Sunday, October 31, 2010


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | Los Angeles Daily News |

Oct 31, 2010 - About 100 Granada Hills community members and parents gathered Saturday afternoon to hear from two groups competing to operate a new public high school next fall in this suburban neighborhood.

Valley Region High School #4 is one of 12 Los Angeles Unified campuses up for bid this year under the district's second round of "Public School Choice." The reform program lets outside groups like charter operators and nonprofits, as well as district-based teachers and administrators, compete to run new and under-performing schools.

The effort, adopted last year, is touted as LAUSD's signature program to fix failing schools by introducing competition into local public education.

The district school board gets the final say on who runs the schools. But parents and the community also get to vote for their favorite plan, which is why the Granada Hills South Neighborhood Council organized the forum Saturday.

"This is a big issue for our community and I feel that it is crucial that our neighborhood gets a chance to hear from both sides in an impartial venue," said council president David Beauvais.

While eight groups filed initial applications to compete to run the campus, the contest has been whittled down to two candidates - LAUSD's Local District One, including teachers and administrators, representing the West Valley, and Granada Hills Charter High school.

During the three hour meeting, both groups did their best to argue why they would be the ideal choice to run the state-of-the art new facility - which cost nearly $100 million.

Linda del Cueto, LAUSD's Superintendent for Local District 1, said she is inviting parents to submit suggestions for programs and services they want to see at the new school.

One change the district plans is allowing students living in the boundaries of the new campus the choice of attending the new school or any of the other schools the campus is relieving - Cleveland, Kennedy, and Monroe high schools.

"We encourage you to give us a chance, read our plan and then make up your mind," said del Cueto.

"Our schools in the area are some of the best in the entire district...we would love to continue that seamless transition into high school if you would give us the honor of operating this school."

Several parents in the audience, however, peppered del Cueto with concerns about promising services and programs that LAUSD cannot afford as it also is forced to lay off teachers and shorten the school year.

Brian Bauer, executive director of Granada Hills Charter, bragged to the audience about his school increasing staff, services and salaries at a time when LAUSD is scaling back.

"What we've been able to do at Granada is almost antithetical to what's happened at LAUSD," Bauer said.

Bauer also touted the charter's test scores - which currently place the school as the highest performing comprehensive high school in LAUSD.

Final applications under the reform plan are due Dec. 1 and decisions on who runs the schools will be made in February. For information visit

TEACHERS AND STUDENTS LOSE OUT WITH ACLU-LAUSD AGREEMENT: Say no to layoffs, support public school teachers, families and students!

By: David Feldman | PSL.web – Party for Socialism and Liberation -

Sunday, October 31, 2010  - On Oct.5, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Los Angeles Unified School District reached an agreement intended to limit layoffs that actually undermines teacher seniority rules—doing little to aid the inner-city children it professes to

Teachers' rally, Los Angeles

L.A. teachers protest cutbacks, 2009

The ACLU had sued both California and the school district because massive education cuts and layoffs have denied inner-city students their right to a quality education, as enshrined in the state constitution. Unfortunately, the agreement between the ACLU and LAUSD—awaiting approval from a judge—does little to help  poor and working-class students. Instead, it attacks one of the fundamental  rights of teachers—protection from layoffs based on seniority.

It is true that the ongoing attacks on public education have had the most drastic effects on poor, working-class students—especially those who live in oppressed communities. Large cuts to education and teacher layoffs have left schools in poor and oppressed communities struggling to provide even the most basic education and resources.

However, hard-fought union contracts that protect teachers from layoffs based on seniority are not the problem. The agreement between ACLU and LAUSD completely sidesteps the teachers’ union—a grievous attack on teachers’ rights in the midst of a climate of attacks on public education.

The Los Angeles Times and other media have reported on layoffs decimating the faculty of many LAUSD schools, especially in the inner city where teacher turnover and absenteeism are highest. Teachers with the ability to find new jobs do so, forcing schools to hire the most inexperienced teachers who face difficult working conditions due to a lack of resources.

Undoing seniority rules and laying off veteran teachers will not solve the crisis in public education. In fact, it plays into the hands of those attacking public education and seeking to break the teachers’ unions. LAUSD, the LA Times and other institutions of U.S. capitalist society are all complicit in the attacks.

For instance, LAUSD recently received over $1 billion from the federal government for the specific purpose of stopping all teacher layoffs. However, the district has chosen not to spend this money this school year, despite the fact that if it  were used for the purpose for which it was intended, there would be no reason to lay off a single teacher. Instead of using the funds to ensure stability and providing every student with a qualified teacher, the district is cynically using the budget crisis to weaken teacher protections that were won through years of struggle.

The ACLU’s agreement was negotiated with LAUSD so that students in oppressed neighborhoods can keep their teachers—an honorable intention. But the reality is far from honorable. The agreement—undermining the power of the teachers’ unions—has created an atmosphere in which all teachers are in danger. With experienced teachers now more easily removed from their positions, schools will increasingly be filled with inexperienced teachers. Less-experienced teachers are cheaper due to lower salary and benefit costs.

For the capitalist bosses, their cronies in government and the district bureaucracy, a revolving door of teachers who work for a few years and burn out is ideal. They do not care if the quality of education suffers, since most jobs being created these days require little education. As they gut resources for public education, they blame the crisis on teachers and other education workers—an utterly false proposition.

For the children served by public schools,  the undermining of teacher seniority could well  lower quality education. Research indicates that experienced teachers are generally more effective than novices.

Progressive people should strongly oppose the ongoing attacks against teachers’ rights, including the recent deal that the Los Angeles Unified School District made with the ACLU to weaken teacher seniority. The Party for Socialism and Liberation calls for an end to all teacher layoffs and a reinstatement of teacher protections. We recognize the right of all students to quality and comprehensive public education delivered by education workers who are respected and provided decent working conditions.

The truth is that the recent actions undertaken by the district are not about improving education. They  are about weakening benefits and the unions that fight for them. Working-class people should not be fooled. The recent attacks on seniority are a part of a broader campaign against unions and public education. Teachers, parents and supporters must take to the streets and fight back.

Saturday, October 30, 2010



Liz Dwyer

by Liz Dwyer - Education Ambassador for the Pepsi Refresh Project in Good Education|


October 28, 2010 • 4:30 am PDT - Does Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's "turnaround" school-reform model work? News from one of Duncan's first turnaround schools, William T. Sherman Elementary in Chicago, is mixed. Yes, test scores are up, and that's a good thing for the 591-student elementary in the city's violence-plagued Englewood neighborhood. The bad news? It took five years to see results, and the scores still aren't as high as the average Chicago public school.

Duncan ordered a turnaround plan for Sherman back in 2006 when he was still Chicago's superintendent of schools. Sherman was the first campus placed under the jurisdiction of what was at the time a new non-profit turnaround organization, the Academy for Urban School Leadership.  [Funding: Gates+Dell Foundations, New School Venture Fund |]  As an AUSL turnaround school, Sherman gave students renovated facilities, a new curriculum, and an entirely new staff—new principals, new teachers, even new custodians.

A year after the turnaround, the Chicago parent organization Parents United for Responsible Education researched Sherman's data and found, "during its first turnaround year, Sherman had a 20 percent drop in enrollment, a 10 percent drop in the number of low-income children, a 17 percent increase in the mobility rate, a lower parent involvement rate and lower science test scores."

Even though more critics said AUSL's efforts were unproven, Duncan handed over a dozen more schools to the organization.

