Sunday, April 13, 2014

For What It’s Worth: from tragedy to farce

Onward! 4LAKids4LAKids: Sunday 13•April•2014
In This Issue:
 • …to farce. 3 Articles: TEACHER JAIL? DEASY JAIL?
 • L.A. Times editorialist: “WHY MY FAMILY IS OPTING OUT OF THE COMMON CORE TESTING” + 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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tragedy (ˈtrædʒɪdɪ)
n, pl -dies
1. (Theatre - esp in classical and Renaissance drama) a play in which the protagonist, usually a man of importance and outstanding personal qualities, falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he cannot deal
2. (Theatre) (in later drama, such as that of Ibsen) a play in which the protagonist is overcome by a combination of social and psychological circumstances
3. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) any dramatic or literary composition dealing with serious or sombre themes and ending with disaster
4. (Literary & Literary Critical Terms) (in medieval literature) a literary work in which a great person falls from prosperity to disaster, often through no fault of his own
5. (Theatre) the branch of drama dealing with such themes
6. the unfortunate aspect of something
7. a shocking or sad event; disaster
[C14: from Old French tragédie, from Latin tragoedia, from Greek tragōidia, from tragos goat + ōidē song; perhaps a reference to the goat-satyrs of Peloponnesian plays]
Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged |

Drama in classical Greece was neither an entertainment nor an art form.

Drama was a religious observance – a way of explaining reality and man’s relationship to his gods. Theaters were temples. In Comedy man and his motives triumph over adversity; in Tragedy, not so much. Man’s fatal flaw is ultimately his own humanity+mortality.

Thursday afternoon’s bus crash is undeniably tragic.

Young people poised at the very brink of adulthood, rehearsing the leaving of home, about to take charge of their lives. Already successful, our best+brightest+newest+most promising: Gone.

Ladle on the irony: The newly engaged chaperones, the twins separated by happenstance, the fender-bender that makes the bus late. Five students – one from Dorsey High School, three young adult chaperone-counselors, two drivers dead.

And there are the survivors. Survivors on the bus, burned and injured and the shaken who walked away. Parents and family members, friends and teachers and classmates – witnesses to incomplete lives and witnesses to survival. Nineteen students from 16 LAUSD schools were aboard the bus |

We wrestle with “Why?” because we longer have the angry+jealous gods to blame …and our legal system and risk managers and the media have little use for Fate.

Maybe we look to blame the drivers or the bus and trucking companies. Almost the first words from the superintendent were that it wasn’t an LAUSD sponsored trip. It was a Humboldt State University sponsored trip, part of a decades-long and highly successful program to educate inner city youth in sylvan Humboldt County.

As Paige St. John writes in today’s LA Times [After Bus Crash, Humboldt State Community Embraces Survivors]: “(The students) were part of a group of minority and largely first-generation high school students Humboldt has recruited to enroll in California's most out-of-the-way public university. About 45% of those who accept the bus ride wind up returning as students, a primary source of ethnic and social diversity for Humboldt and also Arcata, the coastal village that forms the other half of the local population.

To go all 4LAKids Sunday sermony and invoke the gods: Humboldt State is doing God’s work. For kids and the greater good.

We weep and wish Godspeed for the ones that didn’t make it. We sympathize and wish comfort to the survivors and number ourselves distant among them. We must remember that ultimately none of us get out of this alive as we celebrate the living and move forward.

WITH THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964 (…and the Ford Mustang – what a week THAT was!) we need to consider that the strategies of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and the Local Control Funding Formula/Local Control Accountability Plan as budgeted by Superintendent Deasy is to perpetuate+compensate the new segregation and make schools more, not less, separate and unequal. And unless+ until the LCFF/LCAP Supplemental and Concentration Grant funding follows the individual student, that will be the outcome.

IN OTHER NEWS, THERE WAS A BIT OF A JAILBREAK OF SORTS from “Teacher Jail” – or as other pundits in the blogosphere would like to call it: “Deasy Jail”. It started quietly enough against the backdrop of rather frequently noted mysterious “bad teacher” disappearances from LAUSD campuses. A teacher here, a principal there, a choir director somewhere else – vanished into the gulag of “Reassigned to District Offices” housing.

