Saturday, April 28, 2007

McLuhan's Media Messengers -or- Headlines, we have headlines

4LAKids: Sunday, April 29, 2007
In This Issue:
WHY TEACHERS LEAVE | Teachers Dropping Out Too: A study blames working conditions. Higher pay isn't the answer, it says.
HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
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.
A SAMPLING OF THE HEADLINES on the Public Policy Institute of California survey on California Education released Friday:

(The survey was a non-story in the LA Times - The Times ran three-count ‘em-three education stories Friday – and ChiTrib’s probably conserving ink for the big “Cubs Win Series” headlines!.

Same story, different takes – and in the end that’s probably how it should be. There are other issues in California. Healthcare. Potholes. The war. Global warming. Gangs.

4LAKids pretends+aspires to be nothing more than a single-issue messenger to a single-issue audience in a complicated and complex world. But I think we all get that public education can be the tool* the fix the others – including the potholes. The operative terms are Unease, Frustration, Giving up, Lacking faith. As we are neither summer soldiers nor sunshine patriots we must persist. Because there are 720,000 special interests/single issues in LAUSD and ten million in California. Because ignorance is the outcome and the cause and the effect of being ignored.

ADULTS NOT HELPING: This week’s Coachella Festival places Temptation in the Desert coincident with C track finals week; what’s with that? It’s a decision from the same wonderful adults-over-thirty who decided that Hawaii was the best venue for the Academic Decathlon (see below: @least Granada Hills HS has no C Track) When I was in college I elected to not to go to the 1968 Monterey Pop Festival to study for a final (If you are reading LAKids instead of studying for Chemistry — and doing that instead of witnessing the reunion of Rage Against the Machine: STOP READING HERE!) …THAT was a wrong decision!

I HAVE JUST RETURNED WITH OTHERS from a whirlwind tour (there was a tornado out of town!) of the Houston Public Schools. In similar and simpler circumstances they are doing an upstanding job – an ‘up-and-walking’ job – of much of what we are trying to do in LAUSD.
They do it mostly by keeping it simple.
Do they have all the answers? No.
Do they have some “best practices” to emulate? Yes.
Can we and they do better? Yes.
And we will. Onward! —smf

*THE RIGHT TOOL: Sandra Tsing Loh’s Saturday LA Times op-ed skewering Mayor Tony, LAUSD and PTA has a must-see photographic visual-aid— BOTH ARE HERE!


Public Policy Institute of California Press Release

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 25, 2007 — Is frustration with California’s faltering education system so profound that residents are simply disengaging from the vital issue? Although they continue to be deeply critical of the quality of K-12 education in the state, and of state leadership on the issue, the number of residents ranking education and schools as the most important issue facing California has fallen to its lowest point in three years, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The number of Californians who say education is the most important issue facing the state has dropped to 9 percent – fewer than at any time since August 2004. A sign that state residents have seen progress on K-12 education? Far from it: Most Californians today (80%) still believe the quality of the state’s K-12 education is at least somewhat of a problem, with about half (52%) calling it a big problem. This number is virtually unchanged from January 2000, when 53 percent viewed K-12 education quality as a big problem. Moreover, nearly seven in 10 residents (69%) say the quality of education has gotten worse or stayed the same during the past two years, similar to 2000 when 73 percent held this view. And many Californians believe the K-12 system is in need of major changes (57%); 30 percent say it needs at least minor changes; only 9 percent say it is fine the way it is.

In the past decade, voters have faced education related measures on just about every ballot and have passed nearly $45 billion in school related bonds. Perhaps as a result of this spending, a majority of Californians (56%) today believe that the state ranks at or above the national average when it comes to spending per pupil (in reality California ranks 29 out of 50 states). In April 1998, only 42 percent of Californians believed that the state ranked at or above average in per pupil spending. Is a perception of greater investment changing views about education quality? Residents today (53%) are about as likely as they were in 1998 (49%) to say that test scores for California students rank below average or near the bottom compared to other states. “While education remains a critical issue for most Californians, they clearly see a lack of progress and appear to be questioning the return on all the investment and activity of recent years,” says PPIC President and CEO Mark Baldassare. “The Governor has declared 2008 the ‘Year of Education Reform’. The question is, does the public have the will – and the faith in state leaders – to tackle this complex and controversial issue?”


State leaders have three steep challenges to overcome if they hope to rally support for additional education funding and reform: First, majorities of state residents are critical of the way the governor and state legislature are handling the issue. Second, residents clearly lack confidence in the state to allocate resources to schools. And third, residents are reluctant to increase spending on education without fiscal accountability.

An otherwise popular governor sees his approval rating plummet to 36 percent when it comes to his handling of education issues, while his overall approval stands at 53 percent. The same general pattern holds true for the state legislature: While 38 percent of California adults approve of the overall job the legislature is doing, just 29 percent approve of their handling of education issues. One ray of hope for them: Residents today are less likely than they were last year to disapprove of the performance of the governor (37% today, 51% in April 2006) and the state legislature (46% today, 55% in April 2006) on education issues.

Some of the critical views of state leaders on education issues may stem from the fact that Californians view the issue as one best handled at the local level, rather than in Sacramento where the power to allocate school resources actually resides. Most state residents (78%) would prefer to see local players – specifically teachers (34%) and local school districts (31%) – make decisions about how to allocate resources to improve student performance. Thirteen percent choose school principals. Only 14 percent say they prefer to see the state make those decisions. The clear preference for local authority and autonomy might explain why residents seem to feel more positive about their local schools than about the system as a whole. For example, although they are negative about K-12 education in California overall, a strong majority of state residents (80%) give their neighborhood schools passing grades of A (16%), B (36%), or C (28%). Public school parents are even more favorable than are residents generally: Sixty-one percent give their neighborhood schools a grade of A or B.


Still, with their overall confidence depleted, many Californians are no longer willing to ante up more dollars for the K-12 system. Surprisingly high numbers – 44 percent of all adults and 39 percent of public school parents – say their local schools have just enough, or more than enough, funding. While a majority of public school parents (57%) say local schools do not have enough funding, that margin fades among all Californians (48%). By comparison, 63 percent of Californians in August 2000 said their local public schools lacked adequate funding.

At this point, residents are unwilling (47% yes, 48% no) to increase property taxes to provide more funds for local schools. Although most Californians (66%) would support a bond measure to pay for local school construction projects, they are less likely than they were in December 1999 to support such a measure (66% today, 77% in 1999). At the state level, a majority of residents (64%) reject the notion of raising state sales taxes to provide additional funding for K-12 public schools. Is there a tax Californians will support? One that someone else will pay: More than two-thirds (68%) favor raising the state’s income tax rate on the wealthiest Californians to provide additional funding for K-12 education.

In general, Californians today are demanding accountability to go along with their spending. Slightly less than half (48%) say the state needs to spend more wisely and increase the amount it spends, while 37 percent think the state can improve educational quality by just making better use of existing funds. A mere 11 percent of Californians say increased funding alone is the answer. But if residents were assured that funds would be used efficiently, a full 75 percent say they would support increasing money for K-12 public education. Where would they want the additional education dollars to go? Majorities of Californians favor the following policies, even if they cost the state more money:

• Providing students who fail the high school exit exam with smaller classes and fully credentialed teachers until they pass the test (72%);
• Hiring more counselors and social workers in lower-income areas to help increase graduation rates (72%);
• Providing teachers who work in lower-income areas with additional training and professional development (76%), and attracting and retaining teachers in those areas by paying them higher salaries (67%);
• Developing a statewide database system to track school resources and student performance (66%);
• Providing more money for school facilities in lower-income areas than in other areas (79%).


While there is little ambivalence among all Californians about the poor quality of the state’s K-12 education system, the level of concern among racial and ethnic groups differs dramatically. For example, blacks (65%) and whites (61%) are far more likely than Latinos and Asians (36% each) to say the quality of education in the state is a big problem. But when it comes to K-12 quality, the pessimism of black residents stands out: 44 percent of blacks say the quality of education has worsened in the past two years compared to just 28 percent of whites, 21 percent of Latinos, and 20 percent of Asians.

