Saturday, May 12, 2007

Slicing and dicing the apples and oranges.

4LAKids: Mothers Day Sunday, May 13, 2007
In This Issue:
CHARTER SCHOOLS: 'MORE BANG FOR THE BUCK' - USC study suggests the campuses can boost student achievement faster than traditional sites...
EDUCATORS, POLITICIANS, AND MTV TAKE AIM AT US DROPOUT 'EPIDEMIC': National summit in DC addresses the issue, hoping to get more students to graduate.
KEEPING, OR AT LEAST COUNTING, DROPOUTS: L.A. Unified School District should accurately count dropouts and provide more options to keep them in school
COSTS OF L.A. UNIFIED'S BUILDING PLAN SOAR: The district's campus construction shortfall jumps from $1.6 billion to $2.4 billion.
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
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.
ONE OF THE MOST TELLING (and oft repeated) COMPLAINTS about No Child Left Behind/Standards Based/Test Driven Education Reforms is that they do not encourage critical thinking skills. Critical thinking skills are – uh – critical in the great "The World is Flat" economy of our twenty-first century. Unfortunately critical thinking is just not lacking in NCLB …it is lacking in the public discourse about just about everything. Debate is universally colored by the views from the extremes, political correctness ("Can one even say 'Colored'?") and the short attention span of the term-limited politico looking for the 'aha moment', the quick fix and a sound byte to feed the news cycle.

[AN ASIDE ABOUT NCLB 'REFORMS': Progressive reform looks forward; NCLB looks back. It harkens back to the 'good old days' …to a golden age that was far from it. That's not reform, gentle reader, that's reaction.]

WITNESS THE BLIZZARD OF NEWS STORIES and studies trumpeting the success of charter schools – and the knee jerk reaction of editorial boards and the popular media. Then read the actual reports. Not just the Press Release or the Executive Summary – but the whole study. Then ask the critical question.

Below [Charter Schools: 'More bang for the buck'] is a story about a recent USC study.

• READ CAREFULLY and see - not what the headlines and spin imply: (charter schools are good, regular schools are bad) — but what the report actually says (charter schools spend their money in different ways than regular schools).

• THINK CRITICALLY: Do we determine educational outcome in how money is spent or in how well children are educated? Do we want students who do well in school – or do we want students who do well in life?

This report is from the USC School of Education/Center on Educational Governance but dig a little deeper:
Q: Who paid for the study? A: Foundations who fund and support the charter school movement.
Q: Who is on the board of the Center on Educational Governance that commissioned the report and awarded the contract? A: Major players in the charter school movement.

Now drill down into what the report actually says about the success of charter schools in teaching English Language Learners and Special Ed. Bear in mind that
• 70%+ of LAUSD students come from homes where English is not the first language,
• 46% of LAUSD students are identified English Language Learners, and
• about 10% are in Special Education.

LET'S DO OUR OWN STUDY and compare some apples with apples.
• Start out with what we know about charter schools: Charters are small programs generally serving small communities of about 400 students.
• There are 201 regular elementary schools in LAUSD that have enrollments of 400 or fewer students. The average API index for the 201 schools is 781.
• Charter schools in LA have an average API of 708.
• The average API for all LAUSD schools is 700.
Ralph E. Shaffer and Walter P. Coombs, professors emeriti at Cal Poly Pomona, wrote in a Los Angeles Times editorial on April 19th that the difference between 708 and 700 is "insignificant considering that charters have a selected clientele, siphoning off kids with the most engaged parents."
• However the difference between 708 and 781 is quite significant.
• The statewide average API is 721 – factor in the variables of English Language Learners (the state average is 26%, LAUSD has 46% ELL) and the socioeconomic disparity of an urban population front loaded with recent immigrants.
• Are we doing good enough? No, "good enough" never is!
• Do we have a way to go? Yes.
• Are we on our way? Yes we are.

Think Critically: Don't take my word for it, go onto the CDE website and see for yourself.

LOTSA NEWS THIS WEEK ABOUT GREEN DOT PUBLIC SCHOOLS taking over Locke High School. Green Dot has had success in starting up small charters in communities of need; they have no record in conversion charters (taking over existing schools) …and no outside charter operator has any record in taking over a 2782 student program at a single school! Green Dot currently has 2,022 high school students on ten campuses.

