Saturday, July 14, 2007

7/15: the news that didn't fit!


by Joel Rubin, LA Times Staff Writer

July 10, 2007 - At a better school, in a less desperate part of the city, Zeus Cubias might have shrugged off the disruption.

But after a decade teaching at Locke High School — one of the worst in the Los Angeles public school system — he was annoyed when a recent geometry class ended with one more small reminder of how much things need to change.

Cubias had wolfed down his lunch and hustled back to his room for the start of class. He launched enthusiastically into a special two-day lesson he had devised.

"All right, your job is to paint the school," he said, his voice raspy from a morning of classes. "How can we use geometry to figure it out?"

The hour passed quickly as talk turned to angles, protractors and calculating area. A minute before the bell was to sound, Cubias warned his students that they would need a quick start the next day in order to finish the assignment.

"Sorry, Cubias," one student called out, "I won't be here. Field trip to the beach."

"Me too," a chorus of others chimed in.

Standing at the front of the room, the teacher bowed his head and rubbed his eyes wearily — the frustration welling up. Half his students would be absent the next day, and no administrator or other teacher had bothered to tell him. The lesson he had designed would have to be postponed.

"I'm just tired, man," he said later. "Tired that whenever you want to do something positive for the kids, it's a struggle. It shouldn't be this hard."

Cubias is symbolically at the center of a power struggle taking shape in the mammoth Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest. With a prominent charter school organization challenging the district for control of Locke, the school's teachers ultimately must decide which of the two is better able to deliver badly needed reforms.

The direction that Cubias and the rest of the faculty choose could have far-reaching implications for L.A. Unified, as teachers at other schools consider similar options.

The charter group, Green Dot Public Schools, shocked district officials in May when it announced that a majority of Locke's tenured teachers had signed petitions in support of a Green Dot takeover, clearing the major legal barrier to converting the campus into several independent schools.

District officials countered with promises to teachers of increased authority and reforms if Locke remained within the district. After several teachers rescinded their signatures, saying they were confused about the takeover proposal, district officials threw out the formal takeover plan submitted by Green Dot.

Recent days, however, have brought a shift in direction at the district headquarters as a new school board majority allied with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has taken control. Today, new board member Richard Vladovic, who represents the Locke area, will present a motion to reconsider the Green Dot petition.

The charter group's leaders have vowed to press ahead, one way or another, with plans to convert Locke by 2008. Green Dot already is planning to open two small charter schools near Locke this fall. To propel this effort, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced Monday that it had given Green Dot an $8-million grant to develop charter schools in the Locke-Watts area.

The battle over charter schools has roiled Locke. Some teachers angrily oppose a takeover, while others are eagerly supportive. Many remain undecided.

For Karen Brown, who has taught at Locke for 16 years and heads the school's widely respected fashion design program, Green Dot is nothing more than an unproven, uninvited group attempting a hostile takeover.

She and other longtime Locke teachers are suspicious of Green Dot's labor contract with its union, which does not include the detailed work rules, job protections or lifetime benefits granted district teachers. Moreover, those teachers reject the idea that Locke is broken.

"We are confident that we can continue to give our students what they need. We don't need anybody from the outside coming in telling us how to do our job," Brown said. Green Dot "cannot prove to me that they can do a better job. Not here."

For Cubias, 32, a Locke graduate who grew up in the poor, violent neighborhoods surrounding the South L.A. campus, the field trip debacle reflected larger problems at a school he sees as struggling in an ineffective district. Much of the charter school's model appeals to him.

Green Dot's plan for Locke calls for the large campus to be divided into several small, autonomous schools with separate faculties and principals.

With a small central office and administrative staff for their schools, Green Dot officials say, they funnel more state funds into classrooms than the district does and give teachers and principals considerable control over budgets and instruction.

Cubias said he worries that the relatively small Green Dot operation could be overwhelmed by the numerous needs and demands of the school's 2,800 students. And he wonders whether the benefit of starting over from scratch and leaving the school district would outweigh the huge disruption to students and teachers that such a drastic move would entail.

Although much of the debate about Locke's future has played out in heated faculty and community meetings after hours, at times it has spilled into the school's wide cinder-block corridors.

"Why are you even here? Why don't you just leave?" gym teacher Simone Chait hollered at an English instructor, Bruce Smith, who has vocally supported Green Dot, one morning as dozens of students looked on.

"Because I want something better for these kids. I don't want half of them to disappear," he shot back, referring to the school's 50% dropout rate.

