Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chinatown revisited

4LAKids: Sunday 22•June•2014
In This Issue:
 •  THE GREAT WAR MEETS THE COMMON CORE: In the rush to prepare kids 'to compete in the global economy,’ current events and a lot of history get lost
 •  THE LAUSD BUDGET? “Forget it, Scott. It’s Chinatown….”
 •  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.
June 17th was the 239th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the 42nd anniversary of the Watergate Break In and the 20th anniversary of the O.J. Car Chase. It’s also my birthday – and the day the Board of Ed – in their infinite wisdom – returned Stuart Magruder to the Bond Oversight Committee.

As history goes, Bunker Hill was a defeat for the American side, Watergate a second-rate burglary complicated by monumental hubris and the O.J. Chase couldn’t have been less important –not-even-a-speed bump on the road between fame and infamy. My b’day is even less remarkable (I’ve had so many!) …so 6/17 goes into history as the Day Independent Oversight Was Saved in LAUSD.

Also on 6/17 the Board voted to restore funding to the Family Literacy Program – an unparalleled success that combines Early Childhood Ed with Adult Ed … neither of which enjoys much favor in the current regime. And of course the program was “saved “by cutting the funding.

Not doing what you want to do but can’t get-away-with isn’t bullying, it’s magnanimity.

We’re supposed thank Dr. Deasy for “finding the money” to “save” Family Literacy rather than eliminating it outright. – but we’d really rather thank him for recognizing and rewarding success.
“The gruel disappeared; the boys whispered each other, and winked at Oliver; while his next neighbours nudged him. Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

'Please, sir, I want some more.'

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

LATER IN THE DAY THE BOARD HEARD FROM THIRTY PARENTS, teachers and community members with other ideas+causes célèbres on how to better budget the District. Brave, outside-the-box/pushing-the-edge-of the envelope ideas like reducing class size, funding Arts and Music Ed as if Arts at the Core was District policy instead of a neglected resolution; paying campus workers a living wage or giving education staff a raise to keep up with the cost-of-living. One retiring teacher told of how he had lost money in terms of salary (due to furloughs) AND retirement income by not retiring earlier! Retired teachers get an average 2% annual COLA increases on their pensions – working LAUSD teachers have received no COLA (or any other raise) since 2007! From 2007-2013 the Social Security COLA increase was 13.9%. LAUSD is magnanimously offering a 2% raise.

'What!' said the master at length, in a faint voice.

'Please, sir,' replied Oliver, 'I want some more.'

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that a budget is a moral document. But we’ll have no more of that!

IN SACRAMENTO THE STATE PASSED A BUDGET last Sunday night – and by Friday the governor had signed it – with an added commitment to Early Childhood Ed/preschool for economically challenged four-year-olds. This is more social-engineering than the promised Universal Preschool and creates an entitlement for “have-not” kids – thereby magnifying the perception that public education is for “those children” rather than “all children”. A step in the right direction – but not in the direction of equity.

AND FOR THOSE WHO WORRY ABOUT THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE, take heed of the Sunday Times Headline: Brown Prison Reform Falls Short of Goals . And remember that the chain-link around middle schools is always higher than that around super maxes!

NEXT TUESDAY IS AN UNPRECEDENTED OPPORTUNITY for LAUSD to create a visionary+moral budget that educates all children. Not just the unduplicated subgroups - but each unique individual. We must reach and teach every student whether in Early Childhood Ed, K-12 or Adult Ed - beyond the common core to uncommon achievement. We must create a safe+welcoming school environment by reducing class sizes, teaching arts+music and math and language arts and science and civics and health+wellness and algebra and AP physics and preschool finger-painting and good citizenship …while fairly paying teachers and educators and staff – and honoring+respecting them for the extraordinary work they do. This is not just rhetoric or hyperbole or wishful thinking. This is achievable, if we choose to do it …starting Tuesday.

The rest is just Chinatown. And Druids dancing on the solstice.

¡Onward/Adelante! - smf

THE GREAT WAR MEETS THE COMMON CORE: In the rush to prepare kids 'to compete in the global economy,’ current events and a lot of history get lost

●●This is edited from Christopher L. Doyle’s Op-Ed “WORLD WAR I: A WAR TOO EASY TO FORGET” in today’s L.A. Times; I strongly suggest you read the piece in its entirety |

June 22, 2014 :: I like to imagine that teachers everywhere have the flexibility to seize major anniversaries and current events as teachable moments, but educational norms suggest otherwise. I work at a private school. The trend in public education is to stricter standards, more quantity and less tolerance for individual initiative.

