Steve Zimmer, vice president of the Los Angeles Unified school board, is a product of Teach for America and a guy who sincerely cares about providing good things for the district's students. He's also known for his tendency to seek out Kumbaya moments, to take awhile talking out his ideas and to debate with himself endlessly on every thorny issue. "I have lost so many nights of sleep on that topic," he is wont to say, a completely believable statement.
But these likable characteristics sometimes result in less-than-lovable moments, especially when Zimmer produces one of his more out-there ideas for the board's consideration. He was at it again this week as the board considered (yet again!) how to spend $113 million in one-time funds to get schools ready for the switch to the Common Core curriculum. Most of the money will go to teacher training, with separate funds sent to individual schools to spend as they see fit.
Zimmer wanted to set aside some of the money for a Common Core convocation, a celebration of the start of the new curriculum. Seriously.
The roots of this idea are unclear. No one, as near as I can recall, celebrated New Math or the return to phonics, though I'd guess that more than one teacher was toasting the end of the Open Court scripted reading curriculum.
He also wanted money for educating parents about the new curriculum. Keeping parents in the know is always a good idea, but it hardly takes a formal appropriation and a curriculum unto itself. At the local school's Back to School Night this week, teachers accomplished this by explaining how their teaching methods and expectations were changing this year because of Common Core. Students would be called on to do more analysis and interpretation, backed up by facts. The teachers somehow fit this into 10-minute presentations that also included an overview of the material to be learned, what the homework and behavior expectations were and how to reach them when we parents had questions.
In other words, rocket science should not be needed to convey this to parents. They don't need a full education in Common Core. Their children need it.
Common sense prevailed, both ideas were voted way down, and Zimmer said he was satisfied because his proposals had sparked a robust debate.
The only problem is that the board had already engaged in said robust debate on the Common Core budget the week before, for more than an hour, and at a meeting before that.
More important is that money needs to go to educate children. The state just redid its school funding formula so that districts such as L.A. Unified, with a lot of disadvantaged students, would have more money to help those kids. Had the board gone along with spending funds on curriculum celebrations, the rest of the state would have been left to wonder how badly L.A. schools really needed the money.