Friday, October 30, 2015


by Paul Farhi,  The Washington Post's media reporter  |

“It’s dead wrong,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the city’s largest teachers’ union. The Times’ readers, he added, “are harmed when they don’t know what they can trust in the biggest paper in Los Angeles.” (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

October 29 at 6:22 PM   ::  The Los Angeles Times announced what seemed like good news for its readers in August: a new reporting initiative that would expand the paper’s coverage of local education.

“Our goal is to provide an ongoing, wide-ranging report card on K-12 education in Los Angeles, California and the nation,” wrote then-Publisher Austin Beutner. He noted that the project, called “Education Matters,” would be funded by a series of charitable organizations.

Except the newspaper left out a key detail: Some of the foundations funding “Education Matters” are among the most prominent advocates of public-education reform in Los Angeles. One of them is the principal backer of a proposal to convert nearly half of Los Angeles’s public schools into charter schools.

In other words, the Times’ new education-reporting project is being funded by some of the very organizations the new education-reporting project is likely to be covering.

The Times has said the foundations will provide $800,000, enough to cover the salaries of two education journalists for at least two years.

The Times has said the foundations’ money will provide $800,000, enough to cover the salaries of two education journalists for at least two years. (Richard Vogel/AP)

Nevertheless, the initiative has raised suspicions, most notably among teachers’ union representatives and others who oppose the reformers’ agenda. Can a news organization, they ask, take money from vested interests and cover the issues fairly?

“It’s dead wrong,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the city’s largest teachers’ union. The Times’ readers, he added, “are harmed when they don’t know what they can trust in the biggest paper in Los Angeles.”

Three of the Times’ benefactors — the K&F Baxter Family Foundation, the Wasserman Foundation, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation — have been major supporters of charter and school-privatization efforts that are strongly opposed by teachers’ unions.

More specifically, the Broad Foundation developed the Los Angeles charter proposal, which would cost $490 million to create 260 new charter schools enrolling at least 130,000 students in the sprawling district (charters are publicly funded but independently operated schools that are usually non­union and exempt from work rules that govern traditional public schools).

The Broad Foundation’s chairman, billionaire businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad, has repeatedly expressed his interest in buying the Times. The newspaper’s owner, Tribune Publishing, has rejected his offers, reportedly including one this month.

Major news organizations have long tended to fund their own news-gathering activities, on the principle that taking money from another group could compromise their independence, or prompt readers or viewers to question their reporting.

But the practice isn’t unknown; NPR, a nonprofit organization, takes “grants” from organizations to fund reporting on international affairs and education. The Times has accepted grants from the Ford Foundation to expand its environment and immigration reporting.

The Broad Foundation’s chairman, billionaire businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad, has repeatedly expressed his interest in buying the Times. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Both organizations say the money doesn’t buy influence.

“There is no editorial control or say that the funders have on our newsroom,” said S. Mitra Kalita, the Times’ managing editor for editorial strategy. “As an editor, you want to ensure that this distance does exist. . . . The integrity of the news side is fundamental to what we’re doing.”

Broad, a major civic figure, has received copious coverage from the Times, some favorable, some less so. But in either case, his connections to the paper have not always been made clear to readers.

The Times’ editorial board recently applauded his foundation’s school overhaul proposal, headlining its endorsement, “A charter school expansion could be great for L.A.” The editorial made no mention of the Broad Foundation’s funding of the Times’ education reporting (the Times’ newsroom and editorial board are managed separately).

A recent Times news story reported on a poll co-commissioned by the Broad Foundation that found widespread support for the foundation’s charter-school plan. The article also didn’t mention the foundation’s support of the Times (the foundation didn’t return a request for comment). Mitra said that was an oversight and that the disclosure would be appended.

Meanwhile, the Times’ lead education reporter, Howard Blume, has mentioned the Broad funding connection in his stories. His scoop about the Broad charter plan in September noted the Broad Foundation’s involvement in the Times’ education initiative.

But Broad’s multiple entanglements with the paper have prompted Caputo-Pearl and other critics to dub the paper “the Eli Times.”

The teachers’ union is especially critical of the Times’ reporting on union organizing efforts at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a local charter network. A superior court this week granted a request by the state labor agency, the Public Employment Relations Board, for a temporary restraining order to stop Alliance from what the board characterized as abusive anti-union tactics. Alliance has denied wrongdoing.

Among Alliance’s board members is Frank Baxter, whose Baxter Family Foundation is one of the funders of the Times’ education reporting effort. The Times hasn’t mentioned Baxter’s role in its coverage of the Alliance issue. The Times editorial praising Broad’s charter proposal also favorably referenced Alliance but didn’t mention Baxter’s ties to the newspaper.

Kalita said the newspaper discloses such relationships when it reports directly on an organization or individual, but not when an individual has a secondary or indirect involvement in a story, as Baxter does with Alliance.

“Financial imperatives” have driven news organizations to accept outside funding, but “all such arrangement are, in my mind, ethically suspect,” said Steven A. Smith, a journalism professor at the University of Idaho and a former newspaper editor. “Foundations are no less agenda-driven than any other institution with which a news organization does business. . . . The traditionalist in me says, ‘no, we go it alone.’ ”

At the very least, said Smith, news organizations that make such deals should engage in “complete, exhaustive, repetitive transparency,” disclosing all of their financial connections in news articles.

The lack of disclosure in some of the Times charter stories “is a clear ethical fail,” he said.



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. |

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.


by Deepa Fernandes | Take Two | KPCC 89.3 |

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Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, urged lawmakers to approve his measure that would ban hunters from using lead ammunition, during Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. The Assembly passed Rendon's bill, AB711. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Listen to this story 8 min 39 sec

October 28 2015  ::  Incoming state Assembly speaker, Anthony Rendon, is known as an environmentalist. His career, however, began in different field -- running childcare and preschool centers for low-income children. He knows well the challenges faced by the early childhood field.

“During my time running early childhood organizations in this state, our funding was cut by $1.3 billion for early childhood education,” Rendon said. He sees funding as the the primary obstacle to getting more children into quality preschool.

During his watch, Rendon said, the impact of the budget cuts translated to a dramatic drop in per child funding for programs that accept low-income children and get reimbursed from state coffers. He said that his reimbursement rate was “$31 per child per day in 2008 [and] by 2012 we were reimbursed at $17 per child per day.”

It’ a problem faced by preschool directors statewide: how to provide quality programs for less money. Since the recession ended, Rendon said, only about $400 million of the cuts have been restored. It’s something he plans to continue working on in Sacramento despite Governor Brown’s veto of the most recent childcare bill.

Rendon’s district, which encompasses much of southeast L.A., qualifies as a desert when it comes to finding childcare. Cudahy and Maywood are some of the hardest places to find childcare in L.A. County. “We have about 3,000 children who are between 0 to 5 and we only have about 350 spaces for them,” said Maywood Mayor Oscar Magana, told KPCC last year.

It’s a problem that Rendon acknowledges has affected a swath of children in his district who were born right before the recession in 2008. Many of those children may well have missed out on any early education, and right now they are showing up in kindergarten and first grade.

“It’s a very bad thing for our K-12 schools, it’s a very bad thing for our [future] workforce,” Rendon said. “Losing the ability to send children to early childhood education for a generation is a crime, doing it twice, doing it for the next generation is even worse.”

Another concern in the early childhood field is the potential of more poor families losing childcare when the minimum wage increase goes into effect in Los Angeles. The small wage rise might push some families above the state threshold to qualify for free or subsidized childcare, forcing parents to choose between pulling kids out of childcare as they will be unable to afford market rates for preschool, or dropping out of the workforce. But raising the income threshold would mean more children statewide would qualify for subsidized preschool increasing demand for already limited seats.