Writing 20 years ago about June 28 [the day whose events that precipitated World War I] as a lost date in popular memory, the late historian Eric Hobsbawm lamented that "most young men and women at the century's end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in." Hobsbawm found this development an "eerie" manifestation of postmodern distractedness.

Public schools today exemplify distractedness. Politicians, pundits and the authors of the Common Core standards insist that schools prepare kids "to compete in the global economy" and attain "21st century skills." In frenzies of test preparation, current events and a lot of history get lost.

I doubt that understanding the Great War will help young people "compete in the global economy." In fact, insight into that war's causes might lead kids to rethink entirely international competition as an educational goal. Yet I believe that wrestling with that war's complexity will make for better citizens: thoughtful, cautious about letting a president take us to war, concerned with the "collateral damage" inherent to modern conflict, and able to consign Nazis to their proper historical place.

Just the other day, one of my 11th-graders offered perhaps the best justification for studying World War I: "It began this process of dehumanization through technology that got worse in World War II and is still a problem today." This comment suggests cause and effect. It connects past and present. It acknowledges how historians see the past as a series of problems. It identifies modern warfare's unique capacity to brutalize and dehumanize.

I cannot pretend to know what educational leaders have in mind when advocating for 21st century skills, but my students keep showing me how the intellectual richness of studying the Great War trumps "good war" history.
• Christopher L. Doyle teaches history at Watkinson School in Hartford, Conn.


By Javier C. Hernández | New York Times |

JUNE 14, 2014 :: He could have written about the green toy truck he kept hidden in his room, a reminder of Haiti, a place he did not yet fully understand.

He might have mentioned the second-place trophy he had won for reciting a psalm in French at church — “le bonheur et la grâce m’accompagneront tous les jours de ma vie...” — his one and only award.

He could have noted his dream of becoming an engineer or an architect, to one day have a house with a pool and a laboratory where he would turn wild ideas about winged cars and jet packs into reality.

But on a windy April afternoon, as the first real sun of spring fell on Public School 397 in Brooklyn, and empty supermarket bags floated through the sky, Chrispin Alcindor’s mind was elsewhere.

His teacher, Trisha Matthew, had asked the 13 boys and six girls in her fourth-grade class to write self-portrait poems. Some students compared themselves to red foxes and resplendent stars, loud pianos and LeBron James. Chrispin took a different approach.

“I am a 9-year-old,” he began, “who struggles with math.”

Chrispin had reason to worry. New York’s state exams were two days away, and he was having difficulty dividing large numbers and deciphering patterns. He had once been a model student — the fastest counter in the first grade, his teachers said. But last year, in the confusion of a new and more difficult set of academic standards known as the Common Core, he had failed the state tests in English and math, placing him near the bottom of his class.

The Common Core, the most significant change to American public education in a generation, was hailed by the Obama administration as a way of lifting achievement at low-performing schools. After decades of rote learning, children would become nimble thinkers equipped for the modern age, capable of unraveling improper fractions and drawing connections between Lincoln and Pericles.

The standards have recently become a political flash point. Lawmakers in some states have suggested the Common Core undermines local control of education. Parents and teachers have raised questions about whether students are ready for a new wave of standardized tests, after precipitous drops in test scores in New York and Kentucky, the first two states to adopt Common Core exams. Others have argued the new benchmarks are onerous and elitist.

But whether the Common Core achieves its promise will ultimately depend on schools like P.S. 397 and children like Chrispin, and whether they rise to the rigor of the new demands.

At P.S. 397, about 85 percent of the nearly 350 students failed state exams last year, the school’s worst performance on record. New York City gave the school a C on its annual report card, citing its poor test scores; it even lagged behind similar schools serving large numbers of poor children. Parents were distraught, and staff members wept.

On that April day, Chrispin was determined. As one of the smallest children in the fourth grade, he had grown accustomed to being underestimated. With the right luck, he thought, he would earn high marks when test scores came back in August. “If I don’t pass the test,” he said, “I will feel miserable and never come out of my room.”

Maybe, Chrispin thought, he would score so high that he would win a trophy. He imagined the scene: walking across the stage at graduation in sunglasses and white sneakers, claiming his award and basking in the applause of the entire school.

