Friday, August 31, 2007

LA Times: Mayor steps up role in L.A. schools

from the LA Times | California Section | page B-4 | Thursday Aug 30, 2007

The caption reads: "Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announces an initial five-year partnership between the city and the Los Angeles Unified School District that will allow him to help oversee two high schools in the L.A. Unified system as well as the elementary and middle schools that feed into them. The news conference, also attended by the school board and district officials, was at John Liechty Middle School in the Pico Union District."
photo credit: Al Seib Los Angeles Times

The picture clearly shows a plurality of the members of the Board of Education (in parliamentary parlance, a "quorum") together in a room discussing a matter neither officially agendized nor publicly noticed - in apparent violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act
(California Government Code Sections 54950-54963). One might add the the courts have already held that the mayor can't do what is being proposed here, or discuss previous representations to the City Council that the mayor and his partnership are separate from the City of Los Angeles - but let's address one issue at a time. - smf

Thursday, August 30, 2007


by David J. Hoff and Alyson Klein | published online In EdWeek

August 28, 2007 - The leaders of the House education committee today released a draft of a plan for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act, outlining proposals that would revise how adequate yearly progress is calculated and overhaul the interventions for schools failing to meet achievement goals.

In releasing the long-awaited plan, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said that they were inviting comments from educators so that they can incorporate their ideas into the bill they hope to introduce shortly after Labor Day.

“This draft is a work in progress, subject to change over the coming weeks as the committee moves a bill through the legislative process,” Reps. Miller and McKeon wrote in a letter to “education stakeholders.” Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

“The committee has not endorsed this staff discussion draft,” adds the Aug. 27 letter, which was also signed by Rep. Dale E. Kildee, D-Mich., and Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Education and Labor Committee's key subcommittee on K-12 education. “However, we believe it represents a starting point from which to receive input.”

Rep. Miller previously said would be included in his reauthorization proposal, such as using so-called growth models to calculate AYP, adding measures other than statewide tests to allow schools to reach their progress goals, and differentiating interventions based on schools’ achievement levels.

In outlining the use of growth models, which track individual student progress instead of comparing different cohorts of students, the document says that states would need to measure schools’ and districts’ progress toward the goal of universal proficiency in reading and mathematics by the end of the 2013-14 school year. That’s the goal set in the current No Child Left Behind Act, which President Bush signed into law in January 2002.

The draft adds a clause that could extend the deadline, saying that students in all the demographic, racial, and ethnic subgroups that the current law tracks would need to at least be “on a trajectory” toward proficiency for a school or district to be determined to be making AYP.

Although reading and mathematics scores on statewide tests would remain the key indicator for AYP purposes, under the draft plan states could choose to allow their schools and districts to earn credit for improvement on other measures. States could, for example, choose to consider a school’s or district’s results on science and social studies tests; passing rates on high school end-of-course exams; and graduation and college-enrollment rates, according to the document.

The draft also proposes a 15-state pilot project that would allow districts to create their own assessments that are “rigorously aligned with state standards to augment the adequate yearly progress determination.” If the pilot project proved successful, the U.S. Department of Education would have the authority to allow other states to adopt locally developed tests for AYP purposes.

Meanwhile, the plan would establish a maximum “N” size, or the minimum subgroup size that counts toward schools’ and districts’ accountability, of 30 students. Currently under the law, states have set, and the Department of Education has approved, N sizes ranging from 5 to 75 students.

More Details Coming

The Education Committee plan also proposes to create two separate systems for targeting interventions for schools in need of improvement.

One would be for “priority schools,” defined as those that miss AYP for one or two student subgroups and need only targeted assistance. The other would be for “high-priority schools,” which would include schools that fail to meet the law’s targets for most, if not all, subgroups and need substantial help.

High-priority schools would choose at least four improvement strategies from a menu of options that includes employing proven instructional programs, adopting formative assessments, offering school choice and free after-school tutoring, and providing extra support to families, such as counseling services. Schools could also make changes to their learning environments, such as introducing dropout-recovery and credit-completion programs and 9th-grade-transition programs.

Priority schools would be required to develop a three-year plan, implementing at least two such improvement measures. The interventions could be targeted to subgroups that weren’t making AYP.

The draft released today outlines changes to Part A of the Title I program, which covers the largest appropriation under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The NCLB law is the latest version of the 42-year-old ESEA.

Later, Rep. Miller will outline his proposals for issues addressed in other sections of the law, such as teacher quality, impact aid, safe and drug-free schools, and the Reading First program.

The House education committee is expected to release its reauthorization bill in September. It plans to hold a hearing on NCLB reauthorization on Sept. 10, said Thomas Kiley, a spokesman for Rep. Miller.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?: The House Education and Labor Committee is collecting responses to the draft plan until Sept. 5 via e-mail at

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The news that didn't fit from Aug 26th!

PRO-CON: Is No Child Left Behind Act working? Dueling editorials.

MONEY ALONE WON'T HELP SCHOOLS by Dan Walters | The Sacramento Bee

SCHOOLS CHIEF SEEKS END TO LEARNING GAP: Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, turned heads in education circles last week with the message that race, not poverty, helped explain why African American and Latino students lagged behind their white and Asian counterparts.| By Mitchell Landsberg and Howard Blume | LA Times

L.A. SCHOOL DISTRICT REVAMPS ITS APPROACH TO DISCIPLINE: Leaders hope to cut down on suspensions by using alternatives such as written apologies and timeouts. By Paul Clinton, Staff Writer | Daily Breeze

U.S. SUED OVER TEACHER CREDENTIALS - A coalition of California schools advocates and parents sued the federal government's Department of Education on Tuesday, claiming it is violating the teacher quality provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law | by Joel Rubin - From the Los Angeles Times


REGGIE AND THE POOL PROBLEM - The LA Downtown News editorialist ties Reggie, the escaping alligator to the Miguel Contreras pool. The city can staff Reggie's pool at the zoo, why not the one at the downtown high school?


"We want to take politics out of our decision making."

LAUSD Superintendent David L. Brewer III, August 24, 2007

In the e-newsletter of 26Aug "Santee redux" on the "temporaray reassignment" of the Santee principal 4LAKids described "a remarkably well orchestrated media campaign by "faculty and students" (as defined by the LA Times own headline!)"

Here are the pieces:

HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL IN L.A. SPARKS STUDENT, STAFF PROTESTS - EdWeek | Aug 20 includes smf comments, outside feedback and a letter to the parents from Principal Carbino


BOOK UPROAR AT SANTEE HIGH: Computer students got “cooking”; AP history morphed into “cinema" | LA Weekly | August 23, 2007

BOOK UPROAR AT SANTEE HIGH: Computer students got “cooking”; AP history morphed into “cinema”

by Celeste Fremon | LA Weekly

Aug 22 - WHEN IT OPENED IN 2005, South Los Angeles’ long-anticipated Santee Education Complex was billed as a new model for providing a great education to high school students from lower-income communities. The gleaming complex, built on the site of the old Santee Bakery, was the special baby of former Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Roy Romer.

