Monday, July 04, 2011

The pursuit of happiness

Onward! 4LAKids
4LAKids: Monday 4•July•2011 Independence Day
In This Issue:
HOW A DETERMINED MOM WON EQUALITY FOR GIRLS' SOFTBALL: Chatsworth High's sports program was found to be in violation of Title IX
THE GREAT ACADEMIC IMPLOSION: A 10% Homework Cap -or- LAUSD Gets Punked!
HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
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"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

John Locke wrote in his 1693 Essay Concerning Human Understanding that "the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness." European intellectuals and philosophers developed Locke's 'perfection' into a natural rights over the next century. David Hume apparently coined the three-word phase 'pursuit of happiness' in the 1748 edition of An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Dr. Johnson used the phrase in 1759 in his novel The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, a allegorical romance about searching for happiness.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights adopted on June 12, 1776 and written by George Mason, declared that "All men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

In June of '76 in Philadelphia the Second Continental Congress (and the grammar police) were already at work – and Jefferson and Ben Franklin agreed that Property wasn't amongst the first tier of human rights. Jefferson – charged with writing the first draft on what would become The Declaration of Independence went on to craft what is considered by some as part of one of the most well crafted, influential sentences in the history of the English language.[1]

The Constitution never mentions Happiness, it defaults to Life, Liberty and Property in the fifth and fourteenth Amendments. And other nations' comparable tripartite mottoes include "liberté, égalité, fraternité" (liberty, equality, fraternity) in France, "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" (unity, justice and freedom) in Germany, "life, liberty, and prosperity" in Australia or "peace, order and good government" in Canada. The pursuit of happiness is identified in the Japanese Constitution – but one sees the hand of Douglas MacArthur here.

Obviously Jefferson's three unalienable rights are not complete or absolute; "among these are..." leaves the door open – showing the original intent of the founding fathers was expansion of rights, not limitation.

The Pursuit is a unique American expression and guarantee of The American Dream. And that dream is best realized through free universal public education.
I SPENT A GREAT DEAL OF THIS WEEK IN SAN DIEGO AT THE SIXTH BIENNIAL CHILDHOOD OBESITY CONFERENCE []. I'm not going to bore everyone with the dire statistics and bleak projections of Obesity and shortened lifespans and Diabetes, etc. – but instead am delighted to report that the data show a leveling-off of the trends and projections. And the conference showed that the right folks are addressing the issues in harmony and unison – and incorporating/consolidating the challenges of the School Meal Program, Women and Infants Care, Food Stamps, public education, physical activity, public planning, transportation Policy and Politics into a shared common mission that has become a movement. This is a dramatic shift – and like all such is not without – uh – drama.

The fact that the growth rate is leveling is hopeful news; the reality that government agencies like the Departments Of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services – and The White House and the First Lady are together on this with local and state public health, education, nutrition, farmers and environmentalists - the public and private sectors together - is promising. We can all sing Kumbaya – but we are a still a long way from being able to say that the issue is solved. Onward!

I MISSED THE LAST MINUTE SPECIAL BOARD MEETING ON THURSDAY - where the board approved its budget for last minute/at-the-deadline submission to the county. In the board's defense, the state came up with its budget only the day before. But indefensible was the decision to issue 3000 layoffs. (Last Sunday The Times predicted 'nearly 2000' ...but who's counting?) Governor Brown urged school districts to maintain current staffing and programmatic levels for the coming school year – but the board, advised by the superintendent, decided to not heed that advice.

FRIDAY'S BOARD MEETING WAS A DIFFERENT THING, a meeting that was supposed to be the ritual swearing in of three re-elected members and the installation of Bennett Kaiser as the newest member – taking the seat of the departing Yolie Flores. The performances by student musicians was outstanding – but what quickly played out was the emergence of a four-to-three split on the board, with Boardmembers Galatzan, Garcia, Martinez and Vladovic aligned with Mayor Tony - with Boardmembers LaMotte, Kayser and Zimmer aligned against him. Ms. Garcia was reelected Board President, but when challenged – and Ms. LaMotte challenged at the opening bell - responded testily that the challengers need to accept "reform".

