Sunday, March 01, 2015

Two ambassadors

4LAKids: Sunday 1•March•2015
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Friday morning I was invited to make a few remarks at the ribbon cutting of the Nava College Preparatory Academy – a small new pilot high school on the campus at Jefferson High School. Jefferson’s campus in Southeast LA is rambling, spilling over the boundaries of a city block – with its iconic streamline moderne administration building, sweeping curves and cut-out blocks – the image reinforced and repeated by photos in newspaper stories: Jefferson High School – ground zero in the MiSiS Crisis – where inadequate, untried+untested technology and unprepared clueless administration (at every level) collided head-on , first on the campus, then in the courts in Oakland – and ultimately in the schoolboard meeting room at Beaudry.

If John Deasy’s first triumph was the elimination of chocolate milk from school menus – proclaimed from a couch on the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live; Jefferson was his last stand. If there was a last straw in his failed superintendency - marked by iPads, MiSiS, child abuse, Vergara, votes of no-confidence and plummeting employee morale – that straw - and his Waterloo - was Jefferson.

Deasy was junketing in Korea – practicing LAUSD’s foreign policy – when it all finally unraveled. But the only casualty wasn’t Dr. John and his program of disruptive reform. The proud school’s reputation was damaged further and the education of its students suffered greatly. All the collateral damage of adults behaving badly.

UP THE STREET FROM JEFF is the Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy – all shiny, new and bond funded; a wholly-district/not-a-charter pilot middle school, organized by faculty and parents and community under public school choice the way PSC was intended to be. Not a give-away but a success story, happening for 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

“By recognizing the importance of the middle school within the “pipeline” of schools, JNLA School of Arts and Culture School and JNLA School of Business and Technology have an overarching vision to connect the elements of multicultural studies, fine arts, music, dance, and theater – and business and technology – operating at the local elementary and high school within the community, to further our students’ education, and to increase the retention rates of the neighborhood students in our local schools.”

The Nava Learning Academy middle school is an unqualified success – you don’t need the data to prove it – it’s obvious for all the world to see! And the parents and ultimately the faculty and JNLA community wanted, wished and demanded to continue that vision and mission into high school – and ultimately campaigned, cajoled and politicked to continue the Nava experience onto the campus at Jefferson.

The new Dr. Julian Nava College Prep Academy is an unassuming cluster of small buildings and bungalows carved out of the Jefferson campus – not at sizable expense – but certainly of substantial value.

Cleaned and painted, brought up to – and far beyond – snuff.

You can feel the learning happening. The students – all ninth graders because the school had to start somewhere – are all turned out in prep school uniforms. Not Hollywood versions of East Coast preppies, all J. Crew and bespoke blazers and neatly tied striped neckties, but honest teenage the-best-we-can and the worst-we-can-get-away-with versions thereof. The uniforms say “We are NCPA and proud of it…” and the individuality says that each one is part-of-and-singular-within NCPA.

It’s Dead Poets Society meets Born in East L.A. …and the mash-up works! Carpe diem meets Si se puede.

Present at the ribbon cutting were three former LA school superintendents (and no current ones) and Dr. Nava – the first Chicano/Xicano LAUSD school board member and the first Mexican-American U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Julian Nava is 88 years old and I wish to be spry and active as he if I reach that age. (I wish I was that spry+active at the age I have reached!)

Nava is a Ph.D. and a former Ambassador and schoolboard president – he was a friend of Cesar Chavez and his doctorate is from Harvard - and I know that Harvard grads only call medical doctors “doctor”. Ambassador is fine title – and he’s also a professor and a film producer and a writer and a father …but he asks the students at his two namesake academies to call him ‘Uncle Julian.’ And they do.

In his remarks Nava looked about him at the freshly spruced up and painted bungalows – the temporary structures that house the high school – and remembered that they were first put on that campus as military housing for trainees before and during WWII.

The old buildings have served and continue to serve nobly and well, but I will be campaigning that they be retired and newer and more modern buildings be built to house the students at Nava and all the students in our schools. Bungalows and ‘relocatables’ are adequate; but adequacy is far too low a standard for our children today and for the children of the future.