Significantly more blacks are also “very concerned” about a slew of education related problems in lower-income areas. On the issue of high school drop-out rates, for example, concern is higher among blacks (77%) than among other groups (Latinos 54%, Asians 53%, whites 51%). When it comes to worrying about students in lower income areas failing the state’s High School Exit Exam, the differences are also stark (blacks 64%, Latinos 53%, Asians 39%, whites 37%). Moreover, three in four blacks (75%) – compared to 61 percent of Latinos, 49 percent of whites, and 46 percent of Asians – say they are very concerned that lower-income areas suffer from a shortage of good teachers.

Blacks (86%) are more likely than Latinos (79%), whites (75%), and Asians (56%) to say that lower-income areas should receive a larger share of resources – such as teachers and classroom materials – as a result of any new funding that might become available. This view is strongly supported by residents across the board (74%), by likely voters (70%), and by majorities in all major political parties (Democrats 79%, Independents 73%, Republicans 64%).

Striking racial and ethnic differences also emerge on the goal of K-12 education. Latinos (56%) are more likely than blacks (34%), Asians (28%), and whites (20%) to say preparing students for college is the most important goal. On the other hand, preparing students for the workforce is less important to Latinos (7%) than it is to whites (21%), blacks (20%), and Asians (16%). Nine in 10 Latinos (91%) and nearly as many blacks (89%) say it is very important that local schools prepare students for college, while fewer Asians (77%) and whites (76%) agree.

Despite their intense focus on college, more Latinos (74%) think it is very important to include career technical, or vocational, education as part of K-12 curriculum than do blacks (65%), whites (64%), or Asians (61%). Overall, more Californians say the premier goal of K-12 education should be preparing students for college (32%), followed by preparing students for the workforce (16%), teaching students life skills (16%), preparing students to be good citizens (15%), and teaching students the basics (13%).


• Where to Begin? Little Consensus About Biggest Education Problem — Page 9
Californians have very different views about what aspect of K-12 public schools most needs improvement. Seventeen different topics were volunteered by at least 2 percent of survey respondents, the most common being teacher quality (11%), followed closely by class size and overcrowding (10%), teaching the basics (9%), discipline and values (8%), insufficient funding (6%), and safety and crime (5%).
• Drop-Out Rate A Bigger Problem than Teacher Quality — Page 12
Residents were asked to rate the seriousness of three issues affecting California’s K-12 education system: the high school drop-out rate, teaching children with limited English language skills, and teacher quality. While majorities say that each of these issues is at least somewhat of a problem, two in three (66%) call the drop-out rate a big problem, and half (50%) say teaching English learners is a big problem. Only 28 percent say the same about teacher quality.
• Extra Boost For English Learners — Page 20
A strong majority (73%) of residents favor providing English language learners with extra educational support, even if it means that they receive more assistance than other students.


This edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey is the third in a series of surveys funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation focusing on education in California. This survey is intended to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussions about a variety of education issues facing the state. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,500 California adult residents interviewed between April 3 and April 17, 2007. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, and Korean. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger. For more information on methodology, see page 29.

Mark Baldassare is the President and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy through objective, nonpartisan research on the economic, social, and political issues that affect Californians. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.

Full study: PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Education, April 2007



From by way of a Councilman Alarcóns media office [as of this writing neither the press release nor the invitation are posted on Alarcón’s website]

In light of the recent court decisions to throw out AB 1381, Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcón, Chair of the City Council’s Education & Neighborhoods Committee, announced that he will hold a hearing on the feasibility of establishing a Department of Education within the City of Los Angeles. Within this Department’s purview would be the ability to create and administer City-run charter schools.

“We cannot let the recent court decision on AB 1381 diminish our efforts to reform the Los Angeles Unified School District,” said Councilmember Alarcón.

Alarcón will conduct this hearing on May 11, 2007 at 9 a.m. at City Hall. Representatives from various City offices, the Mayor’s Office, and the Los Angeles Unified School District, educational organizations and business groups are invited to provide testimony and speak to the feasibility of creating such a Department. Neighborhood Councils and stakeholders are invited to attend and participate in the Public Comment period.

►ANTONIO'S SCHOOLS (AVUSD): Mayor needs authority to set up his own charters

Daily News Editorial

Saturday, April 28, 2007 - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa struggles to get some control over the Los Angeles Unified School District — the courts have struck down his takeover legislation, and next month's school board races promise to be close. So City Councilman Richard Alarcón has come up with a promising alternative: Let the city start up its own district.

Well, not exactly, but close enough. Alarcón is proposing that City Hall open an Office of Education, which would be empowered to create and run charter schools.

Assuming the office could run its schools better than the district does, which shouldn't be hard, students would start streaming in, and what we could then call the Antonio Villaraigosa Unified School District — or AVUSD — would thrive.

Although this proposal is no substitute for reform at the LAUSD — or for electing reformers in next month's school board election — it could help. Given the district's hostility to charters, it would be useful to have another local entity empowered to create them.

Somehow, we need to bring change and a sense of urgency to the LAUSD. If the "AVUSD" is the answer, so be it.

▲ NOTE TO COUNCILMEMBER ALARCÓN: The City Charter actually creates a City Department of Education that has the authority you’re talking about. It’s called the Los Angeles Unified School District and it is governed by the Board of Education of the City of Los Angeles. Look it up. And there is an additional city government office engaged in education – the Commission on Children, Youth and their families. It’s staffed by educators including a former LA, New York and Pasadena superintendent now holding the title of Deputy Mayor. And take a look at your California Constitution and the part that clearly separates municipal government and school district governance. When the mayor first began his campaign that provision hadn’t been tested; now it has been; there have been a couple of court decisions recently that define and confirm that guarantee. Finally, if you’re more interested in the public will than the law take a look at the PPIC survey (above): the people – We the People – think that the biggest problem in California public education is in Sacramento. Quoting: “Most state residents (78%) would prefer to see local players – specifically teachers (34%) and local school districts (31%) – make decisions about how to allocate resources to improve student performance. Thirteen percent choose school principals.”

Councilman, mayors and cities aren’t on the list. —smf/4LALids

WHY TEACHERS LEAVE | Teachers Dropping Out Too: A study blames working conditions. Higher pay isn't the answer, it says.
by Howard Blume, LA Times Staff Writer

April 27, 2007: As a mid-career professional with a doctorate in chemistry, Maurice Stephenson appeared made to order for the Los Angeles Unified School District, especially because he was eager to teach at a high-poverty campus in a system woefully short of qualified science teachers.

But the honeymoon ended abruptly after less than two years. Fed up with student insolence and administrative impotence, he stalked out of Manual Arts High School on March 12 and never went back.

Few teachers quit so dramatically, but leave they do. In California, teachers are departing the profession in alarming numbers — 22% in four years or fewer — but simply offering them more money won't solve the problem, according to a report released Thursday.

The real issue is working conditions, which are the flip side of a student's learning conditions, said Ken Futernick, who directs K-12 studies at the Center for Teacher Quality at Cal State Sacramento.

His study, which was based on a survey of nearly 2,000 California teachers, maps a growing crisis that fundamentally affects student learning.

The study also casts doubt on commonly pursued remedies both for the teacher shortage and student achievement in general.

Classroom interruptions, student discipline, increasing demands, insufficient supplies, overcrowding, unnecessary meetings, lack of support — all play a role in burning out teachers.

"They're not just driving teachers crazy; they're driving teachers out of the classrooms," Futernick said.

Stephenson is among the 35% of L.A. Unified teachers who quit within five years, according to school district data.

And as in most other cases, salary wasn't the primary factor.

In fact, L.A. Unified's data lists salary as the No. 9 reason why new hires leave. No. 1 is "moving." But also cited are "lack of support from administrator," "student discipline policy" and "unmotivated students."

Those results are consistent with Futernick's findings: "When teaching and learning conditions are poor, we discovered that many teachers see their compensation as inadequate. When these teaching and learning conditions are good, not only do teachers tend to stay, they actually view their compensation as a reason for staying."

