Sunday, January 04, 2015

Onward into 2015

4LAKids: Sunday 4•Jan•2015
In This Issue:
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 •  EVENTS: Coming up next week...
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On Christmas Eve morning I awoke to find my car had a flat tire. Apparently when they sell skilled carpenters and home handypersons a box of nails they don’t insist that every one of them be accounted for at the end of every day. Predictably one or two end up in the roadway and into the passenger side rear tire of my car.

I took the wounded tire to a tire shop and met the inevitable immigrant tire store manager - and once we got over the ignominy of carpenters not maintaining control of sharp fasteners, we progressed directly to the importance of public education in the realization of the American Dream.

It is the conventional wisdom in his native land – which, from his accent I surmise was in the former Soviet Union, – that with every new school built+opened society can close down a prison.

Victor Hugo supposedly said “He that opens a school door, closes a prison.” – though no one can cite where he said it. The quote is also attributed to Mark Twain – always available to take the credit – though Twain liked to make stuff up and attribute it to Disraeli.

In 1885 Hugo’s countryman Hippolyte Laroche said:
Qu’ils s’appliquent surtout à chasser l’ignorance,
Cette source du crime et de l’intolérance;
Qu’ils donnent à l’esprit un plus large horizon :
Où l’on ouvre une école , on ferme une prison !

…which Google+I translate as:
Those who intend to hunt ignorance,
That source of crime and intolerance;
They have a wider prospect in mind:
Where a school is opened, it closes a prison!

Sadly, my tire store manager observed, something has gone amiss with the conventional wisdom.

● Extra Credit: Editorial – Rethinking Replacing Men’s Central Jail |

WITH THE PASSING OF THE OLD YEAR AND THE BIRTH OF THE NEW we channel our inner David Letterman and produce lists of the best and worst of things. Rather than generate my own I have read the others and have picked and chosen. I noticed a great tendency to celebrate the demise of ©orporate $chool ®eform with every critical report, study or setback. Yet with every charter school that closes five or six spring forth – like Mickey’s brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Human nature being human nature, the data-driven tend to shop-for the data that they can agree with.

ON THE NATIONAL SCENE, the demise of InBloom, the great proposed student data base/clearing house /information exchange to end all databases was the biggest news; somewhere Big Brother weeps at the lost opportunity. There were studies and white papers and charter schools and all the other flavors of ©$® were pilloried and lambasted and kept on coming. The Common Core State Standards were subjected to abuse from the Right and the Left and kept on coming. Arne Duncan kept on coming – causing one to wonder in what attic of the US Dept of Ed the ugly picture that-keeps getting uglier is hidden?

MORE LOCALLY the forces of ©$® bought themselves a court victory with some billionaire philanthropy in Vergara v. CA. ● Californians defeated Marshall Tuck and reelected Tom Torlakson. (Tuck immediately got a gig at the Alliance Charter Schools.) ● LAUSD District 1 voters defeated Alex Johnson and elected George McKenna. (Johnson immediately got a gig at the County Board of Ed) ● The LAUSD iPads/Apple/Pearson deal frayed and the MiSiS loose ends unwove and the Deasy regime unraveled as Doctor John submitted friend -of-the-court-testimony of his own failure-of-leadership, left Beaudry for Korea …and never returned. Maybe they traded him for Michelle Rhee? (…w also disappeared.) ● And the FBI came to call and hauled away boxes of Apple/Pearson files …apparently the federal grand jury needs something to read.

Priorities, as always, are the political bugaboo: From Today’s LA Times listing of the challenges of 2105:

"’The governor can't keep singing the same song’ about belt-tightening’, said state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). Mitchell, who before being elected to the Legislature directed an organization that helped children and families. ‘We've got to address the 2 million kids who live in poverty. If we don't, they won't get out.’

“Brown and the Legislature should devote more money to early childhood care and education for newborns to 5-year-olds, because "they don't get do-overs," she said.

“Democrats are also making plans to extend the temporary tax increase voters approved in 2012, when Brown told them it would help to avoid yet another round of cuts in education funding and other needs.

“The governor has put a spike though the idea of extending the taxes, which are slated to begin expiring in 2016, even though legislative analysts have noted the possibility of a downturn in coming years.

