Monday, April 28, 2008

The EdSource Forum: BIG VISIONS AND HARD BEALITIES - Videos, podcasts & program slides available you missed this exciting event--or were there and want to share it with others--videos, podcasts, and presentation slides are now available online at


See the April 20th 4LAKids: The Way to San José:

"Big Visions and Hard Realities" was the theme for the 31st annual EdSource Forum held April 18 in Palo Alto. Nearly 400 educators, community members, and policymakers listened with interest as experts grappled with visionary possibilities and tough questions.

If you missed this exciting event--or were there and want to share it with others--videos, podcasts, and presentation slides are now available online at

This year's Forum consisted of four fast-paced and thought-provoking sessions introduced by EdSource Board President Davis Campbell.

Jay Pfeiffer from Florida's Department of Education dazzled the audience by describing the kinds of questions that can be answered from a comprehensive and longitudinal statewide education data system. Gavin Payne from the California Department of Education responded by sharing details of a new project to improve the state's data infrastructure. FCMAT's Joel Montero moderated the discussion.

Andrew Calkins of Mass Insight described some bold new ideas that are working in other states to dramatically improve the lowest-performing schools. San Diego County Superintendent of Schools Randolph Ward responded by putting Calkin's ideas into the California context. The conversation was moderated by CCSESA's Susan Burr.

After lunch, Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill gave a sobering summary of the state's current budget crisis and how it will affect education for the next few years as well as some ideas for addressing the problem. Ms. Hill is retiring, and when the session concluded, the audience gave her a standing ovation in tributeto her decades of service to California.

The EdSource Forum ended with a substantive presentation by researchers Michael Kirst and Goodwin Liu of a new reform proposal that would change the basis for how the state funds school districts. School Innovations & Advocacy's Kevin Gordon moderated and the audience heard a provocative response to the proposal by education finance experts Richard Simpson and John Mockler. You don't want to miss the important ideas that were debated.

The proceedings from this event will give you lots to think about and perhaps some inspiration regarding how the state can move forward on several important issues, even in an extraordinarily difficult year.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Chico Enterprise-Record & Oroville Mercury Register

 They get in in Chico and Oroville - two decidedly red towns on the map; why don't they get in Sacramento?

04/27/2008 — In response to Steve Wolfe's letter about throwing "more money in the pot": While no one likes the notion of paying more taxes, the point that we must keep in our sights is that currently no one is throwing more money at public education. The state is forcing local districts and charter schools to make major cuts across the board. As citizens of the great state of California with one of the largest economies in the world, we should be ashamed of our approach to "fixing" a broken system, which is to slash the money and leave the next generation out to dry.

If you compare the amount of money California spends per student to other states, or other industrial nations for that matter, you will see we are already lagging behind. We need to be forward thinking. If we don't spend the money on education now, we will most certainly pay later, but our tax dollars will be going toward more prison facilities, welfare systems and rehab centers. While I personally don't know what the long-term answer to solving the state budget problem is, I do know that this current approach of cutting education dollars is lunacy.

— Karen Rose, Chico

Letter: Cutting education isn't the answer - Oroville Mercury Register




By Jack O’Connell, California Superintendent of Public Instruction | from California Progress Report

On Friday April 25th, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell met with students, parents, teachers and administrators at the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies (SOCES). SOCES is the largest magnet school in the Los Angeles Unified School District with 1780 students in grades 4-12.

Later in the day, O'Connell held a news conference at the Synergy Charter Academy to remark on the 25th anniversary of the release of "A Nation at Risk," the landmark 1983 study issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education.  The 1983 report provided a comprehensive overview of the status of American schools - finding that the educational foundations of American society were being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity, leading to widespread reforms at the local, state and federal levels.

[CPR Editor’s note: This is the speech Jack O’Connell delivered, with charts and graphs, on Friday.]

25 years ago, the landmark report, “A Nation at Risk” warned of dire consequences if we failed to expect more from our students and schools.

We responded by implementing a system of accountability to measure and rank schools on annual student achievement gains.

We’ve focused attention on groups of students who face particular challenges…and we’ve seen steady achievement gains.

For example, here, at the Synergy Charter Academy, named a California distinguished school and the California  charter school of the year for 2008, we’re seeing significant progress in the test scores of a very diverse student population.

This progress is positive and consistent, but we’re still having trouble educating all children to the very highest level, so on the anniversary of a nation at risk, I’d like to take a look back, and talk about where we are today.


Student population has increased.

This increase put enormous pressure on our schools, in terms of facilities; the rising demand for new teachers; books and supplies; and more.

Back in 1984, our student population was majority white and English speaking:


Now, our latest numbers from 2007 paint a different picture:


The needs of these students have changed dramatically as well.


Let’s now look at our English language learner population.


Let’s also take a look at how California compares to other states when it comes to the percent of children whose parents are not fluent in speaking the English language.


Another measure to consider is family income. One way to account for the number of students living in poverty is to look at students eligible for free and reduced-priced meals.


Also consider that it costs more to provide the high quality instruction needed to prepare the students we have to meet the demands of a challenging global economyand we’re not investing more in our schools, we’re investing less.


Now let’s take a look at how California compares to other states when it comes to investing in schools.



On top of this, our governor is going to cut our education budget by 10%, or 4.8 billion dollars.

The Governor says we have a spending problem – I say we have a priority problem. If we don’t refocus our priorities on educating the next generations, our state is indeed at risk.

California Education 25 Years After “A Nation at Risk” Released - California Progress Report

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The news that didn't fit from April 27

  • SCHWARZENEGGAR OPPOSES PROP 98 - duh... but not that Prop 98!
  • MY ADVICE TO RAY CORTINES by Tamar Galatzan
  • THE NEW LAUSD ORG CHART: You can't tell the players without an org chart!
  • Sandy Banks: IN L.A. SCHOOLS, DEATH BY 1,000 CUTS

     A district official responds to a backlash from traditional campuses told to share space with the privately operated institutions, whose numbers are multiplying.

    By Howard Blume | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    April 26, 2008 - Seeking to calm a backlash at traditional Los Angeles schools, a top district official promised this week to reconsider offers of classroom space on those campuses to charter schools.

    The idea of privately operated charter schools sharing space with regular schools was met with fury at many affected campuses, including Taft High in Woodland Hills and Crenshaw High in South Los Angeles. Teachers and parents have complained that their own reforms and programs would be harmed.
    Charter operators aren't too happy either: Many still await offers, while others are considering whether proposed deals are affordable or adequate.
    Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines stepped into the fray with unscheduled remarks at a "town hall" this week before a standing-room-only audience of more than 800 in Taft's auditorium.

    "I want to review each issue," Cortines said. "We had to pause, take a breath and look at . . . what we must do for charter schools but also how it affects . . . the regular school."

    Under state law as well as a recent settlement of litigation, the Los Angeles Unified School District must share facilities "fairly" with charter schools. Charters are independently run public schools that operate with less state regulation in exchange for boosting student achievement.

    This year, 54 charter schools applied to house nearly 17,000 students -- almost three times as many students as previously. About 12 schools already share space with charters; that number could rise to 35 next year.

    Charter operators have complained that they were last in line for classroom space.

    Now, some people say the pendulum has swung too far toward charters. As one example, they cite the freezing of open enrollment permits at affected campuses.
    Taft depends on attracting students from outside its attendance area to buttress honors programs and sports teams and for planned academies specializing in technology and teacher training.

    Carmen Hawkins of South Los Angeles said her sons attend Taft for its safe environment and academics, an opportunity that should not be denied to future students.

    Others worried about a return to overcrowding and about competition with the arts program from the invited charter, the CHAMPS performing-arts high school. CHAMPS founder Norman Isaacs, a popular former middle school principal who sat quietly in the front row at the Taft meeting, received little sympathy from A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. (Charters are exempt from district labor pacts.)

    Duffy vowed to target the district and Isaacs' school with letter-writing campaigns and pickets.

    "The hostility here is such that he would be foolish to bring a charter here," Duffy said. "We're going to bring that anger to his front door."

    UTLA has helped organize protests at Wadsworth Elementary in South Los Angeles, and the faculty at Fairfax High has rallied community groups in opposition to the district's space-sharing offer there.

    After the meeting, Isaacs said he would prefer space at one of several San Fernando Valley campuses that were closed years ago because of declining enrollment.

    "The district has put these parents in a terrible position," Isaacs said. "I hear this passion. The district has to respond to this in some way, and we have to respond to the district."

