Sunday, January 02, 2005

EXTRA: Right off the pages of Sunday's LA Times...

8-Article Newsletter Template
EXTRA: Right off the pages of Sunday's LA Times
In This Issue:
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Even if it is still Winter Break I would be derelict, deficient and demented if I didn't forward the five - count 'em - five articles in this Sunday's (January 2nd) LA Times Opinion section dealing with education ASAP!

Thank you Times contributors and Op-Ed Pages Editor Michael Kinsley.

If you've read 'em, read no further.

If you haven't, they follow.


...and the glitch in the LAUSD Mail Servers has either
been resolved or has resolved itself. 4LAKids subscribers
on the LAUSD network seem to receiving the newsletter!

Check out the January 1st issue of 4LAKids for the Book Club and Coming Up Next Week Features.


• By Richard Lee Colvin

Richard Lee Colvin, a former Times education writer, is
director of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the
Media, Teachers College, Columbia University.

January 2, 2005 - It's the time of year when the
well-educated brace for the seasonal whine of high school
seniors who didn't get into Harvard early action and the
subsequent ululating of parents who for the next four
years will annually fork over the price of a midrange
BMW to some less prestigious school.

If we were smart, we'd cover our ears and fret about a
much more serious dilemma: Nearly six in 10 high school
graduates in 2005 will start college in the fall, but half of
them — and more than two-thirds of the African
American and Latino students who enroll — will fail to
earn either an associate's or bachelor's degree.

That's bad for them, as they'll be sporadically unemployed
and the jobs they do find as clerks, healthcare aides and
the like will rarely pay health benefits. It's also bad for the
economy, especially at this moment when Canada, Korea,
Japan, Spain, Australia, Ireland, Finland, Belgium, France
and other competitors have figured out the huge benefits
of pumping more and more college graduates into their

So why do U.S. media, policymakers and university
administrators continue to worry more about who gets
into elite colleges and how much they pay for that
privilege? Why don't they focus on how few students
make it through this nation's higher education system with
the tools to help keep the society we all share on track?

Probably because most reporters, policymakers and
influential educators wouldn't be in the positions they're in
if they had to recover from the setback that some public
schools inflict. If they had faced that struggle, they might
better understand why many of those foundering students
find it too difficult to work and go to school at the same
time. Why some, especially Latinos and those who live at
home, will succumb to the tug of family obligations. Why
loneliness will overcome many. Why plenty of motivated,
hardworking students will simply be unable to overcome
the despair of stepping onto campus and feeling as if
they've entered a black-tie ball wearing a thrift-store
T-shirt. These are the students who met every high school
requirement, scoring higher grades than most of their
classmates in courses the academic establishment said
would prepare them for the future.

That was a lie.

Yes, these students have the required credentials. But
they don't have the skills. They won't comprehend what
they read in college well enough to jump into classroom
discussions. They can't write analytically. They'll find
college-level math over their heads. The California State
University system this year required 58% of its freshmen
to take remedial classes in math or writing or both, while
acknowledging that such classes do a lousy job of helping
laggards catch up. In fact, those who take one remedial
class are twice as likely to drop out of school, and those
who take two rarely finish.

Free and open to all, the public school system tricks
students into believing they've been well educated, then
shoves them into higher education, where learning is
rationed by cost and capacity. And despite the
decades-long effort to beef up academic demands and the
tens of billions of dollars spent to open college doors to
students who can't pay on their own, the percentage of
U.S. college students who eventually earn degrees has
been about the same since the 1970s.

Over the same period, the nation's economy,
demographics and international competition have become
more hostile to the ill-prepared. The sort of
manufacturing jobs that can support a family are rapidly
being outsourced overseas. The 14 million white-collar
jobs that retiring baby boomers are leaving require more
college education than the potential candidates for those
jobs — who are, increasingly, Latino and African
American — have to offer, according to an analysis by
economist Anthony Carnevale that has pedagogues

Margaret Orr, a professor at Columbia University's
Teachers College, says of the college dropout rate: "If all
of our high schools performed at that level, we'd be up in
arms." Advocates with the Boston-based Jobs for the
Future argue that the nation needs to double the number
of low-income high school graduates who earn a college
degree. Doing so, the group says, would add several
hundred billion dollars to the nation's economic output
and tens of billions in tax revenues.

