Sunday, March 22, 2015

Slán Gary, bhí a fhios againn ar éigean duit.

4LAKids: Sunday 22•March•2015
In This Issue:
 •  TEACHING BY PHENOMENON: NOT CRITICAL THINKING, CREATIVE THINKING! ‘Subjects’ are scrapped and replaced with 'topics' as Finland reforms its education
 •  TESTING IN K?: Districts adopting measures to assess students in earliest grades + smf’s 2¢
 •  FICTIONAL EAGLE ROCK HIPSTERS FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS: The big lie “Togetherness” tells about race and education
 •  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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Let me introduce you to one of the best friends and one of the most effective+loyal employees the children of Los Angeles ever had work for them. And let us say goodbye and Godspeed.

Gary Anderson was the Administrator of the Bond Oversight Committee – a job that defies description. He was a perfect fit in a-who-reports-to-whom org chart that is an endless feedback loop.

Gary had his PhD in Education and a degree in Engineering. He talked the talk and walked the walk in both worlds – and navigated the LAUSD bureaucracy not just with ease, but with grace …and usually just under the radar.

Gary not only knew how to make things happen; he quietly+effectively caused them to happen. He was the real deal.

If you remember Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” – Gary was like the character played by Robert De Niro, dropping in and out with perfect timing– and always with a great sense of humor …which he+we needed.

Gary passed away quite suddenly last Sunday – on that Ides of March we were warned to beware of.
Slán Gary, bhí a fhios againn ar éigean duit.
Goodbye Gary, we hardly knew ye.

Here is what Tom Rubin, the bond committee’s consultant wrote of his colleague and friend last Sunday night:

“It is my sad duty to inform you that Dr. Gary C. Anderson, BOC Bond Administrator, passed away this morning, Sunday, March 15th.

“Gary had served in this position since 2006. Besides the administrative responsibilities for the BOC, he spent most of his work on field examination of projects planned, underway, and completed, and liaison with school educators and stakeholders. His work has taken him into virtually every area of facilities and District business, including procurement, contracting and contract terms, design and specifications review, change orders, invoice processing/payment, program/project scheduling and cost management, inspection, human resources, information technology, long-range planning, demographic projections, and capital/operating/financial modeling.

“Gary was born and raised in Tiffin, Ohio, where he not only had a superior academic record in high school, but starred in basketball, football, and track.

“After high school, he joined the Navy, serving as a corpsman, including attached to Marine combat units in Vietnam and afloat.

“After receiving his B.S. in Marketing Management, with a minor in Statistics, from Miami University (Ohio), he worked for Tiffin Scenic Studios, Inc., rising to Vice Present, where he expanded this 80-year old regional firm to international, directing over 100 employees. He then spun off part of the firm to form Tiffin International Rigging, Inc., where he led the design and implementation for the National Theater in Venezuela, the Rock and Roll Hall and Fame, the Louisiana Superdome Renovation, the Georgia Dome for the Olympics, Pope John Paul II’s North American tour, many college, regional, and local theaters, and over 500 high school theaters and auditoriums.

“A partnership between Tiffin International Rigging, Inc. and Kent State University’s Masters of Fine Arts program created the G. C. Anderson Design School; Gary taught, served on thesis committees, and provide opportunities for international internships.

“Following the premature passage of his beloved wife, Jeanne Anderson, Gary sold his interest in Tiffin International Rigging, Inc. in order to cease his international travel to care for his two young girls, Elenor and Jacqueline.

“He became an Instructor in the Management Department of Bowling Green State University, near Tiffin, while achieving his M.Ed. in Business Education and Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration. He taught at the executive, graduate, and undergraduate levels in management, strategy and international business, being named faculty fellow of the year in 2003, and served in a variety of administrative and other faculty service positions.

“Since joining the Bond Oversight Committee, he was also a founding faculty member of the newly accredited bachelor of science in management program at Fashion Institute of Design & Manufacturing, teaching leadership, import/export management, and the capstone in creativity (entrepreneurship), and participated in a variety of committee and service work within the committee structure. He was twice named teacher of the year.