But during the first weeks after Santee opened its doors, regular fights and a couple of riots broke out. Then, after the campus violence was quelled, extensive academic problems came to the fore: When state testing time rolled around, Santee students scored the second lowest of any of the district’s high schools. In the next testing period, they scored the lowest.

Now, Santee’s principal, Vince Carbino, has a new kind of mutiny on his hands. But this time, the rebellion is among the school’s smartest students. They, their parents and several Santee teachers allege that Carbino so botched the orders for textbooks this year that he decided to rename courses arbitrarily to match the books he had, or abruptly transferred kids to unrelated courses. In one case, students expecting computer class were suddenly sent to cooking. In another bizarre move, some teachers allege, Carbino, without notification, wiped out a dozen college-prep classes, turning courses like Advanced Placement (AP) history into “cinema.”

Eleventh-grader Mercedes Carreto, 16, says she learned about the changes in her two AP classes only when she got her midsemester report card. “Like, instead of ‘AP history,’ it said ‘cinema,’ ” says Carreto. “I want to get into a good college and study to be a dentist, which means I need a lot of AP classes, and good scores on the AP exam,” she says. “How am I supposed to do that when he takes our AP classes away for no reason?”

Teachers say they were similarly blind-sided. “I only knew what he’d done when I saw it on the computer one morning as I took attendance,” says AP English teacher Alexandra Avilla.

According to these students, parents and teachers, the problems cropped up about midway through the eight-week summer semester at the school, which students attend during staggered “tracks” because of overcrowding. Carbino didn’t have the right books for several dozen academic classes attended by students whose school year began on July 2. As a solution, says social sciences instructor Jose Lara, Carbino looked through Santee’s stash of supplies and yanked out surplus textbooks — then changed approximately 40 classes to match textbooks on hand.

Worse, in many students’ minds, was Carbino’s decision to convert 12 Advanced Placement classes — university-level courses that help students get into college — after the students had already done nearly four weeks of college-prep work. Advanced Placement English became “writing seminar,” according to students, and AP government became “civil law,” not a college-prep course.

In addition, say students Mercedes Carreto and Marisol Valencia, most of the make-do classes did not fulfill any kind of UC or California State University college requirement, but simply fell in the category of “elective” — wasted credits that do not help the students qualify for college and could jeopardize some of the kids’ chances. “Or with some of us, they gave us classes we already took and passed,” says 17-year-old Valencia. “So they’re really worthless.”

Angry students and faculty say Carbino neither consulted nor gave advance notice to students or faculty. When contacted, Carbino “barricaded himself in his office,” says one Santee administrator who asked not to be named. Carbino did not return the Weekly’s phone calls.

Although Carbino isn’t talking, Santee teachers and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) leadership believe the principal canceled and changed classes in reaction to a landmark court settlement known as Williams v. The State of California. The 2000 class-action suit charged that kids in the poorest areas of California were being denied the right to an equal education because they didn’t have the same access to books, adequately trained teachers, and safe and clean school facilities as students in affluent areas. After Governor Gray Davis was recalled, Arnold Schwarzenegger inherited the suit and moved to settle it in August 2004, agreeing to pour $1 billion into the state’s worst-performing schools, located primarily in poor communities — like Santee.

The settlement created a system of annual inspections in which education officials show up each fall to make sure every student has the right books (plus such educational niceties as enough chairs for all students and working bathrooms). According to a study released earlier this month by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Public Advocates, the settlement money and oversight have led to tangible improvements in most low-performing schools.

But not, some teachers say, at Santee. And right before the mysterious class changes undertaken by Carbino, say teachers, Santee was due for its required annual inspection by the L.A. County Office of Education.

“There’s no reason he shouldn’t have been able to get the textbooks,” says Tori Miles, the local district representative for UTLA who has spent several recent days meeting with angry Santee teachers. “As a Title 1 [federal poverty funds] school, he got extra money for texts. But even if there was a problem,” says Miles, “if he had just talked to the teachers and the parents about the issue, some kind of creative accommodation could have been made. That’s what good administrators do.”

Instead, Carbino made the course changes unilaterally, say faculty members, then left teachers and students to deal with the results. “I know one girl who got switched out of the one class she needed to graduate,” says a student who would identify himself only as Brad.

It also meant that teachers who spent weeks preparing course outlines, lesson plans and instructional goals were suddenly expected to teach a course for which they had not prepared. Advanced Placement instructors, who, for each course, must get a detailed syllabus approved by the California state college board in order to qualify for Advanced Placement status, were particularly infuriated.

One group of students, most of them Advanced Placement kids, decided to talk directly to principal Carbino — and that’s when things really started to go downhill, according to teachers Anthony Marenco and Lara. According to students, after they arrived at his office recently and requested a conference, Carbino would not meet with them and informed them that if they didn’t leave, he’d suspend them or have them arrested.

Other students say that when confronted by parents, Carbino announced that he made the changes because Santee’s AP students simply weren’t up to doing the college-prep work. “He says he went through our files and that our writing wasn’t skillful enough for AP English,” says 12th-grader Beatriz Rafael.

A cluster of very upset 11th- and 12th-graders approached Marenco, one of the school’s most popular AP teachers, and told him about their encounter with Carbino. Marenco says he assumed the students somehow mishandled the meeting with Carbino, and suggested they view the incident as a learning exercise. On Friday, August 3, Marenco agreed to help the group approach the principal again — using techniques of “persuasive speech” and creative “conflict resolution.”

It didn’t work. According to Marenco and some of the flabbergasted students, Carbino ordered the AP teacher escorted off school grounds by a campus police officer. “I honestly couldn’t believe it,” says the seemingly mild-mannered Marenco. “The officer was really apologetic. He made a point of shaking my hand.”

The Marenco incident became a flash point. “It was the spark for us to organize,” says 16-year-old Carina Palacios, who hopes to get into UC Irvine like her two sisters. “We felt like, this man doesn’t have respect for anybody.”

This isn’t the first time Carbino has had problems at a school. He also worked at Belvedere Middle School, where he alienated some faculty. “He’d go after people and criticize them publicly,” says former Belvedere teacher Craig Knapp. “His way of handling differences in opinion was that everyone else is wrong and he’s correct.” He claims that Carbino was transferred out after six months, in a deal brokered between former schools Superintendent Romer and UTLA.

That’s when he arrived at Santee. A former cop, Carbino was purportedly brought in to stop the on-campus violence that had wreaked havoc at the new school. He did so, allege some teachers, primarily by transferring several hundred problem students to other schools. Carbino was publicly lauded for reducing the violence by Los Angeles City Council Member Jan Perry and civil rights lawyer Connie Rice. But now, Rice says, “You can have someone who is good at turnaround and not good at leadership.”

