Wednesday, December 30, 2009


from The Associated Press

Dec. 29, 2009  -- SACRAMENTO — The mayors of California's biggest cities are urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers to meet a fast-approaching deadline to compete for federal education funds.

The mayors of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento released a joint letter on the issue Tuesday. They were joined by the mayors of San Jose, Fresno, Long Beach, Santa Ana and Anaheim.

The mayors are asking state leaders to pass a bill that would allow California to compete for a share of $4.3 billion in education reform funding. The competition — known as "Race to the Top" — was set up by the Obama administration to improve schools.

California has three weeks left to qualify for the competition. Lawmakers have indicated they plan to take up the measure in the new year.


●●smf’s 2¢: It’s interesting to note how enthusiastic the mayors of those cities are for RttT – and how unenthusiastic most school boards seem to be.

PERDAILY.COM: Another voice | http ://

smf writes:

a tip of the 4LAKids hat to  - blog/virtual commons about public. education. reform. by co-founders Leonard Isenberg, 15 year LAUSD teacher/former film producer(!) and Anthony Holland. 

Here are their December posts about LAUSD:


The 8 simple rules for fixing LAUSD overnight


With all the brouhaha about fixing public education, people are left with the false impression that this is some herculean and incredibly complicated task that borders on the impossible. In actuality, nothing could further from the truth. What is hard is maintaining archaic disproved models of public education that only serve to maintain the relatively small number of people who benefit under the present regime. Instead of reconstituting teachers in failed schools, try reconstituting administration. Instead of accommodating teacher and student dysfunction, look at why they fail and stop lying to yourselves -- enforce objective standards for all. Stop adapting to failure and assaulting those who complain. Create independent oversight instead of blind loyalty to failure. Here are 8 ways to solve the education problem literally overnight.

Continue reading

Tags: Easy Fix, Good ideas, LA Times, LAUSD

29 12 2009

by Leonard
posted in Good Ideas, Lenny
No Comments

LAUSD Safety Engineer: Teachers harassed for reporting rodents... Schools in "depressingly poor physical state"


When a Safety Engineer says LAUSD is good at running "one two or ten schools out of 900", there might be a problem. Free-range rats? Millions of dollars wasted on inefficient and "rag tag" renovations? Count the times "management" and "mismanagement" appear in this letter and then ask yourself, what does a Safety Engineer really know anyway? Read the email.

Continue reading

Tags: Bad Ideas, Infrastucture, LAUSD, Safety, Tips

27 12 2009

by Anthony
posted in Ironic, Safety, Try Harder
No Comments

Bar set low for lifetime teaching jobs... Thoughts and highlights from yesterday's LA Times article


Yesterday the LA Times ran a story about the LAUSD tenure-mill system. While it explains how an unqualified teacher can easily aquire tenure, what the article really demonstrates is the overall lack of oversight within the bloated and often woefully incompetent LAUSD administrative bureaucracy. Before I say told you so, let me elaborate on some of the highlights.

Continue reading

Tags: ADA, Administrators, LA Times, LAUSD, Teachers, Tenure

21 12 2009

by Leonard
posted in Highlights, LA Times
No Comments

Why Cortines' plan to fire 'weak' teachers isn't what you think


What makes a teacher weak? The starting premise of Superintendent Cortines is that LAUSD must "weed out ineffective new teachers before they become permanent." Keep in mind these 'weak' teachers are college graduates who have at least 4 years of college, supplemented by more than a year of credentialing programs that should have identified the supposed teaching deficits that they now suffer from. But as we all are aware by now, teachers are the real problem in education, not administrators. In fact, let's just fire all teachers and hire only administrators, since they're the only ones doing their jobs right. Whew. Problem solved.

Continue reading

Tags: Fired, LAUSD, Ramon Cortines, Teachers, Tenure

19 12 2009

by Leonard
posted in Try Harder
No Comments

Cortines on Fremont High: "Whoops, do-over"


It takes a lot of nerve to be an integral part of failed public education policy in this country, as Superintendent Ray Cortines has been during his 50 year career, and rather than own up and take responsibility for his part in this failed system, he instead blames the teachers.

Continue reading

Tags: Bad Ideas, LAUSD, Ramon Cortines, Teachers

17 12 2009

by Leonard
No Comments

300... of 33,000 teachers

Thumbnail image for sparta.jpg

It is regrettable that the Tuesday, December 8th demonstration did little to dissuade incompetent LAUSD leadership from further dismembering public education in Los Angeles by now proposing laying off of another 5000 teachers to balance its budget. If anything the...

Continue reading

Tags: Apathy, Budget, LAUSD, Strike, UTLA

14 12 2009
by Leonard
posted in Try Harder
No Comments

MAIL from Central High/Tri-C: Why give me the answers to tests I'm not (legally) supposed to grade?


Central High students are being given an assessment test this week, which sounds normal enough... but one teacher at the continuation school, where hardly any students ever show up, let alone work, can't figure out why the teachers there are being given the answers to tests they're required to turn over (ungraded and unchanged) to officials .

Continue reading

Tags: Central High, LAUSD, Scantron, Testing

8 12 2009

by Anthony
posted in Bad Ideas
No Comments

"We want you!" ---


Help us get the ball rolling. This site can't work without you, and we're not just saying that. Still not convinced? Then look at it this way, sites like get results because no large company  -- or in this case school district --  can afford bad publicity for very long, and that's where we come in. So tell us what you've got, and spread the word to every teacher you know. LAUSD ain't gonna to police itself. You can remain anonymous of course.

Continue reading

Tags: LAUSD, Teachers

8 12 2009

by Anthony
No Comments

LAUSD vs North Korea: Life as a teacher in the propaganda bubble


What do North Korea and LAUSD have in common? In North Korea, people live in a kingdom headed by Kim Jung Il and his entourage and have no contact with the outside world. All people know is what their illustrious leader incessantly tells them about the future communist paradise that is being created. But this paradise is contradicted everyday by their daily experience. In LAUSD, people also live in a kingdom headed at various times by a governor, a retired admiral, or a blind optimist named Ray Cortines, who tells his people about an educational paradise where they will all go to college, but alas, this fantasy too bears no relationship to the everyday reality that his vassals experience.

Continue reading

Tags: LAUSD, Propaganda, Ramon Cortines

8 12 2009

by Leonard
No Comments

Why I'm not qualified to be a principal

Thumbnail image for keepout.jpg

The first step to becoming an LAUSD principal is understanding how the administration works, or doesn't work. The administration is a closed bureaucracy that spares no expense in stifling reform it sees as threatening its privileged position. In order to accomplish this dubious end, school administrators establish many prerequisites of questionable significance in determining who will be allowed to join their ranks.

Continue reading

Tags: LAUSD, Principals

8 12 2009

by Leonard
posted in Ironic, Lenny
No Comments

LAUSD pilot schools: Same old' same old'


While there are many possibilities for addressing present public school dysfunction, the four models that the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers of Los Angeles have alleged considered are: Affiliated Charters, ESBMM (Expanded School-Based Management Model), iDesign/Partnership Schools, and the dreaded Pilot School. As this study clearly shows, if a charter school is correctly implemented it can beat any of these models, because it offers the greatest latitude in drafting to relect a reformed school model that could mix the most subjectively appropriate strengths of all models to the student population and community where the school has to function.

