California recently hung out with education rabble-rouser Steve Barr, consuming expensive caffeine at Grand Central Market's G&B Coffee. Speaking loudly to be heard over one of L.A.'s banned but ubiquitous leaf blowers, the founder of Green Dot Public Schools and Future Is Now Schools talked about life and … schools. California later emailed him a few questions. We've crunched the conversation into this:
Mayor V. He took on public education as a leader who understands that this city can only be great if its schools are great. His "rags to riches" story creates some rough edges but shows that all is possible in this city. I would like my children to learn and embrace that Los Angeles story. Mayor G. is a good man, but so far he has been M.I.A. on education — the reluctant teacher who lets you know he's there only until his screenplay sells.
The leaf blower — an education metaphor?
The education debate has been loud and windy, which is a difficult environment for thoughtful conversation.
L.A. Unified in the last 10 years: good to great or bad to worse?
Huge improvement but still a long way to go. When the district collaborates and listens to teachers and neighborhoods, big things happen. This is where the mayor is needed.
Soldiers as teachers?
While many are arguing over tenure, pretty soon we are not going to have any teachers left to fire. Currently, we have 19,000 teaching candidates, and just five years ago we had 42,000. What I propose, with a ton of input from experts on different sides of the education war, is the creation of a California Teacher Corps, which will recruit 100,000 science and math teachers over the next 12 years. One of the big targets will be returning military. We have made huge investments in our troops who are returning to their communities and want to continue to serve.
Your wife just got her teaching credential. Did you tell her she's nuts?
Teresa is a badass. All teachers are badasses. When we met 13 years ago, she was a public radio reporter in the middle of nowhere: Kenai, Alaska. "There are only so many ways you can report about fish," she says. She has fallen in love with the LAUSD kids.
Your children go to elementary school in Silver Lake. What does the PTA think of your pickup truck?
I move stuff. A lot of stuff. Tables, chairs, stages. My opinion may not be needed, but my ex-Teamster back and truck certainly are, and I love it. I'm the dad that moves stuff.
AT&T Park versus Dodger stadium?
I'm a Dodger fan who grew up in the Bay Area going to Candlestick.… Tough place. In my college years, I never got in a fistfight, but I defiantly left that stadium soaked in beer. It was clearly a great environment to ready one for a life in education politics. AT&T park is cute, when the wind isn't blowing garlic fries in your face. Dodger Stadium is the greatest place on earth.
What California public figure deserves a good scolding?
It would be so easy to pick this politician or that one, but it is that person in the mirror. We have such low expectations for our leaders. The city is dotted with amazing public schools, public charter schools that are knocking it out of the park. There is no reason why we should not have the best schools in the country.