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Commentary: Public education’s death spiral, and why everyone needs to vote on May 16

Guest contributor | April 26, 2017

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This is part of a series of essays by Los Angeles leaders and stakeholders on the importance of a high-quality education for all LA students and the May 16 school board election.

By Loren Bendele

In the 1970s Los Angeles had many of the best public schools in the world. Today, Los Angeles has some of the worst public schools in the developed world. In addition to poor school performance, LAUSD is also on the brink of bankruptcy.

Our school board has grossly mismanaged one of the most fundamental and critical institutions in our country — our public schools and the right to a high-quality K-12 education.

The current LAUSD administration claims they have increased the graduation rate, but they fail to mention that they did this by making a “D” a passing grade and also allowing students who didn’t get a D to make it up online via questionable remedial courses. The result is that a small percentage of LAUSD students are graduating from college, and 70 percent of incoming college freshmen who graduated from LAUSD high schools end up having to take remedial courses. The stats are even more dismal when you look at LAUSD schools in lower-income neighborhoods.

I grew up in a middle-class family in a town of 40,000 just south of Dallas. I was fortunate that my public school had an excellent math and science program, and a few master teachers that saw something in me and inspired me, which set me up to graduate with honors from Texas A&M in chemical engineering. Which set me up to get a job with The Boston Consulting Group. Which set me up to have a successful career as a tech entrepreneur. It all started with my public school experience and a few great teachers.

Over the past few decades, our public schools have declined. As a result, many parents who have options have moved their kids to better schools (either by enrolling in private schools or moving to an area with a great public school). Thus, many people who have the relationships or know-how to drive change have checked out of the public school battles — their kids are fine. As a result of this reduction in broad participation, our public school decline is accelerating.

In business, they call this the “death spiral” – your business is suffering, customers leave, and the decline in customers makes your business or product worse, and more customers leave, etc., etc. We are in the middle of a death spiral in LAUSD and our U.S. public schools.

Warren Buffett was quoted as saying, “It’s easy to solve the problems of public education in America. All you have to do is outlaw private schools and assign every child to public school by lottery.” To quote, “Buffett thinks that in order to improve the education system, we need some of the rich to care more about them.”

Regardless if you have kids in public school or private school or your kids have all graduated, or if you don’t even have kids, we all have to get involved. If you can vote, there is no excuse not to vote in the elections on May 16. If you have the means to help spread the word and get others to vote, now is the time. This election is too important.

Here are three easy ways to get involved:

  • Do your research and don’t just go with the first source you read. We built as a place for civil discussion on the issues and the candidates. You can add your own opinions and also see the top opinions for and against candidates and stances on issues.
  • Support the candidates you like. Put up a yard sign, email your friends, get involved, donate to their campaigns, and visit their websites for other ways to volunteer or spread the word.
  • If you can only do one thing, vote, and get three friends to vote intelligently as well.

Get involved. Get creative. Get motivated and figure out how to get out the vote on May 16. More than 660,000 kids in LAUSD are depending on this election, and the rest of the country is watching what we do in LA. So there are 74 million kids in U.S. public schools depending on us all.

Loren Bendele is a technology entrepreneur/investor and the creator of, a platform to facilitate civil discourse on the issues and board candidates for LAUSD. 

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