wing reactionaries, which is what makes her the candidate of choice for the privatization minded members of the “Billionaire Boys Club.”

So while it is easy to claim Torlakson is to the left of Romero (not a tall order, to say the least), his own stances make little of the threat of privatization. Certainly he may be the proverbial “lesser of two evils,” but that isn’t saying much. Unfortunately, aside from much better funding, the big money candidates get the vast majority of news coverage. Further, most of those candidates are seasoned politicians with a degree of name recognition. In light of this, I’ve decided to introduce Leonard J. Martin by presenting his press releases with interspersed commentary. While I encourage people to visit Martin’s website and even try to meet him at one of the many community events he attends (you won’t see other candidates there), I think much of his character and politics are outlined in the cogent arguments presented in these press releases.

Martin’s first press release deals with the tragic announcement that Green Dot Public Schools was closing down Ánimo Justice, their only school with sufficient English Language Learner and Special Education resources, and one of the few schools in that attendance boundary. I have written on this capricious decision by the corporate charter management organization in Taking on a charter school closing, South Central protests school closures, and Advocating Public Education Roundup 10W17 - No School Closures.

Martin is right to point out the neoliberal connections and the utter disregard for students, parents, and community Green Dot showed in this cold and calloused decision. Unlike astro-turf parent groups like the Eli Broad financed LAPU/Parent Revolution which calls for parents to hand public schools over to unelected secret CMO boards, Martin calls for Ánimo Justice to be handed over to the community. That would be real parent power, the kind of power Ben Austin is fearful of.

PRESS RELEASE 1: LET KIDS, PARENTS AND TEACHERS RUN ANIMO JUSTICE. CLOSE GREEN DOT!
March 23, 2010

Leonard J. Martin, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

This week’s announcement that the corporate giant in the charter school business will close a Los Angeles high school reveals the folly of running public schools like a business. Yet that is exactly what charter advocates, including the leaders of Green Dot, insist is the key to successfully “operating” public schools in Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

Like an employer closing a branch plant to save money, Green Dot decided to close one of its many “subsidiaries” in L.A. That decision was taken without input from those most affected by the closure: students, teachers and parents. Instead, the self-appointed, unelected corporate board at Green Dot made that decision behind closed doors.

How often we see the same ruthless approach in the business world as one large corporation after another shuts its doors, putting great numbers of employees out of work without adequate notice or an opportunity to offer input, all for the sake of the bottom line.

Kids are not a commodity. Green Dot has not learned that but it is true. Billionaire-financed “educational” corporations should not be allowed to interrupt a child’s schooling. When Animo Justice closes at the end of the academic year, kids in grades 9-11 will be set adrift.

Was this part of the “contract” that parents and kids signed when they entered the school?

There is a simple solution. The governing board that granted Green Dot the right to organize this school - the Los Angeles Unified School District - should add Animo Justice to the list of 30 schools that have already been turned over to others to run, primarily to teachers. In this case, give the school to those most involved in the education process at Animo - the kids, their parents and their teachers.

Short of that, the school board should refuse to approve the closing of the school and should force Green Dot to continue operating it, even at a loss. But that would punish the kids more than it would punish Green dot.

Martin attended the South Central Community Forum on School Closures. Good coverage of the event is found in this piece by Kevin Douglas Grant, senior editor of Neon Tommy entitled Two South LA High Schools Combine Efforts As They Fight To Save Themselves. None of the other candidates for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction considered the school closures in South Central worthy of their time to attend the forum. Romero spends what little time she spends in Los Angeles just west of the Westwood and Wilshire intersection, she can’t be bothered with poor folk and people of color.

In his second press release, Martin dealt with the appointment of yet another two corporate charter-voucher advocates to a State Board of Education already stacked with privatization advocates. Notice how he calls out the fact that the majority of the board represent only five percent of the student population in the state, making not only for bias and favoritism, but for an unrepresentative body in general. Austin, a pariah in Los Angeles, is a person who rarely manages to tell the truth.

