Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nobels & lemons.

4LAKids: Sunday, October 1, 2006
In This Issue:
HOW TO WIN A NOBEL PRIZE: Even Australian pig-wrestlers have a shot, if they work hard and are exposed to good schools.
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 @!
4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
Not every kid will grow up to win a Nobel Prize. A few years back there was much made of storing the genetic code of genius in sperm banks for later reproduction; now there's a study and a book and an op-ed ["How to Win a Nobel Prize"] with a much more plausible, scientifically-arrived-at and workable formula for genius.

With a study, a book and an op-ed comes the inevitable 4LAKids bullet points, distilled from the editorial:

• Above all what we need is a great public school system.
• We need teachers really committed to public education.
• Kids need time to think and to learn for themselves …and plenty of support in their formative years.
• "We were looking for exceptional kids ...and what we found were exceptional conditions."
• Nobelists are not so much born to greatness as they are made. To get to Stockholm, it does indeed take a village.

Things we already knew indeed …but seeds of greatness. Nurture them.

From the sublime to the ridiculous we change channels to the new hit reality show: "So You Think You Can Dance (of the Lemons)".

And from there to making lemonade from AB 1381 ["Times²" & "How Antonio Got His Groove On" - in The News that Doesn't Fit]. It is about time we all started trying to get along; I would say that the time should've been pre AB 1381 …but that train has left the station. Progress in education reform in LAUSD must continue as the courts struggle with the bill, described in "HAGHGO" as " a five-legged calf of a law" with a "proposed system (that) looks like a flow chart of Enron reinvestment strategies – rife with unresolved power blurs, confusions, and potential city charter and state constitutional issues."

Returning to Times², AB 1381 gives the superintendent, not the Board of Education authority to "sign big-money contracts for everything from buying plastic utensils to building schools." The infamous hours-long School Board debate of years past over "spoons & forks v. sporks" is summoned up from yesteryear by the writer — held while unsupervised bureaucrats either (choose your own metaphor):
1. ran amok (or)
2. were asleep at the switch at the Belmont Learning Center.

But do we hand all the authority for plastic tableware AND building contracts to one unsupervised bureaucrat? At least the Board of Ed misbehaves in open meetings ...and the electorate can periodically boot them out! - smf

HOW TO WIN A NOBEL PRIZE: Even Australian pig-wrestlers have a shot, if they work hard and are exposed to good schools.

by Margaret Wertheim | LA Times Editorial

October 1, 2006 - This week, the Swedish Academy will announce the Nobel Prizes in science: on Monday, physiology or medicine; Tuesday, physics; Wednesday, chemistry. The Nobels are the science world's Academy Awards, elevating the winners into an Olympian pantheon whose members include many of the greatest scientists of the last century. The prizes are given for work the scientific community has recognized as fundamentally important — theories and discoveries that change our lives, and not infrequently save lives, even if most of us would have trouble comprehending the citation.

When Alfred Nobel set up the prizes, his will said that they should be awarded for work done in the previous year. That rule has long since been dropped, and these days Nobels are typically given decades after the original research.

What does it take to get to this pinnacle of scientific achievement? Are Nobelists born or bred? And what might we do to enhance our chances of generating more of these remarkable beings?

Peter Doherty, who won the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1996 along with Rolf Zinkernagel, has been outspoken on the subject. Together the pair discovered "how T-cells recognize their target antigens in conjunction with major histocompatibility complex proteins."

I quote here from the entry in Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia. Their work broke fundamental ground in immunology and opened up new paths for developing viral vaccines. One of Doherty's many projects these days is as scientific advisor to a $30-million-a-year project to develop a HIV vaccine. Much of the rest of his time is spent researching the alarming new swath of flu viruses.

Doherty, who is an Australian by birth and by his laconic spirit, divides his time between the University of Melbourne and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. He recently published a book, "The Beginner's Guide to Winning the Nobel Prize," in which he offers forthright commentary on the Nobels in general, along with a charmingly homely account of his own unlikely path toward this pinnacle.