Continue reading

Tags: Bad ideas, LAUSD, Pilot schools, UTLA

6 12 2009

by Leonard
posted in Bad Ideas
No Comments

The real secret to choosing a school in Los Angeles


As desperate parents seek some sort of viable alternative to the dearth of options they have in LAUSD, the district's imperfectly run CHOICES Program remains one of the few possibilities that offers even the slightest chance of their children receiving an adequate education in a public school.

Continue reading

Tags: API, CHOICES, LAUSD, public schools

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

OPORTUNIDADES: In Mexico, a Plan to Beat Poverty With Health Care and Education. Video+More

PBS NewsHour | AIR DATE: Dec. 29, 2009

SUMMARY: In this installment of the PBS NewsHour series on Mexico, Ray Suarez examines how the government is lifting people out of poverty through education and children's healthcare …and inspiring nations throughout the world to do the same.

●●smf’s 2¢: The ideas here – tying education, children’s healthcare and economics to parent education, engagement and involvement are noteworthy. Not quick-fix magic bullets, but noteworthy.  [NOTE: If you are a billionaire looking to invest in quick-fix magic bullets for education and healthcare, invest here. If you invest enough in people to do the hard work, the magic surely follows!]



RAY SUAREZ: In the state or Morelos in Central Mexico, the small town of Santo Domingo Ocotitlan is rich in tradition. In elaborate costumes, villagers parade through the town square during dance festivals.

But, for all its history, Santo Domingo is very poor. Most residents are subsistence farmers. Homes are modest. Women scrub their wash over rocks at communal basins.

For generations, policy-makers have debated, what makes poor people poor? Is it the simple fact of not having enough money, or is it the choices they make, the way they live? A pioneering program here in Mexico is trying to fight poverty with both approaches by giving the poorest Mexicans cash and by trying to change the way they live.

Started 12 years ago by the Mexican government, the program, called Oportunidades -- or Opportunities -- gives a small subsidy every other month to poor mothers, like Santo Domingo resident Sixta Orcasita.

But there is a catch, one that separates Oportunidades from traditional welfare plans. Orcasita and millions of mothers like her across Mexico must first sign a contract to raise healthier, better-educated children.

Orcasita has six children. Both she and her husband, Eraclio Bello, never made it past grade school. To get their cash, they must keep their youngest children, 15-year-old Karina and 13-year-old Alex, in school. They must also bring them in for regular checkups at the health clinic.

And Sixta Orcasita must participate in monthly nutrition classes, so she can cook healthier meals for the family. Attendance is monitored, and the monthly allotment of cash, about $60 for each child, plus a monthly food stipend, will be quickly pulled if mothers fail to get their children to school or clinic. The goal is to break the cycle of poverty.

Santiago Levy, now with the Inter-American Development Bank, came up with the so-called conditional cash plan.

SANTIAGO LEVY: These families were trapped in a -- in some kind of an intergenerational mechanism, by which parents were poor, children were poor, and the next generation were also poor. The kids were so poor, they had to be picking coffee in the fields, and they couldn't go to school.

And they didn't go to school. And then, when they were adults, they couldn't get a good job. And if they couldn't get a job, they would be poor, and then their children would have to work to help support the family, and on from generation to generation.

RAY SUAREZ: It's a cycle Karina and Alex's father wants to end. Bello's first four children dropped out of school. Now he wants the cash from Oportunidades to keep his youngest children out of the fields.

ERACLIO BELLO: I hope they continue studying and get ahead. I'm prepared to help them any way I can. And I hope they make a better life for themselves than I have for myself and that they are better prepared for life than we were.

RAY SUAREZ: To sweeten the pot, Oportunidades pays the family more money each year Karina and Alex move into a higher grade and increases allowances for school supplies.

SANTIAGO LEVY: The amount of money that the kid brings into the household matters for the household. So, in a way, you are not really providing additional income. You are changing the source of the income. What you are saying is, your kid will be equally valuable to you if he's in the school, as opposed if he is in the street begging for money.

RAY SUAREZ: Of the 185 children in Santo Domingo, 108 of them are enrolled in Oportunidades. Nationally, more than 25 million people, one-quarter of the population of Mexico, are enrolled.

Not surprisingly, most families are from rural areas like Santo Domingo, where living is often hand-to-mouth, and where officials say the conditional cash program has been most effective. School enrollment jumped 85 percent in some rural areas just two years after the cash program was introduced.

Rates of malnutrition and anemia have dropped, as have childhood and adult illnesses. At Santo Domingo's middle school, Asuncion Ortiz, a teacher here for 16 years, says, changes from the cash program are easy to see.

ASUNCION ORTIZ: Little by little, the children start coming with more uniforms, better shoes. Before, their teeth were very bad because of their bad eating habits, but now, in part because of required health clinic appointments, their eating habits are better, and so their teeth are a lot better.

RAY SUAREZ: The conditional cash transfer program centers on women, who, officials say, are the key to long-term health for a family. Better-educated women raise healthier children.

So, the program turns tradition on its head. Young girls, who, for years, were considered a financial drain on the family, are now worth more financial assistance than boys. For example, Sixta Orcasita gets slightly more money for Karina's school attendance then for Alex's.

Mexico's deputy secretary of social development, Dr. Gustavo Merino, explains why.

DR. GUSTAVO MERINO JUAREZ: If you get girls who have now been able to go to school, they are going to be not just able to get a better a job and so on, but they are going to be better at probably raising their kids. They are going to have less kids. They are going to have -- take more care of them in terms of nutrition and health and prevention.

RAY SUAREZ: The program gives cash only to mothers because, supporters say, they're more likely to spend the cash on their children, while fathers, it was feared, might not bring the money back to the family, even use it for alcohol and tobacco.

As a result, officials say women have been empowered.

SANTIAGO LEVY: Resources are given to the mother, not to the father, so there has been a change of the relationship of power within the household.

RAY SUAREZ: But Oportunidades has detractors, too.

Mario Luis Fuentes, an economist in social welfare at the University of Mexico, says the government should be more focused on job creation, because, even for the poor kids who finish their education, Mexico still has few jobs.

MARIO LUIS FUENTES: So, the whole question is, at the end of secondary, at the end of the high school, these young people won't have the opportunities of job, of work, of decent work.

RAY SUAREZ: The World Bank is heavily promoting the program. Last spring, it gave Mexico a $1.5 billion loan.

Helena Ribe manages the Latin American region for the bank.

HELENA RIBE: The evidence is very compelling. And on my many years of experience working in development in all regions of the world with the World Bank, I have never seen one program that receives so much interested and that has been replicated in as many countries as this model of conditional cash transfers.

RAY SUAREZ: In fact, at least 30 countries have now adopted Oportunidades, most of them in Latin America. Cambodia and Thailand have programs. And officials from South Africa and China have contacted Mexico to investigate.

