Saturday, August 27, 2011

We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test.

Onward! 4LAKids
4LAKids: Sunday 28•Aug•2011
In This Issue:
WHY ARE FINLAND’S SCHOOLS SUCCESSFUL? The country's achievements in education have other nations doing their homework
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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There is an article below, from Smithsonian Magazine: WHY ARE FINLAND’S SCHOOLS SUCCESSFUL? The article is a long one, running 3681 words – and I recommend all 3681 - but the easy answer to the question posed is buried in there, matter o' factly in fourteen of them.. It's the title of this issue of 4LAKids: “We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test.”

We can no longer teach the answers to the test, because the answer in the future to life's persistent questions - or new challenges - will never again be “1492” or “The Battle of Jutland” or something sealed in an envelope locked in the safe in the principal's office. The answer to the question next week will be stuff we learn tomorrow - wisdom comes from finding the answer after you know the question. Children need to learn how to learn, not take a test.

I have said and will continue to say there are no easy answers/quick fixes/magic bullets. No supermen in the wings. But if there was one it would be these words and this mindset. “Valmistamme lapset oppivat oppimaan, ei miten tehdä testin”<> “We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test.”

I was ill on Wednesday and missed the SUPERINTENDENT'S BACK-TO-SCHOOL ADDRESS TO THE TROOPS, the first I’ve missed since Romer. I sent out an appeal for feedback to a few whom I expected would be there – my favorite review was: “I never go to those things. They are a waste of time” Ouch.

THE WALTON FOUNDATION announced a $15 million grant to the California Charter Schools Association [], with a goal of creating an additional 100,000 charter school seats in California over three years – 20,000 of them to be in L.A. $15 million sounds like a lot – but that's actually only $150 per student. You can't build much of school for $150 per student.

Doing some
back o' th' envelope math, that's $3 million to LA. Using the most recent National Clearinghouse for Educational Statistics numbers, each one of those kids represents an investment by taxpayers of $11,357. per year - so if we figure the charter schools capture 5000 students in the first year, 10,000 in the second and 20,000 in the third, that would divert $397,495,000 from LAUSD's budget to charter schools over three years.

Not a bad return on an investment of $3 million, Mr. Ponzi.

Plus, if your read the UCLA IDEA piece [Does Walton Gift Substitute for Fiscal Reform?] you see that WalMart (from which all those Walton Family Foundation funds flow) paid $180 million in California and local taxes last year– though if CA was to assess and tax their Prop 13 protected property at true market value rather than 1978 value they might owe another $120 million more. (There were no California WalMarts in 1978, they entered CA in 1990.) While we are admiring all this philanthropy please read :”When Schools Depend on Handouts”

It doesn't matter whether philanthropy comes from parents writing a check, or Mayor Bloomberg or Walton kin or anonymous benefactors. The check itself makes universal free public education a little less universal, free or public.

JUST BEFORE THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL IS NEVER THE RIGHT TIME TO CHANGE SUPERINTENDENTS. Yet that's what's going down in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Mo. (I went to the second grade in Kansas City – I feel a remote attachment.)

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman was tossed out of Philly Monday over a disagreement over which charter operator should 'transform' the underperforming high school (named ironically enough for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who would be getting his memorial dedicated today in D.C. were it not for Hurricane Irene.) Ackerman, formerly chief of San Francisco and D.C. Schools, also contended with the appointed school reform commission over closing-down Philly’s Full-Day-K program: She was for keeping it open; they were again' it. Of course Ackerman secured a $500,000 golden parachute from the school district – plus another $405k in anonymous private money. That’s close enough to a million to be labeled a “Million Dollar Bye-Bye Buyout.”

John Covington in KC also ran afoul of the-powers-that-be – and resigned Wednesday night in a dispute over board members allegedly interfering in school construction contracts (a board member also resigned) - with words like “malfeasance” being borrowed from last week's Los Angeles Community College District meeting lexicon.