Speaking by phone from Melbourne in an accent reminiscent of the late, beloved Steve Irwin, he insisted that there was nothing about his background that might have suggested he was destined for scientific greatness. "Winning a Nobel Prize wasn't what I set out to do," he said.

Doherty began his career as a veterinary scientist researching animal diseases. "I was wrestling pigs," he said. Before pig wrestling, things looked even less promising. Doherty grew up in Brisbane, a place he describes in his book as "an isolated and parochial town in a country barely noticed by the rest of the world." (Brisbane has since morphed into a beautiful, cosmopolitan city.)

His parents both left school at 15. His father worked as a telephone technician, and his mother taught piano. Their lives had given them "no experience with higher education and no understanding of it." Yet, rather than seeing that as an obstacle, Doherty insists that, in many respects, his parents' lack of academic acumen assisted his intellectual development.

"If you look at the lives of Nobel winners," he told me, "what you find is that many of them came from these unlikely backgrounds — one-room schoolhouses and concentration camps." They do not necessarily hail from privileged backgrounds. What matters, he said, "is that you have fire in the belly."

Doherty believes that less fortunate kids may indeed be more fortunate: "You don't have parents who are so prescriptive in what they expect you to do and be. The individual is in a sense freer."

Critical to his own intellectual development were good teachers. Doherty attended a newly opened public school, Indooroopilly State High. It had no library, no books, no sporting equipment — "parents were expected to provide those things." What it did have were "teachers really committed to public education."

At Indooroopilly, and later in the veterinary department at the University of Queensland, Doherty was exposed to scientific ideas put forth by people who were passionate about conveying them.

If we want to create more truly innovative scientists, he said, above all what we need is a great public school system. Doherty noted that the New York City public school system has produced 25 Nobelists, five from the Bronx High School of Science. He believes such specialized programs are important to allow kids who are drawn to science to maximize their potential.

That does not mean hothousing. Doherty deplores the current trend of parents to try to create genius children: "It's no use hothousing kids so they just reproduce a lot of acceptable stuff. Kids need time to think and to learn for themselves."

Doherty's comments mesh with a number of studies that have been done on genius. No accepted measure of intelligence, such as IQ, has been shown to reliably predict who will achieve extraordinary things. What does correlate is persistent work on the part of the student and excellent teaching and support from the surrounding community.

Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago studied the lives of elite athletes, performers, artists and scientists. Every person in his study had taken at least a decade, if not longer, of intense hard work to achieve international recognition. Equally, they had good teachers and mentors and plenty of support in their formative years. "We were looking for exceptional kids," Bloom has said, "and what we found were exceptional conditions."

Like other categories of genius, Nobelists are not so much born to greatness as they are made. To get to Stockholm, it does indeed take a village.

►MARGARET WERTHEIM is director of the Institute for Figuring, an organization that promotes the public understanding of science and mathematics.

By Deepa Ranganathan | Sacramento Bee

Monday, September 25, 2006 — It can take years to fire a bad teacher. So some principals don't even bother trying.

Instead, they make a deal. The principal asks the teacher to look for a job elsewhere in the district. In exchange, the teacher gets a good evaluation.

Now here's the rub. Since there's plenty of competition for plum jobs at affluent schools, the bad teacher gets funneled to a struggling school serving a needy population.

School administrators call it the "dance of the lemons," and it's surprisingly common. More than a quarter of the principals surveyed in San Diego Unified School District, for instance, admitted to coaxing an underperforming teacher to transfer elsewhere, according to a national study released last year by the New Teacher Project, a New York-based nonprofit organization.

A whopping 47 percent confessed they had hidden vacancies to avoid accepting such teachers. Meanwhile, 65 percent of the district's schools had no choice, or limited choice, in filling at least one position.

New legislation could change that in California. Senate Bill 1655 may be the first in the nation to alter union contracts that protect experienced teachers but don't give low-performing schools enough freedom to hire the people they want.

