Monday, February 28, 2011

In case you don’t have a life …or papers to grade - 2 HOUR DEBATE: DON’T BLAME TEACHERS UNIONS FOR FAILING SCHOOLS

from Intelligence Squared US |

March 16, 2010 - Teachers unions: They’re powerful, they’re defensive, and they’re stubborn. And if it seems their leadership places a premium on protecting its members – above all other interests – we should not be surprised, because protecting jobs and wages is what unions were created to do.

And there’s the rub, say critics who argue the unions are shielding too many teachers who do their jobs poorly – teachers who should be replaced, for the good of the children. Indeed, so central is good teaching to good learning, some say it’s the unions as presently constructed – more than anything other factor – that are undermining America’s schools.

But can it really be that simple? In a ranking of whom to blame for what’s wrong in America’s classrooms, do teachers unions really come before slashed budgets? Or crumbling infrastructure, broken homes and the influence of narcotics? Do bad teachers so outnumber good ones that the union represents a collection of educational misfits?

The question comes down to a decision: do we need to reform the unions before we do anything else , and if we do, is that the fix that will once again make US public education the model system it once was?

Motion: Don’t blame teachers unions for our failing schools
For the motion: Kate McLaughlin, Gary Smuts, Randi Weingarten
Against the motion: Terry Moe, Rod Paige, Larry Sand
Moderator: John Donvan

DON'T BLAME TEACHERS UNIONS FOR OUR FAILING SCHOOLS (Full Debate) from Intelligence Squared US on Vimeo.

PTA Legislative Action Alert: LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

from California State PTA |

…but you don’t need to be a member to act!


Legislative Action Alert

February 28, 2011

Time is running out - Have you called yet?

Time is running out - tell your legislators now!

Click above to watch a video alert about protecting education funding in California.

Your state senator and assembly member will be voting in the next two weeks on whether to place a measure on the June special election ballot to protect education from deeper budget cuts. 

Call them TODAY to urge them to LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

To find out how to contact your representatives, click here.     

Click for a sample phone script or letter.


The director of Crescendo charters, which operates six campuses south of downtown L.A., directed principals and teachers to let students study the actual exam questions on important standardized tests.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |

February 28, 2011 - The performance of Crescendo charter schools was nothing short of remarkable — annual gains on state tests that were sometimes 10 times what other schools would consider strong progress.

Too good, perhaps, to be true.

Last year, administrators and teachers at the six schools south of downtown Los Angeles were caught cheating: using the actual test questions to prepare students for the state exams by which schools are measured.

Nonetheless, on Tuesday, the Los Angeles Board of Education is scheduled to act on a staff recommendation to reauthorize Crescendo's charter, giving the organization another five years to operate. Senior L.A. Unified officials said they are satisfied that Crescendo's governing board took appropriate steps after the cheating was uncovered.

"We did feel when we raised the issues … that the board did respond appropriately and took some swift action," said Jose Cole-Gutierrez, the district's director of charter schools.

In the end, no one was fired, not even John Allen, the founder and executive director who orchestrated the cheating, then denied it had taken place until confronted with overwhelming evidence, according to district documents and officials.

Allen did not return phone calls or e-mails Friday, nor did members of Crescendo's board of directors or other top administrators.

The case underscores a periodic dilemma: What kind of transgression is egregious enough to shut down a charter school? Last June, the co-founders of Ivy Academia in the west San Fernando Valley were indicted on charges of stealing $200,000. They have denied wrongdoing. In December, the founding principal of NEW Academy Canoga Park pleaded guilty to embezzling at least $1.3 million and was sentenced to five years in state prison. Both schools remain open because of their apparent academic success and popularity.

Charters, which are publicly funded, are independently run and exempt from many state regulations. But they must take part in high-stakes state standardized testing.

"I understand the pressure regarding test results," said Joan Herman, director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards & Student Testing at UCLA. "But to advise your entire enterprise to cheat, that would be a serious, serious ethical breach."

At Crescendo, according to L.A. Unified's account, Allen ordered principals to have teachers break the seal on the state tests and let students practice with the actual test questions.

The principals complied. One later told the district that she had no intention of carrying out this order, but some teachers at the school insisted that this principal had relayed the directive.

"Several principals later told us they had asked Allen if this is OK for us to do," said t.r. Porter, the district's coordinator for Crescendo and about a dozen other charters. "None of them said they put forth valiant resistance."

Several teachers blew the whistle, contacting the district while also expressing fear of retaliation.

Allen, a much-lauded veteran educator, had directed employees to deny any wrongdoing if confronted, according to a district investigation outlined in correspondence to Crescendo.

"We received the first call from a teacher on May 3 and by May 5 we were asking John Allen about it, and he was denying it," Porter said. "When we put this to the school's board of directors for its own investigation, Allen initially denied it to them also."

In correspondence obtained through a public records request from The Times, Crescendo never challenged the district's findings, but its governing board downplayed the cheating two weeks after its confirmation.

"While such a breach was not authorized or condoned, the fact that regulations exist to address such breaches suggest they do happen," then-board president Leah Bass-Baylis wrote to L.A. Unified.

Allen received a six-month unpaid suspension, then returned to work, demoted to director of facilities. His salary as executive director had been $161,333.

"It is our assessment that Mr. Allen through his actions, has committed a fatal error in judgment," the district wrote in a June 15 letter.

L.A. Unified threatened to revoke the schools' charters immediately but backed down when Crescendo made a series of promises. These included a staff reorganization; a revamped board of directors that added a parent; ethics training for the staff; and additional review of board governance, conflicts of interest and the public records and open meetings act.

The principals were suspended for 10 days.

The school district never disclosed the cheating, but Crescendo parents who attended the charter's board meetings or questioned administrators were informed, officials said.

District officials are uncomfortable with Allen's continued presence but are satisfied with the overall response.

Allen "expressed very, very deep regret and said the cheating was born out of a desire to be better, better, better, best," Porter said.

Two of the six Crescendo charter schools are up for a five-year renewal at Tuesday's meeting: Crescendo Charter Academy in Gardena and Crescendo Conservatory in Hawthorne.

The district's recommendation is based largely on high test scores before 2010. Some teachers told district staff that they'd also heard of cheating in 2009, but the district could not confirm those allegations.

The Gardena campus had gains of 31 and 62 points on the state Academic Performance Index in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, the year of confirmed cheating, its score went up another 55 points, a rate of improvement consistent with the two previous years. The invalidated state index score would have been 867. The state's target score for schools, on a scale of 200 to 1000, is 800.

The Hawthorne campus jumped an astonishing 224 points in 2008 to an API score of 907, rising from one of the state's lowest- to highest-scoring schools in one year. Only 17 students were tested each year, which could account for steep fluctuation. Most students were in kindergarten or first grade, levels that aren't tested. The next year 22 students took the exams and the score dropped 80 points but remained high. No score was calculated for 2010.

Crescendo schools enrolled a total of 1,294 students last year; 44% were in kindergarten or first grade.

The 2010 cheating was discovered in time to prevent additional cheating on the actual testing days, the district said.

Scores for Crescendo Prep South in Manchester Square were never calculated for 2010. And the 2010 scores at three other Crescendo schools, which were later tossed out, showed a decline, calling the successes of prior years into further question.

At Crescendo Preparatory West in Gardena, test scores in 2010 declined 63 points from the prior year. Crescendo Prep Central in Gramercy Park slipped 7 points.

