Sunday, January 05, 2014

Happy New Year from the Great New Wonderful Tomorrow

4LAKids: Sunday 5•Jan•2014
In This Issue:
 •  NO END TO LAUSD iPAD DEBATE + smf’s 2¢
 •  HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources
 •  EVENTS: Coming up next week...
 •  What can YOU do?

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 •  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.
CYN•I•CISM (sin-i-sizm)
1. An attitude of scornful or jaded negativity, especially a general distrust of the integrity or professed motives of others: the public cynicism aroused by governmental scandals.
2. A scornfully or jadedly negative comment or act: "She arrived at a philosophy of her own, all made up of her private notations and cynicisms" (Henry James)
3. The beliefs of the ancient Cynics.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. – Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary. (Bierce’s magnum opus was originally published as “The Cynic’s Word Book”)

Before 4LAKids retreats fully into The Old Gringo’s philosophy, congratulations to the LAUSD All City Honors Band, apocryphally formed to march down the troubled streets of River City in the finale of the 1962 movie musical “The Music Man” - for marching down Colorado Boulevard for the 41st time.

“…rows and rows of the finest virtuosos,
the cream of ev'ry famous band.”

IT IS THE SECOND WEEK OF THE THREE WEEK HOLIDAY BREAK IN LAUSD with three (count 'em) three football games a day on the tube - and once the band has marched and the iPads misadventure has been rehashed for the umpteenth time there hasn’t been much education news to report. The state and the feds are on vacation too, the Board of Ed hasn’t met yet - the lure for the media to rewrite a press release and call it a story tempts like The Apple in Eden.

The Times’ L.A. UNIFIED FINALLY HIRING TEACHERS AGAIN is a case in point. “After years of layoffs and hiring freezes, L.A. Unified expects to hire more than 1,300 for next year. And it can even be choosy.”

Wait a minute …didn’t the superintendent say we can’t afford to do that just last week?? [LA school board to consider hiring laid-off staff. Superintendent Deasy opposes the move. |] Don’t the budget deficits persist? Doesn’t enrollment continue to decline? The, answer gentle reader, is that, properly spun, any news is good news!

Just because John Deasy is quoted twice doesn’t make him a bad person …or a good superintendent. The principal quoted – also not-necessarily-a-bad-person - is a handpicked Deasy selection in a forced turnaround and that turnaround is described as a “significant positive change in the employment climate“? Really? Reporting like that doesn’t make Howard Blume a bad reporter or The Times a bad newspaper.

But none of this makes for much a good story either.

● Where is the interview with the former 24th Street teacher who was laid-off or relocated because of the engineered application of the Parent Trigger Law at 24th Street that started with a simple-but-ignored petition from parents to please get them a different principal?
● What is the opinion of the silent majority parent who didn’t sign the P-Rev petition and therefore didn’t get a say in the takeover? .What about the teachers at other schools who were bumped by the transplanted/turned-around/former 24th Street teachers?
● What about the pool of 3,900 previously RIFed educators? How were their holidays?

Happy New Year in the Great New Wonderful Tomorrow. Drink the Kool-Aid, it’s good for you. And if not for you it must be good for somebody.

THE LAUSD BOARD OF ED NEEDS TO MAKE A DECISION …and that decision should be to appoint a representative to fill Marguerite LaMotte’s seat.

The LA Times editorial board offered some excellent advice to the board of Ed on New Year’s Eve: “Talk less. Do more. You're a group of people with sharply differing opinions and philosophies. That's great. Disagree. Succinctly. Then find an area of agreement and take a vote.” |

Next Tuesday afternoon the board needs to decide whether to call an election or make an appointment to fill the seat vacated by the untimely death of Marguerite LaMotte.

I am all for elective democracy – and in The Best of All Possible Worlds the board would call an election and the good citizens of District One would elect someone and the seat would be filled in time for that person to vote on the Local Control Funding Formula, the iPads, the District budget for 2014-15, rehiring or not rehiring laid off employees, class size reduction and any of the hundreds of things that will come up for a vote between now and a general election in June. Or maybe November.

But first: The expression “The Best of All Possible Worlds” was inserted in sarcasm into this blog post – just as it was inserted into Candide by Voltaire in 1759. Candide is a satire of the optimism of the Age of Enlightenment.