The bill, introduced by state Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, would help districts snag promising new teachers early in the year. It also would give struggling schools the right to refuse bad teachers whose seniority otherwise might guarantee them a spot on the faculty.

"I think this is very, very much a precedent- setter," said Michelle Rhee, chief executive officer of the New Teacher Project. "This could have a positive impact, not only in California, but nationwide."

The bill sailed through the Democrat-dominated Senate and Legislature with enormous majorities, despite opposition from two party allies: the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. It now awaits Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature. A spokeswoman for the governor said she did not know how likely he is to sign it.

Several groups representing low-income and minority communities supported the bill -- a factor that won over legislators despite union opposition, said Russlynn Ali, director of the advocacy group Education Trust-West.

"That's really unprecedented, isn't it?" she said. "You had a group of advocates that represent poor kids and kids of color saying, 'Enough is enough. We've got to make some headway on closing the teacher quality gap.' "

The bill contains the seeds of drastic change. For one, all districts would be allowed to hire new candidates as early as mid-April without considering their seniority.

Currently, many urban districts must give their tenured teachers the first crack at vacancies well into the summer. By that point, many of the best novices have received job offers from suburban districts with less restrictive contracts, proponents say.

In a 2003 survey of four urban districts across the nation, The New Teacher Project found aggressive recruitment yielded a glut of job applicants from outside the district -- many of them new teachers who wanted to work with low-income students but "were left hanging in limbo for months." Between 31 percent and 60 percent withdrew their applications and went elsewhere, the majority citing the late hiring cycle as a cause.

"The longer you wait, the poorer the quality of the pool is," Scott said. "The suburban schools really are able to pick off better candidates."

The bill also would give principals in very low-performing schools -- schools that are ranked 1, 2 or 3 on the state's 10-point scale -- the ability to turn down teachers who want to transfer from elsewhere in the district.

Not all teachers who want to switch schools are lemons, to be sure. "But when you are a school that is low-performing and you are trying everything you can possibly try, you need to be able to build a staff that will work well together," said Vernon Renwanz, principal of Creekside Elementary in north Stockton.

Over the past six years, Creekside, a high-poverty school, has seen a steady rise in test scores. Renwanz credits his teachers' willingness to work together on schoolwide reforms. It's hard, he said, when the union contract forces him to accept a teacher who isn't interested in change.

"If you have someone who's uncooperative, it makes everyone uneasy," he said. "It doesn't promote the good teamwork that is essential for good performance."

Not everyone is a fan of the legislation. Barbara Kerr, president of the CTA, called it "premature and unnecessary," saying it would keep veteran teachers out of needy schools that disproportionately lack experienced faculty.

"The idea that a school administrator would have the power to block transfers of highly qualified and senior teachers -- that's very troubling, since many of those schools need experienced teachers," she said.

Kerr said a CTA-sponsored bill -- Senate Bill 1133 -- would do more to get veterans into those schools by offering incentives such as smaller class sizes.

Even proponents of Scott's bill acknowledge it's no panacea. The legislation deals only with teachers who seek to switch schools. Teachers who lose their jobs involuntarily -- say, because the district closed their school -- could still be given priority in hiring at any time and placed at schools over a principal's objections.

As for delays in hiring, the bill wouldn't do anything to speed up districts that are mired in inefficiency.

"I can't make bureaucracies more effective," Scott said. "This is not a magic bullet that will solve every problem. ... But this allows students to get the best teacher, not the teacher who has been subtly forced out of another school."

No analysis exists showing how many districts would be affected. But large, urban districts such as San Diego, Los Angeles and Fresno would see changes in some of the hiring policies spelled out in union contracts, Rhee said.

Locally, both Sacramento City Unified and San Juan Unified school districts have teacher labor contracts providing schools limited choice in hiring, with some priority given to candidates with experience in the district. The bill would allow those provisions to last only until April each year. The legislation would take effect as existing union contracts expire.

