Thursday, July 29, 2010


KPCC Wire Services | KPCC

AFP/Getty Images - A student walks past a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school bus in Los Angeles, California on February 13, 2009.

29 July 2010 4:06 p.m. | A judge took under submission today a request by Los Angeles Unified teachers for a court order directing the nation's second-largest school district to hold off on establishing two new pilot schools.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert O'Brien did not say when he would rule on the motion by United Teachers Los Angeles for a preliminary injunction.

If ranted, the order would enjoin the LAUSD from going forward with plans to establish pilot schools at Lincoln High School and San Fernando Middle School until a trial is held on UTLA's claim that the changes require approval of the teachers as well as members of the Pilot Schools Steering Committee.

Pilot schools are part of educational reform efforts in the LAUSD. They offer additional control over school resources in exchange for increased accountability by the staff.

UTLA filed its petition against the LAUSD on June 23. The union maintains that under its agreement with the district, a vote of the teachers and steering committee approval are conditions to establishing pilot schools.

Although the steering committee granted provisional approval for the pilot school at San Fernando Middle School for one year, the panel postponed the decision for Lincoln High until January 2011, according to UTLA.

The district did not allow the teachers to vote at either school, UTLA officials say.

Union officials say they support the idea of pilot schools and were in fact instrumental in the negotiation of the agreement with LAUSD to create more such campuses. However, they say they want to hold the LAUSD to their agreement have the conversions contingent on the outcome of a vote by teachers.

LAUSD lawyers say UTLA is using the wrong legal approach to accomplish its objective and that the petition should be dismissed.


The Associated Press

07/29/2010 10:00:58 AM PDT -- LOS ANGELES (AP) —The superintendent of the nation's second-largest school district has pulled a funding plan asking parents of Los Angeles student athletes to help pay for buses to high school away games.

The financially distressed Los Angeles Unified School District had said games could be canceled if enough money isn't raised through a voluntary $24 per student transportation donation.

But Ramon Cortines released a statement early Thursday saying he has rescinded the transportation funding plan that would have asked for the $24 student contribution at the beginning of fall, winter and spring sports seasons.

Cortines says he's asked his staff to review other financial alternatives to cover the $650,000 needed for the district's athletics transportation budget.

BROWN UNVEILS EDUCATION REFORM PLAN: The Democrat calls for changing the state's end-of-year testing system so teachers receive results quickly, and he backs increasing the amount of spending on colleges.

By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

image July 29, 2010 - Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown unveiled an education reform plan Wednesday that calls for a wholesale restructuring of California's public school system, from changing the way schools are funded to revamping the state's higher education system.

The eight-page plan touches upon the major issues facing the state's education system, from the increasing cost of college to the state's dismal dropout rate. Some of the proposals, such as changing the way schools are funded, would take years. Brown urged patience.

"There is no silver bullet that will fix everything," he wrote. "Education improvement takes time, persistence and a systematic approach."

Education experts lauded some proposals, such as the call for changing the state's end-of-year testing system so teachers receive results quickly and can use them to craft instructional plans. But several said the plan is short on specifics, such as how Brown would increase the graduation rate or narrow the achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Latino and black classmates.

"It's a mixed bag. There are some positives, and there are some things I would like to see fleshed out," said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based nonprofit. "There's a lack of detail on strategies."

Educators also described as alarming the lack of discussion about increasing school funding. The state routinely ranks in the bottom nationally for per-pupil spending, and billions of education dollars have been cut in recent years.

"It is surprising there wouldn't be some discussion of the need for more funding so California can enter the bottom third rather than being among the very lowest," said John Rogers, director of the Institute for Democracy, Education & Access at UCLA. "If you're going to maintain high goals, clearly you need to have a decent level of investment."

The plan was released without fanfare on Twitter.

Brown said the state's master plan for higher education, which was created in 1960 to assure every high school graduate would have access to higher education, needs to be revisited. He called for increasing the amount of spending on colleges by pursuing savings in the state's prisons, a move fraught with difficulties given court mandates over the system. He also proposed aligning community colleges with the UC and Cal State schools to ease transfers.

Brown would alter the way schools are funded so that schools get a set amount per pupil, with the figure weighted to include factors such as poverty or English-language proficiency. He would do away with many of the so-called categorical funds, which can only be spent on specific programs such as smaller classrooms. The money could then be spent on the districts' most pressing needs.

