Sunday, August 22, 2010

Value-added meets Blame+Shame.

4LAKids: Sunday 22•Aug•2010
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"No one suggests using value-added analysis as the sole measure of a teacher. Many experts recommend that it count for half or less of a teacher's overall evaluation."

– so it says in The LA Times.

Except the 'no one' who suggests it is The Times –and - 'many experts' notwithstanding - they intend to suggest it about six thousand LAUSD third, fourth and fifth grade teachers - ranking them from best-to-worst - perhaps as soon as today.

IN CASE YOU HAVE BEEN OUT THE LOOP THIS WEEK - perhaps visiting the moon to observe the total eclipse of reason on Planet Earth: The LA Times has published an investigative piece identifying and naming the names of good and bad teachers in LAUSD - based on student test scores and calculations founded upon a controversial statistical methodology called "value-added".

If value-added wasn't controversial before, it is now. And if they called in "Bat's-Wing-Added" or "Eye-of-Newt-Added" it wouldn't have gotten any respect whatsoever.

In so doing The Gray Lady of Spring Street set off a brouhaha of epic epicness - to steal some hyperbole from the marketing campaign of Scott Pilgrim v. The World.

The Times piece is described in the Newsweek 'Gaggle' Blog (Press, Politics & Absurdity) thus:

"Do parents have the right to know which of their kids' teachers are the most and least effective? That's the controversy roaring in California this week with the publication of an investigative series by the Los Angeles Times' Jason Song and Jason Felch, who used seven years of math and English test data to publicly identify the best and the worst third- to fifth-grade teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The newspaper's announcement of its plans to release data later this month on all 6,000 of the city's elementary-school teachers has prompted the local teachers' union to rally members to organize a boycott of the newspaper."

Public disclosure of information like this has no precedent. Many school districts are prohibited by law from disclosing the names of ineffective teachers. The teachers interviewed and profiled in last Sunday's expose were interviewed, they met the reporters and posed for the photographers. That can't be said for the 6000 teachers in the database.

The piece by the Two Jasons blew the City of Bell's municipal shenanigans right off the front page. The Bell stories now are a distant second place/below the fold/page 3 in the Times' "Who'll get a Pulitzer?" sweepstakes.

Diane Ravitch has said he methodology here isn’t value added, it's "Blame and Shame - blame and shame the teachers because system doesn't work. Blame and Shame is scapegoating and humiliation, a holdover from the hickory stick and the stocks and pillory. Can the ducking stool and Trial by Ordeal be far behind?

●THE BELL STORIES are real investigative journalism - with wrongdoing and digging and fact checking and muckraking and interviews and leads and reporting.
●The LAUSD STORY is a rewrite of a scholarly report by an economist - How Effective Are Los Angeles Elementary Teachers and Schools? by Richard Buddin [} - translated into the vernacular and published with 60 point finger-pointing headlines.
●THE STORY IN BELL is about bad politicians.
●THE STORY ABOUT LAUSD is more about the newspaper story and less about teachers and schools; it's bad journalism and the unintended results therefrom. (Though the 'un' in 'unintended' may be as deliberate as The Times' corporate masters and editorial board and the City Hall Power Brokers can make it.)

Historically LA has always been about City Hall power brokers. Historically the LA Times has always been on the power broker's side, And the teachers' union in LA is as much a part of the problem at LAUSD as the part-time power-broker wannabes who complain that the meetings where they give away schools take up too much of their time. And it isn't helpful that the UTLA President argues that teachers are only 10% of the educational equation …though that's about the percentage of the UTLA membership who actually voted for him

Let's face it: Good Teachers make all the difference in the lives of the fortunate students who have them. Poor, mediocre or poorly trained teachers are a problem that needs addressing and solving. The Times would have all teachers not in the top 25% wear distinctive badges, have a stamp on their identity card or a stain on their permanent record.: Bad Teacher. Never to get a job in Lake Woebegone USD - where all teachers and the children are above average!