►An 'editorialization' of the above article appeared in the Sept 27 Daily News; a reader responds:


Your editorial "Dance of the lemons" (Sept. 27) seems to accept the premise that the goal of schools is to enable students to pass standardized tests. Thus, the teacher that can inspire young minds to think creatively, to go beyond Newspeak, is considered a "lemon," while those that follow the path of pablum indoctrination laid down by the Bush regime are the "educational" shining stars of the Fourth Reich.
The purge of intellectual activity in the public schools that began with expansion of standardized tests in the 1960s, furthered by Ritalin and other chemical toxins, and accelerated by "No Standardized Test Left Behind," thus advances another goose step thanks to the California Legislature and "Herr Goobernator."

— Terry L. Clark, Arcata


►FEUD OVER L.A. MAYOR'S TAKEOVER OF SCHOOLS IS PUBLIC ONLY: Villaraigosa and district prepare for court battle over takeover law. But privately the rivals are working together.

By Howard Blume and Duke Helfand, LA Times Staff Writers

September 29, 2006 — Even as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and school district officials prepare to wage war in court, senior aides on both sides are quietly laying the groundwork for a future partnership and collaborating on major initiatives, including a system to track dropouts.

The mayor's office also, for the first time, released a list of 19 low-performing high schools Thursday from which Villaraigosa ultimately would choose three to oversee directly.

Villaraigosa will manage those high schools, and the elementary schools and middle schools that feed them, as part of legislation that gives him substantial authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But before he does, the new law faces an expected court challenge, the latest round in a frequently hostile relationship between the leadership of the school district and a mayor who has repeatedly labeled L.A. Unified as "failing."

Yet on Thursday, the mayor's top education advisor revealed a major arena of blossoming collaboration.

"The district has been very, very cooperative," Deputy Mayor Ramon C. Cortines said. "We're very close to agreeing with the district on a coding process on dropouts. I hope to have a report to review in a few weeks."

The result, he said, would be a system to track dropouts that would be far ahead of other school systems and what the state requires.

Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer said he had directed top aides and administrators to work closely with city officials.

"We must not continue the battle of us versus them," Romer told Times reporters and editors Thursday.

Speaking later in the day, he spoke about the cooperation over dropouts, while also insisting that the district already was working on a better tracking system as part of its dropout prevention initiative.

"This is not something they have come over and caused us now to do," Romer said. "We really are trying to work with them. We want to do this with their understanding, and if they have anything to assist us, we're happy to have that."

Romer's staffers said they got the message. Assistant Supt. Esther Wong, who oversees the district's data analysis branch, is spearheading the effort to develop the tracking system.

"This is new and significant," she said.

"And it's going to be something we're going to agree on," said Bob Collins, chief instructional officer for the district's secondary schools, who has a Monday meeting in the mayor's office.

"It's going to be powerful," he said.

Romer said he also would be meeting with Cortines over which schools should become part of the mayor's cluster.

Campuses under consideration are in four distinct regions of the sprawling school system: South Los Angeles, central city-Westside, the Eastside and the San Fernando Valley.

The school district says the mayor's office has requested detailed information on six schools: Crenshaw and Dorsey in South L.A., Monroe and Sylmar in the Valley, Roosevelt in Boyle Heights and Belmont near downtown. The mayor's office said all 19 remained in play.

Romer said it was premature to make final decisions.

"We need to clarify the constitutionality of this cluster idea before we get everybody unsettled about it," he said, referring to the impending lawsuit.

The school board and the mayor's office also remain at odds over the replacement for Romer, who is retiring. Cortines on Wednesday reiterated the mayor's request for full inclusion in evaluating all applicants, the mayor's office said.

District officials are so far moving forward with a confidential screening process. Still, the district and the mayor's office are cooperating on a school safety initiative.

And over the summer the two sides joined forces on a summer jobs program for 650 students who attended summer school.

"Regardless of the legislation, it behooves L.A. Unified to have partnerships with the mayor," school board President Marlene Canter said.

