Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mock Trial

Success is outcome of mock trial

Students from a rough L.A. area just played attorneys. But the experience let them know that they can be real ones someday.
By Carla Rivera | LA Times Staff Writer

June 30, 2007 - Is Jesse Sunderson guilty of exploding a firecracker in his school locker after he was suspended from his soccer team, or is he a good kid who was framed by other students bent on revenge?

That was the question posed to a jury of civic leaders at a federal courthouse Thursday during a mock trial in which middle school students from the tough Rampart district took on the roles of prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The fictitious trial was the culmination of a 12-week program sponsored by the youth development group Heart of Los Angeles, in which the students learned about the legal system from attorneys at a top Los Angeles law firm.

Many of the students live in an environment that includes gangs, drugs and delinquency and where the criminal justice system is perceived more as an adversary than an advocate.

"Most of the kids we serve live in poverty. And for them just to walk down the street, they face so many obstacles that messes with their self-esteem and self-confidence," said Tony Brown, executive director of the youth group. The program "has made them feel like they are on top of the world and that they can be anything they want to be."

Many of the youngsters began the program withdrawn and unengaged, Brown said. Now they are vociferous and eager to stand their ground. And after experiencing the inner workings of the law, several said they wanted to become lawyers, FBI agents and detectives, as well as doctors, cartoonists and dancers.

"I learned about lawyers, juries, the penal code and what people like the judge do during a trial," said Marilyn Ann Flores, 13, who attends Virgil Middle School and gave the closing argument for the prosecution. She also wants to become a prosecutor in real life. "I want to put the bad guys away," she said.

To prepare for the trial, the students spent 1 1/2 hours each week working with attorneys at the downtown firm Bingham McCutchen, learning the basics of the court system, litigation and interrogating witnesses.

"We tried to introduce them to lots of people at the firm, and not just attorneys, so they could get an idea of the range of jobs that might be available to them," said J. Warren Rissier, a Bingham partner who is also a member of Heart of Los Angeles' board of directors.

The Sunderson case put the students' skills to the test in a trial in a federal courtroom, presided over by U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall, before a gallery of family and friends. Before announcing the verdict, jury foreman Richard Riordan, the former mayor and an attorney with Bingham, said all were impressed by the students' arguments for and against.

But all the students wanted to know was whose side prevailed. An hour beforehand, Peter Meitzenheimer, 11, who attends Berendo Middle School, had delivered the prosecution's opening statement that laid out a curious case.

About 1 p.m. on a January school day, a sudden explosion caused great damage to student lockers and walls at Jefferson School. The assistant principal conducted a search and found a large bag of unexploded firecrackers in locker 633, which belonged to Jesse Sunderson. Jesse was arrested on suspicion of possession of fireworks and damage to property.

It emerged that his grades had been falling and that he had been kicked off the soccer team. Angry at his suspension, he told the coach about two teammates who had been caught drinking beer and successfully argued that they too should be kicked off the team. Jesse said he was in the band room practicing his saxophone at the time of the explosion, but no one could verify that he was there.

Not so fast, said Sharlotte Gonzalez, 14, a Virgil Middle School student arguing for the defense. Jesse was a good student who worked part time delivering papers and had no motive to destroy the school's lockers. In fact, he had overheard his former teammates blaming him for all their problems, and they were the ones who had a motive for framing him.

Points were scored by the prosecution when it was pointed out that Jesse's job gave him the means to buy fireworks. Testimony by a defense witness, however, revealed that one of Jesse's suspended teammates was observed near the scene just before the explosion.

In her closing argument, defense attorney Paulina Smith, an 11-year-old who attends Los Angeles Academy of Arts and Enterprise, said the case was "full of reasonable doubt." The jury agreed, finding Jesse — portrayed by Bingham attorney Mark K. Arimoto — not guilty.

The defense table cheered with high fives all around, while the prosecution side looked on glumly.

"You young adults did a fine job, and I can see all of you 10 years from now on [the TV series] 'Law & Order,' " Riordan said.

After the trial, each of the students received a certificate of thanks from the judge with an official court seal. Paulina's mom, Monica Smith, praised the youth program for giving the students a taste of the legal profession.

Paulina, she said, "took on the defense side and won the case. She wants to be a lawyer, and this is excellent exposure for her future dreams."


L.A. SCHOOLS REFLECT TITLE IX CHALLENGES: On the 35th anniversary of the law, the imprint is clear as the district prepares to open 37 new high schools by 2012.

by Eric Sondheimer, LA Times Staff Writer

June 23, 2007 - Title IX is exactly 35 years old today and a prime example of its impact — and accompanying challenges — can be seen within the building boom of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The law was enacted to thwart sex discrimination, and balancing gender equity has indeed become part of the blueprint as the nation's second-largest district prepares to open 37 new high schools by 2012.

For example, each gymnasium is being designed with equal access in mind, and with matching locker rooms. That's a dramatic change from the early 1970s, when the last of LAUSD's original 49 comprehensive campuses was completed — none taking girls' sports into consideration during construction.

Considering that participation in sports by high school girls is roughly 10 times what it was in 1971-72, the year before Title IX became law — 294,015 according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, compared to 2,953,355 in 2005-06 — that's no longer an option.

"It's part of what we do now," said Sue Spears, the district's director of the Educational Equity Compliance.

And it's not easy. There are plenty of limitations on money and space, meaning compromise has become key throughout the process.

Arleta, a first-year high school, has a softball diamond but no room for a baseball field. Even so, its baseball team advanced to the City Section small schools final played earlier this month at Dodger Stadium, practicing and playing its home games at a local park.

The Miguel Contreras Learning Center that opened on Third Street in downtown Los Angeles last year was able to build baseball and softball diamonds on one parcel — but center field overlaps, meaning the fields can't be used to their full capability at the same time.

"We know sports is important to boys and girls," Contreras Athletic Director Rose Low said, "and we have to make it work."

The issue is no less prevalent at the dozens of campuses that were designed before Title IX became law.

Granada Hills Kennedy High, which opened in 1971, didn't have an on-campus softball field until 2004. Crenshaw, Hollywood and Narbonne highs were others that had to upgrade softball facilities to make them comparable to existing baseball venues after Title IX complaints.

At Chatsworth, a seven-time City baseball champion, a $20,000 softball field opened this year after complaints that the baseball field, with its pristine grass infield, electronic scoreboard and stadium seating, far exceeded amenities at the softball facility.

"We believe that the girls deserved a great field like the boys," Chatsworth Principal Jeff Davis said.

District officials say gender equity issues are taken seriously at LAUSD, where the Educational Equity Compliance Office investigates Title IX complaints.

Boys' and girls' teams must share gyms, tennis courts, soccer fields and swimming pools.

"You've got the big gym and the small gym. It's not boys' or girls' anymore," Contreras assistant principal Rosie Martinez said.

Barbara Fiege, commissioner of the City Section, which oversees sports competition within the LAUSD, recalls girls' sports being in their infancy when she started out as a coach at Dorsey High in 1975.

Back then, she said, "there were battles on high school campuses for sharing facilities and money for uniforms."

Now, by law, educational institutions that receive federal aid must comply with one of three basic requirements: by providing athletic opportunities in proportion to the student body as a whole; by demonstrating continued expansion of the underrepresented gender; by meeting the athletic interests of the underrepresented gender.

In recent years, the district has "made great strides in the number of participants, the number of sports and scheduling," Fiege said. But, she added: "There are still concerns with facilities. We're not done yet. We've got a ways to go. But people are willing to speak up, and fathers, in particular, are speaking up for their daughters if there's any inequity."


In a free-speech ruling, Justice Thomas misstates the purpose of education.

By Jonathan Zimmerman | LA Times Opinion | Mr. Zimmerman wrote "Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century."

June 28, 2007 - What are schools for?

For the last decade, I've taught a history course with that title at New York University. My students and I examine the different purposes that Americans have assigned to public schools, including:

A. to teach the great humanistic traditions of the West;

B. to develop the individual interests of the child;

C. to promote social justice;

D. to prepare efficient workers.

Over the last four centuries, Americans have struggled to balance these goals — and many others — in their schools. To Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, however, there's only one right answer:

E. to instill discipline and obedience

That's what Thomas wrote this week in his strange concurring opinion in Morse vs. Frederick, better known as the "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS" case. A banner with those words was unfurled by senior Joseph Frederick outside his Alaska high school, and he was suspended.

Ruling 5 to 4 in favor of the principal who censored the banner, the court decided that the school's interest in discouraging drug use outweighed the student's free-speech rights. But Thomas went further, insisting that the student had no right to free speech in the first place and that the history of American education proves it.

He's wrong. Simply put, the accurate history in Thomas' opinion is not relevant. And the relevant history that he recounts is not accurate.

