Saturday, September 23, 2006
Thursday, September 21, 2006
A day does not pass when the world isn’t insulted by Hollywood’s corrupt theology. So when a successful Hollywood writer and union member breaks ranks to expose it, his observations invite underdeveloped liberals to ask questions, and ex-liberals to beam like the owners of a newly housebroken puppy.
In his new book, Conservatives Are From Mars, Liberals Are From San Francisco, (Cumberland House 2006), Burt Prelutsky’s clues come in the form of 101 essays that explore the hallucinogenic facets of liberalism’s schizophrenic ideology. Tennis pros have nets and lines, websites have FAQs, and travelers have Rand-McNally, so a book that applies critical thinking to liberal dogma can be instructional to moonbats, entertaining to evolved ex-liberals, and as risky as Ghostbusters who cross proton beams.
Nothing is sacred, but like a patient uncle, Burt explores subjects like Brokeback Mountain, football, immigration, Barbara Streisand, trial lawyers, Jessica’s Law, Islam, and public education, his pointillist observations entertain up close, and presents a larger picture when connecting the dots. To those who have risked careers telling the truth, Burt’s candor and humor are refreshing, and he gives us hope that some light can still escape from Hollywood’s black hole.
In some ways, Conservatives Are From Mars reads like a time capsule, and when reopened in fifty or 100 years, readers will be as fascinated as we are when we flip through the pages of a 1900 Sears Catalogue. Elbows will jab, fingers will point, and curious readers will be heard, “Look at this… What were they thinking?... Who were Bill and Hillary Clinton?”
Posted by ex-Hollywood Liberal at 7:47 PM
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Five years after 9/11, an Arab American speaks openly about Islamic Fascism and his silence. In One Arab’s Apology, Emilio Dabul posts a heartfelt apology worth reading:
At one point, Dabul mentions Christian bombers of abortion clinics:
The only time I raised my voice in protest against these men who killed thousands of innocents in the name of Allah was behind closed doors, among the safety of friends and family. I did at one point write a very vitriolic essay condemning their actions, but fear of becoming another Salman Rushdie kept me from ever trying to publish it.
Well, I'm sick of saying the truth only in private - that Arabs around the world, including Arab-Americans like myself, need to start holding our own culture accountable for the insane, violent actions that our extremists have perpetrated on the world at large.
Yes, our extremists and our culture.
A Christian who bombs an abortion clinic in the name of God is still a Christian, at least in his interpretation, and saying otherwise doesn't negate the fact that he has spent a goodly amount of time figuring out his version of the one true and right thing to do.I’d add one more difference – the Christian bombers of abortion clinics are often pursued, charged, prosecuted, and imprisoned by Christian witnesses, police, prosecutors, and jailers; while many Arab countries teach murder and pay families when their children blow themselves up killing others.
Dabul’s comments are late, but gladly accepted. I know it wasn’t easy, but the risks he takes places him among other Americans who risked to make America a better place.
Posted by ex-Hollywood Liberal at 4:33 PM
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Anyone who has read my notes on voucher, charters, and LAUSD’s MECHA/Aztlan madrassas knows how frustrating LA’s failed public education system is. So when I learned that Steve Barr’s Green Dot Charter Schools had support from the California Teacher Association (CTA) and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, some of my public school reform friends were as skeptical as cops in a medicinal marijuana clinic.
When some of our comments reached Steve Barr after a particularly long day, he emailed back:
"... the next a-hole that wants to take a shot is welcome to hang with me for a day in Boyle Heights, Lennox, Inglewood, the Jefferson area, you name it... then you can pop off."I was intrigued - Steve spoke my language!
The next week at 9 AM, on the first day of the fall semester, I arrived at Green Dot’s corporate offices inside LA’s World Trade Center. Except for two security guards, the hallways were empty and quiet. Without the loud profanity, loitering teens, cannabis, graffiti, confused parents, traffic, lines, hip-hop noise, and overstuffed trash cans, the only sign that the Oscar De La Hoya campus was in session came from muffled voices through large glass windows, where animated teachers engaged with uniformed and attentive high school students. As one enthusiastic principal later explained, Green Dot compresses LAUSD’s two-week new-semester chaos into about twenty minutes.
