Friday, November 24, 2006

Be thankful.

4LAKids: Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend 2006
In This Issue:
L.A. FLUNKS SCIENCE: Ranked nearly last in science compared to the nation's urban districts, Los Angeles needs well-paid science teachers.
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
smf4LAKids: The political campaign - Scott Folsom for School Board!
4LAKids Anthology: All the Past Issues, solved, resolved and unsolved!
4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
Be thankful you don’t send your child to school or teach in New York City.

This week the New York State Court of Appeals (NY's highest court) ruled that billions of dollars per year that lower courts had ruled were due to the New York City Schools from the state treasury aren't due. The court agreed that the state had been underfunding NYC schools – but set a "minimum level" of funding to be met – a floor well below any other court's ruling – and far below the projected settlement.

If "adequate" is the sworn semantic enemy of sufficient financial support for public education you can guess how 4LAKids feels about "a minimum level of funding."

The court ruled that the state legislators in Albany could increase funding if they choose – and a squadron of pigs flying in formation spelled out "Fat Chance" over the NYC skyline.

The Mayor of New York had made enlightened distribution of the anticipated windfall from the settlement a cornerstone of his takeover of NYC schools and the deal he made with the teachers union …counting those chickens before they hatched! The NY mayor's school takeover is championed by our LA mayor as exemplary reform …yet LAUSD generally outperforms NYC – especially among socio-economically challenged populations, in Special Ed and among English Language Learners. And parent involvement and community engagement in NYC schools? Fugetaboudit, it doesn't exist! "If the parents don't like the way I run the schools," Mayor Bloomberg has said, "they can boo me at parades!"

In a further slap at NYC schools the high court agreed with lower courts that the state had been similarly underfunding school construction in New York – but ruled that because new school bonds had been authorized the state didn't have a financial obligation to make up for the shortfall: Future debt could make up for past inequity.

IN OTHER NEWS: • The NAEP Science scores are in and the results are ugly and totally unacceptable in the long term for LAUSD. These scores show LAUSD behind even NYC – but before the Mayoral Control folks start with the "I told you so's" remember that LAUSD has 55% English Language Learners to NYC's 12%. Our focus is deliberately elsewhere; first English and then Science! Also note these scores are for 4th grade and 8th grade (not high school) science. • The Achievement Gap persists. • Bob Sipchen writes a letter the superintendent should read+heed. • Single sex education is making a comeback. • And Congress and the IRS sticks it to teachers.

Quoting Eckhart von Hochheim (c. 1260 - 1327/8): "If the only prayer you say is 'Thank you', that will suffice." —smf

by David M. Herszenhorn, New York Times

November 21, 2006 - New York State’s highest court ended a landmark legal fight over education financing yesterday, ruling that at least $1.93 billion more must be spent each year on New York City’s public schools — far less than the $4.7 billion that a lower court called the minimum needed to give city children the chance for a sound basic education.

In its 4-2 ruling, the Court of Appeals noted that in 2004 a commission appointed by Gov. George E. Pataki contemplated a range of spending options for the state to fulfill its constitutional obligation to the city’s nearly 1.1 million schoolchildren, with $1.93 billion at the low end of the scale. The court endorsed the $1.93 billion as “reasonable.”

The amount is to be updated for inflation and other factors, which will bring the total to more than $2 billion a year.

The judges said that lower courts had erred by proposing their own sums, treading on the turf of the governor and the Legislature. “In fashioning specific remedies for constitutional violations, we must avoid intrusion on the primary domain of another branch of government,” Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. wrote for the majority.

The New York case, brought by a coalition of education groups called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, has been among the most closely watched of dozens of lawsuits over school financing filed across the country that seek to direct more money to needy school districts. The ruling cannot be appealed to the United States Supreme Court because it is based on the State Constitution.

The financing issue has divided Albany for years, and the ruling set the contours for Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer’s first round of budget negotiations early next year.

But for all of the predictions over 13 years of litigation that the suit would reshape education financing in the state, the ruling did not do so. The court did not touch New York’s arcane formulas for education financing and refused to impose new oversight mechanisms.

The decision came as an immense blow to New York City, which, based on prior court rulings, had anticipated up to $5.63 billion a year in additional education aid.

New York State now pays about $7.1 billion, or roughly 45 percent, of the city’s total education budget of $15.4 billion, the largest local school budget in the country. The court-ordered increase would come on top of this, but the ruling left open the possibility that the state would press the city to contribute to the added financing.

