Voters in the Los Angeles Unified School District have an opportunity to elect a refreshingly knowledgeable and independent teacher to the school board.
Unlike her opponent in District 6, Monica Ratliff doesn't have big money or big names behind her campaign, so voters are probably less familiar with her. But as a high-performing teacher at a high-achieving elementary school where all of the children are poor and most aren't fluent in English, she has a ground-level, real-life perspective on what happens in the classroom and on how to best help disadvantaged students. It's a perspective that the current board, with its tendency to hand down mandates that are often ignored at the school level, could use.
Ratliff, who was a public interest lawyer before she became a teacher, advocates smart solutions to vexing issues — such as improving instruction by giving weak teachers time to sit in on the classes of highly effective ones. She is neither a gung-ho member of the school reform movement nor a backer of the union's anti-reform rhetoric.
The Times endorsed Ratliff in the March primary for these reasons, but the editorial board reconsidered that endorsement after L.A. School Report, a news website about L.A. Unified, disclosed a comment she had made. She would, she said, terminate Supt. John Deasy's contract and initiate a new search for a superintendent, in which he would be invited to reapply.
That would be a mistake. Deasy has overall been a strong, positive force for change in the district.
When asked about her comment, Ratliff told The Times' editorial board that she was reacting to complaints that Deasy was hired without a search. But she said that she thought he'd been a strong leader and that if she were in a position to decide on Deasy's contract today, she would vote to renew it.
We're taking her at her word, which is in keeping with her platform. Ratliff isn't enamored of everything Deasy has done (neither are we), but all along she has stated agreement with his concerns about tenure being granted too quickly and the dismissal of poor teachers being too long and difficult a process.
The Deasy comment does reveal a weak spot of Ratliff's, though: She is smart and knowledgeable about education but politically naive — the opposite of Antonio Sanchez, her opponent for the seat. Sanchez, who previously worked for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the L.A. Federation of Labor, is a genial candidate who knows how to build political connections — he has, for instance, won the financially substantial backing of school reformers — but he lacks educational expertise and his positions are unclear. He tends to speak in political platitudes about key issues rather than offering specifics. For this school board at this time, the better candidate is the one who knows education — the teacher.