From The Huffington Post: “The beleaguered schools of Kansas City serve 50,000 students and have seen six superintendents since 1999 -- on average, a departure every two years.”

(Pop Quiz: Take your hand off the computer mouse, 'cause you're gonna need six fingers: Q: How many superintendents has LAUSD had since 1999?)

Covington won't be needing a buyout. The K.C. school board has refused to accept his resignation – but he's already been named as Chancellor of Michigan’s Education Achievement Authority, which will run that state’s lowest performing schools. He was the only candidate interviewed for the post.

John Covington is an alumnus of the Broad Superintendents Academy, class of 2008. Arlene Ackerman isn't an alumna – she used to be the Broad Academy Superintendent-in-Residence.

This isn't how they do it in Finland.

¡Onward/Adelante/Edelleen! -smf

WHY ARE FINLAND’S SCHOOLS SUCCESSFUL? The country's achievements in education have other nations doing their homework
By Lynnell Hancock - Photographs by Stuart Conway Smithsonian magazine |

September 2011 - It was the end of term at Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, a sprawling suburb west of Helsinki, when Kari Louhivuori, a veteran teacher and the school’s principal, decided to try something extreme—by Finnish standards. One of his sixth-grade students, a Kosovo-Albanian boy, had drifted far off the learning grid, resisting his teacher’s best efforts. The school’s team of special educators—including a social worker, a nurse and a psychologist—convinced Louhivuori that laziness was not to blame. So he decided to hold the boy back a year, a measure so rare in Finland it’s practically obsolete.

Finland has vastly improved in reading, math and science literacy over the past decade in large part because its teachers are trusted to do whatever it takes to turn young lives around. This 13-year-old, Besart Kabashi, received something akin to royal tutoring.

“I took Besart on that year as my private student,” Louhivuori told me in his office, which boasted a Beatles “Yellow Submarine” poster on the wall and an electric guitar in the closet. When Besart was not studying science, geography and math, he was parked next to Louhivuori’s desk at the front of his class of 9- and 10-year- olds, cracking open books from a tall stack, slowly reading one, then another, then devouring them by the dozens. By the end of the year, the son of Kosovo war refugees had conquered his adopted country’s vowel-rich language and arrived at the realization that he could, in fact, learn.

Years later, a 20-year-old Besart showed up at Kirkkojarvi’s Christmas party with a bottle of Cognac and a big grin. “You helped me,” he told his former teacher. Besart had opened his own car repair firm and a cleaning company. “No big fuss,” Louhivuori told me. “This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life.”

This tale of a single rescued child hints at some of the reasons for the tiny Nordic nation’s staggering record of education success, a phenomenon that has inspired, baffled and even irked many of America’s parents and educators. Finnish schooling became an unlikely hot topic after the 2010 documentary film Waiting for “Superman” contrasted it with America’s troubled public schools.

“Whatever it takes” is an attitude that drives not just Kirkkojarvi’s 30 teachers, but most of Finland’s 62,000 educators in 3,500 schools from Lapland to Turku—professionals selected from the top 10 percent of the nation’s graduates to earn a required master’s degree in education. Many schools are small enough so that teachers know every student. If one method fails, teachers consult with colleagues to try something else. They seem to relish the challenges. Nearly 30 percent of Finland’s children receive some kind of special help during their first nine years of school. The school where Louhivuori teaches served 240 first through ninth graders last year; and in contrast with Finland’s reputation for ethnic homogeneity, more than half of its 150 elementary-level students are immigrants—from Somalia, Iraq, Russia, Bangladesh, Estonia and Ethiopia, among other nations. “Children from wealthy families with lots of education can be taught by stupid teachers,” Louhivuori said, smiling. “We try to catch the weak students. It’s deep in our thinking.”

The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.”