Welcome to Green Dot
Steve Barr’s a big guy with a firm handshake. After a short introduction to his office staff, I took a chair and wondered how Green Dot’s CEO and founder had found the time to spend with me.
Steve introduced himself as a former C-student from the Bay Area who had found some success in athletics, writing, business, and politics. By the mid 1990s, he was approaching what some call a midlife crisis, with no family and $100K in his bank account. Against the better judgment of close friends, he invested his money by creating charter schools in neighborhoods where more than two-thirds of inner city students were failing, dropping out, and joining gangs. He opened his first campus in 1999.
Knowing almost nothing about education, Steve spent two weeks at LAUSD’s Roosevelt and Garfield high schools where he says he “learned what not to do.” He then visited successful schools like Leadership High School and Harvard-Westlake, and eventually developed his own charter school model that limits school enrollment and instills high expectations, teacher empowerment, neighborhood ownership, and strong on-site management.
In 1999, he pitched his model at Hawthorne High School, where administrators struggled to turn around a 70 percent drop-out rate. He opened his first campus and, three years later, state and national politicians took notice of his success.
Steve learned that parent involvement is a vital component in turning around failing public school monopolies. He required parents to perform 35 hours of service each year and, once parents discovered he was serious about educating their children, they proved their willingness to work hard for their children to succeed. Green Dot parents soon created their own associations and now manage their parent service schedules themselves.
“You must have parents who have skin in the game,” says Steve. “Historically, immigrants got off boat, met the union guy and joined a precinct... Today, they risk everything to get here, take the jobs no one wants, and are politically indifferent. The one chance they have at the American dream is education. Latinos are open to change. Give their kids a shot they’ll work hard. Give them some power and it’s fun to watch. Today, Inglewood is our best school because the parents work very hard – and they have Santa Monica test scores to prove it.”Steve drove me in his Green Dot executive car – a police auction Crown Victoria that still smelled of doughnuts, coffee, and disinfectant. I met teachers and principals during lunch who I’d characterize as public school mavericks. One principal had been administratively removed from her LAUSD campus after attending a Green Dot meeting, and another had left Jefferson High after school administrators threatened Green Dot’s high performance. As soon as Steve moved his campus off-site, Jefferson’s API test scores actually dropped 25 points to 457, while his Green Dot students jumped to 739!
Green Dot economics are straightforward. Unlike the scraps that LAUSD’s 35,000 overpriced bureaucrats dole to overcrowded classrooms, 94 percent of Green Dot’s annual $7,200 per-student budget goes directly to principals and their classrooms. And while the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) 363-page contract is written to protect lazy and incompetent teachers, Green Dot’s 28-page contract rewards high-performance teachers with responsibility, classroom control, and competitive pay.
Lemon teachers need not apply.
Throughout the day, I met with motivated teachers and principals who spoke excitedly about the promise of the new school year. And they have good reason to be.
In 2004, after Green Dot’s campuses had attracted national attention, LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer asked Steve for a plan. After several months of analysis, Steve and consultants from Bain & Company returned with the Bain Report.
Romer saw problems immediately. How could UTLA accept a 21:1 teacher-student ratio with a 525 student cap and find enough funds to retain LAUSD’s 35,000 fossilized bureaucrats? When Romer shelved the plan, Steve decided to build political force around the idea anyway.
Taxpayers know the funds exist, and California’s school bond issues represented the largest public works build-up in America. Unlike Chicago and New York, Los Angeles has sprawled and LAUSD has misused their existing school properties. No other city offers a greater opportunity to create the best school district in the country. And if LA succeeds, no other public school monopoly will survive.
With that, Steve, business leaders, and parents created the Small Schools Alliance (SSA), which became the Swift Boat Vets of LA's 2005 mayoral race. After they raised $1.5 million in one night, they redefined the race. Candidates figured that they could promise more cops and point fingers at each other, or they could have a real discussion about public education and what makes a great city.
If schools are not the number one thing, and a school district loses 30,000-40,000 kids a year, and only ten percent are getting the basic education, a city cannot survive. We put some ads on for two weeks and mayoral candidate Bob Hershberg made it his issue. He almost made the run-off and all we talked about was schools. After a considerable delay, Antonio Villaraigosa reluctantly signed our pledge to enact the Bain Plan. This was our moon shot – and all the candidates signed our pledge.The SSA pushed Villaraigosa into a corner and organized around his promise. That’s when the Jefferson takeover became prominent. Green Dot got the LA Times involved with their vision, and other unions started chiming in.