One cannot fault success where it exists: Green Dot claims a graduation rate of 80 or 90% (depending on which of their web pages visited …The Times says its 75%). Improving outcome in schools averaging 202 students is one thing – an excellent thing. Turning around a program of nearly 3000 is a horse of a far different color.

THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD gushes enthusiastically for Green Dot and in zeal punishing LAUSD: Locke teachers and parents are the first to "Seceding from the LAUSD" and the yoke of the Big Bad District and Teacher's Union! One can smell the metaphorical gunpowder in the air about Fort Sumter, to the mayor's takeover team it smells like victory!

The Times doesn't let the facts get in the way: Many existing LAUSD schools have taken the charter route, all required that parent-and-teacher vote. Palisades High and Granada Hills High are famous examples –successful programs within the district continuing their success as charters. Probably the best example of an LAUSD conversion charter is the Vaughn Next Century Learning Center in Pacoima – here is a program with lessons to be learned and an administrator in Yvonne Chan to teach them!

CHARTER SCHOOLS WERE INTENDED TO BE entrepreneurial programs that think and act outside the box, shifting control of programs and budget to innovators to try new things. The best 'new things' would become 'lessons-learned' and be transferred back to school districts. No one envisioned charter schools becoming chains of wholly-owned-outlets like WalMart or franchises like Jiffy Lube in competition with school districts — practicing the art of the corporate raid, hostile takeover and high stakes arbitrage with the taxpayer's money and our children.

THERE'S AN ELECTION ON TUESDAY in the Valley and in the South LA/Harbor area. Jess Uhruh's First Law says that "Money is the mother's milk of politics". And remember what the shadowy man in the parking garage said? "Follow the money".*

The mayor and his backers have spent something like three million dollars to 'have a say' in how the school district's $8.2 billion annual operating budget and the $19.5 school construction budget is spent …and coincidentally on how and where our children should be educated. If LAUSD were a corporation it would be #250 on the Fortune 500; a successful takeover wouldn't be a bad return on a $3 million investment by special interests! The 'say' the mayor would like to have is explicitly denied him in the state constitution; the courts have said so twice in the past six months. IF his candidates are elected and IF they transfer authority of schools to him the courts will forbid that also …because the law is the law. But in the interim more time, effort and classroom & pothole money will be wasted.

4LAKids asks that you vote for JON LAURITZEN in the Valley School Board Seat #3

4LAKids asks that you vote for NEAL KLEINER in South LA/Harbor/School Board Seat #7

…and while we're at it, for GEORGIA MERCER in the Community College Board election.

Will 4LAKids, Parents, the Teacher's Union, The LA Times, The Daily News, Daily Breeze, their colleagues on the board, the Superintendent …or the Mayor… always agree with Jon and Neal all the time if they're elected? No.

Are they well qualified? Yes.

Are their opponents qualified? Yes.

If being a city hall attorney with children not old enough to attend school qualifies one to serve on the school board in the case of Tamar Galatzan in District 3.

Richard Vladovic is certainly qualified in District 7. The strike against him is that he's taking the mayor's money. 4LAKids fears there may be side effects of that kind of exposure.

In the end we rely on a rephrasing (cleaned up for a gentler audience, not political correctness) of Jess Unruh's Second Law: If you can't take their money and then vote against them you don't belong in politics!

DOES IT REALLY MATTER WHO WINS? Will the world end on Wednesday if the mayor's slate wins? I think it does matter; perhaps what matters most is that those who can vote do vote. We know that the turnout will be low, probably in the single digits. This actually makes your vote count for more — but only if you cast it! Onward! —smf

* W. Mark Felt ("Deep Throat") to Bob Woodward re: Watergate.

What Jess actually said.

CHARTER SCHOOLS: 'MORE BANG FOR THE BUCK' - USC study suggests the campuses can boost student achievement faster than traditional sites...
...but finds they trail in other categories.

by Mitchell Landsberg, LA Times Staff Writer

May 4, 2007 — California charter schools get "more bang for the buck" than traditional public schools and may be improving at a faster clip, according to a report scheduled for release today. Still, the charters continue to trail regular public schools in academic achievement and seem to have a tougher time teaching English to students who are learning it as a second language.

