Saturday, March 11, 2006

If you choose to believe the statistics�..

4LAKids: Sunday, March 12, 2006 | Part I
In This Issue:
 •  CONTROLLING INTERESTS: Politicians vie for power over urban schools
 •  DROPOUT RATES HIGH, BUT FIXES UNDER WAY: Survey shows 9 of 10 students had passing grades when they left.
 •  EVENTS: Coming up next week...
 •  What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
 •  READING TO KIDS: Read to some kids the second Saturday morning each month. Make a difference. Change some lives (including your own!).
 •  The Blueprint for Effective School Reform: MAKING SCHOOLS WORK � Get the Book @!
 •  THE BEST RESOURCE ON CALIFORNIA SCHOOL FUNDING ON THE WEB: The Sacramento Bee's series "Paying for Schools."
 •  FIVE CENTS MAKES SENSE FOR EDUCATION- Target one nickel from every federal tax dollar for Education.
Algebra isn't scary numbers; these are scary numbers:

A child of color born today in inner city LA has about the same chance of contracting adult onset diabetes as she or he has of graduating from high school. Whether or not you choose to believe these statistics is one thing; whether any of us can accept them is quite another.

� The chance that a Latino or African-American child in inner-city LA will contract Type II diabetes in their lifetime is 50:50.
� The chance that that same child will obtain a high school diploma is about the same. Flip a coin.

Folks are contesting the dropout formula; the diabetes numbers are undisputed �and growing.

LAUSD is working to address the drop out/graduation rate.

But all of us: Educators, parents, public officials and private-sector-policy-and-opinion-makers � local-to-national � need to address the contagion of poor nutrition and inadequate exercise that, along with an AWOL public health and health education policy contribute to the epidemic of diabetes and obesity and other diet and fitness related health issues in children.

McDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC, Coke, Pepsi and Gatorade are getting rich; kids without access to healthcare are getting sick. Would you like some fries with that?

America has the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art medical care in the world. Yet when it comes to the care we get and how healthy we are, there are huge disparities. California has the 49th worst dental health among children in the 50 states. A variety of factors are at play: ethnicity, age, income, education, even where we live. Throughout a special week of coverage, Public radio station KPCC examined THE HEALTH GAP in Southern California, and what's being done to eliminate it.


►SPECIAL HIGHLIGHT: Talk of the City � Dental Care for All? The majority of Latino kids in California have some degree of tooth decay. Many poor families have no dental insurance. In a live broadcast from the USC Dental School, TOTC discusses what's available for those without insurance, and what's being done to make dental care available for those who can't afford it. Tooth decay is emerging as the most serious health crisis facing California�s children.

More than 2/3 of third graders have tooth decay, and an alarming 26% of Latino children have rampant tooth decay � decay in seven or more teeth. Furthermore, over nine million Californians lack dental insurance, nearly twice the number of those who lack health insurance. To discuss what is being done to combat this epidemic Talk of the City travels to the USC School of Dentistry, host John Rabe is joined by, Dr. Harold C. Slavkin, D.D.S., Dean of USC School of Dentistry; Dr. Roseann Mulligan, D.D.S., Associate Dean for Community Health Programs USC School of Dentistry; Dr. Tim Collins, Dental Director, LA County Department of Health Services; Dr. Jorge Alvarez, President-elect Hispanic Dental Association Los Angeles chapter; Karen Maiorca R.N., Director of Nursing Services for LAUSD. The program features questions from Tenth District PTSA Health Clinics committee members Mary Toma, Mary Crute and consultant Carole Nese.

Talk of the City -- Dental Care for All (RealAudio)

▼smf opines: Controller Chick has just found out that LAUSD has had lots of audits and it hasn't made a lot of difference. She wants to do another one and she wants the District to pay for it �out of the textbook, teachers and classroom money.

►CHICK, SCHOOL OFFICIALS TRADE BARBS OVER AUDIT: L.A.'s controller repeats a demand for the district to allow an accounting. Romer rejects the idea.
By Joel Rubin, LA Times Staff Writer

March 10, 2006 �Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick and school district officials staged dueling news conferences Thursday in the latest round of their ongoing tit-for-tat over school district audits.