"Reform" is word that differs in meaning from side-to-side and day-to-day. Like "choice" it all matters on who gets to choose. Do parents get to choose, or teachers and educators ...or do boardmembers get to choose – and outside operators? The mayor's definition of reform used to be for urgent rather than incremental progress ...but now that his partnership schools are showing incremental progress that is the meaning of reform. The mayor supports Prop 39 co-location with charter operators – as long as those operators aren't looking to co-locate at schools he operates like Santee Learning Center.
Time will tell how this 4-to-3 split will play out. Some votes – like eminent domain and borrowing money – require super-majorities. And if UTLA calls all the shots for the three vote minority it means that the best interests of parents and students may go down a notch.

NEW BOARDMEMBER KAYSER OFFERED SOME INTERESTING THINKING IN HIS INAUGURAL SPEECH. He questioned the prioritization of spending for the funds Superintendent Deasy intends to raise in His Robin Hood West effort [] – suggesting increasing funding for Arts+Music, Classroom supplies, Maintenance and Operations, charter school accountability, middle school focus and Field Trips. Kayser also called for the board to return to its structure of regular committee meetings to address Curriculum and Instruction, Finance, and Facilities issues -- abandoned at President Garcia's suggestion to save money and allow boardmembers more time for whatever they need more time for.

This annual meeting probably wasn't the proper venue for Dr. Deasy to respond to these suggestions - and he did not. President Garcia allowed public comment – none of it supportive of her leadership – and then continued any business to the next meeting – in favor of a reception in Blue Room.

IN THE BLUE ROOM there was a nutritional faux pas when chocolate milk was set out and then whisked way (June 30th was supposed to be the last of flavored milk at LAUSD). And there were killer chocolate chip cupcakes catered by adult ed culinary arts students to go along with the finger sandwiches and 1% milk.

If the chocolate milk and the Death-by-Chocolate cupcakes – or David Tokofsky's improvised (or not) additions to the oath of office ("I promise to obey the mayor in all things" ...or something like that) were the worst things to happen the day would've been a tremendous success. They weren’t.

So we turn a new leaf – and it barely covers the regime’s lack of clothing. And we continue pursuing our happiness - ¡Onward/Adelante! -smf

● “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Thomas Jefferson


[1] "Lucas, Stephen E., "Justifying America: The Declaration of Independence as a Rhetorical Document," in Thomas W. Benson, ed., American Rhetoric: Context and Criticism (1989).


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News |

7/01/2011 08:58:59 PM PDT - The Los Angeles Unified school board officially swore in its new and returning members Friday, but oath ceremonies quickly gave way to a power struggle as the board's president faced her first challenge in years.

Three former teachers, including new board member Bennett Kayser, tried to flex their muscle as a new pro-union minority bloc in a bid to wrest the presidency from Monica Garcia. She has held the post for four years with little challenge to her re-election and is seen as an ally of the "reform" community.

Member Marguerite LaMotte, who voiced strong opposition to the board's current leadership, nominated Steve Zimmer for the post. Ultimately, however, the three could not swing the additional vote they needed and Garcia was re-elected to a fifth term on a 4-3 vote.

LaMotte accused Garcia of being the vehicle for outside forces, like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to exert power over school district business.

"I was personally hoping you would give someone else a chance... We are giving away schools, we have taken away public input ... something has to change," LaMotte said.

She sardonically suggested that Garcia add an eighth chair to the board for the mayor, so at least his input would be publicized rather than offered behind closed doors.

Garcia did not respond directly to her remarks, but made no apologies for what she described as working with a coalition of outside partners to improve the schools, including Villaraigosa and other elected officials.

After defeating the challenge, Garcia - whose district encompasses central Los Angeles - called for working together in the interest of students.

"While there may be disagreements, I don't think any of these six other members are confused about why they are here and what their goals are... to make sure that all children in this district have the opportunity to have a great education," Garcia said.