Just maybe - when the consensus of opinion and the relevant indicators among administrators, peers, students and parents say that a teacher is excellent ....but the data crunched though value-added economic methodology says otherwise ...then maybe the methodology or the data or the theory is suspect. Maybe the value of value-added is subtractive. Maybe economists and newspaper reporters shouldn't be determining teacher performance.


In an "Informative" to the Board of Ed on Friday and an interview to feed Saturday's Times, Deputy Superintendent Deasy announced that valued-added teachers assessments were 'on-the-table' in union contract negotiations.

● The interview was with Jason Song - one of the 'Two Jason' authors of The Times value-added report - putting Song and The Times in the position of covering news of their own making.
● This perpetuates the unfortunate reality that the UTLA Contract is the overarching governing document of the District and that contract negotiations is where policy is set.
● Deasy cynically (and he's only been here 20 days!) proposed that the contract negotiations be resumed Friday and concluded immediately - before The Times publishes their j'accuse list of suspect teachers - even though UTLA leadership is having their long-scheduled annual meeting in Palm Springs this weekend (in time for the 3.8 temblor Saturday AM!). And UCLA/IDEA predicts The Times will publish their list today!
● 4LAKids' 50-plus years of LAUSD bred-cynicism is fed by the timing of these LAT stories and resultant uproar, the arrival Dr. Deasy fully-formed from the Gates Foundation, the UTLA contact negotiations, the Board of Ed's traditional August Break and - what the heck - the earthquake in PS!

Let me pose a hypothetical, gentle readers - and this will require what those in the entrainment profession call a Suspension of Disbelief I call into question Everything You've Ever Been Told. Make sure those restraints are tightly fastened and keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times: MAYBE THE LA TIMES AND THE UNION AND THE SCHOOL DISTRICT ARE ALL WRONG A LOT OF THE TIME. Or - spoiler alert - had you already figured that out?

Yet the Times is somewhat right.

THERE SHOULD BE A METHODOLOGY FOR EVALUATING TEACHERS .....this just ain't it. (Ironically, Richard Buddin The Times' hired-gun Value-Added theorist/guru/consultant is working on one for his other employer: RAND - employing fixed effects and multilevel modeling approaches to evaluate teacher quality under a five-year Institute of Education Sciences study |

AND SOMEONE SHOULD BE IN CHARGE OF EVALUATING TEACHERS - someone we in the parenthood business would call "a responsible adult". The current Board of Ed don't seen up to the job. I sincerely doubt if it's the LA Times and the two Jasons and a think-tank economist. Or Mayor Tony. Or Arne Duncan. Or the Broad, Gates and Walton Family Foundations.

Remember those first three words in the US Constitution? We the People? Maybe it's us who are accountable/responsible/in charge.

¡Onward/Adelante! -smf

By UCLA/IDEA staff - Themes in the News for the week of Aug. 16-20, 2010

08-20-2010 -- The Los Angeles Times created an uproar in the education community with the publication of a story—the first in a series—that analyzed teacher effectiveness using a value-added model. This weekend, the Times plans to follow up by releasing information about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers, ranking them on a scale from least to most effective.

Reactions of shock and deep concern are coming from many corners of the education community, even those rarely in agreement.

Diane Ravitch, who opposes the use of standardized tests as single tools for evaluation, called the public outing “disgraceful.” | In a blog post, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank and a proponent of using data for teacher evaluations also said he had serious problems (Education Week |

Value-added analysis measures the movement up or down on a student’s test scores from one year to the next. According to the Times, the higher the jump, the more effective the teacher.

Most expert reports on this method, including one by the National Academy of Science |, point out that the value-added metric, alone, is insufficient in evaluating teacher effectiveness. In agreement is Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who asked, “Would a person be diagnosed with diabetes solely on the basis of a high blood pressure reading? (Color Lines |

Barnett Berry, president of the Center for Teaching Quality, offered another medical analogy. It is “the equivalent of a newspaper indiscriminately listing the names of doctors, in rank, based on mortality rates, irrespective of the type of medicine they practice or the context in which they practice” (Christian Science Monitor |

A Sacramento high school teacher distinguished between data-driven and data-informed. “In schools that are data-informed, test results are just one more piece of information that can be helpful in determining future directions” (Washington Post |

And the data the Times intends to publish is limited in several ways. It purports to identify the value added by particular teachers, but does not take into account student mobility, absenteeism, the role of tutors or team teachers, summer school programs or after-school programs (Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post).