After Duncan accepted President Obama's offer of the Secretary of Education job, he touted Sherman and the turnaround method as central to education reform. Indeed, turning around schools is one of the key pieces of Duncan and Obama''s national Race to the Top initiative. Duncan regularly refers to the school as a success, even though Sherman's 68-percent average in math last year is lower than non-turnaround regular public schools, and is below the Illinois state average.

Taking the turnaround method of reform national has another problem beyond effectiveness. It could lead to lawsuits. A group of mostly black, female teachers fired from dozens of Chicago turnaround schools just won a discrimination suit against Duncan. In the suit, the teachers said they were being replaced with, "less experienced, younger, whiter teachers at lower salaries." According to the judge's ruling, Chicago has 30 days to rehire the teachers axed through the turnaround process.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user US_Air_Force

GOOD is a collaboration of individuals, businesses, and nonprofits pushing the world forward. Since 2006 we've been making a magazine, videos, and events for people who give a damn.


2cents smf

 ●●smf”s 2¢:

  • In addition to the efficacy and legal questions there’s the outstanding unresolved and unanswered question of the Chicago school board president who committed suicide while under federal investigation regarding improper preferential admissions to the city’s top public schools | +
  • And 4LAKids isn’t about to ignore the irony that W.T. Sherman Elementary is named for the creator of the scorched earth policy as an attacking strategy rather than a retreating tactic in modern warfare.


OVERCOMING BULLYING IN LAUSD SCHOOLS: Superintendent Cortines Discusses a National Epidemic--BULLYING

LAUSD News Release::For Immediate Release |

October 28, 2010 - Los Angeles – The special, one-hour On the Record television program with Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Cortines examining the topic of bullying will be rebroadcast on additional dates via KLCS-TV, LAUSD’s Education Station.

“Because of the extensive attention now focused on the topic of bullying, it is important that we provide information about how this is occurring and being handled at our schools,” said LAUSD Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines. “I believe this program is well worth repeating. The show will feature very direct and enlightening comments from a parent and a student, and information on what the District is doing to address bullying at our schools. I hope everyone is able to watch it and absorb information that is of critical concern.”

KLCS-TV: ‘The Education Station for all Generations’ is a multiple winner of Los Angeles Area Emmy® Awards. KLCS broadcasts 12 hours of instructional programming each school day on Channel 58. It is one of only six television stations in the nation licensed to a K-12 school district. The LAUSD began producing instructional television programming for in-school viewing in October 1957.

On the Record: Bullying will air on KLCS:

  • Sunday Oct. 31 7 a.m.
  • Tuesday Nov. 2 11:30 a.m.
  • Tuesday Nov. 2 6 p.m.
  • Thursday Nov. 4 10:45 a.m.
  • Sunday Nov. 7 1:30 p.m.

Friday, October 29, 2010


National Academies Press |

  • High school graduation and dropout rates have long been used as indicators of educational system productivity and effectiveness and of social and economic well being. While determining these rates may seem like a straightforward task, their calculation is in fact quite complicated. How does one count a student who leaves a regular high school but later completes a GED? How does one count a student who spends most of his/her high school years at one school and then transfers to another? If the student graduates, which school should receive credit? If the student drops out, which school should take responsibility?
  • High School Dropout, Graduation, and Completion Rates addresses these issues and to examine (1) the strengths, limitations, accuracy, and utility of the available dropout and completion measures; (2) the state of the art with respect to longitudinal data systems; and (3) ways that dropout and completion rates can be used to improve policy and practice.
  • Authors:Robert M. Hauser and Judith Anderson Koenig, Editors; Committee for Improved Measurement of High School Dropout and Completion Rates: Expert Guidance on Next Steps for Research and Policy Workshop; National Research Council and National Academy of Education

October 28, 2010 -- A new joint report from the National Research Council and the National Academy of Education offers guidance on measuring high school dropout and graduation rates -- a key and sometimes controversial indicator of a school system's effectiveness. The most accurate rates are those that track students over the entire course of their schooling, the report says. It adds that accountability policies should require schools and districts to set and meet progress goals for improving their graduation rates

SUMMARY [Prepublication Copy, uncorrected proofs]

High school graduation and dropout rates have long been used as indicators of educational system productivity and effectiveness and of social and economic well being.

While determining these rates may seem like a straightforward task, their calculation is in fact quite complicated. How does one count a student who leaves a regular high school but later completes a GED? How does one count a student who spends most of his/her high school years at one school and then transfers to another? If the student graduates, which school should receive credit? If the student drops out, which school should take responsibility?

The Committee on Improved Measurement of High School Dropout and Completion Rates was asked to address these issues and to examine (1) the strengths, limitations, accuracy, and utility of the available dropout and completion measures; (2) the state of the art with respect to longitudinal data systems; and (3) ways that dropout and completion rates can be used to improve policy and practice.

The Rates and How They Are Calculated

In their simplest sense, graduation rates reflect the percent of students who earned a regular high school diploma, and dropout rates reflect the percent of students who did not. However, the requirements for earning a regular diploma vary widely among states and districts, and there are multiple means of completing school besides earning a regular diploma after attending high school for four years. Students may earn a GED, a certificate of attendance, or another alternative type of diploma. They may take longer than the typical four years before completing high school and may transfer across schools or districts before graduating or dropping out. There are a variety of strategies for accounting for these factors in calculating dropout, completion, and graduation rates; different strategies will affect the appropriateness of the rate for a given purpose. Thus, decisions about how to handle these factors should be consistent with the purpose for calculating the rate.

For example, if the purpose is to describe the level of education of the population, what matters is people’s eventual level of education, not what kind of diploma they received or how long it took them to earn it. But if the purpose is to evaluate a school’s effectiveness in graduating students in four years, those factors are of critical importance.

All methods for calculating the rates require decisions about who to include in the numerator and denominator of the rate and how to handle certain groups of students, such as those who receive a GED or who take longer than four years to graduate.

We recommend that analysts and users keep their purpose in mind when selecting from among the various kinds of rates and choose the indicator best suited to that purpose (Recommendation 4-11). To help users draw sound conclusions, analysts should document the limitations of the rate and the decisions that went into calculating it (Recommendations 3-1 and 3-2). When the limitations are made explicit, alternative rates can be calculated to verify any conclusions drawn from the statistic (Recommendations 3-3 and 3-4).

1Recommendation 4-1 is the first recommendation in Chapter 4. Other recommendations are numbered accordingly.

The most accurate rates are those based on longitudinal data that track students over the course of their schooling, and we recommend that dropout and completion rates be based on individual student-level data whenever possible. This will allow for the greatest flexibility and transparency with respect to how analysts handle methodological issues that arise in defining the numerator and denominator of the rates (Recommendation 4-2).

Building Data Systems

Calculating rates based on individual data requires that states have a system for tracking students over time. At a minimum such a system needs unique student identifiers as well complete information on students’ enrollment status throughout high school. However, a more comprehensive system would incorporate data elements that allow school systems to monitor students’ progress, identify students at risk of dropping out, and evaluate the effectiveness of programs to reduce dropping out. To perform these functions, data systems require detailed longitudinal data (Recommendation 6-1).

Producing accurate rates requires that states and districts adopt procedures to ensure the quality of their data; we, therefore, recommend that all states and districts maintain written documentation of their processes, procedures, and results. The documentation should be updated annually and should include a process for adding elements or making changes to the system (Recommendation 6-2).

Because the quality of the data begins at the point when data are collected and entered into the system, it is important that training be provided for those who carry out these tasks. We recommend that all states and districts implement a system of extensive and on-going staff training that addresses procedures for collection, storage, analysis, and use of the data (Recommendation 6-3) and conduct regular audits to verify data quality (Recommendation 6-4).