Garcia said she is only the third Latina to be board president over 155 years, and the first to hold on to that title for five years.

Villaraigosa, who was traveling out of town Friday, issued a statement in support of Garcia's re-election. Villaraigosa was instrumental in getting Garcia elected six years ago, after he failed in his attempt to take over the school board and shifted gears toward electing a reform minded majority.

"Monica Garcia has shown tremendous leadership and I am thrilled to see her rewarded with another term at the helm of the School Board," Villaraigosa said.

The board swore in two re-elected members for second terms: Tamar Galatzan, who represents the west San Fernando Valley, and Richard Vladovic, who represents the South Bay and South Los Angeles

The only new member was Kayser. He replaced Yolie Flores, who represented much of the eastern rim of the district and became perhaps the strongest voice for change at LAUSD during her four-year term. Kayser said he intends to shift the dialogue after spending the last 14 years as a middle school science teacher.

During a swearing-in speech, Kayser laid out goals that included raising funds for magnet schools, focusing more intervention efforts on middle school students and having stricter oversight of charter schools - especially those that do not serve enough students with special needs.

Kayser also drew immediate attention to his battle with Parkinson's disease, a condition that he said was serious but "also helps me as a politician because I shake hands with so many people."


By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times |

July 2, 2011 - After four Los Angeles school board members were sworn in for four-year terms Friday, a verbal skirmish broke out, with one member calling the newly reelected board president a flunky for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Monica Garcia, who has strong ties to the mayor, was one of those reelected. She was also reappointed president of the seven-person panel.

But Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte could not let the meeting end without calling out her colleagues for playing politics. She heatedly criticized the district's actions, including allowing charter school operators to take over some campuses, and Garcia's leadership. Garcia has served as president, a largely ceremonial position, since 2006.

"I was personally hoping you'd give someone else a chance," said LaMotte, who nominated Steve Zimmer for the post. "There's so much that's wrong…. Something's got to change. I hope it will not work as it has for the past four years."

When Garcia responded that the board needed to be willing to embrace change, LaMotte snapped: "I'm not afraid of change."

She then bemoaned Villaraigosa's influence. LaMotte, who has served on the board since 2003, has long been an outspoken critic of the mayor, who helped raise funds for four current board members, including Garcia.

The vote to give Garcia another year as board president was 4 to 3, with Tamar Galatzan, Nury Martinez and Richard Vladovic — the members backed by the mayor — in favor of Garcia. The three who were not supported by Villaraigosa — Zimmer, LaMotte and newcomer Bennett Kayser — opposed Garcia's presidency.

"We need another seat where [Villaraigosa] can come up here and sit," LaMotte said.

Garcia also appointed Vladovic board vice president for the second time.

Kayser, a longtime teacher, was elected to replace Yolie Flores, who decided not to run again. Kayser was heavily backed by the teachers union and defeated Garcia's chief of staff.

The other members sworn in were Galatzan, LaMotte and Vladovic.

●●smf’s 2¢ This story contains a glaring factual error. It is misreported and un-fact-checked. Four Los Angeles school board members were sworn in for four-year terms Friday. Ms. LaMotte, Ms. Galatzan and Dr. Vladovic were returned to office, Mr. Kayser was newly elected.

● Ms Garcia was was NOT sworn in. She was not up for election and consequently was NOT re-elected in the past election. She is continuing in office.
● Ms. Garcia campaigned for her chief-of-staff in another board district in the past election cycle, perhaps creating the misimpression that she was a candidate. He was not elected despite support from herself, the mayor and his political machine.
● It also fails to mention the proposals brought to the board by Mr. Kayser in his remarks – covered by the Daily News - and the wonderful musical performances by District music students – from programs very much on the chopping block.

from School Board President Monica Garcia's e-newsletter

29 June 2011 - For more than half of LAUSD students, arriving at kindergarten that very first day meant bravely leaving families that speak Spanish, Armenian, Korean, or one of 89 other languages—and heading into a classroom to learn to speak, listen, read, and write in English.

