Sunday, July 09, 2006

Random thoughts meet chaos theory; chaos theory meets LAUSD

4LAKids: Sunday, July 9, 2006
In This Issue:
FAMILY-LIKE PROGRAM OPENS BRAVE NEW CHAPTER FOR BLACK LA STUDENTS: Test scores rise, dropout rates fall since the Village began 3 years ago at SFV HS
HAVE WE FORGOTTEN CIVIC EDUCATION? Two centuries after Jefferson, social studies are lacking at public schools
EVENTS: Coming up next week: A REAL TOWN HALL MEETING!
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.
"There is a place in America to take a stand: it is public education. It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education after all is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny... It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape." —Tom Brokaw


"It is as if we expect border control agents to do what a century of communism could not: Defeat the natural forces of supply and demand and defeat the natural human instinct for freedom and opportunity. You might as well sit on the beach and tell the tide not to come in."
-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the House Bill to criminalize illegal immigration, July 6, 2006.


By Walter Moore to MS2 | Mayor Sam's Sister City

Friday, July 7, 2006 — Should we transfer control of the LAUSD's $7.5 billion annual budget, and the future of its 727,000 students, to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa? No. Here's why:

First, the Mayor has failed to produce a scintilla of evidence that he -- or anyone else, for that matter -- can do a better job than the LAUSD is already doing right now.

The LAUSD's graduation and drop-out rates do not prove mismanagement. Sure, those statistics may be worse than they were 30 years ago, or worse than other schools in other parts of the nation. But the LAUSD, unlike any school system anywhere in the world at any point in history, has been asked to educate massive numbers of children from a foreign country, who do not speak the language, whose culture does not value education, and whose families' economic plight requires them to spend their time after class on work, not homework.

Unless the Mayor can point to another school system with a comparable student body and better statistics, he cannot legitimately criticize the LAUSD based on its graduation and drop-out rates.

Second, the Mayor has expressly excluded from his plan the one element that supposedly improved schools in other cities that adopted mayoral control. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg required all schools to adopt the exact same curriculum. Besides assuring control over the content in the classrooms, this measure was intended to make it easier for children to keep up with their classes if their parents moved from one district to another. By contrast, Villaraigosa's plan specifically eliminates central control over the curriculum, leaving each school free to "do its own thing."

Third, the Mayor has neither identified exactly what changes he -- or his appointee -- would make, nor explained why the LAUSD is unable to adopt the same changes right now. Does he have any particular plan, other than to take control of the $7.5 billion annual budget by appointing a proxy? Or are we simply supposed to trust that his "vision" will somehow translate into concrete change at some point?

Fourth, this particular Mayor has no special expertise in education. It is not as though he has an advanced degree in education, or ever worked as a teacher. On the contrary, he apparently had his hands full just being a student. Under the circumstances, it seems more reasonable to assume that the LAUSD Board Members, each of whom has had a career in education, will tend to make better education decisions than a busy Mayor who is supposed to oversee the police department, the fire department, the airport, the harbor, etc.

Fifth, the plan does not increase accountability, but instead decreases it. Right now, the Superintendent is responsible to the Board, and the Board is responsible to the voters. The voters, in turn, can now vote for a Board Member solely based on his or her educational platform. Under the Mayor's plan, by contrast, the Superintendent will have two masters, namely, the Board and the Mayor; and individual schools will be accountable to no one, apparently, with respect to their curricula.

Sixth, the Mayor's plan would put everyone through massive upheaval, only to have us revert to the status quo in six years. Experimental programs are fine, but not when conducted on the entire 727,000-student system. If the Mayor has a few ideas about running schools differently, let him propose a charter school, and let us see how well it works before we hand the whole system over for six years.

Finally, the Mayor's plan would violate the City Charter insofar as it calls for the Mayor to take immediate and direct control over the "bottom" five percent of the schools. The plan is therefore guaranteed to result in expensive litigation, with taxpayers likely footing the bill for both sides as the City and the LAUSD "duke it out" in court. Nor does it make any sense to split these schools off from the rest: if Villaraigosa's appointee is going to improve the other 95%, then why not let the appointee control these schools, too?