At the very least, Chrispin resolved, he did not want to find out in June that he was so far behind that he would have to go to summer school. In his mind, it was a jail, a grave place devoid of friends, family and his Xbox 360. He returned to his poem:
I take my own path
When I feel like it.
My friends call me small
But I may get tall.


P.S. 397 stands at the end of a secluded stretch of Fenimore Street in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn. Wayward scents, like the sizzling fish cakes and West Indian curries sold on nearby streets, do not make it here; instead, the hallways smell of Canadian bacon and cheesy beef tacos, or whatever dish happens to be on the day’s menu. The school’s three stories are, for the most part, subdued, except at lunch, when conversations about stuffed animals, racecars and sleepovers bring a cacophony to the cafeteria.

P.S. 397 had long tried to make a name for itself. But success in recent years has been elusive. Enrollment dwindled as families left the neighborhood or opted for charter schools with flashier offerings. Parents, many of them immigrants, were difficult to reach. More than 90 percent of students came from low-income families, and Nancy Colon, the principal, estimated that almost half of the students were being raised by single mothers.

The Common Core was the latest educational experiment to come to a school whose teachers had long tired of them. P.S. 397 embraced the standards in 2012, when Ms. Colon, hoping to shake things up, began using a curriculum from Kentucky, one of the first states to turn to the Common Core.

On its own, the Common Core was not a curriculum; it did not tell schools to use particular textbooks, lesson plans or technology. The standards provided a philosophy for instruction. Teachers would focus on fewer topics and cover each in greater depth. They would bring abstract lessons to life by explaining how skills could be applied in the modern world. And they would emphasize critical thinking at every turn.

Many teachers across the city were initially skeptical. Some saw the Common Core as another mandate from above, an idealistic vision of education promoted by outside groups seeking to radically overhaul schools.

The hurried rollout last year of a new, more difficult set of exams aligned with the Common Core to replace old exams complicated the effort. While passing rates fell across the city, the drop was especially pronounced at schools with large numbers of black or Hispanic students, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Labor unions argued that the city had not devoted enough resources to training educators in the new standards and that it was unfair to evaluate teachers using results from the new tests.

By the start of school last fall, with the memories of state tests still fresh, a sense of anxiety was growing at P.S. 397. Though teachers found much to like in the new standards and believed the Common Core could transform education in the long run, they worried about what might happen in the short term. They feared for children like Chrispin — promising students unaccustomed to the critical thinking required by the Common Core, whose confidence was fragile and frayed.


One day I was playing soccer in the living room. I kicked the soccer ball right into the glass where my mom kept her tea cup. I thought my mom will be angry at me. So I started running to my room. My dad almost grounded me, but this time he said the next time I break a glass he’ll ground me. It was so embarrissing. - Chrispin Alcindor, “The Time I Broke a Glass,” Sept. 12, 2013

Almost all of the fourth graders who arrived in Ms. Matthew’s classroom in September had failed state exams the previous spring. Only a few students could form persuasive arguments; most filled their notebooks with meandering personal memories. Many struggled with basic math skills. Ms. Matthew, concerned about morale, called each student to her desk at the beginning of the year. “Please don’t think you are a failure,” she told them, one by one.

Ms. Matthew, 32, an immigrant from Grenada who had taught for a decade, knew that her students carried unusual burdens. There was Stella, who had arrived in New York four years earlier without knowing much English, fleeing the horror of an earthquake in Haiti. There was Lamott, who dreamed of one day dribbling down the court of Madison Square Garden, but whose parents rarely took time to read to him at home.

And there, at the front of the classroom, was Chrispin, a reserved boy whose cheery glances obscured his own struggles. He was one of three Alcindors in the fourth grade, triplets born during a thunderstorm in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 27, 2004.

Chrispin had little recollection of Haiti; the only reminder he kept was a toy truck given to him by his father too long ago for him to remember. Sometimes he asked his mother, Carline Alcindor, why the family had left for America. Life in Port-au-Prince was pleasant, she said, and then one day it was not. Ms. Alcindor lost her job as a receptionist and the family could not survive on the money sent by the triplets’ father in America. It was time for a change.

So on a September day in 2006, when the children were almost 2, the family left Haiti for Brooklyn, where they reunited with the triplets’ father, a bus driver. Ms. Alcindor cycled through temporary jobs — cleaning houses, changing sheets at nursing homes. Still, New York felt more hopeful, more resilient, than Port-au-Prince. In Haiti, the schools were shoddy and violent; here, they seemed orderly, with separate bathrooms for teachers and students. Here, she thought, her children might blossom.