But for many of these students, LAUSD breaks the promise of fluency in English. Thousands of Elementary students are trapped in a kind of English Learner purgatory: they are pulled out of
mainstream classes, subjected to poor English Language Development instruction, and never able to fully master the English language.

These students will never take the rigorous “A-G” classes required for college admissions, and they are at very high risk for low achievement and early dropout. The numbers are staggering: In LAUSD secondary schools (middle and high school), more than a third of EL students are “Long Term English Learners,” which means they have been attending District schools for more than six years without reaching proficiency in English. More than 50,000 LAUSD high school students haven’t “reclassified” as English Proficient.

Now new District data shows this grave situation is actually worsening.

Currently, about a third of all LAUSD students—or 195,000 kids—are “English Learners” (ELs), still in the process of learning the language at school. Another 156,000 have mastered enough English to join their peers in mainstream classes. This crucial transition, from EL status to reclassified status, has extremely high stakes for kids. It relies on four factors: standardized test scores in English Language Arts; scores on the state’s language assessment, the California English Language Development Test (CELDT); grades in English; and parent consultation.

In the 2010-2011 school year, one of those key measures— CELDT scores— dropped for the first time in five years. Only 41% of LAUSD’s English Learner students met the state’s expectation of improving by least one level on the test. The remaining three fifths of English Learner students either made no progress in learning English last year, or actually lost ground.

Not surprisingly, the rates at which students “reclassified” dipped even more—from 14.4% to 12.4%. In his recently published Performance Meter, incoming Superintendent Deasy had aspired to a 15% reclassification rate for the 2010-2011 school year, and is aiming for a 21% rate in 2011-2012.

Last year, the District’s appalling track record with EL students prompted the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to target the District for its first major investigation of the administration. The probe will address whether students’ civil rights are violated by inadequate educational opportunities, and will focus on issues like how English Learners are identified; whether they are promptly reclassified; and whether they have access to qualified teachers and great instruction. Findings are expected this fall.

But it doesn’t take a federal investigation to tell us what we should already know: LAUSD simply cannot achieve excellence without dramatically improving instruction for our English Learner students.

The District has kicked off several strategies to meet this goal, described in brief below. Do you have ideas to accelerate academic achievement among English Learners? Tell us about them.

NEW INSTRUCTIONAL LEADERSHIP: Starting in July, Dr. Jaime Aquino will join LAUSD as the new Deputy Superintendent of Instruction. Aquino, a native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, started his career as a bilingual teacher and was named New York State Bilingual Teacher of the Year in 1990. Since then he has served as Local Instructional Superintendent for the New York City Department of Education and as Chief Academic Officer of Denver Public Schools. In each of his roles, Aquino has focused his efforts on effectively closing the achievement gap.

NEW INSTRUCTIONAL MATERIALS: As reported in the last issue of this newsletter, LAUSD has adopted new English Language Arts and English Language Development textbooks. The “Treasures” series embeds intensive support for students at all levels of English Language Acquisition and emphasizes effective use of small group instructional time.

MASTER PLAN REVISION: LAUSD is at long last overhauling its Master Plan for English Learners, the comprehensive document that guides all instructional programs for English Learner students and sets out clear program goals and evaluation metrics. This is the first revision to the Master Plan since the 1995-1996 school year.

DUAL LANGUAGE PROGRAMS: Dual-language programs (also known as two-way immersion programs) allow English learners and English proficient student to receive instruction both in English and in a target language. Student achievement data from dual language programs is extremely promising, and programs are in great demand among parents. In 2010-2011, LAUSD offered 35 dual-language programs in Spanish/ English. Korean/ English, and Mandarin/ English, with rapid expansion planned.

●●smf's 2¢: President Garcia writes: “These students will never take the rigorous “A-G” classes required for college admissions, and they are at very high risk for low achievement and early dropout.”