And scores at Crescendo Charter in Vermont Square declined 52 points. This school recently won a state academic achievement award.

2cents smf: I’m going to suggest fraud here. This wasn’t cheating to make students look good, this was cheating to make these charter schools look good, attract more students, grow the franchise and make more money. It isn’t about education or test scores. It’s about money.

This is a sputnik moment for the Board of Education and Crescendo Charter Schools – a tipping point. The charter operator must either do the right thing, the moral thing, the ethical thing and sever all ties with Allen -- or the Board of Ed must refuse to renew this charter. To do otherwise is to cave into expedience and political pressure and set a bad example for similar future transgressions by this and other charter operators.

The allegation is of cheating - cheating by adults (for which there can be zero-tolereance) - and that the cheating was was the “orchestrated” policy of the charter operator at the direction of Crescendo founder John Allen – the superintendent-equivalent of of the six Crescendo schools. Now Allen’s been kicked downstairs to facilities manager. I remind everyone that facilities is where the where the capital funding – the big money – is!

This is the teachable moment – and kids and adults are watching. We should watch how the Board of Ed votes tomorrow. Watch how the ‘reformers’ lapse into the status quo.

My reading of the Times story is that the allegations have been proven.

  • That the California Charter School Association – of whom LAUSD Director of Charter Schools José Cole-Gutierrez is a former employee – has not demanded the total removal of of Allen is incomprehensible.
  • That the executive director of a chain of six charter schools with 1294 students (LAUSD has elementary schools that big!) makes $161,333 a year (half the salary of the LAUSD superintendent with 670,000 kids and 900 schools) is incomprehensible.

If the LAUSD board refuses to renew the charter Crescendo can appeal to the County Board of Education who may or may not grant them a charter. Crescendo can also appeal to the State Board of Ed – whose test was cheated upon.

In the meanwhile perhaps someone with subpoena power can determine if laws were broken and a crime was committed. Like fraud?

Steve Lopez: UNION JOB PAID FOR A EDUCATION THAT PAID OFF - “I've been thinking lately about the union job that paid for my college degree”.


“First, because attacking unions has become a national sport. And second, because I've been notified by San Jose State that the school wants to give me an honorary doctorate.”

by Steve Lopez, LA Times columnist |

February 27, 2011 -- I grew up in an apartment house owned by my grandfather in downtown Pittsburg, Calif. No, there's no "h" at the end of Pittsburg. We did it our way up there in Contra Costa County, an hour east of San Francisco.

Neither of my parents went to college, but we always did just fine because my dad had union jobs that paid a living wage. He drove trucks for milk and bread companies, and later worked as a candy and tobacco salesman.

When I was 7, my parents moved my brother and sister and me out of the apartment because they'd saved enough for a down payment on the house my mom and dad still live in. I always had part-time jobs growing up, but when I went to San Jose State, my parents paid my tuition and the bulk of my room and board.

For a couple of reasons, I've been thinking lately about the union job that paid for my college degree. First, because attacking unions has become a national sport. And second, because I've been notified by San Jose State that the school wants to give me an honorary doctorate degree.

Don't laugh, even though my wife, children, colleagues and acquaintances all did when they heard the news. Tempting as it was to be able to make dinner reservations as Dr. Lopez and to tell the motley crew of scribes who sit near me that I wanted to be referred to as Dr. Lopez from here on out, I wasn't sure I would accept the honor. I wasn't a particularly good student in my day, and I haven't done anything particularly deserving of the recognition.

If I were to look back though the several thousand columns I've written, I'd probably find one in which I made fun of the very idea of an honorary doctorate degree. I Googled "honorary doctorate" and here's what Wikipedia had to say:

"Some universities and colleges have been accused of granting honorary degrees in exchange for large donations."

I assure you, cross my heart, that I did not pay a bribe, and if I were in a position to make a large donation, it would probably be to my daughter's college fund.

Wikipedia went on to say that some recipients "have been criticized if they insist on being called 'doctor.'" Jeez, it's not like I'd try to perform surgery or anything.

When San Jose State President Don Kassing called to chat, I told him I feared that if I were to accept, honorary doctorates would be forever diminished for future recipients.

He told me to think about it.

When I left San Jose State in 1975, I worked for three small California newspapers that paid the going rate -- next to nothing. Then I got a job at the Oakland Tribune, a union paper, and my salary nearly doubled.

I've had union and nonunion jobs since then (this one is nonunion), and I've seen and written about both the great benefits and the many excesses of organized labor.

This week, I got an e-mail from a reader who recalled a column I wrote about the looming cost of unfunded mandates for teachers and other public employees. She asked if I was happy about being on the same team as the governor of Wisconsin, who wants to take away collective bargaining rights, and the billionaire Koch brothers, who have spent millions trying to destroy civil service unions.

Sure, I've hammered away at the UTLA leadership on occasion. But still, I was insulted.

"I think teachers are underpaid," I wrote back. But I added that California's average retirement ages of 54 for cops and firefighters and 59 for everyone else are outrageous and unsustainable, and so are the pension-spiking tricks that have led to 20,000 retirees collecting six-figure salaries.

I think we need to bring public employee unions and pensions into line with economic reality, as I've written many times. But we don't have to make them extinct. Shouldn't there be one last place to make a middle-class living with decent benefits and none of the risks posed by 401(k)s that are tied to shaky markets?

As my colleague George Skelton brilliantly pointed out last week (he's a San Jose State alum, naturally), inflation-adjusted incomes for the top 10% of Californians have gone up 43% in the last 20 years and 81% for the wealthiest 1%.

Income for the lower 60%, meanwhile, dropped by 12%.

Unions aren't responsible for that consolidation of wealth. If anything, the fact that the rich are getting richer is an argument to organize against the disparity. And to quit dismantling institutions like the state university system that has balanced the playing field for low-income and middle-class students by the millions over the decades.

Wikipedia also said that honorary doctorate recipients are expected to make a speech.

I think I'm going to accept.

And in my speech, I'm going to say that I grew up at a time when upward mobility was a realistic objective in California rather than a wild dream.

With no college education of their own, my parents were able, through hard work -- and fair pay for that work -- to take me to the doctor when I was sick, to enroll me in public schools that were adequately funded instead of at the bottom of the national rankings, and to send me to a proud state university system that has prepared great battalions of students for what was once a thriving economy.

They can boo if they want, cheer if they must.

Either way, no need to call me Dr. Lopez. Unless you feel a need to.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


Q: L.A. Times A: smf

The Los Angeles Times posed questions to the candidates in LAUSD Board District 5 – in an article called Candidate Q&As: Los Angeles Unified School District election: District 5 |  …but neglected to ask me.

I am an official write in candidate – so I guess I have to write in! 

Here are my answers to their questions. Please compare and contrast with my opponents’  -the Times article follows.

Scott Folsom: Parent/Parent Activist/Member of the Bond Oversight Committee/Blogger

TIMES: What are the three biggest problems facing the school system and what would you do about them?

    1. The budget crunch and the lack of political will in Sacramento to address it - and the specific impact on public education-- short term, medium term and long term.