Let's start with what he got right. As he correctly asserts, America's first schools primarily promoted discipline. "Early public schools were not places for freewheeling debates or exploration of competing ideas," Thomas wrote. The mostly male teaching force in the early 1800s brooked little or no dissent, often whipping children who challenged adult authority.

True enough. But so what? Here's the part that Thomas leaves out. From the very birth of the common school system in the 1830s, the strict discipline that he celebrates came under fire from a host of different Americans. The most prominent champion of common schools, Horace Mann, warned teachers against excessive force and the suppression of students' natural inclinations.

That's one reason Mann and his generation backed the hiring of female teachers, who were seen as more kind, tolerant and nurturing. (The other reason was that schools could pay them less.) By 1900, roughly three-quarters of American teachers were women.

The early 20th century would bring another burst of change to American schools, centered on the question of democracy. To reformers like John Dewey, schools based on strict discipline — and its pedagogical companion, rote memorization — could never give citizens the skills they needed to govern themselves. Instead of fostering mindless obedience, then, schools needed to teach children how to make up their own minds — that is, how to reason, deliberate and rule on complex political questions.

To be sure, plenty of Americans still wanted teachers to bring the kids to heel. And it's fair to ask whether schools today promote the kind of inquiry that Dewey envisioned.

The point is not that Dewey was "right" or that everyone agreed with him. Rather, history teaches us that Americans have always disagreed on the proper goal for schools.

None of this debate appears in Thomas' opinion, which gets cut off just when things get interesting. To Thomas, American educational history seems to end at the start. Our first schools aimed to instill discipline, he wrote, so that's what schools should do.

Worse, Thomas assumes that the schools succeeded in this task. "Teachers commanded," he wrote, "and students obeyed." But this command melted away in recent years, Thomas claims, when courts invented specious student rights — and "undermined the traditional authority of teachers to maintain order in the public schools."

Here's the part of Thomas' opinion that would be relevant — if it were true. But it's not. Yes, teachers tried to establish strict order and discipline in early American schools. As often as not, however, they failed.

Consider the 1833 memoir of Warren Burton, a New Hampshire minister. When faced with a particularly cruel teacher, Burton writes, his classmates revolted. They tackled the teacher, carried him outside and threw him down an icy hillside.

The theme appears in other memoirs and especially in fiction from the 19th century, which depicts unruly students — usually boys — challenging or mocking teacher authority. Think of Tom Sawyer lowering a cat by a string to snatch his bald teacher's wig. Such stories resonated with Americans because they understood — in ways Thomas does not — the chaos and violence that pervaded so many public schools.

So Thomas can spare us the nostalgia. Our schools were never the paragons of discipline he imagines. And pretending otherwise simply diverts us from the big question, which will never have a single answer:

What are schools for?


by David M. Herszenhorn | New York Times

June 28, 2007 - The Beginning With Children Charter School, housed in a former factory in Brooklyn, landed on the state's list of high-performing schools this year, thanks to rising English and math test scores among black and Hispanic students.

But its founders and wealthy patrons, Joseph H. and Carol F. Reich, who have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the school, think it could be better. "It's above average," said Mr. Reich, 72, "but considering the effort and the capability and the resources, we don't feel we're getting the best we can."

So last month, the couple — threatening to cut ties, including financial support — forced most of the school's trustees to resign in a push for wide management changes, and better student achievement.

The move caused an uproar among parents and teachers who said they would be left with no formal say at the school. "My voice is going to be lost," said Shakema Daise, the mother of a first grader.

The clash has exposed fault lines of wealth and class that are perhaps inevitable as philanthropists, in New York and nationwide, increasingly invest in public education, providing new schools to children in poor neighborhoods while making communities dependent on their generosity.

And for those lucky to have such benefactors, the situation raises core questions: Who ultimately controls charter schools, which are financed by taxpayers but often rely heavily on charitable donations? Do the schools, which operate outside the control of the local school district, answer to parents, or to their wealthy founders?

At Beginning With Children, many parents and teachers say that the Reichs' main interest is to burnish their reputation as advocates for charter schools, and that the school's original purpose, of catering to each child's individual needs, is now secondary to drilling for exams in an effort to elevate scores and the Reichs' credibility.

The Reichs support not just Beginning With Children, and a second school they founded in Brooklyn, but charter schools generally. They gave $10 million to help create the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence, a nonprofit group dedicated to opening 50 more of the schools.

"Joe and Carol Reich started the school for whatever reasons initially," said Gail Sims Bliss, a teacher and former trustee who resigned reluctantly. "But it has grown into their participation in the charter movement with a capital M." She added, "They cannot allow the school to compromise their status and their progress in this particular movement."

In an interview, Mr. and Mrs. Reich said they were committed to their original promise of providing children with an education that would lead to success in college and in life. "We promised to build them a model education program that would lay the groundwork for their future," said Mr. Reich, a retired investment banker. "This didn't come from nowhere. We were really worried that the school wasn't delivering."

The Reichs are not alone in directing their charity to schools. The Walton, Broad and Gates foundations, all founded by billionaires, support charter schools nationwide.

Andre Agassi, the retired tennis great, opened a charter school named after him in Las Vegas. The former N.B.A. star, Kevin Johnson, started two charter schools in Sacramento. The billionaire corporate raider, Carl C. Icahn, has a charter school named for him in the Bronx. And Courtney Sales Ross, the multimillionaire widow of a Time Warner executive, has the Ross Global Academy Charter School, housed in the basement of the city's Education Department headquarters.

Nor are the Reichs the only ones facing difficulties. The Ross Global Academy is on its fourth principal in less than a year.

Frederick M. Hess, an expert on philanthropy in education, said there would be more disputes like the one in Brooklyn as high-profile donors invest their reputations in schools and face "the enormous kind of name-brand question."

"When those schools disappoint them, when there are disputes or divergence regarding institutional mission," asked Mr. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, "how are they going to negotiate this relationship?" He added, "What we are seeing is really just the front end of what is going to be a fascinating dynamic."

In educational philanthropy, the Reichs were pioneers. They fought for years to get the city's Board of Education to let them open the Beginning With Children school in 1992 in an impoverished section of Williamsburg, before charter schools became a national trend and at a time when private donors were generally reluctant to write checks to public school systems. The school converted to charter status in 2001.

They fought through bureaucratic tangles to get the system to accept a virtually free building, a former Pfizer pharmaceutical factory, which the school now occupies for $1 a year.

The school has done well, though far from stellar. This year, 69 percent of students in Grades 3 to 8 scored at or above grade level on the state English exam, compared with the 56 percent citywide average. And 77 percent of students scored at or above grade level on the math exam, compared with 65 percent citywide. The state reauthorized the school's charter last year, giving it a full five-year renewal.

But the Reichs are not satisfied and said the school's trustees were an obstacle. Charter schools get taxpayer funding, but are run independently from local school districts under terms set out in their state-approved charters.

The 14-member Beginning With Children board included appointees from the Reichs' foundation, which helps finance the school; parents; teachers; the principal; and community representatives. The board chairman, John Day, is a former Pfizer executive.

The Reichs said the problem was that the board was "constituency-based" and that they wanted members with practical skills like fund-raising or public relations instead. To get the changes, they threatened in a strongly worded letter to cut off their support unless all but three of the board members resigned. Among those told to quit were five parent and faculty representatives.

At a board meeting last month, parents lashed out at the Reichs, angrily describing their relationship as that of master and servant or landlord and tenant.

One parent said the threat to cut ties was "a gun pointed at the head of every child in this facility." In recent years, the school has faced annual budget gaps of up to $635,000 that were filled by the Reichs' foundation, and parents said they feared that the school would close without the Reichs' help.

Mrs. Reich, 71, said of the letter: "It was not a blunt threat. It was a choice. You can go the way you are going or you can restructure yourselves."

Many parents and teachers said they agreed that the board did not function well. But they also said there were disagreements with the Reichs over issues like how much to focus on standardized testing. And they accused the Reichs of meddling in areas like teacher hiring and the choice of a reading program.

"The emphasis on testing means the school is moving away from its original mission," said Karl Klingbeil, a parent. "They just got tired of listening to us talk about curriculum and pedagogy."

The Reichs said they did not want to squabble over such points, noting that the principal runs the school and that they themselves are not voting trustees. They said they had proposed creating a faculty senate and parent council to give input to the new trustees.

The city school system has stood at the sidelines. Garth Harries, who oversees charter schools for the Education Department, said they were intended to operate with wide autonomy. "We're confident in this case, with Joe and Carol," he said, "You are dealing with folks who have the interests of the school and the kids in mind."

The three remaining board members at Beginning With Children have enlisted a consultant to help identify new trustees, and the Reichs said they were moving aggressively to set things right. "This was our school, it's our dream, it's our vision," Mr. Reich said. "We are going to fight to make this school the best school it can be for this community."

