Friday, July 31, 2009

OBAMA’S RACE TO THE TOP: Who’ll blink first: the unions, or the White House?

The Wall Street Journal

OPINION | REVIEW & OUTLOOK from The Wall Street Journal

31 July, 2009 -- The Obama Administration unveiled its new “Race to the Top” initiative late last week, in which it will use the lure of $4.35 billion in federal cash to induce states to improve their K-12 schools. This is going to be interesting to watch, because if nothing else the public school establishment is no longer going to be able to say that lack of money is its big problem.

Four billion dollars is a lot of money, but it’s a tiny percentage of what the U.S. spends on education. The Department of Education estimates that the U.S. as a whole spent $667 billion on K-12 education in the 2008-09 school year alone, up from $553 billion in 2006-07. The stimulus bill from earlier this year includes some $100 billion more in federal education spending—an unprecedented amount. The tragedy is that nearly all of this $100 billion is being dispensed to the states by formula, which allows school districts to continue resisting reform while risking very little in overall federal funding.

All of this is on top of the education spending boom during the Bush years to pay for the 2001 No Child Left Behind law. Democrats liked to claim that law was “underfunded,” but the reality is that inflation-adjusted Education Department elementary and secondary spending under President Bush grew to $37.9 billion from $28.3 billion, or 34%. NCLB-specific funding rose by more than 40% between 2001 and 2008.

It’s also worth noting that the U.S. has been trying without much success to spend its way to education excellence for decades. Between 1970 and 2004, per-pupil outlays more than doubled in real terms, and the federal portion of that spending nearly tripled. Yet reading scores on national standardized tests have remained relatively flat. Black and Hispanic students are doing better, but they continue to lag far behind white students in both test scores and graduation rates.


< Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama - Associated Press

So now comes “Race to the Top,” which the Obama Administration claims will reward only those states that raise their academic standards, improve teacher quality and expand the reach of charter schools. “This competition will not be based on politics, ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group,” said President Obama on Friday. “Instead, it will be based on a simple principle—whether a state is ready to do what works. We will use the best data available to determine whether a state can meet a few key benchmarks for reform, and states that outperform the rest will be rewarded with a grant.”

Sounds great, though this White House is, at the behest of the unions, also shuttering a popular school voucher program that its own evaluation shows is improving test scores for low-income minorities in Washington, D.C. The Administration can expect more such opposition to “Race to the Top.” School choice is anathema to the nation’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which also oppose paying teachers for performance rather than for seniority and credentials.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told the Washington Post last week that charter schools and merit pay raise difficult issues for his members, yet Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said states that block these reforms could jeopardize their grant eligibility. We’ll see who blinks first. The acid test is whether Messrs. Duncan and Obama are willing to withhold money from politically important states as the calendar marches toward 2012.

Race to the Top is bound to have some impact, and lawmakers in several states—including Tennessee, Rhode Island, Louisiana and Massachusetts—already have passed charter-friendly legislation in hopes of tapping the fund. But the exercise will fail if it is merely a one-off trade of cash for this or that new law. The key is whether the money can be used to promote enough school choice and other reforms that induce school districts to change how the other $800 billion or so is spent.

Charter schools and voucher programs regularly produce better educational outcomes with less money. But as long as most education spending goes to support the status quo, Race to the Top will be mostly a case of political show and tell.


Bob Egelko, SAN FRANCISCO Chronicle Staff Writer

(07-30) 17:21 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- California is entitled to administer school achievement tests and high school exit exams in English to all students, including the nearly 1.6 million who speak limited English, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.

The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco rejected arguments by bilingual-education groups and nine school districts that English-only exams violate a federal law's requirement that limited-English-speaking students "shall be assessed in a valid and reliable manner."

The federal law, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, neither requires nor forbids testing in a student's native language and leaves such decisions largely up to the states, the court said in a 3-0 ruling. It noted that the U.S. Department of Education has approved the state Board of Education's testing plans since 2002, though department auditors recently suggested more accommodations for limited-English-speakers.

The law does not authorize a court to act as "the official second-guesser" of the reliability of a state's testing methods, Justice Timothy Reardon said in Thursday's ruling, which upheld a San Francisco judge's 2007 decision.

He also said developing native-language tests would be difficult, because students in California speak at least 40 languages. The state's voters approved a ballot measure in 1998 that prohibits bilingual instruction except in limited cases, Reardon said, and testing students in their primary language "could send confusing messages throughout California's education system."

Marc Coleman, a lawyer for the school districts and advocacy groups, said they would consider an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"The court dodges the essential issue in the lawsuit, which is: What is the testing supposed to measure?" he said. "If you don't have to evaluate the testing, California gets a free pass on testing kids (who) don't speak English, using tests that they have literally no evidence of their validity."

No Child Left Behind requires states to test all students in math and reading or language arts once a year in grades three through eight, and at least once in grades 10 through 12.

For students who speak limited English, the law requires "reasonable accommodations," which can include extra time, use of dictionaries, and giving instructions in a student's native language. States can exempt students from the test during their first year in a U.S. school.

The law penalizes any school if any identified group of students falls short of state academic standards or fails to meet certain benchmarks for progress in any year. The penalty for several years of noncompliance can include changes in a school's administration.

The nine districts in Thursday's case all have schools that have been penalized under the law, including one school that has been placed in trusteeship, Coleman said.

In California, students are tested annually in grades two through 11 and must pass an exit exam to get a high school diploma.



July 31, 2009 -- To better understand why California’s public schools — once the envy of the nation and, perhaps the world — have fallen deep into the pit of academic despair, one has only to follow the recent interaction between federal education officials, and the folks who oversee this state’s school system.

Last week, federal officials — some holding fairly responsible jobs, such as president of the United States, and the head of the U.S. Department of Education — criticized California for its failure to make a direct connection between student achievement, as measured by standardized tests, and the abilities of adults charged with the task of teaching those kids.

A few days after that broadside, California schools Supt. Jack O’Connell, no stranger to a teacher’s situation at the front of a classroom, made a half-hearted effort to deflect the federal officials’ criticism.

We say half-hearted, because O’Connell chose the only public school district in the state that actually ties student test results to teaching ability. The photo op was held in the Long Beach Unified School District, which uses the test-score data to evaluate teacher performance.

O’Connell pointed to the successes in Long Beach as a model for the rest of the state — which, in reality, validates the federal complaints about California being behind the times, and the learning curve, when it comes to (1) finding out what’s wrong with our educational system, and (2) fixing the problem.

O’Connell’s attempt to justify California’s foot-dragging attitude with regard to improving public education — by focusing on a tiny island of reason, in what is an otherwise vast sea of chaos and confusion — speaks quite clearly to California’s precipitous fall from scholastic grace, to the depths of what has become chronic, embarrassing underachievement.

The state’s schools chief is, indeed, grasping at straws. We have known O’Connell for many years, since his days as a member of the state Legislature, where he played the role of champion for better education, and he seems a nice fellow, with good intentions.

But he is a bit disingenuous on the matter of California schools’ lagging test scores, and how best to deal with that problem.

Instead of doing the little diversionary, public-relations dance in Long Beach, O’Connell could, and should, be leading the charge for public education reform, and he should start by advocating a complete revision of California’s maddeningly obese Education Code.

Next, O’Connell, despite being a devout Democrat, should tell unions to step away from the business of running California’s school districts. Those unions — big and consistent contributors to political campaigns — have too often played the role of obstructionists when it comes to actually assigning blame to deficient teachers, who are largely protected by union contracts.

Don’t get us wrong. Unions have been an historically valuable tool in the advancement and protection of workers, in the labor-vs.-management tug of war. The problem is, these organizations have, in recent years, tended toward protecting their weakest members, at the expense of allowing society — in this case, California’s school system — to move forward, toward achieving necessary goals.

