Sunday, September 24, 2006

STATE SUPERINTENDENT BACKS EDUCATION BILL: O'Connell urges the governor to OK $3 billion to poorest-performing schools, settle teachers' lawsuit.

by Seema Mehta, LA Times Staff Writer

September 23, 2006 - State schools chief Jack O'Connell swept through the Inland Empire on Friday, urging the governor to sign a bill that would provide nearly $3 billion for the state's worst-performing schools, and honoring a Moreno Valley elementary school recently named among the nation's best.

After touring Mountain View Elementary in Riverside, O'Connell extolled the benefits of the Quality Education Investment Act, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign in the coming days. Among other benefits, O'Connell said, "it will lower class sizes in schools that need it the most and provide more counselors."

The legislation would provide nearly $3 billion over seven years to schools that perform the worst on state tests and would settle a lawsuit filed by the California Teachers Assn. against Schwarzenegger over the last two years' educational funding.

Backers say the legislation will improve educational opportunities for students attending schools in low-income areas and calls for an incentive program to draw highly skilled teachers to these schools.

The state superintendent of public instruction also visited Victoriano Elementary in Moreno Valley to congratulate its students and staff for the school being selected as a National Blue Ribbon School.

Victoriano is one of 31 California schools selected by the U.S. Department of Education for the honor, which is reserved for schools ranked in the top 10% nationally, or those with high levels of poverty that show strong student achievement.

"Everyone involved in these students' lives deserves credit for helping them make these gains that we hope will ultimately help students develop the mastery of skills necessary to be successful adults," O'Connell said in a written statement.

Other Southern California public schools to receive the honor include: Bert M. Lynn Middle School in Torrance, Calabasas High School, Clark Magnet High School in Glendale, Dewey Elementary School in San Diego, El Dorado High School in Placenta, Foothill Technology High School in Ventura, Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles, Hill Classical Middle School in Long Beach, Ira Harbison Elementary School in National City, Lemay Street Elementary School in Van Nuys, Newbury Park High School, Northwood High School in Irvine, Oak Middle School in Los Alamitos, Orange County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana, Redwood Middle School in Thousand Oaks, San Marino High School and Troy High School in Fullerton.

smf opines: One cannot underestimate the importance or the potential impact (and unintended consequences) of this mandate for class size reduction to 25:1 in underperforming decile 1 and 2 schools in grades 4 -12. Those decile 1 and 2 schools are already straining at the seams, overcrowded, short on classrooms, bungalows on the playground, busing students out, on year round calendars, etc.

This reform foretells an inevitable class size reduction across the board at all schools — something that will positively impact student performance, the quality of education and the depth of instruction. It will also impact school budgets, availability of teachers and student housing - keeping schools open and teachers employed at schools and districts that are losing students - and impacting construction and modernization priorities at schools and districts that are overcrowded and/or growing. While those who were building schools have been focused on student "seats", they will now need to prioritize "classrooms". The local school bonds, it must be remembered, pay for buildings and classrooms and furniture: they do not pay for programs or teachers. A districtwide classroom reduction from 32:1 to 25:1 creates something like a 28% teacher shortage.

LAUSD, always unique unto itself, losing population yet hugely overcrowded, faces both challenges.

Article XXVIII


Section 1.

A well educated citizenry, being necessary to the security and well being of the nation, the right of all citizens and residents of the United States between the ages of five and eighteen years of age to a quality free public education is guaranteed.

Section 2.

Congress may establish national standards and criteria but the local independent governance and regulation of public education by the people within the states shall be preserved.

Section 3.

No provision of this Article shall be construed to limit public education, and Congress and the people may increase the age limits as enumerated in Section One.

Section 4.

The Congress shall provide for the funding for Public Education, including operation, construction, maintenance and of public schools, and for the equitable distribution of funds.

Section 5.

The Congress shall have power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Does Disease Begin in the School Lunch Room?