The decision whether to leave the district would be much easier for Cubias if he hadn't seen some progress in recent years.

Take the third-floor math lab that opened this year. A windowless room with missing ceiling panels and exposed pipes, it has new computer terminals running a specialized software program that provides instruction for struggling students at high risk of dropping out.

Teaching leaves him exhausted, but Cubias clearly enjoys the four remedial algebra classes he teaches each day in the lab. Students work on their own, each struggling in different areas and often calling out, "Cubias, some help!" or "Cubias, over here!" He moves from one to the next, leaning over their shoulders, helping them work through equations and graphs.

He understands them — how they feel like they could drop out and no one at the school would notice or care — because he used to be one of them. Once a failing student who frequently ditched classes in order to hang out at the school's handball courts, Cubias credits a demanding English teacher with keeping him in school.

"People tell me my problem is that I take this too personally," he said. "I have a really hard time explaining to them that I do take this personally because this is personal for me."

Cubias also sees promise in the cadre of young, talented teachers who have been hired in recent years and now make up about half of Locke's math faculty.

And then there are the signs, however fleeting, that the school can offer a student a way out. Walking down the hall, he points to a gangly, shaggy-haired kid loping down the hallway, the first anyone can remember being admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And Cubias notes that the number of students going on to two- and four-year colleges has been climbing in recent years.

But he knows too well that progress is still the exception, instead of the rule, at Locke. And such signs of hope, he added, have come mostly despite L.A. Unified, not because of it.

"We can see some light," Cubias said. "But between us and that light is a system that makes everything so difficult."

Locke's crew of young math teachers did not land at the school through the district's recruiting and placement office, Cubias said, but because of an informal pipeline he forged with UCLA's education program.

He and other teachers have taken it upon themselves to keep close tabs on new recruits — stopping by their classrooms between periods or offering advice over a meal after work.

And, when it came to funding the computer lab, the faculty didn't even bother to ask district administrators but secured money themselves directly from the state.

Moreover, in the decade since he earned his teaching credential and returned to Locke, Cubias recalls five principals arriving to run the school. More than a dozen assistant principals have come and gone as well, he said, typically using Locke as a stopover on the way to better positions elsewhere in the sprawling 708,000-student district.

"We get people coming here more to put in their time than to serve the kids," he said. "They are not the type who want to rock the boat when they're here."

The revolving door for administrators, Cubias and several other teachers on both sides of the Green Dot divide said, has left teachers with the sense that the school is adrift, missing the consistent leadership that is often a key element of more successful schools. Without it, small frustrations like the field trip mishap are frequent, and larger reform efforts, including a sweeping plan to divide the campus into several semiautonomous learning communities, have faltered.

And it's the kids, Cubias said, who have paid the price. For every student who graduates from Locke, there is still one who drops out. For years, the school has languished at the bottom of the state's ranking system, and it fares only slightly better when compared to schools with similar challenges. Last year, 72% of Locke's juniors tested either "below basic" or "far below basic" on California's standardized English test, and 89% of students who enrolled in algebra classes scored at those levels.

Whichever side prevails in the battle for Locke, teachers will continue to face the host of challenges that students bring to school.

This year more than 70 Locke students were either on probation or had been issued bench warrants for their arrest. The year before, nearly 175 students were suspended for violent incidents. Dozens of the teenagers live in foster care.

At the end of a recent class, a withdrawn pregnant teenager approached Cubias at his desk to timidly show him photos from her first sonogram. Minutes later, he broke up a gaggle of students gathered in the hallway around a classmate — a single mother selling candy from a duffel bag.

"I tell teachers, if you're going to come here, you've got to expect stuff like this," he said, "It's part of life here."



By Joel Rubin, LA Times Staff Writer

July 14, 2007 - Green Dot Public Schools operates 10 charter high schools in and around Los Angeles, serving about 3,000 students. The faculty and principals at each school are given broad discretion over budgets and instruction, but all Green Dot schools must adhere to a set of basic tenets. Charter schools are independently run and publicly financed. Some nonnegotiable rules at Green Dot campuses:

No school can enroll more than 525 students.

All students must complete the rigorous curriculum required for admission to the University of California.

Parents or guardians must commit to at least 35 hours of service at their child's school each year.

Schools must remain open to students until at least 5 p.m. each school day.



by Jennifer C. Kerr - Associated Press Writer

From the Sacramento Bee

Friday, July 13, 2007 Fewer high school students are having sex these days, and more are using condoms. The teen birth rate has hit a record low.