“Gary is survived by his daughter Elenor (Ellie) Anderson and her husband, Andrew Shawberry, and their sons, Andrew and Zachery Shawberry, and his daughter Jacqueline Anderson Feasel, her daughter Liam, and her husband, Jeremy Feasel.

“ Ellie was in Los Angeles this weekend to participate in the LA Marathon. Gary dropped her off at the start, with a hug and kisses, and texted her his love and best wishes before the start of the race.

“His earthly remains are being returned to Tiffin for interment.

“On a personal manner, Gary and I argued constantly, about everything – usually resulting on agreement on conclusions, but with totally different ways of arriving at these conclusions. We drove each other nuts – and we both loved it.

“It was great fun to, when needing to work with the educational side of the house on complex instructional-facilities interactions, watching BS-proof “Dr. Anderson” handle these delicate matters. On the most complex and difficult matters, we loved to dispatch the BOC “A Team,” Gary, Joe Buchman, and myself – a Doctor, a Lawyer, and a CPA.

“I had the utmost respect for his knowledge and his abilities.

“We shall not see his like come this way again.”

¡Onward/Adelante! - smf

In last week's 4LAKids there was a broken link to the website. Follow this link.

TEACHING BY PHENOMENON: NOT CRITICAL THINKING, CREATIVE THINKING! ‘Subjects’ are scrapped and replaced with 'topics' as Finland reforms its education

By Richard Garner, The Independent (UK) |

Helsinki | Friday 20 March 2015 :: For years, Finland has been the by-word for a successful education system, perched at the top of international league tables for literacy and numeracy.

Only far eastern countries such as Singapore and China outperform the Nordic nation in the influential Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) rankings. Politicians and education experts from around the world – including the UK – have made pilgrimages to Helsinki in the hope of identifying and replicating the secret of its success.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that Finland is about to embark on one of the most radical education reform programmes ever undertaken by a nation state – scrapping traditional “teaching by subject” in favour of “teaching by topic”.

“This is going to be a big change in education in Finland that we’re just beginning,” said Liisa Pohjolainen, who is in charge of youth and adult education in Helsinki – the capital city at the forefront of the reform programme.

Pasi Silander, the city’s development manager, explained: “What we need now is a different kind of education to prepare people for working life.

“Young people use quite advanced computers. In the past the banks had lots of bank clerks totting up figures but now that has totally changed.

“We therefore have to make the changes in education that are necessary for industry and modern society.”

Subject-specific lessons – an hour of history in the morning, an hour of geography in the afternoon – are already being phased out for 16-year-olds in the city’s upper schools. They are being replaced by what the Finns call “phenomenon” teaching – or teaching by topic. For instance, a teenager studying a vocational course might take “cafeteria services” lessons, which would include elements of maths, languages (to help serve foreign customers), writing skills and communication skills.

More academic pupils would be taught cross-subject topics such as the European Union - which would merge elements of economics, history (of the countries involved), languages and geography.

There are other changes too, not least to the traditional format that sees rows of pupils sitting passively in front of their teacher, listening to lessons or waiting to be questioned. Instead there will be a more collaborative approach, with pupils working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills.

Marjo Kyllonen, Helsinki’s education manager – who will be presenting her blueprint for change to the council at the end of this month, said: “It is not only Helsinki but the whole of Finland who will be embracing change.

“We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future with the skills that are needed for today and tomorrow.

“There are schools that are teaching in the old fashioned way which was of benefit in the beginnings of the 1900s – but the needs are not the same and we need something fit for the 21st century.”

The reforms reflect growing calls in the UK – not least from the Confederation of British Industry and Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt – for education to promote character, resilience and communication skills, rather than just pushing children through “exam factories”.

But there would currently be little appetite in the UK for going as far as ditching traditional subjects.

Even in Finland, the reforms have met objections from teachers and heads – many of whom have spent their lives focusing on a particular subject only to be told to change their approach.

