Saturday, May 06, 2006

A spectacular week

4LAKids: Sunday, May 7, 2006
In This Issue:
 •  STATE'S TAX WINDFALL BODES WELL FOR SCHOOLS: $3.5 billion revenue surge could help governor, too
 •  Podcast: DISAPPEARING DROPOUTS - Why are teenagers filling adult ed classes?
 •  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.
"The Los Angeles Unified School District just closed out a spectacular week. In the seven days from April 26 to May 2, the following happened:

� Thirty-two elementary schools won the state's Distinguished School designation, nearly three times the district's record for any previous year.

� Taft High School won the national Academic Decathlon, racking up so many points that, toward the end of the competition, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. The team won seven of the top nine awards for overall performance and dozens of medals for individual subjects.

� North Hollywood High took second place in the equally difficult and elite National Science Bowl.

� Fifty-two of the district's high-poverty schools won a state award for improving achievement.

"There are plenty of legitimate criticisms to be made � and they are made, here and elsewhere � of the Los Angeles school system. For each school that stands out, many more don't make the grade. But this week demonstrated that there are bright spots within the district. These are the success stories that show what the district is capable of when talented teachers, involved parents and hardworking students cooperate in a culture of high expectations.

"There will be many days to chide the schools for all the changes they should make. This is a day for sitting back, admiring and saying: Well done."

� an editorial in Thursday's LA Times

4LAKids is going to let the Times' Editorial Board have the first word this week because they got it right � short and sweet. An A+, a gold star AND a happy face for the District, The Times �.and mostly the hard working young people, the educators and the parents from those eighty-six schools. Good job.

Kudos also to the Times for the SCHOOL ME: Adventures in Education - a weekly column and weblog on education that rolled out Monday from Bob Sipchen � an excellent writer who is first a parent.

The good news about the State's budget surplus means that the Governor's May Budget Revise should actually show more-rather-than-less money for education. But watch carefully: School Districts had the "freedom" to cut budgets in the past few years wherever they wanted to �whether they wanted to or not! The legislature and governor are going to "restore" funding where they want to, to pet projects and favorite agendas. Cuts to classroom programs that increased class size will be restored to after school programs, cuts to school libraries will be reborn as textbooks. As Mark Felt infamously said to Bob Woodward in the parking garage re: other, deeper political shenanigans: "Follow the money".

And the charter community, the local politicanspoliticians and even the British Media are jumping on and off the Mayor's Takeover Bandwagon/Juggernaut.

�..the other piece of good news is that it turns out that the State of California stops taking roll in April, so all those kids who didn't show up (a bad thing) on May 1 for the Immigration Rallies (good things) didn't cost the District money!

The Times: "A spokeswoman for LAUSD said that the absentee rate was at 27% -- nearly three times that of the same day last year when only 10% of students did not attend classes."

ONLY 10%? The poor District can win for losing! An acceptable absence rate of ten percent is atrocious � though I have had teachers tell me they rely upon that rate because they don�t have room, furniture, books or time for the 31st, 32nd and 33rd students in a 33 student classroom! And many, gentle reader, are larger. �smf

SCHOOL ME: Adventures in Education - Bob Sipchen's new weekly column in the Times + a daily blog!

STATE'S TAX WINDFALL BODES WELL FOR SCHOOLS: $3.5 billion revenue surge could help governor, too

by Ed Mendel, San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer

April 29, 2006 � SACRAMENTO � A windfall of more than $3.5 billion in unexpected state tax revenue could help Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger solve a major political problem � giving schools money they say is owed under his broken promise.

A strong economy has pushed tax revenue in April far above estimates contained in the $125.6 billion budget Schwarzenegger proposed in January for the new fiscal year beginning July 1.

Now, as the governor prepares to issue a revised budget plan May 12, tax revenue collected through Thursday was already more than $3.5 billion above the estimate, according to the state Department of Finance.

The Proposition 98 school-funding guarantee usually requires that half of unexpected revenue go to schools, which would sharply boost the $4.3 billion, or 8.7 percent, increase proposed by the governor in January.

