Sunday, July 31, 2011

EDUCATION TAKES A BEATING NATIONWIDE: More layoffs, bigger classes, fewer programs and higher tuition are nothing new to U.S. educators, but analysts say this year stands out.

By Stephen Ceasar and Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times |

July 31, 2011 - After a particularly brutal budgeting season this summer, states and school districts across the country have fired thousands of teachers, raised college tuition, relaxed standards, slashed days off the academic calendar and gutted pre-kindergarten and summer school programs.

Slashed budgets are nothing new for educators, but experts say this year stands out.

Last year, K-12 budgets were cut $1.8 billion nationwide. According to estimates by the National Assn. of State Budget Officers, cuts to K-12 for the new fiscal year may reach $2.5 billion.

A year ago, higher-education budgets across the nation were trimmed $1.2 billion. The expected cuts this year: $5 billion.

"They've long since been cutting deep into the bone," said Michael Leachman of the nonpartisan Center on Budget Policies and Priorities, based in Washington.

At least 22 states have scaled back K-12 funding and at least 24 have made cuts in higher education for fiscal year 2012, the center found.

To cover such shortfalls, experts say, school officials often reduce, or eliminate, personnel and programs vital to the most vulnerable populations: lower-income and minority students.

In California, many school districts cut spending for adult education, libraries, textbooks, arts and music, gifted students, tutoring for low-performing high school students and other programs, according to two major surveys, including one by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. Many districts shortened the 180-day school year by five days.

"These are extraordinarily inequitable cuts for low-income communities of color," said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based advocacy group.

He said that a shorter academic year and cuts to summer classes exacerbate their generally lagging achievement because many low-income students cannot afford the enriched activities enjoyed by their middle-class counterparts, such as museum visits and private tutoring.

In Florida, state funds for 15,000 children to attend a school-readiness program for low-income families have been cut, and college tuition was raised 15% for the fourth consecutive year. Texas eliminated funding for pre-kindergarten programs that serve about 100,000 at-risk children.

Though cuts in education reach all demographics, they do not affect all students equally, said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington.

"If we're worried about the future, we have to be worried about these equity issues," Jennings said. "Who's going to be the employees, the industry leaders in the future? Increasingly, they will be children of color, and they're not going to close the achievement gap."

Across the country, education officials are finding ways to save money:

In California, many districts have cut back on high school counselors, leaving many students to sort out the college application process on their own.

In New Mexico, some school districts have gone to four-day school weeks.

In Illinois, high school juniors will no longer be evaluated on writing skills after the state eliminated a writing test, saving about $2.4 million.

University of California students will pay $1,818 more in tuition this year than last, after increases of 8% and 9.6%, and Cal State University tuition will rise by $294, to $5,472.

In Washington state, lawmakers cut more than $1 billion in class-size reduction, early learning programs and teacher development.

Reaction to such cutbacks has varied. Outside Sioux Falls, S.D., teachers and administrators in the Brandon Valley School District worked without pay during summer school to stave off cancellation of the summer program.

At Wonderland Elementary School in Los Angeles' Laurel Canyon, parents have managed to raise $450,000 a year to retain science, art, physical education, teachers' assistants, yard supervision and a librarian for a library completed two years ago, parent leader Teri Levy said.

But they have not been able to prevent class sizes from swelling, as they have around the state. At Wonderland, classes in the lower grades have grown from 20 to 28 students in the last few years.

"It's so packed that teachers can't focus on all of the kids in the class," Levy said.

In many parts of the country, parents and teachers have taken to the streets to protest, but to little effect.

In Philadelphia, parents mustered 400 signatures on a petition in hopes of saving the job of Hau Chau, a bilingual counseling assistant at H.A. Brown Elementary. Chau was the only Vietnamese-speaking employee at a school where 18% of students speak the language at home.

"The students feel comfortable, feel protected when I'm there," Chau said. "I try to guide them and talk to their teachers to find a way for the students to feel comfortable and happy while they are in school."

But nearly half of the 103 bilingual counseling assistants and 16 of the 275 teachers of English as a second language in the School District of Philadelphia were laid off. One of them was Chau. (The district says it will move another Vietnamese speaker to H.A. Brown.)

In all, the district laid off 1,228 teachers and 1,277 non-instructional staff members to close a $629-million shortfall after the state slashed about $851 million in funds for Pennsylvania public schools.

Pennsylvania highlights a problem nationwide. Many districts relied on the $787-billion federal stimulus, the Recovery Act of 2009, to make ends meet. The stimulus included $97.4 billion for education. That money is running out.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, says it was the school districts' insistence in recent years on crafting budgets with federal funds — not the Legislature — that caused more than 3,000 teacher layoffs across the state.

"We will not be laying off the school district teachers," Corbett said. "And the school districts have their own financial decisions that they have to make. I would note that many of them took the federal money, were told that the federal money would go away, made their budgets in the past based upon that, and now that money is not there."

In California, state budget cuts and declining enrollment have delivered a one-two punch, pushing more than 140 school districts into financial jeopardy. In the last three years, schools have lost $18 billion they otherwise would have received in state funding and cost-of-living increases — the largest reduction in recent history, according to fiscal experts.

Funding has increased a bit in the last few years — including a $200-million increase for the 2011-12 school year. Federal aid has helped cushion the blow, but per-pupil funding is still 20% lower than in 2007, according to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The Legislative Analyst's Office calculates the reductions differently, putting the decline at 11.6%.

The disparities have heightened the challenges of educating the state's 6.2 million schoolchildren, 20% of whom live in poverty and one-third of whom are learning English as a second language.

"It's the worst crisis ever in California schools," Torlakson said.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Jason Song | LA Times/LA Now |

SEE ALSO: High concept moviemaking?: BAD TEACHER IS A F-ing COMEDY! + BAD TEACHER MOVIE BOASTS BAD TASTE: By smf for 4LAKidsNews...


June 30, 2011 |  3:45 pm - The Los Angeles School Board on Thursday was supposed to discuss whether teachers with special skills should be rehired after layoffs, but board member Richard Vladovic had another idea.

After apologizing in advance for veering off-topic, Vladovic launched into a lengthy complaint about the new Cameron Diaz movie "Bad Teacher."

The film, which finished second at the box office last weekend and brought in $31 million, focuses on a foul-mouthed teacher (Diaz) who berates her students, does drugs and throws balls at children. Billboards featuring Diaz apparently sleeping at a desk with an apple and an "Eat Me!" sticker are featured throughout town.

Vladovic, a former teacher and administrator who represents the San Pedro area, said the movie studio should remove the ads because they demean the teaching profession and could influence children who should look up to educators.

The movie studio president "should be ashamed," said Vladovic, who raised his voice and threw up his hands several times during his speech.

After Vladovic finished, the board resumed discussing whether teachers with special training or language skills should be first on the rehire list.


By Mikhail Zinshteyn | Washington Independent |

07.29.11 | 3:21 pm - WASHINGTON, D.C. – Education reformer Diane Ravitch gave a keynote speech Friday at the Save Our Schools and National Call to Action, speaking for one hour on the history of education while offering a litany of rebukes aimed at policymakers and stakeholders in toe with President Obama’s Race to the Top programs.

The former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and noted professor of educational history spoke to an endeared audience of teachers, parent groups and community activists, who routinely interrupted Ravitch’s speech with applause, cheers and titters.

Barring no punches, she boasted news outlets have called her an adversary of Bill Gates, whose namesake foundation funds many education research projects that Save Our School organizers view as inimical to education.

During a faux-interview in which Ravitch lobbed questions at herself that she’s answered throughout her career, she spoke on the history of rhetoric on U.S. education, explaining commentators have been drumming the beat of educational crisis for a century.

“In the 1910s there was a crisis,” on student vocational training, which led to the Smith Hughes Act in 1917, Ravitch began. Another crisis was the spate of immigrant children in urban schools during the 1920s, followed by underfunding during the Great Depression. She took a pot shot at Newsweek for calling the 1950s the “golden age” in American education, even though that decade produced the seminal scare-read Johnny Can’t ReadAnd What You can Do about It, which launched a national call to action for remedial learning reform. Drawing laughter, she remarked the first Soviet satellite was launched into space “because our schools were so bad.”