Under the circumstances, the Mayor's plan deserves an "F." Reform for the sake of reform is a mistake. Public policy should rest on informed analysis, not a knee-jerk impulse to "do something." Unless and until the Mayor can show that the LAUSD is mismanaged, and that the Mayor can do a better job, we should focus on real reforms, like smaller class size.


This letter will be sent to Governor Schwarzenegger today. (Monday, June 26, 2006)

I am calling on everyone who opposes the Governor signing legislation giving control of LAUSD to Mayor Villaraigosa to join me and my campaign to unite Republicans in calling for a pledge to Veto the pending bill in the Assembly. Once on the Governors desk, for the Governor to Veto the bill.

/s/ David Hernandez

The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor of California
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

With both the California State Assembly and Senate controlled by Liberals, the Governor’s Veto is the only hope left for the men, women and families of California. But ability is useless if willingness is not there.

The people of Los Angeles County need your assistance. The actions of Mayor Villaraigosa, the California Legislature and the teacher’s union leaders supporting the mayor’s efforts to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District will result in legislation that takes away control of a duly elected board approved by the voters of the district. This legislation needs to be overturned and vetoed.

Governor Schwarzenegger, We the People of Los Angeles County ask that you exercise your right and duty associated with the Veto. We the People ask that you announce that any legislation regarding LAUSD that circumvents the rights and vote of the people will be vetoed!!

Mayoral takeover may be “bold” but it is destructive to the rights of the people. You yourself have quoted our US Constitution on many occasions and it is “We the People” not a powerful mayor and former legislator twisting arms in Sacramento to gain more power.

Please do not let this become an issue in your election such as that created by Gray Davis when he signed the driver’s license bill for illegal aliens.

One of the most exciting nights of my political history was spent with you on the Recall Election eve and your election as Governor. Every hour sacrificed away from my business and friends was worth it.

Please do not allow this mayoral takeover to occur. Please do not turn me and other Republican supporters into your adversaries.


David Hernandez
2002, 2004 Republican Nominee, U.S. House of Representatives, District 28


In a July 5th letter to Assembly Speaker Nuñez and members of their own legislative delegation – copied to the Governor, LA Mayor and the Board of Education — the elected representatives of the Cities of Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Maywood, South Gate and Vernon announced their opposition to the Los Angeles Mayor/UTLA Leadership sponsored takeover/makeover of LAUSD as proposed in AB 1381.

With apologies for the quality of the copies, the SCSC's letter and position paper is reproduced here.


Op-Ed in the San Diego Union Tribune by Trish Hatch

June 30, 2006 - Today, as the governor signs the budget into law, school counseling will be institutionalized as an integral part of the total educational program for student success. The Legislature has sent the message that improving the ratio of credentialed school counselors to students is a critical educational priority in California.

Today, the student ratio per school counselor in California is dismal. “The USC/UCLA California Educational Opportunity Report 2006: Roadblocks to College” indicates the typical high school counselor in California is expected to serve 790 students, nearly three times as many students as the average nationwide of 284. In California, 92 percent of the high schools have more students per school counselor than the national average. California is 50th among all states in number of students per school counselor. Many schools in California have no school counselors at all – yes, even high schools.

Today, however, as the governor signs the budget, a message is being sent. Strengthening school counseling programs in grades seven through 12 is essential to successfully preparing all of our students for their future economic potential and toward achieving the goals required in No Child Left Behind.

Parents, the press, administrators and the general public often wonder just what it is that today's school counselors do on a daily basis. Today's counselors are called on to provide a comprehensive and developmentally appropriate standards-based program for every student. They also ensure that all students receive intervention class work and career and personal/social development, so students can become successful learners and citizens.

Today's school counselors teach core content guidance lessons in the classroom and measure their impact to ensure that all students receive the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to become productive members of society. Typical topics are high school graduation and college preparatory and entrance requirements, financial aid, career interests and technical education options, decision-making and goal-setting, violence-prevention education, and making healthy choices. These topics align with the American School Counseling Association national standards.

Today's school counselors are vital members of the education team ensuring equity and access to rigorous educational opportunities for every student. They ensure that students recognize the importance of taking challenging academic courses and know that even when students struggle, they are more likely to do better in life if they are academically challenged and supported.

Today's school counselor recognizes that each individual student's planning meeting can impact the student's future economic potential and takes into account the variety of college and career technical opportunities and options available to them.

