Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Opinion in the LA Times by Editorial Board member Karin Klein | http://lat.ms/1yy22uS

How does L.A. Unified know how many iPads or laptops it needs when it doesn't know how many it has?

Bond overseers consider morning testing a bad reason for LAUSD to buy more tablets or laptops


According to the bond oversight committee of Los Angeles Unified and an article by The Times, LAUSD is asking for more money than it needs for computer devices for students. (Los Angeles Times)

Sept. 29, 2014  12:35pm  ::  It’s no surprise that the annual standardized tests for students have had some troubling effects on schools as well as positive ones. Too much teaching to the test, too much time devoted to review for the test instead of teaching new material, school years started earlier so more learning can take place before the tests. On top of that, the new Common Core tests require major outlays of cash for computers that students need to take the exams.

Now, according to the bond oversight committee of the Los Angeles Unified School District and an article by Times education writer Howard Blume, L.A. Unified is asking for more money than it needs for computer devices for students because it wants to test all students during the first two hours of the day, when they’re fresher and thus likely to do better.

If that’s true, we have indeed reached the point of letting tests twist basic school operations out of joint and beyond reason.

lROf course L.A. Unified wants to do what it can to improve scores, and I’m willing to bet it’s not the only district that uses morning testing as one tactic. Much rides on the results — arguably, too much. But the tests should come down to what students have learned, not what hour of day they were taken. School officials also said more devices were needed for education and that they were used both morning and afternoon at many schools. They might be entirely correct. But they brought no evidence to bolster their contention, and the oversight committee made clear that it wasn't giving a green light to a  multimillion-dollar expenditure based on officials' say-so.

It was about time someone did this kind of digging before releasing such large sums of money.

The committee didn’t outright reject the idea that there might be valid reasons for the request. It just said the district had to show the need and that morning testing for all was not a need unto itself.

“I think we have a better use of [millions of dollars] than to juice student test scores,” committee chairman Stephen English said, according to a report by KPCC.

Well said. There have been constant complaints from parents about renovation work that has not been undertaken at dilapidated schools. During the recent searing weather, air conditioning units at many schools showed that they weren’t remotely up to the task of keeping the students from wilting. Talk about lost educational time. There are a lot of needs clamoring for a share of bond money, and it’s the district’s job to persuade the bond committee that one or another should take top priority.

The committee raised another thorny issue: The district still lacks an inventory of its existing devices. In August, The Times published a story about an audit by the district’s inspector general that said at least $2 million in computing devices had gone missing. Relatively few of these were iPads from the district’s controversial technology push, but the findings still are enough to make the public nervous about whether the district will guard tax money wisely.

Arguably more important than the number or worth of the missing devices was the internal report’s finding that it was impossible to actually determine a number because the inspector general couldn’t find out how many computers and other devices had been purchased. “The information needed was incomplete, inaccurate, or unavailable,” the report said.

According to The Times’ August story:

“The audit found campuses that had a surplus of devices and schools with no effective system to track who had a computer or who was responsible for it.

“…And 106 computers from a closed occupational center could not be located, the report said.”

Computers also disappeared from a regional office. One school refused to take any responsibility for the devices. When records existed, they were often inaccurate.

You’d think there would be some major blushing going on and a scramble to inventory what was around before asking for anything new. But that’s not the way it happened.

Instead, the district asked for $42 million more, including money for new laptops for all secondary teachers. But again, the committee pointed out that the district didn’t seem to have a handle on how many teachers need laptops and how many had perfectly fine ones already.

The decision is only advisory, which means the school board can override it. But considering the uproar over the technology project and over recently released emails that show close communication among Superintendent John Deasy, his former top deputy and eventual contract winners Apple and Pearson, the board should require a lot of good answers before it considers making such a move. Answers to the kinds of questions the oversight committee has proven it knows how to ask.


By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/1qREYgB

Members of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education are meeting in private on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014 to evaluate Superintendent John Deasy. His annual performance review is set for Oct. 21. (2013 file photo by Andy Holzman/Los Angeles Daily News)


Posted: 09/29/14, 5:21 PM PDT | Updated: 9/30 3AM  ::  Los Angeles Unified School Board members will meet behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss Superintendent John Deasy’s performance amid divisive contract negotiations with the teachers union and mounting scrutiny for his oversight of technology programs.

The meeting was called by one of Deasy’s critics, board member Monica Ratliff, ahead of the annual performance review that’s set for Oct. 21. While the board doesn’t need to meet privately in advance of a routine evaluation, a similar meeting was held last year when Deasy’s review stirred speculation that his tenure would end.

Ratliff did not respond to requests for comment Monday, but a spokesman for her office confirmed that she was at least one of the board members who requested the closed-door discussion. According to a public notice, the talks will consider “appointment” and “evaluation” of the superintendent.

Deasy, who was appointed to lead the nation’s second-largest school district nearly 3½ years ago, has come under fire from United Teachers Los Angeles for his supervision of efforts to enhance technology.

The district’s new record-keeping system, MiSiS, launched at the start of this school year to a litany of problems for educators who had to work long hours because of the buggy software.

Efforts to teach students via iPads also continue to be a source of criticism for Deasy. An independent report released earlier this month revealed a lack of technical support hindered use of the devices inside classrooms. Additionally, poor inventory controls caused the district’s inspector general to report in July that $1.6 million worth of the devices were missing.

“We believe those issues and others need to be taken into consideration as the school board holds him accountable in his performance review,” United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said.

Leaders of the 35,000-member union will head back to the bargaining table Thursday with representatives of Deasy’s administration. The two sides are divided by some $280 million per year in pay.

Caputo-Pearl has said teachers deserve a 17.6 percent hike after forgoing such raises for seven years — a period in which teachers agreed to take furlough days amounting to an 8 percent pay loss and the cost of living ballooned by 20 percent.

Deasy, meanwhile, contends that such a hike would bankrupt the district, which despite a recent influx in funding still has limited resources. The district has offered a 6.64 percent pay raise over two years and a 2 percent bonus.

Last year, Deasy said he would resign, but board members ultimately decided to renew his contract through June 30, 2016.

Deasy earned $393,106 in 2013, according to tax records obtained by this news organization.

In a letter to school board members Monday, leaders of area nonprofits and the district’s 33,000-member Service Employees International Union Local 99 urged school board members to focus on improvements made under Deasy’s command.

“We are concerned that the exciting student achievement gains we have seen in recent years will be undermined by political conflicts and instability of leadership,” according to the letter that was signed by the leaders of eight organizations, including the United Way of Los Angeles, InnerCity Struggle, Community Coalition and Educators 4 Excellence.

The letter cites efforts that aim to make life and education easier for the district’s disadvantaged students, along with reading improvements made by third-graders and more advanced course offerings.

The letter also urges board members to publicly set parameters for Deasy’s evaluation, stating that “real and honest change doesn’t happen behind closed doors.”

“We call for an open forum to better understand the perspectives of board members on leadership priorities for LAUSD,” according to the letter.

It was one of two letters sent to school board members Monday in support of Deasy. The Civic Alliance, a group of organizations including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and California Endowment, warned, “we must be able to count on this board to act in good faith with our current superintendent.”

“If the Los Angeles school board acts rashly, they affirm the perception of this board and district as ungovernable,” according to the letter.





CJ13 hours ago

Abstract: Los Angeles’ school politics is beginning to sound like a soap opera.
Tune in next week to see if long-suffering Superintendent John Deasy,
much admired by billionaire Eli Broad, survives yet another unjust
attack at the hands of the brutes who disapprove of the $1.3 billion
iPad fiasco, the bungled computer mess, the other snafus unjustly laid
at the feet of a man guilty only of caring too much. Forget the emails
showing possible collusion between Deasy and Apple, Deasy and Pearson.
What matters details like this when a great man is in our midst, loved
and appreciated most by those too rich to patronize the schools he
oversees. Never forget: every organization funded by Bill Gates adores
this man: think Educators 4 Excellence; think United Way of Los Angeles.