LATER ON FRIDAY I went to Orchard Academies Middle School in Bell – to help present 8th grade poet David Berecca with the recognition from the Schoolboard and Mayor Garcetti for being named a Student Ambassador in the Do the Write Thing Challenge that he was unable to receive at the schoolboard meeting last week. (see ‘DO THE WRITE THING’ STUDENT AMBASSADORS TELL TALES OF BULLETS AND BULLIES | I got to meet David and his classmates and teachers and counselors and was way impressed with students, faculty and campus!

I was at the groundbreaking and the ribbon cutting of the school when it was South Region Middle School #2 …but nothing compares to the wonderfulness of seeing the school in action!

David attends the Orchard Global Studies Academy, there is also an Orchard Arts+Media Academy and a Magnolia Science+Tech charter school on the campus. In my visit my faith in small learning communities – especially at middle schools -where every teacher and every student in the school knows everyone else - was renewed. I was disappointed to learn that there is no passporting between programs – so consequently there is no opportunity for the arts students to participate in the global studies program and vice versa. And I got the feeling there is no interaction whatsoever between the charter and the LAUSD programs. As time goes by I hope we will come closer to the university model where learning communities and programs interact+interreact. We are not creating silos or Jets+Sharks. After all, even the Gryffindor and Slytherin students intermingle at Hogwarts!

QUOTE O’ TH’ WEEK: “One of the more curious tendencies of Times letter writers is to react viscerally to any news about Villaraigosa. Simply put, many don't think much of the former L.A. mayor, and many of our letter writers would rather not read articles about him. This was just as true during the final years of Villaraigosa's tenure in City Hall, before Eric Garcetti took over in 2013, as it is now.”
by LA Times Letters Editor Paul Thornton | Feb 27, 2015 |

THE THEATER THAT IS THE UTLA/LAUSD CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS played out in a “sea of red t-shirts” rally at Grand Park on Thursday. Eventually both sides need to stop putting their toes on the tape mark and looking into the camera and sit down in earnest and negotiate. The teachers haven’t had a raise in seven or eight years. Class size has escalated out of control. On the other hand the District isn’t made out of money; the Prop 30 funding increases are exaggerated +temporary. Other LAUSD unions have “Me Too!” clauses in their contracts, so whatever the teachers get in wage increases they get too.

And though 4LAKids doesn’t agree with it in its entirety, but this Op-Ed [“California's public unions have too much clout and compensation” |] is worth reading.

A strike by UTLA would be complicated and could get ugly. We have many campuses shared by union and non-union (charter) schools (I wrote of one above) and many other district-owned campuses are run by non-union charters but maintained by union labor. Do parents and students cross picket lines? What happens if they do? A strike is to be avoided – maybe not at all costs – but we are coming to the time when both sides need to act like adults. Or maybe less like them.

THE REST OF THE WEEK’S NEWS IS ADULTS BEHAVING BADLY, whether locally, internationally, nationally or in the ultimate alternate reality: Washington DC. When someone did get it somewhat right – say as in Net Neutrality – others got it way wrong in reaction. There was an ugly little story in LA School Report resurrecting conduct between consenting adults that goes into embarrassing detail and approaches the level of celebrity gossip; it’s an elephant in the room that bears watching (and definitely not 'bares watching') but may be best intentionally ignored on these pages. Certain folks meeting at CPAC suggested that the way they dealt with organized labor in Madison, Wisconsin is the way to handle ISIC or ISIS Syria+Iraq. Meanwhile ISIC/ISIS celebrated Take Your Sledgehammer to the Museum Week. The Congress continues to confuse U.S. immigration reform with Sarajevo in 1914 and/or 1992-96. One can hardly wait ‘til Congress focuses on reforming NCLB!

Maybe the way to handle MiSiS is the way they handled organized labor in Madison?