In the United States, which has muddled along in the middle for the past decade, government officials have attempted to introduce marketplace competition into public schools. In recent years, a group of Wall Street financiers and philanthropists such as Bill Gates have put money behind private-sector ideas, such as vouchers, data-driven curriculum and charter schools, which have doubled in number in the past decade. President Obama, too, has apparently bet on compe­tition. His Race to the Top initiative invites states to compete for federal dollars using tests and other methods to measure teachers, a philosophy that would not fly in Finland. “I think, in fact, teachers would tear off their shirts,” said Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal with 24 years of teaching experience. “If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect.”

There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions. Finland’s schools are publicly funded. The people in the government agencies running them, from national officials to local authorities, are educators, not business people, military leaders or career politicians. Every school has the same national goals and draws from the same pool of university-trained educators. The result is that a Finnish child has a good shot at getting the same quality education no matter whether he or she lives in a rural village or a university town. The differences between weakest and strongest students are the smallest in the world, according to the most recent survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “Equality is the most important word in Finnish education. All political parties on the right and left agree on this,” said Olli Luukkainen, president of Finland’s powerful teachers union.

Ninety-three percent of Finns graduate from academic or vocational high schools, 17.5 percentage points higher than the United States, and 66 percent go on to higher education, the highest rate in the European Union. Yet Finland spends about 30 percent less per student than the United States.

Still, there is a distinct absence of chest-thumping among the famously reticent Finns. They are eager to celebrate their recent world hockey championship, but PISA scores, not so much. “We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. “We are not much interested in PISA. It’s not what we are about.”

Maija Rintola stood before her chattering class of twenty-three 7- and 8-year-olds one late April day in Kirkkojarven Koulu. A tangle of multicolored threads topped her copper hair like a painted wig. The 20-year teacher was trying out her look for Vappu, the day teachers and children come to school in riotous costumes to celebrate May Day. The morning sun poured through the slate and lemon linen shades onto containers of Easter grass growing on the wooden sills. Rintola smiled and held up her open hand at a slant—her time-tested “silent giraffe,” which signaled the kids to be quiet. Little hats, coats, shoes stowed in their cubbies, the children wiggled next to their desks in their stocking feet, waiting for a turn to tell their tale from the playground. They had just returned from their regular 15 minutes of playtime outdoors between lessons. “Play is important at this age,” Rintola would later say. “We value play.”

With their wiggles unwound, the students took from their desks little bags of buttons, beans and laminated cards numbered 1 through 20. A teacher’s aide passed around yellow strips representing units of ten. At a smart board at the front of the room, Rintola ushered the class through the principles of base ten. One girl wore cat ears on her head, for no apparent reason. Another kept a stuffed mouse on her desk to remind her of home. Rintola roamed the room helping each child grasp the concepts. Those who finished early played an advanced “nut puzzle” game. After 40 minutes it was time for a hot lunch in the cathedral-like cafeteria.

Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

It’s almost unheard of for a child to show up hungry or homeless. Finland provides three years of maternity leave and subsidized day care to parents, and preschool for all 5-year-olds, where the emphasis is on play and socializing. In addition, the state subsidizes parents, paying them around 150 euros per month for every child until he or she turns 17. Ninety-seven percent of 6-year-olds attend public preschool, where children begin some academics. Schools provide food, medical care, counseling and taxi service if needed. Stu­dent health care is free.

Even so, Rintola said her children arrived last August miles apart in reading and language levels. By April, nearly every child in the class was reading, and most were writing. Boys had been coaxed into literature with books like Kapteeni Kalsarin (“Captain Underpants”). The school’s special education teacher teamed up with Rintola to teach five children with a variety of behavioral and learning problems. The national goal for the past five years has been to mainstream all children. The only time Rintola’s children are pulled out is for Finnish as a Second Language classes, taught by a teacher with 30 years’ experience and graduate school training.