Today's school counselors are trained to recognize early warning signs in at-risk youth, and provide the prevention and intervention services and outside resources necessary to address those issues. Today's school counselors measure the results of their interventions and uses the results to drive program improvement. They also recognize that if a program or service is not working, that it must be revised.

Today's school counselors review disaggregated data to identify achievement gaps and determines what additional support a student might need. They intervene with students who are struggling (not passing the California High School Exit Exam, for instance) and provide interventions to improve their attendance, behavior, study skills, test-taking skills, and referrals to tutoring or other assistance.

Today's school counselor is a partner with parents in supporting their students' future success guiding them through the process of college and career/vocational educational choices and the decision-making necessary as they enter and exit high school.

Until today, California school counselors were unable to provide the comprehensive services of today's school counselor. Today, however, is a new day as the governor signs a bill supported by a bipartisan Legislature investing in school counseling services for California's students.

After today, California will no longer be in last place. The ongoing funding stream will ensure that every student receives the benefit of today's school counselor at a ratio that allows students to receive the support and assistance they deserve – one that will also produce results. An investment in school counseling will be an investment in our state's youth and ultimately in California's future.
▲Hatch is director of the School Counseling Program in the College of Education at San Diego State University. She is co-author of the “American School Counseling Association National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs” (2003).


● GIVE US YOUR POOR, BUT NOT YOUR SICK: Schwarzenegger and Democrats put budget-compromising over insuring 3-year-old immigrants.

Editorial from the Los Angeles Times

July 6, 2006 -- until last week, it looked as if Sacramento might use a fraction of this year's multibillion-dollar budget surplus to expand health coverage for more kids in California. But in their final budget negotiations, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature decided that it was better to cave to a small group of vocal Republicans who believe that sick 3-year-olds should be punished for their parents' actions.

There are an estimated 800,000 uninsured children in California. Half are eligible for state-provided insurance but are not enrolled to receive it, for whatever reason. Most of the rest are legal residents whose families earn more than the $48,000-a-year means-test threshold to qualify for Healthy Families, the state program, and about 120,000 kids are undocumented and largely poor. Many uninsured children — documented and undocumented — receive no care until they're sick enough to visit an emergency room, which by law must treat them. If more of them saw primary-care doctors, they'd stay healthier, place far less strain on county hospitals and save taxpayers money over the long haul.

Understanding that, 18 of the state's 58 counties, including Los Angeles, have been launching their own insurance plans for undocumented kids. These programs — most of which also are means-tested — are so popular that tens of thousands of kids are on waiting lists. This spring, the governor proposed to clear those lists by using just $23 million from this year's surplus. But neither he nor Democratic legislative leaders were willing to stand up to Republicans like state Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth (R-Murrieta), who believes that "it is reprehensible to offer services to individuals who come to California illegally."

What's truly reprehensible is that the immigration brouhaha is bleeding into so many other policy areas. This month, for instance, the federal government began requiring Medicaid recipients to show proof of citizenship because Congress is worried (unfoundedly, according to an inspector general's report) that illegal immigrants are perpetrating a significant amount of Medicare fraud. Now, 3 million legal U.S. citizens who don't have birth certificates, some of whom are poor and incapacitated, face losing their benefits because of anti-immigrant hysteria.

Cutting the waiting lines to the county programs offering better healthcare to kids would have cost $23 million in available one-time money. Covering all uninsured children of illegal immigrants who would otherwise qualify for Healthy Families if their parents would have come here legally could cost as much as $60 million a year — a lot, but worth it. Insuring all uncovered children in California remains a public-policy goal worth pursuing.

Schwarzenegger and the Democratic leadership were wrong to trade the well-being of children for political compromise. Hopefully the Legislature, which is expected to take up the issue again later this summer, will show more courage once the deadline pressure of budget-making is removed.


• DEADLINE LOOMS FOR CALIFORNIA: California has until Aug. 15 to come up with a plan to allow more students to transfer out of low-performing schools in its largest school districts. If the state fails to meet that deadline, the U.S. Education Department has threatened to withhold part of the $700 million it provides California for high-poverty schools

FROM National Public Radio | All Things Considered by Claudio Sanchez

July 6, 2006 • This week, the U.S. Department of Education threatened to withhold millions of dollars in federal school aid from California because the state has failed to help students transfer out of low-performing schools.