IF YOU LOST MY NOTES, here’s the way I’d vote in the schoolboard elections next Tuesday. If they let me!
●District 1: George McKenna
●District 2: Scott Schmerelson
●District 5: Bennett Kayser
●District 7: Richard Vladovic

On Charter Amendments 1+2, which changes the election dates of municipal+schoolboard elections to increase voter participation and slightly extends the terms of current office holders, here is my foolproof algorithm:
● If you like the incumbent or think your favored candidate will win …or will achieve the runoff and win there, vote YES.
● If you don’t like the incumbent or fear your candidate won’t win or win in the runoff, vote NO.
● If you can’t bear the thought of an extra year-and-a-half of Mónica García vote NO.
● If you perversely think you’ll vote YES on one and NO on the other: I like your thinking …but they both have to pass for either to take effect!

For an amusing animated YouTube video from the League of Women Voters explaining all of this – and featuring talking tacos – see this:

For other races, you are on your own ...though you may apply the algorithm.

FINALLY: ART IS THE ARTIST INTERPRETING THEIR WORLD. There is an art exhibit of LAUSD student art today Sunday at Los Angeles Tenth District PTA headquarters in our Annual Reflections Art Show.

Expressing themselves through Visual Art, Dance, Film, Literature, Music and Photography are things that most kids from pre-K to 12th grade enjoy and excel at, this show is the local culmination of the National PTA Reflections Art Program. This year’s theme is “The world would be a better place if…”

The Tenth District Reflections Exhibit will be held on Sunday, March 1, 2015, from 1:00 P.M. to 4:00 P.M. in the auditorium at Tenth District, 1000 Venice Boulevard, south of downtown.

The only thing prouder than a parent whose student has art on display in a gallery setting is the artist themselves, explaining their artwork. All this and punch+cookies …it really doesn’t get any better than this!

¡Onward/Adelante! -smf

By Teresa Watanabe | LA Times |

27 Feb 2015 :: As the House of Representatives moves to vote on reauthorizing a 50-year-old education reform law, Republicans are pushing to sharply curtail what they see as federal overreach in prescribing testing, setting achievement goals and imposing sanctions on schools that fail to improve. Instead, the House bill would shift authority for such decisions to states and school districts.

And that suits many in California just fine.

That's because California has outpaced the nation in developing its own reform measures, including a pioneering school finance system that gives more money to needy students and an effort underway to craft a more complex measure of achievement than simply test scores. The federal prescriptions, many say, too often have interfered with California's approach.

"The law has raised a lot of tensions in our overall federal-state relations," said Michael Kirst, state Board of Education president. "We want more flexibility and deregulation."

Such views are shared across much of the state's educational spectrum. Erika Hoffman of the California School Boards Assn. said that federal rules have "mucked up" some of the state's initiatives, while Dean Vogel of the California Teachers Assn. said those closest to schools should make decisions about them – a philosophy that drove Gov. Jerry Brown's 2013 push to radically revise the school finance system with more local control.

"In California, we're saying that you don't decide 3,000 miles away…what's best for local communities," Vogel said.

At issue is how to revise a federal law passed in 1965, which provided massive dollars to schools primarily to better serve low-income and minority youth. Under former President George W. Bush and a bipartisan congressional coalition, the law was last renewed in 2001 with federal prescriptions aimed at ensuring schools did not neglect disadvantaged students.

The No Child Left Behind law ordered states to give annual standardized tests and collect data on the performance of not only all children, but also individual groups of students who are minorities, low-income, disabled and speak limited English. The law set increasing performance goals for each group. Schools that failed to meet them could be forced into prescribed changes, including overhauling staff and curriculum, closing campuses or converting to independent charter schools, which are publicly funded and usually nonunion.

Most states have received waivers from the law in exchange for adopting reform plans that include teacher evaluations tied to student test scores; California refused to do so and did not receive a waiver.

Many agree that the law had some merit. U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) was a high school English teacher at the time and said the federal requirement to collect testing data on different groups of students forced schools to confront and address learning gaps among them.

"It shined a light on the achievement gap among students of color," said Takano, a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee that passed the bill earlier this month on a party line vote without hearings.

As a result, the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People's legal defense fund and other civil rights groups are fiercely opposing the House bill, saying that strong federal oversight is still needed.

But the House bill largely rejects a top-down federal approach. "For the last 50 years, Washington has assumed more programs, more spending and more top-down mandates will cure an ailing education system," the bill's author, U.S. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said in a statement, adding that local communities should determine school success.

