Sunday, February 28, 2010


Schools in state fired up over Day of Action

Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

Jessica Pons / The Chronicle | Fernando Curiel, 20, works on the puppet "La Llorona" (left), a woman weeping for students. It is one of four in-your-face props, including a skeleton wearing a graduation cap, being created for Thursday's protests.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 -- March 4th has gone viral.

The upcoming Day of Action to Defend Public Education - rallies, marches, teach-ins, even political theater - began as an idea on the UC Berkeley campus last fall and has caught fire up and down California, from elementary school to graduate school, and across two dozen states.

On the surface, Thursday's Day of Action seems likely to be an unprecedented show of unity among public education advocates at all levels who are angry that politicians and university officials with fingers on purse strings are letting the system decay.

"Everybody's coming together," said Callie Maidhof, a student at UC Berkeley, where students have protested tuition hikes, budget cuts and layoffs since last fall.

But some say the event is already scorched by the threat of violence. At an outdoor dance party early Friday, a crowd of Berkeley campus protesters seized a building, torched trash cans, threw bottles and got into an angry confrontation with police.

Hostilities unwanted

Students said protesters occupied the building in part to call attention to March 4th, and don't expect the hostilities to be repeated Thursday.▼

What Budget Mess? Mayor V. To Host Pre-Oscar Party

By Dennis Romero, LA Weekly Blog

Thumbnail image for Villaraigosa.jpg

Friday, Feb. 26 2010 @ 12:14PM -- Just today we were ribbing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for being seemingly everywhere BUT City Hall -- Washington, D.C. (begging Congress for money), Beverly Hills (meeting with alternative-energy investors) and Exposition Park (for a pow-wow with Princeton professor Cornell West). All this, of course, as the city faces a $212-million-and-growing budget disaster -- including less cops, firefighters and paramedics on the streets -- that even had the City Council calling for a local state of emergency.

Now comes word that Mayor V., ever the man with his priorities straight (witness December's trek to Europe or this month's cameo on All My Children), will be hosting a pre-Oscar party at the city-funded mayor's residence Thursday night. Because, when the city's on it's last dime and you can't find a cop when you need one, what it really needs is a red-carpet event celebrating the ultra-rich of Hollywood.

The event, co-hosted by The Hollywood Reporter, is called Nominees' Night at Getty House and will honor Oscar nominees (it's not clear yet who will show). THR states that Microsoft Bing, L'Oreal Paris and the city of Veracruz (THR has it as "Vera Cruz," but we're assuming it's the Mexican city) are sponsoring the event.

It's not clear how much public money will go into the party, although the house is maintained through city funds at the cost of more than $100,000 a year (PDF). (And the mayor don't come cheap either).

▲ "It's important not to inject that level of damage into every action, or you'll alienate lots of people who don't want to act that way," said Xander Lenc, a student at the dance party that got out of hand.

A major goal of Thursday's Day of Action is to draw attention to education woes not only in California, but all over the country, Maidhof said. "We want public education to be open and free to all."

Instead, college tuition has been climbing steadily in most states and in California, despite a state master plan calling for tuition-free colleges.

At UC, next year's base tuition of $10,302 will be more than double that of six years ago. Recent tuition hikes of more than 30 percent at UC and at California State University have forced students to shoulder more of the cost of their education as state lawmakers have cut back on funding to the universities in response to the state's epic budget crisis. Schools are offering fewer courses, cutting wages, laying off employees and reducing enrollment.

At community colleges, course cuts will close the door to 21,000 students next year.

In the lower grades, thousands of teachers will get layoff warnings by March 15. Holding the Day of Action in time to highlight those pink slips is one reason students and teachers say they chose the date March 4.

"We hope to educate our politicians that the system they have for funding schools is not equitable and needs to be changed," said Megan Caluza, who has taught special-needs students at El Dorado Elementary in San Francisco for two years and expects to be laid off.

She'll march with colleagues and parents through the Mission District after school, then head to a 5 p.m. rally at Civic Center - one of many sponsored by labor unions and faculty.

"Everyone agrees that education should be a right, not a privilege," said Joan Berezin, co-chairwoman of the social science department at Berkeley City College and an organizer. "This is our state, our education. If we don't defend it, who will?"

All 23 campuses of California State University are holding events.

A sense of humor

Rachel Kerns, a sophomore at San Francisco State, recently put final touches on a 12-foot papier-mache "Draculator." It's one of four huge, in-your-face puppets that students, theater Professor Carlos Barón and artist Colette Crutcher are creating for Thursday's rally.

The group is building a traditional Mexican weeping figure called "La Llorona" to cry for students, dinosaur bones to signify the extinction of education, and a huge skeleton in a graduation cap.

"It's a student who's still paying college loans even after he's dead," Crutcher said with a laugh.

"March 4th, I hope, will give the students a feeling of accomplishment," Barón said. "If we make noise, and if we're heard - if people laugh at our work - then we'll have achieved something very positive. We're not there to scream at people."

March 4th was born on Oct. 24, when hundreds of students and employees from dozens of schools met at UC Berkeley to decide how to keep momentum alive after a major statewide campus walkout a month earlier to protest the fee hikes and cuts in the works.

Since then it seems everyone is planning something for that day.

"We wanted to get involved with the national call by California students who are facing the same crisis as we are," said Chris Persampieri, a student at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, Mass., one of several schools in dozens of states holding rallies.

Will it make a difference?

"I don't think March 4th is going to do anything," said UC Berkeley student Yana Pavlova. "We don't have the tangible power to change the law. So at the end of the day, we're back where we started, paying $30,000 for a 'public' education."


By Laurel Rosenhall | Sacramento Bee

Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010 -- The protests, teach-ins and walkouts that swept through University of California campuses this fall are scheduled to come back this week. But this time the activism is moving beyond UC – to include Cal State, community college and K-12 campuses – and beyond California to other states as well.

Buoyed by the influence they believe their demonstrations have had on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, student and labor activists have planned a series of events to highlight the impact the state budget crisis is having on public education.

Thursday is expected to be the big day of activism in California and about a dozen other states, with promoters urging people to "march forth on March 4th." Teachers and other workers will be fighting for their jobs, while students will demonstrate their desire for more classes, lower fees and increased funding for education.

"It's looking to be a really, really momentous day," said Victor Sanchez, 21, a UC Santa Cruz student who is president of the statewide UC Student Association.

Some campuses have already begun heating up. At UC Berkeley late Thursday, a party intended to promote the upcoming events turned violent when protesters vandalized a campus building, broke windows of a nearby business and lit a dumpster on fire.

But the violence is not prompting UC officials to clamp down on activities planned for the coming week, said Peter King, spokesman for the university's Office of the President.

"Most of the student protests so far have been peaceful and robust and noisy. And that's fine," King said.

Cause hits close to home
Berkeley is one of many college campuses where political activism has long been about as common as English comp. Across the country, students led the way in civil rights protests in the 1960s, Vietnam war protests in the 1970s and apartheid protests in the 1980s. In more recent years, students have organized against sweatshop labor and environmental concerns.

But historians who study social movements on college campuses say the current wave of activism is different. Students are mobilizing around an issue dear to their pocketbooks, not a distant moral outrage. And they're protesting arm-in-arm with university employees, who are feeling the budget crunch in a very personal way.

"With this upcoming protest on March 4, there's a … coalescing of these forces to identify the problem more clearly as a real lack of public investment," said John Aubrey Douglass, a historian at UC Berkeley's Center for Studies in Higher Education.

"This is a financial crisis of significance and we're having some major policy shifts that could redefine the institution."