“It’s a conundrum that can be solved through increased funding of early childhood education,” Rendon said.

Does he agree with raising the income threshold by which families qualify? “Absolutely,” Rendon said, “I’m completely in favor of that.”

At a NYC Success Academy Charter School: SINGLING OUT PUPILS WHO HAVE ‘GOT TO GO’


The Success Academy charter school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where the “Got to Go” list was created at the principal’s direction. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

OCT. 29, 2015  ::  From the time Folake Ogundiran’s daughter started kindergarten at a Success Academy charter school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the girl struggled to adjust to its strict rules.

She racked up demerits for not following directions or not keeping her hands folded in her lap. Sometimes, after being chastised, she threw tantrums. She was repeatedly suspended for screaming, throwing pencils, running away from school staff members or refusing to go to another classroom for a timeout.

One day last December, the school’s principal, Candido Brown, called Ms. Ogundiran and said her daughter, then 6, was having a bad day. Mr. Brown warned that if she continued to do things that were defiant and unsafe — including, he said, pushing or kicking, moving chairs or tables, or refusing to go to another classroom — he would have to call 911, Ms. Ogundiran recalled. Already feeling that her daughter was treated unfairly, she went to the school and withdrew her on the spot.

Success Academy, the high-performing charter school network in New York City, has long been dogged by accusations that its remarkable accomplishments are due, in part, to a practice of weeding out weak or difficult students. The network has always denied it. But documents obtained by The New York Times and interviews with 10 current and former Success employees at five schools suggest that some administrators in the network have singled out children they would like to see leave.

At Success Academy Fort Greene, the same day that Ms. Ogundiran heard from the principal, her daughter’s name was one of 16 placed on a list drawn up at his direction and shared by school leaders.

The heading on the list was “Got to Go.”

Nine of the students on the list later withdrew from the school. Some of their parents said in interviews that while their children attended Success, their lives were upended by repeated suspensions and frequent demands that they pick up their children early or meet with school or network staff members. Four of the parents said that school or network employees told them explicitly that the school, whose oldest students are now in the third grade, was not right for their children and that they should go elsewhere.

The current and former employees said they had observed similar practices at other Success schools. According to those employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect their jobs or their relationships with people still at the network, school leaders and network staff members explicitly talked about suspending students or calling parents into frequent meetings as ways to force parents to fall in line or prompt them to withdraw their children.

Last year, for instance, the principal of Success Academy Harlem 2 Upper, Lavinia Mackall, told teachers not to automatically send annual re-enrollment forms home to certain students, because the school did not want those students to come back, two former members of the school’s staff said. Ms. Mackall said that her comments had been misinterpreted and that she was trying to encourage parents to take the school’s requirements seriously, but that she also did not believe the school was right for all students.

In another example, a current employee said, a network lawyer in a conversation with colleagues described a particularly unruly student’s withdrawal as “a big win” for the school.

In a written response to questions, Success Academy’s spokeswoman, Ann Powell, said that the “Got to Go” list was a mistake and that the network quickly got wind of it and reprimanded Mr. Brown, the principal.

Ms. Powell said that Success schools did not push children out, and that what might look like an effort to nudge students out the door was actually an attempt to help parents find the right environment for their children. Some on the list required special education settings that Success could not offer them, she said.

Mr. Brown said in an email that he thought the disruptive behavior of the students on the list was dragging the whole school down, and “I felt I couldn’t turn the school around if these students remained.”

From left, Folake Ogundiran, Folake Wimbish and Nicey Givens all withdrew their children from the school. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Once he was reprimanded, though, he and his staff tried to work with those students, he said.

Even so, five left before the end of the school year, and four more departed over the summer.

As to the child’s withdrawal being a “big win,” Ms. Powell said, “if we have a parent whose child really needs to be in a different school, which was a better learning environment for him/her to succeed in and the parent had trouble accepting their child’s needs, might that be characterized as a ‘big win?’ Yes.”

On Thursday, after this article was published online, Eva S. Moskowitz, a former New York City councilwoman who runs Success Academy, was asked by reporters about the “Got to Go” list. Ms. Moskowitz said that given her network’s size, “mistakes are sometimes made.” She declined to answer further questions, saying she would hold a news conference on Friday to discuss “the mistake that was made in that particular case.”

Frequent Suspensions

Success Academy is the city’s largest charter school network. It has 34 schools, and plans to grow to 70 in five or six years.

The network serves mostly black and Hispanic students and is known for exacting behavior rules. Even the youngest pupils are expected to sit with their backs straight, their hands clasped and their eyes on the teacher, a posture that the network believes helps children pay attention. Ms. Moskowitz has said she believes children learn better with structure and consistency in the classroom. Good behavior and effort are rewarded with candy and prizes, while infractions and shoddy work are penalized with reprimands, loss of recess time, extra assignments and, in some cases, suspensions as early as kindergarten.

Charter schools are privately run but publicly funded and admit children by lottery. Similar to a traditional public school, a charter school must provide a seat to a child who has enrolled unless the student withdraws, is expelled, turns 21 or moves out of the state. Charter schools must follow strict guidelines before formally expelling any student, and Success has done so only once since its first school opened in 2006. But Success’s critics accuse it of pushing children out by making their parents’ lives so difficult that they withdraw.

Suspensions at Success, which typically last one or two days, are frequent compared with traditional public schools. In the 2012-13 school year, the most recent one for which state data is available, Success schools suspended between 4 percent and 23 percent of their students at least once, with most suspending more than 10 percent. According to the most recent statistics from the city’s Education Department, from 2013-14, traditional public schools suspended 3 percent of students that academic year.

Eva S. Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy, said that given the size of the charter network, “mistakes are sometimes made.” Credit Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Ms. Moskowitz has said that suspensions can make parents recognize the seriousness of their children’s misbehavior and that removing students who are acting dangerously from the classroom protects teachers and allows them to do their jobs more effectively.

Principals at Success, many in their 20s and 30s, frequently consult with a team of lawyers before suspending a student or requiring a parent to pick up a child early every day. It was a member of that team who described a student’s withdrawal from the Success Academy in Union Square to colleagues as a “big win,” the current employee said.

James D. Merriman, the chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, a group that advocates and supports charter schools, said it was unrealistic to expect any given school to be a good fit for every child. And Mr. Merriman noted that the city had many traditional public schools that required a test or other screening for admission, schools that by definition did not serve all students.

“I think if you asked most charter leaders they’d say that their goal is to be a fit for as broad an array of children as possible,” he said, “and they’re working very hard to that end.”

Under Pressure

Mr. Brown arrived at Success Academy Fort Greene, which shares a white-brick building with a public school in the shadow of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, in November 2014. He was the school’s third principal since it opened a year earlier, and he said he found the school, with 224 students, out of control. Children behaved violently, he said, and teachers were overwhelmed and starting to feel hopeless.

“If the school had been better managed from the start, then we could have done better by these students and probably could have kept more of them,” he said in an email. “However, it is also the case that for some of them, Success wasn’t the best place. Some of them needed an alternative setting with highly specialized services. And some parents just didn’t agree with our philosophy.”

Some of the parents whose children were on the “Got to Go” list acknowledged that they did not agree with how the school managed behavior. But several also said that both before and after the list was created, they thought school and network employees were trying to push them out.

Folake Wimbish said her son, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was suspended 19 times last year, in first grade, and missed 26 days. Success said her son was intellectually gifted but struggled with behavior, “often hitting, kicking, biting and spitting at other children and adults.”

In early December, while Ms. Wimbish was pushing the school to evaluate her son for special education services, she was called to a meeting in Lower Manhattan with the network’s assistant general counsel and its associate special education manager, Julie Freese. She said Ms. Freese told her that, because of his suspensions, her son was missing out on his education, and she needed to think about his well-being.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you just put him in another school, because he’s suffering,’ ” Ms. Wimbish said.

