Education Takes Top Priority in the Upcoming LA Mayor Race

The candidates in the upcoming mayoral election in Los Angeles are looking to differentiate themselves from their opponents, and one way they have chosen to do that is on the issue of education. The city’s school system is in perpetual crisis and is viewed as the biggest barrier to its economic future, so the candidates have outlined their plans to transform it into an organ of well-qualified college-ready graduates who will keeping Los Angeles moving forward and thriving.

The focus on education is surprising in light of the fact that the school system largely operates independently of the city’s chief executive, yet as voters frequently name education as their top priority, ignoring the issue is counterproductive. Furthermore, a number of city lawmakers have attempted in the past to stamp their own agenda on the Los Angeles Unified School District, with many efforts fizzling while few actually took root.

Increasingly, standardized tests carry high stakes. Teachers are often evaluated in part by their students’ scores, and students may have to pass a standardized test to advance to the next grade in elementary school or earn a high-school diploma.

To prepare students for those high-stakes exams, and to monitor their academic progress more closely, many school districts – like Seattle – give additional standardized tests throughout the year.

Among the problems facing LAUSD is its high drop-out rate. Fewer than 80% of students complete their education and receive their diplomas. In light of these struggles, the impatience with the candidates reluctance to fully engage with the issue has rankled observers who claims that even though the candidates are claiming that they’re offering substantive solutions, in reality they’re just trying to go no further than mentioning the appropriate “buzzwords.”

Former school board member David Tokofsky was blunt in his assessment, accusing the candidates of caring more about getting elected than getting the school system back on track. He said that statements released so far have been designed to poll well but not commit anyone to an actual position that could be attacked by opponents or dismissed by the electorate.

Of the top contenders in the race to replace the termed-out Villaraigosa, none would follow his exact path.

The two candidates believed to be the most likely to make the runoff — Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel — share many positions on education. Both pledge to advocate for increased funding for the classroom, and support school choice, the use of students’ test scores in evaluating teachers — although they decline to specify how much weight they should carry — and the ability of charter-school teachers to organize.