The plan backed away from some of the edgier topics at the forefront of education reform, such as layoffs currently based on seniority rather than skills. Such proposals are anathema to teachers' unions, which have lined up behind Brown. On Wednesday, the powerful California Teachers Assn. joined a coalition of unions that is advertising on Brown's behalf against Republican nominee Meg Whitman. The union is contributing $750,000 to that effort.

Some of the ideas Brown unveiled Wednesday are similar to reform proposals put out by Whitman, such as reducing categorical spending, streamlining the state education code and giving local districts more control.

She also proposes increasing college-level spending by $1 billion, money she says would come from savings because of her proposed welfare and budgetary reforms.

The Whitman campaign, which has criticized Brown as having no solutions to the state's problems, did not respond directly to Brown's proposal. Instead, spokeswoman Sarah Pompei slammed education outcomes during his prior terms as governor and as Oakland mayor.

"Jerry Brown…is the last person Californians can trust to fix our struggling public schools," Pompei said in a written statement.


YouTube videos from

Pavor, Regresen al Nuestra Principal Suzanne Blake

50 sec - Jul 21, 2010 - Uploaded by SaveBlake
video uploaded from my mobile phone

Please reinstate suzanne blake at clahs 9

21 sec - Jul 19, 2010 - Uploaded by SaveBlake
She is the best principal. My kids love her. Please watch my attached video. Thanks.

We were ALL happy with Ms. Blake as our Principal

45 sec - Jul 20, 2010 - Uploaded by SaveBlake
You need to please respond to us as the stakeholders that we are. Unilateral decisions by LAUSD are the perfect way to alienate us ...

Que regresen al nuestra principal ahora mismo

30 sec - Jul 19, 2010 - Uploaded by SaveBlake
Ms Blake debe continuar con nosotros en Central la hs #9

We are twin sisters who want Ms. Blake BACK RIGHT NOW!

53 sec - Jul 19, 2010 - Uploaded by SaveBlake
Please listen to what we have to say. We are students at #9, and Principal Blake has done so much for us. But we have some ...

Can u hear us outside Monica Garcia!!!!!!

47 sec - Jul 19, 2010 - Uploaded by SaveBlake
Bring back suzanne Blake!!! ... Principal Blake Clahs#9 Vapa ...

You Need To Provide Us With Answers

1 min - Jul 20, 2010 - Uploaded by SaveBlake
? Or is LAUSD going to simply ignore stakeholder wishes and act unilaterally? Please watch our video, Thank You for your attention ...

Blake debe continuar en central LA hs #9

42 sec - Jul 19, 2010 - Uploaded by SaveBlake
Nuestros hijos la necesitan... Escuchen mid palabras en el video por favor...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

LAUSD ATHLETES MAY BE STRANDED: District seeks $24 donations from parents to fund buses to sporting events.

By Melissa Pamer and Connie Llanos, Staff Writers | LA Daily News

July 29, 2010 - The financially challenged Los Angeles Unified School District will for the first time ask parents to help pay for buses to take student athletes to high school sporting events this coming academic year.

If enough money isn't raised, games could be canceled – a possibility that poses a dramatic threat to sports-crazed secondary schools.

Campus athletic directors will request a $24 per-student contribution at the beginning of fall, winter and spring sports seasons. The goal is to cover $650,000 that was cut from the district's athletics transportation budget.

"If we are not successful, our only recourse would be to have to eliminate some contests – and we absolutely do not want to have to do that," said Barbara Fiege, LAUSD's director of interscholastic athletics.

The request to parents comes on the heels of a $1.4million shortfall in the sports budget that threatened stipends for nearly 600 coaches, endangering their teams' existence.

Led by the youth sports-focused LA84 Foundation, local nonprofits raised funds in the spring to cover that gap. The "Save Our Sports" initiative drew funding from foundations associated with the Dodgers and Chivas USA.

Now the next big challenge is covering a 30 percent cut to the nearly $2.2 million budget for transportation to games, Fiege said. The cuts were made to help address the district's $640 million budget gap for 2010-11.

Across the San Fernando Valley, where high school sports dominate after-school and weekend activities for thousands of families, it is unclear exactly how the new fee will impact programs.

"Those of us that are on the ground are bracing ourselves for how this is all going to roll out, how kids will respond and how it will affect families ... especially those that have more than one child," said Gerardo Loera, principal of Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley.

Loera said while $24 may not seem like a large amount, more than 80 percent of his students are considered low-income and qualify for the free and reduced-cost lunch program. The school's neighboring community has also been hit hard in recent years by a high rate of foreclosures. And while businesses support several programs at this campus, many in the area are also struggling to keep their doors open.