Welcome to the paranoia: “Step outta line, the man comes and takes you away.”

Occasionally some return – but very few come back in a timely manner. And the argument is almost always the same: Not even the accused knows what the accusations are. They are just reassigned to a rubber room, told not to discuss their case and replaced by a substitute in their office or classroom.

A couple of weeks ago I heard from parents from The School Formerly Known as Central High School #9 (the renaming remains controversial at Cortines High School for the Visual and Performing Arts). A popular science teacher had been removed because a student (or students) had made a science fair project that may or may not have been a gun. I pictured an art school-science student – nerdy+goth - with a 3-D printer making an AK-47 …or perhaps a grenade launcher from surplus copier parts.

The teacher was hauled away and replaced with an under-qualified long term sub, administrators came from ESC East office to forbid parents from meeting, discussing the issue or circulating a petition. The teacher became an unperson. I was on the verge of challenging LAUSD on the First Amendment: "The right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances…"….also enshrined in the Declaration of Independence “In every stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms…” …and, for good measure: The Magna Carta. After all, the Magna Carta undid a previous King John.

But then I received an email from the un-teacher’s parents – which I published: XXX.

The prisoner whose name must not be spoken is Greg Schiller; he has a mom and dad – both also LAUSD teachers. Within a day The Times broke the story, followed by every news+media outlet from the liberal NPR KPCC to Channels 2, 4 and 7 and on to the conservative KFI radio talk John & Ken.

“At a White House Science Fair in February 2012, President Barack Obama shot a marshmallow across the State Dining Room with the help of a pressurized air gun invented by 14-year-old Joey Hudy. The “Extreme Marshmallow Cannon” can launch marshmallows up to 175 feet—over half a football field.”

And just as quickly as the wrestling coach at SaMo High went from Bad Teacher to Good Teacher – and the SMMUSD superintendent went from Good Supe to Bad Supe [Santa Monica Coach May Become A Hero For Exasperated Teachers |] - the roles were reversed, shoes went on other feet and every Shakespearian metaphor can be hauled out, dusted off and mixed well

And I recall that in my PTA presidency at Mt Washington Elementary how the teapot became tempestuous when theatrical swordplay was employed in a visiting production of Shakespeare from the Theatricum Botanicum. Yes, weapons are forbidden from campuses …but the Bard without swordplay might as well be Ibsen …and where’s the fun in that? And yes, to add to Mr. Schiller’s crimes – he IS the HS#9 fencing coach!

“….I think it's time we stop
Children, what's that sound?
Everybody look what's going down.”


¡Onward/Adelante! - smf

By Ian Lovett, New York Times |

APRIL 11, 2014 :: LOS ANGELES — Harley Hoyt, an 18-year-old senior at Valhalla High School in San Diego County, was listening to his headphones to pass the time during the 12-hour bus ride up California’s Interstate 5 when he was catapulted forward, his face smashing against the seat in front of him.

All around him, people were screaming. The front of the bus was “like an accordion,” he said. A truck outside was on fire. He kicked the emergency door open and jumped out.

“Everyone was piling out the windows,” he said. “It was like a battle scene. People were screaming, crying, pulling out their hair. Everyone was bloodied. My clothes were covered in blood.”

Mr. Hoyt was among the 43 high school students from urban corners of Southern California — Torrance, El Monte, South Los Angeles — who had boarded the bus bound for another world: They had been accepted to Humboldt State University, a countryside college in California’s northern reaches, and were headed there for a recruiting visit. Many would be the first members of their family to attend college.

Then, as the bus rolled north past Sacramento on Thursday evening, the long trip turned tragic in a violent instant. A FedEx tractor-trailer jumped a grassy divider and barreled into the bus, killing 10 people, including both drivers. As metal and glass crashed around them, the panicked teenagers escaped through windows and ran to safety along the highway. The front of the bus exploded in flames and filled with smoke. Five students and three of their chaperones did not make it out alive. More than 30 other passengers were injured.