Last year – after voters rejected measures to raise taxes – lawmakers cut state funding to UC and CSU by 20 percent. That prompted the university systems to furlough workers, cancel classes, cut back programs and raise student fees by 32 percent.

UC campuses erupted in protest after regents discussed the fee hike in September, and again when they approved it in November. Thousands of students rallied at Berkeley, while hundreds walked out at Davis, Santa Cruz and other campuses. Activists occupied UC campus buildings throughout the state. Students and employees on CSU campuses began holding protests, too.

By January it appeared the rabble-rousing had paid off. In his State of the State speech, Schwarzenegger said higher education must take a higher priority. He proposed a budget that increases funding to the universities by 12 percent and a constitutional amendment that would give them more money by shifting some away from prisons.

Other branches of California's education system, which also had suffered cuts, noticed how influential the UC protests had been. So it wasn't surprising that unions representing teachers at community colleges and K-12 schools – which together had been cut by $6 billion – jumped in when activists began organizing the March 4 protests.

"This is the first time that I know of in history that we have K-12, community college, CSU and UC all in one place with one message," said Kevin Wehr, president of Sacramento State's chapter of the California Faculty Association.

 'We are being heard'

The timing of the protests is no coincidence. Interests like to lobby for their share of the budget pie after the governor's January budget proposal and before the May revision. And K-12 and community college teachers receive preliminary layoff notices on March 15, so the protests this week allow them to make the cuts vivid to the public.

At some Elk Grove Unified schools on Thursday, for example, teachers will set out chairs in front of school to signify how many are expected to get pink slips. At a Natomas school, teachers who are getting laid off will dress in white, while the rest of the staff will dress in black.

Protests also are scheduled at most UC and CSU campuses and many community colleges. Nationwide, about 100 colleges likely will participate in Thursday's demonstrations, said Angus Johnston, a history professor at City University of New York who's been tracking the influence of California's student movement on other parts of the country.

"This March 4 day of action started as a California thing and it has really taken off," Johnston said. "California is giving students around the country a sense of the possible."

UC Davis senior Sarah Raridon has seen the impact of her activism in ways big and small. Earlier this month she helped organize a demonstration at the UC Davis library, in which students planned to stage a "study-in" and stay put after the library was supposed to close.

But before the protest even began, campus officials decided to keep the library open around the clock for the weekend. That avoided a confrontation and gave students what they said they wanted: more space to study.

"We are being seen. We are being heard," said Raridon, 21. "Our actions are having reverberations around the country, and even the world."


Student and labor activists have planned a week of events to draw attention to school budget cuts from the elementary through university levels. More events are expected throughout the month.


UC students and administrators converge at the Capitol for a day of lobbying. They will meet with lawmakers, then hold a march and news conference on the north steps.


Sacramento State students hold an "alternative campus tour" to demonstrate how budget cuts have affected each building or department. Starts at 11:30 a.m. in the Library Quad.


A UC Davis art class opens an exhibit of photos and videos examining the role of UC regents in the budget crunch. Show runs in the Memorial Union Art Lounge through March 19.


Billed as a "national day of action for public education," protests are scheduled on campuses throughout the country. Many UC, CSU and community colleges will hold rallies or walkouts. Teachers unions at more than 100 K-12 schools in California have planned demonstrations. Events are also scheduled at college campuses in Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Rhode Island.


Union workers and students begin a 48-day march through the Central Valley from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Sponsored by the California Federation of Teachers – the union representing community college instructors – the march will include firefighters, nurses, in-home care workers and police officers.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


from the National Law Journal  Legal Pad|L.A.

25 Feb 2010 -- President Barack Obama nominated assistant U.S. attorney Laura E. Duffy yesterday to be the next U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California.


By Alyson Klein in EdWeek | Vol. 29, Issue 23, Page 15

March 3, 2010 -- Republicans on the House Budget Committee told U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week that the Department of Education’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget is too large and could add to the federal deficit. Some Democrats argued that the Obama administration’s plan to increase funding for competitive-grant programs could make it harder for school districts to get needed resources during difficult economic times.

Secretary Duncan, who testified before the panel last week, outlined President Barack Obama’s plans to boost the Education Department’s discretionary budget to $49.7 billion, a roughly 7.5 percent hike over the current fiscal year. That would include at least a $3 billion increase for K-12 programs, much of which would go to competitively awarded grants.

The department’s proposed budget is one winner in what otherwise looks like a lean year for domestic spending. President Obama has pledged to cap discretionary spending unrelated to the military or homeland security.

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, asked Mr. Duncan why his department should be an exception to the spending restraints. Mr. Hensarling noted that the budget includes new programs that would be paid for out of the mandatory side of the ledger, such as a prekindergarten program.

“The administration should be putting its emphasis on spurring job creation,” he said. “How does this mountain of debt impact job creation, how is it going to impact educational opportunities in the future?”

Investment Touted

But the secretary said he sees education as an investment in the nation’s economic future.

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., asked why the administration wanted to concentrate its increased spending on competitive grants as opposed to those awarded by a formula to school districts meeting certain criteria. She said that could lead districts to divert funding that could be used to pay teacher salaries, for example.

But Mr. Duncan said that the department had proposed level funding for programs such as Title I grants for disadvantaged students, which are slated in the budget for $14.5 billion in fiscal 2011, the same level as this fiscal year.

“Major formula programs are absolutely untouched,” he said. He said putting out more competitive money can help push states and districts to adopt bold policies.

“We’re trying to be creative, trying to have a hybrid” between competitive and formula grants, he said.

OH, SAY, CAN YOU SAY THEM: Being word 'pronouncer' at a spelling bee is harder than it looks

By Sandy Banks, Los Angeles Times Columnist

    Scripps National Spelling Bee

    Scripps National Spelling Bee competitors listen to a fellow contestant in 2007. The winner of Saturday's bee at Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood will attend this year's event in Washington. (Shawn Thew / EPA / May 30, 2007)

February 27, 2010 -- I'd spent 10 years drilling children for spelling tests, calling out words for my daughters to spell aloud as they prepared for their weekly exams in the car on our morning drives to school.

So I didn't hesitate to accept when Walter Reed Middle School teacher Debra Vodhanel invited me to serve as the pronouncer at the local spelling bee this weekend.

I'm a writer, a reader, a mother of three. How difficult could announcing a spelling list be?

Extraordinarily ( ek-strawr-dn-'air-uh-lee) difficult, I realized, when Vodhanel handed me the list. Ninety-six pages; 500 words. . . . And many I'd never heard or seen.

I wish I could give you examples, but the list stays secret until Saturday's contest.

But here are winning words from recent national bees: ursprache, appoggiatura, prospicience, succedaneum.

You see what I mean?

Vodhanel tried to reassure me. Spelling bee judges will correct me if I mispronounce a word during the competition, she said.

So I won't sabotage the spellers' efforts; I'll just be publicly humiliated.


Spelling tests have slipped in and out favor in the 20 years since I began those back-seat drills -- cat, mat, door, floor -- with my then-first-grade daughter.

By the time her younger sister came along, "invented spelling" was all the rage. The "whole language" approach to reading downplayed the practice of sounding words out and favored contextual clues instead.

And spelling contests became as outmoded as handwriting drills on blackboards.

But 10 years ago, the pendulum swung back with the advent of standardized testing and scripted reading lessons. Now, even kindergartners study phonics and are expected to print short narratives using "conventional spelling."

Spelling tests are "an important way for students to demonstrate their knowledge," said Gayle Pollard-Terry, spokeswoman for L.A. Unified, which hosts its own series of spelling bees next month, to "give students an opportunity to shine."

The competition at Walter Reed in North Hollywood is part of the network of regional spelling contests that lead to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Saturday's winner will join other finalists from around the country in June in Washington, D.C.