She was the champion for making the “A-G” requirement for UC and CSU admissions the graduation requirements for LAUSD obviously any students who don't take the rigorous A-G classes will not get a diploma from LAUSD. (It should be noted that LAUSD considers a “D” in a class a passing grade; straight “D”s will get you a diploma. However UC and CSU don't accept “D”s - and it's pretty hard to get a college-admission-qualifying Grade Point Average even with “C”s!)

There are ways around “A-G” for students living in LAUSD.

Charter schools don't have to – and there is uncertainty whether Pilot schools and the Mayor's Partnership Schools (PLAS) must enforce the LAUSD A-G diploma requirements either.. Apparently the PLAS schools consider themselves exempt from the LAUSD Health Education graduation requirement – though others contend that any school awarding an LAUSD diploma must meet ALL the LAUSD graduation requirements and not just the lower State of California graduation requirements.

HOW A DETERMINED MOM WON EQUALITY FOR GIRLS' SOFTBALL: Chatsworth High's sports program was found to be in violation of Title IX
By Lee Barnathan | Chatsworth Patch |

July 3, 2011 | Most parents probably would stop fighting for a high school sports program once their children graduate. But Cheree Coyle is different.

Her daughter is no longer at Chatsworth High, yet she continues to battle so the girls' softball program receives equal treatment, facilities and funding that boys’ sports do.

Through her actions, the school and the Los Angeles Unified School District found that some of Chatsworth’s athletics programs were out of Title IX compliance, and the district ordered 19 required actions, of which 12½ have been completed, the softball coach said.

“In all cases, it takes a brave parent … to stand up,” said Vicky Barker, legal director of the California Women’s Law Center (CWLC), which got involved after meeting with Coyle. “We relied a lot on her for what happened.”

“Some think I’m crazy. They worry they’d be retaliated against,” Coyle said as she sat in the high school's first-base dugout – another improvement for which she fought. “I told them, ‘You’ve got to do what’s fair. If no one stands up, it’s never gonna change.’ ”

Title IX refers to that part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title XV of the Education Amendments of 1972 amended it to read “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”

Although there is no mention of athletics, Title IX is well known for its impact on high school and college sports. People have used Title IX to ensure girls' sports receive equal treatment with boys’ sports. The National Women’s Law Center has filed administrative law complaints against 12 school districts nationally, and the CWLC also has used the legal system to enact change in Alhambra and Torrance.

Coyle and Barker met in the fall 2009 at a softball tournament in Huntington Beach in which Coyle’s daughter, Cheyenne, played. The center had a booth inviting people to tell their stories. “A friend of mine walked by and said, ‘You need to talk to them,’ ” Coyle said.

At Chatsworth, the standard of excellence is the boys' baseball program, one of the most successful of any sport in the LAUSD. One reason is the facilities: The field is extremely well kept by the coach. There is a permanent snack shack behind home plate, permanent foldout seats on the third-base side for fans, an electronic scoreboard and a trailer that serves as a clubhouse. Many of these amenities are the result of furious fund-raising. Coyle knows first-hand because her son, Bobby, played on the 2007 city championship team, and she received an itemized list of where the funds went.

The girls' softball field, however, was another story. The grass had been trampled because the school leased the field to a men’s soccer league, plus physical education classes and other teams used it throughout the school year. This led to a near-grassless outfield, which turned to mud when it rained. The drainage was so bad that the rain caused flooding from first base across to shortstop.

Coyle’s daughter, Cheyenne, entered Chatsworth High in the fall of 2006 and discovered this. It helped spring Cheree Coyle into action.

“Bobby got to play on a Dodger Stadium-type of field, and (the girls) got to play on a park field,” Cheree Coyle said. “It’s not fair.”

So in 2007 she set about informing various school and district personnel. She even emailed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office and received a response two weeks later saying this matter will be directed to the proper people. Soon after, then-principal Jeff Davis got involved but felt stymied by a lack of funds, she said. Coyle said she got a similar response from current principal Tim Guy.

Another early supporter was Donna Smith, a former Chatsworth principal then working for board of education member Jon Lauritzen. She was able to secure $20,000 for a scoreboard that matched the baseball field’s, and for reseeding the outfield grass.