�There will be additional money for education in the May revise,� said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Finance Department. �How much is yet to be determined.�

The revenue surge could help the governor resolve a dispute that triggered a barrage of TV ads, financed by teacher unions last year, that contributed to the dramatic drop in the governor's popularity and helped defeat his ballot measures in the November special election.

Angry education groups say the governor broke a promise to repay schools when they agreed to a $2 billion suspension in the Proposition 98 guarantee two years ago to help balance the budget.

As a reminder, the California Teachers Association began running radio ads earlier this month that continue to attack the governor, who is running for re-election this year, for breaking his promise to give schools more money.

�This has been the thorniest issue that has kept sticking around to cause him political grief,� said Bob Wells, executive director of the Association of California School Administrators. �He needs it to go away.�

The school administrators and the California Association of School Boards this month joined a lawsuit that was filed by the teachers union last year to force payment of money they say is owed schools under the broken agreement.

Wells said the school groups met with administration officials last week to restate their position on the money owed schools. The education groups hope that Schwarzenegger will agree to work out a settlement of the lawsuit.

�Obviously, now if the revenue is this good, they have no excuse for not paying off the debt,� Wells said.

However, the Schwarzenegger administration is wary of repeating the mistake made by former Gov. Gray Davis, who was replaced by Schwarzenegger in a historic recall election nearly three years ago.

Davis spent a temporary surge in revenue from a high-tech boom that peaked around 2000 on permanent program increases and tax cuts. When revenue dropped to normal levels, the state budget was left with a huge shortfall.

The state has had a chronic deficit since then and has borrowed heavily, giving it the lowest credit rating of any state. In January, Schwarzenegger said the $17 billion shortfall he inherited had been reduced to $4 billion.

�We want to make sure that we don't spend money that we think is one-time in nature on ongoing programs,� said the Finance Department's Palmer. �Because that is how we got into the ditch in the first place.�

Wells said he thinks that the debt owed schools, now calculated by some to be about $3.2 billion, can be paid without future increases in Proposition 98, which established school funding minimums.

Last month, Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland, pushed through a budget amendment that some think could be a model for resolving the school-funding dispute.

Perata proposed a $500 million down payment in the new fiscal year beginning in July, with the rest of the debt to be paid off in annual payments of $270 million during the next decade.

Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Association, said school groups might agree to spreading out a repayment of the debt, but probably only over several years and with conditions on how the money is spent.

�I want to make sure that the money doesn't get lost,� Kerr said. �We need to do real things for the classrooms and the students.�

Schwarzenegger's January budget proposal contained a school payment, $1.7 billion, intended to boost the funding guaranteed by Proposition 98 next year back to where it would have been, if there had been no suspension two years ago.

What the school groups want is payment for the two previous years, when they say schools were underfunded because the governor did not recalculate Proposition 98 to reflect unexpected revenue in the year of the suspension.

�I think serious people with good intent could resolve this in about a week,� said John Mockler, an education consultant who helped write Proposition 98, which was approved by voters in 1988.

�This is the state of California,� Mockler said. �Let's solve the problem.�



By Dan Walters, Columnist � The Sacramento Bee

May 1, 2006 � The bottom line for any public education system is - or at least should be - how many of its young charges actually make it through 12 years of school and obtain high school diplomas that represent basic levels of knowledge and skills.

That may explain why, in the vast welter of test scores and other benchmarks, high school graduation rates are among the most difficult data to obtain. California officials say they want to know how many kids fall between the cracks but lack the capability to accurately track progress, or lack thereof, through the system.

A new tracking system is being developed that supposedly will provide the missing data. In the meantime, the Department of Education publishes high school graduation data that are, at best, guesswork, leaving it to non-government researchers to calculate more accurate rates.

The general conclusion of outside studies is that somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of California's youngsters don't make it through high school, with the graduation rates for African American and Latino youngsters - and school districts with heavy non-white enrollments - being significantly below the average.

The latest and most ambitious effort to calculate graduation data comes from the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy Research in New York City. Financed with a grant from Microsoft founder Bill Gates' foundation, the Manhattan Institute used sophisticated modeling to produce high school graduation rates for almost every state and for the nation's 100 largest school districts, including many in California.

