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A Man on a Mission

Retired teacher Walt Gardner has found a new career and this time instead of reaching out to students, he’s trying to reach out to readers and school them on education. The former English teacher who taught for 28 at years at University High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District is a prolific writer of letters to the editor on education subjects. He’s begun to receive significant attention for his punchy prose and insightful thoughts on everything from the achievement gap to school choice. Over the years, he’s had 45 letters to the editor published in The New York Times and 31 in The Wall Street Journal. In fact, his letters have attracted so much attention that School Me, the education blog of the Los Angeles Times has recently started collecting them in a section called “Walt’s Letters to the Editors.”

The 71-year-old Mr. Gardner, who also has a journalism background, frequently writes op-ed pieces, including this one last year in Education Week about the SATs. And he kicks out an occasional longer piece, such as the one he did in 2005 on school choice for the American School Board Journal. To keep informed he reads The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times every day, plus subscribes to 10 or so journals and magazines. His op-eds and letters have even gone international, popping up in Japan and England. The Washington Post used him as a judge to rate education blogs not long ago. But Mr. Gardner, who described himself as “not doctrinaire,” said he started it all not to call attention to himself, but to correct newspapers that he often saw getting it wrong on education issues. He said he views himself as a sort of unofficial editor overseeing education writing.

But has all the notoriety it has spawned gone to his head? No, Mr. Gardner claims. “I don’t do it for the money—letters pay nothing. It’s not attention--I’m not pursued by paparazzi and stalkers. Power? I still can’t get my German short-haired pointer to heel,” he said. “But there’s this juggernaut trying to get rid of public education and here I am with a pen trying to hold them off. It’s a way of trying to do one’s part.”

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