Much has been made of the mayor's authority, but the superintendent may hold more clout than ever. Some fear confusion and conflict.
By Howard Blume
Times Staff Writer

September 30, 2006

The next superintendent of Los Angeles schools is likely to be the most powerful schools chief in the history of the system. This CEO, who runs an agency larger than the city of Los Angeles, won't need anyone's permission to hire senior staff, bring on consultants and sign big-money contracts for everything from buying plastic utensils to building schools. And the new superintendent will be much more difficult to fire.

While most attention has been focused on increased powers granted to the mayor in legislation signed into law recently, the changes it makes to the superintendent's role are just as sweeping.

This new reality will begin Jan. 1, pending an expected legal challenge, and is among the more experimental aspects of the reform plan advanced by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Critics have long maintained that the Los Angeles Unified School District's superintendent has been hampered by micromanaging from board members beholden to the constituents who elected them. And a remedy was very intentionally built into the Villaraigosa-backed legislation.

The next superintendent will have "more executive authority," said Thomas Saenz, counsel to the mayor and a primary architect of the new order. "This superintendent will be more of a CEO, with the ability to manage day-to-day operations without interference from the school board."

The role of the superintendent is especially important now that current schools chief Roy Romer, 77, has announced that he wants to retire as soon as a successor can be chosen. The selection process is well underway — a search committee met in private last weekend and plans to meet again today to interview candidates. A shortlist of finalists is expected to be forwarded to the school board next week.

Some observers have wondered why anyone would want a job that is not only impossibly difficult but suddenly a political minefield as well, with the mayor and the school board at odds. But Romer proved over the last six years that progress is possible, and his successor will have more muscle than he did.

Until now, the elected seven-member board has been the superintendent's boss. Given shifting alliances, even a request from one board member was something a superintendent would pay attention to.

Under the new law, Assembly Bill 1381, the superintendent has the power to make more decisions without heeding board input.

The superintendent's expanded jurisdiction applies to running the school-construction program, hiring senior management staff, seeking state waivers for new programs, assigning principals, signing contracts and making necessary but routine budget actions.

"I'm not sure that it's enough power, but it's certainly an improvement," said Caprice Young, who heads the California Charter Schools Assn. and was a member of the school board that hired Romer.

She recalled Romer's having to spend "60 to 70% of the time in school board meetings or preparing for meetings." The next superintendent will have "more power over the things that matter while the school board focuses on governance issues rather than sporks versus forks — or plastic pouches versus wax carton juice boxes."

Board members could, of course, continue to discuss any budget item or any contract, and request any information. But board members would have no greater legal claim than an ordinary citizen for detailed budget information. And except with major budget categories, the superintendent would not have to obey the board's wishes on how to spend the money.

Romer has some enhanced authority through his personal employment contract — especially when it comes to managing the building of 160 new schools. Officials wanted the district to respond quickly to construction bids in a tight market, so Romer can approve a project as large as $45 million and then get official board consent later.

He also can approve contracts up $250,000 without advance permission from board members.

The new rules make such authority — and then some — a matter of permanent law, not changeable policy.

But is this framework an overcorrection? Has the mayor created an unaccountable superintendent?

To address this concern, the mayor's team refined the role of the school district's inspector general. District officials already choose to employ an inspector general as an official watchdog. Under the new law, having an inspector general remains voluntary, but the board cannot trim his budget or terminate his contract without cause.

"Now there is a very, very strong incentive for the school board members to hire an inspector general," said Saenz, of the mayor's office. "Without one, they have much more restricted access to information about contracting."

Romer said this approach asks too much of the inspector general, whose job "is to look for a certain kind of fraud and abuse."

When it comes to evaluating the decisions of the superintendent, the ultimate and appropriate authority should be the mayor, said Saenz.