Peering out from behind nearly 1,000 financial reviews and reports conducted on the district over the last five years, Chick jabbed first, deriding the Los Angeles Unified School District for "a disturbing lack of transparency and accountability" and repeating her call for district leaders to allow her to perform a sweeping audit.

"Audits and reports are intended to bring transparency," she said. "LAUSD has used them to hide from the public, to obstruct and delay."

She repeated her offer to bring in a team of auditors to perform a wide-ranging, top-down investigation of the district's finances and teaching practices.

Supt. Roy Romer and school board members quickly rejected the idea, repeating their claim that the nation's second-largest district was already heavily audited and well run.

At a hastily arranged news conference, Romer rebuked Chick and said she had neither the authority nor the qualifications to evaluate the district. He compared her to a farmer he once knew whom neighbors resented for telling them how to tend to their crops.

"My point being: We really ought to look very carefully at what we're elected to do," Romer said. "She said that she is not an educational expert � but we do have educational experts in this district.

"Let me get this question off the table: We're not going to spend our dollars for Laura Chick to do an additional audit. We have enough audits done."

Chick has said an audit would cost the district between $800,000 and $1 million.

To emphasize his point, Romer announced that Education Resource Strategies, a national consulting firm, would begin this month on an audit of the district, focusing on possible reductions of the central bureaucracy.

Romer and A.J. Duffy, president of the teachers union, agreed to the audit as part of recent contract negotiations.

Romer and board members declined to comment on Chick's assertion that her call for a review of the district was unrelated to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's ongoing campaign to wrest control of the district from the school board.

►1,000 AUDITS, NO RESULTS: City controller says LAUSD officials hide truth in tons of paper

By Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer, LA Daily News

March 10, 2006 � After reviewing more than 1,000 Los Angeles Unified School District audits conducted in recent years, City Controller Laura Chick issued a report Thursday blasting district officials for a "disturbing lack of transparency and accountability."

Chick said the truckload of audits did little or nothing to improve the education of the 700,000 students in the nation's second most populous school district, and she reiterated her offer to conduct a comprehensive, independent audit that would provide recommendations for improvements and measure results.

"How could the school district make sense of these mounds of paper?" Chick asked, standing behind the mountain of reports evaluating LAUSD since the 2000-01 school year.

"Audits and reports are intended to bring transparency. LAUSD has used them to hide from the public, to obstruct and to delay. How have the children benefited from these reports?"

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa immediately seized on the findings, saying he would ask the state Legislature to order an independent audit if district officials continue to reject Chick's efforts.

"I think we have every right to audit, and if the district doesn't agree to an audit, I'm going to ask the Legislature to do it," said Villaraigosa, who has proposed a mayoral takeover as one of the ways to reform and improve the city's public schools.

LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer scheduled a news conference of his own in which he stood firm in his refusal to allow the city to interfere, once again rejecting Chick's offer to conduct an audit that would cost $800,000 to $1 million.

"We're not going to spend our dollars for Laura Chick to do an additional audit," he said. "We are the most audited entity in this town."

District officials said they spend $1.5 million a year on a state-required audit.

And it is exactly because the district closely audits its educational performances that students' standardized test scores - the ultimate measure of academic performance - have been rising steadily over the past five years, Romer said.

"This is the kind of specific work that we do to hold ourselves accountable," he said. "Eight hundred thousand dollars is a big thing in this district. It's money that'll buy a lot of textbooks, and I don't want to spend it on anything that's not going to give us something added."

Chick faulted the district's previous audits for not focusing on improving education - specifically instruction and learning - and noted that nearly three-quarters of the reports had dealt with administrative issues such as petty cash, budget analysis and contract reviews.

While Romer and school board members would not speculate on Chick's motives for offering to audit the district, many have questioned her timing, citing Villaraigosa's efforts to take control of the school system.