Meanwhile, the media play on the shock value of $30,000
or $40,000 tuition bills, perhaps because the colleges that
charge that much are the places that journalists would like
to see their kids attend, if only they could afford it. So
articles and broadcasts smirk at the millions of dollars
colleges spend on climbing walls and hot tubs large
enough to host a Western Civ class. They ponder the
meaning of the battle over affirmative action. But those
issues affect but a thin slice of the college-going
population, those who attend the 10% to 20% of colleges
that cherry-pick from a wealthy, well-qualified crop. The
much bigger societal problem of too few students
graduating from any college, two- or four-year, receives
little ink or air time.

It would be one thing if the media, colleges and
policymakers were merely giving short shrift to this
problem. What's frustrating is that they're also ignoring
good solutions.

The education world's best answers are those that focus
on high schools, those that focus on what colleges can do,
and those that focus on the students themselves.

The emerging consensus in the first category is that just
having high schools do a better job of what they do now
won't be enough. All students need to be pushed more.
They need more support. They need to see college as a
realistic option. Exit exams, most of which measure what
students should learn in middle school, aren't enough and
may be a distraction from preparing students for college
and a more-demanding workplace.

Early College High Schools, a $120-million initiative
underwritten by a consortium of donors led by the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to nurture small, hybrid
institutions affiliated with community colleges. These
schools, several of which will spring up in California, are
designed to simultaneously address students' skill deficits
and engage them in college-level work. In five years
students earn both a high school diploma and a two-year
associate's degree, putting a bachelor's degree within
reach if they stick college out for two more years.

Another tactic would have all students take the equivalent
of a college-prep curriculum, something no state requires,
according to Washington-based Education Trust and
Achieve Inc., which was set up by business leaders and
the National Governors Assn. Jack O'Connell, California's
superintendent of public instruction, has proposed
something similar.

With so many eager students queued up outside
admissions offices, many colleges don't care much if
students drop out or flunk out once their tuition checks
have been cashed. A second group of advocates counters
this approach by pressing colleges to help students get up
to speed, suggesting the schools connect freshmen with
mentors, increase financial aid so students won't have to
work and could live on campus, and push schools to offer
more of the courses in greatest demand so financially
strapped students can graduate on time. A third category
of problem-solvers pushes for programs such as those in
Indiana, Michigan, Georgia and Texas, where the state
provides scholarships to high school students who take
harder classes. Research confirms the common sense of
this: Students who work harder in high school do better

For these solid solutions to gain traction, however,
educators, policymakers, journalists and the rest of us
who managed to make the best of America's education
system must first step back and take fuller notice of the
inequities under our noses. We must grasp that the system
that served us well is a failure, producing only two
bachelor degrees for every 10 students who start high
school. We must acknowledge this failure as our own and
recognize it as a threat to the future well-being of our
children — even those who think they have a lock on the
Ivy League.

Link to this story on the LA Times Website

• By Howard Blume

Howard Blume is a Los Angeles writer.

January 2, 2005 - When Bob Hertzberg pledged to shatter
the Los Angeles Unified School District into smaller,
family-friendly school districts, his plan got the kind of
attention a mayoral candidate craves. When it comes to
L.A. Unified, however, there's no getting around the
crooner's axiom: Breaking up is hard to do.

For starters, the laws are stacked against it, with more
steps than a Bulgarian folk dance. The last major breakup
attempt, in 2001, failed even to reach voters because its
San Fernando Valley proponents couldn't satisfy a host of
rules, some of which apply only to L.A. Unified.