And you can’t really put all the blame on unions and teachers, for a system that is archaic, Byzantine, top-heavy with bureaucrats, and slower to start and stop than a mile-long freight train.

There is no magic elixir to cure what ails California’s public schools. But the situation won’t get better until someone takes the first positive step toward at least starting to rebuild this crumbling institutional system.

O’Connell has the credentials to take the helm of such change. The question is, does he have the will to do it?



Random Thoughts By Diana L. Chapman | CityWatch – an insider look at city hall

Active Image

July 31, 2009 - My toes are curling and my head is spinning with the Mayor of Los Angeles’ recent endorsement to pretty much sell off our new schools and let non-profits, charters or teacher partnerships run them – rather than Los  Angeles Unified School District.

In a long editorial endorsement in the Los Angeles Times this week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wrote that the district board should support  LAUSD Board member Yolie Flores Aguilar’s motion to let others compete to take over all new schools .. and do so on Aug. 25. This forces the district to compete to operate its own spanking new campuses.

This definitely depicts an educational revolution – but the question is: Will it be a good one and when will we have gone too far? Revolution can be good – but it can be deadly when you keep picking off pieces from the vine in a haphazard way.

Remember the French revolution?

This seems just another move to cover up what the true revolt should be – a  breakup of the entire district.

I can’t somehow help but feel this motion gives the store away. The so-called  revolt is already well under way within the district, with 154 charters currently operating city schools (which still use public funding and are not private campuses although sometimes they act as though they are private).

Each of these schools have their own philosophy, do not have to follow district guidelines and have far fewer regulations to face then our district’ campuses that have a duty to help all children , no matter what their issues, developmentally disabled or otherwise. For instance, if a child is expelled from a charter, the public school still has to take that student in.

Or, if any charter  can show it doesn’t have the resources to aid special education students, or students with other issues, it can turn those students away. That scares me.

What this motion does is open the doors to have the district compete against other organizations to run each of its new schools scheduled to open 2010. This really diverts us from the reality of what really needs to happen: a break up of the district.

What I’d rather be looking at – which is a much greater form of liberation and protects all children at a much greater level  -- is to carve up the district into smaller regions and give each region more autonomy, a decentralization so to speak.

Now, that’s a true revolution and one I trust will ensure a public education for all.

In his endorsement, the mayor makes me worry even more – because I don’t believe an ounce that he cares for our kids like he claims. What he does care for is his political future. In his life, that has always come first it seems.

Despite his excuse that he’s not running for governor because he didn’t want to leave Los Angeles bleeding leaves me with much doubt. I believe it really stems more from  the polls  that reflected few of us really want him to become governor.

If he is so interested in our children, he would understand that the charter plan would not necessarily provide or protect what he states: that “every child in Los Angeles ought to have access to high-quality public school in his or her neighborhood,” and parents more access to schools than the public schools.

My son’s charter, which I took him out of, acted like parents were vampires and they had their crosses out.  They wanted parents – yes – to raise money, but didn’t really know how to deal with them after that. They didn’t want parents in the hallways, they stated in their school information.

That’s an instant red flag for me at any school. Why don’t you want parents?

In my son’s public schools in Los Angeles, I was able to volunteer  and be on his campuses in a variety of capacities.

Parents – as we all know even though we deny it– need to return and help at schools, whether we like it or not. There are just too many great issues at hand across the board.

My son has received an excellent education from LAUSD, even at one of the middle school’s most residents feared. Yes, he was in the gifted program, but since all the schools are moving toward  small campuses within each large public school  the district will be able to provide more mini-schools than ever.

I am all for breaking up the district and maybe having a lot less administration downtown, but a board with a heartbeat that can help each region and make sure all students – rich, poor, disabled or otherwise – get an education.

Breaking up the district, however, probably scares Los Angeles city officials, including our mayor.

Because isn’t that exactly what the city of Los Angeles needs to do? It’s become too large, too authoritative and cumbersome to truly care for its residents simplest needs.

If we break up the district, then the true revolution will begin and it might not just stop at the door step of the city’s schools. It might happen to the city. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Photo art credit: (Diana L. Chapman was a journalist for 15 years with the Daily Breeze and the San Diego Union. She can be reached or visit her blog ) ◘ 

Thursday, July 30, 2009


By Connie Llanos Staff Writer | LA Newspaper Group/Daily News

07/30/2009 12:39:52 PM PDT -- Cash-strapped Los Angeles Unified wants to compete on its own, rather than as part of a statewide effort, to secure federal stimulus money for education, officials said today.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, formally applying for money from the $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" fund, a competitive federal grant designated for education reform.

"I am writing to ask you to consider an application for Race to the Top funds directly from the Los Angeles Unified School District rather than through the state of California," Cortines wrote.

"If you compare LAUSD's enrollment of over 688,000 students to other states, we would rank 25th in the country in size."

State education officials did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

LAUSD's request comes after California was publicly reprimanded by Duncan for failing to institute education reform and for passing a law that prohibits the state from using test scores to evaluate teachers.

Despite laying off teaching and cutting programs to close a multimillion budget gap, officials worry they'll have to make other sacrifices under the state budget signed earlier this week by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.


OpEd by Ted Barone | San Francisco Chronicle - Barone is the principal of Albany High School.

Thursday, July 30, 2009 - The budget straits the state of California is facing are forcing our leaders to make a series of pernicious choices with legacy implications. One such choice is whether to fund music programming or refocus our funding priorities to the "core academics" (which happen to be those subjects tested in the statewide testing system).

I propose that we really don't have a choice. We must fund music.

From the rhythm of our breathing as infants and the comforting lullabies that helped us sleep, to the cacophony of song and sound that envelops our modern everyday lives, music is an essential factor in what defines us as human. Music is a messenger that carries the history and collective experience of a people across time and space. Music also helps develop our brains in a way that will increase our ability to address and solve the extraordinary challenges that lie ahead of us as a people. The musical key is the proverbial key. In other words, the structure and organization of music is exactly what makes it so important for brain development. From the notes, chords are built. Chords determine keys, within which a skillful musician creates an experience, a message, a movement. Mix in rhythm and a new order of time emerges.

Music is all about creating neural networks and expanding the speed and capacity of the pathways that determine skill and memory. A key finding from brain research is that once a neural pathway is established, and the more that pathway is used, especially with passion and emotion, the greater the "bandwidth" and strength of the connection. Memory is improved, processing speed is increased, and better, more sophisticated decisions are a result.

Music is all about the structural connections that are used to support memory. It's much easier to remember something that follows a familiar structure or pattern than something random and unfamiliar. These familiar structures serve as the foundation for building greater knowledge and even stronger and more extensive neural networks that support learning of all kinds.

In a world of extraordinary complexity, a premium is placed on one's ability to quickly process massive amounts of wildly varying types of information. Musical instruction helps young people develop the brain capacity to process a lot of information and to organize and present it.

Playing music cultivates a mind that is prepared to process and make sense of the rush of information and problems that have come to characterize the 21st century. Music is a core subject. We can't cut funding for music any more than we can cut funding for math.

Albany High School serves grades 9-12 in the Albany City Unified School District, just north of Berkeley, CA.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


from sacBee CapitolAlert

In case you missed it:

  • Legislators could find themselves back in the Capitol in late September for yet another special session.
  • Kevin Yamamura examines the legal issues surrounding the governor's line-item vetoes.
  • Still wondering what's in, what's out and what it all means? Read the Legislative Analyst's Office's summary of the package here.

WILLIAM R. “BILL” ANTON DIES AT 85; educator was L.A. Unified's first Latino superintendent. 'Heart and soul' of the district rose through the ranks to take top post during a time of fiscal crisis.

William R.  "Bill" Anton

Anton in 1992. He began his career as a teacher at Rowan Elementary in East Los Angeles. – PHOTO Los Angeles Times

By Howard Blume  in the LA Times

July 29, 2009  - William R. "Bill" Anton, who rose through the ranks to become the first Latino superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, died Tuesday morning, according to friends and the Los Angeles Unified School District. He was 85.