She also touched on racism, high poverty and class issues coming to the fore during the explosive 1960s, adding ironically “that was the discovery of the 1960s—there’s poverty in America,” which also drew laughter from the audience.

On contemporary issues like budget cuts and high-stakes standardized testing, Ravitch said, “every school should have full curriculum … music is primal. Every school should have a library and media center with a person in it,” a veiled reference to the recent trend of school districts laying off librarians.

She reiterated her opposition to merit pay for teachers, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top measures and school vouchers. On teacher tenure, Ravitch lampooned critics who view educational work protection rules as lifetime employment guarantees: “[Teachers have] a right to a hearing if someone wants to fire [them] … it’s not so onerous ,.. it’s due process.”

Ravitch provided a handful of policy prescriptions, beginning with electing “a whole lot of different people.” She also urged teachers, parents and activists to participate in the recall efforts underway in Ohio and Wisconsin — two states that have aggressively curbed public sector wage protection laws and public service expenditures.

Beyond politics, she argued more medical outreach should be given to pregnant women, citing studies that link underweight newborns to higher rates of learning disabilities, a problem that affects mostly low-income mothers. Early education for all children below the age of five she also mentioned, explaining in 1990 that end goal was the top priority among education policy makers. In addition, she called for increased funding for special education and medical clinics available on all school campuses.

“These people who call themselves reformers have almost all the money and all the political power,” Ravitch said, but “[t]hey are few, and we are many.”

As a primary spokesperson for the impassioned groups like Save our Schools, her call to political action will likely invite increased speculation teachers’ unions are chiefly funding these movements. Politico ran a piece citing an unnamed source who alleges Save Our Schools is concealing the degree to which union representatives are involved in organizing the group’s efforts. The American Independent was also contacted by an individual alleging a cover-up, citing four senior union officials on the Save Our Schools executive committee who were unnamed previously. Sabrina Stevens Shupe, a former teacher who serves as a press contact and web editor for Save our Schools, told TAI it’s to be expected unions will be involved with teacher groups.

“That’s not a smoking gun,” she said. As for the two lists, Shupe wrote in an email, “The ‘internal’ list isn’t internal! It’s public.”

TAI reported Thursday less than half of the money raised by Save Our Schools came from union funds. Ms. Ravitch, the 2011 recipient of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize, donated all $20,000 of her prize money to Save Our Schools and other education reform projects.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Players, The Scorecard: WARREN FLETCHER and JOHN DEASY


English teacher brings new look as union leader

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer, LA Daily News |


John Deasy gets good marks from mayor, others

By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer, LA Daily News |

Warren Fletcher took over as president of United Teachers Los Angeles on July 1. He was photographed at the UTLA office on Thursday, July 28, 2011. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer) (Michael Owen Baker)

7/29/2011 09:52:18 PM PDT  - Most people would relish the chance to be called president -- especially the nation's second-largest teachers union, representing some 40,000 educators, substitutes and counselors.

But Warren Fletcher, newly elected to head United Teachers Los Angeles, prefers to keep the title he's used for the last 28 years.

"I always make sure I am introduced as an English teacher, because that is what I am first and foremost -- a teacher."

Fletcher is a fan of using metaphors and citing literary classics to get his points across. To express his priorities for the union, he recited a rhythmic poem that he said teachers have been using for years.

"Lower class sizes, higher pay, fix the roof and get out of the way," he said.

Thoughtful and at times meandering, his responses to questions contrast sharply to the brusque style of his predecessor, A.J. Duffy.

And his usual black nurse's shoes, plaid button-down shirts and khaki pants are also a far cry from Duffy's uniform of double-breasted suits, suspenders and two-toned shoes.

Fletcher cautions, however, that his low-key demeanor should not be perceived as weakness.

"A good teacher doesn't have to yell to get their point across."

Fletcher also knows how to be persistent. The veteran teacher has been active within the union for about as long as he's been teaching. He campaigned more than once to be UTLA president, but without success.

An ability to withstand adversity could come in handy now that he's finally won the leadership role.

Since 2008, Los Angeles Unified's financial crisis resulted in the elimination of thousands of teachers, counselors and librarians - layoffs that likewise reduced the union's membership.

Layoffs have drawn attention to union-supported work rules, like the seniority system that forces the district to let go of teachers based on years of experience rather than performance.

And mounting public pressure for school reform has pushed school board members and new Superintendent John Deasy to approve drastic changes to the system, often putting them at odds with UTLA.

Meanwhile, independently run charter schools, which are not required to hire union workers, have thrived - taking students from LAUSD schools and threatening UTLA jobs.

Duffy, who led the union during this upheaval, often referred to the last few years as "battle" years. He acknowledged that his leadership style was aggressive but he felt this was necessary considering the circumstances.

"I chose to be bombastic so that people would listen," Duffy said.

"But union leadership needs to be able to tell the story of teachers at a time when teachers' stories are being distorted."

Duffy encouraged Fletcher to -- in his own way -- keep the spotlight on the union.

"Without a powerful voice to tell the other side, nobody is going to hear about the struggles of teachers."

School board member Steve Zimmer said he hoped Fletcher's collegial style could repair much needed lines of communication.

"He's serious, substantive and intellectual, and these are all things that could be very positive ... but it's still going to be a huge challenge," Zimmer said.

As Fletcher juggles his relationships with the political forces outside the union, he'll also have to manage various factions within UTLA.

From substitute teachers to counselors, every type of teacher has different concerns and different views on the union's direction.

"Warren is becoming president at a critical time where literally the state of the union and the future of public education in Los Angeles will be impacted to a large degree by how well he does as president," said Gregg Solkovits, UTLA's secondary vice president and a veteran union activist.

Still, Fletcher doesn't seem daunted by his new job.

"I don't rant and I don't rave ... I'm a low-key guy," Fletcher said.

"But I know what's important ... and I know what teachers care about."

John Deasy, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent, Tuesday, photographed on July 26, 2011. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer)

0/29/2011 10:03:11 PM PDT  A  former high school chemistry and biology teacher, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy approaches his job as head of the nation's second largest school district like he would a science experiment -- methodically and with precision.

His analytical and often unemotional way of doing business has already earned him a reputation with some for being disconnected and indifferent.

But with his first 100 days just behind him, and the start of his first school year just weeks away, Deasy said he has no time to apologize for his direct approach.

"I know I can come off as short and uncaring... I care deeply... but I also know that there is a very short period of time in a kid's life where I can make things vastly different for them," Deasy said.

"There is just too much work ahead of us."

Since taking over from retired Superintendent Ramon Cortines on April 15, Deasy has wasted no time pushing forward with a number of initiatives.

In just 45 days, Deasy secured furlough agreements with all but one of the district's employee unions, which reduced the number of expected layoffs at LAUSD by more than half and preserved current class sizes and most academic programs.

He's also taken action to overhaul teacher evaluations, launching a pilot system that will use student test score data; he's made school meals healthier, banning chocolate milk and demanding more vegetarian options for kids; and under his tenure LAUSD has pressed fast-forward on an initiative to shut down low-performing campuses.

To date eight low-performing LAUSD schools have been overhauled.

As if his plate wasn't full enough Deasy, who downs five cups of coffee a day and doesn't leave home without his iPhone, also makes time to leave messages almost daily for Southland parents, students, teachers and union leaders via Twitter.

Deasy admits that some elements of the job have been far more complex than he imagined when he took the position, "but I'm loving every minute of it," he said.

Local leaders and education observers, especially those pushing for major change at LAUSD, have noticed Deasy's efforts and are already singing his praises.

"John Deasy has hit the ground running and I think he's exceeded even the highest expectations we all had for him," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has supported Deasy since his hire as deputy superintendent last year.

"I think he's staked out a path to usher the LAUSD into the 21st century and towards a kids-first agenda," said Ben Austin, former state board member and founder of pro-reform group "Parent Revolution."

Still early in his administration, district teachers and school workers seem more ambivalent about the new school chief.

Some employees complain that Deasy has pushed reforms forward without consulting workers and he's made more time for national speeches than visiting local schools. They also question his decision to hire members of his leadership team with six-figure salaries at a time of fiscal crisis.