"Folks brought a credible effort forward in 2001 and they
failed, and failed miserably," LAUSD general counsel
Kevin Reed said. "There are a number of gnarly questions
that would need to be unraveled."

Critics counter that LAUSD bureaucrats and the teachers
union used friendly legislators to embed those legal
provisions within the state's education code precisely to
make a district split-up nearly impossible.

The process includes collecting signatures in the area that
wants to secede. Proponents must get 5% of all registered
voters, or 8% of those who voted in the most recent race
for governor. That part's a challenge, but anyone with
funding or committed volunteers could handle it.

Besides gathering the signatures, however, petitioners
must draw boundaries that satisfy myriad conditions. For
one thing, none of the new, smaller districts can be worse
off than the old or than each other.

For example, if the new districts are less racially or
economically diverse, the breakup bid is likely to go
nowhere. Resources also must be distributed fairly. A
new district cannot emerge with markedly less-crowded
schools than that portion of the old district from which it

The new districts also have to prove they will comply
with lawsuit settlements negotiated by L.A. Unified, even
though district critics and some activists have repeatedly
questioned the LAUSD's own compliance with them.
There's more, including retaining health benefits for
retirees and honoring collective bargaining agreements.
And the new districts, by statute, also would have to
honor the provisions of various district reform efforts,
including the LEARN initiative, which was supposed to
give individual schools full control over academic reform
but barely exists anywhere anymore in any meaningful

The Los Angeles County Office of Education must verify
the signatures on the breakup petition and compile a
detailed analysis of the reorganization plan. There also are
various public hearings along the way and a weigh-in
from the Los Angeles County Committee on School
District Organization. In some cases, this 11-member
commission, elected by local school district
representatives, can nullify the effort outright. Later, the
state Board of Education gets a look at the matter. When
the state board allows an election to move forward, it also
decides which areas get to vote on the proposal.

The process would normally take several years.

Critics assert that the LAUSD's arduous breakup rules are
designed to protect entrenched interests, not advance
students' welfare. The counterargument is that many past
breakup efforts, if successful, would have benefited one
portion of the school district at the expense of another.
And the disadvantaged would likely have included
minority students from low-income families.

Over the years, this argument has become harder to make
because L.A. Unified's student population across the
district has become more minority and more low-income.
This downward leveling would make it easier for
secession to pass legal muster. Still, there's no simple
logic by which to divvy up the district's magnet program,
for example, or the ongoing districtwide $14-billion
school construction project, which will take at least six to
eight years to complete.

Then there are the forces of history. It has been reported
that the last successful secession movement created
Torrance Unified in the 1940s. Not so, said Danny
Villanueva, secretary to the county's Committee on
School District Organization. Torrance Unified sprang
into being with the birth of the city of Torrance. It was,
for the most part, assembled out of land never part of the
LAUSD's jurisdiction. Thus, there has never been a break
of any major territory from L.A. Unified, Villanueva said.

The LAUSD and the teachers union rarely work so well
in concert as when fighting breakup efforts.

The union outspent backers of a 2001 Carson secession
effort 25 to 1 and won the ballot-box plurality by 3 to 1.
The district's employee unions always have been prepared
to use their clout to retain their clout.

But complex regulations weren't what finally thwarted the
last major breakup attempt, in 2001, in the San Fernando
Valley, according to L.A. schools Supt. Roy Romer. "I
was up at the state Board of Education testifying that it
ought not to happen because we are making progress,"
Romer said. "And we are. This is not a failing school
district. We are improving faster than other urban school
districts and faster than the state average."

Hertzberg cites a dropout rate of about 50% as evidence
to the contrary.

It doesn't help breakup efforts that the current Assembly
speaker, Fabian Nunez, was a lobbyist for L.A. Unified
before his election to the Legislature and that most
Democratic lawmakers are indebted to the teachers union,
as is state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

Hertzberg's staff says he may try to outflank both the
rules and the traditional rule-makers by persuading voters
to pass a statewide ballot measure, an increasingly
popular tactic among certain California governors with an
Austrian accent.