Despite the shortcomings, the report "suggests that charter schools are better able to increase student performance in a shorter period of time than non-charter public schools," said its principal author, Priscilla Wohlstetter, a professor of education policy and director of the Center on Educational Governance at USC. "We're talking about academic momentum."

Wohlstetter is presenting the report today at the annual meeting of the National Education Writers Assn. in Los Angeles.

Charter schools are independent, publicly funded elementary and secondary schools that operate outside the bureaucratic structure of traditional school districts. Although they still educate a relatively small percentage of children, their numbers have been growing explosively in California, especially in the area served by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In the past, reports on charter schools have tended to find little evidence that they do a better job of educating children than traditional public schools, although reports in 2005 by the Charter Schools Assn. and The Times found that charters were improving in academic achievement faster than non-charters.

That was the conclusion of Wohlstetter's report, Charter Schools Indicators, which tried to find new and more insightful measures of school performance than those currently in use.

Rather than just looking at the results of standardized tests, the study attempted to gauge "academic momentum," to see if schools are getting better over time, and "school productivity," to see how their academic achievement relates to the amount of money they spend.

Academic momentum was gauged only over a single school year, which could raise questions about whether it is subject to year-to-year fluctuations. Gauging schools by financial outlay — what Wohlstetter referred to as "bang for the buck" — thrusts the study into a long-running debate about whether it makes sense to judge schools by corporate models of productivity.

The USC study adopted other language more commonly seen in corporate reports than in school surveys. For instance, it looked at the liquidity of charter schools, their cash reserves and "direct classroom investment."

The study found that charter schools' investments in classrooms were "relatively low" — 75% or less of total revenue. The Assn. of California School Administrators estimates that traditional public schools, which have higher administrative and overhead costs, spend about 65% of their revenues in the classroom.

Caprice Young, president and chief executive of the California Charter Schools Assn., said the report shows "that, despite the fact that the cards are stacked against charter schools, the students in them improve faster than they do in other schools. What that report shows is that we don't get to spend as much in the classrooms because we have to spend more on facilities."

Charter operators have been feuding with Los Angeles Unified over what they say is its refusal to live up to a legal obligation to provide space for the schools. The district insists that it has provided as much space as it reasonably could — more than 11,000 seats at a cost of more than $100 million.

Charter schools employ far fewer credentialed teachers who may have less experience than their counterparts in traditional schools, the report said.

Both Young and Wohlstetter said they were puzzled by one of the report's findings: that English language learners in charter schools are much less likely than their counterparts in traditional schools to be reclassified as proficient in English.

"We're curious about that," said Young, who is on the advisory board of the Center for Educational Governance. "It's an interesting statistic, and we don't know what's behind it."

She said it might be a reflection of the fact that there are a relatively large number of dual-language charter schools, where English learners continue being taught for half the day in their native language. She said the association is eager to know the answer and to determine if charter schools can improve their English language education.

The USC report was funded by several large foundations. It was intended to be the first step in a long-term research project whose goal is to establish a publicly accessible website analyzing every charter school in the state.

►the USD/CEG study:

▲More of the Same/Anointing their Own: "6 L.A. County charter schools are among 39 in state to be certified " (LA Times)

EDUCATORS, POLITICIANS, AND MTV TAKE AIM AT US DROPOUT 'EPIDEMIC': National summit in DC addresses the issue, hoping to get more students to graduate.
by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

May 9, 2007— With her grandmother correcting her grammar every step of the way, Jynell Harrison made it to high school graduation in 2005. It wasn't easy being surrounded by "a lot of kids that didn't really care about education" and teachers who "get fed up with kids not paying attention, and kind of lose interest," she says in a phone interview. Nearly half the students in her district, Providence, R.I., don't graduate high school within four years.

Now making gelato for a living and paying rent to her mom, Ms. Harrison poured her ideas about education into an essay after hearing about a $10,000 college scholarship contest on MTV. She won, and on May 9 she'll speak in front of hundreds of educators, policymakers, and peers at the National Summit to End America's Silent Dropout Epidemic. "I'm most looking forward to having my opinion mean something," she says.