We live in a Representative Democracy - and this is a moment for our elected representatives to show some leadership; not to worry themselves into a dither or to retreat to a back room and make the unions, politicos, billionaires or the mayor (or any number of former mayors) happy. I’m sure Eli Broad and Richard Riordan and Bill Gates and Eric Garcetti and Antonio Villaraigosa and Michael Bloomberg and Warren Fletcher all have their favorite candidates …but they do not live in the First District!

And, gentle readers, neither do any of the six surviving LAUSD Board Members.

The Board should decide that they are going to appoint someone – and then they must make an effort to go into the First District and listen to the community and then they should interview candidates in an open and transparent process and then four of them should agree on someone and make the appointment.

It’s not unfair; it’s Leadership. It’s the law, it’s the board’s job - …and it’s what is called for Tuesday.

This is not anti-democratic; the voters approved this process when they approved the City Charter and they elected the decision makers: The six members currently on the board.

There are two potential candidates being spoken of today. Jimmie Woods Gray and George McKenna III. If anyone cares I have signed petitions supporting both of them; they have both been there and done that – they both have drawers full of the t-shirts!

If the board can’t agree on them they should find someone with the assistance of the community that four of them can agree on.

¡Onward/Adelante! – smf

● Jimmie Woods Gray’s petition is here. |
● George McKenna III’s petition is here. |

The LAUSD All City Honors Band 2014 Tournament of Roses parade appearance on YouTube


By Howard Blume, L.A. Times |

January 4, 2014, 12:00 p.m. :: After an extended period of layoffs and hiring freezes, the Los Angeles Unified School District has resumed bringing on new teachers, while also being more selective about their quality than in the past.

The nation's second-largest school system forecasts hiring 1,333 instructors for next year; it hired 718 for the current year. The total teaching force numbers about 26,000.

The turnaround represents the first significant positive change in the employment climate since 2007; each year since, the district had faced significant budget cuts — from an economic recession, a drop in federal funding and declining enrollment.

Help has come from an improving economy, a voter-approved tax increase, and, perhaps most importantly, a demand for teachers that is finally outstripping the supply.

"We are now entering that point," said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, where the district is finally able to "undo" some of the harm from "years of cuts."

"It's an exciting time," said Mary Ann Sullivan, principal at 24th Street Elementary in South Los Angeles.

One of Sullivan's new hires is Samantha Pulliam, 27, whose first-grade classroom gave no indication recently that she is a rookie L.A. Unified instructor. Walls, whiteboards and windows were filled with colorful displays: an exhibit of student writings and drawings about the story "Kitten's First Full Moon"; an explanation of the color wheel; calendars to mark lost baby teeth and birthdays; a poster with the parts of an essay; a chart that defines books and stories by genre.

Pulliam used the word "genre" with her first-graders, who gathered around her attentively discussing whether a story about pigs was fiction or nonfiction, fantasy or reality.

"A lot of people underestimate how much knowledge a kid has and how smart and how capable they are," she said. "I also want students to see how intelligent they really are."

She has one boy who speaks limited English, so she especially tracks that student's comprehension.

Pulliam began her career working for a charter school because no positions were available in L.A. Unified.

Three other 24th Street teachers previously worked for local charters, which are public schools but not run by L.A. Unified. Pulliam liked her former job but decided there were more career opportunities within the larger school system.

There are also typically more union protections and potentially more job security within L.A. Unified. That wasn't necessarily the case, however, in the downturn years.

In June 2010, the district laid off about 600 teachers. A year later, about 2,000 teachers, counselors, nurses and other professional staff were let go. And in 2012, about 1,300 layoffs occurred. Other teachers bounced around because they lacked enough seniority to remain at a particular campus.

In addition, thousands more received notices that they might be laid off, leading annually to long periods of uncertainty.

One result has been an evolution into an older work force — because most layoffs, by law, target teachers with less time on the job. In L.A. Unified, more teachers are older than 70 than younger than 25. More than a third of teachers are between 36 and 46.

Gradually, hundreds of laid-off teachers have returned — some after weeks, others after several years, as layoffs were rescinded or positions opened up.

Pulliam's school, 24th Street, represents an extreme in the hiring picture. The persistently low-performing campus was among those that went through a forced restaffing: Instructors had to reapply for jobs. Only five returned.

The remainder had the choice of retiring, resigning or entering a hiring pool. Teachers in the pool retain salary and benefits but have to work as substitutes until and unless they find jobs elsewhere in the school system. Numerous campuses have been required to restaff in recent years.

