Sunday, December 27, 2009


It shouldn't have taken outside pressure for the district to act on teacher evaluation and Fremont High. But at least it responded constructively.

LA Times Editorial

●●smf's 2¢: Self-congratulating, The Times  acknowledges its proper Fourth Estate role (plus an impending visit of the Secretary of Education) in overdue Reform @ Fremont …and the tooth-gnashing finger-pointing over Teacher Tenure. (However, It isn’t just new teachers evaluated solely on how well they follow the Open Court script that are LAUSD’s problem!)
The Editorial Board is absolutely correct …It shouldn’t have taken outside pressure or so long.
But, they remind us: “eight years ago, the state took on decision-making authority over [Fremont]”  (see: 3 Oct 01 article, following).  So primary (if not exclusive) responsibility and accountability for Teacher Tenure – which comes too soon and too easily and lasts too long - and for Fremont lies in Sacramento. Not to mention cash flow.

December 27, 2009 -- These are welcome, if basic, changes for L.A. schools: Evaluating new teachers properly and letting go of the substandard ones before they gain tenure. Restructuring a high school that despite years of effort has remained in the basement of educational achievement.

As glad as we are to see Supt. Ramon C. Cortines institute such reforms, we wonder why Los Angeles Unified School District hasn't been doing these things for years. Instead, the announcements came only when the district was under heavy outside pressure. The first came just days before The Times was to publish an expose of the district's lackadaisical evaluation of new teachers. The reconstitution of Fremont High School was announced on the day U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in town. Duncan has made hard-nosed reforms such as restructuring failing schools a priority, and the school district is hoping to get a sizable chunk of the $4.3 billion in grants he has to bestow.

That's not to diminish Cortines' role in pushing the pace of educational change. He has been superintendent for just one year and has accomplished more than his predecessor, retired Vice Adm. David L. Brewer, did in two.

But these two long-overdue changes demonstrate that although district officials have historically and to some extent legitimately blamed the teachers union, lack of money or state regulations for achievement lapses, they also have failed to undertake meaningful improvements that were within their grasp. Teacher tenure laws and the district's contract with United Teachers Los Angeles may make it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers, but there's nothing to stop L.A. Unified from firing unpromising instructors during their first two years.

Meanwhile, L.A. Unified did so little to improve Fremont High School that eight years ago, the state took on decision-making authority over the school and nine others in L.A. Unified. Students were reading primary-grade picture books; dropout rates were legendary. The state was supposed to provide an improvement plan that would show results within 18 months; if that failed, it would take over the school entirely or impose other sanctions. But no sanctions were imposed, and here's where Fremont is now: 12% or so of students are proficient in reading and writing. About 2,000 students start out as freshmen; by senior year, there are proficientless than 600.

Reconstitution is a fresh-start attempt for failing schools. The staff is let go, but can reapply to continue working there. The school would require uniforms or a stricter dress code. These restructured schools don't always succeed, and Duncan's push to increase their numbers might be misplaced. But Fremont can't do much worse than it has since the beginning of the decade.

We admire Cortines for responding to Duncan's visit and to the Times story on teacher evaluations with corrective action instead of defensive posturing. We just wish the district hadn't waited so long to do the right thing.


Oct 3, 2001: STATE STEPS IN AT TEN LAGGING SCHOOLS:Audit teams are visiting the campuses and will recommend plans to shore up weaknesses.


October 03, 2001 -- The state Department of Education is poised to assume broad decision-making authority at 10 Los Angeles Unified School District campuses that have failed to meet goals for improving their test scores despite four years of warnings.

Only three other schools in the state were targeted by the highly unusual intervention.

Partly in response to his district's poor showing, Supt. Roy Romer will announce a turnaround plan today to retrain principals and boost reading and math teaching at those and as many as 10 other low-performing schools. He also warned that principals at schools that do not improve rapidly enough could lose their jobs.

"We've got to elevate these lowest-performing schools," Romer said. "We have to have this happen."

Another reason for urgency, he said, is new figures showing that only 44% of the district's ninth-graders passed the English-language arts portion of the state's high school exit exam this year. Only 24% passed the math portion. All students must pass both sections of the test by 2004 in order to earn a diploma. The test was voluntary this year only.

"Our performance is not good, we know it and we're focusing on changes," Romer said in an interview.

The schools where the state will intervene include: Avalon Gardens Elementary School; Gompers, Mt. Vernon and Sun Valley middle schools; Mann Junior High School; and Fremont, Locke, Roosevelt, Jefferson and Wilson high schools. Of the three other schools in California coming under state scrutiny for their weak performance, two are in the Visalia Unified School District in the Central Valley: Goshen and Houston elementary schools. The other school is Lower Lake High in the Konocti Unified School District in Lake County.

The schools were first identified based on their test scores on the Stanford 9 test in 1997; each failed every year since then to make improvement targets and did not avail itself of funds from a key state school improvement program.

David Tokofsky, a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education, said the district's dominance on the target list demonstrates "a failure of instructional urgency."

Each of the 13 targeted schools will be visited within the next few weeks by a state-appointed scholastic audit team that will recommend a detailed plan for shoring up weaknesses. If the schools do not improve, the state can ultimately convert them into charter schools or authorize students to transfer elsewhere.

[article continues: part 2 | part 3]

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