Abstract: Take Educators 4 Excellence
as an example. On their website, they tout that they began as “two
teachers” and wanted to give teachers a voice in a system that imposed
changes from the top down, and now they are growing into 10 of 1000s of
teachers in multiple states. What don’t they mention? That they are funded by The Gates Foundation, which is not really a surprise because a) Gates has been funding a lot of similar efforts and b) their “pledge” includes
evaluating teachers by value-added testing models (something Gates
really, really likes) and supporting “choice” which is reform jargon for
charter schools (something hedge fund managers really, REALLY like).

Monday, September 29, 2014





It starts out as an innocent enough tweet from @newton_jim: “My latest, on the deepening rift between the LA school board and Supt. John Deasy: http://t.co/EGXxw9dqNs

Deasy's impatience threatens to overshadow LAUSD achievements…which takes us to the OpEd page on the Times website. Jim Newton is editor at large of the Los Angeles Times and writes a weekly column for the Op-Ed page on the policy and politics of Southern California

Deasy's impatience threatens to overshadow LAUSD achievements

by Jim Newton | LA Times | http://t.co/EGXxw9dqNs

Supt. John Deasy
Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. John Deasy listens at a Board of Education meeting in August. (Los Angeles Times)
The Times has a ‘choose your own headline’ feature on the website; the choices here are:
  • Performance evaluation of L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy could turn into a major confrontation
  • L.A. schools chief John Deasy shouldn't be punished for aggressiveness in pursuing reform
  • There's a storm cloud gathering over Los Angeles politics these days, and the man at its center is schools Supt. John Deasy.

29 Sept 2014  ::  In office since 2010, Deasy has fenced with his bosses, the seven-member school board, almost from the get-go. Lately, however, the situation has deteriorated: United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents teachers in the L.A. Unified School District, has sharpened its critique of the superintendent, calling for him to be held "accountable" in his upcoming evaluation. A recent election to fill a vacancy on the closely divided board went to the candidate, George McKenna, considered less friendly to Deasy. Deasy has made matters worse by some admittedly sloppy handling of a deal intended to put iPads in the hands of students. The board is scheduled to deliver its performance evaluation of Deasy next month, and that could turn into a major confrontation.

It's taking a toll on the superintendent. I visited him in his office last week, and though he seemed as energetic as ever — he talks fast and riffles through papers with lightning speed — he looked drawn. Already slight, he's lost weight.

Deasy is hardly the first public official to be put through the local grinder — those with long memories will recall LAPD Chief Willie L. Williams' slow end, and a number of Deasy's predecessors in the superintendent's office have been dragged across these coals — but what makes his case unusual is that he's being pounded despite considerable success.

During Deasy's tenure, student test scores have steadily improved and done so across the district's ethnic groups. The percentage of non-English speakers who master English every year has nearly doubled. The number of students suspended from school has dropped from 46,000 in Deasy's first year to 8,300 last year. Attendance is up, dropouts are down. The graduation rate, 69%, is the highest in the district's modern history.

Deasy is hardly the first public official to be put through the local grinder, but what makes his case unusual is that he's being pounded despite considerable success. - 

In short, more students are in school for more time. They are doing better on tests and graduating at higher rates. And that's despite grinding budget battles and an overwhelmingly poor student body: More than 8 out of 10 LAUSD students live in poverty; 18,000 of them are homeless .

"My purpose in this job," Deasy told me emphatically during our interview, "is to lift children out of poverty."

Some of those trends, such as improving test scores, were underway before Deasy came to office, so he cannot rightly claim full credit for them. But he personally led the effort to reduce suspensions, he's championed "pilot schools" where teachers and other members of a school community take charge of their campuses, and he's aggressively fought to boost graduation rates by addressing the issues that cause students to drop out. Even Deasy's critics acknowledge that he is a powerful intellect and a determined education reformer.

So, what's not to like? By his own admission, Deasy can be bullheaded and impatient. More than 1,000 district employees were let go last year — some were fired, some resigned rather than be fired, some were denied tenure — and Deasy's proud of that. He's quick to correct and sometimes short-tempered. A 2011 clash with a substitute teacher — he dropped in on her class and objected to her teaching approach, to which she responded by asking him to leave — ended up with her being fired. Teachers still talk about it.

And then there is the iPad issue. Over the objections of some doubters, Deasy pushed hard to secure tablet computers for every student in the district. Eager to launch the program quickly, he may have skirted district contracting rules, and his communications with vendors are under investigation. No one is suggesting he did anything for personal gain, but his trademark impatience may have left him vulnerable. "I could have done a thousand things better," he conceded during our conversation. Nevertheless, rather than taking a conciliatory approach with the school board, he has gone on the offensive, filing a public records request to obtain email correspondence of board members relating to the iPad project.

But here's the perversity of punishing Deasy for aggressiveness: For more than 20 years, the dominant complaint about the district has been its lethargy. District officials have tinkered with this program or that, and all too often they have been content to offer solutions that will take years to show results. To a parent with a child in school now, that's not reform; that's failure.

With Deasy, the board traded in complacency for urgency. That's sometimes been rough, but the alternative robbed generations of Los Angeles students of their futures

smf: Newton didn’t just “visit him in his office last week”, he spent three hours interviewing him – that’s how its done when you pull out all the stops in trying to save a public figure under attack – even when the attackers include your own newspaper.

That said, Deasy+Co. may not just have “skirted district contracting rules”, he may have rigged a multi-million dollar public contract. 

The first is a no-no; the second is a federal crime.

He may not have acted for personal gain …or he may have. His contract rewards success with bonuses. He has received a 15.8% raise last year (but no bonus – his performance wasn’t ‘satisfactory’  enough.).. And others - working for contractors and the contractors themselves - do stand to make immense personal gain. Its called “profit” – and that’s what Apple and Pearson are in it for. And that’s what the bidders who didn’t get the contract are in it for. And if they were cheated they are going to get 1.) mad, 2.) litigious and 3.) even.  On the day the Apple/Pearson contract was announced an attorney from Microsoft threatened as much at the board meeting.

We are running the District on a business model; that’s how it’s done in business. I think they teach that at the Broad Academy.

But enough about me being serious. Enough measuring the slight-and-getting-thinner Dr. D for an orange jumpsuit.

Let’s resort to literary satire. Let’s conflate Emily Bronte with 50 Shades of Grey. Let’s have fun!

Offred Gillead, a fictional reference to a character in a Margaret Atwood dystopian novel, comments in LA School Report on September 29, 2014 at 11:48 am:  (In other moments Offred Gillead is ‘Martin Eden’, a major character in a forgotten Jack London novel)

We have officially entered into a super bizzaro, gothic world with Jim Newton.

With his Emily Bronte opening: “There’s a storm cloud gathering over Los Angeles politics these days” before moving into gaunt, haunted purple poignancy, “It’s taking a toll on the superintendent. I visited him in his office last week…he looked drawn. Already slight, he’s lost weight.”

Deasy’s rich, cultish supporters, have always given us a variation of THE MARTYRDOM OF JOHN DEASY. I tingle over Newton’s words like “have been dragged across these coals” and “put through the local grinder”.

Okay. I get it.

I’m really reading 50 SHADES OF DEASY, a story that makes Deasy’s backers swoon.

Newton says, “Deasy has made matters worse by some admittedly sloppy handling of a deal intended to put iPads in the hands of students.” Really? “Admittedly?” When did Deasy EVER admit to this?

Newton tells us, “So, what’s not to like? By his own admission, Deasy can be bullheaded and impatient.”