On the first day of christmas my parents gave to me a psp for me.
On the second day of christmas my parents gave to me 2 xbox for me.
On the third day of christmas my parents gave to me 3 creepy noams for me.
- Chrispin Alcindor, “12 days of christmas,” Dec. 13, 2013

Even though she worried grimmer days might return, Ms. Alcindor took pride in imagining a future for each of her triplets. Haelleca, a diligent and confident girl, would become a lawyer. Christopher, the one with the most sensitive heart, would become a doctor. And Chrispin, the most careful, the most exacting, would be an engineer.

By fourth grade, however, Chrispin seemed far from that ambition. He had become engrossed in the violent fantasy worlds of video games like “Assassin’s Creed.” In December, he wrote a variation on the “Twelve Days of Christmas” peppered with references to PlayStations, Xboxes, iPhones and an urban legend he had heard about evil gnomes.

“If Santa did not come this year,” he wrote in his notebook, “I will feel angry and I will take a chainsaw and I’ll scare him off. Then he will feel sorry.”

Ms. Alcindor did not know what to do about his academic difficulties. Her English was too limited to be of much help with homework, and she had never heard of the Common Core. She was away from the house most days, working a $10.50-an-hour job as a nursing assistant, and the triplets’ father no longer lived with them. But Ms. Alcindor knew that Haelleca (pronounced HALL-UH-kuh) was doing something right, judging by her pile of awards and her zeal for reading. “You must help your brothers,” she told her daughter.

The living room was transformed into a remediation center. Haelleca quickly discovered that her brothers were struggling with skills they should have learned in second and third grades. She pulled out old books and coached them through each lesson, mimicking her teachers at school. She read passages of novels like “Sounder” and asked tough questions that were the hallmark of the Common Core. What was the author’s intent? Why did he choose to include these descriptions? What can we infer — she liked that word — from this passage? Chrispin and Christopher usually stared back, clueless.

“They act like foolish little babies when I teach them,” she said. “They won’t listen.”

Under the Common Core, Haelleca’s writing had become more nuanced, and she could calculate the area of a room without flinching. But it seemed to have an opposite effect on her brothers, who were accustomed to spouting back basic facts. They improvised their way through questions that demanded critical thinking, throwing in phrases like “the author’s choice of words” and “the character’s motives,” even if the result was incoherent.

Haelleca was especially worried about Chrispin, who had soared through the earlier grades.

“When they started making things harder, he hit rock bottom,” she said. “I was like, ‘What happened to you, Chrispin?’ ”

Christopher piled on. “He became lazy,” he said.

Chrispin, who had heard the criticism many times before, smiled. “I was so smart in kindergarten,” he said. “I was even smarter than all of my friends. I was always answering questions. My teachers were amazed.”

Soon Chrispin and Christopher had no choice but to listen to Haelleca. In February, their mother disconnected the television and locked away the Xbox after discovering that Chrispin had not been doing his homework for weeks in a row. Now, with two months left before state tests, the boys would stick to a grueling regimen: long division on Saturdays, writing on weeknights. They would pass the state exams and avoid summer school, their mother mandated. They were triplets, after all, she said. They would rise together.


A pet store has 18 hamsters. The shop owner wants to put 3 hamsters in each cage. How many cages does the shop owner need for all the hamsters?

Math had always been Chrispin’s favorite subject. Wherever he went, he was counting: Jeeps, pennies and basketball scores. He liked the satisfaction of arriving at a neat, definitive answer and not having to worry about things like spelling and grammar.

But as he worked on practice questions one day, the hamster problem stumped him:

Draw a model using equal groups or an array to show the problem.
Write a division equation for the problem.
Write a multiplication equation for the problem.
How many cages does the shop owner need?

Chrispin scribbled aimlessly in the margins. He hated word problems, a hallmark of the Common Core. Ms. Matthew had once told him to act like a detective and look for “clue words.” If a question referred to a “border” or “outside,” for example, it was asking for its perimeter. “Math is very, very, very, very logical,” she had said.

But Chrispin did not see any clues before him. After a few minutes of intense reading, he settled on an answer: 6. But he still did not fully understand the question. He could not remember what an array even looked like.