The findings suggest that when teachers unions advocate primarily for salary, they have it somewhat wrong. On the other hand, Futernick said, administrators are clearly misguided when they focus single-mindedly on getting rid of "bad teachers."

That issue pales in importance to teacher retention. Moreover, at a struggling school, "one is hard-pressed to know the good teachers from the bad. Such a place is not conducive to good teaching," he said.

At high-minority and high-poverty schools, teacher turnover typically runs at 10% annually.

"If this churning is going on, you can be sure you have a dysfunctional school," Futernick said. "As long as we think of these schools as combat zones, we'll never solve the retention problem and we'll never close the achievement gap" between white and Asian students and their black and Latino peers.

Indeed, some researchers have cited the quality of teaching as perhaps the single most important factor that affects student achievement.

High-poverty schools have the additional hurdle of a more limited teaching applicant pool, and they are more likely to have teachers who work outside their field of training.

By some estimates, about $455 million per year is squandered in teacher training in California because of premature departures. Vastly improving teaching conditions probably would cost much more.

"We have a high-school dropout problem," Futernick said, "in large part because we have a teacher dropout problem."

Stephenson, 52, had two pressing complaints at Manual Arts. For one, he said, 39 students were enrolled in a lab class that he said could safely hold only 30.

Then there were the students themselves.

"They were showing up to class totally unprepared, with no pens, no pencils, no paper to work with," he said.

That was particularly irksome, he said, because students could obtain free supplies from a school office.

When he did that errand for them, fellow teachers chastised Stephenson for enabling bad student behavior. Meanwhile, he said, the message from the administration was: The students are staying. Make the best of it.

When the new term started in March, Stephenson took a different tack: "I gave them one week to get all the materials they needed so they could do all their work."

They ignored him. He walked.

So was this teacher worth keeping? Other instructors at the same school have inspired their students. And at a school where freshmen outnumber seniors 3 to 1, any student inside a class could be considered a striving survivor.

District officials had no immediate response to Stephenson's account.

A teachers union official insisted that Stephenson had a solid reputation among instructors.

He became a teacher after years as a science consultant to grant writers and contractors seeking government work.

Officials from L.A. Unified, the largest school district in the state, insisted that they were focusing on the teacher retention problem as never before. The school system has increased its percentage of credentialed teachers to 94% from 78% in the last four years. It also offers pay incentives for teachers in needed fields and for teachers who go to hard-to-staff schools.

The teacher vacancy rate is at an all-time low, said Vivian Ekchian, the district's deputy chief of human resources.

Also, at 22 high schools, including Manual Arts, the district has assigned a full-time teacher to help struggling colleagues and provided a pool of substitutes who attend staff meetings and work at the campus full time.

Teachers union President A.J. Duffy is unimpressed: "L.A. Unified is very good at creating the illusion that they're on it and that things are getting better — and we don't believe that anymore. Which is why our thrust is local control of schools with accountability."

That view has some resonance with academics. California, in its desire for accountability, has made education ever more bureaucratic, rule-oriented and regimented, said Stanford University education professor Susanna Loeb at a conference last week.

Special-education teachers are inundated with paperwork and other stresses that push them out of teaching or at least out of teaching the disabled.

"I told everybody I would teach as long as it was fun," said Barbara Millman, who left her teaching job at a school in San Pedro for the severely disabled at age 63. "They kept squeezing more kids into a class and trying to get by with less assistants. I felt the kids were not getting the kind of attention they needed and that we also were not valued as experts."

Other states, including Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina, use teacher survey information in ways that California does not, Futernick said. North Carolina, in particular, has adopted workplace standards that protect teachers from unnecessary interruptions, paperwork and meetings.

Such standards seem a universe apart from the experience of a former Los Angeles middle school teacher who said she taught at a rodent- and roach-infested campus where students read at a second-grade level and frequently wandered the grounds because no one made them go to class.

"It got to the point where my morale was so low, and I cared so little that I would show up 15 minutes late, with my students waiting outside. No one ever said a word to me. I was still a star," said the former teacher, who asked not to be named because she has returned to the school system for a job outside the classroom.

She had to leave the classroom because "I saw myself turning into the others. What we attract are the martyrs and the lazy, and the conditions perpetuate it."


WHY TEACHERS LEAVE: Top 10 reasons cited by California teachers who quit or planned to quit teaching, or who planned to transfer out of their current schools, because of job dissatisfaction:

Percent saying each reason affected decision

Bureaucratic interference: 57%
Poor support from district: 52%
Low staff morale: 45%
Lack of resources: 42%
Unsupportive principal: 42%
Poor compensation: 41%
Too little decision- making authority: 40%
Too little time for planning: 36%
Accountability pressures: 35%
Lack of teamwork: 35%
Note: Responses are from 220 current and former California teachers who participated in a 2005 online survey by the California State University Center for Teacher Quality.
Source: California State University Center for Teacher Quality
Los Angeles Times

A Possible Dream: Retaining California Teachers So All Students Learn: LINK TO FULL REPORT/KEY FINDINGS/RECOMMENDATIONS/EXECUTIVE SUMMARY



by Mitchell Landsberg, LA Times Staff Writer

April 28, 2007 — Since arriving here earlier this week, teams competing in the National Academic Decathlon in Waikiki have snorkled, hiked, visited Pearl Harbor, played Ultimate Frisbee under the stars, shopped, taken dinner cruises, hung out — all the things you'd expect a group of teenagers to do on what is, for many, their first trip to Hawaii.

But the eight students from El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, who arrived Monday, have opted for a different Hawaiian experience. Each morning, they have risen at 6 a.m. and studied or taken part in the competition until 10 p.m. Then they have gone to sleep.

"It's nice to see the view from our window occasionally," said an only slightly wistful Sam Farahmand, a gangly member of the team known for his dry wit.

The odds-on favorite in the competition, El Camino's team is gunning for a record-tying fifth national title at this annual Super Bowl of brains, which this year has teams from 39 states.

"I think 'focus' is the key word with these kids," said Cliff Ker, the Academic Decathlon coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "They know exactly what they need to do, and they're doing it."

What is it about Los Angeles schools and the Academic Decathlon?

Year after year, California ranks near the bottom in most national measures of academic proficiency. Los Angeles Unified ranks near the bottom of the state.

But in recent years, L.A. Unified has come to practically own the Academic Decathlon. Since 1987, when Marshall High School fielded the first district team to win the decathlon, teams from Los Angeles have won eight more national championships, including the last three in a row, two by El Camino and one by Taft High.

"They have always told us that it is more competitive ... at the L.A. city championships than the nationals," said Teresa Luna, the coach from Madison Academic High School in Jackson, Tenn. "It's like football in Texas."

And as in football, these students have had their game faces on.

On Thursday, when the teams dressed up for their official portraits, there were lots of boys in dress shirts and khakis, and lots of girls in demure dresses.

Then El Camino showed up, looking like the team from the FBI. The five girls and three boys all wore black or dark navy suits and dead-serious expressions. When the photographer, Michael Kelling, asked them to act goofy for one final shot, the students just stared at him.

"Boy, this is a fun group, isn't it?" Kelling said.

Even the team's two coaches, Lissa Gregorio and Liz Johnson, seemed to sense that the students needed to loosen up. "We've got to get them out of these suits," Johnson said.

The thaw ended late Friday after the Super Quiz, the final competitive event and the only one open to the public. El Camino didn't win it, largely for technical reasons. (The Super Quiz is the only event that tallies scores from all nine contestants on a team, and El Camino has only eight, one student having quit earlier in the school year.)

Still, despite the handicap, El Camino placed third, missing only one of the 40 questions the team was asked on this year's Super Quiz topic, climatology. Gregorio said that was a better showing than she had expected and augured well for the final results, which will be announced this afternoon after scores from all events are tallied.

"If this is any indication ... we're sitting in a good position right now," she said.

With the hard part past them, the El Camino students turned giddy, hugging and laughing and high-fiving. Asked about her plans for the night, the normally talkative Shengya Cao smiled wearily. "Relax. Food. Eat." As an afterthought, she added, "Enjoy Hawaii."