The 75-year-old national bee has developed a cult following. It is televised live by ESPN, has been dramatized in plays and feature films, and was the subject of "Spellbound," an Oscar-nominated documentary.

But this year, local spellers were almost locked out after the San Fernando Valley bee lost its sponsor last fall.

The middle school stepped in as sponsor "because we had students who'd been studying all year, and we didn't want to let them down," Vodhanel said.

The school will host the competition, provide the trophies and refreshments. The Scripps National Spelling Bee will pay the winner's way to the Washington competition.

Walter Reed has a mock spelling bee every Friday after school. "Fifty words, with a podium, microphone . . . just like the real thing," said math/science teacher Sandy DiSimone, who runs the 30-student Spelling Club.

"The kids love it," she said. "Especially the sixth-graders. It's a social thing for a lot of them," a way to carve out a niche in a giant middle school.

They've left behind elementary school drills -- the spelling lists and graded exams -- but still find "a sort of intrinsic joy in doing well, in getting an award, and that recognition that you excel."


Students from 50 schools -- winners of their campus spelling bees -- will be competing this weekend. I imagine they've spent hours with drills and flashcards and practice sessions. So has their pronouncer.

My job is simple, according to the Sponsor Bee Guide: "The pronouncer strives to pronounce words according to the diacritical markings . . . in Webster's Third New International Dictionary."

But those diacritical markings -- odd dots and lines and symbols -- look like gibberish to me.

I was on study day three and word 121, tediously flipping back and forth between the spelling list and my pronouncer's guide, when my 19-year-old daughter interrupted me.

"You're using a dictionary?" she asked, as if it were the oddest thing she'd ever heard. "You can look it up online," she said, plopping her laptop on my desk.

Type in the word, scroll down, click on the symbol of a megaphone . . . and I suddenly had my own pronouncer: a confident, mellifluous voice reading each word aloud to me.

Which means the pronouncer just might get through the morning without flubbing a word; an outcome I'd have considered unlikely a week ago, and now consider plausible ('plaw-zuh-buhl).


By Leonard Isenberg & Anthony Holland in |

26 February 2010 -- A major theme that we have tried to address in several of our posts is the idea that virtually all public education reform in the United States adapts to the continuing existence of urban, predominantly minority-filled school districts that have failed for generations. In California and elsewhere, states have taken over individual schools and sometimes entire school districts, but there appears to be an irrational taboo to not even consider dismantling/reconstituting these school districts. It is the very continued existence of these districts in their present form that requires public education reform in the first place. These districts as presently constituted will keep sabotaging any real educational reform that they see as threatening their present interests.

Does LAUSD control the reform debate without ever being at the table?

With budgets that are often bigger than the cities they serve -- as is the case with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the City of Los Angeles -- these politically influential districts have been able to remain aloof from any discussion of reform that might challenge their continued existence and power, often placing the interests of the businesses that get rich dealing with them over the students they are charged with educating. It's ironic they are not even present at discussions about education reform that they make necessary.

Should awareness of racial reality taint reform?

While civil rights legislation of the 1960s gave a legal framework by which equality is guaranteed, 400 years of racism has done damage to people of color in our inner cities that cannot be legislated or bused away. I remember hearing past LAUSD Board Member Genethia Hudley Hayes say one time in frustration and disgust, "Black people are tired of auditioning for human being. Give us the $1500 a year we have spent for 3 generations moving Black children from the Crenshaw District and elsewhere to schools like Palisades Charter High School in communities that they will never be able to live in and where they are promptly resegregated into low functioning classes and we will educate our own."

How long is enough?

In looking at the recent report by Gary Orfield and the UCLA Civil Rights Project, one must take a step back and out of the short-sighted debate as to whether objectively neutral charter school laws are either good or bad, racially segregated or not racially segregated, and ask a more fundamental question: Why are charter schools even necessary in the first place? The answer is that up until now, we have been unwilling to address reforming the structure of inner city school districts. 56 years after Brown, you have the righteous demand for some viable alternative to address the very real concerns of parents, students, teachers, and even some administrators who are not willing to allow students to continue going through these long failed public schools without getting even a minimal education.

Is segregation ever justified? Three considerations:

1. While examining the statistics that Gary Orfield and the UCLA Civil Rights Project gathered, it is easy to conclude that there is definitely a segregated aspect to the charter school movement, it is only reasonable to ask if this is the same pernicious de jure segregation that existed before the U.S. Supreme Court decided Brown vs. Board of Education? Or is what Orfield talking about a variant that justifies itself for all concerned by the continued existence of the same dysfunctional top-down-factory model schools districts that have existed unresponsive from the 19th century until the present day?

2. While good old-fashioned redneck racism certainly exists, this is not the major factor in the segregated nature of the majority of charter schools. Going back to Brown, legislating integration in 1954 did nothing to end segregation in this country -- there still remains more de facto segregated in 2010 than de jure in 1954. In fact the Supreme Court had to come back a year later in 1955 to try and force integration with busing, which was thwarted by White flight to the suburbs or private and parochial schools (Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education). Now, it is not just the Whites that want out of long-failed public schools, it is Latinos and Blacks, who are no longer willing to wait for districts like LAUSD to give their children the equal education that Brown mandated as the law of the land. If one goes back to the Bronx, New York in the 1960s, one finds that the Whites were not alone in their desire to escape. Black Muslim schools there and in other predominantly Black communities in large cities self-segregated themselves into great schools to avoid the irreparable damage that public schools were doing to their children.

3. Segregation in  both women's colleges and grade schools was first attacked after the 1960s women's liberation movement until people realized that women often do much better in an environment free from the distraction and harassment of boys, not to mention teachers -- who often favor their male students.

Can interim segregation finally make integration a reality?

While it is clear to me that Blacks and Latinos are not inherently inferior as was the not so subliminal message in the media and elsewhere when I was growing up in LAUSD schools of the 1950s, years of racism and awful schools have created an ignorant inner city population whose needs nobody -- White, Black, Latino, etc. -- seems willing to address in a timely, systematic, appropriate and pragmatic basis.

Does anybody really believe that big city school districts can change?

The failed public education bureaucracies in this country continue to survive, because they just want one more year -- or at least a few more until they can make it to retirement. The masters of this system have failed to see the disastrous effects of pushing such a huge portion of our population through school without basic skills. This will also have an incredibly negative effect on their lives too, whether or not they put their own children into private schools. There is a tacit racist rational that is used to maintain the failed status-quo in public education. This is the belief by all concerned that minority children cannot learn and need to be sheltered -- the reform model in Harlem proves otherwise.

And the winner between greed and racism is...

There is a certain irony to the fact that in one sense, the least racist organization within its own culture is big city public school districts like LAUSD, because they have discovered the critically important fact that still seems to elude too many others in this country: Human greed is a far stronger emotion than racial hatred, especially if you co-opt once disadvantaged, but now somewhat educated, minority administrators to do the dirty work of continuing to sell out people in a system that they are smart enough to know doesn't work. You give a minority LAUSD administrator a six-figure salary with all sorts of perks and they will do things that would cause a riot if White folks still did them on their own. Isn't opportunity a wonderful thing?



Themes in the News for the week of February 22-26, 2010


This week the Los Angeles Unified School District, following some, but not all, of Superintendent Ramon Cortines’ recommendations, overlooked established charter operators and assigned most of the schools in contention to be run by organized groups of teachers and administrators who are already employed by the district (Education Week).

To the surprise of many, three of the “most politically potent” competitors for control of the schools “got knocked out”: “Green Dot Public Schools, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools and ICEF Public Schools (Educated Guess).