Parents are being invited to act on powerful conclusions they draw from the teacher data, but it is difficult to find positive steps they can take. In the short term, parents might compete among themselves to win their child a spot in the “most effective” teacher’s classroom. School morale, already low after a season of pink slips, could receive another blow. Teachers might do their best to avoid teaching grades 3, 4 and 5. Or, turn inward and narrow their curriculum to teach solely to the test.

Public disclosure and a culture of blame could create a chilling effect on teacher collaboration. It could also dry up the pool of people willing to enter the teaching profession.
People love rankings, sorting, and surveys; it’s hard to resist the appeal of the “10 Best” or “10 Worst”. But the facile display of numbers and rankings can be misleading for a public that is not well acquainted with nuanced statistical models or with critiques of how to use that data.

That is why the National Academy of Sciences worries about the “considerable limitations to the transparency” of value-added analysis.

The Times, by focusing on a narrow and underdeveloped measure of teacher effectiveness, distracts attention from the real reform need: a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that provides ample support to improve student learning.

By Stephen Sawchuk | Education Week | Vol. 30, Issue 01

August 19, 2010 -- Forced into an uneasy balancing act between their members and the president they helped elect, the national teachers’ unions are responding to the Obama administration’s teacher-effectiveness agenda in notably different ways.

Publicly at least, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel has hewed closely to the union’s internal policy statements on such matters as embedding student learning into policies on teacher evaluation and pay. But the heads of the union's state affiliates have taken sundry positions on initiatives such as the federal Race to the Top competition, with some participating in the shape of their states’ bids for the $4 billion initiative and others opposing them outright.

In contrast, the president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, has laid out—and helped local affiliates adopt—an explicit agenda for her union that, for example, endorses a new approach to teacher evaluations, including the consideration of test scores alongside other factors.

Those responses, say experts on teachers’ unions, are a complex product molded significantly by the unions’ respective governance structures. Among other differences, the structures make the national bully pulpit a more powerful place at the AFT, but tilt NEA policy away from its president and toward its state affiliates.

“Philosophically, I don’t think [the unions’ leaders] are coming from different places, but there is a difference in the extent to which they’ve engaged in controversial discussions about evaluation and teacher pay,” said Mark Simon, who served as a member of the NEA’s board of directors while the president of its Montgomery County, Md., chapter. “The politics of the organizations allow Randi to be engaged right now, ... while NEA is providing support on an affiliate-by-affiliate basis, but is not able to articulate a message for every affiliate.”


After eight years of being largely shut out of policy discussions during President George W. Bush’s administration, the teachers’ unions had hoped for a president friendlier to their views on the teaching profession. And while they’ve had more access to President Barack Obama’s administration, its focus on the controversial area of teacher performance has yielded some angry rank-and-file members.

The differences in the unions’ responses were on stark display at their conventions, both held last month.

Reforming teacher evaluations is arguably the centerpiece of the administration’s teacher-effectiveness conversation. But discussion of the issue was all but absent at the NEA’s Representative Assembly in New Orleans.

Instead, delegates narrowly approved a a position of “no confidence” in the Race to the Top competition, which puts a premium on changing teacher evaluation. The vote largely broke along state-affiliation lines.

“The debate, the closeness of the vote—what you saw was a microcosm of experiences all over the map in terms of negative or positive experiences different states had with the program,” said Ken Swanson, the president of the Illinois Education Association.

The teacher-effectiveness discussion has been pursued individually by select NEA state affiliates rather than at the national level. Unions in Delaware, Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Tennessee played a major role in the crafting of their states’ applications for the Race to the Top, while other states opposed the grant program altogether.

“We are dead set against tying evaluations to teacher performance and salary,” said David Sanchez, the president of the California Teachers Association. “In my opinion, we are never going to agree to consider that your salary is based on a single evaluative assessment.”

