Sunday, May 09, 2004

May 9th, Mother's Day 2004

My maternal great-grandmother came from a town in
Missouri that was locally famous at the time for one
thing: The town was home to the national champion
milk producing cow. The cow was named “Mom”.

My great-grandmother couldn’t abide cows. She hated
that cowtown and she hated that cow. She left that one
cow town as quickly as she could, leaving it and
“Mom” in her rearview mirror (if she had such a
thing!) as she moved to the metropolis of Oakland,

She never allowed her children to call her “Mom”. My
grandmother passed that tradition down to my mother
and she to me. My daughter calls my wife “Mom”,
some traditions have to end.

But motherhood endures.

About a hundred and seven years ago, long before
there was Mother’s Day, a bunch of mothers convened
a great Congress of Mothers in Washington DC — to
study the issues of children and childhood. Pediatrics
was a new science, child labor was an burning issue –
as was free kindergarten and universal public
education. An organization was formed at that first
convention: The National Congress of Mothers. That
organization eventually became the PTA ...when they
decided to let fathers and teachers in!

Fast forward to now: PTA Conventions are still mostly
mothers, a sisterhood (with a smattering of the Y
chromosome challenged) coming together to share,
network and advocate; to learn together about the
issues of children and childhood. We need more
fathers in the organization to be sure, and more
teachers and students too — but not so many menfolk
as to get in the way! When a whole bunch of women
get together, great things happen – I’ve been there!

- smf

I spent the past week at the above referenced event. I
am a true believer in PTA - and in parent involvement.
And Yes, there is always so much to learn when you
get together with five thousand like-minded folks and
share your experiences.

We heard from Chauncy Veach, the 2002 National
Teacher of the Year - in reality, the Teacher of the
Millennium! His story, of teaching as a second career
in the migrant worker/farm labor communities of
Riverside County is ultimately the story of the kids he
teaches and their families – of immigrant families and
the wealth of the immigrant experience – and the
American Dream lived on a scale that would make
Steinbeck proud.

His eleventh and twelfth grade farm labor students all
graduate high school. All go on to college. Half of
them plan to become teachers. Next year Veach will
teach both high school and preschool — how truly
fortunate all those kids, little and large, will be!

We heard also from State Schools Superintendent Jack
O’Connell - who gave the same speech he gave last
week to the K-12 Summit in Burbank (see the May 1st
4LAKids). O’Connell is a man on a mission – speaking
and running to the next gig. I hope he soon finds time
to stop and listen to the folks he’s stalking to have to

National PTA President Linda Hodge addressed the
budget crisis in public education, and quoted from
Teddy Roosevelt: Our mission must be to “do what we
can, with what we have, where we are!” She reminded
us that we are all on the same team and that when our
team wins, children win.

Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Darleen Robles described a new PTA/LA County Office of Education
partnership - creating PTAs and opportunities for
parent involvement at county schools for at-risk youth.

Educator Anne Henderson spoke of the benefits and
challenges of parent involvement - “a prescription for
education reform with no negative side effects” - and
of the education establishment’s ingrained and inbred
resistance to parent involvement, which it publicly
praises but ultimately shortchanges and undervalues.
Parent and education leaders must recognize that low
income parents are involved in their children’s
education - but that involvement is usually in the home
and not at the school.

PBS Filmmaker John Merrow (“From First to
Worst”), a critic and a champion of public education
laid out his twelve step program to save public

1.Admit we have a problem.
2.Stop obsessing about the Achievement Gap (a racial
stereotype) and instead address the Opportunity Gap
and the Outcome Gap (an economic model)
3.Use teachers to teach what they are trained to teach.
(Math teachers should teach math, history teachers
4. Rethink ‘No Child Left Behind’ - it should be Every
Child Brought Ahead. This is not semantics, it’s a
mindset about educating every child.
5. Pop the bubble test bubble. Eliminate multiple
choice achievement tests.
6. Treat teachers better.
7. Eliminate seniority rights and rethink tenure.
8. Reorganize teacher training.
9. Real authority and real accountability for principals
over hiring, firing and budgeting.
10. Arts and phys. ed. are education basics and need to
be in the curriculum.
11. End retention and social promotion in K-3 - age
segregation is only for the benefit of adults and the
system, not for children!
12. Create high quality free universal pre-schools.
Prepare youngsters for school.