The decision yesterday also vacated lower courts’ rulings mandating more than $9 billion in capital aid for new schools, libraries and other amenities, saying that the state had met its obligation last spring by authorizing $11.1 billion in borrowing for the city’s schools.

Even as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg issued a muted statement — “we now look forward to receiving additional funds from the state” — the ruling was greeted with a measure of relief in Albany, especially among Republican lawmakers representing upstate and suburban districts.

Mr. Spitzer, a Democrat who as attorney general has represented the state in the lawsuit for the past eight years, repeatedly promised during his campaign to spend $8.5 billion more a year on needy school districts statewide, including at least $4 billion a year for New York City.

In a statement yesterday, he reiterated his pledge to provide more money than was ordered by the court, but he stopped short of specifying any number. “We must provide more funding than this constitutional minimum so that all of New York’s schoolchildren have an opportunity to thrive in the 21st-century workplace,” Mr. Spitzer said.

If Mr. Spitzer can broker a deal, the city could have the extra money by the start of school next September.

While the decision gave Mr. Spitzer more maneuvering room to manage the state’s finances, it will also almost certainly embolden opponents of increased spending for the city schools. State Senator Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican majority leader, immediately hailed the $1.93 billion as more than sufficient.

“The lower courts were wrong,” Mr. Bruno said on WROW, an Albany radio station. “They were out of their jurisdiction. They were doing things that were inappropriate — they were literally fooling the public by pretending that a lot of money was going to flow, billions and billions, and the higher courts said they were wrong, they were out of their jurisdiction.”

Mr. Pataki, a Republican who has fought the lawsuit throughout his three terms in office, also cheered the ruling, calling it “a resounding affirmation of my strong belief that decisions regarding the state’s finances and education policy should continue to be made by the people’s elected representatives and not the courts.”

Mr. Pataki initially argued against any court-ordered increase in aid for the city schools. But after losing at trial and after the Court of Appeals upheld that verdict, he appointed a commission in September 2003 to determine how much the state would need to spend to comply with the court decisions finding that city students were shortchanged.

In his budget proposal in 2004, Mr. Pataki suggested an additional $2 billion for the city schools, financed by the proceeds from video lottery terminals. Using financial analysis by Standard & Poor’s, the commission proposed a statewide increase in education spending of $2.5 billion to $5.6 billion a year, with a minimum of $1.93 billion for New York City. It was those proposals that yesterday’s court ruling cited. In May 2004, Mr. Pataki switched gears and proposed phasing in $4.7 billion a year in additional aid for the city’s schools, but he could not get the Legislature to agree.

Yesterday’s ruling heavily reflected the governor’s influence on the Court of Appeals. All four judges voting in the majority were appointed by Mr. Pataki. Judge Pigott, who wrote the majority opinion, joined the court in October, the day that final arguments were heard in the school financing case.

Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick, appointees of former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, were in the minority, dissenting from most of the ruling. The court was actually more divided than the 4-2 vote suggested, with judges expressing three different opinions on the amount of money that ought to be spent on the city schools.

“Devising a state budget is a prerogative of the legislature and the executive,” Judge Pigott wrote. “The judiciary should not usurp this power.”

Still, his opinion allowed that the $1.93 billion figure could be questioned because it had been based on a theory that New York City could be more cost-effective than other successful but high-spending districts. “The premise, and the conclusion, are no doubt debatable,” Judge Pigott wrote. “But we cannot say they are irrational, and they are therefore entitled to deference from the courts.” Judge Arthur M. Rosenblatt, who concurred with the majority and provided the swing vote, said he agreed that the court should show deference to the other branches of government. But he bluntly stated that he was not sure if $1.93 billion was the proper amount.

The seventh member of the court, Judge Victoria A. Graffeo, a Pataki appointee, did not participate.

Chief Judge Kaye, in a sharply worded dissent also signed by Judge Ciparick, disparaged the $1.93 billion amount, saying “the majority does not resolve the inadequate funding of the New York City public schools.”

Judge Kaye chided her colleagues for ignoring what emerged as near unanimity on the additional spending needed for the city’s schools, including Governor Pataki’s own proposal in May 2004 of an increase of $4.7 billion annually for New York City.

“A sound basic education will cost approximately $5 billion in additional annual expenditures,” Judge Kaye wrote. “I remain hopeful that, despite the court’s ruling today, the policymakers will continue to strive to make the schools not merely adequate, but excellent, and to implement a statewide solution.”