Ms. Wimbish withdrew her son at the end of the year, because with the suspensions and calls to pick him up, she said, “I started feeling like I was going to have a breakdown.” He now attends Public School 119 in Brooklyn, where Ms. Wimbish said he was very happy and had not been suspended once.

Monique Jeffrey said her son, who was in kindergarten last year, was suspended so many times she “stopped counting.” In the middle of the year, Ms. Jeffrey said, the school’s education manager, Rebecca Fleischman, told her that her son had emotional and behavioral issues the school could not handle and that she should look for another school. Ms. Jeffrey withdrew him at the end of the year.

Nicey Givens, the mother of another student on the list, said her son, also a kindergartner last year, was suspended many times, in some cases, the school told her, for fighting. Ms. Fleischman said in an email that a special education committee of the school district recommended that the boy be placed in a type of special education class the school did not offer in his grade. Ms. Givens recalled that Ms. Fleischman told her the school did not have the resources to serve her son and offered to help find him a placement in a regular public school. Her son now attends P.S. 287.

Ms. Powell, the Success spokeswoman, said the charter network was deeply committed to serving special education students and it was prevented from offering more special education classes because the city had not granted it enough classrooms. “Helping some students find better placements is not wrong,” she added.

Around the time the “Got to Go” list was created, Mr. Brown and the school’s dean spoke with the principal of another Success school in Brooklyn, and the dean shared with her colleagues some notes from that conversation. The notes were part of an email exchange shown to The Times by a former Success employee.

The notes describe several suggestions for dealing with families who are “not on board” and discussed 911 calls.

The notes also appear to allude to the possibility of getting one child on the “Got to Go” list classified as a 12:1:1 special education student. Those students are entitled to classrooms limited to 12 students, with one teacher and one aide, so Success Academy, which offers only five such classes in a network serving 11,000 students, might not be able to meet the needs of every 12:1:1 student.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in Brooklyn this month to demand equality in the city's schools. Credit Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

Ms. Fleischman, the education manager, warned her colleagues in a follow-up email that the goal should not have been put in an email and that, in any case, a 12:1:1 classification “does not guarantee a withdrawal.”

Asked this month about that remark, she said that she was saying only that the parent of a 12:1:1 student would not be required to take the student out, and was not alluding to any effort to ensure the child would leave.

Mixed Messages

Some of the parents whose children were on the list said that while some school employees were advising them to leave, others were sending reassuring messages.

On Feb. 2, a teacher, Hannah Hodari, wrote an email to Ms. Jeffrey about her son’s progress in math. “I can totally tell you have been working with him, he was very enthusiastic today and his work and focus was much improved,” the teacher wrote.

In June, after Ms. Jeffrey had decided to withdraw her son, Ms. Hodari urged her to reconsider, saying in an email that she would be “so excited” to see him return and “watch him be successful” in first grade.

“However,” the teacher added, “I also understand where your concerns and doubts come from.”

Ms. Powell, the spokeswoman, said: “We make tremendous efforts to keep all children. We do this because morally once a child enters our doors, they are ours, and we want them to succeed.”

She also named three mothers of children on the “Got to Go” list who were still at the school, saying they would be able to describe the efforts that Success had made to keep their students there.

One of those mothers, Aisha Cooper, said her son, now in second grade, had struggled with his behavior because he was easily distracted, had difficulty keeping his eyes on the teacher and would sometimes call out in class. She said he was suspended once in kindergarten for throwing a snow globe across the room, and she recalled his kindergarten teacher’s once suggesting that maybe Success was not a good fit for him.

Ms. Cooper said she never felt as if the school wanted him gone. She said she liked the school so much that she was planning to send her daughter there for kindergarten next year.

But when a reporter asked if she knew that her son had been included last year on the “Got to Go” list, Ms. Cooper said she did not.

“I’m a little upset about that,” she said after a minute. “They could have let me know he was on a list that he ‘had to go.’ And I would have asked them why, because he’s not a bad child. He just talks too much sometimes.

“He doesn’t hit kids, he doesn’t knock kids over, he doesn’t scream, he just talks too much. So I don’t understand why he’s on this list.”

  • Are you a current or former charter school student in New York City? We would like to hear from your perspective about what it's like to attend a charter school. Please email with your response, which will be kept confidential and will not be published. However, an editor or reporter may contact you for a possible future article.
  • A version of this article appears in print on October 30, 2015, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Charter School’s ‘Got to Go’ List Singled Out Difficult Students .

Arne Duncan: DITCH TRADITIONAL TEXTBOOKS FOR ‘OPENLY LICENSED DIGITAL EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES’- U.S. would mandate that all copyright materials developed with federal funds have open license

by e-mail from Fritzwire

Oct 30 2105  12:03 AM ::    Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday urged schools and districts to ditch the traditional textbooks and try openly licensed digital educational resources instead. He made his remarks at the Open Education Symposium in D.C. He'll also talk about federal efforts to ensure all students have access to such resources.

The U.S. Department of Education announced today the launch of #GoOpen, a campaign to encourage states, school districts and educators to use openly licensed educational materials. As part of the campaign, the Department is proposing a new regulation that would require all copy rightable intellectual property created with Department grant funds to have an open license.

"In order to ensure that all students - no matter their zip code - have access to high-quality learning resources, we are encouraging districts and states to move away from traditional textbooks and toward freely accessible, openly-licensed materials," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "Districts across the country are transforming learning by using materials that can be constantly updated and adjusted to meet students' needs."

The announcements were made at an Open Education Symposium hosted by the Department and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for state and district superintendents and other educators from across the country committed to adopting openly licensed educational materials. They were joined by innovators from education technology companies and nonprofit organizations who have committed to working alongside these districts to create new tools that help educators find, adapt, create, and share resources.

With the proposed policy, the Department joins the U.S. Department of Labor, USAID, State, and other Federal agencies in leading the Administration's open government initiatives. After the proposed policy is published in the Federal Register, members of the public can submit comments for thirty days at regulations --!home

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Howard Blume

Howard Blume  | LA Times |

L.A. Unified fires attorney, again, for blaming student for having sex with teacher

L.A. Unified board member Monica Ratliff, shown at a meeting last year, had called for the dismissal of an attorney who suggested that a 14-year-old was partly to blame for having sex with a teacher. The district confirmed Tuesday that the attorney, W. Keith Wyatt, had been fired.(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Oct 27, 2015  9:18 PPM  ::  The attorney who argued in court that a 14-year-old was partly to blame when a teacher induced her to have sex has lost his job with the Los Angeles Unified School District for a second time — after an outcry over his rehiring.

Veteran attorney W. Keith Wyatt will no longer handle cases for the nation’s second-largest school system, the district confirmed Tuesday. The decision was made by General Counsel David Holmquist, who had defended Wyatt and the work of his firm in the past.

“Under the totality of the circumstances, it’s in the district’s best interests to take this action at this time,” Holmquist said.

Holmquist acted after a lengthy discussion about the case in a closed meeting of the Board of Education.

The board also debated whether to appoint an outside committee to guide the search for a new superintendent of schools. Board members then voted in public 5 to 2 against establishing such a panel, leaving the selection process firmly in the hands of the school board.

L.A. Unified hopes to choose a new leader by the end of the year, when current Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, 83, said he would like to step down. Cortines agreed to serve a year ago, when Supt. John Deasy resigned under pressure.

Although the decision to dismiss the attorney fell to Holmquist, it was clear that several board members wanted to part ways with Wyatt. The district also was under public pressure to take such action; parents and community members have been organizing a petition drive calling for his removal.