For her part, Sixta Orcasita says the short-term benefits, like putting food on the table, are as important as her hopes for the future.

SIXTA ORCASITA: The money we get from them helps a lot. Right when we run out of money, money comes in, and we can buy the things we need to get by.

RAY SUAREZ: Even with the program's successes, health advocates point out that conditional cash programs are just one piece in the complex equation needed to end poverty.

+ More:

ATTACKS ON LA SCHOOLS CONTINUE: Corporate interests behind assault on public education


By: David Feldman |  - Party for Socialism and Liberation

●●smf’s 2¢:  …the fact that they’re the radical fringe doesn’t mean they're wrong!

Monday, December 28, 2009 -- Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a visit to Los Angeles. The Superintendent of LA schools, Ramon Cortines, felt the occasion called for some anti-public education grand-standing.

Los Angeles rally for public education early this year

Cortines proceeded to announce the "reconstitution" of Fremont High School in South Los Angeles. The entire staff at Fremont High School will be dismissed and forced to re-apply for their jobs. Cortines will develop an anti-union "right to work" agreement for all new hires.

Fremont High School is in an oppressed section of Los Angeles, long ravaged by poverty.

The excuse for this drastic measure? A piece of the $4.35 billion that the Obama administration has called the "race to the top" for all public schools.

The "race to the top" is nothing other than a ploy to weaken teachers’ union rights and privatize education. The most California would receive is a one-time payment of $700 million, a drop in the bucket when placed in context of what the state spends on education for 6 million public school students. (Sacramento Bee, Dec. 8)

Duncan has said he wants to see 1,000 schools reconstituted every year. The Obama administration supports these efforts to the tune of $3.5 billion in grants. (LA Times, Dec. 11)

Never mind the fact these methods, which Duncan likes to call "turnarounds" have not been successful in the past. As the "CEO" of Chicago schools, Duncan was responsible for the "turnarounds" of 61 schools. According to a University of Chicago study released in October, students who were transferred out of their old schools did not perform better academically in their new schools. (Education Week, Oct. 28)

The changes at Fremont were made possible by provisions in the much-despised No Child Left Behind Act. LA’s teachers’ union, the United Teachers Los Angeles, along with parents, students and community members, were notified of the reconstitution at the last minute.

Low test-scores and bad academic performance are the reasons given by those who want to reorganize Fremont. But when many urban neighborhoods throughout the country have high rates of poverty and no access to fundamental rights like jobs and quality health care, of course academic performance is going to suffer. The amount of money the government spends on education is minuscule compared to the trillions spent on imperialist war and bailing out the banks.

The reconstitution of Fremont is part of a pattern of moves taken by Cortines to take away rights from teachers, students, and parents. In August, the school board passed a measure that will possibly open about a third of the district’s lowest performing schools to being taken over by outside groups, mainly charter schools. The UTLA and many community leaders fought hard against this measure.

A recent article in the LA Times exposed the fact that the man overseeing the measure, Christopher Hill, works for Eli Broad. Broad is an area capitalist responsible for the spread of charter schools in LA.

Charter schools are essentially private schools that take public money and are under no obligation to educate every child like regular public schools. Charters often pick and choose the students they want to educate. They are also hostile to unions. Unions are the only day-to-day means already underpaid teachers have in their struggle for decent wages, benefits and workplace rights.

Despite technically being employed by LA Unified, Hill’s salary is being paid in full by Eli Broad himself! A dozen other key LAUSD officials whose official duties are to oversee the takeovers are also being paid by corporately funded foundations. Cortines personally gave his thumbs up to Broad’s proposal to pay Hill’s salary. Cortines and Broad are longtime friends. (LA Times. Dec. 21)

The school takeover plan passed last August is the most consequential measure passed by the LA school board in many years. Technically unions and other groups can offer their own proposals to run a school in need of reform. But the implementation of the measure is being overseen by capitalists who want to weaken unions and de-fund public education.

The immediate future is one of intense struggle for teachers and students all over the country who are fighting for their rights and benefits. Teachers, parents and students all have the same interests. Individually we are powerless, but together we are a force to be reckoned with. Workers, teachers, parents and students unite to defend public education!

Monday, December 28, 2009


from EGP Publications | Eastside Sun / Northeast Sun / Mexican American Sun / Bell Gardens Sun / City Terrace Comet / Commerce Comet / Montebello Comet / Monterey Park Comet / ELA Brookyln Belvedere Comet / Wyvernwood Chronicle / Vernon Sun

December 28, 2009 @ 4:17 pm -- The union representing Los Angeles Unified School District teachers announced the filing of a lawsuit Monday accusing the district of failing to comply with state requirements before converting schools to charter campuses.

At a news conference at Garfield High School, members of United Teachers Los Angeles said the state Education Code requires the approval of a majority of permanent teachers before schools like Garfield and the new Esteban Torres High School can be turned into charters.

The petition asks for a court order directing the LAUSD to comply with the Education Code.

The plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit were UTLA and a group of LAUSD teachers from Garfield as well as 28th Street Elementary School, Pio Pico Span School and Foshay Learning Center.

“Public schools belong to the community,” UTLA President A.J. Duffy said. “Especially at new schools, it is important for parents, teachers and the community to see stability in the form of teachers who they know are committed to their school and community.”

Garfield and Torres high schools are among 36 new and existing schools included in a Public School Choice Resolution passed by the Board of Education for the 2010-11 school year that puts their operations out to bid by third parties, according to the suit.

Monica Garcia, president of the LAUSD Board of Education, said the School Choice program is designed to provide options for the operation of low-performing campuses. She said no schools will be automatically converted to charters as the result of the program.

“We are facing a crisis in our classrooms and in our district,” Garcia said. “We need adults to work together for our students. The status quo is not working for too many young people. That is why I am so excited about the Public School Choice Program.”

Final applications from organizations interested in operating schools are due in January, with a vote expected by the school board in February.

TWO TEACHERS ORDERED TO RETURN MORE THAN $148,000 IN OVERPAYMENTS: L.A. Unified's action is part of increased efforts to retrieve millions of dollars paid out because of a payroll malfunction + smf 2¢:


By Howard Blume | LA Times |

December 28, 2009 -- Two former Los Angeles teachers face a court order to return salary overpayments of more than $148,000, part of an increasingly aggressive push by the Los Angeles Unified School District to retrieve $9.4 million from employees who were inadvertently caught up in its malfunctioning payroll system.

The judgments were approved this month in Los Angeles Superior Court against Adalberto Castro, who allegedly received an unanticipated windfall of $96,482, and Christina Garcia, who allegedly was overpaid $52,345.

The debacle began with the activation of Business Tools for Schools, a computerized payroll system, on Jan. 1, 2007. Over the next months, thousands of employees were overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all. Castro and Garcia, who were on unpaid status at the time, are accused of receiving some of the largest overpayments and returning nothing.

The school district, the nation's second-largest, is still determining the full number of employees affected and how much they were overpaid on that day.