How Data Systems Can Improve Policy and Practice Improving graduation rates in this country requires more than simply reporting accurate rates. To truly improve outcomes for students, data systems need to incorporate information that enables early identification of at-risk students. Research suggests a number of factors associated with dropping out: frequent absences, failing grades in reading or math, poor behavior, being over age for grade, having a low ninth-grade GPA, failing ninth grade, or having a record of frequent transfers. These findings suggest that states and districts should build data systems that incorporate documented early indicators of the risk of dropping out. At the same time, they should also conduct their own studies to determine the factors associated with dropping out from their school systems. Once determined, measures of these factors should be incorporated into the data system so at-risk students can be identified in time to intervene (Recommendation 5-1).

Finally, the federal government should play an active role in this area by collecting data on these early indicators. These indicators should be collected by grade level and should include variables such as the number of students missing a month or more of school, average number of days absent, average number of course failures, number of students failing one course or more, mean GPA, and indicators of behavior problems. Collecting these data would allow for indications of progress toward graduation at the national level and enable comparative studies on early indicators of dropout across states and localities (Recommendation 7-4).

As educational accountability focuses increasingly on the successful completion of high school, appropriate, relevant, and understandable measures of high school dropout and completion are becoming more important as indicators of the functioning of schools and of students’ preparation for college and work. The findings and recommendations of this report are provided to guide the creation of such indicators at the local, state and national levels.

Select a link below to start reading online free!
Front Matter i-x  
SUMMARY 1-3 (skim)
1 Introduction 4-8 (skim)
2 Dropout Rates, Graduation Rates, and Public Policy 9-20 (skim)
3 Decisions Required to Compute the Indicators 21-35 (skim)
4 Current and Proposed Measures 36-49 (skim)
5 Indicators 50-59 (skim)
6 Developing Longitudinal Data Systems 60-81 (skim)
7 Using Comprehensive Data Systems to Improve Public Policy and Practice 82-92
8 Summary of Recommendations 93-101 (skim)




Appendix A Workshop Agenda and Participants



Appendix B Biographical Sketches of Committee Members and Staff




World Economic Forum ranks U.S.  48th out of 133 developed and developing nations in quality of math and science instruction - Source: World Economic Forum, Executive Opinion Survey 2008, 2009: Quality of math and science education |

New York Times Editorial |

October 26, 2010 - The National Academies, the country’s leading advisory group on science and technology, warned in 2005 that unless the United States improved the quality of math and science education, at all levels, it would continue to lose economic ground to foreign competitors.

The situation remains grim. According to a follow-up report published last month, the academies found that the United States ranks 27th out of 29 wealthy countries in the proportion of college students with degrees in science or engineering, while the World Economic Forum ranked this country 48th out of 133 developed and developing nations in quality of math and science instruction.

More than half the patents awarded here last year were given to companies from outside the United States. In American graduate schools, nearly half of students studying the sciences are foreigners; while these students might once have spent their careers here, many are now opting to return home.

In a 2009 survey, nearly a third of this country’s manufacturing companies reported having trouble finding enough skilled workers.

The academies call on federal and state governments to improve early childhood education, strengthen the public school math and science curriculum, and improve teacher training in these crucial subjects. It calls on government and colleges to provide more financial and campus support to students who excel at science.

The report sets a goal of increasing the percentage of people with undergraduate degrees in science from 6 percent to 10 percent. It calls for the country to quickly double the number of minority students who hold science degrees — to 160,000 from about 80,000.

Too often, science curriculums are grinding and unimaginative, which may help explain why more than half of all college science majors quit the discipline before they earn their degrees. The science establishment has long viewed a high abandonment rate as part of a natural winnowing.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County — one of the leading producers of African-American research scientists in the country — rejects that view. It has shown that science and engineering students thrive when they are given mentors and early exposure to exciting, cutting-edge laboratory science. Other colleges are now trying to emulate the program.

Congress has an important role to play. It can start by embracing the academies’ call to attract as many as 10,000 qualified math and science teachers annually to the profession. One sound way to do that — while also increasing the number of minority scientists — is to expand funding for programs that support high-caliber math and science students in college in return for their commitment to teach in needy districts.

It’s time for Civic Participation: STUDENTS LEARN HOW IN SCHOOLS

Themes in the News for the week of Oct. 25-29, 2010 by UCLA IDEA |

10-29-2010  -- To most people the principle of “majority rule” means that a few people should not exercise their power over the will of the general public.  But to others, majority rule means that minorities can be disregarded—even oppressed—if one voter more than 50 percent says it’s OK.  So how, when, and where do Americans learn to blend and exercise their rights and protections?

Acquiring these democratic judgments does not come “naturally”; they must be learned.  We can discuss issues with family and friends, read editorials, listen to talk radio, or read Internet blogs.  A few might study works on political theory.  But as adults in a democracy, we hope that everyone begins with a common base of understanding that we learn in school.

We want our schools to provide the young with a foundation of knowledge and experience to build a just, civil society.  We want schools to inspire civic participation and nurture a respect for the democratic balance of minority rights and majority rule.  That’s what schools should do, but it doesn’t always happen.  In reviewing state standards earlier this decade, the Education Commission of the States found (PDF) most state-sanctioned civic curriculum emphasized “encyclopedic coverage” of topics, such as government structures, that had little connection to a young person’s “identity as a citizen.”

One of the more positive examples of civic education took place this week when more than 100,000 students statewide joined peers across the nation to cast ballots. In the state mock election, students voted on who should be the next governor, U.S. senator and measures ranging from legalizing marijuana to congressional redistricting and budget process overhauls (Capital Radio).

California Secretary of State Debra Bowen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell provided materials and resources to schools to help inform the students prior to the election.  Bowen said “…we know that students who participate in this kind of program are much more likely to go on to be regular voters” (Capital Radio).  High school junior and mock voter Christine Bayon from Benicia High School in the Central Valley agreed that “if students become more knowledgeable, it’s more likely they will vote” (Times-Herald).

The most difficult voter issues—those that require a deep understanding of majority and minority rights—are not well informed by election-campaign sound bites or news headlines.  Those running for political office may not want to highlight their positions on divisive issues.  For example, elected leaders can affect policies that influence protections of the LGBT community.  Suicide, harassment, and abuse related to sexual or gender identity attest to the need for policy makers’ awareness and actions to assure that the young and their elders are informed and protected.

To this end, a federal Department of Education civil rights division memo, released this week, said that some Title IX protections against discrimination based on sex could be applied to protecting LGBT students. California has led in these protections, and since 2000, California law protects students from harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

However, protecting rights and individuals is not just a challenge of getting the correct laws in place.  Civic learning—responsible citizenship building—demands that the most difficult topics for adults not be neglected by schools.  As former California State Sen. Sheila Kuehl and UCLA Professor Stuart Biegel argue in a recent report on LGBT students, school officials need to foster safe learning environments that demonstrate regard for all students.

“In this area, educators are not required to change their personal values or religious beliefs. However, all students must be treated with equal dignity and equal respect by school officials, both under the law and as a matter of morality and common decency,” Biegel said (Ed News Colorado).

REPORT: STUDENT LEARNING EXPECATIONS GAP CAN BE TWICE THE SIZE OF NATIONAL ‘BLACK/WHITE ACHIEVEMENT GAP’: What students are expected to know in one state may be up to four grade levels behind the expectations in another state.

