Sunday, December 31, 2006


4LAKids: Sunday, Dec 31, 2006 ¡Happy 2007!
In This Issue:
MAYOR CHARTS LAUSD COURSE: Appeal, election part of strategy
EDUCATION OVERHAUL URGED: Spending money on kids, qualified teachers at top of list
L.A. MAGNET SCHOOL MEETINGS HAVE A TWIST: Los Angeles parents find help with magnet school applications at seminars with a twist
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
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.
RES•O•LU•TION – from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
[N] Pronunciation: "re-z&-'lü-sh&n
Etymology: Middle English resolucioun, from Anglo-French or Latin; Anglo-French resolucion, from Latin resolution-, resolutio, from resolvere
1 : the act or process of resolving : b : the act of answering : SOLVING c : the act of determining d : the passing of a voice part from a dissonant to a consonant tone or the progression of a chord from dissonance to consonance e : the separating of a chemical compound or mixture into its constituents f : the division of a prosodic element into its component parts g : the analysis of a vector into two or more vectors of which it is the sum
2 : the subsidence of a pathological state (as inflammation)
3 a : something that is resolved b : firmness of resolve
4 : a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent voted by an official body or assembled group
5 : the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic complication is worked out
6 a : the process or capability of making distinguishable the individual parts of an object, closely adjacent optical images, or sources of light b : a measure of the sharpness of an image or of the fineness with which a device (as a video display, printer, or scanner) can produce or record.
Synonym see COURAGE

It's not much of a stretch, the all-inclusive "we" (Every one of us!) of LAUSD stands at the dawn of 2007 more-or less at the threshold of all those meanings.

1. We are beyond the first. The dissonance to date has been deafening; English Majors can delight in 'prosodic'; Theoreticians and Chemists are welcome to their analysis and separation of complexity.
2. If bureaucratic bloat is inflammation – we're working on it!
3. A New Year's Resolution to move onward and upward meets the third.
4. The court and Judge Javavs gave us the fourth.
5. With a bit o' luck the fifth is behind us.
6. And hopefully (cue the music) we can see clearly now!

And courage in the face of challenge is always welcome.

Reading below you sense how our mayor sees his half-filled/half-empty glass: A definitive legal finding founded on history, principle, and the state constitution is only "one person's opinion." A lawsuit resoundingly decided against him remains frivolous. He appeals to higher courts and also to the judge herself to let him proceed though she has ruled his proposal unconstitutional. He promises that the Council of Mayors will meet anyway. How about the Mayor meeting just once with the Board of Education?

We need resolution. One hopes it comes sooner-rather-than-later as higher courts refuse to take the case as correctly decided.

The mayor's refusal to acknowledge the legal handwriting-on-the-wall, and his 'damn the torpedoes' commitment to continue full speed ahead hiring staff for his ill-conceived, ill-founded and adjudged illegal attempt to take over the District and/or his Clusters of Schools defies resolution and prolongs the impasse. It muddies the waters and misspends the taxpayer's dollars. Enough already.

The mayor has other routes to pursue: He can attempt to pack the school board as Mayor Riordan did – a strategy that didn't work and not to be encouraged …but at least one that spends political money politically. He can attempt what he wants within the initiative process; his advisors in the have warned this might not work – but good grief – they've been wrong before!

The mayor's own counsel, Mr. Saenz, won a case for MALDEF arguing that that a school district the size of LAUSD actually promotes equity and equality. Now breakup is on the ascendant and previous work threatens to be undone by his current effort.

Gentle readers: The timeline of true educational reform in our cities cannot be driven by the urgency of the expedient or the election cycles and ambitions of the term-limited – but by the reality of the possible and (here's a concept): The best interests of children. To argue that we are well begun is not embracing the status quo but rather an acknowledgement of six years of hard work and truly extraordinary progress made. With much more hard work and progress to come.

Mr. Mayor, join us. And Happy New Year everyone.

Onward into '07! - smf

►MAYOR'S ARMOR TAKES A HIT: A ruling slapping down his school takeover plan shows he isn't invincible. But Villaraigosa is a savvy politician with more fight in him.

News analysis by Jim Newton, Times Staff Writer

December 23, 2006 - For months, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ran circles around the hapless leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

They tried to argue that schools were improving; he countered that modest progress was not enough, that they were "failing" children. They schlepped to Sacramento to testify before indifferent legislative panels; he swept into the Capitol, his old home turf, escorted by his close friend, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez. They tried to enlist teachers unions on their side; Villaraigosa cut his own deal with labor and left the school board isolated.