"He's holed up on the 24th floor with his advisers... he's not invested in this district, in the people here or in this community," said Connie Moreno, an official with the California School Employees Association, which represents school office managers, library aides and other school workers.

CSEA is the one district union that held out on agreeing to furloughs.

Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said his view of the superintendent so far is not as pessimistic.

Fletcher, who took over the leadership of UTLA this month, is still developing a relationship with Deasy that he hopes will be cordial and cooperative but for now if he had to give the superintendent a grade he said it would be an "incomplete."

The teachers union is fighting in court with the district over Deasy's decision to launch a pilot teacher evaluation system without negotiating with UTLA and over the overhaul of two district schools.

Fletcher said these tensions, coupled with a lack of face time with many educators, have left many in his membership feeling frustrated with the district leader.

"We want him to be the educational leader of this district... someone who can stop enabling dubious policies and practices and advocate for what's best for students," Fletcher said.

"But I am still hopeful that he'll step up and do that."

Bill Ring, a longtime parent advocate, also wondered if a well-meaning but overly ambitious Deasy has taken on more than he can chew in his first few months.

"Given that he's trying to do so much, and I'm not faulting him for that, I'm concerned about what happens if he doesn't make that progress," Ring said.

Deasy's prominence on the national stage and frequent speaking engagements also have some wondering if he's going to stay long enough at LAUSD to implement all of his reforms.

Since April, Deasy has had speaking engagements in Washington D.C., New York and Aspen as well as several across Los Angeles.

"Some people in the community are already saying they only give him a year," Ring said.

Deasy chuckled at the idea that he's aiming for another job already. He said the school board, which hired him under a contract with no buy-out clause, will ultimately decide how long he gets to keep his job. However, he said he'd like to stay at least five to eight years.

It is only with that kind of time on the job that Deasy believes he can accomplish everything he wants to for LAUSD, like increasing enrollment by growing the number of theme-based schools.

He also plans to launch a "Los Angeles Fund for Public Education," hoping to raise some $500 million for local schools. He would also like to lead the effort for a parcel tax to support district programs.

He said he wants to "elevate" the image of teachers and administrators. Many of the changes he plans to ask the teachers union for this year -- like better evaluations and more flexible work rules -- are a way to give educators more power, he said.

"What happens at LAUSD is of incredible national significance... Los Angeles is the rest of the country, only sooner," Deasy said. "The problems we face are coming to a city near you."


By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News |

John Deasy, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent, Tuesday, photographed on July 26, 2011. (Michael Owen Baker/Staff Photographer) >>

7/28/2011 9:39:09 PM PDT [Updated: 7/29/2011 10:49:52 AM PDT] - Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy is calling for the repeal of some new state education funding measures that he believes restrict districts' ability to control their own spending and calendar.

The controversial measures were part of the deal reached in Sacramento this summer that allowed the state budget to be passed on time.

AB 114, a one-year bill, requires school districts to maintain staffing levels in the 2011-12 school year equal to those they had this year, based on an assumption that state revenues will increase by $4 billion this year.

The bill also strips local county offices of their responsibility to certify that district budgets are balanced for at least two years; and calls for the shortening of the school year by up to seven days, beyond already approved cuts to the school year of five days, if projected revenues are not realized.

In a July 26 letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, Deasy asked for the repeal of three provisions of AB 114 that he said "will have detrimental effects on all students, and in particular, our students who live in circumstances of poverty, and students of color."

United Teachers Los Angeles has been calling on the school district to bring back a majority of the 1,918 educators who were let go July 1 because of this new state bill.

However, Deasy said LAUSD will not return those educators at this time because they were lost due to declining enrollment, the loss of federal stimulus funding and other factors like increases in expenditures.

LAUSD is projecting the loss of some 20,000 students for the 2011-12 school year - costing the district some $100 million in revenue. The district is also losing more than $200million in federal stimulus funding that expired this year.

UTLA president Warren Fletcher argued that the district is breaking the law because if the state is asking districts to count on additional funding that should mean an increase in teachers hired.

"I am an English teacher, not a math teacher, but at what point does new money coming in start counting towards funding programs," Fletcher said.

"If I disagree with the law, it's a democracy. I can advocate for a change in the law, but I don't have a right to break it."


2cents smf: I’m not sure that there is a state anywhere where it’s true - but in California the power to repeal legislation, once enacted, does not lie with the Governor. It lies with the legislature. I agree that parts of AB 114 are confusing and may be bad legislation – but writing letters to Governor Brown is a waste of postage.


By Nora Carr | from the July issue of American School Board Journal |

Few took the fledgling Tea Party movement seriously in 2009. Then, in 2010, Tea Party candidates began toppling political icons nationwide.

Now Tea Partiers have set their sights on public schools, calling for massive funding cuts. Using the recession and state budget woes as political cover, many Tea Party zealots seek to dismantle or starve the traditional public school infrastructure.

Not surprisingly, most websites and candidates associated with the movement also call for the rapid expansion of charter schools, vouchers, tuition tax credits, and other parent choice mechanisms.

Ironically, given the apparently widespread belief among many Tea Party advocates that the nation’s public schools are irretrievably broken, the movement has begun encouraging candidates to run in local school board elections.

Voters, it seems, are getting angrier and staying mad longer. Misinformation abounds, spread worldwide 24/7 by bloggers and social media savants.

Traditional political wisdom counsels school officials to reinforce their supporters, engage those in the middle, and ignore the negative 2 percent to 10 percent whose opinions will never change.

Unfortunately, with more than 70 percent of U.S. voters no longer directly connected to their public schools through their children, ignoring media-savvy activist groups is likely to backfire.

“With most activist groups there are legitimate concerns, and those concerns are worthy of examination,” says Alan Freitag, a retired lieutenant colonel and public affairs officer in the U.S. Air Force who is now a public relations professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Assess before acting

As rhetoric heats up, parsing legitimate concerns from intractable political or philosophical positions is getting more challenging.

Before school officials spend limited time and political capital, Freitag recommends assessing the actual and potential benefit or harm a group can do to the organization’s mission, reputation, and support.

As a first step, Freitag recommends monitoring blogs, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and hostile websites to get a sense of what issues are being discussed and what is likely to happen with the group moving forward.

“Activist groups seek and create opportunities to be heard,” says Freitag. “They need to communicate in order to do that. By monitoring the conversation, you can get a sense if there’s a real issue or a real concern that they’re expressing that needs to be dealt with.”

Mainstream media outlets typically trail Internet and social media traffic. By identifying issues early, before groups reach critical mass or problems erupt into full-blown crises, leaders can be more proactive and strategic in how they engage and collaborate with activist groups.

Monitoring Internet and social media sources also helps school leaders identify whether activist groups have just a few members or hundreds of followers.

“All activist groups are not the same,” says Freitag. “If you assess the situation and classify the organization as just being out to do damage, then engaging them in any significant way beyond a very limited response is probably not going to be warranted.”

Freitag cautions that such situations typically are quite rare. Most activist groups want and deserve a response, and most will join with organizations in solving common problems and concerns.

“You don’t need to reach 51 percent of the public. You need to reach 51 percent of those who matter,” says James Lukazsewski, a crisis communications consultant. “From a strategy point of view, folks who really care will support you or protect you if they have a relationship with you.”

Increasing responsiveness

Being responsive to inquiries is one of the best ways to disarm critics and win new converts to any cause, experts say.

“Everyone with a question is entitled to an answer, including those who are angry,” says Lukazsewski. “Too often educated people judge the questioner rather than the question. When we stop judging who is worthy of a response and start responding, we will settle people down.”

Unfortunately, school districts and other government agencies are notorious for providing poor customer service.

Districts that have engaged parents or trained consultants to contact schools and departments and record the responses they receive are often shocked to discover the high percentage of phone calls, e-mails, letters, and faxes that go unanswered.

The lack of response only fuels distrust among parents and the public. “For every question the school board answers, six people quit worrying,” says Lukazsewski. “If you want to have problems, pick and choose the questions you answer. When you do answer, answer like an attorney.”

That’s why Lukazsewski and other crisis management consultants advise increasing -- not decreasing -- communication efforts when organizations are under attack.