“She has tremendous drive and energy and perseverance,” Smith said of Coyle. “I was witness to that.”

Coyle was not satisfied. She came to believe the school was violating Tile IX. When she tried to inform Guy, she didn’t get a response, and players started to sense hostility, she said.

Former player Heather Leigh, now playing at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, recalled a time she led a group to the Student Leadership Committee, comprised of teachers, parents and the principal. She said she wanted to speak but kept being put off. When she finally was given a chance, she was quickly told that her time was up.

“I was almost in tears, trying to help future teams get what they deserve,” Leigh said by telephone. “They blew me off.”

Guy said, “The district doesn’t want me to talk” and referred the matter to the Office of Communications, from which spokesperson Monica Carazo emailed a statement that said in part: “The district takes Title IX complaints very seriously and has a strong record of compliance.”

The district finally acted when threatened with a lawsuit. Barker sent the district a letter dated March 29, 2010, that demanded action by April 15 or “[W]e intend to file a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.”

It moved the district to action. Sue Spears, the district’s equity compliance officer, met with Barker to discuss the matter, Barker said. Spears then launched a two-month investigation that found the school to be out of Title IX compliance in the following softball-related areas:

The softball diamond’s infield was far inferior to the baseball field’s, the result of other teams, physical education classes and outside entities using the field, whereas the baseball field was only used for baseball;
The baseball field had an electronic scoreboard; the softball field did not (although funding had come through by this time, Coyle said the scoreboard was misplaced and found in storage at Birmingham High, nine miles away; Smith said she attended a game in 2010 and wondered why it had not been installed nearly three years later).

Additionally, the district found two other violations. The school didn’t provide qualified athletic trainers equally to male and female athletes, and the junior varsity basketball programs were not equally scheduled to play on Friday nights.

The district also expressed concern that walk-on coaches, such as softball coach Jay Creps, are not sufficiently briefed on how to access the weight rooms and conditioning facilities, nor are they as knowledgeable in publicizing their sports around campus.

As a result, the district ordered 19 actions. Creps confirmed that the school has satisfied the vast majority of them, thanks in large part to Coyle.

“Cheree’s really gone beyond the call of duty,” Creps said. “She didn’t have to.”

Spears wasn’t made available for an interview, but the district’s statement said,: “The district has followed up with the school and continues to monitor compliance. … LAUSD is the only district in the state that has an Educational Equity Compliance Office dedicated solely to ensuring the civil rights of students.”

Barker said she would hold the district to that because “[T]hat’s what the law says.” She added that the CWLC has not investigated other LAUSD schools because it waits to be approached and no one has.

As a result of the improved facilities, Creps said, he knows of one current freshman who joined the program as a result. However, he won’t know if the upgrades lead to additional players trying out until the fall.

There remains more to do. One of the still-undone required actions is to have a permanent fence placed around the softball field, limiting outside access in the same way as the baseball field fence. Creps said it will cost $17,000 and “I don’t know how to fund-raise $17,000. … It’s a stay-afloat battle.”

Said Coyle: “If you give us the fence, we’ll fund-raise for everything else. We can’t protect the field because (people are) always out there.”

But one thing seems sure, Coyle will continue to fight for softball equality. Her daughter talks to her daily from Gainesville, Fla., where she plays for the University of Florida, which competed in the College World Series.

“It was cool she had our backs so we could be equal,” Cheyenne Coyle said. “They appreciated it. Without her, we’d still be playing on a bad field.”

THE GREAT ACADEMIC IMPLOSION: A 10% Homework Cap -or- LAUSD Gets Punked!
By Larry Strauss in the Huffington Post |

June 30, 2011 - The school district in which I teach (the second largest in the U.S.) recently announced a new policy limiting a student's homework liability to 10% of his or her term grade.
I understand the good-hearted intentions. I know what life is like for many of our students in this city.