But Villaraigosa's campaign for school takeover hit the wall Thursday, when Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs rejected it wholesale, tossing the centerpiece of the mayor's first year in office brusquely aside. Janavs not only concluded that the proposal was unconstitutional, she went so far as to adopt many of the school district's characterizations of the bill and of the district's progress in recent years.

"While the LAUSD faces numerous demographic challenges, LAUSD's test scores have risen in recent years at a rate of 150% of the state average, and LAUSD is fourth in the state in the percentage of schools that met or exceeded their Academic Performance index … ," Janavs wrote, language utterly superfluous to her ruling but implicitly chastising of Villaraigosa's efforts.

Now, with those denunciations ringing in the mayor's ears, the campaign moves precisely into the arena where Villaraigosa has the least control and where his greatest strengths— charm and energy — are of no use to him.

In his first comments about the ruling, Villaraigosa did not appear to recognize how fundamentally the debate has shifted. Villaraigosa defended the constitutionality of his proposal, but concluded by arguing: "More than that, I believe we have the people on our side."

But popular will — and Villaraigosa's ability to marshal it — have receded in relevance as his pitch for at least partial mayoral control faces judicial review, not popular vote or legislative action. There, its prospects are far less certain, and neither Villaraigosa's formidable poll numbers, his exuberant personality nor his legislative contacts are of much use.

As a result, school reform, once at the top of the mayor's agenda, now threatens to slip away.

Not everyone sees that as a terrible development for the mayor, at least in political terms. Duke University law professor and longtime Villaraigosa friend Erwin Chemerinsky, for one, notes that Villaraigosa may well prevail on appeal. And even if the mayor loses this battle, Chemerinsky added, he can credibly say to voters that he did all he could, only to be blocked by the courts.

Richard Alatorre, a former L.A. councilman and shrewd observer of city politics, agrees.

"In political terms, he can turn around and say: I did the best I could,' " Alatorre said Friday. "In the long run, I think the mayor wins."

That only protects the mayor's flank, however. It does not serve children or raise educational standards in some new way.

Because of that, Alatorre said he does not believe that Villaraigosa will fold, at least not easily. "It's a setback for him, but that's not going to deter him," the former councilman said. "He's just begun to fight."

Still, one clear casualty of this debate is the notion of Villaraigosa's invincibility. He has used that to great effect in the past year — sweeping past council members leery of his proposal to raise trash fees for hiring more police, chasing off contenders for City Council seats who fear taking on his friends, forcing the council to overturn its own support for a $2.7-million settlement to a former firefighter in a harassment case, even pushing school board member David Tokofsky out of the race for his own seat on the school board.

As of this week, that diminishment alone tilts the meter of Los Angeles politics.

"I think he went overboard in trying to avoid a vote of the people," said Allen Hoffenblum, a Republican political analyst. "I know a lot of people who agree with that judge."

Gary Toebben, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, sided with Villaraigosa on the school bill and acknowledged that this week's events represented a rare public drubbing for the mayor. But Toebben argued that Villaraigosa's willingness to take on the issue was more important than this ruling.

"In the private sector, we understand that you don't win them all," Toebben said. "In the public sector, you're expected to win them all." But that, he added, discourages public officials from tackling difficult tasks.

"We applaud the mayor," he said, "for taking risks."

There is, too, the question of what happens next outside the courts. And there Villaraigosa continues to hold some strong cards, for while the school debate now is principally being hashed out in court, it has not slipped the bounds of politics completely.

Villaraigosa is backing candidates for the school board in the spring elections, and the lawsuit may, oddly, bolster his hand there, as he can appeal to parents unsatisfied with the status quo and unhappy that the school district is blocking his efforts.

That supplies him with an issue and an electorate — and thus potentially moves the matter back into the realm of politics, Villaraigosa's home court. On Friday, even as they dusted off from Janavs' ruling, aides to Villaraigosa savored that prospect.

"I think there's no question that the judge's ruling clarifies the picture for voters," said Deputy Mayor Sean Clegg. "You have one side saying that the pace of change is acceptable…. And you have the other side, the mayor, fighting for fundamental change."


By Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa

December 23, 2006 - On Thursday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge struck down AB 1381, the landmark effort to reform the Los Angeles Unified School District that was set to take effect Jan. 1. The ruling represents a temporary setback for students and their parents, but if I have learned anything from a lifetime of overcoming obstacles, it is that success is the reward of perseverance.

After the court's decision, I directed the city attorney's office to prepare an immediate appeal. We don't have the luxury of waiting another year — or even another term — for a fundamentally different approach in a school district that loses as many as half its students before they reach graduation.