Villaraigosa said he did not believe that Chick was politically motivated in seeking an independent LAUSD audit and that he did not collaborate with her on the request.

And Chick - considered a Villaraigosa ally - said she has not taken a position on mayoral takeover, but believes Los Angeles Unified is badly in need of reform.

"At this point, after what I've seen, after the experiences that I've had, I'll say this: The current form of school governance, in my opinion, is not working, and there's no transparency and no accountability."

Allan Hoffenblum, a Los Angeles-based political analyst, said statements and actions by Chick and Villaraigosa are a classic political strategy aimed at appealing to voters.

"The mayor wants greater political control over L.A. Unified, and the majority right now of the school board and teachers union are pushing back on that, so what they're trying to do is a sell job to the broader electorate," Hoffenblum said.

"He can't do anything unless it's put on the ballot and the voters change the laws. This is basically part of a P.R. campaign to inform the electorate to try to get them to concur that the mayor should have more power over the district."

In her review of previous district audits, Chick offered no specific recommendations.

But she said she would like to analyze whether the district is using the best recruiting, training and retention strategies; whether teachers have adequate resources; and whether some administrative funds could be transferred to classroom uses.

But Romer said that, as part of the last union contract, district officials agreed to conduct an additional performance audit. He said officials have contracted with Educational Resource Strategies, a national specialist on educational performance, for a $200,000 study to recommend methods to increase short- and long-term savings.

Staff Writer Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

►AUDIT FALLOUT WIDENS LOS ANGELES, SCHOOL DISTRICT RIFT: Controller says her look at district's fiscal picture reveals a lack of direction. That draws criticism of Chick from school officials.

By Alison Shackelford Hewitt, Copley News Service (Daily Breeze)

March 10, 2006 � Tensions between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles city officials ratcheted up Thursday when City Controller Laura Chick declared that her review of LAUSD audits shows the district does not have a clear picture of where its problems are and may not be following its own audit recommendations.

At a press conference, Chick also repeated her request that the school board let her audit how the district manages and delivers educational ser- vices to its students -- an offer that has been refused several times. An hour later, LAUSD officials sharply criticized Chick at their own press conference, saying she is unqualified and too biased to conduct such an audit.

The increasing bitterness between the city and the LAUSD has been exacerbated by the school board's opposition to an effort by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to take over the district, which includes schools in Gardena, Lomita and Carson. Chick did not take a position on that issue Thursday, but said the district's current governance structure -- the school board -- doesn't work.

Chick said her review of the LAUSD's past five years of audits found a "lack of transparency and accountability" at the district. Despite going through nearly 1,000 separate audits, she said she could not find a clear overview of what issues the district faces, how it plans to tackle them or how it tracks its progress.

"There's no way to see if they made a difference," she said of the audits, the records of which she requested late last year after school board president Marlene Canter suggested Chick review them.

"LAUSD tried to bury me in paper," she added, a point she illustrated by piling the audits on a desk in front of her. She could barely see over them.

The audits waste taxpayer money, she charged, because the district doesn't appear to learn from them or follow their recommendations -- and most don't focus on the quality of education the district is delivering anyway.

LAUSD officials countered that while they gave Chick all the audits she requested, they use many other reports to identify and address educational issues. As proof they have a handle on that subject, the officials pointed to steadily improving Academic Performance Index scores -- a state measurement of school performance -- in many of the district's schools.

Superintendent Roy Romer pointed out that Chick has no experience in education and that she plans to hire an outside auditing firm with school expertise to conduct what she estimates would be an $800,000 to $1 million performance audit. In contrast, the LAUSD has selected an auditor with education experience who will begin a $200,000 performance audit in a week or two, Romer said.

"There is a whole lot of work that Laura could do in the city," Romer said, suggesting that the controller turn her attention to the city's budget deficit or improving services that the city provides to students.

Several school board members accused Chick of using the audit issue to gain political recognition.

"Any time any city official would like to contribute and help, we're open for suggestions," said school board member Julie Korenstein. "When it becomes a power struggle, when people are trying to somehow make a name for themselves and it becomes harmful to our children, that's really unfortunate."