Anton had suffered from declining health in recent years and did not speak at a 2007 district ceremony in his honor, but associates remembered him as a genial and strategic fighter who looked out for minority children in a school system that did not always have high expectations for them."Bill was the heart and soul of the district," said Peggy Barber, who met Anton as a parent and later worked for him. "He knew every principal by sight and name. He knew every person in the building. He was as kind and generous as anyone could be, but he could be tough when he had to be."

Anton began his career as a teacher at Rowan Elementary in East Los Angeles, according to district records, slowly and steadily winning the respect of colleagues as he earned promotions to higher positions. Anton filled a groundbreaking role in developing the district's Title 1 program, which was at the time a new experimental effort to help low-income and minority students.

In that capacity and others, Anton groomed future district leaders who would follow him into top positions. Jim Morris, chief of staff to Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, recalled taking an administrative training course for teachers given by Anton, who was then a deputy superintendent.

"Mr. Anton said if you want to be an administrator you have to find out who the hardest-working person in that school is, and you have to work twice as hard," Morris said.

A Garfield High School graduate who supervised schools in East Los Angeles, Anton championed equity and a fair distribution of resources for Latino students. But he was liked in all communities, said those who worked with him.

"Parents always had access to his office," said Barber, who is a district lobbyist. "And he treated parents as equals. He would tell the principals that he expected everyone to have a PTA and they would be evaluated on the strength of the PTA."

Many district insiders and community leaders were sorely disappointed when the school board chose outsider Leonard Britton over Anton as superintendent in 1987. After three years, Britton resigned, never having won over an L.A. Unified bureaucracy that included Anton. To much acclaim, Anton became schools chief in July 1990, but he was immediately confronted with union unrest, budget deficits and a city elite that had grown dissatisfied with the school system.

"It was Bill's job to save the district from going into bankruptcy," said Dominic Shambra, an administrator who worked closely with Anton. "It was a difficult time, much like it is today."

Anton remained as superintendent only 26 months, retiring at the age of 68 in September 1992. He said his greatest accomplishment as superintendent was simply holding the district together in spite of a fiscal crisis that forced spending cuts of more than $1 billion during his tenure.

The factors that induced him to leave, he said at the time, included a school board that often would not listen to him and would act improperly unilaterally, as well as a teachers union that he said had too much influence.

A full obituary of Anton will appear in Thursday's print edition and at


by Jessica Garrison from the LA Times

7:16 AM | July 29, 2009  - To the woes caused by bad traffic and bad air, Los Angeles can now add a new concern: uncharitable neighbors.

A new study from the Corporation for National and Community Service has found that Los Angeles ranks 45th out of 51 large American cities in the percentage of people who volunteer their time to help their neighbors or communities.

The winners, as in so many other municipal honors, were Minneapolis-St. Paul (ranked No. 1) and Portland, Ore. (No. 2). More than 35% of residents in those cities volunteer their time, compared with 21% in Los Angeles.


from the study: Volunteering in Los Angeles, CA

Statistics for this area were collected within the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Major cities in this MSA include Los Angeles, CA; Long Beach, CA; and Santa Ana, CA


The bullets below are all based on an average using 2006 and 2008 data

  • 2.0 million volunteers
  • 20.5% of residents volunteer - ranking them 45th within the 51 large cities
  • 28.9 hours per resident - ranking them 38th within the 51 large cities
  • $5.8 billion of service contributed

Still, the study did identify some bright spots for California, chief among them that from 2007 to 2008, the number of Californians who worked with their neighbors jumped from 1.6 million to 2.2 million.

CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS CHIEF REACTS TO U.S. CRITICISM ON TEACHER EVALUATION: Jack O'Connell visits Long Beach to show that districts in the state are allowed to tie test scores to educator assessments. Obama and his Education secretary chided California on the issue last week.

By Seema Mehta | From the Los Angeles Times


The Long Beach Unified School District’s use of student scores to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, instructional strategies and teachers is a rarity in California, and state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell called it a model for other California school districts. “Becoming a data-oriented culture, as Long Beach is, won’t be easy, and it won’t be overnight,” O’Connell said. “Long Beach is ahead of the curve. You’re a model for this new culture of data for education.”  photo: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

July 29, 2009 -- California's top education official sought Tuesday to counter federal criticism of the state's reluctance to use student test scores to evaluate teachers, paying a visit to Long Beach to highlight one of the few California school districts to make extensive use of such data.

The Long Beach Unified School District's use of student scores to assess the effectiveness of programs, instructional strategies and teachers is a rarity in California, and state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell called it a model for other California school districts during a hastily arranged round-table discussion. Other participants included district administrators and staff.

"Becoming a data-oriented culture, as Long Beach is, won't be easy, and it won't be overnight," O'Connell said. "Long Beach is ahead of the curve. . . . You're a model for this new culture of data for education."

The visit followed comments last week by President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in which they criticized the state for not allowing such test data to be linked to teacher performance evaluations.

On Friday, Obama singled out California for failing to use student test scores to distinguish poor teachers from good ones and Duncan warned that states that bar linking such data to evaluations will be ineligible to compete for the $4.35-billion "Race to the Top" grants. That funding is part of roughly $100 billion earmarked for education in the economic-stimulus package.

The U.S. Department of Education will be awarding the money in competitive grants to states. Applications are due in December.

Duncan has repeatedly raised the issue, including during a trip to San Francisco in May, when he called California's position "mind-boggling."

"The firewall between students and teachers is bad for children and bad for education," he said. "I challenge the state to think very, very differently about that."

At issue is a 2006 California law that prohibits use of student data to evaluate teachers at the state level. O'Connell said Obama and Duncan misunderstand the law, which does not bar local districts from using the information.

"I need to do a better job making that case," the schools chief said, adding that he would be open to amending the law to clarify the matter. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has also supported such a move, though it would probably draw opposition from the state's powerful teachers unions.

O'Connell's Long Beach visit, which a district official said was not put on the schedule until Monday, was designed to show that California school districts are already able to use student data to assess teachers.

The 87,499-student Long Beach Unified School District has won national acclaim for its students' academic performance. Obama cited the district in his first major speech on education.

"The reason we have been successful . . . is because we base all of our decisions on data," Long Beach Supt. Christopher J. Steinhauser said Tuesday.

Seven years ago, the district developed a sophisticated centralized data system that allows it to track individual student achievement, attendance and discipline over time. The system also lets the district see how students are faring collectively in a particular classroom or school, and how subsets such as English learners or special education students are performing. District officials can then use the information for staffing decisions, such as where to send specialists.

Tom Malkus, principal of Lee Elementary School, said he and other school leaders use the data to spot struggling teachers and offer coaching, professional development and other support.

If that fails, Steinhauser said, the district has "courageous conversations" with teachers that can result in their leaving the profession.

The system allows teachers to look at their students' most recent work to ensure that they understand a particular lesson, or double back to concepts that are difficult for them.

"You can look at individual students' needs and you can look at the group's needs," said Christina Benson, a teacher at Lee Elementary. "It's perfect for me."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

BLUE PENCILING THE LINE ITEMS: Full budget summary and breakdown of additional cuts

from the SAc Bee Capitol Alert | Posted by Torey Van Oot

In case you missed it: Today was blue-pencil day at the Capitol and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger didn't make any new friends with his"> line item vetoes of an already lean budget. Read the ">legalese of the reductions.

The 27-bill budget "fix" signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today included an additional $489 million in line-item veto cuts. Read the full budget summary or download a breakdown of the cuts.

A NEW CROP OF SCHOOL GARDENS: Even as state funding wilts, support for school gardens is growing.


Ava Allred, 2, helps during a volunteer gardening day at Farragut Elementary School in Culver City.