    Under state law, charter schools have until May 1 to accept offers. But Cortines indicated that the deadline might have to be adjusted.

    Since April 1, the state deadline for making offers, the district has taken four schools -- including Nevin Elementary in South Los Angeles and Portola Middle School in Tarzana -- off the list.

    Portola is one of three sites the district had selected to accommodate Ivy Academia. Another is Sunny Brae Elementary in Winnetka, which Ivy already is sharing.

    Ivy co-founder Tatyana Berkovich said the district has tried harder to help charters but remains an inefficient landlord at best. The charter's bathrooms at Sunny Brae weren't ready until March 19, she said. Until then, first-graders had to use adult-sized, outhouse-style portable toilets.

    In South Los Angeles, charter operator Michael Piscal requested space for five schools and received offers for three.

    Piscal, founder and chief executive of the Inner City Education Foundation, said he would decline to place one of his high-performing charters at Crenshaw High because he didn't want to damage good relationships in that community.

    But he might need to accept an offer at Westchester High, even though "they were less than excited about us coming there, and they made that clear."


    smf notes: I was at the angry Town Hall at Taft High School about the Prop 39 allocation of seats to CHAMPS Charter School last Wednesday night.

    Present were Boardmember Canter, John Creer - the Facailities Division exec in charge of seat allocation to charter schools under the out-of-court settlement with the California Charter School Association (CCSA); LAUSD lawyer (and former charter division honcho) Greg McNair, Local District #1 Superintendent Jean Brown, UTLA President A.J. Duffy and Senior Deputy Superintendent Ramon Cortines. Sometimes it's telling to notice who wasn't there: Jose Cole-Gutierrez - the head of the LAUSD Charter Office and former executive director of CCSA was conspicuously absent. The auditorium was packed, restive and ranged from grumpy to angry.

    The Prop 39 provisions mandating charter access to space was described by McNair (a Taft Alumni), to boos and catcalls from the SRO crowd, universally opponents to a charter on the Taft campus. The District's out of court settlement to the CCSA lawsuit got an even warmer reception! Former UTLA Government Affairs Director Bill Lambert suggested legal action; Duffy rose to that bait and promised to sue - going so far as to introduce the union's lawyer. Lambert's proposed cause for action was narrow, based on the fact the proposition unconstitutionally contained multiple issues in a single ballot inititiative; Duffy's was broader - based on rhetoric, the union contract and the unfairness of it all!

    4LAKids considers the Prop 39 requirement for school districts to offer space to charters poorly crafted at best, egregious at worst - a hidden 'Easter egg' in Prop 39 placed there by Reed Hastings and the charter community. 

    For the first time in memory Greg McNair's description of the Prop 39 challenge was brutally honest rather than legally correct; John Creer's description of the challenge made it clear that the district cannot meet it - creating a Catch 22.

    Taft High School's recent history and academic (and sports) success has relied upon open enrollment.  The LAUSD/CCSA settlement ends open enrollment; open enrollment and zones of choice are close to one and the same - District policies and even NCLB are at odds — Charter schools cannot be the Only Choice! The alignment to Small Learning Communities (SLC's / Bulletin 1600 district policy) are also imperiled as the critical contiguous and dedicated space for SLC's have been compromised away in the settlement

    McNair, Canter, Brown and Creer wrung their hands - and Cortines stepped up and said Prop 39 "is the law, is the law, is the law ….but one needs to look at this from an educational standpoint." And he intends to. He noted that educators were not involved in the decisions on the settlement ....or in the District/Creer's proposed solutions.

    During the angry Q&A that followed (nobody spoke for the charter, CHAMPS Charter Director Norm Henry declined to speak) much was made of vacant school property nearby - why wasn't this offered to the charters?

    In all likelihood the Taft challenge will go away because CHAMPS will decline the offer based on the ugly reception (and that their program may need more space than offered) but it will play out in other schools throughout the District. Hopefully Cortines can engineer something - otherwise we will be in court, spending education money on litigation - and ultimately having the courts tossing out or implementing the Prop 39 charter provisions.

    See: CHAMPS_Protest_Letter.pdf - from the Taft HS school site council.

    Los Angeles Times: L.A. Unified may rethink offers to charter schools



    The report, prepared by a youth group with help from Loyola Marymount, says that the conditions of their schools is contributing to a loss of hope and drive.

    By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    April 26, 2008  -- A survey of 6,008 South Los Angeles high school students shows that many are frightened by violence in school, deeply dissatisfied with their choices of college preparatory classes, and -- perhaps most striking -- exhibit symptoms of clinical depression.

    "A lot of students are depressed because of the conditions in their school," said Anna Exiga, a junior at Jordan High School who was one of the organizers of the survey. "They see that their school is failing them, their teachers are failing them, there's racial tension and gang violence, and also many feel that their schools are not schools -- their schools look more like prisons."

    • South L.A. students speakSouth L.A. students speak

    The survey, released late Thursday, was conducted in seven South L.A. public schools by a community youth organization, South Central Youth Empowered Thru Action (SCYEA), with technical guidance from the psychology department at Loyola Marymount University. It suggested that many students in some of the city's poorest, most violent neighborhoods believe their schools set the bar for success too low -- and then shove students beneath it.

    In fact, the student organizers said they don't like to use the word "dropout" to describe their many peers who leave school. They prefer "pushout," because they believe the school system is pushing students to fail.
    "We're ignored -- our schools are ignored," said Susie Gonzalez, another Jordan 11th-grader who helped organize the survey. "They give us the short end of the stick. . . . They expect us not to amount to anything."

    Only about one-quarter of the students surveyed said they felt safe at school while 35% said they don't. Just under half said their school is preparing them for college or a high-paying job, and 93% believe their school should offer more college-preparatory classes. Fewer than half could define the "A to G" curriculum that is the college prep standard in California. The youth organization, which advocates educational equality, fought for six years to push Los Angeles Unified School District to require such a curriculum for all students. The curriculum spells out the types of college prep classes and number of years they must be taken to qualify for UC and Cal State schools.

    Two thirds of the students, nearly all of whom were African American or Latino, said they wanted their schools to offer more ethnic studies classes.

    The schools surveyed are among the lowest performing in the Los Angeles Unified School District and are in an area where dissatisfaction with the traditional public school system is driving many students into charter schools.
    The survey's findings contrasted with a February school district report in which 90% of students questioned at selected schools districtwide said they were being pushed to do their best and 80% said their classes "give me useful preparation for what I plan to do in life."

    That same report was sharply critical of the district's efforts to get all students into a college-prep curriculum by 2012. "With the current school climate and instructional quality," it said, "a significant proportion of the students who enter the ninth grade in 2012 will not only fail to meet college eligibility, but will also fail to graduate from high school."

    Monica Garcia, president of the Los Angeles Board of Education, said she welcomed the survey and believed the district was responding to the students' concerns. "This is energizing, this is encouraging," she said. "We need the consumers of our services to be advocates of change."

    But Jordan High Principal Stephen Strachan took exception to some of the results, saying the survey was skewed to provoke negative responses. He said his school has made great strides in preparing students for college and has created a "safe haven" from a violent community.

    He did not, however, dispute the findings about depression. "This morning at 10 o'clock at Simpson's Mortuary, a 16-year-old was buried. That's one of my students who was shot in the community," he said. "I hear kids say, 'Too many people are dying in our community.' And that plays on the psyche. . . . It's really hard to focus on Algebra 2 when your friends are getting shot in the community."
    Cheryl Grills, a professor of clinical psychology at Loyola Marymount, said that she was struck by how many students volunteered answers to one question about why they sometimes skip school. More than half hinted at depression, saying they were tired, had trouble sleeping, felt helpless or hopeless, were bored or felt lazy, among other responses.

    She compared those responses to the symptoms of clinical depression from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. "Much to my horror and shock, they almost completely matched up," she said.

    That led her to conduct a follow-up survey among 52 students. Of them, 67% reported that they had "felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more," and had "stopped doing some of their usual activities" as a result.
    "That's clinical levels of depression," she said.

    Grills said that while the initial survey did not select students randomly, she believed it was scientifically valid because of the large sample size. She said there was significant uniformity of results among the seven schools: Jordan, Crenshaw, Dorsey, Fremont, Locke, Manual Arts and Washington Prep. Students from Gardena High also participated, although the survey was conducted outside school.

    Alice Rubenstein, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Rochester, N.Y., who has written widely about adolescent psychology, agreed that the survey hinted at widespread levels of clinical depression. Given the environment in which the students live, that's hardly surprising, she said.