Not surprisingly, the decision was heralded by observers who see great potential in the combined and cooperative efforts of thethe district, local communities and parents, and teachers to run local schools. According to Cortines, "So many of our school communities have stepped up to the plate to improve the conditions at their schools," he said. "Schools that have been struggling for years now have a sense of urgency and commitment to improving their schools" (Los Angeles Times).

In a similar vein, Professor John Rogers of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, said, “I think it was a positive thing. We need to look at school improvement efforts as a combined focus on education programs and building civic capacity in the community and building the skills of community members to participate and take action” (Our Weekly).

Disagreeing, Jed Wallace, chief executive of the California Charters Schools Assn., thought it was “an appalling decision.” “Merit was not at the heart of the matter today. The three organizations taken out of the process today . . . are understood at the national level to be the gold standard as far as charter operators go" (Los Angeles Times).

Yet, Charles Kerchner, Research Profesor of Education at Claremont Graduate University, agreed with Cortines and the Board, indicating that teachers and their union, allied with parents and the district, had plenty of merit. “In the contest with the charters, though, UTLA and the school district provided vivid proof that they could compete with the best of them. The school designs they proposed were not radical, but they were interesting and coherent (Huffington Post).

Maria Brenes, Executive Director of Inner City Struggle (ICS) and a key player in organizing the community, civic leaders, Eastside teachers, parents and students, applauded the Board’s decision and made clear that it is only the first step in the reform process. She promised that ICS and the broader community “will be there to monitor, make sure that we create one of the best high schools in all of East L.A. in all the district” (Eastern Group Publications).


BY JORGE BARRIENTOS, Bakersfield Californian staff writer

Feb 26 2010 05:42 PM  -- Katie White's son is taking three Advanced Placement classes at Bakersfield High School. At $86 a pop, White must pay more than $250 for the tests that aim to prepare students for college.

"It's pretty hefty," White, a speech therapist at BHS, said.

The high cost of AP tests is taking a toll not only on parents and students, but teachers, schools and even the Kern High School District.

Last school year, nearly 3,500 Kern County high school students took at least one AP test. Standards in AP classes are rigorous, and students can receive college credit for passing the tests.

A fee waiver is given to families whose income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty level -- students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals qualify for the waiver. On average, about half of students in KHSD qualify.

The test fees go to the College Board, a nonprofit that administers the test.

White doesn't qualify for fee waivers that would cut her expenses down to just $15 -- $5 for each test. If she did, the state would pay $51 of the fee, but schools must pay that money up front.

And with state budget woes continuing year after year, schools are in danger of not being reimbursed. Schools have not yet been reimbursed for last year's tests and don't expect a full reimbursement, said Diane Fletcher, KHSD supervisor of research and planning. Schools are out more than $50,000 right now.

"That takes a hit on the budget," Fletcher said. "We have to sit and wait for a reimbursement. It's a little scary."

For now, the school and district pay for students who qualify, Fletcher said. Schools district- and county-wide have fundraisers and other efforts to help students pay for exams. At Rosamond High School, a teacher ran a marathon to raise money for some AP Calculus students.

"We have students with great needs," Fletcher said. "We want to do our best to serve the many taking the AP exam."

At West High School, teachers have given scholarships to students to help pay for tests, some of whom take five or more tests. Community members have donated for the exam. Funds from concession stands can also go to student test fees.

Fundraising, however, can be tricky, officials said, because money raised must go to the neediest students in the school first, according to federal rules. AP students sometimes aren't the neediest.

"The money is a deterrent for students, but we're doing the best we can to help them," said Terrie Bernardin, West's assistant principal of instruction. "We would never deny students who need to take the test the ability to take it."

A passing score can earn high schoolers college credit, but students and parents have complained that's not always true.

About 800,000 high school seniors in last year's graduating class -- a little more than 25 percent of that class -- took at least one test, according to College Board. In all, more students pass the test than fail. Tests are taken in May.

The AP test is one of the most expensive testing programs in the world to operate, Jennifer Topiel, a spokeswoman for College Board, said in an e-mail. The money, she said, pays for the development of the test -- a multi-year process -- thousands of test graders, shipping millions of exam across the country and to fund teacher development, among other things.

Marjorie McConnell, an education programs consultant with the state, said times are tough for everyone in California. The state is the "middleman" and it reimburses schools using federal money.

Fewer students might be taking the test because of its affordability, she said. But AP classes are still important because they prepare students for college, and help during college admittance, she said.

"Passing the test helps colleges and universities in how they view students compared to their peers," McConnell said.

Although the price tag is high, White said she sees the classes and tests as preparation for her son's college career. On top of that, if her son passes the AP tests, he could be getting out of taking remedial college classes.

She would rather pay a little money now instead of paying for college classes later.

"In that respect, they're worth it," she said.



Families are eligible if their income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty income level. In terms of family size, that income level is:

1: $20,036

2: $26,955

3: $33,874

4: $40,793

5: $47,712

6: $54,631

7: $61,550

8: $68,469

* Add $6,919 for each additional member

Source: California Department of Education


By John Fensterwald | The Educated Guess

February 25th, 2010 -- State and federal education officials are continuing to haggle over which low-performing schools should be restructured, leading to yet another delay in releasing a much-anticipated list of schools that makes superintendents shudder.

The state Department of Education had planned to release the list of 187 schools when the state submitted its Race to the Top application in January. Then Superintendent of Public Instruction  Jack O’Connell announced it would be today and sent out a letter this week to superintendents whose schools made the list explaining the process. But the feds still disagree on which schools made it, so everything is on hold.

One disagreement continues to be over which alternative schools, serving at-risk students and schools in county juvenile halls should be included. The state wants to exclude many of them, in part because they serve a transient population. The feds apparently disagree.

States that accept Title I money must now agree to restructure the lowest performing 5 percent of schools that are facing sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law, along with high schools with less than a 60 percent graduation rate. Out of these 3,759 schools, the state will pick 5 percent with the lowest scores on state standardized tests.

But there’s another factor that could be problematic. In the rush last month to include the federal restructuring requirement in SBX5-1, the law to make the state more competitive for the Race to the Top competition, the Legislature added an exemption that may come back to bite it. Schools that have gained 50 points on the API scale over the last five years would be removed from the restructuring list. Doug McRae, a retired test publisher from Monterey who has followed the issue closely, believes that was a bad call, for it will exempt some of the lowest performing schools and ensnare schools that shouldn’t be on the list.

He cites, as an example, a school with an  API score of 500 out of the 800 scale five years ago. Even under the state’s own minimum requirements, it would have to gain at least 15 points per year or 575 over five years to stay out of trouble. But under the new law, it would escape severe federal sanctions if it scored only 560. And a higher scoring school that didn’t gain 50 points may be pulled into the list instead. McRae estimates that two of three dozen schools may be affected.

One of four alternatives

Schools on the list will have four options: to close down the school, to replace the principal and no fewer than half of the teachers, to invite in a charter operator, or a “transformation” – the most likely option that districts will choose – involving a number of strategies, such as replacing some staff and extending the academic day.

Unless the state wins a Race to the Top grant, districts will have to come up with the money, out of Title I funds or what’s left of their stimulus dollars, to do whichever option they choose.

The State Board of Education will have final say over which schools are on the list. It was to take up the issue next month, but that too may be delayed.