Put simply, the district is at a crossroads. Supt. David L. Brewer has indicated that he is prepared to take on the bureaucracy within L.A. Unified, to champion the idea that every child can succeed no matter his or her economic or ethnic background. Brewer's attitude is a refreshing departure from an insular culture that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the gravity of the dropout crisis.

Opponents of our efforts claim that there is a manufactured crisis in student achievement. They just don't get it. Independent study after independent study put the high school dropout rate at 50%, and in some schools it is much higher. More than 35,000 students disappeared from the class of 2005 between the start of their freshman years and graduation day. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has more gang members than any other American city. It's hard to imagine a more pressing crisis facing our community than education.

If the higher courts rule as they should, AB 1381 will be found constitutional and will provide a historic opportunity for change and innovation. It gives the superintendent authority to reduce the bloated bureaucracy, and it offers new resources for the lowest-performing schools. By creating a partnership among elected officials — including the mayor — community leaders and parents, the legislation firmly rejects the outdated notion that school bureaucracy alone can tackle the most critical job of government: educating our children.

It is plainly and profoundly a responsibility that the entire community bears. L.A. Unified faces enormous challenges. Yet the structure governing the district was put in place at the beginning of the 20th century — about the time that the city's population reached the 100,000 mark. Today, there are more than 700,000 students and 75,000 employees in the district. While the isolation of the school district may have worked in the era of the Model T, it is demonstrably untenable today.

As this case goes to a higher court, I am confident that we have the law on our side. My office will continue planning to give the Mayor's Community Partnership Schools — the high schools and feeder schools that AB 1381 would put under my control — a running start when they open in the next academic year. We will engage parents, teachers, business leaders and members of the community in the selection, design, planning and administration of those schools to make them genuine incubators of innovation. We will continue to challenge business and philanthropy to stake their futures with the futures of our kids. We will continue to reach out to the mayors and elected officials of the communities that make up L.A. Unified, because we all have a role in the important work of education reform. And make no mistake: We will support leaders in the March school board elections who are committed to a vision of fundamental change.

The future economy of Los Angeles — and our ability to attract and retain middle-class jobs — hinge on our ability to improve our public schools. It's time for the entire community of Los Angeles together to face up to this defining challenge. Just as so many others did for me, I intend to fight for the students in L.A. Unified — and I will not be deterred.

smf notes: There is a surfeit of the personal pronoun "I" above, interchangeable with the not very inclusive "we/our/my". The constitutional mandate for separation of school district governance from city government was put in place not at the turn of the twentieth century or in the age of the Model T, but by a vote of the people in 1946 – and similarly into the City Charter of 2000. The Mayor is sworn to uphold both.


December 27, 2006 - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is way off base on the issue of educational reform. His plan doesn't look like it improves accountability in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It looks more like a Rube Goldberg contraption that will make a lot of noise, belch a lot of smoke and produce very little at the end.

There is nothing in his Op-Ed article that even hints at how the educational process will be improved by his reform. He takes a Rovian swing at the school bureaucracy, asserting that it alone educates students. With all his experience, he must know that bureaucracies can impede or facilitate, but they do not educate. It is also ironic that his legislation adds layers to the bureaucracy (the Council of Mayors) and creates additional structures that look like they diminish accountability (the Mayor's Community Partnership Schools). Villaraigosa has taken this thing in the wrong direction.

Los Alamitos

The mayor fails to understand that school reform is less a function of organization and structure and more about the critical transaction between student and teacher. It was Socrates who said that education could take place in a hovel as long as you have a teacher with something to teach and a student with the heart to learn. The ultimate solutions to the complex problems we face in education are not going to come from elected officials but through building the capacity of dynamic instruction and engaged learning, one classroom and one school at a time.

Moreno Valley

The mayor insists that improving public schools will bring more middle-class jobs. He has it backward. He as mayor needs to attract middle-class jobs and subsidize homeownership for the middle class, which in turn will bring middle-class families. These parents will insist on higher standards for their children's schools. This will lift the quality of education overall in the areas with so-called failing schools.

Long Beach

No matter who ends up governing Los Angeles' schools, students will not get the education they deserve until the state opens its purse and starts putting its money where its mouth is. California is one of the world's largest economies, and yet our per-pupil spending does not reflect this wealth. Our teacher-to-student ratio is dismal; we are third from the bottom. Make education a funding priority or spare us the charade.


MAYOR CHARTS LAUSD COURSE: Appeal, election part of strategy
by Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer, LA Daily News

12/23/06 - His legal defeat just a day old, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa began his next line of attack Friday to gain partial control of L.A.'s school district, filing an appeal to a judge's ruling against his takeover proposal and beginning his campaign to get the people he wants on the school board.