Revolutionary stuff? Only if you’re on the wrong side
of the barricades!

State PTA President Carla Niño congratulated the
members for what they’ve done so far at their schools
and in PTA councils and districts. She reminded all
that PTA is being asked to help fill in for budget
shortfalls - but that any such solutions must be short
term. PTA is not a fundraising arm of public
education, it’s an advocate for children - whether in
the principal’s office, school board or state or national
capitol. There’s a million of us in California, Tens of
millions nationwide. And we vote!

At the end of the convention we heard from Worleen
Gary, National PTA’s CEO. She put PTA in the
context of the civil rights movement - and this on the
50th anniversary of Brown v. Education. I am going to
write more on Fifty Years After Brown – the true
watershed in public education – in a future 4LAKids
and will quote Ms. Gary at length at that time. And
where I don’t quote I’ll plagiarize!

In addition to the speakers there were conferences and
breakouts and networking, horror stories and small
victories recounted. We were entertained by young
people with great talent. We made plans and
concocted conspiracies. We compared notes.

• Did you know that the police can come to your
child’s school and interrogate your child without your
permission? Without any requirement that you ever be
notified? Or even that even a teacher or administrator
be present? PTA is working on that.

• Did you know that allergies and asthma and
‘adult-onset’ diabetes are epidemic among school
children? • That today’s children are at risk of having
shorter life expectancies than their parents because of
poor exercise and nutrition? • That indoor air in
schools is usually more polluted than outdoor air?
(...and that “fresh air” isn’t even a standard in EPA
literature?) • That only 2.8¢ of every federal tax dollar
supports education? PTA is working on these things.

I have been to six California PTA conventions; this is
the first where we did not hear from either the
governor or the first lady (or both). I said ‘heard from’
because we saw the governor in the form of a
cardboard cutout on the stage. I hope he was too busy
working on education reform to visit us!

May 3, 2004

Elementary students in Los Angeles public schools are
getting a better education today than they were five
years ago. It's a simple statement, but not one that
could have been written for most of the last few
decades. Test scores are rising, a strong reading
program is well established and math teaching is being
strengthened. The district still has very far to go,
especially in its struggling upper grades. It is also at a

Budget cuts forced by the loss of state funding are
stirring up old tensions over money, jobs and power. If
the district is to keep improving, its power centers —
unions, the school board and the superintendent —
need to put their fighting instincts in check and keep
the focus on students' needs.

The fate of the 11 subdistricts that manage the huge
district's 800 schools is what's at issue. Teachers union
leaders want more administrative blood spilled in a
final round of cuts, and the school board — dominated
by union-backed members — seems ready to oblige.
The board has ordered Supt. Roy Romer to take an ax,
not a scalpel, to the local districts, a system that
Romer credits for rising test scores but that the union
says demoralizes teachers.

The local districts, with superintendents who earn
more than $150,000 and mushrooming administrative
staffs, suck up money that could be used to cushion
cuts that have reduced counselors, nurses and social
workers and forced teachers and principals to spring
for pencils, chalk and toilet paper, says United
Teachers-Los Angeles President John Perez. "No
teacher, no school secretary, no bus driver … is going
to believe this district has a budget crisis if the
mini-districts are not collapsed."

But Romer argues that student achievement has begun
to creep up only because of the tight supervision
provided by local district staffers, who visit
classrooms, coach teachers and ensure that
standardized lesson plans are followed. Academic
gains have come "because we forced them," Romer

Perez considers that "command and control" system an
insult. The union wants to end classroom inspections
and "demoralizing" audits of failing schools. That
might return power to teachers, but it's hard to see
how it would lift student achievement. Leaving it to
teachers and individual schools to run the nation's
second-largest system has been tried and failed.

Still, it's time for Romer to accept that cuts in the
district's top-heavy structure are inevitable. The local
districts that work best succeed because of talented
leaders who inspire teachers, principals and parents to
work together and fit reforms to student needs. Those
leaders could be just as effective in a less expensive
structure; the others ought to be eased out. A new
structure could focus more attention on the district's
biggest challenge — its failing middle and high

Parents and other taxpayers have had a taste of a
district where educational needs, not merely politics or
job patronage, help drive the decision-making. They
won't stand long for backsliding.