The underlying case involved a former Edison Middle School teacher, Elkis Hermida, who was convicted of lewd behavior with a child and sentenced to three years in prison for sexual misconduct in 2010-11. The victim filed a civil lawsuit against the district, claiming negligence.

Wyatt had sparked outrage when discussing the case with public radio station KPCC-FM (89.3) last year. In that interview, he suggested that a 14-year-old was mature enough to consent to sex with her teacher.

“Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that's a much more dangerous decision than to decide, 'Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,' “Wyatt said.

Wyatt’s core argument in court was different: He said the district could not have reasonably known about the sexual relationship and therefore should not be liable for damages. A jury agreed in a 2013 verdict.

A court of appeal, however, ordered a new trial in September. The court ruled that the girl’s sexual history should never have been introduced and that the judge’s instructions to the jury should never have included the option of assigning partial responsibility to the girl, Holmquist said.

The school district is not contesting those findings, but filed an appeal Monday to the state Supreme Court on other grounds. The district contends that the ruling by the court of appeal, if it stands, would lower the legal standard for when a school district is liable for sexual misconduct by an employee. The district asserts that the current standard is more appropriate, Holmquist said.

The case will be retried regardless of what happens with the appeal, he said.

The district first suspended Wyatt in November but brought him and the firm — Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt — back in February. Holmquist cited 28 years of “outstanding legal work” as the justification.

L.A. Unified will be transferring four cases being handled by the firm to other lawyers. The district has not decided on whether it would employ Wyatt’s firm going forward, but Wyatt himself will not receive any district work for the foreseeable future, Holmquist said.

“There’s been a lot of attention surrounding his out-of-court statements, making it increasingly difficult for us to do the work that we do, and to properly represent the district,” Holmquist said.

Wyatt could not be reached for comment.

So far this year, L.A. Unified has tallied about $4,500 in payments to the firm — a total that is likely to rise once the account is fully settled.

The vote against appointing an outside superintendent search committee showed division on the Board of Education. Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez favored such a committee; the other board members did not.

A group of civic leaders and local organizations had pressed the board repeatedly to establish an independent body.

An executive search firm, meanwhile, already is accepting applications and recruiting candidates. And the same consulting team also is collecting public input through a series of community meetings.

School board members expressed disappointment with turnout at these forums and extended the comment period through Sunday, instead of through Wednesday. District officials also will push to have high school students fill out surveys on the topic at school. Parents will be urged to stop by campuses and parent centers to do the same.


by Adolfo Guzman-Lopez | KPCC |

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  Hank Gmitro, president of the firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, is leading Los Angeles Unified's superintendent search. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

October 27, 05:30 AM  ::  The man who heads the hunt for the next Los Angeles Unified superintendent says the size of the 650,000-student school district and its high-profile search are adding to the challenge of finding a new leader.

Hank Gmitro, president of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, sat down with KPCC to talk about his search firm's quest to find qualified candidates who can manage a school district seen as among the most difficult to run in the country.

The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and space.

Q: How many superintendent searches have you conducted and how does L.A. Unified differ from those previous searches?

A: I’ve been involved with 40 over the last six to seven years. Our company has done over a thousand over the last 20-plus years.

This is similar in terms of engagement and the activities that have been planned to other large system searches with community forums and the sessions that are scheduled. But I will share that the scale of L.A. is different than any place, just due to its sheer size.

Q: How differently are you and your colleagues approaching the LAUSD superintendent search compared to the others?

A: The difference is the scale and the public nature of it. Everyone knows that L.A. Unified is looking for a new superintendent. So…the advertisement to potential candidates isn’t really the need as in some other places when you’re trying to get the word out that the position is open.

I’ve worked on several other large system searches of a couple hundred students and we have probably at least quadrupled our effort in the amount of time that we’re devoting to leadership profiling activities here and the number of sessions being offered.

Q: What’s prepared you for this job?

A: I was a superintendent, so I know the role. I wasn’t a superintendent in a really large system, it was a smaller suburban system. But I’ve done this kind of work for the last, almost 10 years. I did a few searches when I was a superintendent locally for the firm. One of the things that we try to do when we recruit associates is to have people who understand the process and the national perspective when it’s a national search, but also understand the local dynamics and the state dynamics. We try to have people on the team who understand California, understand Los Angeles as well as a couple of people on the team who understand our national process and outreach.

At this point in time, I have probably done six or seven searches of school districts of the hundred largest school districts across the country. I feel like I have some experience in knowing what those dynamics are in large systems and how do you reach out to massive audiences.

Q: Next month, when you start making calls to potential candidates, how do you go about telling them there’s a job opening here?

A: That’s yet to be determined, because part of that is based on the criteria that the board develops. So before you get too far into the recruitment effort, you really want to know what the community is looking for and what the board is looking for.

Some of the themes I’ve heard so far, across the board from students, parents, staff members, board members is [they want] somebody who really understands the educational system, has had some experience with education or at least significant leadership roles in the delivery of public service, human services. A common comment has been [they want] someone who really puts the needs of kids first.

Q: Are you going to talk to current superintendents and former superintendents?

A: That will certainly be one pool of candidates, but I’m also waiting to hear a little bit further as to whether there are other categories of people who should be approached. Some people have suggested internal candidates. At each of our sessions, we always ask for recommendations in terms of people we should approach. Some people have made some suggestions.

Some people have said, someone who really understands the Los Angeles area, the politics of the community, understands LAUSD in terms of the history of the organization, [and knows] some of the things we have been through in this community, some of the efforts we have tried, some of the challenges we have faced. Could an internal candidate do that or somebody who’s worked in the system at some point in time and maybe moved on to another position?

Q: Doesn’t that mean that there’s a short list of the heads of the largest school districts or the top administrators within LAUSD?

A: I don’t think there’s a short list, but there’s a possible list. If you’re looking at just superintendents who have had experience of 100,000 students or more, there’s only 26 districts in this country that are that size. So are you looking for someone who is in one of those jobs, has been in one of those jobs and may be doing something else? Sometimes people look at deputies stepping into the superintendency for the first time.

There’s no list that has been developed yet, but there certainly are the potential candidates … we might reach out to. But a large piece of that is, once the board defines the characteristics that they’re looking for in terms of leadership style, educational philosophy, experiences they’ve had in terms of financial management or technology or certain kinds of areas, that may lead you in one direction versus another direction…. .

The other [thing] in terms of the short list is, some people moved just recently. So they may not be likely to make a move. A lot of the top 25 districts have hired in the last year or two or three so whether someone is willing to make a leap in that short of a tenure, I don’t know.

In the last 15 years, there have been divisions between those who support charter schools and those who support the teachers union or teacher-friendly policies. How will that play out in your search for a superintendent?

It’s going to have to be an issue that the next superintendent, and therefore the candidates who may consider the position, is ready to deal with. The thing we have heard as the most common theme from the sessions we’ve held hasn’t been so much about charter schools, but [people want] someone who is pro-public education.

Q: What does that mean?

A: One of the things I haven’t heard is a criticism of charter schools. The frustration has been: shouldn’t charter schools have to play by the same rules as everyone else? Shouldn’t they have to accept special education students that want to go to them? Shouldn’t they have to be held to the same accountability standards in terms of performance?

Q: Will you be asking candidates about charter schools, if the board gives you that direction?

A: Sure, if that’s part of the definition that they define in their profile, experience with charter schools or dealing with charter schools.

Q: Are internal politics something that you tread lightly on?

A: We try to be as knowledgeable about them as possible and raise those issues and have the board members think about those kinds of issues before they ever see candidates, to say, what is that you’re looking for in this area. The reality might be charter schools at the moment here, but five years from now there could be a whole different issue that has to be addressed in L.A. Unified.