The summit in Washington is carrying forward the momentum that's been building for the past few years in response to some sobering statistics: About 3 out of 10 American ninth-graders don't graduate with their class – with the ratio climbing to nearly half for African-Americans, Hispanics, and native Americans.

By combining student voices, examples of successful policies, and a new online tool for pinpointing graduation rates in every school district in the United States, it's meant to be an "action-forcing event," says John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises, the public policy group leading the summit. Cosponsors include the National Governors Association, MTV, Time magazine, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Two bipartisan bills were recently proposed in the US Congress that would authorize about $3 billion toward redu­cing dropout rates. A number of governors and local officials are also tackling the issue head-on as more people sound the alarm over the implications of a high dropout rate for America's future. "We've been asleep at the switch for a number of decades ... and now for the first time ... we're potentially on the cusp of really grabbing hold of this dropout issue and doing something meaningful about it," says Mr. Bridgeland, who co-wrote "The Silent Epidemic," a 2006 report on the perspectives of dropouts.

Such perspectives are also center stage in a documentary about three high-schoolerson the brink of graduating – or not. "The Dropout Chronicles" premieres May 9 on MTV in conjunction with the summit. It follows the teens as they talk with counselors, face pressure from friends who have dropped out, and struggle to earn their last credits. "It's not sugarcoated," says Ian Rowe, a vice president at MTV. "We hear from our audience that when they see stories like that ... it helps them in their own life figure out how they can best prepare to graduate from high school ready for college."

The documentary also directs young people to a website ( with resources for getting through high school graduation and thinking about college.

Pinning down realistic graduation rates is one key to finding solutions. An online color-coded interactive map will be released at the summit by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center (EPERC), a nonprofit in Washington. Click on any school district and you'll get a report showing what percentage of students who start ninth grade graduate four years later, the number of students lost in each grade in between, and how the district compares with the state and the nation. (It's available May 9 at

This method is meant to counteract the tendency of some districts to overstate graduation rates by counting only the percentage of the 12th-grade class that graduates, while many students drop out before then. But some critics fault the EPERC method because it does not account for students who transfer in or out and how that affects the rate. Christopher Swanson, director of the center, says the online tool is the best information available; based on a federal database, it's the only way to compare districts across states.

Governors in all 50 states agreed to a Graduation Counts Compact in 2005, saying they would work toward reporting graduation based on the portion of ninth-graders who finish four years later. That's important, Bridgeland says, because "if you miss a year or don't finish on time, your chances of coming back [and graduating] are small." So far at least 13 states have complied, and several dozen more expect to comply by 2010.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have also made school compulsory until age 18, and more than a dozen legislatures are considering such proposals.

But many advocates and policymakers emphasize the need for high schools to offer a more engaging experience that students see as relevant. Even without an influx of new resources, schools and communities can make a big difference for borderline students, Bridgeland says. In his report, about half the students who started missing a lot of school said they weren't ever contacted by the school to find out why. Many "longed for service-learning, internships, theme-based classes," he says. Two-thirds said they would have worked harder if more were demanded of them.

Jynell Harrison, the MTV winner, credits her family and her freshman English teacher with showing her the value of education.

"I would try to get people to appreciate that we had a free education, so why not learn?" she says, but after ninth grade even she felt "teachers didn't seem to care that much."

The summit will highlight a variety of approaches that have shown some success at improving the environment in high schools. For instance, more than 100 high schools have started or been redesigned in the past four years as part of the Early College High School Initiative. Students recruited from low-performing groups take college courses while still in high school. The ninth-graders in the schools that opened initially have graduated at a rate of 90 percent, with more than 80 percent accepted into four-year colleges.

A lawmaker in Maine recently introduced a state bill requiring all high-schoolers to fill out a college application before graduating. Students wouldn't be forced to apply, but similar moves in some schools have motivated more students to graduate.