Friday, June 29, 2007


by Joel Rubin, LA Times Staff Writer

June 29, 2007 The Los Angeles Unified Board of Education on Thursday approved a $6.2-billion general fund budget for the coming school year.

The unanimous vote came after the seven board members peppered Supt. David L. Brewer and other school district officials with questions and concerns during lengthy debate that spanned two meetings this week.

The budget, which calls for the reduction and reorganization of several programs and departments in the mammoth school district in order to close a $95-million shortfall, still must be certified by county education officials. And until the state Legislature finalizes California's budget, which includes most of the funding public schools receive, allotments are still somewhat tentative.

Faced with growing public criticism, Brewer relented somewhat on a proposal to recoup nearly $5 million by charging after-school youth groups to use district athletic fields and facilities. He agreed to lower the fees that will be imposed and to use a sliding scale so groups that serve low-income children pay less.

Brewer also scrambled to appease some board members' concerns about his proposal to reduce at midyear the number of teachers assigned to those schools where student enrollment drops. To help administrators keep staffing levels stable at such schools, Brewer agreed to free up some so-called restricted funds and to allow schools to put aside money at the start of the year.


June 28, 2007

Please excuse this last minute appeal - I have just returned from vacation to discover that "Pay to Play" has - like a bad penny - returned to LAUSD as a budget cutting strategy.

Two plus years ago I delivered to the Board of Ed the following resolution from PTA, opposing charging fees for after school use of school playgrounds and facilities. Afterwards I apologized to John Liechty, who as the Beyond the Bell assistant superintendent was official advocate for the fees. I considered John the most knowledgeable and most "for kids" person at Beaudry - I was uncomfortable opposing him on this matter.

John looked at me square in the eye with his no nonsense glare and told me PTA and I was on the right side and his and the budget office's proposal was wrong; wrong for Beyond the Bell, wrong for LAUSD and wrong for kids.

With that endorsement I bring the resolution back to you - and suggest that subsidizing after school recreation programs is a mission not for program operators but for city government, private fundraising, the Chamber of Commerce, etc. The board rejected the proposal back ion '05, I ask that you do it again.

Scott Folsom
Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA

NO PAY TO PLAY: A Resolution of the Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA, California Congress of Parents, Teachers and Students, Inc.

20 April 2005

WHEREAS the LAUSD Budget Office proposes that Community, Youth, After School and Weekend Community Groups – including but not limited to Girl and Boy Scouts, PTA and other parent and community associations, nonprofit after school supplemental education, recreation and sports programs that have traditionally used LAUSD facilities for free – be charged a fee in the future for such use, and

WHEREAS these groups and programs provide incalculable value to the children of Los Angeles, providing safe and supervised programs that enhance and compliment the educational mission of the school district, and

WHEREAS District staff has demonstrated preference for adult recreation and sports programs that pay a fee over youth programs that traditionally do not because adult programs generate revenue, and

WHEREAS Schools are by statute and by district policy Centers of the Community they serve, all School District property is public property, and the public is entitled to the use of its property whenever possible, now


1. That we are OPPOSED to charging any bona-fide nonprofit community, parent or youth group that serves the public good for use of School District property where such use has been free in the past.

2. That the Board of Education direct that Youth After School and Recreation Programs be given precedence over adult groups in scheduling and access to LAUSD property without consideration to whether the adult programs generate revenue — the value of these programs to the schoolchildren served and the greater community far exceeds any revenue generated or lost.

3. That the School District actively partner with other public agencies and philanthropic organizations to find and secure funding streams to defray its costs in providing after school educational and recreational access and use of the public property it holds in trust.

4. That this resolution be delivered to the LAUSD Board of Education, circulated to the units and councils of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and forwarded to Thirty-first District PTSA for their consideration

Motion made by Scott Folsom, Vice President for Education, as a recommendation of the Education Committee/No second required

Voted upon and adopted by the Executive Board at a regular meeting April 20, 2005

/s/ Marta Lear, President and Chair of the Executive Board
/s/ Martha Wenkel. Secretary


"…so that groups that serve low income children pay less?" How about nothing?

If this city can't come up with five million dollars a year – from the private or public sectors - so kids can play organized sports on school playgrounds after school and on weekends without charging volunteers, non-profits and/or the kids and their parents for use of facilities we the taxpayers already own Los Angeles deserves the gang problems we have and we are simply not worthy to be the great city we aspire to be. There are billionaires among us who find that kind of money in their washing machines after a couple of loads – or between the pillows of their couches. smf

Saturday, June 16, 2007

HEY TIMES, TRY TEACHING FOR ONE DAY! - A response to an editorial on United Teachers-Los Angeles.

By John Lloyd – LA Times Blowback

May 22, 2007 Well, the real agenda was revealed the day after the L.A. Unified School Board elections. Smash the union, says the L.A. Times in its May 17 editorial "LAUSD's opportunity." The Times blames United Teachers Los Angeles for the woes of one of the most diverse—and challenging—districts in the United States.

The Times doesn't mince words. It calls the UTLA "the most regressive force in the L.A. Unified School District," and says the answer to the district's woes are for the union to "loosen work rules and toss tenure out the classroom window." It paints the UTLA as a barrier to "progress," a dinosaur "out of sync with the realities of modern education." "The post-World War II system of tenure, rigid work rules and budget-breaking pensions," the Times alleges, "have stultified schools." What's more, younger teachers "are more interested in good wages, upward mobility and affordable housing than in lifetime sinecures and fat retirement packages." The Times urges the new school board members, backed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to institute "more flexible work hours and duties," such as requiring teachers to give up their own lunch breaks to supervise the playgrounds and requiring them to work after school "to make campuses safer." The Times then ends by throwing up this brilliant old canard: let's get rid of "bad teachers" and reward "good teachers." Golly gee, why didn't we think of that sooner?

Let's take the last of these claims first. No one—least of all the UTLA—would disagree with the idea we ought to reward "good teachers," and fire "bad teachers." But what does this mean, exactly? First of all, anyone who devotes her life and career to educating young people is to be applauded, not thrown in the trash can if her students' test scores don't meet some district bureaucrat's standard.

Quite simply, the LAUSD needs to see its teachers as its most valuable resource and work with struggling teachers to improve. Step one might be for a peer group of teachers and administrators to sit down with the underperforming teacher, figure out what that teacher's strengths and weaknesses are, and work with that person to devise concrete strategies for improvement. This process might also—gasp!—ask the teacher what he/she needs (more aides, better curricular support, professional development opportunities, etc.) to do a better job. The Times approach, however, is all top-down. A district bureaucrat says jump, and the teacher, like an obedient factory worker, jumps. The teacher doesn't dare ask questions (remember, tenure will be a thing of the past, and you can be fired for asking the wrong questions).

From the tenor of its proposal, the Times seems to think that teaching isn't really hard work, after all. The Times apparently thinks it is not unreasonable to expect teachers to stand in front of a class or restless ninth graders all day—all of whom are eager learners, of course—and then supervise students at lunch and after school, too. Why, who needs a lunch break? (Hint: it must be those "bad teachers"). I'd like to see the Times editors do this for one day. They might then realize that educating and supervising young people can't be done on the cheap, and that the District needs to pay for playground supervisors and additional staff to oversee worthy after-school programs.

The Times claims that younger teachers are interested in "good wages, upward mobility, and affordable housing." And older teachers presumably want, what, lower wages, downward mobility, and unaffordable housing? Precisely how ending tenure will address the lack of affordable housing is not explained by the Times. But, never mind that, the Times has another solution: get rid of teachers' pensions! After all, we know those younger teachers won't need them. They'll be living large on all the equity they've earned from that "affordable housing" they've invested in with their "high wages."

Far from being a forward-thinking solution to the L.A. schools' myriad challenges, the Times proposal is nothing more than an old-fashioned attack on teachers' unions. The Times wants to send teachers back to the bad old days before teachers' unions when teachers had to go hat-in-hand to their school boards and beg for a cost-of-living increase. If the district said no, and the teacher didn't like it, she was free to walk.

Then again, maybe I just don't understand the superior wisdom of the Times. After all, I was educated in that out-of-date post-World War II public school system where teachers were treated with respect by society, and weren't expected to give up their dignity and their rights to do their jobs.

John Lloyd is an assistant professor of history at Cal Poly Pomona.

THE DWP RULING: Sordid details and Letters to the Editor

Under the ruling, the DWP will have to pay roughly:

  • $95 million to Los Angeles Unified School District,
  • $45 million to Los Angeles County,
  • $39 million to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority,
  • $31 million to California state agencies,
  • $8 million to the Los Angeles Community College District,
  • $5 million to UCLA.