Q: How much weight do the public comments have since, in the end, it’s up to the school board to pick the next superintendent?

A: I think they have a lot of weight. The board has been very consistent and sincere and genuine in their direction to us that they want to know what the public thinks before they define that criteria. But the reality that everyone should be aware of is that everyone has a vote to elect the school board and so they have a say in the decision about the school board through a public election. But once the school board is elected that’s the body that is vested with making the decision about who the next superintendent is.

Q: Have school boards given you lists of people they don’t want as superintendent?

A: I wouldn’t say a list. But on occasion when a name is recommended or considered, someone has said, ‘No, I don’t think that’s the right person for us,’ based on the individual’s reputation or what they know of a candidate.

Q: Has this board given that sort of direction?

A: Not at all.

Q: How do you go about approaching people for a superintendent job?

A: The job is advertised so anybody can submit an application online. The recruitment effort is what’s more than likely going to generate applications that the board is going to want to see. That effort is about picking up the phone and asking them, ‘Are you interested?’ It might be based on the name being recommended by someone. It might be one of our associates making a referral. We have 120 associates across the country and I regularly send out information — this is what the school district is looking for here’s their profile. Is there someone you would recommend that you know of who fits this profile?

Q: This is a confidential search until the appointment. What steps do you take to ensure it remains confidential?

A: The names are not released of who the board is interviewing or considering. I think it’s important for people to understand the rationale for a confidential search. The board has a desire to see the very strongest candidates. I’m from Chicago. Say I’m the superintendent of Chicago public schools and I’m thinking, ‘Well, maybe I would be interested in talking to L.A. about this particular opening.’

If I know my name is going to be held in confidence through those stages of that conversation with the board, I might be willing to take that step. If I know that my name is going to become public that I’m applying for that position and considering that position, I’m putting my current job at risk. I’ve seen people lose their jobs over applying for other jobs when their names have become public. Their board has said to them, ‘If you want to leave, maybe we don’t want you here.’

Q: Will current L.A. Unified employees be measured differently from candidates outside the school district?

A: The board said, ‘We’d like to consider internal and external candidates against the same criteria.’ Once we develop that criteria, that’s what we’ll use to asses their match for what we need to move forward. At this point in time, it’s open to everyone.

Q: What’s next in the L.A. Unified superintendent search?

A: Through the end of October, through the 28th, 29th the survey is up and running. We encourage everyone to take the survey. The meetings will be occurring through the 29th. October is really focused on the community portion of the search.

All that information will be compiled into a written report that will be presented at a public board meeting on November 10th and the board will use that information to discuss the criteria they want to establish. And that’ll have to move fairly rapidly during the beginning part of November because November is really the time that we’re going to be recruiting and vetting candidates against that criteria. And then the board will start interviewing candidates through a two-stage process starting in December.

The first round of interviews will be scripted interviews that they ask the candidates the same questions so that they’re assessing all the candidates equally.

Q: Are you in those meetings?

A: Sometimes we are, sometimes we aren’t. That’s up to the discretion of the board. We’re there to help facilitate the debriefing of the candidates after they do the interview. Sometimes boards like us to sit in on the interviews, sometimes not.

Once they interview the first round of candidates they will determine who they would like to bring back for second interviews which are much more conversational, interactive type of interview where it could be a two, three, four-hour dialogue back and forth between the candidate and the board assessing their match.

One thing that’s important for everybody to remember is that candidates are interviewing boards and the job as much as the board and the district is interviewing the candidate. They’re trying to determine, “Is this a place I feel like I’m a good match for, and can I do good work here, and meet the needs and expectations they’re looking for?”

Q: During November, how many phone calls will you make, how many names will come to you?

Probably hundreds of phone calls because, in addition to calling candidates, we’re also calling references and following up and vetting candidates whether they should move forward.

In a typical superintendent search, a pool of 30 to 40 qualified candidates is a pretty strong showing.

People often think there’s hundreds of people who want these jobs or are willing to make moves. That’s not always the case. Credentials and qualifications are often a driving factor. Experience is a driving factor. And for some place as large as L.A., that pool may be smaller in terms of people who ultimately commit.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015



By John Fensterwald | EdSource |

Oct 26, 2015 | The California Department of Education is recommending that the state dock the Educational Testing Service, the company administering the state’s standardized testing program, $3.1 million for delivering the scores and reports on the new Smarter Balanced tests late. The penalty would equal about 4 percent of the $83 million contract that the state signed with ETS for 2014-15.

The State Board of Education will decide whether to penalize ETS for a breach of contract at its meeting on Nov. 4. ETS, which has handled the state’s assessments for more than a decade, could ask the state board to reconsider the penalty.

Last spring, ETS oversaw the new online tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts for about 3 million students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11. Districts reported that the administration overall went well, with few serious technical glitches among more than 1,000 districts and charter schools.

However, ETS was late in reporting the results on the completed tests to school districts under the terms of the contract, according to a report in the November state board agenda. Districts were to receive paper copies of individual student reports for mailing home to parents within eight weeks of the completion of testing, which occurred in most districts in mid-June. The delay also postponed delivery of the final data file of the statewide results to the Department of Education.

The department had planned to release the statewide results in early August. That deadline was pushed back a month. Reports to parents weren’t mailed out until well into September, in some cases too late for discussions in meetings with parents on Back to School nights.

ETS’ contract for next year calls for submitting the students’ scores to districts within four weeks, so that teachers can review the results before the start of school.

Under the terms of the contract, the state was obligated to pay 90 percent of ETS’ charges as they are billed, but could withhold 10 percent – $8.3 million – until the work was completed. Then the department would verify that ETS met the conditions of the contract. The Department of Education proposes to pay $5.2 million of the remaining money but not $3.1 million because of the contract violations.

“It’s been standard operating procedure for 40 years in the industry to penalize a contractor for not making deadlines for returning results,” said Doug McRae, a retired executive from Monterey who oversaw K-12 standardized tests and has closely watched rollout of the Smarter Balanced tests. “It would be unusual for California to let them off the hook.”

ETS did not respond to a request for comment.


By Caitlin Emma | from Politico Morning Education |

10/27/2015 10:00 AM EDT   ::  Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress are expected Wednesday and word around town is - they're bad.

Education policy watchers are bracing themselves for the onslaught of political finger pointing, urging folks to pump the brakes before laying any blame on one particular policy or party. Chad Aldeman of Bellwether Education Partners is asking folks to look at the scores on a macro scale:

"Although NAEP scores barely budge year-to-year, over the long term, NAEP scores are way, way up. Remember that no matter what happens this week." He also cautions that changing demographics have masked how NAEP scores have improved:

  • - Urban Institute senior fellow Matthew Chingos writes in a new report that NAEP scores have increased more than one would expect based on demographic shifts from 2003 to 2013. But "recent gains in NAEP scores have been partially concealed by increased enrollments of lower-scoring demographic groups in all 50 states," he writes. Chingos writes that the Education Department and the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP, "should proactively encourage the responsible use of NAEP data, for example by releasing demographically adjusted NAEP data alongside the raw scores for each state." More:
  • - ICYMI: A new study suggests that NAEP should be more aligned to the Common Core to accurately assess what students are learning in the classroom. A mismatch between classroom instruction and what NAEP assesses could be one explanation for lower scores:

OBAMA’S STUNNING REVERSAL ON STANDARDIZED TESTING: Why his latest comments could spell doom for “®eformers”


The president came out last weekend against the overemphasis on testing, breaking with 20 years of precedent

by David Dayen | Salon |

Obama's stunning reversal on standardized testing: Why his latest comments could spell doom for "reformers"(Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst/bluestocking via iStock/Salon)

Tuesday, Oct 27, 2015 02:57 AM PST  ::  The activist/performance art group The Yes Men’s signature technique is to impersonate corporations or governmental agencies. They’ve posed as representatives from Dow Chemical, offering to liquidate their company and distribute funds to victims of the Bhopal disaster, or as officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, announcing the reopening of public housing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Through these hoaxes, the Yes Men publicize destructive policies and picture a world where they can be reversed.