The No Child Left Behind Law requires that students in such schools be given the option of transferring elsewhere. But nationwide, some 4 million students eligible for such transfers did not do so, in many cases because there was no place for them to go.


In Los Angeles, some 250,000 students were eligible for transfers, but only a small percentage actually switched schools. Among those who didn't is Yolanda Decatur's 8-year-old son, Cameron.

Like many children in Los Angeles, Yolanda Decatur's three sons attend year-round schools -- a byproduct of crowding in the 800,000-student district. By 6:30 a.m. on a typical school day, Decatur has three bowls of milk and a box of Cap'n Crunch waiting on the kitchen table of her home.

Kyron, 5, is still in pajamas, watching Sesame Street. Cameron and Sexton Jr., 14, are dressed. Both boys have struggled academically, Decatur says, but it's 8-year-old Cameron who's having the most trouble at West Athens Elementary School.

"He goes through his tantrums," she says, adding that the school is too crowded to give her son the one-on-one attention he needs. "There's too many kids."

But it's not just the crowding. Decatur says that Cameron's teachers seem to have given up on him.

Last fall, she had nearly lost all hope of getting the school district to pay attention to Cameron's case. Then, John Mancino walked into the fast-food restaurant in south central Los Angeles where Decatur works full time.

Mancino, a management consultant by profession, with children of his own, says he became an activist because he hates the way the Los Angeles Unified School District bureaucracy deals with parents who request transfers.

"A lot of them have given up," he says. "They don't think they can beat the system. They've basically thrown the towel in."


Mancino's organization -- the Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education -- has filed a complaint with the district and the state. It accuses school officials of withholding information from parents about the district's transfer policies and discouraging them from even applying.

"According to the law, NCLB [No Child Left Behind], they're supposed to make it very clear and explain it in simple, easy-to-understand terms, and they're not doing that," Mancino says. The district, he says, is "burying" the information about transfers "to get around the requirements of No Child Left Behind."

Mancino says about one-third of the district's students were eligible for transfers this past school year, but only 527 students actually did so.

The school district has dismissed Mancino's complaint.

"We have a massive program of transfer of students throughout this district," says L.A. school district superintendent Roy Romer.


The L.A. school district has done everything possible to give parents options, Romer says, but it simply doesn't have the room for all of those students to transfer.

"We're 160,000 seats short. Where do you transfer to?" he says. "Give us some time. We'll have new buildings built. We're building them now."

Romer says the district is building 160 new schools at a cost of $19 billion to deal with the crowding. But, he adds, parents like Decatur have to be patient.

"I've got to say to that parent, 'We are making more change in the right direction than any other urban school district in California,'" Romer says. "You can't turn one of these things around in a month, a year or five years. It takes 10 to 12 years to do it."

That's not good enough for Yolanda Decatur.

"Tell my son, you look in his face and tell him he that he has to wait for a better school," she says.

She says parents like her feel that suing the school district will force it to act faster. "We have these rights to demand better schools for our children," she says.


There is no lawsuit yet, but there will be soon, says Clint Bolick, of the Phoenix-based Alliance for School Choice.

Bolick, a longtime advocate of vouchers and school choice, is working with Mancino and his organization to help parents in Los Angeles. He says he's convinced that the threat of a lawsuit will force U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to deal with the problem.

"If she wants school districts to comply with the law, she has got to make an example out of a school district that is in blatant non-compliance, and she could not find a better example than the Los Angeles Unified School District," Bolick says. "She's offered an awful lot of waivers to school districts to get out of from the requirements of the law, and she's threatened a great deal. But so far, she has not made good on a single threat."

Chris Doherty of the U.S. Education Department strongly disagrees.

"This secretary has made clear that she's unsatisfied with what we're seeing across the country, and she's taking strong steps to bring those numbers up to where we want them to be," Doherty says.

Doherty has been monitoring parents' complaints in Los Angeles and across the country.

Spellings "has made California aware that she's following this extremely closely," he says. "She's made every state superintendent aware that she's poised to take action, including withholding funds from noncompliant districts and states, if need be."