If Hertzberg does borrow Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's
direct-to-the-voters strategy, the union will attack
Hertzberg as anti-teacher and anti-student. That could
doom any breakup initiative — unless the governor were
to throw his full weight behind the idea. State Education
Secretary Richard Riordan, the former L.A. mayor, has
sided with Hertzberg, the aspiring mayor. The governor
— Riordan's boss — has taken no position.

Link to this story on the LA Times Website

• By John Rogers

John Rogers is associate director of UCLA's Institute for
Democracy, Education and Access (UCLA-IDEA)

January 2, 2005 - The California High School Exit Exam
is a house of cards that's about to collapse on 100,000
students. Beginning in 2006, no student will receive a
public high school diploma without having passed that
test. The state's theory behind the exam is that threatening
to deny diplomas, even to students who have passed all
their courses, will motivate schools to teach better and
students to study harder.

Here are some problems with this theory of magical

• There is no evidence that such threats work. The
experts charged with evaluating the test point to recent
(small) improvements in scores, but there is no way they
can attribute these improvements to the test threat.
Further, many thoughtful teachers believe that the threat
distracts from real learning and can even encourage
students to drop out.

• The test covers information the state says students
"should" know, even though it may not have been
covered in their schools. Part of the plan is that schools
will identify students who need help and provide them
with the extra opportunities and attention to pass the test.
Surely this happens some of the time. But "remediation"
is rarely a fair alternative to skilled instruction the first

• It's indecent to punish students for adults' failures to
provide adequate opportunities to learn, yet the recently
settled Williams vs. California case documents
unconscionable schooling inadequacies (undertrained
teachers, poor facilities, insufficient books) in schools
serving primarily low-income, minority communities
across California.

It may occur to you that you've heard these arguments
before. Didn't we already settle this exit exam business?
Sort of. Two years ago, the state was on the verge of
making 2004 the "drop dead" year for passing the exam.
But it became clear that educational chaos and human
catastrophes were in the making. So the test penalty was
postponed until 2006.

Yet structural problems still undermine learning in many
California schools. For example, in Los Angeles County,
45 high schools experience at least two of these three
fundamental opportunity problems:

• Serious shortages of qualified teachers (more than 20%
not certified by the state).

• Overcrowded facilities that house twice as many
students as the state recommends.

• Too few courses to allow all students to complete the
minimum requirements for California's four-year public

Do these deficiencies matter? It is not a coincidence that
students who attend the 45 inadequate schools (and will
have attended such schools for their entire education) fail
the test at roughly three times the rate of students
attending schools that experience none of the problems.

The recent settlement of the Williams suit promises to
address many of these problems. The settlement sets
standards for teachers, facilities and learning materials;
earmarks new state money so that schools can live up to
these standards; and creates ways for community
members to learn about school conditions and file
complaints when problems arise.

But these needed reforms cannot immediately undo the
years of substandard education faced by the class of 2006.
The exit exam shifts the blame for education-policy
failures onto the shoulders of students who have had the
fewest opportunities to benefit from good schooling, and
it calls that transfer "accountability." Denied diplomas will
not make up for denied opportunities.

Link to this story on the LA Times Website

UCLA/IDEA is a network of UCLA scholars and students, professionals in schools and public agencies, advocates, community activists, and urban youth.

• By Tony Chan

Tony Chan is UCLA's dean of physical science and a
professor of mathematics, and is former director of the
university's Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics.

January 2, 2005 - Any educated person would be
embarrassed to admit he doesn't know how to read, but
many Americans have no hesitation admitting they are
incompetent in math. Students who demonstrate their
talents in math and science are labeled as "nerds" and
castigated. Lawyers, doctors and businessmen as a rule
make more money than mathematicians and scientists, and
many prime-time television programs glorify doctors,
lawyers and police officers, but none yet incorporate math
and science in any meaningful way.