Lawsuits over education financing have been filed in 45 of the 50 states, according to the National Access Network, a group based at Teachers College at Columbia University that tracks the litigation. And the New York case, filed in 1993, has been among the most closely watched.

Even with the award cut by more than half, the $1.93 billion is the single largest judgment in any of the education financing lawsuits. Last year, for instance, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings that led to increases of more than $750 million in school spending.

The New York case has cast a shadow over state budget negotiations consistently since January 2001 when the original trial judge, Justice Leland DeGrasse of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, struck down the state’s school financing system, saying it denied city children their right under the State Constitution to a sound basic education.

Since then, Mr. Pataki and the State Legislature have faced — and flouted — a series of court-ordered deadlines to make changes, even as they increased allocations to the city schools, and those in other districts, as a signal to the court that they were, in fact, paying attention.

The largely unexpected reduction in the court award left the plaintiffs struggling to put the best face on what was a deflating end to their long battle.

“Finally, we have a decision that requires at least $2 billion in additional funding for the city schools,” said Joseph F. Wayland, the chief lawyer for the plaintiffs.

Geri D. Palast, the executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said the group’s hopes of providing a sound, basic education to city schoolchildren were now with Mr. Spitzer. “The court established a minimum funding number that will not meet the mandate,” she said.

City Councilman Robert Jackson, who as a parent was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, lambasted the court. “I am profoundly distressed and disappointed,” he said. “The children of New York City are crying in their hearts.”

Diane Cardwell and Danny Hakim contributed reporting.

CHRONOLOGY: from New York Times

1993: The Campaign for Fiscal Equity files a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of New York State's school funding system. The lawsuit argues that the state's school aid formula discriminates against city students.

June 1995: The New York State Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, states that a suit challenging the state's school financing system can proceed in lower courts in that it denies students the opportunity for a "sound basic education."

Jan. 10, 2001: The State Supreme Court rules in favor of C.F.E., saying that the state's method of funding public schools is illegal.

June 25, 2002: A panel of the Appellate Division of Supreme Court overturns the ruling that the state had failed its constitutional duty to ensure a "sound, basic education" for city schoolchildren and gives state legislators temporary reprieve.

June 26, 2003: The state's Court of Appeals orders the state to devise a plan to reform its school funding system by July 30, 2004.

Aug. 3, 2004: State fails to meet the compliance deadline, panel of referees to scrutinize the state's funding system and to submit new standards by Nov. 30.

Feb. 14, 2005: The State Supreme Court rules that an additional $5.6 billion must be spent on the city's public schools each year and another $9.2 billion be spent over five years.

March 23, 2006: The Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court rules that New York City schools were being shortchanged by at least $4.7 billion annually in state aid. The court orders the state legislature to consider a plan to direct $4.7 billion to $5.63 billion to city schools.

Nov. 20, 2006: The Court of Appeals issues a final ruling saying the state owes the city just $1.9 billion a year, adjusted for inflation, a fraction of the $4.7 billion that was the basis of previous rulings.


L.A. FLUNKS SCIENCE: Ranked nearly last in science compared to the nation's urban districts, Los Angeles needs well-paid science teachers.

LA Times Editorial

November 20, 2006 - A new comparison of science education in big cities reveals distressing but unsurprising news: Among 10 urban school districts nationwide, Los Angeles is in the basement.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the gold-standard test for the nation's schools, L.A. fourth-graders tied for last place with Chicago. Its eighth-graders were second to last, a notch above Atlanta. Overall, L.A. placed last.

Meanwhile, according to the NAEP, California is among the few states that have improved science scores over the last five years. The figures represent the first time the NAEP has tested individual urban districts on science, though it regularly measures their progress in reading and math.

School officials can't hide behind demographics on this one. The district does have a high percentage of Latino and African American students who generally score lower on standardized tests. But all the urban districts have sizable numbers of minority students. And L.A.'s black and Latino students generally scored lower than black and Latino students in other districts.

Because good education starts with good instruction — a truth too commonly lost in the school reform debate — the top priority is hiring more fully qualified science teachers. That's admittedly a difficult task. Science teachers are at a premium, with too many school districts vying for too few teachers. An urban school district such as Los Angeles, with its low-scoring students, is at a recruiting disadvantage.