Mr. Hoyt said a group of terrified students ran across the freeway and watched, helpless, as flames and charcoal-gray smoke engulfed the bus, where friends and classmates remained trapped.

“I’m so grateful I’m alive,” Mr. Hoyt said. “I was in the back. One of my buddies that I had just met, he was up front. I’m sure he didn’t make it. The chaperone and his fiancée, they didn’t make it.”

Mr. Hoyt was taken to Glenn Medical Center, where he spent the night and was released Friday afternoon.

The students involved in the accident were taking part in Preview Plus, an annual program in which Humboldt State provides transportation and lodging to allow hundreds of disadvantaged students who have been accepted to the university to visit the campus. The bus was one of three chartered by Humboldt State to bring high school students to the campus on Thursday.

Jarad Petroske, a university spokesman, said the program, which dates to the 1990s, is for students from the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas, particularly those from low-income homes.

It coincides with the university’s annual spring preview, held Friday, which has events for prospective students and their families.

“The weekend will proceed as planned,” Mr. Petroske said. “It’ll be taking on a more somber tone, of course. Everybody on campus is devastated.”

Aboard the buses that did arrive Thursday, many of the students and chaperones had already learned of the tragedy on their phones. That night, the university’s president, Rollin C. Richmond, met with them, explained what he knew about what had happened and offered support services.

Larry Jones, the sheriff and coroner of Glenn County, where the accident took place in the town of Orland, said the crash could be heard from a quarter-mile away.

“This was a horrific collision,” Sheriff Jones said. He added that a fire “with very high temperatures” broke out almost immediately after the impact.

As news of the crash reached them, parents streamed north to collect their shellshocked children.

At the American Red Cross shelter established at the Veterans Memorial Hall Community Center in Orland, where some surviving students spent a sleepless night, four students were waiting Friday morning to be picked up by their families. Families that had been unable to determine their children’s whereabouts also went to the center for information. Shortly after three members of one family arrived at the center, anguished wailing could be heard from inside. Less than an hour later, they left the center in tears.

Other students escaped with injuries ranging from smoke inhalation and burns to lacerations and broken teeth.

Mitchell Huezo said his 18-year-old niece, Angela Corro, had been a passenger on the bus. She was in stable condition and receiving treatment for smoke inhalation, he said.

“She couldn’t talk,” Mr. Huezo said. “She can’t really breathe because she inhaled so much smoke.”

The authorities and family members confirmed the names of a few of the dead. The three chaperones were Arthur Arzola, a recruiter for Humboldt State, and Mattison Haywood and Michael Myvett, whose families told reporters that they were a couple who had recently become engaged.

Mr. Myvett and Ms. Haywood met in 2006, and Mr. Myvett graduated from Humboldt State the next year. After becoming engaged in Paris at Christmas, the couple were returning to the place where their relationship blossomed.

Mr. Myvett worked as a therapist for the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Torrance for two years, helping children with life skills and behavior. His death has devastated his co-workers, said Sarah Cho, the center’s corporate director of operations.

“He was very bubbly and positive, even on the most challenging days,” she said. “With kids with autism, sometimes they have a bad day. And Michael was always able to be positive with those kids and those families.”

Two of the buses, including the one involved in the crash, had originated from the Los Angeles area; the third came from Fresno, Calif. Students from more than a dozen Los Angeles Unified School District schools were on the bus involved in the crash, according to district officials.

John Deasy, the district superintendent, said that in a district where 80 percent of students come from low-income households, many of the passengers on the buses were destined to be the first in their families to finish high school.

For some, Mr. Deasy said, the two days they had planned to spend at Humboldt State — staying in the residence halls and getting a brief taste of collegiate life — would have been the first significant time they had spent away from home.

“These are students who were graduating and had been accepted and were going to visit a place that was obviously of their dreams, so that’s quite painful,” he said. “This is the high point, when many students are going off and trying to make their decision.”

For students who, by chance, ended up on one of the other buses, news of the crash was chilling and surreal. They arrived safely on the campus in Arcata, a bucolic town tucked into the redwood forest on California’s northern coast. After a moment of silence on Friday, activities resumed as planned.