That’s what I had in mind when I read that the Obama Administration called for a cap on standardized testing of no more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time, acknowledging their own role in endorsing a culture of constant test-taking. I simply assumed that The Yes Men had struck again, spoofing the Administration and calling attention to their education reform policies.

But that wasn’t an impersonator but President Obama himself saying that “learning is about so much more than filling in the right bubble,” and that it “takes the joy out of teaching and learning.”

Rigorous testing was so fundamental to the Obama Administration’s education reform agenda that this repudiation resembles shutting down Obamacare or the EPA’s carbon pollution regulations. Leveraged by Education Department policies like Race to the Top, which trickled out conditional funding, more states evaluated its teachers by factoring in test scores, and incorporated additional tests through the new Common Core standards.

As a result, teachers spent more and more of their school days preparing their classes to fill out Scan-Tron sheets, and less time on more rewarding pursuits like teaching critical thinking or triggering long-lasting interests. According to a survey of 66 districts by the Council on the Great City Schools, students now take an average of 112 required standardized tests between kindergarten and 12th grade, or over eight and a half every year.

Many of these tests fulfill federal mandates, from Race to the Top to the No Child Left Behind to Common Core. Eighth-grade students exceeded the Administration’s proposed limit of 2 percent of instruction time per year just on testing, to say nothing of the time spent teaching to the tests.

Most important, none of this testing appears to achieve the goal of creating more knowledgeable students. The Council on the Great City Schools study found no relationship between testing and reading and math scores on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) between fourth and eighth grade. The tests do more to help administrators’ claim that they are demanding “strong standards” than they do to actually instruct children.

What’s the other byproduct of excessive testing? Financial windfalls for the four private companies who create and administer the tests: Pearson, Educational Testing Service, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and McGraw-Hill. These four firms have spent over $20 million lobbying the government between 2009 and 2014, insisting on more testing to boost their profits, according to the Center for Media and Democracy think tank. The testing sector generates $2 billion in annual revenue, so the return on investment is excellent.

Companies like Pearson work the states for lucrative testing contracts as well, but the tone at the top – mandating multiple overlapping assessments to determine student instruction levels and weed out bad teachers – provided a boost to their bottom lines. The testing trend was in part a money grab.

The Obama Administration finally admitting that their zeal for testing went too far breaks with 20 years of precedent, including nearly seven years’ worth of their own actions. Part of this is the backlash to Common Core from both the left and the right. Parents initiated the growing “opt-out movement,” where students choose not to take standardized tests. And this undercurrent of discontent has driven the tremendous shortage of available teachers, who weren’t interested in a career as an easily demonized vessel for imparting the mechanized business of rote memorization.

The Education Department’s resulting Testing Action Plan is rather vague. It states that standardized tests must be “worth taking,” time-limited to allow for critical instruction time and just one among multiple measures of how students are learning. They vow to work with school districts and states to realize these goals and “develop innovative assessments,” though the proposed annual funding level of $403 million is pretty small. And there’s talk of flexibility with federal mandates, which will likely be tweaked further with the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, scheduled for this year.

Some have criticized the Administration’s plan for hiding behind buzzwords like “innovative assessments” as a Trojan horse for yet more corporate-influenced education, including perhaps online-based learning administered by for-profit companies. Certainly there’s no linking of a reduction in testing to measures that actually develop and improve the whole child, like the increasing proliferation of what Demos’ Matt Bruenig calls “welfare schools,” which recognize that providing services like meals, clothing, health care and more does as much to influence a poor child’s trajectory as in-classroom activities.

But as a first step to acknowledging the harms of over-testing, and the stress it causes school districts, teachers and students, I’ll take it. Education “reformers” made a few companies rich through the testing craze, but accomplished little else. While some are already reacting to this retreat by warning of the “unintended consequences” of capping testing, their vision of a constantly prodded and poked child, monitored incessantly for whether they can ace a multiple-choice exam without any understanding of whether they can think clearly and coherently, is coming to an end. A renewed focus on giving children the resources they need to succeed, instead of trying to assess, minute-by-minute, whether they are failing, would be a welcome approach. And it didn’t even take The Yes Men to get policymakers to come to their senses.

David Dayen

  • David Dayen is a contributing writer for Salon

NCLB+ESEA REWRITE: No Child Left Behind: What Worked, What Didn't

Cory Turner - Square

Cory Turner | NPR Morning Edition |

Listen to the Story : 7:09

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act hasn't been updated since it was renamed "No Child Left Behind" in 2001 by President George W. Bush. The law was introduced by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to help states level the playing field for students living and learning in poverty.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act hasn't been updated since it was renamed "No Child Left Behind" in 2001 by President George W. Bush. The law was introduced by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to help states level the playing field for students living and learning in poverty.
Matt Rourke/AP

October 27, 2015 4:29 AM ET  ::  Cross your fingers.

Congress is trying to do something it was supposed to do back in 2007: agree on a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It's not controversial to say the law is in desperate need of an update.

The ESEA is hugely important, not just to our nation's schools but the social fabric. It pours billions of federal dollars each year into classrooms that serve low-income students. When President Lyndon Johnson first signed it in 1965, he declared the law "a major new commitment of the federal government to quality and equality in the schooling that we offer our young people."

The ESEA is supposed to be updated every few years but hasn't been rewritten since 2001, when another Texan, President George W. Bush, famously renamed it No Child Left Behind. Bush took Johnson's original vision, to help states level the playing field for students living and learning in poverty, and added teeth.

"We're gonna spend more money, more resources," Bush said at the time, "but they'll be directed at methods that work. Not feel-good methods. Not sound-good methods. But methods that actually work."

Those methods included a sweeping new federal system of testing and accountability — as strict as it was controversial. The message to states was clear: We don't trust you to do the right thing by your most disadvantaged students. Schools that fail to educate all kids should be fixed or closed.

With its emphasis — obsession, critics would say — on standardized testing, the law became unpopular among many teachers and parents and technically expired in 2007. But it's on the books until it's replaced.

Now, the challenge for lawmakers is figuring out what — if any — of Bush's tough-love methods worked. This week, NPR is trying to do the same.

The Tough Guy

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 with Kate Deadrich Loney, his first schoolteacher. i

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 with Kate Deadrich Loney, his first schoolteacher.
Yoichi Okamoto/Lyndon B. Johnson Library

Bush's tough-love approach was motivated by the sense that states weren't doing enough to fix their low-performing schools. NCLB created a new role for the federal government: Tough Guy. Right now, the House and Senate don't agree on much, but they do agree that the Tough Guy routine didn't work.

The recent bills crafted by both chambers — and that must now be reconciled — leave it to the states to decide what to do about struggling schools. That includes how to fix them and whether or when to close them.

But at least one researcher thinks the law, like the classic Tough Guy, is a little misunderstood. And that parts of the law did work.

"NCLB is usually regarded as a sledge hammer, but it's actually fairly complex and fairly nuanced," says Tom Ahn, who teaches at the University of Kentucky.

Ahn has a Ph.D. in economics and writes papers with titles like, "Distributional Impacts of a Local Living Wage Increase." In short, he's an unlikely guy to have written one of the go-to studies on NCLB. But he did. And it's an eye-opener.

A few years ago, Ahn and his colleague, Jacob Vigdor, wondered: In spite of the controversy, did No Child Left Behind do some good? Did it improve low-performing schools? For answers, they studied the schools of North Carolina, though what they found can be applied just about anywhere.