    Students in South L.A. "live in a depressive environment where they feel helpless or hopeless partly because their choices are so limited," she said. "These kids are living in an environment where this is their state much of the time. It's very much a sociological issue as well as a psychological issue."

    Rubenstein added that surveys of the general adolescent population tend to show that anywhere from 15% to 30% are depressed, well below the levels suggested by the survey. She added that the survey did not include the students most likely to be depressed -- those who were not in school.

    At the announcement of the survey results, at the headquarters of the Community Coalition of South L.A., students played a home-made version of Monopoly that told much the same story as the survey.

    Where the familiar squares of Baltic, Atlantic and Marvin Gardens might be, the options included Drugs, Dean's Office and Drop Out. Jail was a place to go when you're pulled over by the cops for no apparent reason. Restroom was where the player was likely to encounter gang members. Where Boardwalk should have been, the square read: "Dead."

    As the game began, one student landed on Liquor Store and was told that, on his way to school, "You wind up in front of a liquor store and you find one of your homies smoking a blunt." When Juan Zamora of Jordan landed on Chance, he was told that "you're one of the lucky students who actually know and see a college counselor." His choices: Go to UCLA or "stay on the block and wind up selling drugs to support your family."

    And when Sam Anguiano of Locke landed on P.E. Field, he was told that shots had been fired while he was running during gym class -- should he hit the ground or run? When he answered that he'd run, he was told: "You run away and are safe, but later that evening you find out that your friend was the one who was shot."
    That was about as good a roll of the dice as anybody got. The one exception was Juan, a 17-year-old junior, who hit the ultimate Chance: "Your friends and family support you," the card read. "You don't die."

    Many South L.A. students frightened and depressed, survey finds - Los Angeles Times

    SCHWARZENEGGAR OPPOSES PROP 98 - duh... but not that Prop 98!


    By Patrick McGreevy | Los Angeles Times - Education

    smf 's 2¢: When my eye caught that headline I jumped like a trout on a mayfly!  Arnold admits he opposes Prop 98?  But, gentle readers, there's another Prop 98 on the November ballot an he's opposing that one. Not that he favors the one guaranteeing funding to public education! 

    The governor says the measure would restrict the ability to exercise eminent domain. Backers say he is relying on a flawed legal analysis. >>

    Los Angeles Times - Education

    MY ADVICE TO RAY CORTINES by Tamar Galatzan


    Sherman Oaks Sun - LAUSD Talk

    In a season of depressing stories about the Los Angeles Unified School District, the recent hiring of Ray Cortines to fill the position of Senior Deputy Superintendent stands out as an exception.  With his vast experience in public education and proven commitment to putting students first, Cortines is a valuable asset.

    Before he gets too comfortable in the job, however, I thought now would be a good opportunity to offer the Senior Deputy Superintendent a few of my own suggestions for improving our schools.  Having met with him several times, I know he is open to new ideas.

    Help for schools in middle class and upper middle class areas

    A glaring misconception about the LAUSD is that schools located in upscale communities are “well-off” by definition.  In fact, more often the opposite is the case.

    Since these schools do not usually qualify for Title One funds, they must seek financial support elsewhere for such necessities as a nurse, psychologist, PE teacher, or updated computers.  And no matter how many parents contribute, the amount of funds could never come close to matching what schools in low-income communities receive from Title One.

    I would ask Cortines to work with the Superintendent and the Board to find a way to develop a more equitable distribution of funds and resources to schools in “well-to-neighborhoods” – many of which are in my board district.  If the District continues to engage in a half-hearted attempt to meet the needs of these schools, or dismisses them altogether, more and more disgruntled parents will simply choose private schools or charters.

    Reducing the drop-out rate/increasing the graduation rate

    Depending on which study you consult, the drop-out rate in LAUSD is anywhere from 26 to 50 percent.  Either figure is unacceptable.

    Cortines has already indicated that one of his top priorities will be getting more kids to graduate.  I strongly support this effort, and have shared some of my ideas for turning the situation around.  These include the establishment of strong and consistent measures for determining the efficacy of existing programs to increase the graduation rate.  We need to know what works, what doesn’t work, and what must be changed.

    Eliminate Needless Expenditures

    The most prominent of the depressing stories I alluded to at the beginning of this column is the LAUSD’s budget crisis.  Though much of the problem is attributable to a $460 million reduction in revenue from the state, there are also areas where the District can make meaningful cuts.

    As an example, I recently learned that LAUSD was preparing to spend millions of dollars to a company that launders PE towels for students.  I believe we can no longer afford to allocate funds for this kind of service.  (For the time being, the issue has been shelved).  To achieve this and similar funding cuts, I need the strong backing of Cortines, the Superintendent, and my colleagues on the Board.

    The hiring of Ray Cortines gives me hope that we can improve the management of LAUSD and provide students with a better education.  I am eager to start working him on accomplishing these goals.

    Tamar Galatzan represents LAUSD District 3 on the School Board. She has an office on the 24th floor of LAUSD HQ; the board members offices are behind locked and secured doors - there is no access to the 24th floor from building stairwells.  Senior Deputy Superintendent Cortines has an office on the more accessible 11th floor, he is famous for his open-door policy.  Up until recently Deputy City Attorney Galatzan and Deputy Mayor Cortines had offices at City Hall. Having said that 4LAKids hopes that Ms. Galatzan and Mr. Cortines are not having their principal dialog on the pages of the Sherman Oaks Sun.

    Sun Community Newspapers - LAUSD Talk


    Joel Grover Investigation |

    April 25, 2008 -- LOS ANGELES -- A KNBC investigation exposed serious dangers with the drinking water in the Los Angeles Unified School District, with over 600,000 students.
    Video: Watch Report
    During the three-month investigation, KNBC's Joel Grover found that thousands of children could be drinking water with an unsafe amount of lead and that district officials have known about the problem for years, but didn't talk about it publicly until now.
    The following is a transcript of Joel Grover's report as it aired on KNBC on April 24, 2008, at 11 p.m.

    JOEL GROVER: It's 7:30 a.m. at Marvin Avenue Elementary, and the kids head right for the drinking fountains. What they don't know is that some of the water there has dangerous amounts of lead. KNBC found contaminated water at other schools too, and found some employees apparently falsifying records to make it look like the water is safe.
    (Addressing school employee) It looks like you falsified them.
    STEVE THOMA, PARENT: Why can't we have water for the kids that's safe?
    GROVER: The investigation began when KNBC learned that parents like Steve Thoma were concerned about the water at Woodlake Elementary in Woodland Hills. His daughter says the teachers told the kids not to drink the water.

    THOMA: I was shocked. I said, "What are you talking about, you can't drink the water?"

    GROVER: Thoma and others pushed the district to test the water at Woodlake. One fountain was found to have more than seven times what the EPA says is a safe level of lead. So KNBC decided to test the water at other schools across the city. Samples from 30 elementary schools were collected and tested for lead at the same state certified lab used by the school district. The results were analyzed by nationally known industrial hygienist Brian Daly of Hygiene Tech International.

    BRIAN DALY, INDUSTRIAL HYGIENIST: It is tainted water.

    GROVER: The U.S. EPA says drinking water is unsafe if it has 15 parts per billion of lead or more. At Marvin Elementary, one fountain KNBC tested had 32 parts per billion. That's more than double the unsafe level of lead. Three of six fountains at Marvin tested above the safe level. At Gardener Elementary in Hollywood, one fountain tested in the kindergarten area had lead-laced water. And at Calvert Elementary in Woodland Hills, inside the nurse's office, KNBC tested the tap used to give kids water to take medications. It had more than two and a half times the acceptable amount of lead, levels that could have serious effects on children.

    DALY: The effects of this water would be lower IQ, attention deficit, learning disabilities.

    GROVER: Nine out of 30 schools KNBC tested, or 30 percent, had some fountains with unsafe levels of lead.

    DAVID BREWER, LAUSD SUPERINTENDENT: The district is grateful to KNBC.

    GROVER: Joel Grover asked Superintendent David Brewer to speak with him. After canceling a scheduled interview, Brewer instead called a news conference about the KNBC investigation.

    BREWER: The safety and health of our kids is a priority.

    GROVER: But an internal report KNBC obtained shows the district discovered 18 years ago it had at least 356 unsafe fountains, with water that failed to meet the government lead standard. The fountains were made with lead that was leaching into the water. Instead of replacing most of the aging fountains, the district started a "flushing policy" requiring school custodians to flush or run every fountain before school every morning for at least 30 seconds, to flush out lead that accumulated. The custodians are also required to complete a daily flushing log every day.

