Thursday, April 24, 2014

EX-LAWYER ON A MISSION TO KEEP SCHOOLS FAIR

Sally Smith knows California law and is challenging districts across the state that charge students for basic supplies and activities. One official calls her 'an irritant.'

BY STEPHEN CEASAR/ PHOTOGRAPHY BY GLENN KOENIG | LA Times Column One | http://lat.ms/1rp71Hj

Sally Smith speaks at a San Diego Board of Education meeting in January. She focuses her attention on illegal school fees that districts pass on to students. More photos

April 23, 2014 / REPORTING FROM SAN DIEGO  ::  As Sally Smith strode to the lectern, a few people in the audience rolled their eyes. Behind their nameplates, members of the San Diego school board fiddled with a cellphone, stared at laptops and rustled papers.

They knew what she would say — she's said it dozens of times and repeats it at nearly every meeting.

"In this district," she said firmly, her eyes fixed squarely on the board members facing her, "…we have educators who exploit students to generate revenue."

The ceramics teacher who charges $20 if students want to keep their clay art projects? That's illegal, Smith contends.

"Taxpayers paid for this toothpick and noodles," she said, pointing to a brooch on her blouse that her daughter made in elementary school. "Just as we paid for that clay."

"It has to stop," she said, her words punctuated by a buzzer indicating that her speaking time was over.

With the persistence of a gadfly, the zeal of a civil rights activist and the know-how of a lawyer, Smith has made it her mission to challenge the San Diego public school system and many others across California that require students to foot the bill for basic school activities.

She bounces around the state meeting with administrators. She blasts off emails to reporters — often a hodgepodge of legal complaints, case law and bemusement at those who try to ignore her. In about a year, she's filed 200 formal complaints around the state, a huge number of appeals and countless California Public Record Act requests.

Sally Smith, left, speaks to parent Maegan Savage before the start of a San Diego school board meeting. Smith asked Savage what her troubles were, explained what services her children were eligible for and told her not to hesitate to call if she needed help. More photos

The San Diego Unified School District gets the brunt of her focus.

"There are times where I think you can say she can be considered an irritant," school board member Scott Barnett said. "Certainly, some of the legal staff — given the amount, the breadth and depth of her requests — I think are irritated at times, to say the least."

Smith's home, where her family frequently finds her typing complaints late into the night in the living room, is only a quick trip to the district offices, where most everyone knows her — or at least knows of her.

Some parents, however, are fierce critics, accusing her of ruining school activities for their children, she said. She said her car has been vandalized at district headquarters, and she quips that a brick through her window wouldn't surprise her.

"I'm not well liked," she said, her waist-length brown hair tucked behind her ears. Then again, she said, "I'm not in this battle to make friends. I'm in it to help those kids who can't pay."

A large number of school districts were quite brazenly ignoring the law.”

— Attorney David Sapp

 

In 1879, California's Constitution granted "free school" for its citizens. The state Supreme Court would later find that fees charged for educational and extracurricular activities violated the state's guarantee of a free education.

"Access to public education is a right enjoyed by all — not a commodity for sale," the state Supreme Court said in a decision in 1984.

Smith's activism grew from her own frustration over what she saw as a trampling of that right.

One afternoon in 1997, her daughter, who was in seventh grade, arrived home from school excited about a class trip to a popular science camp near Big Bear.

Everyone in her grade was going, she said. But Smith found out that wasn't the case. Only those who could afford the $300 price tag could attend, and that left out six classmates.

Smith took a hard line: If other kids couldn't go, her daughter wouldn't either. Instead, she bought the class materials to hold their own science camp. They made papier-mache volcanoes that spewed baking-soda and vinegar lava.

"The kids that went on the trip were jealous of us," said Jessica Baris, Smith's daughter, now 27.

Smith, 55, knew then that this was an issue she couldn't let go of. Today, she can recite dozens of examples in which she believes districts are charging illegal fees: A high school in Orange County requires students to pay $30 for a spot in the school parking lot; marching band members in San Diego have to participate in fundraisers; and seniors up and down California are forced to shell out for graduation caps and gowns.

"I can't understand why adults have no empathy for children who are left out," Smith said.

Her name and her efforts have spread by word of mouth. Parents from around the state, often afraid of retribution if they take on their own schools, seek her out, asking her to fight against fees foisted on their children. "Thanks in advance, Sally," said a letter from an out-of-town parent.

Sally Smith checks paperwork during a school board meeting. "I'm not well liked," she says. But "I'm not in this battle to make friends. I'm in it to help those kids who can't pay." More photos

"I've seen the faces of parents when they see the fees," Smith said. "They're devastated."

As Smith scanned the meeting agenda before speaking to the board on a recent evening, a woman she hadn't seen before approached her: "Are you Sally Smith?" the woman asked, like a fan approaching a star.

Maegan Savage, a mother of three, came to tell the board about her kindergartner, who had started to fall behind in class, and her other child who wasn't receiving the tutoring he desperately needed. She needed help, and someone had suggested she talk to Smith.

As Savage's children played in the grass nearby, Smith asked her what her troubles were, explained what services her kids were eligible for and told her not to hesitate to call if she needed help.

Before saying goodbye, Smith had one more question: "Were you ever required to buy pencils? Paper? Crayons? Anything like that?"

For years, Smith practiced family law, trudging unhappily through messy divorces. In her free time, however, she relished her pro bono work providing legal aid to the women who were victims of domestic violence. She eventually grew tired of the long hours and left law to raise her children full time.

Meanwhile, California schools faced years of devastating budget cuts. To cover shortfalls, officials often moved to cut personnel and programs. And some appeared to attempt to maintain programs and activities by passing the costs on to students.

The American Civil Liberties Union found that some California campuses charged students for such basic things as workbooks or lab fees for science classes. Others charged hundreds, even thousands, of dollars to participate in extracurricular activities.

"A large number of school districts were quite brazenly ignoring the law," said David Sapp, an ACLU attorney. "Sally has been a tremendous advocate for families."

The ACLU sued the state in 2010, dropping the case two years later after a law was passed requiring the California Department of Education to ensure that schools don't charge illegal fees. It also provided a path for families: a new complaint process.

“When they rule against me, they're ruling against the kids.”

— Sally Smith

This allowed a way for Smith to combine her legal skills and her advocacy. "I know how to rattle cages," she said.

San Diego school board member Barnett said that after awhile, it's "'Here comes Sally again.' But in most cases, she's right, and we need to make sure we're protecting the public and doing the right thing."

(San Diego schools Supt. Cindy Marten and four other board members did not respond to repeated requests for comment about Smith.)

At the same meeting recently, the school board agreed to prohibit all illegal fees. Board President Kevin Beiser seized upon the vote to make a statement to district families.

"Anywhere that children are being told that they must pay a fee," he said, "we will remedy that."

Smith was unimpressed. "Well, he's up for reelection," she said.

Most challenges are acrimonious, but others go smoothly.

Earlier this year, Smith filed a complaint with Principal John Dixon at Vista del Lago High School in Folsom after the school asked students to pay for art supplies and caps and gowns. Dixon said the fees weren't mandatory, and Smith was prepared for the typical back and forth. Instead, Dixon examined the issue and replied apologetically.

"I would like to thank you for bringing Vista's noncompliance to my attention," Dixon wrote. "In recent years, we have had a lot of discussion on this issue, and I was under the assumption that mandatory fees were no longer a part of our programs."

Victories, however, are rare for Smith. All but a dozen of her complaints have been denied. But she contends that it's not because her opponents are in the right but because they know the right legal loopholes.