FUNDING SOURCES: A court ruling may jeopardize the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's contribution to the city's budget.

Estimated receipts for 2007-08 budget, top 6 sources (in millions)

Percent of



Property tax



Utility users tax



Fees and fines



Business tax



Sales tax



DWP transfer




Source: City of
Los Angeles 2007-08 proposed budget & LA TIMES

…though the DWP Employee(below) makes an interesting point about whether the

DWP’s ‘contribution’ to the city budget is legal!

LETTERS TO THE DAILY BREEZE / TDB reprinted the Daily News article by Kerry Cavanaugh

"DWP will find..."

a way around to avoid actually paying up. While we get saddled with yet another rate hike!

- MLD~ Wilmington, CA

posted: Wednesday, June 13rd at 9:37 AM

"DWP Employee"

Looks like you should have been the whistle blower and pocket some cash yourself. But question, if a DWP employee knew this was going on, don't he have a moral obligation to bring it to the attention of someone though?

- fred

posted: Wednesday, June 13rd at 9:22 AM

"DWP Rips Off Customers"

As a DWP employee, I can attest that the DWP has been ripping off its customers for years. First of all, the annual fund transfer to the city is basically a hidden tax. Even though the DWP is not supposed to make a profit, it charges millions of dollars more than it needs to for water and electricity and then "transfers" it to City Hall. On the books, it looks like the DWP broke even. However, it is extra money going to the City without looking like a tax. Second, the DWP has also been sending millions of rate payer dollars the the IBEW Local 18 union. The union is padding its wallet and building a new multi-million dollar headquarters building using money creatively transferred from DWP earmarked as funds for "safety" or "training." Both of these things should be investigated. Then, the electricity and water rates should be LOWERED. Instead, the DWP will be asking for rate increases this summer to continue to fund the city and the union.

- DWP Employee

posted: Wednesday, June 13rd at 8:24 AM

"State Law?"

Does this mean that So Cal Edison can charge the same agency and make a profit but the DWP can not? If that is true the state law should be changed so both utilities have an equal standing. They both have the same overhead. They pay the same to produce power and maintain their power grid.

- Adam

posted: Wednesday, June 13rd at 7:50 AM

Friday, June 15, 2007

MORE OF THE STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The Times Editorial Board Interview and Highlights

BREWER OFFERS HIS VISION FOR L.A. SCHOOLS: In a meeting with The Times' editorial board, the schools chief says superintendents need at least six years to see their reforms implemented.

by Howard Blume and Joel Rubin, Times Staff Writers

June 15, 2007 — After giving his first State of the Schools address Thursday, Los Angeles schools Supt. David L. Brewer, a retired Navy vice admiral, answered questions from the L.A. Times editorial board. Here are excerpts from the questions and his responses.


BREWER: I'm going to have the right to tell some people to innovate.

We need to be pushing support down to what I call the level of execution. We learned this in the military years ago. The reason we win wars is because that sergeant and that petty officer can make decisions. We are pushing $11 million from headquarters to the local district superintendents and several people down from headquarters.


To the extent that we can do that. But there are some union rules there.

I will be very frank with you. I'll have to do a little bit more research on that. I asked the question: Why can't I just shut it down and then reopen it?

I was told … [the] local union contract trumps federal law.


We're having a tremendous problem with young men, especially African American males and Latino males. We had two principals go out and put in all-male academies at their schools — Jordan High School and King-Drew.

The preliminary results look very good, [but] we need to go in and do research on single-gender classes. Not only for boys but for girls. Now some of that research is already out there: That says if you put girls in classes alone, they tend to do better in math and science.

If you put [boys] in classes together, as we've seen in Jordan and King-Drew, you get a reduction in discipline problems and you get the kind of results you see at Jordan, where 99% of those boys in the 11th grade have already passed the high school exit exam. The overall district average is 88%. So that's encouraging.


Charter schools — even though they've been effective individually — have not been effective systematically. They sit outside of you. They clearly can create some excellence, but there are a lot of charter schools that are not doing well and failing worse than some of our schools.

We do not do a very good job of looking at charters.


The unions now are being a little more flexible in the rules of what they want to do, [so] the charters are accomplishing their mission. They're putting pressure on us so that we can start to force our own change.

[Across the district] you have pockets of excellence. The problem seems to be benchmarking that and replicating it.


In the public sector, you can't just go in and fire somebody. In our business, people have rights. [Teachers] have tenure after two years. So the real drama is how do you either get them up to capacity or find some other seat for them on the bus. It is extremely difficult. This has been plaguing not just education but lots of organizations.

We told the unions we need to work with you a little bit better. First of all, in the teachers' defense, we've got to come up with better professional development training. That's clear.

We have a lot of good people working heroically in a bad system.

You [also] get a lot of questions about Open Court [a district reading program that some teachers say is limited]. It's almost like a carpenter. You give one carpenter a saw and another one a saw and you can get two different results. Same saw. Why? Because one's a journeyman and one's a master.

You can give two different teachers the same tools, the same instructional model and get two different results, normalizing for the same kinds of kids. Why? Because one is a journeyman and one is a master. My job is to make those teachers masters.


When [parents] go into our schools they aren't treated very well. This has nothing to do with socioeconomics. I'm going to have to push more customer service into our schools to make them feel more welcome.

[During a recent Town Hall with parents] there was so much frustration in that room. I had to take off my coat, take off my tie. It was one of those sessions, because there was so much frustration.

We're not listening to these people. We need to get out more often.


Probably not as broken as he sees it, because I'm on this side and I see a lot of excellence. But I clearly see some significant challenges. The mayor and I don't disagree on much.


If you look at the "Good to Great" model [outlined in a book of the same name by author Jim Collins], it takes you about six years before you see what they call a flywheel effect.

[In other large urban school districts], one of the reasons they can't sustain change is musical superintendents. You can't do that. I'm not begging to keep my job, but you cannot change superintendents every three years and expect to effect change. That's out.

You gotta stay in that job at least six years. [Former L.A. schools Supt. Roy] Romer stayed six years. That's why you see that big change at elementary [schools] and all this huge building program.

Because people who don't want to change will simply sit back and say, "Well, we know he's going to be gone in three years. I'll just outlive him."


Highlights of LAUSD Superintendent David Brewer III's State of the Schools address Thursday/ from the Daily News

• Hire a deputy superintendent of professional development, learning and leadership to provide professional development, management and leadership training for all district employees. The new senior position would focus on school-site programs with "learning teams."

Create a new innovation division for educational achievement overseen by an external advisory board. Members will be announced in weeks. The division would review proposals for alternative education at schools designed to boost autonomy and control over curriculum and personnel.

Create an office of parent and civic engagement responsible for improving communication with parents and partnerships with the community.

Provide all office personnel with more customer-service training.

Set aside $2 million for a parent-notification system that will allow schools to immediately communicate with parents in the event of an emergency or when their child is absent from class.

Offer free online courses to parents.

Launch a "Books of Summer" program encouraging parents to read books with their kids. Incentives include savings bonds for students who submit the best book reports.

Convene a summit of leading educators in coming months to learn how to best teach English language learners.

Develop small learning communities at all middle and high schools.

Align middle school instruction with instruction at the high schools where most of their students attend.

Provide change-management courses for all senior administrators to better adapt to reform at the district.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


The governor and ex-Paramount chief Sherry Lansing unveil a public-private effort to fill LAUSD & California teacher vacancies in math and science.

by Howard Blume, LA Times Staff Writer

June 9, 2007 - Sherry Lansing retired as head of Paramount Pictures two years ago to head a foundation devoted to education and other causes. What if, she wondered recently, other retirees like her wanted to do the same.

Well, not exactly like her and not precisely the same way. She had in mind a lower-budget, in-the-trenches contribution: namely, becoming a teacher.

That plan blossomed into a media event led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday heralding a public-private partnership to lure retirees into teaching math and science.

The effort was unveiled at Roosevelt High, where Lansing worked as a long-term substitute teacher in math shortly after graduating from college some 40 years ago.

Math, science and special education teachers are at a premium, and state officials estimate that 100,000 teachers will retire over the next decade, about one-third of the teacher workforce. Over that same period, California's schools will need more than 33,000 new science and math instructors.

So why not pluck many of them from among professionals who've retired from something else?

Baby boomers, said Lansing, "are going to redefine retirement, and they are going to redefine aging."

The new program is EnCorps and pronounced "encore," a double-meaning seized on by L.A. Schools Supt. David L. Brewer, who was among the dignitaries in attendance. "I am an encore," said the retired Navy vice admiral, "a retiree who came back."

EnCorps is, in essence, a recruiting campaign with financial incentives to fill vacancies in teacher training programs. If funded by the Legislature, it would provide $12 million on top of the $31.7 million the state allocates to pay tuition and other costs.