The article continues:

  • Most employees have returned all owed money, with the first $250 forgiven, or arranged installment payments. According to the district, about 2,400 former and current employees still have outstanding payments; the average amount is less than $5,000.
  • In addition to creating overpayments, the defective system also shortchanged many employees, causing substantial financial hardship and catapulting thousands into lengthy dealings with the district's labyrinthine bureaucracy to set matters straight.
  • The district hired specialized consultants and district staff worked long hours to help employees. Senior officials apologized repeatedly, but the fallout further scarred the district's reputation.

Entire article:


●●smf’s 2¢:  The smoking gun here is “The school district, the nation's second-largest, is still determining…

BTS is NOT a ‘payroll malfunction’ …it IS ‘a debacle’.

The current tense, rather than the past, is apparently still appropriate. When will there be a full accounting … or does BTS,  like the Belmont Learning Center, just fester, unaccounted for?

RESTORING AN EDUCATIONAL GEM’S LUSTER: Cuts are fast eroding California's once-vaunted system of public colleges and universities. Judicious change can address new realities while affirming the enduring goals of the state's master plan.

L.A. Times Editorial

December 28, 2009 -- Great beaches, a gentle climate and the best system of public higher education in the country, maybe the world. California is famous for all three, but what it deserves abundant praise for is the last of those. How long it will continue to earn that praise is another matter. The state's visionary Master Plan for Higher Education, the engine that for years drove California toward educational leadership, and, as a result, economic leadership, is about to turn 50. It is not aging well.

The plan itself isn't to blame so much as the lack of money to carry it out. Right now, the dismal economy is driving deep cuts in higher education. But California has been giving short shrift to its public colleges and universities for years now, inching away from the promise of equal and affordable access based on merit.

Under the 1960 plan, the University of California, a collection of elite research universities, was expected to provide a top-tier undergraduate and graduate-school education for the top 12.5% of the state's students. California State University was the workhorse that all students in the top third of the state's high-school graduates could attend. And everyone would have virtually free access to the community colleges, where students could receive vocational training, life-enrichment courses or an associate's degree that would give them a boost into a four-year college.

But that has changed. Tuition of more than $10,000, recently approved by the UC Board of Regents, isn't affordable for many families, and even higher fees have been levied on various professional schools, including the ones that train social workers, who earn mediocre salaries that make it hard to repay big student loans. CSU recently warned that it would not be able to accept 45,000 eligible students who apply next year, and San Diego State announced for the first time that it could not accept all of the eligible local students. Everyone is still welcome at the community colleges, which raised fees slightly -- but just try enrolling in the necessary classes. At De Anza College in the Silicon Valley, close to 10% of students this fall were unable to enroll in any classes, and a third were shut out of at least one class. The college had been forced to cut 300 courses from its schedule.

For years, reports from various organizations have warned that the master plan would be endangered if the state didn't change course. UC would lose its prestige, eligible students would go without a college education. Now the state is past the warning stage. Public higher education in California is being constricted in ways that make it hard to recognize compared with what it was just a decade ago.

This month, a joint legislative committee began a series of hearings on the master plan, looking at whether modifications are needed either to the initial vision or to the three-tiered system of higher education. The first hearing made it clear that there is enormous opposition to making any substantial changes in the master plan itself, especially trimming its ambitions in reaction to the state's current financial crisis. But even if the master plan is not officially revamped in any major way, Californians cannot ignore that it is undergoing a de facto rewrite. Low cost, universal access, top educational and research quality -- these three basic underpinnings are eroding fast.

This is happening just as officials elsewhere in the world are looking to mimic the California model. Western Europe is considering the creation of an open-access college program; China is planning to open several UC-type systems. Chinese leaders aren't doing this as a gift to their young people; they recognize that affordable, top-level college education pays off in a robust economic engine and more stable and well-compensated jobs.

An educated and capable citizenry tends to be more involved in civic life and have lower rates of crime, teenage pregnancy and other costly social problems. And a system that offers access to higher education fulfills the consummate American dream that anyone has the opportunity to achieve great things in this country -- an especially potent message in a state with so many immigrant students.

College officials bear some of the responsibility for their financial troubles. Both CSU and UC, especially the latter, have been rightly criticized in recent years for giving lavish and unnecessary perks to various administrators. Officials at both systems struck an unwise side deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, in which they agreed to raise fees appreciably and lower admissions in exchange for six years of steadily increasing funding. They received three years of that increase before cuts set in again.

master plan would be endangeredThe state might not be able to live up to the master plan for the next few years, but it should be plotting a return to that vision. An April report by the Public Policy Institute of California warned that the state was in danger of being close to 1 million college graduates short of what the labor market will demand in 2025.

At a time of severely limited funding, then, what can California do to maximize its resources and maintain the luster of its higher education system? Here are some areas for consideration: PRODUCTIVITY. Individual campuses in the Cal State system already are examining whether to close some smaller departments. According to CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed, the recreational studies program at Dominguez Hills has graduated only four students in the last two years.

At the same time, CSU should be coordinating the closures so that, to the extent possible, at least one campus within commuting distance offers the less-popular majors. Cal State students are often commuters who depend on living at home to make college affordable. FEES. Neither UC nor CSU can continue with the kinds of disastrous tuition increases that were slapped on students this year. A recent survey found that the top reason students drop out of college is the cost.

Fees should be rolled back as soon as state funding allows, and a schedule of predictable fee increases instituted for future years so families can plan college savings accordingly. DROPOUTS: Leaders of both the community college and CSU systems must make reducing their dropout rates a higher priority. Only 1 in 4 community college students aiming toward transfer to a four-year college actually fulfills that ambition, and only half of Cal State students earn a bachelor's degree within six years. Not only does this deprive the state of a more educated population, but it also wastes public money.

CSU and UC also should be pushing students to complete their degrees within four years. Full-time students should have to apply to attend beyond 4 1/2 years and provide a compelling reason why this is necessary. Their fees should be raised to out-of-state tuition levels except in rare circumstances. COURSE AVAILABILITY. To graduate students on time, colleges must offer the necessary courses. As much as we hate to consider narrowing the scope of the master plan, both UC and CSU should consider temporarily tightening admissions of California students to slightly below their historic percentages. With adequate funds to educate all enrolled students, the four-year schools can move students through the system more quickly and make room for other students. Future funding should be tied to how well they do this. COMMUNITY COLLEGES. The community colleges have too many missions to fulfill -- vocational, remedial and continuing education, recreational courses and preparation for four-year colleges. They should continue to offer open access, but for the time being should cut back on continuing education and recreational courses or charge the full cost of such classes, targeting their resources toward students seeking a certificate or associate's degree.

Of the three public college systems, the community college system is the one that should raise its fees substantially. This year, the Legislature raised fees from $20 a credit to $26 -- about $100 per course. Even if the Legislature were to double the fees, the community colleges would still be among the least expensive in the nation and easily affordable to most middle-class families -- less than $1,000 a year. A new federal tuition tax credit would reimburse many families for the full cost of each year's fees and books. A portion of the additional revenue could be used to offset fees for low-income students. The added money would allow for better counseling and more course offerings so students could finish their education sooner -- ultimately saving more money. FEDERAL FUNDING. President Obama has talked frequently about the importance of getting more students prepared for college. But the bigger problem right now is students who can't afford a seat in a college to start with. Federal stimulus funding and increases in Pell grants helped California's public colleges survive this year. Lobbying for continued and expanded infusions of federal money is needed. Investing in California's once-shining plan for public higher education is one of the best ways to provide this nation with a college-educated population.