How It Worked

Under NCLB, schools were judged on something called Adequate Yearly Progress. The goal was to get every child to grade-level in reading and math by 2014. It was an impossible goal that infuriated teachers and administrators alike because it held all children — and all schools — to the same timeline.

The law didn't care if a child had begun the year three grades behind in reading and a teacher helped her make two years' worth of progress by May. According to NCLB's strict proficiency guidelines, that student was still a year below grade-level.

The law also required schools to break down their student data into lots of little subgroups, including race, disability and socioeconomic status. Ahn says that was a game-changer. "If one group of disadvantaged students underperformed, the entire school was considered underperforming."

Or, as Nancy Barbour puts it: "Your high-fliers can't cover for your low-fliers."

In 2002, Barbour was the principal of a very good school in Durham, N.C. She says the new law made her and lots of fellow principals and teachers nervous, thinking "Oh no, oh no. In four years we're gonna be restructuring, and in six we're gonna be closed down."

Some of that fear was justified. Because of the law's attention to these smaller groups of students, some of whom tended to underperform, many schools that had previously earned high marks suddenly got red flags. This is the first of two important lessons Tom Ahn learned studying NCLB.

Lesson #1: Some Schools Didn't Need Fixing, Just Scaring

"The ones that had the capacity to shape up, they did," Ahn says.

He found that many schools improved after that first warning with no sanctions at all — just the threat of sanctions. Because these schools had relatively few kids below grade-level and enough money and staff to focus on them.

Ahn found a very different story among schools where lots of students were struggling. For these, often poorer schools, the law was like quicksand. Donna Brown is director of federal program monitoring and support for North Carolina's public schools, and she saw the quicksand first-hand.

"When I came to the department in 2004," Brown remembers, "there were nine schools in the state that were identified for some level of improvement sanction. And, by 2008-9, there were 521."

That's nearly half of all schools in the state that received federal Title I dollars. After two years of failing to make progress, a school had to offer students the right to transfer to a better school.

The problem with this transfer policy, says Brown, is "you're not really doing anything to address the needs of that school."

It was more punishment than panacea. So schools often sank deeper into the quicksand. If they continued to fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress, they were also required to pay for tutoring services and, later, to choose from a list of "corrective actions," including changing curriculum or lengthening the school day. And here begins the other great lesson of No Child Left Behind.

Lesson #2: The Lobotomy

For schools stuck in the quicksand, Ahn says, "these sanctions start stacking up, and at the end of the day, they don't help the schools to improve."

That is, until the last, most-feared sanction — Restructuring — which Ahn likens to "a lobotomy."

After five years, schools "in need of improvement" were supposed to write a restructuring plan that could include firing teachers, reopening as a charter or handing over control to the state. And in Year Six, they were supposed to do it.

In North Carolina, Ahn found the most common strategy was simply replacing the person at the top, the principal. The effect on student performance was significant, equivalent to "reducing class size by a third to a half."

Why did the lobotomy so often work? It's hard to say. Ahn points out that, to be forced into restructuring, a school had to be considered failing for six years.

"There's something seriously wrong with the way the school has been run," Ahn says. "And, when leadership change occurs, basically there's a sea change."

He says he could see it not only in student performance but in teacher satisfaction surveys. After the lobotomy, teachers were often happier.

At least, that's what the data suggests. To really understand restructuring and why, Ahn says, it was the only sanction under NCLB that seemed to work, we need to see a lobotomy first-hand. We'll have that story later today.

NCLB+ESEA REWRITE: Forcing Schools To Hit The 'Reset' Button

Cory Turner - Square

Cory Turner |National Public Radio |

On the outside, little has changed at George Watts Elementary School over the years — except for the sign, which hints at the radical changes that have happened inside.

On the outside, little has changed at George Watts Elementary School over the years — except for the sign, which hints at the radical changes that have happened inside.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR

October 27, 2015 | 11:03 AM ET  ::  George Watts Montessori Magnet sits just north of downtown Durham, N.C., along the eastern edge of Duke University. Its sprawling, red-brick campus is nearly a century old and surrounded by gorgeously restored family homes that once housed Duke fraternities, before the university sold them off.

Each morning, the sidewalk bustles with parents walking their children to school. Dozens of families make their way to Watts' side doors, where principal Patti Crum greets everyone by name. Every one. Parents are allowed to walk right in — no security guard, no signing in. The drop-off ritual here feels, to an outsider, like the warm habit of a family dinner.

Students in Amanda Watson's preschool-kindergarten classroom.

Students in Amanda Watson's preschool-kindergarten classroom.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Inside, teacher Amanda Watson presides over one of the school's unusual, mixed-age classrooms, this one a preschool-kindergarten combination. Watson leads the children in a Montessori-inspired pledge:

"I am a peacekeeper," she says in a voice soft as cotton, the kids repeating after her. "I will do my best today."

Watts was named a 2015 National Magnet School of Distinction, and it is outperforming other schools nearby. This year, it had more than 900 applicants — for just 65 slots.

"We are kind of a little isolated gem," says Crum. "You know, there are signs in front yards saying, 'This is George Watts.' I mean, the Realtors are using that to sell homes."

It wasn't always this way. In 2002, Watts Elementary was in trouble.

The school was already under state review for poor performance when President George W. Bush signed the massive education bill known as No Child Left Behind, which fast-tracked a reckoning at Watts.

Now that Congress is trying to rewrite NCLB, Watts serves as an important case study for anyone trying to understand what the law got right — and wrong — in its efforts to fix or reset struggling schools.

Teacher Elizabeth Carinder helps a group of her students present a book to their class.

Teacher Elizabeth Carinder helps a group of her students present a book to their class.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR

The George Watts Reckoning

Carol Marshall was principal of Watts the year NCLB was written.

"The minute that legislation was passed," she says, "we knew that our grade was not gonna be passing at all."

Most of its students were bused in from low-income Durham neighborhoods. Ninety percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunch. Watts was exactly the kind of school President Lyndon Johnson had hoped to help when he signed the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 — 50 years ago.

The ESEA pours billions of federal dollars each year into schools that serve low-income kids, Johnson's best effort at leveling the playing field for poor students. "As the son of a tenant farmer," he said at the signing, "I know that education is the only valid passport from poverty."

A student shows off his lost tooth to his classmates.

A student shows off his lost tooth to his classmates.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR

It was a civil rights bill for the nation's schools. In 2001, the ESEA was updated and renamed No Child Left Behind, and the law vastly expanded the federal government's role in education. NCLB forced schools to test kids annually and to meet ambitious goals. Those that failed to meet them faced tough sanctions.

Watts was one of those schools, though Marshall had worked tirelessly to improve student scores. It wasn't enough. And Marshall says being considered a failure was demoralizing. "You have to protect your teachers from that feeling — despite the fact the TV channels call you and ask you how it feels."

In 2003, after a difficult back surgery, Marshall retired early. Again, it was clear the school was in for a reckoning under NCLB, so the district planned an early intervention before the law could force one.

This is where the research of Tom Ahn comes in, with the district debating who should lead the Watts makeover.

Ahn teaches economics at the University of Kentucky. A few years ago, he co-wrote a paper about NCLB that many in Congress should be reading right now, as they attempt to update the nation's most important education law.

Ahn studied NCLB's effect on struggling schools in North Carolina — because he was working at Duke at the time. He found that, in schools where lots of kids were behind, just one thing consistently improved test scores ...

Recess means soccer on the sprawling field behind Watts. Also within the school fenceline is a walking track and a student garden.