More young people are finishing high school, too, and more little kids are being read to, according to the latest government snapshot on the well-being of the nation's children. It's good news on a number of key wellness indicators, experts said of the report being released Friday.

"The implications for the population are quite positive in terms of their health and their well-being," said Edward Sondik, director of the National Center for Health Statistics. "The lower figure on teens having sex means the risk of sexually transmitted diseases is lower."

In 2005, 47 percent of high school students - 6.7 million - reported having had sexual intercourse, down from 54 percent in 1991. The rate of those who reported having had sex has remained the same since 2003.

Of those who had sex during a three-month period in 2005, 63 percent - about 9 million - used condoms. That's up from 46 percent in 1991.

The teen birth rate, the report said, was 21 per 1,000 young women ages 15-17 in 2005 - an all-time low. It was down from 39 births per 1,000 teens in 1991.

"This is very good news," said Sondik. "Young teen mothers and their babies are at a greater risk of both immediate and long-term difficulties."

The birth rate in the 15-19 age group was 40 per 1,000 in 2005, also down sharply from the previous decade.

Education campaigns that started years ago are having a significant effect, said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based nonprofit group that focuses on prevention of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

"I think the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the efforts in the '80s and '90s had a lot to do with that," Wagoner said of the improved numbers on teen sex, condoms and adolescent births.

"We need to encourage young teens to delay sexual initiation and we need to make sure they get all the information they need about condoms and birth control," he said.

The report was compiled from statistics and studies at 22 federal agencies, and covered 38 key indicators, including infant mortality, academic achievement rates and the number of children living in poverty.

Other highlights:

-The percentage of children covered by health insurance decreased slightly. In 2005, 89 percent of children had health insurance coverage at some point during the year, down from 90 percent the previous year.

-The percentage of low birthweight infants (born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces) increased. It was 8.2 percent in 2005, up from 8.1 percent in 2004.

-More youngsters are getting reading time. Sixty percent of children ages 3-5 (and not in kindergarten) were read to daily by a family member in 2005, up from 53 percent in 1993.

-The percentage of children who had at least one parent working year round and full-time increased to 78.3 percent in 2005, up from 77.6 percent the previous year.

-More young people are completing high school. In 2005, 88 percent of young adults had finished high school - up from 84 percent in 1980.

The report was released by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics - a consortium of federal agencies that includes the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Census Bureau and the Administration for Children and Families.

smf opines: This report is one where the good news practically runneth over!

Fewer teenagers are having sex, those that are are having safer sex. Childhood poverty is decreasing. Young kids are being read to more. HIV/AIDS is on the dcrease. Yes obesity is on the rise. Birth weights are low. Single parent households are up. Insurance coverage is down. But maybe the end of the world isn't @ hand

...if we don't give up, if we don't relent

...if we just keep on keeping on!

Good job! - smf

America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2007 is one in a series of annual reports to the Nation on the condition of children in America. In this restructured report, three background measures describe the changing population of children and provide demographic context and 38 indicators depict the well-being of children in the areas of family and social environment, economic circumstances, health care, physical environment and safety, behavior, education, and health. Highlights from each section of the report follow.

Demographic Background

  • In 2006, there were 73.7 million children ages 0–17 in the United States, or 25 percent of the population, down from a peak of 36 percent at the end of the "baby boom" (1964). Children are projected to compose 24 percent of the population in 2020.
  • Racial and ethnic diversity continues to increase over time. In 2006, 58 percent of U.S. children were White, non-Hispanic; 20 percent were Hispanic; 15 percent were Black; 4 percent were Asian; and 4 percent were all other races. The percentage of children who are Hispanic has increased faster than that of any other racial or ethnic group, growing from 9 percent of the child population in 1980 to 20 percent in 2006.

Family and Social Environment

  • In 2006, 67 percent of children ages 0–17 lived with two married parents, down from 77 percent in 1980.
  • The nonmarital birth rate in 2005 increased to 48 per 1,000 unmarried women ages 15–44 years, up from 46 in 2004. The recent increases in nonmarital birth rates have been especially notable among women age 25 and older. Births to unmarried women constituted 37 percent of all U.S. births, the highest level ever reported.
  • In 2005, 20 percent of school-age children spoke a language other than English at home and 5 percent of school-age children had difficulty speaking English.
  • The adolescent birth rate for females ages 15–17 continued to decline in 2005. The rate fell by more than two-fifths since 1991, reaching 21 births per 1,000 females ages 15–17 in 2005. The 2004–2005 decline was particularly steep among Black, non-Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander adolescents. The birth rate for Black, non-Hispanic adolescents dropped three-fifths during 1991–2005.
  • In 2005, there were 12 substantiated reports of child maltreatment per 1,000 children.