    2. LAUSD's own lack of ability to do long-range-planning, driven partially by the budget crunch - but also by it's own lack of visionary leadership and intractable focus on responding to the crisis of the moment instead of driving a meaningful vision of the future. I have on my wall a poster from a Chinese University that asks the question: "What is the purpose of a twenty-first century education if not to prepare us for the twenty-second?" I doubt if the current LAUSD and/or LA city leadership understands the question; I know they don't understand the answer.

    3. A failure to understand that the bunker mentality of reacting to crisis isn't going to work - and a blind faith that somehow 'change' and 'reform' are one and the same. We are all LAUSD whether we are teachers or administrators or school staff or students or parents or community members. Together we must be the change we want to be.

What is your view of the role of charter schools and how they are functioning within L.A. Unified?

Los Angeles is ground zero in the charter movement. LAUSD has more charters than anywhere else in the country and has no mechanism or metric to measure how well they are-or-are-not doing. Charter schools, for the most part, are not what they started out to be: Parents ,teachers and the community running their neighborhood school and running it advantageously without outside interference for benefit of the the community. They are instead franchises of corporate entities - some non-profit, some not-so-much-so - run by outside Charter Management Organizations and accountable to boards of directors ....but spending public money with a private agenda.

What is your opinion on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's statement that United Teachers Los Angeles is standing in the way of reform?

Mayor Tony has been running "his" schools now for almost six years now - and pretty much (mis)running the school district with his board of education for the same length of time. For all his claims of 'reform' and whining of 'urgency' and 'failure' he has become the status quo he maligns- and it is a status quo of conflict with the union and blaming others for his own program's mediocre progress or lack thereof. I don't believe that he or UTLA are paragons of reform.

Mayor Tony and A.J. Duffy deserve each other - and the kids deserve better!

I'm holding out for a third way.

How do you feel about the linking of teacher evaluations to their students' standardized test scores?

As it is The Times posing this question let me state unequivocally: Whoever evaluates teachers- IT SHOULDN'T BE THE THE LOS ANGELES TIMES! The role of a free press in a free society is to report news, not create or make it - The Times Value Added Teacher Evaluations devalued the newspaper and the teachers and the discussion. And probably drove a good man to suicide.

Students' test scores and their work over time and peer review and administrator assessment all have a place in evaluating teachers' performance. There is a role for scholars and statisticians and parents and the students themselves. Newspaper reporters and mayors of major metropolitan cities need not apply.

pencil SMF2

Candidate Q&As

Los Angeles Unified School District election: District 5

The Times posed questions to the candidates for the Los Angeles Board of Education. The following are their responses in full.

by Los Angeles Times Staff Writer|

John Fernandez: Retired teacher

What are the three biggest problems facing the school system and what would you do about them?

Privatization as a threat to public education

I believe that the continual path towards privatization in the LAUSD in the form of charter schools and give-away schools, will lead to the destruction of public education. Charter schools deprive the majority of students in the LAUSD of an equitable and quality education. Charter schools are exclusionary in nature, and benefit a few at the expense of the majority. As a result, the continual privatization of our schools will create hundreds of schools with different agreements and large discrepancies in the quality of education at each school. It will be very difficult to implement any effective oversight because it will expand an already bloated bureaucracy.

The problem of increasing student achievement

I support early intervention and remediation for students that start to fall behind. Students who fall behind must have a complete academic assessment done and an educational plan with yearly goals. Parents should be notified as early as possible when their child is falling behind, and should attend meetings at their child's school with their child's teachers, counselors and administrators. Summer school and tutoring must be mandatory for students who continue to fail classes or start to fall behind. All LAUSD instruction should be data driven and personalized. Scores on various standardized tests, grades, attendance, and number of credits must be used to aid teachers in meeting their teaching goals. Team teaching and interdisciplinary teaching should be expanded. Parent involvement must be made mandatory, especially for students that fall behind.

The need for school safety at all LAUSD schools

Another major component of my platform is that I will advocate for safe, clean, and secure campuses with adequate LAUSD school police at each campus. Before learning can take place, schools must be safe, clean and secure. I will call for the strict enforcement of California ED. Code provisions regarding school safety. Specifically, all LAUSD schools must have a comprehensive school safety plan; teachers must be notified that they have dangerous pupils in their classes pursuant to Section 49079 of the California ED. Code; students should not be subjected to harassment, discrimination, and bullying at their schools pursuant to Section 35294.21 of the California Ed.Code. Lastly, random metal detection of students for weapons should be used on a regular basis pursuant to California Ed. Code 35160.

What is your view of the role of charter schools and how they are functioning within LA Unified?

Charter schools are not the only alternative to traditional schools. Magnet schools outperform charter schools. They should be expanded. New alternatives to charter schools are Extended School Based Management Schools, Pilot Schools, The Family of Schools, and Partnership Schools. According to a recent Stanford University study, only 17% of charter schools outperform traditional schools. If elected, I will push for the creation of an independent oversight committee to provide stronger oversight and accountability to charter and choice schools. And I will move for a tough LAUSD renewal Charter School Policy. That means that charter schools must adhere to existing state and federal mandates, including the Chandra Smith consent decree, which protects the rights of special education students. Further, charter schools also must adhere to state and federal mandates, which protect the rights of English Learners. Thus, unsuccessful and noncompliant charter and choice schools must not be allowed to continue, as they drain money from the District's general fund. Reform efforts must be focused on all schools, especially the lowest performing schools.

What is your opinion on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's statement that United Teachers Los Angeles is standing in the way of reform?

What is needed from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is more collaboration and less confrontation. I was shocked to say the least by the Mayor's statement because under his Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Mayor Villaraigosa has entered into a collaborative effort with UTLA and LAUSD in an effort to reform 15 schools under his control. Clearly, reform efforts at low performing schools take years. But in order to succeed, all stake holders must be involved in the process. Furthermore, school board members, administrators, and all LAUSD unions must work cooperatively for the benefit of our kids. Division only complicates reform efforts and hurts our kids. It is imperative that Mayor Villaraigosa and UTLA work in a relationship that is based on good faith, mutual trust and cooperation. If elected, I will facilitate that process.

How do you feel about the linking of teacher evaluations to their students' standardized test scores?

There is consensus that a new teacher evaluation system is needed. Proposals are being made to link student's standardized test scores to teacher evaluations. Using standardized test scores of students in teacher evaluations is very problematic and unreliable. For instance, many students know that their grade in the class will not be affected by their score on a standardized test. As a result, many students are not motivated to take the test seriously. Secondly, standardized test for students are not designed to evaluate teachers. Thirdly, standardized tests have been proven to be culturally biased and are not a fair measurement of intelligence. Any teacher evaluation system should be predicated on multiple areas of assessment, not on standardized test scores. The California Standards for the Teaching Profession has thirty-one areas that teachers must be competent in. UTLA and the LAUSD should negotiate a new evaluation system that gives assistance and support to teachers and weeds out incompetent teachers.

Bennett Kayser: Retired teacher

What are the three biggest problems facing the school system and what would you do about them?

a) High drop out rate. Too many kids are not finishing their K-12 education. In part, it's because of the economy. Kids are staying home to work or to babysit so other older family members can work. Safety is also a big issue. Although school is generally -- but not always -- a safe place, many kids are afraid to make the trip between the campus and their home. Other kids leave school because they are unable to keep up with the curriculum and frustration drives them away.

If we truly believe that no child should be left behind, we must change the culture of the campuses. LAUSD should provide free or very affordable daycare for siblings of the District's students. The cost can be offset by improved Daily Attendance dollars and federal and state programs such as Head Start.