In 2009, when Chrispin was 4 and about to begin kindergarten, education in the United States was at a turning point. Despite decades of investment and experimentation in the school system, American schoolchildren still ranked far behind counterparts in countries like Singapore and Finland on international tests. Education experts were increasingly convinced that the problem was one of low expectations. Many of the highest-performing countries set rigorous national benchmarks. But in America, states traditionally had authority over academic standards. Rigor varied widely, and some states had relaxed requirements after the passing of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, as a way of increasing test scores.

In 2009, a group of education experts, with the backing of groups like the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set out to reverse the trend. The group began to delineate what skills students should master in English and math. In kindergarten, for example, students should be able to write the numbers zero to 20 and identify the title page of a book. In high school, students should be expected to add and subtract vectors and explain how a character’s conflicting motivations moved a plot forward.

More than 40 states, including New York, signed on to the Common Core. Though the Obama administration played no role in drafting the guidelines, it helped them catch fire by offering federal funds to states that adopted more-rigorous standards. Arne Duncan, the federal education secretary, said last year that the Common Core “may prove to be the single greatest thing to happen to public education in America since Brown v. Board of Education.”

But since the adoption of the Common Core, opposition has grown. Some Republicans derided the new standards as “Obamacore.” Comedians like Stephen Colbert and Louis C.K. mocked the new math as overcomplicated. Parents organized protests, chanting, “My kids are not guinea pigs!” Some took issue with the idea that all children should be placed on a path to college, and they worried about the disappearance of vocational education.

In March of this year, Indiana became the first state to abandon the Common Core, and South Carolina and Oklahoma followed.

The architects of the Common Core knew the transition would be bumpy, but they believed students would rise to the challenge of higher expectations. It would be up to schools like P.S. 397 to determine whether they were right.


Once upon a time a God name Terrolight. He was so evil he ask zeus to make the world dark, but zeus didn’t have the power but terrolight did. Terrolight had no idea what to do, For that he didn’t used his power for 8 years. Terrolight tried by pointing his hand at the sky and he discover this old power. His old power was dark magic. Terrolight created darkness. Zeus was happy. - Chrispin Alcindor, “The Myth About Terrolight,” April 2014

Sometimes, when afternoons dragged on, Ms. Matthew filled the room with stories from Grenada.

“When I was growing up,” she began one day, “I had two pairs of shoes: one for school and one for church. Your shoes had to be a certain way, and your socks had to be pearly white. And if they weren’t, you’d get written up. And if you were written up too often, at the end of the year, you would get a floggin’.”

“They would beat you in front of school.”

“That’s like slavery,” a boy said. Another asked whether the students could sue.

Ms. Matthew chuckled. “You guys grew up where no one is allowed to hit you, and it’s great,” she said. “You have opportunities and privileges here, and you shouldn’t waste them.”

Ms. Matthew was defiant when it came to the Common Core. She saw it as her patriotic duty to make it work. “This is the United States of America,” she said one day after school. “We need one set of standards. That’s the only way schools will get better.”

Ms. Matthew’s classroom had become a model for P.S. 397. She posted excerpts from the Common Core standards on the wall. She chided students for using “cheap, $1 words” and encouraged them to adopt a more complex vocabulary, words like “puckered,” “snagged” and “skittered.” She set aside feel-good posters in favor of more provocative messages. “Metacognition,” one read. “Thinking about what I am reading. THINKING what is going on in my head. REAL READING.”

Under the Common Core, P.S. 397 had replaced some works of fiction with magazine articles and books about science, a shift meant to sharpen students’ ability to search for evidence and piece together arguments. (The standards require that nonfiction texts make up 50 percent of classroom reading in fourth grade; in 12th grade, that figure rises to 70 percent.) Free-form essays on topics like winter break and personal heroes were rare; instead, students were assigned weighty essays about slavery, the environment and school safety.

The Common Core brought a renewed focus to long-neglected areas like Greek mythology, a way of teaching students the origins of English words. Many students in Ms. Matthew’s class had never heard of the likes of Zeus, Athena and Poseidon. So she explained concepts such as the Midas touch and a herculean effort, and she asked them to invent their own Greek gods, using Greek and Latin word roots like “terr-” and “astro-.”

In math, Ms. Matthew’s mantra was simple: “Prove it.” It was no longer sufficient for students to memorize multiplication tables. They had to demonstrate exactly what three times five meant by shading in squares on a grid. If the topic was fractions, they would slide around neon-colored tiles on their desks until they could prove that three-quarters was the same as six-eighths. Math instruction had long been derided as inaccessible; the Common Core aimed to change that by asking students to explain their calculations and solve modern-day problems.