Daily News: LAUSD MAY BE OVERBUILDING – 10-year report predicts modest student growth + Editorial
By Jennifer Radcliffe - Staff Writer

Tuesday, May 04, 2004 - With a new report showing
only modest student growth over the next decade, Los
Angeles Unified School District board members
questioned Tuesday whether the district's ambitious
$10 billion construction plan could lead to
overbuilding new schools.

Los Angeles Unified's student population is expected
to peak at about 759,000 in 2010-11, but then fall to
752,000 in 2013-14 -- just 5,000 more than current
levels, according to a report released Tuesday.
Previous reports showed the district's enrollment
would reach 775,000 by 2009.

"Before, the danger of overbuilding was very limited,"
said Roger Rasmussen, LAUSD deputy budget
director. "There is a possibility of overbuilding now
that never existed before."

Since 1997, voters have approved $9.6 billion in
construction bonds and the state matches part of that
money. The LAUSD needs to build more schools so
students no longer have to attend year-round schools
or be bused out of their neighborhoods to less
crowded campuses. More than 160 new schools are
planned over the next decade.

Some LAUSD officials said the need to relieve
overcrowding is so great that there is no danger of
building too many schools. Original projections
showed that the $10 billion construction plan would
still leave the district 40,000 seats short.

"Will the need go away? Will all of a sudden everyone
be on two-semester calendars and we have extra
schools? No, I don't think so," said Glenn Gritzner,
special assistant to the superintendent.

But if the demographics aren't studied carefully, the
district may overbuild in some areas. Location is just
as important as quantity, board member David
Tokofsky said.

"If you miss a local district by 1,500 kids, we could
overbuild two elementary schools there," Tokofsky
said. "What I'm worried about is stupid planning of
locations of schools. The growth will come back, but it
may not come back in areas we're dropping the cement
and bricks."

Certain pockets of the district, such as the west San
Fernando Valley, have seen enrollment decreases, said
Rena Perez, director of master planning.

"In some areas of the Valley, we're seeing some
schools that aren't getting the enrollment we thought,
but we don't know exactly why yet," she said.

Elementary schools are seeing the biggest lag, which
some officials attribute to slowing birth rates and the
slumping economy.

But predicting people's patterns is a tough order,
Gritzner said.

"We're not omniscient," he said. "We don't have crystal

Making matters tougher, the LAUSD will be forced to
consider a slew of new, more subtle issues, such as
whether opening new neighborhood campuses will
really attract students back from magnet and private
schools, board members said.

Eliminating involuntary busing is also expected to
create big shifts in attendance patterns.

"We're going to have a school in all the
neighborhoods. The kids aren't going to be on buses. If
the neighbors don't come back, the schools are going
to have to close," board member Marlene Canter said.

The LAUSD will have to market its new schools better
to convince parents that they are quality facilities.

If they don't, "Our field of dreams may not happen,"
Canter said.

* * * * * * *


LAUSD officials could be overcompensating after
decades of neglect

Wednesday, May 05, 2004 - For decades, the Los
Angeles Unified School District neglected maintenance
of existing schools and failed to build new ones, even
as the student population soared. The result is severe
overcrowding in classrooms, a year-round school
schedule for many and students bused miles every day.

Now, after more than $10 billion from taxpayers, the
LAUSD could face a very different problem in the next
decade -- it may be overcompensating for years of
inaction by building more schools than are needed.

The LAUSD's own figures project a peak, then a
decline, of student growth in the next six to seven
years, prompting some on the Board of Education to
rightly wonder whether the massive construction plan
might lead to too many schools.

Considering how precious land is in Los Angeles and
how many other capital needs existing schools have, it
would be a wise decision for the district to re-evaluate
the construction program to make sure the zeal to ease
overcrowding doesn't create an entirely new problem.

• smf notes: The fact that the LAUSD has undertaken
a ten-year-plan at all is the good news! Any
information contained in such a plan has to be good
news too — absent demographic projections we are
just guessing, wishing and hoping!

The fact that this ten year plan hasn’t been shared with
the Bond Oversight Committee — charged under state
law with oversight of the building program — is the
bad news!

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Tuesday May 11, 2004

Ramona Opportunity High School Design Update Meeting
6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Ramona Opportunity High School
231 S. Alma Ave.
Los Angeles, California 90063

• Wednesday May 12, 2004

Banning New Elementary School #1 Groundbreaking Ceremony
Please join us to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new community school!
Ceremony will begin at 10 a.m.

Banning New Elementary School #1
500 North Island Avenue
Wilmington, CA 90744

Central Los Angeles High School #11 (Vista Hermosa - former Belmont LC) – Design Development and Project Update Meeting
6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Plasencia Elementary School Auditorium
1321 Cortez St.
Los Angeles, CA 90026

*Dates and times subject to change.

• Thursday May 13, 2004


Board Room - LAUSD Headquarters
333 S. Beaudry
Los Angeles, 90017

Free validated parking on Boyleston St. - follow signs
Next Meeting 10AM Wednesday May 19th

Board Room - LAUSD Headquarters
333 S. Beaudry
Los Angeles, 90017

Free validated parking on Boyleston St. - follow signs
Phone: 213.241.4700
Phone: 213.633.7616


4LAKids Book Club for April & May – LETTERS TO THE NEXT PRESIDENT: What We Can do about the Real Crisis in Public Education
Carl Glickman, Editor, Prologue by Bill Cosby,
Epilogue by The Late U. S. Senator Paul Wellstone (Teachers College Press, 2004 Paperback: 272 pages)

GOTTEN US INTO - from the prologue by Bill Cosby

Dear President-to-Be,

I'm looking at the junkiest room I've ever seen. It is a classroom in an American public school; it is public education in America today. A child did not make the room junky; generations of litterers — legislators, school board members, superintendents, principals, taxpayers, teachers and presidents did.

Given the mess, it is a wonder that our children are able to do even as well as they do. We must be grateful that there always have been talented and determined teachers who find their way through the maze of rules and special interests and do what they became teachers
to do: help their students shine.

Our neighborhood schools are cluttered and
crumbling. Of course, I'm assuming that anyone
applying to be president probably never went to a poor and neglected public school where books have missing pages, walls have peeling paint and children have nothing to write with. Wealthy people comfort themselves that money is not the issue. But nothing dear to America was ever maintained without it. We need money to secure great teachers, money to update
teaching methods, money for technology and supplies, and money for time.

Time is a precious commodity and teachers need it to plan lessons and meet with students, parents and administrators.

When the junk is cleaned out of that junky room, its structure is sound: Public education is a good foundation on which to build a better life for each of us. And if we want to prove to these children who never made the mess in the first place that education is worth the trouble, our schools have to inspire them so they can do what they ought to do.

A young teacher, returning to college to hone her
skills, asks herself why she wants to teach children who do not have a safe environment to learn in and who lack resources and support from administrators and family. Besides her intrinsic love for teaching, we need to give her a reason to stay.

We must make firm commitments to educators who can show us the way, and learn from the many clear examples of their success. The media constantly focus our attention on the very worst schools when we should really have before us, like shining examples, these school success stories. Why do we accept failure as an example when we can demand that the successes be made visible?

School leaders have to be seen to be heard and to be supported. And we ought to pay them livable salaries, at least enough to afford the chalk and crayons and countless other supplies they buy out of their own pockets. I invite you to look into this room. You can say to our nation, "We must begin — we cannot wait
for someone else to clear out the mess."

• This stellar collection of more than 30 letters speaks to the heart of public education, the future of American students, and the need for an educated and engaged citizenry. Contributors include students, parents, teachers, prominent educators, and public
leaders who write to our next president, and to all fellow citizens, in an honest and direct way about the dangerous shortcomings of current state and federal policies. The letters provide provocative answers to
critical questions such as:

• What kind of education do we want for all of our children?
• What changes must we make to achieve that goal?
• How do we ensure that the voices of parents,
teachers, students, and citizens who care deeply about public education are heard at local, state, and national levels?

This timely volume provides a strong response to government intrusions that have resulted in thousands of pages of simplistic directives and under-funded requirements for local schools and districts. It offers practical and just solutions for guaranteeing higher standards with comprehensive assessments, allocating
equitable resources with responsible local control; attracting and retaining good teachers; improving school choice and the promise of small schools; providing for universal high quality early childhood education, and ensuring a rich, academically sound and engaging curriculum-both inside and outside of school—for all students.

Get LETTERS TO THE NEXT PRESIDENT from your local library, bookstore - or order it by clicking here.