In an unprecedented move, Spellings has given California six weeks to come up with a plan that would allow students in failing schools throughout the state to transfer to a better school this fall.

If the state does not submit a plan that Spellings deems adequate, Doherty says the education secretary will withhold part of the $700 million California is due to receive this fall in federal Title I funds, which are earmarked for high-poverty schools. And that, department officials say, is no empty threat.

California officials told NPR that what the U.S. Department of Education is asking for is going to be a logistical nightmare: Every failing school -- and every school district -- where parents have tried, unsuccessfully, to transfer their children out now faces a six-week deadline to make sure those students find a new school.

California officials said lawyers for the state will likely examine the letter from Washington to see whether they can challenge the Aug. 15 deadline, because under No Child Left Behind, there is supposed to be a process in place that gives states time to review and appeal any complaint or lawsuit. This process now appears to be out the window.

Read the U.S. Education Department's letter to California

FAMILY-LIKE PROGRAM OPENS BRAVE NEW CHAPTER FOR BLACK LA STUDENTS: Test scores rise, dropout rates fall since the Village began 3 years ago at SFV HS

by Carla Rivera, LA Times Staff Writer

July 6, 2006 -- When Kandi Boyd was called into a school assembly last year at Cleveland High School, she had no idea she was stepping into an innovative learning program based on the old-fashioned notion that personal attention can make a difference between success and failure in school.

What Boyd encountered was an auditorium full of African American students, faculty and staff behaving like a family, talking about race and cultural attitudes, upbraiding one another when needed but also expressing care and respect.

The program, named the Village, was created three years ago by African American faculty at Cleveland High, in Reseda, amid some controversy, because it is aimed only at black students. It focuses on forging personal connections with students in a communal setting that epitomizes the African proverb "It takes a village to raise a child."

The results in student achievement that have followed have won national plaudits and are drawing interest from school districts in San Diego and San Francisco, and as far away as Little Rock, Ark. The program was recently adopted at Chatsworth High School, and the Los Angeles Unified School District wants to expand it districtwide. The teachers who created the program, meanwhile, are working this summer to find more resources to support their effort, which as it expands will be called the Village Nation.

"What's different is that students see they have someone to go to for help besides your classroom teachers," Boyd, 16, said recently as she prepared for finals. The staff, called the Village Elders, "really wanted to teach us stuff and had outside speakers come in who we could relate to. The message was that everyone has potential."

The keys to the program are tied to the teachers' abilities to establish a level of trust and rapport with the students, relate to their cultural traditions and convey expectations of high academic achievement.

"There's an engagement that goes on," said Village co-founder Fluke Fluker. "Too many of them are in a place, whether at home or in school, where they're not being heard."

During the school day, black students gather with teachers in meetings that are often laced with frank discussions about such topics as race, culture, relationships and negative media stereotypes of African Americans. About 315 African Americans attend the 4,200-student Cleveland High. Participation in the Village is not mandatory, but most black students attend. White, Latino and Asian students are not invited.

Critics — including some parents and teachers — have called the approach divisive and stigmatizing. They also say it fuels segregation on campuses that are often already racially inflamed. When Pasadena High School recently tried to replicate a Village assembly, some students and parents were caught off guard and complained that African Americans were being unfairly reprimanded for the same issues that confront other racial groups.

Those views, however, have been tempered by impressive gains in test scores, reductions in dropout rates and improved behavior among Cleveland's African American students. Scores on the Academic Performance Index jumped 95 points in two years, from 569 in 2003 to 664 in 2005, according to the California Department of Education. The districtwide average among all students in 2005 was 649, department statistics show.

In 2003, 36% of black students at Cleveland passed the math portion of the California High School Exit Examination. The figure rose to 81% in 2006.

Although Cleveland has shown gains throughout its student body in recent years, those by African American students have been greater than in other groups. Educators at Cleveland, backed by district officials, said they believe that the Village played a large role in those gains.

Fueled by these achievements, Cleveland was recognized in 2005 as a California Distinguished School, the first comprehensive high school in L.A. Unified to receive the award.

"The statistics are compelling and overwhelming any way you look at it, and you won't find gains like these anywhere in the country," said Bob Collins, the district's chief instructional officer for secondary education. "I'm aware there were some who complained and had been concerned, but I think they've proved the critics wrong."