Taken together, the demands of the Common Core were daunting. But Ms. Matthew was persistent. In March, with a few weeks to go before the first exams, she knew exactly which students were struggling and which lacked help from their parents. She knew who needed one-on-one coaching and who was most at risk of failing and in danger of being sent to summer school. She kept a close eye on Chrispin.


Read the myths. Then answer the questions that follow.

The directions on a practice exam seemed simple enough. But as Chrispin skimmed two stories about the creation of fire, he bit his nails. Words like “council” and “shivering” tripped him up. And he was puzzled about why some words, including “Beaver” and “Pine Trees,” were capitalized in the middle of a sentence (they were characters in the story).

“It’s too much to think about,” he said, putting down his pencil. “Sometimes I just forget things and I just can’t remember.”

Officially, he was at a third-grade reading level. While some students raced through autobiographies and novels, he read shorter titles like “Zac Power: Poison Island.” When he read aloud, his voice was hushed, and he whispered his way through tricky phrases.

The excerpts before him offered two perspectives on how fire came to be. One told a legend of how beavers stole coal from pine trees. The other was a modern-day monologue recounting how Prometheus robbed a spark from Zeus’s lightning bolt.

Chrispin’s task was to point out similarities and differences between the tales, using details to back up his argument. Chrispin easily identified the likenesses, noting how both myths spoke about how fire was given to those in need. But he stumbled in articulating the differences, producing a nonsensical string: “The beaver stole fire by first beaver into the council meaning what the pine tree was having then after the live coal rolled over and he took it.”

Chrispin grew distracted, and he looked toward the window. On cloudy days like this, there was not much to see: buildings the color of rust, rooftops covered in satellite dishes and, in the distance, a lone blue slide. “I wish I could be there right now,” he said. He turned back to the test, erasing everything he had written.


I’m against standardized testing. Standardized testing causes me to feel nervous. One reason is “a student may exhibit extreme emotion and physical stress.” Also, “stress can bring about cheating.”
- Chrispin Alcindor, letter to Chancellor Carmen Fariña, April 2014

The first day of April was the start of testing season — English first, then math a few weeks later — and Chrispin was beaming. Ms. Matthew had hung a piece he had written about pollution on the wall. With the grudging help of Haelleca, he had picked up a few new words. And he was showing some improvement in math, especially in long division, even though he still thought it was “too long.”

Ms. Matthew celebrated the day with her pretest indulgence, a cappuccino from Dunkin’ Donuts with three packets of sugar. Before the students began their exams, she led yoga exercises and turned on a Sara Bareilles song: “I wanna see you be brave,” the lyrics said.

“I get nervous,” Ms. Matthew said. “I don’t want to get them nervous.”

After repeating the testing routine three days in a row, Chrispin was exhausted. But he felt good about his performance. “It was easy this time, actually,” he said in the cafeteria.

With the first round of exams finished, Ms. Matthew asked the class to debate the merits of standardized testing. She expressed her own doubts about the value of tests, and she spoke about the No Child Left Behind Act and the Common Core, and how schools sometimes felt pressure to increase test scores.

Most of the fourth graders in her class seemed opposed to the idea of tests. But Ms. Matthew pushed them to consider alternatives. If tests were eliminated, what would replace them?

“Grades,” a student named Chloe suggested.

But what if a student, by no fault of his own, had trouble finishing his homework?

Chrispin, who rarely volunteered to speak in class, raised his hand. “Sometimes when you don’t know how to read,” he said, “you’re going to struggle with everything you have to learn and it’s just going to be harder.”


In mid-May, with the end of the school year looming, Chrispin tried to move beyond the stress of exams. He was busy practicing doo-wop for a student production of “Grease.” He was learning African dance through a program at school. And he had become one of the fastest runners at recess, circling the playground until his lungs gave out.

But Chrispin’s life was filled with reminders about tests, summer school and the Common Core. His mother had taken to praying daily for his academic success. Haelleca had won another academic award, this one from the City Council, and she had made a habit of reminding her brothers that there was no doubt that she had aced the exams.

At P.S. 397, Ms. Matthew was relieved. She thought the tests had been fair, unlike those in the previous year, and she predicted that P.S. 397, as a whole, would do better. She believed the Common Core had made Chrispin a more discerning student, and she had watched his confidence improve over the year.