More programs such as the City of Angels Independent Studies school should be implemented. This "home school" like program allows K-12 students to work at home with daily access to their teacher. The program doesn't require the creation of campuses by operating out of satellite classrooms in rented office space.

b) Crowded classrooms. Even though LAUSD's total enrollment is declining, the number of students in many classrooms exceeds the number of desks. Kids sometimes sit on counter tops or share desks with their classmates. They do this even if the classroom next door sits empty. The "Norm" system which locks the number of teachers at a school even when the number of students goes up is much to blame. A school's staffing requirements -- not only for teachers, but for administrators, counselors and classified workers as well -- should reflect the needs of the campus throughout the year, not just the attendance on an arbitrary date.

c) Under-funded classrooms. As an LAUSD middle school Science and Health Teacher, I was given a budget of $1.95 per student to teach them for a year. And it's not just my classroom. Too much of LAUSD's budget is directed away from the classrooms, and not enough is allocated to meet the students' educational needs. With a shortage of hundreds of millions of dollars in the budget, the District has no business building new campuses when there are nearby schools with empty classrooms. It hurts to see a new school built at a cost of tens of millions of dollars, plus the eminent domain eviction of 50 families from their homes when there are under-enrolled campuses nearby. Even with non-transferable bond money for construction, additional costs such as staffing, infrastructure, etc. would significantly help to balance LAUSD's budget.

As it now stands, many of my colleagues and I have supported our classrooms out-of-pocket. I typically spent $3,000 ± each year for items such as a skeleton model, dinosaur fossils, plants, books & magazines, videos, field trips, enrichment activities, etc. These paraphernalia made my Science and Health classes more meaningful to my students, so they were worth my non-reimbursable expenses.

What is your view of the role of charter schools and how they are functioning within L.A. Unified?

I have yet to hear of a definitive analysis that finds charter schools to be better or worse than regular public schools. I have heard that they are under-serving students with special needs when compared to their traditional counterparts.

If it turns out that charter schools do provide an overall better education than their traditional partners, then their methodologies ought to be considered for both programs. I think that it is a mistake to essentially pre-approve 50 new charter schools while the jury is still out on their effectiveness.

What is your opinion on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's statement that United Teachers Los Angeles is standing in the way of reform?

It doesn't help the kids to get a better education when the grown-ups around them argue. I think both the Mayor and UTLA want LAUSD to do a better job of preparing its students for a successful adulthood. They need to go to a quiet place away from reporters and audiences to find the common ground.

When I represented the 13th City Council District on The Elected Los Angeles Charter Reform Commission, and chaired the Education Committee, there was a proposal to have LA's Mayor run LAUSD and appoint the School Board members as if they were another City commission. There was little support for the idea, and a lot of opposition. That is why the City Charter now keeps the Mayor from running LAUSD.

How do you feel about the linking of teacher evaluations to their students' standardized test scores?

This seems like such an easy question, but it has a complex answer. First of all, there can be no single metric for a teacher's evaluation. There are many issues that should be considered as a group. For example, should a Physical Education teacher be judged by how fast his/her students can run a mile? Or should a teacher with students who have disabilities that make it difficult to sit still and complete a 60-minute test be judged on that child's score? Or what if the Academic Year is shortened by 30+ days due to testing schedules and furloughs? Or is there a different rubric for every situation.

The LA Times' "value added" exercise on teacher effectiveness shows potential to improve the validity of test scores as one performance indicator. More study of the Times' conclusions should be done after validating the database which I found to have several errors or inconsistencies.

Luis Sanchez: Chief of staff to school board president, Monica Garcia.

What are the three biggest problems facing the school system and what would you do about them?

1. We need to drastically reduce the dropout rate. As a non-profit director, I helped create after-school programs that keep youth off the streets and away from gangs and secured funding to hire counselors in local schools. We need to meet the different needs of our student population. "One-size-fits-all" does not get us there. We need to reach out to students on the verge of dropping out and help them graduate.

2. We must work on getting the district's finances in order by calling for an independent audit to cut wasteful spending.

3. We must prepare kids for college or a job upon graduation. We must develop academic partnerships with small businesses and local colleges to create internship, mentorship, and after-school programs to prepare students for careers and increase job training in our high schools.

What is your view of the role of charter schools and how they are functioning within L.A. Unified?

Charter schools are a viable option and part of the solution of serving all students in LAUSD. Charter schools can help to provide more local, neighborhood control by empowering parents and teachers to meet the needs of local kids in a very personalized way. We need to increase access to quality schools in every neighborhood and for every child. We must not accept failure, be it a charter or traditional school. High quality public schools in whatever form: magnets, pilots, small schools or charters must be scaled up to serve every community.

What is your opinion on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's statement that United Teachers Los Angeles is standing in the way of reform?

The Los Angeles Unified School District has a lot of problems and no single entity is to blame. In order for our schools to succeed, teachers need to be a part of the solution. Unfortunately, the leadership of UTLA has not been receptive to the needed reforms that will benefit students and give teachers more tools to be successful in the classroom. We need to bring all stakeholders together, united in the common goal of fixing our schools. I have brought together unions from throughout Los Angeles, including those unions who represent employees who work in our schools such as school police officers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, as well as business leaders and school reformers in a coalition to bring meaningful changes to LAUSD.

How do you feel about the linking of teacher evaluations to their students' standardized test scores?

Our current evaluation system is broken and we must develop an evaluation system that holds teachers accountable to clear metrics and responsibilities and supports their growth and professional development. LAUSD must ensure that an effective teacher leads every classroom, and that an outstanding leader, who is surrounded by a team of excellent support personnel, leads every school. Student test scores are one of the many indicators that are a part of a robust evaluation system that includes classroom observation, peer review and student work. As a parent, I want both a teacher that keeps my child engaged and excited about learning and ensures that he is reading at grade level and on track to pass the high school exit exam.


from channel 35/LA CITY VIEW

ballot in envelope clipart1

THE WRITE IN BALLOT IS INSIDE THE FLAP OF THE GRAY BALLOT ENVELOPE. To Vote for a person NOT on the ballot, write in the title of the office in the space marked "OFFICE" and the candidates name in the space marked "CANDIDATE" on the lines provided. To vote for Scott Folsom write MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OFFICE #5 after "OFFICE" and SCOTT FOLSOM after "CANDIDATE".

LA ESCRITURA EN LA BOLETA ESTÁ DENTRO DE LA SOLAPA DEL SOBRE DE LA BOLETA GRIS. COMO VOTAR POR LAS PERSONAS CUYOS NOMBRES NO FIGURAN EN LA PAPELETA DE VOTACION. Para votar por alguna persona cuyo nombre NO figura en la papeleta de votación indique el titulo del cargo en el espacio en blanco marcado "OFFICE" [LAUSD BOARD OF EDUCATION 5th DISTRICT] y el nombre del candidato en el espacio marcado"CANDIDATE" [SCOTT FOLSOM] en las líneas provistas al efecto.

  • We cannot continue to do it by the numbers.

  • It's not about the numbers -- whether budget or test scores -- It must be about The Kids.