Economic Circumstances

  • In 2005, 18 percent of all children ages 0–17 lived in poverty; among children living in families, the poverty rate was 17 percent.
  • The percentage of children in families living below the federal poverty threshold has fluctuated since the early 1980s: it reached a high of 22 percent in 1993 and decreased to a low of 16 percent in 2000.
  • The percentage of children who had at least one parent working year round, full time rose from 77.6 percent in 2004 to 78.3 percent in 2005.

Health Care

  • In 2005, 89 percent of children had health insurance coverage at some point during the year, down from 90 percent in 2004.
  • In 2005, 48 percent of children ages 2–4 had a dental visit in the past year, compared with 84 percent of children ages 5–11 and 82 percent of children ages 12–17. In 2003–2004, 23 percent of children ages 2–5 and 14 percent of children ages 6–17 had untreated dental caries (cavities) upon dental examination.

Physical Environment and Safety

  • In 2005, 60 percent of children lived in counties in which concentrations of one or more air pollutants rose above allowable levels.
  • The percentage of children served by community drinking water systems that did not meet all applicable health based standards declined from 20 percent in 1993 to about 8 percent in 1998. From 1998 to 2005 the percentage has fluctuated between 5 and 10 percent.
  • In 2001–2004, about 1 percent of children ages 1–5 had elevated blood lead levels [greater than or equal to 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL)]. The median blood lead concentration for children ages 1–5 dropped from 14 µg/dL in 1976–1980 to about 2 µg/dL in 2003–2004.
  • In 2005, 40 percent of households with children had one or more housing problems, up from 37 percent in 2003. The most common type of housing problem is cost burden, followed by physically inadequate housing and crowded housing.
  • In 2004, the injury death rate for children ages 1–4 was 13 deaths per 100,000 children.
  • The leading causes of injury-related emergency department visits among adolescents ages 15–19 in 2003–2004 were being struck by or against an object (33 visits per 1,000 children), motor vehicle traffic crashes (25 visits per 1,000 children), and falls (20 visits per 1,000 children). Together, these causes of injury accounted for half of all injury-related emergency department visits for this age group.


  • The percentages of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students reporting illicit drug use in the past 30 days remained stable from 2005 to 2006. However, past month use among all three grades significantly declined since 1997.
  • In 2005, 47 percent of high school students reported ever having had sexual intercourse. This was statistically the same rate as in 2003 and a decline from 54 percent in 1991.


  • The percentage of children ages 3–5 not yet in kindergarten who were read to daily by a family member was higher in 2005 than in 1993 (60 versus 53 percent). A greater percentage of White, non-Hispanic and Asian children were read to daily in 2005 than were Black, non-Hispanic, or Hispanic children (68 and 66 percent, compared with 50 and 45 percent, respectively).
  • Between 1982 and 2004, the percentage of high school graduates who had completed an advanced mathematics course almost doubled, increasing from 26 to 50 percent. Likewise, the percentage of graduates who had completed a physics, chemistry, or advanced biology course almost doubled, increasing from 35 to 68 percent.
  • In 2005, 69 percent of high school completers enrolled immediately in a 2- or 4-year college. This rate was not statistically different than the historic high of 67 percent reached in 2004.


  • The percentage of infants with low birthweight was 8.2 percent in 2005, up from 7.9 percent in 2003 and 8.1 percent in 2004 and has increased slowly but steadily since 1984 (6.7 percent).
  • In 2005, 5 percent of children ages 4–17 were reported by a parent to have serious (definite or severe) emotional or behavioral difficulties. Among the parents of these children, 81 percent reported contacting a health care provider or school staff about their child's difficulties, 40 percent reported their child was prescribed medication for their difficulties, and 47 percent reported their child had received treatment other than medication.
  • The proportion of children ages 6–17 who were overweight increased from 6 percent in 1976–1980 to 11 percent in 1988–1994 and continued to rise to 18 percent in 2003–2004.
  • In 2005, about 9 percent of children ages 0–17 were reported to currently have asthma, and about 5 percent of children had one or more asthma attacks in the previous year. The prevalence of asthma in children is particularly high among Black, non-Hispanic and Puerto Rican children (13 and 20 percent, respectively).

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