“I was tripped out because we were supposed to go before them,” said Adrian Romo, an 18-year-old high school student from San Diego, who had ridden on the other bus from Los Angeles. “Everyone was saying, ‘It could have been us.’ ”

Mr. Romo said the atmosphere on campus was solemn. When the students arrived Thursday night, he said, “everyone was really quiet for a long time.”

Word of students who were unaccounted for had begun to trickle through Los Angeles Unified schools by Friday afternoon.

Andrew Tony, an educational adviser who works for a college preparatory agency, said that of the three students from Dorsey High in Los Angeles on the ill-fated trip, one remained unaccounted for. Mr. Tony described her as “an amazing student, vivacious and bubbly.” He added, “Academically, she was on top of her game.”

• Reporting was contributed by Matt Hamilton from Los Angeles; Allison Edrington from Arcata, Calif.; Norimitsu Onishi from Orland, Calif.; and Richard Pérez-Peña, Ashley Southall and Timothy Williams from New York.

…to farce. 3 Articles: TEACHER JAIL? DEASY JAIL?

By Gerald and Esther Schiller, from an email circulating widely

Our son is in jail.

But there are no bars or armed guards, or wardens.

And he does go home to his wife each afternoon.

Our son is in “teacher jail.”

For those who may be unaware of this bizarre institution, “teacher jail” is the name applied (with no affection) to what the Los Angeles Unified School District calls teacher “housing.” And this euphemism refers to the act of removing teachers from their classrooms, if there are accusations against them, and placing them in large rooms where they, basically, sit for days, or weeks, or months, or even years. It may come as a surprise to many people but there are currently several hundred Los Angeles School District employees in this situation.

These “housed” men and women remain there, are allowed no contact with their schools or colleagues, and continue to collect their salaries, while substitute teachers (each hired at several hundred dollars per day) cover their classrooms.

The rationale for this “housing” is that these teachers pose a risk to the safety and well being of the students and staff of their schools.

Our son, however, is not a thief, a rapist, a pornographer, or a child molester.

On the contrary, he is an exemplary instructor who has distinguished himself for almost twenty years with nary a blemish on his record. He teaches Advanced Placement (college credit) classes in biology and psychology. He supervises numerous school clubs. He coaches fencing.

And he works assiduously on many school committees.

He has been praised by his students and their parents, given high marks by his colleagues, and spends long hours at the school where he works.

What then was the heinous offense that caused his placement in “teacher jail?”

Two students in one of his classes created projects for a science fair.

Each of these projects had the word “gun” in its title though neither resembled a gun in any form. But an administrator saw the projects when they were brought to the cafeteria for display and confiscated them, calling them “dangerous.” Our son, who had not yet seen the completed exhibits,was called into the principal’s office, and then, rather than being chastised and told never to repeat such an offense again, was told to report to “teacher jail.”

And there he sits. Now for more than a month.

There is both irony and tragedy in what has occurred.

Irony in that one of the confiscated projects—according to several parents— was similar to a science fair exhibit that won national awards and was included on the Los Angeles School District’s own website as an example of an outstanding student science achievement.

There is irony that the administrator who confiscated the projects and called them dangerous, has a background in teaching English, not science.

And it is highly ironic that our son was actively involved with the committee that chose the current principal—a principal who now seems eager to see him removed from the school.

But among the tragic aspects of this situation is that our son’s Advanced Placement students, now deprived of a qualified “AP” teacher may not be adequately prepared for their national examination, just weeks away.

It is also tragic that the students who submitted the projects are now extremely upset and feel guilty that they were responsible for their teacher’s removal.

Most tragically, however, is the fact that a caring, dedicated, and beloved teacher may be driven from a job he not only cares deeply about, but is also masterful at.

It seems that in the bizarre and arcane complexities of the Los Angeles Unified School District, because of its fear of public criticism and its terror at media finger-pointing, competent teachers like our son are too often pulled from their classrooms.

And there they sit.

In teacher jail.

• Gerald and Esther Schiller are retired teachers. Both worked for many years with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Their son is on the faculty of Ramon C. Cortines High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, the arts school formerly known as Central High School #9.