    BREWER: Compliance with flushing policy reduces the levels of lead in the water to federal standards.

    GROVER: During the past month, KNBC watched the fountains at five different schools, starting before sunrise. KNBC saw the custodians show up for work, and saw every one of them walk right by the fountains without ever flushing them. Two of them washed the basins of the fountains, but didn't flush them. KNBC saw kids drinking from those fountains all day. That was also the case at Reseda Elementary, where KNBC found a dangerous amount of lead in one fountain. On three separate days, KNBC saw the custodian pass fountains but never flush them. Those fountains were used all day. KNBC obtained the custodian's official flushing logs, and noticed he signed off that he flushed all the fountains on campus on the three days KNBC watched him, March 13, 26 and 27.

    GROVER (TO CUSTODIAN): It appears you're falsifying these documents?


    GROVER: The custodian also logged that he flushed the fountain on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents Day, when school was closed.

    Grover (to custodian): Were you here at school on Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day?

    CUSTODIAN: I don't think so.

    GROVER: Then why did you fill out these records?

    CUSTODIAN: I don't know.

    GROVER: KNBC also obtained the custodian's flushing log on April 1, but it was already filled out through April 2.

    (Addressing custodian) We got these on April 1. They were already filled out for April 2. How do you explain that?

    CUSTODIAN: I don't know.

    GROVER: It was the same story at other schools, like Marvin Elementary, with those three dangerous fountains. The days KNBC watched the custodian, he didn't flush the fountains, but records show he signed his name that he did, leaving kids to drink water potentially tainted with lead. What did the superintendent think of KNBC's finding, that the flushing policy is often ignored?

    BREWER: That possible failure by employees did not put any students in jeopardy.

    GROVER: But according to Industrial Hygienist Brian Daly, drinking the water from unsafe fountains that aren't flushed could harm children.

    DALY: These children, or a portion of these children, will have learning disabilities because of lead exposure.

    GROVER: That's why parents, like Steve Thoma at Woodlake Elementary, are demanding the district take sweeping action to ensure the water is safe at all schools.

    THOMA: No amount of lead is acceptable. So, we have to fix this problem and fix it now.

    GROVER: So what does the school district have to say about what KNBC found?

    BREWER: We will have our interview. I'm looking forward to it. And you'll be looking forward to it too.

    Click here for an EPA guide to understanding lead in water at schools.

    KNBC found higher than the EPA standard of lead at the following locations:

    Alta Loma Elementary
    Fountain located on the far side of the campus, across from the blacktop, parallel to handball courts. Lead Level 15
    Calvert Elementary
    Sink used for drinking water inside nurse's office. Lead Level 39
    Gardener Elementary
    Fountain in Kindergarten area, located at back of school. Lead Level 21
    Marvin Avenue Elementary
    Fountain located around the corner the front of gate. Lead Level 32
    Fountain located behind a wall, dividing it from lunch tables and classrooms, tucked in a nook. Lead Level 22
    Fountain located on far right side of campus, near boys and girls bathroom. Lead Level 19
    Pacoima Elementary
    Fountain located in the cafeteria area, by the wall near lunch tables. Lead Level 16
    Reseda Elementary
    Fountain Between boys and girls bathroom near main office. Lead level 21
    San Pedro Elementary
    Fountain located to the left of classroom 17. Lead Level 17
    Saticoy Elementary
    Fountain Located in front of playground blacktop. Lead Level 21
    Woodlake Avenue Elementary
    Fountain located on the east wall of building containing room 13, northwest of the administration building. Lead Level 32 (The school shut down this fountain in 9/07 after it tested to have an unsafe level of lead. KNBC found the fountain working again on 3/08 even though our test showed it still had a high level of lead.)

    Here is an additional list of drinking fountains where the water had a significant amount of lead, but less than the USEPA's guideline of "unsafe." According to KNBC's lead expert Brian Daly, if a child drinks from these fountains frequently, they could ingest a significant amount of lead. Daly said these fountains should be on an LAUSD "watch list," meaning these fountains should be tested periodically to see if lead levels rise. Because pipes and fountains corrode over time, the lead level in the water could increase.

    Alta Loma Elementary
    White fountain located in Kindergarten area, to the right of classroom 20. Lead Level 14
    Fountain located in Kindergarten area, to the right of classroom 22. Lead Level 12
    Fountain located near handball courts. Lead Level 8.2

    Bassett Elementary
    Fountain in Kindergarten playground area. Lead Level 9.5

    Calvert Elementary
    Fountain to the left of cafeteria. Lead Level 9

    Charnock Elementary
    Through the faculty gate, straight ahead and veer to left. Fountain is between 2 sets of portable classrooms under a mural painted on wall. On left side. Lead Level 7.3
    Through the faculty gate, straight ahead and veer to left. Fountain is between 2 sets of portable classrooms under a mural painted on wall. This one is on right side. Lead Level 7

    Marvin Elementary
    Fountain located to the right of cafeteria window, near the lunch tables. Lead Level 11

    Pacoima Elementary
    Fountain located next to boys and girls bathroom, in the corner near two double doors. Lead Level 7.3
    Fountain in Kindergarten area. Fountain is on the right if you are facing the wall. Lead Level 9.5
    Fountain located near handicapped boys/girls bathroom. In the middle of bathroom, tucked in a nook off blacktop. To the right of the fountain are two double doors into the school. Lead Level 13

    San Pedro Elementary
    Located on far left of second floor. Lead Level 8.8

    Saticoy Elementary
    Fountain in Kindergarten area, next to room K-4. Lead Level 9

    Vermont Elementary
    Fountain in front of school, by jungle gym equipment. Lead Level 8.4


    Colleen Williams Reports |

    April 24, 2008 -- LOS ANGELES -- In 2004 the state stopped budgeting money specifically for elementary school libraries, and LA's school district has had to turn to private sources to help keep our kids reading. This is a two-part exclusive investigative report on how well LA Unified is managing this critical effort.
    Video Part 1 | Video Part 2
    Following are the transcripts of a two-part series that aired at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Thursday, April 24, 2008.

    Book Wars, Part 1

    ANCHOR INTRODUCTION: It's one for the books -- a statewide crisis: the disastrous shortage of libraries and library books in public elementary schools throughout California, including our own Los Angeles Unified School District.

    REBECCA CONSTANTINO, ACCESS BOOKS: It's recommended that you have about 25 books per student, and we serve schools that have five books per student.

    COLLEEN WILLIAMS, REPORTER: Rebecca Constantino heads up a non-profit organization called Access Books that helps elementary schools renovate and restock their struggling libraries with private donations.

    CONSTANTINO: On an average we give a school about 9,000 books ... It's never enough.

    WILLIAMS: In the LA area, her principal competitor in library improvement is another nonprofit, Wonder of Reading. Her principal headache, she says, is the LA Unified School district itself.

    WILLIAMS: You've approached Library Services with LAUSD. What's been their response?

    CONSTANTINO: Their first response to us was, "You give too many books."

    WILLIAMS: Somebody actually said that to you with a straight face, "You give too many books?"

    CONSTANTINO: Many times.

    WILLIAMS: Constantino's Access Books has donated 1.2 million books to local elementary schools in the past 10 years -- mostly in low-income areas -- and has helped repaint and upgrade school libraries at no cost to taxpayers or the schools.

    (Addressing Constantino) There are no demands from you, Access Books, on the schools at all to provide any monies for books or libraries?

    CONSTANTINO: Absolutely no financial demands on our part ... We rely on volunteers.

    WILLIAMS: By contrast, rival Wonder of Reading relies on a well paid staff and requires each partner school to match its initial donations with money of its own -- $35,000 a school.

    Guess which organization the LAUSD favors.

    RONNIE EPHRAIM: Wonder of Reading Libraries sort of set a standard.

    WILLIAMS: District Deputy Superintendent Ronnie Ephraim admits she prefers Wonder of Reading's more ambitious and costly effort.

    EPHRAIM: Because it's a very formalized agreement not only with library services but with ... all our other units.

    WILLIAMS: LAUSD's website urges donations to Wonder of Reading with no mention of Access Books. This, says Constantino, puts her at a disadvantage in the fund-raising game.

    CONSTANTINO: It's getting harder and harder to solicit donations.

    WILLIAMS: But it's not just the cold shoulder that she gets from the district, says Constantino, that worries her. She actually accuses the LAUSD of sabotaging her work.

    CONSTANTINO: We have been told that they tell schools that we give lousy books and make a mess ... They also have come to schools and actually, from what we have been told, pulled books off the shelves that we've provided.