"When they rule against me," Smith said, "they're ruling against the kids."

CHARTER OF VAN NUY’S CHAMPS IN JEOPARDY OVER STAFFER’S $27,000 CREDIT-CARD MISUSE + smf’s 2¢

By Thomas Himes, San Bernardino Sun | http://bit.ly/1fa4qPp

4/22/14, 1:03 PM PDT | UPDATED: 4/23  ::  Charter High School of the Arts officials have 10 days to convince Los Angeles Unified they’ve fixed mismanagement that let a former staffer rack up $27,000 in personal expenses on her school charge card and quit without repaying it.

LAUSD’s board Tuesday unanimously voted to send Van Nuys-based Charter High School of Arts Multimedia and Performing (CHAMPS) a notice of violation — the legal step could lead to the school’s shutdown.

LAUSD officials took issue with school officials’ failure to immediately report the matter to police and LAUSD.

“I would just like that to be on the record as saying that’s something, I think, is an appropriate move regardless of whether it’s spelled out somewhere as an appropriate move,” board member Monica Ratliff said of the school’s failure to promptly tell law enforcement officials.

While LAUSD authorizes CHAMPS to operate under a charter, the district does not have control over its day to day operations.

Speaking to the board, CHAMPS Executive Director Joanne Saliba took responsibility, saying she was “naive” to trust the school’s former fund development director.

Kathryn Berry, was hired to raise funding for the school. But she went to work before CHAMPS conducted a background check, Saliba.

Saliba, however, said she discovered Berry’s criminal past, before she received a credit card.

Berry was convicted of grand theft in 2011, District Attorney’s office spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani said. Berry claimed she had cancer and raised $20,000 from unsuspecting donors, according to LAUSD documents. Berry was sentenced to five years of probation and a day in jail, Ardalani said. But there’s a warrant for Berry’s arrest, because she missed a May 8, 2012 court date, Ardalani said.

Saliba didn’t take Berry’s card after an initial $3,000 in personal expenses were discovered in September. Berry told Saliba she had mistaken the school’s credit card number for her own and would repay the money, according to LAUSD documents.

A month later, Berry had charged another $24,000 in personal expenses and, again, agreed to repay the money.

But after bouncing a check, Berry quit her job without repaying any of the $27,000.

Once Berry left, school officials reported the matter to police. But prosecutors and police have not pressed charges, because CHAMPS officials were handling it as a civil dispute, according to LAUSD documents. An LAPD detective could not reach Berry, as her address was not accurate and phone calls went unanswered.

It wasn’t until March that CHAMPS officials told LAUSD about the spending. At the time, school officials said $15,000 in charges were racked up. LAUSD staffers later discovered an additional $12,000, according to LAUSD documents.

CHAMPS Board Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Roland Fink said the school’s insurance will cover the $27,000 with no deductible or rate increases.

“It’s fairly clear that (the board) wanted to issue a violation,” Fink said.

The only cost incurred, Fink said, was paying lawyers to represent the school against LAUSD.

CHAMPS response to the notice of violation will be sent to LAUSD officials, who will inform the board at a future meeting. Should school officials fail to sufficiently address LAUSD’s concerns, the board could move forward with revoking CHAMPS’ charter.


2cents smf I watched CHAMPS present their case at the Board Meeting Tuesday, and heard an LAUSD attorney say that that the CHAMPS story changes with every presentation – including the presentation of “facts” made in their public comment that day.

As to: “CHAMPS Board Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Roland Fink said the school’s insurance will cover the $27,000 with no deductible or rate increases” 

I have never heard of an insurance company paying out on this sort of a claim when:

  1. an employee who was not bondable was hired to handle money – and Ms. Berry was not bondable because of her felony conviction.
  2. especially as Ms. Saliba was aware of Ms. Berry’s past . “Saliba, however, said she discovered Berry’s criminal past, before she received a credit card.”   Ms Saliba hired a known felon and gave her a credit card!

No public funds were lost, Mr. Fink represents, because the insurance company is paying the claim. This is utter balderdash – as would any claim that fundaised funds are somehow different from the public funds. Public funds were used to buy that insurance … and the CHAMP’s board is simply passing the bill for their mishandling of public funds and the cost of Ms. Berry’s fraud onto the insurance company.

Although Ms Berry’s alleged actions are reprehensible, the actions and inactions of the CHAMPS board – and Mr. Fink as CFO and a CPA - reeks of utter fiduciary failure. 

Charter schools generally get the same amount in public finds from the state as traditional schools. That almost-if-not-all of them must secure additional funding  (even as they cut expenses by hiring non-union labor and locate their schools in inferior facilities*)  from foundations, benefactors, grants, fundraising or bake sales to do their job points out just how miserably funded the whole public school system in California is.

That a school would resort to the hiring of a known felon – especially one with an outstanding warrant – as a fundraiser to supplement the inadequate  public funding screams from the page how desperate the situation is.

It is the gross underfunding of Public Education that is the first and worst injustice in the litany described by this story.

_____

*:“inferior” as in “not superior.”  Traditional public schools’ building, occupancy and safety  standards – which are regulated by the Division of the State Architect and governed by the Field Act, provisions of the Ed Code, and increased fire and safety regulations are far more stringent  than those of independent charter schools  – which must only comply with local building codes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

THE COMMON CORE MAKES MATH MORE COMPLICATED. HERE’S WHY. + Stephen Colbert explains it all for you

by Libby Nelson | Vox.com |  http://bit.ly/1f5FY1O

A teacher goes over fractions in a fourth grade math class in Takoma Park, Maryland. Fourth and fifth grade math teachers in the state are training themselves to teach to Common Core standards.Linda Davidson / The Washington Post via Getty Images

April 20, 2014, 8:30 a.m. ET  ::  You might not know what a number sentence is. Neither does Stephen Colbert, who recently suggested"word equation" and "formula paragraph" as nonsensical synonyms.

But millions of American students soon will. Math education is in the middle of big changes — including new ways of learning that might frustrate parents even more than students.

The Common Core state standards, now in place in 44 states, will require that elementary school kids not just to know how to subtract, multiply and divide, but to understand what they're doing and why.

That means more number sentences — the term, if you're curious, just means "equations" — and other unfamiliar concepts, like area multiplication and number line subtraction.

Arithmetic has usually been taught like it's a recipe: Take the raw ingredients (the numbers), follow a series of steps, and end up with a tasty end result (the answer). While an experienced baker knows why you cream butter and sugar before adding eggs, then add flour last, a beginner just following the steps is in the dark. They might know what to do, but they can't explain why.

In the past, "students had this sense that math was some kind of magical black box," says Dan Meyer, a former high school math teacher studying math education at Stanford University. "That wasn't good enough."

One goal of the Common Core math standards is to make American students better at applying math in real life — a skill that's crucial for science and technology jobs, but one at which American students are particularly weak compared with peers around the world.

The theory is that if students understand why they do math the way they do, they'll be able to apply their skills more flexibly.

Do you have number sense?

Number sense means that you have a sense of how and why the tricks you call "math" work.

That seems abstruse and philosophical, but it's really not. You'd probably be flummoxed if someone ambushed you right after you finished a meal to demand that you multiply two decimals in your head — say, 18.5 x 0.2. That's a complicated arithmetic problem on a full stomach.

But this happens frequently in real life, where it looks like this: Your lunch cost $18.50. You want to tip 20 percent.

Cell phones with built-in calculators have made it easy to get the tip ($3.70). But many adults still do it in their heads: Move the decimal point over. OK, that's 10 percent, or $1.85. Now you need to double it. But multiplying a three-digit decimal still isn't easy. So you think about it this way: $1.85 can be broken down into $1.50 plus 35 cents. $1.50 times 2 is $3, and 35 cents times 2 is 70 cents. Tip $3.70.