By Howard Blume, LA Times |

April 9, 2014, 5:20 p.m. :: A popular Los Angeles high school science teacher has been suspended after students turned in projects that appeared dangerous to administrators, spurring a campaign calling for his return to the classroom.

Students and parents have rallied around Greg Schiller after his suspension in February from the downtown Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts. Supporters have organized a rally on his behalf at the campus scheduled for Thursday, gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition calling for his reinstatement and set up a social media page.

Schiller was ordered to report daily to a district administrative office pending an investigation after two students turned in science projects that were designed to shoot small projectiles.

One project used compressed air to propel a small object, but it was not connected to a source of air pressure, so it could not have been fired. (In 2012, President Obama tried out a more powerful air-pressure device at a White House Science Fair that could launch a marshmallow 175 feet.)

Another project used the power from an AA battery to charge a tube surrounded by a coil. When the ninth-grader proposed it, Schiller told him to be more scientific, to construct and test different coils and to draw graphs and conduct additional analysis, said the student's parents, who also are Los Angeles teachers.

A school employee saw the air-pressure project and raised concerns about what looked to her like a weapon, according to the teachers union and supporters. Schiller, who said he never saw either completed project except in photos, was summoned and sent home.

Both projects were confiscated as “evidence,” said Susan Ferguson, whose son did the coil-gun project.

L.A. Unified School District administrators have told Schiller that he was removed from his classroom six weeks ago for “supervising the building, research and development of imitation weapons,” said union representative Roger Scott.

School administrators did not respond to inquiries. District officials said they could not comment on an ongoing probe.

“As far as we can tell, he’s being punished for teaching science,” said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Schiller teaches Advanced Placement biology and psychology, as well as regular and honors biology.

Students in Schiller's classes are concerned about Advanced Placement exams for college credit in May.

“The class is now essentially a free period,” said 17-year-old psychology student Liana Kleinman. “The sub does not have a psych background and can’t help us with the work.”

Schiller initially prepared lesson plans for the substitute, but the district in an email directed him to stop.

“This is really hurting my students more than anything else,” Schiller said in an interview. “I would never do anything to set up a situation where a student could be harmed.”

He also coaches the school’s fencing team, and administrators have determined the team cannot compete safely without Schiller in charge.

Schiller, 43, also was the teachers union representative on the campus and had been dealing with disagreements with administrators over updating the employment agreement under which the faculty works. His suspension, with pay, removed him from those discussions.

The expensive Grand Avenue arts high school has a troubled brief history, including repeated administrative and staff turnover.


Editorial by The LA Times editorial board |

April 10, 2014, 4:49 p.m. :: In February, Los Angeles Unified School District officials suspended a teacher after two of his students turned in science projects that administrators thought looked like guns. Even granting that school officials have a right to be hypersensitive these days about anything resembling a weapon, their decision to remove him from the classroom was a harmful overreaction.

It's also hard to understand why the investigation into this seemingly simple matter has taken more than a month. Science teacher Greg Schiller cannot return to teaching at the Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts until it is resolved.

The projects, according to a report in The Times, included a device that could use compressed air to propel a small object but that couldn't be fired because it wasn't connected to a source of air pressure, and a coil gun, a standard in the world of science fairs.

Since his suspension, Schiller's students have been taught by a substitute teacher. A student told The Times that in one of the classes, Advanced Placement psychology, the substitute didn't know the course material and the class had become the equivalent of a free period. Schiller also taught AP biology, and the AP tests are next month; this is usually an intensive prep period for the exams. During his suspension, Schiller also is barred from coaching the fencing team and fulfilling his role as the campus' union representative, dealing with various disputes over the teachers' work agreement.

Not every lapse of teacher judgment, if that's indeed what this was, calls for an investigation. And if the district wants to lay to rest its reputation as a slow-moving bureaucracy in which procedure takes precedence over learning, it needs to stop acting like one.