    WILLIAMS: At meeting last summer, says Constantino, LAUSD's representative unloaded on her, even faulting her for the labels she places on donated books.

    CONSTANTINO: She said, "Your labels are too small. They're an eighth of an inch ... And she said ... when children go into school libraries, they like everything to look good ... because a lot of these kids live in chaos and so the library should provide order.

    WILLIAMS: But the real problem, says Deputy Superintendent Ephraim, is that Access Books won't purchase books from approved vendors who'll make sure they're barcoded and pre-catalogued with sturdy library bindings and the labels just right.

    EPHRAIM: Believe me, we're not ungrateful to Access Books ... The difference is that in order for the books to come into the library they need to be processed.

    But a vendor-processed book costs extra money, says Constantino -- an additional $15 per book.

    She says she'd rather take that $15 and buy more books wholesale and process them herself, using volunteers and LAUSD's computers. But district officials say they won't let Constantino anywhere near their computers.

    EPHRAIM: It's the district's database. It has a lot of information about schools. It would be like me going to your work and asking you to open up your database for me.

    WILLIAMS: Nor, says Ephraim, does the district have enough staffers to process the large number of books donated by Constantino's group.

    EPHRAIM: Sometimes up to 4,000, even 5000 books. Sometimes that too many for a library to handle.

    Neighboring school districts have no such problems with Access Books.

    NANCY CLIAH: They provide funding and books for our libraries and also provide ambiance for out libraries.

    WILLIAMS: Nancy Cliah, library liaison for the San Bernardino School District, says her staff is so happy to get free books from Access they willingly assist in the processing.

    CLIAH: We have trained our library aides how to enter the books that are coming in, that do not have the processing on them.

    WILLIAMS: So why can't LAUSD do the same thing? Constantino says district officials have offered some help in processing books, but they want her to pay for the processing and cut back on her handouts.

    CONSTANTINO: They finally came down to 50 cents a book, but they wanted to limit us to 300 books per school, which is basically a drop in the bucket for most of these schools.

    Our producer asked Deputy Superintendent Ephraim if the district isn't imposing too much bureaucratic red tape on Constantino's efforts.

    KNBC PRODUCER: In this time of crisis and shortage, can there be too much emphasis on order and discipline at the expense of just letting the books flow in?

    EPHRAIM: Order and balance and ensuring we have the right books for different levels of readers ... all that is the place for the library.

    WILLIAMS: All this leaves leaves Constantino wondering if LAUSD has its priorities straight.

    CONSTANTINO: It's all about the books. It's all about having access to books. That's what it is.

    ANCHOR TAG: Coming up on our 6 p.m. newscast: Part 2 of "Book Wars," this investigative series about LAUSD efforts to repair our struggling school libraries.

    Book Wars - Part 2

    Following is a transcript of the second part of the investigative report that ran at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, 2008.

    ANCHOR INTRO: The state's budget crunch is crushing school libraries. Some local elementaries are down to five library books per student compared to the national average of 22 books to one. In the first part of this report, we focused on one effort to fix this mess. Now, a look at another powerful player in the district's Book Wars:

    COLLEEN WILLIAMS, REPORTER: His family owns local movie theaters. But 14 years ago Chris Forman launched the nonprofit Wonder of Reading to help local elementary schools with their struggling libraries.

    CHRIS FORMAN: The need is so great.

    WILLIAMS: Beth Michelson is Wonder's executive director.

    MICHELSON: We have this program, the 3R program -- renovate, restock and read -- in over one third of the elementary schools in LAUSD.

    WILLIAMS: Wonder offers everything from $5,000 book grants to volunteer training. But its principal mission is to partner with elementary schools to turn excess classroom space into brand-new libraries.

    MICHELSON: Providing a beautiful child-oriented, child-centered environment for learning.

    WILLIAMS: The key is cost-sharing. Each partner school must donate $25,000 toward library construction and another $10,000 for books, with Wonder donating $35,000 or more for renovation alone.

    (Addressing Forman) So you match the money the school gives you? Is that correct?

    FORMAN: That's right. The schools are required to have $35,000. Almost inevitably they actually spend quit a bit more than that.

    WILLIAMS: Wonder isn't the only local nonprofit engaged in library rescue. Another other is Access Books, which does all its work for free, at no cost to the schools or the district.

    So which organization does the LAUSD favor?

    RONNIE EPHRAIM: We've been in partnership with Wonder for many, many years,

    Deputy District Deputy Superintendent Ronnie Ephraim says she prefers Wonder of Reading largely because it plays by the rules, buying all its books from approved vendors who process them for instant use.

    Access buys from discount houses with no processing included, leaving that job to volunteers or library staff -- not a practical approach, says Ephraim.

    EPHRAIM: What we found is that our librarians and our library aides were spending so much time processing books that they weren't spending time teaching.

    WILLIAMS: Wonder gets exclusive billing on LAUSD's website, and school board members often supplement its work by throwing more money -- bond money -- at its already well funded libraries.

    The results are dazzling -- reading cubicles, small amphitheaters, everything a student could want, says Camelia Hudley, principal of Leapwood Elementary, a beneficiary of Wonder's generosity.

    CAMELIA HUDLEY: Every school in Los Angeles Unified, actually the state of California, the United States should have a Wonder of Reading Library.

    WILLIAMS: But can such extravagance be justified when so many other elementary schools have inadequate libraries or practically none at all?

    REBECCA CONSTANTINO: It doesn't make any sense to me.

    WILLIAMS: Rebecca Constantino heads up rival Access Books, which relies entirely on volunteer labor and claims to be able to twice the good work Wonder does for each $35,000 donation.

    CONSTANTINO: For schools we work with, $35,000 would refurbish two schools completely, with no cost to the school, with a little left over.

    WILLIAMS: On top of this, there are questions about how Wonder presents its record to the public.

    On its Web site, Wonder itemizes donations from partner schools. But repeatedly in public statements, it skips over them or lumps them together with its own, as in this brochure where there's no mention that school donations are included in this figure.

    The result, says forensic accountant Chris Hamilton, is an inflated picture of Wonder's own accomplishments.

    CHRIS HAMILTON: It makes them look like they are doing a whole lot more than they are.

    FORMAN: Everything we do is in partnership with the schools ... We don't believe that anything we've put out is misleading.

    WILLIAMS: Misleading or not, the hype has persuaded the district to do what it can for Wonder, even awarding contracts in a way that may favor its supporters. This company has repeatedly won Wonder contracts that should be open to competitive bidding.

    HAMILTON: I would tell you there has not probably been a competitive bidding process. In other words, Wonder of Reading is bidding to LA Unified, saying, "Let us build your libraries, and here is our team."

    WILLIAMS: And that leads to this question: If Wonder enjoys such latitude, can the district be sure of keeping a tight rein on all the money being spent?

    BRUCE KENDALL, LAUSD: The district has oversight from our own interest.

    WILLIAMS: Bruce Kendall, deputy chief for existing facilities at LAUSD, says he's firmly in control of construction expenditures, and submits all Wonder contracts to competitive bidding, including those awarded this company. But when we asked him for documents to prove that, he said they are not available.

    KENDALL: We don't have them all collected ... They're in storage locations ... You have to go back and dig out ... so that what we're doing for you.

    WILILAMS: We never got any documents. And Kendall admitted that even available LAUSD records are sometimes inaccurate, crediting Wonder of Reading with projects it never funded.

    KENDALL: They were inappropriately listed as Wonder of Reading.

    WILLIAMS: Our producer asked Deputy Superintendent Ephraim if she can clarify Wonder's role in library restocking.

    KNBC PRODUCER: Would it be fair for Wonder to say it oversees the purchase of these books?

    EPHRAIM: I don't know. I don't know.

    WILLIAMS: She also didn't know that Wonder's partner schools provide much more money for initial book purchases than Wonder itself.

    PRODUCER: Who provides the most and how do you monitor that process?

    EPHRAIM: I don't know. I don't know who provides the most.

    WILLIAMS: None of this fazes Chris Forman.

    FORMAN: The bigger picture here is that through our partnership with schools, children's lives are changed and we know that.

    ANCHOR TAG: We asked LAUSD school board members who approved bond money for Wonder of Reading projects to comment on our report. They declined.

    All the educators we talked to praised the projects. Wonder insists that its partnership with the schools is an open book and that its contracts are awarded competitively by the district.