In addition, several corporations have signed on to pay teacher training costs for their retiring employees, including Qualcomm, Edison International, Chevron, East West Bank, Ares Management, City National Bank and IBM, which has similar initiatives in New York and North Carolina. The companies will pay up to $15,000 per person in education costs.

"The more we have the private sector involved, the faster we can move forward," Schwarzenegger said. "I think that's where the action is."

The investment is vital for companies and, for workers who don't need a high salary, teaching is a better use of time "instead of spending every day playing golf," said Dominic Ng, CEO of East West Bank.

One executive, speaking not for attribution, acknowledged that EnCorps also could help older workers who need a job because their early retirement was neither voluntary nor accompanied by a golden parachute.

The effort earned almost uniform praise, with some qualifications.

"The first year of teaching, and sometimes the first two … teachers aren't able to achieve the kinds of learning gains that they do in subsequent years," said Stanford University education professor Susanna Loeb. "This is true for teachers with prior work experience in other fields as well as for recent college graduates."

Research shows that many new teachers — from all backgrounds — quickly give up on the profession.

The emphasis on paying for training is helpful, said Barbara Kerr, president of the California Teachers Assn. "But the part about how now these retirees can afford to teach broke my heart. We need to seriously look at making salaries competitive and making sure schools are a great place to work."

The day included one factual disagreement. Schwarzenegger said Roosevelt needed 121 math and science teachers. The school's tally is six math and science openings for next year.


Widespread problems and delay of final phase will add more than $46 million to tab for district's new computer system.

by Joel Rubin. LA Times Staff Writer

June 9, 2007 = Widespread problems plaguing a new computer payroll system in the Los Angeles school district and a decision to delay the final phase of a massive technology overhaul have boosted its price tag by more than $46 million, officials said.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has some money available to offset the additional costs, but there remains a deficit of at least $37.5 million, district officials told a school board panel Thursday.

The total cost of the controversial Business Tools for Schools project is expected to reach about $132 million, more than 35% higher than its expected price. The full seven-member school board must vote whether to approve the funding.

"There is a Churchill quote about when you're marching through hell, just keep marching," said Charles Burbridge, the district's chief financial officer. "Well, that's basically what we're doing. We need to slow this down and get it right."

About $14 million of the $46.3 million in additional costs have arisen from a series of software and hardware breakdowns and insufficient training that left school-site staff unprepared, problems that have hampered the project's payroll component since it was launched several months ago.

This week, the latest of these technology glitches resulted in more than 32,000 L.A. Unified employees being paid either too much or too little.

When problems arose in February, district officials stumbled as they placed much of the blame on data-entry errors by school clerks. They backtracked quickly, with Supt. David L. Brewer offering a public apology and vowing to correct the problems.

Frustration built, however, as emergency hotlines were overwhelmed. Affected employees were also annoyed that they had to travel downtown, to an office hastily opened in the lobby of the district's headquarters, to get emergency checks. Waiting times often stretched to several hours.

"We have seen no accountability of the people who have made these bad decisions to push ahead," said Ernest Kettenring, a teacher who represents adult school instructors hard hit by the payroll matter.

With no district employees knowledgeable enough in the complex system to make the repairs, much of the additional money is needed to pay outside consultants. The district also has had to pay overtime to employees dealing with the backlog of paycheck problems.

Hoping to avoid a repeat of the payroll debacle, Brewer said he decided to delay rolling out the final phase of the project. That portion was scheduled to launch next month and aims to revamp how purchases are made in the mammoth system.

The delay, Brewer and Burbridge said, is needed to allow enough time to properly train staff, a school-by-school effort that is expected to be completed in February.

That extra time and training will cost the district $32 million. More than a quarter of that money will go to the consulting arm of the international firm Deloitte Consulting, which has already been paid about $55 million to help the district plan and implement the three-phase project that began in 2005.

Brewer declined to discuss whether, or how much, blame rests with Deloitte, saying, "They're still on the team, and we need to keep them on the team to help us fix this."

Representatives from Deloitte did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.

School board member David Tokofsky indicated that talk of a possible lawsuit had begun. "We have been investigating the shares of blame and the possible legal implications," he said.

"It's an absolute outrage that this still persists," he added. "It has contributed to the worst demoralization and cynicism I've ever seen in this district."

Payroll problems — and now the delay in fixing them — erupted into one of the first major challenges for Brewer, who was hired late last year.

With stories mounting each month of distraught teachers and other employees unable to pay rent or buy groceries, Brewer has had to fend off angry attacks and a lawsuit by the unions that represent the district's more than 90,000 employees.

The snafus have also led, in part, to the district falling behind in its contributions to the state's teacher retirement fund. In a letter sent late last month, state pension officials threatened to seek nearly $700,000 in fines if the district fails to correct itself by next week.

To pay for the increased costs, the district plans to take on so-called certificates of participation, financed debt that would be paid off over time from the district's general fund.

"We just need to get this thing corrected," Brewer said. "Period."

smf notes: It is important to note that the District does not have a dedicated Chief Information Officer in place during this crisis - and that current funding strategies are to not fully fund Information Technology upgrades approved by the voters in recent facilities bonds - using IT monies instead to infill school construction shortfalls caused by cost escalation.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Many things go into making a high school great, but a strong, effective principal is always at the top of the list. As part of our survey of America's Best High Schools, we take a look at the many roles a head must play

By Barbara Kantrowitz and Jay Mathews Newsweek May 28, 2007 issue

It’s 7:15 in the morning and Al Penna has already been on the job for an hour. Standing in the gated entryway of Binghamton High School in upstate New York, the veteran principal—about to celebrate his 60th birthday—greets hundreds of bleary-eyed teens by name. "How are we today, Louis?" "Good morning, Chris!" "Congratulations on the win, Jennifer!"

During the next few hours, Penna presides over meetings on school safety and senior awards, signs a contract for graduation photos and handles staff complaints about crackling walkie-talkies. He visits one class aimed at keeping potential dropouts in school and another where the assignment is to read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. He checks in on students laboring over the state's yearly English as a Second Language (ESL) exam. "Kurdistan," he says, quietly pointing to one student, and then, "Somalia, Eastern Europe, a few from Puerto Rico."

He even happily chows down on his favorite cafeteria lunch: gravy-doused roast beef on white bread with mashed potatoes and corn on the side.

At almost every stop, Penna points out how Binghamton and the high school have changed since he walked these same hallways as a student in the 1960s. There's a new and much more diverse population with increasing numbers of low-income and foreign-born students, growing community pressure to guarantee college- or work-ready graduates and a blizzard of government-mandated tests that gobble up an ever-larger chunk of the school day.

Getting kids from freshman year to graduation has never been tougher. Penna knows that even that often-elusive diploma isn't enough anymore. Some postgraduate schooling has become essential to earning a middle-class income; that means adding higher-level courses like the International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) program to an already packed curriculum in order to prepare students for college.

So much goes into making a high school great: excellent teaching, vibrant student populations, creative classes, strong extracurriculars. The NEWSWEEK Challenge Index measures one: the number of IB and AP tests students take. But just as important is the person who leads the school. Good principals may seem unlikely superheroes—unless you're a student, teacher or parent. They set the tone for what happens from the moment the opening bell rings and can turn a troubled school around with a combination of vision, drive and very hard work. It's a 24/7 job. "Schools aren't just about just reading, writing and arithmetic anymore," says Penna. "School faculties now have the additional roles of mentor, adviser and quasi parent."

Principals also have to be politicians, crisis managers, cheerleaders, legal experts, disciplinarians, entertainers, coaches and persuasive evangelists for their school's educational mission. Add to that already daunting list the task of statistician, thanks to reams of data required by the federal No Child Left Behind law and local testing.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning in data," says Jill Martin, the principal of Doherty High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., who won the 2007 Principal of the Year title from the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Who can fill that intimidating job description? "It certainly helps to be somebody who doesn't need a lot of sleep," jokes Martin, 61, who, like Penna, routinely works 12- and 14-hour days and makes sure to show up at school plays and games on weekends. Endless energy does seem to be a requirement, as does a talent for getting the best out of a large team. "It no longer works to be the dictator or the sage on the stage," says Martin. "You have to be a leader of instructional leaders. You have to be someone who can really motivate people to go the extra mile because the job of a teacher is far more difficult and complex than when I started teaching." A good principal has to be up to speed on constantly expanding education research and know how to apply the latest data. Above all, says Martin, you have to be someone who understands teenagers' needs. Although the demands of the school have changed in her 38 years as an educator, Martin says kids are the same: "They still want someone to care about them. The principal has to be someone who really loves kids and understands what it takes to motivate teachers to change every child's life."