Teachers at Santee allege that while Carbino’s tough-guy approach may have been useful initially in getting the troublemaking students out of the school, it has backfired.

“But see, the district looks the other way, because all it wants from Carbino is to keep the school out of the headlines,” says Steve Bachrach, once a teacher at Jefferson High School, now principal of Green Dot’s high-scoring Animo Film and Theatre Arts Charter High School. “Every week, I get calls from Santee teachers looking for a job,” says Bachrach. “All of them tell me they want to leave because of this strange stuff Carbino is doing.”

UTLA second-in-command Linda Guthrie puts it in harsher terms. With Carbino, says Guthrie, the district simply transferred a problematic principal to a different school — a common practice. As for the switched classes and wrong books, she says flatly, “It’s incompetence. But what makes me the most crazy is how he’s treated students. When kids come to talk to him about their concerns for their classes, instead of rewarding them for acting responsibly, he threatens to punish them? He’s just being a bully.”

Matters further escalated on August 7, when about 50 parents, teachers and students showed up at an unrelated meeting Carbino was holding with a small group of parents in the auditorium. When the group of parents, teachers and students began demanding answers, he radioed for campus police officers and walked out of the building.

Furious, two dozen AP students on August 13 drafted a formal letter requesting Carbino’s resignation, reading it aloud at a school planning meeting that Carbino was expected to attend. Carbino abruptly left the meeting, saying he had a conflicting appointment, when 18 students and some of their parents filed into the room.

Now the school’s teachers say they are also gearing up for action. On August 13, after the student presentation, faculty members stayed to speak privately about the principal, telling stories of a man who, they said, gets his way through threats or withering public criticism. “For instance, if he doesn’t like you, he’ll order regular police searches of your classroom,” alleges teacher Jose Lara.

Santee is hemorrhaging good teachers,” says Brent Boultinghouse, a bearded and genial-faced culinary-arts teacher, who is also the school’s union rep. “All because of Carbino.” Lara says that the district went so far as to send two full-time “coaches” to help train the principal. “But he won’t listen to them,” he says. “He won’t listen to anybody.”

The school’s English Department chair, Gina Perry, agrees — and then confides in a low voice that she’s reinstating some of the AP classes. “Sometimes you just do what you got to do,” she says. “It’s what the kids need.”

The students too aren’t letting this go. “My parents said maybe they should just get me out of Santee and to another school,” says Carina Palacios. “But I tell them no. Sure, I can leave. But then what happens to the students behind me? We need to take a stand,” she says. “It’s the right thing to do.”

The teachers go even further. “If the district doesn’t do something about Carbino, we’re looking at the idea of turning this school into a charter,” says Boultinghouse.

smf notes: The quality of research that went into this story is suspect at the outset, the Santee site was not a bakery, it was a dairy – not with cows and "moo", but a bottling and distribution facility. I'm a parent, not a schoolmarm – but all the reporters on this story to date need to do their homework – not just research but also seeking out and reporting differing viewpoints …not just a few angry teachers with an agenda.

And in muted defense of the reportage I haven't seen much if any response one way or another from LAUSD. Evidence shows that Santee and Carbino is being left to the mercies of the media, left like L. Patrick Gray, the designated sacrificial lamb in Watergate, to "hang slowly, slowly twisting in the wind."

What is interesting is that Charter Schools, once anathema to UTLA and militant teachers – have become a bloody rag to wave in collective bargaining – "If we don't get what we want we'll go charter!"




by Joel Rubin and Howard Blume, LA Times Staff Writers

August 23, 2007 - A beleaguered Los Angeles high school is awash again in controversy as teachers, students and parents continued Wednesday to demand the removal of the school's hard-driving principal amid allegations that he improperly meddled with academic courses.

School district officials said Wednesday that they have agreed to bring in the city's human relations commission for mediation at the Santee Education Complex to discuss the future of Principal Vince Carbino. This is an unusual move involving a personnel matter but came after discussions with City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who has been supportive of Carbino.

"We know we have some real issues here," said Carmen Schroeder, the top administrator for the Santee region. Carbino "has some real admirers, and people who don't trust him."

The 2-year-old, year-round campus south of downtown was once heralded as the bright cornerstone of the district's massive, ongoing push to open more than 150 new schools but has struggled with violence, sub-par academic achievement and infighting since its opening.

District officials are investigating claims by teachers that Carbino changed the titles and content of as many as 35 courses this summer after classes had begun, affecting more than 850 students. Teachers and union leaders said they believe Carbino made the changes to comply with a court mandate that requires California schools to have sufficient textbooks immediately available for classes. They allege that Carbino personally changed or ordered changed the titles of classes before an inspection because books were not yet available for the originally scheduled course. After the inspection, they said, some courses were changed back; others were not.

The moves have roiled the campus, with students concerned they will not receive the appropriate credits toward graduation and teachers angry and confused.

As evidence, a teachers union official presented a printout containing the course assignments for various teachers. The assignments were different on a later printout.

"I cannot ethically give a student a grade for a class that they have not received all the lessons in," said a teacher, who spoke on condition that her name not be used out of concern for her job.

Santee has more new teachers -- who lack job protections -- than any other district school, said Dori Miles, an area representative for United Teachers Los Angeles, the union.

Mark Muskrath, a tenured social studies and history teacher with nine years' experience, said a sociology class he was teaching was changed to a Latin American studies class.

Senior Araceli Aca, 17, said her Advanced Placement literature course was changed to a writing seminar that she had already completed.

Carbino did not return repeated calls seeking comment, and school staff said he was not on campus during a Wednesday afternoon rally, the second this month, calling for his ouster. In front of the school, about 75 protesters, most of them students, chanted: "No more lies," and "Carbino must go."

Schroeder, the regional superintendent, declined to discuss specifics of the ongoing investigation, and said initially that Carbino's fate would be decided in the next few days. Late Wednesday afternoon, however, she acknowledged a change of plans: The district had agreed instead to the city's intervention. A final disposition regarding the school's leadership will be made by the end of September, she said. And district Supt. David L. Brewer will make the call.

The allegations over course titles will be only one factor weighing on Carbino's fate. More pressing, Schroeder said, was the broader question of whether Carbino, a police officer-turned-educator, is able to work effectively with teachers and other staff.

"It's a question of whether they can work in harmony or not," she said.

Muskrath indicated that there was little chance of a detente.

"I don't feel teachers are appreciated here," he said. Carbino's "tenure here has been marked by a heavy-handed approach and an arbitrarily non-collaborative style. That begins to wear people out."

The current turmoil is only the latest problem at the 3,360-student school.

Opened in July 2005 -- after what district officials have acknowledged was insufficient planning -- the modernist campus, with heated swimming pool, ballet studio, fully equipped chef's kitchen for culinary classes and banks of Apple computers, was supposed to be the model for new high schools. Instead, at its opening, several teaching positions were unfilled, hundreds more students than expected enrolled and overwhelmed staff struggled to handle melees between hostile groups of students, some with rival gang affiliations.