    Previous Stories:

    Thursday, April 24, 2008



    Education Week

    Published Online: April 24, 2008

    Updated: April 24, 2008

    By Erik W. Robelen | Education Week


    Washington — Describing the dwindling number of faith-based schools in U.S. cities as a “crisis,” President Bush today called for efforts from government at all levels, as well as corporations and private citizens, to help change the situation.

    “American inner-city, faith-based schools are closing at an alarming rate,” the president said at a one-day White House conference on the topic, “and that’s why we’ve convened this summit.”

    He noted that between 2000 and 2006, nearly 1,200 such schools in American cities have shut down. “We have an interest in the health of these centers of excellence,” he said. “This is a critical national asset.“

    The daylong White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools brought together a variety of academics, leaders from private schools, and advocates for religious schools.

    In his State of the Union address in January, Mr. Bush noted the decline of such schools in urban areas, and first announced his intention to convene the conference.

    The event followed Pope Benedict XVI’s April 15-20 visit to the United States. As part of that trip, the Roman Catholic pontiff addressed education leaders at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, where he urged steps to ensure the long-term sustainability of U.S. parochial schools.

    Examples Highlighted

    At the April 24 conference, Mr. Bush promoted his recent “Pell Grants for Kids” proposal, which he unveiled in his State of the Union address. The plan would provide $300 million to award grants on a competitive basis to states, school districts, cities, and nonprofit organizations to create scholarship programs for low-income students in schools that have missed their achievement targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and in high schools in which graduation rates are lower than 60 percent.

    President Bush also trumpeted the voucher program for the District of Columbia, which has provided federally funded tuition vouchers for private schooling to students from low-income families since 2004. The president said he would work with Congress not only to reauthorize the voucher program, “but hopefully expand it.”

    Meanwhile, he urged states to remove so-called Blaine Amendments, which are clauses in state constitutions that restrict public funds from flowing to religious schools. And he highlighted other examples he finds encouraging, such as Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, which provides state tax credits to businesses that donate to organizations that provide scholarships or work for “educational improvement.”

    Mr. Bush also highlighted recent efforts in Memphis, Tenn., with $15 million of seed money from private donors, to help launch the Jubilee Schools initiative to reopen closed Roman Catholic parochial schools. He said that more than 80 percent of the students in the 10 Jubilee Schools are non-Catholic.

    He said further efforts are needed “at the federal level, the state and local level, the corporate level, and the citizen level.”

    He urged the need for “innovative ways to advance education for all.” Noting that children displaced by closures of inner-city religious schools need to find new schools, Mr. Bush said such closures impose “an added burden on inner-city public schools that are struggling.”

    Education Week: Bush Urges Steps to Aid Urban Private Schools


    THE CALIFORNIA STATE PTA invites ALL MIDDLE AND HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS, PARENTS, chaperones (that would include accompanying teachers), and members to attend the presentation by Craig Scott of Rachel's Challenge “You Just May Start a Chain Reaction” during our Third General Meeting of Convention, which is from 4:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Friday, May 2, 2008.

    ALL TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS AND STAFF are also encouraged to attend the presentation from Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers:  (...and the movie of the same name) "Educator and Catalyst for Social Change".

    Ms. Gruwell will be speaking during our Sixth General Meeting of Convention from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 4, 2008.

    Registration for these special events is located on our website at, click on convention - or on the links below.

    You need not be a PTA member or be from a PTA school to attend these free events.

    Details follow

    NOTE: "Goin Blue+Bein' Green!" - The Long Beach Convention Center is easily accessible via the MTA Blue Line (with connections to all the other line colors - and buses), making parking a non-issue and one's carbon footprint negligible!

    Map | Timetable


    "A Story of Inspiration, Courage and Kindness"

    Craig Scott, Rachel's Challenge

    Rachel’s Challenge is a program that INSPIRES, INSTRUCTS, and ENABLES students to bring a positive change to your school atmosphere.

    You Just May Start a Chain Reaction”

    Craig is the younger brother of Rachel Scott, a remarkable young lady who believed her life would have an impact on the world with her acts of kindness and compassion. Craig Scott, was in the library the day of the Columbine tragedy, where he witnessed 10 of his schoolmates killed, including two of his close friends. Since then, he has gone on to speak out and educate students and adults alike with his inspiring and life-changing story. Craig has shared his story with people all across the country and appeared on shows such as Dateline, Oprah, The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, and actively participated in the School Safety Summit with President George W. Bush in the fall of 2006. He has been featured in Teen magazine as well as in numerous newspaper articles around the nation. Rachel’s Challenge is a school assembly and training program created following the 1999 shooting tragedy at Columbine High School.

    The California State PTA invites middle and high school students, chaperones, and parents to attend this powerful presentation at the

    Third General Meeting
    Friday, May 2, 2008
    4:00—6:30 p.m.
    Long Beach Convention Center
    300 E Ocean Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90802


    Contact Information:

    Janice Sawyer, Convention Program Chairman
    Phone Number: 916.440.1985 x320


    Educator and Catalyst for Social Change

    Erin Gruwell, Freedom Writers

    "...I have changed my attitude, I see myself accomplishing my goals and being a future college student...."
    - Student, Jackie Robinsons Middle School, Long Beach, CA

    Erin’s story tracks an idealistic young woman who actually believed in her high-school English students, most of whom had been written off by the education system. Aside from Erin, nobody thought these "troubled" kids would even graduate high school. But Erin encouraged them to become much more. She forced them to question long-held racial stereotypes, address their deepest struggles, and -- ultimately – re-chart their futures. With Erin's support, they chose to forego teenage pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, and violence to become friends, storytellers, published writers, college students, and hopeful young adults. Their story earned Erin and her students dozens of awards, including the Spirit of Anne Frank Award. In January 2007, Paramount Pictures released the feature film Freedom Writers to national acclaim, starring two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank as Erin.

    Erin has been credited with giving her students a “second chance,” but it was perhaps she who changed the most during her tenure as a high school English teacher. Today, her impact as a “teacher” extends well beyond the classroom. She serves as president of the Freedom Writers Foundation, a non-profit organization that impacts communities by decreasing high school drop out rates through the replication and enhancement of the Freedom Writers Method.

    The California State PTA invites Teachers, Administrators and Staff to attend this dynamic presentation at the

    Sixth General Meeting
    Sunday, May 4, 2008
    9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
    Long Beach Convention Center
    300 E Ocean Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90802



    • Teachers, Administrator, and Staff need to check in before entering general meeting at the check in table to receive ID. No admittance without ID.
    • This complementary registration is for General Meeting ONLY.

    Contact Information:

    Janice Sawyer, Convention Program Chairman
    Phone Number: 916.440.1985 x320

    Take Action - the kids need your help!

    Wednesday, April 23, 2008



    collection logo


    Kathie Wilson views students’ math answers during class at Monte Vista Middle School in Camarillo, Calif. The teacher is using a program to help struggling students prepare for algebra.
    —Ann Johansson for Education Week

    More schools are using unconventional textbooks and other curriculum materials to help make struggling middle schoolers 'algebra-ready.'

    By Sean Cavanagh | Education Week

    Published Online: April 22, 2008

    Published in Print: April 23, 2008

    Camarillo, Calif.  -- A popular humorist and avowed mathphobe once declared that in real life, there’s no such thing as algebra.

    Kathie Wilson knows better.

    Most of the students in her 8th grade class will be thrust into algebra, the definitive course that heralds the beginning of high school mathematics, next school year. The problem: Many of them are about three years below grade level. Ms. Wilson’s job is to help them catch up—and quickly.

    Every year, scores of middle and high school math teachers face the same challenge as Ms. Wilson, who is in her eighth year of teaching here at Monte Vista Middle School, tucked into the exurbs about an hour north of Los Angeles.

    The push to ensure that all students, not just the academically gifted, take introductory algebra and do so earlier has gained widespread acceptance in U.S. schools over the quarter-century since A Nation at Risk advocated strengthening graduation requirements in math. That movement has been driven in recent years by rising state and local high school standards, which in turn have forced higher expectations for courses taught in middle schools. One result of those efforts is that beginning algebra is being taught earlier, typically in the 8th rather than the 9th grade.

    Now, after years of raising the standards, some policymakers are moving to help thousands of middle and early high school algebra students who cannot keep up.

    Last year, for the first time, California state officials approved an entire set of math programs devoted specifically to “algebra readiness,” or raising the skills of students likely to struggle in that subject. Similar algebra-readiness materials are being used in other states and districts around the country.

    The strategy Ms. Wilson is trying in her classroom is simple yet ambitious.