Ana Steele could understand that. She might say, like Newton, “No one is suggesting he did anything for personal gain, but his trademark impatience may have left him vulnerable.”

Sensitive and obsessively-driven! Like Moses! Dr. Frankenstein! Ahab! Hamlet! Dr. Strangelove!

Deasy confides, “‘I could have done a thousand things better,’ he conceded during our conversation.”

Really? How about naming ONE thing, Doc?

In Deasy’s perverse brain, his biggest fault is that he CARES TOO MUCH. He is TOO MUCH of a perfectionist. His only goal is to lift children out of poverty and has to put up with hundreds who stand in his way.

“He’s quick to correct and sometimes short-tempered….Even Deasy’s critics acknowledge that he is a powerful intellect and a determined education reformer.”

Karl Rove also breathlessly informed us that George Bush was the smartest person he ever met and, famously, “The Decider”.

I don’t know what Christian Grey non-disclosure contract might have gotten signed between the two, but the Op-Ed hints: “But here’s the perversity of punishing Deasy for aggressiveness…”


Do we really need to read the whole trilogy to find out where this story ends? I hope the BOE has the good taste to call this series quits.


Two groups urging LAUSD board to be objective, transparent …and give the good doctor a pass!

by Vanessa Romo in the LA School Report | http://bit.ly/1vsIfsi

groups urging board to be transparent deasy evaluationPosted on September 29, 2014 3:13 pm   ::  With all the uncertainty about how the LA Unified school board intends to evaluate Superintendent John Deasy in his next annual performance review, two new voices have entered the debate, urging the board to act with transparency, put student interests first and keep Deasy where he is.

In separate letters to the board today, both groups called for more objectivity in evaluating Deasy and more transparency in how they decide on the criteria used to judge him.

The board is planning to meet tomorrow in a private session to discuss what metrics to use when Deasy appears before the members next month — again, in private — for his annual job evaluation. Deasy has not been invited to tomorrow’s meeting.

In one letter, the LA Civic Alliance, which includes some of the city’s most influential philanthropists, real estate developers, bankers, lawyers and non-profit leaders, called into question board members’ “real motives” for tomorrow’s closed-door meeting, which many district insiders have speculated is clearing a path to remove Deasy from the helm next month.

While neither letter mention’s Deasy’s handing of the iPad problem or the new computerized student-tracking system — both of which have been plagued with problems — both make it clear that Deasy should be judged by more objective data.

“Superintendent Deasy is not perfect. But progress made in boosting the education of our children under his leadership outweighs the business decisions by which he is being judged,” the Civic Alliance said in the letter, sent to all seven board members.

The groups argue that dismissing Deasy would throw the district into chaos with another transition at LA Unified, and that instability would jeopardize the student achievement gains the district has made over the last two years.

Since Deasy was appointed in 2011, district graduation and attendance rates have gone up, the numbers of African American and Latino students taking Advanced Placement courses and exams have increased, and the district’s school discipline policy has been overhauled resulting in a drastically reduced suspensions and expulsions.

The group says it is alarmed by the board’s decision to call an emergency closed session to discuss the Superintendent’s evaluation.

“We are very concerned that the Board of Directors is going backwards in terms of more closed sessions that curtail community engagement and transparency and potentially allow political influence,” its letter said.

That sentiment was echoed in the second letter, this one from a consortium of educators and community groups.

Leaders from InnerCity Struggle, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, Community Coalition and Educators for Excellence, all of whom have partnered with the district on significant programs, want a more objective means of evaluating Deasy.

UPDATE: According to the Daily News http://bit.ly/1rIe5RQ SEIU Local #99 has joined the WeDZ Club.

“We urge the Board to ensure a fair process for determining the parameters to review the Superintendent, the groups say in their letter to board members and their staffs. “We call for an open forum to better understand the perspectives of Board Members on leadership priorities for LAUSD. We also request that these parameters be widely published to all families and employees to foster public trust and transparency.”

And like the Civic Alliance, they called on the board to open decision-making to the public, saying, “Real and honest change doesn’t happen behind closed doors.”

Offred Gillead on September 29, 2014 4:19 pm at 4:19 pm said:


From George Keiffer’s LA Civic Alliance letter:

“We have fought for, invested in, and supported the district in taking accountability of our Collective responsibility to educate the next generation. We hope you appreciate the support Our Civic Alliance continues to offer the District in service of a better future for our children.”

OUR children.


Board of Ed…please, please, please. This is where in the olden movie days, someone would slap the face of a raving person, shake them and scream, “Come out of it!”

If this group didn’t have so much MONEY and POWER over my students’ lives, they would be scripted as the powerful overlord villains in the HUNGER GAMES. Who are they? The article puts it sweetly: Some of the city’s most influential philanthropists, real estate developers, bankers, lawyers and non-profit leaders,

I weep with the hubris of this:

“Our children.”


George Keiffer’s children? No.

Did they go to LAUSD schools? Do they live under Deasy?

My kids want what HIS kids get.

But would Keiffer want Deasy’s pedagogy and temperament for HIS kids?.

One should never be surprised at the gall of the 1%.

They have staked John Deasy a fortune in the run of the casino of my kids lives in the various economic, political and media spheres they lord over. Both of these letters of Deasy “support” encapsulates EXACTLY where he gets his mojo and from what tax bracket.

And yes, this Orwellian “Civic Alliance” will get to move the BOE in the ways LAUSD’s hurting teachers and community cannot ever seem to be able to.

I’m afraid Offred is having a bit of a Sense of Humor failure.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


How to Spot a Fake Grassroots Education ®eform Group

by Daniel Katz, Ph.D., from his blog |  http://bit.ly/1rvoq2X

September 5, 2014 · 12:12 pm   ::  One problem with today’s education reform environment is that a number of groups exist that call themselves “grassroots” organizations, but which have expanded rapidly because of large infusions of cash from corporations and foundations invested in pushing charter schools, mass high stakes testing, data mining students and the Common Core standards.  These groups do not exist to represent the organically derived priorities and shared interests of students, teachers and parents; they exist to put a more credible face on the priorities and shared interests of a very narrow but astonishingly influential set of repeating characters.  Take Educators 4 Excellence as an example.  On their website, they tout that they began as “two teachers” and wanted to give teachers a voice in a system that imposed changes from the top down, and now they are growing into 10 of 1000s of teachers in multiple states. What don’t they mention?  That they are funded by The Gates Foundation, which is not really a surprise because a) Gates has been funding a lot of similar efforts and b) their “pledge” includes evaluating teachers by value-added testing models (something Gates really, really likes) and supporting “choice” which is reform jargon for charter schools (something hedge fund managers really, REALLY like).  The group was central in the not-entirely-successful #supportthecore  social media campaign, and former Connecticut legislator Jonathan Pelto writes here about more of their rather miraculous funding.

When I was in high school, soap actor Peter Bergman did television ads for Vicks cough syrup with the tag line “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV.”  At least he was upfront about it.

A few days back, The Washington Post ran a story about the founding of “Education Post” which is claiming to be a new source of information about topics in education that will avoid the supposed rancor in current public conversations.  To her credit, reporter Lyndsey Layton did report that it is funded by the Broad Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Walton Family Foundation and is headed by the former communications director for Arne Duncan, so we have some heads up as to how that “reporting” on “what works” will tilt.

Genuine grassroots organizations cannot just pop up out of nowhere, grow by 1000s of members practically overnight, afford slick web designs, afford Manhattan rent and big staffs.  But without knowing what to look for it can be difficult for the casual observer, or even a working teacher, to spot the signs of a group that is more AstroTurf than grassroots.  I would like to offer the following guide as assistance, and I have chosen, not entirely randomly, Students for Education Reform.  Sounds like a great thing, doesn’t it?  Students?  Education reform?  Who wouldn’t want to support that?