The Village is the brainchild of life-skills teacher and coach Fluker, social studies teacher William Paden and school dean Andre Chevalier. They realized that the uninterested, low-achieving students they knew at school were actually lively and intellectually curious youths when the teachers encountered them off campus.

The educators were also angry and frustrated at test scores that perpetually showed black youths doing worse than other groups, often scoring below immigrant children with limited English skills. They held a meeting with other black faculty and staff to brainstorm strategies and then got the OK from then-Principal Al Weiner to hold an assembly.

Weiner "understood that as African Americans we could say things to these kids that he as a white man couldn't," Fluker said.

At one of their first meetings with students, teachers projected on a big screen test-score comparisons for white, Asian, Latino and black students, and those learning English as a second language. Many of the black students were shocked to see themselves at the bottom.

The Village has offered field trips, and guest speakers have included authors, athletes, musicians and businesspeople. On a trip to Pasadena City College, for example, the students heard a seminar on applying for college financial aid and listened to a panel of Chinese Puerto Rican rappers, said Beverly Tate, an assistant English professor there who organized the trip.

Meetings typically start with a poetry reading by a student, followed by robust applause, said Chris Chrenko, who just graduated from Cleveland and helped produce a video to promote the program.

"People will stand up and give their opinion; it creates a sense of community," Chrenko said. "You're not going to get rid of it completely, but overall there's less fighting and a lot less nonsense on campus."

After some initial skepticism, many parents now praise the program.

"My kids came home talking about the statistics and how low we were, and it hit them really hard," said Zola Chrenko, Chris' mother.

The experience at Cleveland, however, was not replicated at Pasadena High School, where a May assembly provoked a different response from some students and parents.

"They were taken out of their homeroom and missed nutrition and third period, and they were yelled at for being disrespectful, for wearing their hats backward and for the style of clothes they wore," said Jill Fernandez, whose 16-year-old daughter attended. "I think the concern was, why am I being lumped in? If you have 10 bad apples, deal with them. If white and Latino students are wearing the same clothes and using slang, why aren't any assemblies called for them?"

Assistant Supt. George McKenna of the Pasadena Unified School District defended the assembly and said meetings targeting other ethnic groups, including Latinos, had been held at other schools without incident. The program will continue at Pasadena schools, he said, but students can opt out.

The controversy reflects the sensitive nature of the concept and the need for careful planning and training of staff.

"I think that may have been a problem in Pasadena," said Village co-founder Paden. "It was haphazard and ill planned. You have to have talk ahead of time about buy-in. We've got kids here at Cleveland who've bought into it."

The relatively small number of African American students has also played into Cleveland's success, making it easier for teachers to get to know students.

"With the appropriate commitment and staff and extensive training, it can be a model," said Robyn Fisher, an educational consultant for the College Board, which administers the SAT and other assessments. "Not everybody is a Fluke Fluker with that same level of passion and commitment. Kids can see right through someone who is insincere, and not everybody who walks in the door has the same level of respect and credibility."

HAVE WE FORGOTTEN CIVIC EDUCATION? Two centuries after Jefferson, social studies are lacking at public schools
By Marshall Croddy, from the Los Angeles Times

►Marshall Croddy is director of programs at the Constitutional Rights Foundation, which, with the Center for Civic Education, helped establish the California Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools.


July 2, 2006 — In the early afternoon of July 4, 1776, church bells rang out in Philadelphia celebrating the official adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress.

Of course, the work of establishing the republic was not finished on that July day. Indeed, the nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" — to use Abraham Lincoln's words — will always be a work in progress.

The founders knew this too. By the summer of 1818, their generation was passing away. The survivors fretted about the future of their legacy and whether the republic would endure. They believed that each new generation must be enlightened by the principles of liberty and prepared to fight for the rights that had been won.

For all of the founders — and especially for the author of the Declaration of Independence — education was the key.

As early as 1779, Thomas Jefferson had written a bill in Virginia proposing a system of public education and arguing that history should be studied by all citizens. In 1817, he again proposed a system of free public education for the state and the establishment of a public university.