American Institutes for Research (AIR) Press Relaese |

Full Report: International Benchmarking: State Education Performance Standards


Chart: 2007 State Assessments of 4th Grade Student Proficiency in Mathematics  - click for larger


Monday, October 25, 2010 - Washington, D.C. – The gap in what students are expected to know in each state varies so greatly that the difference in student expectations between the states with the most rigorous assessments and those with the least stringent is twice the size of the national black-white achievement gap, according to a new report by the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

For comparison, while black students are falling nearly two grade levels behind their white peers in knowledge and achievement, what students are expected to know in one state may be up to four grade levels behind the expectations set in another state.

At a time when student assessments are increasingly being used to judge how well students are learning, teachers are teaching and schools are performing – and the stakes involved are growing to include hiring and firing decisions, funding allocation and whether or not a school even remains open – this report draws attention to how much, or how little, these assessments actually expect students to learn and teachers to teach.

The report, International Benchmarking: State Education Performance Standards, compared the proficiency standards in each state with international benchmarks used in two international assessments to be able to compare states to each other, using a common standard, and to compare U.S. student performance with that of their peers in other countries.

The report, by AIR Vice President Gary Phillips, found dramatic differences in what students are expected to learn from state-to-state, with many states reporting high proficiency rates based on tests that reveal very low expectations. “This is a fundamental flaw in the No Child Left Behind law because it permits states to report high levels of achievement by setting low standards,” said Phillips, who previously served as acting commissioner of the federal National Center for Education Statistics.

“By setting low performance standards, states commit the educational equivalent of short selling. Rather than betting on student success, the educators sell the student short by lowering standards,” said Phillips. “What the education system gets out of this practice is the illusion of high rates of proficiency, which have a palliative effect on public opinion and meet the requirements of federal reporting. What the student gets out of it is a dumbed-down education, with little opportunity to learn college-ready and career-ready skills.”

To illustrate the differences, the report compared what is expected in Massachusetts to what is expected in the states with the lowest standards. The difference between the standards in Massachusetts and those of the states with the lowest standards was comparable to as much as four grade levels. In other words, the 8th grade performance standards in the states with the lowest standards were comparable in difficulty to the 4th grade performance standards in Massachusetts.

The report also estimated how the 2007 state results reported to the federal government for No Child Left Behind accountability would have looked had all the states used an internationally benchmarked common performance standard. When the data were reanalyzed on this level playing field, there was a dramatic drop among the states reporting the highest levels of proficiency. (See the related chart file on this page)

For example, in Grade 8 mathematics, Tennessee dropped from 88 percent proficient to 21 percent, and Massachusetts went from being one of the lowest performing states to the highest achieving state in the nation. (Note: Since 2007, Tennessee has substantially raised its performance standards)

Another example shows Alabama reporting 78 percent of its fourth graders proficient in math in 2007, but on an internationally-benchmarked common performance standard, just 26 percent were proficient. .

“One reason states set low standards is because current methods of standard setting used in the United States do not incorporate external benchmarks as a guide posts to setting standards,” explained Phillips. “Therefore, this report recommends a new standard setting method, referred to as the “Benchmark Method” that uses national and international benchmarks to calibrate how high the state performance standard should be.”

The report can be viewed and downloaded from

“These results help explain why the United States continues to do poorly in international comparisons. Many states think they are doing well and feel no urgency to improve because almost all their students are proficient,” said Phillips. “They have a type of Lake Woebegone delusion where they have no idea how they stack up when compared with peers outside their own state.”

About AIR

Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit

BROWN’S AND WHITMAN’S PLATFORMS:Notable differences in style and substance


By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

10/27/10 • Few voters, other than fighting-mad members of the CTA, will likely cast their ballots for governor based on Meg Whitman’s or Jerry Brown’s views on K-12 education.

Education has been mostly a campaign sideshow – even though districts are struggling amid crippling budget cuts. California ranks abysmally low in national tests, and the state serves larger numbers of high-needs students with very low per student funding.

From the eagle’s nest, there are some similarities in Republican Whitman’s and Democrat Brown’s positions: Both support charter schools – she unequivocally, he, with caveats; both favor shifting more money to K-12 education – she  from “welfare,” he from prisons. And both want to give districts more control over earmarked spending, the 62 specially designated programs known as categoricals.

But there are fundamental differences, in tone and in substance, between their plans.

Brown’s is nuanced and more comprehensive, reflecting who he is – a veteran politician who dealt with complex policy issues as governor, became scarred as a mayor who tried to insert himself into Oakland Unified, and gained some firsthand knowledge of how difficult school reform is as a founder and funder of two charter schools in Oakland. His conclusion: Reforming schools is hard work: “I approach this task with some humility, and a realization that there is no silver bullet that will fix everything.”

Whitman has boiled her platform down to a handful of ideas that would put her in conflict not only with the teachers union but probably with the rest of the education coalition of the school boards and administrators associations. She fashions herself as a school reformer from the outside, but her ideas aren’t presented in depth; they’re more like slogans: cut waste, adopt merit pay, give schools a letter grade from A-F.

EdSource, which juxtaposed the candidates’ positions on education, offers the best visual comparison. In four of the topics – school safety, instruction in the classroom, innovative schools, and assessments – the Whitman campaign had no position. In another area, how to better recruit, evaluate, and retain effective teachers, Whitman offers two proposals; Brown suggests nine.

Neither directly deals with the continuing K-12 funding crisis that’s expected to lead to another plunge in revenue for  districts and charter schools next year. Implying there is massive bureaucratic waste and inefficiency – an assertion I have previously questioned – Whitman calls for directing more money to classroom teachers.

Brown doesn’t call for more spending; but there are seeds of reform – and echoes of a recommendation of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Committee on Education Excellence. Brown calls for partially funding students based on need, with extra money for English learners and low-income children – an idea detailed two years ago by Stanford  education professor emeritus Michael Kirst, former state education secretary Alan Bersin, and Goodwin Liu, a law professor whom President Obama has nominated as a federal appeals judge. The money initially would come from combining categorical grants into one pot.

Whitman’s ideas
  • Giving every school a grade, A through F, and allowing parents in failing schools either to transfer out or, by majority vote, to convert to a charter school. This idea is taken from Florida, where it began under Gov. Jeb Bush. Until this year, the grades were based strictly on standardized test results. Soon they will include other factors, such as SAT scores and numbers of students who take college-level courses. This year, 74 percent of elementary schools and 78 percent of middle schools in Florida got A’s and B’s. Parents in California currently pay attention to a school’s API score, a ranking from 200 to 800, which has the advantage of showing growth or decline in points every year.
  • Allowing students in “failing” schools to leave or create a charter would simplify and  speed up two reforms that the California Legislature passed this year: a parent trigger provision allowing parents in 75 low-performing schools to demand their school boards to do a charter conversion, and open enrollment, allowing families in the lowest performing 1,000 schools to choose a school in another district, assuming that school opens its doors.
  • Promoting charter schools: Whitman would remove the state’s cap on charter schools. So far the ceiling has not been an issue in discouraging the creation of charters.
  • Expanding the teacher pool: Whitman would encourage alternative credentialing pathways for more second-career professionals to become math and science teachers. She would use merit pay – bonuses to high-achieving teachers and administrators – to attract “high-quality professionals” into teaching.
Brown’s ideas

Several proposals would advance ideas that have long been discussed.