From the Students for Education Reform webpage:

What started as two students working for educational justice in their own communities eventually grew from one college campus to twenty, and from twenty to over 140 undergraduate chapters at two- and four-year colleges in over 30 states. Our founders launched Students for Education Reform as college freshmen, each bringing a different perspective to the fight for educational equity: Alexis Morin is a lifelong public school student and was a local school board member in her Massachusetts district, and Catharine Bellinger is an aspiring teacher from Washington, DC. Together, Alexis and Catharine created a platform for college students to share their stories on one campus; by working with peers across the country, they grew SFER nationally during their sophomore and junior years. SFER’s members now represent the diversity of the American K-12 education system: the vast majority of us attended local district schools, while many others attended schools of choice – charter schools, parochial schools, and private schools. Together, we know what’s true, and what’s possible.

Ms. Morin and Ms. Bellinger started SFER in 2009 while freshmen at Princeton, and it has grown to 136 chapters in 33 states.  According to this blurb in Forbes, both of them had to put off their studies for a year to assist with the astonishingly paced growth of the group.  Which brings me to my first clue for spotting fake grassroots groups:

Growth at a pace that only a corporation’s monetary resources could manage.  Perhaps SFER’s founders had sincere interests in growing a real movement that included a genuine array of student voices (although the prominent mention of KIPP charter schools and North Star charter in this interview makes me doubt they had any vision except current corporate backed reforms in mind), but their growth could not have happened this rapidly without a serious infusion of assistance from outside.  That assistance, of course, came in the form of cash and the expectation that such cash would influence the values of the activism.

And Students for Education Reform definitely have been given cash.  This is evident in their web design which is a slick and well-executed page oddly reminiscent of the “Educators 4 Excellence” site.  SFER also has a national office in New York City, specifically on West 38th Street in the Garment District and near the Empire State Building and Pennsylvania Station.  While not the priciest office district in Manhattan, rents for office space on this site range from $27 per square foot to over $100.  That’s per month.  I’ll go out on a limb and assume someone is putting up the money for that which brings me to the second clue:

Who is funding the group and for how much?  This is readily known for SFER, thankfully.  According to this article from The Nation, SFER has gotten a hefty infusion of at least some of $1.6 million from Education Reform Now, the non-PAC wing of Democrats for Education Reform, in 2010.  ERN’s 2010 990 IRS form is available for your pleasure here, and the relevant page is 21.  Keep in mind, SFER was barely a year old in 2010, and it was already being infused with cash from Education Reform Now.  Not bad work for a pair of sophomores even if they are in Princeton.

It will help readers to know more about Education Reform Now and the affiliated political action committee, Democrats for Education Reform.  ERN operates as a 501c3 organization, and DFER helps spread campaign cash.  While ERN claims to be non-partisan and DFER claims to be an organization of Democrats, both groups are essentially joined together around the familiar causes of charter school expansion, mass high stakes testing and evaluating teachers based upon controversial and statistically invalid value-added measures of effectiveness.  DFER was founded in part by hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, and the main purpose of the PAC is to influence Democratic politicians to support charter schools and high stakes testing.  Education Reform Now receives annual donations from the Walton Family Foundation, getting $1.1 million in 2011 and more than $2.8 million in 2013.  DFER takes in a diverse range of donors, all from the privatization end of the reform spectrum. According to this graphic assembled by the Alliance for Quality Education, DFER’s money and political alliances include the Koch brothers, conservative financier Rex Sinquefield, Rupert Murdoch, The Walton Family Foundation, and the American Federation for Children, which is a charter supporting organization.

Suffice to say that when you see Students for Education Reform, you are seeing a group whose existence is at least partially owed to Education Reform Now channeling Walton money into their ledgers.  With ERN’s ties to DFER, you also know that the policies supported by SFER will align very well with the privatization advocates who want to break teacher unions and replace fully public schools with privately managed charters.  SFER has to, or the money will dry up.

With such funds come influential advisers, and for SFER, that is a board of directors that is a made up of some heavy hitting finance and reform personalities.  Which comes to the third clue:

Who is REALLY running the operation?  SFER is upfront about their boards of directors, which boasts some very familiar names and organizations.  Amy Chou is the chief growth officer of the KIPP charter school network.  KIPP, it should be noted, is one of the “miracle” charter chains that claims they have “proven” that high poverty populations can close achievement gaps by doing things their way.  What they don’t mention is how self-selection and high attrition without backfilling vacated seats influences their success rates.  In fact, Bruce Baker of Rutgers University provides a simple chart showing how various “miracle” and some non-miracle charter networks compare in populations relative to fully public schools in NYC:

Click to expand

I don’t mind various ways of doing business, but I really mind being told miracles are happening when the data suggests something much more mundane, and largely unethical.  As an added bonus, one of KIPP’s founders, Mike Feinberg, was asked if his children were going to attend a KIPP school.  His fumbling answer would have been amusing under other circumstances.

Also on the board?  Christy Chin of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, which is the philanthropy arm of the venture capital firm, Draper Richards.  Adam Cioth, the founder of Rolling Hills Capital and former investment banker at Goldman Sachs.  Justin Cohen, the president of Mass Insight Education which is the education wing of Mass Insight Global Partnerships, a financial industry alliance and lobbying group supporting “market-driven solutions”.  Shavar Jeffries, former mayoral candidate in Newark whose campaign received a huge influx of Wall Street cash in the final weeks. Jon Sackler, who is listed as the President of the Bouncer Foundation, but who is also a player in finance and investment and is a trustee with a major charter school management firm. Chris Stewart is listed as the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum, but he will also be blogging for the recently announced Education Post, funded by the Waltons, Broads and Bloomberg.  The board is rounded out by the Deputy General Council of Unilever and a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, Rebecca Ledley, who is married to ERN and DFER board member Charles Ledley, and who is herself on the board of a charter school management company.

But, you know, what she’s studying in graduate school is MUCH more interesting.

This kind of slight of hand brings up my final clue about a fake grassroots organization and that is:

Do its supposed grassroots members have even a clue what the organization is about?  I have done grassroots politics.  As part of the steering committee that formed the Graduate Employees Union at Michigan State University, I know first hand that real grassroots work is painstaking and slow, requiring a lot of time to meet, debate and educate a population.  Yes, we got help and networking connections from the Michigan Federation of Teachers, but the actual door to door conversations with the 1000s of teaching assistants at the university?  We did that ourselves and aimed to help every potential member of our collective bargaining unit to understand the issues we believed could be solved by forming the union.

While the central office of Students For Education Reform is deeply entrenched in an exact kind of reform that emphasizes charter schools, testing and union busting, it is not clear that all chapter members, the ones called upon to be the public face of SFER at rallies and meetings, know this.  In 2012, SFER mobilized students to take part in a rally demanding that the UFT and city reach an agreement to implement a teacher evaluation system that included controversial value-added measures of teachers using testing data because there was a $300 million dollar implementation grant at stake.  They carried signs emphasizing the money that was at stake, and got people to talk about how important that money would be for city schools.  But one would think that if SFER was really worried about school funding, they’d be far more concerned about what Bruce Baker demonstrates here:  that the NYC school budget is shorted $3.4 BILLION ANNUALLY by Albany.  SFER showed up to protest the UFT’s reticence to accept a deal that included teacher evaluations that do not stand up to ANY scientific scrutiny, but to date, they do not seem to have mobilized any placards to protest what Dr. Baker points out.

Do these “students for education reform” even have the slightest clue what they are protesting?  I doubt it matters to their board of directors who are happy to have a ready to deploy force of good optics for the press, and who are not as honest as a 1986 cough syrup ad:

The good news? We learned something from the #supportthecore day on Twitter.  Genuine grassroots work may not have a Manhattan office.  It may not have a steady flow of cash from the Waltons.  It may not have a slick website and be able to boast 100s of chapter offices in only 4 years.  But it does have an energy that derives from authenticity.  And that has staying power.  The hedge fund managers are treating all of what they want to accomplish as simply an advertising matter, but it is a democracy matter and people will have a say, one way or another.