Taking a challenging problem (18.5 x 0.2) and breaking it down into manageable parts ($1.85, $1.50, 35 cents) — that's number sense.

Can you teach number sense?

The Common Core standards aim to impart number sense. Although the standards don't tell teachers how to to teach or what materials to use, they say that students need to understand how to solve problems and why those methods work.

The underlying lesson: "Numbers aren't these brittle, fragile things that break," Meyer says. "They can play with them in fun, flexible ways."

Students will still learn what's known as the standard algorithm, the way that their parents learned to multiply, divide, add, and subtract. But they'll also learn other methods that try to make the underpinnings of the standard method more obvious.

One example is subtraction with a number line. This went viral after a father posted his child's confusing homework assignment with his critique:

O-common-core-math-570

The idea behind using a number line for subtraction is that students get a visual representation of what subtraction is: figuring out the "distance" between two numbers.

Here's what a clearer version of the problem above would look like: Students put the two numbers at opposite ends of the number line.

Screen_shot_2014-04-17_at_5

Then they travel from one number to the next to figure out the distance. It's 4 steps from 316 to 320, 100 steps from 320 to 420, 7 steps from 420 to 427.

Screen_shot_2014-04-17_at_5

Then they add the steps together: 4 + 100 + 7 = a distance of 111. LearnZillion, a company that creates lesson plans for teaching to the Common Core standards, has a 5-minute video explaining this technique. Here's what it's supposed to look like on another sample problem:

Screen_shot_2014-04-17_at_4

Multiplication, too, is explained visually. Most people learned to multiply two-digit numbers like this:

Screen_shot_2014-04-18_at_3
What's really happening there: 16 is broken down into (10 + 6). Then the multiplication is done in two parts (27 x 6) and (27 x 10) and the answers are added together. But most students see math as a series of steps or even tricks — line up the numbers, write a zero on the second line — without a rationale, says Diane Briars, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which helped to write the math standards.

One way to explain the rationale, according to Common Core standards, is an "area model." Here's an explanation from the tutors at Khan Academy using the same problem:

Still, few adults would sit down to draw an area model or number line to do a math problem. (Most wouldn't do it by hand.) Students are still expected to learn the standard approach, which is indisputably faster. But the emphasis is switching from speed to understanding.

"Students should be able to understand any of these approaches," said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California who is studying how the Common Core is implemented in the classroom. "It doesn't mandate that they necessarily do one or the other."

Parents should brace for frustration

Other nations whose students have stronger math skills focus their education on problem-solving and understanding underlying concepts. But there might be other factors in play; research found a popular American math textbook is more challenging than South Korea's textbook, but South Korean kids still are much better at math.

A key question is whether elementary school teachers can learn to teach the conceptual side of math effectively. If not, number lines and area models will just become another recipe, steps to memorize in order to get an answer, Polikoff says.

Much of this is bound to confuse parents. When parents see their kids frustrated by math homework, their first reaction is to step in and help. It's natural for them to teach the step-by-step way that they learned to solve problems.

"What we want to tell parents to do is they don't need to teach the math," says Briars, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "What they need to help their children do is figure out, What is the problem asking you?"

Screen_shot_2014-04-21_at_10

It's reasonable that parents will be confused by the new way of doing things, says Meyer, the former math teacher and Ph.D. student. But he says that parents' education wasn't particularly effective, even if they're confident in their arithmetic. When tested on their math skills, American adults ranked third-to-last compared to other developed countries.

"They grew up thinking math was a series of tricks to be memorized and reproduced," Meyer says. "None of us really enjoyed that."

CARD 13 OF 18LAUNCH CARDS

How many states have adopted the Common Core?

In all, 44 states currently have Common Core standards. The process for signing on has varied based on state law, but in most states, the state board of education had to vote in favor of the new standards. In other states, the state Education Department was able to make the decision on its own.

Screen_shot_2014-03-27_at_3(Source: CoreStandards.org)

Everything you need to know about the Common Core 18 CARDS / EDITED BY LIBBY NELSON UPDATED APR 21 2014, 3:26P

LAWMAKERS REJECT BROWN’S ONLINE LEARNING PROPOSAL

by Kimberly Beltran, SI&A Cabinet Report :: The Essential Resource for Superintendents and the Cabinet |  http://bit.ly/1lEB2PQ

APRIL 23, 2014   (Calif.)  ::  A key budget panel on Tuesday rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest plan to revamped the K-12 independent study program and create more opportunities for students to use modern technology as part of their academic day.

The Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance also held off on endorsing Brown’s proposed funding levels for energy-saving school facility projects until tighter revenue estimates come in next month, with one member suggesting the possibility of an increase of as much as $30 million to a revolving loan account associated with the program.

Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance and chair of the panel, said the proposed changes offered by the governor to the independent study program are significant enough that they should be fully vetted as stand-alone legislation and not put through as part of budget negotiations.

“I think there have been some legitimate concerns raised about how the governor has been pushing for education policy changes and driving them through the budget process,” Muratsuchi said. “There are times when that’s appropriate and times when we do not feel it is appropriate and there should be a more in-depth discussion of the policy proposals underlying the budget trailer bill language.”

Brown drew national attention in early 2013 for his embrace of flat-rate college courses offered online and a system that would allow K-12 districts to collect state attendance funding for students enrolled in asynchronous online instruction. But questions over accountability of the K-12 system forced the governor to drop his ideas heading into final budget negotiations.

This year, Brown is looking merely to streamline the process schools must go through to convert student independent study work into “seat time” and thus state funding. One of the more onerous requirements, supporters of the proposal said, is that supervising teachers in independent study programs sign and date each assignment.

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst, in its latest review of Brown’s education budget proposal, said his ideas are generally good ones because they provide additional flexibility for school districts. But the LAO recommended expanding his proposed new “course based” independent study option  to include grades K-8 rather than just high schools, and that the student-teacher ratio cap for charter schools be increased from 25:1 to 27:1 to provide “corresponding flexibility” for charter schools.

Last year about 140,000 students relied on independent study for at least half of their coursework, according to the LAO, with about two-thirds of that coming from high schools and the remainder from the lower grades.

Independent study has become the default vehicle for many types of alternative curriculum in California – including online learning – because it provides districts some method of giving students freedom to work outside the traditional classroom and still qualify for state support.

The problem, as Brown has pointed out, is that the current independent study system was designed decades ago, before the advent of the internet. It is also saddled with a long, complex set of rules imposed on district administrators and teachers aimed at ensuring students are doing work that is aligned with state curriculum goals.

In the traditional setting, districts qualify for state funding only for the days that students are physically in school. Districts are required to offer a minimum number of classroom hours, or seat time, which vary by grade. The independent study program allows students to earn credits for work their do on their own, overseen by a teacher who is charged with certifying that the work can be translated into seat time.

But the current system for certifying work into seat time is very prescriptive and can discourage districts from offering the option given the investment required to administer the program.

Meanwhile, committee members considering future funding levels for several new energy efficiency programs created under 2012’s Proposition 39 learned that some 1,500 local educational agencies requested and received money for planning their projects under the initiative.

At the same time, however, an Assembly staff report noted that only four LEAs have been approved to receive their energy efficient project grants. The California Energy Committee is now processing an additional 21 expenditure plans for projects totaling $13.5 million.