Ms Kyllonen has been advocating a “co-teaching” approach to lesson planning, with input from more than one subject specialist. Teachers who embrace this new system can receive a small top-up in salary.

About 70 per cent of the city’s high school teachers have now been trained in adopting the new approach, according to Mr Silander.

“We have really changed the mindset,” he said. “It is quite difficult to get teachers to start and take the first step… but teachers who have taken to the new approach say they can’t go back.”

Early data shows that students are benefiting too. In the two years since the new teaching methods first began being introduced, pupil “outcomes” – they prefer that word to standards – have improved.

Finnish schools are obliged to introduce a period of “phenomenon-based teaching” at least once a year. These projects can last several weeks. In Helsinki, they are pushing the reforms at a faster pace with schools encouraged to set aside two periods during the year for adopting the new approach. Ms Kyllonen’s blueprint, to be published later this month, envisages the reforms will be in place across all Finnish schools by 2020.

Meanwhile, the pre-school sector is also embracing change through an innovative project, the Playful Learning Centre, which is engaged in discussions with the computer games industry about how it could help introduce a more “playful” learning approach to younger children.

“We would like to make Finland the leading country in terms of playful solutions to children’s learning,” said Olavi Mentanen, director of the PLC project,

The eyes of the education world will be upon Finland as it opts for change: will it be able to retain or improve its showing in the PISA league tables published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

If it does, how will the rest of the education world react?


It is an English lesson, but there is a map of continental Europe on the whiteboard. The children must combine weather conditions with the different countries displayed on the board. For instance, today it is sunny in Finland and foggy in Denmark. This means the pupils combine the learning of English with geography.

Welcome to Siltamaki primary school in Helsinki – a school with 240 seven- to 12-year-olds – which has embraced Finland’s new learning style. Its principal, Anne-Mari Jaatinen, explains the school’s philosophy: “We want the pupils to learn in a safe, happy, relaxed and inspired atmosphere.”

We come across children playing chess in a corridor and a game being played whereby children rush around the corridors collecting information about different parts of Africa. Ms Jaatinen describes what is going on as “joyful learning”. She wants more collaboration and communication between pupils to allow them to develop their creative thinking skills.

TESTING IN K?: Districts adopting measures to assess students in earliest grades + smf’s 2¢
By Michael Collier | EdSource Today |

Mar 19, 2015 :: As millions of California students prepare to take new online assessments beginning in the 3rd grade, districts are grappling with how best to measure academic progress in the earliest grades – starting in kindergarten.

For the past 15 years, students in 2nd through 11th grade were assessed on California’s STAR tests, a battery of mostly multiple-choice questions in English language arts and math. The state testing program was discontinued in 2013 to make way for the new Smarter Balanced assessments that will be administered this spring for the first time.

Only students in 3rd through 8th grade and 11th grade are taking the new Common Core-aligned assessments this year, which means school districts must figure out how to measure students’ progress in the 2nd grade – while continuing to assess how they are doing in kindergarten and 1st grade. Educators say it is important to track student progress in the earliest grades to ensure that students are up to speed academically by the time they reach the 3rd grade. They point to research that shows that if they are not, they may never catch up with their higher-performing peers, or even fall further behind.

But without the benefit of established assessments for K-2 students that are fully aligned with the Common Core State Standards – the new academic standards in English language arts and math adopted by California and 42 other states – school districts are using off-the-shelf assessments such as the Fountas & Pinnell reading assessment, creating their own tests or using a combination of each.



For example, K-2 students in the Long Beach Unified School District will take a math test at the end of this school year that teachers and district testing experts developed. Twenty-three of the 30 questions on the exam will be based in some way on Common Core math standards, said Anne Oberjuerge, the district’s K-5 math coordinator.

To find out how California’s early elementary school students are being tracked, EdSource contacted three school districts – Long Beach Unified School District, Fresno Unified School District and San Francisco Unified School District – about their testing programs this year.