During an end-of-year evaluation, Chrispin flawlessly read aloud a 100-word passage on apple trees. And in class, he had grown more adept at using evidence to support his arguments. But his comprehension was still weak and his writing could be disorganized, and in math, he was still having trouble with word problems.

“Chrispin is going to make strides, it’s just going to be a long, long journey,” Ms. Matthew said. “To expect him to master all of this very quickly is, I think, ludicrous.”

In early June, Chrispin’s outlook brightened. Preliminary test scores came in, and the results were promising: Chrispin was not among the bottom 10 percent of students in the city. He would be promoted to the fifth grade along with his siblings, and he would not have to attend summer school. Though he would not know until August whether he had passed the exams, he was elated.

“Yes!” he said. “I feel so proud of myself. I thought I would do really bad and feel guilty. This gives me a second chance.”

Without pause, Chrispin began plotting out his summer: days filled with “Assassin’s Creed,” dinners at Applebee’s, Bible school on weekends and a visit to the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Then, with equal certainty, he listed his plans for the next school year: He would get into a good middle school. He would keep up his grades so that he could go on the fifth-grade trip. And he would dance across the stage at graduation, a trophy in his hands.

THE LAUSD BUDGET? “Forget it, Scott. It’s Chinatown….”

A 4LAKids reader writes:

Hell might freeze over since the LASchoolReport (see following: PUBLIC GETS LAST CHANCE TO SHAPE LAUSD 2014-2015 BUDGET) got it right:

But in all likelihood, the budget presented last week by Superintendent John Deasy and the spending plan that reflects the new revenue from the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) will not change significantly after parents, students and community leaders have their say. In fact, there’s very little the board members can do, either, as the budget approaches a final vote on June 24 and presentation to the LA County Office of Education before July 1.

Can you believe it? The Truth …finally! And they even described why this is the truth:

“School board members cannot veto line items. To adjust spending in a particular area, a member must raise the issue for discussion, make recommendations on where to find an offset, then persuade a majority of colleagues to agree to the changes.”

And then they even tell us what those in the belly of the beast have known all along:

“I don’t think that’s going to be happening,” Chris Torres, Chief of Staff for board President Richard Vladovic, told LA School Report. “The board members have expressed everything they’ve needed to express in the past meetings.”

So all the Sturm und Drang over the last couple of months with all those speakers pouring their souls, plus all the squawking from the PAC and DELAC, and that wonderful political theater (John Rodger! Sylvia Rousseau! Alex Caputo-Pearl! etc! etc!) that resulted in the ASNI being shoved down the Board's throat is all for nothing since it did not change Deasy's mind (or [Matt] Hill's "models", which ever comes first).

The budget is Deasy's and Deasy's alone.

Can we handle that Truth? Can we?

Forget it, Scott. It's Chinatown...

●● smf’s 2¢: Where to begin?

First, Thank you anonymous reader for this.

I am blown away by the juxtaposition of quotes from two Jack Nicholson movies: “Can you handle the truth?” from AFGM and and the coda from Chinatown. All I can do is add a line from Terms of Endearment: “You're just going to have to trust me about this one thing. You need a lot of drinks.”

The article cited from LA School Report follows and I strongly urge you to read it. Dr. Vladovic called me out (in a pleasant way) for not crediting the board for sitting through the unlimited two-minute comments from the public on May 13 when I wrote

“Next Tuesday thirty community members are invited to comment on the LCFF and the budget at 2 minutes each at a special board meeting. 650,000+ students. One thousand+ schools. Thirty community members at 2 minutes each. An hour of community engagement over $6.6+ billion of spending.” …last Sunday.

Dr. V. is right - and so am I.

The May 13 speakers were speaking to a draft LCAP that has since been revised. The “Superintendent’s Final [draft]” School-by-School and District Budgets were not released to the board or the public until this week.

Yes, the District has given the community lots of opportunity to speak out and speak up on the LCFF – but I remain unconvinced that the speakers were actually listened-to. The Local Control Accountability Plan Parent Advisory Committee – the elected and appointed parent/community representatives as specified by the state legislature – have been effectively silenced and ignored.

Will a spokesperson from of the LCAP PAC address the board and present their advice on June 24th? I think not.

Communication is interactive. Transparency is transparent. Accountability is accountable.

Advisory Committees give advice; they aren't the ones advised. This committee, lest we forget,was ‘advised’ to be more compliant …or they might be subject to legal action!