By the numbers: How to Tell If Your School District Is Infected by The Broad Virus

by Sue Peters, a parent in Seattle Public Schools, an infected district. She is the Founder of the SeattleEducation2011 blog and also Parents Across America, the Centers for Disease Control battling the Broad Epidemic | http://bit.ly/lxOI8h

19 April 2011

  1. Schools in your district are suddenly closed.

  2. Even top-performing schools, alternative schools, schools for the gifted, are inexplicably and suddenly targeted for closure or mergers.

  3. Repetition of the phrases “the achievement gap” and “closing the achievement gap” in district documents and public statements.

  4. Repeated use of the terms “excellence” and “best practices” and “data-driven decisions.” (Coupled with a noted absence of any of the above.)

  5. The production of “data” that is false or cherry-picked, and then used to justify reforms.

  6. Power is centralized.

  7. Decision-making is top down.

  8. Local autonomy of schools is taken away.

  9. Principals are treated like pawns by the superintendent, relocated, rewarded and punished at will.

  10. Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.

  11. Ballooning of the central office at the same time superintendent makes painful cuts to schools and classrooms.

  12. Sudden increase in number of paid outside consultants.

  13. Increase in the number of public schools turned into privately-run charters.

  14. Weak math text adopted (most likely Everyday Math). Possibly weak language arts too, or Writer’s Workshop. District pushes to standard the curriculum.

  15. Superintendent attempts to sidestep labor laws and union contracts.

  16. Teachers are no longer referred to as people, educators, colleagues, staff, or even “human resources,” but as “human capital.”

  17. A (self-anointed, politically connected) group called NCTQ comes to town a few months before your teachers’ contract is up for negotiation and writes a Mad Libs evaluation of your districts’ teachers (for about $14,000) that reaches the predetermined conclusion that teachers are lazy and need merit pay. ["The (NAME OF CITY) School District has too many (NEGATIVE ADJ) teachers. Therefore they need a new (POSITIVE ADJ.) data-based evaluation system tied to test scores…”]

  18. The district leadership declares that the single most significant problem in the district is suddenly: teachers!

  19. Teachers are no longer expected to be creative, passionate, inspired, but merely “effective.”

  20. Superintendent lays off teachers for questionable reasons.

  21. Excessive amounts of testing introduced and imposed on your kids.

  22. Teach for America, Inc., novices are suddenly brought into the district, despite no shortage of fully qualified teachers.

  23. The district hires a number of “Broad Residents” at about $90,000 apiece, also trained by the Broad Foundation, who are placed in strategically important positions like overseeing the test that is used to evaluate teachers or school report cards. They in turn provide — or fabricate — data that support the superintendent’s ed reform agenda (factual accuracy not required).

  24. Strange data appears that seems to contradict what you know (gut level) to be true about your own district.

  25. There is a strange sense of sabotage going on.

  26. You start to feel you are trapped in the nightmarish Book Five of the Harry Potter series and the evilly vindictive Dolores Umbridge is running your school district. Seek centaurs and Forbidden Forest immediately!

  27. Superintendent behaves as if s/he is beyond reproach.

  28. Superintendent reads Blackberry or sends texts while parents and teachers are giving public testimony at school board meetings, blatantly ignoring public input.

  29. A rash of Astroturf groups appear claiming to represent “the community” or “parents” and all advocate for the exact same corporate ed reforms that your superintendent supports — merit pay, standardized testing, charter schools, alternative credentialing for teachers. Of course, none of these are genuine grassroots community organizations. [see: HOW TO CREATE A FAUX GRASSROOTS ED REFORM ORGANIZATION IN 12 EASY STEPS! Posted by Sue Peters on seattleducation2011| http://bit.ly/ejZdRT]

  30. Or, existing groups suddenly become fervidly in favor of teacher bashing, merit pay or charter schools. Don’t be surprised to find that these groups may have received grant money from the corporate ed reform foundations like Gates or Broad.

  31. The superintendent receives the highest salary ever paid to a superintendent in your town’s history (plus benefits and car allowance) – possibly more than your mayor or governor — and the community is told “that is the national, competitive rate for a city of this size.”

  32. Your school board starts to show signs of Stockholm Syndrome. They vote in lockstep with the superintendent. Apparently lobotomized by periodic “school board retreat/Broad training” sessions headed by someone from Broad, your school board stops listening to parents and starts to treat them as the enemy. (If you still have a school board, that is — Broad ideally prefers no pesky democratically elected representatives to get in the way of their supts and agendas.)

  33. Superintendent bypasses school board entirely and keeps them out of the loop on significant or all issues.

  34. School board candidates receive unprecedented amounts of campaign money from business interests.

  35. Annual superintendent evaluation is overseen by a fellow named Tom Payzant.

  36. Stand for Children appears in towns and claims to be grassroots. (It is actually based in Portland, Ore., and is funded by the Gates Foundation.) It may invite superintendent to be keynote speaker at a political fundraising event. It will likely lobby your state government for corporate ed reform laws.

  37. Grants appear from the Broad and Gates foundations in support of the superintendent, and her/his “Strategic Plan.”

  38. The Gates Foundation gives your district grants for technical things related to STEM and/or teacher “effectiveness” or studies on charter schools.

  39. Local newspaper fails to report on much of this.

  40. Local newspaper never mentions the words “Broad Foundation.”

  41. Broad and Gates Foundations give money to local public radio stations which in turn become strangely silent about the presence and influence of the Broad and Gates Foundation in your school district.



  • Parents.

  • Blogs.

  • Sharing information.

  • Vote your school board out of office.

  • Vote your mayor out of office if s/he is complicit.

  • Boycott or opt out of tests.

  • Go national and join Parents Across America.

  • Follow the money.

  • Question the data – especially if it produced by someone affiliated with the Broad or Gates Foundations or their favored consultants (McKinsey, Strategies 360, NCTQ, or their own strategically placed Broad Residents).

  • Alert the media again and again (they will ignore you at first).

  • Protest, stage rallies, circulate petitions.

  • Connect and daylight the dots.


By Patrick McGreevy, Phil Willon | LA Times | http://lat.ms/1mDLM6u

Gov. Jerry Brown signs legislation

Gov. Jerry Brown took action on a wide range of proposals ahead of a midnight Tuesday deadline to sign or veto hundreds of measures still on his desk. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

28 Sept 2014  ::  California Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed legislation to provide $3 million in legal aid for the thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America who have flooded into the U.S. illegally this year.

The Democratic governor also approved a new law to limit suspensions and expulsions of students who "willfully defy" teachers and administrators, and he vetoed $100 million that lawmakers had set aside for deferred maintenance at University of California and California State University campuses.

In addition, he OK'd the protection of G.I. Bill benefits for military veterans attending California colleges and changes in California's ballot initiative process.

The governor took action on the wide range of proposals ahead of a midnight Tuesday deadline to sign or veto hundreds of measures still on his desk.

California's century-old initiative process is a hallmark of our electoral system, and today we're taking an important step to modernize and strengthen direct democracy. - Governor Jerry Brown

The $3 million to help the immigrant children, said Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), will provide due process in the United States that will rescue some of them from the "virtual death sentence" they would face if deported to unsafe home countries.

"With the stroke of a pen, Governor Brown reaffirmed California's commitment to doing its part to address the unprecedented humanitarian crisis at [the] border involving Central American youth," Lara said in a statement.

The bill, SB 873, written by a budget committee, allocates money to nonprofit groups that will provide help to the children being held in California, who so far number about 4,000.