  • Revising state tests: Brown recognizes flaws with the $100 million state testing system, like its reliance on limited multiple-choice questions. With the adoption by California of national Common Core standards, new assessments are coming anyway. How the two testing systems would mesh isn’t clear.
  • Broadening the curriculum: Concerned about the narrowing of the curriculum under No Child Left Behind, Brown would encourage initiatives to expand the teaching of history, science, and the humanities, without, he says, reducing attention to English and math.
  • Returning control to the locals: As with other candidates before him, Brown pledges to pare back the voluminous state Education Code and cede more authority over student achievement to local districts, making them responsible for outcomes but not micromanaging the process. This would be easier said than done.
  • Attracting good teachers and principals: Brown pledges to raise public and private money for a leadership academy to train good principals. He would pay mentor teachers more to work with new teachers. He would encourage high school districts to become alternative certification providers by offering apprenticeships combining university courses and classroom experience. And he would work with public universities to lure the students ranked in the top third of their class to teaching. How this could be done without financial incentives isn’t clear.
  • Expanding magnet schools and partnership academies: Brown would continue a priority of the Legislature and Gov. Schwarzenegger: career academies that prepare students for college and careers in high technology, health professions and other industries.
  • Dealing with bad behavior: Parents and teachers continually complain that schools seem unable to control handfuls of disruptive students. Brown said he would consider changing state laws or practices to control behaviors that disrupt the learning of others.

Whitman has cast herself as a reformer and, in unremitting TV ads,  characterized Brown as a toady of the teachers union. But the CTA is spending millions of dollars independently not out of  love for Brown but out of dislike of her. Brown’s ideas reflect a detailed knowledge of the problems, needs and dynamics of  California’s diverse public schools. There’s no indication that Whitman has that level of understanding.

Note: For two contrasting views of the candidates’ views on education,  read

  • retired San Jose high school principal Jim Russell on why he supports Whitman and
  • UC-Davis education professor Thomas Timar on why he favors Brown.

MICHELLE RHEE OUTSPOKEN TO THE END OF HER TENURE AS D.C.SCHOOLS CHANCELLOR: Takes on ineffective teachers and the schools that granted them degrees

By Bill Turque - Washington Post Staff Writer |

Thursday, October 28, 2010; 11:18 PM - She is D.C. schools chancellor for just one more day, but that didn't stop Michelle A. Rhee from issuing one last warning Thursday, this one to ineffective teachers and the undergraduate education programs that granted them degrees.

"Now we have a new teacher evaluation system where we know who's ineffective, minimally effective and highly effective," she told a hotel ballroom filled with educators attending a College Board forum. "We're going to back-map where they came from, which schools produced these people. And if you are producing ineffective or minimally effective teachers, we're going to send them back to you."

Rhee is exiting the District much as she entered it more than three years ago: outspoken, impatient, apparently indifferent to the kind of tension and pushback that most in her line of work labor to avoid. What she did here, and how she did it, will be debated for years. But her signature contribution, many supporters and detractors say, was a change in the conversation.

Rhee added a new urgency and righteous anger to the school reform movement, one that she will now take to a national platform. She asked how the District could compile an abysmal academic record and yet rate most of their teachers as meeting or exceeding expectations. She decreed that poverty was no longer a reason for expecting less of a child in Anacostia than one in Tenleytown.

"Whether her way of getting there was the best or only way is an open question. That expectations have changed is not," said Matthew Frumin, father of a ninth-grader at Woodrow Wilson High School. "In that sense, with all the controversy, the city gained and learned from Michelle Rhee. And, one would think that Michelle Rhee learned from the city."

Although many of her achievements come with asterisks and caveats, by any standard Rhee improved a school system that was among the nation's worst.

District and national standardized test scores improved. Enrollment stabilized and began to edge upward for the first time in nearly four decades. A detailed new framework of guidelines gave teachers and principals across the system a common language with which to discuss effective classroom practices. A rigorous new evaluation system began to hold some teachers accountable for student test scores.

Rhee, meanwhile, shrank the system from 150 schools to 123, closing ones with low enrollment. She winnowed a top-heavy central office staff from 900 to fewer than 600, pushing some of the savings down into the classrooms. She overhauled the system's school leadership, filling 91 principals' openings created by firings, resignations and retirements, according to a Washington Post analysis. She revamped a teaching corps that she said had too many ineffective practitioners, terminating or laying off nearly 700, at least 120 for poor performance.

Along the way, Rhee attempted to re-create the instructional staff at least partly in her image, turning over more than half of the city's 4,200 teaching jobs. She filled many of them with young educators who share her core belief that good teaching can help children prevail over poverty and other barriers beyond the classroom. Many of the 2,600 new educators hired on her watch (an unknown number of whom are already gone through the usual attrition) came from alternative training programs in which she and her senior staff have their roots: Teach for America and DC Teaching Fellows.

And although it took more than two years and a mediator, she secured a contract with the Washington Teachers' Union that gives principals new freedom to pick and choose teachers who were once guaranteed jobs in the system when their positions were "excessed," or eliminated by budget or enrollment issues. It also establishes a pay-for-performance system that links compensation to student achievement, something long resisted by teachers unions.

But there is a fragility to the changes Rhee has wrought. Elementary reading and math scores dipped in 2010 after two years of gains. Testing data also show that efforts to narrow the achievement gap separating white and African American students stalled this year. Many schools remain deeply troubled; 12 percent of sophomores at Spingarn High School in Northeast Washington are proficient in math, 17 percent in reading. At Johnson Middle School in Southeast, 14 percent of the students are proficient in reading and 14 percent in math.

Enrollment, another success story, also comes with questions. It's not clear whether the gains, mostly at the preschool and pre-kindergarten levels, mean that the system is actually capturing a larger proportion of school-age children or merely benefiting from mini-baby booms in some D.C. neighborhoods.

Miguel Rosario, who is a parent at Watkins Elementary on Capitol Hill but lives in Ward 8, said schools in his neighborhood have felt the churn of Rhee's changes but received little benefit. "Principal after principal, security company after security company, a little touch-up paint, but the bathrooms are still the same. The children are not being educated," he said.

The changes also came, as Rhee now acknowledges, without a successful attempt to build a base of support that gave residents ownership of the changes.

"We made a ton of mistakes," she said Thursday. "I thought, very naively, that if we just put our heads down and we worked hard and produced the results, people would be so happy that they would want to continue the work. We were absolutely incorrect about that."

Other stakeholders said they appreciated Rhee's attempts at reaching out. "I think she tried to engage the parents," said Lisa Barton, former PTA president at Ballou Senior High School, from which her daughter graduated last spring. "I would have liked her to stay. I felt like she was doing something good."

Rhee's difficulties were compounded by questionable management and maladroit sense of public relations, embodied most notoriously in her broom-wielding Time magazine cover of December 2008.

A week after a triumphal announcement of a breakthrough contract last April, she touched off a furor that nearly scuttled the deal, first by disclosing that she discovered a $34 million surplus in the school system budget earlier in the year - just four months after laying off 266 teachers for budgetary reasons. That led to a lengthy public scuffle over how to pay for the pact with D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi, who said no such surplus existed.

With teachers still raw from the layoffs, she told a business magazine that an unspecified number of the sacked educators "had had sex" with students or had engaged in corporal punishment. When she produced the actual numbers, they were tiny: one accused sexual predator and five disciplined for corporal punishment.

"It's been one explosion after another," said Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker. "I thought she would know when enough had been said. I thought she would understand the power of words."