"Adding any additional charges is not a good thing," Loera said.

Tom Hernandez, football coach for San Fernando High, said his students already organize car washes, banquets and bake sales through the year to pay for uniforms, equipment and tournament fees.

The fundraisers spare students any out-of-pocket costs.

"My main concern is that everyone gets to participate and there is no burden on our families," Hernandez said.

Hernandez said coaches and other school staff now plan to ramp up fundraising in an effort to cover the cost of this increase for all students involved in athletics.

"We want to make sure everyone is covered," he said.

Athletic coaches like Hernandez said they are glad to know that generous donations from the professional sports community helped save many of the programs threatened earlier this year.

However, at a time when LAUSD is struggling to establish reforms to improve student achievement, Hernandez said he wishes officials would remember the value that sports have on student academic achievement.

"Everyone talks about keeping kids in schools and off streets," Hernandez said.

"When a kid plays sports they have an adult overseeing them for a good part of the afternoon, they all have to be eligible to play so they have to do pretty good in school, and we get parents involved ... we're doing exactly what is needed to improve the community."

Fiege said the current difficulties were the most challenging she has encountered in her 17 years overseeing of district athletics. "It is extremely different. We have never faced the financial deficits that we have faced this year," Fiege said.

The contribution request will be addressed to the homes of athletes on the district's 1,900 teams in 14 competitive sports, as well as to cheerleaders, drill team and band members and other "auxiliary" groups.

A letter from Fiege that will be distributed to parents reads in part: "The Los Angeles Unified School District is proud of the athletic program and wants to continue to provide these programs to our students. With your help, we will be able to offer all sport teams to our students and our school communities."

Los Angeles Unified School District officials stressed that compliance with the $24 request is voluntary. "We're not calling it a fee. It's a contribution, a donation, not a fee," said district spokeswoman Susan Cox.

Students who fail to make the contribution will not be penalized and will be allowed to play, officials said. And Fiege said any shortfall will be spread out across the district, which includes schools in fairly wealthy and low-income areas.

The one-time fee will cover the student for the whole year, regardless of the number of seasons they play.

"The fact that it's $24 – we hope it's do-able by most families because we want to continue to maintain our program the way it is," Fiege said.


By Melody Gutierrez | Sacramento Bee

Monday, Jul. 26, 2010 - 12:00 am | Interest in online schools for kindergarten through 12th grade is surging as new virtual offerings flood the market, leading education experts to warn parents that not all programs are equal.

The biggest influx is in credit recovery programs to help students meet graduation requirements. But high-achieving students also are turning to online programs that offer more flexibility, personalized instruction and accelerated courses.

John Fleischman of the Sacramento County Office of Education cautions parents to thoroughly vet online programs, because they don't go through the same rigorous adoption processas curricula at traditional public schools.

"It's buyer, beware," said Fleischman, assistant superintendent of technology services for the county office.

Typically, the state adopts new textbooks and instructional materials in core subjects for kindergarten through eighth grade. At the high school level, individual school districts and charters pick textbooks that meet state content standards.

Online curriculum does not go through the state adoption process at the K-8 level; instead, it is left to individual schools and districts to review the materials.

Ed Mills, associate vice president of student affairs and enrollment at California State University, Sacramento, said parents should make sure online schools are accredited and that they meet admissions requirements for California State University and the University of California.

Local school district and charter program officials say they review online curricula as closely as they would for a traditional school.

"We went through an extensive process," said Anne Zeman, director of curriculum at Elk Grove Unified, which will open its first virtual school in August.

While an array of private companies promote online offerings, public school districts and charter schools from California to New York have added or are adding online schools and virtual credit recovery programs to keep up with market demand.

Elk Grove Unified and neighboring districts have been losing students to online programs such as California Virtual Academies, or CAVA.

"We looked at test scores, curriculum and what they provided," said Bill Lucia, who lives in Elk Grove but will enroll his five children in CAVA this fall.

Lucia is the president of EdVoice, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to improving public schools. He said CAVA's curriculum is rigorous and will allow his kids to move at an accelerated pace if they need to. He said his fourth-grade son tested at an 11th-grade reading level.

"There is a perception that online learning is a kid sitting in front of a computer all day long like a robot," Lucia said. "We've found it to be not nearly as much of what you would consider computer-based."

