Saturday, November 20, 2004

Oversight Overseen.....

8-Article Newsletter Template
4LAKids: Sunday, Nov 21, 2004
In This Issue:
 •  Daily News: LAUSD BOND USE QUESTIONED: Oversight panel cites 'bait & switches' + OVERSEEING OVERSIGHT: LAUSD committee has no one to blame but itself
 •  THE ACADEMIC HALL OF SHAME: A Quartet of Editorials from the LA Times
 •  EVENTS: Coming up next week...
 •  4LAKids Book Club for October & November — ACHIEVEMENT MATTERS: Getting Your Child the Best Education Possible, by Hugh B. Price
 •  What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
 •  READING TO KIDS: Read to some kids one Saturday morning a month. Make a difference. Change some lives (including your own!).
 •  MAKING SCHOOLS WORK: Get the Book @
 •  FIVE CENTS MAKES SENSE FOR EDUCATION- Target one nickel from every federal tax dollar for Education
The Daily News, in its article-and-editorial/one-two on the Bond Oversight Committee's struggle with the fiscal machinations of LAUSD (LAUSD BOND USE QUESTIONED + OVERSEEING OVERSIGHT - below) got some facts fuzzy, the history mistaken and the truth absolutely correct: We are "rightly furious about the way district officials shift funds around." The editorial goes on to say the Oversight Committee has no one to blame but ourselves; here we differ— but that is beside the point. It isn't about blame, it's about accountability. It's about building and fixing schools, about creating opportunities for excellence for Los Angeles' schoolchildren – present and future.

LA Unified – which holds students and teachers accountable under No Child Left Behind – balks at being accountable itself to parents, taxpayers and citizens. After Prop BB
passed the District refused to cooperate with the Bond Oversight Committee. They attempted to fund the disastrous Belmont Learning Complex with BB funds ...but refused to open the Belmont books. It took a lawsuit to settle that, and after the settlement rather than open the Belmont to oversight the Board of Ed voted to fund Belmont from its General Fund! Only after that lawsuit settled could the Oversight Committee begin its work in earnest - and almost immediately the Oversight Committee, — not Superintendent Romer, not district staff, not the LAUSD Chief Financial Officer or the Inspector General — but we, the Bond Oversight Committee, discovered the $600 million overspent on Proposition BB!

Anyone who thought that Proposition BB and its $2.4 Billion was going to solve all the ills of thirty-plus years of no school construction and horrendous maintenance and repair
as the editorial implies needs to book a return flight from J.M. Barrie's Neverland! The voters and taxpayers have approved another $11.6 Billion to continue the work under
Measures K and R. Lessons were learned from BB: Those Bond measures list in detail the projects that the District will undertake; the voters ratified the list in the voting booth. The school Board could have put the things they now want to put on the list back when they made up the list ...but they chose not to! Now we are at the point where District again wants to fund things the voters didn't approve with Bond Funds. They are moving things they promised to pay for years ago from other sources to the bonds, adding to list of projects – adding at the top of the list ...and pushing things off the bottom!

It is however unsettling that the District in its recent dealings with the Oversight Committee does so through its General Counsel; when your attorney becomes your
spokesman there is the whiff of something afoot. The editorial describes the Oversight Committee as toothless - and this is true up to a point. Under the California Constitution the Bond Oversight Committee has no way to enforce our opinions or convince the school district to do the right thing except though public opinion ...or through the courts. There would be no winner in a legal action, only time and money wasted. And the district and the schoolchildren don't have much of either to spare.

There is good news to tell. Back in the 'bad old days' things were about as bad as they could get — that is not the fact now! Last Wednesday, the very day all this brouhaha came
to a head three new schools or major additions opened, one of them an exciting new charter high school: High Tech High! New schools are being built, old schools are being
fixed up. Kids are coming off the bus and returning to their neighborhood schools. Full Day Kindergarten is happening. The multi-track year 'round calendar is being phased out.

Some promises are being kept! — smf

• Wednesday's BOC Meeting replays Sunday, Nov 21st. at 9AM on KLCS, Channel 58.

Daily News: LAUSD BOND USE QUESTIONED: Oversight panel cites 'bait & switches' + OVERSEEING OVERSIGHT: LAUSD committee has no one to blame but itself
• LAUSD BOND USE QUESTIONED: Oversight panel cites 'bait and switches'

By Jennifer Radcliffe - Daily News Staff Writer

Wednesday, November 17, 2004 - The Los Angeles
Unified School District's citizen bond oversight
committee questioned on Wednesday how the district is
spending voter-approved bond revenue and warned that it
might run out of money before all projects are built.