In California, the federal law created conflicts with reform measures the state previously had taken. The state had launched annual standardized tests in 1998 and a year later crafted a school performance measure based on student test scores, known as the Academic Performance Index. Because the two systems measured achievement differently, some California schools met the state performance target but not the federal one.

The House bill would eliminate the federal performance measure and the prescribed sanctions – a move many in California support.

"There's broad recognition of schools making great strides toward state goals…but they are penalized for not meeting federal goals," said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for the California Office to Reform Education, a consortium of L.A. Unified and nine other school districts that have collaborated on their own reform plans. "The federal system has been so unhelpful for so long it's almost been ignored."

The bill's continued requirement for annual standardized testing has sparked opposition in some states, where teachers and parents have led protests against what they see as too many tests that distract from learning. But Kirst said testing is not an issue in California. The state has cut about half of its tests since 2011 and now only requires the federal minimum of annual tests in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school.

Many California officials have joined critics in raising concerns about the bill's other provisions, including a freeze on federal funding levels and a change in how special dollars earmarked for poor children would be allocated. The U.S. Department of Education recently estimated that Los Angeles Unified could lose $782 million over six years under the House bill compared to President Obama's budget; other California districts set to lose big include Fresno, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino.

Kline has dismissed such assertions as "scare tactics and budget gimmicks" and said his bill would increase funding for poor students by $500 million. He has also said that the change in allocating special funding for poor children is optional for states.

But Edgar Zazueta, L.A. Unified's chief lobbyist, said the funding proposals were a "deal breaker" that would compel the nation's second-largest school district to oppose the measure.

In addition, some worry that the Republican effort to scale back federal involvement is a guise to slash funding for schools – or shift more of it to charters and private campuses.

In any case, many expect a long road before a federal bill is approved. The U.S. Senate is expected to adopt a more bipartisan product and reconciling it with the House measure will take time. Kirst, Takano and others are hoping for a better balance between more state flexibility and continued federal oversight.

Mostly, though, California just wants the freedom to pursue its own reform plans.

"We've got a process in place we think will work," Hoffman said. "We would like to continue doing that and not have it turned around or upside down because of what the federal government says they want at a national level."

●●smf’s 2¢: All well and good…. But:

“California has outpaced the nation in developing its own reform measures, including a pioneering school finance system that gives more money to needy students…”

….vastly overstates the facts, reality and all the other moving parts of Education Finance Reform in California.

The Local Control Funding Formula is a beginning, a baby step. But the earthshaking/game-changing LCFF is a one-year budget trailer-bill, implemented not quite in the middle-of-the-night, but certainly in the waning moments of the 2014-15 legislative session - relying on a temporary tax increase and wishful thinking about a perpetually improving economy.

(A “trailer bill” is a bill that is attached to the state's budget, meaning it bypasses the regular legislative process and can be passed in less than two weeks – i.e.: when the legislators come up with and approve compromises not necessarily in Mr. Justice Brandeis ‘bright disinfecting sunshine’ … and then someone writes the legislation after the fact.)

LCFF is not a fundamental or constitutional paradigm shift in education funding, it was a one year budget-fix that Sacramento legislators hammered out without having committee meetings and/or actual public input on the actual proposed legislation – and then sent to governor for him to line-item-veto into something of his liking.

The idea of Local Control is a wonderful one, filled with promises of local autonomy. The principal and the School Site Council – or the school based LCAP parent advisory committee - decide how to educate the community’s children. Except that the state controls almost all the money, even though it was raised locally.

In LAUSD the Local Control (over how to spend not-enough money) resides in a Board of Ed which oversees 1124 schools and 655,000 students from a 28 story building inconveniently unclose to everyone situated within 710 square miles. The Board of Ed never heard from the Local Control Parent Advisory Committee that was formed. The previous superintendent advised them …and mostly the advice was to sit down and listen.

The 2014-15 LAUSD Local Control Accountability Plan – essentially the District Budget – was initially rejected by the County Office because it didn’t address the state mandate. And the current superintendent says it relied upon deficit financing to support poor students, English language learners and foster children with bogus money that wasn’t there.