There are exceptions, though, however rare. One first-grade girl was not in Rintola’s class. The wispy 7-year-old had recently arrived from Thailand speaking not a word of Finnish. She was studying math down the hall in a special “preparing class” taught by an expert in multicultural learning. It is designed to help children keep up with their subjects while they conquer the language. Kirkkojarvi’s teachers have learned to deal with their unusually large number of immigrant students. The city of Espoo helps them out with an extra 82,000 euros a year in “positive discrimination” funds to pay for things like special resource teachers, counselors and six special needs classes.

Rintola will teach the same children next year and possibly the next five years, depending on the needs of the school. “It’s a good system. I can make strong connections with the children,” said Rintola, who was handpicked by Louhivuori 20 years ago. “I understand who they are.” Besides Finnish, math and science, the first graders take music, art, sports, religion and textile handcrafts. English begins in third grade, Swedish in fourth. By fifth grade the children have added biology, geography, history, physics and chemistry.

Not until sixth grade will kids have the option to sit for a district-wide exam, and then only if the classroom teacher agrees to participate. Most do, out of curiosity. Results are not publicized. Finnish educators have a hard time understanding the United States’ fascination with standardized tests. “Americans like all these bars and graphs and colored charts,” Louhivuori teased, as he rummaged through his closet looking for past years’ results. “Looks like we did better than average two years ago,” he said after he found the reports. “It’s nonsense. We know much more about the children than these tests can tell us.”

I had come to Kirkkojarvi to see how the Finnish approach works with students who are not stereotypically blond, blue-eyed and Lutheran. But I wondered if Kirkkojarvi’s success against the odds might be a fluke. Some of the more vocal conservative reformers in America have grown weary of the “We-Love-Finland crowd” or so-called Finnish Envy. They argue that the United States has little to learn from a country of only 5.4 million people—4 percent of them foreign born. Yet the Finns seem to be onto something. Neighboring Norway, a country of similar size, embraces education policies similar to those in the United States. It employs standardized exams and teachers without master’s degrees. And like America, Norway’s PISA scores have been stalled in the middle ranges for the better part of a decade.

To get a second sampling, I headed east from Espoo to Helsinki and a rough neighborhood called Siilitie, Finnish for “Hedgehog Road” and known for having the oldest low-income housing project in Finland. The 50-year-old boxy school building sat in a wooded area, around the corner from a subway stop flanked by gas stations and convenience stores. Half of its 200 first- through ninth-grade students have learning disabilities. All but the most severely impaired are mixed with the general education children, in keeping with Finnish policies.

A class of first graders scampered among nearby pine and birch trees, each holding a stack of the teacher’s homemade laminated “outdoor math” cards. “Find a stick as big as your foot,” one read. “Gather 50 rocks and acorns and lay them out in groups of ten,” read another. Working in teams, the 7- and 8-year-olds raced to see how quickly they could carry out their tasks. Aleksi Gustafsson, whose master’s degree is from Helsinki University, developed the exercise after attending one of the many workshops available free to teachers. “I did research on how useful this is for kids,” he said. “It’s fun for the children to work outside. They really learn with it.”

Gustafsson’s sister, Nana Germeroth, teaches a class of mostly learning-impaired children; Gustafsson’s students have no learning or behavioral issues. The two combined most of their classes this year to mix their ideas and abilities along with the children’s varying levels. “We know each other really well,” said Germeroth, who is ten years older. “I know what Aleksi is thinking.”

The school receives 47,000 euros a year in positive discrimination money to hire aides and special education teachers, who are paid slightly higher salaries than classroom teachers because of their required sixth year of university training and the demands of their jobs. There is one teacher (or assistant) in Siilitie for every seven students.

In another classroom, two special education teachers had come up with a different kind of team teaching. Last year, Kaisa Summa, a teacher with five years’ experience, was having trouble keeping a gaggle of first-grade boys under control. She had looked longingly into Paivi Kangasvieri’s quiet second-grade room next door, wondering what secrets the 25-year-veteran colleague could share. Each had students of wide-ranging abilities and special needs. Summa asked Kangasvieri if they might combine gymnastics classes in hopes good behavior might be contagious. It worked. This year, the two decided to merge for 16 hours a week. “We complement each other,” said Kangasvieri, who describes herself as a calm and firm “father” to Summa’s warm mothering. “It is cooperative teaching at its best,” she says.