Comments on State delays list of lowest performers

  • John, you wrote that "unless the state wins a Race to the Top grant, districts will have to come up with the money, out of Title I funds or what’s left of their stimulus dollars, to do whichever option they choose." This is not correct. Schools required to implement one of the intervention models will get significant resources from the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. If CA wins a a Race to the Top grant, it will augment the SIG funds at participating Race to the Top districts.
    - Hilary McLean
  • Thanks, Hillary, for the funding information.
    - John Fensterwald


By Lesli A. Maxwell | EdWeek | Vol. 29, Issue 23

Elementary supervisor Mary Lynne Duet teaches a class at Tampa Bay Christian Academy in Tampa, Fla., earlier this month. The school has 42 students attending on tax credit scholarship vouchers, a program that could receive an expansion by the state legislature this year. —Daniel Wallace/St. Petersburg Times/ZUMA

February 25, 2010 -- The momentum in Florida to expand one of that state’s voucher programs is a subtle but significant sign that such programs, which have been anathema to many Democrats, are beginning to win bipartisan support in a number of states.

State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in Florida are already voicing support for new legislation that would increase the value of the state’s tax-credit vouchers, which are funded by private corporations that, in exchange for their contributions, receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits.

The legislation in Florida—a state that has done more than any other to provide publicly funded vouchers that can be used to pay tuition at private schools—comes as a similar measure has been introduced in Illinois, and as school choice advocates see promising signs in somewhat unexpected jurisdictions such as New Jersey. Democratic support for such programs has been based mainly in urban black and Latino communities.

“What we’ve been able to do here in Florida is to erase that disconnect between parents who wanted this kind of empowerment and those that represent them in the legislature,” said John Kirtley, a wealthy Tampa-area businessman who is the architect of the state’s tax-credit voucher program.

Significant opposition to vouchers remains in Florida—chiefly from the Florida Education Association—but a growing number of Democrats in the Republican-dominated legislature and around the state have begun to shed their opposition to the usually politically polarizing issue, observers say.

It’s a remarkable political shift in Florida, where few, if any, Democrats backed three separate voucher programs, including the tax-credit vouchers, when they were launched by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican. The state’s original program, which provided vouchers to students who attended low-performing public schools, was struck down as unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006. ("Fla. Court: Vouchers Unconstitutional," Jan. 11, 2006.)

Forty percent of the families enrolled in Florida’s tax-credit voucher program are African-American, while 25 percent are Latino, said Mr. Kirtley, who is the chairman of Step Up for Students, a nonprofit organization he founded to administer the vouchers across much of the state.

All of the students using the tax-credit vouchers are poor.

In the earlier years of the program, Democratic lawmakers who represent most of those families opposed any kind of public funding of private school vouchers, Mr. Kirtley said. One key to changing minds, he said, was the testimony of poor parents whose children have received vouchers.

“When we would present Democratic legislators with the long list of school choice options in Florida, including charters and virtual schools, we’d ask them, ‘Why are you against the only one that serves poor people?’ ” Mr. Kirtley said. “I really think we are getting to the point where Democrats who oppose parental choice for low-income families, or run campaigns on that sort of opposition, run a big risk [of putting their jobs in danger].”

Momentum Elsewhere

In Illinois this month, a Democratic state senator from Chicago introduced legislation to provide tuition vouchers for students enrolled in some of the city’s lowest-performing schools. Sen. James T. Meeks, who chairs that chamber’s education committee and the legislature’s black caucus, said he expects support from fellow Democrats.

New Jersey, a heavily unionized state dominated by Democrats, could become the next high-profile battleground over vouchers. Newly inaugurated Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, championed vouchers and other forms of school choice in his successful campaign against incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat who was a staunch opponent of vouchers.

Mr. Christie also just appointed Bret Schundler, a pro-voucher former mayor of Jersey City, as New Jersey’s education commissioner. Mr. Schundler was still awaiting confirmation by the state Senate.

School choice advocates hope Mr. Christie’s leadership will revive a push by a group of influential Democratic urban lawmakers and community activists to bring vouchers to the eight cities in New Jersey where the public schools are most troubled.

Parting with the powerful 203,000-member New Jersey Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, politicians such as Newark Mayor Cory Booker have aligned with other prominent Democrats. They include Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, who until recently was state party chairman, to support an effort that, like the Florida tax-credit vouchers, would give businesses state tax credits for their contributions.

A committee appointed by Mr. Christie to make recommendations on education policy advised the governor in January to back that effort, and to expand it beyond the eight cities.

“We may see a proposal from the governor because he’s on the record for supporting these things, but we don’t believe that New Jersey residents want to see their tax dollars used to subsidize private, parochial education,” said Steven Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association.

But in the District of Columbia, where federally funded vouchers for poor children have garnered robust support from local Democrats, the high-profile program is on the ropes.

The Obama administration and key Democrats in Congress are planning to let the 5-year-old D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program sunset over the next few years. President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request proposes $9 million for the voucher program, but specifies that it will be the “final request” for federal money.

Under that scenario, no new students would be added to the program, and it would shut down once current students who are using vouchers graduate from high school. The nonprofit organization that was created to administer the Washington scholarships has also decided to no longer run the voucher program, creating even more uncertainty about its fate.

Voucher proponents say the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program—which serves some 1,300 students from low-income families—is dying a political death with no regard for how the vouchers have worked for students. The administration is pushing for other education measures, such as merit pay for teachers and expansion of charter schools, that are often at odds with the priorities of the national teachers’ unions and other public school advocates, and giving up the capital city’s voucher program was an obvious trade-off, said one pro-voucher Democrat.

“They’ve hammered so hard on things like merit pay, teacher evaluations, and charter schools, that I think they thought they had to make this small political concession to the teachers’ unions,” said Kevin P. Chavous, a former District of Columbia council member who is a distinguished fellow with the Center for Education Reform, a pro-school-choice think tank in Washington.

Mr. Chavous, who advocates for vouchers around the nation, said he hopes an effort by U.S. Sens. Joseph I. Leiberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to save the Washington voucher program is successful. The senators announced recently that they would seek to authorize continuation of the program in an amendment to existing legislation in the Senate, although the exact vehicle is not yet clear.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the former CEO of the Chicago public schools, told a gathering of principals last July that he does not favor government-sponsored vouchers because they “pull out one to two percent of children but leave the other 99 percent to drown. As a federal government, we have to be more ambitious than that.”

Florida Optimism

Back in Florida, state Rep. Will Weatherford, the Republican who chairs the House education committee, is optimistic that his bill to expand tax-credit vouchers will not only prevail, but also garner Democratic support. A companion measure in the state Senate has two Democratic co-sponsors.

Florida’s tax-credit vouchers are currently worth $3,950, while the average tuition and fees for the private schools that participate in the program come to roughly $6,335, according to Step Up for Students. The program is serving roughly 25,000 low-income students statewide.

Mr. Weatherford’s legislation would increase the vouchers’ value, over four years, to 80 percent of the state’s per-pupil funding amount at any given time, a figure that this year stands at about $6,800. His bill also calls for more academic transparency in the voucher program: Any private school serving at least 30 voucher students would have to publicly disclose those students’ academic performance on norm-referenced tests.

Roughly 80 percent of the 1,000 or so schools that participate in the tax-credit voucher program are affiliated with a church or other religious organization.

In an interview, Mr. Weatherford said he expects Democrats to support his legislation, especially after many of them voted in favor of a measure last year that was a more modest expansion of the tax-credit vouchers than the current bill.

“There are those who still think that the only way to educate kids is through public schools, and they will oppose this,” he said. “But I’d say those times are gone. We’ve built some real momentum here with this program, and this year really presents us with an opportunity to push the envelope even more.”

But Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, is skeptical about the Democratic appetite for this particular measure.

“What we are talking about with this bill is a much bigger expansion of vouchers,” he said. “And with many of our lawmakers increasingly frustrated by the loss of funding and support for fixing our public schools, I’m not so sure all of them will want to vote for this.”