Meanwhile, schools with openings are supposed to pull from the hiring pool as much as possible. (This group also includes instructors returning from leave or those who lost positions because of declining enrollment.)

One difference this year was that 24th Street had more freedom to choose teachers from outside the hiring pool. Of 23 new teachers, 18 are in their first year, six others in their first year at L.A. Unified.

All had to undergo a more rigorous hiring process, revamped by human resources chief Vivian Ekchian. Science teachers, for example, had to show a grade point average of 3.0 or better in their college science classes. Applicants also have to demonstrate teaching skills in sample lessons, among other requirements.

"We have overhauled the entire hiring process," Deasy said.

The district can afford to be selective. For the current year, it hired 344 elementary teachers out of 1,200 available candidates. Some 242 applied for 56 science positions. The market remains tight for high school English: three hires from a pool of 216.

Declining enrollment, partly a result of the growth of charter schools, continues to shrink the number of teaching positions, by about 450 for next year alone. But this figure is offset by such factors as about 1,000 expected retirements and about 700 leaving for other reasons, voluntarily or otherwise.

Increasing numbers of teachers have been forced out, after being accused of poor performance or alleged misconduct. Among veteran teachers, who typically have strong job protections, 57 were fired while 155 others resigned to avoid being dismissed last year, records show.

And the district also is letting go greater numbers of teachers before they earn tenure and stronger job protections, which usually occurs after two years.

For Pulliam, the numbers added up to a job, which has particular appeal because her mother taught for 40 years in L.A. Unified.

"That's where my love of teaching started," she said.


Mailbag | Paul Thornton, LA Times letters editor |

January 4, 2014 :: Even the noblest of efforts — such as, say, the Los Angeles Unified School District's program to give each of its 600,000-plus students Apple iPads — can suffer under the weight of bungled management. Since the district rolled out its $1 billion program — funded by construction bond money, a sticking point with letter writers — reader reaction has ranged from skepticism at the beginning to downright hostility as more problems were reported.

The Times' latest article on the program, which reported that other school districts pay far less than L.A. Unified for their laptops and tablets, sparked reader indignation again. [AS SCHOOLS GIVE STUDENTS COMPUTERS, PRICE OF L.A.’S PROGRAM STANDS OUT] This time, the targets were more numerous than just the district's administration; some faulted society for being hostile to paying for top-notch technology in the classroom, and others took issue with The Times' coverage.

● Emily Waldron Loughran of Los Angeles says iPads aren't the fix L.A. Unified needs:

"Thanks to The Times for exposing the great iPad travesty. I will certainly never vote for a school bond again if this is the way the money is wasted.

"As a parent of two elementary schoolchildren, I see little if any evidence that iPads can effectively replace textbooks. For example, my children actually prefer doing math with pencil and paper and dedicate their iPad time to mindless games.

"Smaller classes with textbooks and workbooks would be a far better use of bond money."

● Leigh Clark of Granada Hills spots the profit-seeking elephant in the room:

"The front-page chart shows that LAUSD iPads cost more because they are the most current version. The newest technology, in a profit-centered economy, is the most expensive.

"What readers might miss is the 800-pound elephant in the room: No one wants to give free stuff to poor kids. Boring textbooks, maybe, but cool technology, no way. That would be, like, socialism."

● Newbury Park resident Barbara Bucsis defends the district:

"LAUSD is doing a wonderful thing by giving students the best technology available. 'You get what you pay for' is very true, especially for technology.

"Instead of celebrating this LAUSD endeavor, The Times has put the most negative spin possible onto the story."

● Planaria Price of Los Angeles asks about all those teachers who lost their jobs:

"I didn't learn math from an iPad, so I might be missing something here.

"The cash-strapped LAUSD — which in 2012 cut libraries, nurses, thousands of teachers, administrators and support staff, and deprived 250,000 adult students of adult and career education — is spending more than $1 billion on one of the nation's most expensive technology programs.

"More of us should be asking why L.A. Unified is paying top dollar for these tablets. More of us should be 'following the money.'

"I would say that 'something is rotten in the state of Denmark,' but few would understand because the teaching of Shakespeare has also been cut."