More than 60,000 unaccompanied children from poverty-stricken and violence-torn areas of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been detained so far this year by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

Californians were divided over the proposal, according to a recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. Nearly half of those polled call for the children to be immediately deported, with a similar number saying they should be allowed to stay in California as they await legal proceedings.

Brown also approved legislation that will limit the suspension of defiant students. Supporters of the measure said schools too often suspend or expel students for "willful defiance," which they criticized as a catch-all term that includes refusal to complete assignments or disruption of school activities.

"Kids who have been suspended or expelled are two times more likely to drop out and five times more likely to turn to crime," the bill's author, Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), said in a statement. "Rather than kicking students out of school, we need to keep young people in school on track to graduate and out of the criminal justice system."

The measure, AB 420, bans expulsions for such offenses in all grade levels and bars suspensions for students in kindergarten through third grade.

In another education-related move, Brown issued a line-item veto of a budget bill, stripping out $50 million that lawmakers had approved for each of the two public university systems for long-needed repairs.

In his veto message, the governor said this year's budget would have provided $200 million for deferred maintenance at the campuses and other state facilities if property tax revenue had exceeded expectations, which did not happen.

Brown said repairing aging infrastructure is a "major priority" for his administration. But he did not want to commit that much funding in a year when the state faces "unanticipated costs such as fighting the state's extreme wildfires."

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) championed the funding increase and on Saturday vowed to address the issue next year.

The governor signed 21 bills to help and recognize military veterans and active-duty soldiers.

One guards the ability of 78,000 veterans to continue to enjoy benefits of the G.I. Bill while attending California universities and community colleges by requiring university and college officials to update in-state tuition policies.

The bill, AB 13 by Assemblywoman Connie Conway (R-Tulare), provides in-state tuition for veterans who were stationed in California immediately before being discharged.

Another allows the courts to create a diversion program for active military personnel or veterans who commit misdemeanors and are suffering from service-related trauma or drug abuse. The measure, SB 1227, is by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley).

In addition, AB 1453 by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) was approved to create a new veterans' cemetery in Orange County.

It requires the state to work with local governments to design, develop, construct and equip a veterans' cemetery in the former Marine Corps Station El Toro in Irvine.

The state agency will apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for the creation of the cemetery.

"Local veterans, many of whom risked their lives on foreign soil, deserve an honorable place that will provide their families and communities a true and lasting opportunity to pay their respects," Quirk-Silva said.

Also on Saturday, Brown hailed a bill he approved that will increase public and legislative review of proposed state ballot initiatives.

"California's century-old initiative process is a hallmark of our electoral system, and today we're taking an important step to modernize and strengthen direct democracy," the governor said in a statement.

The bill institutes a new 30-day public review period at the start of the initiative process, during which time proponents could opt to amend their proposals. And state legislative committees will hold public hearings on the measure.

Backers may subsequently withdraw a proposal if they wish, even after completed petitions have been submitted. Under existing law, initiatives cannot be withdrawn after petitions are filed.

The measure, SB 1253 by Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), also extends the signature-gathering period from 150 to 180 days.

In addition, the state will have to post a list of the top 10 donors supporting and opposing an initiative. Currently, that information must be sought on a public database where campaigns file their fundraising reports.

In pushing the measure, Steinberg cited a survey last year by the Public Policy Institute of California that found 83% of voters feel the wording of initiatives is confusing, and 75% favor allowing more time for signature gathering.

But proponents would be under no obligation to heed recommendations from the public or the Legislature.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


by Kimberly Beltran, SI&A Cabinet Report | http://bit.ly/1on2hPU

September 26, 2014 :: (Calif.) A biennial state survey of junior high students and teachers can serve as a valid indicator of middle school climate, according to new federal analysis released this week.

After reviewing seven years of survey responses coming from more than 730,000 seventh graders and some 16,000 teachers in California middle schools, U.S. Department of Education researchers concluded that the California School Climate, Health and Learning Survey provides a sound measure for assessing school environment.

“The study finds that student and staff surveys validly and reliably assess distinct school climate domains, such as safety and connectedness, meaningful participation, bullying and discrimination, and caring staff–student relationships,” wrote authors Thomas Hanson and Adam Voight of WestEd, the research firm that handled the project for the DOE’s Institute of Education Sciences.

The school climate survey initiative is a federally-required program under No Child Left Behind but the findings in the new report – “The Appropriateness of a California Student and Staff Survey for Measuring Middle School Climate” – also come as state education officials restructure school accountability requirements to include more than just test scores.

Finding valid and reliable data that measure somewhat unquantifiable educational aspects or outcomes – such as “career ready” or “positive school climate” – has been problematic, often simply because the information hasn’t been collected.

In their report, Hanson and Voight reference study after study that point to a direct correlation between positive school climate and better academic results. Improving school climate can lead to better attendance, fewer drop outs, reduced teacher turnover and higher student proficiency in core subjects,

Having used school climate assessments in their progress reporting systems, a growing number of states and school districts are now interested in incorporating these assessments into their accountability systems, Hanson and Voight wrote.

That includes the California Office to Reform Education (CORE) – a consortium of 10 of the largest local education agencies in California –which, the authors said, has proposed building school climate measures into its school accountability system, “which would place school climate alongside standardized test scores as a component of high-stakes accountability. All these efforts require assessments with proven validity for interpreting scores as measures of school climate.”

By running the survey response information through three analytic strategies, the research team was able to determine that it can be used to “validly and reliably assess student perceptions about six school climate domains,” as well as teacher perceptions on seven domains.

The student domains were:

  • Safety and connectedness
  • Caring relationships with adults
  • Meaningful participation
  • Substance use at school
  • Bullying and discrimination
  • Delinquency

The teacher domains were:

  • Support and safety
  • Caring staff–student relationships
  • Staff–peer relationships
  • Professional development needs
  • Student health and engagement
  • Student delinquency.
  • Resource provision.

The survey responses were collected from students representing 1,117 middle schools between 2004-05 and 2010-11, and from teachers representing 85 middle schools between 2008-09 and 2011-12.

Students respond to 40 survey questions/statements related to their in-school experiences, such as “I feel safe at school” or “I have friends at school.” Teachers answer 64 staff questions or respond to statements such as “This school is a supportive place for students to learn,” and “I need training in meeting academic standards.”

“All the school climate measures exhibit adequate respondent- and school-level reliability, indicating that the survey items measuring school climate at the respondent level do so consistently and can be used to identify differences in average school climate across schools,” the analysts concluded, noting that to obtain reliable school-level climate scores, a school must sample at least 100 students and 10 teachers.

“All the school-level school climate measures were associated in expected ways with student academic performance and suspensions,” they also pointed out,” they said. “Student performance was higher and suspension rates were lower in schools with a positive school climate. These results support the validity of the survey measures for each of the school climate domains identified in the study.”

The Appropriateness of a California Student and Staff Survey for Measuring Middle School Climate


By Louis Freedberg | ED SOURCE TODAY | | http://bit.ly/1sDrPz8

September 21, 2014 | Last spring more than 3 million students in California, the largest number ever to take an online test in the state, took field tests of new assessments aligned to the Common Core state standards without major technical breakdowns or system crashes, according to state officials.

Just as California avoided the massive online breakdowns that occurred with the federal healthcare.gov website, education leaders here are now optimistic that when the full battery of tests are administered this spring for the first time that the process should go relatively smoothly.

The field tests of the assessments produced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium were intended to be a practice run for the full rollout this spring, when all of California’s 3rd- through 8th-grade students, along with 11th graders, will take the assessments in both English language arts and math for the first time. They will replace the multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper tests, known as the California Standards Tests, that students had taken each spring for 15 years until 2013.