By Erik W. Robelen | EdWeek Vol. 30, Issue 10 |

October 29, 2010 - Amid a struggling economy, a raft of foreign-policy headaches, and the tail end of a heated campaign season, President Barack Obama carved out time in his schedule this month to watch students in the State Dining Room demonstrate a solar-powered model car, a water-purification system, and a soccer-playing robot.

That might seem like a surprising distraction. But to hear the president tell it, those activities—part of what was dubbed the first annual White House science fair celebrating winners of STEM-focused student competitions—are just what the nation needs to prosper.

“In many ways, our future depends on what happens in those contests,” Mr. Obama said at the event. “It’s in these pursuits that talents are discovered and passions are lit, and the future scientists, engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs are born.”

The science fair was the fifth White House event he has personally hosted over the past year or so focused on education in the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Given the myriad issues competing for his attention, it’s striking how much Mr. Obama talks about the topic, observers say.

“I don’t think there’s been a president as vocal about these areas, maybe even back to Sputnik times,” said Francis Q. Eberle, the executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based National Science Teachers Association, referring to the era of heightened U.S. concern about science and related fields following the Soviet Union’s launch of a satellite into orbit in 1957. “He continues to revisit this, which is really terrific.”

When President Obama discusses the issue, he emphasizes the need to inspire more young people to engage in the STEM fields. He also highlights the role of STEM education in helping to drive innovation and scientific discovery, and to maintain the nation’s economic competitiveness.

By most accounts, the president’s interest is genuine. Nonetheless, some observers say the White House may well perceive a political benefit, as the issue lends itself especially well to highlighting Mr. Obama’s concern for jobs and the economy and his ability to work with business leaders, who in some industries see STEM education as vital to their bottom lines.

“I do believe that he and his administration feel very strongly about the issue,” said Vic Klatt, an education lobbyist and a former aide to Republicans on the House education committee. “I also think that they see an advantage in emphasizing this issue. It gives them a chance to work closely with the business community, who they are fighting tooth and nail with on virtually every other front.”

‘Educate to Innovate’

Early in his term, Mr. Obama signaled that scientific research and development—as well as STEM education—would be a high priority. In an April 2009 address to the National Academy of Sciences, he vowed to ramp up federal aid for R&D and bring a “renewed commitment” to math and science education.

“This is something I care deeply about,” he said. “Through this commitment, American students will move ... from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math over the next decade.”

As part of the effort, he promised to participate in a “public-awareness and -outreach program to encourage students to consider careers in science and mathematics and engineering.”

Related Blog

A series of events has ensued, starting with an astronomy night Mr. Obama hosted with students in October of last year on the White House lawn. The next month, he announced a White House initiative called Educate to Innovate, a public-private campaign to boost the participation and performance of students in the STEM fields. At that event and others, he’s announced commitments and initiatives by companies, foundations, and government entities to advance STEM education.

Its advocates give the president high marks for bringing the issue visibility, but offer a mixed review on whether he’s matched the rhetoric with sufficient commitments in federal policy and spending.

The White House has proposed some significant increases in K-12 funding for STEM activities at the U.S. Department of Education, though analysts say it remains to be seen whether the aid will materialize and how hard the White House will fight for it.

For instance, as part of his fiscal 2011 budget request, the president proposed creating three new “teaching and learning” funds, one focused on STEM. The $300 million price tag would increase aid for those subjects at the department by more than $100 million, but that plan was pegged to changes in the stalled attempt to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Some advocates lament that the president has requested little, if any, increase for STEM education at the National Science Foundation in his fiscal 2011 plan. The federal stimulus package he championed last year, however, contained at least $100 million in onetime aid for math and science teacher-training and -recruitment programs at the NSF.

Another concern, STEM supporters say, is that the president’s blueprint to overhaul the ESEA doesn’t call for adding student achievement in science to the law’s accountability framework, an idea backed by many STEM proponents.

“He certainly is talking about the importance of this,” said the NSTA’s Mr. Eberle. “But when the president says STEM, we don’t necessarily see that being wrapped into other policies or at least the [ESEA] blueprint.”

Sparking Excitement

Leaving aside debates about federal policy and funding, the way President Obama talks about STEM education is getting plaudits.

At the White House science fair, middle and high school students who had won STEM competitions were front and center.

“He’s shaking these kids’ hands and congratulating them,” said James Brown, an assistant director of the American Chemical Society and the co-chairman of the Washington-based STEM Education Coalition. “There’s nothing better than the president being a role model for students to study science and technology.”

“The emphasis on trying to raise awareness, particularly about these majors and careers, and to get children excited ... is the right approach,” said Christopher Roe, the deputy director of the Business-Higher Education Forum, a nonprofit group in Washington.

“He’s communicating to students and parents directly, which I think is really important," Mr. Roe added. "Kids want to be excited; they want to see the awe of science and technology.”

When Mr. Obama has spoken about actions to be taken on STEM education at the White House events, he has tended to place less emphasis on federal policy and spending levers than on private ventures.

“The success we seek is not going to be attained by government alone,” he said at an event last year. “It depends on the dedication of students and parents and the commitment of private citizens, organizations, and companies.”

In September, for instance, Mr. Obama announced the launch of Change the Equation, a coalition of more than 100 companies aiming to improve and expand corporate efforts in STEM education.

Some STEM advocates say the White House is helping ramp up the private sector’s engagement.

That said, Linda Rosen, the chief executive officer of Change the Equation, cautioned that while the White House role is welcome, it’s by no means the main spark for the business sector.

“The corporate interest was already there, by and large,” she said. “I think that it is perhaps heightened in some cases” by the White House attention.

Joel Packer, an education principal at the Raben Group, a Washington lobbying firm, said he’s not surprised Mr. Obama focuses mainly on private-sector investments at the events.

“It gives the president an opportunity to talk about something instead of just saying, ‘Congress is not doing what we asked,’ ” he said. “You don’t have to worry about getting Congress to agree.”


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from the white house press office

Behind the Scenes Video from the White House Science Fair

October 27, 2010 10:39 AM EDT

Check out the behind the scenes video from the first ever White House Science Fair including Bill Nye the Science Guy and hosts of Mythbusters Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage.


By Mary Ann Zehr | EdWEEK |

October 29, 2010 1:01 PM |In the more than 30 years that Kenji Hakuta, an education professor from Stanford University, has been studying English-language learners, he's come to realize that many Americans are threatened by bilingualism, he said in at the seventh annual Brown Lecture in Education Research last evening. The lecture about equity in education is sponsored by the American Educational Research Association.

"We don't need to be scared by bilingualism, although we probably will continue to be, because it's a cultural thing," said Hakuta. Then he quipped that he wishes Stephen Colbert, a comedian who mocks unfounded fears of Americans on Comedy Central, would "do something with that."

Hakuta gave a brief history of theories for educating English-language learners that have emerged since the 1970s. He said the debate over whether bilingual education or English-only instruction is better for ELLs has eaten up a huge amount of political and research energy. He called research comparing the two approaches "horse-race studies." In summation, Hakuta said, all things being equal, bilingual education seems to yield a more positive outcome in reading for ELLs than English-only instruction does.

Hakuta praised U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Judge Carolyn Randall for spelling out a map for educating ELLs in the 1981 case, CastaƱeda v. Pickard, which followed a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court case, Lau v. Nichols, that said schools had to provide a bridge to the curriculum for ELLs. The CastaƱeda v. Pickard map is that a program for ELLs should be based on sound educational theory, implemented with adequate resources, and be evaluated for results. That interpretation, said Hakuta, "gives us a crack in the door for those of us working in this area."