"’It will be tight,’ Brown said.”

IN OTHER WORDS: High Speed Rail trumps Early Childhood Healthcare+Ed. And Prop 30 and the Local Control Funding Formula were one-time-money applied to a one-time problem. When those levies+programs expire the playing field for poor students and English language learners and foster kids will be level – and all the cuts from the recession will be made up for. Problem solved; there will be no need for more education funding.

PETER GREENE, who blogs at wrote on Dec 31st that “The biggest win of 2014 was also the quietest one.”

Let him tell you what it was, in case you missed it:

“In the midst of a staggering assault on public education, with their integrity, judgment, reputation, and ability under attack by everyone from corporate stooges to the US Secretary of Education, and, in many areas, with their job security under direct assault by people who don't know what the hell they're talking about, while powerful forces worked to dismantle the very institutions and ideals that they have devoted their lives to-- in the middle of all that, millions of teachers went to work and did their jobs.

“In environments ranging from openly hostile to merely unsupportive, teachers went into their classrooms and did their best to meet the needs of their students. Teachers helped millions of young human become smarter, wiser, more capable, more confident, and better educated. Millions of teachers went to school, met students where they were, and helped those students move forward, helped them grasp what it meant to be fully human, to be the most that they could be. Teachers helped millions of students learn to read and write and figure and draw and make music and play games and know history and understand science and a list of things so varied and rich that I have no room here for them all.

“When so many groups were slandering us and our own political leaders were giving us a giant middle finger, we squared our shoulders and said, "Well, dammit, I've got a job to do, and if even if I've got to go in there and do it with my bare hands in a hailstorm, I'm going to do it." And we did.

“Yes, some of us finally ran out of fight this year. There's no shame in that; despite what our detractors say, this is not a job that just anybody can do for a lifetime, particularly not under today's conditions. The people who had to leave the classroom are just our measure of how hard it is to stay these days.

“And yet, this year, millions of us stayed and fought and taught and did our best this year. While powerful forces lined up to make us fail, or at least make us look as if we were failing, we went into our classrooms armed with professional skills and knowledge and experience and judgment and hours of outside preparation and work, and we didn't fail. We stood up for our students, stood up for the education, their future, their value as human beings. We didn't fail.

“So, if you want the biggest public education win of 2014, there it is. Millions of teachers, caught in a storm not of their own making, under fire, under pressure, under the thumb of people with far more money and power still stood up and did their job. The powers that be tried to make us fail, and we got the job done anyway. Celebrate that.”

Happy New Year and Happy Spring Semester of 2014-15.

¡Onward/Adelante! - smf

by First 5 LA |

December 22, 2014 :: The recent admission of underage sexual abuse by “7th Heaven” actor Stephen Collins may have grabbed headlines, but many parents are still grasping for answers: How do you empower your children and prevent such abuse?

"Child sexual abuse is pervasive, but hidden," said Joan Cole Duffell, Executive Director of the nonprofit Committee for Children. "Yet research shows that the best way to protect children from sexual abuse is to bring it out of the shadows. If we can break the taboo of talking about it, we will take away the offenders' best defense: secrecy."

The Committee for Children recently launched #KeepKidsSafe, a campaign to educate people on the importance of having open communication with children, even very young kids, to decrease their vulnerability to abuse.

"We've learned that people have a hard time talking about child sexual abuse, so much so that it is vastly unreported — and yet mental health and child protection professionals agree that it's common and represents a serious national problem," continued Duffell.

"Child sexual abuse is pervasive, but hidden" -Cole Duffell

Research shows that the greatest risk of sexual crimes against a child often comes at the hands of someone they know, and not typically a stranger. In fact, studies show that 93 percent of victims know their abusers, 34 percent are abused by family members and 59 percent are abused by someone their family trusts.

Dr. Lori Vollandt, coordinator of Health Education Programs with the Los Angeles Unified School District, said no child is immune from child abuse, as it affects kids of every gender, age, race, ethnicity, background, socioeconomic status and family structure.