In contrast, Illinois chose to move forward when state lawmakers intentionally included policies reflecting some of the union’s internal priorities in an education reform bill, Mr. Swanson said.

Political realities influenced the Tennessee union’s participation, said Earl Wiman, the past president of the Tennessee Education Association. “We saw the legislative call sheets, and this became a runaway freight train,” he said about a state law created to position the state to compete in the Race to the Top program, which is using economic-stimulus money to promote education improvements along the lines favored by the Obama administration.

Rather than oppose the legislation, the union worked to reduce the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation based on test-score growth and to add provisions to the state code allowing teachers to “grieve,” or formally protest, procedural aspects of their evaluations, Mr. Wiman said.

The NEA did not respond to requests for an interview with Mr. Van Roekel.


If evaluation was on the periphery of the NEA assembly, it was front and center at the AFT’S biennial convention, held in Seattle. There, AFT delegates formally endorsed a six-page, single-spaced resolution on teacher evaluation codifying the vision Ms. Weingarten had laid out in a speech six months earlier.

In that address at the National Press Club, in Washington, Ms. Weingarten said that under certain circumstances, unions could consider using student achievement in teacher evaluations and align due process procedures with such evaluations. The NEA does not endorse those policies. ("AFT Chief Promises Due-Process Reform," Jan. 20, 2010.)

Since then, Ms. Weingarten has provided crucial bargaining help to local affiliates willing to experiment with evaluation or pay, resulting in a number of high-profile contracts in such cities as New Haven, Conn.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Washington.

“While the conversation about teacher evaluation may have been started by others, AFT is trying to assert our expertise and authority into that conversation,” said Mary Cathryn Ricker, the president of the union’s St. Paul, Minn., chapter and one of the local leaders Ms. Weingarten tapped to craft the teacher-evaluation framework.


The two national unions’ responses to the teacher-effectiveness issue are not recent phenomena. Rather, they reflect long-standing differences in how the unions are organized.

Under the NEA’s structure, the largest state affiliates—California, New Jersey, Michigan, and Florida, among others—have the most representatives on the union’s board of directors and its resolutions committee, which vets changes to formal NEA policy statements, as well as the most delegates to its convention.

As such, they exert a powerful influence over the national union’s policy direction. The NEA’s resolutions are binding, and the union’s president must abide by them. State affiliates, in theory, must do so to tap their share of centrally allocated NEA funding.

Before this year’s convention, the union’s resolutions committee discussed amending its formal position on teacher evaluations, but it did not advance anything to the delegates, according to the NEA’s executive director, John I. Wilson. And doing so on a controversial issue like teacher evaluations is no easy task.

“To get a resolution to the floor, you really need strong support,” said Keith B. Geiger, the union’s president from 1989 to 1996. “California, New Jersey, Florida—those are states with a lot of resolutions-committee members and ... would be more reticent to pass anything that smells of merit pay, of single tests determining something.”

A downside of the system is that it tethers the national leadership to the traditional positions held by those states, said Julia Koppich, a San Francisco-based consultant who has written extensively on teachers’ unions.

“The organization is split, and it is predictable which states favor some change and which ones don’t,” she said. “If, in fact, the national NEA is more aligned with [the Illinois] positions, it should be out there working with some state affiliates to help them see if they can move a little more toward those positions.”

That the largest 10 affiliates have significant control over policy has complicated Mr. Van Roekel’s relationship with the Obama administration, acknowledged Mr. Sanchez, the president of the California union.

“He is in a very tough situation,” Mr. Sanchez said. “But when he is directed by his board and state presidents, he’s got to go [to the administration] and tell it like it is. It’s challenging for him, just as it is for me to tell him that CTA is not on board with something.”


If the NEA structure gives state affiliates the primary role in developing and overseeing policy among local unions, an inverse situation exists within the AFT, where the central leadership actively works to persuade locals to try out new ideas.

The national AFT “treats local leaders as incubators of promising education practices, and they are constantly scanning for things locals are doing that should be scaled up,” said Ms. Ricker, who has worked within both unions’ structures because Minnesota is a merged NEA-AFT affiliate.