Probably the most important point in this release is the argument that the SBOE isn’t just unfair, it’s undemocratic through and through. What’s more, Gloria Romero is very close to Austin, and is on good terms with Arkatov.

PRESS RELEASE 2: REJECT STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION NOMINEES
April 01, 2010

Leonard J. Martin, Candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

This week Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated two more charter school partisans to serve on the state board of education. One of them, Ben Austin, has for some time been a zealous advocate of charter schools with close ties to the charter corporate giant, Green Dot. The other nominee, Alan Arkatov, sits on the board of a charter organization with sixteen schools in Los Angeles. These nominations will make an already pro-charter state board even more out of balance. Although California’s charter schools contain about 5% of the state’s public school students, a majority of the state board will consist of members directly involved in charter operations. This will facilitate the raid by charter entrepreneurs on the state’s nearly $40 billion education budget.

When disputes arise between charters and our traditional public schools, which educate 95% of the kids in California, the state board, dominated by pro-charter interests, will bow to the wishes of Green Dot and the powerful California Charter School Association. Even without the two new nominees the board has acted against the reasonable proposals of traditional school administrators and granted the charter operators whatever they desire.

Since Ben Austin has a history of close association with the Democratic party and held numerous positions in the Clinton Administration, and has very close ties to the Democratic mayor of Los Angeles, who enthusiastically endorsed his nomination, it is likely that the Democrat-controlled state senate will approve the nomination. That would be a terrible mistake. But it was Democrats who pushed through the pro-charter “reform” bills in January. Those bills were adopted despite opposition from those of us who know that the future of California rests with the traditional public schools, not with privateers who seek to get rich and powerful by raiding the state education budget.

The Parcel Tax ballot measure is controversial, and it’s easy for progressives to point out that it is a regressive tax favoring the rich, powerful, and corporations. However, it is still a tax on property owners, albeit including working class property owners. The left needs a nuanced view on this tax as an interim measure to save public education from the jaws of privatization, while really mobilizing to impose progressive taxes that would finally make the rich and corporations pay their fair share. Martin’s view strikes this balance remarkably well.

PRESS RELEASE 3: DEMAND FAIRNESS IN FINANCING PUBLIC SCHOOLS NOMINEES
April 06, 2010

Leonard J. Martin, Candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

With our public schools facing an economic catastrophe unseen in California since the Great Depression, district after district is taking drastic steps to balance their budgets… and the kids will suffer. In some cases home owners will also suffer. The cause is the unfair method of financing public education that has evolved since passage of Prop. 13 in 1978.

Prevented by 13 from asking local voters to raise property taxes, several California districts have resorted to the only local source of revenue left: the parcel tax. As a sop to our public schools and at the same time to protect their wealthy corporate backers, the authors of 13 allowed local school districts to raise additional money if they could get 2/3 of the voters to approve an additional tax on each parcel of property in the district. But with those wealthy corporations in mind,
13 says that each parcel must pay the same tax regardless of the value of the property.

Los Angeles Unified has placed a $100 per parcel assessment on the June ballot as a means of offsetting part of an anticipated deficit running into hundreds of millions. If adopted, the parcel tax will wipe out a significant portion of the deficit. For a financially strapped district that would be good news.

For homeowners. however, the parcel tax stinks! The unfairness of such a tax can be easily demonstrated. Since every parcel pays the same tax, that means that a disproportionate share falls on the property of working people. Rich corporations, holding vast amounts of property valued in the billions, get off with what amounts to a slap on the wrist.

Consider this: a small home in the inner city or Pacoima, worth somewhere in the vicinity of $150,000, if that much, will pay an additional $100 annual tax. At the same time, the owners of those enormous refineries in Wilmington and skyscrapers such as the Library Tower in downtown Los Angeles… will also pay only $100 each.

Why? Because Prop 13 won’t allow a parcel tax that takes into consideration the real value of the property. That was included in 13 deliberately to prevent forcing giant businesses to pay their fair share of the cost of educating their future employees.

Parcel taxes are unjust, but at the moment that’s the only way for local districts to raise additional revenue. The ultimate solution is to repeal Prop. 13, which allows those refineries and skyscrapers to escape paying their fair share of the regular property tax.