Every so often, principal Arjariita Heikkinen told me, the Helsinki district tries to close the school because the surrounding area has fewer and fewer children, only to have people in the community rise up to save it. After all, nearly 100 percent of the school’s ninth graders go on to high schools. Even many of the most severely disabled will find a place in Finland’s expanded system of vocational high schools, which are attended by 43 percent of Finnish high-school students, who prepare to work in restaurants, hospitals, construction sites and offices. “We help situate them in the right high school,” said then deputy principal Anne Roselius. “We are interested in what will become of them in life.”

Finland’s schools were not always a wonder. Until the late 1960s, Finns were still emerging from the cocoon of Soviet influence. Most children left public school after six years. (The rest went to private schools, academic grammar schools or folk schools, which tended to be less rigorous.) Only the privileged or lucky got a quality education.

The landscape changed when Finland began trying to remold its bloody, fractured past into a unified future. For hundreds of years, these fiercely independent people had been wedged between two rival powers—the Swedish monarchy to the west and the Russian czar to the east. Neither Scandinavian nor Baltic, Finns were proud of their Nordic roots and a unique language only they could love (or pronounce). In 1809, Finland was ceded to Russia by the Swedes, who had ruled its people some 600 years. The czar created the Grand Duchy of Finland, a quasi-state with constitutional ties to the empire. He moved the capital from Turku, near Stockholm, to Helsinki, closer to St. Petersburg. After the czar fell to the Bolsheviks in 1917, Finland declared its independence, pitching the country into civil war. Three more wars between 1939 and 1945—two with the Soviets, one with Germany—left the country scarred by bitter divisions and a punishing debt owed to the Russians. “Still we managed to keep our freedom,” said Pasi Sahlberg, a director general in the Ministry of Education and Culture.

In 1963, the Finnish Parlia-ment made the bold decision to choose public education as its best shot at economic recovery. “I call this the Big Dream of Finnish education,” said Sahlberg, whose upcoming book, Finnish Lessons, is scheduled for release in October. “It was simply the idea that every child would have a very good public school. If we want to be competitive, we need to educate everybody. It all came out of a need to survive.”

Practically speaking—and Finns are nothing if not practical—the decision meant that goal would not be allowed to dissipate into rhetoric. Lawmakers landed on a deceptively simple plan that formed the foundation for everything to come. Public schools would be organized into one system of comprehensive schools, or peruskoulu, for ages 7 through 16. Teachers from all over the nation contributed to a national curriculum that provided guidelines, not prescriptions. Besides Finnish and Swedish (the country’s second official language), children would learn a third language (English is a favorite) usually beginning at age 9. Resources were distributed equally. As the comprehensive schools improved, so did the upper secondary schools (grades 10 through 12). The second critical decision came in 1979, when reformers required that every teacher earn a fifth-year master’s degree in theory and practice at one of eight state universities—at state expense. From then on, teachers were effectively granted equal status with doctors and lawyers. Applicants began flooding teaching programs, not because the salaries were so high but because autonomy and respect made the job attractive. In 2010, some 6,600 applicants vied for 660 primary school training slots, according to Sahlberg. By the mid-1980s, a final set of initiatives shook the classrooms free from the last vestiges of top-down regulation. Control over policies shifted to town councils. The national curriculum was distilled into broad guidelines. National math goals for grades one through nine, for example, were reduced to a neat ten pages. Sifting and sorting children into so-called ability groupings was eliminated. All children—clever or less so—were to be taught in the same classrooms, with lots of special teacher help available to make sure no child really would be left behind. The inspectorate closed its doors in the early ’90s, turning accountability and inspection over to teachers and principals. “We have our own motivation to succeed because we love the work,” said Louhivuori. “Our incentives come from inside.”