Recently, the field has focused on how to teach ELLs "academic language," or the language of school, he said. He stressed the need for regular content teachers to get engaged in this endeavor. Hakuta noted that "English-language development takes time. We can be more focused and direct, but it still takes time."

He said he and other researchers are now focusing on providing advice for how the Elementary and Secondary Education Act can best be reauthorized to benefit ELLs. A big problem, he said, is that identification and reclassification procedures for ELLs are not stable. He said that the category for ELLs should count students who have become fluent in English so that the data doesn't have a "revolving door problem." As matters stand now, ELLs who become fluent in English are moved out of the category, leaving the students without full proficiency behind, so it's hard to measure progress with the overall group, he said.


By Frederic Lardinois / |

October 14, 2010 - Just about four years ago, Google launched Apps for Education - a version of Google's online productivity tools (including Gmail and Google Docs) that is geared towards K12 schools and colleges. Now, Google just announced, there are over 10 million students, staff, faculty and alumni that are actively using Apps for Education. With the beginning of the new school year, Google must have added about 2 million new users, as the company cited 8 million users until just a few weeks ago.

Some of the Schools that Switched to Google Apps this Year:

Gonzaga University, Barnard, Brown University, William and Mary, Villanova University, Georgetown School of Business, Case Western Reserve University, Hawai'i Pacific University, Brandeis University, more than half of the 23 campuses in the California State University system, Morehouse University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Texas A&M Alumni, University of Tennessee Chattanooga, 13 of the SUNY schools, Pace University and Wilfrid Laurier

Just a few weeks ago, our own Audrey Watters pointed out that the number of states and school districts that are thinking about moving to cloud-based offerings like Google Apps for Education continues to increase. Moving to the cloud can provide these colleges and school districts with significant savings.

It is worth noting that Google is obviously not the only company that is targeting this market (though it has been very successful in its campaign to win over more school). With Live@edu, for example, Microsoft offers a similar suite of online productivity tools for students.


2cents smf

One begins to see why Microsoft has granted $1million to Roosevelt HS to pilot and demonstrate their program within LAUSD – especially as Google Apps has the contract for the City of LA e-mail and and Roosevelt is a mayor’s partnership school. Remember that LAUSD has almost twice as many employees as the city and an potential service (client) base of 600,000+ students

SOCIAL JUSTICE OR ATTACK ON LA TEACHERS?: Randy Childs, a member of United Teachers Los Angeles, looks at how an effort to protect the civil rights of minority students is being used to attack the teachers' union.

Comment: Randy Childs - SocialistWorker,ORG |

 LA teachers marching against layoffs and education cuts in April (Paul Bailey)>>

October 28, 2010 - IN THE last two years, tens of thousands of teachers in U.S. public schools have been laid off by school districts dealing with budget deficits caused by the current economic crisis. In an education system that has been woefully underfunded in times of boom and bust alike, every one of these layoffs is an outrage--most of all for the children whose futures are disrupted by the overcrowding and upheaval these layoffs cause in their schools.

It's even worse for schools in the poorest neighborhoods in America's deeply segregated cities. Schools that serve low-income children of color entered the economic crisis already bearing a disproportionate burden of overcrowding, underfunding and lack of institutional support. When the crisis hit, these same schools experienced the brunt of the teacher layoffs.

This disparity was the impetus for a lawsuit filed last year against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) by public interest legal groups, including the ACLU and Public Counsel, on behalf of the students of Liechty Middle School near downtown LA and Gompers and Markham Middle Schools in Watts.

Due to their high numbers of newer teachers, in the spring of 2009, these schools saw somewhere between 45 percent and 60 percent of teachers receive Reduction In Force (RIF) notices--layoff notices that went out to more than 2,000 teachers citywide as the LAUSD attempted to deal with reductions in funding from the state by cutting jobs.

Added to the tremendously high teacher turnover these schools already experience every year, the RIFs forced Gompers, Liechty and Markham to open in the fall with new faces in dozens of classrooms. Many classes were supervised by a rotation of up to 10 different substitute teachers in the course of a semester.

"It really made people who wanted to stay at our school feel de-valued," explained Kirti Baranwal, who is in her eighth year as a teacher at Gompers and is the school's chapter chair (union representative) with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). "We lost teachers who were in academic leadership positions, on policy-making councils, and who really cared about our students."

RIFs in education are distributed primarily on a basis of seniority--meaning newer teachers are usually the ones to be laid off, while more experienced teachers are likely to keep their jobs. Thus, the disparities in RIF notices between schools is a direct reflection of the fact that the poorest schools have far fewer highly experienced teachers than schools that serve middle-class children.

When a new round of budget cuts became imminent in 2010, another 33 percent of Markham teachers and 18 percent of Gompers teachers received RIFs. In this context of compounding layoffs, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, known as Reed v. LAUSD, were successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order prohibiting the district from laying off any more teachers at the three schools in 2010.

This court order induced the parties to the lawsuit to enter negotiations that led to a tentative settlement, approved and announced by the LAUSD school board on October 5. The Reed settlement, though not yet approved by the judge, has been greeted by positive media attention, characterizing it as a landmark civil rights victory for impoverished schoolchildren.

Representative of this reaction is a Los Angeles Times article that reports [1], "In essence, the case establishes that having quality teachers in high poverty schools could be considered a constitutional right in California." Quoted in the same Times article, Stanford University education law professor William Koski raves, "We've established the fact that you can't do harm to poor kids."

Some of the provisions of the settlement do seem at first glance to provide welcome relief to schools like Gompers, Liechty and Markham. The deal proposes to form a list of 45 high-turnover schools (including the three plaintiff schools) that each year would be protected from any teacher RIFs. Supposedly to prevent this policy from merely pushing the lion's share of layoffs from these schools to another group of high-poverty, high-turnover schools, all other schools would have their RIF numbers capped at the district average.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

UNFORTUNATELY, IF you take a closer look, you'll find the fingerprints of the corporate "school reform" movement all over the Reed settlement.

The deal includes measures that would force impacted schools to compete with each other for inclusion on the protected list of 45. This competition would be based upon "multiple measures of school-wide teacher performance" and "overall academic growth over time." Behind the rhetoric of "multiple measures," the real push going on in public education--from LAUSD to the Obama administration--is to base a wide range of school-site decisions on students' scores on standardized tests.

School Board member Yolie Flores was the driving force behind the "teacher performance" and "academic growth" provisions of the deal, and also gave a perfect example of their tortured logic, asking at a September board meeting [2], "What good is it to have a stable school if the teachers aren't effective?"

This begs three questions. One, doesn't working at an unstable and underfunded school make teachers less effective than they would otherwise be? Indeed, documents filed by the Reed plaintiffs prove this to be true, which is why the injunction happened in the first place.

Two, if this is a civil rights issue, then why should measures of "academic growth" be a factor in which schools get protected? Do children who show gains on standardized test scores have more constitutional rights than children who don't?

And three, just what evidence is there to suggest that self-styled "reformers" like Flores know the difference between effective teaching and a hole in the ground? As education historian Diane Ravitch notes, today's education reformers rarely if ever have anything substantive to say about the actual content of what children should be taught or how.

Flores attempted to get explicit language in the Reed settlement to use "value-added measures" to determine which high turnover schools would be protected from layoffs.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a key supporter of Flores and the "reform" majority on the LA school board, took the opportunity to demand that LAUSD use value-added measures to evaluate all of its schools and teachers. Villaraigosa's administration also has a hand in running several LAUSD schools, including Gompers and Markham, through its non-profit Partnership for LA Schools (PLAS). PLAS actively encouraged the Reed lawsuit and has had an ongoing role in the negotiations.