PHOTO: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times - Ava Allred, 2, helps during a volunteer gardening day at Farragut Elementary School in Culver City.

By Krista Simmons | LA Times

July 29, 2009 -- A freckle-faced Malloy Sparling wraps her dirt-dusted fingers around a three-pronged cultivator and looks up with a big-toothed smile. "We're making a garden," she says, plucking a weed out of the ground, then wiping her little hands on her tomato red T-shirt.

Sparling and other young volunteers, plus parents and politicians, are taking part in a community work day at Farragut Elementary School in Culver City. But they're not the only ones spending this summer working toward a greener fall semester.


Krista Simmons / For The Times

North Hollywood High School greenhouse.

Tools for getting started on school gardens

Krista Simmons / For The Times

July 29, 2009 -- The Master Gardener Program has been largely instrumental in implementing school garden programs in the area. You can access its start-up kits online, where there are several informative sites on how gardens can be worked into curricula.

While most schools sit like dormant ghost towns during the summer, a few are breaking up the asphalt, planting seeds that will be sprouting edible gardens come September.

It may seem counterintuitive to start new programs in this economic climate. Summer school was canceled at many campuses this year, the $1.7-million California Instructional School Garden Program grant to the Los Angeles Unified School District has expired, and the budget crisis has left countless teachers unemployed.

But this groundswell, largely sparked by parent and community interest -- and perhaps some inspiration from Michelle Obama's White House garden -- is finding support in all the right places.

Ben Ford, chef-owner of Ford's Filling Station, and Akasha Richmond, chef-owner of Akasha, both restaurants in Culver City, spearheaded the recent work day at Farragut where parents, grandparents, children, chefs and politicians worked to lay the ground for a green space for students.

There have been gardens on the Culver City campus for more than 50 years, which have gone through several cycles of productivity and abandonment, but Ford and Richmond are using their connections in the food industry to help make this plan as sustainable and financially painless as possible. They've secured soil, seed and supplies from local farms and nurseries, and food and refreshments for the volunteers from several local restaurants. In total, the two have spent only about $200 on the garden thus far.

The organizers at Farragut hope they'll soon be able to tap Alice Waters for an Edible Schoolyard (ESY) certification, which will bring not only publicity but a seasoned veteran's perspective. Waters' ESY program is known for her implementation of seed-to-table gardens within the Berkeley school district, and has recently gone national, helping schools throughout the country execute curriculum-based gardens and locally sourced school lunch programs.

In addition to her campus in New Orleans, Waters is working with the Larchmont Charter Schools in Hollywood, which have two fully functional gardens and a lunch program where meals are prepared with organic, local ingredients by an in-house chef.

Waters says there is a shift in priorities that needs to happen within federal policy to give garden programs longevity. In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy implemented the President's Council on Physical Fitness to instill values of physical fitness. She considers the current prevalence of childhood obesity and early-onset Type 2 diabetes to be signals for immediate action similar to the fitness council.

"Now we need a curriculum that's about ecology and about gastronomy so that we can make sure that children are making the right kinds of decisions for themselves, and for the planet. There's no way to address the issues of obesity unless you let children come into a relationship of food that's positive, restorative and desirable," Waters says.

Carlos Lopez, a graduate of the garden program at Crenshaw High School, thinks a garden's value extends beyond promoting good health. "This is a way of giving kids a sense of ownership, a place to stay off the street. It saved me, and it saved a whole bunch of us. It can become so much bigger than just a garden."

Lopez was part of the team that created Food From the Hood, a student-run business that sprouted from selling Crenshaw High's produce at local farmers markets and eventually expanded to create a national brand of salad dressing that was distributed at more than 2,000 locations. But since the students from Food From the Hood graduated, the garden has become overgrown and left unattended.

A teaching garden

This summer, the Garden School Foundation, led by master gardener Nat Zappia, hopes to change that. On the first garden cleanup day, dozens of community members, former students from Food From the Hood, teachers and volunteers from Starbucks showed up to re-till soil, planting the seed for the soon-to-be student gardeners returning in the fall.

Bill Vanderberg, dean of students at Crenshaw High, plans to use the garden as a vehicle for learning within the newly created Smaller Learning Communities (SLCs). He hopes the Business SLC will be able to model off the Garden School Foundation's 24th Street School garden, where the fifth-grade children have struck a deal with Pitfire Pizza Co. to trade their herbs for pizza.

But the possibilities for educational incorporation don't stop there -- science, botany, social studies, history, geography, art and nutrition have all been included in existing local programs. Zappia hopes to use his background in history to introduce garden beds that are shaped like continents, where classes of students will learn about the history and culture of other nations through food.

Mud Baron, gardening guru for LAUSD and caretaker of the North Hollywood High School farm, says that special-needs teachers often come to him for seedlings. "There's no such thing as a special ed sunflower. It's just a sunflower," he says.

His 7-acre North Hollywood High School farm serves as a nursery for the rest of LAUSD -- it hosts a small Chardonnay vineyard, a greenhouse, a plethora of dahlias, several chickens and a pig named Francine. Baron also oversees the remaining 500-some-odd gardens across the LAUSD, which are at varying levels of production. This summer, he'll be working with students from the Summer Jobs Program who will be cultivating 500 Green Zebra tomatoes for Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, chef-owners of Ciudad and Border Grill.

But even with his infectious enthusiasm, Baron's job is constantly at risk. Though California Instructional School Gardens Program grant funds are no longer available, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines has agreed to match the funds that Baron and the LAUSD School Garden Program raise, given that they reach $100,000. Donations can be made at, which will go live at the end of this week. Community support may be the only way for school garden programs to survive.

Friends of the earth

It appears that Angelenos from all walks of life are interested in lending a hand to advance the school garden movement, regardless of tough times. The Environmental Media Assn. and Yes to Carrots have partnered with LAUSD to sponsor 10 new school garden projects, one of which will be at Saturn Elementary in L.A.. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal will be their mentor, and architect Rogerio Carvalheiro, who worked on the Getty Villa and Union Station, will work pro bono on the design. Once completed this fall, they hope to add a "scratch kitchen," where children will prepare the food they grow.

Saturn's garden project was started by an enthused group of parents who call themselves the "Rings of Saturn." Through applying for grants, working with local politicians and school leaders, and fundraisers, they have put together a garden plan for Saturn that they hope will boost its public image.

"To be successful, this needs to be viewed as integral. These are skills that kids used to learn at home. Today, that's not a reality," says Melissa Patrick, who is heading the Saturn project.

"You can't expect a whole person if you don't educate the whole child," Baron says. "We don't strictly learn within four square walls."

Monday, July 27, 2009


Photo by ne* via Flickr

By Lindsay William-Ross in LAist News

July 27, 2009 11:30 AM -- If it's broke, fix it, right? Only what happens when the people who are supposed to fix it are the ones who broke it in the first place? And they happened to have run out of the money it's going to likely take to do the fixing? Easy solution: Sell management of the school(s) to the highest--well, "superior"--bidder.

The resolution is called "Public School Choice: A New Way at LAUSD" and will be voted on at the next Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education meeting on August 25th, having been postponed from July 14th. The proposal "opens ownership [of schools] to not only the district or charter operations but also the mayors office, private business and nonprofit groups," according to, and has already garnered objections from parents and teachers, and the stalwart support of some school board members--most prominently its backer, Yolie Flores Aguilar--and the Mayor's office. Perhaps because the Mayor's "alliance" for improving troubled schools earned him a failing grade from its participants at the end of this school year, today the LA Times has published an opinion piece authored by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa endorsing the plan.

As a counterstrike to the ineffective "staus quo," Villaraigosa is urging people to see that the proposed plan would allow non-bureaucrats to "get past the gatekeepers and stop preserving a system defined by low performance, low standards and low expectations." Essentially, the proposal opens up control of some schools to any interested party--including the LAUSD themselves--to apply for "ownership" by providing the Board with what boils down to a business plan for operating, and in theory, improving the school.