Thank you + everonward! - smf



UPDATE: Computers for Youth Seeks Partner Schools for 2011-2012 School Year

info from computers for youth/la |

Computers for Youth (CFY), the nation's foremost leader in improving the Home Learning Environment of low-income school-children, will be expanding to serve more middle schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Online applications from prospective LAUSD partner schools will be accepted until February 18, 2011.

SCHOOL APPLICATION DEADLINE HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO FRIDAY, MARCH 4! Interested schools are strongly encouraged to apply right away.

We invite you to RSVP for and attend one of our information webinars. Please click one of the links below to register; immediately after registering, you will receive the webinar connection instructions via email.


Wed, Mar 2, 2011 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM PST

Fri, Mar 4, 2011 9:00 AM - 10:00 AM PST

For additional information, please contact us at

LA Daily News Wire Services |

02/26/2011 12:10:24 PM PST - About 2,500 sixth-grade students at four under- performing middle schools in Los Angeles will receive free computers loaded with educational software, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Saturday.

The schools are part of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a collaboration between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the city to improve the lowest performing schools.

The so-called Home Learning Centers will be provided by the national nonprofit Computers for Youth. The computers and software are worth about $1.5 million, according to the mayor's office.

Over three school years, all sixth grade families will participate in workshops where they will learn how to use the educational software on the Home Learning Center, which is theirs to take home at no cost.

Families will also have access to 24/7 bilingual help, desk support and free subscriptions to online educational software via an educational portal,

The program is funded by a U.S. Department of Commerce grant through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. The goal is to improve student outcomes by leveraging technology to extend classroom learning to the home.

"With this extraordinary gift of hardware, software, and training, Computers for Youth is ensuring that the learning doesn't end when the final school bell rings," Mayor Villaraigosa said.

"By focusing on middle schoolers, an age range where students are most susceptible to falling behind drastically, Computers for Youth is changing the lives of some of our city's neediest students at a critical point in their education," he said. "This program has a demonstrated track record of success in accelerating student achievement and parent engagement."

Michelle Hahn, executive director of Computers for Youth Los Angeles, said the group was thrilled to be partnering with the schools.

"Mayor Villaraigosa's vision for the neediest schools is exactly what Computers for Youth is all about -- helping low-income students succeed in school by providing students, parents, and educators with innovative opportunities to extend learning beyond the school day," she said.


2cents smf: LAUSD Has about 45,000 6th graders. If 78% of them are Title One students then 35,100 qualify as socio-economically deserving – i.e. “needy”.   2500 kids in the so-called "mayor's schools" will get the benefit of this program. Last time I looked Mayor Tony was the mayor of ALL of LA – why is he promoting himself and not this program?

How is this different from separate+unequal?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Billions to Spend: WASTE THROWS WRENCH INTO LOS ANGELES COMMUNITY COLLEGES’ MASSIVE PROJECT - Poor planning, frivolous spending and shoddy work dog the sprawling system's bond-financed construction program + smf’s 2¢

By Michael Finnegan and Gale Holland, Los Angeles Times | [UPDATED 27Feb11]


Larry Eisenberg, head of the construction program, right, at a meeting. In an April 2009 e-mail, he told his construction chief that quality control was "horrible," adding: "We are opening buildings that do not work at the most fundamental level." (Christina House / For The Times / May 24, 2010)

February 26, 2011, 8:11 a.m. - The effects of decades of neglect were all too visible at the nine far-flung campuses. Roofs leaked. Furniture was decrepit. Seismic protections were outdated.

In 2001, leaders of the Los Angeles Community College District decided to take action. With support from construction companies and labor unions, they persuaded voters to pass a series of bond measures over the next seven years that raised $5.7 billion to rebuild every campus.

The money would ease classroom crowding. It would make college buildings safer. New technology would enhance learning. And financial oversight would be stringent.

That is what was promised to Los Angeles voters.

The reality? Tens of millions of dollars have gone to waste because of poor planning, frivolous spending and shoddy workmanship, a Times investigation found.

Bond money has paid for valuable improvements: new science buildings, libraries, stadiums and computer centers. But costly blunders by college officials, contractors and the district's elected Board of Trustees have denied the system's 142,000 students the full potential of one of California's largest public works programs.

This picture emerges from scores of interviews and a review of thousands of pages of district financial records, internal e-mails and other documents.


2cents smf: THIS IS PART ONE AN EXTENDED WEEK LONG SERIES OF REPORTS ON THE LACCD BUILDING PROGRAM. This article to too long to place in 4LAKids/4LAKidsNews in it’s entirety – but it is critically important. As I am a lead plaintiff in a pending lawsuit alleging wrongdoing in the LACCD building program and in the governance of the Community College District I am not going to opine any further. I strongly suggest 4LAKids readers read on on and become familiar with this story.


A pattern of chaotic management, costly blunders and hiring of relatives emerges from interviews and thousands of pages of internal e-mails.


Crooked cabinet doors, faulty plumbing and a lack of temperature controls mar Valley College's health and science complex. Newly opened, it needed extensive repairs.


Some contractors have been paid generously to serve as "body shops" for staffers supervised by others. The resulting markups have doubled, even tripled, taxpayers' costs.


City College, with a legacy of excellence in sports, spent millions to replace aging athletic venues. Yet students are still waiting for a new physical education center, track and field.

Coming Saturday - Part 5: A FAMILY FIRM GETS ITS SHARE

A Mission College vice president helped oversee the construction program. Among the subcontractors on her campus was a company she owned with her husband.


The college system would generate all its own electricity through solar panels and other green technology. It was an alluring vision, but gravely flawed.

ANOTHER CAMPAIGN FLYER GUFFUFFLE: Why worry about the spelling if the name doesn’t matter?

Thanks to the Street-Hassle blog |

smf: Running a write in campaign has kept me focused on getting my name spelled right! Apparently the candidate at doesn’t care!

If one of the Mayor's pet school board candidates, Luis Sanchez, beneficiary of the Mayor's billionaire boys club's machinations with the LAUSD, were even remotely actively involved in his own campaign, you'd expect him at minimum to spot that Team Antonio called him "Luis Marquez" in his first flyer's caption insert before they sent it out to the District.

Posted by mulholland terrace at 8:21 AM





ballot in envelope clipart

Scott Folsom is an official write-in candidate for LAUSD Board of Education in School Board District 5. If you live in Board District 5 please write in LAUSD BD OF ED #5 in the OFFICE box on your write in ballot  (inside the flap of the gray ballot envelope)  and SCOTT FOLSOM in the CANDIDATE box.

REMEMBER: Spelling and neatness counts. And so do the 670,000 children of LAUSD!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Special Interest Campaign Mailers in Board District #5: TWO (or 670,000) REASONS TO WRITE IN SCOTT FOLSOM FOR SCHOOL BOARD

editorial comment + shameless campaign rhetoric by smf

I received a couple of campaign mailers in my mailbox today, both adequate reasons – in my humble if self-serving opinion - to write me in!


scan mayor tony mailer

There’s an endorsement I wouldn’t want!

This little gem comes from The Coalition for School Reform to Support Galatzan, Sanchez and Vladovic for Board of Education 2011 – Not authorized by a candidate of a committee controlled by a candidate. Major funding by Jerry Perenchio and Eli Broad.

scan UTLA mailer

A pure attack  ad – this flyer does not advocate voting for anyone!

Paid for by United Teachers Los Angeles, Political Action Council of Educators (PACE) Not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate .

Sanchez is the Chief of staff to Board President Monica Garcia, a role the mailer describes as “Chief Bureaucrat for LAUSD’s Board of Education”. The $500,ooo figure includes by reference “hundreds of thousands of dollars” Sanchez makes as he takes “lavish trips and eat(s) at the finest restaurants across the country – all at taxpayer expense.” UTLA claims these allegations are justified by Sanchez’ travel expense reports, obtained by a public records request.

While the UTLA/PACE mailer claims harm to laid off teachers, closed school libraries and bathrooms in disrepair – smf and 4LAKids claims that greater harm caused by policies favored and promoted  by Sanchez, Villaraigosa, Broad, Perenchio, Garcia and Co. is to the 670,ooo students of the District.  These so called Reformers have been in place running LAUSD by pulling strings from City hall and corporate boardrooms for six years – it is they that represent the failed business-as-unusual/status quo!

Luis Sanchez has identified no issue where he disagrees with Garcia or Mayor Tony  – he will be a rubber stamp, validating the status quo.

Neither the so-called Reformers nor UTLA should be pulling the strings or calling the shots in LAUSD. LAUSD should not be run by union leadership or the downtown developers of LA Live, the new football stadium or The Grand Avenue Plan. There are 670,ooo Special Interests that need to be represented on the LAUSD Board of Ed by an independent voice, beholden only to parents, educators and the community.

The litmus test is first, last and always: What’s best for kids?
If you vote that way I’ll vote that way.
That’s the campaign pledge.
Here’s the mailer you won’t get in the mailbox - unless you print it out and put it there!

Here’s the lawn sign you won’t see – unless you make it yourself!

 Onward O write in smf


ballot in envelope clipart1

Scott Folsom is an official write-in candidate for LAUSD Board of Education in School Board District 5. If you live in Board District 5 please write in LAUSD BD OF ED #5 in the OFFICE box on your write in ballot  (inside the flap of the gray ballot envelope)  and SCOTT FOLSOM in the CANDIDATE box.

REMEMBER: Spelling and neatness counts. And so do the 670,000 children of LAUSD!


By Deontha Wortham | Carson High School Trailblazer – from My High Journalism/ |

Poses before SuperQuiz – photo: Justine Pascual

Friday, February 25, 2011 - The scene in Hollywood High’s auditorium was one of delight and bliss as Carson High School’s Academic Decathlon team, led by their coach ASA Science Teacher Debbie Morris, won six medals, three conference awards, Most Improved Team in Los Angeles Unified School District’s Conference #2, and placed 32nd out of 64 high schools.

     All of these awards came after the team went to a two-part competition that spanned two separate Saturdays, January 29th and February 5th, and consisted of ten topics that included Speech, Interview, Essay, Art, and Super Quiz.

     The first part of the competition, which occurred on January 29 at Roybal Learning Center, was strictly about Speeches, Interviews, and Essays.

     In this round Carson’s team presented their speeches that ranged in topics from law, education, softball, and even one team member’s love of food.

    Following their speeches, each Decathlete was interviewed by a panel of three judges. Those two events, along with an essay, preceded both the former events, concluded the first day.

     Recalling that first day, Varsity team member Alexandria McEwen (senior) expressed her thoughts, “It was nerve racking but I went in there with an open mind, and it ended up not being as bad as I thought it would be. After seeing how supportive my team was following the competition, I knew that we had it in the bag.”

    On the following Saturday, February 5, Carson High’s Decathletes were once again at Roybal, eager to make our school proud. It was on this day that the Decathletes completed tests in the various subjects that were focused around AcaDeca’s central topic, “The Great Depression.” Following the seven tests that day, the decathletes then participated in the day’s main event, the Super Quiz Competition, where each division of the team (Honors(A), Scholastic(B), and Varsity(C)) answered ten questions about geology in front of a crowd of approximately five hundred people.

  Scholastic team Member Alyssa Bolden (senior) commented on the Super Quiz competition, “Surprisingly, it was really exciting. It ranked up there with the likes of a basketball or football game.”

   After their gallant effort in both rounds of the competition the team then had to wait until the following Friday to learn if their long and tedious work had paid off.

     To say the least, it did. Four of our eight decathletes went home on February 11 and earned recognition from the award ceremony. Team Captain Genesis M. Garcia, who competed in the Honors division and was a part of AcaDeca for a second continuous year, walked away with two medals, a Gold in Speech and Silver in Interview. Another Honors Decathlete Justine Pascual walked home with a Conference Award in Essay, earning the second best score in Conference #2 for that category. Scholastic decathlete Deonta D. Wortham won two Gold medals with perfect scores of 1000 in both Speech and Interview along with conference awards in Social Science and Economics. And lastly, Varsity decathlete Alexandria McEwen won two medals a Gold Medal in Interview with a perfect score of 1000, along with a Bronze Medal in Speech.

     Team Captain Genesis M. Garcia (Senior) recalled the experience saying, “When my team members and I received recognition, the entire team would literally erupt in joy.”

     In all, Carson’s AcaDeca team went home with an amazing six medals and the title of Most Improved in LAUSD’s  Conference #2.

     It was an exciting experience to end a long, strenuous year. With this exciting end to a triumphant year Coach Debbie Morris commented, “The team worked very hard and I am very proud of them. Next year we will have to move up in the standings. It is time that Carson High is known again for academic accomplishments as well as athletics.”

     So if you see any of our decathletes (Krystal Arenas, Alyssa Bolden, Elisa Garcia, Genesis M. Garcia, Alexandria McEwen, Kimberly Ngouv, Justine Pascual, or Deonta D. Wortham) around campus, stop them and tell them a “good job” because we all know that they surely deserve it. Who knows, maybe next year you could be a part of this prized bunch.

2cents smf: This article from the Carson HS student newspaper brings the excitement and sheer joy of the Academic Decathlon competition to the reader …that is good journalism!   Carson didn’t win the city, state or national championship - but they competed and they excelled and they rock!

I do not doubt for a second that they well move up in the standings next year – that Carson can again be known for academics + athletics. Rock on!


Written by Information Provided to San Fernando Valley Sun |

Thursday, 24 February 2011 05:33  - LOS ANGELES— Parents and guardians who want their children to attend schools located outside of the boundaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) may submit their application requests beginning March 1.

LAUSD will accept application requests for purposes related to Parent Employment, attendance at Specialized Programs and Continuing Enrollment for Senior High Students.

Parent Employment Permits are allowed for students whose parent or guardian is physically employed within the boundaries of the requested school district.

Specialized Program Permits may be granted to allow students to access a special program that is not available in the LAUSD. The program must incorporate this topic - such as Dual Language Immersion, Waldorf Method - into all areas of the core curriculum.

Individual classes or clubs do not meet these criteria such as a robotics, choir, or a Spanish class.

Continuing Enrollment for High School Students Permits may be granted for students in grades 10-12 if the student attended the same school the previous year.

Effective Jan. 1, 2011 a new law, Assembly Bill (AB) 2444, went into effect that simplifies the permit process for students currently holding an approved (2010-2011) permit for a specific school. The law permits a student to continue attendance in the same school without the need to re-apply annually to the district of residence or attendance. When the student matriculates, or there is a change of school placement, a new permit approval will be required. The district of residence can determine if an updated permit is required for your student. Families currently holding permits will be required to submit a renewal application for the 2011-12 school year. Once approved, families will not be required to reapply so long as they continue to meet the conditions under which the original permit was issued.