“Our first job in life is keeping kids safe and healthy," said Vollandt. "We teach them how to be safe about crossing the street or about using a bicycle helmet and talking to them about sexual abuse helps protect them, too. Los Angeles parents want to do the right thing, but many aren’t sure how. That’s why these Keep Kids Safe resources are so great — they show parents how to start that conversation.”

Communicate Often and Early is the Key to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse:

• It's never too early to begin a conversation with children on this important subject.
• Encourage children to share their feelings, concerns and problems.
• Explain to children that no one has the right to touch them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, including adults whom they know and trust.
• Teach children that it’s a parent or caregiver’s job to protect them, and that they can only protect them if they tell them when something is wrong.
• Explain that people who hurt children may tell the child to keep it a secret and threaten to hurt the child or their parents if the child shares the secret. Teach children that adults who say that are wrong, and that a child can share anything with a parent.
• Make sure children understand that if someone does make them feel uncomfortable or confused, no one will blame them.
• Reassure children that sexual abuse is never their fault.

Other resources: Parents of children age 5 and under can learn age-appropriate ways to discuss this topic with their children by viewing a series of short and free videos online at


from NPR Morning Edition |

Listen: (3:53)

31 Dec 2014 :: Thomas O'Donnell's kindergarten kids are all hopped up to read about Twiggle the anthropomorphic Turtle.

"Who can tell me why Twiggle here is sad," O'Donnell asks his class at Matthew Henson Elementary School in Baltimore.

"Because he doesn't have no friends," a student pipes up.

And how do people look when they're sad?

"They look down!" the whole class screams out.

Yeah, Twiggle is lonely. But, eventually, he befriends a hedgehog, a duck and a dog. And along the way, he learns how to play, help and share.

These are crucial skills we all need to learn, even in preschool and kindergarten. And common sense — along with a growing body of research — shows that mastering social skills early on can help people stay out of trouble all the way into their adult lives.

So shouldn't schools teach kids about emotions and conflict negotiation in the same way they teach math and reading? The creators of Twiggle the Turtle say the answer is yes.


Twiggle is part of a program called Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, or PATHS. It's designed to help young kids recognize and express emotions.

Matthew Henson Elementary is one of about 1,500 schools around the country using this program, which was first developed in the 1980s.

Every week, students get two 15- to 20-minute lessons on themes like self-control and treating others with respect. Especially for the youngest kids — in kindergarten and first grade — Twiggle often serves as their guide.

O'Donnell says his students are really taking to the lessons. They're trained, for example, to "do the Turtle" when they're upset. "That's when they stop and cocoon themselves. They wrap their arms around themselves and they say what the problem is," he explains.

O'Donnell's kids do the turtle all the time — in the hallway and during class.

Right before class starts, for example, one little girl tells her friend, "I don't like when you touch my hair, because it makes me sad."

"Sorry!" her friend responds.

While most kids will eventually figure out such strategies on their own, or with help from their parents, O'Donnell says, the lessons help them learn more quickly.

And for some, especially those with troubled home lives, Twiggle is their first and only introduction to healthy self-expression, he says. "Some of them don't have words to express how they feel before this."


We previously reported on a national study comparing PATHS and other, similar programs showing positive effects in preschool. They are based on research showing that kids who act up a lot in school and at home — even very young kids — are more likely to have mental health problems and commit crimes years later as adults.

So Kenneth Dodge, a psychologist at Duke University, asked, "Could we do something about that to prevent those problems from actually occurring?" And he has dedicated his career to answering that question.

He and his colleagues launched the FastTrack Project to see if they could change students' life trajectory by teaching them what researchers like to call social-emotional intelligence.

Back in 1991, they screened 5-year-olds at schools around the country for behavior problems. After interviewing teachers and parents, the researchers identified 900 children who seemed to be most at risk for developing problems later on.

Half of these kids went through school as usual — though they had access to free counseling or tutoring. The rest got PATHS lessons, as well as counseling and tutoring, and their parents received training as well — all the way up until the students graduated from high school.

By age 25, those who were enrolled in the special program not only had done better in school, but they also had lower rates of arrests and fewer mental health and substance abuse issues. The results of this decades-long study were published in September in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The findings prove, Dodge says, "In the same way that we can teach reading literacy, we can teach social and emotional literacy."