The district's administration — and, more important, the teachers union — should realize by now that half-measures don't work. The solution is simple: Pay top science teachers more. That is anathema, of course, to United Teachers Los Angeles, which insists that the schools pay teachers according to how long they've stayed in the same job rather than how well they're doing or how badly their particular skills are needed.

The district's performance reflects as badly on its teachers as on its students. Ultimately, it's in the union's interests to change its outmoded ways to accommodate unpleasant realities.

►smf: This is an interesting idea. However, are there other large major unionized school districts in the US that pay more for science teachers "based on how badly their skills are needed" ...beyond paying additional for years of experience and/or academic credentials?
• Is a good science teacher really more deserving than a good English, Foreign Language, Social Studies or Art teacher?
• And teachers notwithstanding – at many schools LAUSD's science classroom facilities are really lacking, out of date ...or just not there! This is a problem that has been identified and quantified - and there is money in the construction bonds to rectify it - but the powers that be in the nether world where Construction meets Instruction seem to be having a real hard time coming up with a plan to address it!


by Sam Dillon – New York Times

November 20, 2006 — When President Bush signed his sweeping education law a year into his presidency, it set 2014 as the deadline by which schools were to close the test-score gaps between minority and white students that have persisted since standardized testing began.

Now, as Congress prepares to consider reauthorizing the law next year, researchers and a half-dozen recent studies, including three issued last week, are reporting little progress toward that goal. Slight gains have been seen for some grade levels.

Despite concerted efforts by educators, the test-score gaps are so large that, on average, African-American and Hispanic students in high school can read and do arithmetic at only the average level of whites in junior high school.

“The gaps between African-Americans and whites are showing very few signs of closing,” Michael T. Nettles, a senior vice president at the Educational Testing Service, said in a paper he presented recently at Columbia University. One ethnic minority, Asians, generally fares as well as or better than whites.

The reports and their authors, in interviews, portrayed an educational landscape in which test-score gaps between black or Hispanic students and whites appear in kindergarten and worsen through 12 years of public education.

Some researchers based their conclusions on federal test results, while others have cited state exams, the SATs and other widely administered standardized assessments. Still, the studies have all concurred: The achievement gaps remain, perplexing and persistent.

The findings pose a challenge not only for Mr. Bush but also for the Democratic lawmakers who joined him in negotiating the original law, known as No Child Left Behind, and who will control education policy in Congress next year.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Representative George Miller of California, who are expected to be the chairmen of the Senate and House education committees, will promote giving more resources to schools and researching strategies to improve minority performance, according to aides.

“Closing the achievement gap is at the heart of No Child Left Behind and must continue to be our focus in renewing the act next year,” Mr. Kennedy said in a statement.

Experts have suggested many possible changes, including improving the law’s mechanisms for ensuring that teachers in poor schools are experienced and knowledgeable, and extending early-childhood education to more students.

Henry L. Johnson, an assistant secretary of education, said: “I don’t dispute that looking at some comparisons we see that these gaps are not closing — or not as fast as they ought to. But it’s also accurate to say that when taken as a whole, student performance is improving. The presumption that we won’t get to 100 percent proficiency from here presumes that everything is static. To reach the 100 percent by 2014, we’ll all have to work faster and smarter.”

The law requires states, districts and schools to report annual test results for all racial and ethnic groups, and to show annual improvements for each. It imposes sanctions on schools that do not meet the rising targets.

Many experts and officials, including the president’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, have supported the goal of raising all students to academic proficiency, but they have also called it unrealistic to accomplish in a decade.

But President Bush, who put education at the center of his 2000 campaign, has been insisting that it is not only feasible but that the gaps are already closing.

“There are good results of No Child Left Behind across the nation,” Mr. Bush said last month at a school in North Carolina. “We have an achievement gap in America that is — that I don’t like and you shouldn’t like.”

“The gap is closing,” he said.

The researchers behind the reports issued last week in Washington, D.C., New York and California were far more pessimistic, though.

“The achievement gap is alive and well,” said G. Gage Kingsbury, an author of the report issued in Washington by the Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit group based in Oregon that administers tests.

Examining results from reading and math tests administered to 500,000 students in 24 states in the fall of 2004 and the spring of 2005, the study found: “For each score level at each grade in each subject, minority students grew less than European-Americans, and students from poor schools grew less than those from wealthier ones.”

Minority and poor students also lost more academic ground each summer, the study said.