Also known as the California Clean Energy Jobs Act, Proposition 39 created a new revenue stream by changing the options for how multistate businesses determined their California taxable income. It was estimated that the measure would bring in about $1 billion annually, to be split between the state’s General Fund and the Clean Energy Job Creation Fund to pay for energy-efficiency upgrades in schools.

The governor’s January budget, however, predicted $101 million less in Prop. 39 funding for 2014-15 due to lower projected tax revenues than assumed in the 2013-14 budget.

Instead, $726 million is expected for the Energy Fund in 14-15, with $316 million going to K-12 schools and $39 million to community colleges for energy efficiency project grants.

The governor also proposes $5 million to the Conservation Crops for technical assistance to K-12 districts, and $3 million to the Workforce Investment Board for job training programs.

Brown proposed no additional money for the fourth program created under the Energy Fund – a revolving loan account run by the state’s Energy Commission to also help schools fund energy efficient projects.

Since the implementation of the Prop. 39 program, CEC reports that it has received 28 applications totaling $50.2 million for the loan program.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, partly responsible for the Prop. 39 ballot measure and legislation, said that it is likely districts need these types of loans to leverage existing funding and that the legislature should perhaps consider an additional allocation of as much as $30 million given the need shown by LEAs. 

REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR HOPEFUL NEEL KASHKARI PROPOSES MAJOR EDUCATION OVERHAUL

The GOP candidate for governor would throw out much of the education code, send funds directly to schools rather than to districts and let most public schools run like charters.

By Seema Mehta, LA Times | http://lat.ms/1ifabpE

April 22, 2014  ::  Saying that better schools are critical for California's prosperity, GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari proposes changing the way education is funded, making traditional schools more like charters and increasing online learning.

"We must reject the status quo," the former U.S. Treasury official says in a 33-page policy paper set for release Tuesday. 

He calls for money to be sent directly to the state's 10,000 public schools rather than to their districts. He would throw out much of the state's education code, which governs the operation of schools, and effectively allow most schools to operate under the same rules as charters.

He also calls for increased vocational education, longer school days and years, and merit pay for teachers.

"We can absolutely transform California's education system into a force that not only lifts student achievement but ultimately addresses income inequality and eradicates poverty from our communities," Kashkari's proposal says.

The plan is the second that the candidate has released; it follows a proposal for creating jobs. Kashkari's main GOP rival in the race, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), has not released any policy proposals. Incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, periodically travels the state touting his accomplishments.

California is spending more than half of its $98-billion general fund budget this year on K-12 and higher education. After years of cutbacks, Brown proposes more funding for both in his spending blueprint for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

But the state's students rank among the bottom in reading and math of the 50 states, and the higher education system is so overburdened that many students cannot get into some required courses, delaying their graduation and increasing their student loan debt.

Kashkari would deal with the latter by linking a portion of state funding to campus performance, measured by such markers as graduation and course completion rates.

He would also require the University of California and California State University systems to place 20% of their courses online within four years, though he offers no details about how he would force them to do so. The governor and Legislature have limited control over the public universities, particularly the UC system.

Kashkari would also create a scholarship program that waived tuition for students majoring in science, technology, engineering or math, in exchange for a small — unspecified — percentage of their future earnings.

Oregon has a similar program, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) introduced legislation for a federal version earlier this year that would be financed by private investors.

Education experts said that although they were intrigued by some of Kashkari's ideas — such as directing money to schools rather than districts, or increasing the school year — they say that a paradox is woven through the proposal.

As Kashkari is calling for more local control and less authority at the state level, he is also calling for bold changes that would require centralized intervention.

"There is a mix of suspicion of big government with big initiatives and big goals, and so you see kind of this contradictory mix," said John Rogers, director of the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at UCLA. He "wants to, at least rhetorically, suggest we need less government, not more.… It's very difficult to do both of those things … at the same time."

Kashkari also uses his education plan to accuse Brown of complacency and Democrats of an alliance with teachers' unions that have been impediments to change.

"Every child deserves a good education and states demand a better workforce, yet Democrats refuse to prioritize children over the interests that fund their political machines," Kashkari's proposal says.

Brown has been a beneficiary of the California Teachers Assn., which spent nearly $5 million to help elect him in 2010 and many millions more to advance the tax increase he put on the statewide ballot in 2012.

And even some who have been skeptical of Brown say that they have been impressed by his work on education.

One of the governor's first acts after taking office in 2011 was sacking seven members of the state Board of Education, including vocal proponents of charter schools. One of the replacements was a California Teachers Assn. lobbyist.

Among those Brown booted was Ben Austin, chief executive of Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles nonprofit group that lobbied for California's parent-trigger law.

"While the governor is not perfect…he's exceeded expectations when it comes to making tough calls on behalf of kids," Austin said.

He cited Brown's school funding shift that provides more money to schools with the most disadvantaged students and gives districts more control over some funds the state sends them. He also cited Brown's veto of a bill backed by the teachers union that purported to streamline the process for firing bad teachers but actually increased teacher protections.

Austin also found a lot to like in Kashkari's proposal, such as eliminating parts of the education code and further localizing school funding decisions. Austin is a self-described "partisan Democrat" but said he has not decided whom to support for governor.

"I think both … bring something real to the table in terms of a kids-first agenda," he said.

Neel Kashkari's Education Plan

L.A. ETHICS COMMISSION SUSPENDS AGGREGATE CONTRIBUTION LIMITS IN CITY+LAUSD ELECTIONS IN THE WAKE OF McCUTCHEON v. FEC

by email from the Ethics Commission

2cents smfWhat this means is that individuals can now give up to $1,100 to each and every candidate in an election, rather than a limit of  a total of $1,100 to all candidates in an election. Billionaires, PAC’s, Special Interest Groups  and Scrooge McDuck will still figure out a way to give kazillion$ of dollar$ to whomever they want!

 

AGGREGATE CONTRIBUTION LIMITS SUSPENDED IN THE WAKE OF McCUTCHEON v. FEC

22 April2014  ::  On the advice of the City Attorney’s office, the Ethics Commission adopted a resolution on April 17, 2014, stating that the aggregate contribution limits in Los Angeles City Charter (Charter) sections 470(c)(6) and 803(b)(5) will not be enforced against contributors in City or Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education (LAUSD) elections.

The City Attorney’s advice was based on the United States Supreme Court’s decision inMcCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (McCutcheon), 572 U.S. ___, No. 12-536 (S. Ct. Apr. 2, 2014).  In its 5-4 ruling, the Court struck down section 441a(a)(3) of Title 2 of the United States Code, which limits the aggregate amount of money a person may contribute to all candidates in a federal election.  The Court examined the federal aggregate contribution limits on First Amendment grounds and found that preventing an individual from making contributions to as many candidates and committees as the individual desires imposes a significant restriction on speech and association rights.

There are two similar aggregate contribution limits in City law.  Charter section 470(c)(6) limits aggregate contributions by a single person to all candidates in a City election, and Charter section 803(b)(5) limits aggregate contributions by a single person to all candidates in LAUSD elections.  The City Attorney’s office advised that enforcement of both sections should be suspended in light of the compelling legal precedent in McCutcheon.

The limits on contributions from a single person to a single candidate remain unchanged.  A copy of the resolution adopted by the Ethics Commission and additional information about the City’s campaign finance laws are available at ethics.lacity.org or by contacting the Ethics Commission at (213) 978-1960.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Updated coverage: DISTRICT ATTORNEY SAYS NO CHARGES WARRANTED OVER L.A. SCHOOL’S iPAD CONTRACT + smfs’s 2¢ …x2!