Elk Grove Unified's virtual school will try to pull in families like Lucia's. And new enrollees bring additional state funding.

Elk Grove's Virtual Academy has enrolled 96 students so far, and 76 are new to the district. Students will receive books, maps and other grade-specific supplies to finish the school year from home. Students will report to a real campus to take tests and meet with a teacher face-to-face.

Elk Grove launched a credit recovery program in January. An estimated 500 students have completed courses for credit, Zeman said.

"It's important because there is no summer school," Zeman said. "Our intention is to improve graduation rates and help students who feel discouraged."

Sacramento City Unified is exploring the possibility of adding a virtual school. Sac City is nearly doubling the size of its Accelerated Academy, an online credit recovery program for 11th- and 12th-graders. The program will now accept 250 students.

Twin Rivers opened a virtual summer school this year for students who lack credits.

"There is a big push right now in online credit recovery," Fleischman said. "It seems to be a real focus in California. It's a way to salvage kids who have fallen behind."

Credit recovery programs help districts improve graduation rates to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"We don't have a handle on what districts are using it and what evaluation was used," Fleischman said. "The real concern is the quality of the courses."

He recommends that parents do the following when evaluating an online school:

• Review the content.
• Assess the design of the school's website.
• Examine the curriculum and make sure it meets college requirements.
• Check the materials for accuracy and fairness.

Fleischman urges parents to consider their children's needs. Would they be suited for a pure online program or one that combines classroom instruction with virtual lessons? "If I was a parent, I would be looking for a relatively high degree of interaction between the teacher and my son or daughter," he said.

Parents should not leave the research to their children, said Fred Lamora, director of instruction at Visions In Education, a public charter serving students in nine Northern California counties that is adding a virtual high school in the fall.

"High school students are seduced by not having to do anything," Lamora said. "They liken it to traffic school. There are a lot of commercials about kids in PJs."

NEW ANALYSIS BLASTS OBAMA’S SCHOOL TURNAROUND POLICY – AND TELLS HOW TO FIX IT + Update + “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn”

By Valerie Strauss  |  The Washington Post

“Dear President Obama, you say you believe in an equal education for all students, but you are embarking on education policies that will never achieve that goal and that can do harm to America’s school children, especially its neediest.

Stop before it is too late.”

6:30 AM ET, 07/28/2010 - The Obama administration’s approach to improving the most troubled schools are nothing more than a toughened version of largely unsuccessful strategies concocted under president George W. Bush and should be replaced with a flexible system that involves parents and communities, according to a new analysis being released today. [analysis follows in this post]

The sternly worded analysis is the second punch that the administration has received this week over its education policies. It is landing on the same day that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is addressing the Urban League’s convention in Washington D.C., and a day before President Obama defends his education policies in a major speech to the same gathering.

The report, by a new national coalition of 24 community-based groups, includes a proposal for a new school transformation model that emphasizes community involvement, and a list of more than 2,000 schools across the country targeted for one of the four transformation models now allowed by the administration.

A coalition of civil rights groups released a framework for education reform on Monday which thrashed Obama’s education policies on a number of issues -- including funding equity and charter schools -- and said the government should stop using low-income neighborhoods as laboratories for education experiments.

The analysis of school turnaround strategies, released by a new national coalition of community-based groups called Communities for Excellent Public Schools, criticizes the administration for taking “top-down school improvement efforts” that are part of No Child Left Behind and thinking that they will somehow be successful by “adding teeth.” It says that they ignore a growing body of research about what does work.

These are the school turnaround options for districts that were outlined in Obama’s “Blueprint for Reform,” the administration’s plan for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind (formally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) and that are being tested through the School Improvement Grants program (SIG) :

*Turnaround: The school’s principal and all of its teachers are fired. A new principal may rehire up to 50 percent of the former teachers and must then implement Department-outlined strategies to improve student academic and graduation rates.

*Restart: The district must either convert the school to a charter, or close it and reopen it under outside management--a charter operator, charter management organization or education management organization.

*School Closure: Schools may be closed, with students being transferred to “other, higher achieving schools.”

*Transformation: This model requires that the school principal be replaced (if s/he has been at the school longer than two years) and that schools must choose from an department-determined set of strategies. But under the SIG program, school districts with more than nine targeted schools can only use this model for no more than half.
The report, entitled "Our Communities Left Behind: An Analysis of the Administration’s School Turnaround Policies," calls them “bad policy and bad educational strategy” for reasons including:

*They are imposed rather than developed with the community, even though research shows that community engagement is essential to sustainable reform of low-performing schools.
*They focus primarily on structural, rather than educational change.
*They are “one-size-fits” all and do not take into consideration local political, cultural and fiscal considerations.

