Los Angeles Investment in Schools Helps Kids Learn

BY RADOMIR AVILA | Daily Californian

Friday, August 17, 2012

Implementation of a $19 billion public works project to build hundreds of new Los Angeles Unified School District school facilities over the past few years to combat overcrowding was associated with an increase in student achievement, according to a UC Berkeley study published Tuesday.

Elementary-level students who moved to new schools from the city’s most overcrowded facilities experienced gains equal to more than 65 days of instruction, with modest gains even for the students who remained at previously overcrowded schools, according to the study. Significant achievement gains were not found, however, for high school-level students who moved from the overcrowded schools.

The school district’s investment in the construction in more than 130 school facilities over the last decade is the largest amount spent on a public works project in the history of the U.S. since the construction of the interstate highway system.  The result of the project, according to the study, led to significant relief of the overcrowding of the city’s elementary and secondary schools, which in the mid-1990s were busing more than 25,000 children out of high-density areas with many schools operating on a year-round schedule.

“With this program (of expansion), we will completely eliminate the use of multitrack calendars and involuntary busing,” said Shannon Haber, facilities spokesperson for the district.

Though John Rogers, director of the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, said student test scores are one way of measuring achievement, he suggested there might be other benefits to the building of schools.

“Other outcomes that matter emerge out of school building,” Rogers said “ School building also provides young people in immigrant communities a better sense that the broader society cares about them and their communities.”

The study began when a multidisciplinary team of four campus researchers received a large set of data from the district about student performance and school construction between the years of 2002 and 2008 from the district.

Researchers said the data was special because it spanned over the course of six years and because the magnitude of the construction project was so large.

“It’s breaking a bit of fresh ground,” said William Welsh, a campus doctoral student in sociology and lead author of the study. “I think there has not been this sort of investment (in the past). If a school district is going to build new schools, they do maybe one or two in a year. If that’s the case, there is not an occasion for researchers to step in.”

Although there was substantial data submitted for the project, researchers said they are still looking for the school district to submit numbers from 2009, during which the final third of the constructed schools opened.

“It is definitely difficult to get outside data sometimes,” Rogers said. “I credit Berkeley for developing relationships with the school districts to get the trust for the data. This is a case where it’s important for (the district) to share the data. It’s a story of why public investment matters.”

For more on the L.A. School “We Build” program, go to their website.

Made in Maryland: The WPA in the Old Line State

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WPA in Maryland

Brent McKee & Co. have made a new video to go with the astonishing Google Earth tour of New Deal Maryland.  This one is a 10 minute YouTube exercise, “Made in Maryland: The WPA in the Old Line State, 1935-1943”, and is well worth the time even if you don’t live in Maryland; invaluable, if you do.

National Trust Speaks Out on Post Office Preservation

Helen Wills Playground
Up For Sale?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has weighed in on the controversy over closure of hundreds of historic Post Offices, many of them of New Deal provenance and/or containing New Deal artworks.  According the Trust’s Press Release, there is “lack of a transparent and uniform national process from the Postal Service — one that follows federal preservation laws when considering disposal of these buildings — is needlessly placing the future of many historic post office buildings in doubt.”  Of the approximately 9,000 buildings owned by the Postal Service, about 2,500 are either on the National Register of Historic Places or eligible to be listed due to their historical significance.  A search of the National Register shows 869 post offices currently listed, most no longer active.  A preliminary review suggests there are over 300 currently active post offices on the National Register, according to Steve Hutkins of Save the Post Office. For more on this story, see the June 6 post on Save the Post Office.

Victory for Coit Tower Restoration: Proposition B Wins

Lead Paint Peeling from Ceiling above Murals
Lead Paint Peeling above Murals

San Francisco voters approve citizen initiative to preserve Coit Tower murals and strictly limit commercial activities and private parties despite last-minute influx of big business money on negative ads opposing measure

 (Press release from Protect Coit Tower, June 6, 2012)

Despite a last minute blitz of negative ads by big business groups, San Francisco voters yesterday gave Proposition B, the Coit Tower Protection Initiative, a convincing victory.  By a vote of 53.5% to 46.5% with 100% of the precincts reporting, San Francisco voters supported the measure to strictly limit commercial activities and private events at Coit Tower and to prioritize funds from Coit Tower concession operations for preserving the Coit Tower murals and building.  The win came despite the fact big business interests led by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce poured $177,000 into two political committees that ran a campaign of last-minute negative tv and internet ads, doorhangers, and mailers attacking Proposition B.

“This is a huge win for Coit Tower and for everyone in San Francisco and around the world who adores this special place and the amazing murals that reside inside,” said Jon Golinger, Chair of the Protect Coit Tower Committee.  “Yesterday, the voters of this entire city delivered a clear message to everyone at City Hall that the mismanagement and creeping commercialization of Coit Tower is unacceptable and must be fixed now.”