 

The district attorney's office acts after reviewing an internal L.A. school district report on the iPad contract that is said to raise issues on the handling of the bidding process.

By Howard Blume, L.A. Times | http://lat.ms/1recIrz

10:00 PM PDT, April 21, 2014  ::  The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has reviewed an internal L.A. school district report on its iPad contract and concluded that criminal charges are not warranted.

The report, which has not been released publicly, raises issues about the handling of the bidding process, according to L.A. Unified School District officials who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to discuss it.

Apple's iPad was selected in June as the device to be provided to every student, teacher and campus administrator in the nation's second-largest school system. The district is using voter-approved school construction bonds for the purchases.

The $1-billion-plus effort has been plagued by difficulties that delayed the first distribution of the iPads at 47 schools last fall. These issues included problems with wireless networks and security and inconsistent policies on whether students and parents would be responsible for the costly devices.

Early on, students at three high schools deleted security filters so they could browse the Web freely. Officials also have come under fire for misstating costs and terms of the deal. More recently, officials revisited the decision to purchase solely iPads.

The scope of the internal inquiry, conducted by L.A. Unified's inspector general, was limited mainly to the bidding process that resulted in the selection of a vendor team led by Apple.

Prosecutors from the public integrity division reviewed the internal inquiry, focused on whether there was a criminal conflict of interest, district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said. "We closed it out in March," she said. "No charges will be filed."

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said he was unable to comment on the report or the district attorney's investigation.

"I have not seen the report yet," Deasy said. "Nor have I been given a copy."

Some district officials cited the report's confidentiality for their unwillingness to comment. Others said they didn't want to discuss the report until it had been fully distributed among senior staff and the Board of Education.

Nonetheless, some officials and district staff, speaking not for attribution, said the 18-page report noted potential problems.

For one, scoring sheets used to rate different vendors competing for the contract had been lost, hampering efforts to assess whether the rankings of different vendors were fair or reasonable, they said.

The initial contract was worth about $30 million. About half of the ultimate billion-dollar tab is expected to go to the provider of the device and the curriculum software. Much of the remaining cost would go toward building wireless infrastructure across the sprawling system of more than 1,000 schools.

2cents small #1: The cost of “the remaining cost would go toward building wireless infrastructure across the sprawling system of more than 1,000 schools” has absolutely nothing to do with the Apple-Pearson Contract and the Inspector General’s investigation and report.

After winning the bidding competition, the iPad was considered locked in for the entire multiyear effort, but officials now are considering other devices and other providers. Among the issues are the cost of the iPads and whether laptops would be a more useful device for older students.

Another matter raised in the L.A. Unified probe was that one of the members of the review panel responsible for evaluating the bids owned a moderate amount of Apple stock, officials and others said. That individual may have not disclosed this conflict early enough, they said. This person was allowed to remain on the panel after the disclosure.

Deasy, who has acknowledged owning some Apple stock, was not involved in evaluating the bidders. He later sold his holdings.

The review by the inspector general also looked at Pearson, a British firm that has provided the curriculum on the iPads as a key piece of the Apple contract.

Pearson has gotten into trouble in New York state for some of its business practices. In December, Pearson agreed to pay $7.7 million to settle allegations that its charitable foundation illegally drummed up business on behalf of the for-profit wing.

Pearson is ubiquitous across the education sector, helping to design the new high school equivalency test as well as tests to measure new curriculum standards adopted by 44 states, including California. L.A. Unified already was using a Pearson math program districtwide before the Apple contract.

 

2cents small #2:  I stand by my initial 2¢ from yesterday:

  • Unfortunately the line “The LA County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges in the  allegations because….” has been so frequently repeated in cases involving LAUSD, other LA County school districts and the Department of Family and Children’s Services that it has become a mantra of stasis, an excuse for the status quo and the paralysis of inaction.  ● It was the sad history L.A. D.A. refusing to prosecute because they couldn’t guarantee a conviction that returned serial abuser Steven Rooney to schools …where he could molest middle schoolers instead of high school students. ●The good news is that children will not be abused this time; I worry that the taxpayers will not be so lucky.

Additionally:

  • It is my understanding that the IG’s Report is currently being reviewed by the California Attorney General.
  • The LAUSD Inspector General, by statute, reports to the Board of Education and the State Legislature (not the superintendent!), - whom ultimately will review and act upon the report.
  • The Board of Education would be derelict in their fiduciary responsibility if they do not question the IG  whether any of LAUSD’s senior staff, up for contract renewal at today’s closed session board meeting are implicated in the IG’s report.

Monday, April 21, 2014

AcaDeca: GRANADA HILLS, EL CAMINO REAL HIGH SCHOOLS PREPARE FOR NATIONAL DECATHLON IN HAWAI’I

By Brenda Gazzar, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1tvPLSG

El Camino Real High School student Brandon Slater studies at school Thursday for the national Academic Decathlon championship in Hawaii that will take place April 24-26. Michael Owen Baker — Staff photographer

Granada Hills Charter student Mayson Lee prepares for the United States Academic Decathalon Championships April 16, 2014. The team will be flying to Hawaii next week to take part in the national competition.Andy Holzman — Staff photographer

POSTED: 04/20/14, 3:31 PM PDT   ::  Granada Hills Charter High School student Jenean Docter spent up to 12 hours every day during her spring break hitting the books.

But she didn’t mind. She looked forward to coming to school at 8 a.m. every day to pore over literature and other subjects to get ready for the U.S. Academic Decathlon National Competition that starts Thursday in Honolulu.

“There’s an exhilarating feeling of I’m improving more. I’m finally getting more out of all this,” the 16-year-old Docter said last week while taking a break from studies with teammate Irene Lee. “I’m being around my friends who are decathletes. We call each other family. Honestly, we’re really close and the time commitment is worth it.”

The Granada Hills Academic Decathlon team is going for its record-setting fourth consecutive national championship. Meanwhile, El Camino Real High School is hoping to nab its seventh national title — it last won in 2010. Both San Fernando Valley schools will be competing against the top teams in the country and from London and China.

“The mood is very positive; there’s a lot of confidence mixed in with some healthy fear of losing,” said Mathew Arnold, one of three Granada Hills coaches. “There’s a lot of laughing and a lot of joking around in addition to some really long hours studying.”

The Granada Hills team left Saturday for Hawaii to give them an opportunity to adjust to their new setting and the three-hour time change. Arnold said last week he was planning to take interested students to an Easter service in Honolulu.

The El Camino Real team will leave for Hawaii Tuesday. El Camino coach Stephanie Franklin said she had other courses to teach and didn’t want the kids to miss spending the holidays with their families.

“Passover is (last) week. There’s Good Friday and Easter Sunday — that’s three big holidays,” Franklin said. “You don’t mess with the big ones — at least I don’t.”

The Academic decathletes will take 30-minute multiple choice tests in the subjects of economics, music, language and literature, math, science, and social science. Each team member also gives a planned four-minute speech and a two-minute impromptu speech and participates in a seven-minute interview. The students took the art and essay portions of the test earlier this month. The competition culminates in the Super Quiz relay, which features multiple-choice questions on a variety of subjects. The theme of this year’s competition is World War I.

Each nine-person team must include three students who are A average (honor students) three who are B average (scholastic students) and three who are C average (varsity students).

The El Camino Real team was also feeling upbeat in recent days, though Franklin was mum about how many hours her team was putting in over spring break.

“You’ll never hear us tell you,” she said. “We’ve been sleeping late. They come, work till they’re done and then go home.”

El Camino Real student Brandon Slater, who was studying in a top floor classroom dubbed the penthouse, said he was feeling “pretty confident” about his team’s chances of winning since they’ve kept their momentum after winning the state competition.