PATHS and FastTrack aren't the only programs of their kind. A social-emotional learning program called RULER, developed at Yale University, has shown promising results, as well. And every year, the Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning rates the top evidence-based emotional intelligence programs around the country.

So what's the catch? Why don't all schools offer emotional intelligence lessons?

Well, it's expensive.

The full, intensive FastTrack program costs around $50,000 per student, over a 10-year period. Schools can also pick and choose elements of the program.

For example, the short PATHS lessons about Twiggle at Matthew Henson Elementary cost less — about $600 per classroom to start, plus an additional $100 a year to keep it running.

It's pricey, but it does cost less per child than juvenile detention or rehab programs later on, according to Dodge. As a society, we spend a lot on remedial services — programs like PATHS are preventive, he says. "This is something that in the long run will save dollars."

At Clark K-8 School in Cleveland, fifth-grader Tommy DeJesus Jr. says he thinks it's been worthwhile.

DeJesus has been exposed to the PATHS curriculum since he was in kindergarten, and he says he continues to use the social skills he learned from good old Twiggle.

The other day, for example, DeJesus says, he was quick to step in when he saw that a friend was being teased. "They were making fun of his shoes and how he dressed. I said, 'Just because you have shoes and he doesn't, that doesn't give you the right to bully him,' " he says.

And the cool thing was, they listened.


The Answer Sheet in The Washington Post |

By Valerie Strauss January 1 :: For several years now teachers around the country have been attempting to implement the Common Core State Standards, some with more success than others. Implementation in many places has been flawed at best: many teachers weren’t given enough time to learn the standards and create new curriculum and lesson plans around them, and many of the materials that are available for purchase by education publishing companies and that claim to be Core-aligned are poorly drawn.

Districts and states have spent millions of dollars in the implementation even as controversy over the standards and the new standardized tests designed around the Core has blown up for various reasons. Some critics think the Obama administration wrongly pushed the Core on states; other critics think the standards are not well-drawn; others oppose the testing aligned with the Core, both the amount of testing for students and the ways that student test scores will be used to evaluate teachers and principals. Many supporters of the Core believe in the standards but agree that the implementation has been botched.

That all brings us to a piece in The Washington Post late last month by Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Michael Brickman, the institute’s national policy director. [] The Fordham Institute is a think tank in Washington D.C. that has supported the Common Core initiative as well as other reforms including charter schools and vouchers. They wrote that it would be extremely difficult to replace the Common Core with a stronger set of standards. The following post takes issue with that idea. It was written by Sandra Stotsky, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, who has been a vocal critic of the Core’s language arts standards.

While serving as senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education from 1999-2003, she was instrumental in developing one of the country’s strongest sets of academic standards for K-12 students as well as the strongest academic standards and licensure tests for prospective teachers. She served as the English language arts expert on the National Validation Committee for the Common Core State Systemic Initiative (2009-2010), which she has strongly critiqued.

How hard would it be to replace the Common Core with something better?
By Sandra Stotsky

In an opinion piece in the The Washington Post on Dec. 24, 2014, Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli and Michael Brickman claim that it will not be easy to replace Common Core’s standards with something better. They claim that “the basic problem is that it’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.” Their claims have no legs to stand on.

Massachusetts once had standards that looked nothing like Common Core, were judged to be among the best in the country, and have an empirical record of contributing to academic gains for all Bay State students, as judged by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests in grades 4 and 8, in reading and math, from 2005 on, and by The International Mathematics and Science Surveys (TIMSS) in 2007 and 2013. The Bay State’s former standards served as the basis for classroom curricula, for professional development for practicing teachers, for licensure regulations and tests for prospective teachers, and for the state’s teacher-vetted K-12 tests.

We know that achievement on the grade 10 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) was related to authentic college readiness from a 2008 report relating our high school students’ performance on their grade 10 MCAS to the type of public college they enrolled in after graduation in 2005 and the extent of remedial coursework they needed (Massachusetts School-to-College Report: High School Class of 2005 | Almost all the students at the Advanced level and about 80 percent of the students at the Proficient level who had enrolled in four-year public colleges and universities in the Bay State in 2005 needed no remediation in mathematics or reading. They were college-ready as well as high-school diploma-ready, whether or not they took a mathematics course in their senior year of high school (which the report doesn’t tell us).