Responding to the dueling press conferences, Villaraigosa reiterated his support for Chick's effort to audit the district. If the district continues to refuse, the mayor might ask the state Legislature to intervene, spokeswoman Janelle Erickson said.

Regarding Romer's charges that Chick should spend more time working on the city's budget deficit, Erickson pointed out that Villaraigosa and the controller worked together recently to find $30 million in savings, announced Wednesday.

"The type of leadership that he's bringing to the budget process is exactly the type of leadership that the school district needs," Erickson said.

CONTROLLING INTERESTS: Politicians vie for power over urban schools

by Brian Taylor, staff writer � from the Spring 2006 California Schools Magazine

"Locally elected governing boards represent the most fundamental element of a democratic society and are the basic embodiment of representative government."

Sound familiar? It�s not in the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution, but the concept traces its origins back through those wellsprings all the way to the Magna Carta in 1215, when King John agreed on the plains of Runnymede to limits on the power of the English throne.

Those first 21 words are the preamble to the California School Boards Association�s 2005-2006 Policy Platform section on Governance and Structure. �Governing board members,� as that bedrock document goes on to say, �are elected in nonpartisan elections by their communities to provide leadership and represent the community�s interests in the governance of neighbor[hood] schools.�

But that core value � not just of CSBA, but of public education in America � has been eroding. The seminal 1983 study, �A Nation at Risk,� brought welcome attention to problems facing the nation�s schools, but it also unleashed waves of often misguided reforms. Now, in a reversal of Progressive Era changes a century ago, when schools were taken out from the control of city bosses� political machines, a handful of urban school districts � along with their considerable budgets and job-dispensing opportunities � have been wrested away from elected boards and turned back over to big-city mayors. Fiscal woes often led to the switch, but academic achievement was also often an issue.

The trend began in Boston in 1992, when Mayor Thomas M. Menino�s hand-picked school committee supplanted an elected board of education. Other cities followed. Most notably, Richard M. Daley superseded two decades of fitful reform of Chicago�s schools in 1995 with a mayoral takeover that itself is now in its second decade. And Michael Bloomberg rode the issue (and a multimillion-dollar campaign chest) into Gracie Mansion, the official residence of the mayor of New York, in 2001.


In California, Oakland�s Jerry Brown and Fresno�s Alan Autry fell short in their bids for mayoral control. Brown won voter approval to appoint three extra delegates to the seven-member Oakland Unified School District Board of Education, but the board was reduced to an advisory role following appointment of an administrator under state authority in 2003, and Brown�s appointment power lapsed in 2004. Fresno�s Autry went to the state Legislature seeking the power to appoint governing board members, but was rejected in 2002.

Southern California real estate tycoon Eli Broad sought to revive the idea last year. Sometimes called a �venture philanthropist,� Broad and his eponymous foundation underwrite many efforts on behalf of public education. In this case, Broad sought state legislation to allow mayoral appointment of both school boards and superintendents in Fresno, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento. Shopping the proposal around the state Capitol, his representatives later narrowed the laundry list down to the first four cities.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District � the state�s largest � became a political punching bag in last year�s campaign for mayor. Former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg based his run in part on a vow to break up the district. He finished third behind incumbent James Hahn and Antonio Villaraigosa, another former Assembly Speaker, but those two adopted their own anti-schools strategies in their runoff election. Hahn sought appointment power and policies similar to Jerry Brown�s in Oakland; Villaraigosa was more vague, vowing to make the mayor�s office �ultimately responsible� for the schools without offering any specific plan.

Villaraigosa won the contest, but as he continued to study the issue other politicians jumped on school reform:

� State Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, gutted one of her pending bills to craft a vehicle for Broad�s mayoral control crusade. Only one city remained in the crosshairs: Los Angeles.
� Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick (another Villaraigosa ally) staged a press conference in December to propose that she conduct an audit of the district � and then demanded to see district records under the state�s Public Records Act just a week later.
� Assembly Member Keith Richman, R-Northridge, ended the year with his own call to break up the district into 14 to 20 smaller pieces.