The school again became a center of attention when a Times photographer caught a student in the act of tagging a bus -- one that was carrying Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Brewer at a news event.

Carbino, who began as the school's co-principal and took sole charge last year, received early praise for helping to restore order and working to secure safe passage to and from school for students threatened by area gangs. In an unusual move, he gave students his cellphone number, encouraging them to call him with their problems and to allow him to help settle disputes.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

U.S. SUED OVER TEACHER CREDENTIALS - A coalition of parents and advocates say federal rules are violating education law.

by Joel Rubin - From the Los Angeles Times

August 22, 2007 - A coalition of California schools advocates and parents sued the federal government's Department of Education on Tuesday, claiming it is violating the teacher quality provisions of the No Child Left Behind education law.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is thought to be the first of its kind in the country and, if successful, could affect more than 10,000 teachers-in-training now working in California classrooms.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the part of the sweeping school reform law that requires districts to hire "highly qualified" teachers -- those who have earned their teaching credentials -- to teach core subjects such as math and English. Under the regulations written by the Department of Education to enforce the requirement, however, districts can count novice teachers who are still in credentialing programs as meeting that standard.

"Every parent should have the right to know what's going on with their children. I am leaving my children in these teachers' hands, and I want them taken care of in the best possible way," said Sonya Renee, a Los Angeles parent and plaintiff in the lawsuit. "I am not against interns being in my children's schools. But they should not be out there in front of a classroom on their own."

Though the suit could have implications for all states, the situation is most extreme in California, where last year about 10,700 intern teachers were in charge of classrooms, said John Affeldt, an attorney for Public Advocates Inc., the civil rights group leading the lawsuit.

In California, most teachers earn their credential through a yearlong graduate school program. But an alternative option allows those who demonstrate knowledge in a particular subject to teach while studying for their credential through an internship program run by a school district or university.

Under the regulations challenged in the lawsuit, such teachers are considered highly qualified as soon as they begin their internship program despite having little or no teaching experience.

That loophole, Affeldt said, leaves parents in the dark about their children's teachers. It also compounds, he said, a larger issue in urban public school systems in which the least experienced teachers, who have little seniority, are often assigned to the most demanding, troubled schools in poor, minority neighborhoods.

No Child Left Behind prohibits districts from staffing these low-performing campuses with a disproportionate number of teachers who are not highly qualified, but because of the Education Department's loose definition, interns commonly end up at those campuses, lawyers for Public Advocates said.

In a statement on the lawsuit, state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell acknowledged the problem. "We know that unfortunately in California public schools there remains an inequitable distribution of highly qualified teachers. Too often, schools serving students who are African American or Latino have a disproportionate number of underqualified and inexperienced teachers and administrators," he said. O'Connell added that his agency works with districts to distribute highly qualified teachers more equally.

In the lawsuit, Renee said her daughter's English and algebra classes at Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles last year were taught by interns. She said the school never notified her of the teachers' status -- another requirement of the federal law.

"I was shocked," she said in an interview. "This does have an effect on how well a student is going to do as they move on. They might not be carrying forward with them the information they need because their teachers haven't been trained."

Last year, 4% of teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District were interns -- about 1,200 teachers, according to district figures.

Samara Yudof, acting press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, declined to comment on the complaint, saying education officials had not had an opportunity to review it.

Public Advocates, a liberal nonprofit, has twice successfully challenged state agencies over teacher quality issues.* It also filed an unsuccessful suit aimed at throwing out the state's required high school exit exam.

* as a litigant with the ACLU in the Williams Lawsuits. footnote smf.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Leaders hope to cut down on suspensions by using alternatives such as written apologies and timeouts.

By Paul Clinton, Staff Writer | Daily Breeze

Tuesday, August 21, 2007 - Faced with some of the toughest discipline problems in American public education, the Los Angeles Unified School District suspends students 60,000 to 80,000 times a year.

Now the district wants to spare the rod.

Los Angeles Unified is rolling out a new discipline policy this fall designed to give problem students a reason not to act out by providing "positive behavior support."

A 14-page document developed in March with input from United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy represents the district's first effort to put plans on paper to curb bad behavior. Except for expulsions, discipline in the nation's second-largest school district was until now largely a matter handled at the school level.

In an appendix to the March 27 memo, the district outlines examples of student misconduct and possible consequences.

It gives teachers a menu of discipline options including timeouts, written apologies, use of a daily report card or assigning a troubled student a mentor.

Administrators at Local District 8, which stretches from San Pedro to Watts, have begun to hash out the specifics of implementing the policy. On Thursday, they'll present it to principals for the first time, said Karen Saunders, a local operations manager. A week later, it will be presented to deans who oversee discipline at high schools.

"Teachers are going to be challenged to try some other strategies than suspension," Saunders said.

The policy would bring a "foundational approach" to discipline in LAUSD schools, said Hector Madrigal, director of pupil services. Schools would be required to take further steps to correct behavior before sending students off campus, he said.

"The foundation is to attempt many interventions prior to the most severe," Madrigal said, though he added: "I don't think any school in my opinion is going to shy away from their responsibility to use discipline where it's appropriate."

Reports of rambunctiousness, defiance and even violence have been commonplace in LAUSD, often driving out first- and second-year teachers.

New board member Richard Vladovic's office is supporting the policy, as long as the district collaborates with teachers, said Chief of Staff David Kooper.

If not, he fears, the policy will flame out as an unenforceable edict from the Beaudry Avenue headquarters.

"This is a top-down approach to the behavior problems," Kooper said. "It needs to have teacher buy-in. If you look at the policy, there isn't too much to disagree with."

Indeed, the self-described "framework" cited in the March memo states the need for "positively stated rules which are taught, enforced, advocated and modeled at every campus."

However, Lisa Snell, education director at the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Los Angeles, warned that the well-meaning policy could flounder.

"It's good to hold kids to high expectations, but you have to follow through and offer them something of high value," Snell said. "And that's where LAUSD is going to have a problem. That's where it breaks down. The kids don't perceive the high school experience as having value."

Schools that dole out more discipline have a track record as the schools with the worst discipline problems, Madrigal said.

"The ones who use punitive tactics as the preferred solutions have the highest amount of aggression on campus," Madrigal said. "Suspensions can turn into dropouts, because they don't come back. Some people think removing kids is the solution. Oftentimes removing kids can simply result in higher dropout rates and greater gang violence in the community."

One of the stated goals of the policy is to reduce the number of so-called "opportunity transfers," a designation for students that high schools are seeking to offload to a nearby school. The policy, which isn't widely used outside of LAUSD, seeks to give the student a chance for a fresh start.

A policy that promotes better behaved students typically leads to higher test scores, district officials said.

The new discipline framework is being seen as way to achieve that, said Donnalyn Jacque-Anton, the administrator overseeing the implementation of the policy.