Since the beginning of the National Academic Decathlon in 1982, the event has been dominated by two states: California and Texas. California teams have won 13 national titles; Texas, 11. The only other state to win a title is Wisconsin, with a sole victory in 2002.

Those who follow the decathlon say there are three reasons why California schools in general, and Los Angeles schools in particular, do so well. California has the largest high schools in the country, giving each school a big pool of talent. It also has the most schools, so teams that rise to the top have to defeat many rivals.

The state's reputation as a decathlon powerhouse has raised the event's profile, making more students want to participate. And, finally, some districts, especially L.A. Unified, decided early on to make the decathlon a priority and put far more resources into it than their counterparts in other states.

L.A. Unified has a full-time decathlon coordinator and offers stipends for coaches that are the equivalent of what some athletic coaches receive — roughly $4,700 per team per year. The decision to offer coaches extra pay "institutionalized it as much as being head football coach or head baseball coach," said David Tokofsky, a school board member who coached the 1987 Marshall team.

Los Angeles schools are also allowed to offer Academic Decathlon as an elective course, which is not the case everywhere. That gives students an extra hour a day to devote to the team. Still, the teams do most of their studying after school, and it can be an all-consuming pursuit. El Camino's team begins studying in July, and at the start of the school year the students stay every day until 5 p.m. Then, each month, they raise the time commitment until, by January, they are studying five days a week until 10 p.m. and putting in at least an eight-hour day every Saturday.

"We tell their parents, 'We're borrowing them for nine months, and at the end of it, they'll come back newborn kids,' " Gregorio said.

Some have questioned the district's priorities, wondering how it can devote so much attention to the Academic Decathlon when many of its schools are struggling to get their students to graduate. But Ker said he believed that the decathlon is important because it shows what Los Angeles schools can accomplish if they try and because it sends a message to students that academics count.

"There are many people in the district who are tired of getting knocked around for the failures that various people perceive, and after a while, you begin to think that what you're doing is futile," Ker said. "But when that team in 1987 won the national championship, it gave everyone ... a shot of confidence that we could do incredible things."

Academic Decathlon teams win competitions based on overall team point totals, accumulated in a grueling series of speeches, student interviews and academic tests — which include math, social science, language and literature, art, economics and music. Many of the questions had to do with this year's main theme, China. Point totals in statewide competitions offer a way to informally rank teams entering the national championships, because the test material is the same from state to state.

El Camino entered the national showdown with the highest point total from its state competition: 50,486. The next highest-scoring competitor, Waukesha West High School of Waukesha, Wis., had 49,226, a respectable showing but lower than the scores of El Camino's top three statewide competitors, Granada Hills Charter High, Moorpark High and North Hollywood High.

El Camino came to Hawaii expecting a tough challenge from Waukesha, which won the national title in 2002, and from Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, the Illinois state champion and a perennial powerhouse in the national competition. Whitney Young took first place in the Super Quiz; Waukesha tied for second.

Most teams enter the competition knowing they have no chance at the title. There are teams competing that won their state titles with scores that are less than half what the top teams earned. Some can compete for Division II or Division III titles, which go to smaller schools. But they are no more likely to win the overall national title than a minor league baseball team is to beat the Yankees in the World Series.

"California has that tradition and that pride going for them, and everybody else pretty much concedes to them," said Debbye Reed, who coaches the Madison Central High School team from Madison, Miss., a school of 1,300 that won last year's Division II national championship and finished seventh overall.

Some competitors resent California's dominance. An online message board devoted to the Academic Decathlon is full of people rooting for Anybody But El Camino Real. "Nothing against them personally, very strong school, very strong team, but it would be a nightmare come true if they won," one student wrote.

But Reed said she admires the commitment that California districts have made to the competition.

"They know how to do it," she said. "As an educator, it's fun to watch that."

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
►LAUSD SEES A FUTURE IN CAREER ED by Rick Wartzman | California & Co./LA Times

As Supt. David L. Brewer pledged last week to transform the culture of the troubled Los Angeles school system, he once again emphasized the need "to ensure every student graduates … college-prepared and career-ready."

Though it sounded like the same old, same old to me, Santiago Jackson couldn't help but smile. He loves that line.

Until it became Brewer's mantra, "I hadn't heard the words 'career-ready' coming from a superintendent for a long time," says Jackson, the Los Angeles Unified School District official who's in charge of what traditionally was called vocational education but is now known by a new term of art: career technical education.

Jackson and his colleagues are in the midst of putting together a blueprint to increase and improve the delivery of career-oriented classes to LAUSD's vast student body. By June or July, they hope to have mapped out the district's current hodgepodge of offerings in this area and developed a plan for better distributing these resources. [more]




►SCHOOLS DO NEED OVERSIGHT Editorial: LA Downtown News



►A POOR GRADE FOR LAUSD SCHOOL AGAIN: Westchester High ranks in bottom fifth in state. Review hits on achievement, communication, truancy and discipline issues.
by Paul Clinton, Daily Breeze Staff Writer


►WE DON’T KNEAD NO COOKIE DOUGH! by Dan Basalone & Scott Folsom | from the AALA Newsletter

CLICK HERE! ◄► These stories are two clicks away at

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
The ribbon cutting for the JACK & DENNY SMITH LIBRARY AND COMMUNITY CENTER AT MOUNT WASHINGTON SCHOOL will be a 11AM on Monday, April 30th. This is the culmination of over a decade of collaboration and battles with LAUSD, involving the Mount Washington community, civic leaders, community activists, schoolchildren grown to young adulthood, politicians, teachers, a cast of characters from Smith’s columns and most notably Mount Washington’s First Family: the late Jack and Denny Smith.

That Jack and Denny have a children’s library as their memorial is as apropos as Mulholland’s fountain.

The adventure has its parallels in the adventures of Jack and Denny in building their Baja dream home recounted in “God and Mr. Gomez” – and indeed it was only through the grace of God and Mr & Mrs Smith that Monday morning’s dream comes true. Jack lived the beginning of the adventure and he would’ve loved and relished the convoluted entirety of it. Had he written of it as it was going on it would’ve been infinitely more fun. Onward!

11 AM Monday April 30
Mt. Washington Elementary School
3981 San Rafael Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90065

There are other events next week I’m sure, but the LAUSD servers are down for scheduled maintenance – or so they say – so the calendar is a mystery! Or maybe everyone is going to the California PTA Convention in Sacramento May 3-6?
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.
• FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. 4LAKids makes such material available in an effort to advance understanding of education issues vital to parents, teachers, students and community members in a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Bullet points on the collateral damage

4LAKids: Sunday, April 22, 2007
In This Issue:
CHARTER MANIA ISN'T GOOD FOR L.A.: The LAUSD rubber-stamps small charter schools at its own peril, diverting badly needed funds.
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.
• The pursuit of knowledge is a war on ignorance; metaphors are not supposed to have a body count. Students and teachers are supposed to walk away changed and even scathed, but unharmed.

• The nickname “Hokies” – as applied to sports teams, students and alumni was once comedic; now, in an instant: tragic.

• In the summer of ’66 between my high school graduation and entry into college - as a misbegotten foreign war slipped into unpopularity - a gunman climbed up into a tower at the University of Texas and picked off students after first killing his wife and mother to spare them from the embarrassment of what he was about to do. At the end of the day 16 people were dead and 31 wounded; one of the wounded died 35 years later from complications (Where is the novelist/playwright to tell that story?) – bringing the death toll to 17. The shooter was a Texas-American – Texas carried the guilty baggage of an earlier Texas shooter from another tower …and the media was all over that at the time.

• On Monday, as my daughter is poised between her junior and senior year and another war plunges in the ratings, another gunman has shot up the Virginia Polytechnic Institute after apparently first taking care of some personal business. 33 are dead, at least 15 wounded.

• The shooter was not born but raised an American; the media muses upon and anti-immigrant hysterics would attach some culpability to his place of birth. Gentle reader, his act was indisputably American.