With superior performance, charters threaten teacher unions and the politicians they buy by allowing parents to transfer their children, and education funds, from bureaucrats into classrooms. More and more union parents asked why overpaid UTLA union members send their children to private schools, while they’re stuck in UTLA’s failing public schools. And while teacher unions have controlled more money, unions like Service Employees International (SEIU) represent a larger majority of voters, whose children attend LAUSD schools.
This forced Villaraigosa and his political ambitions into a bind – should he chase millions of dollars in teacher union contributions, or give LA voters what they want? To UTLA’s dismay, Villaraigosa accepted the challenge and now his political future is married to Green Dot’s vision and success. If Green Dot succeeds in their Transformation Plan, Villaraigosa will look like a hero by doing nothing more than running interference between Green Dot and teacher union detractors and saboteurs.
To succeed financially, Green Dot’s overall budget is about $3.7 million a year to educate 525 students, or $7,200 per student. At their current rate of their expansion, Steve envisions that 75 percent of all LAUSD students will attend local charter schools by 2016.
Green Dot operates ten schools and teachers are employed by a professional workday, not by hours or minutes. There is no tenure, and principals can remove teachers for “just cause.”
Steve empowers principals with responsibility, authority, discretion, and a budget, but demands what he calls his non-negotiables: School size, uniforms, technology, mathematics, English, interventions for at-risk students, standards of behavior, and zero tolerance for drugs and gangs. Most kids are accepted by lottery and many cannot read when they arrive. Students are tested and required to attend summer bridge classes and a four-hour-a-day reading program. Within one year, many Inglewood students were achieving Beverly Hills test scores. Student motivation grew, and the next three years were devoted to college prep courses.
For those who ask about vocational courses, Steve says that almost all vocations require computer skills that plumbers, carpenters, and auto mechanics use today. Whether one agrees or not, Steve’s model can be modified to include vocational classes for those who want them.
One Green Dot school has a football team, another a soccer team. When a class of failing football players requested a team, Steve demanded improved grades first. And when those students met his demands, they got their team.
All in all, Steve Barr is making good on his vision. He has invested his life savings and his passion to make Green Dot and the charter movement succeed in Los Angeles. If this movement hasn’t already reached what Malcolm Gladwell calls The Tipping Point, Steve Barr, the Smart Schools Alliance, Green Dot, and thousands of enthusiastic parents, teachers, and principals are very close to doing so.
Steve’s model is online for anyone to create wherever failing public school monopolies exist, and he thinks there’s more than enough room for competition. After all, this is about children and making Los Angeles America’s greatest city. And when that occurs, all of us will share in his success.
There's a lot left to be done, but for the first time in decades, I am hopeful for LA's public school children.
Posted by ex-Hollywood Liberal at 12:11 AM
Saturday, September 09, 2006
I’m talking about their reviews of HBO’s The Wire, which starts its forth season tonight. If you’ve missed the first three seasons, you’ve missed some of America’s most important and relevant television in decades. No other crime drama captures the anguish and frustration of good people trying to make things better in a society twisted by politicians, unions, drugs, corruption, and crime. The Wire tells this story with honest clarity that Hollywood liberals are too self-conscious to present.
As the show’s creator, David Simon, explains, “Cop shows in particular have no interest in it because it screws with the basic motif of catching the bad guy… In police procedurals, the people being pursued… are really there to validate the morality and the superiority and the intellect and the heroism of the authorities.”
Simon describes the frustration felt by most cops and public school teachers I’ve known, that in “post-modern America, institutions that are ostensibly there to serve people and are ostensibly there for people to serve, end up betraying people on a fundamental level." This is probably why highly motivated and promising new teachers quit within their first five years, and why cops like me cannot wait to abandon the profession we love.
Writer and producer Edward Burns is a former Baltimore homicide detective who taught social studies in a middle school for seven years after leaving the police department. Out of the 200 students Burns instructed in his first year, 13 had been shot — two of them twice.
"I was in the infantry in Vietnam," he recounted. "I chased escapees and murderers and rapists. I was in homicide. There's nothing like walking into a middle school in a setting like Baltimore."
Posted by ex-Hollywood Liberal at 11:58 AM