The ground continues to shift in 2006. Romero, for example, has transformed her bill yet again, this time making it a vehicle for a state study of mayoral control of urban schools in general, with a focus on Los Angeles.

�Some folks in the Legislature want to do something,� JoAnn Yee, CSBA Director for Urban Education and Outreach, said with a note of exasperation. �The message they�re sending out to people is that all the people in the state should have the civic right to elect their school board members � except the residents of urban areas.�

Unfortunately, though, misguided reform measures often amount to nothing more than feel-good, quick-fix remedies that mistake bombast for meaningful change � while abdicating the state�s bottom-line responsibility to adequately fund the public schools and then let educators do their jobs.


And the Los Angeles Unified School District is doing its job. This is a district, after all, whose constituents gave the leadership a nearly $4 billion vote of confidence last November. Added to three previous bond measures, that gives the district � the nation�s second-largest � a $19.2 billion building and renovation program that will add 160 new schools and refurbish many more existing facilities.

LAUSD is also making progress in the most important measurement of all: student achievement. Like urban districts in general, Los Angeles started with a relatively low ranking in California�s Academic Performance Index, the foundation of the state�s accountability system for public education. But LAUSD has been on a steady upswing, consistently outdistancing the rate of progress in the state as a whole.

Elementary school scores rose 196 points � more than 37 percent, to 719 � from the first API assessment in 1999 to the most recent in 2005, the district announced as the current school year began. That nearly doubled the rate of increase statewide, which rose 19 percent to 755.

Middle schools gained 129 points � up more than 25 percent � in Los Angeles over those six years, compared to 90 points (14 percent) across the state. Los Angeles� senior high scores were up 90 points (16 percent), compared to 75 points (12 percent) throughout the state.

�These numbers show a trend over time that demonstrates progress in all three school levels. The jump from where we started six years ago to where we are now is impressive,� LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer said in announcing the gains. �It is clear that we must still implement programs to move up our API scores at all levels, but we are encouraged with the trend.�

There�s no need to rely on Romer�s word alone. An independent audit by the Council of the Great City Schools found much to praise in those results and others.

�The Los Angeles Unified School District has made substantial progress over the last five years,� the 300-plus page report said. �It has moved forward most noticeably in improving student achievement, particularly in reading and math. All of the district�s academic indicators are moving in the right direction: the API, the California Standards Test, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. LAUSD is now one of the faster improving urban districts in California.�


Or consider the findings of the nonprofit Rand Corp. in another independent study prepared for the Commission on LAUSD Governance, a 30-member panel established last year by the school district and the Los Angeles City Council; CSBA Executive Director Scott P. Plotkin serves on the commission.

Rand�s interim report, released in December, outlines some of the changes the district has made to boost student achievement:

� 2002: The school board adopts the Open Court reading program for grades K-5 and requires all elementary schools to use it.
� 2004: The school board adopts a full-day kindergarten policy; 374 schools now have full-day kindergarten.
� Also in 2004: The school board adopts the innovative Small Learning Communities Policy, which is being implemented throughout the district.
� 2005: The school board requires all students entering ninth grade in 2012 and thereafter to follow a college prep curriculum.

�To address the student achievement gap, the board has approved a district-designed action plan,� the report also noted. �This plan includes ... equal access to the highest-quality teachers and administrators, professional development for certificated staff on culturally responsive and culturally contextualized teaching, increased parent and community engagement, as well as ongoing (internal and external) monitoring and reporting.�

Those reports were not whitewashes. The Council of Great City Schools, for example, included nearly four dozen specific recommendations in its 307 pages. �In general, however, the council�s proposals suggest that a greater emphasis is needed on integrating functions than reorganizing them,� the report said.

Rand will update its report following additional research, but the interim version limits its scope to presenting a range of options for changing district governance, not making recommendations. The Commission on LAUSD Governance that requested the Rand study is expected to complete its own final report this summer.