Besides the appeal, the mayor's attorneys asked a judge to stay the Thursday decision that ruled state Assembly Bill 1381 unconstitutional. The bill would have gone into effect Jan. 1.

But it's Villaraigosa's vow to return to the battleground he knows best — politics — by backing his own slate of candidates for the Los Angeles Unified School District board election in March that will continue to give him significant leverage over the district if an appeal fails but his candidates prevail.

With four of seven seats up for grabs, Villaraigosa is in a position to win a majority vote on the board, which means his reform effort could still become a reality, one way or another, said Jaime Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

"Even if the mayor loses, in some way he probably will still win if he gets majority support on the school board, which is very likely," Regalado said. "... What the school board doesn't want is to create an enemy in the mayor, who's a force in statewide politics and is going to higher places.

"If he wins a majority on the board, the board will be bending over backwards to try to create some role for the mayor, though it's too soon to tell what that role will be."

In addition to filing an appeal Friday with the state District Court of Appeal asking for an expedited hearing, legal advisers to the mayor were also considering a request to the state Supreme Court to take up the matter directly.


In the best-case scenario, Thomas Saenz, chief counsel for the mayor, said the appellate justices could hear arguments in January or February. The appeal has been in the works for several days in what Saenz described as "an abundance of caution" in preparing for a decision against the mayor.

Saenz said he also will be asking Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs — who made the Thursday ruling on the grounds that AB 1381 violated the state constitution, the City Charter and voter rights — to allow the law to go into effect Jan. 1 as the appeals go forward.

The appeal, the school board election and marketing are all part of Villaraigosa's offensive, he said.

"Our strategy has to be this — we've got to move through the courts, we've got to take this to the ballot box, we've got to continue to win the public opinion about education reform," he said. "... We want fundamental reform, but we can't be afraid to move along one step at a time."

Meanwhile Friday, both supporters and opponents of the mayor agreed on one truth: AB 1381 opened the dialogue for reforming the behemoth LAUSD.

Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, announced that he will introduce legislation in early January to break up the district into smaller, more accountable and manageable ones.

"I sincerely applaud the mayor in his recognition that LAUSD must be reformed, but I do not feel that mayoral control affords parents and local communities the necessary accountability over their children's education," Smyth said. "Now that the courts have ruled AB 1381 unconstitutional, we must take the momentum generated and put together a viable plan that passes constitutional muster and provides parents and students of Los Angeles the best education possible."

Other leaders, including United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy, said they will not be deterred by the judge's ruling in their push to bring dramatic reforms to the district.

Duffy said his plan is to bring all the interests together, including the school board, the superintendent, the mayor and the union, to determine how to move forward.

Placing low-performing schools into clusters so they could be better monitored has been an idea Duffy has been championing for a year. He said this is something he will continue to pursue, but on a smaller scale than the mayor's plan. He said he will also look to support candidates for the school board who back the idea of greater local control over budget and curriculum at school sites.

"The only relevant issue here is getting all of the people involved to determine what school reform should be about, irrespective of control," Duffy said.


Superintendent David Brewer III said Friday that he's going to push his "transformation initiatives," and that many of his ideas are in line with Villaraigosa's. And regardless of AB 1381, he will continue to hold quarterly meetings with the mayors of all 27 cities the LAUSD serves.

"Politics is always going to be there, but regardless of politics, in the final analysis, we usually get it right," Brewer said. "The process has already started. Change is coming. I will not accept the status quo, and the board knows that."

Prior to the court ruling, Villaraigosa had repeatedly urged the district to drop its lawsuit challenging AB 1381 to prevent a prolonged legal battle that would get in the way of reform.

Now, others are calling for the mayor to end his effort to assume partial control of the schools.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, released a statement Friday calling the judge's ruling that AB 1381 is unconstitutional a "victory for educational integrity."

"A Villaraigosa school takeover would have been risky, chaotic and ultimately open the schools to contentious political control," he said. "Mayor Villaraigosa should scrap plans to appeal the decision and put an end to his failed and flawed effort to control the schools and do what he was elected and paid to do, namely, improve the quality of life in L.A. That is more than a full-time job."

When the ruling was announced Thursday, Monica Garcia, the sole Villaraigosa supporter on the school board, said she'd like to see the district still move to create the three clusters of lowest-performing schools Villaraigosa had proposed to oversee.


The key is to make members of the public understand that it's important who they choose to serve on the school board, since the decisions they make have consequences to the communities, she said.

If the district does not commit to an action plan for change, partnership and transparency, leadership for reform can come from the school board, she said.