That ethos has given Ms. Weingarten an advantage in setting an agenda that goes against some traditionally held views, according to Ms. Koppich. “I think AFT’s philosophy is quite different from the NEA’s, that it’s the elected leadership’s job to maybe take the members to some places they didn’t know they wanted to go,” she said.

What’s more, Ms. Weingarten exerts considerable influence over the union’s policy landscape partly because many of its vice presidents and resolution-vetting committee members belong to the same internal political coalition she supports, the Progressive Caucus. The group is particularly powerful in New York City, the home of the union’s largest affiliate.

It is, in fact, so rare for the AFT’S Progressive Caucus-dominated leadership to be challenged in elections that this year’s convention marked the first time since 1974 that a full opposition slate of candidates ran for office. The slate, which called itself “By Any Means Necessary,” or BAMN, criticized current AFT leaders for considering policy developments such as the Race to the Top competition and teacher evaluations tied in part to student achievement, rather than opposing them altogether. It won about 5 percent of the votes overall.

“It was a message to Randi and a consequence of the risk she’s taken in her leadership role,” said Mr. Simon, the former NEA board member, who is now a policy analyst with the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington.

Teachers’ union watchers point to Karen Lewis, the new head of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the AFT’s third-largest affiliate, as a wild card in future AFT policymaking. A newly elected national vice president, she now sits on the union’s executive council.

Though not affiliated with the BAMN slate, Ms. Lewis shares philosophically similar views. She has called the Race to the Top “misguided,” and she opposes many of the Obama administration’s policy prescriptions, including school closures, charter schools, and the use of standardized assessments for judging schools and teachers. Ms. Weingarten has supported such policies, albeit cautiously and only in certain contexts and situations.

Ms. Lewis emerged from a Chicago group, the Caucus Of Rank and File Educators, or CORE. Unlike the loosely affiliated BAMN group, CORE has spent much of its time organizing, and it has already demonstrated its ability to influence policy: At the AFT convention, CORE-affiliated delegates successfully added language eschewing the use of test scores for punitive purposes to a separate resolution on school closures.

The message Ms. Lewis espouses appears to have resonated with the larger AFT. In Seattle, she received the second-highest number of votes for a position on the executive council.

“You will never be heard if all you are doing is screaming and hollering,” Ms. Lewis said, when asked about her new position in the AFT governance. “This is an opportunity for Randi and other people to see how detrimental [the Obama administration’s] policies are.”

For her part, Ms. Weingarten said that she welcomes a variety of opinions on the executive council. “Our council has lots of people with different opinions,” she said. “Karen is about helping kids, and there’s a huge connection there. We have different ideas about how, but our value system is the same.”


The complicated landscape of the unions’ internal and external messaging on the teacher-effectiveness agenda will continue to play out when renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act comes to the forefront on Capitol Hill.

Most of the NEA’s recent policy shifts on teacher effectiveness have taken place quietly, apart from its slow, deliberative governance structure.
In a largely unnoticed development, Mr. Van Roekel has pledged to support affiliates that take positions outside the union’s formal policy resolutions.

The union’s $6 million Priority Schools campaign, meanwhile, will work with schools receiving grants under the federal School Improvement Grants, even those using improvement models the NEA does not favor.

But the NEA’s national position on teacher-evaluation procedures remains in flux. At the convention, Mr. Van Roekel announced the creation of a new body, the Commission on Effective Teaching, which will report back to the Representative Assembly next year on such issues as teacher evaluation, but its recommendations will not be binding unless they are incorporated into a resolution.

In the meantime, Mr. Van Roekel might try to put forward a more detailed vision for the union in the coming year, his third as NEA president, Mr. Geiger said.

“I think he’s gained a lot of respect,” the former NEA president said. “He’s highly regarded by state leaders. I think he is moving as fast as he can knowing he has both sides of the issue to deal with.”
For Ms. Weingarten of the AFT, the question is a different one: whether the uneasiness she’s faced from limited quarters in response to her push for affiliates to examine long-held ideas about the teaching profession will translate into more-organized action.