THE VIEW FROM BALTIMORE IN THREE PARTS: Focus on principals carries benefits and risks, Expand 'No Child' through federal standards, funding, Shift school responsibility to mayors + smf 2¢

Alonso's focus on principals carries benefits and risks

By Kalman R. Hettleman | Op-Ed in The BaltImore Sun

First of three parts -- About the author: Kalman R. Hettleman is a former member of the Baltimore school board and former state human resources secretary. His book "It's the Classroom, Stupid: A Plan to Save America's Schoolchildren," is due out next week. His e-mail is

December 23, 2009 -- Over half a century after the best-selling book "Why Johnny Can't Read" shocked the nation, poor Johnny still can't read - or compute. Neither can poor Tyesha or Juan or millions of other predominantly low-income children of color.

This national tragedy is not because of lack of effort. For the past 25 years, the condition of public education has been regarded as a national crisis. In the name of reform, countless strategies have proliferated, most famously (or infamously) the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). It is impossible to find a single large, urban school system that has not been flooded over the years by an overflowing stream of reform initiatives.

Yet, none have succeeded on a large scale. Some urban districts have made progress - none more so than Baltimore. But not one, Baltimore included, has come close to enabling most students to score "proficient" on reliable national tests. And this educational underclass is growing: Low-income children are projected, over the next decade, to be a majority of all public school enrollments.

The big unknown is why. Why - despite our national wealth, miraculous technology and imperfect but abundant democracy - this failure? Unfortunately, no one knows for sure.

To start with, no one knows how well schools, by themselves, can overcome the harsh reality that poverty stunts academic growth. Family background is the strongest variable in student achievement. Yet, what goes on inside the schoolhouse matters too. Public schools can perform much better than they do. But for that to happen, we must learn the lesson taught by John Maynard Keynes. "The real difficulty in changing the course of any enterprise is not in developing new ideas," he wrote, "but in escaping old ones."

This applies to a trinity of conventional beliefs about school reform: first, that traditional education leaders know best how to improve our schools; second, that we need to retreat from NCLB and restore more local control; and third, that political officials must be kept out of public education. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

To envision how reform might really work, Baltimore's schools under CEO Andrés A. Alonso are a good place to start.

The spotlight has been elsewhere: New York, Chicago and the District of Columbia in particular. But my view, after a close study of the national landscape, is that Baltimore under Mr. Alonso has the best chance to reach the highest plateau of student success. Not only has no comparable system surpassed our sustained growth in test scores (that began before Mr. Alonso), but our school board is more harmonious and our teachers' union and community politics are less combative. Another big advantage is our relatively small size compared to other reform-minded districts.

But readers beware: I may be biased. As a member of the city school board, I was part of the 9-0 vote to hire Mr. Alonso as CEO beginning July 1, 2007. And after leaving the board in July 2008, I remain a big booster of his whirlwind leadership.

The well-publicized results of the first two years of Mr. Alonso's regime include soaring test scores, graduation rates and school enrollments. He has uprooted the central establishment and implanted a new culture of high expectations. He is by all accounts smart, strategic, bold and passionately devoted to kids.

But will the momentum stall or be derailed? Other celebrated urban superintendents in the past decade or so - among them, Alan Bersin in San Diego, Roy Romer in Los Angeles, Paul Vallas in Chicago and Philadelphia, and Rudy Crew in Miami - have flown high only to crash after a few years.

Whether Baltimore stays the course depends first and foremost on Mr. Alonso's staying power. He denies interest in job offers that have come his way, reiterating that it will take five to 10 years to complete the job. But he won't stick around unless the school board continues to give him a near-free hand. That seems likely if he stays on the good side of the mayor and governor, who jointly appoint board members, and if he keeps his ego in check. So far, so good. He is a better listener and more flexible than it sometimes appears.

Still, even if Mr. Alonso surpasses the usual short tenure of urban superintendents, will his theory of action - that is, his game plan for reform - hold up? The first pillar of his theory is fast, bold action. He has never put in writing a short- or long-term blueprint. He quotes racing driver Mario Andretti: If things are under control, you aren't going fast enough. He doesn't want to give entrenched interests time to marshal resistance. He refuses to accept staff complaints about lack of time or resources to meet his demands.

The downside to this is what Mr. Alonso, a baseball fan, will recognize as the "Billy Ball" syndrome. Fiery baseball manager Billy Martin turned four major league teams into winners, but burned out his players and wore out his welcome. Mr. Alonso recognizes that danger, particularly in the severe burdens that the second pillar of his theory of action - decentralization - places on school principals.

In his doctoral dissertation, Mr. Alonso wrote, "the single most important lever for superintendents is the choice, development and socialization of principals." Principals, he calculates, are the quickest and best way to cut through the old bureaucratic culture. They get almost all authority, whether they want it or not; and they get fired, as many have already, if they don't measure up.

Will this game plan succeed? School-based management, as it's commonly called, has been a longtime pet of school reformers. Yet, its research base is weak. In my view, that's because too much has been expected of school principals with too little central support. And under Mr. Alonso, the pace of decentralization may be too fast.

It's good to give principals full say over hiring of teachers and control of school budgets. But it carries a good thing too far to expect school principals to be experts on research-proven instructional programs. In medicine, if doctors don't use science-based treatments, it's malpractice. But not in education where, as management scholar Richard F. Elmore laments, "when I come into your classroom and say, 'why are you teaching in this way?' it is viewed as a violation of your autonomy and professionalism."

Mr. Alonso, while acknowledging the problem, has slashed the central instructional support system. This was done in part to save money and to shift the "dynamic of ownership" for school success from the central office to principals. But it was also done, I believe, because he doesn't sufficiently appreciate the least-recognized, most fatal flaw in national school reform: the mismanagement of the design and delivery of classroom instruction.

The public knows about bureaucratic follies pertaining to budgets, data systems, facilities and other operations. But below the public radar, school administrators also fail to provide classroom teachers with solid instructional programs, training, lesson plans, supervision and monitoring. These tasks are crucial, particularly in urban schools where veteran teachers are in short supply.

I think that Mr. Alonso can rise to this challenge and find a proper balance between holding principals strictly accountable and giving them sufficient support and time to grow into the job. But will even this be enough to reach the next heights of success?

Tomorrow: Toward "a New Education Federalism."

Expand 'No Child' through federal standards, funding

By Kalman R. Hettleman | Op-Ed in The Baltimore Sun

Second of three parts

December 24, 2009 -- No urban school system offers more hope than Baltimore's. Still, even if CEO Andrés Alonso stays the course (while fine-tuning it), city schools will need more resources. More must be done across the nation to fulfill, at long last, the legal and moral right of every poor child to a quality education.

