Saturday, March 10, 2007

Doin' the X rated math

4LAKids: Sunday, March 11, 2007
In This Issue:
VILLARAIGOSA'S FRUSTRATION: Packing a school board with allies is harder than it seems
IS THIS THE PART THEY CALL REFORM? Villaraigosa doesn’t win a decisive victory, and one of his own candidates is already minimizing his role
7% decide the future — Riordan: EVERYONE SHOULD VOTE IN LAUSD ELECTION
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
4LAKids Anthology: All the Past Issues, solved, resolved and unsolved!
4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
Last Tuesday’s election produced a 7.26% voter turnout. 128,516 Angelinos out of 1,769,913 registered bothered to vote.

I quote myself in this 4LAKids as saying that the campaign fundraising in LAUSD school board elections is obscene. Tuesday 7% of the eligible voters voted — that makes the previous obscenity look like a Sunday school picnic at the pussycat theater!

The battle for board of education seats on Tuesday wasn’t fought at the ballot box between the candidates; it was fought in the checkbook between two special interests: The mayor and business leaders, real estate developers and the charter school community v. the teachers union.

How did they fare?

The mayor’s team spent about $1.5 million and won one, lost one and got two runoffs.

UTLA spent about $975,000 and won one and got a runoff in the other.

In fairness (though why bother?) in the two wins UTLA conceded one race to the mayor and the mayor pretended not to be involved in another …though his backers were all over that one with their money!

My quick math shows that the mayor managed to buy a total 30,041 votes for $49 each and UTLA bought 23,778 votes for $41. each. (The union has more members than that!) This is based on very fuzzy, incomplete and speculative campaign finance data – I’ve seen projections that each vote in the Valley’s District 3 (which faces a runoff) cost Hizzoner & Co. closer to $90-95+!

This appalling turnout despite over-a year-of headline ink, florid rhetoric, legislative shenanigans, obscene money and court action describing LAUSD as a failure —with the mayor declaring that school district reform is the defining issue in Los Angeles and the fulcrum of his political career says much. And also very little about not much …and not very loud.

Former Mayor Riordan wrote an excellent get out the vote op-ed in the Daily News on Monday that bears re-reading. He bemoans the last school board election with its 19% turnout …yet his good words, and the mayor, the union, the candidates, parents, billionaires and my best efforts produce 7.26% this time? Read between Riordan’s lines: As long as we continue have local elections in off years we will get abysmal turnouts and bad legislation masquerading as reform. We will get “more of the same” – results the children and the adults don’t deserve.

And as for the mayor and the charter community’s call for a cluster of LAUSD public schools they can run: they’ve got ‘em! There are 100 charter schools within the district. They don’t answer to the Board of Education. They get taxpayer funds that they can pretty much spend as they wish. I doubt if those schools are really interested in answering to the mayor – the charter school parents that have been advocating for mayoral control have been advocating for mayoral control of ‘other people’s schools’. And I suspect that the taxpayers paying the mayor’s salary would rather have potholes fixed and public order maintained – and the courts might look askance — but none of that seems to have stopped much so far!

Go for it and stop talking about it! All we ask is measurable results.

MEANWHILE, IN SACRAMENTO: The long awaited series of twenty-three studies on California public education finance will be released on Wednesday. The studies identify challenges and problems; they do not propose policy or solutions. A small number of lawmakers and government officials have had advance look at the studies — we can expect a flurry of plans, denials, quick fixes and excuses almost immediately. Hopefully, in time we can also see some ways towards a conclusion that will serve California’s schoolchildren and taxpayers. Otherwise we will simply have 23 more studies filling shelves.

Onward - smf

VILLARAIGOSA'S FRUSTRATION: Packing a school board with allies is harder than it seems

from The Economist | UK

Mar 8th 2007 | LOS ANGELES — Last week Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, took journalists to visit a high school in a gang-ridden area. As the mayor's bus drew to a halt, a pupil at the school, who was supposed to symbolise plucky dedication to learning in a tough place, scrawled a graffito on the side. Mr Villaraigosa is having a miserable time with the city's schools. Compared with the treatment he has received from education officials, the teachers' unions and, this week, voters in school board elections, the hooded youth was almost respectful.

California's schools were once among America's best. In the past three decades, though, they have been hobbled by anti-tax measures, powerful teachers' unions and state bureaucracy. In 2005 California's 14-year-olds came joint 44th among the 50 states in mathematics tests, tying with West Virginia. In reading they ranked 49th.