Finding those leaders is harder than ever. Many baby boomers, who now hold the majority of the jobs, are retiring in the next few years. Other veteran principals are leaving because of school reform or restructuring efforts or simply because they no longer want to do the work. It's estimated that in some areas, 60 percent of principals will leave their positions in the next five years. That's why there's a new focus on finding and training the best of the next generation for these jobs, including recruits from other fields. These efforts range from New York City's privately subsidized Leadership Academy to mentorship programs in districts around the country. A recent report by researchers from Stanford University and the Finance Project, a public-policy group, found that the most effective programs actively recruited candidates, provided instruction from expert principals and included well-supervised internships.

Pay is also a major hurdle—as it is for teachers. Given the requirements of their jobs, successful principals probably have the skills to earn considerably more in the private sector. A recent study from the National Association of Secondary School Principals found that although administrators' salaries are increasing, they do not match the change in the consumer price index. According to the survey, high-school principals earned an average of $92,965 in 2006.

To find out more about the special pressures of running a successful high school today, NEWSWEEK talked to Penna and four other school leaders around the country. These are their very different stories.


For Doris Jackson, 60, principal of Wakefield High School, the nationally acclaimed revitalization of her mostly minority school in Arlington, Va., is a team effort. It began with her predecessor, a saxophone-playing former nun named Marie Shiels Djouadi, who insisted that challenging courses like AP were not just for middle-class students. Jackson, then the head counselor, took over when her friend retired and helped an aggressive team of teachers and counselors raise standards even higher.

Wakefield's Cohort program—same-sex clubs for boys and, more recently, girls, who share tips on dealing with demanding courses—is unique in the Washington area. Senior year ends with a special project—an internship, a scientific paper, a musical presentation, something that requires great effort outside class. It's the only public school in the Washington area to have such a graduation requirement. Wakefield teachers say the successful imposition of private-school standards in a public school full of poor kids stems from Jackson's faith in her staff. "She lets teachers lead," says Delores Bushong, gifted/talented coordinator. An example is the school's one-week summer program, designed by teachers to persuade students to try the best Wakefield offers, such as AP classes.


The Preuss public charter school at the University of California, San Diego, admits only low-income students whose parents did not graduate from college. That is a rare thing in American high schools, as is the Preuss principal, Doris Alvarez—still at the top of her game at 70. Preuss (rhymes with choice) began in 1999 when several UCSD faculty, including Bronx-born music professor Cecil Lytle, created the school to bring students from poor families up to University of California standards after UC admission preferences for minorities were outlawed. Alvarez had a great track record with disadvantaged students at Hoover High School in San Diego and had been named National High School Principal of the Year in 1997. She put AP courses at the center of her curriculum at Preuss and hired teachers who gave students the encouragement and extra time they needed to master the material.

Graduating senior Rose Cao says Preuss proves that "money and skin color do not define intelligence." Students endure bus rides up to 90 minutes long from low-income south San Diego to the school's modern two-story building at UCSD in affluent La Jolla. The school has 756 students in sixth to 12th grades. About 59 percent are Hispanic, 20 percent Asian, 13 percent black and 6 percent white. More than 90 percent of graduating seniors go to four-year colleges, the rest to two-year schools. "Every student knows why they are here, to get ready for college," Alvarez says. It is one of the few public schools requiring every student to take AP courses and tests in U.S. history, U.S. government, English language, English literature, biology and chemistry. "Some students may say this system makes the unprepared students suffer and harms their grades," Cao says. "It actually gives every student the equal opportunity to be challenged and excel."


Ying Hua had been in the United States a short time when Roy Sunada, the AP coordinator at Marshall Fundamental High School in Pasadena, Calif., asked if she would like something tougher than the program for English learners. She nodded yes, then wavered when her first two European-history writing assignments from Sunada were totally beyond her. Sunada—determined to help all kids realize their potential—looked at her blank paper and told her not to worry. "Give yourself a try," he said. Ying went on to pass 13 AP exams, a school record, and win a Morehead scholarship to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "There were many times when I almost wanted to give up," she says, "but knowing that Mr. Sunada is always there believing in me offered me strength."

Marshall, where most of the students are from low-income families, had only 37 AP exams with passing scores in 1997 when Sunada, born in a relocation camp for Japanese-Americans, became coordinator. Last year it had 163, and Sunada wants that number higher. His open-door policy on AP has not been popular with everyone, says AP calculus and statistics teacher Eric Mulfinger, but "even when the system didn't believe that poor or disadvantaged kids could succeed at high academic levels, Roy did."

Now an assistant principal at the school, Sunada, 61, is criticized for Marshall's low passing rate on the exams, about 26 percent, the result of letting everyone try the courses and tests. He says the faculty is working on that, but even students who struggle and fail in AP become much better prepared for college. Sunada, says Ying, "has opened the doors to many students, including myself, who would not have a chance otherwise."


YES Prep's name, small size and strong AP program suggest a prestigious private school. Instead it is a public school, a hard-to-find collection of old portable classrooms on a horse farm in southeast Houston. The school has no gym. The basketball court is out on the parking lot. "My favorite fund-raising line is, we are the only basketball team that gets practice rained out," says founder Chris Barbic.

Barbic, 37, was a partying frat boy at Vanderbilt, looking for a purpose in life, when he tried volunteering at a neighborhood center in a poor part of Nashville. He found that he loved working with low-income children, and loved teaching, particularly the thrill of creating his own school. At YES Prep, 78 percent of the students in the sixth- through 12th-grade school are from low-income families. Now the head of four YES Prep schools in Texas, Barbic started with just a sixth grade at a Houston elementary school with a terrible reputation. Parents saw how much more their children were learning, through projects and energetic teaching as well as a longer school day. They showed up several hundred strong for a series of key meetings that won official approval for Barbic to get his own campus, and grow.

Students cannot get a diploma at YES unless they take at least one college-level course in the high school and get into at least one four-year college. Like Teach for America, Barbic recruits recent grads to teach at YES schools. One of his new faculty members is Patricia Hernandez, a 2006 Stanford graduate, who five years ago was valedictorian of YES's first graduating class. Says Barbic: "She is a living, breathing example of what we are trying to do."


Al Penna thought he would be a doctor when he graduated from Syracuse University in 1969, but his 3.2 average didn't make the grade. Instead, he became a science teacher and then a principal at his alma mater, where he found his true calling. "I had to take a U-turn," he says. "It led me back to Binghamton, where my roots are." During his 15 years as principal, Penna saw his own three kids graduate from the school (one son now teaches there), along with thousands of others whose lives had already taken U-turns. A small city in the old rust belt, Binghamton experienced job losses and increasing numbers of low-income families. A wave of immigration brought students from 26 countries. Because of these challenges, Penna is proud that he has worked hard to get as many students as possible into his school's IB programs and other college-level courses in order to prepare them for further education. No matter where they come from, Penna wants his students to know that school is their sanctuary. "This is a place that can transform your life," he says. If he had been a doctor, Penna says, he would have been a cardiologist. But as a principal, he's truly speaking from the heart.

CURRENT EVENTS: Child Soldiers, Guantánamo & International Law

smf: This may seem a bit of a stretch for a blog/newsletter about public education in LA, but ultimately it is not – because as Graham Nash teaches us – we must teach our children well ...and our children must teach their parents well. Pop- psychologically and with apologies to Wordsworth: “The child is father of the man.”

The best seller popularity of “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah, a horrific story about child soldiery and redemption in Sierra Leone shouts to us: “What are we doing?” Omar Ahmed Khadr may well be beyond redemption at 20 after five years of incarceration in black CIA prisons and Guantánamo — it may have been a different story at 15.

And to conclude the preachifying I tip my hat to James Q. Wilson and "The Moral Sense" (1993) : “Mankind's moral sense is not a strong beacon light, radiating outward to illuminate in sharp outline all that it touches. It is, rather, a small candle flame, casting vague and multiple shadows, flickering and sputtering in the strong winds of power and passion, greed and ideology. But brought close to the heart and cupped in one's hands, it dispels the darkness and warms the soul.”


By William Glaberson, International Herald Tribune

Sunday, June 3, 2007 - NEW YORK The facts of Omar Ahmed Khadr's case are grim. The shrapnel from the grenade he is accused of throwing ripped through the skull of Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, who was 28 when he died.

To U.S. military prosecutors, Khadr is a committed Qaeda operative, spy and killer who must be held accountable for taking Speer's life and for other bloody acts he committed in Afghanistan.

But one fact may not fit easily into the government's portrait of Khadr: He was 15 at the time.

His age is at the center of a legal battle that is to begin Monday with an arraignment by a military judge at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, of Khadr, whom a range of legal experts describe as the first child soldier in decades to face war-crimes charges. The case has implications as large as the growing ranks of child soldiers worldwide.