That document will join an ever-growing stack of studies compiled on LAUSD. The district has agreed, for example, to an independent audit of its finances and operations as part of its new pact with United Teachers Los Angeles.

UTLA is a frequent critic of the school district, and it supported the mayoral campaign of Villaraigosa � a former organizer for the union. But it opposes a mayoral takeover of the district.

�I fail to see where replacing one bureaucracy with another helps the classroom teacher,� UTLA President A.J. Duffy told Los Angeles CityBeat, an alternative newsweekly. �If we�re talking, as the mayor does, about accountability, it�s easier to hold the seven board members accountable. ... They can be elected or unelected a lot easier than electing or unelecting a mayor.�



Which brings us full circle to the core value behind public education in America, the notion that this country will be governed with the enlightened participation of its citizens through the ballot box � a notion subverted by mayoral control.

�The fundamental question,� said Yee, the CSBA expert on urban education, �is, what is broken? And what is the relationship of the �fix� to mayoral control? ... What is it that we gain that could balance the loss of an important democratic principle?�

So you introduce some quick fix: �Then what?� Yee asked. �Ultimately, you�ve got to drill down to, what are you actually going to do that will really improve student achievement?�

Some would find answers in the winners of the Broad Prize for Urban Education, the million-dollar national honor that the Broad Foundation has awarded annually since 2002 to an urban school district that has narrowed the achievement gap among its students. Three of the four recipients so far �Long Beach and Garden Grove, Calif., and Houston, Texas, and have elected boards of education; only Norfolk, Va., has an appointed board, and that is named not by the mayor but by the city council, preserving at least a vestige of the broader, more diverse representation that direct election by the voters ensures.

In fact, fewer than a dozen of the nearly 15,000 school districts in the United States are under the control of mayors, according to Bill Ouchi, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. And the people who pay the taxes to support the schools like it that way � nine of out 10 oppose mayoral control, according to a Public Education Network poll.

But what about those mayoral takeovers in Boston, Chicago, New York and a handful of other cities? Did they bring about greater fiscal control or student achievement?

�The answer is, �sometimes.� And �sometimes� for a short term only, for long-term success is uncommon,� concluded a study by City Mayors, an independent group studying the problems of cities worldwide. �Mayoral takeovers are a relatively fresh phenomenon,� City Mayors� U.S. research data shows. �It can safely be said that changes of the order required to turn around urban schools requires sustained long-term efforts that are not circumscribed by term-limited mayors.�

In other words, the jury is still out in Boston, Chicago, New York and elsewhere � cities that, for all their complexity, do not face the unique challenges of Los Angeles� mix of ethnicities, languages, cultures, and physical and governmental infrastructure.

�Los Angeles has been making recent gains in achievement scores. The board is not totally dysfunctional and unable to do anything, and they�re building a lot of buildings,� Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education, business administration and political science at Stanford University, told the Los Angeles Daily News late last year.

�It�s not clear that they�re in the same conditions as these other cities, so it�s a hard call. They�d have to study it in great detail,� added Kirst, who also served on Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown�s team of advisers during that experiment in partial mayoral control.

As a member of the Commission on LAUSD Governance, CSBA Executive Director Plotkin will be closely involved in that study as the commission wraps up its work this summer. Plotkin is the only commission member with a statewide perspective; other members represent parents, teachers, the school district, the city and other communities within the district�s far-flung territory.

As with so much else in California�s tenuous atmosphere of politics and public finance, the outlook for local public school boards is cautious optimism.

�I know we�ll get through this political problem, and maybe this will end up providing greater focus on adequate funding for the public schools, which is at the heart of the problems of any complex urban district like LAUSD,� Plotkin said.

Political problems yield to political solutions, and politics is the art of negotiation, collaboration and coalition-building, the very skills that successful school boards � and mayors � need to develop. As Plotkin added, �True collaboration and building partnerships is much harder to do than to simply pursue the abstract notion of �taking over� the school district.�

DROPOUT RATES HIGH, BUT FIXES UNDER WAY: Survey shows 9 of 10 students had passing grades when they left.
By Amanda Paulson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

March 3, 2006 - CHICAGO - They're the kids who fall through the cracks, the ones who rarely get extra attention or tutoring - who, very often, disappear even from the statistics.