On the other hand, about half of the 2005 high school graduating students who had enrolled in a Massachusetts community college in 2005 and had earlier been placed at the Needs Improvement level on a grade 10 MCAS test needed remediation in mathematics, reading, or both. (Again, we don’t know if they had taken a mathematics course in their senior year of high school or tried in other ways to improve their academic records in their junior and senior years of high school.) Sounds completely rational.

The Bay State’s previous standards accelerated the academic achievement of minority groups in the state and did prepare the state’s grade 10 students for authentic college coursework. I don’t think the Common Core standards are designed to do that.

Contrary to the implication by Petrilli and Brickman that first-rate standards are not easy to implement, I know that it was easy to implement the Massachusetts 2001 English language arts and 2000 mathematics standards. How do I know? Because I was there. Bay State teachers did not moan and groan after these standards were officially approved by a Board of Education chaired by currently incoming Secretary of Education James Peyser. They simply implemented them without a fuss.

In fact, when it was time to start revising the 2001 ELA standards in 2007/2008 (by statute), less than 30 teachers in the entire state bothered to reply to the MA Department of Education’s survey on what changes they wanted. None were substantive, and none were from English teachers. Moreover, there is no record of complaint by Bay State parents, either.

Why don’t Fordham Institute’s Petrilli and Brickman, or Common Core defender Jeb Bush, ask each Department of Education or Department of Public Instruction in each state to send out a survey to all the state’s English, mathematics, and science teachers just asking for anonymous suggestions on how to revise the state’s Common Core-based standards. We would soon find out how welcome a different set of standards would be. And how much they might support an accountability plan for Common Core-based test results tied to the state’s education schools, not the teachers they graduate.

by Jonah Edelman | The Daily Beast |

01.03.15 :: Congress is attempting to pass the buck on federal funding for education. The results would be disastrous.

In the weeks ahead, Congress will consider rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act and, if some leaders on Capitol Hill get their wish, it will feature dramatically reduced federal oversight of education.

These Congressional leaders point to states' rights when they argue that the federal government should send $50 billion to 50 states and more than 10,000 school districts each year but ask for little or nothing in the way of results.

Despite America's long and sordid history of extreme inequity in schooling and in spite of dramatic continuing disparities in educational quality, states' rights advocates assert the federal government isn't needed to monitor or assure educational quality and equity.

Whether because of racism, politics, ignorance, or indifference, the brutal facts are that states and school districts have too often neglected their educational responsibilities. The losers have always been children in poverty, children of color, and children with disabilities.

Think back to Topeka, Kan., in the 1950s, where seven-year old Linda Brown was denied the opportunity to attend a nearby public school because she was black. The Supreme Court eventually stepped in and ended legal segregation in the landmark 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education.

Three years later in Little Rock, Ark., despite the Supreme Court's decision that segregation violated the Constitution, nine young Black students were denied access to a public high school by segregationist Governor Orval Faubus. President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to force Faubus to admit the students to Central High School.

The same thing happened over and over again, in state after state, in the ensuing years, including in Mississippi where my mother Marian Wright Edelman, on behalf of courageous black plaintiffs, sued several segregated local school districts. States and local school districts violated Brown, lawsuits or non-violent protests (which often provoked violent reprisals) eventually led to desegregation orders, and then great vigilance was required to ensure those orders were enforced.

It's patently false and downright irresponsible to suggest states and districts will do the right thing without meaningful oversight from the federal government.

On a parallel track, in the 1960s, federal officials recognized that states and local school districts were systematically spending less to educate poor kids compared to wealthier kids. So in 1965, Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to provide federal funds to help make up the difference.

In the 1970s, my mother and many others, including parents of children with disabilities, protested because states and districts weren't meeting children's special needs. A seminal 1974 Children's Defense Fund report called "Children Out of School" chronicled the extent of the problem. The federal government responded by passing a law requiring states and districts to educate children with special needs and providing additional resources (though the feds have never come close to funding the cost of their mandate, which is a huge and largely undiscussed problem).