Defense lawyers argue that military prosecutors are violating international law by filing charges that date from events that occurred when Khadr was 15 or younger. Legal concepts that are still evolving, the lawyers say, require countries to treat child soldiers as victims of warfare, rather than as war criminals.

The military prosecutors say such notions may be "well-meaning and worthy," but are irrelevant to the U.S. military commissions at Guantánamo. Khadr is one of only three Guantánamo detainees to face charges under the law establishing the commissions, passed by the U.S. Congress last year.

"International law," the Justice Department asserted in a court filing in the case last week, "does not prohibit an individual under 18 from being prosecuted for war crimes." Even so, prosecutors said that if they won a conviction, they would seek something less than a life term, given Khadr's age. He is 20 now.

Whatever the outcome, his case seems destined to become a landmark, though some scholars say not enough attention has been given to its importance. "What is the precedent that we are setting with this unique step?" asked Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written about child soldiers.

Khadr's case offers a snapshot of relatively new questions surrounding the legal treatment of child soldiers globally, though advocates for children have tended to focus less on young terrorists and more on children who fight in civil wars, like Ishmael Beah, whose best-selling memoir, "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier," recounts his bloody days as a child fighter in Sierra Leone's internal conflict.

Khadr may not be the most sympathetic figure for those pressing for the more forgiving interpretation of international law. He was born in Canada to a family with such deep Qaeda ties that some newspapers there have called it Canada's first family of terrorism.

He is the youngest detainee at Guantánamo Bay, nearly blind in one eye from wounds sustained during the July 2002 clash in which Speer was mortally wounded and another U.S. soldier was severely wounded.

Last week, Khadr said he wanted to fire all of his U.S. lawyers, and some of them said they understood why he might distrust Americans after having spent five years at Guantánamo.

Still, they argue that war-crimes prosecutors should focus on the adults who press children into service, not on the children themselves. The charges against Khadr, they said in a recent court filing, cross a line in the treatment of children that no other country has crossed "in modern history."

The prosecutors, they say, included in their charges acts that occurred when Khadr was younger than 10. Khadr "was subject to undue adult influences," said Muneer Ahmad, an associate professor at the American University Washington College of Law, who has represented Khadr.

"If Omar had had his free choice," Ahmad said, "what he would have chosen to do is ride horses, play soccer and read Harry Potter books."

It is an appeal to emotion that the prosecutors are likely to meet with their own. Speer left a wife and two small children. His widow, Tabitha, said in an e-mail exchange with a reporter last week that Khadr's youth entitled him to no special consideration.

"Given the opportunity, he would do it all over again," she wrote. "He was trained to do exactly what he did, regardless of his age."

To the prosecutors, Khadr is the essence of a young man who should be held to adult standards. U.S. officials say his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, who was killed in a shootout with Pakistani forces in 2003, was a senior deputy to Osama bin Laden.

One of Khadr's brothers is in a wheelchair as a result of that shootout; another told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, "We are an Al Qaeda family." Ahmed Khadr traveled internationally from Canada under the auspices of handling charity money for Muslims. In the mid-1990s, he was held for a time in Pakistan on suspicion of having helped finance the bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad.

After he was released, the Khadrs and several of their six children moved from Canada to Afghanistan where they lived at times in the same compound as bin Laden, officials have said. "All of the children were indoctrinated into the Al Qaeda way of thinking," said the chief military prosecutor at Guantánamo, Colonel Morris Davis of the air force.

After Sept. 11, 2001, Omar Khadr deliberately chose to join Al Qaeda and eventually to kill Speer, Davis said in a recent interview. "There is a difference," Davis said, "between a 15-year-old who makes a spur-of-the-moment decision and someone who made a long-term choice."

Captured after he was wounded in the firefight that killed Speer, Khadr has been held at Guantánamo since 2002. At least three other juveniles, perhaps as young as 12, also were held there for a time. But they were released in January 2004, the military said.

Khadr's lawyers have said in court that he had been subjected to physical and psychological torture that exploited his youth, another example of what they say is a violation of international principles that children be accorded special protections.

Layne Morris, a housing administrator in a Salt Lake City, Utah, suburb, is a former U.S. Army special forces sergeant, who, like Khadr, is half-blind because of the firefight that day near Khost, Afghanistan.

He said the battle did not unfold quickly, as it sometimes seems in the retelling. American forces surrounded the compound, he said. And then they waited. Anyone who was inside had a choice of whether to fight or surrender, he said, including Khadr.

"There is just no way you can say this is a poor befuddled, brainwashed kid," Morris said. "This is a kid who made a whole lot of decisions on his own."


by Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy Newspapers

Mon, Jun. 4, 2007 - GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba - A pair of military judges on Monday blocked the Bush administration's latest plan to try detainees here for war crimes, dismissing charges against two suspects after finding that the Pentagon hadn't followed congressional mandates in bringing the cases.

At issue was the failure of the Pentagon to find during earlier proceedings that Omar Khadr, 20, whom U.S. officials had charged with murder in the death of a U.S. Special Forces medic, and Salim Hamdan, 36, a driver for Osama bin Laden, were "unlawful enemy combatants." Instead, military panels had declared that the men were simply "enemy combatants."

But in separate decisions, Army Col. Peter Brownback and Navy Capt. Keith Allred said that that designation was insufficient under the Military Commissions Act passed last year.

Brownback said the act specifically limits trials to detainees who'd be tagged as "unlawful enemy combatants" and bars trials of "lawful enemy combatants." Without a more specific designation, a military commission has no authority to act, he found.

"A person has a right to be tried only by a court that has jurisdiction over him," Brownback said.

Allred used slightly different logic to reach the same conclusion. He said Hamdan "is either entitled to the designation as a prisoner-of-war or he is an alien unlawful enemy combatant. Or he is entitled to another status."

The Pentagon's current Combatant Status Review Tribunals doesn't distinguish among the three, he said.

The decisions immediately set off calls for the Bush administration to forgo its efforts to set up a separate judicial system to try Guantanamo detainees for alleged war crimes.

"This decision demonstrates the egregious flaws of the Military Commissions Act and makes the point once again that Congress must act immediately to change this law," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn. "The current system of prosecuting enemy combatants is not only inefficient and ineffective, it is also hurting America's moral standing in the world and corroding the foundation of freedom upon which our nation was built."

Chief defense counsel Marine Corps. Col. Dwight Sullivan noted that each captive currently held at Guantanamo is classified as an "enemy combatant," not an "unlawful enemy combatant."

Sullivan, who oversees the defense of all military commission cases, declared the war court "a complete failure" and urged the Pentagon to end its efforts to prosecute Guantanamo detainees under the Military Commissions Act.

"The system right now should just stop," said Sullivan. "The commission is an experiment that failed and we don't need any more evidence that it is a failure."

The chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, a frequent visitor to the Guantanamo media center, chose not to comment on Monday night.

In Washington, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department planned to appeal. But Brownback, a retired military judge, scoffed at that idea when prosecutors raised it on Monday, saying there was no court to which the government could appeal.

Congress authorized the Defense Department to establish a Court of Military Commission Review to handle appeals, but the court has yet to be set up. Defense Department officials said Monday they didn't know when appointments to the court would be made.

Muneer Ahmed, an American University law professor who represented Khadr until last week, said quick appointments to the review court would only further damage the commissions' credibility.

"I think that's going to do more damage than help," he said.

Monday's rulings - Brownback's decision in the Khadr case came first, followed later by Allred's decision in the Hamdan case - were the latest in a long line of legal rulings that have blocked Bush administration efforts to try Guantanamo detainees for alleged war crimes.

Since President Bush declared in 2002 that the Geneva Conventions covering prisoners of war wouldn't apply to Guantanamo detainees, debate has raged over the administration's efforts to create a new kind of military war court - the first U.S. war crimes tribunals since World War II.

Military defense attorneys objected to the proposals, and international law and human rights groups criticized the effort as extrajudicial, extra-territorial justice. Twice, the Supreme Court handed the detainees specific victories. In its latest ruling last year, the court held that plans to try the detainees were unconstitutional because Congress hadn't authorized the trials. The Military Commissions Act was intended to overcome that objection.

But Brownback, who served as chief presiding officer at the first attempt to stage commissions, found that the rules Congress established and those that the Pentagon had been following before the legislation was passed were incompatible.

Brownback declared the dismissal "without prejudice," meaning the Defense Department could seek in the future to recharge the Toronto-born Khadr.

Allred said the problem with the Hamdan case could be remedied by holding a new hearing to determine his status.

Even so, there was a special irony to Allred's ruling. Hamdan, accused of being bin Laden's driver, was the plaintiff who successfully challenged an earlier Pentagon trial scheme before the Supreme Court. It was that case that led to the passage of the Military Commissions Act.