Overall, the study found, the graduation rate for American high schools in 2003 was 70 percent, ranging from 88 percent in New Jersey to 54 percent in South Carolina (the District of Columbia and Hawaii were not included because of insufficient data) with California 38th at 65 percent. Graduation rates for African American (55 percent) and Latino youngsters (53 percent) were substantially below average, and girls of all races did significantly better than boys.

California's large school districts were all over the map. San Francisco (76 percent), San Juan (82 percent) and Elk Grove (75 percent) stood out, for example, while Los Angeles (51 percent), Fresno (58 percent) and San Bernardino (42 percent, lowest in the nation) were decidedly subpar.

New Jersey tops all states, according to a recent Census Bureau report of 2003-04 data, in per-pupil school spending at $12,981 and also, as mentioned earlier, is tops in high school graduation rates. But beyond that, the correlation completely collapses. New York, for example, is second in per-pupil spending at $12,930 but is 47th in graduation rate at 58 percent. Conversely, Utah, dead last in spending at $5,008, is 14th in graduation rate at 77 percent.

Some high-spending states rank high in graduation, and some do not. Some low-spending states rank low in graduation, and some do not. There's simply no correlation. In fact, 17 of the 25 states that fall below California's $7,748 in spending outperform California in high school graduation rates, including No. 2 Iowa and No. 4 North Dakota.

Clearly, money alone is not the panacea that advocates in the educational community would have us believe. Other factors - ethnicity, peer pressure, families, culture, English proficiency, curriculum, instructional quality, etc. - evidently play powerful roles in determining whether students make it through high school and thus acquire the fundamental basis for successful adult lives.

Tellingly, the large California school districts with above-average graduation rates tend to have enrollments that are mostly white and Asian American, while those below the line tend to have largely Latino and African American student populations.

Unfortunately, the political debate over education has almost entirely focused on money rather than focusing on those other factors and devising strategies to overcome them - if, indeed, it would be possible to do so.

Op-Ed by Leonie Haimson for the New York Daily News

April 30th, 2006 � Smaller classes have been shown to increase student achievement, reduce disciplinary problems, lower teacher attrition and improve parent involvement. In surveys, teachers say that the best way to improve instruction is to reduce class size. A recent poll of parents and education advocates found that the overwhelming majority wanted the mayor to focus on lowering class size. Yet classes in our public schools remain the largest in the state by 10%-60%.

In the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, the Court of Appeals concluded that our classes were too large to provide students with their right to an adequate education. But the mayor plans to spend only 2% of any money resulting from the case for smaller classes, and to lower average class size in no grade higher than third.

Meanwhile, an audit from the state controller's office just found that the city misused state funds targeted toward reducing class size, and had formed only 20 classes with $89 million. This means that each additional class cost the taxpayer $4.5 million. If city officials had actually used the money as intended, there would be only 19.1 students in grades K-3. Instead, more than 60% of these students remain in classes of 21 or above, and 26% in classes of 25 or above.

In our high schools, students are often crammed into classes of 34 or more. These huge classes directly contribute to low achievement and high dropout rates. A report from the Manhattan Institute revealed that our schools ranked third lowest in the nation in graduation rates. A national survey found that 75% of dropouts believe that if they had been given smaller classes, they would have graduated.

Last week a coalition of parents and advocates fought in court for voters to be able to decide this issue. Despite gathering more than 100,000 signatures and meeting all the legal requirements to put class size on the ballot the mayor is trying to block the effort. We believe, on the other hand, that all New Yorkers should have a voice in whether our children receive the smaller classes that they need and deserve.
Haimson is executive director of Class Size Matters, a non-profit, non-partisan clearinghouse for information on class size and the benefits of smaller classes in NYC.

Op-Ed by Andrew J. Rotherham for the New York Daily News

April 30th, 2006 � Common sense and research both tell us that if all else is equal, smaller classes are good for students. Unfortunately, in urban education, all else is rarely equal, and a host of problems hinder efforts to attract top teachers. So reducing class size without addressing teacher quality more broadly is akin to continually adding pitchers to your bullpen without worrying about whether any of them can even throw a fastball.

Which challenges should have higher priority?