Perhaps there is more to the story. The district says it is prohibited from discussing the matter while the probe is ongoing, while students, parents and union representatives are free to talk. But so far it seems straightforward: No one denies that Schiller oversaw the two projects. No one was hurt by them. President Obama tried out something similar to the air-pressure device — one that could and did propel marshmallows up to 175 feet — at the White House Science Fair in 2012.

Schiller is a veteran teacher, and there are no indications that his students have ever been harmed by him. All that is needed is some common sense: Investigate by all means, but in the meantime, allow popular, rigorous teachers like Schiller, who are not a danger to their students, to remain in the classroom, teaching.


by Charlotte Albright, NPR Morning Edition |

April 09, 2014 5:08 AM ET


Many of the nation's public schools have been implementing new standards for literacy and math that are called the Common Core. Right now, big new standardized tests intended to make sure kids meet these standards are themselves being tested out in many states. In just a minute, one of our reporters takes a practice exam, but first the Common Core literacy standards. They're all about tackling tough reading, making sure kids are able to form ideas about what they read and to support those ideas in writing with evidence. Vermont Public Radio's Charlotte Albright went into the classroom.

CHARLOTTE ALBRIGHT, BYLINE: Newton School looks like a big white New England farmhouse perched on a hill in Strafford, a tiny village in the eastern part of the state. Inside, about 120 students from Pre-K to eighth grade hurry to class.


ALBRIGHT: Kids in Ms. White's eighth grade history class sharpen their pencils. Today, they have a visitor. Joanna Hawkins is an education consultant and for the next 90 minutes she's in charge. They're beginning a new lesson on the Holocaust. To get things started, she invites a minute of conversation with the kids about the way Nazis forced Jews to publicly identify themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Like, they have the little yellow stars pinned to their jackets.

ALBRIGHT: Next up, Hawkins passes out copies of an article. It's a lesson in bad science, about how German scientists distorted the work of Charles Darwin to justify Hitler's rise to power.

JOANNA HAWKINS: The idea of evolution, of the survival of the fittest seemed to confirm a view of German nationalism and German power that was ascending in that society. Let's underline that whole sentence.

ALBRIGHT: After this exercise in close reading, Hawkins takes the class on what seems like a sharp turn.

HAWKINS: We're going to switch a little bit. Just switch your head to another piece of information that you have, that you have studied recently.

ALBRIGHT: It's a fable the kids have read about a blind sage who touches and elephant's tail and assumes...

HAWKINS: (Reading) I can feel the elephant and it feels exactly like a rope. Therefore, all elephants are like enormous ropes.

ALBRIGHT: Hawkins sends the fable, along with the article on social Darwinism, home with the students. Their assignment: read both closely and find connections between them.

HAWKINS: All right, ladies and gentlemen.

ALBRIGHT: A week later, Joanna Hawkins returns to the classroom. She guides the students through a structured exercise, filling in blanks on a chart as the discussion unfolds about good versus bad science in Hitler's Germany. The kids compare Nazi scientists to the blind sage who was so wrong about that elephant.

IDA WICK: So, instead of science controlling what people think, what people think is controlling science.

ALBRIGHT: That's Ida Wick. Her classmates search the article for quotes to support her idea. More ideas surface with more quotes to back them up. The students organize all this into a grid and copy it down. So at home when they start writing essays about Darwin and Hitler, they'll have a blueprint. Here's eighth grader Emma Bower.

EMMA BOWER: We are given, like, a good scaffold to put the evidence that we need. But the way we put together and meld all those words together is up to us.

ALBRIGHT: And for this middle school class, that's a lot of words. These kids get a written assignment just about every week, based on readings you might easily find on a college syllabus. For NPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright near Strafford, Vermont.


BY Karin Klein, La Times Editorial Writer | HTTP://LAT.MS/1QJZUNV

April 8, 2014, 11:47 a.m. :: Sixteen consecutive years of the state's standardized testing are now under my belt, all of them spent covering the accountability program as a journalist, as well as having one or more of my three children filling in bubbles in public school for the annual assessments. And on the 17th year, the last spring that I have a student scheduled for testing, it's time for a rest.