●●smf’s 2¢: The arguments made above that LAUSD is providing the best technology to its students misses the point that LAUSD is providing last year’s model of the best technology to students in 2014-2016. The iPads LAUSD has contracted for is for last year’s model of iPad: The iPad4– a 32 bit device – albeit at the price of this year’s model. The newest iPad (The iPad Air) is thinner, lighter and smarter – being a 64 bit model with a faster chip. LAUSD could have negotiated its price to always get the newest model, or to have a choice – but instead made a commitment to (sub)standardization so all iPads will the same, whether delivered in 2013 or 2016 or beyond. This discounts the role of Technological Evolution, Moores’s Law and the Duchess of Windsor’s advice that one can never be too thin.

● July 2015 is when the software license for the questionable Pearson Common Core System of Courses expires. Maybe that’s like the lease on a Yugo?: You’re glad when it’s over.
● As a Bond Oversight Committee member I voted for what The Times calls “the noblest of efforts” …though if you look back at the record of the meetings I hope you note my – and the oversight committee’s – endorsement questioned the nobility. We certainly didn’t vote for the contract; vetting, approving and overseeing contracts is the statutory role of the Board of Education.
● I am as cursed as anyone with the crystal clarity of hindsight. There was never a vote by anyone on the “bungled management” …unless it was the late Ms. LaMotte’s vote of dissatisfaction with the superintendent’s performance.

Compare iPads


By Carol Burris from Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet/The Washington Post |

Valerie Strauss writes on January 3 at 4:00 am :: Privacy concerns have been growing over a $100 million student database – largely funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and operated by a nonprofit organization, inBloom Inc. — that contains detailed information about millions of students. Most of the states that had signed up to participate in a pilot program have pulled back, and in New York, parents and educators have pushed back with protests and a lawsuit. The nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center has sued the U.S. Education Department over the database.

Here’s a new post about the database from award-winning Principal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York, who has been chronicling on this blog the many problems with test-driven reform in New York. She was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010, tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by more than 1,535 New York principals and more than 6,500 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here.

Carol Burris writes:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is indecisive when it comes to uploading student information into inBloom, the cloud-based system designed to provide student data to vendors. He says that he is waiting for Commissioner John King’s report on privacy, even as the upload begins. Cuomo claims that massive student data collection is “necessary.” Meanwhile, eight other states that originally committed to inBloom have pulled out, or put their plans on hold.

The collection and reporting of school data is nothing new. We used to send data on scan sheets; test scores, drop out rates, the percentage of students with disabilities, etc., were all reported in the aggregate. As technology progressed, we began to electronically send data, not in the aggregate, but by student. Students were assigned a unique identifying number so that their privacy was protected, with identity guarded at the school or district level. More data, including race, ethnicity and socio-economic status, were added to what we sent. This allowed the state to disaggregate data by student group, while still preserving anonymity.

Now that wall of privacy is shattered. Names, addresses (e-mail and street) and phone numbers are to be sent. Schools are required to upload student attendance, along with attendance codes, which indicate far more than whether or not the student was absent or present. Codes indicate whether a student is ill, truant, late to school or suspended. Details about the lives of students are moving beyond the school walls to reside in the inBloom cloud.

As a high school principal, I am worried by the state’s ever growing demands for student information. I believe that all disciplinary records should be known only to families and the school. All teens are under tremendous strain to perform — sometimes for adults, other times for peers. Some live on the emotional breaking point — others visit that point now and again. Kids make mistakes. Some make bad decisions. Others lose their temper and get out of control. Such serious infractions result in suspensions. We have to keep our schools safe, even as we are concerned about the well being of the offender.

When I suspend a student, I frame it within the context of learning. I also assure students and parents that discipline records are only known to us. Once that information is in the state database or the inBloom cloud, I can no longer give that reassurance.

What, then is the rationale for shipping personal data beyond the school? The New York State Education Department defends the collection of individual attendance and suspension data, claiming that it must be collected and uploaded to inBloom because it is one of several “early warning indicators” of dropping out. That rationale is insufficient. The identification of students with those indicators can be done at the school level. What is needed are the resources and supports so that schools can better intervene. Schools also need community support for dealing with problems such as student truancy. We do not need data in a cloud.

An additional justification is that inBloom data dashboards will allow parents to check to make sure that a suspension was removed from their child’s record if the commissioner overturns a suspension on appeal. In those rare cases, if a parent wants reassurance that the suspension was expunged, parents should visit the school. Schools are obliged to produce every written record, as well as give parents access to computer records. Disciplinary records are kept in both hard copy as well as in school data systems. Looking at a data dashboard would give an incomplete picture at best.

