Saturday, March 17, 2007

Getting Down(load) to Facts

4LAKids: Sunday, March 18, 2007
In This Issue:
HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: Student Journalism on Payroll Problems/The American Dream/Fun+Games
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.
I was invited to a education legislative “tea” last Friday afternoon. A bunch of parent activist/do-gooders were to sit about and discuss legislative agendae, drink wine and eat the seasonal offering whenever parents gather in March: Girl Scout Cookies.

What kind of 2 Buck Chuck goes with Do-si-dos?

The event was cancelled; not for lack of interest but because the legislators were unavailable. They have lot of homework reading material to catch up on, as do we all.

The 23 study study “GETTING DOWN TO FACTS” on California school finance and governance by the Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice at Stanford University is out — and crammed into every politico, lobbyist and policy wonk’s carry-on on the Southwest and United Express flights home from Sacramento this weekend. They can be on your desktop by clicking on the links below! (Hint: Pace yourself. Read the executive summaries – download as many as you can take, go back later for more if you can stand it! Don’t be like me in your bathrobe and slippers at 3:30PM!)

This part becomes clear: The time is right for all of us grass roots folk: parents, classroom teachers, soccer moms and NASCAR dads - taxpayers, stakeholders, swing voters, declines to state – the great “rank and file” and everyone else who expects to live and work in California in the next few generations to engage in the discussion of Education Reform and Education Finance Reform — and to insist that those two demons are one and the same!

I believe - and I don’t think it’s just me - that those conjoined obstacles cannot be separated and solved first one and then the other as some suggest: Together we must solve these problems together. Or we can just allow the dust to settle – on the reports – and have another chardonnay and a Tagalong.

• GOOD LUCK TO ALL THE DECATHLETES from 55 schools competing in the California Academic Decathlon at UCLA this weekend: You are all already winners! A special tip o’ th’ 4LAKids thinking cap to the nine teams from LA – LAUSD Champ Granada Hills Charter will be joined by wild-card teams from El Camino Real, North Hollywood, Marshall, Garfield, Palisades Charter, Taft and Narbonne – plus private school champion Bishop Alemany High School from Mission Hills. California has won 13 of the 25 national championships, with nine of those earned by LAUSD teams. And go Marshall Barristers!

Onward —smf

“Getting Down to Facts” a list of the 23 studies, with links to them all.

by Carolyn Marshall | New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO, March 15 — A scathing 18-month evaluation of California’s public schools has concluded that the state’s educational system is “broken,” crippled by a complex bureaucracy, flawed teacher policies and misspent school money, leaving it in need of sweeping reforms that could cost billions of dollars.

The report, a compilation of 22 university studies titled “Getting Down to Facts,” was released in two parts on Wednesday and Thursday. The long-awaited report, requested by a bipartisan group of state educators and legislators in 2005, cost $3 million and evaluated why California’s 6.8 million school-age students have lagged behind children in almost all other states.

“The structural problems are so deep-seated,” a summary of the report said, “that more funding and small, incremental interventions are unlikely to make a difference unless matched with a commitment to wholesale reform.”

The report, financed by private nonprofit foundations and coordinated by investigators at the Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice at Stanford University, revealed “deeply flawed” problems in both the management and financing of the schools.

Among the findings were these: state financial policies so “complex and irrational” that they thwart school and district efforts to educate and school data systems that are poor and ineffective, making it impossible for districts to share vital information. ; the state suffers from “regulationitis,” a condition that has schools paralyzed by rules and buried in paperwork.

In a statement, about the education studies released Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said, “Today’s studies show that no amount of money will improve our schools without needed education reform. We need to focus on critical school reform before any discussion about more resources.”

▲GETTING DOWN TO FACTS: Cost Studies Remarks
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bullet points/Headlines from the studies:

If there is anything Californians, policy-makers, educators and advocates take away from the full body of research it is the following headlines:

• California’s K-12 spending is below the national average, even factoring in recent budget increases. After adjusting for regional cost differences, the research finds that Texas spends 12 percent more per pupil than California; Florida, 18 percent; New York, 75 percent, and the rest of the country, 30 percent.