Some of the strongest advocates for dropout reduction are civil rights groups like the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), which is pushing for a reauthorized version of No Child Left Behind that would hold schools accountable for graduation rates, not just test scores. "To this day, when you say that 50 percent of Latinos don't make it to graduation, people are still surprised by that, and I think it's time we start ... doing something about that data," says Melissa Lazarín, a senior policy analyst at NCLR.

Dire dropout rates, particularly for African-American males, are a focal point for The Black Star Project in Chicago, which promotes mentoring and school improvement nationwide. The group has distributed thousands of "contracts" to students in elementary schools and high schools, featuring stark information about the ramifications of dropping out, such as becoming more likely to go to prison.

"We wanted to put shock value in that contract – we wanted kids to look at this and say 'Wow, if I drop out, this is the life I'm gonna live?' " says executive director Phillip Jackson.

The contract gives students two choices of where to sign: One acknowledges that if they drop out, "the quality of my life and the lives of my loved ones will be dramatically decreased," and the other is an agreement to "do whatever it takes to graduate from high school...."

47% Classes were not interesting
43% Missed too many days and could not catch up
42% Spent time with people who were not interested in school
38% Had too much freedom and not enough rules in my life
35% Was failing in school

5 reasons source: The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts, a report by Civic Enterprises, 2006

KEEPING, OR AT LEAST COUNTING, DROPOUTS: L.A. Unified School District should accurately count dropouts and provide more options to keep them in school
LA Times Editorial

May 12, 2007 - BETWEEN ONE-QUARTER AND ONE-HALF of L.A. students drop out between their freshman year of high school and diploma time. And that's about as specific as anyone gets about dropouts these days.

This is troubling on two counts. Parents, schools and taxpayers should have a much better grasp of how many students are giving up and heading to an adulthood filled with go-nowhere jobs — if they can find jobs at all. And whatever number is correct, it's unacceptably high.

A 2005 report from the Civil Rights Project research center (which this year moved from Harvard University to UCLA) said that close to half of ninth-graders in the Los Angeles Unified School District drop out before completing high school. The number is almost certainly inflated. For one thing, it doesn't take into account the 25% of L.A. Unified families that move every year, often out of the district.

But the study forced school leaders to address a disgrace they had long tucked away. It gave Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a bell to ring about school failures. And it drew attention to the district's own statistical manipulations that long made dropout rates look artificially low.

Confronted with evidence of a crisis, district officials at first blamed impoverished students and indifferent parents. They pointed out improvements in elementary test scores, as though that was somehow relevant. A proposal to remake 10 of the district's worst middle and high schools never gained much traction. Classic LAUSD: defend, deflect and delay.

But the outcry remained, and the district has since taken sensible steps. Dropout prevention advisors track down absentees and talk to families. Schools report their truancy rates monthly. Huge, impersonal high schools are shrinking to small learning communities. Career training — which struggling students say would help keep them in school — is finally gaining ground.

Now that structural changes are underway, the district needs to hone in where it counts: instruction. Teachers of younger students must do a better job of preparing them for higher-level work, an instructional basic that the district has never mastered. Middle schools should not be able to pass failing students along so that they become some algebra teacher's liability later. And the district has taken only tentative steps toward putting top teachers in low-performing schools, where students already at risk of dropping out are too often placed in the care of weak instructors.

There is no magic wand. Even at the Green Dot charter schools, which the mayor has held up as a model for transforming L.A. Unified, a quarter of students don't graduate. Still, it is not too much to ask the district for honest accounting and a better performance at keeping students in school.

▲ smf chimes in: This problem (an inability to establish what the grad rate/dropout rate is) is statewide – because the state has yet to come up with a method of tracking students, counting dropouts or establishing a dropout rate because of the transience of California students – moving from district-to-district across the state. The California Department of Education has admitted this and agreed that it is their job – and CDE is "working on it!"

AND NOBODY'S PERFECT. Green Dot claims on one page of their website a 90% grad rate, on another an 80% grad rate – and the Times says it's 75%. 75% is the high end of The Times ('Between one-quarter and one-half..') gloom-and-doom projections for LAUSD. Whatever it is, it's too high.