In those districts, students in the early primary grades are being assessed regularly, with tests as often as every few weeks on units in math and English. In addition, teachers often administer very short assessments in one-on-one sessions with students that last five minutes or less.

Several districts also use an assessment known as the Desired Results and Developmental Profile, which sizes up a preschool student’s readiness for kindergarten based on a teacher’s observations of the student’s self-control, social and emotional development, literacy skills and math and science cognition. The assessment, developed by WestEd, a nonprofit research and consulting organization based in San Francisco, also is given to some transitional kindergarten students in California. The test is not required by the state.



Testing strategies this year for K-2 students at Fresno Unified, the state’s fourth-largest school district, appear to be working so far, said Dave Calhoun, the district’s executive director of research and assessment.

Fresno is tracking students’ progress in kindergarten this year with four separate assessments throughout the school year in English and math. In addition, the district is using the Degrees of Reading Power assessment system to measure and track reading comprehension of all students from 2nd to 12th grades.

The district is also using the very short assessments given by a teacher to one student. For example, a teacher may test a student’s grasp of letter names and letter sounds, or their ability to count to 100. Students in 1st and 2nd grade are given five-minute tests on math facts, such as addition and subtraction.

“We have a good system for tracking our kids this year,” Calhoun said. “I think it’s pretty solid.” Still, tracking Fresno Unified’s nearly 19,000 students in kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades is a tall order in a district with 72,000 students – 25 percent of whom are English learners.

While the Fresno, Long Beach and San Francisco districts say their testing in early grades is largely in step with Common Core standards, some experts aren’t convinced.

Deborah Stipek, dean of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, questions whether some assessments given to K-2 students are falling short of the promise of the new standards by not focusing enough on critical thinking and problem-solving.

For example, Stipek said, Common Core math standards ask students to explain how a concept works and their reasoning. “That’s not in many programs I’ve seen that are stamped ‘Common Core,’” she said. “Just because it says so, doesn’t mean it is.”

California teachers have received too little professional development in how to test and teach to the new standards, Stipek said. “Teachers are being asked to teach in a way quite different from their training, and are being asked to meet standards that are more rigorous and better for learning.”

In Long Beach, teachers have spent considerable time on professional development in recent months to help them create testing programs in-house this year, said Oberjuerge, the district’s K-5 math curriculum leader. Accomplished teachers have signed up to become “coaches.” They write tests that are given to K-5 students at the end of a specific unit of work, such as addition and subtraction for 2nd-graders.

In addition, math teachers in the district work closely with the English language learners coach to help them teach the complicated academic language of math to make it more accessible to English learner students in math assessments.

The district communicates to parents throughout the year on how well their students are doing, but the forms the parents are reading aren’t like the report cards that used to come home.

Don’t call them report cards, Oberjuerge said. They are now known as “achievement reports,” with four performance standards: “Consistent mastery of grade-level expectations,” “Approaching mastery of grade-level expectations,” “Partial application of grade-level expectations” and “Minimal application of grade-level expectations.”

In the San Francisco Unified School District, teachers are giving the Fountas & Pinnell reading benchmark assessment to K-2 students three times this year, said Shannon Fierro, the district’s supervisor for formative assessments. The district is helping refine how teachers will teach the new standards and what resources they need to be prepared.

All students in grades K-12 in the district receive report cards, Fierro said, and in grades K-5 the report cards have been revised to reflect the content of the Common Core standards. Many teachers share individual reports of student performance on district-level assessments with parents during parent-teacher conferences, or send the reports home.

In addition, teachers are sharing data with each other about their students’ progress in reading and math, Fierro said. Elementary school students’ reading levels have increased and should continue to improve the closer students get to reaching 3rd grade, she added. Students who are not reading at grade level are getting help.

Next year, Fierro said, the district aims to immerse K-2 students in the new standards in a project that would encourage them to share their opinions in writing. After that, there are plans for a similar project focused on argumentative writing, where students would make well-reasoned arguments on a topic.