Recess means soccer on the sprawling field behind Watts. Also within the school fenceline is a walking track and a student garden.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR

The Policy Equivalent Of A Jackhammer

Under No Child Left Behind, the federal government played Tough Guy. Schools had to get a certain percentage of students to grade-level in reading and math each year or take a beating. Low-performing schools could be forced to pay for tutoring, allow students to transfer, change their curriculum — even lengthen the school day.

There's just one problem, Ahn says. "These sanctions start stacking up and, at the end of the day, they don't help the schools to improve."

That is, until you get to the last, most-feared sanction — the policy equivalent of a jackhammer. Restructuring is the official term. Ahn prefers his own metaphor: "a lobotomy," he calls it.

In North Carolina, restructuring most often meant replacing the principal. And Ahn found that, more than anything else, this raised student scores as well as teacher morale. Why?

When Marshall announced her retirement from Watts, Durham tapped Nancy Barbour to replace her. Barbour was then principal at a high-performing, nearby school. When her phone rang, she was understandably reluctant.

"I think I'm good," Barbour remembers thinking. "You know, 'I'll just stay here and ride out my time.' Then you quickly realize that, this wasn't a call to ask you. This was a call letting you know that this was going to be happening."

What Barbour did was so dramatic, she doesn't think "restructuring" quite captures it. "We called it a transformation because we were transforming into something totally different," Barbour says.

Totally. Different.

Barbour did two things, both radical. Let's take them one at a time.

These white floor mats are one hallmark of a Montessori classroom.

These white floor mats are one hallmark of a Montessori classroom.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR

The Montessori Makeover

First, Barbour kicked off a massive — and expensive — teacher retraining program and converted Watts into a Montessori school.

"You don't walk in and see desks," Barbour says, "and you don't have textbooks. It's just a whole different way of thinking about school."

The classrooms are also multi-age. That means kindergartners share space and teachers with preschoolers. First-graders now sit with second- and third-graders, fourth-graders with fifth-graders.

Lower elementary teacher John Cearnal leads a math lesson with first-, second- and third-graders.

Lower elementary teacher John Cearnal leads a math lesson with first-, second- and third-graders.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Barbour says the multi-age model puts struggling students at ease because they're in classes where kids are supposed to have varying skill levels.

The work itself is different, too, in a Montessori classroom — or, at least, how the work gets done. Students have more time to themselves, for self-directed work and play, than they do in many traditional classrooms.

Melissa Blalock, the school's Montessori coordinator, points to one more big advantage: Kids get to stick with the same teacher for more than one year.

"The teacher really gets to know the child very, very well," Blalock says. "They get to know their strengths, their challenges. They get to know the family."

It would be easy to credit the turnaround at Watts to this Montessori makeover. But the school also underwent a second profound change.

Teacher Cathy Carinder's classroom hosts fourth- and fifth-graders.

Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Durham Gets Magnetized

When Nancy Barbour took over Watts, she didn't just throw out the desks and mix up the classrooms. She also erased the boundaries of its attendance zone by turning Watts into a magnet school.

Today, anyone in Durham can apply to attend Watts. Emphasis, though, on "apply" because they'll need more than a little luck in the school's lottery to get in. That's because there's a built-in catch to Watts' newfound magnetism.

If families live within the roughly 1-mile area around the school, they're given priority over kids who don't. That's why real estate agents are using proximity to the school to sell houses in this gentrifying neighborhood.

It's a stark contrast to the old days, when most students were bused in and Watts was — essentially — a high-poverty, segregated school.

Before the makeover, more than 80 percent of Watts students were black and 8 percent white. Today, 21 percent are black and 37 percent white (35 percent are Hispanic). Roughly 90 percent used to qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch. Since the change, that number has dropped by more than 30 points.

No Longer 'That' School

Teacher Cathy Carinder is one of the few Watts teachers who remains from those tumultuous restructuring days. She worried, back then, that the shift to a magnet school would benefit some kids at the expense of others.

"When we go and we just try to shuffle those kids other places so it becomes not our problem, we're not helping anybody, and I think too much of No Child Left Behind did that," Carinder says.

Technically, the law didn't tell Durham to turn Watts into a magnet or a Montessori. It simply said: Fix this school or else.

The end of the day at Watts feels like a party in front of the school. Some students rush to board buses while parents and teachers mingle.

The end of the day at Watts feels like a party in front of the school. Some students rush to board buses while parents and teachers mingle.
Elissa Nadworny/NPR

While much of the cost of that fix, especially the expensive teacher retraining (roughly $7,000 per teacher), was covered by the district, Barbour worries that, without the Feds playing Tough Guy, "George Watts would have just continued to have been seen as an unsuccessful 'That' school. And that's not fair."

It's also not fair to use one case study — the story of one school — to judge a law as big as No Child Left Behind. But it is instructive.

As Ahn found, restructuring can change a school for the better — and often did. Today, Watts is a vibrant, beloved neighborhood school. It's also more diverse. Segregated, high-poverty schools aren't just bad policy; they're wrong.

But the story of Watts also reveals a blind spot in the law.

NCLB forced districts to triage low-performing schools on a case-by-case basis. Looking at Watts in isolation, it's a success story. But what about the families that no longer have access to it? According to the state's own ratings, many of the schools around Watts aren't much better (if not worse) than the old Watts.

The law helped create a pocket of progress in Durham, bound within Watts' century-old brick walls. Beyond them, though, 2015 still looks a lot like 2005. Which helps explain a small wooden sign hanging in principal Patti Crum's office. It says:

"Focus on the good."



by The  LA Times Editorial Board |

School testing in Los Angeles

Andrea Comargo (CQ) concentrates as 11th grade students at Francisco Bravo Senior High Medical Magnet School take a practice test for the new state standardized tests on February 19.

Oct 27, 2015 | 5AM  ::  The backlash against education reform as practiced by the Obama administration has been fierce and persistent, and not just from teachers. Parents have mounted their own protests by opting their children out of the annual tests that the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to give. The two bills in Congress to reauthorize the law would return more authority over schools to the states.

President Obama appeared to join the backlash himself over the weekend, saying that students are taking too many standardized tests, and ones of poor quality to boot. He promised to help states figure out how to reduce testing, and to push Congress for legislation barring teachers from spending more than 2% of their class time on tests.

Does this mean the president finally realizes that tests have been given too much power over public education? Don't bet on it.

Obama hasn't voiced support for scaling back federal testing mandates, eliminating harsh measures against schools with low test scores or rolling back the Department of Education's requirement that states link teacher evaluations to test scores if they want waivers from No Child Left Behind's performance standards. California's refusal to give in to the evaluation mandate has kept it from receiving a waiver.

It's quite possible that students take too many tests. But the president's statement ignores why. By and large, the extra tests are used to measure whether students are on track to score well on the big, federally mandated test in the spring that evaluates their schools' performance, the one with serious consequences. Even more important are the much larger amounts of time devoted to rehearsing students for the spring test.

Has the president finally realized that tests have been given too much power over public education? Don't bet on it. - 

Setting an arbitrary cap on test-taking time — the president's 2% isn't based on a strong body of evidence any more than the teacher evaluation policy was — is unlikely to reduce the time spent on test prep significantly. As long as schools with low test scores can be taken over by charter schools or lose half their staff under No Child Left Behind, and as long as teachers fear losing their jobs if their students' scores haven't measured up, classrooms will be focused more on tests and less on a rounded education.

Standardized tests still have a useful place. They provide an objective measurement of how well students are mastering math and language skills, point out achievement gaps and give useful feedback on which lessons haven't been adequately absorbed. They also signal that certain schools are in dire need of outside intervention.

If Obama is sincere about easing the testing frenzy, he should drop the teacher evaluation mandate and support intensive help, rather than punishment, for struggling schools. His existing proposal would treat the symptoms more than the cause.