There are a thousand school districts in California and 1,130 charter schools. Every one of them is supposed to have a LCAP PAC. How many other ones were threatened with lawsuits? …and my argument has never been with Dr. V. It is with the guy who sits to his right/your left on the horseshoe.

Boards of Education in California do three things.

• They set policy.
• They appoint and dismiss superintendents.
• They approve budgets.

The ground rules for budget approval in LAUSD: “School board members cannot veto line items. To adjust spending in a particular area, a member must raise the issue for discussion, make recommendations on where to find an offset, then persuade a majority of colleagues to agree to the changes” would make sense in the real world/in real time … but in LAUSD the Board will debate the budget at one meeting and one meeting only – at 4PM on June 24th – seven days before the drop-deadline of July 1!

The quote (in following) “The board members have expressed everything they’ve needed to express in the past meetings” gives balderdash a bad name.


Posted on LA School Report by Vanessa Romo |

June 16, 2014 9:34 am :: The revised budget is in the hands of the LA Unified Board of Education, but the public has a final opportunity tomorrow to weigh in on how the district’s $7 billion budget will be spent.

The board has set a limit of 30 speakers to address the six members for two minutes each, to advocate for their causes célèbres.

But in all likelihood, the budget presented last week by Superintendent John Deasy and the spending plan that reflects the new revenue from the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) will not change significantly after parents, students and community leaders have their say. In fact, there’s very little the board members can do, either, as the budget approaches a final vote on June 24 and presentation to the LA County Office of Education before July 1.

School board members cannot veto line items. To adjust spending in a particular area, a member must raise the issue for discussion, make recommendations on where to find an offset, then persuade a majority of colleagues to agree to the changes.

“I don’t think that’s going to be happening,” Chris Torres, Chief of Staff for board President Richard Vladovic, told LA School Report. “The board members have expressed everything they’ve needed to express in the past meetings.”

The only item on the agenda that may impact the budget is Bennett Kayser’s resolution to invest $44 million over the next three years in early education. His motion would earmark $10 million for the upcoming school year, $14 million in 2015-2016 and $20 million in 2016-2017.

Meanwhile, the teachers union, UTLA, is pressing for more changes. Union leaders are planning a noon press conference at district headquarters to campaign for major changes in Deasy’s budget, including money to return teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians and social workers who were laid off during the recession.

“The Superintendent’s budget does not do enough to restore these key positions,” the union said in a press release. “The 640,000 students in this district deserve the type of support system that exists in many other districts across California and the nation. This inequity cannot be ignored.”

Among other issues tomorrow, Kayser has a motion before the board, to keep Stuart Magruder, an architect, on the Bond Oversight Committee. Magruder’s reappointment for a two-year term was blocked last month because of his opposition to using bond money for iPads.

Deasy is expected to deliver on his promise to provide the board with a final formula for the Student Need Index, which is supposed to identify the district’s neediest schools by taking into account such factors as graduation rates, local crime and environmental health conditions.

The Index was passed in a 5 -1 vote last week, on the condition by board member Monica Ratliff that the superintendent quickly come up with a plan to identify the schools that will be getting additional LCFF dollars as a result of the new plan.

The board is also considering final spending plans for the district’s 53 affiliated charter schools

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources
WWI - A WAR TOO EASY TO FORGET: In the rush to prepare kids for the global economy current events+history get lost |

BILL GATES SEES HIMSELF AS A NEUTRAL BENEVOLENT; outside+above politics and resents questions of motives in funding CCSS |


Teacher in L.A.: JOHN DEASY IS THE EDUCATIONAL EQUIVALENT OF DICK CHENEY + Karin Klein’s 2¢ …+ smf’s too! |

FAMILY LITERACY PROGRAM SAVED, but few other changes to LA schools' $7.3 billion budget |

THE LAUSD BUDGET? “Forget it, Scott. It’s Chinatown….”

LAUSD SUPERINTENDENTS BUDGET: It says “FINAL” in capital letters – why even have a meeting on June 24th to approve it?


TRUSTING TAX EXPENDITURES by Red Queen in L.A,, from her blog |

EVENTS: Coming up next week...

• Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Committee - Tues, June 24, 2014 - 10:00 a.m.

• Special Board Meeting - Tues, June 24, 2014 - 4:00 p.m. - Budget Adoption

• The Bond Oversight Committee meets on Thursday June 26 at 10AM - Welcome back Stuart Magruder,

*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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