Who decides who gets control? Why the Board, of course. Yes--even though the Board may have a vested interested in securing control as one of the bidders.

VIllaraigosa's perspective bears the language of hope that, unfortunately, he's demonstrated rings hollow once implemented. He talks of "embrac[ing] new ideas," and the wish to "turn our public education system on its head," in order to give our grossly under-served children that chance at the quality education that evades them under the current reins. His campaign-style rhetoric is enough to indicate maybe a call to Shepard Fairey to commission a portrait of the Mayor looking dreamily but confidently into the distance under the giant letters spelling EDUCATION is not more than a moment away.

But really he's working to hush the already clamoring voices of objectors who see the option to "privatize" public education. Opines Villaraigosa:

I recognize that these changes won't come easily. I know that the voices of dissent -- the individuals and institutions that rely on and benefit from the status quo -- will try to drown out the calls for reform. But we cannot place the same old failing school system into brand new buildings and expect different results.

Rather than feel threatened by a new system, district leaders and unions should join the effort, present their own proposals, and take the lead in making these new schools the best in the city.

Flores Aguilar's measure is not designed to shut anyone out but to welcome new approaches and pursue models that are already known to work -- regardless of whether the plan comes from charter organizations, teachers or other reformers.

Passing the board measure represents progress on the broader agenda of shutting down failing schools and reopening them as reform campuses. We must not wait for another report card telling us we did not make the grade. We must work together and take action now.

So is this the solution?

Tell us what you think: Is this an idea you'd get behind?



SWINE FLU GOES TO CAMP. WILL IT GO TO SCHOOL NEXT? The summertime outbreak provides an education for school districts and universities, whose administrators are bracing for illness.

By Seema Mehta and Nicole Santa Cruz from the LA Times

July 27, 2009 - Hundreds of children have been sent home from summer camps across Southern California in recent weeks with flu-like symptoms, and camp counselors and directors are taking precautions to prevent the spread of the H1N1, or swine flu, virus in cabins and mess halls.

But officials say the sight of children arriving at sleep-away camps armed with the anti-viral medication Tamiflu is probably just a harbinger of what awaits schools in coming weeks as students move into dormitories, and elementary and secondary students begin classes.

Health officials predict a resurgence of the flu in the fall, and a vaccine effective against H1N1 is not expected to be available until long after the start of school.

School districts and universities are on alert, working with health officials to launch education campaigns, stockpile medical supplies and discuss worst-case scenarios.

State education officials are developing plans to provide lessons and meals for low-income children in case elementary and secondary schools close.

School closures would occur only by order of the superintendent or the county health department and only if so many children were sick that it was impractical to keep classes running, said Dr. Kimberly Uyeda, director of student medical services at the Los Angeles Unified School District.

UC campuses are stockpiling supplies, from paper masks and hand sanitizer to food and water. Officials are going over worst-case scenarios in case of campus-wide outbreaks. Officials are considering screening students for fever when they check into dorms.

"If we prepare for the worst, then we're going to get a better outcome," said Grace Crickette, chief risk officer for the University of California.

For now, sleep-over camps provide a look at what schools may face.

Before children are allowed to board camp-bound buses, nurses check temperatures and medical histories, hoping to ensure they are flu-free. Visitors days have been canceled at some camps, and makeshift infirmaries were created in some dining halls and lawns. High-fives and hand-holding are out, replaced by fist bumps and elbow-linking. Hand sanitizer is everywhere.

"We're all getting habitual with our Purell," said Jordanna Flores, executive director of Camp Alonim in Simi Valley, which has sent 160 children home in recent weeks. Many have since recovered and returned to camp.

Flu symptoms have been mild, but the virus is highly contagious, particularly when children are in close proximity.

Some organizations that cater to children with health issues, including the American Lung Assn. and the Muscular Dystrophy Assn., canceled camps because of concerns about the virus.

"It's not worth the risk," said Bob Mackle, a spokesman for the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. "It was a heartbreaking decision for us, and it was a tough decision."

Most camps remain open, according to the American Camp Assn. No organization has a complete list of outbreaks, but there have been anecdotal reports from across the country, notably in the Northeast, which has a deep tradition of sleep-away camps.

The California Department of Public Health has received reports of outbreaks at 16 camps in eight counties, though department officials suspect the number is higher.

At Camp Ramah in the Ojai Valley, 80 campers and staff members were sent home with flu-like symptoms in the first session; many have returned. Twenty-nine eventually tested positive for the flu, said Rabbi Daniel Greyber, the camp director. The camp canceled its annual visitors day, which typically attracts as many as 2,000 people, and instead brought in a petting zoo.

Once campers left, workers deep-cleaned the bunks, beds and bathrooms. The 600 campers attending the second session, which began Thursday, were advised to pack Tamiflu.

"We hope it's a proactive thing that we can do to minimize the flu within the camp," Greyber said.

Education is equally important. Greyber demonstrated proper coughing and sneezing etiquette (into the elbow or on the sleeve, not into the hands). Campers produced skits about "Swine '09."

But for some children who fell ill, the situation was traumatic.

At Camp Alonim, health center coordinator Cindy Petrak said some campers wept when they learned they would have to leave their healthy friends and siblings for seven days to recover.

"It felt like Ellis Island," she said.

On a recent day, children lined up in an infirmary to have their temperatures taken. Parents of any who had fevers were called to pick them up. As many as 20 campers rested on a grassy lawn, sitting on white sheets with their luggage, waiting for their rides home.

Austin, a sixth-grader from Encino, had a fever and a sore throat when he was sent home. He said he was sad to miss bunk night, when his cabin-mates picked the evening activities. When he returned, he said, he was happy that friends noticed his absence. "They all recognized I was back," he said.

Some camps have been spared, including Camp Paintrock and Blue Sky Meadow.

Camp Paintrock sends Los Angeles children to Wyoming for a four-week youth leadership development program. About half a dozen of the 60 campers had flu-like symptoms, but none tested positive for the flu.

Blue Sky Meadow, a science camp for Los Angeles area children in Big Bear, checked campers' temperatures and health histories before students boarded buses to the camp. Families of children who had not been feeling well recently were told to select another week to attend.

"It's sort of a healthy-campers-are-happy-campers philosophy," said Madeline Hall, director of the Los Angeles County Education Foundation, which runs Blue Sky Meadow.

Parents are trying to take the flu in stride.

"I think when kids are at camp, living in close quarters, there's always a chance. If one kid gets sick, all the kids get sick," said Mara Sperling, whose 12-year-old daughter Ella left last week for Gindling Hilltop Camp in Malibu. "It's one of the hazards of going to sleep-away camp."

Susan Freudenheim's 14-year-old daughter Rachel Core is attending Camp Alonim, where Tamiflu will be given to the entire cabin, with parents' permission, if two children in a cabin get sick.

She declined because she fears there could be a Tamiflu shortage and that unnecessary medication could lead to the development of a drug-resistant strain of the virus. Health officials, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, advise against giving the drug to healthy people.

Freudenheim, managing editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, which has covered the outbreaks extensively, hopes her daughter stays healthy.

"It would be a disaster if she came home," said the former editor at the Los Angeles Times. "She'd have nothing to do, be sick alone at home, and I'm working full-time."

Educators plan to work in the coming weeks to prevent the spread of the virus in classrooms and dorms, but they said it ultimately comes down to education and personal responsibility.

"Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands," said Crickette.


● Flu shot isn't for H1N1: The approved seasonal vaccine doesn't protect against swine flu. But you should get it anyway.

By Melissa Healy From the Los Angeles Times

July 25, 2009 -- With the so-called swine flu continuing to spread across the United States and the world, the Food and Drug Administration announced recently that it has given the go-ahead for the final preparation and distribution of a vaccine for the coming flu season.