But his colleague, Neelem Sheikh, coyly declined to say how she felt about their chances.

“I don’t want to jinx things,” she said.

Students from both teams were also excited — and some a bit nervous — that this year’s competition is being held in Hawaii.

“It’s an amazing place,” Slater said, noting he’s visited a few times. “But in terms of the competition, we have to focus. I know were going to be very distracted being in Hawaii but we have a goal that we set out from the start that we want to win Nationals.”

Docter of Granada Hills said she, too, would do her best to not get distracted.

“It’s a tropical paradise and yeah, it’s going to be hard to focus, but Nationals is important and we want to do our best so I’ll try and stay away from looking out the window while I’m studying,” she said.

Her colleague Irene Lee was “so excited” about traveling to Hawaii for the first time and was looking forward to enjoying the beach after they will have been “slaving away inside the hotel rooms” before and during the grueling two-day competition.

While Honolulu might offer them a bit of a distraction, “I think the drive (to do well) is greater than the desire to have fun,” she said.

Granada Hills senior Jenny Baek said while there was no room for complacency before or during the competition, she was excited about spending time with her teammates afterwards doing something other than studying.

“I think we’re actually going to go scuba diving or maybe parasailing so I’m excited,” she said. “I haven’t been to the beach in a long time.”

inBloom: SCHOOL ®EFORM’S NSA ‘BIG-DATA’ DATA MINER, BUBBLES UNDER

2cents smf

 

THE DANGER REMAINS: “London- and New York City-based Pearson, for example, offers the PowerSchool student information system, which currently stores information on roughly 13 million U.S. schoolchildren.”

inBloom to Shut Down Amid Growing Data-Privacy Concerns

By Benjamin Herold, - Education Week Digital Education  |  http://bit.ly/1i4P5PS

UPDATED

April 21, 2014 10:33 AM  ::  After months caught in the crosshairs of parents, advocates, and educators concerned about student-data privacy, controversial nonprofit inBloom announced Monday that it will close its doors.

"I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months," inBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger wrote in an email to the organization's supporters. "The unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning." (Full statement from inBloom included below.)

The announcement comes on the heels of the New York state legislature's recent enactment of legislation that effectively pulled the plug on inBloom's last remaining large partner.

Founded in 2011, inBloom aimed to store, clean, and aggregate a wide range of student information for states and districts, then make the data available to district-approved third parties to develop tools and dashboards so the data could more easily be used by classroom educators. 

Over the past year, however, the organization became a lightning rod for those concerned about the increased collection, use, and sharing of sensitive student information. The backlash prompted a string of withdrawals by planned partners in Colorado, Louisiana, and elsewhere.

Opposing Opinions

Monday's announcement prompted highly polarized reactions.

Parent activist Leonie Haimson, who helped lead the fight against inBloom in New York, hailed the news as a much-needed lesson for proponents of "big data" and "personalized learning."

In a statement, Haimson said inBloom was designed to "facilitate the sharing of children's personal and very sensitive information with data-mining vendors, with no attention paid to the need for parental notification or consent."

"This is something that parents will not stand for," Haimson said.

Proponents, however, argued that inBloom has been misunderstood and that the organization's technology represented a huge advance toward increasing the "interoperability" of the many different data systems that currently house student information.

"While perhaps ahead of its time, the inBloom vision--and the tools inBloom built to realize it--remain critically important for the K-12 sector to build upon in the future," said Douglas Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, based in Glen Burnie, Md.  "I certainly hope that others will step up to fill the void that inBloom will be leaving in its wake."

A number of vendors and organizations already offer similar services, use similar technologies, or perform similar functions. London- and New York City-based Pearson, for example, offers the PowerSchool student information system, which currently stores information on roughly 13 million U.S. schoolchildren. And Clever, a company based in San Francisco, says it already helps 15,000 districts integrate various software and related data into their technology programs. 

But for months, inBloom has been a magnet for attention and controversy, likely in large part due to its origins: The organization was launched with $100 million in philanthropic support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  (Carnegie helps supportEducation Week's coverage of business and K-12 innovation.)

In a statement, the Gates Foundation expressed disappointment about inBloom's demise.

"Teachers should be able to easily support the individual learning needs of students," the statement reads. "We believe the technology behind inBloom is an important part of making that a reality."

Frustrated by Misunderstandings

Officials from inBloom declined to be interviewed about their decision to "wind down" operations during the coming months.

"It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole," wrote Streichenberger, the group's CEO, in his letter to supporters.

Last month, at the annual South by Southwest education conference in Austin, Texas, Streichenberger and other senior inBloom officials sat down with Education Week to talk about what they described as mischaracterizations and misunderstandings of their work.

"We don't actually control what data is uploaded" to the inBloom system, Streichenberger said.  "We open the vault for the district or state, they put the data in, and we lock it."

Each client's data was to be stored individually, the officials said, and a combination of high-tech encryption and security protocols and detailed, "role-based" data-governance and structures would protect information as it was stored and retrieved.

inBloom's value, they said, came from providing a single point of connection between districts or states and the vendors they chose to work with, eliminating the need to recreate the wheel every time a new vendor is selected or new data set was to be accessed.

"At the end of the day, the data is controlled by districts and states," Streichenberger said. "We just want to make it easier for vendors to be engaged with districts in a secure environment."

Some outside observers, including Robert Moore, the founder and chief consultant of RJM Strategies and an architect of a data-privacy "toolkit" recently released by the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking, praised inBloom's security and privacy protocols.  Moore attributed controversy surrounding the company to political opposition to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Common Core State Standards, and other highly-charged education issues currently on the table.

"If you believe that data is important in teaching and learning, it's difficult to see how [inBloom's approach] is possibly insidious," he said.

Privacy Advocates Emboldened

Nevertheless, pushback against the organization has been intense and persistent.

Last May, the Louisiana state education department backed away from using the nonprofit company after parents raised privacy concerns.

In November, Colorado's Jefferson County School District followed suit. (Although then-chief technology officer Greg Mortimer told a panel at South by Southwest that the opposition to inBloom in his district was "surreal," and that an independent third-party review validated the strength of inBloom's security protocols.)

And what appears to be the final blow came earlier this month, when the New York state legislature approved legislation that bars the education department from contracting with outside companies to store, organize, or aggregate student data.

Proponents of educational data use insist such opposition is largely the function of poor communication.

"The challenges surrounding inBloom, which partly stemmed from public unfamiliarity with cloud technology and confusion about the use and security of student data, illustrates the importance of helping the public, and especially parents, understand how increased access to data helps their children succeed," said Aimee Rogstad Guidera, the executive director of the Washington-based Data Quality Campaign, in a statement issued in response to Monday's news.

But for the time being, anyway, such a stance seems to only sharpen the resolve of concerned parents and advocates to take their fight beyond inBloom.

"There are more and more data-mining vendors who, with the help of government officials, foundations, and think tanks, are eager to make money off of student information in the name of "big data" and "personalized" learning, and in the process see parents, if they recognize our existence at all, as ignorant obstacles to their Orwellian plans," said Haimson in her statement. "We realize the fight for student privacy is just beginning."

 

Statement on inBloom's overdue demise

Posted by Leonie Haimson to the NYC Public School Parents Blog  | http://bit.ly/1eYEx5i

at 4/21/2014 04:01:00 PM  ::  Today's announcement that inBloom is closing its doors will hopefully make government officials, corporations and foundations more aware that parental concerns cannot be ignored, and that they must stop foisting their “solutions” on our schools and classrooms with no attention given to the legitimate concerns of parents and their right to protect their children from harm.