They go to jobs after school and on weekends, sometimes exceeding the legal limits of child labor laws to earn money on which their family depends; they live in overcrowded apartments with no quiet place to work or even think or in group homes or cars or the streets or they bounce around from place to place, they are the caretakers of younger siblings and sick parents and grandparents and they live in neighborhoods too dangerous to travel in after dark from school or the local library.

I don't know what percentage of our city's students face such challenges but in the area where I teach the number is substantial -- as is the drop-out rate at many of the schools.

We -- teachers, most of us anyway -- are not insensitive to the circumstances of our students. We try (when we can) to work with children facing such challenges -- but the most important way that we can help them is to prepare them to live a better life as adults, to go to college and succeed there and beyond, and many of them enter my class quite deficient in the skills and knowledge they will need to do so.

Our school district, short on funds from the state for the past few years, has had to reduce the school year. The state and district have -- like states and districts throughout our country -- further reduced the instructional time we have with our students by mandating weeks of standardized testing.

This new homework policy will further hamstring efforts to provide a college preparatory curriculum. We can assign as much homework as we deem appropriate and necessary but can only count it as one-tenth of a student's grade. Some students will do their homework regardless of any calculations.

They will do it because they understand the value of what they are learning, and wish to be prepared for college, and because they will want a good college recommendation letter from their teacher (and hopefully the district won't place restrictions on the degree to which we can refer to homework on those), and some students will even do all their homework because they don't trust teachers or the district to enforce this new policy.

But others -- students who are not yet self-motivated, who are relying on adults and the rules we place upon them for guidance -- will make the calculations (it will be possible to do no homework at all and get an A) and they will elect to disdain our assignments and their skills and knowledge will suffer for it.

Graduation rates will probably rise. So will AYP and API [link] -- into which student grades are calculated -- which makes it difficult not to believe that this policy is data driven: driven by the politics of showing numeric improvements.

The new 10% rule demonstrates a lack of understanding about the integrated role of homework in an effective instructional program. If, for example, I test students, in class, on something they were assigned to read outside of class, how does the grade on that test factor into my 10% cap?

Advocates of such homework restrictions have said, "Varying degrees of access to academic support at home, for whatever reason, should not penalize a student so severely that it prevents the student from passing a class." But nor should the solution lower our expectation for all of our students who will not merely be competing against one another after high school. I want the students I teach to measure up with students from more affluent school districts and from private schools everywhere.

There are ways to address the challenges our students face without diluting the integrity of our curriculum. Let students who need to attend school part time and give them an extra year or two to finish. Assign some of those education reform millions to build dormitories for students whose home lives stand in the way of their progress, charter evening shuttle buses from schools and libraries in bad neighborhoods.

At least let's start by believing in all of our students and motivating them to find ways to overcome their challenges and master high school level academic work. Twenty years in the classroom has taught me the profound impact we can have on children when set our expectations high and never let students talk us out of those expectations. Keep believing in children until they believe in themselves.

Students are always trying to get us to assign less homework -- they'll plead and gripe and even scowl -- but they almost always, ultimately, appreciate those of us who are strong enough not to give in to their expressions of weakness.

Now the entire LAUSD has caved like an untrained rookie.

(Larry Strauss is a veteran high school English teacher, a basketball coach and a novelist.)

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
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26 Jun

EVENTS: Coming up next week...
*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213-241-5183
Phone: 213-241.8700


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-5555 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6387
...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • Find your state legislator based on your home address. Just go to: • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at • 213.978.0600
• Call or e-mail Governor Brown: 213-897-0322 e-mail:
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• If you are eligible to become a citizen, BECOME ONE.
• If you a a citizen, REGISTER TO VOTE.
• If you are registered, VOTE LIKE THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT. THEY DO!.

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

Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD and is Parent/Volunteer of the Year for 2010-11 for Los Angeles County. • He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and represented PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee for ten years. He is a Health Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on numerous school district advisory and policy committees and has served as a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is the recipient of the UTLA/AFT 2009 "WHO" Gold Award for his support of education and public schools - an honor he hopes to someday deserve. • In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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