    She uses a program aimed at rebuilding students’ foundational math skills, normally taught from 2nd through 7th grade, over the course of a single academic year, while introducing the students to basic algebraic principles and language.

    Created by the MIND Research Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Southern California, the program relies heavily on visual explanations of math in textbooks and computer software. The approach is meant to engage and motivate students, and build a bridge between elementary math and algebra.

    It is also designed to help students of different ability levels, such as those in Ms. Wilson’s class who have shaky English-language skills. The program’s visual model helps students connect different math concepts and remember them, its developers say.

    “The way I was taught growing up, you just memorize the algorithms and you’ll learn the math,” Ms. Wilson said during a break from her class one day this semester. “This [new approach] is taking the math and showing them why it works, and building it up for them.”

    Setting the Bar

    Along with California, a number of other states have crafted programs aimed at girding struggling students for introductory algebra. Virginia oversees a statewide algebra-readiness program for students in grades 6-9; roughly 60,000 tests are given each year to determine whether students need extra help. Kentucky is supporting an algebra-readiness pilot program in several districts. Many school systems nationwide, of all sizes, have launched their own efforts.

    Interest in such programs has coincided with the nationwide drive to teach algebra earlier.

    From 1996 to 2005, the proportion of U.S. students who reported taking Algebra 1 as 8th graders climbed from 24 percent to 34 percent, though the share varies enormously by state, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers. California raised the algebra bar considerably in 1997, when it adopted standards that encouraged all students to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade. The state later required all students to complete Algebra 1 to graduate with a regular high school diploma.

    By some measures, those steps appear to be having the desired effect. The percentage of California 8th graders taking Algebra 1 has risen with the tougher standards, according to testing data, and the proportion of students who have not enrolled in that course by junior year has declined, an independent report showed.

    Yet many California students are still falling short.

    Just 23 percent of the 740,000 middle and high school students who took the state’s end-of-course Algebra 1 exam reached proficiency in 2007, roughly the same proportion as four years earlier. By contrast, 40 percent scored “proficient” or better on the state’s test of 7th grade math.

    In an attempt to help those students, the California state board of education last year adopted 11 separate algebra-readiness programs. That action enables districts to use state money to buy those textbooks and classroom materials. The programs target 8th graders, but districts can use the programs in other grades, too.

    Those resources have been welcome in the 16,500-student Oxnard Union High School District, which accepts students from Monte Vista and several other feeder middle schools. The district is piloting two of the new algebra-readiness programs, including the one developed by the MIND Institute, for use in 9th grade.

    The needs in the Oxnard Union district are clear. Roughly 40 percent of its freshmen arrive unprepared for Algebra 1 or higher math, according to Jim Short, the district’s math specialist.

    “Giving the same old material to students—it hasn’t worked for eight years. I don’t see why it would work the ninth time around, either,” Mr. Short said. Too much math teaching today, he argues, pushes students through “the same standards repeatedly, without really getting at the underlying foundations.”

    Of the algebra-readiness strategies, he said: “I definitely believe [they] will help.”

    Numbers to Symbols

    Completing introductory algebra, and doing so relatively early, benefits students later on, research suggests. A 2005 federal study found that more than 80 percent of students who took Algebra 1 as 9th graders went on to complete Algebra 2 or an advanced math class, such as calculus, during high school. Only 29 percent who did not follow that schedule ended up finishing upper-level algebra or calculus.

    Still, algebra has long represented as much a psychological hurdle for students as an educational one.

    Most of the math that students encounter in elementary school is relatively concrete: whole numbers, fractions, one- or two-step procedures, problems like 7 x 8 = 56.

    Algebra, for many students, is a departure from the concrete. In the simplest terms, it’s the study of relationships between numbers, with some numbers represented as symbols. It deals with equations, functions, and polynomials, and problems like 2x + 3y = 56, when x = 6.

    Many students struggle with those kinds of problems, or fail to see the point of them (as did the comic essayist Fran Lebowitz, the author of the putdown about algebra having no connection to real life).

    “Algebra is a pretty big leap in abstraction,” said Jon R. Star, an educational psychologist at Harvard University who has studied how students understand math.

    For many students, Mr. Star said, “ideas about x and y just don’t make sense.” U.S. schools, he said, have struggled to “help students make that leap.”

    The goal of having more students—ideally, all of them—take Algebra 1 in 8th grade dates at least as far back as the 1960s, and the idea gained popularity over the following two decades, math scholars say.

    One factor was the belief that many middle schoolers were not being challenged by math lessons that were redundant and too focused on arithmetic. But probably the biggest influence was the view that American schools were arbitrarily denying academic and economic opportunity to entire groups of students, by giving some the chance to take 8th grade algebra and relegating others to more basic math.

    It became “an equity issue,” said Jeremy Kilpatrick, a professor of mathematics education at the University of Georgia, who has examined the history of algebra teaching in U.S. schools. Without algebra, “not only were your chances of getting into college reduced, but your chances for majoring in certain subjects were reduced,” he said. “Algebra was the ticket.”

    At the same time, policymakers were calling for higher standards. A Nation at Risk, the influential federal report released in April 1983, lamented that relatively few American students reached advanced algebra. It called for students to complete a minimum of three years of high school math and identified “algebraic concepts” as core content.

    Not surprisingly, the public tends to see algebra as important mostly because schools, colleges, and test developers see it as important, said Zalman Usiskin, the director of the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project and a prominent researcher and textbook author.

    But contrary to popular opinion, algebra has great value in everyday life, Mr. Usiskin said.

    Algebra helps people solve problems that require them to consider several quantities that depend on each other, he explained. Calculating the payment on a car or a house using different interest rates can be simpler with algebra, as is figuring out how health is affected by factors such as diet, body weight, and age, Mr. Usiskin wrote in a 1995 essay on algebra’s importance.

    “You can live without it, but you will not appreciate as much of what is going on around you,” Mr. Usiskin reasoned in that article. “You will be more likely to make unwise decisions, and you will find yourself with less control over your life than others who have this knowledge.”

    Coming up with strategies to prepare students better for algebra has been a major focus of policy experts in recent years. The National Mathematics Advisory Panel, a White House-commissioned group, released a report last monthRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader that calls for a more logical progression through foundational math, particularly in whole numbers, fractions, and geometry and measurement, as a primer for algebra. ("Panel Calls for Systematic, Basic Approach to Math," March 19, 2008.)

    Review and Rebuild

    This school year, Monte Vista Middle School’s Ms. Wilson has returned to the foundations of math continually. When introducing her 8th graders to a topic such as fractions, she often begins with material typically found in a relatively early grade, then gradually moves into more complex problems, blending in algebraic concepts along the way.

    The idea is to give students both a refresher on the basics and a taste of the language and thinking required in algebra, according to the MIND Institute, the group that developed the program.

    In a class one day this semester, Ms. Wilson sought to bridge the divide between basic arithmetic and algebra during a lesson on prime factorization. She writes out 24/18 on the board, then asks students to factor out the fraction using prime numbers—those that can be divided only by themselves and the number 1. For the numerator, 24, they write out 2 x 2 x 2 x 3, for 24. Then she asks them to simplify that expression.

    “How many of you got 4/3?” Ms. Wilson asks. Most of the students raise their hands.

    A View From Abroad: Algebra Comes Early

    While more American students are being encouraged to take introductory algebra in 8th grade, their foreign peers are typically exposed to that math content by at least that grade level, if not earlier, a well-known scholar has found.

    Research conducted by William H. Schmidt, a professor of education at Michigan State University in East Lansing, has shown that many Asian and European countries teach introductory algebra in 8th or even 7th grade, and seek to prepare students for that material in earlier grades. Those courses usually aren’t called Algebra 1, as they are in the United States, even though they cover algebraic material, he said.

    Mr. Schmidt studied algebra and math coursetaking in about 50 foreign nations with varying levels of academic achievement in the mid-1990s; their curricula have remained relatively unchanged since then, he said.

    The researcher says he believes all U.S. students should be encouraged to take introductory algebra by 8th grade—and be adequately prepared for it beforehand. In American middle schools today, “there’s a tracking,” Mr. Schmidt said, in which “some kids get Algebra 1 and others don’t.”

    —Sean Cavanagh

    Lessons on prime factorization with whole numbers is probably 4th grade material, the teacher says. But that relatively simple skill becomes crucial later in algebra, she points out, when students will be asked to factor using variables and eventually rational expressions.