But high school dropouts are getting increasing attention as groundbreaking studies show how alarming the problem is. Nearly a third of high school students don't graduate on time; among blacks, Hispanics, and native Americans, it's almost half.

Now, a new survey, released Thursday, suggests that the problem, while deep, can be fixed. Most students don't drop out because they can't do the work. Nearly 90 percent had passing grades when they left school, according to the survey of dropouts by Civic Enterprises. Their major reason for opting out? The classes were too boring.

"We've gone in and talked face to face with kids who have dropped out of school. What they're telling us debunks popular assumptions," says John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises and one of the authors of the survey. "The problem is solvable."

Such findings will be key as states begin tackling the issue. Already this year, Massachusetts, Colorado, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Indiana, among others, are seeking to raise the legal dropout age or limit the reasons students can leave school.

Is it enough? A few experts question how much will be gained through simply mandating attendance, especially with often weak truancy programs and students who may rebel at the notion they can be forced to learn.

"The requirements for a diploma are the same anyway, whether a kid has to be in school or not," says Russell Rumberger, an education professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara who, like Mr. Bridgeland, emphasizes that the reasons kids leave school are complex and not always focused on academics.

While some drop out because they're too far behind, others are more worried about pregnancy, family issues, or dating trouble. "Any solution needs to be focused on the whole child," he says.

Indiana, for one, is looking beyond raising the legal dropout age. A bill awaiting the governor's signature mandates monitoring systems and offering ways for dropouts to complete their degree among peers, at community colleges.

"When we started this effort a year and a half ago, we got quite a bit of pushback," says Luke Messer, the Republican state representative who sponsored the Indiana bill. "But once people started to get a handle on the fact that the true statistics were closer to one-third of all students [dropping out] and in some school districts closer to 80 percent ... we've had broad bipartisan support."

Indeed, an accepted dismissal of the old ways of counting dropouts - under which most states reported 90 percent graduation rates or better - has helped spur action.

The tracking methodology is still flawed, say experts. Many schools require students to file paperwork to be counted as a dropout, statistically remove kids who enter prison or a GED program, or require that they have been enrolled in a school for a certain length of time. With sanctions for failing to improve test scores, some have even informally pushed low-performing students out.

Tracking dropouts is notoriously difficult, says Daniel Losen, a senior researcher with the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, "but you need transparency to this data, broken down by major racial and ethnic groups. You need to know what's happening with English-language learners, and kids with disabilities, and poor kids."

Dr. Losen wants to see a major emphasis on getting better teachers into schools, and also cites research that a personalization of high school - helping kids feel engaged and part of a community - can be a big factor in keeping them in school. Draconian discipline, on the other hand, such as suspending kids for dress code violations or truancy, can force them out.

And despite the myriad reasons kids leave, academics are still key - especially for students who enter ninth grade already several grade levels behind and have a nearly impossible job catching up.

"It is a mistake to treat the dropout problem as a fundamentally different kind of problem than other problems in our schools - it's a different symptom of the same disease," says Jay Greene, head of the department of education reform at the University of Arkansas and author of several dropout studies.

Professor Greene believes the only way to significantly lower the dropout rate is to raise academic skills - whether through accountability or school-choice programs.

The Civic Enterprises survey found that 70 percent of dropouts were confident they could have graduated, 81 percent recognized graduating was vital to their success, and 66 percent said they would have worked harder if expectations were higher.

The study, commissioned by the Gates Foundation, surveyed more than 450 racially diverse 16- to 24-year-olds in 25 different locations with high dropout rates, including cities, suburbs, and rural towns.

"These kids are telling us that they're capable," Bridgeland says. "They're interested in having more challenge and more engagement, and they painted a picture of what school ought to look like."