After the field tests were administered, some news reports documented a range of problems, including students struggling to master the technicalities of taking a test online instead of filling in bubbles with a pencil. But state and Smarter Balanced officials interviewed by EdSource believe that some of the problems that occurred last spring have been dealt with, or with additional preparation and planning can be averted by this spring.

California Department of Education officials say their preliminary conclusions about the field test process are based on online surveys of school districts and eight focus groups of key education constituencies, including parents and students. Two of the groups focused on English learners and special education. The department will present an official report of its findings to the State Board of Education in time for its meeting in November.

What is still not known is how well students will perform on the most important part of the new assessments – the academic content. No scores on the field tests in either math or English language arts last spring were published, and how well students do will only be known when their scores are published for the first time after the full assessments are administered next spring.

Because California has by far the largest number of students of any state – more than 6 million – what happens here will have an impact on the overall implementation of the most prominent reform now underway in the nation’s schools.

“People were very nervous to begin with, and through our partners with the Education Testing Service, county offices and everyone else involved, things went remarkably well,” said Sue Burr, a member of the State Board of Education, at its meeting in Sacramento on Sept. 3, in response to a presentation by California Department of Education officials.

Even in Los Angeles Unified, which issued a detailed report documenting a range of problems at individual school sites, officials say the field tests went well for the nearly half million students who took them.

“It was a major challenge, but it went better than expected,” said Cynthia Lim, executive director of the district’s Office of Data and Accountability. “A year ago, if you had told me that 450,000 students would take this test online, I wouldn’t have believed it, but it actually happened.”

Leading up to the tests, districts were provided with detailed instructions about how to gain access to the online testing system. For months beforehand, districts could participate in workshops or webcasts on any number of issues related to the new tests.

Unlike other states that administered the field tests to a sample of students, California chose to administer the field tests to all eligible students. Of 8.9 million test sessions – some students logged in for two or three sessions to finish the various parts of the new assessments – 97 percent of students completed them.

At the local level, school districts are still working through a range of technical problems.

In Los Angeles, principals and test coordinators have identified problems such as not having enough iPads, laptops or desktop computers at some schools for students to take the test in a timely manner. In some instances, Lim said, the field tests were spread out over a six-week period so students could take the tests on a staggered schedule. School personnel said that lengthy period of time was too disruptive of school routines, and that the testing period should be shorter. Officials also reported that students experienced “log-in issues” with Smarter Balanced software, and students “were regularly kicked off.”

Diane Hernandez, director of the Assessment Development and Administration Division at the California Department of Education, said that the report to be presented to the State Board of Education in November will give a fuller picture of problems at the school site level. She said there were “some gaps” in broadband access at some schools, but mostly in small rural districts. To fill those gaps, the department last month announced a fund of $26.7 million, known as the Broadband Infrastructure Improvement Grant program. The state last week released a preliminary list of 300 schools – many in remote locations – that may be eligible to apply for the money.

Hernandez said the biggest problem encountered by districts was resetting passwords they needed to gain access to the testing system, known as TIDES, now renamed TOMS (Test Operations Management System). But districts having difficulty were able to call the California Technical Assistance Center using an 800 number to get immediate help, Hernandez said. The state has contracted with the Education Testing Service to run the center.

This year districts have received updated – and detailed – instructions for administering the tests in the spring. Those are posted online on a website dedicated to the new assessment system, known as the California Assessment System of Student Performance and Progress (CASSPP).

Going Deeper

Smarter Balanced officials also said they experienced few major problems with the field tests. “We did not have any interruption of service in 55 days of administering the field test,” Joe Willhoft, the executive director of the Smarter Balanced consortium, said in a webinar earlier this month.

He said some students had difficulties logging in due to unclear instructions that were given by test administrators. Some also had difficulties with “text to speech,” zooming, audio and other technical features of the online assessments, but he said the Smarter Balanced help desk was able to respond to those concerns, and those technical issues have been fixed. Willhoft said there were disruptions due to inadequate bandwidth at some schools, but that in general the feedback has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

Later this fall, districts will have another chance to prepare for the spring administration of the new assessments when the Smarter Balanced consortium provides them with “interim assessments” to gauge how students are doing. Along with other districts, Los Angeles Unified’s Lim said that the district learned a great deal from the field tests, including “how to respond quickly to schools” experiencing difficulties administering the test. The district is currently hosting focus groups of test coordinators to ensure that things go more smoothly in the spring.

Last year, 95 percent of field test sessions that students started at LA Unified were completed, without students being bumped off due to password malfunctions, bandwidth problems or other technical glitches. This year, Lim said, the target is for all students to do so.

She said some teachers and principals said that despite the new technical challenges of having to administer online assessments, they prefer them to the more cumbersome pencil-and-paper tests. The online tests have eliminated the need to collect test booklets, sort and bundle them, and then take them to a test center for the results to be collated. The district no longer needs a warehouse where for a full month prior to the annual testing period under the old system employees packaged and distributed test materials to the schools.

“This is much more manageable,” Lim said. “It is the wave of the future.”

  • For a detailed analysis by Cynthia Lim, executive director of the LAUSD Office of Data and Accountability, of the district’s experience with the Smarter Balanced field tests, go here.
  • For a PowerPoint presentation of “lessons learned” by Ron Chandler, LAUSD chief information officer, go here.

Louis Freedberg covers education policy reform and is Executive Director of EdSource.

  • 2cents small In the interest of full disclosure: The optimism for spring success was expressed by the folks quoted BEFORE the Bond Oversight Committee withheld approval last Thursday for the large number of testing devices they desired . (see http://t.co/e2uhaaTjDchttp://t.co/0phNwZbvmH)
  • In further disclosure: Ms. Lim’s detailed analysis and the “Lessons Learned” PowerPoint were not presented to the Bond Oversight Committee Thursday as parts of and/or as supporting materials accompanying Ms. Lim’s and Mr. Chandler’s presentations to the committee.



Denver Students Protest Over US History Course Focus

by Grace Smith, Education News.org | http://bit.ly/YqDsfc

Friday, September 26th, 2014  ::  Suburban Denver high schools experienced a walkout this week when students protested against a proposal to focus history education on citizenship, patriotism, and respect for authority. In their own act of civil disobedience, hundreds of students left their classrooms in the state’s second largest district, where a sick-out of teachers had closed two high schools earlier in the week.  The Associated Press says this area around this district is politically and economically diverse and has become a key political battleground.

Sparked by word of mouth and social media, the protest had students carrying American flags, and signs, some of which read, “There is nothing more patriotic than protest”.

The school board proposal will begin with a review of the Advanced Placement US History course.  The board feels that the new course outline and any other curricula that would result from it should “ promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and should not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

Although the board’s conservative majority has not yet voted on the proposal, board member Julie Williams says she understands that there are negative events that have occurred that are part of our country’s history, and that these events need to be taught.

“There are things we may not be proud of as Americans,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place.”

A student demonstrator, Tyrone G. Parks, a senior at Arvada High School, said that the US was built on civil protests, “ and everything that we’ve done is what allowed us to be at this point today. And if you take that from us, you take away everything that America was built off of”.

Superintendent Dan McMinimee has met with some of the students and renewed his offer to continue discussions on the issue. “I respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a peaceful manner,” he said. “I do, however, prefer that our students stay in class.”

There is tension in Texas also, as conservative school boards face criticism over new textbook choices, writes Colleen Slevin and P. Soloman Banda, reporting for the Associated Press.  In South Carolina, conservatives have called for the College Board, which oversees AP courses, to rewrite the framework so that no ideological bias is present.

The walkout of students in Denver followed a similar protest this week by about 100 Evergreen High School who left their classrooms to voice their opinions.  In fact, tensions have been increasing as students and teachers continue to disagree with leaders in the district, according to Jesse Paul, reporter for The Denver Post.  Two of the main issues in question are linking teacher evaluation to teachers’ raises, and the curriculum committee which will probably be instituted and would promote “positive aspects” of US history.