At Long Beach Unified, K-2 students and their teachers are working diligently to be prepared for 3rd grade, said Oberjuerge, the district’s elementary math coordinator.

“We all need to be learning each day,” she said. “There have been big shifts in the past two years in the way classrooms function. Now it’s all about solving problems and explaining the ‘why.'”


●●smf’s 2¢ :: After 14 years of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, CORE California, and ©orporate ®eform, Inc. - with high stakes mandatory standardized testing on a national scale - one thing has become painfully obvious: The pressure on teachers and kids and parents isn’t working because progress – whatever that is – isn’t happening fast enough. Whatever that means.

Good Grief!: The US has been doing school reform since the 1830’s – You’d think we’d be done already!


• The old tests don’t work; we need new ones.
• Test scores aren’t going up fast enough; we need more testing.
• There is a need for a “solid” system to “track” K-2 kids. How else will we have then reading by third grade if we don’t test them by K?
• Report Cards don’t demonstrate what we think needs demonstrating; let’s change what we call them.
• Little kids aren’t with the program; we need to test earlier.

By Caitlin Emma | Politico Morning Ed |

3/20/15 10:00 AM EDT :: Parents and teachers were quick to protest this week when news broke [] that Pearson was monitoring students’ social media accounts for any posts disclosing inside information about the PARCC Common Core tests. The American Federation of Teachers even circulated a petition demanding that Pearson “stop spying on our kids.” But as it turns out, student surveillance goes far beyond Pearson — and far beyond testing. School districts and colleges across the nation are hiring private companies to monitor students’ online activity and scrutinize their public posts on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and other popular sites. Some of the monitoring software can track and log every keystroke a student makes while using a school computer. Principals can get text alerts if kids type in words like “guns” or “drugs,” or browse websites about anorexia or suicide. They can even order up reports identifying which students waste hours on Facebook and which buckle down to homework right after dinner. Other programs scan all student emails, text messages and documents sent on a school’s online platform and alert school administrators — or law enforcement — to any that sound inappropriate.

HOPING TO LIMIT THE SNOOPING, 12 states have banned some educational institutions from collecting students’ usernames and passwords, which could be used to pry open social media accounts protected by privacy settings. But those laws only protect students who post behind privacy walls. Many kids post publicly to build up their online followings.

And those in the business of student surveillance say those public posts can make for illuminating reading. “Our philosophy is, if someone in China can type in your child’s user name and see what they’re posting publicly on social media, shouldn’t the people who are the trusted in adults in a child’s life see that information?” said Chris Frydrych, the CEO of the student monitoring service Geo Listening.

●●smf: APPROPOS OF EVERYTHING+NOTHING AT ALL – including the factoid that “student surveillance” is a business and “student monitoring service” is a job category and not just a fetish: An ad (I mean “promotion”) I just got on Twitter:

Video surveillance for K-12 & Universities No NVRs, servers or SW required. Video anytime, anywhere, 408.342.xxxx
The photo attached is of a young woman, sleeping, watched over by a video camera. (♪Don't be concerned, it will not harm you…. ♫)

…and gosh forbid students should browse websites about anorexia+suicide! Anorexia is endemic among adolescents and has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness …and suicide is the #3 cause of death in young people!


FICTIONAL EAGLE ROCK HIPSTERS FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS: The big lie “Togetherness” tells about race and education

by Joshua Leibner in Salon |

Saturday, Mar 21, 2015 06:29 AM PST :: MICHELLE PIERSON, a 40-ish mother of two, is in a state of confusion over her the direction in life and finds herself wandering down the main drag of her gentrifying, hip Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood. She hears a confident voice coming from Eagle Rock City Hall that entices her in.

Inside, DAVID GARCIA, a handsome, charismatic Latino, is speaking stirringly to a group of concerned parents. He says, “There’s like bird shit all over the place — I mean you got kids eating five-day-old sloppy joes. Our public school system is broken. I don’t think we can fix the old schools but I’ll tell you what we can do. We can build a new one. Isn’t a great school no more than a box and an inspired teacher inside of it? We need a great charter school here in Eagle Rock. Let’s create a place for our children to flourish. There’s a big empty hole in our community. And if we don’t do anything about it, our kids are going to be more disenfranchised and lost than we are now.”

Michelle is entranced, and suddenly her life has found a purpose.

Charter school dogma has made it to the Big Time: It just got its own soapbox on the Duplass brothers’ HBO Sunday night series “Togetherness.”

The one thing the aging-hipster parents know of their school district, Los Angeles Unified, is its “broken-ness” — and by extension, the rest of America’s obsession with that term. These “thoughtful” parents don’t waste one breath discussing the possibility of their white middle-class children attending their neighborhood school, saving it instead for lengthy wails of anxiety about private school applications and liberal guilt about isolating their kids from “the community.”

Who cares what a Hollywood show about “disenfranchised and lost” film industry workers and their precious progeny does?

We all should, because “Togetherness” very much reflects the state of national discourse on education and its corrosive effects on public schools, particularly as it has played out in Los Angeles. (I taught in LAUSD public schools for 20 years.) The show also presciently mirrors a current school board race in that district that is pitting a charter school reformer against an old-time public school advocate.

With “Togetherness,” we witness the battle through the intersection of art, politics, race and class.

The show’s creators, Mark and Jay Duplass, are the very talented Hollywood powerhouse titans of smart, artsy films about the white middle class and its obsessions; their work dominates Sundance and they have a four-picture deal with Netflix. The brothers also live in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles School Board District 5, and that’s where they’ve set “Togetherness.” It also happens to be where I live and will send my son to school when he is old enough. Although the show is ostensibly about the marriage and lives of Hollywood sound man Brett and his wife, Michelle, the charter school plotline is enlightening and can be discussed in light of not only LAUSD’s relationship to these characters, but to the nation as a whole.

The charter school speech-maker, David Garcia, an aspiring politician, begins with the mantra that has been drummed around the country for the last 20 years: “Our public education system is broken.”

Is it broken in Palos Verdes? In Beverly Hills? In Malibu? Or any of the richer districts that surround L.A.? No, but definitely, apparently, in Eagle Rock.

Michelle goes up to David after his speech and says, “My daughter is going to start kindergarten and we’re talking about where is she going to go… what is she going to do… I’m wondering why is there not some community place — somewhere I can put her and feel good with a lot of different people. I don’t want to put her in a private school where she doesn’t get to experience what life is like where we live. I mean why is there not a great place?”

The Eagle Rock public schools are obviously not an option for Michelle. Our local elementary schools — Eagle Rock, Rockdale, Dahlia Heights — get conflated into the fictional “Townsend Elementary,” and are clearly not gonna cut it. It goes without saying.

Michelle has previously been shown speaking longingly to her husband, who has all but decided to put their kid in private school: “Don’t you want her to be in a different kind of community with kids of different colors and economic backgrounds?

That obviously — to these characters and to many real life members of their demographic — isn’t the public schools.

But why not? One LAUSD school board member has said pointedly that “maybe it’s time for the district to look in the mirror and figure out what can be done within district schools to make parents less eager to remove their children into charters.”

True enough. And maybe it’s time for charter school advocates to look into their own mirror.

Is it, could it actually be, the “bird shit” and “five-day-old sloppy joes”? No, because episode 6 demonstrates how hard Michelle is willing to work to find and clean out an old building for the new school. Surely, cleaning up some bird feces at an already functioning facility and agitating for better food — or packing a lunchbox — would have been much easier.

Is it because a bloated school bureaucracy is truly causing these parents to be “disenfranchised and lost”? Not really, because when David and Michelle finally make their impassioned plea for a charter to the public school commission in Sacramento, they are met with misty-eyed commissioners and an implied approval.

Could it be — gasp! — race, or class? Eagle Rock Elementary School is only 17 percent white, with 57 percent of the kids qualifying for subsidized school lunches.

No, no, no, no! the series replies. In the final episode, there is Michelle leading a post-racial bandwagon, driving up to Sacramento to argue their case. Along with David, the show’s sole Latino, there’s a gay Asian political consultant and a black principal who will fight for this charter. They all bond over a car karaoke hit.

Wealthy white people, as a rule, control the charter school industry across the country. White people run the billionaire philanthropic foundations that funnel money into charter schools. White people dominate the editorial boards of the major urban papers who sympathize with charter school interests. But, in a smoke-screen that has also been used in real life, we get well-spoken, dynamic David as our charter spokesman for the show.

Class, he and the show simply never address.

Neighborhood schools have become the bogeyman for all of society’s social failings, particularly from a class of moneyed interests who share both Democratic and Republican affiliations. For Brett and Michelle Pierson and many white parents of their education and class, all the education reform nonsense might “feel right” for minority kids — but just not for their children. The reality is that these power parents, who share a kinship with almost all of L.A.’s economic, political and media elite, do not want to send their own kids to a school that neo-liberal mayors of Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York, who aggressively pursued the reform agenda, created for the working-class kids of color they “served.” All these cities had school superintendents who believed in a different pedagogy for poor kids.

These are schools with ever-growing class sizes, maligned teachers, schools obsessed with standardized test-based “rigor,” stripped of arts, music, field trips, nurses, janitors, counselors, libraries, physical education, integrity, or as Education Secretary Arne Duncan might put it, “air.” They are schools deprived of much-needed physical repairs and teachers deprived of support and training in favor of ill-considered technological quick-fixes (the quicker the better!). Schools that have fallen victim to “market-based” reforms imposed without a shred of evidence of pedagogical effectiveness, except the fantasies of economists and billionaire businessmen who demanded them in the first place.

There is much more that can and has been said about the larger economic and political forces at work in the “reform” movement, and particularly the charter school industry. The sad reality is that almost anything can be imposed on the neighborhood schools of poor kids of color — testing, school closing, inexperienced “revolving door” teachers — because those parents simply do not have the same economic or political clout as their white counterparts. Race and class majority issues are profoundly uncomfortable, to the point of taboo, to speak about in these contexts.

Let us substitute instead, as does “Togetherness,” a code phrase: “test scores.”

As a viewer who flips back and forth from fantasy to reality versions of Eagle Rock, I wonder if the Piersons ever investigated the elementary schools in Eagle Rock. If they did, my bet is the reason they found them lacking was because middle-class whites weren’t the majority. The school automatically became suspect, and they used “test scores” — whatever the hell that means! — to justify looking elsewhere. “Test scores” are code words for minority underclass.

The political consultant in the car tells David, “You have to convince them that we’re gonna deliver way higher scores than Townsend Elementary, and with Anita’s track record we got a shot.”

We are left with two fantasies: that test scores (tests designed and scored by for-profit corporations, again without regard for pedagogical soundness) can be somehow divorced from neighborhood contexts of poverty, immigration status, English language proficiency, etc. And that a great school is “no more than a box and an inspired teacher inside of it.”

It’s easy to see why these fantasies are comforting, and why they have been so useful for certain political ends.

Parents like Michelle and Brett don’t have time to ask big policy questions about school funding inequity and collective responsibility. They — like everyone — want what’s best for their own kid, and believe they are acting on it. They seek out an alternative that they believe they can control — their own school.

When David Garcia finishes his impassioned speech before the overwhelmingly white Sacramento State Ed board, the chairman is savvy enough to recognize Garcia’s political ambitions and ask who will actually be running the proposed charter school.

The members of the Rainbow Coalition look at each other nervously. They have clearly never considered this. Anita, even with her “track record,” stays quiet.

Michelle nervously comes to the podium to declare that she — a mom with some “background in social work” — will be the “main man” at the school. She starts hesitantly, but gets stronger as she concludes: “It’s valuable to all our families who are eager to stay in Eagle Rock. They just need a good reason. This school is that reason. I find it very hard to accept that of the 100 charter schools in the state, not one is in my district when we need it more than most. I want to stick in and fight for my community. I do, but if we don’t get a good school then we are going to be forced to move like so many of our friends have. My kids need this school. Our community really needs this school and I need this school.”