There is simply no justifiable reason for a state education department to know whether an individual student was ever suspended. It is an intrusion into the privacy of kids.

Similar arguments are made to justify the increased collection of individual disability information as well as test modification data. The years during which data is collected and stored is expanding as well. New York’s Race to the Top application committed the state to a P-16 system which would, according to their proposal, eventually become a P-20 database–thus tracking students from age 3 into well beyond their college years. Educational records would be linked to workforce data, all to be held in the inBloom cloud.

Post high school data collection has already begun. This year, information on the college progress of our alumni was placed in my Nassau Boards of Cooperative Educational Services data dashboard. I was startled to see information on students who graduated years ago. In the past, we did follow-up phone calls, identifying ourselves, and giving parents the choice as to whether or not they wanted to let us know if their child had graduated college. Most were willing to speak with us, but it was their choice based on their trust in our high school. I wonder if there are other agencies with access to that data, or if graduates even know that data was captured and shared.

I wonder when New Yorkers decided that it was acceptable for a state agency to collect children’s personally identifiable information from pre-kindergarten until well into their adult years. I do not remember the debate. If it is acceptable today to store whether a student has an emotional, intellectual or physical disability in the inBloom cloud, will the collection of even more personal information be viewed as necessary tomorrow? Logically, couldn’t every detail of a child’s life be justified on the basis of serving “research purposes”?

We are living in an era of data fascination. Too many policy makers have been seduced into believing that there is a perfect research algorithm from which we can extract wisdom to design a personalized education for every child. This belief persists even though pilot programs, such as the study of the much heralded School of One, have failed to demonstrate improved learning results.

Despite the lack of evidence, the inBloom website actively encourages the development of products to be sold to schools, which will encourage schools to turn over student data for the creation of personalized educational products.This belief that “the algorithm knows best” is based on nothing more than the speculation that a data-driven instructional world will better serve our children. Whether or not children prosper, however, may be inconsequential to those lining up to develop products and sell technology to schools.

On Jan. 10, 2014, parents opposed to the upload of their children’s data to the cloud will have their lawsuit heard in a New York State Superior Court. I am grateful for the hard work, research and persistence of Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters who has fought to protect student privacy since inBloom’s inception. Leonie played a critical role in the development of the lawsuit and no matter what the outcome, she has made parents and educators aware of inBloom. Let’s hope that this lawsuit not only puts the upload of student data on pause, but also serves as a catalyst for the needed debate that we ought to have regarding the involuntary collection of student data.

Perhaps we can agree that before any personally identifiable data is collected, the government and its agencies should have to provide a compelling justification, and not collect data because they deem it to be “necessary.” Those who have no problem setting high standards for our students, should, when they collect student information, be held to high standards as well.

By Pat Wingert, The Atlantic Monthly |

Jan 2 2014, 7:32 AM ET - COMPTON, CALIFORNIA :: Remarkable things are happening at Laurel Street Elementary School in Los Angeles.[1] Ninety percent of its 580 students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. More than 60 percent of its students are classified as English learners. And yet the school has established a stellar record of success: a national Title I Distinguished School Award in 2012 in recognition of its high academic achievement, a Golden Bell Award for its innovative writing program, and a Dispelling the Myth award from the nonprofit Education Trust. Despite years of state funding cuts and classes that average 30 or more kids apiece, an amazing 83 percent of Laurel Street’s students scored at proficient or higher on a recent state language-arts exam, and 91 percent scored that high on the math test.

Laurel Street kids tend to do better on math because it’s a kind of transitional language for students still learning to read and speak English fluently, said fourth-grade math teacher Angel Chavarin. He learned English himself while attending a Los Angeles public school years ago. Laurel Street students rarely express a typical lament of American students: “I’m not a math person.” Instead, teachers say they’re more likely to hear the opposite. “We have kids who say they’re good in math, but not in language arts,” said Chavarin. “We tell them they can be good in both.”

But this year, teachers at Laurel Street are a bit more anxious about their achievement levels than usual. That’s because they, like most schools in the country, are in the midst of transitioning to the new Common Core standards. Voluntarily adopted by 45 states, the new standards stress critical thinking, deeper learning, and more sophisticated vocabularies, with the aim of making American students more competitive with their peers from around the world.