First, education faces what economists would call an "adverse selection" problem. That means students with stronger scores on national exams like the SAT and GRE are less likely to enter the profession in the first place - and more likely to leave it within the first few years. Cutting class size won't fix that, and could even make things worse as schools have to find more teachers

Second, teacher pay is still overwhelmingly based on years of service and advanced degrees rather than specific skills, willingness to take on challenging assignments and performance. As a result, not only is teacher pay too low overall, but underperformers and high achievers basically earn the same. The United Federation of Teachers and the city are starting to take small steps to address that - but what's needed is a radical overhaul rather than tinkering.

Hiring, placement and retention of teachers also need to change. The New Teacher Project has found that in districts including New York City, collective bargaining contracts complicate teacher hiring, placement and retention. And rather than receiving substantial mentoring and support, rookies are largely left to sink or swim on their own.

Research is clear that good teachers matter more than small classes, and all of these problems are substantial obstacles to attracting and retaining top teachers. To get the most bang for the buck, teacher quality rather than quantity should be New York City's top priority right now.
Rotherham is co-director of the think tank Education Sector and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. He writes the blog

►WOULD MAYOR'S TAKEOVER OF LAUSD BENEFIT STUDENTS? Villaraigosa's takeover strategy draws inspiration from NY mayor, but some ask, how will it work here?

by Dan Laidman, Copley News Service | from the Daily Breeze

April 30, 2006 � Since Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa launched his campaign for control of the Los Angeles Unified School District, there has been widespread speculation about the potential effect on students.

Missing from the debate, though, has been the other side of the equation: What would a takeover mean to the city?

The mayor of Los Angeles already oversees a $6.7 billion budget and departments responsible for police and fire protection, parks, libraries and streets, as well as the nation's most active port, its largest municipal utility and one of the busiest airports in the world.

The mayor's team insists that none of those formidable duties would be diminished by adding oversight of the multibillion-dollar bureaucratic behemoth that is LAUSD.

"There's that old saw that if you want to get something done, ask a busy person," said Robin Kramer, Villaraigosa's chief of staff.

The mayor intends to add accountability for the schools without losing sight of the rest of his ambitious agenda by avoiding micromanaging and investing his trust in a superintendent with newly expanded powers, Kramer said.

The strategy echoes the experience of mayors in New York, Boston and Chicago, who have been able to juggle education along with public safety, economic development and basic city services by delegating authority to strong managers and using the bully pulpit to promote school reform, according to policy experts.

The mayor may even look for a superintendent from outside the world of education, Kramer said, similar to the way New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the surprising selection of former federal prosecutor Joel Klein as his schools chancellor.

Still, some political observers doubt the mayor could gain oversight of the school district without any sacrifice.


"It could be a major distraction for the mayor and the mayor's staff," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Government Studies. "He'll be using city staff to at least monitor, if not be involved in it."

Stern acknowledges, though, that Villaraigosa has displayed a high capacity for multitasking coupled with near-frenetic energy. Even one of the mayor's most daunting opponents on the school takeover issue, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, said he could likely handle the extra duties.

Goldberg, who has served on both the City Council and LAUSD board, is more concerned about Villaraigosa's failure to include a public vote in his plan for changing LAUSD governance, as well as what she sees as unfair attacks on the district's performance. Still, she said there are some important unanswered questions about the effects on the city.

"If you determine as mayor that there's not enough money, do you start taking money (for schools) out of the city budget for parks, libraries and police?" she asked. "Or do you take money out of the school district budget and pay for parks, libraries and police?"

Villaraigosa announced last week that he intends to support state legislation that would transfer control of LAUSD to a council of mayors made up of leaders of the 27 cities in the district and a county supervisor who would represent unincorporated areas.

With voting power weighted by population, the mayor of Los Angeles would be a one-person supermajority. He or she would approve the yearly budget and hire a superintendent who would take on many of the planning, personnel, curriculum and budgeting duties now held by the Board of Education.

There would still be an elected board, but the trustees would have greatly reduced powers, serving primarily as disciplinarians and liaisons for parents.


While the mayor is expected to offer more details in the coming weeks, Kramer sketched out how the change could affect his inner circle. Despite certain changes, she does not foresee a new department -- or even many positions -- exclusive to education.

"We might reconfigure, but one of the things we would be sure not to do is silo off," she said.