This analysis includes a list, released for the first time in one document, of 2,136 schools that have been identified as eligible for federal intervention under the School Improvement Grant program. The compilation is the first effort to identify and assess the characteristics of the schools and their students, a demographic analysis compiled by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University:

*Nearly 1.5 million students attend these schools.
*Eighty-one percent of student in these schools are students of color.
*Eighty-five percent of the most urgently targeted schools have high concentrations of poverty (defined as more than 50 percent of students eligible for federal free and reduced priced lunch).
*Black students are 7 1/2 times more likely to be in a SIG-eligible school than white students.
*Hispanic students are 4 1/2 times more likely to be in a SIG-eligible school than white students.

“Few of the schools will see significant academic gains as a result of these interventions,” the report says. “And even fewer of these gains will be sustained over a period of years.”

The report includes a proposal for a new approach to school intervention called “Sustainable School Transformation,” which has these central elements:

1) A strong focus on school culture, curriculum and staffing.

This includes:
--Strong leadership
--Staffing structures that facilitate collaboration
--Professional development designed to meet individual needs of the staff
--A research-based, thoughtfully crafted teacher evaluation program, developed in conjunction with parents, students, teachers and administrators
--A well-rounded, culturally relevant and enriched college and career preparatory curriculum
--Intensive literacy support and “reading recovery” programs to ensure a focus on literacy
2) Wrap-around supports for students

This includes:
--Access to guidance counselors at the high school level
--A positive behavioral approach to school discipline
--Access to primary health care services to address basic wellness issues, including emotional/mental health issues

3) Collaboration to ensure local ownership and accountability
This includes:
--A comprehensive assessment of the school’s individual strengths, challenges and impediments to student success that takes a full school year.
--Students, parents and community members must be full partners in all stages,

“Yes, dramatic action is needed. But we have to get it right." the report says.

Let’s hope the Education Department is listening.


Civil rights groups skewer Obama education policy (updated)

By Valerie Strauss  |  The Washington Post

It is most politely written, but a 17-page framework for education reform released Monday by a coalition of civil rights groups amounts to a thrashing of President Obama’s education policies and it offers a prescription for how to set things right.

You won’t see these sentences in the piece: “Dear President Obama, you say you believe in an equal education for all students, but you are embarking on education policies that will never achieve that goal and that can do harm to America’s school children, especially its neediest. Stop before it is too late.”

But that, in other nicer words, is exactly what it says. The courteous gloss on this framework can’t cover up its angry, challenging substance.

The “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn” is a collaboration of these groups: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Schott Foundation for Public Education, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Coalition for Educating Black Children, National Urban League, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Leaders of these groups were scheduled to hold a press conference Monday to release the framework but it was cancelled because, a spokesman said, there was a conflict in schedules. The delay was, presumably, not connected to public appearances this week by Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the convention marking the 100th anniversary of the Urban League in Washington D.C. Obama is making a speech on Thursday; Duncan on Wednesday.

The framework’s authors start the framework seeming conciliatory, applauding Obama's goal for the United States to become a global leader in post-secondary education attainment by 2020.

But quickly their intent is clear. They take apart the thinking behind the administration’s education policies, and note a number of times the differences between what Obama and Duncan say about education and what they do.

To wit:

About Race to the Top,
the competitive grant program for states that is the administration’s central education initiative thus far, it says:

“The Race to the Top Fund and similar strategies for awarding federal education funding will ultimately leave states competing with states, parents competing with parents, and students competing with other students..... By emphasizing competitive incentives in this economic climate, the majority of low-income and minority students will be left behind and, as a result, the United States will be left behind as a global leader.”


About an expansion of public charter schools, which the administration has advanced:

“There is no evidence that charter operators are systematically more effective in creating higher student outcomes nationwide....Thus, while some charter schools can and do work for some students, they are not a universal solution for systemic change for all students, especially those with the highest needs.”

And there’s this carefully worded reproach to the administration:

“To the extent that the federal government continues to encourage states to expand the number of charters and reconstitute existing schools as charters, it is even more critical to ensure that every state has a rigorous accountability system to ensure that all charters are operating at a high level.”

Double ouch.

But there’s more.

The framework says that the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, “should seek buy-in from community advocates.” But it notes that Obama’s Blueprint for Education reform makes "only cursory mention of parent and community engagement in local school development.”