Yet the statement issued by inBloom’s CEO reeks of arrogance and condescension, and makes it clear that those in charge still have not learned any lessons from this debacle. The fervent opposition to inBloom among parents throughout the country did not result from “misunderstandings”, but inBloom‘s utter inability to provide a convincing rationale that would supercede the huge risks to student security and privacy involved.

Contrary to the claims of Iwan Streichenberger and others, InBloom was not designed to protect student privacy but the opposite: to facilitate the sharing of children’s personal and very sensitive information with data-mining vendors, with no attention paid to the need for parental notification or consent, and this is something that parents will not stand for. In New York, the last state to pull out of inBloom and the only one in which legislation was needed to do so, parents were joined by superintendents and teachers in pointing out that the risks to children’s privacy and safety far outweighed any educational benefits.

At the same time, we realize that the fight for student privacy is just beginning. There are more and more data-mining vendors who, with the help of government officials, foundations, and think-tanks, are eager to make money off of student information in the name of “big data” and “personalized” learning, and in the process see parents, if they recognize our existence at all, as ignorant obstacles to their Orwellian plans. This is despite the fact that the educational value of putting kids on computers and subjecting them to canned software programs is not supported by evidence, and is yet another way in which children’s education is being mechanized, depersonalized, and outsourced to corporate hands.

As a consequence to inBloom’s overreach, parents throughout the country have also become painfully aware of the way in which the federal government has actively encouraged data-sharing and data-mining of personal student information by eviscerating FERPA. We will continue to work with parents and advocates to see that the federal government returns to its original role as protecting student privacy, and recognizing the parental right to notification and consent, rather than furthering the ability of for-profit vendors and other third parties to commercialize this data without regard to its potential harm.


Following is the full text of the announcement from inBloom CEO Iwan Streichenberger:

Friends and colleagues:

In 2011, an alliance of educators and state leaders, non-profit foundations, and instructional content and tool providers formed the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC). The vision of that group was simple: create a resource that allows teachers to get a more complete picture of student progress so they can individualize instruction while saving time, effort and precious resources.

I signed on to the project in November 2012 to lead inBloom, the non-profit corporation that is the SLC's successor. I joined because I passionately believe that technology has the potential to dramatically improve education. My belief in that mission is as strong today as it ever was. Students, teachers and parents deserve the best tools and resources available, and we cannot afford to wait.

Over the last year, the incredibly talented team at inBloom has developed and launched a technical solution that addresses the complex challenges that teachers, educators and parents face when trying to best utilize the student data available to them. That solution can provide a high impact and cost-effective service to every school district across the country, enabling teachers to more easily tailor education to students' individual learning needs. It is a shame that the progress of this important innovation has been stalled because of generalized public concerns about data misuse, even though inBloom has world-class security and privacy protections that have raised the bar for school districts and the industry as a whole.

The use of technology to tailor instruction for individual students is still an emerging concept and inBloom provides a technical solution that has never been seen before. As a result, it has been the subject of mischaracterizations and a lightning rod for misdirected criticism. In New York, these misunderstandings led to the recent passage of legislation severely restricting the education department from contracting with outside companies like inBloom for storing, organizing, or aggregating student data, even where those companies provide demonstrably more protection for privacy and security than the systems currently in use.

We stepped up to the occasion and supported our partners with passion, but we have realized that this concept is still new, and building public acceptance for the solution will require more time and resources than anyone could have anticipated. Therefore, in full alignment with the inBloom Board of Directors and funders, I have made the decision to wind down the organization over the coming months. It wasn't an easy decision, and the unavailability of this technology is a real missed opportunity for teachers and school districts seeking to improve student learning.

I want to thank you for your partnership in our endeavors and look forward to speaking with many of you in the coming months.

Kind regards,

Iwan Streichenberger

Chief Executive Officer

 

 

DISTRICT ATTORNEY REVIEWS LAUSD INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT ON iPAD CONTRACT; ELECTS NOT TO PROSECUTE + smf’s 2¢

By Howard Blume, LA Times | http://lat.ms/1lyzF9T

L.A. Unified iPads

Students try out iPads provided by L.A. Unified early in the school year. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

April 21, 2014, 2:27 p.m.  ::  The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has reviewed an internal L.A. school district report on its iPad contract and concluded that criminal charges are not warranted.

The report, which has not been released publicly, raises issues about the handling of the bidding process, according to L.A. Unified School District officials who spoke anonymously because they are not authorized to discuss the review. Apple’s iPad was selected as the device to be provided to every student, teacher and campus administrator in the nation’s second-largest school system.

The findings of the internal inquiry, conducted by the inspector general for L.A. Unified, were reviewed in March by the district attorney, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for that agency.

Prosecutors from the Public Integrity Division focused on whether there was a criminal conflict of interest, said Robison. “We closed it out in March,” she said. “No charges will be filed.”

Nonetheless, school district officials said that the 18-page report noted potential problems.

For one, scoring sheets used to rate different vendors competing for the contract had been lost, somewhat hampering the investigation, they said.

The initial contract, awarded last June, was worth about $30 million, but the cost of the initiative will exceed $1 billion. About half of that would go to the provider of the device and the curriculum software. So far, Pearson has provided the curriculum.

After winning the bidding competition, the iPad was considered locked in for the entire multi-year effort, but officials now are considering other devices and other providers.

Another matter raised in the L.A. Unified probe was that one of those on the review panel evaluating the bids owned a moderate amount of Apple stock, officials said. That individual may have not disclosed this conflict early enough, they said, and remained on the panel.

Supt. John Deasy, who has acknowledged owning some Apple stock, was not involved in evaluating the bidders. He later sold his holdings.

 

2cents small Unfortunately the line “The LA County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges in the  allegations because….” has been so frequently repeated in cases involving LAUSD, other LA County school districts and the Department of Family and Children’s Services that it has become a a mantra of stasis, an excuse for the status quo and the paralysis of progress. 

It was the sad history L.A. D.A. refusing to prosecute because they couldn’t guarantee a conviction that returned serial abuser Steven Rooney to schools …where he could molest middle schoolers instead of high school students.

The good news is that children will not be abused this time; I worry that the taxpayers will not be so lucky.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

“Obamacore”: REPUBLICANS SEE POLITICAL WEDGE IN COMMON CORE

By JONATHAN MARTIN | New York Times | http://nyti.ms/1nhrkqJ

     “You have this unlikely marriage of folks on the far right who are convinced this is part of a federal takeover of local education, who have joined hands with folks on the left associated with teachers unions who are trying to sever any connection between test results and teacher evaluation”      - Gov. Bill Haslam (R –Tennessee)

APRIL 2o, 2014 | WASHINGTON — The health care law may be Republicans’ favorite weapon against Democrats this year, but there is another issue roiling their party and shaping the establishment-versus-grass-roots divide ahead of the 2016 presidential primaries: the Common Core.

A once little-known set of national educational standards introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia with the overwhelming support of Republican governors, the Common Core has incited intense resistance on the right and prompted some in the party to reverse field and join colleagues who believe it will lead to a federal takeover of schools.

Conservatives denounce it as “Obamacore,” in what has become a surefire applause line for potential presidential hopefuls. Other Republicans are facing opprobrium from their own party for not doing more to stop it. At a recent Republican women’s club luncheon in North Carolina, a member went from table to table distributing literature that called the program part of “the silent erosion of our civil liberties.”