At the same time, Mr. Pudlow said, some Democrats have become more sympathetic to vouchers because of their popularity with some constituents. The problem with that position, he said, “is that it only fixes the problem, if you believe that private schools are the fix, for a select number of students.”



EDUCATION: LAUSD's drive to reform hits high school hard and fuels a backlash.

EDUCATION: By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Dally News

2/27/2010 -- Moved by the tragic Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Agnes Cesare decided she needed a career with meaning so she decided to go back to school to become a high school counselor.

That career path eventually led her to Fremont High School - one of the lowest-performing schools in Los Angeles Unified, where the bubbly counselor has pushed dozens of struggling students to get to class on time, avoid distractions and graduate. In return teens have filled her tiny sky-blue office with dozens of their snapshots and giant hand-drawn graffiti posters.

But Cesare and all other staff at Fremont - except the newly appointed principal - have been fired under a reform plan that aims to overhaul the campus. It's a course of action already taken up by school districts in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago to deal with chronically underperforming schools.

"It is unfair and unjust to bring this kind of change to this school, without the input of the teachers, parents or students," Cesare said Friday at a rally organized by teachers, parents and students at the school.

"For me it is not about my job, it is about giving this community a say in what happens at their school."

While she and other staff have a chance to reapply for their jobs, the district will not necessarily bring them back, and could opt to transfer all to other district schools.

Fremont High is the first school in Los Angeles Unified to be reconstituted, the name given to the drastic reform effort that under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 allows districts to take over a school, restructure it's staff and even convert it to a charter.

The move can only be done if a campus has been designated underperforming for more than five years, based on state and federal math and reading test scores.

However, in Los Angeles Unified, more than a third of all 800 district schools fall under this "failing" category, including 28 in the San Fernando Valley. Fremont has been designated a failing school for a dozen years.

Despite the emotional reactions from community members, employees and students who oppose the plan, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he plans to use this reform strategy on other failing schools.

"People need to understand that they can no longer hide... I am not going to ignore this issue and allow the status quo to continue," Cortines said.

Cortines said he has worked with Fremont's staff for the last two years in an effort to improve student achievement at the campus.

However, last year, fewer than 2 percent of the Fremont students who were tested were proficient or better in math. And fewer than 14 percent who were tested were proficient or better in English.

Unlike more drastic efforts in Chicago and recently Rhode Island, where employees from a school are fired and not allowed to come back, Cortines said he wants all workers to reapply for their jobs.

This way, Cortines said, next year only workers committed to improving Fremont will be left at the school.

Still parents and students are distraught over the possibility of losing the entire teaching staff and worry about the chaos that could ensue.

They also complain that district officials have not included them in plans for next year, that at Fremont starts July 1, because the 4,700-student campus is still on a year-round schedule.

"Mr. Cortines must think kids here are orphans," said Myrna Rico, a parent of a Fremont student. "Why then doesn't he host community meetings with us?"

Students also said they wanted to be included in planning for their school's future.

"For real reform to succeed, it needs to have the voice of students, parents and teachers," said Fremont senior Mariela Martinez. "They are the ones who know the challenges we face."

Teachers say administrators don't realize what they have to overcome every day. Three-quarters of Fremont students are from low-income homes, more than a third are English language learners and many live in foster homes. Students also arrive each day with burdens of their own; many work to help support their families, while others raise their own children or younger siblings.

The Fremont campus also leaves much to be desired. The school has a problem with mice, rats and other pests; lockers don't work; classrooms lack textbooks; and most bathrooms are locked during class time for safety concerns.

"Blame our crowded classes and our prison-like conditions, not our teachers," Martinez said.

Teachers also stress that despite their challenges test scores have increased, more students are graduating and they've managed to develop and maintain some thriving extra-curricular programs like the school's band and student newspaper.

"We have been ignored consistently year after year," said Maria Gaspar, a Fremont teacher and alumni.

"Now they are finally shining a light on us, but it is negative."

Still, district administrators said the time of waiting for improvements at schools like Fremont, where four out of 10 students drops out, is over.

"But we cannot sustain this low level of academic achievement anymore," said George McKenna, Local District 7 superintendent. "There is nothing left to defend."



by Howard Blume | LA Times LA Now blog

February 26, 2010 |  7:55 pm | More than half of  the faculty at Fremont High School have pledged to leave the school rather than participate in a mandated improvement plan.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is requiring all school employees to reapply for their jobs. It’s an aggressive attempt to alter what district officials describe as a school culture grown complacent with poor student achievement.

Most teachers have signed a petition saying they won’t go along, staff organizers said.

The ongoing rebellion was underscored at a Friday morning news conference near the school, which is located south of downtown in Florence. A small group of teachers, students and parents took part.

“If new teachers come in, they won’t know anything of the past history of the community,” said Mirna Rico, the parent of a ninth-grader. “There’s a certain stability that students need and, as it is, the school has been very unstable. But it’s getting better.”

Veteran administrator George McKenna countered that progress has been too slow and inconsistent.

“The data is dismal,” said McKenna, the senior administrator for the local region. “And it’s been going on so long long it feels normal to people.”

Only 13.6% of the school’s students tested as proficient in English language arts. Math was worse: Of 3,226 students tested in 2009, only 45 were proficient. Only two students scored as advanced.

Fremont senior Patricia Gonzalez said she had 50 students in her calculus class, which she said was emblematic of a shortage of resources. She said blaming the staff by making them re-interview for positions is the wrong approach.

She, too, said things have improved, which she credits for the recent graduation of her 19-year-old sister and her own academic success. Not all of her siblings have done as well. Of the six that preceded her at Fremont, only two graduated. The others dropped out largely because they felt lost, uninvolved and uncared for in the large school, Gonzalez said.

L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has said he will not back down from the restructuring plan, which McKenna will oversee in conjunction with the principal.

The teachers who refuse to reapply would be assigned to fill vacancies elsewhere.

“We’d like most of the staff to be rehired at Fremont," McKenna said. “They can all be rehired if they participate. We’re still asking them to participate in the restructuring process.”

Friday, February 26, 2010


by Mikhail Zinshteyn in Tapped – The American Prospect Blog |

Feb 26, 2009 -- In a move that affects nearly 40,000 students, the Los Angeles Board of Education has let teachers' groups -- instead of charters -- take over failing schools in the city's Unified School District (LAUSD). Twelve failing campuses were overhauled, as were 24 newly built ones. Though charters were selected to operate a portion of the new campuses, the teachers' groups are charged with improving the failing programs.

The teachers' groups, composed of instructors previously under LAUSD authority with local union support, fought hard to maintain a certain level of autonomy -- they argued that greater control over staffing, budget, and curriculum allows teachers to target specific school needs that may not be addressed by district mandates. And so far, giving teachers a more active role in campuses has been an effective tool in fixing the problems of L.A.'s public schools, with various pilot programs receiving high remarks from district administrators.

The board's decision is a good one: It avoids the politics of the charter school debate and enforces a program that's best for students. Whatever you may think about charter schools, they have an unproven track record in addressing the problems facing failing campuses like these. With few exceptions, L.A. charters are not exactly tailored to urban communities. Their smaller presence in urban education is apparent: While one-third of LAUSD students are learning English, charters enroll only a fifth of such students. Meanwhile, teachers' groups are backed by organizations that have routinely come out with innovative reforms improving student performance in urban areas, like creating smaller learning communities within a school so that teachers can better understand students' strengths and weaknesses.

Additionally, many of the educators among the teachers' groups have forged important relationships with students, parents, and the immediate community, winning their support over charters in independent votes. Maintaining continuity in neighborhoods is important; just look at the outrage in Rhode Island when every teacher was fired from a failing school.