The panel has been asked to sign off on using bond
revenue to pay salaries, leases and expense
reimbursements, which members noted were legal but
violate the spirit of the two bond measures -- to build and
repair schools. Members said these items should have
been paid for using other sources, including the district's
general fund.

And while the district has about $14 billion in state and
local bond money to spend on school construction, the
money could run out if the district isn't careful, said
oversight committee member Connie Rice.

"We have a very finite number of dollars to get these
schools constructed," she said. "We need to have
clarifications and a coherent reason for these switches. I
call them bait and switches."

Within the past month, the committee was asked to
approve spending $30 million to air-condition
gymnasiums and auditoriums, when bond money was
supposed to pay only to cool classrooms. Requests also
include $57 million for lockers and computers and $18
million to make bungalows wheelchair-accessible.

At its Oct. 20 meeting, committee members signed off on
the requests, but told district administrators to return in
30 days with a policy spelling out when projects can be
shifted from the general budget to bond funding.

No one from the district responded to the request.

"I'm outraged that we didn't get a response from the
senior district staff," committee member Scott Folsom

Kevin Reed, LAUSD general counsel, said district staffers
were unaware of the committee's request.

"I didn't know that resolution existed before today," he
said. "We're embarrassed to not have a response for the
oversight committee."

Committee members also asked Wednesday that the
district develop a policy for spending interest that accrues
on the bonds -- $125.6 million on Proposition BB and
$37.5 million on Proposition K.

"This is a pot of money for which there are no guidelines.
There is no policy," Rice said. "This is a '60
Minutes'-potential story. ... You do not have a pot of
money without a policy for its use."

Given the district's ongoing financial problems, Reed said,
officials have been trying to find other ways to pay for
general fund items while maintaining enough bond money
to finish the list of construction and repair projects that
voters were promised.

He said the LAUSD has spent about $4 billion of the $14
billion, and is on pace to complete the promised projects.

"The superintendent is very sensitive to the issue of
ensuring that bond funds last to accomplish what they set
out to accomplish," Reed said, adding that the district
would respond to the oversight committee's concerns.

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
Association, said he thinks committee members have
legitimate concerns.

"We have seen this over and over and over again with
Los Angeles Unified -- they promise the moon and they
don't deliver. The bulk of the money goes into a black
hole," he said.

The watchdog group even resigned from the oversight
committee a few years ago, saying it was giving "fake
accountability" to the district's bond projects.

"We felt that the L.A. Unified School District was
treating the oversight like mushrooms -- keeping them in
the dark and feeding them manure," he said. "Why be part
of a process that's doomed to fail in the first place? The
value of the oversight committee is totally reliant on
getting good information."

• OVERSEEING OVERSIGHT: LAUSD committee has no one to blame but itself

Los Angeles Daily News Editorial

Thursday, November 18, 2004 - Members of the
committee charged with overseeing the LAUSD's use of
$14 billion in state and local bond money are rightly
furious about the way district officials shift funds around.
But ultimately, they have no one to blame but themselves.

The oversight committee complains that Los Angeles
Unified School District officials have continually asked to
use bond money to pay for projects that should be
financed out of the general fund. Some recent spending
was for air-conditioning school gymnasiums and
auditoriums, acquiring new lockers and equipment, and
making campuses more wheelchair-accessible.

But why does the district need to pay for such basic
repairs in the first place? Wasn't Proposition BB, the $2.4
billion bond measure that voters approved in 1997,
supposed to cover these expenses?

Well, yes, but you see, LAUSD officials frittered away
much of the BB revenues.

And how did that happen? The oversight committee failed
to do its job.

The committee's members see the writing on the wall.
They know there will be a day when all the bond money
dries up, and all the promised benefits won't be in place.
So they're lashing out - as much against their own
impotence as district officials' treachery.

"Oversight," it turns out, was a sham. A toothless gesture
on the part of the district to win over the trust of skeptical
voters. Now even the overseers themselves all but admit
as much.



In The Schools — by Greg Winter

Nov.15, 2004 — Camping trips in the desert. Excursions
to the famed Scripps Institute on the California coast. A
summer at space camp. Not to mention the other
standards of a solid education: art classes, chess, sports
and individual tutors.

No, it is not the roster at an exclusive private school. It's
the menu of extracurricular activities offered at the public
Nadaburg Elementary School in Wittmann, Ariz., where
about 70 percent of the children are low income, if not

So where does the money come from? Not from
education budgets or some benevolent foundation. The
answer lies miles away, in immaculate retirement
communities with names like Sun City West and Sun City
Grand. The residents there may not have any
grandchildren who attend the school, near Phoenix, but
they have become among its staunchest patrons.