Ross Wiener, a principal partner at the Education Trust, a group that works to close achievement gaps and has consistently supported the federal law, called those findings “profoundly disturbing” and said it showed that schools continued to be a “significant source of disadvantage for minority students.”

“The Bush administration wants to hang a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner over N.C.L.B., but a fair assessment is that progress thus far in closing achievement gaps is disappointing,” Mr. Weiner said. He pointed to financing and teacher assignment systems that lead to schools with mostly poor and minority students getting less money, offering fewer advanced courses and having weaker teachers.

The 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress, a battery of reading and math tests administered to thousands of students in every state, showed some rising scores for all ethnic groups, and the black-white score gap narrowed in a statistically significant way for fourth-grade math. But on fourth-grade reading, and on eighth-grade reading and math, the black-white and Hispanic-white gaps were statistically unchanged from the early 1990s.

Over the past three decades, the gaps narrowed steadily from the 1970s through the late 1980s but then leveled out through 1999. Since then, some have narrowed again, but at a rate that would allow them to persist for decades. That picture showed up in a separate National Assessment test devised to measure long-term trends, administered in late 2003 and early 2004.

That test showed that regardless of race, scores increased a bit over three decades for 9- and 13-year-old students, with the best gains coming between 1999 and 2004.

Test administrators warned against attributing those gains to the federal law, because it had been in effect for about only a year when the 2004 test was given. Prekindergarten programs, higher standards and increased testing carried out by many states during the 1990s also contributed, they said.

But Bush administration officials have routinely credited the law for the improved scores on that test.

A group that has supported the federal law, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, whose leaders include former officials from the Reagan and the current Bush administrations, conducted a review of state exams and other indicators and issued a report this month. It found that none of the 50 states had made widespread progress in narrowing the gaps, and that eight states, including New York and New Jersey, had made “moderate gains.”

Chester E. Finn Jr., the foundation president, said, “Poor and minority students are doing very poorly, and in most states are not making significant gains — and this in spite of N.C.L.B. and all the other reforms of the last 15 years.”

Suggestions abound for ways to narrow the score gaps faster. Since scholars have documented that minority children enter kindergarten with weaker reading skills than white children, some experts advocate increased public financing for early education programs.

No Child Left Behind provides money for tutoring in schools where students are not succeeding, but critics say it does not provide sufficient financing to help states and districts turn the schools themselves around.

Several of the new reports urged better provisions to ensure that poor and mostly minority schools have quality teachers, to reward teachers who help struggling students improve, and to keep good teachers from leaving city schools for higher-paying suburban ones.

“If I’m in a bad school and make serious progress, I need a reward,” Dr. Nettles said. “If you perform on Wall Street, you get a bonus.”

But the news is not all bad. Individual schools in some states have made progress in narrowing the gaps between black and white, Hispanic and white, and the poor and more affluent, according to a Standard & Poor’s unit that analyzes school performance.

The unit credited Morgan County Elementary School in Madison, Ga., with significantly raising the scores of black fourth and fifth graders. The principal, Jean Triplett, attributed that success in part to after-school tutoring by volunteers in black churches.

Edwin E. Weeks Elementary School in Syracuse was singled out for narrowing the gap between black and white students. Dare Dutter, the principal, credited a prekindergarten program and a school health clinic that helped keep poor students from missing class.

Standard & Poor’s has sifted test data from 16,000 schools in 18 states, identifying 718 schools making significant progress toward the national goal.

“They are the classic diamonds in the rough,” said Paul Gazzerro, director of analytics at Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services. “But in general, schools are not closing achievement gaps.”

One of the exceptions, the unit said, is Hoover Middle School in Lakewood, Calif., a community in Los Angeles County where the aircraft manufacturing industry has been hit by job losses. The school has raised Hispanic scores so much that in the spring of 2005 Hispanic students outperformed whites, said the principal, Michael L. Troyer. He said the progress resulted from focused instruction, frequent diagnostic testing and several tutoring programs.

“Some of it’s after school, teachers do it at lunch, and we have people who tutor in the morning before school, too,” Mr. Troyer said.

Across California, however, achievement gaps have not narrowed, and in some cases they have widened since 2001, according to a study of California test results released last week by Policy Analysis for California Education, a research center run jointly by the University of California and Stanford.

“Not only have all boats stopped rising, but the boats that are under water are sinking further down,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who contributed to the study.