Rather, the mayor's staff would look for ways education overlaps with other city priorities, Kramer said.

In terms of the mayor's time, Kramer estimates that LAUSD oversight would be similar to Villaraigosa's approach to public safety, which involves weekly meetings with Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton to discuss goals and chart progress.

There would be "a lot of sweat equity" at the beginning, Kramer said, but she noted that a mayor's priorities and duties ebb and flow over time. For example, Villaraigosa currently serves as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, but that is a rotating position.

Some key officials remain hungry for more details, especially about the district's budget and the role of the City Council.

"Are we putting $11 billion in the hands of one person who would have full discretionary budget power?" said council President Eric Garcetti. "That, to me, would be an over concentration of power. I'm still open to everything but there has to be some separation of powers."

Kramer said the council members would be encouraged to augment current city-school district collaborations, such as enhancing student safety on the way to school and making campuses community centers. But when it comes to budget authority, "That would not be their job."

That could be the spark for political disputes between the mayor and City Council, said Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

"Those are 15 fairly independent people with fiefdoms of their own and political careers of their own that need to be nurtured," he said. "As much as they're with the mayor now, they're going to want some role -- and not just a symbolic role -- in how the schools are run."


In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley achieved control of the schools in the mid-1990s and has run them with little interference from his city's legislative branch, said Dick Simpson, a former Chicago alderman.

"It didn't have much effect on city government because he simply made the key appointments and had his people put in to run the schools," said Simpson, now a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has taken a similar approach, said Sam Tyler, president of the nonprofit Boston Municipal Research Bureau.

"He evidently has the philosophy if he's got a good superintendent and a committee he's got confidence in, he doesn't really have to spend a lot of time on that," he said.

In New York, there has been little effect on municipal services because the city and school district budgets were already linked before Bloomberg became responsible for education, said John Mollenkopf, political science professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center and director of the Center for Urban Research.

Nonetheless, Mollenkopf said that "if you compared previous mayors where they probably spent very little time on education, near zero, it's gone to a significant chunk of his attention."

One of Bloomberg's most significant acts came soon after he won control of the schools in 2002, when he sold off the longtime Board of Education headquarters at 110 Livingston St. in Brooklyn, an address that had become "an icon of bureaucratic resistance," Mollenkopf said.

Villaraigosa has traveled to New York to tour schools and has repeatedly cited Bloomberg as an inspiration for his effort to gain control of LAUSD.

In fact, in a draft of Villaraigosa's school reform proposals floated around education circles recently, one idea is to abandon the district's administrative stronghold at 333 Beaudry Ave.

"Nothing," the draft reads, "will be as symbolic as the move to sell off the downtown headquarters."


by Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer - LA Daily News

May 3, 2006 � Los Angeles Unified School District leaders have quietly been planning a meeting with the mayors of cities served by the district, while Los Angeles' mayor steps up his push to take over public schools.

Superintendent Roy Romer and school board President Marlene Canter have sent invitations to 16 mayors from cities including Hawthorne, Inglewood and San Fernando for the May 18 meeting at a restaurant in Gardena.

District officials said they hope it will be the first of many.

The meeting, which is not open to the public, will also include city council members from those cities. School board members David Tokofsky and Mike Lansing are also planning to attend, officials said.

Villaraigosa has not received an invitation to the meeting, said a spokesman for the mayor, but officials in Canter's office insist he has been invited.

Romer could not be reached for comment, but his staff insisted the meeting has been in the works for months and the mayor's proposed takeover of the district did not prompt it. The purpose of the meeting is to brief the mayors on what the district is working on _ including an independent audit to review the district's financial operation and administrative staffing, said Lucy Okumu, director of external affairs for LAUSD.

"They want to talk about when the mayors met with Villaraigosa and they didn't really agree they wanted any kind of mayoral takeover, but did want an audit of the school district," Okumu said. "We want to show them some of the audits that have been done. And the superintendent search is another big topic they want to talk about."

In March, Villaraigosa held a closed-door meeting with some of the mayors of the 27 cities that send children to LAUSD schools at which` he won support for his basic call for an independent financial and performance audit of the school system.

But city leaders stopped short of endorsing his bid to take over the district.