The school offers an unusual glimpse of the degree to
which private fund-raising has reshaped the nation's
schools. In Arizona, for example, residents are allowed to
take up to $250 of their state taxes and apply it directly to
any school, regardless of whether they have children who
attend. Nadaburg's teachers and administrators use the
rule to great advantage.

They ride buses to retirement communities nearby to sign
up benefactors. They invite the people there to luncheons.
They lead the children in Christmas caroling for those
who have transformed their school.

"I consider it to be a legitimate, viable factor in the
success of our kids academically," said Steven
Yokobosky, Nadaburg's superintendent. "I mean, the kids
aren't excelling, but if you look at the demographics of
our school they shouldn't be doing as well as they are."

Private support of public schools has become a wide
phenomenon. Big city districts look to foundations and
businesses to help meet students' needs. Parents around
the nation are raising money for vital school functions as
state spending on education slows down.

But is all this private money enough to really change the
character of schools? And does it help close the gap
between wealthy and poor schools or widen it?

Public elementary and secondary schools claimed nearly
$373 billion in federal, state and local revenues during the
1999-2000 school year, federal statistics show. Nearly $9
billion of that came from nongovernmental sources.

Foundations, the institutional donors with a focus on
helping communities in need, gave about $1.2 billion to
public and private K-12 education in 2002, according to
the Foundation Center, a group in New York that works
to strengthen the nonprofit sector. That is a small fraction
of the amount coming from other private sources — most
notably, parents.

In an informal survey of about 100 of its member
organizations by the National PTA, conducted at the
request of the reporter, the group concluded that parents
and their communities contribute as much as if not more
than $10 billion in cash and services to the nation's

The gifts and services that PTA's furnish range from
libraries, computer labs and playgrounds to a laundry list
of smaller essentials that many districts may not be able to

Parental giving and fund-raising varies widely by income
level. The PTA's for the poorest 25 percent of schools
surveyed typically contributed $13 to $68 a student, while
the wealthiest 25 percent of schools surveyed typically
donated $192 to $279.

Some experts say there is not enough evidence to prove
that private money ends up favoring wealthier schools,
partly because their poorer counterparts get more money
from corporations and foundations. But given the
lopsided amounts that parents raise, some contend that
private money ultimately worsens the disparity.

"I think it clearly makes it worse," said Tom Vander Ark,
the education director for the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation, which has pledged more than $1 billion to
start schools serving low-income students. "But it's tricky,
because we don't want to condemn individual
contributions to local schools. They're certainly
supporting important things for young people. It's a
benign way that our society exacerbates the inequity
between the rich and the poor."

There are exceptions. Nadaburg's campaign in retirement
communities raised almost $244,000, or more than $488
a pupil, under the rule in 2002, researchers have found,
though the area has a much higher poverty rate than the
state average.

But statewide in Arizona, between 1998 and 2002, the
poorest quarter of schools received a total of about $8
million in contributions under the law, according to Glen
Y. Wilson, an assistant professor of education policy at
the University of Connecticut, while the wealthiest
quarter received more than $29 million.

Other state policies have had a similar effect, sometimes
by accident. In the late 90's, Vermont legislators tried to
make sure all schools had enough money, so they
required districts with higher property taxes to share
some of the wealth. To get around the law, about two
dozen communities deliberately kept property taxes down
and started local foundations that were exempt from the
rules on sharing. Local residents put more than $11
million into these private funds last year, the state said.

Vermont has since changed the law, effectively
dismantling these local funds, but not because they ran
contrary to the spirit of sharing, state officials said.
Instead, animosity developed in some towns because not
everyone contributed, said Bill Talbott, chief financial
officer for Vermont's education department.

When state spending on education shot up nationwide in
the late 90's, buoyed by the hearty tax receipts of a
forceful economy, the financial gap between rich and poor
districts began to narrow, according to a report released
last month by the Education Trust, a research group that
aims to close the achievement gap between students. But
growth in education spending has slowed considerably.
Wealthier districts have made up for much of the
slowdown by raising property taxes, so the financial gap
between rich and poor has expanded again, the report

"What foundations shouldn't try to do is fund gaps in the
system, or fill holes that the public ought to be filling,"
said William Porter, executive director of Grantmakers
for Education, a network of 200 foundations. "The
resources that we can put toward a problem pale in
comparison to the problem itself."