The creators of these standards hope they will boost the achievement levels of most students, but some educators worry that the standards might inadvertently hurt one of the fastest growing groups of students in the country: students whose native language is not English. Since Laurel Street has been so successful in effectively educating these students in the past, it’s a good place to take an in-depth look at how one school is dealing with this issue. The school leadership agreed to let a reporter follow the transition over the year.

“The language demands of the Common Core are enormous,” said Ben Sanders of the California Office to Reform Education, which supports implementation of the new standards . “This is absolutely going to be a big challenge to English learners.” [2]

And English learners are a big challenge to the U.S. public school system.

There are already an estimated 5.3 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are English learners: that is, students whose English skills are less than proficient. Their numbers have grown by about 50 percent nationally since the late 1990s, and they currently account for about 10 percent of all American students. That percentage is growing in most states and is expected to rise to 40 percent of the U.S. kindergarten through grade 12 population by 2030.

As a group, these largely Hispanic students have scored significantly lower than their white peers on standardized tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card, despite increased attention to this “achievement gap.” How—and if—schools can overcome this hurdle will be a key measure of success for the Common Core.

This issue looms especially large in California, the state that educates one of every eight American students and has far more English learners than any other. Latinos now make up the majority of California public school children, and 37 percent of the state’s total enrollment comes from homes where a language other than English is spoken. Currently, about 23 percent of the state’s students are categorized as English learners.

While some California high schools have students with 60 different language backgrounds, more than 80 percent of the state’s English learners speak Spanish. “Almost every single teacher (in California) has English learners,” said Jeanette LaFors of Education Trust West, which is studying Common Core’s impact on these students. “It’s rare to see a class that does not have them.” California’s large number of English learners helps explain why California’s National Assessment of Educational Progress scores have repeatedly come in well below the national average.

Like a lot of educators in California, Laurel Street’s leadership team is enthusiastic about the Common Core because they think the standards are research-based and encourage a better way of teaching and learning. But they also recognize that big changes are necessary if their kids, particularly their English learners, are going to do well on the new assessments linked to the new standards.

“They are absolutely our priority,’ said Principal Frank Lozier, who first came to Compton Unified School District in 2000 as a Teach for America recruit out of the University of California, Berkeley. “They are such a large part of our school.”

As Laurel Street begins the process of adapting to the new standards, much of the focus is on their math program, a traditional area of strength at the school.

California’s old state assessment was pegged to its old standards and rewarded math students with good memorization and pattern recognition skills in ways that the new standards and assessments will not. “We had students who were good at finding the right answer because they had memorized the script,” said third-grade teacher Alejandra Monroy. “They could simply add or subtract and get the right answer.”

Common Core, on the other hand, emphasizes complex word problems, in part so kids realize math’s usefulness in everyday situations. “We had our big ‘Aha!’ moment when we realized we needed to shift from an emphasis on teaching isolated math skills to integrated skills because of the tasks that would be thrown at them” by the Common Core, said Lozier. “The intent is to get the kids to have a deeper and crisper understanding of how math can be used to solve real-life problems.”

The new standards also require students to explain in writing how they got their answer, and that requires a broader and more sophisticated vocabulary than many English learners have. “If they don’t have the words, it’s hard to read and listen and speak and write,” Chavarin said. “Vocabulary is the pillar to all of this.”

To address these new challenges, Monroy, who was born in Chile and was once an English learner herself, said teachers at Laurel Street are trying to incorporate more strategies into their math lessons that have proved effective for teaching English and expanding vocabularies.

Those efforts were apparent on a recent Tuesday afternoon, as Monroy introduced the use of “repeated addition” as a strategy for solving multiplication problems. She started with a vocabulary lesson. “There are very important words you need to know,” she told her class. “If you’re doing a multiplication problem — 3 x 4 = 12 — the numbers `3’ and ‘4’ are the FACTORS and the ‘12’ is the PRODUCT. All the numbers and symbols together—3 x 4 =12—is a “MULTIPLICATION SENTENCE.”

“What is this?” Monroy asked, pointing to the equation.

“A multiplication sentence,” the class echoed back.