Especially as not being in school before one graduates or becomes eighteen is illegal in California, 16 other states and the District of Columbia

The other Times editorial: "Seceding from the LAUSD"

COSTS OF L.A. UNIFIED'S BUILDING PLAN SOAR: The district's campus construction shortfall jumps from $1.6 billion to $2.4 billion.

By Howard Blume, LA Times Staff Writer

May 11, 2007 — The projected shortfall in the new Los Angeles Unified School District's campus construction program has ballooned from $1.6 billion to at least $2.4 billion in the last six months, the result of spiraling construction costs. And Los Angeles school officials, who were already scrambling to cover the lower shortfall, have no plan in place that would entirely make up the gap.

The alarm from staff members emerged Thursday during a committee meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Education. It was a familiar one — but with much higher numbers. Last November the messenger had been outgoing Supt. Roy Romer, who warned of potential trouble to come in the $20-billion-plus school construction and modernization program — the nation's largest — which has been a point of pride for the school district.

"We have the end in sight," chief facilities executive Guy Mehula said in an interview. "But putting too many of these projects on hold will not only increase costs, it will delay further our goal of getting a neighborhood school for every child."

Things will get tighter still if the school system's academic reforms truly deliver — luring back middle-class students and reducing dropout rates, which are about 50% at some schools.

The main culprit, said Jim Cowell, head of new construction, is the ever-rising cost of building. The previous $1.6-billion deficit was based on future project-cost estimates of $500 per square foot. The shortfall rises to $2.4 billion at $600 per square foot and $3.2 billion at $700 per square foot. Two recent bids came in near the $700 mark, Cowell said.

At this rate, the school system might not be able to comply with a court order to remove all schools from a year-round schedule by the 2013-14 school year. Year-round schools result in a shorter academic year for students.

"We need to start working on some 'what if' scenarios," said board member Mike Lansing, who heads the facilities committee.

Officials hope to get some relief from the Legislature. Two bills would, if they became law, provide $870 million. One would take into account rising costs when handing out state construction funds; the other would make L.A. Unified eligible for more state aid. Neither law is a sure thing, and neither would be nearly enough.

Local voters already have passed school bond measures — in 1997, 2002, 2004 and 2005 — and they may get asked again. To retire the current bonds, homeowners are paying $106.74 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Other options include canceling or postponing projects and borrowing dollars that would be paid back by the general fund — though that would mean less money for educational programs as well as employee salaries and benefits.

To date, the construction program has delivered 65 new schools and 51 additions, totaling 68,000 more classroom seats.

A worldwide shortage of materials initially fueled the increases — caused by everything from China's booming economy to the effects of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.

"The higher cost for the materials has taken on a sense of permanence," according to a district report. "The price increase is now being driven by the extreme volume of work and the labor shortages."

Rising costs aren't the only issue. Defects in earlier work and other factors have added well over $23 million in costs at the Belmont Learning Complex, which is now called Vista Hermosa. There also have been serious management issues at Helen Bernstein High, scheduled to open next year.

Even if it is not curtailed, the current program will leave about 200,000 students in portable buildings that often take up playground space, and the city's secondary schools will remain among the largest in the country.

"Our schools are just way, way bigger than anywhere else," board member David Tokofsky said.



By Bob Sipchen, LA Times School Me! columnist

May 0, 2007 - Can a flower be art? Tough question.

Conventional wisdom holds that with money limited and so many Southern California students foundering in math and reading, few public schools can afford to teach cappuccino crowd-pleasing subjects such as art and music — so few students can be expected to know Picasso from a piccolo, let alone answer koan-like questions about art versus nature.

Two weeks ago, students at Rockdale Elementary School in Eagle Rock led me to conclude that this conventional wisdom is bunk. It had, however, taken a massive, months-long intervention to bring my ignorance to that tipping point.

My first nudge came from my childhood pal Rick Shea, a country musician and master of any instrument that can be plucked or strummed. A year ago, Shea dragged me to Walt Disney Concert Hall to watch him perform with the Goin' South Band at the Music Center's arts in education talent showcase.

I was stunned: Teachers and "arts coordinators" from districts all over Southern California sat head-bobbing as the Daughters of the Purple Sage, Ballet Folklorico do Brasil, an African American cowboy storyteller and maybe a couple of hundred other small dance companies, yarn-spinners and ensembles of every ethnic persuasion showed off their talents. Why? In hopes that a school would use its arts education budget to hire them for an assembly or instructional program.

My next and most persuasive nudge (is that what NFL middle linebackers call what they do?) came from Sandra Tsing Loh, a writer, performer and idea explosion whose rather intense interest in her children's education and public schools in general is reflected in the title of her still-touring one-woman play, "Mother on Fire."

Now the volunteer mastermind behind the Magnet Yenta advice column at, Loh has long lamented parents who never set foot in a public school yet incessantly yowl that Proposition 13 and the No Child Left Behind Act have left a scorched-earth arts landscape. She was told that she'd find "pictures of Bush hanging everywhere like pictures of Mao … this whole catastrophic thing going on."

Instead, she discovered a growing supply of money and an "underground railroad of arts-mad public school parents" eager to tap it.

Loh hopped aboard and, among other victories, helped her child's magnet school claim a grant from the VH1 cable channel that bought 36 new string instruments.

"Occasionally I've had to schlep violins from one building to another in a shopping cart, and now I always carry a pitch pipe in my fanny pack," Loh said.

But the kids are getting art. And the fiddling, pirouetting and oil painting aren't limited to schools terrorized by hypercaffeinated, type-A Valley parents, she assured me.

To back up her assertion, she ordered me to meet Richard Burrows, the Los Angeles Unified School District's mightily determined director of arts education.

Seven years ago, Burrows took charge of the district's new 10-year plan to ensure that every school offers instruction in art, music, dance and theater — by credentialed teachers.

With three years to go, 70% of the schools are on track, he says.

Burrows sent me a chart. For the 1999-2000 school year, the district had $7.85 million to spend on arts education. The dough shoots straight up from there: $13 million the next year, $18 million the next, then $21 million, $27 million, $32 million, $33 million. For the 2006-07 school year, the district is going to pump $37 million into arts instruction, not counting a projected windfall of an additional $39 million from the state.

More than a few teachers and administrators, however, remain reluctant to take time away from core subjects for the arts, and more than a few of California's hundreds of school districts remain stupefied by taxpayers' sudden largesse.

After imploring calls from folks at the nonprofit Arts for All, I finally met with Laura Zucker, the group's founder and executive director.

Arts for All's goal is to cheerlead for arts programs and to keep Los Angeles County districts from squandering the money that taxpayers keep trying to hand them, Zucker said (though more diplomatically).

She then led me into a planning session with the Burbank Unified School District. An Arts for All staffer spurred representatives from several schools to splatter a "sticky board" with color-coded notes on which they'd scrawled suggestions on how to arrange schedules, train teachers and plan lessons to make good use of the dollars already coming, and to find ways to wring more money from film studios and other businesses.

Back in Los Angeles, the most conspicuous sign of a commitment to the arts is also the one that stirs the most grumbling.

A few weeks ago, Richard Alonzo, one of the local district superintendents, escorted me around the site of the new high school for the arts that billionaire builder and do-gooder Eli Broad pushed for and partly paid for.

Hovering over the 101 Freeway, directly across from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, this high-priced new edifice is rising from the ruins of the old district headquarters as a stylish complement to Broad's other pet brainchild, the Grand Avenue project. When completed, sousaphonists from the L.A. Philharmonic might just walk over from Disney Hall to jam with a student brass quintet and actors might drop by to tutor in a new theater looking out on Grand Avenue.

As we stroll the 10-acre site, dodging beeping backhoes, cranes laden with pipe, and 250 or so construction workers, my guides discuss details: An on-campus television studio will send programming to classrooms; district rules will be waived so that artists who aren't credentialed teachers can pass along their expertise; each music room will have running water in premeditated accommodation to all those trumpeters' spit valves.

When finished, 1,200 students from the neighborhood and an additional 500 from around the city should get as good an arts education as any on Earth.

That's what makes some snipe. I've heard the campus called a boondoggle to gratify Broad's ego. I've heard it said that the money spent there could pay for a lot of crayons in kindergarten classes districtwide.

I think the city deserves a dazzling arts school, a symbol of commitment to the creativity that fuels L.A.'s economy.

And as Rockdale Elementary was about to show me, it's not as if the campus will suck the art out of other schools.

My friend Carol Tanzman had been nagging me for more than a year to drop by the campus, which draws mainly Latino and Filipino students from its working-class neighborhood. I finally visited on a day when Tanzman, a traveling drama teacher for the district, was herding teachers and administrators from other schools through Rockdale's total- immersion arts program.

This "arts wheel rotation" puts classroom teachers in charge of developing a specific type of participatory art instruction — geared, naturally, to reflect those all-important state curriculum standards. The school's teachers receive ongoing guidance from traveling arts specialists as students rotate through stations on all variety of art forms.

In one room, a teacher grilled kids about a Dorothea Lange photo of Depression-era children huddled with their mother, who had just sold the wheels off the family car.

At our next stop, well- behaved young couples learned to swing dance — "triple step … triple step … rock step … "

And in yet another class, a teacher strummed a guitar as two girls chirped a song they had just written:

"I got the bulldog blues

I want one really bad …

I stole one from my neighbor

And got spanked by my dad."

A couple of the visiting teachers were clearly nervous about taking time from the district's rigid teaching constraints and test prep. In nominating the school for the Music Center's Bravo Award last year, Tanzman offered some simple math. Since Rockdale began pumping up its arts program, its Academic Performance Index scores have risen from 555 in 1999 to 612 to 678 to 718 to 758 to 770 to 782. Last year they hit 799.

Who's to say whether this steady improvement has anything to do with the artsy stuff?

But even a metrics-addled philistine would have to acknowledge that art can boost creative, critical thinking.

Example: One Rockdale teacher told us her class had studied installation artist Christo, then discussed the definition of art. Somehow the question of the flower came up, and as the group pondered, one student offered this take:

"If a flower is a hybrid, that's art because someone designed it."


►Thank you Bob.

And Sandra and Richard Burrows. You rock!

Rockdale ES is a PTA school.

I and 3000 close personal friends have just returned from the annual state PTA convention in Sacramento where young LAUSD artists were recognized as being among the best in the state and the nation in Reflections - PTA's national arts program. They all rocked! - the winning national award winning photograph in the High School division by an LAUSD student may just define rocking in the early 21st century!

For more on that go to:

For more on PTA's Arts in Education Program go to: and click on the SMARTS link.


The shockin'/rockin' photo referred to above!

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
Wednesday May 16, 2007
Crenshaw High School Track and Field: Groundbreaking Ceremony
Please join us to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new track and field at Crenshaw High School!
Ceremony will begin at 2 p.m.
Crenshaw High School
5010 11th Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90043

Wednesday May 16, 2007
East Valley Area New Middle School #1 (Roy Romer Middle School)
Construction Update Meeting/Meet the Principal
6:30 p.m.
Victory Elementary School
6315 Radford Avenue
North Hollywood, CA 91606

Thursday May 17, 2007
Central Region Elementary School #14: Removal Action Work Plan (RAW) Meeting
Please join us at this meeting for information about the environmental investigation findings for this project.
The Removal Action Workplan (RAW) details how the site will be cleaned up to ensure the health and safety of the children and the community.
6:00 p.m.
Rosemont Avenue Elementary School
421 N. Rosemont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

Thursday May 17, 2007
South Region Span K-8 #1: Preliminary Environmental Assessment (PEA) Hearing
Please join us at this public hearing to discuss the findings of the Preliminary Environmental Assessment (PEA). The PEA determines if an environmental clean up action is necessary to ensure the health and safety of our children. We will be collecting your comments and questions regarding the PEA for this project.
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Fries Avenue Elementary School - Auditorium
1301 Fries Ave.
Wilmington, CA 90744

*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
• SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION BOND OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Meets Wednesday May 16, 2007 at 10 AM in the boardroom @ 333 Beaudry Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90017 - THE SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION SHORTFALL IS SURE TO BE DISCUSSED!
Phone: 213-241-5183
Phone: 213-893-6800


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6387 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6383

...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at • 213.978.0600
• Call or e-mail Governor Schwarzenegger: 213-897-0322 e-mail:
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• 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.
• In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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