The best hope for the future lies in what I call a "New Education Federalism." Its foundation is a larger, more muscular role for the federal government. But whoa - most educators and politicians are strongly opposed. Local and state control of public schools has always been regarded as sacrosanct. Its liberal and conservative defenders say that the failings of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) prove the point.

But rather than going too far, NCLB doesn't go far enough. NCLB seeks to hold schools accountable for the low performance of poor and minority students. But it has been undermined by political compromises, especially the provisions that allow state and local officials to continue to devise their own academic standards and tests.

How does it make any sense for 50 states (much less 14,000 local school systems) to have their own versions of what students need to know in reading, math, science and history? In fact, when it comes to education federalism, the U.S. is an underdeveloped country. Almost all our global competitors have national standards, tests and curricula. By contrast, we, under NCLB, have a notorious "race to the bottom" in which states dumb down their standards and tests to avoid sanctions and public embarrassment.

NCLB also does next to nothing to address, in Jonathan Kozol's memorable term, "savage inequalities" in school funding. Parents matter. School management matters. But so does the ability to pay for competitive teachers' salaries, training teachers, small class sizes, extra instruction for struggling students (during school, after school and during summers), school safety and decent facilities.

Yet, despite decades of lawsuits in almost every state, enormous inequities in per-pupil spending among school districts remain. A 2008 report, using the most recent data available (for 2005), showed that after adjustments for geographical differences in costs, the average gaps in spending of state and local funds between the highest-spending 25 percent and the lowest 25 percent districts was $938 per pupil (or about $25,000 per classroom).

Maryland, thanks to the "Thornton" law enacted in 2002, does more than most states to provide adequate funding. Yet, funding still falls far below need, and the current fiscal crisis has brought significant boosts in local aid to a halt.

Nationwide, the problem lies in vast differences in fiscal wealth and political will among the states. States fail to do more to eliminate disparities in funding because the school districts that would benefit most are politically as well as fiscally downtrodden. States are also under pressure to hold down taxes because of competition with neighboring states to attract industries and taxpayers.

This picture of low standards and inadequate school funding portrays a national failure that subverts the national interest in a well-educated citizenry and work force. Stronger federal action is imperative. It requires mandated national standards and tests that set a floor, not a ceiling, on what students should learn.

It also requires a federal guarantee of equal-opportunity funding for poor and minority children that can be accomplished through carrots (direct federal aid) and sticks (withholding federal aid from states that do not equalize funding on their own). And to ensure that the money is well spent, the federal government must raise the deplorable quality of education R&D and condition federal aid on local use of the best, research-based instructional programs.

Such a seemingly audacious plan for a vastly enhanced federal role isn't a political pipe dream. National polls show that despite the furor over NCLB, most Americans want it mended, not ended. Polls also reveal popular support for more federal funding and for national standards, tests and curricula. Most Americans are pragmatic, and the emotional attachment to local control is trumped by common sense and frustration over the plight of our schools.

Moreover, bear in mind that under the New Education Federalism, the federal government only fixes national standards for what every child is entitled to: namely, a world-class education. States and local governments and departments of education would still have great leeway in how federal standards are met: how students are taught, teachers are trained and federal aid is spent.

So it can happen. But if it does, will local school systems live up to their end of the bargain?

Tomorrow: The audacity of hope for poor children.

Shift school responsibility to mayors

By Kalman R. Hettleman | Op- Ed in the Baltimore Sun

Last of three parts

December 25, 2009 - The prospects for national school reform brightened with the election of Barack Obama as educator-in-chief. As a candidate, he signaled that he would try to find a "third way" though the battle lines in the education wars. A stunning opportunity arose when his administration - under the rallying cry, "Never let a crisis go to waste" - struck a balance in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act between short-term economic recovery and longer-term investment in the nation's energy, health and education systems.

The $100 billion stimulus allocation to public education doubles prior annual federal aid, including about a 50 percent increase in annual grants for low-income students and students with disabilities. On top of that is the $5 billion Race to the Top Fund. Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, has almost complete discretion over how it is awarded, and it's the big bait to lure states and local school systems to reform their ways.

The watchword for Race to the Top runners is "innovation," and the winning applications are expected to emphasize tougher teacher evaluations, more rigorous standards and tests, and charter schools.

I have a mixed view of the stimulus-package largesse. On the plus side, it moves the nation a step closer toward national standards, tests and links between more federal money and research-based reform. Further, while these funds will only be available for two to three years, Congress will be politically hard-pressed to sunset completely the additional grants targeted to low-income and disabled students. And the Race to the Top aspirations are likely to work their way into a reauthorized (and renamed) No Child Left Behind Act.

On the negative side, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, the most fatal flaw in school reform is mismanagement of the design and delivery of classroom teaching and learning. Put another way, policy innovation is less important than instructional implementation (and that applies to charter schools as well as regular public schools). No matter how imposing the federal role, local system school systems must win the education wars in the management trenches. Are they up to the task - and who should be in charge?

Another building block of a "New Education Federalism," the concept I introduced in Part 2, is an overhaul of local school governance, beginning with abolition of local school boards. It's true that local boards, whether elected or appointed, are good in democratic theory. But in practice, no matter how dedicated and able (as in Baltimore), volunteer board members lack the time and knowledge to make smart policy decisions, and elected boards in particular tend to politicize policymaking. Worst of all, they prevent clear executive accountability: a single person who can be held responsible for local performance.

Mayors are best suited to assume this authority and be held accountable. Historically, city halls have been happy to avoid the headaches that come with running school systems. But modern mayors recognize that schools are indispensable to urban renaissance and are attuned to wielding executive authority. With their political necks on the line, mayors will be more prone to challenge education establishments, install nontraditional superintendents and insist that management systems be retooled.

Mayors Michael Bloomberg in New York and Adrian Fenty in D.C. have gotten legislators to shelve their school boards and are staking their mayoral legacies on school reform. They are intrepid and making headway, and a few other mayors are trying to follow suit. Thus, under a New Education Federalism, the White House and Congress should be at the top and mayors at the base of the public school chain of command.

I am not accidentally overlooking state governments and departments of education. Some, like Maryland, have made notable efforts. But as NCLB proves, as a whole, they can't be counted on. They have severe political and management shortcomings of their own, and will always be diverted from a focus on poor urban students because they have so many diverse districts, including rural and suburban ones, to tend to.

In the final analysis, only audacious reform has a chance to succeed. And it is unconscionable not to go for it. Our national self-respect and self-interest demand that we not waste any more time and young lives.

●●smf’s 2¢:  ….and the series started out so well!

I:  The teaser for the third part of this series was The audacity of hope for poor children” – and then the author advances the tired magic bullet of mayoral control! ‘Audacity’  or ‘Paucity’ of hope? I’m not going to abuse our local mayor here – mainly because our school district is actually subject to 26 municipal jurisdictions – and separate and varying iterations of 26 mayors, city managers and supervisors. In California  municipal governance relies upon strong city councils and weak mayors anyway, most local mayoralties circulate between city councilmembers.