As public spending on education slows, even PTA's in
some of the better-off districts say they have little choice
but to prop up their local schools. For example, beyond
the thousands of dollars parents have raised to outfit the
playground at Emerson Elementary School, a magnet
school with few poor students in Westerville, Ohio, the
school's PTA says it spends thousands more on essentials
like library books.

"It's no longer about arranging the parties and cleaning up
the playgrounds," said Trina Shanks, past president of
Emerson's PTA. "It's a whole lot more."

• 'VALUE ADDED' MODELS GAIN IN POPULARITY: Growth Yardstick Appeals to States
EDUCATION WEEK: Published: November 17, 2004
By Lynn Olson

The concept sounds appealing: Measure the effectiveness
of schools and teachers based on the amount of academic
progress their students make from one year to the next.
Often known as “value added” measures because they
track the “value” that schools add to individual students’
learning over time, such methods are increasingly popular
with educators and policymakers.

Some view the methods as an antidote to accountability
systems that focus solely on getting children to a specified
achievement level on a state test, regardless of where they
start. Others view them as a way to isolate the effects of
teachers and schools on learning, separate from such
background characteristics as race and poverty.
See Also
Read the accompanying story, “Researchers Debate
Merits of ‘Value Added’ Measures.”

Three national conferences on the topic took place last
month alone. And this week, the Washington-based
Council of Chief State School Officers planned to host a
meeting on their use.

“Value-added measurement is a very active area today,”
Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of education
in Maryland, said during a conference at the University of
Maryland College Park last month. “We know there’s
controversy surrounding this,” she added. “We need to
ferret out all of the factors and not just jump into this
without a strong research base.”

Indeed, as policymakers and practitioners rush to take up
value-added methods, researchers continue to debate their
merits and how the existing models can be improved.

While value-added assessments are well past their infancy,
noted Robert Lissitz, the director of the Maryland
Assessment Research Center for Student Success at the
University of Maryland, “the practical applications of
value-added models are complex, difficult, and often
Fairer Measurement?

That hasnÂ’t stopped the momentum, which has gained
steam in part because of the federal No Child Left Behind
Act. The law requires states to test every student annually
in reading and mathematics in grades 3-8 and at least
once in high school.

That mandate has opened up the possibility of tracking
individual student growth from grade to grade in far more
states, a prerequisite for value-added modeling. At the
same time, concerns that the lawÂ’s accountability
provisions are unfair to schools has sent people
scrambling for alternatives.

Sixteen state schools chiefs wrote to U.S. Secretary of
Education Rod Paige earlier this year requesting the
flexibility to use value-added or growth measures to meet
the accountability requirements. States such as Ohio and
Pennsylvania are now working to incorporate such
models into their state accountability systems, joining
existing ventures in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and
Tennessee. And many other states, including Arkansas,
California, Colorado, Louisiana and Minnesota, are
considering adding value-added assessments.

One of the big attractions for educators is that
value-added methods could provide a fairer way to
measure school and teacher effectiveness than existing
accountability systems.

The NCLB law, for example, judges schools primarily on
the percentage of children who perform at the
“proficient” level on state tests. Schools don’t get credit
for students who make lots of growth in a given year but
still fail to reach the proficiency bar, or for advanced
students who continue to progress.

Schools also are judged by comparing the performance of
cohorts of students in successive years—for example, the
performance of this yearÂ’s 3rd graders vs. last yearÂ’s 3rd
graders—even though the two groups may be quite
different. In contrast, value-added methods track the
growth of each student in a school over time from the
childÂ’s starting point.

Such methods also can provide schools with diagnostic
information about the rate at which individual children are
learning in particular subjects and classrooms, making it
possible to target assistance to students or teachers or
areas of the curriculum that need help.

In 2002, the Pennsylvania education department invited
districts that were already testing in grades 3-8 to
participate in a pilot value-added project, using the model
that William L. Sanders developed for Tennessee in 1992.
The plan is to take the project statewide next school year.
‘A Great Diagnostic Tool’

The 4,500-student DuBois Area School District, about
100 miles from the Ohio border, signed up immediately.

“There are people who are really worried about this
concept and want it to be perfect before we say yes,” said
Sharon Kirk, the superintendent of the district. She spoke
last month at a conference in Columbus, Ohio, sponsored
by Battelle for Kids, a nonprofit there that is working
with about 80 Ohio districts on a value-added pilot using
the Sanders method. “I can’t imagine why we would not
absolutely embrace information that is going to make us

One of the first things Ms. Kirk did was ask each principal
to predict which group of students his or her school was
serving best. Daniel Hawkins, the principal of the DuBois
Middle School, said heÂ’d been confident the school was
doing a fine job educating its most academically advanced
students. When the data came back, it showed that in
both math and reading, those students were making less
progress over the course of a year than similarly
high-performing students in other schools.