Charts n' Graphs for the visual learner.


by Bob Sipchen, School Me columnist for the LA Times

November 20, 2006

Dear David Brewer:

Even before you officially became Los Angeles Unified School District's superintendent last week, you'd been pep-talking anyone who'd listen, and in discussing your hopes for the district, you've been touting Jim Collins' bestselling management tome "Good to Great."

If you really think you're starting with a district that's "good," you've been massively suckered by those school board members who've been showing you off like a circus bear they won in an all-night poker game.

"Dreadful to So-So" would be a more realistic trajectory. A tequila-soused optimist wouldn't go further than "Mediocre to Semi-Great."

Still, I'm confident that I speak for most students, teachers, parents and citizens concerned about the region's future when I say we'll do whatever we can to help you build on the impressive progress made by departed Supt. Roy Romer.

With that in mind, here are three interrelated suggestions, pieced together from thousands of conversations I've had in my many years as a district parent and several months as an education columnist.

1. Fire people. Fast.

This sounds harsh, but nothing will do more to boost morale than your getting rid of the bad teachers, principals and high-ranking careerists who make everyone else's job harder and the district look bad.

When we rode together to an event at the Santee Education Complex a couple of weeks back, you said you planned to hire an outside firm to do an independent performance review. Cool.

But you also said you probably wouldn't be able to "kick anyone out per se." Uncool!

You've been publicly waffling on your early pledge to get rid of bad teachers. Why?

One middle school principal told me, with a chilling shrug, that he is lucky to have only four teachers whom he'd characterize as utterly incompetent. Do the math. Together they may be rotting 600 or more student brains a day.

Your constituents are driven to blithering rage by the "Dance of the Lemons" that shuffles loser principals, teachers and muck-a-mucks from job to job.

End this injustice and you may just end the fear of retaliation that leaves parents, teachers and principals unwilling to discuss problems — a climate of cowardice that cripples your schools.

2. Supt. Brewer, tear down those walls!

Driven by paranoia and a misguided urge to coddle, the board selected you in secret.

I'd assumed that must have seemed silly to a Navy guy like you, but my colleagues Howard Blume and Joel Rubin report that your new cronies recently banned reporters from a fundraiser where, from what I hear, some folks paid $10,000 each for face time with you and other insiders.

I suggest you trust the people who pay your salary and those of us in the fourth estate whose job it is to keep an eye on public institutions for the people who don't have the money to attend pricey private fundraisers.

The district's $7.5-billion budget and $19.3 billion in building money tempts many. Corruption stalks every dollar. Keep things wide open and the public and press will help you hold this city's cunning predators at bay. Pull down the shades and you instantly endanger the spotless reputation you've spent your lifetime building.

3. Set clear goals promptly but be open to anything.

You and your wife must have exchanged high fives when the school board, like infatuated teens, made the astonishingly foolish decision to give a pedagogic neophyte a $300,000-per-year contract plus big perks for the maximum four years allowed by law.

Now you're probably noticing entrenched "educrats" trying to make themselves seem indispensable to the new guy who doesn't have a clue. Don't fall for it.

Your greatest assets are that you're a proven leader but not a district insider with a lifetime of old boy connections eager to cash in chips; that you haven't been addled by endless colloquiums into believing that education is an arcane realm whose problems are incomprehensible to all but a pedagogic elite.

You've said your plan is to assess and evaluate the situation and only then to act.

Fair enough. But, just between us, Southern Californians' patience is not as boundless as the generous school board and comfortable Beaudry Street bureaucrats might lead you to believe.

So why not knock off a couple of common sense reforms right away: For example, — how about making the whole thing easier on parents by starting school at 8 instead of 7:56? How about making sure every kid has a seat?

Just don't get mired in such micromanagement.

Southern California kids need big changes, and you're the bold leader to make them. We hope.

If the courts let Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa go ahead and grab a measure of control of the schools, will you pitch in wholeheartedly to help him, even if board members and bureaucrats would prefer to obstruct?

If, after a few months or years, you decide that the sprawling district isn't manageable, will you push to dismantle it?

Most of us in Los Angeles are willing to do whatever it takes to guarantee our children a good education. If you have that same simple goal, plenty of people will knock themselves out to make sure you succeed.