These politicians' heavy-handed advocacy for using value-added measures to drive the evaluation and even termination of teachers is strong evidence that they know little to nothing about what makes a good teacher. A great deal of educational research has shown that data from such measures is unstable, unreliable and unsupported by scientific methodology.

Studies have shown that if value-added measures declare me to be a great teacher this year, there's a 30 percent to 50 percent chance I will suddenly and inexplicably become "ineffective" next year or vice versa. Value-added measures are an attempt to graft an economic concept--the "value added" to a commodity by a direct producer--to the very different world of education. Under such a set-up, children are the commodity, and standardized test scores are their exchange values.

The rhetoric about teacher effectiveness is an attempt on the part of the capitalist class to divert attention away from their own systematic neglect of inner-city schools and onto their favorite scapegoats--teachers and our unions.

"It's not the perfect settlement," Flores told the Times after having to accept a compromise that avoids any direct references to value-added measures in the deal. "But for me, it begins to address one of the biggest structural problems we have in public education--this issue about seniority."

Union seniority rules, according to this logic, are the primary injustice hurting low-income children of color by forcing the system to lay off their disproportionately less experienced teachers in higher numbers.

However, blaming seniority ignores the question of how and why inner-city schools got such a disproportionate number of new teachers in the first place. It also ignores the even larger question of how a society that can afford to spend trillions of dollars on war, trillions more on corporate tax breaks, and even more trillions on bailouts for the bankers who wrecked the economy can turn around and lay off teachers because there supposedly isn't any money for our schools.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE REED case is not the first lawsuit to "establish the fact that you can't do harm to poor kids." A 1986 lawsuit, Rodriguez v. LAUSD, specifically challenged the fact that inner-city schools tend to have far fewer veteran teachers than more affluent suburban schools.

This eventually led to the Rodriguez consent decree that required LAUSD to set aside funding for teacher training and mentoring at schools with higher numbers of new teachers, and to take affirmative measures toward an equalization of the ratios of new teachers and veteran teachers at all schools.

The disparities attacked by the Rodriguez settlement weren't only the result of blind neglect on the district's part--although the district's systematic neglect of inner-city schools is a well-established fact.

Sending new teachers to schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods had been a conscious LA school policy decades before UTLA and seniority protections came on the scene. In 1928, a district official argued for inexperienced teachers to be assigned to "the foreign, semi-foreign, or less convenient schools. After a few more years of satisfactory service, she may be placed in the more popular districts."

The Rodriguez settlement pushed back against this ugly history by requiring veteran-heavy schools to fill vacancies with new teachers, who would then benefit from mentoring from their more experienced colleagues. It also required the district to go out of its way to find experienced teachers to fill vacancies at schools with a higher proportion of new teachers--as well as spending extra money at these schools to help new teachers improve their craft.

After about a decade of implementation, the Rodriguez consent decree was working, and the staffing disparities among LAUSD schools were decreasing gradually but significantly. So, of course, Rodriguez was ended in 2006! The plaintiffs (including the ACLU) asked for a five-year extension of the consent decree, but the judge accepted LAUSD's promises to continue the progress made by voluntarily implementing the same policies. "We have outlived it," claimed district lawyer John Walsh.

However, once the consent decree was lifted, the district immediately stopped enforcing any Rodriguez-initiated policies, and the staffing disparities began to grow again.

Unfortunately, when Rodriguez expired, UTLA did not wage a serious fight for its continuation. Nonetheless, if the district were serious about addressing the needs of high turnover and hard-to-staff schools, it never would have sought the end of Rodriguez in the first place.

Because of the influence of LA Mayor Villaraigosa and school board member Flores, the Reed settlement proposes several "solutions" to the problem of hard-to-staff schools that are nothing more than union-busting in disguise. Hopefully, the lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case will come to their senses and move away from the worst aspects of the deal.

The problem is that district leaders and the mayor are only too happy to insert themselves into the discussion, wrap themselves hypocritically in the banner of children's rights, and point a long, accusing finger at the same union they've been attacking for years.

The weakness of the civil rights lawyers' position is in the narrow framework of trying to remedy the state's and the district's violations of student civil rights through changes in seniority rules and the RIF process alone--and their willingness to go along with Villaraigosa, Flores and others who want to use this as an opportunity to attack UTLA. Changing the criteria for how RIFs are handed out won't address the long-term disparities that made Gompers, Liechty and Markham so vulnerable to begin with.

Then, there's the question of why LAUSD is so determined to eliminate teachers' jobs. It has become increasingly clear that the district will have the necessary funds to prevent any teacher RIFs this year, if officials were to step up and act in the interests of students. More school site jobs could be saved by redirecting the millions of dollars that LAUSD currently spends on its bureaucratic local district offices and wasteful periodic assessments.

A just settlement to the Reed lawsuit would require LAUSD to redirect this money to the classroom and to spend money from the recently passed federal education jobs bill immediately. A just settlement would also require LAUSD to take affirmative, Rodriguez-style measures to reduce the imbalance of teacher experience levels at different schools, and to improve the educational conditions at impoverished schools that suffer from high turnover rates.

Undoubtedly, a just settlement would have none of this garbage about putting schools in competition with each other or unreliable measures of "student growth" or "teacher effectiveness."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE PROBLEM is that the actual proposed settlement of the Reed case allows union-bashers to use the issue of social justice to attack UTLA--namely, our seniority rights.

In fact, union seniority is an important measure of social justice in and of itself. It gives working people a measure of job security in a capitalist system that is constantly undermining the stability of workers' lives. It protects employees who speak truth to power from retaliation by their employers. It can create the basis by which hiring, layoffs, job assignments and other key aspects of the workplace are handled through an objective and predictable process, rather than the whims and favoritism of management.

In education, seniority for teachers means all of the above--and it also directly benefits students. Education studies consistently show that the average teacher is significantly less effective in their first couple of years teaching than they will become after several years of experience in the classroom. That's why its so important that teachers who make a long-term commitment to the classroom are protected by seniority--both teachers and students benefit.

Now, however, the union is faced with a dilemma. UTLA must continue to defend seniority as a foundation of union organization against Villaraigosa, Flores and others who want to use the settlement of the lawsuit to weaken us. Certainly, we don't want to see highly experienced colleagues laid off when the jobs of the newest teachers are saved because they happen to work at a high-turnover school.

But by the same token, no teacher with a conscience and a commitment to social justice wants to see some schools and communities devastated by layoffs year after year. UTLA has to balance the issue of our seniority rights with meeting the needs of some of our most at-risk students.

While we reject the cynical attempts of Flores and Villaraigosa to hide behind those kids while attacking us, we also have to squarely face the issues and take a stand for social justice. Teachers can and should take the lead in defending our kids from the impact of layoffs even as we stand up for our own rights.

However, the civil rights lawyers' solutions fail on both these counts. They seek to prevent RIFs at 45 schools only to push the pain of layoffs onto other beleaguered sites. This not only doesn't address the real problem, it will likely make the situation worse.

Couple the inadequacy of the major "remedy with the fact that the mayor and the school board are using this opportunity to marginalize the union and put forward a solution that benefits neither students nor their teachers, and it becomes clear that the settlement would be a disaster. We face an agreement that sanctions an attack on UTLA and seniority, and lets LAUSD and the state off the hook for policies that have done enormous harm to Black, Latino and poor students.

It's urgent that UTLA members debate these issues--and develop their own proposals that both defend our union and genuinely meet the needs of our students.

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