So what’s the immediate solution? Do what Oregon did in January, raising taxes on the most profitable corporations and placing an additional income tax on the very highest incomes. It would not increase the burden on the overwhelming majority of workers, and it can be done by an act of the legislature, quickly.

If that hasn’t been done by the time I’m elected, I will push for an Oregon law and for repeal of Prop. 13.

The forth incarnation of Martin’s published stands addressed the absurd measures being taken by districts becuase of the vicious budget cuts by sociopath Schwarzenegger who spouts love for charters, choice, and other Milton Friedman cum Ayn Rand fantasies while destroying the remains of the public commons. Notice how Martin points out the destructive nature of Obama’s Race to the Top extortion scheme, which like NCLB, is nothing more than a way to destroy public education. See Diane Ravitch’s watershed book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education for more on this.

PRESS RELEASE 4: NOW THEY WANT TO SHORTEN THE SCHOOL YEAR
April 12, 2010

Leonard J. Martin, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Critics of traditional public education snidely scoff at time wasted on recess, home room, what passes as “physical education,” the long summer vacation and a school day that’s too short when there’s so much to learn. Those self-appointed reformers applaud charter schools such as one in Oakland that doesn’t waste time on many of these frivolities.

Instead it keeps the kids in school longer each and has them come on Saturdays. Some charters have made summer school compulsory.

But many administrators in traditional public school have joined the chorus that demands more time spent in the classroom. We wonder, though, if that time will be devoted to genuine education or will it be additional time wasted on preparing for standardized tests so that a district’s schools will show some improvement when the next round of test scores is released. An extra hour a day memorizing questions from previous tests and learning all the other tricks designed to raise those scores isn’t what education is supposed to be about.

Faced with massive revenue shortfalls and budgets that are unbalanced, those same administrators and their school boards are suddenly advocates of an entirely different approach. They want to shorten, not increase, the amount of time spent in the classroom.

From Temecula to Santa Rosa, and many big and little districts in between, superintendents, school boards and teachers’ associations are drawing up plans to cut a week or more off either this or the next school year. Los Angeles has a plan to cut four days this year and five in 2010-11. It’s not the result of any new educational theory. No one is paraphrasing Jerry Brown, claiming shorter is better. It’s all about saving money… and jobs.

Despite all the hoopla, California didn’t win big bucks in “The Race to the Top.” Not only did we not win, we - literally - didn’t even finish in the money. To please the president and his education secretary Arne Duncan, the legislature passed two horrendous educational “reform” bills that will have disastrous effects… and Obama gave the state zero dollars. The jobs that had been saved by stimulus money are now unfunded, and the layoff notices went out by the thousands this spring.

In an attempt to forestall layoff and eliminating programs like art, drama and music, teachers, boards and superintendents decided to shorten the school year. The governor, who had called for that last year as a solution to the budget gap, isn’t moaning about how this will hurt test scores. No one is worried that cutting a week off the school year in L.A. might mean that a flock of kids will never know the difference between sit and set, or lay and lie. In an American history class it means the equivalent of omitting everything that happened after World War II. What part of the times tables will elementary kids never learn? Oh, instead of learning the elevens and twelve’s, we’ll stop at ten times ten. Aren’t there some French or Spanish adverbs that we can dispense with? Let’s shorten the periodic table of elements. Some of them are surely unessential.

Yes, instead of finding the money to run our schools so that we can do all that we ought to be doing, cut the budget and shorten the school year. The kids will never know the differences…. will they? But Meg Whitman is right! Under no circumstances show we force commercial property to pay its fair share of taxes or make those who have benefited from society with their higher incomes pay a progressively higher tax on their wealth. If higher taxes of the rich or on prosperous businesses are the only solutions, let’s shorten the school year. Surely all parents and students will cheerfully welcome that extra vacation time.