For Mr Villaraigosa, whose city contains some of the state's worst schools, this is both a problem and an opportunity. Rudolph Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, is running strongly in the presidential race thanks largely to his competent response to two crises: a sky-high murder rate and the terrorist attacks of September 2001. What criminals and terrorists did for Mr Giuliani's career, dismal schools could do for Mr Villaraigosa's. But only if he can work out how to improve them.

The mayor at first proposed to take control of the entire Los Angeles school system, following the lead of Michael Bloomberg in New York and Richard Daley in Chicago. That plan was rewritten until it was acceptable to the teachers' unions. Last year the state assembly gave Mr Villaraigosa some power over three high schools and the 30-odd elementary and middle schools that feed them. In a district that serves some 708,000 pupils, it hardly qualified as a power grab. But it was still too much for the Los Angeles school board, which successfully sued to stop the mayor. The matter is now in the hands of lawyers.

Mr Villaraigosa then tried to pack the school board with allies. A committee controlled by the mayor poured money into three races for the seven-strong board on March 6th, with the unions spending almost as heavily on the other side. The result was frustrating for the mayor. A strong supporter was crushed and surprisingly effective campaigns by union allies forced two run-offs, set for May. Even if both Mr Villaraigosa's candidates prevail, the reformers will have a majority of just one.

As the mayor's plans gather dust, there are encouraging signs of progress elsewhere. Los Angeles has some 100 charter schools, which are paid for by the state but more or less independent of it. They practise many of the things that Mr Villaraigosa has said he wants for the whole system, such as longer school days, smaller classes and more powerful principals. Despite opposition from the teachers' unions and the school board, they are growing in number.

So far the charter schools have posted test results that are hardly, if at all, better than those of ordinary schools. But as William Ouchi, who follows school reform at UCLA, points out, they have introduced much-needed competition into the school district. Black parents in the poorest parts of Los Angeles are queuing to send their children (and thus, indirectly, state cash) to the new schools. To counter that, the district announced in January that it would allow “autonomous” schools to open: less independent than the charter schools, but more independent than the norm.

So Los Angeles's schools are changing. But reform is coming much too slowly to boost Mr Villaraigosa's political career. He needs to look for another battle.

IS THIS THE PART THEY CALL REFORM? Villaraigosa doesn’t win a decisive victory, and one of his own candidates is already minimizing his role

by David Zahniser | LA Weekly

Wednesday, March 7, 2007 - If only there were a way we could freeze this moment in Los Angeles politics. Just for a year, maybe two. One day after the school board election, voters finally found themselves with perhaps the perfect resolution to the 20-month, yet seemingly endless, battle between Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Unified School District. That’s because suddenly, neither side had the upper hand.

Tuesday’s election results showed that even after he poured $1.5 million into his three chosen candidates, Villaraigosa had, for the time being at least, failed to obtain a four-seat majority on the school board. Yet United Teachers Los Angeles, the employee union that spent $975,000 to preserve its own grip on L.A. Unified, also found it lacked a majority. Ah, sweet impasse!

The UTLA had three seats, compared to Villaraigosa’s two. The remaining two school board races now head to a May runoff election that will pit prosecutor Tamar Galatzan against school board member Jon Lauritzen in the San Fernando Valley and retired schools Superintendent Richard Vladovic against former school principal Neal Kleiner in the southernmost section of L.A. Unified.

Voters will have to wait two more months to see whether Villaraigosa — backed by the contributions of business leaders and real estate developers — can install a new school board that will do what a judge wouldn’t: let him run three of L.A. Unified’s low-performing high schools and maybe even remake the district’s governing structure. Villaraigosa, you may recall, failed to implement his Sacramento school-takeover bill once a Superior Court judge declared it unconstitutional.

In other words, the first round of election 2007 saw a murky, confusing campaign come to a murky, confusing end. No one seemed sure who was on which side in the school board smack-down, with Villaraigosa and the UTLA — long-standing allies going back two decades — obscuring their true allegiances and avoiding a direct confrontation in every school board race but one.

Officially, Villaraigosa had fielded three candidates — county executive Yolie Flores Aguilar on the Eastside, Vladovic in the South and Galatzan in the Valley. Yet Team Villaraigosa was also not-so-secretly rooting for a fourth contender: charter-school executive Johnathan Williams, a man Villaraigosa favored in South Los Angeles but could not endorse directly for fear of provoking a backlash from the city’s African-American political establishment.

To confuse matters further, voters who made Villaraigosa’s candidates the clear front-runners also overwhelmingly passed Charter Amendment L, a measure that creates a school board “compensation committee” — a panel designed to boost the pay of board members and nudge them toward full-time status. Villaraigosa voted for Measure L even though his own school bill clearly sought to strip the school board of its power.

If his bill is upheld by a higher court, L.A. Unified could see a day when the school board has far less authority even as it is paid, uh, considerably more. Is this the part they call reform?