Setting aside the grotesque assertion that Eagle Rock needs an alternative to its neighborhood public schools “more than most,” the notion of “community” put forward by Michelle here encapsulates the most insidious aspect of the charter school movement. With the exception of white middle-class children whose parents enroll them elsewhere, Eagle Rock public school demographics represent the racial and economic diversity of Eagle Rock community very well.

Though it must never be said out loud, this community is too much for the vision of Michelle’s “community.”

Michelle’s liberal conscience prods her to speak appreciatively about color and class diversity, but when that aspect of Eagle Rock’s community collides with her “community,” she wants to use a charter school to regain a sense of control.

The scenario is familiar in LAUSD from some of the charter school skirmishes on the West Side with parents with clout and power arguing for co-locations. This dinner table discussion is familiar to plenty of educated, middle-upper class parents in urban districts who would like to consider a local school — but…

Many are too busy in their own lives to do the true hard work of making public education better, so they leave it to “organizations” with a glossy spiel to do the heavy lifting and then sign up with them. Then they convince themselves that this is the best thing for their kid, and once that decision is made, they have a vested interest in believing it to the point where now they will do the hard work to preserve what they have for their kid.

And the show’s State Board of Education appears to lap it up.

If “Togetherness” showed the slightest shred of self-awareness, we might interpret this subplot as a radical critique of the worst elements of the charter school movement: its hollow rhetoric and pedagogical vacuity, its appeal to narrow self-interest, the way it divides communities and the way the state has embraced all of it uncritically for political (financial) ends.

Instead, it’s clear that the Duplass brothers and their characters are speaking completely un-ironically and obliviously about all their (now cliché) white privilege and entitlement and, yes, racism and classism in defining what constitutes “good” for them. With HBO’s endorsement, they believe (hope) that they are speaking for and to an affluent white audience who are rooting for these characters.

Michelle Pierson’s narcissistic appeal on behalf of the Eagle Rock Charter reveals her entire world view — that she and her kids ARE “the community” — and much of the charter school movement depends on that view.

Like everything else, art plays out on a socio-economic battlefield. You may not watch “Togetherness,” but people who shape the culture and economy do.

And the viewpoints depicted in the show trickle down Colorado Blvd. to L.A’.s District 5 school board race and join the debate throughout the rest of the country.

We should all be very, very concerned with the type of “togetherness” we are being sold here.

I invite my fellow citizens of Eagle Rock — the entire, real community — to work together to save our neighborhood public schools.

Even when it is sometimes from ourselves.

• Joshua Leibner is a National Board Certified Teacher who taught English, Film and Philosophy in the LA School system for twenty years. He lives in Eagle Rock/ Bennett Kayser's district/ ESC East -- the setting of both the fictional HBO series and the latest real life fight for L.A. schools.

•• smf's 2¢: When Hollywood comes to

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




HIPSTERS FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS: The big lie “Togetherness” tells about race and education |

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But at times they don't make sense.


TESTING IN K?: Districts adopting measures to assess students in earliest grades + smf’s 2¢ |

DEASY"S SALARY WAS $440,000 LAST YEAR ...and while they're at it, the @LADNschools publishes everyone's salary! |


ARTS ED LEAST AVAILABLE AT LAUSD’S POORER SCHOOLS: "What we find ourselves doing sometimes is putting the fewest dollars in the schools where the students need it the most"
Some schools in need to get more arts funding - The California Ed Code requires all kids be taught all 4 art forms – Visual Arts, Music, Theatre + Dance - every year from First to Sixth grade — but there is no mechanism enforce the law |

LAUSD DATA SHOWS ART STUDENTS CAN’T/DON’T ALWAYS PROGRESS + Curriculum Committee Mtg on Arts Cancelled |


RANDOMLY TWEETED: Graduation rates up in D.C. public schools, down for charter schools |



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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