• Not all students cost the same to reach the same achievement level. One of the most important findings of the research is that because some students come to school less prepared and others have challenges that require extra program support, some districts will require additional resources. The studies do not suggest that California reduce funding to one school to pay for another — only that some schools will need even more dollars to help their students meet the standards we’ve set for them.

• Regions have different costs. A special concern researchers identified is that the price of highly educated people — such as teachers — may differ across the state. In addition, schools may differ in their ability to attract teachers because of a lack of college graduates more generally in a given region. These differences should be accounted for to the extent that they impact the quality of teachers a school can attract at a given wage.

• Among schools that serve a high proportion of students in poverty, even the most successful schools rarely meet state-achievement goals. As a result, there is very little information about how high-poverty schools can achieve state goals or about the level of funding needed for success.

• Getting Down to Facts cost estimates should not be viewed as a specific price tag for the needed level of education spending in future years. The science is not precise enough to rely upon the cost estimates in that way. Rather, these estimates should be used to help policy-makers assess whether the current spending is enough to expect to meet student achievement goals.

• Increased funding without governance reforms is unlikely to lead to significant gains in student achievement. We have to do both together. The findings of all 22 Getting Down to Facts studies indicate that solely directing more money into the current system will not dramatically improve student achievement and will meet neither expectations nor needs. What matters are the ways in which the available resources and any new resources are used.

• Meaningful reform to meet student outcome goals may require substantial new financial investments. But such investments are only likely to benefit students if they are accompanied by significant and systemic reforms directed at fixing our schools’ troubled finance and governance system. - IREEP press release


March 16, 2007 - "Getting Down to Facts", over 20 studies examining the adequacy and efficiency of education funding in California and what is needed to prepare all students for success in the global economy of the 21st century, has been released over the last two days. 18 months in preparation, the project that produced this series of reports - the Institute for Research on Education Policy and Practice at Stanford University - convened "an extraordinary array of scholars from 32 institutions with diverse expertise and policy orientations."

These reports were requested by Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O'Connell, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata. It was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the Stewart Foundation.

It is going to take some time for the information and perspectives in the hundreds of pages contained in these reports to percolate through California's political system. Arriving just three months before the state budget is required to be adopted, it may not affect this year's spending plans and educational policy, but it will be talked about, and parts will be cited for various propositions by many.

Here are just three statements on the report that have been made. There will be a lot more.


This research is bold, and the findings may make many of us uncomfortable. But let's remember that a decade ago many were uncomfortable when California adopted its high standards and when we built a system of accountability and when we first began to use data to shed light on student achievement. We knew that high standards and accountability were the right steps to take, and this research is the next right step in California education reform. We must use it as our guide to make the changes that are necessary to prepare our students and our state for a successful future.

Quite frankly, many of the findings were obvious to me: We need to find multiple ways of entry into the classroom for new teachers. Our data systems are inadequate. Our system is overly burdensome and regulatory.

But this research in its entirety makes overwhelmingly clear that our next step must not be piecemeal reform. It clearly shows that we need a holistic approach that includes things like: less regulation and greater local flexibility, better focus on recruiting and developing effective teachers and educational leaders, and more school site innovation, along with the clear need for additional resources to offer things like more time and individualized instruction. We simply cannot demand a more efficient system and expect results without also investing in our schools at a level that will enable them to achieve those results.

No matter what our perspective, I think we can all agree that our public school system must be focused on results for students - outcomes, not inputs. Our goal must be a public school system that equips all students with the knowledge and skills to excel in college and careers, and to excel as parents and as citizens.

I requested this research to begin a necessary statewide discussion on what is needed - both in investments and reforms - to reach this goal. The work done by these outstanding scholars gives us a starting point for that discussion. It provides an important blueprint for designing a better system for California's students. Now our work begins."


Today's studies show that no amount of money will improve our schools without needed education reform. We need to focus on critical school reform before any discussion about more resources. And as I have always said, our schools need more accountability, teachers and administrators need more flexibility, and parents need more information about how their children are performing.

California needs an integrated, transparent system that allows parents, the public, educators and policymakers to access useful information about our schools. The Governor has directed his administration to work with the Legislature, Superintendent of Public Instruction and others to make the School Accountability Report Card parent-friendly and include relevant information so that schools can easily be compared to one another.