    Her classroom is set up to motivate them for the tasks ahead. A chest-high number line spans the length of one wall. Paper images of famous mathematicians, from Pythagoras to John Nash, the real-life basis for the movie “A Beautiful Mind,” hang from the ceiling. Later in the class, Ms. Wilson leads students to Monte Vista’s computer lab, where they work on a software program that reinforces the day’s lessons visually.

    Jill Jordan, 13, uses a mouse to trace a number line on her computer’s screen, then clicks to identify the prime numbers.

    When she chooses a number, it reconfigures into a series of blocks that show her visually why it is prime or composite, and she moves on to a larger one. At number 91, she misses—it’s a composite number, not prime, as she thought—and she’s sent back to the 70s.

    Jill can easily identify the math that vexes her the most. “Multistep problems,” she says. “The ones that go on forever.” But she says her confidence has grown over the course of this school year.

    Using visual reinforcements, through software and texts, to improve students’ math learning was the goal of Matthew Peterson, the creator of the algebra-readiness model for the MIND Research Institute.

    Mr. Peterson, 35, co-founded the nonprofit organization while working on his Ph.D in neuroscience from the University of California, Berkeley. His doctoral thesis focused on spatial and temporal processes in the visual cortex of the brain. He now applies visual neuroscience to math.

    The scientist had a personal connection to the subject. Mr. Peterson struggled early in school with dyslexia. He didn’t learn to read until 5th grade. Math, to him, seemed like an assortment of disconnected facts.

    It wasn’t until his father, a doctor, encouraged him to use visual clues to help him learn that math and other subjects began to make sense. Even today, he regularly sketches out drawings—on scratch paper, on the whiteboard in his office—to help him remember things and order them.

    The pictures and images in the MIND Institute’s algebra-readiness textbooks and the accompanying software are meant to have a similar effect on struggling students, Mr. Peterson explained in an interview at the organization’s headquarters, in an office plaza in Santa Ana, Calif.

    “There’s not enough [emphasis] today on how you build visual-learning environments for students,” Mr. Peterson said. Many struggling students get lost in multistep problems because they forget the processes needed to solve them. Visual clues act “like a crutch” to remind them, he said.

    Another algebra-readiness program, developed at the University of California, Los Angeles, and adopted by state officials, takes a different strategy.

    The program provides students with weekly, disposable packets of math lessons, rather than textbooks. The goal is to make the materials less intimidating and more engaging than traditional texts, said Shelley Kriegler, who worked on it as the director of UCLA’s Math Content Program for Teachers and Students. To keep it simple and inexpensive for districts to implement, the program does not use computer software.

    Struggling students look at traditional, thick math textbooks and “tend to check out,” Ms. Kriegler said. Those students, she said, need “a fresh start” with algebra.

    New entries into algebra are showing promise at Sierra Intermediate School, in Santa Ana, according to Brad Sterling, a math teacher there.

    He’s using the MIND Institute’s algebra-readiness program, though modifying it slightly to reinforce key math vocabulary—terms like “estimate” and “difference.” The school, located in the 55,000 Santa Ana district, is overwhelmingly Latino, and the language-builders help.

    Mr. Sterling’s first teaching job was at a private middle school in San Diego, where he could give students algebra problems and they would breeze through them. Today at Sierra, students arrive in the 24-year-old’s class in need of basics. “Can you help me divide?” he has been asked.

    On this day, he begins with addition and subtraction of fractions. Then, using an overhead projector, he asks students to plot fractions on a number line. It’s a step toward algebraic thinking.

    So far, he believes, the new approach to algebra is helping. His students’ skill in number sense and other areas has jumped. Their scores rose sharply on a recent district benchmark test in math. And the visually oriented computer lessons lend variety to his classes, which keeps students interested, he said.

    Many of his students see a math book and say, “ ‘Oh, I can’t do it,’ ” Mr. Sterling explained. The algebra-readiness model, he said, “sets them up to do well in the beginning. It’s getting them to the point where they have the confidence to do it.”

    Special coverage marking the 25th anniversary of the landmark report A Nation at Risk is supported in part by a grant from the Broad Foundation.

    Vol. 27, Issue 34, Pages 25-28

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    THE NEW LAUSD ORG CHART can't tell the players without an org chart!

    officially available here

    1. note the date of the org chart: 4.4.2008

    2. note the effective date of the org chart: "current as of the day posted".

    3. Ramón Cortines, the Senior Deputy Superintendent - didn't begin employment until 4-14-2008; the announcement of his hiring wasn't made until 4.8.2008


    Sandy Banks: IN L.A. SCHOOLS, DEATH BY 1,000 CUTS

     The district, like the city, will have to close its budget hole. But in the schools, the costs will be paid by children.

    columnist Sandy Banks From the Los Angeles Times

    April 22, 2008 — For all the hand-wringing over the city's impending budget cuts, you have to think that Los Angeles Unified Supt. David Brewer wouldn't mind being in the mayor's shoes right now.

    Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa plans to close Los Angeles' $406-million budget gap by cutting jobs and charging residents more to park, play golf and get their trash picked up.

    The school system doesn't have those options; there are no fees to hike or ways to drop the most expensive students from the budget. The district has to rely on program cuts to make up for a $460-million shortfall projected in the fall.

    It's the same sort of dilemma many families are facing in this era of shrinking paychecks, rising gas prices and mounting home foreclosures.
    We stop eating out, and scrap summer vacation plans and home improvement projects. We put the Macy's card away and wait for the JCPenney sale. We do without.

    Stretching education dollars is not that simple.

    Employees will certainly be let go; they account for 80% of the district's budget. Next year there will be fewer people to fix classroom computers, counsel college-bound students, track down truants and serve school lunches.

    Then program cuts will take their toll, as magnet school budgets shrink, science labs are shuttered and more students are stuffed into overcrowded classes.

    It's hard to fathom a cut of almost half a billion dollars -- a number so large it obscures, rather than illuminates, the losses. But students and parents who have been through it know. And their numbers are legion, and growing.

    When my oldest started kindergarten at our neighborhood school, the district was flush. A wish list of simple items was posted on her classroom door: A rug for story-time. Easels, paints, little plastic aprons. Parents fished in their pockets for a few dollars.

    But a year later, the bottom fell out. More than $220 million had to be cut from the district's budget.

    By the end of first grade, teachers' aides were gone; my daughter was spending class time tutoring other children. The custodian's hours were cut back. The restroom was dirty, always out of toilet paper; my daughter was afraid to use it.

    In second grade, there were 32 children in her class. They shared tattered books and colored with broken nubs. The school lost its librarian, and music and physical education instructors. The remaining teachers were forced to take salary cuts.

    There wasn't a next year for her.

    I transferred her in third grade to a private school. I hated to leave. Her teachers were great and the campus was two blocks from our home. But I gave up; my daughter would get only one go-round with her education, and I refused to gamble that the school would improve.

    During her three years as a Los Angeles Unified student, the district had cut $1 billion.

    Julie Korenstein is the only Los Angeles Unified school board member who has been around long enough to remember that crisis in the early 1990s.

    "It was a horrible, horrible time," she recalled, when I called her Monday about the cuts the board is to begin considering next month.

    "This," she said, "will be worse than that."

    In some districts, there's a financial cushion that can blunt some of the cuts. In districts such as Irvine, a foundation that supports public schools raises $3 million annually and auctions off a house, Times reporter Seema Mehta reported Sunday. Some schools have well-heeled parents or corporate angels who donate enough to make up some of the losses.

    But in Los Angeles, more schools are like little Sierra Vista Elementary on the Eastside.

    It relies for its extra funds on the few hundred dollars earned from the sale of homemade Christmas ornaments. Those schools just have to wait out the cuts, and hope students don't fall too far behind before the state's economy picks up.

    Because of the cut-and-recover cycle in the LAUSD, students' fate depends not just on where they live and what school they attend, but where they happen to land on the school funding bubble.

    Ten years after we left, my family returned to L.A. Unified.

    I enrolled my second child in one of the best middle schools. It boasted small classes, high test scores and a broad array of after-school courses.
    But in 2002, the state hit an economic bump and the district was forced to chop $440 million from its $5.2-billion budget.

    My daughter wound up in an algebra class with more than 40 students, where teaching took a back seat to keeping order.

    Two years later, the school improved -- teachers were hired, classes sizes reduced, after-school tutoring restored.

    But by then my daughter was in high school, limping in confusion through her math classes. For her and thousands of others, there was no getting back that lost year.

    The district, like the city, will have to close its budget hole. But in the schools, the costs will be paid by children.

    Los Angeles Times: In L.A. schools, death by 1,000 cuts