I’m not sure if I’d ever make reference to the reactionary Reagans except to polemicize against them, but it’s clear Martin is doing it here for rhetorical effect. Teachers were right to stand up to Obama and Duncan’s bullying tactics, and Martin makes it clear that such a principled stand is part of the struggle and resistance against the deep pocketed forces of privatization. Standardized tests, neo-segregationist calls for “school choice,” and the extreme right’s voucher ploy in the guise of charters have all been exposed in countless studies, and as the press release mentions, have been compiled into Diane Ravitch’s brilliant new book [1]. Aside from making their executives and vendors very rich, charters haven’t accomplished any of the far fetched promises their snake oil salesman proponents promised.

PRESS RELEASE 5: MASSACHUSETTS, CALIFORNIA TEACHERS “JUST SAY NO” TO PHONY REFORMS
April 15, 2010

Leonard J. Martin, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Back when Ronald and Nancy Reagan were in the White House, “Just say No” was a catchy response to one of society’s great concerns. Today that slogan is back, this time coming from educators reacting to another kind of pusher - those who would addict us to the cause of privatizing our public schools and who demonize our teachers. Fortunately, a growing backlash, demonstrated by the willingness of teachers to “Just say No” has emerged in California and Massachusetts.

This week a powerful teachers’ organization in the Bay state, the place where public education began in America, stood up to the phony reformers. The teachers refused to endorse a state plan that would make Massachusetts subservient to the privatization plans and standardized test mania of the Obama administration. Simultaneously, California’s teachers announced plan for a statewide conference to “Just say No” to the privateers who, for profit, would gobble up our public schools in order to get their hands on California’s $37 billion education budget.

The teachers of California and Massachusetts deserve a loud cheer of support for standing up to politicians and self-appointed reformers who know nothing about the profession of teaching. Had Massachusetts’ teachers knuckled under to the whims of the politicians they would have weakened their tenure protection, would have tied salaries to test scores, and would have accepted the mass firing of teachers. Such legislation has either passed or been proposed here in California.

But there are indications that the madness that has made such unacceptable legislation possible is subsiding. Voices of reason are increasingly heard across America. The nation’s leading education historian, Diane Ravitch, no longer supports standardized testing, expanding the number of charter schools, or linking teachers’ salaries to test scores. Her voice is now heard everywhere and her book denouncing the Bush “No Child Left Behind” and the Obama “Race to the Top” is a best seller.

The movement to curtail charters and standardized tests is rising. If teachers, students and parents “Just say No” in unison, fickle politicians who supported these sham reforms because they mistakenly thought the public wanted them, will once again champion our traditional public school system. But that will only happen if California teachers’ organizations draw a line, as their counterparts did in Massachusetts.

Press release number six sees Martin returning to the subject matter of release number two. This time he names names, and it is clear that the corporate charter-voucher interests are more than well represented on a State Board that is little more than a rubber stamp for the CCSA and its right wing reactionary orbit. An even more comprehensive and in depth view of the depraved corporatism on the California BOE can be found in Getting to know the Schwarzenegger-appointed, Broad-connected, pro-charter-dominated State Board of Education by The Perimeter Primate and The Broad Report author Sharon Higgins. Of course, I like the sixth press release because it plugs one of my articles. In fact, it’s one of the ones published here at Daily Censored.

PRESS RELEASE 6: WHY DO CHARTERS DOMINATE THE STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION?
April 26, 2010

Leonard J. Martin, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Our pro-charter school governor made two appointments this month to the state board of education. Neither appointee deserves to be approved by the state senate. Opposition ought to come from Democrats and Republicans alike. In appointing these two, the governor has catered to a small number of privateers who make great profits in the form of undeserved and disproportionately large salaries. The nominations disregard the interests of the vast majority of our school children.

Both of these nominees are deeply tied to the charter school mania that has swept this state with the support of naive or devious politicians and wealthy philanthropists who use charters to promote their own agenda. If confirmed, these two will join several other charter advocates already on the board. The official website of the state board contains biographies of the current members http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/ms/mm/. Of the nine listed, five clearly represent the interests of charter schools. One of them is the president of the board. At the same time he is CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund, also supporting “educational entrepreneurs,” a fancy name for the charter privateers. Now two more with the same goal - expand charters at the expense of traditional public schools - are about to be added to that list.

