LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer Speaks After Ouster

In his first public appearance since his contract was bought out by the Los Angeles Board of Education, Superintendent David Brewer said his ouster will only make a bad situation worse. “This district has eaten up five superintendents in 14 years,” he said in speaking to the Urban Issues Forum a week ago last Friday. “You’re not going to make progress with that kind of instability.”

Hosted by Anthony Asadullah Samad at the California African-American Museum, the monthly breakfast event attracts a mostly African-American audience although the doors are open to all. Samad brings speakers who address social and political issues relevant to urban Los Angeles and its surrounding communities. Past speakers have included Barack Obama, Cornel West, Tavis Smiley, and Antonio Villaraigosa.

This particular forum was scheduled months before Brewer was ousted, according to Samad, who intended to bring Superintendent Brewer to the community to discuss the progress he has made after just two years on the job. News of his buyout came just weeks before the event.

“In districts where superintendents have turned situations around, in Chicago and New York City, for example, they’ve had time and space to make progress—six to 10 years,” Brewer said, comparing the challenges in Los Angeles with other cities. “In two years? You can’t get anything done that fast, especially when you’re where Los Angeles is. LA is behind; it will take time to catch up.”

In recent reports, LAUSD School Board president Monica Garcia made it clear that she was seeking to replace Brewer. All but two school board members approved a buyout of Brewer’s contract of $517,500. Mayor Villaraigosa reportedly said he favored a change in leadership.

Replacing Brewer, at least in the interim, will be Ramon Cortines, a retired superintendent who was brought in by Brewer to serve as senior deputy superintendent. Cortines has been running day-to-day operations since he came onboard eight months ago.

Data Will Set You Free
Citing his philosophy that “data will set you free,” the retired Navy vice admiral pointed to the progress LA’s schools have made in the short time he’s been at the helm as nothing short of phenomenal. “We’ve had a 21-point growth in API scores this year, to 683,” he said in his upbeat presentation to the forum. “That’s better than the state as a whole and the highest gain of any major school district in California.”

“Our 12th grade enrollment is also up, to 34,763—the highest it’s been since 1997,” he continued.

Brewer has attempted to run the district according to, what he calls, five “guiding principles:”

  • We will be a data-driven organization; we will use research and analysis to make decisions.
  • All of our employees will be lifelong learners.
  • We will actively encourage change and innovation within the District
  • We will empower and engage parents and partner with the community.
  • We will ensure the physical and emotional safety of our students.

As part of his efforts to take LA’s schools to the next level, Brewer was planning to unveil the “school report card” this January, a system that grades schools much like students are graded. He intended to use this tool to promote school visibility with parents, teachers, and the general public. He also planned to implement a Web-based application that allows teachers to look at each student’s education background, modeled on the SchoolNet program developed in the Inglewood School District.

Brewer was also developing plans for more boarding schools, modeled on successful pilots undertaken in Washington D.C. and Atlanta as well as single-gender academies in New York City.

“The Seed boarding school in Washington serves grades 6 to 12. It’s a good example for us,” Brewer said. “Los Angeles needs 10 similar boarding schools, especially for our foster kids. We have 14,000 foster children in this district and another 10,000 who are homeless.” He also wanted to implement a teacher-mentoring program, based on the “sailor-to-admiral” program from his Navy days, designed to improve development of new teachers.

Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad

While praising him for working with the Legislature on the education budget—Los Angeles school’s budget will need to cut another $200 million, according to Brewer—his critics claim that the gains in scores and enrollment aren’t really the result of Brewer’s action and also slight his lack of educational background and the slow pace of accomplishment, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Where From Here
Brewer, who is a black man, did not think his ouster was race-based. However, he does see a racial and gender connection to the problems with LA’s schools.

“Middleclass blacks and Latinos score below poor whites and poor Asians,” he said in returning to his beloved statistics. “So LA’s low scores aren’t just an economic problem.” He also emphasized the performance gap when gender was considered. The bottom line is that black and brown boys are not being educated in Los Angeles schools.

He attributed this education gap partly to what he called an “expectation bias,” both for Latino students and especially for black students, who fulfill a prophesy by performing poorly on tests and in school generally, in part because they’re not expected to perform as well as white and Asian students.

“But that expectation bias goes throughout our schools, through the community, and into our black homes,” he said. “We’ve got a generational issue coming out of slavery. Blacks don’t read the way whites do.”

“Whenever I take a flight, I walk down the aisle and see who’s reading,” he said in speaking to a nearly all-black audience. “It’s not us.”

“What I wanted to do, when I came here, was to change the culture in the schools,” Brewer said. “But we also have to change the culture in the community. We’ve got to get to parents, get them educated, get them stabilized. If you want your child to love reading, you’ve got to read yourself.”