• The word ‘random’ gets applied to these incidents – and to Columbine, Jonesboro, Stockton and Nickel Mines – and the other intervening repeated singularities – including shootings at and around our own schools. The only thing random is the differentiation of victims. Randomly some die, some are wounded. The rest of us go into shock or denial.

• We cast about for someone or something to blame. Lax gun laws or the perverse/obverse: a ‘Violence Free/Firearms Forbidden’ zone on campus (“If the students were allowed to carry guns this wouldn’t have been as bad.” Mental illness. Porous borders. Secular humanism. Street gangs. Liberals or conservatives run amok. “The fault,” the bard tells us, “lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Walt Kelly in the person of Pogo Possum seconds Shakespeare’s argument: “We have met the enemy …and he is us.”

• ‘Nuf said? Not hardly.

PARENT SUMMIT: Saturday was the 11th annual LAUSD Parent Summit @ the Convention Center — a fine event bringing together 3000 parents, district leadership and staff for workshops, discussion, networking and lunch. Once a year is not enough. The backstory here and across the state and nation seems to be a drumbeat for more meaningful Parent Involvement – not fliers-in-the-backpack minimal compliance with NCLB but true outreach and interactive accountability — and for some real articulated professional development including parents and the community in the creation of policy, curriculum and planning.

EVER•GREEN: Function: adjective
1 : having foliage that remains green and functional through more than one growing season -- compare DECIDUOUS
2 : retaining freshness or interest : PERENNIAL
Function: noun
1 : an evergreen plant; also : CONIFER
2 plural : twigs and branches of evergreen plants used for decoration
3 : something that retains its freshness, interest, or popularity : ALWAYS NEW
- Webster Online

At Friday afternoon’s Audit, Business and Technology Committee of the Board of Education [held while Superintendent Brewer was holding his press conference about the Evergreen Report (see below)] David Holmquist, the supe’s point person on the BTS Payroll Crisis and triage began his remarks by stating that the rollout of BTS Revision 3 was his and the District’s first priority. Boardmember Tokofsky interrupted, saying the board had been informed by the supe earlier in executive session that there would be no rollout of Revision 3; R.3 was “a no deal”. Holmquist left to confer with the supe and returned to say that R.3 was still on the table. Tokofsky repeated that that was not what the board had been told. What is said in executive session is supposed to stay in executive session – but public trustees hold the public trust.

The Evergreen study is not new material but a review and repackaging of pervious reports; it and they have much to say about accountability and communications – and the lack thereof in LAUSD. How much evidence do we need, how many times does it take? How unusual does business-as-usual need to be?

Onward! —smf

by Joel Rubin and Howard Blume, LA Times Staff Writers

April 21, 2007 — In the wake of a top-to-bottom review that harshly portrays the Los Angeles school system as inefficient and ineffective, Supt. David L. Brewer on Friday promised to quickly bring in outside experts, hire a chief academic officer and elevate almost all schools to academic success by 2013.

Using unsparing language, the sweeping analysis of the Los Angeles Unified School District by a consulting firm highlights serious shortcomings in instruction and fiscal management in the nation's second-largest district.

After becoming schools chief in November, retired Navy vice admiral Brewer called for the report to learn what was working and what wasn't, and to create a road map toward reforming the mammoth district with its roughly 78,000 employees, 700,000 students and $11-billion total annual budget.

The 115-page report — based on previously conducted audits and analyses as well as interviews with more than 100 district employees — describes an operation beset by an almost complete lack of accountability or consequences for poor performance, running from the most senior staff to school principals. Job descriptions are often unclear and evaluations rarely pegged to improved district performance, while communication among various corners of the organization is muddled or nonexistent, the report found.

"The most apparent and inhibiting deficit standing in the way of instructional coherence in LAUSD today is a lack of accountability," said the report by Florida-based Evergreen Solutions. "Currently, directives are given but few, if any, consequences are enforced for noncompliance."

Perhaps the overriding message in the report is that past recommendations, made in one study after another, have rarely moved from paper to reality. In an interview, Brewer promised that things would be different this time.

"We're going to set up a 21st century organization that is execution-oriented," he said. "The culture is going to change."

The first step, he said, is bringing in a temporary "transformation team" composed of outside experts who will be on the job by mid-May. Brewer said he will present his own 5-year strategic plan by June 30.

Brewer said he would initially focus on instruction "because that's our core mission. And the next thing is … the budget. We have to make sure we get our finances and instruction properly aligned."

Permanent hires will include a chief instructional officer — tacit acknowledgment that Brewer is not a career educator.

The school system has two top administrators for instruction, one for elementary schools and one for secondary schools. A key finding of the audit is that there is no effective alignment between the two divisions.

In one example, the report noted students' high failure rate in algebra and criticized officials for not better preparing students in math when they are younger.

The report further questioned why the department in charge of elementary students who speak limited English is separate from the one that handles older students: "The use of multiple, often duplicative, and sometimes conflicting programs, such as those for students who are not fluent in English, fragments instruction and confuses students."

The school district also has failed to replicate programs that are successful. In one example, "principals of schools that had made exceptional progress in raising student achievement reported to the board and identified five strategies they believed had contributed to their success. When asked what had been done in the district as a result of that report, the answer was 'nothing.' "

Brewer also promised another new senior-level hire who will oversee ongoing training for teachers, administrators and other staff. The study criticized the district in this area.

The idea of a senior training official "sounds smart," said Ronni Ephraim, chief instructional officer of the elementary division. "The district spends a lot of money on professional development, and some of that has paid great dividends." But this training is managed by administrators in different departments who don't coordinate with each other: "An office like this can help us."

She added that the audit's criticisms didn't offend her: "I don't think Evergreen was tasked with looking at all the good things that we've done since 1999. This is a plan for how we move forward."

Brewer volunteered specific, ambitious academic benchmarks. He said that by 2013, he intended to have more than 90% of schools surpass a score of 800 on the state's Academic Performance Index. The index grades schools on a scale from 200 to 1,000 based on student test scores in math, English and other subjects; the state's goal for every school is 800. Only five of L.A. Unified's five dozen comprehensive high schools surpassed 800 in 2006.

"It will take time to do this, but we are going to get started right now," Brewer said.

Brewer replaced former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer who, in his six-year tenure, concentrated mainly on new school construction and improving reading and math in the elementary grades through a uniform curriculum. The Evergreen report recommended further expansion of that approach to upper grades.

The consultants, paid $350,000 so far for their work, found that the district had made somewhat better progress on its business side, citing the rollout of a $95-million computer system that, despite continuing widespread problems with payroll, is expected to streamline purchasing, budgets and other tasks.

A teachers union official had some reservations about the proposed transformation team.

"We would have concerns about bringing in outside consultants who probably charge a lot of money," said Joshua Pechthalt, a vice president of United Teachers Los Angeles. "There are 100,000 district employees. Tapping into that body of knowledge may be a better way to go. Supt. Brewer did indicate he wanted us to look at this report and give him feedback on it. I take him at his word."

Some facets of Brewer's reform plan may require negotiating with employee unions. All of its major provisions would need school board approval.

The report comes as district senior staff braces for an expected shake-up by Brewer in coming months and elected school board members recover from a protracted battle with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has campaigned aggressively for substantial influence over the district.

Indeed, some of the report's most scathing conclusions echo criticisms by the mayor over the last year. "The current culture in LAUSD is one typified by not responding to priorities and deadlines, and there is no sense of urgency among managers," the consultants wrote.

Board President Marlene Canter chafed at such words, saying, "I don't think it's necessary. When we're asking for a tool we can utilize to help us improve, you don't need to use that type of language."

Canter nonetheless said she hoped the report would help Brewer.

Board member David Tokofsky agreed: "It's recycled material, but it's a one-spot look for the superintendent to see some of what's come before him and what's in front of him. "As for the school board itself, Brewer elaborated on the consultants' analysis. The board, he said, needs to focus more on policymaking and less on trying to run the school district. Its bureaucracy, Brewer added, was largely to blame for such micromanaging, saying staff members have made the board "work too hard to get information."