"First and foremost, the superintendent will answer to the mayor," he said. "This will be an improved system because instead of a shifting [board] majority of four that essentially determines what the superintendent is going to do, an individual dominant voice — the mayor's — has been added. The superintendent will have no difficulty deciding: 'Who is the one voice I should listen to?' "

That might be how things will work, especially under a mayor with the political skills of Villaraigosa, but such dominance is not explicit in the law. To fire the next superintendent, for example, would first require a majority decision of the school board. Then the decision would proceed to the new council of mayors, on which Villaraigosa will sit along with representatives from 26 other cities and the five county supervisors. Villaraigosa will control 80% of the vote because 80% of the school district is within the city of Los Angeles. But it would require a 90% tally to confirm the sacking.

Thus, firing the superintendent would require the concurrence of numerous elected officials from assorted jurisdictions.

The same scenario applies to the hiring of superintendents as of Jan. 1, but that's not how Romer's successor will be selected. That process is going forward under the old system — with the school board firmly in charge. This timing has created consternation in City Hall, where the mayor insists on an immediate role. But until the law takes effect, Villaraigosa remains on the outside looking in — and his new law is likely to make the board's choice harder for him to supplant.

Some parts of the law add complexity and uncertainty to the new power equation. The cities of southeast L.A. County, for example, will have veto power over the person the superintendent chooses to run their particular region of schools. The provision was part of a compromise to win the votes of legislators from that area.

"That is a breathtaking loss of autonomy for superintendent," said district general counsel Kevin Reed, "that he has to consult with city councils before he can make an appointment that is so key to his academic program."

In Reed's view, the new authority is outweighed by the potential for confusion and divisiveness. He noted that the bill retains for the school board the responsibility of collective bargaining with unions: "So the superintendent controls the budget, but the school board controls collective bargaining."

There are also other splits of power. The superintendent controls most decisions over school construction, but not the power to force the sale of private property for school construction. That stills rests with the board.

There also are potential contradictions: The bill grants the superintendent specific authority to assign principals, but in another section keeps jurisdiction over union employees with the board — and principals belong to a union. The bill also talks of promulgating more local control, including the right of school communities to choose their own principal.

The teachers union — which joined with the mayor on his legislation — exercised substantial influence on where the superintendent's new powers are limited. The schools chief cannot, for example, alter union work rules — which some critics cast as an impediment to reform. Those critics worry that the superintendent will have supreme day-to-day authority over the mundane but would be handcuffed in advancing transformative change.

Despite the more powerful superintendent, union leaders insist the law also enables them to push successfully for local control of schools.

A self-described union ally on the school board disagreed.

"UTLA has signed on to have an even more powerful superintendent," said Jon Lauritzen. "And yet, they've been arguing consistently that Roy Romer is too powerful."

School district attorney Reed foresees trouble ahead.

"All we can do is pray that we have smart and wise people on the school board and in the person of the superintendent," he said. "This splitting of accountability and authority creates an opportunity for conflict and tension."


ANA BEATRIZ CHOLO | Associated Press | San Jose Mercury News

Sep. 30, 2006 - SAN DIEGO - Oscar Sandoval wanted to learn how to fix cars, but his high school's auto shop long ago became a student health clinic.

He couldn't transfer schools so he eventually resigned himself to tinkering at home.

"Just because I don't live in that area doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to take it," complained Sandoval, now a senior at large and urban Hoover High School.

Vocational education classes, once commonplace, began to languish as standardized tests started to determine success and failure and college became a singular goal. Now called career technical education courses, they are beginning to enjoy a renaissance, at least in interest if not yet in enrollment.

Legislators from North Carolina to Florida are reviving programs gutted years ago. In California, the movement is also gaining momentum, thanks in part to support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a 2006 state budget that includes $100 million for program expansion.

Congress also has voted to reauthorize $1.8 billion in aid for high schools, community colleges and technical schools that President Bush had pushed to eliminate so more funds could be steered toward reading and math courses.

At Sandoval's Hoover High, Principal Doug Williams is committed to bringing back auto shop classes.

"When our students are connected to a person or a program, they seem to do better than those kids that are not connected, are struggling academically and are potential dropouts," he said. "If no connection is made, then kids will say, 'See ya. I don't need this. I'm out of here.'"