Villaraigosa, for his part, said he supported Measure L because it would make it easier for the public to track and limit campaign fund-raising by school board members. Yet nothing in the measure would increase disclosure for the campaign committees that raise six-figure donations on behalf of school board candidates — groups such as the mayor’s Partnership for Better Schools.

By Monday, the mayor’s committee had dropped a whopping $1.2 million into Galatzan’s campaign, all for a post that pays $24,000 annually. That added up to roughly $95 per vote — a sum that doesn’t even count the money Galatzan spent from sources other than the mayor.

Standing outside Galatzan’s election-night party, Villaraigosa insisted that Measure L would allow him to scale back the school board’s duties, leaving most of the big decisions to L.A. Unified’s superintendent. The mayor even hinted that school board members are making too much money as it is.

“I don’t think that they should be compensated at the rate they’re currently compensated,” Villaraigosa said. “If you look at the L.A. County Board of Education, I think they get $100 or $150 per meeting. The problem with the school board is that it has been full-time.”

Yet as the ballots were being tallied, one of Villaraigosa’s own candidates signaled that she isn’t all that keen about seeing her duties disappear under a Villaraigosa scenario. Aguilar, who handily defeated middle-school teacher Bennett Kayser in the mostly Latino district stretching from Silver Lake to South Gate, said she saw no need for Villaraigosa to diminish the school board’s role now that a new slate of board members is taking office.

“I certainly don’t want those powers diminished,” Aguilar declared at her victory party.

Indeed, Aguilar seemed only partly in sync with Villaraigosa’s agenda. Aguilar said she welcomes Villaraigosa’s involvement in three low-performing high schools and promised to ask her colleagues to reconsider its legal challenge to the mayor’s bill once she takes office in July.

Still running: Prosecutor and school board candidate Tamar Galatzan got the most votes in her district but faces a May runoff.
But Aguilar was much cooler toward one of the bill’s more vindictive provisions, which would deny school board members the ability to hire their own office staff. With an effective school board, that prerogative should be preserved, Aguilar declared.

“And if not, I’m going to raise my own money to have staff,” she said. “I need my staff. Absolutely. Because like any elected official, you need your staff that is loyal to you, that understands what your constituents need.”

Those comments drew a jab from school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who opposed the mayor’s bill and is the one incumbent who handily fended off a challenge. “You can’t have two masters,” she said. “You can’t be both for [the Villaraigosa bill] and against it.”

It just seems that things were simpler back in 1999, when the battle for the soul of L.A. Unified was a clear contest between two forces that hated each other’s guts: the UTLA and then-Mayor Richard Riordan. In that election, Riordan picked four candidates, dumped a pile of money on them and swept the teachers union’s candidates out the door. Four years later, the UTLA exacted its revenge, knocking out two of Riordan’s candidates.

These days, things are far more opaque. Once viewed as an electoral powerhouse, the UTLA settled for defensive rear-guard action this year, working to defend incumbents LaMotte and Lauritzen while staying silent in two other races. The union’s timid approach was yet more blow-back from its decision last summer to back Villaraigosa’s school bill. While UTLA’s leadership favored a backroom deal with the mayor in Sacramento, the outraged rank and file formally voted to oppose the bill, weeks after Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had signed it.

That leaves UTLA and Villaraigosa fighting on just one front — the upcoming runoff battle between Lauritzen and Galatzan. On Tuesday, Galatzan clearly spoke as though she had the momentum, having pulled five percentage points ahead of her opponent. “I think the voters understood that this election was about more than a new school board. This was about the future of Los Angeles,” she said.

Actually, most of the voters understood that they needed to ignore the race entirely, since only 9.3 percent of the electorate cast votes in the Galatzan race, according to preliminary figures. Still, if Galatzan wins, she will have cemented her district’s status as an arena for electoral combat. In the past eight years, UTLA-backed Jeff Horton was pushed out by Riordan-backed Caprice Young, who was turned out by UTLA-backed Lauritzen, who is now being targeted by Villaraigosa-backed Galatzan. Fortunately for the public, Measure L also imposes term limits, to make sure board members don’t stay too long.

Villaraigosa seemed to acknowledge that the public is growing tired of the continual city-school combat. The mayor said he had placed a call to Lauritzen on Election Day pledging to work with him — a bizarre move considering Villaraigosa is trying to oust him.

Lauritzen, in turn, planned to hang on to his seat even as he receives chemotherapy for the brain cancer that forced him to undergo radiation treatment last year. “He is overcoming that, just as he will overcome this election,” said Lauritzen chief of staff Ed Burke, who described Lauritzen’s cancer as being in remission.

While Villaraigosa bet the farm on Galatzan, he found himself tiptoeing around South Los Angeles, refusing to endorse African-American candidate Williams, the charter-school founder and advocate who tried to unseat LaMotte, the school board’s only black member. Indeed, each time reporters asked him, Villaraigosa insisted that he had not picked a candidate in the race.

The city’s black elected officials weren’t buying it. Councilwoman Jan Perry, one of several black leaders supporting LaMotte, accused Villaraigosa weeks ago of recruiting Williams and assembling his campaign team. After all, Williams was the mayor’s commissioner at the Department of Recreation and Parks. Villaraigosa’s political consultant Ace Smith was assigned to Williams’ campaign. And the Accelerated School, which Williams runs, was used as the backdrop for Villaraigosa’s education-themed State of the City address in 2006, where he spoke in favor of mayoral control of L.A. Unified.

U.S. Representative Maxine Waters urged Villaraigosa to stay neutral on Williams. And Councilman Bernard Parks, the former police chief who campaigned heavily for Villaraigosa in 2005, declared weeks ago that the black community would fight “tooth and nail” to protect LaMotte.

LaMotte beat Williams by a 2-1 margin. On election night, Parks argued that voters in LaMotte’s district had sent a message to the contributors “outside the community” who had bankrolled Williams — a group ranging from Riordan to Wal-Mart executives in Arkansas to Beverly Hills dowager Edith Wasserman, who gave a $100,000 contribution to the charter-school executive.

If the school board races were obscure and largely ignored, the contests for the Los Angeles City Council were straightforward and ugly. Five incumbents had no opposition, two others handily won re-election, and one former councilman — Richard Alarcón — returned to reclaim the seat he left in 1998.

In the only two contests with even a whiff of competition, the campaigns were devastatingly negative. How else to describe an election where one candidate’s head was superimposed on top of a frog, a second was made to look like Homer Simpson, and two others were accused of coddling sex offenders?

The race on the Eastside between Councilman Jose Huizar and embittered council aide Alvin Parra went negative early and often, with Parra portraying Huizar as a lazy cuss who grew bored with the job less than a year after he was elected. Huizar, in turn, described Parra as a three-time loser with nothing to offer the electorate except trash talk.

Parra did manage to rattle Huizar’s cage, forcing the councilman to hustle on such issues as a recycling facility in Boyle Heights, open space in El Sereno and development fights in Mount Washington. Huizar, a land-use lawyer known for bragging about his planning degree from Princeton University, didn’t help himself by doing illegal construction work at his El Sereno home — a screw-up from 2003 that came back to haunt him in this year’s campaign.

But the outcome was never in doubt, thanks to Huizar’s 5-1 fund-raising advantage. Huizar used his campaign bankroll of more than $300,000, amassed in large part by developers and lobbyists who will need his vote on the council’s powerful Planning and Land Use Management Committee, and blew Parra out of the water on Election Day.

A similar narrative played out in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, where Alarcón handily defeated Monica Rodriguez, an executive with the California Association of Realtors. A veteran politician in the San Fernando Valley, Alarcón secured 54 percent of the vote despite a steady drumbeat of criticism over his decision to run for council just days after he won a seat in the state Assembly.

Still, victory did not come without humiliating moments. Asked to appear on the Telemundo newsmagazine En Contexto, Alarcón answered questions while sitting under a huge graphic displaying the word “¿Oportunista?”

Rodriguez hammered on Alarcón for hopping from campaign to campaign, highlighting his bids for Los Angeles mayor, state Senate and state Assembly by plastering his mug on a frog. She also produced the most blisteringly negative mailer of the 2007 election — one that linked Alarcón’s lack of commitment to his Assembly district to infidelity in his romantic life. The piece zeroed in on Alarcón’s penchant for spending campaign money on his current girlfriend, past girlfriend and ex-wife.

Privately, most council members groaned at the thought of Alarcón returning to City Hall. But in the face of the political machine assembled by Villaraigosa and Speaker Fabian Núñez, no one wanted to step out and endorse Rodriguez, leaving her to be crushed by Alarcón’s well-funded campaign. And so now the council has Alarcón to contend with once again, quite probably until 2013. Unless, of course, the voters relax term limits yet again, letting him stay even longer.

7% decide the future — Riordan: EVERYONE SHOULD VOTE IN LAUSD ELECTION
by Richard J. Riordan, Opinion in LA Daily News

March 5, 2007 - When surveyed, people in Los Angeles and across the nation identify education as their top public-policy concern - as they should.

After all, education has a direct impact on our economy, our crime rate and our homeless rate - virtually all of our city's greatest social challenges. And right now, Los Angeles public schools are in a crisis; despite the almost $8 billion annual district budget, 50 percent of Los Angeles public-school students are dropping out before graduation.

Can you imagine a more shameful figure than our schools' 50 percent dropout rate?

Unfortunately, there is one - and that's the alarmingly low percentage of registered voters who cast their ballots in the last L.A. school board election, a mere 19 percent.

If we truly value our children and our democracy, then we need to change our behavior, and fast.

Four of the seven Los Angeles school board seats are up for election Tuesday, and I urge every Angeleno to go to the polls to express his or her concern for our next generation. Our public officials need to be held accountable.

With more than 700,000 children attending Los Angeles public schools, I believe it is our moral obligation to vote. This is not a partisan issue. Nor is this an issue that only affects the parents of public-school students. It affects every one of us.

The wealthy families that currently pay a "double-tax" in the form of their children's private school tuitions have reason to go to the polls.

The employers who cannot find a quality, literate work force have reason to go to the polls.

Those afraid to leave their homes at night in fear of gangs - gangs whose recruitment efforts prey on high school dropouts - have reason to go the polls.

Keep in mind that your vote in a school board race has a far greater impact than it would in a national or gubernatorial election. In fact, in the 2006 race for school board member Jose Huizar's vacant seat, less than 25,000 people voted. This means that less than 25,000 people made a decision that would affect all 3.2 million Angelenos.

What should we look for in ideal candidates? Without a doubt, the three most critical attributes are a commitment to always placing children first, a will for change and a proven track record.

We cannot afford to have people in office who are representing adults rather than children. With so much money poured into school board elections by the unions, this becomes a real and ongoing concern.

We must vote for school board leaders who will demand and deliver reform, individuals who feel outraged by the status quo in our schools.

The only way we, as voters, can actually know whether this year's candidates have the capacity to deliver on their reform promises is to look at their track records.

Regardless of whether you support Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's mayoral takeover legislation, you must surely agree with its premise. We need real accountability in our school system.

Until we have the mayor to hold accountable, as residents of Boston, New York City and Chicago do, then we must take that extra step and show up to vote in off-year elections. We must pay careful attention to our school board members and to these critical races.

Our city's voter apathy is particularly shameful in light of the extreme sacrifices that have been made at home and abroad securing an individual's right to vote. Democracy is a privilege. Let's make it work. Only by doing so will we have the chance to make our public schools work, too.

• Richard J. Riordan, counsel with the law firm of Bingham McCutchen LLP, is former mayor of Los Angeles and former California secretary of education.


Mayor Riordan and I haven’t agreed on much recently. PTA in LA has sued to block Mayor Villaraigosa’s school takeover which Riordan supports with varying enthusiasm - I certainly don’t buy Riordan’s “until we have the mayor to hold accountable” for LAUSD hogwash.

But Tuesday’s election had only a 7% turnout and I do agree with him on his identification of the problem here: Low voter turnout/apathy/whatever …in (I quote) “off-year elections”.

Here’s what I propose, and maybe it’s something we can all work on together: Parents, teachers, voters, taxpayers; valley folk and city folk; current and past mayors.

LA’s City Charter calls for municipal and school board electons to fall when the do – in March and May of odd numbered years — in off-year elections. Let’s change that to the dates of the primaries and general elections for national and statewide elections — in even numbered years. When congressmen, assembly members, senators and the governor and president are on the ballot!

This will save the taxpayer’s money and the voter’s time — and make our visits to polling places more meaningful. Who knows, more people might actually vote in fewer elections!

Scott Folsom, president
Los Angeles Tenth District PTA


by Anthony York | Editor of Capitol Weekly. (Sacramento)

March 7th, 2007 -- California schools are woefully under-funded--one estimate of the shortage hovered at an astonishing $1 trillion--according to a massive new study due next week that is believed to be the most comprehensive evaluation ever of California's education system.

The omnibus document, a collection of nearly two-dozen reports, is all but certain to set off a new policy debate in the education community and yet another political battle in the Legislature over education funding.

The reports are not simply designed to place a dollar figure on what is needed in the schools. They are expected to take a much deeper look at California's maze of education funding, and how the state might make better use of the dollars it is already spending on public schools.

The work is the result of 23 separate studies conducted by four separate foundations, and requested by Democratic legislative leaders, state superintendent Jack O'Connell and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The studies will look at everything from the state's tangled web of education finance to funding shortages to problems and inefficiencies in the way schools are funded.

"California's education system is overly bureaucratic," says Ted Mitchell, chairman of the governor's Committee on Education Excellence. "There are multiple conflicting layers throughout the system. The studies took a hard look at that."

Mitchell says the studies will not be making policy recommendations. That job will fall to the committee, which expects to take time analyzing the new data and making a number of recommendations to Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Officials are tight-lipped about some of the studies' findings, but several Capitol sources who have seen the studies say some of the findings indicate schools are under-funded by as much as $1 trillion. But they caution that the huge number is the product of diverse estimates, and subject to revision.

The studies can be broken down into three categories: The first are descriptive, providing a roadmap and outline of the state's complex system of education program finance.

The next series of studies are "efficiency studies," looking at ways to better utilize existing resources. These studies will look at, among other things, categorical spending programs. Many policy makers have argued that the state's piecemeal education finance system needs improvement.

A number of legislators, including Speaker Fabian Nunez, have introduced spot bills that they will amend based upon the findings of the research.

►BILL GATES CALLS FOR ED-DATA CENTER: Also needed, he tells Senate lawmakers: Redesigned curriculum, more-challenging standards, and stronger math, science, and technology education
from eSchool News staff and wire service reports

March 8, 2007 - America needs a Center for State Education Data to aggregate student information and identify what works and what doesn't in our schools, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told Congress on March 7.

The world's richest man also reiterated his call for an overhaul of the nation's schools and asked lawmakers to revamp immigration laws to keep jobs from going overseas and to maintain American competitiveness in the new global economy.

"The U.S. cannot maintain its economic leadership unless our work force consists of people who have the knowledge and skills needed to drive innovation," Gates told the Senate committee that oversees labor and education issues.

Gates, whose charitable foundation has given away more than $3 billion since 1999 for educational programs and scholarships, noted that about 30 percent of U.S. ninth-graders fail to graduate on time. "As a nation, we should start with this goal: Every child in the United States graduating from high school," he said.

Gates challenged lawmakers to push for higher educational standards and to make more challenging coursework available to students.

A federal study released last month showed about a third of high schoolers fail to take a standard-level curriculum, which is defined as including at least four credits of English and three credits each of social studies, math, and science.

Besides higher standards, school leaders also must understand how well their schools and students are performing relative to these standards, Gates said.

"Data collection systems must be transparent and accurate so that we can understand what is working and what isn't and for whom," he said. "Therefore, we need data by race and income. I urge this committee to support the creation of a Center for State Education Data, which will serve as a national resource for state education data and will provide one-stop access for education research and policy makers, along with a public web site to streamline education data reporting."

But it's not enough just to collect data. "We also need to use the data we collect to implement change, including by personalizing learning to make it more relevant and engaging for students--and thereby truly ensure that no child is left behind," Gates said.

He also called for an overhaul of the curriculum and pedagogy in America's schools to better reflect the realities of today's digital society.

"Our current expectations for what our students should learn in school were set fifty years ago to meet the needs of an economy based on manufacturing and agriculture. We now have an economy based on knowledge and technology," Gates told the panel.

"Despite the best efforts of many committed educators and administrators, our high schools have simply failed to adapt to this change. As any parent knows, however, our children have not [failed to adapt]--they are fully immersed in digital culture. As a result, while most students enter high school wanting to succeed, too many end up bored, unchallenged, and disengaged from the high school curriculum--"digital natives" caught up in an industrial-age learning model."

"This unique partnership of education, government, and business leaders seeks to help schools adapt their curricula and classroom environments to align more closely with the skills that students need to succeed in the 21st-century economy, such as communication and problem-solving skills," Gates explained.

Gates also called on lawmakers to give more resources and attention to improving the teaching of math and science--knowledge essential to many of today's jobs. Another recent federal study found 40 percent of high school seniors failed to perform at the basic level on a national math test. On a national science test, half of 12th-graders didn't show basic skills.

"We simply cannot sustain an economy based on innovation unless our citizens are educated in math, science, and engineering," Gates said.

The economy's need for workers trained in these fields is "massive--and growing," Gates said. He said the U.S. Department of Labor has projected that, from 2004 to 2014, there will be more than two million job openings in the United States in these fields. Yet in 2004, just 11 percent of all higher-education degrees awarded in the U.S. were in engineering, mathematics, and the physical sciences--"a decline of about a third since 1960."

"In an economy in which computing has become central to innovation in nearly every sector, this decline poses a serious threat to American competitiveness," Gates said. "Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that every significant technological innovation of the 21st century will require new software to make it happen."

The problem begins in high school, he said: Too many students enter college without the basics needed to major in science and engineering.

Legislation moving through the Senate, backed by Democratic and Republican leaders, seeks to get more people to become math and science teachers and would improve training for them. The bill also seeks to get more highly trained teachers in poor schools and would offer grants to states to better align their teaching with what kids should know to succeed at a job or in college.

"High schools are emerging around the country that focus on math and science, and they are successfully engaging students who have long been underrepresented in these fields," Gates said--"schools like the School of Science and Technology in Denver, Aviation High School in Seattle, and University High School in Hartford, Connecticut. These schools have augmented traditional teaching methods with new technologies and a rigorous, project-centered curriculum, and their students know they are expected to go on to college. This combination is working to draw more young people, especially more African-American and Hispanic young people, to study math and science."

Schools also are teaming up with the private sector to strengthen high school math and science education, Gates said, and he cited the Microsoft Math Partnership--a public-private initiative designed to focus new attention on improving middle-school math education for schools in Washington state--as a good example.

Gates--who is No. 1 on Forbes magazine's list of richest Americans--also told the committee in response to a question that he opposes repeal of the federal estate tax. Current law will phase out the tax by 2010, but without further action by Congress it will be restored at a 55 percent rate in 2011.

By Bob Sipchen | SchoolMe! - LA Times

Mar. 5, 2007 - The apparent venality of Tuesday's school board elections brings to mind a knock on my front door a while back. It was the weekend, and as I recall my wife and I were covered with that aromatic dirt that Home Depot sells in big plastic bags.

The neighbor standing on our doorstep pretended not to care how we smelled. He was gathering signatures to run for the Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education. Our children had gone to school with his daughter at the neighborhood elementary school. The moment felt all-American.

It was illusory.

School board elections, education histories tell us, once reflected democracy at its cornpone purest. In Tuesday's contest for four seats, vested interests have shoveled well over $2 million into the coffers of candidates running for part-time jobs that pay less than a high school dropout might make as assistant manager at a fast-food joint.

To figure out how this makes sense, try this problem in basic school board math:

About the time that school board candidates began campaigning in earnest, those on the board were agreeing to hand the teachers union a 6% raise, plus benefits, retroactive to July, and worth perhaps $200 million.

If reelected, board members Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte and Jon Lauritzen, the only incumbents running, would immediately be drawn into the decision about how much to give the union next time. For its part, the union has given more than $450,000 to each of them.

Meanwhile, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's Partnership for Better Schools, a group created to advance the mayor's education agenda, had, at last glance, raised more than $1.6 million, much of it from builders and business types who usually don't have much to say about education. Prosecutor-turned-board candidate Tamar Galatzan alone received more than $800,000 of that largesse.

Galatzan is running against Lauritzen, who, like LaMotte, bucked the mayor on his takeover bid. Which helps explain why, as my colleague Howard Blume has noted, individuals sympathetic to the mayor are giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to LaMotte's opponent, charter school operator Johnathan Williams.

So: If X = a school board member's salary of about $25,000, and Y = the amount people are willing to spend to get their preferred candidate elected, what is the value of Z, the possible payoff?


A) The future of the children, upon which no monetary value can be placed.

B) Many millions in slam-dunk salary and benefit increases and other concessions for the union.

C) A potentially massive piece of the district's $19-billion construction budget or some of the stray billions floating around for contracts on everything from algebra books to umpteen gallons of cafeteria teriyaki sauce.

D) All of the above.

Alas, like a once wonderful teacher who burned out because the union opposed the sort of merit pay that might have motivated him to keep working hard (and who now can't be fired because principals are hamstrung by contract restrictions), I don't really have an answer.

I do know that my neighbor, Scott Folsom, decided not to run for the school board seat in part because of the "obscenity" of trying to raise $500,000 to $1 million for what is ostensibly a part-time job.

Not that Folsom is some sort of political puritan who recoils at the idea of money dirtying up the democratic process. But I do think it's sad when a quintessential concerned parent gets bullied out of grass-roots do-goodism by Big Money.

Folsom's first encounter with public education LAUSD-style came many years ago, on the day he walked his daughter through the doors of Mount Washington Elementary School. "My initial experience wasn't a happy one," the semiretired producer says.

It wasn't the peeling paint that got to him, but rather an autocratic principal who, he says, acted as if parents were an inconvenience and met Folsom's efforts to find the appropriate class for his daughter by tossing up an impenetrable tangle of bureaucratic obstacles.

Folsom opted for private school, but returned when "the best principal in the world" replaced the obstructionist. He started volunteering, then joined the school's PTA and eventually wound up as that organization's president for an area covering most of L.A. Unified except the Valley. He continues to work without compensation to organize parents and advocate for them and their kids.

Along the way, he also was appointed to a committee to oversee the bond money voters had given the district to build schools.

Soon he had his own L.A. Unified hard hat and was spending his life at policy meetings and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Then there's his perverse attraction to school board meetings, which Folsom attends, without coercion, apparently for the sheer joy of marveling at members' willingness to discuss endlessly such matters as the merits of plastic spoons and then decide without debate multimillion-dollar budget matters.

He quotes Mark Twain: "God made the idiot for practice, and then he created school boards."

But gradually Folsom began to find satisfaction in changing things from within.

He was already moving on toward the next level of obsessive involvement when he realized that the time he invested in raising money as a candidate might be better spent trying to talk people out of cash to support such PTA projects as free and reduced-cost dental and eye clinics for students.

Tuesday's ballot offers voters a chance to, as my colleague Joel Rubin put it, "rein in the frenzied nature of school board races." If enacted, Charter Amendment L would set a $1,000 limit on individual contributions to board members (last Monday, one contributor alone sank 100 times that amount into the campaign of Williams, LaMotte's opponent). It also would subject contributions to the city's stricter ethics scrutiny (though it would do nothing to stop independent expenditures such as those made by the mayor's education fund). And it would set up a committee to reconsider the size of board members' salaries.

None of this adds up to much. We can hope, however, that it proves a tentative prelude to the shrinking, restructuring and reform the district must undergo to achieve manageability.

And that might make it possible for candidates to wade into the fray and win or lose a board seat based not on the kindness of potential predators with deep pockets but on energy, ideas and freewheeling candidate debates held in school auditoriums.

Even now, of course, candidates do gather in public. But you almost want to say, "Why bother?"

Example: When a cluster of neighborhood groups put on a candidates' forum recently at Carthay Center Elementary School, LaMotte sent the teachers union's charmingly cocky president as her proxy.

In a district with a normal sense of propriety, that sort of coziness would seem beyond creepy. In L.A. Unified, it's business as usual.

LaMotte attributes the matter to a scheduling conflict rather than a conflict of interest. "The union endorsed me," she said. "We have the same goal — what's best for kids."

I've met few Southern Californians who don't thrum in resonance with such "good for the kids" sentiments. But pathetically few of us bother showing up to vote in school board elections.

With turnout low and interest even lower, the elections become auctions. The bidding goes insane. And well-meaning candidates, taxpayers and about 700,000 students get elbowed aside.

▲Dear Bob:

Thanks for telling my story; in the end I'm sure it's the story of many good people scared away from running for elective office. Maybe running shouldn't be easy - certainly getting elected isn't!

Though I support some of the stated goals of Measure L (campaign finance reform, better compensation for school board members) I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that I support it, I don't.

Measure L violates the state constitution proscription of lumping two issues in a single ballot measure. It was crafted without consultation with the school district it's supposed to help. And it was never vetted through Los Angeles' neighborhood councils - a city charter requirement. It also sets term limits - which I oppose and has proved a failure in California government. It's as if the city council said: "Hey, term limits don't work for us …let's impose them on the school board!"

Until the parties to the greater debate (The Mayor and The School Board - or teachers and administrators and parents and the powers-that-be) start looking at collaboration as a good thing and not as fraternization with the enemy we are going to be stuck in this, whatever it is. The only enemy is ignorance.

Scott Folsom
Mount Washington

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Monday Mar 12, 2007
VALLEY REGION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL #15: Site Selection Kick-Off Meeting
Join us as we kick off the site selection process for this new school.
6:30 p.m.
Broadous Elementary School – Auditorium
12561 Filmore St.
Pacoima, CA 91331

• Tuesday Mar 13, 2007
6:30 p.m.
Bellingham Primary Center
Multi-Purpose Room
6728 N. Bellingham Ave.
North Hollywood, CA 91606

• Wednesday Mar 14, 2007
SOUTH REGION HIGH SCHOOL #16: Project Update Meeting
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Washington Preparatory High School
10860 S. Denker Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90047

• Thursday Mar 15, 2007
MANUAL ARTS NEW PRIMARY CENTER #2: Construction Update Meeting
6:00 p.m.
Normandie Elementary School – Auditorium
4505 S. Raymond Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90037

• Thursday Mar 15, 2007
The purpose of this meeting is to present the Draft Environmental Impact Report to the community, and receive comments and questions.
6:30 p.m.
Rosa Parks Learning Center
Multipurpose Room
8855 Noble Ave.
North Hills, CA 91343

*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213.633.7493
Phone: 213.633.7616


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6387 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6383

...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • 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 Schwarzenegger: 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.
• Register.
• Vote.

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

Scott Folsom is a parent and parent leader in LAUSD. He is President of Los Angeles 10th District PTSA and represents PTA as Vice-chair the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He serves on various school district advisory and policy committees and is a PTA officer and/or governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is also the elected Youth & Education boardmember on the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council.
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