“We want the Jeffco [Jefferson County] board to listen and pay attention to the community,” said senior Jack Shefrin, who was involved with organizing the event, which he professed was led by students alone. “Most people feel their needs are not being met by the board.”

Superintendent McMinimee reminded students and the community that a decision on the curriculum committee has not yet been made.

Eliot Hannon, writing for Slate (Column Right) , quotes a school board member who is opposed to the changes who told the Denver Post:

“It’s chilling. Does it mean [the district’s students] will no longer study the civil rights movement, the Boston Tea Party or women’s suffrage?

School District Wants to Censor American History Curriculum to Make It More Patriotic

By Elliot Hannon, Slate | http://slate.me/1CvzErS


America! books only, please. Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

A school district in Colorado thinks its American history curriculum is a bit too glass-is-half-empty when it comes to America’s historical awesomeness. So, to spruce things up a bit, a proposal before the school board of the state’s second largest school district in Jefferson County wants to, you know, nip and tuck a tad—accentuate the positives. What would that look like? The proposed curriculum would “promote patriotic material, respect for authority, and the free-market system,” the Denver Post reports. “In turn, the panel would avoid material about ‘civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.’”

The new, well-buffed version of American history didn’t go over well with students, as the Associated Press reports, “[h]undreds of students walked out of classrooms around suburban Denver on Tuesday in protest over a conservative-led school board proposal.” Here’s more from the AP:

Student participants said their demonstration was organized by word of mouth and social media. Many waved American flags and carried signs, including messages that read "There is nothing more patriotic than protest." "I don't think my education should be censored. We should be able to know what happened in our past," said Tori Leu, a 17-year-old student who protested at Ralston Valley High School in Arvada… The proposal from Julie Williams, part of the board's conservative majority, has not been voted on and was put on hold last week. She didn't return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday, but previously told Chalkbeat Colorado, a school news website, that she recognizes there are negative events that are part of U.S. history that need to be taught. "There are things we may not be proud of as Americans," she said. "But we shouldn't be encouraging our kids to think that America is a bad place."

"It's chilling," said school board member who opposes the changes told the Denver Post. "Does it mean [the district’s students] will no longer study the civil rights movement, the Boston Tea Party or women's suffrage?"

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C.


By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News http://bit.ly/1rsxuWi

George McKenna, left. Mark Berndt, right.  |   Miramonte Elementary School (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

9/26/14, 4:37 PM PDT  ::  Los Angeles Unified’s newest board member, George McKenna, allegedly knew about an investigation into former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt but let him stay inside a classroom where a young victim claims he continued to sexually abuse her, according to court documents in a lawsuit against the district released this week.

McKenna, who was area superintendent responsible for overseeing the South Los Angeles school during the sex abuse scandal that has already cost LAUSD $30 million to settle cases with 63 children, was allegedly told about the investigation into Berndt in December 2010, according to court filings.

On Jan. 3, 2011, Berndt went back into a classroom, where he allegedly fed the girl his semen, said Brian Claypool, a Pasadena-based attorney representing the third-grade girl and her mother, along with other alleged victims seeking monetary damages in the civil lawsuit. The girl was among victims that Berndt was convicted of molesting in criminal court, Claypool said.

McKenna and two of his subordinates “should have either removed Berndt or notified parents prior to January 2011. Instead they allowed Berndt to return to the classroom on January 3, 2011, and abuse (the girl),” the documents state.

The documents detail incidents beginning in 1983, when Berndt allegedly exposed himself to students.

Claypool said he plans to present the evidence uncovered in the civil case to the U.S. Department of Justice, which could decide to conduct a criminal investigation of administrators who he believes committed child endangerment by harboring a sex predator.

“If they think this is just about a civil trial in November and December, they’ve got something else coming to them,” Claypool said.

The next court date is set for Oct. 7, when a judge will hear the district’s request to dismiss the case.

A spokesman for the district’s legal department, Sean Rossall, stated in an email that the claims are an effort to save the civil case mustered after the district’s effort to dismiss it.

He did not, however, deny that law enforcement called a district administrator under McKenna in November and December 2010.

Berndt pleaded no contest to committing lewd acts on children and was sentenced to 25 years in prison in November 2013. Berndt, of Torrance, worked as an LAUSD teacher for more than 25 years before admitting that he fed unwitting children his semen by the spoonful and on cookies in a “tasting game,” as well as putting cockroaches on their faces and photographing the abuse.

McKenna retired from being area superintendent to win a spot on the school board last month. Two of his former subordinates, who allegedly knew about the investigation in time to stop Berndt from abusing the girl again, still hold high-level positions in LAUSD, according to court documents.

LAUSD officials would not say when McKenna learned of the investigation. McKenna did not return calls for comment.

Police began a probe on Nov. 18, 2010, when a CVS employee processing the pictures became alarmed by their contents and called police to the Redondo Beach store.

Within hours, police called Miramonte principal and McKenna’s subordinate Martin Sandoval, according to transcripts of sworn testimony from Torrance police Sgt. Shawn Freeman.

During the call, Freeman described the 48 pictures, which showed children inside a classroom with tape over their mouths, blindfolded, posed with Berndt and, in some, ingesting a substance later identified as semen, according to the transcripts.

Sandoval admitted during that conversation there was no school activity that would let Berndt tape shut a child’s mouth, Freeman testified.

Under district policy, McKenna or someone he designated should have been told about suspected child abuse, according to LAUSD’s then policy on Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting requirements.

Additionally, district policy called for local superintendents such as McKenna to consider taking teachers suspected of child abuse out of classrooms. According to district policy, the area superintendent or division head should have made student safety a primary concern in deciding whether to remove a teacher.

McKenna and a subordinate allegedly learned about the investigation in December, after a Los Angeles County child abuse investigator called Sandoval, seeking to interview Berndt and students, according to lawsuit claims and court documents.

But when school returned from break on Jan. 3, 2011, Berndt was still inside a classroom.

Rossall said that Berndt wasn’t removed from the classroom earlier because officials didn’t know the nature of the allegations until January.

“When we learned of the nature of these allegations in January 2011, we took swift action. Dr. McKenna acted immediately and with resolve to protect children in this matter,” Rossall stated in an email.

Sandoval testified he didn’t understand that Berndt was being investigated for child abuse, despite receiving calls from Freeman and a child abuse investigator, according to the sworn testimony.

“I don’t know that they were saying they were investigating a crime,” Sandoval said, according to the documents.

Sandoval is currently the principal of President Avenue Elementary School in South Los Angeles. He testified that he has never been criticized by McKenna or any other boss for his handling of Miramonte, in fact he was told he did his work “well,” documents stated.

Los Angeles Unified had numerous reports of Berndt’s behavior dating to 1983, when the teacher allegedly exposed himself to students on a field trip, according to the newly released court documents.

During the 1990-91 school year, LAUSD brought in a counselor to meet with students who claimed Berndt had masturbated in front of them, according to court documents. The students were allegedly told “not to make up lies” during the counseling session, according to the lawsuit. Parents were not notified, and Berndt was allowed to continue teaching.

In July 1993, a fellow teacher reported that Berndt exposed himself to another teacher and her classroom of students. The principal at that time told the teacher there was nothing she could do because “Berndt had tenure,” according to the lawsuit.

In 1994, a Suspected Child Abuse Report was filed after a student told her mother that Berndt touched her inappropriately. Berndt was not disciplined in that incident, according to the court records released this week.

“This rises to the level of knowing and harboring a predator,” Claypool said in an interview. “They had knowledge of this guy being a pervert and they intentionally and knowingly facilitated Mark Berndt being able to carry out all of these perverted acts for 25 years.”