Those thoughts are reflected in some of the recommendations the report's authors lay out, including adopting a curriculum that's more relevant and engaging and helping struggling students get more access to support. One of the most important, they say, is setting up early-warning systems - things like frequent absences, behavior problems, and grade retention are good indicators that a student might drop out later - and assigning adult advocates to help at-risk kids get the support they need.

Most everyone agrees the issue is serious. Research has shown that dropouts earn an average of $9,200 less a year than high school graduates, and are far more likely to need government assistance or end up in jail.

Representative Messer's legislation requires potential dropouts and their families to go through an exit interview and sign a statement that they're aware of the risks. "This idea that dropping out at 16 makes any sense is really decades out of date," he says. "In today's world, if you don't have a high school diploma you're setting yourself up for failure."

Download survey: THE SILENT EPIDEMIC: Perspectives of High School Dropouts A report by John M. Bridgeland, John J. DiIulio and Karen Burke Morison

The prominent legislator was speaking to a group of high school parents. The Assemblywoman was brutally frank: "You fathers who think that your daughters are all virgins are either being deceived � or, as is more likely � you are deceiving yourselves!"

I am not attaching the full text of Maghan Daum's LA Times OpEd Column "Middle School Confidential". I am doing this in misplaced respect for the misplaced sensitivity of parents and readers who don't want to know about "it", think about "it" or talk about "it".

Middle School Confidential is about the dating practices of high school and middle schoolers. "It" is about oral sex.

If you are denial and shock: Remember back when you first heard the terrible truth about the birds-and bees?

"Not MY Mom and Dad!"

It's the same thing �from the other side of adolescence.

Click on the link below, you DO need to know!

If on the other hand you believe that "hooking up" is hanging out at the mall with one's friends ....and you want to keep believing it: Don't click!

Middle School Confidential

Note: So much happened this week�

�.even without addressing the solution that is really postponing the solution on HS#9 / 450 N. Grand / The High School of the Arts (more on THAT later!) ...

�that 4LAKids has been divided into two parts.

Part II follows.

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213.633.7493
Phone: 213.633.7616


What can YOU do?
� E-mail, call or write your school board member: � 213-241-6387 � 213-241-6180 � 213-241-6388 � 213-241-6382 � 213-241-6385 � 213-241-6386 � 213-241-6383
...or your city councilperson, mayor, assemblyperson, state senator, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think!
Call or e-mail Governor Schwarzenegger: 213-897-0322 e-mail:
� 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.

� GET INVOLVED! Click on the [LINK] below to send a letter to the California legislature encouraging them to fully release Prop 98 funding to the California schools.

"To the Honorable Legislators of the State of California:

"California is in a severe budget crisis. It is the driving force behind the decision to once again suspend Proposition 98. We as concerned citizens of California urge you to not suspend Proposition 98 or defer its obligations to future years. Education already holds a large I.O.U. from the State of California.

"The outcome of suspending and deferring Proposition 98 is that it does not provide California Public Education the proper amount of funding and attention it needs so that our children can be competitive in the future global environment. In addition, as the cost of living in California continues to outpace the national average, it is even more important that California Public Schools offer children a superior level of education in order to continue to attract top talent for California businesses. Without a solid state educational system, top talent, and their families, will seek employment outside of California causing businesses to either relocate or rely on outsourcing to find qualified candidates. Rather than compromising education, we, as concerned citizens ask the Legislatures of the State of California to respect and abide by the entire essence of Proposition 98.

"Thank you for taking the time to consider the issues of inequity and inadequate funding for public education. We are confident that you will do what is necessary to address these needs as you deliberate the use of State revenues in developing a balanced State budget."

Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent and parent leader in LAUSD. He is President of Los Angeles 10th District PTSA and represents PTA as Vice-chair the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and is a PTA officer and/or 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.
� To SUBSCRIBE e-mail: - or -TO ADD YOUR OR ANOTHER'S NAME TO THE 4LAKids SUBCRIPTION LIST E-MAIL with "SUBSCRIBE" AS THE SUBJECT. Thank you.  � THE 4LAKids ARCHIVE - This and past Issues are available with interactive feedback at

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