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - PETA

by Heather Moore

September 21, 2006 - September, National Cholesterol Awareness Month, is the ideal time for schools to start teaching kids the importance of a healthy, low-fat diet. They can do this best, not in the classroom, but in the cafeteria. Health teachers’ efforts to encourage children to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains will have little impact if the lunch ladies continue serving kids cheese pizza, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, chocolate milk and other high-calorie, cholesterol-laden foods that fatten our kids and send them on their way to an early grave.

According to the American Obesity Association, approximately 30 percent of children ages 6 to 19 are overweight and 15 percent are obese. Rates of obesity-related diseases—such as type-2 diabetes, asthma and hypertension—are rapidly rising in young people.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that there is compelling evidence that atherosclerosis—hardening of the arteries—begins in childhood and progresses slowly into adulthood, where it often leads to coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. The AHA theorizes that elevated cholesterol levels early in life play a role in the development of atherosclerosis and recommends lowering cholesterol levels in children and adolescents.

This is why the school cafeteria should be part of the remedy rather than contributing to the problem. Unlike meat, eggs and dairy products, plant-based foods contain no cholesterol and have been shown to reverse heart disease. Researchers have found that a vegetarian diet rich in soy and soluble fiber can reduce cholesterol levels by as much as one-third. David Jenkins, professor of nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto, has reported that “the evidence is pretty strong that vegans, who eat no animal products, have the best cardiovascular health profile and the lowest cholesterol levels.”

The late Dr. Benjamin Spock wrote, “Children who grow up getting their nutrition from plant foods rather than meats have a tremendous health advantage. They are less likely to develop weight problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer.”

Yet only five percent of elementary, six percent of middle and 10 percent of high schools currently offer vegan options—and even then the options may only include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or salads.

These schools should follow the example of the more progressive districts that are making it easier for students to choose healthy fare. The Bloomfield Central School District in upstate New York provides locally grown vegetables and fruits, whole grain and bean salads and at least one vegan soup each day. Schools in Collier County, Fla., offer soy products and salad bars filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Grady High School in Atlanta opened an all-vegetarian lunch line. A student-run Smart Cart at James Logan High School in Union City, Calif., was so successful that the school began incorporating vegan foods into the regular lunch menu. The Fairfax County school system in Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., offers soy milk and other vegan options.

The high schools in Appleton, Wis., profiled in the documentary Super Size Me, serve fresh whole foods and a plant-based option each day. One school for troubled youth documented a drop in violent behavior and a rise in attendance and academic performance after the school began offering more vegan foods.

Students at schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD)—the second-largest school district in the nation—have had access to healthy, cholesterol-free vegetarian food since the LAUSD Obesity Prevention Resolution passed in 2004.

While People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals promotes a vegetarian diet for ethical, as well as health, reasons, there should be no animal rights debate about this topic. The school lunch line should be a source of nourishment, not disease.

  • Heather Moore is senior writer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


by Stephen Moore, from the Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2006

As a father of two teenage boys, I can attest to the fact that the single greatest teen crisis in America is not drugs, alcohol, smoking or early sexual activity, but sleep deprivation. Tuesday marks the start of the school year in our district in Fairfax, Va., and for the better part of the next nine months my kids will shuffle through the day resembling the zombies from "Night of the Living Dead." The reason that so many kids today appear to be slouching toward Gomorrah is simply that they lack sleep.

Waking teens from their deep REM sleep before 7 a.m. -- which during late fall and winter is well before the rooster crows -- is much like approaching a lion gnawing on an antelope carcass. All the niceties that we've tried to instill in our children for the past 15 years about honoring thy mother and father go flying out the window in these wee hours of the morning. Breakfasts from now until June will be as somber as the death row inmate's last meal. We shovel frosted flakes down their throats so that the temporary sugar fix arouses them out of their comatose state long enough to get them out the front door.