It blasts the administration’s approach to dealing with persistently low-performing schools, saying that closing them in the way now being advanced is wrong, and it says that the administration is not doing enough to close gaps in resources, alleviate poverty and end racial segregation in schools.

And it says that the government should stop using low-income neighborhoods as laboratories for education experiments:

“For far too long, communities of color have been testing grounds for unproven methods of educational change while all levels of government have resisted the tough decisions required to expand access to effective educational methods. The federal government currently requires school districts to use evidence-based approaches to receive federal funds in DOE’s Investing in Innovation grant process. So, too, in all reforms impacting low-income and high-minority communities, federal and state governments should meet the same evidence-based requirement as they prescribe specific approaches to school reform and distribute billions of dollars to implement them.

“Rather than addressing inequitable access to research-proven methodologies like high-quality early childhood education and a stable supply of experienced, highly effective teachers, recent education reform proposals have favored “stop gap” quick fixes that may look new on the surface but offer no real long-term strategy for effective systemic change. The absence of these “stop gap” programs in affluent communities speaks to the marginal nature of this approach. We therefore urge an end to the federal push to encourage states to adopt federally prescribed methodologies that have little or no evidentiary support – for primary implementation only in low-income and high-minority communities.

This is really tough talk, and it is about time that America’s civil rights leaders are speaking up.

The only question is whether anybody in the Obama administration is actually listening.


Civil Rights Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -


The state, which lost out on its first try for Race to the Top grants, is a finalist in its second effort. Winners will share $3.4 billion in federal educational funding.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

July 28, 2010 -- California, which lost out on the first round of controversial federal Race to the Top education grants, emerged as a finalist in its second try, officials announced Tuesday.

"Today's development means we are still in the hunt," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

The finalists are the District of Columbia and 18 states, including New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Colorado, Arizona and Hawaii. Winners will share $3.4 billion in funding and will be announced in September.

» Don't miss a thing. Get breaking news alerts delivered to your inbox.

The Obama administration created the competitive grant program to spur its vision of reform nationwide.

"We really unleashed this huge amount of innovation and courage around the country," said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He predicted that the reform momentum would continue regardless of who wins the federal dollars.

To ensure that more students have effective teachers, the administration has touted evaluating teachers in part by their students' performance on standardized tests. Many union leaders and rank-and-file teachers oppose that idea.

"Instead of fostering students to become independent thinkers, teachers will have to teach to the tests, which narrows the curriculum and defeats the purpose of public education," said Charles Olynyk, a history teacher at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights.

Critics also have argued that some states, including California, became obsessed with winning badly needed funding at the expense of adopting long-term policies that could prove prohibitively expensive and academically detrimental.

Still, the American Federation of Teachers praised the inclusion of states that worked with union leaders on their proposals, while criticizing the selection of the District of Columbia. Michelle Rhee, the chancellor there, has used her new evaluation system to fire hundreds of teachers.

The Washington-based Center for Education Reform, which favors both charter schools and publicly funded vouchers for private schools, criticized Duncan for including too many "status quo" states, which, it said, included Kentucky and Maryland.

If California prevails, the state could receive up to $700 million in one-time funds; a substantial portion would go to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

California's plan focuses on strategies favored by the Obama administration, including teacher evaluations, placing the most effective educators in struggling schools and improving instruction through the improved use of data.

The state blueprint also embraces the federal emphasis on replacing staff at poorly performing schools and converting some to independently run charter schools, most of which are non-union.

Most of the state's teachers unions have declined to sign on, which will cost the state some points when evaluators review California's application.

The office of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a frequent union foe, said Monday that the lack of union buy-in has been overstated. Teachers union leaders in L.A., for example, "haven't rejected" the reform package, said Kathryn Gaither, California's education undersecretary. "They said, 'We'll talk.' "

Critics of Race to the Top also raised concerns about the ongoing costs of measures begun with one-time funds.

But L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines said the dollars would underwrite badly needed efforts, some already underway. He'd like to further develop quality math and science instruction, among other initiatives.

The state amended its first failed proposal by working bottom-up, recruiting a handful of school systems to write a more specific, aggressive plan that other school districts could choose to join. The consortium of seven districts includes those serving L.A., Long Beach, San Francisco, Fresno and Sacramento. Overall 123 school systems approved the framework along with dozens of charter schools.

These districts enroll 1.7 million California students, 68% of whom live in poverty, officials said.