Around the country, hundreds of high schools are being transformed into career academies or adding smaller vocational schools within their buildings. In Chicago, where work-based training is a school district priority, Mayor Richard Daley recently announced a new initiative that will let high school students become qualified to work in particular industries. These students would then use their newly earned certificates to find high-skill, high-paying jobs.

In some places where course offerings are slim, community colleges or regional occupational training centers offer career education to juniors and seniors in high schools.

It will still take a lot of work to resuscitate even a semblance of the programs that existed 30 years ago, say vocational education advocates.

"There is widespread belief that academic achievement is key to student success in the future," said Patrick Ainsworth, director of secondary education for the California Department of Education. "We certainly saw a decline in the number of career tech ed courses."

Three-quarters of high school technology education programs have disappeared since the early 1980s, according to data from the California Industrial and Technology Education Association. As a result, the number of high school courses offered have dropped from about 40,000 in the late 1980s to 24,000 in 2005-06, according to state data.

In a report, the association cites an aging faculty, few reinforcements and competition for financial and space resources as well as pressure for college prep courses from the University of California.

The resultant curriculum resembles a Jeopardy-style game show in which memorizing for standardized tests is the prize, argues Jim Aschwanden, executive director of the California Agricultural Teacher's Association.

"We have a generation of students that can answer questions on tests, know factoids, but they can't do anything," said Aschwanden, who also is a recent appointee to the state Board of Education.

The question of how to create a skilled labor force that meets future needs is something that has occupied Rick Stephens for years.

The senior vice president for human resources at Boeing Co. said that these days everyone needs a range of training to succeed.

"An auto mechanic today needs to know computer science, electronics, how to use sophisticated electronic tools ... none of which require a degree," Stephens said.

To meet changing times, classes like drafting & design and creative woods are being created as a hybrid that mixes both the vocational and the academic.

In 2000, there were 258 career tech high school courses that met University of California standards. Six years later, the number is up to 4,705, according to state statistics. That is significant, say career tech advocates, because it illustrates how the academic world is beginning to realize the importance of the trades and include them in college courses.

The woodshop class at Hoover is one of the few electives available at the comprehensive high school. Sawdust coats the floor and the smells are unmistakable.

In a side classroom, about 38 freshman are working on a safety test. They are eager to start building things but must first pass the exam.

Teacher Arturo Gonzales spent 10 years working in the cabinetmaking industry before he took a pay cut to teach. He dreamed of being like his high school teacher.

His classes are crowded and he would benefit from having an assistant, but money is tight, he said.

"A lot of kids are in here to create, to get away from the math class, the English class," Gonzales said. "They want to work with their hands."

He tells his students that this is a math class, too, but a fun one. Nowadays, some kids don't have as many options on campus.

"It's hard to get into this class," he said.

Two long form pieces well worth the jump that should be required reading for 4LAKids readers ...except that we paid attention to the first!:


By Orson Scott Card | Greensboro-Charlotte Rhino Times

• Card is a parent and a best selling author of young adult fiction ("ENDERS GAME"), his essay looks at homework from a kid's perspective, an teacher's perspective and a parent's perspective and it loses on all three fronts for a multitude of reasons.

Sept 21, 2006 — What if you had a really lousy job? You’re only employed for seven hours a day, but you have to ride the bus for half an hour each way.

While you’re there, they only let you go to the bathroom at certain times. You only have 10 minutes to get from one work station to another, and somehow you also have to use the toilet and get your new work materials from a central depository during those breaks, without being late.

If you do anything wrong, you aren’t allowed to talk to anybody during lunch.

Even when you go home, it’s not over. A job supervisor also lives in your house, and makes you do two or three more hours of the same work you did on the job. The at-home supervisor is even harsher than the one at work and has more power to inflict annoying punishments if you fail to comply.

If you’re sick and miss a day or two, then when you get better, you have to do all the work that you missed – both the on-the-job and the at-home tasks.