But that vaccine will not protect against swine flu, more officially known as the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus. That virus has sickened almost 45,000 and killed more than 300 in the United States since the spring. Those numbers are only confirmed cases, however; the true number of people affected is much higher.

"The FDA continues to work with manufacturers, international partners and other government agencies to facilitate the availability of a safe and effective vaccine against the 2009 H1N1 virus," said the FDA announcement.

Six vaccine manufacturers will be producing the 2009-2010 influenza vaccine. And the vaccines will contain the strains of three viruses -- one of them an "H1N1-like" virus identified as A/Brisbane/59/2007. The strain in the seasonal flu preparation is not the same as the so-called swine flu, however and, therefore, is not expected to carry any protection against it.

So where the heck is that swine flu vaccine? And, in the meantime, why would you go to the trouble to get yourself vaccinated against a flu vaccine that doesn't protect you from the dreaded swine flu?

In meetings with state and local officials earlier this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she expects a new swine flu vaccine to be available for distribution by mid-October -- fully six to seven weeks after American schoolchildren will have flocked back to the germ pools of their classrooms. Sebelius hasn't formally approved a nationwide vaccination campaign, which would detail which populations should get priority in the use of still-scarce vaccine. But she's expected to do so soon.

Time is of the essence. To get the vaccine to the public even by late October, several labs and companies have been rushing to develop and test formulations since late spring. The results of human trials testing the vaccine's safety and effectiveness at producing an immune response are not expected before early September.

In a teleconference earlier this month, the members of the National Biodefense Science Board, a federal advisory board, made clear they think the process should be accelerated. The board's members said vaccine makers should be asked to begin the preliminary steps toward producing vaccine on Aug. 15, before safety and effectiveness data are available.

That would have the effect of moving up the date by which vaccine would be available for distribution to mid-September rather than mid-October. But an acceleration of the process could also add an element of uncertainty about the safety of a vaccine that might be mandatory for virtually all schoolchildren.

The board, established by a 2006 law to advise the Department of Health and Human Services on matters of pandemic illness and other public health emergencies, recommended that the federal government "set a goal of having several tens of millions of doses available by Sept. 15."

Amid all the concern about swine flu, there may seem little point to getting the seasonal flu vaccine for which the FDA is giving the go-ahead now.

But as Dr. Aaron Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, pointed out: Seasonal flu may be the enemy we know, but it's still a deadly enemy. And it's not likely to take the season off just because the novel H1N1 strain is out there too.

"The real reason to get vaccinated for seasonal flu is because seasonal flu kills people," he said.

Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine's department of preventive medicine added that, in a season likely to be challenging for physicians, public health officials and patients, those who get their seasonal flu vaccination (shot or mist) will help simplify a complex and moving picture.

"We may actually have a double-barreled influenza season out there," said Schaffner. Patients who have gotten their seasonal flu shots are less likely to take up hospital beds and the time and attention of labs and physicians, he said. And that, in turn, can "kind of clear the decks" for those on the front lines battling swine flu, Schaffner added.

The patient who comes in with flu symptoms and has had a seasonal flu shot also might be a little easier to diagnose and treat, said Schaffner. A physician would be quicker to presume swine flu and to prescribe antiviral medications such as Tamiflu, which is no longer very effective against seasonal flu.

L.A.'s SCHOOLS – A NEW DAY? Mayor Villaraigosa calls on the Board of Education to vote for a reform that will allow groups to bid on running new L.A. schools.

LA Times Op Ed By Antonio R. Villaraigosa

July 27, 2009 -- We've all heard the horror stories about crumbling campuses, falling test scores, growing class sizes and decreasing graduation rates. Yet the debate over education reform remains stuck in neutral. School leaders, principals and unions haggle over contracts instead of hashing out lesson plans. We fight yesterday's battles -- over tenure and time sheets -- when today's economy demands real, tangible reform of what goes on in the classroom.

For too long, leaders at every level of government have defended a status quo that serves the interests of adults more than children; that gives bureaucrats a near monopoly over public education; that shuts parents out of the conversation; and that, over and over, fails our kids.

It's time to get past the gatekeepers and stop preserving a system defined by low performance, low standards and low expectations. It's time to embrace new ideas and reclaim concepts such as accountability and competition, and it's time to admit the need for more than one educational choice. Put simply, it's time to put students first.

On Aug. 25, the Los Angeles Board of Education will have the opportunity to take the first real step toward reforming our broken system and transforming our schools. Board member Yolie Flores Aguilar has proposed a measure that would fundamentally change the way we run our schools, giving organizations outside the Los Angeles Unified School District--charter school groups, teacher collaboratives and others -- the chance to compete to operate new campuses set to open in fall 2010.

Instead of merely handing these campuses over to the district, the school board would require prospective school operators to submit a detailed plan on how they would run the new school. The plans would be judged based on the operator's past record of success, the inclusion of metrics for measuring that success and the educational vision for the new school. The superintendent would evaluate each plan and recommend to the board the operator with the superior plan to run the school.

I urge the board members to pass this motion.

This measure can bring us closer to realizing the goals at the center of our reform efforts: Every child in Los Angeles ought to have access to a high-quality public school in his or her neighborhood.

Angelenos do not have to look far for examples of thriving alternatives to the traditional public school system. Charter groups in L.A. are using the best practices of the private sector in our most important public forum. They're cutting overhead costs and paying teachers better. Their campuses are cleaner and safer, and their students are getting more attention. Parents are required to participate far beyond parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school nights.

Just look at two examples from the last year alone. Under Green Dot Public Schools' leadership, Locke High School -- once a symbol of failure where just three out of 100 students went to college -- now houses eight small schools focused on a college-prep curriculum. Challenges remain, but a culture of achievement has taken hold.

On the Eastside, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools has partnered with Cal State L.A. to build a school focused on math, science and technology, equipping students with 21st century skills.

The measure before the school board offers us the chance not simply to tinker at the edges of our school district but to turn our public education system on its head. It offers children the chance to escape the pattern of failure that has long marked so many of our schools.

I recognize that these changes won't come easily. I know that the voices of dissent -- the individuals and institutions that rely on and benefit from the status quo -- will try to drown out the calls for reform. But we cannot place the same old failing school system into brand new buildings and expect different results.

Rather than feel threatened by a new system, district leaders and unions should join the effort, present their own proposals, and take the lead in making these new schools the best in the city.

Flores Aguilar's measure is not designed to shut anyone out but to welcome new approaches and pursue models that are already known to work -- regardless of whether the plan comes from charter organizations, teachers or other reformers.

Passing the board measure represents progress on the broader agenda of shutting down failing schools and reopening them as reform campuses. We must not wait for another report card telling us we did not make the grade. We must work together and take action now.

Antonio R. Villaraigosa is the mayor of Los Angeles.

●●smf's 2¢:

                Yes, Mama...?
                What did your father tell
                you this morning?
               If you can't say somethin' nice,
               don't say nothin' at all.
- Walt Disney's Bambi (1942) Larry Morey & Perce Pearce, screenplay from the novel by Felix Salten (1923)

LOS ANGELES UNIONS FIGHT SCHOOL PRIVATIZATION EFFORTS: Politicians, charter school companies are behind the scheme

By: David Feldman | from PSL.oRg

The writer is a public school teacher and member of UTLA.

Friday, July 24, 2009  -- On July 14, the Los Angeles Board of Education decided to delay the vote on a proposal that would have allowed charter and outside groups to bid on control of 50 new schools scheduled to open in the next four years.

Los Angeles teachers' walkout, June 6, 2008
Los Angeles teachers take action against budget cuts >

Technically, external organizations such as teachers’ unions, parent organizations and community organizations could vie to control schools. But in reality, charter school organizations with corporate funding, like Green Dot, would have an unfair advantage, due to the financial resources at its disposal.

The real aim of all charter school companies is the further privatization of education and the weakening of teachers’ unions.