A five-person team, including Cortines, will make California's pitch on Aug. 9 in Washington.

State passes test for 'Race to the Top' funds

Editorial in San Francisco Chronicle

Wednesday, July 28, 20100, 4:00 AM -  The California Legislature struggled mightily last year to pass important educational reforms. The battles exposed the difficulties - and the political cost - of overcoming the institutional resistance that has contributed to California's poor national performance in education.

On Tuesday, reformers got an important boost: California is a finalist for the second round of federal "Race to the Top" funding. As a result of those difficult battles, California now has a chance to win as much as $700 million to improve struggling schools and close our achievement gap.

Part of the victory has to do with how California has already improved its thinking on education reform. It was disappointing when California didn't even win a finalist position in the first round of Race to the Top funding. It also reflected the fact that there had been a lack of consensus within the educational community around this state's application.

California's second-round application used a more collaborative approach, working with a group of school districts and superintendents who are interested in reform. No doubt that's one of the things that improved its odds. State Superintendent Jack O'Connell said he hopes to see even more districts agree to adopt the reforms. We do too.

The Race to the Top money won't solve all of California's problems. When asked how much the additional funding would plug the state's massive educational budget deficit, O'Connell said, "Zero. We're operating on $17 billion less than we'd anticipated two years ago." However, O'Connell added, $700 million "potentially will help us implement these reforms. And we need to move forward with these reforms regardless of the budget."

He's right - California students can't afford to wait for a good education.

In fact, it shouldn't even matter whether California wins the Race to the Top competition. Improving data systems to track individual student performance, using multiple measures to identify effective teachers and refining state assessment procedures are all reforms we have needed to complete for a long time.

State pursues Race to the Top funding

from The Sacramento Bee

Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2010 - 1:32 am  -- U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that California is one of 19 state finalists for more than $3 billion in federal Race to the Top funding.

If selected as a winner, California could receive $700 million in funding, according to the California Department of Education.

Locally, that could mean Livingston Union Elementary, Merced City Elementary and the Merced Union High School may benefit because they were the only local districts to sign on.

Statewide, there were 302 other educational agencies that applied.

A total of 35 states sent in applications detailing how they plan to implement various school reforms to get the funding.

Duncan announced the finalists Tuesday at the end of his speech at the National Press Club.

The government has $4.35 billion available to support states in their reforms. The Department of Education is reserving $350 million for a separate competition to support consortia of states that are creating the next generation of assessments that will support reform, federal officials said.

In the first round of distributing funds to states, Delaware and Tennessee were the big winners.

Almost $3.4 billion remains to award grants to winners in the second round.

The finalists will travel to the District of Columbia in early August to present their plans to the peer reviewers who scored their applications, according to the U.S. Department of Education. After the state's presentations and an extended question-and-answer period, the peer reviewers will finish their scores and comments.

Winners will be announced by the federal Department of Education in September.

In other state education news, O'Connell received notice that California will be awarded a major federal Charter Schools Program grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement.

California applied for $300 million in federal Charter School startup grant funds, according to the CDE. The U.S. Department of Education hasn't announced how much money the state will get.

In final heat for Race to the Top

By John Fensterwald | The Educated Guess

July 28th, 2010 - Switching from a big-tent strategy, with a lot of districts committing to little, to a pup-tent strategy, with a few districts pledging to do a lot, has paid off so far for California in Race to the Top.

The state learned on Tuesday that, having improved its score by at least 20 percent, it will   join 17 other states and the District of Columbia as finalists in the competition for $3.4 billion in the federal education money. Thirty-five states had applied in the second round.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wouldn’t rank the states or give their scores, other than to say that 400 points out of a possible 500 was the cutoff for finalists. California’s gain of at least 63 points, from 337, was nearly triple the average  state increase of 23 points  from the first to the second round.

Between 10 and 15 states are expected to be awarded money, so, depending on where California is in the standings, California could come  away with all or some of the $700 million it is seeking. On the week of Aug. 9, a team of five, yet to be announced, will go to Washington to pitch the state’s case. Winners will be named in September. Only two states, Tennessee and Delaware, were awarded money in the first round. But 13 first-round finalists are also finalists in the second round.

In the first round, for all the good that it did, the state was able to rustle up the support of 745 school districts, county offices of education and charter schools, who signed vague pledges to come up with reforms once the state got the money. California came  in 27th out of 40.