My 16-year-old daughter is in standardized-test burnout mode, and to a lesser extent, so am I. Juniors are the only ones taking the test in high school this year in California; they start this week at her school. Eleventh grade also happens to be a big year for all kinds of tests. The PSAT. The SAT. The SAT 2 subject tests: three of them. There was a brief winter flirtation with the ACT. And next month, four Advanced Placement tests.

The California standards tests were never useful for my kids; of course, they're not designed for use at such a granular level. After one of the earlier versions gave a low score to my eldest on reading comprehension, my husband and I shrugged and knew there had to be something wrong with the test. That's the daughter who is now finishing off her dissertation for a doctorate in literature. (And yes, I know the chances are slim that she will be supporting me in my old age in the manner to which I would like to become accustomed.)

As a journalist, reviewing an early state test that had been leaked to the paper by a teacher, I saw how thin and fault-riddled it could be. One question asked students to mark what they thought would be the best title for a certain reading passage. The answer the test sought was obvious; the title was direct and on topic, though flat and uninteresting. There was another choice, a better one, it seemed to me. It wasn't as obvious an answer; it struck me as the one that a director would pick for a movie rather than the one a test creator would pick. The difference, if you will, between “Star Wars” and “Luke Travels in Space and Shoots Down a Big Weapon.”

The schools in Laguna Beach, where I live, don't go into testing high-alert each spring, for which I'm grateful. A couple of math classes gave a retroactive grade bonus to students who scored proficient or advanced. There are teachers who prep heavily for the spring test and those who don't. One year, my younger daughter's history teacher gave the class three weeks of straight practice tests. Later, my daughter noted with surprise how many of the questions in those practice tests had appeared on the official one, quite possibly because the state, to save money, repeated so many questions on the tests from year to year. Her English teacher that year -- the inspiring, engaging one -- surprised the students just as much by announcing she would do no test prep. She had given them her best all year, she said, and it was time for them to go forth and do their best. Her students got three more weeks of learning that year. I could tell you how my daughter fared on the tests, but an experimental universe of one doesn't yield meaningful results.

Opting out has occurred to me before, but that seemed selfish. The idea of the tests is to look at the larger picture of how much progress the schools, the districts and the state are making. Participation was the socially responsible thing to do.

The scores have risen impressively in our district, but I can't honestly say that I have noticed an improvement in actual learning over the years. What has been noticeable: more teachers who don't feel they have time to do the creative projects with their students that they used to do. There was one elementary school teacher I particularly wanted my youngest to be taught by; she conducted poetry tea parties with her students, nurturing a love of writing, listening to writing and some good old-fashioned manners. But by the time my daughter was lucky enough to be assigned to that teacher, the poetry teas had disappeared in favor of covering everything in the curriculum that would be on the test.

I'm hoping the Common Core curriculum standards will help, and several teachers have told me that they already do. The related curriculum covers fewer topics, allowing more time to delve into each.

I envy the home-schoolers, who take their children on exciting field trips, cover the curriculum quickly and efficiently, tackle more interesting projects, minimize the testing, maximize the learning and still have time to head for the beach during uncrowded weekdays. They seek out a local Audubon wilderness preserve that offers hands-on science lessons, at nominal cost, for all school-aged children. The public schools aren't allowed to bring their classes, the preserve's manager told me, because the lessons are adapted to the skills needed in the natural sciences rather than being aligned with the California curriculum as the state requires of field trips.

When I attended a talk in Los Angeles by Erica Jong a few months ago, I drove home wishing that my 16-year-old, who loves creative writing and has an over-tendency to perfectionism, had heard this strong, articulate woman talk about her first failure while writing “Fear of Flying,” and the anxieties about writing that never really disappear. I had an extra ticket, but Aviva had far too much homework that night.

My guilty sense was that I had gone along with the mind-numbing academic program for far too long; done too much to prep her for a life of tests and not enough to prep her for the pursuit of great and original adventures.

I'm not one for whining about standardized tests. (Not until now, anyway.) They have certain, limited uses. At their best, the state tests could be used to guide better teaching; at their worst, they are used as the main measure of educational quality. They're an imperfect fact of life, and one of the important lessons students get out of public schools is that life is not perfect. We deal with it.