Schwarzenegger's office provided the following additional comments:

Over the past decade, the state has invested significant resources to collect an increasing amount of data from school districts. From demographic data of students and teachers to student performance and financial expenditures, California school districts collect extensive data and make over 100 reports to the California Department of Education and other state educational agencies to meet state and federal reporting requirements. Yet currently, there are few useful tools available to easily access this data. The Governor's proposal addresses this shortfall. According to a 2006 poll by Public Opinion Strategies, 92 percent of voters favor "Requiring better and more accessible information so that we can understand where our education tax dollars are being spent.

This past fall, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 1209 and SB 1655 by Senator Jack Scott (D-Altadena) to streamline the teacher credentialing process, improve support and incentives for new and experienced teachers and help low-performing schools hire the best teachers.

Governor Schwarzenegger has kept his commitment to education by ensuring that every student has access to a quality school principal and quality teachers and has invested in restoring music, art and physical education to support a well-rounded education. The Governor's 2007-08 Budget includes $66.3 billion ($40.5 billion General Fund and $25.8 billion other funds) for K-12 education programs. This reflects an increase of $2.8 billion ($495.4 million General Fund and $2.3 billion other funds) or 4.4 percent over the revised 2006-07 budget. The total per-pupil expenditures from all sources are projected to be $11,240 in 2006-07 and $11,584 in 2007-08 - both all-time records for the state.

Furthermore, the budget proposes a number of new one-time and ongoing education initiatives. These proposals, along with the major education investments made by the Administration in the last three years, will continue to address the most pressing needs facing students and parents, including:
• Teacher shortages
• Transparent school-site information
• Career Technical Education
• Low-performing schools
• Preparing students to graduate from high school
• Improving student health


As you know, a series of education Adequacy studies has been released.
This body of research provides us with valuable information about what is needed to provide every child in California with a quality public education.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature, the Governor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction asked education experts to provide us with detailed, thoughtful, and comprehensive information about the many challenges facing California’s public education system.

As a public high school teacher, a parent, and a legislator, I want to share my thoughts with you on this important research.

These independent studies focus specifically on the effectiveness of our current education spending and practices.

They highlight a need for more local flexibility, reduced paperwork, and increased focus on students, while at the same time they indicate the necessity to attract, train… and retain great teachers.

The top two questions every policymaker should be asking today are:

How do we target and refocus our current education resources to ensure the best results?

And, How do we develop new financial resources to make our schools the best in the nation?

Overall, I believe the information provided by these studies creates an historic opportunity to take bold action to improve education.

This means investing time, energy, and resources into every aspect of our education system.

We must maintain the integrity of our high standards, while presenting each student with an individual pathway for success.

We can start, by increasing the length of the school day, while, at the same time, raising teacher salaries.

It is also critical, to provide meaningful and cutting edge professional development, as well as ongoing training and planning time for our teachers and administrators.
And, most importantly, we need to offer more applied, hands-on learning opportunities, for all of our students.

The curriculum should engage students, and class choices should open doors, not close them. We must have a pathway to success for every child.

Students need to see the relevance of their courses, and the connection to their future career and higher education opportunities, because a real world context fosters deeper learning and increases knowledge retention.

I welcome your feedback, because by working together, we can once again provide a world class education for all of California’s students.

▲As Frank Russo says, there will be a lot more on this!: ALL THE NEWS; UP TO DATE: a Google News Search on the studies.


March 11, 2007 — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa may or may not be getting his new school board; Tuesday's election was inconclusive and two races will be decided in a May 15 runoff. He may or may not get formal control over a handful of schools; the court ruling striking down his reform bill, AB 1381, is on appeal. Whatever the outcome, he has put improving the education of the city's students on the top of the political agenda, and for that he deserves credit.

But if education remains a concern of Los Angeles voters, how is it possible that their turnout in Tuesday's school board races was in the single digits? It could be that they saw very little at stake. After all, even if the mayor's present course proves successful, it would leave him accountable for only a handful of schools and with only a modicum of clout over the district. This is better than nothing, as we pointed out last week. But the power he holds over the whole district would be based on personality and political string-pulling, and it would expire the minute he left office. Then what?

The mayor should stay the course. Simultaneously, however, he should go back to the drawing board for a plan to achieve the real goal: full control of the schools. Villaraigosa chose influence and partial control as a political tactic. But lasting improvement requires a single person accountable to voters for the district's performance.

The campaign over the last year pointed out some roadblocks to mayoral control. School districts in California (and much of the nation) are separate from city government, and that separation was underscored in Los Angeles by district lines that intentionally embrace more than just one city. Why, the thinking goes, should the mayor of Los Angeles have control over schools in South Gate or West Hollywood?

AB 1381, with its Council of Mayors, was one way out of that jam. But it's not the only one. If the bill fails, Villaraigosa should be ready with Plan B.

If it means breaking up the school district so that the mayor's authority reaches only schools within city limits, so be it. If it takes a vote of the people to do it, then the people should vote. If it takes amending the state Constitution, then amend it. Californians have made bigger changes at the ballot box. And if a constitutional amendment means that other cities besides L.A. will have a chance to take direct control over their schools and hold their mayors accountable for their performance, that's a good thing.

For now, voters must wait until May, and all of us must wait for the courts to act when they will. The drive toward accountability, and full mayoral control of the schools, must not wait.

► smf 2¢ - Let’s talk about political spin and the law of diminishing expectations here! The mayor’s attempt to influence the schools is laudable; his efforts to control them are not.

The Times editorialist has it fundamentally wrong: Should the mayor manage to install a majority in the LAUSD Board of Education in the May election – whether by a slender majority in a single digit turnout or an overwhelming mandate with the voters swamping the polls — if the mayor secures that 4 vote majority on the School Board he will have CONTROL – not of his clusters but of the entire district.

That’s what he will have bought and that’s what he will be responsible for and must be held accountable for; not for “only a handful of schools (with) only a modicum of clout over the district” – but the whole LAUSD! Every test score, every dropout, every unexcused absence that costs the district money; every ebb and flow of the API and PI status, every unreturned phone call to a parent – will be on his watch.

March 17, 2007 | Letters to The Times Re "Educator in chief," editorial, March 11 (above)

If pinpointing accountability is the rationale for mayoral control of the Los Angeles school district, it is a dubious strategy. That's because education will then be only one of a series of issues that voters consider in judging the performance of the mayor. It's hard to understand how this dispersion will be an improvement over the present situation. It's particularly ironic that The Times is championing this approach in light of California's history. One of the major reforms of the Progressive movement was to depoliticize boards of education in the state.

WALT GARDNER | Los Angeles
The writer taught in L.A. schools and lectured at the UCLA Graduate School of Education.

The "real goal" of any change to Los Angeles schools should not be "full mayoral control," or even "accountability." Those are only means to an end. The goal should be students learning more. Now, please tell me, how will Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa improve student learning?


A 7.7% Solution: ONE PERSON, ONE CLICK: Is your cell phone the new ballot?

by George Skelton | Capitol Journal | LA Times

March 12, 2007 — Sacramento — The argument has raged for decades: Democrats contend that schools need more money in order to teach better. No, Republicans counter, the schools must reform. Now there's a debate winner.

Both are correct, of course. But it has taken a $3 million pile of research to reach that nonpartisan conclusion.

Results of the massive research project — requested by the legislative leaders, the governor and the state superintendent of public instruction, and funded by foundations — will be released this week. The findings have been a closely guarded secret.

The 1,700-page report "will glaze over anybody's eyes," says one person who has read it. "This is an enormous volume of work." But he and others who have scanned the 23 separate studies say the central finding is simple:

Money alone cannot fix California's public elementary and high schools. It will require major reforms, some controversial. And those reforms, indeed, will cost billions more annually.

Think in terms of boosting school funding by maybe 25%, says one source, who has been sworn to secrecy. "But just rolling more money into the current system is not going to get results."

In the present fiscal year, California is spending $49 billion on K-12 schools — $37 billion from the state general fund, $12 billion from local property taxes. To put that in perspective, the general fund amounts to roughly $102 billion; the total state budget, including special funds, $132 billion.

And what reforms would the additional money buy? A list of options will be released with the report Wednesday and Thursday. Don't expect much new thinking, just more credibility for old, controversial notions that haven't been able to survive political partisanship, anti-tax zealots and union biases.

There'll be suggestions that more funds be spent on poor-performing and low-wealth schools. That financial incentives be available to recruit teachers for hard-to-fill positions, such as science instructor. That principals be given more free rein to fire bad teachers and pay the best ones better. That the maze of categorical programs be blown up and restructured. That the whole school system be more open to scrutiny — more transparent — and thus more accountable to the public.

"It will encourage all of us to think about education reform in a holistic way," says Ted Mitchell, former president of Occidental College and currently chairman of the Governor's Committee on Education Excellence, one of the project's requesters.

"California's system of education is built a lot like the Winchester Mystery House. There's a room added here and there, with little connectivity. The hallways are cluttered up and go nowhere."

Separately and coincidentally, a business lobby today will release a survey of private executives' views on public education. Their collective opinion is not very high. The business execs gave California's K-12 schools a D grade.

But the business leaders' thinking on one point meshes snugly with that of the research project's conclusion. These 1,342 execs — with Republicans outnumbering Democrats 3 to 2 — indicated a willingness to raise taxes if the new money were spent on reforms.

A majority, 53%, agreed with this statement: "We need both more funding and more accountability to improve our schools. While there may be some waste in our schools, we cannot improve [them] unless we invest more resources tied to proven reforms…."

The "reforms" the business types preferred were anything that would get the students more work-ready: "essential skills such as … reading, writing and math, as well as communications skills, [personal] responsibility and work ethic." Get the kids talking and writing in simple, declarative sentences, showing up on time and taking pride in their work.

But isn't it the parents' duty to instill their children with personal responsibility and a strong work ethnic?

There's a good argument for that, acknowledges Loren Kaye, president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education, which commissioned the poll. "But somebody has to teach these work skills because the kids aren't entering the job market with them."

The "major purpose" of high school, the business group asserted, is teaching students to be "productive workers." That rates higher than preparing them for college.

In business' view, the schools are producing a poor product. And, as taxpayers, the execs are willing to invest more to improve the product if the outlay makes sense — such as rewarding the best teachers and firing the worst. Just as they do in their businesses.

"I don't want to pit teacher against teacher at the same school," responds Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, repeating the unions' argument against "merit" pay. "I want teachers working together collaboratively."

But he agrees with providing "incentive" pay for teachers willing to work at "more challenging schools."

And he's a strong advocate of "character education" that teaches "honesty, integrity and showing up to work."

This will be a big week in state government for public education.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday will host a "summit" in Torrance on "career tech" — what we used to call vocational ed. These days, it's more about computers than carpentry. It's the governor's pet education reform. He has poured roughly $100 million into it so far and has proposed another $52 million for next year's budget.

"The truth is, only about 25% of high school students ever are going to go get a college degree," says Scott Himelstein, the governor's chief education advisor. "We need to give the students more options."

That means curriculum reform. And that, in turn, will require more money. Higher taxes. The long-awaited research report should make that harder to deny, even for anti-tax Schwarzenegger.


HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: Student Journalism on Payroll Problems/The American Dream/Fun+Games
►Student writer & adult failure recognized: PAYROLL MALFUNCTION UNFORTUNATE AND UNCALLED FOR

By Andrew Elliott, staff writer for the University High School Wildcat (Student Newspaper) — featured in the March 12th national edition of

February 5th, 2007: payday for the thousands of teachers and staff working for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Or so it should have been. Nearly 10,000 employees of the school district were left with incorrect (or missing) paychecks for their work in January, due to numerous problems and glitches in a new computer payroll system for LAUSD, Business Tools for Schools (BTS). Many were forced to scramble to meet basic needs or mortgages, as the district has cut over 7,000 emergency checks for its employees. The errors have been blamed on insufficient training in BTS for school staff, as well as certain technological issues in the system itself. The real problem, however, is the district’s decision to use this computer program at all.

A new system was needed to replace the decades old one. Previously, separate departments with separate systems handled payroll, human resources, and other financial matters for LAUSD. The new BTS would integrate those programs and help “streamline” the process, eliminating redundancies and paperwork. While those are admirable goals, a new program should fix more problems than it creates. This one has only created new and different issues.

These issues should not just be brushed aside as kinks or growing pains in the program, though. The vendor for BTS, SAP, has also supplied software to the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) for its payroll system. For them, problems still occur since implementing the program in July 2005. Now, LACCD is suing SAP over the problems implementing and supporting their product.

This past problem between SAP software and schools raises questions about why they were given the contract for BTS in the first place. They were selected in October of that year, after the initial technical difficulties. Also, SAP’s bid was higher than that of other companies; a law change was required to allow LAUSD to pick them as vendor. And now, the supposed superior quality that excused the price tag of the project is missing.

Still, SAP has also created finance programs for numerous large corporations, including Disney and Coca-Cola, before now. With an experienced company, there is no excuse for why LAUSD’s system does not work; more problems are expected with the next payroll. But now that over $90 million has been spent on the project, there’s not much to do besides fix the problems that have been caused by it.

▲smf updates: Problems persist; employees waiting to visit the “payroll problems desk” iin the LAUSD Beaudry lobby often outnumber those waiting for the problem elevators.


• I am a fan of Franklin HS’s former principal Sheridan Liechty – if only because she was the first to recognize the late John Liecthy’s genius in educating and advocating for youngsters: She married him! In a world with true justice John would be Superintendent of LAUSD today. Bob Sipchen’s article points out what I’ve suspected; Sheridan has a worthy and excellent successor at Franklin …if they can just keep the ink-stained-wretches-from-the-press out of the principal’s office! - smf

By Bob Sipchen - Monday's SchooolMe! Column | LA Times

Mar. 12, 2007 - Luis Lopez traveled north from Guadalajara, Mexico, and crossed illegally into Southern California. Fifteen years old, he was the sixth of 10 children. Figuring he'd need to speak English to get a job, his parents enrolled him at Franklin High School in Highland Park.

Now he runs the school. I'm tagging along with him as part of a program called Principal for a Day. Before I can send a single kid to detention, Lopez is hauling me from class to class to evaluate teachers.

In one room, a veteran instructor shows off essays on Sandra Cisneros' story "Geraldo, No Last Name."

In another, an overhead projector displays questions for an essay on "The Great Gatsby":

"What is the American Dream?"

"To what extent is it stable and enduring?"

"How can the dream turn into a nightmare?"

The theme hangs before me like a red, white and blue pi–ata, and I can't think of a better place than Luis Lopez' Benjamin Franklin High to take a thwack at it.

Lopez' father came to the United States as part of the bracero farm labor program but eventually moved to Los Angeles to work at Frisco bakery, making sourdough bread. His mother and a succession of the children followed, gaining U.S. citizenship during the 1986 amnesty program.

At first, English befuddled Lopez. But the teachers wouldn't let up, using any trick — including acting out the words they wanted him to say — and by his junior year the boy was taking college prep courses.

He wound up at nearby Occidental College, became a teacher himself and started working his way through assignments at Los Angeles schools. Still living in Highland Park, he married his college girlfriend, raised a family of four children and talked about someday returning to Franklin.

By the time he became principal two years ago, his alma mater was struggling with sub-mediocre API test scores in the high 500s and the stigma of being a "program improvement school" — meaning it could face state takeover if it didn't improve quickly.

But as we tear around the campus, walkie-talkie chattering, the students and staff are upbeat. The Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, Lopez says, has just finished a review of Franklin's beefy self-improvement plan and decided to reaccredit the campus for the maximum six years.

What's cool about the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce's Principal for a Day program is that it shoves dozens of know-it-all corporate leaders and a few smarmy journalists up against a cherished piece of conventional wisdom: that any private-sector person with a pulse could easily turn a poor-performing school into a finely tuned education factory.

In the two years that I've participated, the program's wrap-up lunch has concluded with the business bigs confessing — surprise! — that this school-running stuff ain't as easy as it looks.

As it happens, I've visited Lopez at Franklin before and was as impressed then as I am now with how much he seems to enjoy his mission. Today I watch him pick up Doritos bags, order kids to put down their hoods, take notes on how his staff is teaching, wrangle with an energetic teachers union rep over the selection of deans and work with a committee of vice principals to come up with a training session to massage the improvement plan deeper into every teacher's psyche.

Looking at the nearly 90-year-old school from the outside, a visitor sees that three of the main building's four floors are emblazoned with the word "welcome" in Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, German, Armenian, Zulu, Gaelic and 38 other languages that students at the school spoke when Lopez's ethnically eclectic class of 1984 had the walls lettered as a senior gift.

Today the 2,600-student main school (Franklin also plays host to a magnet school) is 90% Latino, and although most speak English, many of their moms and dads don't. When we stroll into a prefab bungalow for Lopez' monthly meeting with parents and community members, the language is Spanish.

Just a few weeks earlier, suspected gang bangers shot and killed a 15-year-old student in a nearby neighborhood — there's one nightmare — and today folks anxiously grill Lopez with questions about violencia … grafiti drogas….

With wide hand gestures and soothing words, Lopez assures the parents that the campus remains safe. If he seems evangelical, it makes sense.

Franklin was his salvation. Teachers steered him clear of gang influences, hustled him on college tours, drove him to SAT tests and even taught him the "proper" use of utensils; then took him to his first fancy restaurant. It's where his parents went for information about citizenship.

He knows that people get touchy about the term "assimilate." It doesn't bother him. He credits teachers' efforts with the fact that all his siblings attended at least a two-year college. And now that he's in charge of the school, he's not about to forget the opportunities or values that were passed on to him as "American," he says.

He and his staff are drawing in local organizations to help establish the school as a community hub again. They've printed their own recruitment fliers — "build your future at Franklin" — and are working to find housing for new teachers so they'll be part of the changing neighborhood as well as the school.

Forgive me for ham-handedly steering all this back to that first tricky essay question, but come on: Isn't what's unfolding in Highland Park a pretty good answer?


1. Before or during your next education confab, prepare yourself by drawing a 5 x 5 square on an index card.

2. Divide the square into one-inch columns, five across and five down. That will give you 25 one-inch blocks.

3. Write one of the following words/phrases in each block: No Child Left Behind, Test Scores, Core Competencies, Communication, Standards, Multiple Exposures, Benchmarks, Proactive, Win-Win, Think Outside the Box, Action Plan, Results-Driven, Assessments, Knowledge Base, At The End of the Day, Touch Base, Mindset, Differentiated, Retention, Skills, Background Knowledge, Effective Learning, Exemplars, Implementation, Reflection.

4. Check off the appropriate corresponding block when you hear one of the words/phrases.

5. When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically or diagonally stand up and shout “ENOUGH ALREADY, I GET IT!”

You are guaranteed to stay awake and you might even gain research needed to complete a doctoral study on the use of boring phrases in education.

- modified from the AALA/Associated Administrators of Los Angeles News Update

smf notes: This can also be made into a multi-player competitive variation of bingo by randomly mixing the placement of the buzz words, though “No Child Left Behind” should probably always be the free center square!

CLICK HERE: Three excellent recent articles on English Language Learners and new directions in English as a Second Language instruction

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
►Monday Mar 19, 2007
South Region Elementary School #6: CEQA Scoping Meeting
The purpose of this meeting is to inform and obtain input from the community on the types of issues to be considered in a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR). This report evaluates the potential impacts that this project may have on the surrounding environment.
6:00 p.m.
66th Street Elementary School
6600 S. San Pedro Street
Los Angeles, CA 90003

►Tuesday Mar 20, 2007
South Region Elementary School #10: Site Selection Kick-Off Meeting
Join us as we kick off the site selection process for this new school.
6:00 p.m.

West Vernon Elementary School
4312 S. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90037

►Wednesday Mar 21, 2007
Central Region Elementary School #21: Site Selection Kick-Off Meeting
6:30 p.m.
Harmony Elementary School
899 E. 42nd Pl.
Los Angeles, CA 90011

►Wednesday Mar 21, 2007
Valley Region Enadia Way ES Reopening: Pre-Construction Meeting
6:30 p.m.
Canoga Park Elementary School
7438 Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Canoga Park, CA 91303

►Wednesday Mar 21, 2007
Valley Region Span K-8 #1: Presentation of Recommended Preferred Site
At this meeting we will present and discuss the site that will be recommended to the LAUSD Board of education for this new school project.
6:30 p.m.
Sylmar Elementary School
13291 Phillippi Ave.
Sylmar, CA 91342

►Thursday Mar 22, 2007
South Region High School #13: Project Update Meeting
6:00 p.m.
Charles Drew Middle School
8511 Compton Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90001

*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.
• 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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