“Listen to my song,” Buffalo Springfield sang in ‘66. “It isn’t very long. And you’ll see before I’m gone that everybody’s wrong.” It doesn’t get much more cynical than that, but in the passing years we are given more to be cynical about.

Annie Gilbertson | KPCC |

Audio from this story: 0:53 Listen |

February 25 2015 :: More than 200 Los Angeles Unified School District elementary school libraries have reopened in just two months, according to district officials.

Recession-era budget cuts had left many libraries without staffing. The cuts persisted even when the economy began to improve: a year ago half of the district's 650,000 students were still without a librarian or library aide.

Without library workers, state law prohibits students from browsing collections, pulling reference materials or checking out books.

“We have been living without libraries and, no, we don’t want to because they are essential for academic achievement and learning for our students," said Mark Bobrosky, a librarian at Walter Reed Middle School.

School board member Monica Ratliff created a task force to recommend ways to expand libraries after KPCC reported that Lorne Street Elementary in Northridge had a library full of books collecting dust.

"This idea of equity — we are trying to make sure we don't have library deserts," Ratliff said at the board's curriculum, instruction and assessment committee meeting on Tuesday.

Even when the board committed funds for elementary school libraries, the district found it hard to fill openings. Library aides worked just three hours a day, five days a week.

Members of the task force suggested assigning library aides to two schools, doubling their hours and providing benefits. Elementary school libraries began to quickly reopen.

But while conditions have improved for elementary students, middle school libraries are still hard hit, with nearly 65 percent of their campus libraries shuttered.

Bobrosky said reopening the libraries is vital for L.A. Unified's success in implementing the Common Core state standards, which require research projects incorporating a variety of texts.

●●smf’s 2¢: It would be untoward of me not to insert a shout-out to Mark Bobrosky, the best middle-school librarian in the best middle school in the world. I spent some time last week at a couple of other excellent middle schools and my mantra is confirmed: We in public ed and in LAUSD must double, redouble and double-down on middle school as an important place where important young people need all the support we can throw their way. The late unlamented Dr. Deasy didn’t believe in school libraries in elementary or middle school – “Students can learn to use the library in High School”. He is gone – his statue has been pulled down and the recession is over - and we can no longer blame our inattention on him+that. We need to take the money that he+that stole-and-or-borrowed from programs+children and put it back.

No more shiny sparkly things like iPads-for-all and ‘we-own-the-code’ student databases; no more being driven by data+urgency. Data is the smallest form of knowledge and/or a measurement tool; urgency is a force or impulse that impels or constrains …or a symptom of urinary discomfort. Neither is a process or an outcome.

We need to invest in teachers+teaching and classrooms+support-for-the-classroom. And the library is the most important classroom in any school.

Not quite ‘Voila!’ - KPCC listener/4LAKids reader/Library Aide/CSEA activist/FOS (friend o’ smf) Franny Parrish writes: “Actually, this was not a decision by the school board. It came about as a result of a meeting with Superintendent Cortines within two weeks after he returned. He was unaware of how the libraries had fallen into disrepair, collections lost, and the lack of qualified people who had applied for the positions of Library Aides, or the Library Task Force report, which I personally handed to him. With full cooperation and collaboration between the Personnel Commission and our union, CSEA, and the Library Aides who led the charge, we were able to begin the process of placements and opening libraries. There were hurdles, which is another story, but we are continuing to address them and give the students access to libraries.”

It doesn’t make a bit o’ difference who takes the credit; what matters is that the difference is made.

Letters to the Editor of the LA Times |


28 Feb 2015

To the editor: Harvard professor Paul E. Peterson takes as given that testing results indicate the level of learning. He implies that the fact that test scores have improved is proof that the tests have improved education. The only thing that better test scores prove is that students have become better test takers.

Of course students have become good test takers, with the immense amount of pressure applied to them over dumbed-down multiple-choice tests. A student may not know how to compose an essay, organize an experiment, research and extrapolate conclusions on a historical figure or explain the methodology used in arriving at a mathematical proof — but, when under pressure, a student can tell you it is best to answer "C" on a test because that is the most common answer (an odd piece of trivia that all U.S. students can tell you).