The superintendent added that Villaraigosa could play a vital role, but stopped well short of offering the sweeping involvement sought by the mayor. The courts have thrown out as unconstitutional a law that would have given Villaraigosa control over three high schools and the elementary and middle schools that feed into them.

Janelle Erickson, an aide to the mayor, said Villaraigosa had been briefed on the report. It "makes clear what teachers and parents have been telling us for years: that the massive central bureaucracy is … stopping any real reform effort," Erickson said.

The mayor, Brewer said, is "welcome to make an offer" of how he'd like to be involved. Rather than running a group of schools, "I would like to see the mayor help me out with the entire district."

EXCERPTS / 'There is no sense of urgency'

• "Local district superintendents have not been given the authority, responsibility or human/fiscal resources to accomplish their mission."
• School-board "adopted policies either do not exist, are outdated, or, in many cases, administrators are not aware of the adoption of a board policy; the board's policy manual has not been updated in decades."
• "There is no linkage between planning and budgeting. Consequently, there is little evidence that fiscal resources are being directed to support district goals."
• "The lack of accountability is pervasive throughout the organization at all levels. The current culture in LAUSD is one typified by not responding to priorities and deadlines, and there is no sense of urgency among managers."
• "The Information Technology Department (ITD) is too isolated from its clientele. Furthermore, LAUSD lacks an accountability program for information technology. ITD has never prepared a long-range strategic plan for information technology."
• "Currently, directives are given but few, if any, consequences are enforced for noncompliance."
• "Interviewees expressed a concern regarding the achievement levels of LAUSD students on Algebra I. However, the elementary and secondary departments have not yet developed a cohesive approach … that will create a sound foundation for student success."
• "The use of multiple, often duplicative, and sometimes conflicting programs, such as those for students who are not fluent in English, fragments instruction and confuses students who are not conversant in English in the first place, by teaching them skills in different ways with different programs."
• "By its own calculations, LAUSD estimates the cost of deferred maintenance to be over $6 billion. This huge burden has resulted in a nearly total emphasis on a daily response by maintenance to emergency calls."
• "The current average of the bus fleet is 19 years ….The Evergreen Team has never seen 19 years as the average age."

—from Evergreen Report – highlights compiled by Howard Blume and Joel Rubin


by Paul Clinton, Staff writer | Daily Breeze

April 16, 2007 — Houston Magee never seriously considered college.

But now, five years after graduating from San Pedro High, Magee is lining up a $70,000-a-year job as a power-line worker scaling 45-foot electrical poles.

Magee, 23, has completed a career and technical program -- a partnership between Los Angeles Unified and several utilities -- that gave him the skills for the job.

"I wanted to learn a skill or craft," Magee said. "Sometimes getting to the books gets boring."

Five days a week, Magee attends classes at East Los Angeles Skills Center, then drives to Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center in Harbor City, where he works as a laboratory assistant.

Students like Magee who have a high school diploma and career certification may be the wave of the future in Los Angeles Unified.

The district is rethinking its vocational program and considering a partnership with California State University schools to align curriculum.

Under one element of a reform plan circulated by Superintendent David Brewer, students graduating high school would receive a "triple crown" -- a high school diploma, career skills certificate and a community college associate degree.

"(Brewer) is formally and actively linking the middle school right through the community colleges," said Alan Helfman, spokesman for the district's adult education division.

The power-line program -- one of at least 75 certification programs the school district offers -- has gained in popularity in recent years. Now offered at only two LAUSD campuses, East Los Angeles and the Pacoima Skills Center, the program is expected to expand to other sites such as the Harbor Occupational Center in San Pedro, Helfman said.

LAUSD isn't alone in rethinking career education. In November, voters handed $500 million to state career and technical programs as part of the $20 million Proposition 1B. Los Angeles Unified will be eligible for a portion of that money.

Vocational programs offer an important alternative to the college track, said Lisa Snell, education director at Los Angeles think tank Reason Foundation.

"A lot of vocational markets can't get workers from truck drivers to auto mechanics," Snell said. "In some ways, a lot of these jobs pay much more than getting your four- or six-year degree."

Magee was on a waiting list -- which has surged to 1,000 names -- for more than year before he was admitted to the skills center.

He completed 600 hours of course work that resembles more of a job site than a classroom.

For three days a week, students gather to mount 45-foot poles using safety belts and leg-fastened spikes known as gaffs to shimmy.

They work in teams with advanced students taking on supervisory roles as "yard dog" and quartermaster to mimic an actual workplace. The yard dogs keep workers on task, while the quartermaster provides food and supplies.

Students also learn applied mathematics and electrical theory in a classroom setting.

"The structure of our program is student-led," said Chuck Burnett, an instructor and recruitment executive at Southern California Edison.

Edison, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and utilities in Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena hire many of the graduates, Burnett said.


by Howard Blume, LA Times Staff Writer

April 20, 2007 — A massive new state program to reduce class sizes will benefit the Los Angeles Unified School District more than anticipated. District officials had expected the state to fund about 80 local schools. Instead, the actual number is likely to be 86 to 93 campuses.

That's just a handful more, but for those extra schools, it will be a bit like winning the lottery. These schools will get as much as $1,000 more per student for seven years.

The money is part of a $3-billion settlement to a lawsuit filed against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger by the California Teachers Assn. and state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. They had alleged that Schwarzenegger broke an agreement, made early in his administration, to fully fund public schools.

All parties agreed that the settlement money should be used to reduce class sizes and increase the number of counselors at California's lowest performing schools.

To increase the amount of dollars for each school, they also decided to fund about one-third of the 1,455 eligible schools. Doing the math, local officials figured they would receive money for about 80 schools.

They did better because 195 eligible schools elsewhere in California didn't apply.

L.A. Unified also did well because officials persuaded all but two of its eligible schools to submit applications.

For more than 60% of schools, this is an act of charity. They were too low on the district priority list to have any hope of receiving this funding.

But by submitting an application, they increased the number of L.A. Unified spots in the lottery.

A final group of schools won't be selected until May because other factors will affect the lottery list.

For one thing, at least one school must be chosen from every county.

▲smf’s 2¢: It is wonderful that many schools – including many in LAUSD – will get “additional” funding in this “massive ‘new’ state program”. But “additional” isn’t in quotation marks in some sort of typographical error. This money was always rightfully the schools, “borrowed” from the Prop 98 constitutional guarantee and cut from previous school district budgets – from every district and every school in the state – by legislative and gubernatorial fiat …promised and then withheld by the once and future “Education Governor” and pried lose by a lawsuit. The fact that schools need to apply for their money is preposterous – the actuality that it is being distributed though a lottery is outrageous. When you borrow stuff you return it to who you borrowed it from – with no strings attached.

CHARTER MANIA ISN'T GOOD FOR L.A.: The LAUSD rubber-stamps small charter schools at its own peril, diverting badly needed funds.
Op-Ed in the LA Times by Ralph E. Shaffer and Walter P. Coombs, professors emeriti at Cal Poly Pomona.

April 19, 2007 — Listening recently to Steve Barr, the charter school movement's fair-haired boy and founder of the ever-expanding Green Dot Public Schools company, you'd think that the Los Angeles Unified School District is on a mission to kill charter schools. "Now we're outsiders," Barr fumed March 29, after the school board initially rejected his plan for eight new schools in South Los Angeles. "I really have a hard time finding any reason to continue talking with this district."

But the school board's spine softened last week, and the new Green Dot schools got the OK to open in 2008. That's more like the way the district has been operating: rubber-stamping new charters left and right. It continues this way at its own peril.

L.A. Unified, the second-largest school district in the country, is the epicenter of the burgeoning charter movement. The district already has more than 100 charter schools, and about 5% of its students are enrolled in them.

Charter schools, which were authorized by state legislation in 1992, are touted as models of innovative education, publicly financed but free of many restrictions placed on conventional public schools. The LAUSD authorized its first charter in 1993. The number grew slowly until 2001, then escalated dramatically. An overly enthusiastic Barr anticipates that by 2016, 75% of LAUSD pupils will be in charters.

