Patt Morrison for October 21, 2010

Mercer 11389
It started here in Los Angeles last month when the L.A. Times, using data it obtained from the LAUSD, ran its own value-added analysis of teacher performance and then published the results. Now the New York City Department of Education, the biggest school district in the country, said it will release ratings for nearly 12,000 teachers based on student test scores, a move that teachers unions have promised to fight. Just like here in L.A., the New York district decided to release teacher ratings after several news organizations requested data on teacher performance. This furthers the national debate on the evaluation of teachers (and the resulting increases in pay and increased likelihood of firing underperforming teachers) and in the eyes of teachers unions trashes previous agreements that sensitive information on teachers would be kept private. Is this kind of school reform now unstoppable?
Mercer 11382
It’s been a tough season to be a star NFL player: Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson and Atlanta defensive back Dunta Robinson both left with concussions after hitting each other on the same play last Sunday; a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker sent two different Cleveland Browns players out of the same game with concussions. These are just some of the most extreme cases of what is shaping up to be the year of the concussion in the NFL, where players are dropping every week with head injuries. The NFL is under pressure to stop ultra-aggressive hits, but half the fun of watching and playing football is witnessing, and dishing out, big hits. While the NFL is higher profile, these same problems plague hockey in the NHL which has also seen several star players missing extended periods of time with concussions. If the violence that is a key part of your favorite sports was doing permanent damage to your favorite players, would you still watch?
Mercer 11383

Proposition 21: pay a tax, help a park?

If passed, Proposition 21 would add $18.00 to the vehicle license fee. The money generated from the fee, approximately $375 million a year, would go directly toward protecting and preserving state parks, which supporters say have been chronically underfunded. In exchange, motorists would get free admission to California’s state parks and beaches. It sounds like a good plan, but opponents say the fee unfairly taxes those least able to afford it and those with more than one car per family. They complain that if voters agree to tax themselves why shouldn’t lawmakers have the ability to earmark some of the money for other underfunded programs like health clinics, public transportations and colleges. Still others ask, shouldn’t the responsibility for paying for parks fall on those using them? Yes on Prop 21 folks note that “parks are in such bad shape that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named California state parks as one of the 11 most endangered sites in America.” Are our parks worth preserving and is Proposition 21 the best option to accomplish that goal?
Mercer 11391
Under a new law designed to give the public a more transparent view into how L.A. County monitors vulnerable children, the Department of Child & Family Services released figures on Monday showing the number of child deaths rose from 18 in 2008 to 26 last year. So far in 2010 20 deaths have been reported, on track to surpass last year’s figure. While this looks inflammatory on the surface it’s actually reflective of broader reporting standards that includes the deaths of children from causes other than homicides or abuses. It’s tough to gauge the performance of DCFS on these numbers alone, as the department has continued success in bringing down the number of kids in foster care, but is this an indictment of the department’s chief policy of reuniting children with their birth families? Tasked with one of the hardest and most thankless jobs in the county government, we look at the latest child death figures from DCFS and ask whether any policies should be changed as a result of this new data.
Mercer 11392
Last month, an LAPD investigation examining whether Los Angeles motels were catering to prostitution, led detectives to the room of a 13-year-old runaway from Hawthorne. The girl said that she and another girl were being held against their will and forced into prostitution by 34-year-old, Leroy Bragg. Bragg has since been charged with multiple felony counts, including human trafficking involving a minor, soliciting for a minor prostitute under 16, pandering by procuring a minor under 16 and first degree burglary. As the LAPD seek more victims in the case, we take a look at the state of child prostitution in Los Angeles County. What portion of the reported 250,000 children that are said to be victims of sexual exploitation each year in the U.S. are here in California and how is the government addressing these cases nation wide? We discuss the misconceptions about how underage sex workers are handled by local authorities and what the city is and isn’t doing for these victims.
Find an archived Episode: