Sunday, May 31, 2009

Going for the gold.

4LAKids: Sunday, May 31, 2009
In This Issue:
HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: an investment we can't afford to cut! - The Education Coalition Website
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.
"There was a time when California was truly the Golden State; we understood that children were our No. 1 precious resource. In our Golden State there was a time when Californians recognized that a viable economy doesn’t just happen – you plan, strategize, and invest resources to build one. It is up to us to remind everyone that we must start with a vision and work together to make it happen. If we all pitch in and help, we can build the Golden State dream again.

"First, we need to look past our own discomfort and reach out and help others succeed. Because when we do that it comes back to us tenfold. There is a huge multiplying factor here that is capable of turning a state completely around. When the whole population joins together, we in turn build our internal capacity, and in the end, the state economy thrives. The essential ingredient in ensuring success is to ask ourselves if we have the will to make it happen.

"Do we have the will?"

-- State PTA President Pam Brady’s Address to the delegates at the California State PTA Annual Convention, May 1, 2009

4LAKids has broadcast that quote before. Teachers and parents among you know that the likelihood of the lesson being learned requires at least three repetitions. This is twice.

Jay Leno in his final comments closing seventeen years on the Tonight Show last Friday introduced the 68 children born to crew and staff during the run, calling them the "true legacy" of the show.

I know one or two of those kids - and children are always the legacy.

Garrison Keillor said "Nothing you do for children is ever wasted. They seem not to notice us, hovering, averting our eyes, and they seldom offer thanks, but what we do for them is never wasted."

No investment - whether of time, money, effort, love …or even unappreciated advice - is ever wasted.

This brings us to the current situation: An education budget that invests not enough in the future because it is so fixed in the dark moment.

Friday's LA Times brought us two front page stories above the fold:
• ONCE HOME FOR THE HOMELESS: The closing of a homeless encampment under the 10 Freeway. In Baldwin Park - on the Westside of Los Angeles. The encampment itself was horrific, the conditions horrible, the closing horrifying. It may have been a cave under the freeway but it was home to families now twice homeless.
• The second story headlines L.A. CANCELS MOST SUMMER SCHOOL CLASSES: The District's Cuts Will Increase Child Care Needs and Could Slow Students' Road to Graduation or College.

Saturday's L.A. Times headline compounds the injury: SCHOOLS AND NEEDY FACE DEEPER CUTS: More Cuts Sought For State's Schools.
The sidebar says it all:
Among the governor's
overall savings proposals
are these cuts:
K-12 education………$6 billion
CalWorks welfare
program………………...$1.3 billion
Prisons……………….....$1.2 billion
transportation………..$980 million
Healthy Families program
for children…………....$310 million
source: CA Dept of Finance

This is balancing the budget on the backs of children and the poor; it shortchanges the future.

Q: How many of Schwarzenegger's children attend public schools or are enrolled in programs that will be affected by the above?
A: Zero.

This is of course unfair. The Schwarzenegger children will be taxed forever to support the undereducated and under-cared-for young people who will populate the emergency rooms and prisons in the California of the future.

This is unfair also. It isn't all Arnolds' fault; it's certainly not his kids'. Of course he DID promise to fix it when he ran for governor in 2003 - and when he ran again in 2006. If ever there was a poster child for term limits it is he; thankfully the law forbids us (if not him) from making the same mistakes again.

The Friday/Saturday pieces are like the two acts of a two act play. Friday evening my wife and I went to see Lillian Hellman's "The Little Foxes" at the Pasadena Playhouse. At the final curtain of Act Two (the original three acts has been staged in two) the audience confronts the inevitable finality of lives poorly led …but brilliantly written and played. Fitzgerald said "There are no second acts in American lives." The second act of the Gubernator administration may prove Scott right - at least in terms of historical box office.

Act III: Superintendent Cortines on Thursday spoke to the assembled PTA leadership at our annual luncheon. PTA is generally more polite and less critical than 4LAKids of superintendents, past and current - and even PTA has questioned the superintendent's recent agenda. But Thursday's remarks transcended all that - because they were about our children.

They all are, we all agree, Our Children.

While Cortines did almost all the talking it is fair to say that "we" spoke about how schools and teachers and principals and communities raise our children - removed from the specifics of about budgets and employment and contracts.

Cortines presented the challenge immediately at hand as this: the flavor of the month benchmark for measuring public education success is the Dropout Rate, a measure taken at the end of the thirteen year plus process when we measure output.
X kids entered Kindergarten in year Y.
Z kids graduated high school in year Y+13.
The difference between X and Z is abysmal and - popular opinion has it - equals failure.

Cortines says the earliest indicator of student outcome is the Third Grade. Students who are successful/proficient in grade three, who can read at grade level and do math at grade level will probably be successful. Those who cannot probably won't be.

Cortines didn't say this but I will: Do we give up on fourth graders who can't read, comprehend and decode "Charlotte's Web" or "Amber Brown is Not a Crayon" …or know their multiplication tables? No. But we don't move on to "Silas Marner" and long division either. Much of education beyond grade three is about abstraction and independent thinking; the foundation is built in Pre-K through 3. We need, he said, to focus on the little ones.

This focus on Pre-K and Primary Education must be relentless and the challenges that stand in the way of success by 0-9 year-olds must be addressed relentlessly. English Language Learners and Non Standard English speakers must master those skills; they must learn to speak it and read it and use it. (Let me add here that ESL students who redesignate as Fluent English Proficient outperform ALL other students academically INCLUDING the socio-economically advantaged/both-parents-graduated-from-college subgroup!) This is not anecdotal observation, it is proven fact.

• The role of Parents-as-Educators and as Advocates-for-their-Children is mission critical.
• The role of Parents-as-Parents must not be underestimated.
• And where parents need to be educated, encouraged and empowered in those roles that must be done!

Set against the backdrop of economic reality the challenge only increases.

On the same day as Cortines spoke to PTA he began the process of eliminating Summer School for the very elementary and middle scholars who need it most. Class size Reduction in K-3 - probably the greatest contributing factor to the recent improvement in elementary education in the past ten years - is on the verge of elimination.

[Those who would advocate that Open Court Reading was the elementary English language arts 'killer app' are about to have their trial-by-increased-class-size fire. OCR was designed for native English speakers; the ESL component was notoriously weak. We are about to try it for size in 25+:1 with 70% English learners.]

So, the good news is that there may be a third act …if we can only get it together. The bad news is that Act III will play out in overcrowded/underfinanced classrooms, and the student population and their parents will be without a safety net of healthcare and social services. And staff morale? If educators weren’t s weren’t such a hopelessly hopeful bunch I'd say fugetaboudit!

And, returning to paragraph #3 (above): I do find hope in these academic discussions when we aren't confronted with the budget and employment and contracts. But reality and the academic are one and the same for once… and that reality is all-too-real. The wolf is at the door, more literal than metaphoric. And our house seems more of straw than brick.

Those of you who mastered the California fourth grade history standard know the Californios made their adobe bricks with mud and straw.

With a little luck it will be - all in all - another brick in the wall.

¡Onward/Hasta adelante! -smf

by Ramon C. Cortines, Superintendent, from LAUSD website

May 29, 2009 - In all my years in education, I have never seen financial news as bad as the budget currently faced by this school district. Remember the story of Sisyphus in Greek mythology--the man forced to push a huge rock up a steep hill only to watch it roll back down, forcing him to repeat the impossible challenge again and again for all eternity? Imagine every time he had to roll that rock up the hill--both the boulder and the mountain got bigger and bigger and bigger. That sums up our financial plight because of the State's budget crisis.

To make ends meet for the 2008-2009 school year, this District cut deeply from its budget. We thought we were finished. But no, the bad news keeps coming. We must cut an additional $131 million in six weeks before the current school year ends. We still won't be finished. Although the District will lay off teachers next month and has cancelled summer school, increased class sizes and postponed textbook purchases, we face more cuts for the 2009-2010 school year in the range of $200 million to $300 million.

We may be asked to cut even deeper, but our schools will remain open, our teachers will teach and our students will learn.

●● smf's 2¢: The $131 million that needs to be cut the in six weeks before the current school year ends equals $190.37 per student in the district.

by Connie Llanos, Staff Writer Los Angeles Newspaper Group/Daily News

May 31, 2009 -- Three years ago, Anthony Mejia transferred to the newly formed Panorama High School. At 16, he was almost two grade levels behind, chronically truant and completely disengaged from his studies.

It was Panorama High's first year and its location, in the heart of six competing gang territories, had already earned it the title of "Bloodbath High."

Now 19, Mejia is getting fitted for his cap and gown and scheduling classes at a local community college.

Despite its location, Panorama High boasts one of the district's lowest dropout rates - helping kids like Mejia stay off the street and in the classroom.

"It all changed when I got here," Mejia said. "For the first time I felt like people trusted that I could do it, I felt like someone cared."

Mejia's success and other schools like Panorama High provide a small glimmer of hope for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which recently released details of its increasingly worrisome dropout rate.

Districtwide, dropout rates rose nearly 10 percent from 2006 to 2007, with some 20,000 students leaving school. The numbers particularly alarmed school officials who noted that other large urban districts in the state were able to lower their dropout rates over the same period.

Unfortunately, most San Fernando Valley high schools cannot boast the same success as Panorama. Now, one in three Canoga Park High School students drop out, three times as many as in 2006. At Cleveland, one in four students drop out - double the rate from the year before. Even El Camino Real, the comprehensive high school with the district's lowest dropout rate of 15.5 percent, had a 25 percent increase from 2006 to 2007.

"This ... is completely unacceptable and the responsibility to address this issue is all of ours," said Superintendent Ramon Cortines at a recent school board meeting where he presented the statistics.

The shocking numbers are the product of a new state reporting system implemented in 2006 to track student enrollments and transfers, thereby giving officials a more accurate picture of dropout trends.

While some officials at the LAUSD believe the huge increases at least partly reflect statistical and staff adjustments to the new system, others say they merely point to years of under-reporting the bad news.

Cortines said he was most alarmed by the dropout rate among students of color. Last year 43.5 percent of the district's African-American students dropped out, as did 36.1 percent of Latino students. That compares with a dropout rate for whites of about 25 percent.


Still, this year's figures show that dropout rates are rising much faster among Asian and white students than Latinos and blacks. Dropout rates for Asian students rose 40 percent and they were up 31 percent for whites from 2006 to 2007. For blacks, they rose 16 percent and just 8 percent for Latino students.

"As we get more accurate, we'll see the number that were under-represented in the past," said Tawnya Perry, a coordinator in LAUSD's dropout and prevention and recovery program. "There are schools that have strong reputations for having outstanding attendance and high test scores and if, in the past there were students who would change those stats, they were often pushed out."

"Now it's reflecting back ... they can't hide those kids anymore."

Before the new system of tallying dropout rates was introduced, school districts sent their dropout numbers directly to the state and there was no way to verify if and when those students enrolled in a new school district.

The Statewide Student Identifiers Numbers, or SSID, was launched to end the heated debate over dropout rates in the state, where different groups would come up with varying dropout rates for the same school district. Some critics of the LAUSD had long maintained that its dropout rate was closer to 50 percent, while the district had consistently put the figure at about 25 percent.

Educators hope the new system will allow everyone to move beyond that debate.

"There has been inconsistency in terms of how people captured data, which led to competing reports," said Alicia Lara, vice president for community investment at United Way LA.

"But we want to get around to what to do about it now."

At Panorama High School, the approach has been a team effort, says Principal Sue Liposito.

When Liposito took over the reins at Panorama, she knew much of her work would involve at-risk kids. Most of the students at Panorama High would be the first in their family to graduate high school. Many arrive from overcrowded elementary and middle schools.

The school also houses dozens of foster care children and teens who've transferred back into the school after serving time in Juvenile Hall or low-security group homes.

Liposito set about building a team of administrators who could deal with her students. It's no coincidence that almost every administrator has a background in social work.

After building the team, including counselors, a psychiatric social worker and two police officers, Liposito said she set about building a safe zone by enforcing tough rules on dress code, tardiness and absences. It was that increased discipline that forced Mejia to go back to class.

"I couldn't ditch anymore when I got here," Mejia said.

"There was nowhere to hide."

The school also has no tolerance for fighting and will often host interventions with rival gang members on campus to diffuse tensions.

"People predicted that this school would fail, but that just hasn't materialized," Liposito said.

Recommendations for addressing the dropout rate include starting interventions with students earlier, at the middle school and even the elementary level.

"When people start to talk about the dropout rate, we would argue that it's too late," Lara said.

"We have to go back in time, and look at what's going on earlier. ... High school is scary if you're not ready for it, so it's no surprise we're seeing a rise."

Under Cortines, plans to decrease dropout rates at the LAUSD will include increased accountability of schools, he said.


The superintendent said he will expect all elementary schools to improve student test scores by 5 percent, middle schools will be held accountable for dropouts since the state will begin tracking middle-school students next year, and high schools will be expected to reduce dropout rates by 5 percent.

Still, some education experts fear that more measuring and weighing will not necessarily lead to more students staying in school.

"We keep measuring the symptoms rather than the problem," said Sylvia Rousseau, professor of education at the University of Southern California and a former local superintendent at the LAUSD.

"It's very hard to be 49th in the nation and not think we're going to pay for it. You can't have such little investment and then think we're going to have everyone graduating."

The district will also be struggling to address the dropout issue at a time when it faces its largest budget deficit in history.

Maribel Munguia, a diploma project adviser at Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, said next year her campus will only have one counselor focused on retrieving at-risk students. Currently three people share that job.

"We are dealing with high-risk children that require different levels of intervention," Munguia said.

"With no money, it will be difficult to service them."

Still Liposito insists that on her campus, the work to ensure almost every student graduates will continue.

"We'll try to keep as much as we can and keep doing what we do because we know it's working," she said.

210% - Increase in dropouts in 2007 from the previous year at Canoga Park High School.
107% - Increase in dropouts at Cleveland High School.
58% - Increase at Monroe and Chatsworth high schools.
48% - Increase at North Hollywood High School.


●● smf's 2¢/DO TH' MATH!: "Last year 43.5 percent of the district's African-American students dropped out, as did 36.1 percent of Latino students. That compares with a dropout rate for whites of about 25 percent." These are the kind of numbers you get when folks who do not understand statistical analysis analyze statistics. Remember, numbers under torture will say anything you want them to.

• If 43.5% of African American students drop out every year only 10.2 percent of entering black 9th graders would graduate after four years.
• If 36.1% of Latino students drop out every year only 16.6 percent of entering 9th Latino graders would graduate after four years.
• If 25% of white students drop out every year only 32 percent of entering white 9th graders would graduate after four years.

Those are not the numbers.


by Mitchell Landsberg | From the Los Angeles Times

May 31, 2009 — Reporting from Oakland — Not many schools in California recruit teachers with language like this: "We are looking for hard working people who believe in free market capitalism. . . . Multicultural specialists, ultra liberal zealots and college-tainted oppression liberators need not apply."

That, it turns out, is just the beginning of the ways in which American Indian Public Charter and its two sibling schools spit in the eye of mainstream education. These small, no-frills, independent public schools in the hardscrabble flats of Oakland sometimes seem like creations of television's "Colbert Report." They mock liberal orthodoxy with such zeal that it can seem like a parody.

School administrators take pride in their record of frequently firing teachers they consider to be underperforming. Unions are embraced with the same warmth accorded "self-esteem experts, panhandlers, drug dealers and those snapping turtles who refuse to put forth their best effort," to quote the school's website.

Students, almost all poor, wear uniforms and are subject to disciplinary procedures redolent of military school. One local school district official was horrified to learn that a girl was forced to clean the boys' restroom as punishment.

Conservatives, including columnist George Will, adore the American Indian schools, which they see as models of a "new paternalism" that could close the gap between the haves and have-nots in American education. Not surprisingly, many Bay Area liberals have a hard time embracing an educational philosophy that proudly proclaims that it "does not preach or subscribe to the demagoguery of tolerance."

It would be easy to dismiss American Indian as one of the nuttier offshoots of the fast-growing charter school movement, which allows schools to receive public funding but operate outside of day-to-day district oversight. But the schools command attention for one very simple reason: By standard measures, they are among the very best in California.

The Academic Performance Index, the central measuring tool for California schools, rates schools on a scale from zero to 1,000, based on standardized test scores. The state target is an API of 800. The statewide average for middle and high schools is below 750. For schools with mostly low-income students, it is around 650.

The oldest of the American Indian schools, the middle school known simply as American Indian Public Charter School, has an API of 967. Its two siblings -- American Indian Public Charter School II (also a middle school) and American Indian Public High School -- are not far behind.

Among the thousands of public schools in California, only four middle schools and three high schools score higher. None of them serves mostly underprivileged children.

At American Indian, the largest ethnic group is Asian, followed by Latinos and African Americans. Some of the schools' critics contend that high-scoring Asian Americans are driving the test scores, but blacks and Latinos do roughly as well -- in fact, better on some tests.

That makes American Indian a rarity in American education, defying the axiom that poor black and Latino children will lag behind others in school.


On Tuesday, American Indian's high school will graduate its first senior class. All 18 students plan to attend college in the fall, 10 at various UC campuses, one at MIT and one at Cornell.

"They really should be the model for public education in the state of California," said Debra England of the Koret Foundation, a Bay Area group that has given more than $100,000 in grants to American Indian. "What I will never understand is why the world is not beating a path to their door to benchmark them, learn from them and replicate what they are doing."

So what are they doing?

The short answer is that American Indian attracts academically motivated students, relentlessly (and unapologetically) teaches to the test, wrings more seat time out of every school day, hires smart young teachers, demands near-perfect attendance, piles on the homework, refuses to promote struggling students to the next grade and keeps discipline so tight that there are no distractions or disruptions. Summer school is required.


There is no secret to any of this. Portions of the American Indian model resemble methods used by the KIPP charter schools or, for that matter, urban parochial schools.

"What we're doing is so easy," said Ben Chavis, the man who created the school's success and personifies its ethos, especially in its more outrageous manifestations. (One example: He tends to call all nonwhite students, including African Americans, "darkies.") Although he retired in 2007, Chavis remains a presence at the school.

A Lumbee Indian who grew up poor in North Carolina and later struck it rich in real estate, Chavis took over American Indian in 2000, four years after it was founded with a Native American theme.

He began by firing most of the school's staff and shucking the Native American cultural content ("basket weaving," he scoffed). "You think the Jews and the Chinese are dumb enough to ask the public school to teach them their culture?" he asks -- a typical Chavis question, delivered with eyes wide and voice pitched high in comic outrage. There is no basket weaving at American Indian now -- and little else that won't directly affect standardized test scores. "I don't see it as teaching to the test," said Carey Blakely, a former teacher at the school who is writing a book about it. "I see it as, there are certain skills and knowledge that you're supposed to impart to your students, and the test measures whether your students have acquired those skills and that knowledge."

In Lindsay Zika's eighth-grade classroom, the day begins precisely at 8:30, when, without prompting, her students recite the American Indian credo:

"The Family," they chant. "We are a family at AIPHS."

"The Goal: We are always working for academic and social excellence.

"The Faith: We will prosper by focusing and working toward our goals.

"The Journey: We will go forward, continue working and remember we will always be part of the AIPHS family."

They recite this in a slightly robotic monotone. With barely a pause, they shift to the school's mission statement, which is twice as long and includes the promise that American Indian will develop students to be "productive members in a free market capitalist society."


Another day begins.

Zika starts with some comments about a recent history project, "Civil War for Dummies," in which the students wrote primers on the Civil War.

"These are very well done," she tells the class. "They're fabulous to read . . . and they show that you guys understand the Civil War incredibly well."

She moves to spelling. The students, seated in old-fashioned lift-top desks in tight rows, pull out work sheets. Zika selects a shy girl, Alexandria Lai, to lead a drill in which she says a word and others spell it.

Zika is dressed in business attire: black glasses, black skirt, black wool overcoat, her blond hair in a ponytail. She is the quintessential American Indian teacher: young (26), well-educated (Notre Dame, Oxford), self-confident, mature. A product of Oakland Catholic schools, she is warm yet reserved, with an underlying sternness. "I think kids want structure," she says. "They want strict teachers."

By eighth grade, discipline is not really an issue. Classes are preternaturally quiet and focused. Visitors may be startled to notice that students do not so much as glance at them. They have been told to keep their attention on their work. They do as they are told.

Students who misbehave in the slightest must stay for an hour after school; if they misbehave again in the same week, they have more after-school detention plus four hours of Saturday detention.

Under Chavis, the school also relied on humiliation to keep students in line, ridiculing miscreants and sometimes forcing them to wear embarrassing signs. When one boy was caught stealing, Chavis shaved his head in front of the entire school. (The boy, Jeremy Shiv, now a straight-A student at American Indian High, considers what Chavis did "pretty cruel.")

A framed poster in a hallway quotes Chavis: "You do outstanding things here and you'll be treated outstanding. You act like a fool and you'll be treated like one."

That concept isn't dead at American Indian, but it has been toned down.

All American Indian students have 90 minutes of English and 90 minutes of math a day.

The grammar lesson today focuses on appositives, nouns that modify other nouns. Student Isa Bey is asked to write an example on the board.

"The extreme abolitionist John Smith was hung after a brutal revolt," he writes.

Zika smiles. "Historically, there's a problem," she says. "Grammatically, it's correct." Chagrined, Isa erases "Smith" and writes "Brown."

"I like that he's connecting it historically," Zika tells the class, "but let's get it correct."

At 10:05 a.m., the students switch to math. The move takes about 10 seconds.

American Indian's administrators believe that one of the secrets to success in middle school is having one instructor teach all subjects except physical education. The goal is to have that teacher stay with the same children all three years -- a policy that seems to be more theory than reality, given high teacher turnover.


The idea is that students will form a deep bond with the teacher and gain class time by having no passing periods. "We really see things in terms of minutes," said principal Janet Roberts, who took over from Chavis.

Five minutes per passing period might not sound like much, but over the course of a year, American Indian saves the equivalent of more than a week's worth of instruction.

Math class begins with a warmup exercise to get students thinking numerically. Then the class goes over the previous night's homework and moves to new material.

All students at American Indian take Algebra 1 in eighth grade, and the school prides itself on its math achievement. Last year, every eighth grader scored "proficient" or better on California's state algebra test. Statewide, only half the eighth graders even took algebra and fewer than half of those scored "proficient" or better.

Today's lesson is Chapter 14: probability.

"What is probability?" Zika begins. "Rebecca?"

"The chance you have of getting something," Rebecca says.

"Yeah," Zika says. "This is an important skill in life."

Zika displays a confidence in math that is rare for someone who majored in political science. "I like teaching math the best," she says.

They move on to factorials, and before long, Zika has the students doing rapid-fire exercises in which she gives them a number and they figure out its factorial on a whiteboard and hold it up for her to see. (A factorial is the product of all positive integers less than or equal to a given number.) The students are generally correct and seem enthralled.

One of the most common questions about charter schools is whether they "cherry pick" the best students and most motivated families.

Charters are required to take all applicants -- or, if they have more students than seats, to hold a lottery. American Indian has never done this and was denied a charter to open a new school last fall in part because school district officials said administrators were "unable to describe" the selection process.

Roberts and Chavis say they have never had more applicants than seats, so they never held a lottery. They also say that they attract a representative sample of students from local elementary schools.

But Ron Smith, the principal of nearby Laurel Elementary, who sent both of his own children to American Indian, says that's not the case for students from his school.

Of those who go from Laurel to American Indian, "I'd say 70% are academically strong, and 30% are a cross-section. . . . They have kids who I know could go anyplace in the state and succeed."

The school could not provide its students' elementary school test scores, so it is hard to say if they were above average. Roberts did provide three years of middle school scores for all students who entered American Indian in 2004 (with names removed for privacy), showing their progress in math and English from sixth to eighth grade. Of the 51 students who entered American Indian's middle school that year, only six scored lower than "proficient" in both math and English at the end of sixth grade.

It's impossible to tell whether the students were academically strong at the start of sixth grade or were brought up to grade level by the rigors of a year at American Indian.

Of the six who scored below "proficient," three left the school and the remaining three showed some progress by the end of eighth grade.

It isn't clear why the students left. American Indian insists that it has never expelled a child but says some leave because their families move or decide the school is a poor fit. Of the 51 students who made it through their first year, 39 finished.

"They've had a reputation among the local public schools as being very interested in kind of recruiting kids who are going to do well, and getting rid of kids who won't," said Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Assn., the teachers union. Both Chavis and Roberts strongly deny this and say their method works with all children. "Give me the worst middle school in America and let us run it," said Chavis. "I guarantee it will improve."

When math ends at 11:40, Zika switches to science. With no lab equipment and an emphasis on textbook learning, it is hard to imagine that American Indian will turn out the next Darwin or Edison. The students have brought in paper towel tubes and, after a discussion of the American space program, Zika leads the class outside, where they have about five minutes for a rare experiment: making rockets. It doesn't go well. With so little time, the experiment more or less fizzles, and then it's lunch. Zika admits it was a mistake; the next day, she'll have the students discuss what went wrong and try again.

After lunch, it's history (Reconstruction and its legacy), and then preparation for a philosophical debate. "Isa, how do you know you're really sitting here? How do you know you're not a brain in a dish hooked up to a machine?" Zika asks.

"I am because I think I am," pipes up Terae Collins, paraphrasing Descartes.


At 2:10, the students have P.E. -- running and calisthenics. No games.

The class returns at 2:50 for some last-minute homework instructions. School ends at 3. Most stay and do homework until 4 -- just because they can.

A face appears at the door. It is De-Zhon Grace, a boy who was in Zika's class until Barack Obama was inaugurated as president.

Until then, De-Zhon and his mother had been fairly happy with American Indian. "I'm a single mom, and I'm trying to raise an African American young man, and I'm very serious about his education," said Chaka Grace.

But on Jan. 20, De-Zhon stayed home to watch the inauguration with his extended family. And that crossed a line for Roberts, who believes that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- should get in the way of class. According to De-Zhon's mother, Roberts said the boy would receive extra work as punishment and that she might rescind his recommendation to a private high school.

That, said Grace, "took it to another level for me. . . . I felt that was evil." She pulled her son out of the school.

De-Zhon, a neatly dressed, well-spoken boy who came back for a visit, conceded that he misses American Indian.

"I miss my class; I miss my teacher," he said.

There are no televisions at American Indian -- no computers in the classrooms, either -- so there was no way for students to watch the inauguration. But Roberts wants to be clear: They wouldn't have been allowed to watch it anyway.

"It's not part of our curriculum," she said.

Love it or hate it, it's the American Indian way.

By Caroline Grannan –

May 28, 7:46 PM • My 91-year-old mother-in-law energetically saves up clippings from the L.A. Times to send us in fat envelopes every few weeks. While my kids joke (lovingly) that she sends them every article that mentions music in any way, she's right on target with my interests. So today a 2½-week-old clipping arrived about Green Dot's Locke High School in Watts.

Locke, which I covered a couple of weeks ago in following up on a New Yorker article about it, is a rare experiment in the education reform world – a newly charterized school that's truly supposed to accept all neighborhood students rather than only the kids from motivated families who seek it out and apply. Locke was a badly struggling LAUSD high school that was turned over to the charter operator Green Dot Schools (which, it's crucial to note, has vastly more money to pour into the school than the bare-bones school district does, thanks to private benefactors).

The Times is running a continuing series on Locke – unsigned articles on its editorial page. It's probably just as well for whoever's writing them that the coverage is unsigned -- especially since all of their jobs are teetering on the brink – given that one week's sunny outlook has to be contradicted by the next week's dose of reality.

May 10, 2009
A YEAR AT LOCKE: These exams also put teachers to the test
Benchmark exams not only improve student performance, they help make instructors accountable.

An excerpt:

You can discern a lot about the changes at Locke this year in just a casual visit. Since the former Los Angeles Unified school became a Green Dot charter, students sit in class instead of wandering the halls or smoking marijuana on the roof. Open any classroom door and you find an energetic teacher engaged in instruction instead of screening a movie to fill time. Basic improvements -- but transformational for this Watts school.

Only 18 days later, a different view emerges:

May 28, 2009
Where change begins at L.A.'s Locke High School: Two freshman academies show that improvements in student achievement won't be easy or quick.

A visit to its freshman academies, however, shows that major gains don't come easy, or fast.
So far, not a single student at Locke 1 has tested as proficient on the school's benchmark exams in algebra. Locke 2 is in similar straits. Students disappeared during the school year; new students with their own difficulties signed up. These are the same intractable problems Locke suffered from as an L.A. Unified school.

And this time, light dawns: The Times writer gets the point that eludes so many mainstream journalists who swallow the charter school Kool-Aid:

Previous Green Dot charters, opened as alternatives to failing public schools, attracted motivated families that came from far-flung communities to place their children on waiting lists. As a result, enrollment was predictable and stable. At Locke, Green Dot took over an already cramped and rundown campus and committed to accepting students within its enrollment area -- which has meant taking more than it has room for, and enrolling students who are less interested in what Green Dot has to offer. …

Locke can't be run by the standards of most other schools, or even other Green Dot schools. The charter operator normally requires a certain amount of parent involvement. Here, parents are often overwhelmed and sometimes uninterested. Some come in for conferences clearly under the influence of drugs; other parents are in prison.

After a promising start to the school year, dozens of new students enrolled. Some had just been released from juvenile detention, bearing gang tattoos on their necks -- at age 14. Staff found marijuana stuffed into the caps of pens. Graffiti made an appearance.

Don't get me wrong. I'd love it if a magical solution did turn up. I do not love it when a "reform" is hailed as a magical solution when it isn't; when factors like creaming for highly motivated students are ignored, downplayed or denied. There's also the not-so-small factor than Green Dot has tons of private money to pour into these projects, which explains how it can afford enough security guards to keep the campus orderly (with a few glitches like those annoying incidents of pepper-spraying students).

My mother-in-law asked, "How are the Green Dot schools in S.F. doing?" Well, we don't have any here (yet). I like to think our Board of Education members are smart enough to realize that now they can watch the Locke experiment to see how a charter operator does when it can't cream. If it turns out to be a success, the welcome mat will be out.

More by this blogger:

The Times' continuing series: A YEAR AT LOCKE

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources

California State PTA President Pam Brady called on state leaders to redouble their efforts to steer California through its current economic crisis, following the defeat yesterday of five measures on the May 19 special election ballot.

"The defeat of these measures doesn't change our need to find budget and funding solutions for California; it only adds new urgency to our task," said Brady, on behalf of California State PTA's nearly 1 million volunteer members.

"We also must dispel this notion once and for all that cutting vital programs is the only way to close the state's deficit. Polls consistently show the public does not want cuts to schools. We need a thoughtful, balanced approach both for the short and long-term."

L.A. SCHOOL WINS ENVIRONMENTAL PRIZE: Jefferson High School, Lexus and Alicia Keys Partner for 'Lexus Keys To Innovation'
Lexus and Alicia Keys honor Los Angeles' Thomas Jefferson High School through 'Lexus Keys to Innovation'; awards TJHS a $10,000 Grand Prize to foster its environmental programs for future students and the community.

LAUSD CUTTING BACK ON SUMMER SCHOOL: Like the song says... school's out for summer.
Thursday, 28 May 2009, 10:56 PM PDT - Los Angeles - Summer school has been canceled this year for Los Angeles Unified School District elementary and middle schools due to declining revenues and the current state budget deficit, officials announced on Thursday.

HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCH EFFORTS FACE DAUNTING HURDLES: The U.S. government spends about $11.7 billion a year on school programs that provide lunch for over 30 million children and breakfast for more than 10 million -- but has not updated nutritional standards and meal requirements since 1995.
By Lisa Baertlein, Reuters from the Montreal (Canada) Gazette - School cafeteria meals like low-fat pizzas with whole grain crust don't taste too bad to Paola Villatoro, a 17-year-old at Downtown Magnet High School in Los Angeles. "Some of it is pretty good," she said. But West Adams Preparatory School student Alfredo Segura

AN UNFINISHED CANVAS • Arts Education in California: taking stock of policies and practices
sri International + THE WILLIAM AND FLORA HEWLETT FOUNDATION | March 2009 California policymakers have established ambitious goals for arts education, calling on schools to provide a standards-based, sequential course of study in dance, music, theater, and visual arts.

DESIGNING THE ARTS LEARNING COMMUNITY: A Handbook for K-12 Professional Development Planners
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 12:27 PM
A Project of: Los Angeles County Arts Commission | San Francisco Arts Commission and Santa Clara County Office of Education

NYC TEACHER AGAINST MAYORAL CONTROL: All that power hasn't made things better
By Arthur Goldstein | SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Sunday, May 24th 2009, 4:00 AM -- As a teacher in an A-rated school, I believe mayoral control has been an absolute disaster. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

ALL SMOKE & MIRRORS: Schwarzenegger missed his golden opportunity to give Californians the truth
He promised to make it work by cutting 'waste, fraud and abuse.' It was never that easy. The real solutions are obvious, though.

Hundreds of high school students protest teacher cuts: About 2,250 teachers are expected to lose jobs as L.A. Unified tries to balance its budget. By Howard Blume From the Los Angeles Times May 23, 2009 -- Hundreds of Los Angeles high school students stayed out of class on Friday to protest looming teacher layoffs.

GETTING SCIENTIFIC ABOUT ARTS EDUCATION: A new interdisciplinary field researches the effects of learning fine arts on a student's brain.

The news that didn’t fit from May 31st

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213-241-5183
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What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6383 • 213-241-6387 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6385

...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 leader in LAUSD. He is immediate past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and represents PTA as Vice-chair on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He is a Community Concerns Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and has served a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools.
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