"I think there are going to be candidates that challenge the existing system," Garcia said, specifically citing Yolie Flores Aguilar, who's running for the open seat that will be vacated by incumbent David Tokofsky. "The current board or the board after March 6, 2007, will have a strong voice in whether or not we engage in (clusters and) ... partnerships with City Hall and the business communities like we haven't seen.

"The question is, Are we bold ... or are we patient?"

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Re "Mayor charts LAUSD course" (Dec. 23):

12/26 - Again the mayor is at it for control. It seems that every day he is trying to have his hand on everything - taking over the school district and traveling to foreign lands on our money. Every day on the news, he is there in front of the cameras doing unnecessary things.

I never saw James Hahn, Richard Riordan or especially Tom Bradley work in this manner as mayor. It would be better if Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa just stayed in his office and did the mayor's job for the city - or better yet if he got out and repaired the ruts and holes in the streets as he said he would do.


12/24/2006 - It's no surprise that the judge ruled the mayor's LAUSD bill unconstitutional. Sen. George Runner and I warned of that likelihood from the beginning. The mayor's bill is not only unconstitutional but was negotiated as a patchwork of back-room political compromises with special interest groups that would have led to ambiguity and no real responsibility or accountability for reform of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

With a dropout rate of 50 percent, a bloated bureaucracy, and headed for bankruptcy because of $10 billion of unfunded retiree health care costs, it is long past time for real reform of LAUSD. A vote of the people for smaller districts with local control, with more input from parents, teachers, and the community, and true accountability are what's needed to bring real education reform to our schools and to our children.

Former Assemblyman, 38th District

12/25/2006 - It is no wonder that Mayor Villaraigosa kept failing the State Bar exam when he continues to argue that he has the law on his side regarding the takeover of the LAUSD. All he had to do was read the City Charter to realize that he does not have the authority as mayor to run the schools.

What he should have done was ask the voters of L.A. to amend the charter, giving him that authority, instead of trying an end run around the voters by going to the state Legislature, which under the state constitution cannot give the mayor any additional authority that is not authorized by the City Charter.

Pacific Palisades

EDUCATION OVERHAUL URGED: Spending money on kids, qualified teachers at top of list

by Juliet Williams, Associated Press

12/26/2006 - SACRAMENTO - At the same time they are being asked to meet ever-tougher state and federal standards, California's schools face long-standing, seemingly intractable problems.

Among them: Huge achievement gaps related to income and race, fewer teachers skilled in such areas as math and science, and a slew of complicated mandates to meet.

Politicians over the past decade have tried to tackle the problems but failed to solve the most persistent ones, even as education is cited by voters as one of their most important issues.

The latest to take on the challenge is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has convened a broad-based, bipartisan panel of experts to perform a comprehensive review of California's public school system. Its mandate ranges from reviewing the funding system to studying effective teaching.

Educators hope it will lead to long-lasting change.

"I don't see that we have a choice. I just think we're at the point where we've tinkered around the edges for so long. ... There's no more tinkering that can be done," said Russlyn Ali, director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based policy and research organization.


Ali also is a member of the Committee on Education Excellence, the task force Schwarzenegger appointed in April 2005.

The group is expected to start making recommendations to the governor and other state leaders in early 2007. Before then, it will receive a series of research studies requested by Democratic legislative leaders and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

He said the academic review for the first time will try to estimate the real cost of a quality education for California students, including the 1.6 million English learners and 3.1 million who are considered poor. They represent half of all students in the nation's largest public education system.

O'Connell also hopes the research will persuade Sacramento decision-makers to set funding based on schools' needs, rather than fluctuations in the economy or the state budget.

California is spending a record amount on schools this year, but progress in closing its achievement gaps has been slow.

Nearly a third of the 6,000 schools that receive federal funding for poor students failed to make annual yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Only a third have met the statewide achievement goals, some of the highest in the nation.

Black and Hispanic students still trail their white and Asian counterparts by as much as 30 percentage points in English at nearly all grade levels, and the gaps are nearly as wide in math. Still, the state has some of the toughest standards in the nation.


Commission President Ted Mitchell said its recommendations for reform will be bold. They will range from cutting unproductive state jobs to measuring teachers' effectiveness at raising student achievement.

"Maybe for the first time we're ready for a complicated conversation," about education in California, said Mitchell, who is president of Occidental College in Los Angeles.

If the governor and the Legislature accept the recommendations, they likely will lead to an overhaul of the state's funding system, new legislation to streamline the complicated system of special programs and perhaps a constitutional amendment in the form of a ballot initiative, Mitchell told The Associated Press.