The dialogue over the role charters have in a public school system is important. But when a school board can rely on teachers' groups with successful methods that benefit students and please parents, trusting the teachers' groups makes sense.


Mikhail Zinshteyn is a Prospect winter 2010 intern.

THE CHARTER SCHOOL TEST CASE THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN: If they hadn't been mostly shut out of bids to run a slew of new L.A. Unified campuses, the groups might have demonstrated how they handle students with challenging needs.

  By Howard Blume | LA Times



    Charter school backers demonstrate outside L.A. Unified offices this week before the board decided who would run 30 campuses. Data show charters have lower proportions of disabled students and English learners. (Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times / February 23, 2010)


      February 26, 2010 -- Los Angeles school officials lost a chance this week to test whether the booming charter movement can take on all the problems of the district's traditional, and often troubled, schools.

      On Tuesday, the Board of Education denied proposals from three major charter organizations that had sought to run newly built neighborhood schools, which would have included substantial numbers of limited-English speakers, special education students, foster children and low-income families.

      That is exactly the population that charter schools have been criticized for not sufficiently reaching.

      Charters are independently managed and exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. They're also schools of choice -- campuses that parents seek and select. And researchers have found that charters enroll fewer students with more challenging, and often more expensive, needs.

      Over the last six months, charters have competed to run 18 new campuses as well as 12 low-performing ones under a Los Angeles Unified School District reform plan adopted in August by the Board of Education.

      And in this instance, charters agreed to operate by more inclusive rules in exchange for access to state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar campuses.

      "This would have been an opportunity to have [charters] rise to the challenge as we in the district do every day in serving these populations at an equal level," said board member Yolie Flores, who brought the school-control proposal to the board in August.

      In the end, the board turned down all but four charter bids, opting instead primarily for internal, teacher-led proposals. Even though the district has struggled most with improving secondary education, no charter received a high school and only one, Magnolia Science Academy, will run a middle school -- on a campus it will share with a separate teacher-run school.

      The teachers union fought hard to limit the charters. Every new charter would have effectively reduced the union's membership -- potentially corresponding to more L.A. Unified layoffs during the current district budget crisis. And a growing nonunion charter workforce gradually reduces union clout not only on pay and benefits issues, but also on matters such as class size and the direction of future reforms.

      The union's pressure on board members got a boost from Maria Elena Durazo, who heads the L.A. County Federation of Labor and who personally called on board members the day before the vote.

      Although Supt. Ramon C. Cortines favored mostly internal proposals, he had also recommended giving schools to Green Dot Public Schools, the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools and ICEF Public Schools, which all came away empty-handed. All are charter management groups with a track record in the city.

      Flores, the author of the reform strategy, had argued that Cortines' recommendations should be followed without exception.

      Charter critics, however, focused on the fact that 11.2% of district students are disabled, compared with 7.4% at local charters. A third of students at traditional schools are learning to speak English, while the figure is 22% at charters, according to district data.

      Charters should not be allowed to run new schools, paid for by taxpayers, that were intended for all children, said A. J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

      Charter advocates lobbied hard. And they argued that the district's higher special education population stems from the neglect of many students' academic and social needs. The result, they said, is behavioral issues that are later misidentified as disabilities. They also fault the quality of the district's services to special education students.

      Charters lost their bids for a variety of reasons.

      Cortines had wanted ICEF to share a new middle school with a teacher-led program. But board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte said the campus wasn't built for two operators. And besides, she said, the district had hired a principal and worked on its own version of the school well before the school-control competition intruded.

      (One of her grandsons attends an ICEF school, but she has been a consistent charter critic and an ally of the teachers union.)

      Green Dot and the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools lost out at the new Torres high school complex east of downtown. Board President Monica Garcia cited the need to respect the long-term efforts of teachers and community groups who put forward competing plans.

      Functioning as a neighborhood school remains beyond the experience of nearly all charters except Green Dot, which broke ground by taking over low-performing Locke High in July 2008. It has struggled with the challenge of managing a typical urban population.

      "People are moving in and out of homeless shelters and housing projects in the neighborhood," said Green Dot Chief Executive Marco Petruzzi. "Fifteen to 20 kids show up almost weekly."

      And at Locke, Green Dot has had to serve more disabled students than the typical charter. "It's the right thing to do and also presented us with a learning challenge in dealing with higher-severity cases," Petruzzi said. "And it creates budget pressures that are very large."

      There could be a trade-off for pushing charters into the cold: The charters can still play by the old rules.

      Already, L.A. Unified has over 160 charters, more than any other district. Valid charter petitions can't be denied, and 20 are in the pipeline. And those would operate under the ground rules that critics find objectionable.

    When two local paper editorial boards disagree so fundamentally, does it mean you’ve done the right thing? Or stepped through the looking glass?


    So much for choice at LAUSD campuses

    Daily Breeze  Editorial  | 25 Feb 2010

    And Tuesday, the reform effort at the Los Angeles Unified School District took a big step back. The occasion was the Board of Education's vote on who would ...

    High Expectations for New Esteban Torres High School Pilots

    Bell Gardens Sun Editorial  | 25 Feb 2010

    In preparation for the Public School Choice decision day, InnerCity Struggle in collaboration with retired US Rep. Esteban E. Torres, the Los Angeles ...

    Thursday, February 25, 2010


    The celebrated transparency and accountability takes another hit:  this sort of thing used to be subject to public debate and required board of ed approval

    LAUSD Press Release

    FEES10 RA[1]


    from EdSource

    Educators widely recognize that the quality of preparation in middle school often determines whether our young people will succeed in high school and beyond. This is a particularly important challenge in California—the nation’s largest and most diverse state—which educates one out of eight middle grades students in the United States.

    What district and school policies and practices are linked to higher student performance in the middle grades? To find out, a research team led by EdSource spent 18 months conducting the most extensive study ever of middle grades.

    This study did not find a consistent or strong association between student outcomes  on standards based tests and school grade configuration or organizational models of teachers and instruction.

    In fact, based on the survey data it seems that a school’s organization of classroom instruction cannot always be assumed from the school’s grade configuration. In particular, almost all 6-8 and 7-8 middle grades schools appear to be more alike than different in how they configure core instruction and in their use of subject matter departments. This appears to be true whether they take an interdisciplinary approach or have teachers assigned to only one subject.

    FINDING: An intense schoolwide focus on improving academic outcomes most
    distinguishes higher- from lower-performing middle grades schools.

    FINDING: In higher-performing schools, curricula and instruction are closely aligned
    with state academic standards.

    FINDING: Higher-performing schools use assessment and other student data extensively to improve student learning and teacher practice.

    FINDING: Higher-performing middle grades schools emphasize early identification
    and proactive intervention for student academic needs.

    FINDING: Every role in a professional community of educators is important to making gains in middle grades student  outcomes.

    FINDING: Leadership of the superintendent and support from the district were strongly associated with higher student outcomes.

    FINDING: The changing role of the principal in driving student outcome gains,orchestrating school improvement efforts, and serving as the linchpin between district and teaching staff members, was documented in multiple ways in this study.

    FINDING: Teachers with strong competencies, substantive evaluation of their practice, and adequate availability of support, time, and resources work collectively to improve student outcomes schoolwide and individually to improve instruction.

    FINDING: The school’s environment and organization of time and instruction were not
    strongly associated with improved student outcomes, although some practices were
    associated with higher-performing schools.