Hamdan, 36, grinned as he listened through Arabic translation as his lawyer accused the Bush administration of "essentially winging it on the jurisdictional basis for this court's proceedings."

Khadr's case had long been controversial because he was only 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan. U.S. prosecutors accused him of murdering a U.S. Special Forces medic during a firefight in July 2002, but some legal experts argued that as a juvenile he should have been treated differently.

But the dispute over technical language was largely unexpected.

The rulings were also likely to force new status hearings for 14 so-called "high-value detainees" transferred here from CIA custody last year, among them suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

At each of those hearings, the presiding officer said the purpose was to determine if a detainee was an "enemy combatant." There was no mention about the status of an "unlawful enemy combatant."

"If the U.S. government were at all wise, this would be a fatal blow to the military commissions," said Jennifer Daskal, an attorney and observer from Human Rights Watch. "In five years, the military commissions have convicted one person by plea agreement."

In that deal, in late March, Australian captive David Hicks, 31, agreed to plead guilty to a single charge of providing material support for terrorism in exchange for a nine-month sentence. He returned last month to Australia to serve his sentence.

Said Amnesty International observer Jumana Musa: "At this point, detainees have been more successful committing suicide in Guantanamo than the government has been successful in getting detainees to trial."

Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald. Warren P. Strobel in Washington contributed to this report.


Dismissal rulings in two Guantanamo cases raise questions about the military's jurisdiction over detainees.

by Carol J. Williams and Julian E. Barnes, LA Times Staff Writers

June 5, 2007 - GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA — Military judges threw out war-crimes cases Monday against the only detainees here who have been indicted, in rulings that suggest the hastily reassembled military tribunals have no jurisdiction over any of Guantanamo's 380 prisoners.

In separate hearings, an Army colonel and a Navy captain granted motions to dismiss the cases because the 2006 Military Commissions Act that Congress passed last year gave the tribunals jurisdiction only over "unlawful alien enemy combatants."

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, and Omar Khadr, a Canadian who was 15 when arrested five years ago in a firefight with U.S. forces in Afghanistan, were designated "enemy combatants" during 2004 Combatant Status Review Tribunals.

Reconciling the different labels is sure to slow prosecution of these and other Guantanamo detainees. All 380 detainees received the same label during their initial status reviews.

It was the second time in less than a year that the Bush administration's process for bringing terror suspects to justice has failed. An earlier version of the commissions — created by Bush in November 2001 without congressional participation — was struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court last June 29.

Army Maj. Beth Kubala, the legal advisor and spokeswoman for the tribunals, said, "Based on today's rulings, the public should make no assumptions about the future of the military commissions."

The Geneva Convention protects the rights of "lawful combatants," who are usually members of national armed forces fighting with another country's soldiers. Captured lawful combatants are supposed to be designated prisoners of war and held in communal conditions.

But when the Bush administration devised the tribunals, it eliminated that designation to deprive the war-on-terror suspects of POW rights and living conditions. That left the three-officer status review boards with the choices of "enemy combatant" or "no longer an enemy combatant."

In the second of the two rulings, Navy Capt. Keith Allred suggested that Bush's blanket branding of all Al Qaeda members as illegally engaged in hostilities against U.S. forces was illegitimate because it failed to examine whether each individual had committed war crimes.

"He's either entitled to the designations as a prisoner of war or as an unlawful alien enemy combatant," Allred said of Hamdan.

Allred also pointed out that the status reviews were established to determine whether a detainee was being properly held here, not to determine whether he was subject to trial by military commission.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, Hamdan's defense attorney, said the Military Commissions Act "demonstrates once again that if you put a statute together in three weeks and rush it through … you end up with a process that doesn't work."

Donald J. Guter, a retired Navy rear admiral and Duquesne University Law School dean, agreed.

"There hasn't been anything we've done down there that has followed form or practice," Guter said. "It has been a lot of ad hoc and reverse engineering."

It was Swift who took Hamdan's challenge of his detention to the Supreme Court last year, leading to the high court's decision that Bush had overstepped his wartime powers when he unilaterally created the commissions two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, head of the war crimes tribunal defense team, said that Congress should take the opportunity to force the government to cease circumventing legitimate U.S. courts in its effort to prosecute Guantanamo prisoners.

"The military commissions are a model that has repeatedly shown itself incapable of rendering justice," said Sullivan. He added that after the rulings, "if the United States government is wise, this would be the fatal blow to military commissions."

Monday's rulings could provide an opportunity for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to again propose moving trials to the U.S. mainland. Gates, who told Congress earlier this year that he favors shutting the prison, was traveling in Kyrgyzstan on Monday.

In response to reporters' questions, Gates said he would have to review the decisions before making a substantive comment. "This is the reason we have a judicial process in all this," he said.

Some military observers doubted that the rulings would lead to the end of Guantanamo tribunals. Gates lost his first battle to close Guantanamo after Vice President Dick Cheney and other administration officials insisted that the prison remain open as an alternative to bringing the prisoners they have described as the world's most dangerous men to U.S. communities for trial in federal court.

Still, the rulings by the commissions' own judges seemed likely to compound criticism at home and abroad that the denial of Geneva Convention protections conflicts with American values and commitment to justice.

The dismissed cases have no real effect on the prisoners' freedom: The administration has said that even those never charged with specific crimes will be held for the duration of the war on terrorism, regardless of judicial procedures created to try them.

Prosecutors in both cases asked the judges for 72 hours to decide whether to appeal their rulings. But the panel created by the Military Commission Act to review decisions hasn't yet been created — a point many lawyers noted as further evidence that the commissions are a poor substitute for established judicial forums.

Defense Department officials were discussing whether to hold another round of the status review tribunals for detainees they intend to try, officials in Washington said Monday.

Not all detainees would necessarily have to face the review panels. Many are likely to be transferred once arrangements can be made with other countries to receive and detain them. The commissions' chief prosecutor, Air Force Col. Morris Davis, has said he envisions charging about 75 of the prisoners, with the rest to be held "for the duration of the war on terror."

The Pentagon could rewrite the rules for the status reviews to elicit determinations on the lawfulness of each prisoner's alleged combat activities. But rewriting the rules would take months, as would new status hearings, said retired Army Col. Fran Gilligan, a legal scholar now with the commissions' prosecution office.

The newly reconstituted commissions had taken up only one case before Monday, in which Australian David Hicks pleaded guilty to drastically reduced charges in March in exchange for the right to serve the last few months of his sentence in his native Adelaide.

Although Hicks' plea deal was widely denounced as a sham intended to answer mounting demands from the Australian government for his return, the Bush administration cited it as proof that the new system worked.

Army Col. Peter Brownback, the military judge in Khadr's case, brought the motion to dismiss the charges against Khadr, who fired his legal team last week. Khadr was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an Army special forces medic in July 2002.

Hamdan was charged with conspiracy and supporting terrorism for helping bin Laden and other Al Qaeda figures.

The charges against both prisoners were dismissed "without prejudice," meaning the government can bring a new case if it can classify the men as unlawful combatants.

Brownback did say many Guantanamo prisoners merited the "unlawful" designation because most were foreigners fighting for irregular forces like Al Qaeda and Afghanistan's Taliban, not uniformed members of a national army.

Khadr was only 15 when he was captured by U.S. forces at an Al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan. He entered the courtroom in the tan prison garb that designates a compliant detainee according to military-detention regulations, instead of the civilian clothing the court advises defendants to wear to avoid appearing like a prisoner before the commissioners — who were not present Monday.

His beard was scruffy and his hair matted, whereas he had appeared neatly barbered in khakis and a sport shirt during his last commission appearance 16 months ago.

Hamdan hadn't been in court for nearly three years because a federal judge had issued a stay in his and two other cases. A slight man who smiled with his attorneys, he clearly had difficulty understanding the Arabic translation or much of the proceedings.

Human-rights lawyers hailed the twin rulings as an admission that the commissions are "fatally flawed" and should be abandoned in favor of military courts-martial or trials in U.S. federal courts.

"Allred questioned the president's ability to designate an entire class of people as enemy combatants without any inquiry into the actual facts," said Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch.

"Today's ruling is the most significant setback since the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the original military commissions," said Jumana Musa of Amnesty International. "It also signals that these commissions need to be scrapped and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay must be closed now."

Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday that the Pentagon would review the rulings but believes the new law and older tribunals' status are legally compatible.

John D. Hutson, a former top Navy judge advocate general and a critic of the tribunal system, said the commissions are unlikely ever to be known for prosecutorial success.

"Look at the cases we have had. So far, we've had a kangaroo-skinner and a chauffeur," Hutson said, referring to Hicks and Hamdan. "We aren't exactly talking about Hitler and Goering, so far."

But he said he doubted that Monday's rulings would be the fatal blow.