“It can grow, or it can die out,” Ms. Ricker of Minnesota said of that pushback. “We are clearly ripe for some internal conversations.”


LA Times Editorial

August 21, 2010 -- Faced with a series of administrative lapses that have contributed to the deaths of children in the care of Los Angeles County, the county Board of Supervisors has responded with stern and authoritative action — against the worker or workers who may have brought the tragedies to light.

It is depressingly unsurprising that the board would see these deaths as a publicity problem, not a failure of the county's most basic obligation. As Department of Children and Family Services Director Trish Ploehn described it to the supervisors, the leaks of information regarding child deaths have created a morale issue for her colleagues. Boohoo.

The response to a crisis in child protection might involve overhauling the county's systems for safeguarding children's welfare; it might require firing some inattentive social workers; it might suggest upgrading technology to allow records from the field to be more readily available. But the response to a PR problem suggests a different course: This week, the board authorized a leak investigation.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the lone dissenter, aptly noted that "the obsession with leaks … exceeds the obsession with child deaths." He's right, and his colleagues are wrong as they continue to frame the problems of their troubled department as bad press rather than bad management. Moreover, the county's insistence on hushing up these matters has led it to break the law: In contravention of the state law that requires board members to hold their meetings in public, the supervisors initially discussed the leak investigation in closed session. They tried to remedy that this week by at least debating in public, but secrecy is corroding this issue at every step.

On June 8, 11-year-old Jorge Tarin hung himself with a jump-rope hours after a county social worker interviewed him at home and then left him there; this, even though Jorge that same day had told a school counselor and a county worker that he was considering suicide. As the county board considers that tragedy, it should ask itself this question: Who did Jorge more harm? The worker who left him in a home where he complained of being beaten and where his stepfather was residing in defiance of a court order, or the county worker who may have brought details of Jorge's death to light?
●●smf: Supervisor Yaroslavsky and The LA Times have this right. Children are dying. This is a more important story than the malfeasance in Bell or the LAUSD teacher assessments put together.

Make a note:

● TO THE BOARD OF SUPES: Stop looking for scapegoats and whistleblowers and do something. It may very well be that the current Department of Children and Family Services is doing the best they can with their limited staff and budget. If that is true the board bears responsibility for the death of children and the bad press.
● TO THE PULITIZER COMMITTEE: This is what good investigative journalism and good editorial writing looks like.

By PAMELA PAUL | New York Times

August 20, 2010 -- AFTER all those attentive early childhood rituals — the flashcards, the Kumon, the Dora the Explorer, the mornings spent in cutting-edge playgrounds — who wouldn’t want to give their children a head start when it’s finally time to set off for school?

Suzanne Collier, for one. Rather than send her 5-year-old son, John, to kindergarten this year, the 36-year-old mother from Brea, Calif., enrolled him in a “transitional” kindergarten “without all the rigor.” He’s an active child, Ms. Collier said, “and not quite ready to focus on a full day of classroom work.” Citing a study from “The Tipping Point” about Canadian hockey players, which found that the strongest players were the oldest, she said, “If he’s older, he’ll have the strongest chance to do the best.”

Hers is a popular school of thought, and it is not new. “Redshirting” of kindergartners — the term comes from the practice of postponing the participation of college athletes in competitive games — became increasingly widespread in the 1990s, and shows no signs of waning.

In 2008, the most recent year for which census data is available, 17 percent of children were 6 or older when they entered the kindergarten classroom. Sand tables have been replaced by worksheets to a degree that’s surprising even by the standards of a decade ago. Blame it on No Child Left Behind and the race to get children test-ready by third grade: Kindergarten has steadily become, as many educators put it, “the new first grade.”

What once seemed like an aberration — something that sparked fierce dinner party debates — has come to seem like the norm. But that doesn’t make it any easier for parents.

“We agonized over it all year,” said Rachel Tayse Baillieul, a food educator in Columbus, Ohio, where the cutoff date is Oct. 1. Children whose birthdates fall later must wait until the next year to start school. But her daughter, Lillian, 4, was born five days before, on Sept. 25, which would make her one of the youngest in the class.