Not only that, but you can’t quit this lousy job. It’s the law – the government requires you to stick with it for at least 10 years.

What if, on top of all this misery, the work you had to do at home wasn’t even real? What if you just went through the motions of all the tasks you did on the job, but you didn’t actually accomplish anything? You just spent meaningless hours, repeating the physical movements, while the at-home supervisor says things like, “That’s how you do it?” and “Are you sure you’re doing it right?”

That’s a fair description of the lives of far too many of our school-age children.


►HOW ANTONIO GOT HIS GROOVE ON: Villaraigosa’s charisma gets the ink, but his wonky staff does the heavy lifting. For that, he can credit his real predecessor, Richard Riordan

by Marc Haefele | Los Angeles CityBeat

The lengthy legislative lucha libre was all over and Antonio Villaraigosa was the winner. He took his bows August 30, not at City Hall, but at Animo Charter High School way down on 111th and Western Ave., where the sound system played the Jackson 5’s “ABC” for one generation and U2’s “Beautiful Day” for another. He’d called in all his markers and so had the governor, and with just two days left in the summer legislative session, Los Angeles became the first city in California to have legally transferred control of its 712,000-pupil school district from its school board to the mayor. Sort of. The bill that passed, AB 1381, is really a lopsided, five-legged calf of a law, unlikely to survive a probable LAUSD court challenge in its current form – or maybe at all. It gives the mayor power to fire an otherwise all-powerful school superintendent. It also gives the mayors of the handful of nearby cities that share the district with Los Angeles a share of the decision-making power and neuters the current seven-member school board. It creates an institutional ER that puts the worst schools in the system under direct mayoral control.

On paper, the proposed system looks like a flow chart of Enron reinvestment strategies – rife with unresolved power blurs, confusions, and potential city charter and state constitutional issues. The governor signed it anyway.


►WORK IT OUT: Neighborhood and school need to resolve differences

LA Daily News Editorial

Sept. 29, 2006 - Neighbors of Ivy Academia Entrepreneurial Charter School are justifiably annoyed. The school's administrators have ignored enrollment limits on the Fallbrook campus, allowing 40 more students to attend this year. This is just the latest of many clashes between residents and the school over noise, traffic and past permit violations.

It's time for city officials to step in and, once and for all, work it out.

It's true that the school's founders, husband and wife Eugene Selivanov and Tatyana Berkovich, have violated codes as Ivy grew from a home-care center to a full charter school. And it's true that the school has had internal controversies and is under investigation after assertions that it was misusing state funds.

But it's also true that Ivy Academia is in great demand among parents, who flock to the school to escape the bureaucratic nightmare of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In fact, the very reason Ivy is in trouble this time is that so many parents want to send their kids there. School officials took in too many students, and were hauled before the City Council last week by angry neighbors.

That's saying something in a part of the city that's seen such huge enrollment declines that four LAUSD schools sit shuttered.

It's the responsibility of the city - starting with Councilman Dennis Zine - to find a way that Ivy can be both the pride of parents and its community.

The City Council took the correct first step Wednesday by giving Ivy the rest of the school year to reduce enrollment, while vowing to help it find another location to accommodate the growing student body. Now school officials must make good on the offer and truly assist the school and its parents in finding another location.

It shouldn't be that hard. There are those four schools that LAUSD officials have so far refused to sell to Ivy. Perhaps the mayor, with his new power over the LAUSD bureaucracy, could insist on some sort of mutually beneficial arrangement.

Ivy Academia is far from perfect. But this is also a school that had the highest academic test scores of any independent elementary charter school in Los Angeles for two years.

Something right is going on at its two campuses, and that something ought to be nurtured, not stamped out by the angry villagers.

►FOR A COMPLETELY OPPOSITE TAKE on the Nobel Hypothesis ("Kids need time to think and to learn for themselves") and Card's "Too Much Homework" check out the following as parents, facing an emphasis on testing and the desire to get their children into good schools, turn to private tutoring for kids as young as 3:


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, 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.
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• Register.
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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.
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