In 2001, with great fanfare, Congress updated the 1965 ESEA law to require every state and district to assess children's educational progress regularly and publish results by race, income, disability, and whether English is a second language. The hope was that greater transparency about performance would drive results.

The new ESEA, or No Child Left Behind law, exposed grossly unequal educational outcomes and motivated a range of efforts across the country to address the low performance of low-income children and children of color. That said, the law was deeply flawed. States were encouraged and allowed to lower standards to make it appear they were improving. The tests on which the federal government based its ratings were "dumb" - they assessed students' knowledge of information not their ability to think, solve problems, or write, and they only measured students within the confines of their grade level. And there was a ridiculous assumption that states would somehow get all of their students to proficiency - that's right, 100% - by 2014.

In the past five years, the federal government has offered incentives and resources for states to lift academic standards, fix schools that have struggled for decades, offer more choices to parents, and strengthen teaching through more accurate educator evaluations. These incentives and lobbying by state-based education advocates led most states to raise standards, embrace choice, and develop fairer, more rigorous systems for evaluating teachers. (This is happening well in most places, but there's still a long way to go.)

Now, we all know that federal interventions don't always work as intended. What sounds good in concept often stumbles in practice, which is why it's important to revisit laws regularly (that hasn't happened with No Child Left Behind because of the stalemate in Washington).

That said, it's patently false and downright irresponsible to suggest states and districts will do the right thing without meaningful oversight from the federal government. The evidence is everywhere that absent real accountability many states won't ensure that districts protect children at risk.

Today, for example, because education is often funded by local property taxes, states typically spend much less money educating children in the bottom fifth of the economic ladder than the top fifth. In Illinois, for example, a student in the low property value Berwyn North school district just west of Chicago receives $8,588 in combined state and local education funding whereas a student twenty miles further west in suburban Lisle Community Unit School District 202 receives $17,169 in state and local funding.

In addition to getting the short end of the stick on funding in most states, low-income children and children of color are disciplined more severely, have less access to rigorous high school classes, and are more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers. [We only know about these disparities, by the way, because the federal government makes states measure them and publish the results.]

Not surprisingly, fewer than 10 percent of low-income children earn a four-year college degree, compared to about 80 percent of upper-income students.

This is why arguments for little to no federal oversight of education are so disturbing.

There's also talk by states' rights advocates of no longer requiring annual testing by states, which would deny parents and educators valuable information about whether students are on track, reduce the ability to measure and improve teacher quality, and make it harder for administrators to know how schools are doing and when they need to intervene. Ironically, this is being proposed just as "smarter" assessments come online that will more accurately measure student learning, including their ability to think critically, solve problems, and write.

If Congress takes the states' rights, anti-accountability, anti-assessment tack that is being discussed, the outcome will be as predictable as it is tragic. Many states and districts will take the easier path than trying to educate ALL children, disadvantaged students will lose out, and millions of young people who could have become hard-working taxpayers will end up jobless, in prison, or worse.

So when you hear politicians talking about reducing the federal role and restoring states' rights, what they're really saying is that they're passing the buck. They're saying they don't want to take responsibility for ensuring ALL children receive a quality public education.

President Harry Truman kept a sign on his desk that read: "The Buck Stops Here." When it comes to educating our children, Congress should heed that message, not ignore it.

By Michael Mau | McSweeneys |

12 Dec, 2014

Dear America,

I’m sorry. You entrusted me with your children, and I have failed them. Please know that I had the best of intentions. I didn’t want to leave a child behind. I wanted to help them win this race to the top. You asked me to test them, and I tested them. I gave them choices: A, B, C, D, and sometimes even E. I didn’t just test them though; I spent hours showing them how to test, and I prepared them for that by quizzing them. My quizzes and tests were rigorous, too, just like you asked.

I have to be honest with you, though: my heart wasn’t in it at first. I had this ridiculous idea that art and music and drama and activity breaks would help my students grow. Maybe it was all those years of allowing my students to be creative. To think, I once had my English class produce a full-length play with original music and student-designed sets. I wasted weeks and weeks on that frivolous project. Sure, my students enjoyed it then, and okay, many of them still e-mail me and tell me that was the highlight of their high school experience, but I know now that if I had only had them sit in rows and practice for the ACT, if I had only given them short passages and had them tell me which of the five choices best described the author’s tone, they’d be so much more fulfilled in their lives.