To be sure, it was only in the past decade that Finland’s international science scores rose. In fact, the country’s earliest efforts could be called somewhat Stalinistic. The first national curriculum, developed in the early ’70s, weighed in at 700 stultifying pages. Timo Heikkinen, who began teaching in Finland’s public schools in 1980 and is now principal of Kallahti Comprehensive School in eastern Helsinki, remembers when most of his high-school teachers sat at their desks dictating to the open notebooks of compliant children.

And there are still challenges. Finland’s crippling financial collapse in the early ’90s brought fresh economic challenges to this “confident and assertive Eurostate,” as David Kirby calls it in A Concise History of Finland. At the same time, immigrants poured into the country, clustering in low-income housing projects and placing added strain on schools. A recent report by the Academy of Finland warned that some schools in the country’s large cities were becoming more skewed by race and class as affluent, white Finns choose schools with fewer poor, immigrant populations.

A few years ago, Kallahti principal Timo Heikkinen began noticing that, increasingly, affluent Finnish parents, perhaps worried about the rising number of Somali children at Kallahti, began sending their children to one of two other schools nearby. In response, Heikkinen and his teachers designed new environmental science courses that take advantage of the school’s proximity to the forest. And a new biology lab with 3-D technology allows older students to observe blood flowing inside the human body.

It has yet to catch on, Heikkinen admits. Then he added: “But we are always looking for ways to improve.”

In other words, whatever it takes.

By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

Friday, 26 Aug, 2011 - Entering the Beltway’s latest fray, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has joined leaders in other states in calling for a reprieve from the No Child Left Behind law – but without the strings that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is considering attaching. The most contentious would be a waiver to states contingent on adopting teacher evaluations linked to student test scores.

Because of “shortcomings of the NCLB accountability system, I believe flexibility is appropriate, warranted and urgently needed. California schools need immediate relief from the escalating sanctions imposed on schools that fail to make” the yearly academic targets under the law, Torlakson wrote Duncan in an Aug. 23 letter [] that he copied to the state’s congressional delegation and leaders of U.S. Senate and House Education Committees. Torlakson called for a freeze on identifying and penalizing additional schools not meeting targets.

Duncan first raised the idea of granting state waivers in June, and President Obama endorsed it this month, because Congress has stalled over the reauthorization of NCLB – or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as it’s formally known.

Reauthorization is already four years late. Obama called on Congress to fix NCLB this year, but, with Republicans and Democrats at odds on everything these days, substantial action on the bill is increasingly unlikely until after the November 2012 election. Without relief from the bill’s chief provision – that all students be proficient in math and English language arts by 2014 – Torlakson predicts 4,600 schools, or 80 percent of schools receiving federal Title I funds, will face penalties by 2011-12. (Because of technicalities in the law, it’s probably closer to 50 percent – see an earlier explanation: Regardless, the large number of schools in Program Improvement adds stress to districts and dilutes already stretched resources, Torlakson wrote.

Duncan agrees, and has said he’d be showing “tone deafness” to ignore the pleas of states and districts for relief.

At issue are the conditions he’ll set for the waivers. The feds will release the criteria in September. Duncan has said he would grant waivers only to states that set a high bar for reforms. According to those privy to discussions, requirements could include a continued commitment to turning around low-performing schools, implementing teacher and administrator evaluations partly based on results of student test scores, and adopting rigorous career- and college-ready standards. (After conservatives protested, Duncan quickly backed off demanding the adoption of Common Core standards, which states voluntarily have embraced, as a condition of a waiver.)

Republican congressional leaders are threatening to sue if Duncan issues waivers, and are charging that the White House would exceed its authority to demand reforms outside of NCLB and federal law. Many state leaders, including Torlakson, agreed.

“Finally, the conditional nature of the waivers creates problems for California,” he wrote, warning against imposing “dramatic deviations from existing policies under NCLB.” Changes such as the ones Duncan is considering should be done through Congress and the reauthorization process, he said.