Green Dot is a private company founded by Steve Barr. It is funded by non-profit organizations with corporate ties, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation. Green Dot received a $10.5 million gift from the Broad Foundation in December 2006, an organization founded by Los Angeles area capitalist Eli Broad. Broad is a billionaire who made his fortune in real estate. He is currently involved in plans to further gentrify downtown Los Angeles. (L.A. Weekly, Dec. 7, 2006)

Green Dot successfully took over Locke High School in Watts in September 2007. It currently runs seven schools in the Los Angeles area, funded by a combination of private and public money. Even though Green Dot receives public money, it is unregulated and unaccountable to the public.

Although much is made of holding public schools accountable by capitalist politicians, charter schools are not subject to any oversight regarding academic performance at all. A 2004 study published by the American Federation of Teachers found that when socio-economic factors are taken into account, public school students outperform students in charter and private schools.

The Bush administration announced the much-awaited results of the AFT study with little fanfare since the outcome of the study did not support their agenda of increased privatization. Even today, the general perception among many is that private and charter schools are superior to public schools. This false outlook is promoted by the bourgeois media.

At the July 14 hearing, supporters and opponents of the privatization proposal spoke in front of the Los Angeles Board of Education, which sets policy for schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Opponents of the measure include all unions that represent workers in Los Angeles schools, including the United Teachers Los Angeles and the Teamsters. Seven unions sent a letter to the school board calling the proposal "an insult to these children and their families to outsource education to charters and other private entities."

The proposal is also an underhanded attempt by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to get some schools under his control. Earlier attempts by Villaraigosa to take over "failing" Los Angeles schools were ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in 2006. Due to public pressure and union opposition, the vote on the privatization proposal will not be heard again until Aug. 25.

Supporting the proposal were members of the so-called Parent Revolution. The Parent Revolution is a phony coalition, which includes Green Dot schools. It is an outgrowth of the Parents Union, started by Green Dot owner, Steve Barr. Members of the Parent Revolution were bused to the board meeting. They all got up and left when a representative of the school administrators’ union spoke.

Charter school operators bombard working-class parents with anti-union propaganda, and focus parents’ justifiable anger at the poor quality of public schools at the wrong target—teachers and the union that represents them, UTLA.

At a Parent Revolution press conference, one Latina mother said, through a Spanish interpreter: "There are lots of good teachers in the district but there are more bad teachers. But we can’t hold teachers accountable because they are so well protected by their union. … So we need a union to help us too." The Parent Revolution is in fact a corporate-sponsored "counterrevolution" aimed at dismantling public education.

Green Dot owner Barr is an expert salesman, and a liar. He claims that teachers in his schools are unionized. But this union is also phony. According to Green Dot’s own website, Green Dot does away with teacher tenure so teachers can be fired at any time and the company maintains the right to break contracts. Green Dot and charter school operators are pushing an anti-worker agenda under the guise of "saving the children." Never mind the fact that charter school students in study after study do not outperform children in public schools.

Teachers’ unions provide benefits necessary to attract good workers to the profession. With recent budget cuts, the larger class sizes and shrinking resources that come with the cuts, the conditions under which teachers are forced to work are increasingly difficult. What incentive would an energetic teacher have to teach in difficult schools in oppressed neighborhoods if they have no benefits and could be fired at any time for any reason?

Unions not only fight for benefits for teachers, but also strive for a better education for everyone. The teachers’ unions demand increased funding for public schools and smaller class sizes, and oppose penalizing schools because of the results of culturally biased assessment tests.

Private capitalists are unwilling to provide for human necessities, such as retirement and health care. The private sector does not have an interest in giving all students a quality education. Green Dot and companies like it want to provide a good school for a small number of students, get good press, and then take over more schools so their owners can accumulate more profits. It is not sustainable on a systemic level. Plus, charter schools can pick and choose students they would like to enroll, unlike public education, which has a mission to educate everybody.

Ultimately, the problem is not bad teachers; the problem is the system itself. Capitalism prioritizes making profits for a few over meeting the fundamental needs of the public, like education. The federal government should slash the military budget, and infuse education with hundreds of billions of dollars to hire more teachers and build new schools.

At the state level, corporations and millionaires should be taxed heavily and stripped of all tax breaks they currently receive as an incentive to "do business" there. Huge urban school districts such as LAUSD should slash their immense bureaucracies, including mini-districts, and funnel the funds saved into the classrooms where they belong.

●●smf's 2¢: is the Party for Socialism and Liberation – an unabashedly pro-labor and left of center voice.  PSL is certainly left of smf. Labels like Liberal and Progressive get bandied about – painting blue folks pink and red - but the above is essentially true; it well connects the dots ("green is not automatically  good") and follows the money – a partisan provocative roadmap/scorecard. On the same day that this came the LA Times editorial board bleated out another paean to Green Dot  --and Mayor Villaraigosa on Monday wrote a Times OpEd extolling the virtues of the plan excoriated here.

Read 'em all. Lines are being drawn in the sand and the waves are washing them away.

GREEN DOT CONNECTS: The charter is being used as a model for other groups that want to run up to 50 new LAUSD schools.

Editorial From the Los Angeles Times

July 25, 2009 -- When Green Dot Public Schools took over Locke High School a year ago, the thinking was that a well-run charter might prove an instructive model for improving Los Angeles' public schools. That might yet prove true. What few expected was that Green Dot would set a new example for other charter schools. But that's exactly what has happened, as evidenced by a recent proposal to allow charters and other organizations to compete for the right to operate 50 new L.A. schools over the next few years.

Public schools have long and justifiably complained that charter operators play by a different, more advantageous set of rules. Instead of drawing their students from within neighborhood attendance boundaries, they enroll students through voluntary registration. By the nature of this process, they generally attract motivated families from a broader geographical area that have the passion and wherewithal to seek out the schools. So it's no wonder charters often produce higher test scores.

At Locke, long an underperforming public school, Green Dot changed the equation by agreeing to accept all the students from within the attendance boundaries. That meant welcoming not just teenagers with their eye on a diploma and possibly college, but also gang-bangers, potential dropouts and students so impoverished or lacking in family support that just showing up at school each day was an achievement. It also meant accepting hundreds more students than Locke had capacity for, a reality regularly forced on public schools.

Though discipline and safety at Locke improved quickly, it will take a few years to see whether Green Dot's reforms result in more graduations and higher test scores.

Here's a more immediate benefit: Under a resolution sponsored by Yolie Flores Aguilar, vice president of the L.A. Unified school board, charter operators, along with unions and community groups, could submit proposals to run any of more than 50 new campuses that will open over the next three to four years. Laid out in the resolution, which the board is slated to consider next month, are stipulations that these operators would enroll students from within the regular attendance boundaries, mimicking Locke.

Several well-regarded charter groups are eager to submit applications under those rules. Charter school doors would open to students who otherwise wouldn't have a shot. By approving Flores Aguilar's resolution, the school board has a chance to do even more than provide innovative new choices for students; L.A. Unified could become the national model for a fairer, more open charter school system.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Staff Reports LA Newspaper Group/LA Daily News

Posted: 07/25/2009 06:01:08 PM PDT

Updated: 07/25/2009 06:49:54 PM PDT

WASHINGTON - Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, the Pomona Unified School District Superintendent of Schools, has been approved as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, Department of Education, according to information from the U.S. Senate Web site.

The Senate approved her nomination Friday night.

Melendez de Santa Ana was nominated May 20 for the post by President Barack Obama.

At that time, California Schools Chief Jack O'Connell congratulated her on her nomination.

"I could not be more pleased that the President has selected Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana for such a key post in his administration," he said in his statement.

"She is a highly respected educator whose commitment and passion for helping students inspires everyone who works with her. Her motto of `Respect, Responsibility, and Results' for every student, parent, and educator are key to improving student achievement. I know she will serve the nation's children well in her new position as President Obama's Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. I look forward to continued collaboration with her and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on our efforts in California to improve public education and close the achievement gap."