Melissa Milios, spokeswoman for Canter, said another topic of discussion will be the search for a new superintendent to replace Romer before his intended fall departure.

"This is the beginning of our community outreach phase for the superintendent search, and the opinion of the elected leaders in all of these cities is very important to us," she said.

Carson Mayor Jim Dear acknowledged that this is the first meeting of its kind to which he's been invited, and he believes it's directly tied to the mayor's push to take over LAUSD.

▲ It's about time. The Brown Act � which forbids secret meetings of elected officials and backroom deals - was never meant to stifle the free and frank interchange of ideas. That the LAUSD Board and Superintendent haven't been periodically meeting with the elected officials of the communities they serve is astonishing; that this will be the first such meeting in Gov. Romer's superintendency boggles the mind. What we have here is a systemic inability to communicate. - smf

►THE MAYOR TAKES CHARGE: Villaraigosa's plan is bold, but there is a very long way to go

A view from the UK from The Economist

27 April 2006 | LOS ANGELES | �We can't be a great global city,� says Antonio Villaraigosa, �if we lose half of our workforce before they graduate from high school.� The hyper-energetic mayor of sprawling Los Angeles is stating the obvious. A low graduation rate from the giant Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) feeds through into fewer skilled workers, more criminals and every social ill in America's second-biggest city, from drug abuse to broken families.

And the rate is low indeed. According to a study last year by Harvard's Civil Rights Project, only 45.3% of LAUSD students who started ninth grade (ie, senior high school, at the age of 14 or so) graduated four years later from 12th grade; for Latino students, who make up three-quarters of the student body, the rate was a mere 39%. School-district officials dispute the figures, saying they include as dropouts students who have simply moved away, but even their estimate�a dropout rate of around 33%�is unacceptable.

Much of the explanation is surely that in a system of 727,000 students (only New York, with 1.1m, is bigger) too many of LA's schools are too big, with too many of their students from deprived backgrounds. For example, at Wilson Senior High, a school perched on a hill above blue-collar East Los Angeles, the academic year started with well over 3,000 students. There are now around 2,800 (the number fluctuates as families move in and out of the district) of which some 93% are Latino, 5% Asian and just over 1% black. Only one in 200 is a non-Hispanic white. Factor in poverty (three-quarters of the students qualify for free meals) and family backgrounds in which English is often an unknown language, and academic excellence becomes an improbable target.

Add, too, the need for those Wilson students who come from central Los Angeles to get up in time for a school bus at 6.30am. Or the need to cope with pupil pregnancies (expectant mothers study in a separate annexe). Or endemic problems with drugs and gangs. No wonder, whatever the efforts of the 130-odd teaching staff, that only 29% of the students last year met the federal criterion for language and arts proficiency, and that in maths the proportion was just under 20%. It is perilously easy for any student, clever or dim, to fall by the wayside. And the same holds true in many more of the district's 858 schools, from the 431 elementary schools to the 53 senior highs.

The challenge, familiar to big-city leaders across the country, is to do something about it. Mr Villaraigosa's solution, announced last week, is to seek approval from California's lawmakers for a council of mayors from all 28 cities that fall within the LAUSD. As early as January the council would have the power over a six-year trial period to �wake up and shake up the bureaucracy at the LAUSD�, in particular by encouraging charter schools, which are free of the district's direct control. In other words, the elected school board will have its wings severely clipped and Mr Villaraigosa�because power on the mayors' council will be proportional to each city's population, and LA students make up 80% of the LAUSD�will be an education supremo on a par with Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago or Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York.

All this might seem politically astute: Mr Villaraigosa bypasses LA voters, skirts opposition from the teachers' union and appeals directly to a legislature in Sacramento where he was once leader of the Democrat-dominated lower house. Moreover, he has the support of both Fabian Nu�ez, the present Assembly speaker, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, California's Republican governor. But his plan is also potentially foolhardy. The scale of the problem is enormous; at the moment the mayor (himself a former dropout from high school) bears no direct responsibility for it, but under the new system he will quickly be held accountable for its woes.