▲Connect the Dots / Great Minds Think Alike: Compare Sipchen's Fire People. Fast. with Mayor Riordan's advice, reported in the Nov 19 4LAKids:

4LAKids: "I was speaking to Mayor Riordan at the summit and he posited that it might not be necessary to eliminate ALL the LAUSD bureaucrats at to shake things up. 'Just get rid of one of 'em – fire the worst of the worst rather publicly - and the rest may fall unto line!' (Riordan tends to have ideas punctuated with exclamation points – it makes him dangerous but I like that about him!) This solution – right out of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Mikado" ("They'll none of 'em be missed…") has a certain resonance. I have candidates of my own …but I'm open to further suggestions!" -smf


►SINGLE-SEX CLASSES ON A FORWARD COURSE: More schools in L.A. and across the nation separate boys and girls. New federal guidelines extend the leeway.

By Carla Rivera, LA Times Staff Writer

November 20, 2006 - The problem posed in Mrs. Pfeiffer's seventh-grade pre-algebra class at Campbell Hall is seasonal: How much turkey is needed to serve 30 people if each person gets 2/5 of a pound? Hands shoot up, with an "ooh, ooh!" here and a quizzical look there.

It appears to be a typical math class on the tree-lined campus of the private North Hollywood coed school, except for one thing: There are only boys in the room. The all-girls math class will meet a few hours later. For more than eight years, Campbell Hall has separated the 250 boys and girls in seventh- and eighth-grade math; this fall, for the first time, the school is doing the same with science class. Students benefit because they are less distracted by the opposite sex, said math teacher Michelle Pfeiffer, and instruction can be tailored to the different learning styles of boys and girls.

"We can express ourselves better," said Brett Landsberger, 12, a Campbell Hall seventh-grader. "It's like boys are a different species. You walk by the girls classes and they're sitting there all perfect, and you go into the boys class and they're all over the floor."

Single-sex classes and schools — both public and private — are gaining favor across the nation as educators search for ways to boost test scores and students' self-esteem. In 1995, only three public schools in the nation offered a single-sex option, compared with more than 253 today, according to the National Assn. for Single Sex Public Education. Five percent of private schools are single-sex.

In Los Angeles, a new girls-only public charter school opened this fall. Another newly opened charter school in Lincoln Heights has launched one of the first formal experiments in single-sex education, creating separate boys and girls classes with plans to study their test scores, classroom behavior and other achievement yardsticks.

Research has long suggested that girls in coed settings defer to boys and receive less attention from teachers. Other educators cite more recent evidence that boys, especially low-income minority youths, might benefit as well. The gap between girls' and boys' test scores has decreased, and girls are applying in higher numbers to college and now obtain more bachelor's degrees than boys.

A recent ruling by the U.S. Department of Education giving public schools more leeway to offer single-sex curricula will probably accelerate the move toward single-sex classrooms, experts said. Previous rules generally banned single-sex classes, with some exceptions.

The new guidelines, scheduled to take effect Friday, permit single-sex education in public schools but must be geared toward improving achievement, providing diverse experiences or meeting the particular needs of students. Programs must treat male and female students evenhandedly and offer substantially equal coeducational classes in the same subject. Enrollment must be voluntary.

"We're already seeing schools respond to the amended regulations," said Elena Silva, a senior policy analyst with the Education Sector, a nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based think tank. "There's a lot of public support for at least the notion of single-sex schooling."

That support reflects a wave of enthusiasm for greater school choice overall as policymakers, parents and educators struggle to reform an education system that has left American students frequently lagging behind their international peers. The federal No Child Left Behind Act endorsed same-sex programs as an "innovative" practice.

But gender separation is controversial. Critics contend the practice is a slide backward, one that could reinforce stereotypes and lead to different and unequal classroom experiences.

The American Assn. of University Women argues that there is little evidence that girls and boys do better apart. Better-funded schools with more focused academic instruction, smaller class sizes and qualified teachers are far more likely to influence learning, said research director Catherine Hill.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued a Louisiana junior high school last summer over its plan to separate girls and boys, arguing that it violated Title IX regulations that require gender equity in educational programs that receive federal funding. The complaint against the Livingston Parish School Board cited statements that girls would be taught "good character" while boys would be taught about "heroic" behavior. The school board dropped the plan.

But such arguments have failed to sway those educators who believe there is much to gain and little to lose in experimenting with same-gender education. They point to a growing body of findings — albeit disputed — that boys' and girls' brains function and develop in different ways. Boys, the theory goes, do better in competitive, action-based, team-oriented tasks, while girls thrive in a more relaxed environment, working in pairs or alone.