“I was wrong,” he said, “obviously wrong.”

Amy Short, an algebra teacher at the school, said
educators realized they were spending too much time
reviewing material at the start of each school year and
needed to accelerate instruction.
At Ohio's DuBois Area Middle School, teachers such as
Amy Short advance instruction based on "value added"
—Paul A. Wilson for Education Week

The school set up four different levels of algebra and
provided additional periods of math practice for students
with the lowest math scores who also were falling behind
their peers. Each week, teachers in the same grade and
subject sat down to decide what they would teach in the
coming week, and crafted nine-week assessments to track
studentsÂ’ progress.

By 2003, DuBois Middle School students were
demonstrating significantly more growth over the course
of the year than similarly performing students elsewhere.

“I really like this because I think it’s a great diagnostic
tool for me,” said Ms. Short, who uses the data on
individual students to tell whether they need additional
support or enrichment. “I thought I was teaching my kids

Research by Mr. Sanders and others in the field has found
that the variability in effectiveness between classrooms
within schools is three to four times greater than the
variability across schools. Moreover, students assigned to
highly effective teachers for several years running
experience much more academic growth than students
assigned to a string of particularly ineffective teachers,
although the precise size of those effects and how long
they persist are unclear.

Based on such findings, said Daniel Fallon, the chairman
of the education division at the Carnegie Corporation of
New York, people have come to recognize that the
effects of good teaching “are profound and appear to be
High Stakes?

Most people appear comfortable using value-added
information as a powerful school improvement tool. The
bigger question is whether states are ready to use such
methods in high-stakes situations.

So far, the U.S. Department of Education has not
permitted any state to use a value-added model to meet
the requirements for adequate yearly progress under the
No Child Left Behind law. And itÂ’s not certain the
department has the authority to do so without changing
the statute.

Celia H. Sims, a special assistant in the departmentÂ’s
office of elementary and secondary education, said at the
time states submitted their accountability plans to the
federal government, most didnÂ’t have in place the grades
3-8 testing or student-information systems that would
permit them to track individual student gains over time.

“Value-added can certainly be used even right now as an
additional academic indicator by the state,” she noted,
although no state has made that choice. In part, thatÂ’s
because additional academic indicators can only serve to
increase the number of schools potentially identified for
improvement under the federal law.

“States are still looking at how growth can fit within No
Child Left Behind,” Ms. Sims said. She does not know of
any value-added model that specifies how much growth
students must make each year, so that all students
perform at the proficient level by 2013-14, as the law
requires. “That’s the non-negotiable,” she said.

Researchers in at least three organizations—the Dover,
N.H.-based Center for Assessment, the Portland,
Ore.-based Northwest Evaluation Association and the
Washington-based American Institutes for
Research—have been working on models to combine
value-added analyses with absolute measures of student
performance, so that students would be on track to
achieve proficiency by a specified point.

“This, to me, is a central issue with value-added,” said
Mitchell D. Chester, the assistant state superintendent for
policy and accountability in the Ohio education
department. By state law, the department must
incorporate Mr. SandersÂ’ value-added method into the
accountability system by 2007-08. “How do you combine
looking at progress with still trying to ensure youngsters
in Ohio end up graduating with the skills and knowledge
that they need to succeed beyond high schools?”

Some policymakers also are eager to use value-added
models as part of teacher evaluation or compensation
systems. But while many researchers and educators said
value-added results might, eventually, be used as one
component of such systems, they should not be the only

“I think that really puts too much of a burden on
value-added measures,” said Henry I. Braun, a statistician
with the Princeton, N.J.-based Educational Testing

In general, such measures can distinguish between highly
effective and ineffective teachers, based on the amount of
growth their students make, researchers say, but they
have a hard time distinguishing between the vast majority
of teachers whose performance hovers around average.

Moreover, while value-added models can identify schools
or teachers that appear more effective than others, they
cannot identify what those teachers do that makes them
more effective.

“In the earliest years of implementing a value-added
assessment system, itÂ’s probably smart to lower the
stakes,” said Dale Ballou, a professor of education at
Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

ItÂ’s also unclear how such measures would work for
teachers whose subjects are not measured by state tests.

Both the Ohio Federation of Teachers and the Ohio
Education Association have supported the use of a
growth measure as part of OhioÂ’s accountability system.