With the wide age spans in kindergarten classrooms, each new generation of preschool parents must grapple with where exactly to slot their children. Wiggly, easily distracted and less mature, boys are more likely to be held back than girls, but delayed enrollment is now common for both sexes.

“Technically, Lillian could go to kindergarten,” Ms. Tayse Baillieul said. Moving her up from part-time preschool would allow Ms. Tayse Baillieul to return to work and earn income. But Lillian’s preschool teachers counseled her to hold Lillian back. “They said staying in preschool a year longer will probably never hurt and will probably always help, especially with social and emotional development.”

Regardless, a classroom with an 18-month age spread will create social disparities. “Someone has to be the youngest in class,” pointed out Susan Messina, a 46-year-old mother in Washington. “No matter how you slice it.” When Clare, her daughter, who is now 9, entered kindergarten at 4, Ms. Messina was aware of widespread redshirting.

“I thought, I’m not breaking the rules, I’m not pushing her ahead, we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to do,” she said. “Then it dawned on me that in this day and age, there’s a move to keep your brilliant angel in preschool longer so they could be smarter and taller for the basketball team. But my daughter doesn’t need a leg up. She’s fine.”

Still, it bothers her that children in the same class are as much as a year and a half older than Clare. “She has friends who are 11 who are going to get their periods this year, and she’s still playing with American Girl dolls.” Another mother complained that her 4-year-old became hooked on Hannah Montana by her aspiring-tween classmates. A 6-year-old wielding a light saber can be awfully intimidating to a boy who still sleeps with his teddy.

At the other tip of the age span, parents who promote children to kindergarten before 5 are often seen as pushy, “even ogre-ish,” Ms. Messina said. But suppose your child is already reading at 4? Do you hold her back where she may be bored to tears in preschool or send her into a classroom of hulking 6-year-old boys? In 1970, 14.4 percent of kindergartners started at age 4. That figure has dropped to less than 10 percent.

The self-esteem movement has inspired parents to care as much about emotional well-being as academic achievement, and with fragile self-images still in the making, the worst fear for parents is setting up their children for failure. One Connecticut mother in Fairfield County sent her October-born son to kindergarten at 4, despite “the informal rule of thumb that everyone holds back their September to December boys.” Kindergarten seemed to go well, but when her son entered first grade, she said, “I got hit over the head. They told me he was way behind.”

She watched in horror as her son’s self-confidence tanked. “He was spinning his wheels just to keep up,” she recalled. “He even got pulled out of class for poor handwriting.” At the end of a miserable second-grade year, she withdrew him to repeat the grade at a private school. “It’s been a long and difficult journey,” she said. “I totally regret starting him on kindergarten at 4.”

Many parents feel compelled to redshirt by what they see as unreasonable academic demands for 4- and 5-year-olds. But keeping children in preschool, according to both academic research and parental experience, doesn’t necessarily offer every advantage. Jennifer Harrison, a mother of two from Folsom, Calif., held her October-born son, Elliott, back so he “wouldn’t get labeled as out of control.” Over all, she said, it was the right decision. “But his math skills are far above those of his classmates.”

How to attend to a child’s myriad needs, and which should be the priority? “There don’t seem to be any rules,” said Rebecca Meekma, a mother of two from Laguna Beach, Calif. “People are saying, ‘I want him to be big in high school for sports!’ What is that? You can’t know who they’ll be in high school.”

And what about children who aren’t Leo the Late Bloomer? “I have met mom after mom who is intentionally holding her child back a year,” said Jennifer Finke, a mother of two in Englewood, Colo. “They say they don’t want their kids to be the youngest or shortest. Is that right? Is it fair?”

Ms. Finke’s son, Benjamin, is soon to start kindergarten at 5. “There will be boys in his class who are a year or more older than him. They’ll be bored in class and then the bar will be set higher, and the kids who are the right age will find that they can’t keep up.” What will happen in gym when the larger boys are picked first for brute force, leaving the pipsqueaks languishing? “I’m afraid my children will feel inferior.”