“School boards and district administrators need to have more aggressive communication efforts so they’re leading the discussion and not reacting to it,” says Larry Smith, president of the Institute for Crisis Management.

Rather than simply disseminate information, school officials need to engage and involve activist groups and other constituents in district planning and decision-making processes. From listening and learning sessions to Rotary Club presentations, school officials need to get more engaged in community outreach and in telling public education’s story.

“Leaders need to be face to face with just about everybody all the time,” says Lukazsewski. “Why wait for a school board meeting, where we have these big dramas? You need to get out there and meet with members of the public who like you so you can motivate them, and you need to meet with people who are angry, because that is how you build integrity and trust.”

It’s easy to criticize people with whom you don’t have a relationship, says Smith. “It’s hard to criticize someone you know, and most communities don’t know who their school board members or administrators are at their local districts.”

Since activist groups tend to thrive on emotion and passion, Freitag recommends responding to accusations calmly and succinctly, focusing on facts and the organization’s point of view.

“Fighting is not leading,” says Lukazsewski. “How you behave as a leader is what moves organizations forward.” 

Nora Carr ( is chief of staff for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools and a contributing editor to ASBJ.


Themes in the News for the week of July 25-29, 2011 by UCLA IDEA |

07-29-2011 - This week, a National Public Radio series reports that students who drop out of school are unemployed at nearly twice the rate of high school graduates. They are also more likely to commit crimes and experience drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, and other social ills that add up to “hundreds of billions of dollars in lost earnings, welfare and medical costs, and billions more for dropouts who end up in prison” (NPR).

Dropping out of school is typically represented as a personal choice. Boredom, lack of effort, truancy, pregnancy—all individual characteristics—are featured as common “causes” of high dropout rates. For example, the final NPR installment quotes a student’s reason for dropping out:  "[In] ninth grade, I dropped out of school. I was 18. I flunked twice, I had no interest, and I told my mom 'cause I was living at home at the time, I said, 'I'm done, I'm not going back to school.' "

However, it is clear that students’ decisions to drop out could be vastly reduced with appropriate community and school policies. In the August issue of American School Board Journal*, researchers (including IDEA’s Marisa Saunders) identify risk factors apparent as early as elementary and middle school that could double the chances of dropping out, such as failing a course, multiple absences, and being over-age for grade level. These factors often can be addressed at that early age.

The article, Stemming the Dropout Tide, reports that even as late as high school, proven programs and sufficient support can interrupt the likelihood of many students dropping out. Researchers found that 73 percent of students attending Los Angeles Unified magnet high schools graduated compared to 45 percent who attended other schools. Magnet schools focus on a particular theme such as arts, technology or medical careers. The magnets are often smaller schools and may garner more resources that are tailored to their programs.

Unfortunately, most high schools—magnet and other—lack the small class sizes, one-on-one interaction with well-qualified teachers and counselors, engaging curriculum and other supports that would encourage students to stay in school longer. The best dropout prevention may not be targeted “programs” to reach at-risk students, but to have in place as a routine matter all the schooling elements known to teach and guide students to success.

IDEA’s survey
of California principals last year found a majority had increased class sizes, half had cut down the number of counselors, and many had cut back on arts, music and other electives. Narrowing course choices “negatively impacts motivation and engagement,” said a Riverside County administrator.
The high dropout rates that different states report are shocking. But they are not particularly accurate, and the real figures are probably higher. The NPR report notes that states do not report their data in consistent ways, and that makes it hard for communities, policymakers, and school officials to formulate policies and hold themselves accountable. To that end, the U.S. Education Department will require states to use a uniform measurement formula. “You’ve got to know how deep the hole is in order to develop a strategy for getting out of it” (CBS).

*The August issue is not yet available online. When it is, IDEA will feature the piece in its Education News Roundup.


By Alyson Klein |  EdWeek/Politics K-12 |

July 28, 2011 6:07 PM | As you may have heard, Congress is desperately scrambling to reach some kind of an agreement on the debt ceiling before the nation goes into default on Tuesday. That means that education advocates are also desperately scrambling to influence the process and to ensure that lawmakers look out for K-12 interests in a final agreement.

The debt ceiling discussion presents a unique challenge for education advocates, because, right now, there aren't any actual numbers proposed for specific programs (like Title I grants for disadvantaged students), for K-12 as a whole, or even for the U.S. Department of Education.

So the number advocates are keeping their eye on is total federal discretionary spending, which must be balanced in any final agreement against taxes and mandatory spending (for programs such as Social Security and Medicare).

"It's all about the size of the box," said Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition. "Before we get to deciding Title I versus special education versus [college access programs], it's what size is the box. ... How much money a program gets can be determined by how big the box is."

In some cases, education advocates have teamed up with folks in the health and civil rights communities, since education, labor, and health programs are all funded under the general heading of discretionary spending.

The Committee for Education Funding, whose members include the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Association of School Administrators, have already sent a letter to the leaders on Capitol Hill, asking them to continue to invest in education even as they try to gain control of the deficit. The group has also circulated news stories about the impact of education cuts around the nation.

The NEA is also launching its own lobbying effort, said Mary Kusler, the manager of federal advocacy for the teachers' union. The NEA is working with its state affiliates to target congressional leaders and moderate Republicans. For example, the union is working with its Ohio affiliate to lobby Rep. John Boehner, the speaker of the House, and Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican. Other targets include Sens. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

The American Federation of Teachers has also sent a letter opposing a House plan for raising the debt ceiling.

Pell grants are another particular area of concern. More background here. A coalition has formed to help look out for the program, which helps low-income students pay for college. The group includes the Children's Defense Fund, the National Council of La Raza, The Education Trust, and the KIPP Foundation.

UPDATE: The NEA and other public employee unions are running ads in the districts of some GOP lawmakers on the debt ceiling negotiations. The ad will run in the districts of seven house lawmakers and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.

Check it out below:



By Michele McNeil  | Ed Week/Politics K-12 |

July 29, 2011 3:45 PM | U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for a radical upending of the nation's teaching pipeline—higher salaries, improved performance-based teacher accountability, and a higher bar for prospective students to enter schools of education.

In remarks today to a conference of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, he called for teachers to start out making $60,000 a year, topping out at around $150,000. His speech comes as thousands of teachers from across the country descend on the nation's capital to protest many of the Obama administration's policies, from the increasing reliance on standardized tests to using test scores to help evaluate teachers.

"We must think radically differently," he said, according to prepared remarks. "We must ask and answer hard questions on topics that have been off limits in the past like staffing practices and school organization, benefits packages and job security—because the answers may give us more realistic ways to afford these new professional conditions."

Top salaries of $150,000 a year won't come cheap, and Duncan acknowledged as much.

"And it will cost money—and—given the current political climate with the nation wrestling with debt and deficits—I am sure some people will immediately say that we can't afford it without even looking at how to redirect the money we are already spending—and mis-spending.

He called on colleges of education to raise the bar for prospective students, to lure the brightest in. "Top undergraduates will flock to a profession that demands high standards and credentials," he said.

Although Duncan's remarks today shouldn't surprise anyone, this does mark a fresh, reinvigorated push from the secretary, who wants to help remake the way we find, educate, evaluate, and compensate the nation's teaching force. He's already pushed states to alter policies on merit pay and teacher-student data linkages through the Race to the Top grant competition.

Now, he appears to be using the bully pulpit to continue to advance that message. As he begins to explicitly lay out the problem—the first step in any public policymaking process—expect him in the fall to begin proposing exactly what the Education Department can do to achieve this radical transformation


UTLA is putting pressure on LAUSD to fulfill the intent of the CA legislature to rehire UTLA members and restore programs that were cut this year.


Assembly Bill 114 (AB 114), part of the state budget signed by Governor Jerry Brown on June 30, aims to help stabilize schools by preventing additional teacher layoffs for 2011, ensuring that districts fund schools at 2010-11 levels, and requiring districts to maintain staffing and programs appropriate to those funding levels.

AB 114’s key points:

  • Districts are required to assume they will get the same funding they did last year and to maintain staffing and program levels commensurate with this funding level,which may lead to the rehiring of a significant number of UTLA members RIF’d this year.