Next, Monroy stressed that repeated addition involves “patterns,” in this case, 4+4+4 = 12

“We need to know that a pattern is a regular or repeated sequence,” she said. “A pattern can be something like red/blue/red/blue, right? A sequence that repeats. When you count by skipping numbers—2-4-6—you’re doing a PATTERN.”

Once she was sure they understood the vocabulary, Monroy introduced “sentence frames,” pared-down phrases the students will need to learn in order to clearly describe what they’re doing. In this case, using repeated addition to solve a multiplication sentence involving 3 x 4 means “three groups of four.” As the class worked through a series of equations — first as a group, then with a partner, and finally as individuals — the kids got repeated opportunities to use their new vocabulary words. Even when they were working on their own, Monroy urged them to talk their way through it. “I hear you saying the steps,” she said as she walked up and down the aisles, checking the students’ progress. “That’s very good.”

As the class neared its end, Monroy introduced an associated word problem involving the total number of wheels on four tricycles. She wanted to check that the kids would recognize how their new skill might be used in the real world. She also wanted to establish that they understood instructions that use phrases like “repeated addition” and “multiplication sentence.” As the kids set to work, Monroy did a quick check to see how they were doing.

“Is this hard?” she asked the group.

“Easy, easy,” the kids responded.

“Repetition is very important for English language learners,” Monroy said later. “Learning those sentences is like learning a recipe. The way I explain a solution is like a recipe to solving the problem. Then they have to practice doing it and saying it and writing it. This is a huge difference, but this is good practice and good teaching.”

Laurel Street started this transition with an advantage because its district uses a structured curriculum called Swun Math. It’s a widely praised program developed by Si Swun, a Long Beach, California, math teacher who was inspired to combine some of the best of American education techniques with methods used in Singapore, long a world leader in math achievement. Both Common Core and Singapore-style math emphasize a deep study of the most basic elements of math before moving on to more advanced math. Swun Math also encourages collaboration and talking through the problem-solving process. With the introduction of Common Core, Swun said he is working with schools to supplement and adjust the original curriculum to make it more effective, and to strengthen students’ reasoning and writing skills.

To determine if the changes they’re making are on the right track, Laurel Street teachers monitor their kids’ performance in class and on weekly assessments that grade-level teacher teams create together. Each student’s score is then added to a spreadsheet and scrutinized by the principal, all the teachers, and even parents and students.

If one class gets better scores than the others, teachers compare notes and incorporate the most effective strategies into their own lesson plans, said fifth-grade teacher Rebecca Harris. It’s about collaboration, not competition, she said. “We learn from each other.”

“It’s a very transparent process,” Lozier said. “We have a culture where we make decisions based on evidence and results and data, rather than opinions. Mine included. We do more of what works and less of what doesn’t work.”

The work is challenging. But the deeper they get into it, the more school leaders are becoming convinced that the methods encouraged by the Common Core will help all their students get better at math as well English.

“I see a lot of things in the Common Core that we should have been doing in math all along,” said Harris, “because it will help our students get to a better place in math as well as language.”

Swun agrees. As a former English learner, Swun, whose native language is Chinese, said he’s “super sensitive to this issue.” But he believes more emphasis on language in math will likely lead to more success for everyone. “Some teachers don’t want their kids to talk a lot,” he said. “But to me, that is productive noise.”

That confidence is an important first step, and while they don’t have all the answers yet, Lozier said they feel good about the outlines they’re seeing of the path forward.

smf’s footnotes:
1 Geography will not be tested! Laurel ES is in the Compton USD, though from the Atlantic’s editorial offices it must all look like sunny L.A.
2 CORE CA is NOT a government entity; it is a consortium of ®eform minded superintendents/school districts. Compton USD is NOT a member of CORE CA

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EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Common Core Technology Project Committee – Tues. January 7, 2014 | 10:00 am
• Special Board Meeting – Tues. January 7, 2014
>>NOTE TIME>> 6:15 pm
• Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee Meeting – Thurs. January 9, 2014 | 1:00 pm
• Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Ad Hoc Committee-Thurs. January 9, 2014 | 4:00 pm

*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: • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-5555 • 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
• Call or e-mail Governor Brown: 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.
• If you are eligible to become a citizen, BECOME ONE.
• If you a a citizen, REGISTER TO VOTE.
• If you are registered, VOTE LIKE THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT. THEY DO!.

Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD and is Parent/Volunteer of the Year for 2010-11 for Los Angeles County. • He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and represented PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee for ten years. 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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