    Besides EdSource, the team included professors Michael Kirst (as principal investigator) and Edward Haertel (as technical director) of Stanford University; senior research scientist Jesse Levin (as principal data analyst) at American Institutes for Research. Special consultants included William Padia (retired) deputy superintendent of Assessment and Accountability, California Department of Education; and Robert Balfanz, principal research scientist, Everyone Graduates Center, Johns Hopkins University. Bios for full team below.

    The study surveyed more than 4,000 California teachers, principals, and superintendents about a wide range of middle grades practices. To see what higher-performing schools did, the responses were then analyzed against school-level student outcomes on standards-based state tests in English language arts and math, controlling for student background.

    The major contribution of this study is the set of inter-related, actionable practices that middle grades educators and leaders can implement now by making smart, strategic choices.


    Narrative Summary - Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better - This 22-page report provides a broad overview of the methodology, limitations, and findings of EdSource's large-scale study of 303 middle grades schools in California. February 2010

    PDF Download Free Download

    Initial Research Report - Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better

    74 pages February 2010

    PDF Download Free Download

    Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Research Methodology and Analyses

    21 pages February 2010

    PDF Download Free Download

    Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Descriptive Statistics of the Middle Grades Study Schools

    13 pages February 2010

    PDF Download Free Download

    Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Findings and Domain Comparisons

    53 pages February 2010

    PDF Download Free Download

    Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Full Research Bibliography

    18 pages February 2010

    PDF Download Free Download

    Letter from Reed Hastings and Carl Cohn

    1 page
    February 2010

    PDF Download Free Download

    Press Release - Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better

    3 pages February 2010

    PDF Download Free Download

    About the Research Team - Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades

    4 pages February 2010

    NY TIMES:Oversight Is Urged for Charter Schools | Progress Slow in City Goal to Fire Bad Teachers | Obama Pitches Education Proposal to Governors

    As U.S. Aid Grows, Oversight Is Urged for Charter Schools

    By SAM DILLON | NY Times

    Federal money has helped propel the growth in charter schools, but some experts say they need to be monitored better.


    Progress Slow in City Goal to Fire Bad Teachers

    Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, above, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg say cumbersome state laws hamper their efforts.By JENNIFER MEDINA | NY Times

    A campaign has led to the firing for incompetence of only three of New York City’s 55,000 tenured teachers.


     Obama Pitches Education Proposal to Governors

    Matt Golden’s YouTube video for Tufts University.By PETER BAKER and SAM DILLON | NY Times

    President Obama kicked off a drive Monday to upgrade American education, unveiling a plan requiring states to adopt new reading and mathematics standards.

    Wednesday, February 24, 2010


    By Lesli Maxwell  |  Ed Week

    February 23, 2010 4:34 PM | California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who[m] I spotted last Sunday at a Washington Starbucks ordering a round of double espressos for himself and four of his staffers) announced today that he is tapping his Jacqueline-of-all-trades adviser, Bonnie Reiss, to be his new education secretary.

    Ms. Reiss, a Democrat who has known and advised Mr. Schwarzenegger for years, currently is with Pegasus Capital Advisors, a private equity firm, and serves as one of the governor's appointed regents on the University of California board, an unpaid, but highly coveted position. She will be the Republican governor's fifth education secretary since he was sworn into office in 2003.

    Given that Mr. Schwarzenegger is a short-timer (term limits prevent him from running again), and that the education secretary's $175,000-a-year position is a title with little authority, it's not clear whether Ms. Reiss will be able to make much of an imprint on education policy. (Jack O'Connell, the state's elected superintendent of public instruction, is the chief executive of the state's department of education).

    But she may prove helpful to the governor as he does more battle with the Democratic-controlled legislature over budget cuts and faces strong push back from local and statewide education leaders on funding for K-12. And Reiss may get a shot at helping California rework its Race to the Top Fund pitch if the state's application is not chosen as a winner in Round One of the $4 billion federal economic-stimulus grant competition.

    L.A. UNIFIED IS SUED OVER TEACHER LAYOFFS AT 3 LOW-PERFORMING SCHOOLS: Suit seeks to prevent further teacher cuts at the campuses, already hard hit by budget-related layoffs, saying the students are not being well served.

    By Jason Song| LA Times

    L.A. Unified lawsuit

    Markham Middle School seventh-grader Concepciona Manuel-Flores, left, and eighth-grader Sharail Reed are parties to the lawsuit brought by their parents, the ACLU and others against L.A. Unified. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times / February 20, 2010)

    February 25, 2010 -- Concepciona Manuel-Flores couldn't answer many of the questions on a standardized English test in December, even though she says she's a straight-A student. "I had six or seven substitute teachers," the Markham Middle School seventh-grader said. "All we did in English was silent reading or the same assignments, over and over."

    Concepciona is one of the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of students at three of the city's worst-performing middle schools. The suit claims those students were denied their legal rights to an education and aims to prevent the Los Angeles Unified School District from laying off more teachers there.

    The last round of L.A. Unified teacher firings affected thousands of instructors and led to chaotic conditions on some campuses, especially at Samuel Gompers, Edwin Markham and John H. Liechty middle schools, according to a complaint against the school district and the state filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster. Between half and three-quarters of the teachers at those campuses were laid off last year, according to the suit.

    Citing state law, school districts typically dismiss teachers on the basis of seniority during budgetary shortfalls. Lawyers who filed the suit said California law allows districts to circumvent the seniority rule on the basis of need or if cuts disproportionately affect certain groups.

    The Rest of the Story |


      By ROBERT JABLON, Associated Press Writer

      Wednesday, February 24, 2010 Los Angeles, CA (AP) -- Civil rights groups sued the Los Angeles Unified School District and the state on Wednesday, claiming thousands of teacher layoffs will deprive inner-city children of their right to an education.

      The budget-cutting dismissal of 2,100 permanent teachers last year disproportionately affected three schools in low-income and minority areas, violating the state constitutional right of students to an equal and proper education, according to the lawsuit.

      The district could eliminate another 5,000 jobs during the 2010-2011 school year. The 650,000-student district, the nation's second largest, has seen its funding slashed as the state struggles to close a massive budget deficit.

      Some inner-city middle and high schools in Los Angeles could lose up to 40 percent of their teachers in the upcoming cuts, according to an analysis by the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.

      Superintendent Ramon Cortines declined comment on the lawsuit, citing a district policy that prohibits speaking about pending litigation.

      The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court and asks a judge to block any more budget-related layoffs at the three schools for the 2010-2011 school year. The lawsuit also wants to bar future layoffs that affect a higher percentage of teachers at those schools than at other district campuses.

      Effectively, that could require the state to rescind its funding cutbacks.

      "If the government can bail out bankers on Wall Street, they can bail out students in Watts and Pico Union," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, one plaintiff in the case.

      While the layoffs are meant to be districtwide, state seniority rules mean the newest teachers go first. Many of them are in schools in tough, poverty-stricken neighborhoods that see a higher teacher turnover.

      School districts around the nation are suffering financial crunches. The National Education Association estimates that some 34,000 teaching jobs will be eliminated this year.

      Rosenbaum said he did not know whether other ACLU chapters planned to file similar lawsuits, but he called the layoffs "the civil rights issue of our day."

      "I don't think we should have to run into a courtroom so that students can learn from teachers that they love," he said.

      The lawsuit argues that more than half the permanent teaching positions in the Los Angeles district were lost at Gompers, Liechty and Markham middle schools. Transferred senior teachers and substitutes took over to fill some of the vacancies. But the civil rights groups claim that created a revolving-door situation that harms the learning process.

      Some classes have seen as many as 10 teachers in the first four months of the current school year, Rosenbaum said.

      "In my history class this year I had so many different teachers that it was a blur," said Sharail Teed, an eight-grader at Markham Middle School in Watts who is listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

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