  • The bill protects teachers from further layoffs for the 2011-12 school year, which districts would usually be allowed to do in August under Education Code provisions. Districts are also prevented from making mid-year cuts to school-site programs. However, the bill does not prevent school districts from issuing another round of pink slips next March 15 for the 2012-13 school year.

  • The budget contains a projected $4 billion in increased revenues for 2011-12. If tax revenues fall short of projections by $2 billion or more, districts would have to make cuts. If that happens, districts would be allowed to shorten the school year by seven days, on top of the five days already authorized. LAUSD would have to negotiate the additional cuts in school days with UTLA.

- See Sacramento Bee’s article


By Theresa Harrington - Contra Costa Times |

Updated: 07/28/2011 05:19:54 PM PDT - Pink-slipped teachers in some California schools are being called back to work as districts respond to the recently adopted state budget and a companion bill that is causing confusion.

Assembly Bill 114 says that districts aren't supposed to reduce staff and programs from last year's levels and must instead approve budgets as if they will receive the same funding. However, many superintendents and education advocates have criticized the law, saying it ties their hands by forcing them to rely on overly rosy state revenue projections without allowing them to adequately plan for possible cuts.

The law, signed June 30 by Gov. Jerry Brown, has forced some districts to revise budgets that factored in possible midyear cuts. The Elk Grove district in Sacramento County, for instance, laid off 445 teachers in May as a precaution against severe state cuts, then rehired them this month after the legislation was approved, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Districts throughout the state are interpreting the law differently, but all must finalize their budgets by Aug. 15.

"It's disappointing that AB 114 was passed in the middle of the night and without public debate or scrutiny," said Rick La Plante, spokesman for the New Haven district in Union City. "Good idea or bad, it's another example of why so many folks have lost faith in Sacramento and Washington. Local districts need more control over the shrinking dollars we're getting, not less, and our children and their families deserve some level of security about their education."

If anticipated state revenues fall $2 billion below projections, K-12 schools could lose as much as $1.5 billion in per-student funding, and absorb a $248 million cut in transportation funding, according to the state budget approved last month. If this "budget trigger" is reached, AB 114 authorizes school districts to slash as many as 12 days from the school year, shortening it from 180 days to 168.

This has some districts worried, because officials say it takes away their local control over how to distribute cuts. Further, officials worry they may not be able to convince teachers' unions to go along with a shortened school year. If they do, the disparity in the length of the school year from one district to the next could cheat needy students out of instructional time, said Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Berryessa district in San Jose.

"It's just frustrating that they're coming up with laws like this that put the districts in untenable positions," he said. "They're giving us solutions that they can't support and have no control over and that's a typical state move."

The California Teachers Association has praised the legislation, saying it brings "stability" to schools that have already lost billions in state funding. Dean Vogel, president of the union, said districts have plenty of options.

"I just think they're crying scared," he said. "What they're going to be asked to do really is to come together with the stakeholders and figure out how to make this work."

Officials in some districts -- such as Mt. Diablo in Contra Costa County; Oakland in Alameda County; and Berryessa in Santa Clara County -- say they do not need to bring back positions and programs because they have made cuts that are necessary even with flat revenues. Mt. Diablo already has built seven furlough days into its budget for the next two years, along with a $10.7 million reserve fund to protect against midyear cuts.

The Contra Costa County Office of Education recommends that districts plan for possible cuts of about $250 per student for elementary districts, $260 for unified districts and $300 for high school districts for mid-year cuts or other budget uncertainties. But School Services of California Inc., which advises many districts in preparing budgets, says it's not appropriate to maintain a reserve for midyear cuts under AB 114, although the law is vague in that area. Ron Bennett, president of the Sacramento-based company, recommended that districts maintain a larger general reserve than required.

A few districts might face state takeovers if they're unable to reach union agreements, said Peggy Marshburn, spokeswoman for the Contra Costa County Office of Education.

"Local superintendents and county school boards across the state are very concerned about this legislation and the impact it's going to have on schools," she said.

  • Staff writers Katy Murphy, Paul Burgarino, Neil Gonzales, Jonathan Morales, Sharon Noguchi and Rob Dennis contributed to this report.

ONLINE: More information about AB 114 is in the On Assignment blog

Obama Prep + Clay MS: PROTESTERS UPSET OVER CHANGES AT 2 SOUTH L.A. MIDDLE SCHOOLS: “…a moral and ethical violation of the public trust”

by Howard Blume | LA Times/LA Now |

July 27, 2011 |  7:02 PM - About 75 demonstrators gathered Wednesday afternoon to protest the removal of a Los Angeles middle school principal and the conversion of another South L.A. campus to a charter school.

Protesters were upset about the recent departure of Veronique Wills as principal of Barack Obama Global Prep Academy. They gathered outside the entrance of the school, located in Vermont Square, chanting, marching and carrying signs.

“It’s almost like meeting a saint,” teacher Charlene Brown said of Wills in an interview. “She looks for the greatness in every human being.”

Supporters accused Los Angeles Unified School District officials of giving up too soon on Wills, a veteran district administrator who had been hand-picked to manage the opening of the school in 2009. The school just completed its first year.

L.A. Unified officials declined to respond in detail.

“The transfer of Veronique Wills is a confidential personnel matter,” said Senior Deputy Supt. Michelle King.  “She is currently assigned as the principal of Hope Continuation School.”

Wills did not participate in the protest.

Demonstrators also denounced the decision by the L.A. Board of Education to turn over operation of Clay Middle School in Athens to Green Dot Public Schools, a charter operator.

Charter schools are publicly funded but independently operated. Green Dot is not expected to bring back most of the Clay staff; many did not apply to work for Green Dot.

The Clay conversion has been a sore spot for some local activists and for school board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, who represents that area. A school board majority outvoted her in opting for the charter conversion. A group accompanied by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) recently canvassed the surrounding neighborhood to organize opposition to the charter.

On Clay, LaMotte has common cause with a recent political opponent, the Rev. Eric Lee, who ran unsuccessfully against her for the school board. At the Wednesday rally, he accused district officials of disregarding community voices about improvement efforts at Clay.

“I believe there is a moral and ethical violation of the public trust,” Lee said in his remarks.

Organizers of the event included local neighborhood council leader John Parker.

“Whether it be here at Obama or Clay or any public school,” he told those gathered, “we must demand that underserved communities, black and Latino communities, have a right to self-determination and must be the deciders in how their children are educated — not profit-hungry venture capitalists, whether they call themselves nonprofit or not.”

In other quarters, the Green Dot organization has won praise for trying to turn around historically low-performing schools, as well for operating under a union contract. District officials have defended the handover as an aggressive measure needed to reverse decades of unacceptable student achievement.

Robles-Wong: ANOTHER SETBACK IN SCHOOL FUNDING LAWSUITS - Plaintiffs rebuffed in broad equal-protection claim (+ ruling)

By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

7/29/11 - An Alameda County Superior Court judge has dealt another blow to plaintiffs in two lawsuits claiming that the state’s “insufficient, irrational and unstable” school funding system violated children’s fundamental right to an education. Judge Steven Brick’s rulings this week (Go here and here) again limit attorneys’ constitutional claims and make an appeal of his rulings more likely.

In January, Brick denied the core argument of plaintiffs in the suits, Robles-Wong v. State of California and Campaign for Quality Education v. State of California. They argued that the state constitution establishing education as a fundamental right requires the Legislature in turn to adequately fund it so that all students meet the high academic standards that the state has set. Brick ruled that the Legislature can fund education at the level it chooses, “however devastating the effects of such underfunding have been on the quality of public school education.”

But Brick left open the possibility that attorneys could reframe the lawsuit, based on a claim that their particular plaintiffs – students in nine districts in Robles-Wong and primarily low-income and minority students in five districts in Campaign for Quality Education – were denied an equal opportunity for an education that is afforded to other children in California.