"One of the things we haven't paid a lot of attention to is classroom management," she said.

To The Editor: Two Things:

  1. "A 14-page document developed in March with input from United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy represents the district's first effort to put plans on paper to curb bad behavior" hardly does justice to a two year process involving teachers, parents, principals, students, community members, downtown administrators and thousands of man-and-woman-hours of collaboration.

  1. "Rambunctiousness" is part of the job description of children – no policy can, will or should eradicate it. First and second year teachers who are driven out of the system by it were not cut out to be teachers. smf


The Daily Breeze got it wrong, but it doesn't appear that they were given much substance to draw from. I am not surprised. There are positive things in the area of safety and discipline occurring in the district that never seem to get the attention they deserve.

An article in the August 2007 issue of LA Parent Magazine on Lessons on School Safety had this comment: "According to experts, getting to and from school can be the most dangerous time of a student's day."

Yet none of the district officials interviewed mentioned the Safe Passages work of the many Safety Collaborative in LAUSD schools which are widely hailed as a model for the rest of the State. Buren Simmons and his office of Youth Relations which founded the Collaborative were not mentioned.

Local District 7 obtained a quarter million dollar violence prevention grant this year to target safe passages in the community of Watts but no one seems to take note.


Dear Paul,

My name is Ilene Ashcraft, I am a Parent of six children who are/or have attended LAUSD schools. I am on the LAUSD Behavior Discipline Policy Task Force Team. I have attended the meetings every month with representatives of Teachers, Administrators, Central Office Affiliates, UTLA reps and other parents. We worked hard to make decisions based on data that would help in developing this Behavior Discipline Policy.

It is true, the tricky part of the Discipline Behavior Policy is: "following through and offering the students something of high value," These details will have to be worked out, but in the mean time, I would encourage you to visit the schools that have implemented 'Defining Clear Expectations at their schools,' and see the rewards that have resulted.

The other day I had the opportunity to visit Bethune MS and noticed the very refreshing atmosphere that has accompanied the 'Defining Clear Expectation' Behavior Policy.

In relation, Kooper said, "This is a top-down approach to the behavior problems, It needs to have teacher buy-in"

The Discipline Policy team has strived to provide enough information that hopefully the teachers and Administrators can decide on which way is best to implement the program based on their own environment.

What about those teachers who don't want to make a change? They're discouraged that anything they do makes no difference, so why try? And Principals may feel, "this is something else to take up my time and what if not everyone wants to 'buy-in"? Everyone is tired of having students who are not there to learn, not there to comply, not want to be there at all.

Here is a tip for them:

1. Go on

2. Click on the picture of Roger Preble: free mini training

Here you will find that there is a way to engage the student, it's an amazing concept that Roger Preble, the President and author of has found. If every teacher, administrator and staff member could implement these concepts - it will give them power, it will give them a new outlook on their teaching abilities, to realize they can somehow, click the child’s mind into wanting to learn what the teacher has to teach.

I hope people will go on the website: to the see the fascinating way Roger Preble suggests that teachers, administrators, staff and parents can really know how to engage the student, child in really listening and having a desire to learn. With this and the New Discipline Behavior Policy, we can and will start seeing a way to close the Achievement Gap and improving high School Graduates.

Thank you for the opportunity for allowing me to share my thoughts. Please review the presentation at and see what you think.


Ilene Ashcraft

1st Vice President Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA

Public Relations for District 3 Compensatory Education Advisory Committee

LAUSD Discipline Behavior Task Force Team Member

DUST UP – THE LA TIMES ONLINE DEBATE: Kids, grownups in school showdown,1,6373266.storygallery

Are class sizes too big? What would reducing class sizes achieve, and would it be worth the cost? All this week, former LAUSD board member David Tokofsky and a group of Los Angeles high school students debate the future of the school district in the LA Times "Dust Up" blog.

August 20, 2007 Dust-Up: Teacher Motivation


By Carla Hernandez

Carla Hernandez is a 10th-grader at King/Drew Medical Magnet High School, and an active member of the Watts Youth Collective.

Thank you, Mr. Tokofsky, for having this debate with youth. Nobody ever really listens to our opinion, when in fact we do have some important things to say.

Most teachers in our schools don't know, or want to learn, how to change the problems in our communities.

More than 60% of students in schools like ours — mostly black and brown — are dropping out (or, are being "pushed out" systemically) of school and relying on their streets to provide answers. Teachers are not trying hard enough to prevent students in our communities from falling into these traps.

If you look at it, most of our teachers can't make a subject interesting. (They're boring!!!) And to make it worse, most of us are learning from uncaring teachers who don't support us in our learning. Seeing life through the students' eyes, you'll see that they find what they don't get in school in the streets. When this happens, you have students interested in a life that has nothing to do with what they learn in school. This results in students falling into the school-to-prison pipeline.

This is our reality! Because of this, we need teachers who can create activities that involve their students, their communities and their problems. This will attract the students' attention instead of causing them to daydream in classrooms over-packed with unqualified and overworked teachers.

The No Child Left Behind Act and its definition of a highly qualified teacher does not work well in our communities. The act defines a teacher as "highly qualified" when he or she has subject-matter qualifications and university teaching credentials. But how about communication qualifications and culturally empowering credentials? If you don't have credentials we can respect, then you don't have the quality we need.

We need teachers who can prepare us to resist failure and transform our communities. A qualified teacher can go beyond teaching us how to read and write. Quality teachers can empower us to make a change. According to our research in the Crenshaw High School community, a highly qualified teacher can also 1) motivate students, 2) care about the problems in students' lives and 3) have a passion for teaching students of color.

Our community wants teachers who care about us. We are struggling in our communities and we need teachers who can understand that. Most teachers in our schools don't have that quality. Teachers need to take time out of their schedule to share ideas with their students, and to be able to encourage us when we are in need of support. Teachers should worry about problems beyond the school, helping their students feel safe with them and one another, prove to us that they are people we can rely on when everything in our world seems wrong. As Crenshaw High School teacher Monique Lane said, we need to "replace teachers with people who care!" Do you think it's fair for students to go through schools where no one seems to believe in them? Or seems to care? We don't! Would that motivate you, or your children, to keep striving for more, when all you see is failure and poor teaching around you?


By David Tokofsky

David Tokovsky is a former board member of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Carla, thank you very much for being involved in school and community issues. You are to be commended for your engagement, and I respect your feelings, thoughts and research. Above all, you are right to focus on the quality of teachers as the core issue for P-12 education.

You are lucky to attend King/Drew Magnet. We can be proud of its successes. The recent closing of the county government's King/Drew Hospital reminds us that although challenges in public education are numerous, in many ways the school system is doing better than other areas of government service.