This time, seven superintendents with a record of reforms – from Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento, Clovis, Sanger and, perhaps most important, Los Angeles  ­– led a bottom-up process. They came up with a more specific proposal with commitments to make significant changes in how teachers and principals are trained, placed, evaluated and paid, how student data and technology will be used,  and how students will be made ready for college and careers. By the end, 300 districts and charter schools had signed MOUs. They comprise 1.7 million children – less than a third of the state’s K-23 students – but 68 percent of those students come from low-income households.

California’s district-centric approach may be distinct among the applications, and must have intrigued the panel of five reviewers.

But California has a lot of liabilities that judges will be hard-pressed to overlook. Its data system is kludgy; teachers unions refused to sign MOUs pledging support; the state is being sued over seniority-based layoffs and inadequate school funding; its plans for performance pay and new evaluations still have to be negotiated in each district. Other finalists have worked through these problems, particularly at a state level.

But Long Beach Unified Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser said that because of the political stalemates in  Sacramento,  the  Race to the Top districts can make the case that they offer a credible alternative and model for California. The seven lead districts are working together on personnel and data questions. Long Beach has a data system that can track students through community college and Long Beach State. Each district can decide, with its unions, whether bonus pay will go to individuals or to schools that meet goals.

In its application, the districts commit to taking strong actions that should have an effect on erasing the achievement gap. They pledge:

  • By school year 2013-14, underperforming schools with high poverty rates  will have teacher retention rates equal to or greater than the other schools within their distirct.
  • By a year from August, districts will create a new evaluation system for teachers and principals, with at least 30 percent of the evaluation based on student growth (not necessarily standardized test scores alone);
  • By 2013-14, all principals will be evaluated using the new system, and tenure and promotion decisions will be made based on evaluation ratings; five alternative pay plans, based on teacher effectiveness, will be piloted.

Steinhauser said that even if California doesn’t get any money in this round, the seven districts have agreed to continue working together on reforms in the application.

California Department of Education News Release

Release: #10-84
July 27. 2010

Contact: Tina Jung
Phone: 916-319-0818

State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell Issues Statement on California's Selection as a Finalist in Phase 2 of the Federal Race To The Top Competition

SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell today issued the following statement after California was selected as a finalist in the competition to receive up to $700 million for education reform efforts as part of Phase 2 of the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) competition.

"I am thrilled that our efforts to push for even more progress in improving public education were recognized by the U.S. Department of Education," O'Connell said. "California remains in the running for the Race to the Top competition. We now will prepare to present our reform plan before reviewers in Washington. I remain optimistic that California will be granted funding that will help us ensure that we have effective teachers in every classroom, strong leaders in every school, common core standards to improve instruction, and an effective data system to ensure that every student is being prepared for success in college or careers."

California's Phase 2 RTTT application was built around the strong commitment and leadership of seven superintendents representing a diverse group of school districts: Clovis, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Sanger, and San Francisco unified school districts. These seven superintendents were the primary architects of California's RTTT Phase 2 plan to transform the state's education system and strengthen California's ability to prepare all students for success in college and careers. These districts were joined by more than 300 additional local educational agencies (LEAs) that pledged their commitment to implement California's Phase 2 RTTT plan by signing binding Memorandums of Understanding.

The participating LEAs represent more than 1.7 million California students, a student population that is larger than the total kindergarten through twelfth grade enrollment of all but six other U.S. states. These LEAs also serve some of the neediest students in the state, as 68 percent of the students in participating districts live in poverty.

California's RTTT Phase 2 application is rooted in four key areas of reform that call for:

  • Refining California's rigorous state standards by adopting internationally benchmarked common core standards and aligned assessments that better prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
  • Recruiting, developing, and retaining effective teachers and principals and ensuring that they are helping students that need them the most;
  • Expanding our education data system to better measure student success in college and the workforce; and
  • Dramatically improving the state's persistently lowest-performing schools.

California's Phase 2 RTTT application also emphasizes the critical goal of advancing the state's students' understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). With funding from the federal government, the state plans to launch new partnerships with institutions of higher education, and strengthen and expand the delivery of STEM in California's high schools. The plan also includes an emphasis on building a strong STEM foundation in the kindergarten through eighth grade system, an expansion of support systems, and infrastructure for the future of STEM.

Finalists of the Phase 2 grants will present their plans before a review panel in Washington, D.C. on August 9, 2010. Finalists are expected to be announced in September.

Information on California's RTTT Phase 2 application may be found at Race to the Top [] (Outside Source).