When I approached CA-30 Representative Brad Sherman for an endorsement in my first school board race, he asked who I was running against. After hearing that it was Tamar Galatzan, his only response was that "she has always been good to me." This exchange demonstrates how Sherman has remained in Congress for 21 years. Galatzan was then heavily favored to retain her seat and she was, therefore, useful to him. He was not going to upset the apple cart by asking questions about actual policies.
"Yes, we definitely need to take a closer look at charter schools and a moratorium would give us the time needed to collect data, research and share successful practices"
- Jon Pelzer
Representing a district that is heavily Democratic, Sherman has become very adept at coasting along. At almost every public event he tells the same exact jokes like the fact that he represents America's most aptly named city - Sherman Oaks. He "is an average Democratic member of Congress, meaning he will vote with the Democratic Party on the majority of bills." Like all incumbents that I asked, he did not respond to the education-related questions that I sent to his campaign. Answering questions might upset the apple cart and force him to spend some of the $1,554,650 sitting in his campaign war chest.
Also coasting along is perennial challenger Mark Reed. This Tea Party Republican who ran last year for City Council in a different part of the city is counting on being the only Republican candidate in the race to propel him into second place and a spot on the General Election ballot. He also has a reason not to upset the apple cart and did not respond to the questions sent to his campaign.
California's jungle primary provides the possibility that two Democrats could be on the ballot in November. If progressive candidate Jon Pelzer is able to beat Reed on June 5, he would not only guarantee that the Democrats retain control of the seat, he could set the stage for a real debate between the progressive and establishment wings of the party. Pelzer was also sent the questions and answered as follows:
- No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act both increased reliance on standardized testing within our classrooms. Do you support the rights of parents to opt their children out of this testing? Will you support efforts to end programs which encourage teachers to teach to a test? Answer: I support the continued right of parents to opt out of testing. As for "teaching to the test", from what I understand, students are tested in a variety of ways so that information can be valuable to both the student and the parents as a marker for how their kids are doing. More like a snapshot of where that kid is at that moment in time. Personally, I am not as concerned about "teaching to the test" as I am about how that testing information is used. I understand the value of test scores to see how a school is performing in a general sense, but if higher test scores become the goal of teaching, well, that's a big problem. Especially if there is a reward attached to higher test scores, for example, if a teacher's pay is tied to how high their students score.
- Federal legislation authorizes "Congress to contribute up to 40% of the average per-pupil expenditure" for mandated special education services. Unfortunately, this funding has never materialized. Will you lead efforts to adequately fund programs and services for those with special education needs? Answer: I would like to find out why the money never materialized and where that money went instead.
- Do you support the NAACP's call for a moratorium on charter schoolsAnswer: Yes, we definitely need to take a closer look at charter schools and a moratorium would give us the time needed to collect data, research and share successful practices. There are some charter schools that work and there are public schools that work. In a perfect world, ideas that work could be shared and implemented on both sides.
While Pelzer's answers are not as developed as the ones from Senate candidate Alison Hartson or Gubernatorial candidate Delaine Eastin, they do at least show a willingness to support public education. Hopefully, if Pelzer is given the opportunity to face Sherman in November, he will reach out to students, parents, and teachers so that he can expand on his understanding of these issues. This would enable him to make education as strong a plank in his progressive platform as issues like campaign finance, criminal justice and healthcare currently are.
Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.