II: The author writes: Mayors are best suited to assume this authority and be held accountable” …and cites The mayors of New York and DC as examples. If there is a less accountable politician than New York's Bloomberg  (“If parent’s don’t like the way I run the schools they can boo me at parades’) I don’t know who it is without revisiting Third World dictators or George III.  DC’’s Fenty has handed off the schools to Michelle Rhee (who in a connect-the-tabloid-dots moment is dating the former basketball star/charter operator/Mayor of Sacramento) -  and she seems ready to hand off the schools to charters and vouchers.

President Obama has sends his children to a Quaker school – perhaps the Society of Friends should run our schools?  If only it weren't for that pesky 1st Amendment!

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]

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Amber Banks |

December 26, 10:13 AM -- January 19, 2010 marks the first of two application deadlines for states that wish to compete for coveted Race to the Top funds that have been designated by the Obama Administration to help improve low-performing schools in the United States. Race to the Top (RTT) is a federally funded state-by-state competition for 4.35 billion dollars in federal education funding. In the wake of debilitating budget cuts that hit the education sector in California particularly hard in recent years, the California state government is eager to get a piece of the pie. A state that was once heralded for its public education system, California has slipped perilously to the bottom of the ranks. According to Ed-Data, California has the largest K-12 student population in the nation with roughly 6.2 million students, one-quarter of whom are English Language Learners. The State of California is eligible for $300-$700 million dollars in federal funding, but the state must make several adjustments in its education law and policy in order to qualify for the funds. There are currently 40 other states that plan to apply for RTT funds.

The massive Los Angeles Unified School District is an important player in California school reform, being the largest district in the state and the second largest in the nation. A series of controversial requirements needed to qualify for the RTT funds have caused an onslaught of debate within the district. Two of the issues that have caused the most controversy are the practice of firing tenured teachers for sub-par performance and removing restrictions on the number of charter schools allowed within a district.

The issue of training and retaining effective teachers within LAUSD has been a hot button issue for some time. According to Ed-Data’s 2005-2006 data, California was ranked last in total staff, with a particular lack in guidance counselors and librarians. One of the main issues that has been under fire recently in LAUSD is the practice of teacher tenuring. The Los Angeles Times recently published an investigative report entitled “Failure Gets A Pass” that gives an in-depth look at the district’s practice of keeping probationary and unsuccessful teachers on the payroll. In a recent statement, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines announced that he has ordered district administrators to fire teachers who perform poorly before they become tenured, a practice that has yet to be implemented in the district. The LA Times investigation found that fewer than 2% of all probationary teachers are denied tenure and that principals are not required to consider testing scores or student grades when evaluating teacher performance.

Surrounded by similar controversy, the charter school “takeover,” as it has been coined, has prompted an almost equal amount of praise and criticism from both sides of the schoolyard. Charter schools are publicly funded, privately managed schools that have rapidly increased in popularity in Los Angeles in recent years. There is currently a bid out for the charter takeover of some 30 new and under-performing schools within the district. This unprecedented move has prompted the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union group to sue the district on the grounds that the move violates teacher’s rights. Many district employee’s jobs, contracts, and benefits would be in jeopardy in the switch from the district to an independent charter because Charter law does not require that the new schools adhere to district or union contracts.

With the Race to the Top deadline quickly approaching, it appears that the Los Angeles Unified School District is trying to do its part to align itself with the requirements for the Race to the Top funding. Recent announcements on behalf of LAUSD to enforce more stringent teacher assessment policies and the push for more charter schools in the district seem to echo the stipulations set forth by the Obama Administration in the Race to the Top guidelines. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a vocal proponent of the new reforms. He writes in an article published in the Huffington Post earlier this month, “Make no mistake, California needs this funding. Our children are suffering from a lack of resources at their schools and constant teacher turnover. Our teachers are suffering from increasingly heavier workloads due to layoffs. And our local school districts are facing dire budget choices. It is unacceptable for lawmakers to do anything less than pass real reform so we can compete for all of the $700 million.” As the title of Villaraigosa's article indicates, in Los Angeles it appears that the race to the top starts now. Hopefully, its not too late.

●●smf's 2¢:  Ms. Banks writes:

  1. "Two of the issues that have caused the most controversy are the practice of firing tenured teachers for sub-par performance and removing restrictions on the number of charter schools allowed within a district."  From my outsider-looking-in position it's easy to find problems with LAUSD, but the District is blameless here.
    a) Tenured teachers – wither exemplary or sub-par - are protected by State law; the Board of Ed and the may0r can fulminate ad museum but they are powerless beyond the OpEd page. Welcome to the public speaker gallery, take a number.
    b) The State also sets the cap on charters. LAUSD already has more charter schools than anywhere else in the nation.  No charter application has ever been denied because we are over the cap. Charter schools are supposed to benefit all students, sharing lessons-learned and best-practices. The history of charters in LAUSD has been like a badly managed kindergarten class: pushing, shoving, name-calling and not a lot of sharing. What good have the charters done for the 550,000 LAUSD students not in them?
  2. "Charter law does not require that the new schools adhere to district or union contracts"  Charter law does require all charter schools to serve Special Education students, yet most do not. Ms Bank's bio claims she is a Special Ed teacher …in the interest  of objectivity shouldn't she examine this?


For more information see:

LA Times Investigative Report:

California Education Data Partnership:

California Department of Education, Race to the Top Letter to Local Education Agencies:

Federal Department of Education “Race to the Top” Website:

SAN FRANCISCO PENINSULA SCHOOL DISTRICTS UNSURE OF 'RACE TO THE TOP' PROPOSAL: Even districts that intend to participate remain wary of unintended consequences.

By Neil Gonzales | San Jose Mercury News

12/25/2009 -- School districts are weighing their commitment to a federal program that could bring them millions of dollars but also plenty of uncertainty.

The state is asking districts to sign off on its proposed application for funding under the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" initiative, in which California could earn up to $700 million for school reforms in a competition with other states.

Several local districts, including Jefferson Union High and Sequoia Union High, have told the state they intend to participate in that application although they remain wary of unintended consequences.

"The problem for many of us is it's unclear what the state's play is going to be," said Michael Crilly, superintendent of Jefferson Union in Daly City. "So it's almost signing up for something that you're not totally clear about."

State lawmakers are hurriedly trying to piece together legislation that would make California eligible for the $4.4 billion program. The deadline for states to submit their application is Jan. 19.

Ahead of that, state education leaders want districts by Jan. 8 to send in a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, that confirms their participation.

"We're trying to get as many on board because it'll help bolster the application to the feds," said Tina Jung, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education.

As of Tuesday morning, 385 educational agencies out of more than 1,000 sent the state a letter of intent, according to the department.

"A portion have already submitted MOUs," Education Department spokeswoman Hilary McLean added. "We expect more MOUs to come in before Jan. 8."

In the documents, districts agree to partner with the state on four key reform areas: refining current academic standards, providing new support for teachers and principals to improve their effectiveness, enhancing local data systems and coordinating them with California's, and dramatically turning around the lowest-achieving schools.