Let me start with a few key facts. California has had tremendous population growth over the last 20 years. With population growth comes a requirement to find a sufficient number of teachers. When I first came to L.A. Unified as a teacher in 1983, the pay was $13,000 a year and the district needed to find 12,000 new teachers for that year alone (the state of California as a whole was short 150,000 teachers). At that pay, and the low pay over the last 20 years, we have not been able to attract enough new -- let alone quality -- teachers. While the search for a massive quantity of teachers is not an excuse for the quality question, we must be aware of the magnitude of the problem.

Your references to No Child Left Behind are misplaced on the local level. These are federal regulations and rules. We in the local school boards have opposed such laws from afar as they do not take into account local circumstances. Yet we locals embrace the higher standards and increased accountability of NCLB. We also know that NCLB is really the same federal involvement that brings Title I money and other entitlements that we use in our urban schools.

School districts can do a lot to excite teachers to teach passionately, but ultimately that goal rests with the adult teachers themselves. Now that we only have a need for 2,000 new teachers a year, you are right to ask all L.A. County school boards to raise the requirements to become a teacher in urban and inner-city settings.

But students also need to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for learning. You casually say that 60% of kids drop out or get pushed out. First of all, that figure is inaccurate. Many students in L.A. County's overcrowded system fall into a variety of categories such as continuation schools, independent study, community day schools, adult schools, and so on. They also move frequently from district to district, making their status harder to measure.

Students may in fact have too many alternative choices for schooling in California, which is the conclusion that the State Legislative Analyst reached in February of this year. Students want choices, but much of schooling requires discipline.

While money is not the answer to all these recruitment, retention and training issues, we must remember that California ranks in the bottom third of states in funding. Recently, education activists passed SB 1133, which took money from good schools and gave it to some of the state's lowest performers. This transfer of the limited existing monies exacerbates the funding problems at quality campuses like King/Drew, a school with the highest API in the inner-city southern parts of L.A. County.

We need this extra money to pay all teachers more, and to establish higher standards and training for content instruction. I think you are right that teachers should know more about students' communities, but they ought to know Science, Literature, Math and Social Students first and foremost. Good teachers will know their subject matters well; great teachers will, as you rightly say, will also know their students well.

August 21, 2007 Dust-Up: Too many kids


By David Tokofsky

Class size matters. When it comes to class size, California is near the top of the 50 states. We in Los Angeles County not only have high class size but are among the poorest of California's 58 counties. Our diversity is tremendous; our city police stretched over vast terrain; our county physical and mental health systems strained. How can we reach our secondary students with classes numbering more than 40 and teachers who must serve 200 students a day?

Under Gov. Pete Wilson, California lowered class size ratios in the lowest grades, kindergarten, first, second and third, to 20 students to one teacher. Those 20-to-1 classrooms often have a teaching assistant, thereby making the rooms really 10 kids to one adult. In kindergarten, parents also volunteer more than for any other grade through grade 12. We have made a great investment in California to show that class size matters.

Is the investment yielding the results we need for all of California's kids? In Los Angeles, the lower grades have improved significantly, but are the results only attributable to class size, or did the managed curriculum, training and focus matter too? Why hasn't the kindergarten-to-third-grade improvement affected fourth grade significantly? If students are getting lower class size from kindergarten to third grade, shouldn't they be in some way ready for the content of fourth grade? Or is the fact that fourth grade holds 34 or more students to one teacher the reason for the fourth-grade drop. Remember that fourth grade is just when math, science and history kick off at high speeds?

And what about grades four through 12, shouldn't they share in the massive class-size funds? If you reduced kindergarten, first, second, and third to only 26 to 1, you could have, for no greater cost, class-size reduction all the way to sixth grade? Is reducing class size from kindergarten to third grade to 20-to-1 worth sacrificing fourth, fifth and sixth grades?

Everyone always says that class size matters the most. Our King/Drew researcher and the UCLA team started us off with a different challenge: Does the quality of the teacher matter more than the number of students in a class? And if you were to have a quality teacher, one who in fact knows the subject matter, the students and the students' community, would we be better off investing in the teacher or reducing class size?

I don't want to appear to jaded, but could the constant call for class-size reduction be overstated? If we answer the call for more teachers, more teachers will need to be hired. Then we are back to the quantity-over-quality issue we discussed earlier. Teachers unions may need more members to pay dues, but that could be balanced by higher-quality teachers being paid more than today for quality output.

Finally, I want to remind the students that class-size-reduction money essentially comes from the Assembly members and state senators in Sacramento. These legislators have chosen to let California schools fall behind nearly every other state in the Union. Is it time for local students, parents and school boards to solve the problems themselves, as we have begun to do with school bonds to reduce overcrowding in schools by building new schools? Do we need a county parcel tax or sales tax to reduce class size? Who will take the lead there? The school board? The mayor? The city council or the supervisors?

Private schools have class sizes of 12 or fewer to one. Gov. Schwarzenegger and Mayor Villaraigosa send their kids to these elite private schools at a cost of nearly $30,000 per year per kid. Who could blame them for investing that much in the most important part of a parent's life? Are we telling the rest of the families that their children are only worth one-quarter of the value of politicians' children when we give only $7,500 dollars per public school kid?

I am sure the students on this dust-up will remind us additionally that we spend a lot more on California prisoners than California students. We are never short on ballot initiatives to get tough on the very people who could not find success in their early years.

David Tokofsky is a former board member of the Los Angeles Unified School District.


by Leslie Campos

Leslie Campos is an 11th grader at Crenshaw High School, Los Angeles.

I agree with a lot of what you're saying, Mr. Tokofsky. In classes with a lot of students, we don't get the attention that we deserve. It's too easy to go to class and just "chill." These overcrowded classes hinder students' opportunity to engage in real learning.

All anyone has to do is to take a walk in our shoes and experience school with densely populated classes and teachers who cannot handle a large number of energetic students.

It's not fair to teachers or students to learn like this!

Decreasing class sizes will directly result in a rise of student engagement and bring down the disappearance rate.

There are geniuses sitting in the back of our classes, but they don't get properly taught in classrooms with more than 30 other kids. So, what happens to our geniuses? Some might break out of their self-destructive cocoons, but most fall to the fate of low-paying jobs or the school-to-prison pipeline.

There shouldn't be a choice between quantity and quality. Both are necessities in school. Both quality teachers and the class size play a large role in the education of students.

As well as having smaller classes, teachers should receive better training in order to prepare them for their students' diverse learning capabilities. They also should learn how to move at a steady pace in order to keep all students on their toes academically, meaning the ones who don't understand the material and the ones who do. Teachers also should be trained to keep lessons interesting and not repeat the same style day after day after day.

It's easy to tell us to participate in school, but in our communities, it's not that simple. Often, schools do not have programs that increase student and parent participation. In fact, some school leaders keep students, parents, and community members out of the decision-making. Instead, the district and schools in our community must try their hardest to include parents, students and community members in the decision-making.