Melendez de Santa Ana earned a bachelor cum laude in sociology from UCLA. As a Title VII Fellow, she earned a Ph.D. in language, literacy & learning from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

During her career, Melendez de Santa Ana has worked in the Montebello and Pasadena school districts as a bilingual classroom teacher, middle school assistant principal for curriculum and instruction, elementary school principal and director of instruction for elementary and middle schools.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger authorizes a $13-million loan to the King City Joint Union High School District. A state administrator will be named Thursday.

By Seema Mehta  LA Times


July 23, 2009  -- The state is taking over a Monterey County school district that was facing bankruptcy and lending it $13 million, state officials announced Wednesday.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed emergency legislation authorizing the loan to the King City Joint Union High School District. A state takeover is required by law once such a loan is granted.

Today, John Bernard will be named the state administrator to oversee the district, which has a nearly $24-million budget to serve 2,134 students in an agrarian community located 105 miles south of San Jose.

State takeovers of school districts are rare, but last month, state education officials announced that the number of districts deemed to be at risk of fiscal insolvency had quadrupled as the state cut billions from school funding because of the budget crisis.

The state budget plan announced earlier this week would cut an additional $6 billion from schools and community colleges.

School districts must file reports showing their financial health to the state, and the latest reports showed that 19 districts, including King City, would not be able to meet their financial obligations for the school year that just ended, or the upcoming school year, without making drastic cuts.

Eighty-nine districts, including big-city school systems in Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Ana and Sacramento, are in jeopardy of not meeting their financial obligations in the school year that just ended or the next two years.

The news that didn't fit from July 26

Friday, July 24, 2009 10:04 PM
By Molly Peterson |  

CALIFORNIA THREATENED WITH LOSS OF FUNDS IF IT DOESN'T USE TEST SCORES IN EVALUATING TEACHERS: U.S. education secretary is expected to withhold millions of dollars in education stimulus money if the state doesn't comply with his demand.
Friday, July 24, 2009 9:16 AM
By Jason Felch and Jason Song From the Los Angeles Times 

Friday, July 24, 2009 8:01 AM

Thursday, July 23, 2009 10:14 PM

Thursday, July 23, 2009 10:14 PM
Shane Goldmacher in LA Times LANow Blog  

Thursday, July 23, 2009 10:13 PM
LATimes LANow Blog -- Phil Willon at L.A. City Hall 

Thursday, July 23, 2009 10:13 PM
By Sean Cavanagh and Catherine Gewertz | EdWeek

Thursday, July 23, 2009 10:12 PM
By Michele McNeil \ EdWeek  |

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 11:29 AM

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 9:55 AM
Howard Blume | LA Times LANow Blog 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 10:30 PM
By Kevin Butler, Staff Writer | Long Beach Press-Telegram 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 10:13 PM
By Katy Murphy and Theresa Harrington | MediaNews staff | San Jose Mercury News  

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 9:57 PM
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer | Redlands Daily Facts [LA Newspaper Group]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 9:45 PM
The Daily Breeze | from staff reports

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 3:29 PM
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER | News Analysis|  New York Times 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 3:24 PM
by Miles Nevin | Report Card | Long Beach Post 

A KEY TEST FOR L.A.’s COMMUNITY COLLEGES: Two institutions are on probation for failing to conduct 'program review.' Though that sounds like a minor administrative matter, it helps schools answer a big question: Do our programs work?
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:14 AM
Editorial From the Los Angeles Times 

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:15 AM
Pierce College president announces resignation  By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer | LA Daily News   

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:13 AM
By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer | LA Daily News   

“HOUSTON, WE HAVE A BUDGET” …unfortunately it’s one for California
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 7:44 AM
LA Times: ‘The plan is not yet formally released’  …but they have a chart of the cuts (kids’ health insurance) & a chart of the not cuts (kids’ health insurance not eliminated!).

…what he could teach Antonio Villaraigosa, Ramon Cortines and 121 slow learners in Sacramento – what he could teach us all if we only listened.      by Leonie Haimson Executive Director, Class Size Matters in The Huffington Post 

Friday, July 24, 2009


By Molly Peterson |

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- States barring the use of student- achievement data to help set teacher pay would be ineligible for $4.35 billion in education stimulus funds under guidelines proposed by President Barack Obama today.

The measure would disqualify states such as California, New York and Wisconsin from applying for the grants unless they change laws excluding student-performance data from evaluations of teachers and principals.

“In too many places we have no way, at least no good way, of distinguishing good teachers from bad ones,” Obama said at a news conference. The grants will go to states that “use data effectively to reward effective teachers, to support teachers who are struggling and, when necessary, to replace teachers who aren’t up to the job.”

Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who have long pressed for merit-pay programs that reward teachers for gains in student performance, unveiled the guidelines at a news conference today. Teachers unions oppose linking pay to pupil test scores, saying they aren’t an accurate measure of teacher effectiveness.

“In education for some reason, we’ve been scared to talk about excellence, we’ve been scared to reward excellence,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said today on a conference call with reporters. “I don’t understand that. We think that’s the foundation from which all reform can come.”

More Than Tests

The administration will work with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the two biggest U.S. teachers unions, to ensure standardized test scores are “just one part of a broader evaluation” of educators’ impact on student achievement, Obama said.

“But let me be clear: success should be judged by results, and data is a powerful tool to determine results,” he said.

While the proposed requirements don’t say which states would have to change their rules, Duncan has said California, New York and Wisconsin are among those with laws that create a “firewall” between student data and teacher evaluations.

“To somehow suggest that we should not link student achievement and teacher effectiveness, it’s like suggesting we judge a sports team without looking at the box score,” Duncan said in a June 8 speech in Washington. “I think that’s simply ridiculous.”

States that apply for funds should make student performance a “significant factor” in decisions about teachers’ and principals’ compensation and tenure, the administration said in its proposal.

Unions Encouraged

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and AFT President Randi Weingarten, who attended the briefing, said they were encouraged by Obama’s pledge to work with unions on the teacher-incentive guidelines.

“The era of teacher union-bashing was over today,” Weingarten said in an interview after the briefing.

Obama and Duncan “want to work with us, and not do things to us,” Van Roekel said. “A single test score just doesn’t measure what you do as a teacher.”

Among the other criteria for the stimulus grants are a commitment to developing common, nationwide academic standards; increasing the number of “highly effective” teachers and principals in high-poverty schools; and creating more “high quality” charter schools, according to the summary. The public has 30 days to comment.

The administration also wants to “challenge both districts and unions to make collective bargaining a tool for innovation instead of a barrier for reform,” Duncan said. “Adult dysfunction, in far too many places, has really been a barrier to student achievement.”

The Education Department said it plans to disburse the competitive stimulus funds in two phases, awarding the first round of grants early next year and the second by September 2010. States that fail to win grants in the first phase may reapply for the second phase, the agency said.

●●smf's 2¢: Not that it has anything to do with anything, but…

in last week's New Yorker there was a comedy article about Global Warming/Climate Change in Hell. Among the listed names for Satan (Beelzebub, Lucifer, etc.) is (AFT President) Randi Weingarten.

Bloomberg News – from which this story is pulled, is owned by New York Mayor, school takeover artist (currently engaged in a fight over who controls the NYC schools with the legislature in Albany – itself engaged in its own battle on who controls the legislature in Albany) and all-around billionaire (worth$16B) Michael Bloomberg.   Other billionaires with their own media outlets: Rupert Murdock and Silvio Berlusconi.

Bloomberg Quote: "If parents don't like the way I run the schools they can boo me at parades."

"Bloomy's" (what the NY Daily News calls him, sometimes prefixed with "Loony") attitude over this paltry $4.35 billion might be amusing.