Parents and guardians may still submit applications for exceptions for requests that fall outside of the three conditions described above. Those applications will be reviewed individually and evaluated on their own merit. Applications for interdistrict (district to district) permits are available online only.

No paper applications will be accepted. The application period will begin on March 1 and end on April 30.

LAUSD News Release

For Immediate Release February 24, 2011
CORRECTION - PLEASE NOTE: Parents and guardians do not need to reapply for children who already have permits, and will continue to attend the school in which they are currently enrolled.


LOS ANGELES—Parents and guardians who want their children to attend schools located outside of the boundaries of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) may submit their application requests beginning March 1. The application period will end April 30.

LAUSD will accept new application requests for purposes related to Parent Employment, attendance at Specialized Programs and Continuing Enrollment for Senior High Students.

Parent Employment Permits are allowed for students whose parent or guardian is physically employed within the boundaries of the requested school district.

Specialized Program Permits may be granted to allow students to access a special program that is not available in the LAUSD. The program must incorporate this topic—such as Dual Language Immersion, Waldorf Method, -- into all areas of the core curriculum. Individual classes or clubs do not meet these criteria such as a robotics, choir, or a Spanish class.

Continuing Enrollment for High School Students Permits may be granted for students in grades 10-12 if the student attended the same school the previous year. This rule will apply to new permits.

Effective January 1, 2011, a new law, Assembly Bill (AB) 2444, went into effect which simplifies the permit process for students currently holding an approved (2010-2011) permit for a specific school. The law permits a student to continue attendance in the same school without the need to re-apply annually to the district of residence or attendance. When the student matriculates, or there is a change of school placement; a new permit approval will be required. The district of residence can determine if an updated permit is required for your student. Families currently holding permits will not be required to submit a renewal application for the 2011-12 school year as long as the student continues to attend the same school.

With regard to new permits, parents and guardians may still submit applications for exceptions for requests that fall outside of the three conditions described above. Those applications will be reviewed individually and evaluated on their own merit.

Applications for inter-district (district to district) permits are available online only. No paper applications will be accepted. The application period will begin on March 1 and end on April 30.

For more information, go to:


Los Angeles Unified School District


333 S. Beaudry Ave., 24th floor

Los Angeles, CA 90017

Phone: (213) 241-6766

FAX: (213) 241-8952

Boardmemeber Galatzan: YOU’RE FRUSTRATED? ME, TOO + smf’s response

from the Galatzan Gazette, the weekly e-newsletter of Schoolboardmember Tamar Galatzan -

Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 5:50PM

I know you are tired and frustrated. You may be an exhausted teacher, waiting for the big-picture philosophical direction, or perhaps even the simple day-to-day guidance from your higher-ups, while fearing the possible arrival of a RIF notice. You may be a principal who leads a life of constantly having too much on your plate, writing emails at 2am, wishing you had a lunch hour, and wondering what's the next direction from the District.  Or you may be the parent who has done the bake sales, the local restaurant fundraiser nights, the PTA/Booster Club/Parent Center thing, and you're beginning to wonder if it's time to leave LAUSD.  I know how you feel, because I, too, am frustrated.

While I am proud of the reform efforts underway in the District, of the extra money provided to non-Title I schools, of the rising test scores and graduation rates, I often leave meetings emotionally drained (and not just because it's flu season). We all want to help our students, but let's agree to use our frustration towards some common goals.

As your Board Member, I cannot increase the State's funding for our schools; I cannot single-handedly impose cost-saving measures with our unions or change the language in the bond measures to free up money.

But, as your Board Member, I can work with our representatives in Sacramento and make a strong case for giving schools greater flexibilities when it comes to funding. I can, and have, worked to expand the Per Pupil Funding Model, which simply allocates funding for each school based on the number of students who attend. I can continue to work to get extra funds for non-Title I schools to operate. And I will keep fighting for the Valley's fair share of bond money.

Do you have more suggestions about what I can do as your School Board Member?  Save the date--Saturday, March 12 from 9-11am for my next Valley Schools Task Force. Don't forget to bring new ideas with you.

- Tamar

2cents smf responds: you write:

"As your Board Member, I cannot increase the State's funding for our schools; I cannot single-handedly impose cost-saving measures with our unions or change the language in the bond measures to free up money."

Democracy being democracy, the single handed part is out of your hands.

And it isn't the bond language that stops bond funds from being used to fill the General Fund shortfall - but the California Constitution and Government Standard Accounting Practices -. which creates a firewall between operating ad capital funding.

There is, however, a strategy that can work and is all quite legal.

It would require going back to the voters in a two step process.

STEP ONE: Measure Q would go back to the voters for reduction from $6 billion to another number - my suggestion would be half: SHALL THE AMOUNT OF THE BONDED INDEBTEDNESS CREATED BY MEASURE Q (2008) BE REDUCED TO $3 BILLION? - This would free up the ability of LAUSD to borrow additional money, by reducing the cap caused by the drop in LA County property tax base and the $6 billion burden imposed by Measure Q. I believe it it would take a 55% vote to make this change.

STEP TWO: There would appear on the same ballot an ad-valarem property tax to generate operations revenue to support the District's General Fund be implemented only if Part 1 passes. This would require a two-thirds vote. - but could be sold to the voter taxpayers as a re-purposing of property tax revenues rather than an increase.

The danger - if it is one - would be that Part One could pass and Part Two fail. Perhaps a clever attorney could write language that inextricably ties the implementation of the two parts together - I'm not sure.

THE CAVEAT IS POLITICAL. Raises beyond COLA in anyone's salary should be off the table. Adequate funding for M&O and Safety needs to be guaranteed. - not guaranteeing jobs but guaranteeing adequate maintenance and cleanliness of facilities and the safety of children. There needs to be a separate Independent Oversight Committee for the new operations funding. Support - if any - of charter schools needs to be clear and defined - if they wish to participate they need to be accountable. Benchmarks and accountability and a plan for everyone must be in place.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

MANY HIGH, LOW ACHIEVING CHARTERS: Charter School Association releases two-year research

By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

2/24/2011 - California has an abundance of charter schools at polar opposites ­ – those exceeding and those underperforming expectations, according to an extensive performance analysis by the California Charter Schools Association. The most successful charters predominately serve low-income, minority children, and this segment of charter schools is growing, while a sizable number of the lowest achieving charters appear to be smaller, independent study, non-classroom based schools.

With the report, A Portrait of the Movement, the Association fulfills a commitment to  “hold up a mirror” and “embolden schools to look unblinkingly at their record of performance.” A number of previous studies of charter schools have found that on average they don’t outperform district schools. The Association’s two-year research revealed a more complex, “U shaped” picture, with more charters outperforming and underperforming district schools with similar student demographics.

“By lumping all charter schools together, so much of the research did not show the fundamental truths in the movement,” said Association President Jed Wallace. “With far fewer traditional schools exceeding expectations, the question is why can’t we create conditions to bring high-performing charters to scale to make as big an impact as possible?”