I agree, though, that the governor and mayor can't possibly know what it's like for students in public school to experience large class sizes, especially if their children attend $30,000 private schools. The fact that their children do not experience what LAUSD students go through impairs their ability to make decisions regarding public school students. I would advise that they experience what inner-city LAUSD classrooms, with 40-students-to-1-teacher ratios, are like on a daily basis. Political leaders should try to see what it's like to learn from teachers who can't relate to this generation of minority students.

If the mayor and the governor really want to understand what our schools and classrooms are like, they must respect and listen to the students they are making decisions for. Having conversations with us would give them a much better understanding of the difficulties facing the very people they are supposed to be concerned with. Maybe then they would be able to make heartfelt decisions for the youth in our communities.

I understand that money is not easy to come by, but our schools should be top priority. I don't have the answers for that, but the fact that we give so much of our national budget to our military and so little to our schools tells us that our priorities are more on aggression toward others than affection toward our youth. Let people live, and let our children learn! Students should not go another day with unqualified teachers, overcrowded classes and low-quality schools.

August 22, 2007 Dust Up: Premature promotions

Are too many kids getting promoted to the next grade before they're ready? Why is that a problem? What would be an ideal policy? All this week, former LAUSD board member David Tokofsky and a group of Los Angeles high school students debate the future of the school district.

- Today, Tokofsky and high school senior Amandla discuss social promotion. Yesterday, they debated class size, and Monday they chewed on teacher motivation. Later in the week, they will focus on the real-world relevance of curriculum and the biggest obstacles to quality schooling.


By Amandla Traylor - Amandla Traylor is a 12th grader at Opportunities Unlimited Charter High School in South Central Los Angeles.

Yes, too many students are being promoted to the next grade when they're not ready. When these students get a serious teacher, they don't know what to do. That's when the truth is found out; and the teachers who didn't teach them are nowhere to be found. It's the students who are blamed.

When they continue onto higher education, they won't know how to handle it because they never learned any of the skills and ideas that are important for succeeding in college. If these students just get passed on, when they're adults they will not succeed in getting or keeping higher-paying jobs. If this continues, we will never be able to improve our lives, and we will always be among those communities that are "left behind."

To fix this problem, we need to have policies that encourage teachers to live in the same area as their schools, so they can better learn about the challenges their students go through instead of being on the outside, looking in. Or, we could recruit teachers who are from the neighborhoods that our schools are in.

Some of the most influential people in our communities are gangbangers. They do whatever it takes to get what they want. Most people feel the gangbangers' goals are wrong, but at least they follow through on what they started. Teachers who just pass students along are giving up on their goals and quitting on what they came to our schools to do.

If schools gave gang members more opportunity, they could become positive role models instead of negative ones. Don't give up on them so easily, because if you believed in them, they could be future teachers. Instead of discouraging them, we need to uplift them to use their leadership qualities for something positive.

They were taught to be self-defeating by society. A lot of youth don't think they're going to survive in the streets, so they learn to become tough. Schools aren't providing them a way out of these problems, so what the system is really telling them is to be happy with what they have. Gangbangers are not going to be happy with the problems in their communities, so they find a way to change it the best way they know how. And they learn these tactics from one another.

When most of us are just passed along grade to grade, that means we are being taught by peers who were given the same poor education. If everyone is learning from people who haven't learned anything positive in school, then they're going to repeat the same mistakes.

We need to find a way to make these people the teachers. Gang members are not just ignorant; they're misunderstood. No matter which gangs you talk to, most of the older gang members don't want the younger ones in their communities to end up like them. That shows caring. If we did everything we can to put them through college, then that would change what everybody in our community wants to do.

I know most of the people reading this are thinking, "Why would we do this?" For those readers, my response would be, "Why wouldn't we?" Gang members are already educating our children negatively, so why shouldn't we try to change their teaching to be positive?

This would influence the children of the community to do better. Students wouldn't run over them the same way we're running over teachers in our schools today. I've seen so many gangbangers change their attitude toward learning when they have teachers who care about them, and can tell them why the work is important to do.

As a researcher and community insider to the problems facing us, I have first-hand knowledge about these gang members. They aren't all the negative stereotypes that the media makes them out to be. They are humans with good hearts, who just didn't have the same opportunities as others. Since they have strong leadership qualities, we need to educate them so they can teach in our communities.

One member of the Rollin' 60s Crips said to us, "Don't they say education is everything? Well, maybe if we would've had some of that, we wouldn't be here." Until we talk to them as people, and not be afraid of what they tell us, we shouldn't reject them as possible leaders in our schools. Why can't that be the policy? We're the ones who go to our schools, so why can't we be the ones who think of new ways to teach ourselves? If we just pass students along, then the teachers are helping make gangbangers, too.


By David Tokofsky

Well, Amandla, we definitely agree that students pass to the next grade without learning the fundamental skills. I think most Californians agree. In fact the state Legislature outlawed this practice some six years or more ago. School districts violate that law daily.

We do not hold students, parents/guardians, administrators or teachers responsible for the fact that kids move from third to fourth grade without knowing such fundamentals as their multiplication tables. Your response focuses more on the older students; but so much easier to fix would be the younger kids.

Again, I ask how in the world can students in grades kindergarten, first, second and third get all the investment to reduce class sizes to 20-1 as well as teaching assistants and yet students go to fourth grade without the basics of reading and math? I know educators do not believe in retaining kids in the same grade for two years, but something must be done.

Here are some suggestions. First, schools across California should follow LAUSD's new model of full-day kindergarten. Most of L.A. County's kids are from the working class and are from immigrant families. A full day of English without causing parents to leave work at 11:30 a.m. to get their kids is a sane policy and educationally beneficial.

Secondly, kids who are not ready to leave kindergarten or first grade should be put in specially designed multi-age classrooms (K-1 or K-2) with talented teachers to catch them up before subject matter gets really hard in fourth and fifth grade. Experienced teachers choose lower grades, in fact, because class sizes are lower than in upper grades.

Thirdly, we need to help fourth- and fifth-grade teachers with specialists, not just in music, but in math and science. Many upper-grade teachers do not have the love and/or skills to teach the joy of science and math the same way they approach reading stories and artwork. Lastly for today, we need more money from Sacramento and Washington to help with the number of immigrants learning English and the number of poor kids who need mental- and physical-health support for learning the basics.

If all kids left K-3 skilled, and left elementary school solid, then they would be innoculated for the middle-school years ... the wonder years? California's middle schools are huge and impersonal. In the LAUSD, almost all the middle schools have 2,000-plus kids. There is little time for exciting electives and little money for summer or inter-session help for those falling down in their studies. In L.A. County, the poorest of California's 58 counties, the disease of illiteracy grows in the middle years without the kind of help you must have found at Youth Opportunities Unlimited, where some adults are caring for you. No wonder kids can't survive the ninth and 10th grades.