Doing so would have turned a funding adequacy claim into a narrower equal opportunity claim along the lines of the successful Serrano lawsuits in the 1970s, which found that students in property-poor districts were denied equal education resources. But plaintiffs in the new lawsuits wanted to put the state’s funding system itself on trial. They wanted to make a broader interpretation of equal protection, that it’s “sufficient to plead a disparity between the resources needed to have a fair chance” to meet state academic standards, on the one hand, “and the resources they receive, on the other,” as Brick paraphrased the argument of the lawyers in Robles-Wong. But Brick’s position – a  conventional interpretation – is that to assert an equal opportunity violation, plaintiffs must claim that some students are being  denied what others are getting. Taking that tack would have put the plaintiffs in the untenable position of arguing what they don’t believe, that there are sufficient resources to provide most students a fair opportunity not only to pass state standardized tests, but also to be adequately prepared for the demands of higher education and the job market .

No ifs and no Butts

Besides the Serrano cases, the other important precedent-setting case is Butt v. State of California. In that 1992 case, the State Supreme Court ordered the state to step in on behalf of children in Richmond Unified who faced losing six weeks of school because their district ran out of money. Brick said that the plaintiffs in the latest cases misinterpreted the Butt decision to imply that the Legislature has a constitutional obligation to fully fund a law or regulation. What mattered in Butt was that a particular group of students – in this case in a particular school district – received disparate treatment.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs could appeal Brick’s rulings, or they could choose to amend their complaints along a traditional equal protection claim, that low income and minority children receive fewer resources than other students and far less than required to succeed, given their greater needs. This would involve a political calculation; if they won – and they certainly would make a compelling case – the Legislature could choose to redistribute money, not increase funding for all students.

Stating he was disappointed but not surprised by Brick’s ruling, William Koski, a Stanford law professor who is a lead attorney for Robles-Wong, said that his clients would meet over the next month to decide which approach to take. The suit was filed by a coalition of powerful education groups – the California School Boards Association, the state PTA, and the Association of California School Administrators, along with attorneys for disadvantaged children. The California Teachers Association was an intervenor.

Plaintiffs in the second suit are Campaign for Quality Education, a coalition of grassroots, civil rights and research organizations; Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment; PICO, representing 400 religious congregations statewide; Californians for Justice, which works with students in Oakland, Long Beach, Fresno and San Jose; and and San Francisco Organizing Project, a church- and school-based organization in four neighborhoods of San Francisco.

Robles-Wong Ruling 072611[1]

GRADE CAP ON HOMEWORK: The 10% Solution?

Diana L. Chapman | LA CityWatch |


MY TURN - 07.28.2011 - At first, I was appalled when the Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced intentions to adopt a policy that homework must only count for ten percent of a student’s grade due to inherent inequities that had coursed their way across the sprawling school system.

Say what? Once, all of us did vast amounts of homework, did we not? At least that’s how I recall it.

When I heard the news, all I could hear were these little voices in the back of my brain: But homework prepares kids for life experience, shows them that school doesn’t stop at three  o’clock and reveals how each year gets a bit harder. Homework is how a student makes the grade.

More concerning: Kids aren’t stupid. As soon as they understand homework is only ten percent of their grade, many will shrug their shoulders and conclude, if that’s the case, why do it at all?

Before I finished interviewing the folks that were all for the plan so I could come to understand it, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy pulled the plug after a storm of complaints from many teachers and parents and asked for a revision to be turned in by Jan. 1.

“After careful consideration, I have decided to postpone implementation of the district’s homework policy,” Deasy wrote. “While well-intended, I am not confident that the initial policy received sufficient comments and general input from parents, teachers and board members. We cannot and will not implement this policy of this magnitude without actively soliciting and incorporating recommendations from key constituencies.”

So for now, the plan is delayed (if it will ever happen) and Deasy asked his Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Jamie Aquino to revise and craft a new policy.

Because there are reasons that the original policy was nearly approved,  I decided to talk to those who support it and what led to such a revision, starting with Judy Elliott, LAUSD’s Chief Academic Officer who led the proposed policy change.

Inequities across the board is what banded together two teams of parents and educators, many of whom were complaining that homework was misused by some teachers. For months, they studied why homework wasn’t a reflection of how students did when it came to standardized tests, Elliott explained.

The ten percent value was not meant to prevent teachers from demanding homework and did not include reports, projects or book reports. A revised policy of a ten percent cap was to make the district more uniform and to get a better view of how students were actually doing in the classroom, she said.

Amongst some of the troubles, Elliott explained:

--Some teachers weighted homework for as much as 60 percent of the grade. This led to an imbalance. Students who studied and received A’s in the classroom failed standardized tests. In turn, students who didn’t do their work failed the classes, and yet did extremely well on standardized test scores. Therefore, students and their families were not receiving a true measure of a child’s abilities.

--Many students due to family issues, from babysitting for their siblings, working to help the family or having no area to do their homework – were punished tremendously in the classroom when homework was an unusually high part of their marks. It didn’t matter how well they did in the classroom or on classroom tests, they were still being dramatically marked down for lacking their homework.

“It was just fuzzy all over the place,” Elliott said, who had two different teams of parents, administrators and teachers construct the new plan. “There just came an outcry of the inequity of homework across the district and it was driven by teachers. For A kid to get an F or D and then gets high marks on (standardized) tests, that’s a little alarming.

“You don’t want to hold kids hostage for their homework.”

She likened the new policy to a child practicing basketball. The child, she said, is not considered a great basketball player for the practice; it’s what he does in the game that proves his worth. It should be the same way in the classroom, she added, arguing that students should not be graded heavily  on their attitudes or homework. In addition, students will learn that prior to college that their studies will not count for anything toward their grades.

If the second largest school district in the nation agrees to the 10 percent grading cap on homework, it will be following trends of schools across the country that are not allowing instructors to use homework as a large part of a student’s grade, the Los Angeles Times reported.

That got me to thinking; perhaps I’m wrong and led me to explore why so many want the 10 percent cap.

I started interviewing teachers who surprised me with their agreement over the policy– even though I was opposed to it. One first grade teacher told me she rarely gave homework as her students were too young.

Another, Tim Howe, an elementary teacher for seven years before he took a post with Los Angeles School Board member Richard Vladovic, said he always found homework one of the most frustrating issues for him. As a teacher, he said, he would embrace such a plan.

Homework, he said, was always torturous. He tried to achieve a good balance for his students between outside and classroom work and wanted to find homework that was meaningful to his students, not busywork.

And yet, he didn’t want homework that the parents were doing for their children either. He learned quickly, he said, that once a child reaches their frustration level with homework, they shut down anyway and quit learning, “making it meaningless.”

What he found himself doing, he said, was tailoring his assignments toward the needs of the children and their families.

“Homework was never a huge part of my grade,” Howe said. “I always felt like it was practice for the child and I didn’t want it to negatively impact their grade. Over vacation, I wanted my kids to learn in other ways, go to museums, go to plays. They need a break.”

San Pedro High Math teacher Richard Wagoner said the new homework policy designed by Elliott and her teams was right on target.

For years, he said, students have passed their math classes in lower levels and were sent to his higher level math classes, such as Algebra, where he found many were stalled at a fourth grade level or lower. They have passed their lower grade math classes, he said, not through tests but via homework and when they began failing in high school, parents and students were aghast.

Wagoner does not want the policy postponed and wrote the superintendent to say so.

“This policy was frankly long overdue,” Wagoner wrote asking Deasy not to halt the plan. “Kids who cannot pass algebra in schools usually have a 3rd or 4th grade mastery of mathematics. We could have done something, but now we choose to continue the mistakes of the past.

“Please reconsider your decision to delay implementation of the homework policy. You are hurting the very children you think you are helping. And our high-level children will continue to be burdened in classes filled with the unprepared…if they chose to remain in our schools at all, that is.”

I still have those little voices in the back of my brain going: No, homework is good. This policy hurts our kids. But then I wonder am I right? We don’t want to pass kids up who have only achieved success through their homework. That is unfair to the child and their parents.

Complaining profusely to my mom about the new policy, I asked her what she thought.

“You know,” said my 82-year-old mom, “Remember that teacher you had in sixth grade, Mrs. Taylor? She refused to give her students homework. She said kids needed to play and spend time with their families. You got the best education from her.”

“Now,” my mom added. “That’s my kind of teacher.”

What do I think of the policy now? I’m trying to separate myself from what seemed right for my generation and what is right for now.  Maybe, just maybe, these people are right and we need to take the time to listen.