I have been a teacher for 20 years, and I ask my students every year when taking one of these high-stakes tests, "Have you ever been tired or frustrated or mad at your teacher and decided to do a poor job on a test?" Every student, every year raises his hand. I know the best way for me to get my students to do well on the tests is to be as nice to them as possible and beg them to do well — for me.

What do these tests actually measure?

Ron Harris, Simi Valley


To the editor: Peterson claims scores "soared" in Washington after then-Chancellor Michelle Rhee instituted a pay for performance plan. This is very misleading.

As reported by USA Today, scores soared when several schools probably cheated. Scores plummeted in those schools the following year. The merit pay plan has resulted in higher pay for teachers in schools in high-income neighborhoods where students have always done well.

Meanwhile, the achievement gap has widened in Washington since Rhee's brand of school reform came to town.

Linda LaScola, Washington


To the editor: There is a point in a child's education where he or she should be left behind. Public schools are overcrowded with kids who have no wish to be there.

Not every child is meant to be in school; we see this from Harvard professor Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences tests, consisting of various types of intelligence, perhaps most notably the "kinesthetic" intelligence. This intelligence involves individuals who work better with their hands, those better suited for the workforce rather than a college education, sitting behind a desk while they waste their talents.

I believe that parents should have a discussion with their children about their aspirations before registering for middle school, as registering an unmotivated student may be the precursor to four years of being "left behind."

Andersen Chiang, Chino Hills


To the editor: If you evaluate teachers on school tests, you will see improvements — on school tests. Whether that's good education is another matter, a point that many disagree on.

Teachers resent being evaluated on school tests because these tests depend in part on factors over which they have little control, such as poverty, quality of family life, parental involvement and other variables. There are better ways to evaluate teachers and schools and to educate children.

Jean Lecuyer, Los Angeles


By Paul E. Peterson | OpEd in the LA Times |

23 Feb 2015 :: The controversial education law known as No Child Left Behind is up for reauthorization, and amid the nuances under debate one question stands out: Will pressures from the left and right force the federal government to abandon its annual, statewide testing requirements?

When enacted into law in 2002, NCLB had widespread, bipartisan backing including support from President George W. Bush and Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy. Nonetheless, it had numerous creaky provisions, not least of which were the testing provisions that held schools accountable for student achievement.

Annual testing should be saved, and it can be if the moderates in both political parties fight off the special interests in each. -

Its measure of whether a school was failing was too bizarre for most people to understand and placed schools with the most challenged students at a disadvantage. Other mandates were equally meaningless. Giving students at failing schools a choice among other schools in their district simply shuffled children around the city. Requiring after-school programs did nothing to improve the school day itself.

All such provisions were potentially up for revision in 2007, but Congress couldn't agree on how to bring the law up to date. As a fix, Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, waived for most states the law's most onerous provisions. Still, the administration continues to support testing every student in math and reading in grades three through eight and again in high school.

Now, the new Republican Congress is making another effort to revise NCLB, and tests are in the crosshairs. Unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, oppose them for fear the data will be used to evaluate teachers. Conservatives fear tests will be used to impose "progressive" Common Core standards, which are backed by the White House and designed to set the same broad expectations for all U.S. students.

Civil rights groups, on the other hand, are fighting to keep testing in place. "Now is not the time to make a U-turn in holding states and school districts accountable for providing a quality education to all children," declared Nancy Zirkin, executive director of the influential Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 20 organizations.

Her stance is backed by solid research evidence. Summing up the best studies, Martin West, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, told a congressional committee in January that NCLB "worked to generate modest improvements in student learning, concentrated in math and among the lowest-performing students — precisely those on whom the law was focused." In L.A. after the law was implemented, student performance improved between 2003 and 2014 by well over a year's worth of learning in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math.

Testing also remains popular with the public. In 2012, the journal Education Next asked a cross section of the American public whether "the federal government [should] … require that all students be tested in math and reading each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school." More than 80% of those surveyed responded favorably. In 2014, Education Next asked the public whether it supported "standards for reading and math that are the same across the states [and] will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance." Only 16% opposed the idea.