Not all parents can choose when their children begin kindergarten. “Though redshirting is common in the suburbs, in Manhattan, it’s the schools — not parents — who decide,” said Emily Glickman, whose company, Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, advises parents on kindergarten admissions. At New York City private schools, the cutoff date is Sept. 1; in practice, summer babies, particularly boys, generally enter kindergarten at age 6. “It’s a ramped-up world,” Ms. Glickman said. “And the easiest way for schools to assure that their kids do better is for them to be older and more mature.”

Meanwhile, New York City public schools have a firm age cutoff date of Dec. 31. Kindergarten isn’t required by the state, so parents could keep their children out, but then they would have to start the following year at first grade. And not everyone can afford two to three years of nursery school or day care.

“Among parents here, there’s a tremendous demand for kindergarten earlier,” said Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Harlem Success Academy Charter School, which pushed its cutoff back to Dec. 1. “If these parents could start their kids at 2, they would.” Not everyone, alas, defines academic privilege the same way.

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

GOOD GRADES: Teachers must be held accountable for students' success - and failure: L.A. DAILY NEWS EDITORIAL 8/2...

LEAKS DON’T KILL KIDS: LA Times Editorial It is depressingly unsurprising that the Board of Supervisors would see...


EDUCATION EXPERTS SLAM LA TIMES TEACHER ASSESSMENTS: By Robert Cruickshank | Published on California Progress Repo...

LA TIMES STORY A GAME CHANGER: by Charles Kerchner in , later (8-20)in CityWatch 8/16/201...


THE PROMISE OF EARLY COLLEGE: “The importance of collaboration between institutions of higher education and high s...



Education groups outraged: STATE COULD USE FEDERAL SCHOOL FUNDING TO HELP CLOSE BUDGET GAP. The $1.2 billion was s...

Newsweek: L.A. TIMES RANKS CITY TEACHERS BY EFFECTIVENESS: from the Newsweek Gaggle Blog: Press, Politics & Absurd...

Action Required: SUPPORT ACCESS TO FREE, FRESH DRINKING WATER IN SCHOOLS: from the California Center for Public He...


CAMPUS UNDER LAUSD's SCHOOL CHOICE PLAN OPENS. EXPERIMENT: Camino Nuevo Academy to be closely watched test case ...




THE LA TIMES AT ITS BEST(?): ●●There is more than one way to look at any issue. In the interest of total fairness this isn't one of them!
LA TIMES JOINS THE TEACHER-BASHING PARADE: by Julianne Hing| ColorLines: After 12 years as a print magazine, Color...

IS THIS AN INVITATION FOR TEACHER-SHOPPING?: EDITORIAL IN The Bakersfield Californian Tuesday, Aug 17 2010 03:51...

SCHOOL FUNDING UPDATES: From The National Access Network at Teachers College, Columbia University 17 August 2010...

THE CHARTER SCHOOL COMMUNITY THINKS THIS NEWS IS NEWSWORTHY….: from Education news bulletin of LAEdupreneurs Tue...


TEACHERS UNIONS /UNION RAGE: BY R.M. IN THE ECONOMIST American politics Democracy in America Aug 17th 2010,...

‘DREAM ACT’ WOULD NOT BE ENOUGH FOR MANY UNDOCUMENTED STUDENTS: photo: Jay Premack - Students gathered in Washingt...

MONEY FOR CALIF. SCHOOLS LIKELY TO BE DELAYED: ABC7 Eyewitness News HD covering Los Angeles and Southern Californi...


EVENTS: Coming up next week...
*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213-241-5183
Phone: 213-241.8700


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6383 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6387
...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • Find your state legislator based on your home address. Just go to: • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at • 213.978.0600
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Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD. He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and represents PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He is an elected Representative on his neighborhood council. He is a Health Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on numerous school district advisory and policy committees and has served as a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is the recipient of the UTLA/AFT 2009 "WHO" Gold Award for his support of education and public schools - an honor he hopes to someday deserve. • 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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