After all, what did they really learn? How to access their imaginations? Developing original thoughts? Teamwork? I may as well have taught them how to file for unemployment.

Last year, our school district did away with our arts education classes. I was stunned along with the other misguided “professionals” with whom I taught. That was before I came to the stark realization that painting and sculpting and drawing might be nice hobbies to have, but they’re certainly not going to help adolescents as they compete for the jobs of the future. Do we really want a bunch of flaky artist-types distracting us? The art teacher is a barista at Starbucks now, which at least allows her to use valuable skills and restore middle-class security. And she makes a great latte.

Some people want to blame parents for the failure of American students to achieve. If parents would only spend more time engaged in enrichment activities with their kids like reading to them or taking them to museums or on nature hikes. Parents are busy though; I don’t think I really took time to consider how busy they are. We must also remember that it’s not a parent’s job to teach their children. That’s why they pay us.

Some parents are like I was and have this notion that they have a responsibility to be their child’s first teacher. One actually asked me why we spent so many days on test prep activities and why there wasn’t a program in our school to help foster her daughter’s love of music.

I told her what our superintendent told us: If we don’t teach them how to test properly, how do we expect them to perform well on the test? And just because our school doesn’t have band or orchestra any more, that doesn’t stop her daughter from taking lessons after school. I then directed her to our district website that assures all parents that we are preparing their children for the technology-driven world of the 21st century and beyond.

That’s why we moved many of our classes online. Kids love computers, and as with many innovative schools, ours allows students to take classes on their own through a program called Edgenuity. Why burden teachers with teaching skills and concepts that students can easily learn online? The learning modules guide students through lessons at their own pace while keeping them subdued and compliant. As our leaders in the White House have told us, students are empowered by “individualized learning and rich, digital content.” While the initial investment was costly, our school was able to reduce the teaching staff by four teachers. What a great lesson in economics for our students.

Despite all of these innovations; despite increased enrollment in A.P. classes; despite electives like Algebra II and Earth Science; despite replacing our library with a computer lab; despite the timed readings, standardized lesson plans, and healthier lunches, our students are still ranked below Russia. We are failing them. I am failing them.

I have a plan though. Yes, it is a little selfish. As you requested, in the coming years, my pay will be tied directly to my students’ achievement. Since we measure this achievement through standardized testing, my goal will be to spend every minute of every class teaching to the test. Some lessons, of course, will be on the proper use of a #2 pencil for efficient circle darkening. With a nationalized curriculum, so much of the guesswork will be taken out. It won’t be the most exciting or “fun” class for my students, but what they fail to understand is that education is all about job security and competing in a global marketplace. Why else would we send our kids to school?

This is a standardized, multiple-choice world. I know that now.

Michael Mau
  • Mau teaches at an alternative school "...where I work with students who have been used, abused, and dumped on our doorstep. They’re misfits like me, and I love them."

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources
FAFSA+THE COLLEGE BOUND: A reminder that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is now available:

RESOLVED ...without further comment | //



THE LIBRARY THAT TARGET BUILT… and revisiting Valerio |

CIVICS INSTRUCTION MOVES UP IN CLASS: States Mandate Tests on the Subject Amid a Movement for Citizenship Exam |

TESTING UNDER FIRE: Republicans may consider slashing the number of federally required tests |

LITTLE COLLEGE GUIDANCE National: Counselors are 500:1 (CA is 1:1016) |



GODSPEED MARIO CUOMO, who campaigned in poetry and governed in prose: “Outrage is easy, cheap and oversold..." Read:


RESTORATIVE JUSTICE: What it is and is not + smf’s 2¢ |

RAGE AGAINST THE COMMON CORE: “The Obama administration has only itself to blame” |


EVENTS: Coming up next week...

*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213-241-5183
Phone: 213-241.8700


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6386 • 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.

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

Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD and was Parent/Volunteer of the Year for 2010-11 for Los Angeles County. • He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and has represented PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee for over 12 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 "WHO" Gold Award and the ACSA Regional Ferd Kiesel Memorial Distinguished Service Award - honors 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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