When I queried my kids and their friends recently about how they survive on seven hours of sleep a day, they confess that the strategy is to catch up on a few z's during first and second periods at school. That would be fine if the first subjects were classes like social studies, which indoctrinate them with anti-American ideals anyway. But get this: The educrats who run the Fairfax County schools front-load the vital subjects like math and English at the start of the day because they actually believe "that's when the kids are most alert."

It's astonishing that a community like Fairfax, which prides itself on the quality of its public schools, retains a 7:20 a.m. start time despite the detriment to the health and scholastic achievement of our kids. Parents with teens are in open revolt to the idiocy of the policy and have even started a Web site,, to fix it.

The school board insists that an 8:30 a.m. start time would cost the county some $40 million a year, because of unalterable bus schedules. Incredible. The legislators in our state just passed a $2 billion tax increase, the largest ever, to fund the latest education fads, like higher teacher pay and smaller class sizes -- which studies all show will have almost no effect -- but they can't afford a policy at a fraction of the cost that will do far more to benefit kids in terms of improved behavior, attendance, mood, health and test scores.

This controversy over early school start times is raging in hundreds of communities today, pitting parents against unbending school bureaucracies. Surveys of teen's parents in school districts with early start times find that as many as 90% favor a later starting bell. If ever there were a case study in how public school boards ignore the wishes of their "customers," it is this.

Meanwhile, research overwhelmingly confirms that lack of sleep in adolescents has become a horrendous health problem in America. The National Sleep Foundation finds that teens now average between 6.5 and seven hours of uninterrupted sleep on a weeknight and only one in five gets the recommended nine hours. Of course computer games, chat rooms, sports schedules and the like have a lot to do with the late nights.

But so do their biological clocks. Studies show that spurting growth hormones in teens alter their circadian rhythm and naturally turn them into night owls, physiologically uninterested in 9:30 p.m. bedtimes and fiercely opposed to 6:15 a.m. wake-up calls. (This fact suggests that I myself am still in late puberty.)

So here is the inevitable ritual: Kids trudge through the week on insufficient sleep, barely limp to the finish line on Fridays, use the weekends to pay off the week's sleep debt by snoozing until noon and then try to readjust their body clocks on Monday morning. Prof. Jim Moss, a sleep expert at Cornell, says: "It's as if at the start of every week our kids have West Coast to East Coast jet lag." He finds that in the early morning classroom "the overwhelming drive to sleep can replace any chance of alertness, cognition, memory or understanding."

And we also know that later school start times can reduce this affliction. Amy Wolfson, a professor at Holy Cross who studies Americans' sleep patterns, tells me: "The evidence is pretty clear that students in the later-starting schools get more sleep and have less tardiness, fewer behavior problems, and do somewhat better in school."

We're a society fixated on public policies that are "for the children," yet we tolerate school schedules that harm students and, worse yet, make what should be the best years of their lives needlessly miserable. Communities spend billions of dollars a year -- with so-so success in fighting teen drug use -- but sleep deprivation has all of the same disabling symptoms while being far more widespread. Perhaps it's time for a new campaign: This is your teenager's brain; this is your teen's brain (a fried egg) on six hours' sleep.

SLEEP Research - Links to Web Pages with Information About Adolescents and Sleep

Thursday, September 07, 2006


by Clint Bolick to the Wall Street Journal

September 7, 2006 -- LOS ANGELES -- This city is the main front in the pitched battle over the No Child Left Behind Act. Like many large urban school districts across the nation -- though more brazenly -- the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is resisting the law's core command: that no child be forced to attend a failing school.

In LAUSD, there are over 300,000 children in schools the state has declared failing under NCLB's requirements for adequate yearly progress. Under the law, such children must be provided opportunities to transfer to better-performing schools within the district. To date, fewer than two out of every 1,000 eligible children have transferred -- much lower even than the paltry 1% transfer figure nationwide. In neighboring Compton, whose schools are a disaster, the number of families transferring their children to better schools is a whopping zero.

The question is whether Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings -- whose administration has made NCLB the centerpiece of its education agenda -- will do anything about it. She has the power to withhold federal funds from districts that fail to comply with NCLB, and has threatened to do just that. Rhetoric, so far, has exceeded action.