Anyone can play superintendent. The request can be rejected only if the petitioner doesn't have a feasible educational program or sufficient financial resources to get a school started — which seems to be why the school board changed course on Green Dot last week. Only the most questionable proposals are denied, such as a 1997 request to the LAUSD for a charter based on L. Ron Hubbard's educational theories.

California law even pays charters to home-school kids. How long before some wag suggests that we simply shut down all public schools and home-school everyone?

Critics often suggest that it's teachers unions that stand in the way of progress, opposing charters and their innovations — even though it's teachers who have for years demanded freedom to innovate in the classroom. But any union opposition to charters largely evaporated in 2000. To gain support for passage of a ballot measure lowering the percentage of votes required to pass school bonds, the union's successful initiative contained wording allowing charters to receive bond money.

So now, under Proposition 39, districts provide charters with bond money for construction. And, like conventional schools, they receive state funding. Charters also twist arms at local school boards to gain multimillion-dollar loans.

And what do taxpayers get in return? A growing fight over education money and schools that are, at best, unorthodox.

The most controversial is surely Academia Semillas del Pueblo in El Sereno. Last year, right-wing blogs and radio raised an outcry because of reports that it promoted a Latino-separatist agenda and taught the indigenous Mexican language Nahuatl and Aztec mathematics. The school, where test scores haven't risen in five years, nonetheless got its charter renewed last month. The Accelerated School, a South Los Angeles charter school, was among the first to try Yoga Ed., a yoga-based program developed, critics claim, by a "New Age nut out to brainwash young minds."

Curriculum disputes aside, a continuing statewide scandal has revealed misused funds and loan defaults. The Accelerated School defaulted on a multimillion-dollar LAUSD loan. Gorman Charter, which operates in Los Angeles and surrounding counties, was cited for misuse of $7.7 million after an audit. Other for-profit charters, where owners were lining their pockets, have been shut by the state and county.

Can charter schools in Los Angeles do a better job than conventional ones? A good deal of anecdotal evidence inflates charter schools' accomplishments. But test scores raise doubts.

The 2006 Academic Performance Index incorporates standardized test results into a school score between 200 and 1,000. The statewide average, for grades 2-11, is 721. LAUSD conventional schools, with 95% of the district's students, scored 700. LAUSD charters, with only 5%, did only slightly better at 708. That's an insignificant difference considering that charters have a select clientele, siphoning off kids with the most-engaged parents.

Charter mania won't end soon. Too many advocates benefit from the system. Leftists see charters as a way to promote their agenda. Right-wingers use them to advance 19th century educational theories.

But in our zeal to try something new, we've created a competing educational system that is largely unregulated and potentially disastrous. Turning over our schools to self-proclaimed reformers and for-profit business is a sure-fire way to end California's proud history of free, universal public education.

Click for info on AB 1609–legislation currently being considered that would let school boards refuse charters if charters negatively impact district.



April 17, 2007 — LOS ANGELES — Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to assume partial control of the Los Angeles school district was unanimously rejected Tuesday by a state appellate court panel that questioned its impact on voters' rights.

The three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal heard two hours of oral arguments from attorneys for the mayor and the board of education on April 2, with Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Parents Union attempting to convince the justices to overturn a judge's Dec. 21 ruling that the law creating the mayor's plan is unconstitutional.

"The citizens of Los Angeles have the constitutional right to decide whether their school board is to be appointed or elected," Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in the 44-page opinion. "If the citizens of Los Angeles choose to amend their charter to allow the mayor to appoint the members of the board, such amendment would indisputably be proper."

Croskey wrote that the Legislature, which passed the Villaraigosa plan, cannot ignore the constitutional rights of citizens based on the belief the mayor can do a better job of running the schools.

The mayor said his lawyers would review the court's ruling before a decision is made on a possible appeal.

"My first instinct would be to appeal it, and it may be that after reviewing the decision that it might not feasible, frankly," Villaraigosa said.

Attorneys in the case were not immediately available for comment.

During the April 2 hearing, the most pointed questions came from Justice Joan Dempsey Klein, who noted the legislation, AB 1381, is scheduled to expire in six years if eventually enacted into law.

"There are only 'X' number of years to this scheme and then it's all over," Klein said. "Does that coincide with the two terms of the mayor?"

Attorneys for the Los Angeles Unified School District argued that the mayor's plan runs afoul of the Constitution and that the Legislature, by making it law, intended to give him powers beyond those he is granted in his elected job as the city's chief executive.

"It is unabashed that their purpose is to take away power and to give it to somebody else they think would do a better job at it," Fredric D. Woocher, one of the attorneys representing the Board of Education, said then.

The Office of Legislative Counsel twice concluded that the bill was unconstitutional, Woocher said.

AB 1381 -- signed into law last September by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - - would have shifted some of the decision-making authority from the seven- member board to the district's superintendent.

The law also would have created a Council of Mayors, giving a significant role to Los Angeles' mayor in managing the nation's second-largest school district, and granted individual schools greater control over their budgets and curriculum during a six-year trial period.

The mayor and a Community Partnership for School Excellence also were to have been put in control of a "demonstration project" made up of the district's three lowest-performing high schools and their feeder campuses.

The LAUSD and a coalition of district parents, students, administrators and the League of Women voters filed suit Oct. 10 challenging the plan.

In her questioning of the attorneys, Justice Klein asked whether Villaraigosa could have obtained some of the same goals by working within existing law and focusing on such areas as charter schools.

"Speak to me about the right of the people to have a voice with the mayor sitting on top of the heap," Klein asked attorneys for the mayor.

Justice Patti S. Kitchings queried the mayor's lawyers about whether giving Villaraigosa such powers is in conflict with findings by the city Charter Commission that the mayor does not have control of the schools.

"This would be getting around the decision of the local Charter Commission, would it not?," Kitchings asked.

Croskey wanted to know whether the plan "undermines rights people have to elect that governing (school) board. That right goes right out the window, doesn't it?"

But Daniel Collins, an attorney for Villaraigosa, argued "the votes of no one are being diluted." He said the bill instead establishes a re- delegation of duties.

Deputy Attorney General Susan K. Leach, representing the governor, argued the legislation would still leave the school board with significant powers, including control over the budget and of employee contracts.

AB 1381 was scheduled to become law on Jan. 1. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra I. Janavs threw it out entirely just before Christmas, saying it transferred management and control of LAUSD schools to entities that are not part of the public school system.

The law also wrongly removed LAUSD schools from the exclusive control of the officers of the public schools, Janavs concluded. She called the changes under AB 1381 "drastic" and "unprecedented."


by Michael R. Blood Associated Press Writer
© 2007 The Associated Press

April 17, 2007— LOS ANGELES – (AP) – His thousand-watt smile turned into a thousand-mile stare when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa learned that Los Angeles lost its chance to host the 2016 Olympics. The episode could be a metaphor for an administration endeavoring to fulfill its promise.

Approaching the midpoint of his four-year term, there's no question the freshman Democrat has given the office a jolt of youthful brio and a sense of purpose that defies its limited powers.

Villaraigosa has added hundreds of officers to the woefully understaffed Police Department, and a shaky budget hasn't deterred him from targeting more potholes and extending library hours.

But his signature plan to seize control of local schools — the issue that defined his candidacy — was declared unconstitutional Tuesday by a state appeals court. He's on a crusade to reduce gang violence, but it continues to take a toll in troubled neighborhoods. LA traffic remains LA traffic.

Plans to remake a forgettable downtown into a 21st century landmark and extend the subway system remain mostly on the drawing board. And a shocking case of homeless dumping — a hospital van left a paraplegic man crawling on Skid Row — was a reminder of the city's long-standing inability to help those most in need.

They are the intractable problems of urban America. But Villaraigosa, the city's first Hispanic mayor since the 19th century, "satisfies a lot of public whims, seeming to try to do everything he can on every issue," said Jaime Regalado of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

"What he's selling is the energy and the vision thing," Regalado said.

To others, he's overreached.

"You can't have your hand in every pot," said loan underwriter Larna Hayden, 57, who voted for the mayor. "The school district needs to handle its own business."