His attempts met with failure — except the last. The Virginia Legislature deemed universal public education too costly and unnecessary, but it did authorize the creation of a university and appointed a commission made up of 24 prominent Virginians, including Jefferson, to propose a location for it. The commission's members included two former presidents (Jefferson and James Madison) and then-President James Monroe. Jefferson spent the summer of 1818 promoting his vision for the university and for education in general.

To escape the sultry heat of the summer in central Virginia, the commission convened in the town of Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Jefferson came prepared and quickly persuaded the commission to site the new university in Charlottesville, near his home in Monticello, where he could keep an eye on its development. Before the commission adjourned, Jefferson agreed to write up its findings. This was soon published as the "Rockfish Gap Report."

In the report, Jefferson again proposed a system of publicly funded elementary education that would ensure that all citizens knew their rights and their duties to community and country. He wanted students of higher education to be well-versed in political theory, have a strong knowledge of law and government and have the skills to reason and debate the issues. Among other things, he wanted quality history and civic education.

Jefferson's university was built, but the Virginia Legislature again ignored the recommendations for a universal education and curriculum. Only later was a system of public education put into place around the country.

So how is Jefferson's vision for a sound history and civic education doing today?

In California, we have a comprehensive, history-driven social studies framework and standards for all grade levels. Every high school student must take three years of social studies, including a U.S. government course, to graduate. On the surface, things look good.

But in truth, social studies is no longer a priority in schools and has not been for some time. Most recently, because of the national No Child Left Behind mandates and the school accountability system, language arts, math and science are emphasized. Resources for history/social science in terms of professional development, materials and even instructional time are scarce.

This is particularly true at low-scoring elementary schools serving underrepresented student populations, where instructional time for social studies has been greatly diminished. A cruel irony, really: those least empowered and most in need of the knowledge and skills of effective citizenship and advocacy are the least likely to be exposed to them.

Recent studies demonstrate that our nation and state are paying a price for this neglect. The California Survey of Civic Education conducted last year demonstrated that despite taking a course in U.S. government in the 12th grade, graduating seniors' knowledge of the structures and functions of government and of current political issues is very weak. Students averaged only a little over 60% correct on a test of their civics content knowledge, a low "D" on typical grading scales.

The survey also revealed that today's graduates are not inclined toward participatory citizenship. Less than half of high school seniors surveyed believed that "being actively involved in state and local issues is my responsibility."

Given these findings, it should be no surprise that young people's trust in government is appallingly low. Only 33% of high school seniors said they trusted "the people in government to do what is right for the country," and only 28% agreed with the statement: "I think that people in government care about what people like me and my family need."

It is difficult to fault young people for these views and attitudes, and, in truth, a survey administered to adults might well bear similar results. Given the daily fare of political scandal, partisan nastiness and negative campaigning, why would young people be inclined to trust in government or become politically engaged?

Studies such as the California Survey have brought to light the need for a renewal of civic education in our nation's schools. These days, there are groups — such as the Alliance for Representative Democracy and the Civic Mission of Schools — working in every state to improve civic education and preserve the social studies.

As you enjoy your Fourth of July activities, take a moment to reflect on Jefferson's summer long ago in Rockfish Gap. Then do what you can do make the founders' hopes a reality.

CLICK HERE for news that doesn't fit

EVENTS: Coming up next week: A REAL TOWN HALL MEETING!


The United Parents of Los Angeles...

• NOT Green Dot parents
• NOT UTLA leadership funded parents
• NOT handpicked by the Mayor parents

- invite YOU to a town hall meeting, held in an actual LAUSD school that is the center of its community!


Thursday July 13, 2006

We will be hearing about Mayor Villaraigosa's plan to take over the LAUSD. We will hear from District Staff, LAUSD Board Members and community activists.

THERE WILL BE NO CLOSED DOORS – YOU DON'T NEED TO RSVP - EVERYONE - even Green Dot parents, UTLA leadership funded parents and handpicked by the Mayor parents are WELCOME!

Come and find out what is really behind Mayor Villaraigosa's proposal. Be informed!

• Map to Aragon Avenue ES

What can YOU do?
►CONTACT 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 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6383

...or your city councilperson, mayor, 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.
• FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. 4LAKids makes such material available in an effort to advance understanding of education issues vital to parents, teachers, students and community members in a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.