Consistent with its position that bad charters should be shut down, the Association created an accountability framework that singled out 30 schools out of 83 in the bottom 5 percent that it says should be reviewed for closure. The Association will not support these schools when their charters come up for renewal, and it plans to introduce legislation that would replace a weak accountability law that the Association says districts often ignore. Using a different rubric, it identified 77 schools, out of 115 in the top 5 percent of high-performing schools, that it said should be rewarded with a longer charter and automatic renewal. They include eight KIPP middle and high schools and 10 Aspire Public Schools in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Centrally organized, charter management organizations like Aspire comprise 20 percent of California’s charter schools but fully half of the highest performing schools – evidence that philanthropic dollars behind them are bearing results.

Along with the report, the Association has created a web site that includes a map that locates every district and charter school, along with their ratings and API scores, that parents should find useful. An alphabetical list can be found here.

Measuring each school’s impact

The Association evaluated schools using a tool, called a Similar Schools Measure, that predicts every school’s score on the state Academic Performance Index (API) for three consecutive years, based on student demographics. It factors in not only income and race but also the percentage of English learners and special education students; this is important since charter schools have been criticized for educating proportionally fewer of these students. The Association excluded alternative schools that primarily serve dropouts and at-risk students with high mobility, for which API scores are misleading.

In ranking every school by its Percent Predicted API – an estimate of the value that each school adds – the Association found that low-income students in particular are benefiting from charters. Among the results:

  • 16 percent of charters (115 of 720 schools) were in the top 5 percent of total public schools based on their predicted API, compared with only 3.9 percent of district schools (293 of  7,454); 22 percent (157 charters) were in the top 10 percent compared with 8.9 percent  of district schools;
  • At the other end, 11.5 percent  of charters (83 of 720) were in the bottom 5 percent, compared with only 4.4 percent of district schools (325 of 7,454); 19.2 percent (138 charters) were in the bottom 10 percent, compared with 9.1 percent (679 schools) of district schools;
  • Because the lowest-performing schools tended to be smaller, 15.5 percent of charter school students attended the top 5 percent of charter schools, compared with only 6.5 percent of students in the bottom 5 percent of charter schools;
  • Low-income students were more likely to attend highly performing charter schools. Of low-income students attending charter schools, 36.8 percent attended the top 5 percent of charters; that’s more than twice the percentage (16.3 percent) of low-income students attending the lowest performing 5 percent of charter schools.

The Association combined  the Similar Schools Measure of predicted API scores with two other factors – a school’s actual API score, on a scale of 200 to 1,000, and the growth in API over three years – to create an accountability framework for identifying the lowest and highest performers. Schools that score less than 700 on the API, show growth of fewer than 30 points over three years, and underperform on the Similar Schools Measure would be scrutinized for possible closure when their charter comes up for renewal. They would have to show achievement using other data. Thirty schools fell under these criteria – about 4 percent of charter schools. They include 11 schools that are non-classroom charters, probably independent study based charters. (The Academy for Recording Arts, a high school in Hawthorne, and the California Virtual Academy at Kern are among these.)

At the opposite end are the 77 high achievers: those with 800 or higher API, a student body that is at least 50 percent proficient on standardized math and English language arts tests, and those that outperform on the Similar Schools Measure. The Association would encourage their replication, with access to capital needed for expansion, and advocate that their charter renewals be expedited.***

Limitations and praise

The Association’s accountability measures improve on the current weak law that many districts ignore, but the Association acknowledges its limitations. API is a flawed measure for high-stakes accountability, because it does not measure individual students’ academic growth. It compares one year’s students  scores with the next year’s. Until CALPADS, the state’s troubled longitudinal data system, is up and running, the state won’t be able to track individual students. The second problem is that the average API scores are higher for elementary schools than for middle and high schools. So more high schools will fall in the watch list for having an under 700 API.

I would add another caution. Once there are arbitrary criteria, like under 700 API for flunking, charters schools may feel more pressure to focus on test scores than their mission. Though the evidence is scarce, critics of charters have alleged for years that some charters push out low-performing students to improve their test scores. At the same time, there are charter high schools that seek out low-performing middle school students who are two or three grades behind academically, then work hard to get them into college. They too deserve credit even if they don’t achieve an 800 API.

For now, charters must live with the state’s accountability system. One expert who praised the Association’s three-prong accountability framework is Doug McRae, a retired test publisher, occasional TOP-Ed contributor, and frequent critic of the criteria that the Department of Education has used to identify lowest performing schools. He wrote me, “The CCSA folks have done a great job cobbling together all three things into one accountability application that just plain makes common sense. It should be the way California uses assessment and accountability data for virtually all intervention applications.”

The Association said that it consulted 20 outside experts during the two years it has taken to create its methodology and assemble the report. Five individuals, including McRae, signed their names as peer reviewers for the Similar Schools Measure. Two of them, Lance Izumi and Vicky Murray, are with the pro-voucher, pro-charter Pacific Research Institute; the others are Eric Crane, senior research associate with the respected research organization WestEd, and Meredith Phillips, associate professor of Public Policy and Sociology at UCLA. Only Crane, Izumi, and McRae were peer reviewers of the full report.

The Association has posted all of the data and variables in the Similar Schools Measure and accountability framework in a technical appendix. Almost every research study of charter schools has provoked debate over methodology; a small change in variables in a formula like the Similar Schools Measure can often yield different results. The research community’s response to “A Portrait of the Movement” bears watching in coming months.

*** Gov. Brown’s budget would increase late payments to schools. See a column in TOP-Ed today about why deferrals especially harm charter schools.


BY hOWARD bLUME -  la tIMES/lA now |


Cornerstone Prep Charter

7651 South Central Ave., Los Angeles, 90001

  • Charter school in the Los Angeles Unified district.
  • Grades K-8
  • 332 students
  • 16 faculty members

Cornerstone Prep Charter

More »

Source: California Department of Education

Sandra Poindexter, Ben Welsh Los Angeles Times

February 24, 2011 |  8:49 am - Officials will recommend the rare closing of a Los Angeles charter school for poor academic performance, the L.A. Unified School District has confirmed.

Cornerstone Prep, an elementary school in Florence, appeared Wednesday on a new list of 30 charter schools statewide that have consistently performed poorly. The database, which included top-performing schools, was compiled by the California Charter Schools Assn.

The association has released a new database intended to compare both charter schools and other campuses with their predicted performance. The goal is to show which schools are doing worse or better than expected based on the characteristics of their students.

Factors include family income, parent education, percentage of disabled students and student ethnicity. The data is gleaned from public records maintained by the California Department of Education.

Although charter schools are authorized by local school districts or other education agencies, they are managed independently and free from some restrictions that govern traditional schools.

This freedom comes in exchange for increased accountability, according to state law. But that accountability is not well-enforced, said Jed Wallace, chief executive of the charter association.

Among the top performing charter schools in terms of consistent, better-than-predicted improvement is Mohan High School, operated by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, and Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy.

Wallace said the new database suggests more charters are outperforming predicted results but some also are doing worse than they should.

Cornerstone Prep has acknowledged a need to improve while also defending the integrity of its program.

“Cornerstone Prep School is working closely with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education to monitor our school's improvement in curriculum, instruction, and student performance,” the school said on its website.

The school’s efforts have included enhanced teacher training, more focus on struggling individual students and increasing parent involvement.

To focus on its elementary program, the school dropped its middle school, but the move did not make enough of a difference, said Jose Cole-Gutierrez, director of charter schools for L.A. Unified.

smf: The District is reacting to a database of bad charter schools compiled by the Charter Schools Association? Talk about your sacrificial lamb.