What He Might Have Done
“Well, politics is a contact sport. The only thing I could have done was to delay the inevitable,” Brewer said when asked what he might have done differently. “I could have spent more time working politically—former Superintendent Ray Romer was a master politician. But I thought that if I spent that much time in politics, what would give? Working with the kids—that would have had to give.”

After seeing the strong evidence suggesting Brewer was making significant progress with the LAUSD, we asked why he thought he was asked to leave.

In a way that seemed to skirt the question, Brewer talked about politics. He said he believed the elective nature of the LAUSD board might be part of the problem, for him and for other superintendents past and future. “What you have in the country, you have political boards whose members have their own agendas,” Brewer said. “It doesn’t matter what progress you’re making.”

“Philly and Chicago have gone to appointed boards—three appointed by the governor, three by the mayor, I believe,” he continued. “Somehow you’ve got to give superintendents time and space to make changes.”

After Brewer spent a couple of minutes giving his answer, Moderator Samad jumped in and put the issue in balder terms:

“Sharon, the deal is about the money,” Samad said. “The budget for LAUSD is four times the LA City budget. Most of that budget goes toward building projects. Every board member has a favorite contractor to build buildings. Antonio has some guys who want to get at that pot of money.”

Samad speculated that Brewer’s removal may have a lot to do with a potential Villaraigosa run for the governorship, in this case aided by the school board members he helped to get elected.

The forum concluded with Brewer being surrounded by a supportive audience looking for ways to continue to support his agenda after he is gone and Cortines takes the helm. With the passage of Measure Q—the $7 billion school bond—there will be resources to achieve some, if not all, of Brewers initiatives. Let’s hope the kid’s needs don’t get lost in all of the politics.

Dick Price and Sharon Kyle
Editor and Publisher, LA Progressive

Photograph by


  1. 29-yearRealTeacher says

    LAUSD schools are well into the process of being privatized, just like HMOs took over healthcare in the late70s/early 80s.

    Nothing can stop this process as it is being aided and abetted by the highest levels of power and money in America.

    But trust me, The privatized Charter-schools WILL NOT TEACH the bottom 35% of our kids (behaviorally speaking) that are forced-upon Public Schools. Special needs kids also will be left out.

    Privatized Charters will bring MORE SEGREGATION, not less, to
    schools in most areas.

    Too late to stop it–The die is cast.

    Eventually, most people will grow to despise the change in their area’s schools, but be POWERLESS to change much about it,
    since it will be under PRIVATE, not public, control.

    But this is what you get for believing all the anti-public school propaganda & hype, and hating on public schools without really knowing, or truly investigagting the situation.

    Classic case of “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone”.

  2. Sharon Toji says

    When Brewer was selected, I was shocked. I thought it showed complete disrespect to education in general, to the students and the teachers. There were candidates who had experience in the field of education. The choice of Brewer seemed to say that the way to improve education in Los Angeles would be to bring in someone from the military who understood command and whipping the troops into shape.

    I do believe that the idea of electing a superintendent is a terrible one. Every school system needs leaders who have a knowledge of educational systems, and an overarching vision of how you educate young people, and how that translates into a lifelong community of learners.

    My background: A family of educators going back to my maternal grandmother, an education at Reed College which has a unique philosophy of education, first husband the initial Dean of Undergraduate Students at UC Irvine, a teacher myself in the public schools, and a founding board member of the acclaimed Irvine Unified School District. No, I don’t think I could run the huge and complex LAUSD, but I think it takes that kind of life-long immersion in ideas of how young people are educated, along with experience in managing a huge organization, to even try. I don’t think that Brewer had that, coming in.

  3. Mary Johnson says

    I am hoping that LA Progressive is endorsing Janice Hahn idea of LAUSD superintendent position to be elected position. Elect position would ensure that superintendent is working for people and betterment of all children. This would even the playing field for our children, no longer can we allow policticans agenda to use their friends and allies to promote their own agenda, that have nothing to do with children of LAUSD.

  4. Pennie Dobkin says

    I am a teacher with LAUSD and want you to know that Brewer may blame all he wants on racial bias. But he was the worst superintendent we’ve had, in years. He did not have a clue about how to make improvements. His lack of foresight and charisma made it all but impossible to deal with him. With all the other wasted spending that the board has undertaken, we should consider $500,000 a cheap price to get rid of him. Think of how much more might have been wasted if he served out his full tenure. Pennie Dobkin

  5. George says

    Fundamentally, LA has the same problems as other public schools — the only national standards in this country were established by Bush, and their purpose was to provide a rationale for vouchers transferring billions of dollars to fundamentalist religious schools. Countries that do a good job with universal education have national systems that produce high quality teachers who are continuously trained in actual teaching, who get respect, and are paid well. Then we add the goal of reduced class size, which dissipates resources on more facilities and lowers the quality of teachers. It does not help that this country does not have an apprenticeship program so that high school graduates have an alternative to college or que sera sera. Etc.