“We felt there were a lot of hard-working people out
there who were not getting adequate credit for moving
kids along the way they do,” said Debbie Tully, an official
with the OFT, an affiliate of the American Federation of

But while the union is “more than open” to using such
measures as one component in teacher evaluation, Ms.
Tully added, itÂ’s far too early to tell if it can be used as an
evaluation tool.
‘Under the Hood’

Yet for all the criticism of value-added methods, said Mr.
Braun of the ETS, “we have to confront the logic behind
the enthusiasm that we see out there in the world for
value-added measures.”

The key, he said, is for policymakers to “look under the
hood,” and not just take such measures at face value.

“I think the fact that people are taking this stuff seriously
now is focusing people on the right questions,” said
VanderbiltÂ’s Mr. Ballou.

While value-added models may eventually run up against
insurmountable limitations, theyÂ’re not there yet.

“All the other methods are also flawed,” Mr. Ballou
noted, “so if you’re not going to use this one, what’s the

• Read the accompanying story, “Researchers Debate Merits of 'Value Added' Measures.

THE ACADEMIC HALL OF SHAME: A Quartet of Editorials from the LA Times

November 20, 2004 – No matter who had the job of
Education secretary these last few years, it was bound to
be tough. The No Child Left Behind Act gave the U.S.
Department of Education its first big — and controversial
— regulatory role. Unfortunately, departing Secretary
Rod Paige politicized when he should have united, and
was more a passive mouthpiece for administration policies
than the bold, perceptive school leader the nation needed.

Early on, Paige seemed a poster child for the
accountability movement. Under his tenure as
superintendent of Houston schools, scores shot up and
dropout rates fell. But then the so-called Houston miracle
became the Houston muddle, when it turned out that the
district had drastically under- reported its dropout rates
and kept half its non-English-speaking students from
taking a national reading test — thus assuring itself
relatively high scores. This may have been the second
most scandalous numbers-polishing exercise in Houston,
Enron's hometown. It turns out that school reform
requires more than talk about higher standards.

It's a message Paige never quite got. No Child Left
Behind was a bipartisan effort with strong Democratic
support, yet Paige managed to polarize factions with rigid
regulations and a tendency to speak before thinking.

He characterized the nation's largest teachers union as a
"terrorist organization" for criticizing the law. He refused
to fight for badly needed school funding. And only as
outrage over some of the law's most inane provisions
reached fever pitch — just as the election season started
— did Paige relent and offer more flexible regulations.

As the president's longtime advisor, both on Texas school
reform and on national domestic policy, Paige's probable
successor, Margaret Spellings, has shown that she deeply
cares about public schools, but there is little evidence that
she will address the ongoing, crippling weaknesses of No
Child Left Behind or continued federal underfunding for
education. The schools need someone to bring President
Bush's vision for better public schools to fruition by
challenging his assumptions about what that will take, not
by giving in to them.


November 20, 2004 – After two straight years of winning
the national Academic Decathlon, California schools
almost didn't even get a chance to enter next year. Private
donations are down, prompting the organization that runs
the state competition to consider calling it off. Board
members voted unanimously to go ahead on Thursday —
even if they have to stage a bare-bones event.

The decathlon, the best-known high school academic
competition in the nation, was born in California, which
has supplied nearly half the winning teams since the
contest went nationwide 22 years ago. It forces high
achievers to stretch their brains to the utmost and teaches
even low achievers strong study skills, while giving all
participants close, supportive contact with a teacher — all
things that public officials keep saying they want out of
the schools.

Yet a state that spends about $700 a year per high school
football player somehow can't come up with the $25 or so
per decathlon participant that it would take to keep the
state organization going. Its $250,000 budget comes
mostly from private donors.

The event's founder wanted to give serious students the
kind of team experience and recognition that high school
culture generally reserves for athletic stars. But he also
wanted to keep it from becoming elitist. Not only do all
kinds of schools field teams, each team must include
students with B and C averages. This has galvanized
many underachieving students to hit the books. Two
years ago, a C student was the top scorer in the national

Relative to most education programs, $250,000 is chump
change. So why is it so hard to raise the money, when
corporations routinely complain about the public schools
failing to produce critical thinkers?

What the decathlon really needs is a stable form of
long-term funding. The Legislature should simply write
the piddling sum into the budget — maybe taking it out of
state Education Secretary Richard Riordan's allocation.
The decathlon is doing more for schools than his office.


November 20, 2004 – American high school seniors rank
16th among 21 industrialized nations when it comes to
achievement in science, and you can bet a frozen
mastodon that the leaders — Sweden, the Netherlands,
Iceland and Norway — got there with a stronger
curriculum and better-trained teachers, not with endless
court fights over creationism.