But this year, knowing how much Aviva dreaded yet another bubble test, the words just came out: “We are allowed to opt out, you know.” (Actually, the field test is administered by computer, not a fill-in-the-bubble form.) She perked up so markedly, I had to write the waiver note to the school. The decisions we make as parents sometimes have to be different from those we make as a member of the larger society.

Her test results could, in an immeasurably small way, have helped the state draw up better exams in the future. Right now, I think the small, joyous rebellion of saying no, during the last year we have the chance, is more important for both of us. Take that, world of Scantron.

• Karin Klein is an editorial writer covering education, environment, religion and culture. She occasionally contributes columns to the op-ed page. She is the 2006-07 winner of the Eugene C. Pulliam Fellowship for Editorial Writers, under which she spent a year studying and writing about the first wave of children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, now that they have reached adulthood.
Klein was previously an assignment editor with The Times, and also has worked at the Orange County Register, San Jose Mercury News and Sacramento Bee. She attended Wellesley College, did her graduate work in journalism at UC Berkeley, and is currently an adjunct professor of journalism at Chapman University in Orange. She lives in Laguna Beach, where she is a volunteer naturalist.

●●smf’s 2¢: California has been passé/blasé about the Common Core – and the No Child Left Behind testiness.

Up until now.

We had our own standards, We had our own tests. We had our own way of measuring results: (AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] instead of NCLB’s API {Academic Progress Index] ) We had our own way of doing things.

No more. Now we have the so called “Common Core State Standards” – called that because “National Standards” would be

1. politically unpopular and
2. unconstitutional.

Plus 45 states (now 43) agreeing on common standards aren’t exactly national standards …and aren’t exactly state standards either!

And having two flavors of national tests (PARCC and Smarter Balanced) doesn’t exactly make them “national” either.

But isn’t Smarter Balanced a brand of margarine? What if some of us want want butter?

The Alderney
Said sleepily:
“You’d better tell
His Majesty
That many people nowadays
Like marmalade

The Common Core State Standards were dreamt up by the National Governor’s Association, completely independent of the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in them by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the political efforts by the Arne Duncan Department of Education – because governors by their very nature are inherently disinterested in money and politics. But in the end if the CCSS and their tests aren’t accepted by parents like Ms Klein – or if they don’t pass muster with the good citizens of Indiana and Oklahoma and the other states of the union they are doomed. Federal law says that the results of tests only count if 95% of students take them. If only 5% of parents take the route espoused by Ms. Klein the whole program is as doomed as the contents of a vegetable cart in the first shot of a chase scene in a car chase movie.

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources

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Teacher Jail=DEASY JAIL. "Please tell everybody you know to STOP saying Teacher Jail! It reinforces the (cont)

SCIENCE TEACHER’S SUSPENSION SPURS PETITION DRIVE: Cortines School's Greg Schiller was removed by L.A. Unified...


The Reed Case: L.A. UNIFIED SETTLES LAWSUIT OVER LAYOFFS: The agreement will provide $60 million in raises, se...

YESTERDAY’S LAUSD BOARD MEETING: The headlines say it all + smf’s 2¢: LAUSD outlines plan to spend $837 millio...

L.A. Times editorialist: “WHY MY FAMILY IS OPTING OUT OF THE COMMON CORE TESTING” + smf’s 2¢: By Karin Klei...

IN TEACHER JAIL: by Gerald and Esther Schiller, from an email circulating widely Our son is in jail. But the...

Twitter Quote: M.P.LaMotte:"We are giving away our schools and now we want to get rid of transparency - so we can do whatever we want in the dark of night"

More Bruce Fuller: "It's unclear whether (Deasy budget) meets the letter or spirit of Gov. Brown's finance reform."

UC professor Bruce Fuller: Deasy’s proposal uses LCFF to pay for existing district programs paid for by other sources.

LAUSD BUDGET: Some advocates say they oppose using LCFF to pay down debt or for an across-the-board salary hike |


EVENTS: Coming up next week...
April 17, 2014 - Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee -
Start: 04/17/2014 11:00 am

*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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