In Washington, however, interest-group pressure may matter more than public opinion. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, teachers unions deny that testing benefits disadvantaged students. No Child Left Behind, "in emphasizing testing, pulled us away from the focus on kids, especially those who are poor," writes Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Weingarten says we should be "supporting, not sanctioning, kids, teachers and schools." One suspects that "teachers" is the key word in the phrase. They resist the use of student scores to measure job performance because, they say, scores fluctuate for many reasons. But most evaluations of teachers are based on performance over several years. And when former Washington, D.C., school superintendent Michelle Rhee put into place a performance-based pay plan that dismissed the weakest teachers and paid the best ones six-digit salaries, test scores soared.

As a compromise, unions propose testing students just once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school. But if you don't test students every year, you cannot detect the progress they are making under each teacher. Without that information, performance pay and tenure based on merit fly out the window.

Testing critics also want Congress to let each school district come up with its own tests and its own criteria for evaluating student performance. But without a consistent program it becomes impossible to determine which schools are getting it right — and which are not.

Union opposition is undermining Democratic support for testing. But that wouldn't mean much in a GOP-controlled Congress were it not for tea party fears of federal school control in the form of the Common Core. Trying to kill Common Core, tea party activists have added an anti-testing plank to their agenda, presumably because testing would only solidify the power of national standards they dislike.

Together the left-right alliance is so powerful, the middle is struggling to hold its own. Already, California has placed a one-year moratorium on systematic testing, claiming schools need a break while the state develops Common Core tests.

Annual, statewide testing should be saved, and it can be if moderates in both parties fight off special interests. But perhaps the most likely outcome is a decision to kick the can down the road two more years, leaving No Child Left Behind and testing to be tackled by the next president.

That is unfortunate. There are many elements of law that deserve tweaking, but even if the NCLB bathwater needs changing, our kids are not likely to learn more if schools and teachers are not held accountable.

●Paul E. Peterson is a professor at Harvard University, where he directs its Program on Education Policy and Governance. He is also a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

by Owen Phillips/NPR |

February 26, 2015 7:03 AM ET :: Studies, research papers, doctoral dissertations, conference presentations — each year academia churns out thousands of pieces of research on education. And for many of them, that's the end of it. They gather dust in the university library or languish in some forgotten corner of the Internet.

A few, though, find their way into the hands of teachers, principals and policymakers. Each year the American Educational Research Association — a 99-year-old national research society — puts out a list of its 10 most-read articles.

We've looked over that list and compiled a summary of some of what we learned from the ivory tower in 2014.


Math teachers will often try to get creative with their lesson plans if their students are struggling to grasp concepts. But in "Which Instructional Practices Most Help First-Grade Students With and Without Mathematics Difficulties?" the researchers found that plain, old-fashioned practice and drills — directed by the teacher — were far more effective than "creative" methods such as music, math toys and student-directed learning.

The researchers from the University of California, Irvine and Penn State examined more than 13,000 first-grade math students in 1,300 schools nationally.

They found that first-graders who scored in the bottom 15 percent on math tests were more often subject to activities that have no evidence of fostering retention or improving performance. For example, teachers with lots of struggling students often sought to liven up their lessons by adding movement or music. But the researchers found little evidence that those methods worked.

Instead, they found that the only activity associated with gains in performance on an adaptive, untimed, one-one-one administered test is what we think of as traditional instruction. Namely, a teacher demonstrating how to solve a problem, followed by repeated opportunities for students to work by themselves, replicating the procedure with worksheets and drills.

These results run contrary to some interpretations of the Common Core, where students collaborate, talk through a problem and dissect the different ways to reach a solution. The researchers found that while this kind of learning can work for some students, those already struggling in math failed to grasp concepts as easily as they did under more traditional lessons.


When a teacher's curriculum is perfectly aligned with a set of standards, meaning they're teaching exactly what they're told to, will students' test scores rise? That's the question a group of researchers set out to answer in "Instructional Alignment as a Measure of Teaching Quality."

Finding an answer to this is critical since better instructional alignment is a driving component of the Common Core.

Researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania looked at 324 teachers in six large school districts (New York City; Dallas; Denver; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C.; Memphis, Tenn.; and Hillsborough County, Fla.) in 2010.