Since Campbell Hall began the single-gender classes, girls are taking more advanced math courses in high school and are participating more in class, said junior high Principal Eileen Wasserman.

In Regina Choi's eighth-grade math class one recent morning, about 16 girls worked quietly in pairs solving algebra problems. Choi said girls feel more comfortable asking questions in class, while boys prefer to wait to avoid looking less smart in front of classmates. Though the course's content is the same for both sexes, Choi said it is sometimes more effective posing problems for girls using shopping examples and for boys using sports.

Another math teacher, Arlene Myles, said she focuses on trying to get the girls to be more competitive and the boys more cooperative.

Because teachers and administrators believed the single-sex approach to math was successful, they decided to apply it to science this year. Courses at Campbell Hall's high school are coed.

Students had mixed views.

"I like math now a lot more than I used to," said Ally Piddock, 12. "Boys are a distraction because they goof around a lot and it's easier for me to concentrate when they're not there."

"It's easier to pay attention in math when girls are not there," agreed Reese Wexler, 13. "But science would be better coed. It's a different environment. In lab, the people you might work better with could be girls or boys."

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest, Jordan High School and King/Drew Medical Magnet are experimenting with single-sex curricula, establishing small academies for at-risk boys.

George McKenna, assistant superintendent of the Pasadena Unified School District, said he has tried and failed to interest his staff in trying single-sex classes but is encouraged that the new federal guidelines may ease resistance.

Many public schools, including charters, have skirted federal law and used same-gender curricula for years on the "down-low," said Caprice Young, executive director of the California Charter Schools Assn., who predicted that more charter schools will open single-sex programs.

New Village Charter High School opened in September on the grounds of St. Anne's, a residential treatment center for teen mothers. The ninth- through 12th-grade college prep all-girls school will focus on the particular needs of low-income girls.

The school opened after receiving a waiver from the state and had fretted at the possible federal response.

"I've been a coed advocate all of my educational career, but when you look at the specific needs of these girls it seems absolutely essential that it be single-sex," said Paul Cummins of the New Visions Foundation, which helped develop the school. "This is one very small single-sex school in an ocean of coed schools."

But data from a major California project suggest that single-sex programs are problematic and at the least must be carefully planned. In 1997, as an experiment in public school choice, the state opened 12 single-gender academies — one middle or high school for boys and another identical one for girls — in six school districts.

A 2001 study by researchers at the University of Toronto, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley found that the program was poorly implemented and underfunded. Separating girls from boys reduced classroom distractions, said the authors — although students still experienced harassment and teasing. But traditional gender stereotypes often were reinforced, and students received mixed messages from their teachers. Only one of the schools, the San Francisco 49ers Academy in East Palo Alto, is still open.

At the Excel Charter Academy, a middle school northeast of downtown Los Angeles, Principal Patricia Mora and other administrators launched a project to evaluate girls-only and boys-only programs and a coed group for comparison, with students randomly assigned to each group. In its first year, the school is offering only sixth grade, with 25 students in each group.

Early observations find the coed group having a few more behavioral problems, said Mora. But the all-boys group seems to be doing especially well academically. One recent morning, the boys' humanities class was reading "Boy of the Painted Cave," about a boy in ancient times who wants to be a cave painter. Both boys and girls were assigned to read the book, and stories with female protagonists will be introduced later.

As teacher Cecily Feltham described the hero grabbing a wolf by the neck and fighting a bull, the boys were attentive, offering vivid descriptions of the action.

In another room, the girls science class was learning about thermal energy, having built a solar oven. The coed group, meanwhile, took physical education during recess.

The first test scores are due in January, and Mora is hoping to attract a top research group to evaluate the program.

"If at the end of the year we find that one group is working out better than the other, then I don't think we'd continue to subject one cohort to being coed," she said. "But I honestly don't know what we'll find."



From National Public Radio: Day to Day (broadcast November 22, 2006) • Teachers are taking a hit from a little-noticed change in federal tax law. They will no longer receive a tax break on the classroom items purchased out of their own pockets. NPR's Larry Abramson visits with some North Carolina teachers who discuss the change.

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EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Monday Nov 27, 2006
15th Street Elementary School Addition: Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony - Please join us to celebrate the completion of your new classroom building!
Ceremony will begin at 10:00 a.m.
15th Street Elementary School
1527 S. Mesa Street
San Pedro, CA 90731

Phone: 213.633.7616


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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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