    I have no experience with LA schools, but they certainly suffer from political infighting and grandiose construction projects. More mayoral control might alleviate at least the former problem, but the totality may be worse unless it can be better insulated from fluctuating political pressures. The push for ever larger schools must be stopped. What we hear about in the hinterlands is the gang problem and that only now are they gingerly adopting school uniforms. As to Brewer, the best way to know who is right is to ask Bernard Parks — he was a Daryl Gates clone and is therefore always wrong.

  6. says

    Having been a branch officer or committee member in three NAACP branches (San Fernando Valley, Inglewood-South Bay, and Compton), having been a delegate to NAACP State Conferences, having served as special assistant to the former Southern California NAACP Legal Redress Chair, and having managed Valerie Monroe’s campaign for State Conference President in 2000, I think that I am above being accused of being biased towards the Latino community. As many in both the African American and Latino communities know, I love and support both, recognizing that within every community, there are the good, the bad and the ugly amongst activists, politicians, and the power-elites.

    What I can say, unequivocally and without hesitation about David Brewer, is that he has not once responded to official correspondence from California League of United Latin American Citizens and other organizations I represent since he’s been in office as superintendent.

    In particular, Brewer failed to respond to correspondence regarding an incident in which the SFV Council President of LULAC and the SFV Chapter President of MAPA were percipient witnesses to an incident in which they swore under oath and even offered to take polygraph examinations when an African American Attorney employed in the LAUSD General Counsel’s office and another African American LAUSD employee were laughing and joking about the accent of a Mexican immigrant student who had spoken before the personnel commission. This is an attorney who represents the district in before hearing officers and the Personnel Commission in disciplinary proceedings involving Latino employees, witnesses, and victims. This is not a trivial matter for any responsible civil rights activist of any ethnicity.

    In spite of my personal correspondence to Brewer (I happen to be Chief Civil Rights Investigator for CA LULAC and a National LULAC Civil Rights Commissioner) regarding this and other matters, I never received a reply and the witnesses to the incident were never interviewed by LAUSD. The Personnel Commission however, in a rare move, overturned the decision of the hearing officer and threw out her recommendation upholding disciplinary action against a Mexican immigrant employee.

    Had I been Brewer, I would have gone before the Board of Education and sought funding for an independent investigation of the General Counsel’s office over this matter and if the facts were borne out as I have described them, I would have sacked the General Counsel (for failing to properly address allegations of racism) along with his subordinate (for overt bigotry). Period. End of story.

    Since Brewer failed to respond to this issue, he deserves to be sacked for that reason alone, for cause, without a buyout of his contract.

    Another incident he failed to respond to was a physical attack on a Latina substitute teacher in which she was knocked cold and which was covered up by then-Assistant Principal Steven T. Rooney–the very same employee later arrested for having sex with minor girls. Brewer has been asleep at the wheel.

    I would like to hear feedback as to whether Brewer is just as irresponsible with African American activists who attempt to correspond with him or whether it’s just Latinos who are getting screwed. In a way, it would be comforting to know whether he’s an equal opportunity incompetent or whether he discriminates.

  7. says

    I have a fair amount of experience within LAUSD so am familiar with some its failures and achievements. Mr. Brewer is correct that many of LAUSD’s problems are deep seated, with long history and hardy roots. I’m not sure it’s the person at the top that is the problem, but the structure itself. If one combined student, staff and administrator populations of LAUSD, it would probably equal that of a medium sized city. How is it possible any one person could manage that???

    I think the answer has more to do with restructuring LAUSD so there is more control at the school or local district level, in addition to providing teachers and staff with support (as opposed to admonitions and orders). However this institution has been in place so long, that many changes with good intentions and potentially positive results, are met with significant resistance. It also doesn’t help some decisions have been made at the Central District Level which were so out of touch with the needs of the people (students and teachers especially), and were consequently detrimental or at the very least a waste of time and money. It’s hard for any group of people to trust those in power when their past experience does not support doing that.

    At the time of the most recent (and deep) budget cuts, there was a significant change in direction, which seemed as if it would address these issues by consulting with those at the ground level (schools themselves). Unfortunately, lack money needed to plant and establish the seeds of this new direction of empowering local communities, schools and districts and establishing trust froze this movement in its tracks. While it’s not all about money, it sure does help — just ask anyone about to go into foreclosure.

    Nevertheless, we do know in lieu of money, a little work– sometimes a lot goes a long way. Rather than criticize whoever is at the helm of LAUSD (it doesn’t look like there will be any structural changes in the near future), anyone seriously interested in improving learning at our public schools should volunteer to mentor, or help out in a classroom, whether or not they have a student in school. Once you see where the need is, you have a much better idea of how to fix it, whether by personal action or petitioning those in charge with a specific action that can be carried out (as opposed to a generic “improve our schools”).

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