More than half of California's annual budget is dedicated to education, with spending forecast to balloon to $57.5 billion in fiscal 2007, about $11,000 per student. Much of that money is eaten up by bureaucratic oversight.

Mitchell said it already is clear that the state spends too much money administering education programs and not enough on actually delivering them to students. Ensuring that the existing funding is more efficiently spent could go a long way toward addressing some of the most pressing problems, he said.

"While each one (of the programs) had or has its purpose, together they really hamstring the ability of schools to make good and timely decisions," he said.

For example, principals are held accountable for meeting student achievement targets, but California's system of state-controlled funding gives them very little control over their own budgets to use money where they think it's needed.

Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, wants to streamline programs. He is seeking to give local school officials more control over hiring and spending decisions through several pieces of legislation he has written.

Scott said the state's first priority in considering changes should be teacher quality. It should ensure that all students have access to the best teachers, rather than having them concentrated in wealthier schools that already have high achievement rates, as they are now.

"I'm working very hard on this matter, because it may be the key civil-rights issue of the 21st century: What are we doing to address the unequal quality of teaching?" he said. "Here we have the students in the low-performing schools, many of them are English-language learners, they come from poverty homes, and yet we haven't distributed our teachers in such a way that the best teachers are teaching in those schools."

Mitchell agreed that good leadership, including school principals, is a core concern for the committee.

"Having an excellent teacher in the classroom is the heart of the matter, and making sure that in California we re-professionalize the labor force ... It's quite critical to our success," he said.


• What it will take, financially and otherwise, to make all California teachers "well qualified" as required under the No Child Left Behind Act. Every state in the nation failed to meet that goal last fall.

• Why the state has not accurately tracked high school dropout rates and how it can start doing so.

• How to recruit and properly train an estimated 100,000 new teachers California is forecast to need in the next decade, including making it easier for out-of-state teachers and mid-career professionals to obtain credentials.

Some suggestions, particularly ideas about measuring teachers' effectiveness, are likely to meet resistance from powerful interests such as the California Teachers Association.

The politically powerful union has resisted previous efforts to monitor teachers. It successfully campaigned against a Schwarzenegger ballot initiative during the 2005 special election that would have increased the time teachers had to wait to attain tenure, or job security, from two years to five. Voters rejected the measure.

by Joel Rubin, LA Times Staff Writer

December 26, 2006 - Iris Sanchez is stumbling toward high school.

With two weeks left before winter break started, the quiet eighth-grader was flunking math, science and history. She was studying little at home and missing classes.

She has, in short, the makings of a dropout.

But on a recent Tuesday morning, Iris was pulled out of her third-period class at Sepulveda Middle School and called to the counseling office. She slipped meekly into a closet-sized room and found herself face to face with Lauren Weiss.

Part tough-love sergeant and part mother figure, Weiss led Iris through a crash course on the pitfalls awaiting her next year.

"You've got to own your education, Iris. You've got to own it. In high school, when you see your grades going down, it is really important that … bells go off in your head," she said. "You go and you ask for help. Good students get help. All right?"

Iris is hardly alone. Every year, thousands of low-performing, unprepared students in the Los Angeles Unified School District move from middle to high school. There, with more rigorous high-stakes academics and intense social pressures, they can find it easy to fall behind, grow frustrated and give up.

It is a story line that school district officials say must be rewritten. After having focused for years on elementary and high school reforms, L.A. Unified leaders say they are turning their attention to middle schools in hopes of better preparing students for high school and thus stemming the district's alarming dropout rate.

"Middle schools have been overlooked," said Robert Collins, the district's chief instructional officer for secondary education. "We can't win the high school issues unless we do a better job in middle schools."

The problem is not limited to Los Angeles. Across the country, educators have struggled with how to teach adolescents in the awkward middle years. Briefly the subject of national debate in the late 1980s, middle school reform efforts have since slipped largely into the shadows.

In coming months, Los Angeles Unified officials are expected to ask the Board of Education for the go-ahead on aggressive reforms for middle schools. Even if approved, however, such reforms, which could include a longer school day, would take years to fully implement.

Until then, Weiss and the cadre of other counselors hired this year to work in some of the district's neediest middle schools are doing triage to identify and intervene with at-risk students.

"The idea of dropping out begins as a quiet secret in the minds of middle-schoolers," Weiss said. "If there isn't someone there who reaches them to bust that idea, it will grow and grow."

For a series of articles earlier this year, The Times spent eight months examining the dropout problem at a typical district high school. In interviews, hundreds of dropouts and struggling students echoed Weiss, saying middle school had done little to ready them for high school.