In L.A., the district has squelched school choice for children in failing schools by evading deadlines for notifying families of their transfer options; burying information in bureaucratese; and encouraging families to accept after-school supplemental services (often provided by the same district employees who fail to get the job done during the regular school day) rather than transfers. Still, the district insists that the reason for the low transfer numbers is that parents don't want their kids to leave failing schools.

That explanation rings false because, well, it is. The Polling Company surveyed Los Angeles and Compton parents whose children are eligible to transfer their children out of failing schools. Only 11% knew their school was rated as failing, and fewer than one-fifth of those parents (just nine out of 409 surveyed) recalled receiving notice to that effect from the districts -- a key NCLB requirement. Once informed of their schools' status and their transfer rights, 82% expressed a desire to move their children to better schools.

The parents were twice as likely to prefer transfers to private schools than to other public schools, but as of yet private school choice is not an option under NCLB. That is a serious defect in the law, because the number of children eligible for transfers in inner-city school districts vastly exceeds the number of seats in better-performing public schools. "We don't have the space," LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer candidly acknowledged. "Think about it. We're 160,000 seats short. Where do you transfer to?"

In response, Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and John Ensign and Reps. Buck McKeon and Sam Johnson have proposed adding private options under NCLB for children in chronically failing schools. But for now, the only hope for these kids is for Secretary Spellings to hold the districts' feet to the fire.

Last month, Ms. Spellings threatened to withhold federal funds unless the California Department of Education produced a plan by Aug. 15 to facilitate transfers for children in failing schools. That deadline passed with no action.

Meanwhile, Ms. Spellings has granted scores of waivers from NCLB requirements to school districts across the nation. These allow certain districts with failing schools to offer supplemental services to children before offering transfers. This reverses the order Congress stipulated, providing for transfers first and supplemental services only for those children remaining. By bureaucratic fiat, Ms. Spellings has delayed for thousands of children the chance to escape poor schools -- and the day of reckoning for districts that are failing their most basic responsibilities.

NCLB can survive the waiver carrots, but only if they are accompanied by a serious stick. Were Ms. Spellings to yank federal funding and make an example of LAUSD, it would be the shot heard round the education world. School districts across the nation finally would have to enlist all possible options -- interdistrict transfers, charter schools, private schools -- to aid children stuck in failing schools. And, if past experience holds true, those schools finally will have a spur for improvement as their students leave and take funds with them.

But for now, LAUSD is calling Ms. Spellings's rhetoric. The California media seems to agree: Not a single major newspaper has reported on the secretary's threat to withhold federal funds, which if taken seriously ought to constitute front-page news.

NCLB is a flawed law in many respects. Still, it may represent the last true hope, at the national level, to ensure that our education system truly leaves no child behind. The establishment is chafing furiously under the tethers of accountability. If these slip away, it is unlikely that any politician will have the courage to buckle them back down again.

For better or worse, the law grants the secretary of education vast discretion in enforcement. But the law itself is clear in command: No child should be forced to endure a failing school for one minute, let alone 12 years. Under this administration's watch, four million children -- by the states' own conservative measures -- are in schools that have been failing for at least six consecutive years. Ms. Spellings has the power to make sure they are offered a brighter future.

Will she or won't she? Margaret Spellings's actions in the coming days will determine far more than the Bush administration's education legacy. They will determine whether our nation will make good at last on its sacred promise of educational opportunity.

Mr. Bolick is president and general counsel of the Alliance for School Choice.

4LAKids notes: Mr Bolick (bio+background) and his organization are noted proponents for privatizing public education and voucher programs. He and they have mounted a number lawsuits in that goal and this article has the appearance of a first, warning shot. With the LAUSD, the Mayor and City of LA; Parents groups, Teachers and Administrators in disarray –preoccupied with other educational and legal challenges – the District offers an ideal target of opportunity.