Prop. B was sponsored by a citizens’ coalition in response to increasing concerns about the neglect, decay, and lax oversight by the city that led to increasing problems at Coit Tower, such as paint peeling from the ceiling, poor lighting, water leaks seeping through and corroding the murals, and gashes damaging the fragile frescoes.  A recent city-commissioned report evaluating the condition of the tower and its historic murals found systemic and severe damage to both the building and the art inside and revealed safety hazards such as lead paint, asbestos, and cracks in the top of the tower.  The report made more than 100 recommendations for fixing Coit Tower, including immediate mural repairs and a comprehensive overhaul of how the historic landmark is managed.  In response to the report’s findings and the Prop. B campaign, last month Mayor Ed Lee announced the creation of a new $1.7 million city fund to begin repairing Coit Tower.

Proposition B now establishes a new official city policy directing the Recreation and Park Department and other city officials to strictly limit commercial activities and private events at Coit Tower and to prioritize the funds raised at Coit Tower for preserving the murals, fixing the tower structure, and beautifying Pioneer Park around the tower.

Prop. B was backed by the descendants of Lillie Hitchcock Coit and daughters of the original Coit Tower muralists, along with a coalition of artists, environmental, and neighborhood groups including the Sierra Club, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, Labor Council, Democratic Party, and the Telegraph Hill Dwellers. Click here for Protect Coit Tower website

New Deal Shattered the Austerity Myth

David Woolner, Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, recently took on the prevailing mantra of budget cutting in the midst of the Great Recession – as if we’d never learned anything from the New Deal’s break with conventional wisdom in the Great Depression of the 1930s.  As Woolner puts it:

“Roughly three-quarters of a century ago, a similar argument raged between Franklin Roosevelt, who firmly believed that it was right and proper for the government to intervene in the economy during a time of crisis, and those on the extreme right who insisted the way to end the Great Depression was to reduce the federal deficit and balance the budget, no matter what the short-term costs.

FDR had little time for such arguments, which he viewed as not only selfish, but un-American…”

Click here for the full article.   And click here to follow David Woolner’s blog.

A New New Deal for Youth?

Even a capitalist like John Studzinski, a senior managing director of The Blackstone Group, evokes the memory of the New Deal in proposing a kind of national service program for investing in the youth of Europe and North America, who are in desperate straits due to high unemployment, underemployment and poor job prospects.  While we don’t agree with his private market financing scheme, we do share the sentiment that lack of investment in the young is a formula for disaster and that a national program of youth employment is called for.  See Studzinski-A new New Deal to cut youth unemployment – FT.com, which was published in the Financial Times on May 28, 2102.

New French President Evokes A New Deal for Europe

France’s newly-elected president, François Hollande, is an admirer of the New Deal who   thinks that Europe needs economic stimulus of the kind provided by the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s, not the austerity regime imposed on the European Union by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Central Bank today.  (President Hollande is on solid ground, according to ).  The New Deal idea has been bruited in news articles in Le Monde and Le Nouvel Observateur, for example.  A notable development is the formation of a French collective resonating with the Living New Deal, called “Roosevelt 2012”.  Typically,   British and American press coverage of Hollande’s position in favor of higher taxes on the rich and more fiscal stimulus has been critical and dismissive, as in this article in Forbes.  The Anglo-American consensus is still all about austerity, budget cutting and the evils of Big Government.

A Federally-Funded Jobs Program? Lessons from the WPA

University of Missouri, Kansas City, Economics professor John Henry (a honorable name in its own right) writes that the federal government can – and should – create jobs, just as it did under the New Deal.  See Prof. Henry’s remarks on the amusingly-named blog, Naked Capitalism.  There’s a terrific slide show there, too, by Mitch Green, on what the New Deal achieved.

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WPA workers - from Mitch Green slide show

Maine Loses a Public Mural

Maine’s Republican Governor, Paul LePage, recently ordered the removal of a mural in the state Department of Labor that he considered too ‘biased’ toward workers.  The mural is of recent origin, but the precedent is not good for the many New Deal murals threatened by the sale of post offices or the hasty actions of local officials around the country.  Moreover, the mural featured Maine’s most famous daughter, Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under FDR and a pillar of the New Deal.  The panel depicting Perkins is shown here.  For a view of the full 36 foot-long mural, see the New York Times.  For more on the story, see the Huffington Post.

Lost New Deal Murals Returned in Modesto

Modesto P.O. mural

1936 Ray Boynton mural recovered

An unexpected benefit from the recent sale of the old Modesto P.O. is that a story about the sale and missing murals in the Modesto Bee triggered the memory of a reader who recalled seeing two such artworks in a family storage room.  The murals had been bought by his brother-in-law, the architect on a 1960s rehab of the New Deal era buildings. “This fellow who bought and kept the murals deserves our thanks!” stressed Barbara Bernstein for New Deal Art Registry, an organization dedicated to preserving public art created during the 1930s and 1940s. “Many post office murals were just destroyed or thrown away, but thanks to him the public now has these back.”  When federal buildings were remodeled during the 1950s and 1960s, Bernstein said, “A lot of art was lost through sheer ignorance because many people didn’t think it was worth saving.”