A failing grade in middle school, for example, rarely meets with any serious repercussions, but in high school, poor-performing students get caught in a downward spiral. They must pass classes to earn credits needed to graduate. With every class they fail and repeat, struggling students slip further behind.

The social and emotional transition from middle to high school can be rough. Often for the first time, high school students encounter a host of outside pressures — gangs, work and sex — that can push them to drop out.

Los Angeles school district officials announced a set of initiatives in February aimed at tackling the dropout crisis. As part of the effort, Weiss and other "diploma project advisors" were placed in low-performing middle schools. Another group was sent into troubled high schools.

Including Sepulveda in the northeast San Fernando Valley community of North Hills, 33 of the district's 74 traditional middle schools have the new counselors. They are expected to work with the students at greatest risk — in general, those who are failing at least three classes or who have serious discipline and attendance problems.

Sessions can last 10 minutes or two hours and can be businesslike discussions of study habits and grades or deeply emotional forays into a troubled student's family life.

Counselors connect students to whatever tutoring, psychological or social services they need. They press these students to take extra classes on weekends or vacations and attempt to open their eyes to the realities awaiting them in high school. They call parents and try — often futilely — to get them to become more involved in their children's education.

At Gage Middle School in Huntington Park, the job is daunting. More than 3,300 students from the poor, Latino immigrant community overfill the school. The seven traditional counselors on staff scramble to manage caseloads of about 500 students each, more than 40% of whom struggle to speak English.

After Gage, most students enter nearby Huntington Park High School. There, according to current state figures, slightly more than one in four will drop out.

There were so many students at Gage this year with at least three failing grades — 560 — that Diane Chavez-Palmer had to scale back when she arrived a few months ago. To make the workload manageable, she sees only the 150 students flunking four or more classes.

"If you're a doctor, you want to be in the emergency room, where it's nonstop and a little crazy," she said. "That's kind of what it's like here."

Most frustrating, Chavez-Palmer said, is the difficulty in getting students and parents to follow through on her recommendations for tutoring and other services. At a recent meeting, only 20 parents showed up.

There is little Chavez-Palmer and the other counselors can do to compel middle school students to work harder. A district policy requiring principals to hold back eighth-grade students who fail to meet minimal standards in English and math is largely ignored, said Collins, the chief instructional officer.

The small piece of leverage counselors do have over failing students — threatening to ban them from informal graduation ceremonies schools hold for eighth-graders — often does little to sway students.

"As long as I go on to the ninth grade," a 14-year-old boy shrugged when Diane-Chavez raised the prospect.

"You didn't pass the majority of your classes in seventh grade and went on to eighth. The same will happen this year," the blunt-talking counselor replied. "But what's going to happen next year? How many times do you think Huntington Park High School is going to allow you to do this?"

Weiss, who wrote a guidebook to high school for Sepulveda eighth-graders, often relies on sheer repetition to drum the realities of high school into the heads of the 83 eighth-graders on her rolls.

"Say that back to me: What happens if you fail a class in high school?" she said to 13-year-old Christina Duran as the two read a page from the guidebook.

"You repeat it," Duran said, her voice almost a whisper.

"What happens if you fail a class in high school?"

"You repeat it."

Weiss let the message sink in. Silence filled the tiny room as the two stared at each other.

Christina dropped her eyes to the floor. "I didn't know that," she said with a nervous laugh.

District officials heap praise on the counselors but are quick to acknowledge that deep and broad changes are needed to salvage L.A. Unified's middle schools. More than half of the roughly 158,000 middle school students tested either "below basic" or "far below basic" on state math tests last year, and 40% foundered at those levels on English tests. Moreover, 68 of the 74 middle schools are on a federal watch list for falling short of testing benchmarks, and 47 of those schools have been on the list for four or more years.

"We're not going to change things by trying harder at what we have been doing," Collins said. "This cannot be reform around the edges."

In response to the dramatic number of students failing math, the district this year scrapped its policy of requiring all eighth-graders to take algebra and created "algebra readiness" classes for struggling students.

Many unprepared students, however, are still being placed in algebra. This year at Gage, for example, one math teacher estimated that at least half of the 35 students in one of her algebra classes were failing.

A task force is compiling ideas that will be presented to the school board. It is likely to have the support of recently appointed Supt. David L. Brewer, who has repeatedly pointed to middle schools as one of the district's greatest challenges.

The task force, Collins said, has been looking for reform ideas at charter schools, primarily the high-achieving Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, schools, and the few well-regarded district programs.

Requiring students to repeat failed classes, overhauling the often subpar instruction the more-than 54,000 "English-learner" students receive and restructuring schools to allow teams of teachers to work with small groups of students are some of the ideas on the table.