In his letter, Torlakson laid it on pretty thick, overstating the state of reform in California.

“I am now working with our state Legislature on the next generation of schools accountability systems in order to evaluate schools more appropriately and effectively,” he wrote. “Moreover, we are moving toward a more robust teacher and principal evaluation system that considers numerous research-based elements, including student outcomes, multiple observations and the California Standards for the Teaching Profession.”

So far, there has been more talk than walk.

What Torlakson is referring to is his recently released Blueprint for Great Schools, an aspirational document with worthy goals but no traction yet, and two bills before the Legislature. SB 547, which Torlakson sponsored and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg authored, would transform the Academic Performance Index, the chief accountability measure of schools, into an Education Quality Index [] to de-emphasize a school’s test scores and focus on other measures, such as graduation rates and success in preparing students for college or careers.

AB 5, by Democratic Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, would mandate a new evaluation system for teachers. It remains a work in progress and a year away from adoption.

Themes in the News for the week of Aug. 22-26, 2011 by UCLA IDEA |

08-26-2011 - This week, the Walton Family Foundation gave the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) a $15-million grant to help increase the number of charter students by 100,000—20,000 in Los Angeles—within three years. The gift is the largest ever received by the association and the largest single amount that the Walton Foundation has given to support charters in California (Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, KPCC, Forbes, Educated Guess).

The association has flexibility in how it can spend the money. CCSA advocates for new startups and supports existing charters. At a time when charters are exempted from some public oversight and many regulations, CCSA has advocated holding under-performing charters accountable.

Fifteen million dollars is a sizeable amount of money—especially if it improves conditions for learning and teaching. However, considering the broad scope of education need in California, the money may not stretch very far. It will add about $150 per student for those new charter students that Walton and CCSA hope for. Meanwhile, public schools are desperately underfinanced, and the total number of California public school students exceeds 6 million.

More than likely, the money will have its greatest impact via CCSA’s lobbying to further its work in Sacramento, to gain political support for charters locally, and try to have charters achieve their still-elusive goal of outperforming traditional public schools. (A 2009 Walton Family Foundation-support study conducted at Stanford University found test scores of most charter schools nationwide to be the same as or lower than traditional public schools.) For example, CCSA has worked with Assemblywoman Julia Brownley on a handful of bills, including ones that would make it more difficult for poor-performing charters to be renewed. Legislation is also being sought to have charter enrollments reflect the demographics of their neighborhoods (Educated Guess).

Regardless of the merits of charter schools, and CCSA’s strategy to promote and reform them, Californians should pay some attention to Wal-Mart’s position in California as a tax-paying, for-profit business. Although the foundation and the retail stores are technically different entities, the philanthropy and the corporation are tightly linked through their boardrooms and the Walton family. According to its website, Wal-Mart (the corporation) paid $180.3 million in state and local taxes in 2011. Because California’s Prop 13 limited how often commercial property could be assessed, businesses on average are taxed at about 60 percent of their current market value (Los Angeles Times). If, as some advocate, commercial property in California was assessed at its true market value, Wal-Mart would owe substantially more taxes. We estimate that Wal-Mart would be required to contribute an additional $120 million annually to support California public schools and other public services.

Further, as IDEA Director John Rogers offers in a radio discussion with Jed Wallace, CEO of the charter schools association, “focusing on charter schools at this moment diverts attention from the real need in California, which is to invest in our public schools at a level that allows our public schools to be successful for all the young people that are there” (KCRW). CCSA would do well to include in its advocacy agenda fiscal reforms that bring adequate funding to all California public schools.


August 25, 2011 - EARLIER this month, (NYC) Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced that he and five other wealthy individuals had raised $1.5 million to reinstate the January Regents exams, which New York State had canceled because of budget cuts. []

Although praiseworthy as a matter of personal philanthropy, the donation by the mayor and the others, whose names were not disclosed, is highly distressing as a matter of public policy. It is disgraceful that essential components of our public education system now depend on the charitable impulses of wealthy citizens.