(Diana Chapman is a CityWatch contributor and has been a writer/journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written for magazines, newspapers and the best-seller series, Chicken Soup for the Soul. You can reach her at: or her website: –cw

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


By Connie Llanos, Daily News Staff Writer-from the Contra Costa Times) |

07/25/2011 - Los Angeles Unified officials this month approved a plan to, once again, eliminate social promotion at the nation's second-largest school district.

A decade after the district launched its first effort to end the controversial practice of passing academically unprepared children to the next grade, officials plan to work on a new approach that is expected to ensure students advance only if they meet academic goals.

Taking a collaborative approach, district officials will ask teachers, parents and administrators to help create a standards-based promotion policy for the 2012-13 school year.

But already many question how the cash-strapped LAUSD will be able to craft a meaningful plan to deal with kids who have to be held back.

Tamar Galatzan, the San Fernando Valley school board member who proposed the change, conceded that budget concerns would inevitably be an issue. "But helping students succeed has to be more important than anything else we do as a district," she said.

"Promoting a student from one grade to another when he or she hasn't mastered, or in some cases even learned, the previous year's lessons, doesn't make any sense."

Social promotion is a name given to the unsanctioned practice of advancing students to the next grade even if they are failing classes. Despite the academic drawbacks, some people believe it is healthier for students' social development to remain with their peer group.

Since 1998, California has enacted legislation requiring all school districts in the state to craft standards-based promotion policies.

Originally, LAUSD officials said they would mandate retention of all elementary and middle school students who were not meeting grade-level standards - estimated to be about a third of those pupils.

That plan, which relied largely on getting kids at risk of failing access to after-school programs and summer sessions, was expected to cost some $140 million.

But it was eventually scaled back, because of concerns about cost and the impact retention would have on students.

Ultimately, the district mandated retention for students failing reading or English at the second and eighth grades and relied largely on sending struggling students to summer school in a last-ditch effort to make the progress needed to move up a grade.

LAUSD officials could not provide data on the number of students who are retained every year. But in 2010, about one-third of the district's third graders and eighth graders were not meeting state standards in reading.

Judy Elliott, LAUSD's chief academic officer, said the district was forced to cancel the standards-based promotion policy two years ago when state budget cuts forced the cancellation of summer school.

With or without the budget cuts though, Elliott said it is time for the district to revisit its policies.

"An institution this big needs to constantly review its policies," Elliott said.

Galatzan said the issue of social promotion has been on her radar since she was elected to the school board five years ago.

"It's the number one complaint I get from teachers and principals," Galatzan said.

"The problem is we have yet to define what a failing student is in this district."

Politically it has become popular to institute ambitious bans on social promotion, but research still shows mixed results for school districts that have moved forward with aggressive plans.

In Chicago, studies have shown that aggressive retention efforts have failed to improve the academic performance of students, and efforts have been scaled back.

In New York, efforts to ban social promotion resulted in more intervention for students at risk of failing, but very small numbers of retained students.

Still, a recent report by the Santa Monica-based think tank RAND Corp. showed that New York's promotion policies have led to marked improvement in students.

Julie Marsh, an associate professor at the University of Southern California who worked on the RAND study, said the research also showed that students who were held back did not have any negative socio-emotional impact.

Long Beach Unified has also had a standards-based promotion policy in place since 1996, which mandates that students in the first through fifth grade who fail to meet key benchmarks in reading and math by the end of an academic year are retained.

A steady 2.5 percent of students at Long Beach are retained every year, said spokesman Chris Eftychiou.

While budget cuts have forced Long Beach to eliminate summer school as well, Eftychiou said the retention and promotion policy has continued thanks in large part to cooperation from parents and teachers.

Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles and a veteran high school teacher, said LAUSD educators are ready to implement a policy that ensures all kids are prepared for school on day one of classes.

However LAUSD's financial problems, coupled with a track record for poor professional development, are a concern.

"The last time we had this conversation in this was in middle of a dot-com boom, a time where we could realistically talk about having interventions and supports for students," Fletcher said.

"Now every school site is on a budgetary starvation diet ... if they are going to try and reach this laudable goal of making sure every students meets the standard in their grade, we have to have supports in place - and the district is removing support after support right now."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


By Bill Boyarsky | The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles |

New LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. Photo courtesy LAUSD

July 26, 2011 | Los Angeles’ new school superintendent, John Deasy, says one of his top goals is to persuade middle-class families, including Jewish parents, to return to the Los Angeles public schools. “It’s one of the major projects I have to deliver,” he said.

<<New LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. Photo courtesy LAUSD

I interviewed Deasy last week in his office on the 24th floor of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) headquarters, just west of downtown Los Angeles.

Deasy has been superintendent since January. Before taking the LAUSD job, he was deputy director of education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a major supporter of charter schools. Charters are publicly funded but are run with considerable independence; they also often receive substantial private funds and operate outside of union contracts. Deasy also has served as superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the Prince George’s County public schools in Maryland.

It was our first meeting. He — or a member of his staff — had checked me out, and he had read my articles on education. Most important for readers of The Jewish Journal, he was on top of the middle-class issue.

He told me he’s been talking with parents about getting private-school students to enroll in public schools, including those on the Westside and in the West Valley, home to many Jewish families. “People are saying they want to come back, but come back with confidence,” he said. “And that’s my obligation. And I think some are coming back because of the huge economic pressures, which are not going to get better soon. And so, while they may be forced back economically, we want them to feel welcomed and comfortable that the decision … can actually better the lives of their sons and daughters.”

Deasy said school board member Steve Zimmer, who represents much of the Westside, sparked the back-to-public schools effort. He said Zimmer was supported in this by Tamar Galatzan, who represents the West Valley. Both are Jewish.

“I have a whole team on this,” Deasy said. “And we’re going to spend some money to incubate programs that are highly attractive for parents to come back to. At the same time, I am … improving the district, so, as students come through these programs, they will continue to matriculate to better and better public schools.”

He said the program would be presented to the Board of Education in autumn.

Elevating the back-to-the-public-school campaign to a top district priority would be a change. It’s been going on for a few years on some campuses, but has depended on the interest of principals and parent groups. Operating with the intensity of a political campaign in some areas, it has worked. “This is about organizing — listening, communicating … [going] to churches, synagogues, neighborhood councils, door to door,” Zimmer told me when I interviewed him a while back.

Parents dealing with LAUSD face a bewildering number of choices, including traditional public schools, magnets, charters and pilot schools, the last of which offer a blend of charter and traditional approaches. 

“I would acknowledge that now we make choice difficult for parents,” Deasy said. “We want to make it much easier. … Parents shouldn’t have to figure out the system. We are developing a portal [on the LAUSD Web site], which lays all this out. We want parents not to search but to be fed information. And, of course, [the site will be] in all of our six predominant languages, so that what you are left with is to make a choice, not to wonder how to find something. It is one-stop shopping, how to register, how to transfer, how to learn about choices, how to understand college applications, how to fill out a financial-aid form, immunization rules, counseling and support, after-school options.  Up to this point, it has been hit or miss, or, worse, fractured information.”

A major obstacle facing Deasy is the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles. The union is opposed to charters, test-oriented teacher evaluations and any easing of seniority rules that would make it easier to fire teachers. All these steps are favored by LAUSD’s critics, who consider them reforms. Deasy’s time as an executive of the charter-supporting Gates foundation makes the union suspicious of him.

The union has a new president, Warren Fletcher, who succeeded the combative A.J. Duffy. Deasy said he and Fletcher “are working on building a strong relationship together. We both have enormous responsibilities on our shoulders, and we both don’t want to make mistakes in our first year. I have met him a number of times now,” Deasy added. “He wants to do the right thing by his membership and students, and so do I. … How we disagree will be the hallmark of our relationship, that it will be a respectful and productive disagreement when it occurs, and a very respectful and productive collaboration when it occurs.”