Once the researchers created a measure for how closely aligned a teacher's curriculum was with standards, they examined the correlation of that alignment with teachers' ability to raise test scores (as measured by value-added models, which granted, have their own complications).

The results did not show a meaningful relationship between the two. Meaning, perfectly aligned curriculum is no more likely to be associated with gains in tests scores than perfectly unaligned curriculum.


The big story in higher education in 2015 so far has been President Obama's proposal for two free years of community college. Two of the most-read education research articles of 2014 were focused on different aspects of community college.

In "Labor Market Returns to Sub-Baccalaureate Credentials," researchers from the Career Ladders Project and Columbia University spent seven years tracking more than 24,000 students in Washington state after they enrolled in community colleges during the 2001-2002 school year. At the end of the seven years, the researchers compared the wages and employment status across the different credentials the students earned.

It's no surprise that the researchers found that those with associate degrees and long-term certificates were more likely to be employed and had higher earnings compared with a group that attended community college but didn't obtain a credential. We know that the more education you obtain, the better off you'll be.

But not every credential made students better off.

Individuals who earned short-term certificates (programs that last anywhere between a few weeks and a few months) were no more likely to see higher wages or better chances of employment than those who earned no credentials at all. That's alarming since the number of short-term certificates awarded increased dramatically between 2000 and 2010.

Community college students hoping to increase their earnings further likely require a bachelor's degree. But the path from community college to a four-year school is filled with "choke points."

That's the conclusion reached by the authors of The Community College Route to the Bachelor's Degree" at City University of New York. According to the researchers, 42 percent of students who transfer from community college lose between 10 percent and 100 percent of their credits, forcing them to start either anew or far behind.

But despite credit loss, students with associate degrees before transferring have similar graduation rates to those who begin at four-year schools. The researchers estimated that if community college students didn't lose credits during the transfer process, their average graduation rates would be 9 percentage points higher.

States like New Jersey have already taken steps to relieve this choke point by mandating that all for-credit courses earned at a state community college be accepted by state four-year colleges.


When teachers spend time focusing and emphasizing social-emotional learning, or SEL, some may worry it may be at the expense of time spent on other subjects and that students' performance in those subjects may suffer. The findings from "Efficacy of the Responsive Classroom Approach: Results from a 3-Year, Longitudinal Randomized Controlled Trial," which looked at 276 classrooms in 24 schools, suggest otherwise.

The researchers wanted to test whether a curriculum based on SEL could improve student performance in math and reading.

Based on previous studies, the researchers expected to see the students that were exposed to such a curriculum outperform a similar group of students exposed to a more traditional curriculum.

But when the researchers analyzed the results they found that students in SEL-based classes on average performed the same on math and reading tests compared with the control group.

Not the results the researchers expected.

However, a subset of students with teachers using the curriculum exactly the way researchers designed it saw substantial gains in math and reading. This could be evidence that a curriculum approach based on SEL can have high returns, but only when teachers are trained extensively. Or, it could just be that teachers who are well-trained and follow directions are better teachers.

While you can't expect this research to cause policymakers and teachers to embrace SEL, it does show that if nothing else, there's no harm — as measured by student performance — in schools focusing on social-emotional learning.

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest (but not necessarily the best) of the Stories from Other Sources
4LAKids Quote o' th' Week: RE: EX-MAYOR TONY Read:


Follow the money/Connect the dots: LAUSD RACE PITS CHARTER $CHOOLS (+ the usual billionaires) AGAINST TEACHERS UNION



CRACKS IN REFORM AGENDA?: Mayoral Runoff in Chicago Is a Chastening for Rahm Emanuel, via @nytimes


READERS: “LAUSD’s iPad plan doomed from the start…” + LA TIMES: “…but try, try again!” + smf’s 2¢ |

LA Times: “Obama administration should drop insistence that test scores be a major measure in teacher evaluations” |

EVENTS: Coming up next week...

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Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD and was Parent/Volunteer of the Year for 2010-11 for Los Angeles County. • He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and has represented PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee for over 12 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 "WHO" Gold Award and the ACSA Regional Ferd Kiesel Memorial Distinguished Service Award - honors 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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