Before ending, I want to say that your idea on teachers living in the neighborhoods where they work is interesting. I did that for 10 of my 12 years teaching high school. Teachers are underpaid and under-valued. I think that the city or county of Los Angeles should develop workforce housing adjacent to schools where we could help fire and police, teachers and publicly committed folks to gain income through reduced loans or cheaper housing. As we write, more and more people are leaving L.A. County, headed for Riverside, Imperial and northern San Diego counties because housing is cheaper and there is a perception of safer neighborhoods and better schools. Let's not see another L.A.-developer housing bond without help for working families.

And finally, today state Sen. Darrell Steinberg in Sacramento begins hearings on bills to fix California's Alternative Education "drop in" programs and the persistence of dropouts. We ought to help his agenda succeed for the millions of kids like you. Promoting kids from grade to grade just for the self-esteem of kids and adults has run its course.

August 23, 2007 Dust-Up: Real-life learning

Are schools teaching subjects that are relevant to students’ lives? All this week, former LAUSD board member David Tokofsky and a group of Los Angeles high school students debate the future of the school district.

Today, Tokofsky and Wilson High School's Paola Tejeda discuss whether curriculum is relevant enough to students' lives.


By David Tokofsky

We love debates in America; it's part of the democratic republic. I think, however, that there ought to be some checks and balances when it comes to the subject of "relevance" in schools.

Today, leftist educators teach students that Relevance, Rigor and Relationships are more important than the old, right-wing "Three Rs" of Reading, Writing and 'Rithmetic.

But relevance without rigor means that we will discuss science without math and physics. Someone has to teach kids their times-tables (and by third grade at the latest). Relevance without rigor will lead to social studies teachers bemoaning the war in Iraq without teaching Physical Geography, the Economics of Oil, and World History.

Similarly, relationships without rigor and the original Three Rs will end with kids sitting in circles discussing their feelings about their families, or issues such as gangs, without any grounding in the great thinkers of psychology, sociology and anthropology who help us frame these debates. Structure and discipline are not the enemies of relevance.

Kids need to develop critical thinking skills, but the search for relevance and relationships without rigor will end up with teachers and students picking and choosing their topics like morsels in a cafeteria or items for sale on EBay.

Granted, the narrow-mindedness of Sacramento politicians and Washington reactionaries drive curriculum toward requirements rather than electives. Nonetheless, teachers can teach the standard curriculum -- which today is rather strongly driven by multicultural voices and bottom-up relevance in science and social studies -- and still cover all Six Rs at once.

Everything in our debate this week comes down once again to great teaching. This naturally requires teachers to develop relationships with students and their communities. Great teaching implies teachers framing and even leading discussions of relevance without making every topic link to MTV or the Disney Channel. Only rigorous work, involving research, discovery, imagination and discipline, drives young people to value their efforts.

Can you imagine the head football coach at Fremont High having his players sit around and discuss their feelings about upcoming games, without any drill-and-skill activities such sit-ups, bench presses, blocking and tackling? Can you imagine the musical instructor at Washington Prep High just sending the kids on stage without rehearsals? I imagine the repetition of rehearsals will indeed work to strengthen the weaker scenes, rather than happily repeating the most popular scenes to the detriment of the musical as a whole.

Many teachers in America don't relish engaging students. This good work is tiring and undervalued. Additionally, the state and national standards too often become the catechism of autocratic discipline; thus instruction degrades the very meaning of the word "discipline."

Didn't "discipline" derive from the same root as "disciple"? Isn't a school really a place for the teaching of schools of thought, and not just some widget factory named PS 1, PS 2, or Public School No. 3? We give our schools separate names; our Bill Gates-funded schools-within-schools have separate identities of their own.

Still, students can smell form without substance. By high school, students almost instinctively know that calling a school a "social justice academy" does not mean that they will become fluent in the history of social justice. If they are not taught the basics -- if they do not know history, and don't read the seminal writings about justice, peace and community -- the students will only be able to mimic some ranting newscaster on Fox News. Discipline matters; relevance reinforces. Reason ultimately requires passion, but also knowledge and structure.


By Paola Tejeda - Paola Tejeda is a senior at Wilson High School in El Sereno.

Like Amandla and Mr. Tokofsky said, not teaching students what they need to learn in order to go to college and be critical thinkers is oppression, too.

Since before the East Los Angeles Chicano blowouts of the 1960s, students have been asking their schools to make learning more relevant. This is not an excuse. It's a demand!

Most schools teach a negative view of our culture. Doing this makes students of color disinterested in education. Instead of using curriculum that disengages us, we need to learn from the places that really empower students to do better with their lives. If schools do that, then we would be more interested in reading, writing, math, history, geography and public speaking.

For example, Somos Raza attracts students to learn because they study the problems facing them as Latinos, and challenge what they are taught in regular classrooms. Members meet after school and on the weekends, organize rallies, unite black and brown students, and clean the streets to improve their communities. They believe that schools are lying to them, so they study the beauty of their culture and learn about their true history.

By not learning the truth, Latinos are learning how to continue their own oppression. Crenshaw High School Somos Raza member Jonathan said, "They're brainwashing us in school.... Learning is about knowing the truth." When it's the truth, it's relevant, and you want to learn more.

The Nubia group at Crenshaw High School studies topics about black culture, especially African American women. Since the media portrays black women negatively, and since they barely exist in school curriculum, members are challenged to think differently about themselves. They study hyper-sexualized images of black people, mistreatment by men, European women's standards of beauty, and self-hate.

Like Somos Raza, students have a voice in the group. As Crenshaw High teacher and Nubia founder Monique Lane says, "Their ideas are just as valuable as mine and other adults'." They consider themselves a "family" because they have different opinions, sometimes argue about ideas, and always learn from everyone else's story. Most classes just tell you what to believe, and don't give you a chance to challenge one another.

Crenshaw Cougar Coalition (CCC) and the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) motivates students to be involved in their school. They discuss political topics and are educated about their community. They see themselves as the extension of the School Site Council, stay informed about the school's budget and hiring, and, like student Jerome says, "fight for democratic control over schools."

They are tired of the problems in their schools, and they're even more tired of being disrespected by a school system that doesn't believe that they are a strong and intelligent community. These organizations are engaging their students because they actually address and change the problems they face.

What can teachers learn from these groups? Instead of teaching one-sided information, teach students what they need to know to be strong people. That would be "relevant" teaching. It's more engaging to learn how to become strong than to learn how to stay weak.

If students of color can engage with their culture first, it's easier to learn about others. Schools become even more empowering when people learn how to resist being controlled by society. We have a right to an education that empowers us and helps us succeed in trying to make a difference for ourselves, our cultures and our communities.

Instead of books written by people from far away, schools can teach from programs that are doing empowering work with local youth. This would help students of color become more informed about their world, more engaged with their learning, and more successful with their education. Instead of boring students with irrelevant activities, we can teach them to be leaders who can change their own personal lives and eventually the history of the world.