If we are to have charters in California, which many of us think is a grave mistake, the charter reps should be in no greater number than the percentage of charter students is to the total k-12 enrollment in the state. Charters enroll about 5% of California’s public schools students, yet they have about 50% of the seats on the state board that determines educational policy and can use its authority to further the interests of the charter privatizers.

Who speaks for the 95% of our students in traditional public schools? Not the two guys who are about to take their seats on the board. The charters are entitled to a single seat on the board but they don’t have the right to run it. Contact your state senator and urge the denial of the appointments of Ben Austin and Alan Arkatov.

If you want to read about their roles, particularly that of Austin, in promoting charters, go to:

http://dailycensored.com/2010/04/24/political-patronage-for-green-dot-public-schools-chief-propagandist/

You know where I stand. Why are the other candidates silent?

To know what is wrong with Bush’s No Child Left Behind and Obama’s Race to the Top, all you need to do is read Diane Ravitch’s Book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” She has done all of the research and analysis for us.

Thank you Diane Ravitch.

Martin’s most recent release needs little introduction. If you haven’t read Diane Ravitch’s new book, what are you waiting for?

PRESS RELEASE 7: DIANE RAVITCH FOR U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION
May 03, 2010

Leonard J. Martin, candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction

As a New Yorker, Prof. Diane Ravitch isn’t likely to endorse any candidate for the California office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. But as a candidate, I endorse her views on education as expressed in her insightful and “inciteful” new volume, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” No one should be running for this office who has not read that book.

Ravitch was a high ranking official in the Bush administration’s Department of Education. She took that position as a leading proponent of No Child Left Behind, vigorously promoting standardized tests, closure of failing schools, federal support for charter schools, and the carrot/stick effort of the Bush administration to force states to kowtow to mandates from Washington. Believing the nation’s educational system was a disaster, Ravitch joined Bush in demanding a complete overhaul of American education.

Now she admits No Child Left Behind was not only a mistake but a devastating one that threatens to destroy American public education. Today, she not only denounces NCLB in the pages of her book but she cites very specific examples of fraud, manipulation of test scores, dumbing down of state standards in order to make it look like NCLB has brought remarkable improvement, and similar massive problems that have arisen as a result of the “reform” mania.

Ravitch not only denounces the Bush NCLB, which is leaving millions of kids behind, she has similar complaints about the Obama administration’s Race to the Top. It is but a Democratic president’s new name for a recycled NCLB. Race to the Top is Obama’s theme of “change” as applied to public education. It is the same standardized test scores, same federal bludgeoning of states to force then to adhere to Washington’s addiction to charter schools and national standards. Obama’s change is almost identical to Bush’s. Ravitch rejects both as phony change.

What we got from NCLB and are getting from Race to the Top is change, but change is not necessarily reform. In this case instead of genuine educational reform we have been left with chaos. States, including California, are “racing” not to the top but to create more charter schools so that they can get bailouts from Washington. Never mind that every time we create a new charter school we take away badly needed dollars for our traditional public schools - all of them. Even those in suburbia where the parents soundly reject charters.

Ravitch admits she was wrong. We welcome her to the ranks of those who have fought the charter, standardized test and school closure mania for several years. If everyone, not just the candidates, would read her book the debate over how to fix the schools would be resolved. Ravitch has done all the research for the rest of us. All we have to do is implement what she has so brilliantly written. Oh, If only Obama would fire Arne Duncan and make Ravitch the U. S. Secretary of Education.

Thank you Diane Ravitch.

I hope the wider publishing of these press releases and the accompanying analysis will encourage Californians to take a look at Mr. Martin and his candidacy. We don’t have to vote for the corporate candidates, and Leonard Martin has really made an effort to get out among the community. He is a parent himself and sincerely believes in struggle and bottom up organizing.

To learn more about Leonard J. Martin please visit his website

http://leonardmartin.us/wordpress/

or email him at

Leonardj.martin@gmail.com

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NOTES

[1] The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education