The LAUSD establishment, including Roy Romer, the former governor of Colorado who is superintendent of the school district, believes part of the answer must be more resources. The representative of the teachers' union at Wilson, for example, says more money could go to technology, even though the school already has one computer for every eight students and, from this week, a super-fast internet connection. The principal wants more money to hire counsellors, so that there could be one adviser for every 200 students instead of every 400. Given that California ranks 44th in the nation in spending per pupil, compared with fifth in the 1960s, they have a point.

But money alone cannot be the solution. LA's voters have already approved $19 billion in school-construction bonds over the past few years, including almost $4 billion last November. Green Dot Public Schools, which operates five charter schools in poor parts of the city, points out that for every dollar of public funds the LAUSD bureaucracy manages to send only 60 cents to the classroom�instead of the 90 cents Green Dot says is feasible. What is needed, Green Dot argues, are small, autonomous schools that stay open until at least 5pm and require parents to volunteer their time. As proof, Green Dot points out that one of its schools, the 500-student Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter School, scores substantially higher on California's academic-performance index than Mr Villaraigosa's alma mater, the 5,000-student Roosevelt High School. Similarly, 80% of ninth-graders at the Animo Leadership Charter High School go on to graduate from 12th grade.

Mr Villaraigosa is clearly persuaded: �I believe we need to abandon the one-size-fits-all approach and give educators the freedom to innovate.� The Villaraigosa vision, outlined at a successful charter school in poor south Los Angeles, stresses more charter schools (LA has 86 at the moment) �both to give families more choices and to keep positive pressure on the school bureaucracy�; more parental involvement; more school uniforms; and more after-school activities.

Great stuff, but it would be naive to count on success. The mayor is married to a teacher and is a former organiser for the LA teachers' union�but that has not stopped the union, at both local and state level, opposing his reform plan, even though smaller classes, and subsequently a lower dropout rate, would create a need for more teachers. Mayors have taken control of schools before, notably in Chicago, Boston, Cleveland and New York, but the results have been mixed, and in Baltimore turned out to be so bad that 16 schools in 2004 were put on probation by the state board of education.

As for charter schools, they look promising, but the results so far are inconclusive. A 2003 study by the National Association for Educational Progress found that charter schools trail ordinary public schools; a Rand study last year concluded that scores in them �are keeping pace with, but not exceeding� those in traditional public schools, and do not show better results for minority students. For all the mayor's inspiring words, the odds are still depressingly long for the students of Wilson Senior High.


by Bill Siart, Guest Columnist � LA Daily News

May 5, 2006 � Amid the recent calls for bold reform and significant change at the Los Angeles Unified School District, there is one point on which policymakers should quickly agree: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ought to have the ability to approve charter schools, providing parents and students with expanded educational opportunities within the public school system.

Currently, the only mayor in the United States who can approve charter schools is Bart Peterson in Indianapolis. Peterson's sponsorship of charters offers some promise - and teaches some lessons - to Villaraigosa.

Chief among the benefits to students and parents is that the process of getting a charter is faster. A board of volunteers with backgrounds in education, business and academia scrutinizes the charter applications and advises the mayor. The review takes about three months - about one-third the average time it takes the LAUSD, and is still extremely thorough. All the charter board's meetings are televised.

Once a school opens its doors, Peterson's office checks in far more regularly than Indiana law requires. His schools receive visits from reviewers twice in their first year alone. Self-evaluations, surveys of staff and parents, quarterly financial reports and fiscal audits also help keep the schools on task. If a charter school is failing, Peterson can't point fingers. He's the one who let the school open.

Some schools have failed, but to his credit, Peterson isn't whitewashing his pet projects. His charter schools have been mostly successful, some extraordinarily so.

Among the schools are some interesting programs tailored to students with special needs. Two high schools focus on students at risk of dropping out. A hospital is developing another charter to serve adolescents recovering from alcohol or drug addiction. A school in the planning stages will have a curriculum infused with the arts.

Putting L.A. charter schools under Villaraigosa's auspices would offer opportunities to marshal the city's resources to support higher student achievement, healthier families and more vibrant neighborhoods. Picture grassy fields for recess during the school day and for-adult softball leagues on nights and weekends. Imagine affordable housing where low-income parents can walk their children to a charter school next door and then head to an attached community center for job-placement assistance.