Karima Hawkins of Mississippi, foreground, protested the Common Core, an initiative that set learning benchmarks intended to raise students’ proficiency in math and English, at the Capitol in Jackson in January.CreditGeorge Walker IV/The Tennessean, via Associated Press

The learning benchmarks, intended to raise students’ proficiency in math and English, were adopted as part of a 2010 effort by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bolster the country’s competitiveness. Some conservatives, in an echo of their criticism of the health care law, say the standards are an overreach by the federal government.

Yet there is an important distinction: Unlike the health care law, the Common Core retains bipartisan support and has the backing of powerful elements of the business community.

Its most outspoken Republican defender, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, is also the most talked-about potential presidential candidate among mainstream party leaders and donors. Mr. Bush has called out some Republicans who have switched positions, drawing what will be a dividing line in the campaign if he or other defenders of the Common Core choose to run. He is joined by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, but theirs is becoming a small club.

“I’m a big fan of Jeb Bush; I think he’s an important leader on many issues,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. “But on the question of Common Core, I emphatically do not agree with Common Core.” His opinion of the program is shared by two Senate colleagues and possible 2016 rivals for the presidential nomination, Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Mr. Cruz’s view also aligns with that of several Republican governors contemplating presidential runs. Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana signed legislation last month that made his state the first to opt out of the Common Core after having adopted it. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said he wanted his state to establish its own educational goals. And Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana suggested that he might use executive authority to go around the State Legislature if lawmakers did not withdraw from the group of states developing the standardized test associated with the Common Core.

Mr. Jindal’s position, a reversal for him, shows how quickly conservative opposition has grown. He recently announced his support for a bill that would remove Louisiana from the Common Core, on the same day the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, which supports the program, released a video featuring his earlier endorsement of it.

The Republican revolt against the Common Core can be traced to President Obama’s embrace of it, particularly his linking the adoption of similar standards to states’ eligibility for federal education grants and to waivers from No Child Left Behind, the national education law enacted by PresidentGeorge W. Bush.

It underlines the ascendance of a brand of conservatism notably different from that of the most recent President Bush. Less than 15 years after No Child Left Behind passed with just 34 House Republicans opposed to it, the conservative center of gravity is shifting toward a state-centric approach to education.

“When I arrived on Capitol Hill in 2001, not only was the Republican administration not devolving power to the states, the No. 1 priority of the administration was a massive expansion of the federal Department of Education,” recalled Mr. Pence, who, as a congressman, opposed No Child Left Behind.

The opposition to the Common Core also captures another shift since the Bush administration: While long contemptuous of an expanding federal government, some Republican activists are growing wary of big business, too, including figures like Bill Gates, the billionaire Microsoft founder whose foundation supported the development of the standards.

“There is a legitimate concern about large institutions, be they government or others, who haven’t really delivered the America everybody thought we were on our way to,” acknowledged John R. McKernan Jr., a former Maine governor who leads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. But, he said, that fear is “totally misplaced” when it comes to the Common Core.

But would-be presidential candidates are paying more heed to the conservative activists holding packed meetings in their states and flooding them with emails. “The Republican Party is getting more and more responsive to the grass roots, and that is a very healthy thing for the party and the country,” Mr. Cruz said.

Jeb Bush said the pivot seemed more like pandering. In remarks this month during an event at his father’s presidential library, he affirmed his support for the Common Core. “I guess I’ve been out of office for a while, so the idea that something that I support — because people are opposed to it means that I have to stop supporting it if there’s not any reason based on fact to do that?” he said. “I just don’t feel compelled to run for cover when I think this is the right thing to do for our country.”

With a knowing grin, he added, “Others that supported the standards all the sudden now are opposed to it.”

Some other former Republican governors who pushed the adoption of the Common Core agree with Mr. Bush. “There is a great deal of paranoia in the country today,” said Sonny Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, who was also instrumental in creating the program. “It’s the two P’s, polarization and paranoia.”

Supporters of the Common Core, which outlines skills that students in each grade should master but leaves actual decisions about curriculum to states and districts, say that it was not created by the federal government and that it was up to the states to decide whether to adopt the standards.

But opponents say Mr. Obama’s attempt to reward states that adopt the standards with grants and waivers amounts to a backdoor grab for federal control over what is taught in schools.

“Standards inevitably influence the curricula being taught to meet those standards,” Mr. Cruz said.

It is not just conservatives who have turned against the Common Core: The leaders of major teachers unions are also pushing back because of the new, more difficult tests aligned to the standards that are being used to evaluate both students and teachers.

“You have this unlikely marriage of folks on the far right who are convinced this is part of a federal takeover of local education, who have joined hands with folks on the left associated with teachers unions who are trying to sever any connection between test results and teacher evaluation,” said Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, a Republican who supports the Common Core.

But it is on the right that the anger is growing. A recent forum on the Common Core in Columbus, Ohio, drew 500 people, most of them concerned parents, said Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, a conservative group opposed to the program. Such meetings reflect discontent that is bubbling up at the local level, where some county Republican committees are moving to punish legislators who do not oppose the standards.

“I think the establishment in the party has been slow to recognize how big this is,” Ms. Robbins said.

 

L.A. NONPROFITS GET NEARLY $1 MILLION TO TRAIN PARENTS TO ADVOCATE FOR THEIR KIDS’ EDUCATION

Deepa Fernandes | Pass / Fail | 89.3 KPCC http://bit.ly/1i2eYRd

JPL CEC

Ashley Myers-Turner/KPCC | A preschool aged boy uses his recess time to play with a word puzzle.

April 17th, 2014, 1:13pm  ::  Two Los Angeles area non-profit groups received grants of about $900,000 from theW.K. Kellogg Foundation to train families of young children in the Los Angeles Unified School District to advocate for their children in the hopes of improving educational outcomes.

The UCLA Labor Center and the Advancement Project, were among 30 winners nationwide to share $13.7 million to implement “family engagement” projects over three years.

Both Los Angeles groups said they aim to train parents in minority communities to become leaders in schools and influence the school board.

The Advancement Project said it aims to train parents to lobby officials and influence how L.A. Unified spends an extra $332 million earmarked by the Governor to be spent to help improve test scores for low-income students, English-learners and foster kids. Specifically, they will be trained to lobby for early childhood programs, arguing they have a lasting effect on a child's grades.

“Family engagement [is] the most powerful yet most underutilized strategy for improving child outcomes in the early years at the systems level," said Sandy Escobedo, who will direct the program at the Advancement Project.

The organization will receive $500,000 over 3 years and promises to train 250 families in the South East LA cities of Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park, Maywood, and South Gate.

The UCLA Labor Center will receive $390,000 over three years to train school janitors - mostly low-income immigrants - who have children in school or about to enter school.

The training will also focus on how parents can advocate for early education opportunities and improvements. The Labor Center said these newly trained janitors will be able to train other parents - friends, neighbors, peers - to advocate for improved early education opportunities across L.A. Unified.

It’s a large investment by outside philanthropy at a moment when many interests are vying to be heard by the school board on how best to divvy up the new Local Control Funding Formula cash after years of cutbacks.

To date, investing some of that in early education has not been a priority.

Superintendent Deasy's draft budget, released earlier this month, does not include new spending for early childhood programs.  The district spends $35 million on those programs and advocates want that number to grow.

Carla Thompson, vice president ­of program strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, said her foundation wanted to help parents advocate for their children in strategic ways. Kellogg’s “family engagement” contest received over 1,000 submissions, the largest interest in a single project in the foundation's 83-year history.

"The fact is, you can't ensure children are receiving high quality early childhood education without factoring families into the equation,” Thompson said. “By engaging families from birth, we can create a firm foundation for success for all children in school and life."