Jefferson Union will likely turn in its agreement so as not to lose out on potential funding, Crilly said, but "there are a lot of unknowns and concerns."

For instance, he said, Race to the Top would require that teachers be evaluated formally every year. Currently, that's done every other year.

Doing evaluations more frequently "sounds great on paper," Crilly said, but he questioned how feasible that is given staff reductions in these tough budget times.

"What some people are afraid of is that (the federal program) is initiated now and the dollars are yanked off the table later" if economic problems persist, he also said.

Sequoia Union board Vice President Lorraine Rumley echoed Crilly's sentiments.

"I'm not sure of all the caveats," Rumley said.

But Sequoia Union in Redwood City also doesn't want to miss out on any funding opportunities. "We are preparing in case it comes our way and turns out to be a good thing," Rumley said.

The Burlingame-based California Teachers Association, meanwhile, opposed proposed legislative provisions that the union argued would "create chaos" in local districts.

The provisions that concerned the group involved allowing students to transfer to other districts if they attend a low-performing school and requiring major steps to improve a failing campus if a number of parents sign a petition demanding action.

The state understands that some districts might later drop out of participation for one reason or another, Jung said, but they should realize that could hurt California's chances for the federal monies.

A state-sponsored Web site,, has answers to the many questions that districts have about Race to the Top, Jung said.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

SCHOOLING LOW-INCOME PARENTS IN HELPING STUDENTS: Educators have long believed that low-income students would soar if only they had the academic advantage of an engaged parent. It's time to give struggling parents the strategies they need.

Question: How does a school system get 120 parents from Title I schools to spend a sweltering day in August attending seminars on how to become more involved in their children’s education?
Answer: By accommodating their every need.

Los Angeles Times Op-Ed By Dale Russakoff

December 23, 2009 --For a succinct vision of the role parents can play in their children's education, a useful starting point is a tale of three mothers and an eggplant, told by Phyllis Hunter, former director of reading for Houston's public schools.

Hunter's first mother wheels her shopping cart down the produce aisle of a supermarket, where her kindergartner spots an eggplant and asks what it is. The mother shushes her child, ignoring the question. The second mother, faced with the same question, responds curtly, "That's an eggplant, but we don't eat it."

The third mother seizes the moment: "That's an eggplant," she says enthusiastically. "It's one of the few purple vegetables." She picks it up and encourages her child to put it on the scale. "Oh, look, it's about two pounds!" she says. "And it costs $1.99 a pound. Let's round it to $2. That would cost just about $4. That's a bit pricey, but you like veal Parmesan, and eggplant Parmesan is delicious too. You'll love it. Let's buy one, take it home, cut it open. We'll make a dish together."

Hunter's parable makes clear why an attentive, engaged parent is one of life's greatest academic advantages. It also makes clear why educators have long believed that low-income students would soar if only they got more support at home. But what never has been clear, despite 40 years of voluminous research, is whether myriad strategies schools are now using to encourage low-income parents to engage in new ways with their children have actually worked.

Since the 1960s, the federal government has required schools serving poor children to involve parents in their education. Under a little-noticed section of the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are instructed not only to educate students but also to help parents become more effective learning partners for their children. No longer is parent involvement defined as mothers or fathers volunteering in class. Now it is a two-way relationship, with schools expected to reach out to engage parents, including those who don't come to them -- parents who work two or three jobs, parents who speak no English, parents whose own school experiences were not positive.

The law also requires districts receiving more than $500,000 a year in Title I funds -- which support the education of low-income children -- to spend 1% of those funds engaging parents. In 2009, with an infusion of money from the president's economic stimulus package, that 1% could come close to $225 million nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Despite the emphasis on accountability that defines No Child Left Behind, the law requires little oversight of how tens of thousands of schools spend their parent-involvement money or whether those efforts raise achievement.

Many schools, according to Steffen Saifer, director of the Child and Family program at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland, Ore., "have so much they consider more important that they've gotten good at knowing how to minimally meet the requirements."

"What's typically done -- sending notes home in backpacks, holding parents nights, offering conferences -- isn't effective with low-income parents or parents who don't speak English," Saifer said. "That's what works in middle-class districts."

"It's a dilemma we all face in the area of parental involvement," said Rosie Kelly, a U.S. Department of Education official involved in monitoring state Title I programs. "Our monitoring is for compliance. You're talking about a quality issue."

President Obama has not unveiled his own policy on parental involvement, but he has made clear he wants more of it. "For our kids to excel, we have to accept our responsibility to help them learn," the president told the NAACP in July.

No one disagrees, but what are schools to do?

A paper published in the Review of Educational Research in 2002 evaluated 41 studies touting the impact of parent-involvement programs, and found most to be compromised by flawed design or analysis.

In particular, few took into account the families' social class. Emphasizing that the programs may work nonetheless, the authors found "little empirical support for the widespread claim that parent-involvement programs are an effective means of improving student achievement."

Even strategies that seemed certain to work have fallen short. A case in point is Even Start, a 20-year-old federal early-childhood program, carefully crafted using research that found that the more educated the parents, the more likely they were to engage children in learning. In Even Start centers, low-income parents learn literacy and child-raising skills while children play and learn separately. In joint sessions, parents practice sinking into comfy chairs with a book and a child, learning to create a joyful experience out of reading together.

The goal is to provide poor children with one of many advantages more affluent children are born with -- a parent who reads to them.

Despite its promise, Even Start didn't work, at least not according to researchers funded by the Education Department who found in 2003 that parents and children gained no more literacy skills after a year than did a control group. Obama invoked these findings in targeting the program for elimination in 2010. (Congress hasn't held a final vote on his proposal.)

The demand for accountability from Even Start suggests that the Obama administration will seek similar evidence that other parent-involvement policies are working. "I am a deep believer in the power of data to drive our decisions," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a speech in June. "It tells us where we are, where we need to go, and who is most at risk."

He announced that his department is launching a survey to measure levels of parent and family involvement in education nationally.

But what educators need more urgently is hard evidence of what kinds of support make the most difference. There are some promising places to look.

Joyce Epstein, a sociologist who directs the Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships at Johns Hopkins University, has helped low-income schools raise student achievement by involving both parents and local institutions in learning. "You don't have to give parents a college education," Epstein said. "You just have to give them a strategy for having an interesting conversation with their third-grader about a book they're reading even if the parents haven't read the book."

The New York City Department of Education's Office of Family Engagement has involved large numbers of parents by holding workshops early in the morning and on weekends, when parents who work multiple jobs are free. They also provide translators in more than a dozen languages and classes on how to advocate for one's child and how to help children of every age in every subject.

There are many such strategies that the government could subject to rigorous examination and guide districts on how to implement those that bring results. Rather than chanting the familiar mantra that parental involvement helps students, it is time to tackle the reasons the current approach isn't working for everyone and seize this opportunity to lower the tall barriers to achievement facing low-income children.

Dale Russakoff is a freelance writer in Montclair, N.J. A longer version of this article appeared in the Foundation for Child Development's annual report, "How do families matter?"  pp.3-20  (10394K) [download]