Villaraigosa, 54, was elected in May 2005 after the lackluster term of James Hahn, whose self-described "charisma deficit" appeared ill-fitted to the nation's second-largest city. The interracial coalition that vaulted Villaraigosa into office earned him comparisons to Tom Bradley, who made history in 1973 when he became Los Angeles' first black mayor.

His be-everywhere, do-everything attitude has inspired residents. But Villaraigosa got a stinging reminder Tuesday of challenges ahead — a state appeals court ruled that the law that would have granted him a hand in running the school district was unconstitutional, upholding an earlier decision. The court depicted the law as a clumsy attempt to strip power from the elected school board, based on an assumption Villaraigosa could do a better job.

"In political terms, he's been pretty much a sensation," said political scientist Raphael Sonenshein of California State University, Fullerton. "On the policy side, he's taken on a whole bunch of things that are awfully hard."

Villaraigosa spokesman Sean Clegg said the mayor "is in the education-reform business to stay. ... He'll be looking at other pathways to reform."

The mayor is planning to sketch out details of his new gang strategy Wednesday in his annual state of the city speech. It will merge aggressive law enforcement with services and prevention programs in an attempt to steer youth away from the lure of crime.

A high-school dropout from a broken home who went on to become speaker of the state Assembly, Villaraigosa's image is defined by his buoyant personality and ubiquitous presence. But that has its limits as he grapples with issues that have defied his predecessors, from knotty traffic to a lack of affordable housing.

The city's economy is doing well, in large part because of tourism and international trade, but trouble in the residential home market could crimp city revenue. He recently told department heads to reduce spending by 5 percent.

He has said the future of Los Angeles, with a population verging on 4 million, is perched between "immense possibility and ... profound uncertainty." In typical style, he often urges supporters to increase their ambitions, not be deterred by setbacks.

When asked if the city would pursue the 2020 Olympics after Chicago won the right to compete for the 2016 games, he said, "Without question."


by Naush Boghossian, Staff Writer | LA Daily News

04/16/2007 — Los Angeles Unified has five shuttered campuses — four of them in the San Fernando Valley — but says it would cost too much to reopen the schools despite the pleas for classroom space from the booming charter movement.

And charter operators also say they can't afford — and shouldn't have to pay — the multimillion-dollar cost of renovating the decrepit campuses and preparing them for students.

Still, with state money available for charter development and charters a key issue in the upcoming school board race, officials on both sides now say there may be a way to work together to help the independent campuses evolve.

"These seats cost money," said Greg McNair, the district's chief administrator for charter schools.

"If they want to partner with us in identifying the cost there in order to make an intelligent decision about whether they want to pay the cost, I'd be happy to do that, but that just hasn't happened yet.

"I think this should be a joint venture between the district and charter schools, not just this constant complaining and haranguing about nothing's happening," he said.

Caprice Young, who heads the California Charter Schools Association, said she's prepared to discuss reopening the schools as charters, but was skeptical of the district's commitment.

"What our experience has been is we have meetings and meetings and meetings in rooms full of 30 district staff, none of whom have the power to make a decision," Young said. "We're ready to meet on it and we'd like to get schools in those campuses, but so far that hasn't been our experience.

"They're all talk and no action, but we're ready to get it done."

The dilemma is exemplified by Highlander Road Elementary in West Hills, which was closed 18 years ago because of declining enrollment in the area. Currently used for storage, the campus was offered by Los Angeles Unified to a charter, but operators refused because of the $11 million cost to get it ready for students.

Charter officials note that voter-approved Proposition 39 makes the district responsible for providing them with classroom space and say LAUSD should foot the bill.

District officials say that money — about $85 million remains — is earmarked to relieve classroom overcrowding and cannot be used to build outdated buildings up to code.

Still, Tamar Galatzan, who is challenging school board member Jon Lauritzen in the May 15 runoff, said she would make it a priority to get the shuttered campuses reopened if she's elected on May 15.

"One of the first issues I intend to pursue is how to turn Highlander Road and other closed school sites into thriving schools once again," she said during a news conference last Thursday in front of the campus.

"We cannot continue to deprive the West Valley and any other neighborhoods in the district of quality schools."

Lauritzen noted that the school board is spending $12 million to reopen Enadia Way Elementary in Canoga Park, and that it may be time to take other campuses out of mothballs, as well.

"We have taken on that bureaucracy when we fought to have one of those schools reopen," Ed Burke, Lauritzen's chief of staff, said of the Enadia Way project. "And now we will fight to open others as we create the need."

The creation of charter schools is an issue that has sharply divided Lauritzen and Galatzan in their high-profile race to represent the West San Fernando Valley on the LAUSD board.

Like the teachers' union that supports him, Lauritzen is a critic of charters, maintaining that students can best be served by working through the district.

Galatzan, who is backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his education-reform movement, maintains that the independent schools offer alternatives that help spur student achievement.

The fact that there are five shuttered campuses in LA — Highlander, Collins Street, Oso Avenue and Platt Ranch in the Valley and 98th Street in South LA — while scores of charters are clamoring for space demonstrates the need for new leadership on the school board, Galatzan said.

"The condition of Highlander School — weeds growing out of the pavement, boarded-up classrooms — is symbolic of the LAUSD's failure to serve the parents, teachers and students of our community," she said.

But LAUSD officials said just a handful of charters have expressed interest in the shuttered schools. Most of the 103 charters are located over the hill, so the Valley campuses don't meet their needs.

Still, the facility shortage has surfaced as the No. 1 impediment to the growth of the charter movement, with many operating out of churches and warehouses with concrete parking lots serving as the playground.

The district is using the empty campuses for adult education, professional development centers, staff offices, and in some cases leasing them out. Highlander was leased for years to a private school until 2004 and is now being used for storage.

LAUSD officials maintain they don't have enough surplus classroom space in their 850 schools to meet the demand voiced by charters. The district is in the midst of a $19 billion construction program, but only after years of not building schools.

"The reality is that the district has what it has and offered what it has to the charter schools under Prop. 39," McNair said. "The district doesn't want to hold anything back.

We've been busing students for over a decade to spaces in the Valley and the Westside because we didn't have space for kids in their neighborhoods."

Two dozen Valley schools were closed between 1970 and 1987, and all but five have since reopened, most for instructional uses, said Guy Mehula, LAUSD's chief facilities executive. The Enadia Way project will bring that number down to four.

"The reason they're not being used as a school right now is they don't have the enrollment in that area to substantiate opening them as a school," Mehula said.

McNair said he's open to conversations with charter operators about reopening shuttered campuses, but noted there's just $85 million to be shared among more than 100 charter schools.

"We should go jointly and make a reasonable evaluation of cost and reasonable decisions on how much we each want to contribute in terms of resources," McNair said. "Saying to one school we'll spend $10 million of the charter bond money to give 300 seats is probably going to make a whole bunch of people upset.

"Charter bond money could be utilized in better ways."

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
• Monday Apr 23, 2007
CENTRAL REGION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL #21: Site Selection Update Meeting
Join us at this meeting where we will present and discuss the most suitable site(s) for this new school project.
6:00 p.m. — Harmony Elementary School
899 E. 42nd Place
Los Angeles, CA 90011

• Monday Apr 23, 2007
SOUTH REGION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL #10: Site Selection Update Meeting
Join us at this meeting where we will present and discuss the most suitable site(s) for this new school project.
6:00 p.m. — Menlo Elementary School - Auditorium
4156 Menlo Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90037

• Tuesday Apr 24, 2007
Please join us at an Open House to showcase our new classroom building!
2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. — Normont Elementary School
1001 W. 253rd St.
Harbor City, CA 90710

• Wednesday Apr 25, 2007
LAUSD has completed a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for this new school project. The purpose of this meeting is to present the Draft EIR to the community, and receive comments and questions regarding the results of the Draft EIR.
6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. — Byrd Middle School
9171 Telfair Avenue
Sun Valley, CA 91352

• Thursday Apr 26, 2007
6:00 p.m. — McCarthy Contractors Office
(Large Meeting Room)
630 Shatto Place, 4th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90005

*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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