These cultural influences are powerful, so I was not
surprised that the results from two international tests of
mathematics competence, released this month, show
15-year-olds in the United States ranking close to the
bottom of 29 industrialized countries in their ability to
apply mathematics to real-life situations. This places the
U.S. just above Mexico and Turkey, but below Finland,
Hong Kong, France and Poland. The countries we beat in
the Olympics defeat us in math.

In the Trends in International Mathematics and Science
Study (or TIMSS), the U.S. appears to do somewhat
better, but this study includes developing countries such
as Ghana and Botswana. TIMSS shows U.S.
fourth-graders just above those in Cyprus and Moldova
and behind those in not only Singapore and Hong Kong
but also Latvia and Hungary.

As U.S. students get older, they do worse. By eighth
grade, students in Singapore, Hong Kong and other
countries have expanded their lead over U.S. students.
Given our system of local control of education and our
diverse and large population, with both cultural and
economic stratification, it is not difficult to understand
that the U.S. will not be competitive on average with
small countries such as Finland, which have a relatively
homogeneous population and centralized educational

Still, we must do better. Not only is math the foundation
of a highly technological society, math skills are essential
to function in a democracy. Understanding probability is
critical to evaluating the latest study about global
warming. Only through math can we assess Social
Security reform.

University graduates with math and science degrees
usually have more lucrative career choices than teaching,
so an alarming percentage of our K-12 math teachers did
not get their formal training in math or science. California
has recognized the need for better teaching and has
passed legislation providing funds for professional

Real change, however, will require political leadership at
the national and state level and the willingness of
taxpayers to pay for sweeping solutions. The U.S.
responded to the Soviet Sputnik challenge in the 1960s
and succeeded in sending men to the moon. Perhaps
China's meteoric rise in economic power will galvanize
our national will this time. Perhaps we'll learn to value
math and science before we're a superpower only on the
world's basketball courts and baseball diamonds.

Link to this story on the LA Times Website

• By Barbara Keeler

Barbara Keeler is a writer of state reading tests and
textbooks, most recently "Writing With the Five
Paragraph Model."

January 2, 2005 - Under No Child Left Behind, the federal education law, accountability depends on reading and math standards set by individual states. Problem is, the standards vary widely. A student well prepared to pass an exam in one state may flunk it in another simply because the tests reflect different standards.

What computation skills are first-grade math students
required to learn? In Indiana, it's addition and subtraction
with maximum sums of 20. In Idaho, maximum sums of
10; In Texas, maximum sums of 18; In Nevada, sums to
10; In California, sums to 20 and "solve addition and
subtraction problems with one- and two-digit numbers
(e.g., 5 + 58)."

What coins are the first-graders supposed to recognize
and value? In Oklahoma, it's pennies, nickels, dimes and
quarters, while in Ohio, all coins including the half-dollar
and dollar. Across the border in Indiana, students must
know their pennies, nickels and dimes. Ditto in Idaho.

These disparities remain in the third grade, when students
are tested under No Child Left Behind. A third-grader in
Stateline, Nev., has mastered this standard: "Read, write,
order and compare numbers from 0-999." Shortly before
the test, her family moves to South Lake Tahoe, and —
yikes! — she is expected to read, write, order and
compare whole numbers to 10,000. Failing the test may
hold her back, and her teacher and school would be held

A California student who moved to Arizona would be
expected to "read whole numbers in contextual situations
(through six-digit numbers)" in his new home. An Arizona
student who had mastered her state's standard — "add
two three-digit whole numbers"— would face a greater
challenge in California, which requires her to "find the
sum or difference of two whole numbers between 0 and

Put another way, she would be Harry Potter's whiz kid
friend Hermione Granger in Arizona but upon arriving in
California, she would become the dunce-ish Neville
Longbottom. Who should be blamed?

Link to this story on the LA Times Website

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. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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