The task force also is expected to recommend an increase to the length of the middle school day by one or two periods to help struggling students, a dramatic and expensive move that would require the approval of the teachers union.

"For too long, we have not been saying to middle school students and parents, 'These are our standards and this is our set of expectations…. It is expected that you're going to pass every class,' " Collins said.

"We cannot just keep pushing students along."

L.A. MAGNET SCHOOL MEETINGS HAVE A TWIST: Los Angeles parents find help with magnet school applications at seminars with a twist

by Ana Beatriz Cholo, The Associated Press

Dec. 26 – LOS ANGELES – In the cutthroat competition to get their kids into a public magnet school, some parents are turning to support groups and a stiff drink to help them through the process.

The support groups are for commiserating and to share tips on finishing a deceptively complex one-page application. The drinks, jokes one parent, are to numb the pain.

"You just want to break down weeping because you can't make sense of it," laments writer and performer Sandra Tsing Loh.

Loh organizes meetings called "Martinis and Magnets" based on her experience as a parent traumatized by the year she spent getting her young daughter into kindergarten.

Applying for a magnet school is a common theme among many middle-class parents in large districts across the country this time of year. It's usually not simple and admissions criteria vary by city.

For schools geared to gifted kids, admission is based on academic merit. For regular magnet schools, it's usually a lottery-based system that weighs factors like race.

In Los Angeles, for example, higher points go to applicants who live near an overcrowded school with a large minority population. A racially weighted lottery is used for magnets in Chicago.

In New York City, which offers the most varied educational choices for parents in the country, a thick book written by a former reporter is available to guide parents through the confusing maze of public schools.

Strategizing is important when it comes to getting into the best performing magnet schools, and it can take several years to finally break through.

Last year, the Los Angeles school district received 56,414 applications for 162 magnet schools. About 23 percent, or 12,932 students, were given spots.

One purpose of most magnet schools is integration. In Los Angeles, 30 percent of the slots are reserved for white students, said Donnalyn Anton, executive officer of education services for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

During the past year, officials have tried to simplify the magnet school booklet that describes the labyrinth of schools and the process of applying. Parents, including Loh, were enlisted to help make it clearer.

"We're not trying to make it something that will confuse people," Anton said.

More than a year ago, Loh and Christie Mellor, a fellow public school parent and the author of "The Three-Martini Playdate," came up with the idea of holding the seminars.

A small menu of educationally themed drinks is served at the meetings to help relax "sleep-deprived, hysterical parents," Loh said. One such drink is the "Roy Romer," named for the former Los Angeles schools superintendent a splash of candied ginger vodka with cranberry juice.

For this year's first meeting, more than 100 parents crammed into a small art studio. The expectation was to have a relaxed, casual affair, but the issues that surfaced were anything but.

A childless couple said they were thinking about having kids. One mom wondered if she should be testing her baby now. A dad with a Ph.D. couldn't figure out the lottery system, which is based on accumulating points.

Loh herself said she went through "a year of madness."

When her daughter was almost ready for kindergarten, Loh wasn't keen on the local neighborhood school because of negative perceptions about it fueled by other parents. But shelling out big bucks for a private school was not an option either.

She enrolled her daughter at the local school after seeing it for herself, but then a slot opened at a magnet school and Loh started her there instead.

Mellor's oldest son attends one of the most prestigious magnet high schools in the city, The Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies.

He got lucky, she readily admits. He had been on the waiting list but just as the family was about to leave on a summer vacation, the school called. It had a spot for him.

Mellor thinks if they had missed that call, it's likely her son never would have gotten in.

Eileen Kugler, a Virginia parent who wrote "Debunking the Middle-Class Myth: Why Diverse Schools Are Good for All Kids," said she applauds the effort but wonders if such cocktail parties might exclude some immigrant and low-income parents who may need more help.

"Once you name something 'Martinis and Magnets' you make it somewhat exclusive," she said. "It's going to attract a particular type of parent."

But Loh thinks it's the pushy, neurotic middle-class parents who will ultimately lead the drive to help improve public schools. When that happens, the upside is that all students benefit, she says.

A couple of weekends ago, a meeting held at an art studio was more discussion-oriented and not so nuts and bolts as in previous gatherings.

Still, acronyms and the jargon beloved by education bureaucrats were freely tossed around by parents in the know.

But not everyone there was in the know.

"This is confusing," Kim Smith said with a sigh as her 4-year-old bounced around next to her.

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

• The Mayor: • 213/978-0600
• The Governor: • 213-897-0322
• 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.
• Register.
• 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.
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