Yet fighting creationism has evolved into a booming
business for the American Civil Liberties Union. It is
awaiting a ruling in Georgia in a suit it brought against
the Cobb County school board. Seeking to mollify
religious parents who take the creation story in Genesis
literally and believe that their religion should intrude into
their public schools, the board decided to paste a sticker
inside the cover of high school biology textbooks, saying
in part, "Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the
origin of living things." Caveat homo sapiens. What next?
A back-cover sticker to American history texts wondering
if ending slavery was really such a great idea?

The evolution-hedging wording ignores the overwhelming
evidence supporting the widely accepted theory of
evolution. But in the politically charged world of school
board politics, we suppose school leaders deserve credit
for trying to solve a devil of an argument with a
compromise that keeps students learning about evolution,
with the full text intact, and teachers free to teach.

It was a surprising move for the often uncompromising
creationists to accept the sticker, the barest of implied
nods to their convictions. In their eyes, at least parents
who want to teach their children creationism — at home
— can point to the sticker to quiet that inevitable teen
refrain: "You're wrong."

Far more troubling was last month's decision by the
Dover, Pa., school board to mandate the teaching of
"intelligent design" alongside evolution. The U.S.
Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that the required teaching of
creationism as science violated the 1st Amendment.
Trying to disguise creationism with the label of
"intelligent design" (which sounds like an IKEA
marketing pitch) doesn't pass the smell test — or any
valid science test.


November 20, 2004 – Presumably, not many
middle-school children in Texas marry people of the same
sex. But thanks to the state's Board of Education, they
now know they're not supposed to.

Textbook publisher Holt, Rinehart and Winston agreed to
the education board's demand earlier this month that the
publisher's middle-school textbooks for Texas define
marriage as the "lifelong union between a husband and
wife." You can't fault the accuracy of part of that
statement. For now, in Texas and every other state,
state-sanctioned marriage is solely for those of opposite
sexes. Texas bans gay marriages and does not recognize
same-sex civil unions.

But what's with this "lifelong" business? Even Texas can't
pretend that's always true. Textbooks might have to be
politically correct for their time and place, but they're still
supposed to be accurate.

With 4.1 divorces a year per 1,000 residents, just a notch
below the national average, Texas is pretty much like
everyplace else: About half of its marriages end in
divorce. Slightly more than half of those divorces involve
couples with children. In this respect, Texas is different
from that liberal stronghold, Massachusetts — which, at
2.4 divorces per 1,000 residents, has the lowest divorce
rate in the nation.

Maybe such statistics don't matter. According to the
definition in the Holt, Rinehart textbook, marriages that
end in divorce aren't real marriages anyway, right? Even
Texas kindergartners know better than that.

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
•Monday Nov 22, 2004
Local District 2: Sylmar, San Fernando and Polytechnic School Families
Presentation of Phase III Project Definitions
At this meeting we will:
* Present and discuss the SCHOOL PROJECT DEFINITIONS that staff will recommend to the LAUSD Board of Education for review and approval
* Review the factors used to identify new school projects, including community input
* Go over next steps in the school construction process
This is the final meeting on Phase III Project Definition before we go to the LAUSD Board of Education for approval!
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Haddon Avenue School Auditorium
10115 Haddon Avenue
Pacoima, CA 91331

*Dates and times subject to change.

• Thursday, Nivember 25, 2004


Phone: 213.241.4700
Phone: 213.633.7616


4LAKids Book Club for October & November — ACHIEVEMENT MATTERS: Getting Your Child the Best Education Possible, by Hugh B. Price
Publisher: Dafina Books, 256 pages ISBN: 0758201206

Hugh B. Price is the President of the National Urban League. On the face of it his excellent book is about closing the Achievement Gap that seperates poor children and children of color from high performing “white” students.

But his message is loud and clear — and every
parent can learn from it: Parents from underperforming schools must insist upon the same level of performance as suburban parents do. Every parent has a right to expect and insist-upon excellence from teachers, administrators and the school district; we must also insist-upon and expect excellence from our own children.

Price lays much of the responsibility for the Achievement
Gap off to what he calls the “Preparation Gap”; the
dearth of adequate pre-school programs in inner city
neighborhoods. But he is not easy on parents. All must
follow the example of archtypical "pushy" suburban parents: Be Involved in Your ChildrenÂ’s Lives and Education Every Step Of The Way!

This isnÂ’t about race and economics; itÂ’s about hard work at home and in the school and in the community!