In Indianapolis, Peterson has been thinking this way. To help charter schools overcome one of their highest hurdles - how to find and pay for facilities - the nation's first city-developed financing program is making $20 million in low-interest loans available to qualified schools sponsored by the mayor.

Granted, such synergy can be accomplished in Los Angeles without giving the mayor the power to grant charters. In the San Fernando Valley, a new complex of affordable apartments, an LAUSD-chartered elementary school and a community center recently opened thanks to the persistence of the nonprofit New Economics for Women. ExED, the nonprofit organization I founded to help charter schools, assembled a $36 million fund to help charter schools build campuses in L.A. County's underserved areas.

These initiatives took years to accomplish, longer than they should have. Our organizations could have reached our goals much faster with the mayor's involvement.

In Los Angeles, there will be much spirited debate on the mayor's broader proposals regarding LAUSD governance. Whatever one's position on mayoral control of the district, granting the mayor the ability to sponsor charter schools is an idea whose time has come.

The LAUSD and the Legislature should provide that authority, which would help improve all public schools in Los Angeles. We shouldn't bind the education of children with adults' red tape.
Bill Siart is a former banker and chairman of the board of ExED, a nonprofit organization in Santa Monica that assists charter schools.

▲The bad ideas just keep on coming. This is yet another proposal playing fast and loose with the State Constitution and the City Charter � both of which give exclusive governance of educational matters to the elected Board of Education.

� LAUSD has more students in charter schools (38,400) than Indianapolis has in their entire public school system (38,131).
� Charters can be and have been approved by the LAUSD Board; they have approved over 100 � more than any other school district in the US.
� In addition to approving charters Indianapolis Mayor Petersen also has the right to aggressively oversee and revoke charters, is Mr. Siart advocating that expanded authority for charter authorizers?
� Mayor Petersen's $20 million low-interest LOAN to charters sounds generous; is Mr. Siart suggesting that funding mechanism �or would he prefer the $120 million GIVEN to LAUSD charters under Measures K, R and Y?
� Charter schools � because they are public schools - spend the State of California's money. The LAUSD Board and the County Office of Education (which also can and does approve charters) are accountable to the state and are exclusively focused on education. The Mayor of Los Angeles is neither.

And please note this about all of these 'bold" proposals: They are always about The Mayor; never about the City of Los Angeles � the governance of which is vested in the Mayor, The City Council, The City Attorney, Controller, etc. No city agency or department is exclusively under the mayor's control with no other oversight � not even the actual mayor's office! But this isn't about power. -smf

Podcast: DISAPPEARING DROPOUTS - Why are teenagers filling adult ed classes?
A podcast from PBS' THE Merrow Report

Americans know the situation in our public high schools is bad, but it may be far worse than we think as school districts counsel underperforming students into GED programs to 'game' their own No Child Left Behind numbers.


SAVE THE DATES: KPCC's Patt Morrison - a one-hour magazine show airing weekdays at 2 pm on KPCC 89.3 known for its in-depth explorations of local politics and culture will tape a panel and audience participation program on PARENTS' THINKING RE: THE MAYOR'S TAKEOVER PLAN on Monday Evening May 15th for broadcast the next day � the venue is still undetermined, but check out the link below or next week's 4LAKids for the sordid details.

KPCC 89.3 The Patt Morrison Show

EVENTS: Coming up next week...

Wed. May 10 � Saturday May 13, 2006
Anaheim Convention Center
Phone: 213.633.7493
Phone: 213.633.7616


What can YOU do?
►WRITE YOUR ASSEMBLYPERSON AND STATE SENATOR [link below to find them]. Tell them what you think about their wasting their time, effort and the taxpayer's money on the mayor's attempt at takeover or makeover � an effort that is patently unconstitutional and will never survive a court challenge. Their time, the mayor's time, the board of education's time � all of our time, thinking and hard work - is better spent working together rather than at odds to continue and support the very real efforts at reform already begun. Their time is better spent helping LAUSD find a new superintendent, guaranteeing an improved funding stream for all California schools and helping kids in the classroom, on the playground; during, before and after school.

� E-mail, call or write your school board member: � 213-241-6387
- office vacant - � 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.

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.

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