At least 23 states have made huge cuts to public education spending this year, and school districts are scrambling to find ways to cope. School foundations, parent-teacher organizations and local education funds supported by business groups and residents contribute at least $4 billion per year to help public schools throughout the country.

In New York City, families and philanthropies are asked to pay for classroom supplies and music and art lessons. In Lakeland, Fla., a church provided $5,000 worth of supplies for an elementary school’s resource room, and paid for math and English tutors. The board of the Los Angeles Unified School District voted in December to accept corporate sponsorships and to allow the placement of corporate logos on cafeteria walls and in ball fields.

Many schools that have already reduced hours, increased class sizes and eliminated electives are also now charging fees for workbooks, use of lab equipment and other basic instructional materials; extracurricular activities long considered essential are now available only to students who can afford them.

In Medina, Ohio, The Wall Street Journal reported, it now costs $660 for a child to play on a high school sports team, $200 to join the concert choir and $50 to act in the school play. High school students in Overland Park, Kan., pay a $120 “activity programming fee” and a $100 “learning resources fee.” In Naperville, Ill., they are charged textbook and workbook fees, even for basic requirements like English and French, according to The Chicago Tribune.

In some cases, students from impoverished backgrounds are exempted from these payments if the class is required, but must pay for Advanced Placement courses or sports and other extracurricular activities. If they can’t pay, they miss out.

Public education was built on the philosophy articulated by Horace Mann, the Massachusetts reformer who pioneered the Common School: a system “one and the same for both rich and poor” with “all citizens on the same footing of equality before the law of land.” Today, that vision of equality is in jeopardy.

As anti-union sentiment continues to spread, politicians may wrongly assume that education cutbacks mainly affect the salaries and benefits of teachers. In reality, it is the students who pay the dearest price. Some California districts have reduced the number of days in the school year; in Miami, 4,500 students will be deprived of after-school programs this year; Texas has cut pre-kindergarten programs for 100,000 children. The poor are, unsurprisingly, disproportionately affected: Pennsylvania’s education cuts amounted to $581 per student in the poorest 150 school districts, but only $214 per student in the wealthiest 150 districts.

Not every state will have a Bloomberg to step in, not every school has a P.T.A. with the resources to help out, and not every child has a family that can afford fees. Depending on private contributions is inequitable and unconstitutional; public financing should fully support public education.

Most state constitutions, in fact, guarantee all students a sound, basic public education. These constitutional rights cannot be put on hold, even in tough times. It is unconstitutional to call on parents to pay for textbooks and lab fees for required courses. And art, music, sports, basic educational support services and many extracurricular activities that promote learning, creativity and character are not luxuries; they, too, are essential features of a sound, basic education.

California acknowledged as much last December when it settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union challenging illegal school fees. Officials ordered school districts to halt the practice and to refund the fee money they had collected. While schools in California now must eliminate textbook and activity fees, affluent children whose parents can afford to reinstate teaching positions will continue to have more educational opportunities than their poorer counterparts.

A number of judges have begun to respond to the devastation in state education financing: in May, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature to reinstate $500 million in funds for poor urban districts, and last month, a North Carolina judge blocked cuts that would have decimated financing for a statewide preschool program.

The courts are doing their job, but litigation is time-consuming and expensive. Politicians have a constitutional obligation to protect public education. They need to ensure that adequate public funds are available, and the people need to hold them accountable for doing so.

Michael A. Rebell is the executive director and Jessica R. Wolff is the policy director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University.

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EVENTS: Coming up next week...
Save the Date/Make your Reservation Aug 31/7-8:30 pm: KPCC EDUCATION SUMMIT - THE WAY FORWARD FOR YOUR CHILD'S EDUCATION & LAUSD: Patt Morrison hosts Supt Deasy, Board of Ed Pres. Garcia and UTLA Pres. Fletcher | - This is sold out - get on the wait list!

*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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