• from Chapter Eight: DEMANDING – AND GETTING
– GOOD SCHOOLS: What Parents Can Do

Entrenched bureaucracies sometimes change out of
enlightened self-interest. In other words, they see the light
and reform themselves before it's too late, before a more
compelling alternative comes widely available. Other
times, it takes concerted external pressure to force
bureaucracies to change-for the sake of their "customers"
as well as themselves.

For far too long, public educators have kept their heads in
the sand, like ostriches, in the face of an urgent need to
improve urban and and rural schools. Parents, politicians,
and business leaders have grown restless with the sluggish
pace of school improvement. I urge parents, caregivers,
and community leaders to keep up the relentless pressure
to create straight “A” schools for your children and every
American child.

Even parents in comfortable suburbs must stay right on
the school's case. "I made an assumption that in suburbia
the school would place my child where she needs to be,"
says Mane, a stay at home mother from a well-to-do
community in New Jersey: “We moved here from
Brooklyn where my daughter, Taisha., was in an
overcrowded, understaffed kindergarten class. One of the
reasons we moved to this town was for its highly rated
school system When Taisha was in third grade, the school
sent me a notice that she was reading and doing math at
an eighth grade level. I called her teacher and asked him if
there were any special classes my daughter could take at
the school that would encourage her academic talents. He
said, 'Oh well, we do have a gifted and talented

“I didn't RECEIVE that call — I MADE that call!"

"My daughter was testing in the 90th percentile nationally, and if I hadn't found out on my own that she was eligible for advanced classes, she would never be there now."

So regardless of where you live and what your family
circumstances are, here's what you must do in order to
make sure that your children are well served by their
schools and placed squarely on the path to academic

1. BE VIGILANT. Make it your business to ask your
children what's going on at school. Look for possible
trouble spots such as teachers' negative attitudes,
tracking, discipline problems, safety issues, and so on.
Stay in touch with your kids and pay attention to what
they are telling you-and keeping from you.

2. BE INFORMED. Educate yourself about what your
children are learning in school and what the school offers.
Find out if the work they're doing is grade level or better
and whether it meets the academic standards imposed by
the states. Familiarize yourself with the standardized tests
your children are expected to take, when they must take
them, and how they should prepare properly to do well on
them. One school superintendent has the parents of
fourth-graders actually take the state reading exam from
the prior year so they'll better understand what their
children are expected to know for the exam. Read up on
national and state educational policies and regulations,
with an eye to how they will directly affect your children.

3. BE INVOLVED. Join the PTA. Attend parent-teacher
conferences and "meet-the-teacher" nights. Vote in the
school board elections — maybe even run for a seat on the board yourself. No one can fight harder than you for your children's right to a good education.

4. BE VOCAL. Speak up if you see a problem with your
childÂ’s schooling, even if you think there may be
repercussions because of your activism. Go to your child's
teacher or principal if you detect. unfairness in the way
your child is being treated. If you feel you — or your
child or your child-are being punished for your
outspokenness go to your pastor, the local Urban League,
or another community organization.

5. BE VISIBLE. Make sure the school knows that your
are actively involved in your child's education. Become
involved in the governing process of your local school
system. Attend school board meetings and get to know
your local elected representatives

6. ORGANIZE. Meet with other parents to discuss how
you can work as a group to help your children. Start on a
the grassroots level with neighbors, relatives, friends.
Many voices are stronger than one, and work in unison to
ensure that achievement matters much to your children's
school as it does to you.

* * * *

Children want to do well. When large numbers of them
fail its because adults-school administrators, teachers,
parents and their larger community-have failed them.

We all know it doesn't have to be this way. Lousy public
schools can be turned around if the adults mobilize to do
so: If adults will say: “No more excuses for school
failure!” I'm not downplaying the many problems that
many schools and the families they serve face. -Just the
opposite. While these problems may not go away. they
neednÂ’t defeat the efforts of determined parents and
educators to close the Preparation Gap and ensure that
children achieve, regardless of their family circumstances.

Get ACHIEVEMENT MATTERS from your local library, bookstore - or order it by clicking here.

What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member. Or your city councilperson, mayor, assemblyperson, state senator, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think.
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• Vote.

Contact your school board member

Scott Folsom is a parent and parent leader in LAUSD. He is Vice President for Education of Los Angeles 10th District PTSA and represents PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and is a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is also the elected Youth & Education boardmember on the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council.
• In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited.
 Â• THE 4LAKids ARCHIVE - This and past Issues are available with interactive feedback at

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