If that miracle happens, it will change the theatrics of the Los Angeles public-school debate. With the shouting toned down, perhaps the two sides can then get down to substance, and the district can be made into something attractive to all Los Angeles, to become, as Deasy said, “Best in the West; No. 1 in the nation.”


e-mail blast from California School Health Centers Association


Tue, Jul 26, 2011 9:24 am

A Win for School Health
in California Legislature!:
California Legislature Calls for Federal Funding for SBHCs

Assembly Joint Resolution 10 (Brownley) School-Based Health Centers has been officially adopted by the California Legislature.  The Resolution requests that Congress fund the school-based health center program authorized in health care reform.  It also calls for the inclusion of SBHCs in policies that create medical homes for all children and for the use of SBHCs as a strategy in national education reform.  Thank you to all of the SBHC advocates who called legislative offices, sent letters of support, and spoke at committee hearings!  For more information, read the full text of AJR 10 and the AJR 10 fact sheet.

Tdap 30-Day Extension Bill Signed

School health providers in California are well aware of the new law requiring schools to receive proof of pertussis immunization from all entering 7th-12th graders before they start school this fall.  On July 25th, Governor Brown signed a bill creating a grace period for this new Tdap requirement. The bill (SB 614) permits students to attend classes for up to 30 days before meeting the Tdap requirement.

The grace period will allow SBHCs and school districts to continue their efforts to spread the word about the Tdap requirement, handle paperwork, inform students of their immunization status, and provide shots to students through school-based immunization clinics.

We are gathering information and sharing best practices about what SBHCs are doing to help meet the Tdap requirement. If your organization would like to discuss opportunities and challenges you face, please contact Joanie Rothstein at

Tdap Webinar For School Health Providers

The California State Rural Health Association is hosting a special webinar to provide communities, healthcare providers, schools, and local public health officials the latest information about vaccines in California, with a focus on the new Tdap requirement. This webinar is designed for healthcare providers, school clinic representatives, school nurses, school representatives, public health staff, parent teachers' association representatives, and youth leaders.

Date: Friday, July 29 at 12:00 pm

RSVP to with your full contact information to receive the call information


Corey G. Johnson – California Watch |

July 26, 2011 | The state administrator of school construction bond funds is struggling to fulfill its oversight role and routinely ignores its internal oversight policies and the requirements to audit projects, a Department of Finance audit found.

<<Pioneer Library System/Flickr

The highly critical report, released in June, suggests that the Office of Public School Construction may have improperly awarded millions to school districts and ignored possible instances of misspending. The report stems from a Department of Finance review of the office's handling of $7 billion in Proposition 1D bond money, earmarked to fund the construction of new schools, renovation of existing buildings and earthquake-related retrofit work.

From April 2010 through January 2011, Department of Finance auditors interviewed construction office staff, examined documentation and reviewed 26 school projects.

Among the findings, the auditor concluded that the construction office:

  • Awarded approximately $43.9 million to districts for costs that lacked the appropriate documentation and weren't verified by staff.
  • Failed to audit 697 construction projects identified by the office's internal processes as "high risk" for misspending. State rules require such audits. The projects amount to roughly $4 billion in bond spending.
  • Didn't collect $15.3 million owed the state from school districts, and in some cases awarded additional money to districts that already had millions in unspent funds. Project savings are required to be used for future facility projects or returned to the state if not used within three years.
  • Relied on unreliable and incomplete information about school project spending because it does not enforce the state law requiring school districts to annually submit their data, nor does it verify whether the information provided is accurate.

The findings ultimately prompted auditors to take the unusual step of openly questioning whether the state office is upholding its duty to taxpayers.

Although OPSC has established accountability processes and controls for the School Facilities Program’s (SFP) Proposition 1D funds, a number of these controls are either not implemented or not working as intended. We identified the following control deficiencies and weaknesses.
Collectively, these weaknesses raise questions as to whether fiduciary responsibilities over bond funds have been met.

In a response letter, Lisa Silverman, acting executive director for the construction office, pointed to a staff shortage as a primary reason why some audits weren't done. The office has 26 auditors to review project expenditures and 12 vacant positions. She pledged to work with the Department of Finance to fashion an acceptable number of audits to perform. Silverman added that the office has stepped up its efforts to track down unrecovered funds, formed review teams to catch ineligible costs and is creating new policies to prevent improper awarding of funds.

"We believe the OSAE audit findings have merit, and the department is taking steps to address each of the audit recommendations," said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the Department of General Services, which oversees the Office of Public School Construction.

The audit comes as the state is tightening its oversight of bond funds earmarked for school construction. In recent weeks, the state Attorney General's Office and county treasurers have issued warning letters to school officials after seeing an uptick in unauthorized district bond deals that saddle communities with higher debt payments

OSAE Audit of OPSC Prop 1D Funds June 2011


New vaccine rules come on the heels of a brutal bout of whooping cough in 2010, which saw the highest number of cases since 1947.

By Samantha Tata | NBC News Los Angeles |

Monday, Jul 25, 2011  |  Updated 6:08 PM PDT - Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) began offering free whooping cough vaccines Monday to lines of parents and children in an effort to inoculate students in seventh through 12th grades before the school year begins.

Over ten clinics, at least one in each district, will be available through Sept. 2 to ensure all students comply with the new requirement, which went into effect July 1.

Because schools in the LAUSD do not have a uniform start date, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation  (SB 614 - Kehoe) Monday to extend the deadline 30 days beyond the first day of school.

Students at year-round institutions, which began classes July 5, have been barred from attending school if they could not provide required proof of vaccination.

"We don't want students to be absent, but we have to follow the law," said Dee Apodaca, director of nursing services at LAUSD.

About 80 percent of students at Huntington Park High School did not have their shots by the time school started in July, and school officials said they have been working extended hours and pulling nurses off their vacations to process the paperwork.

When the law became enforceable, half of the students affected were deemed not in compliance with the law. Now, Apodaca said, most schools that have already begun instruction are in full compliance or have few students left to inoculate, many of whom are waiting on the compensated clinics.

Although the LAUSD is not in the greatest financial shape following deep budget cuts, federal funding from the Vaccines for Children program is funding the pro-bono operations, Apodaca said.

The school district has not come out unscathed, however. Dee said nurses sent home for the summer have been called back on duty, costing the district money they do not have.

The new vaccine requirement comes after a particularly brutal bout with the upper respiratory infection in 2010. Last year, California saw the highest number of reported cases in 63 years: 9,120, or 23.3 per 100,000.

According to a report by the LA County Department of Public Health, the number of reported cases of whooping cough was seven times greater by August 2010 then during the same period the year before.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is an air-borne bacterial disease, the symptoms of which include uncontrollable, violent coughing.

The highly contagious infection can last six weeks and is usually treated with antibiotics, although complications, such as pneumonia, can occur, especially in infants.

Last year, four infants died from whooping cough in Los Angeles County from whooping cough, said a spokeswoman for the county department of public health. So far this year there have been no reported deaths from the infection.

The last time a new vaccine was added to the list of required shots for children entering school was in 2001 when the chickenpox vaccine became mandatory.

Legislators, not public health officials, have the power to create vaccine requirements, said Sandra Jo Hammer, nurse consultant with the state health department immunization branch.

The latest requirement was passed in Sept. 2010 to be implemented in July 2011, an unusually rapid process.

"The urgency was in response to a considered public health threat," Hammer said.

While it is less common to require older students be vaccinated, immunity to whooping cough gradually decreases whether a person has had the vaccine or the virus so re-vaccination is necessary, said Kathy Harriman, epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health.

Pertussis is characteristically cyclical, she added. The bacteria show peaks and valleys in its strength.

California's last spike in the virus was in 2005 when 3,000 cases were reported. The 2010 peak had 9,000 cases.

"It is hard to say why, but pertussis has been increasing in general since the 1990s," Harriman said.

She attributed the climb in figures to a change in vaccine type from whole-cellular to acelluar, and better diagnosing tools.

Harriman said parents should be aware that whooping cough has not been eliminated, and there is "still a lot of pertussis out there."

Since the vaccine currently used has only been around since 2005, health officials are still unsure how often people should update their shots, but the reason behind the plea extends beyond the patient.

"We're asking the public to (get vaccinated) to protect those most vulnerable," she said. "For older children, it's a very miserable illness, but it's much more fatal for young infants."

For a list of free vaccine clinics throughout Los Angeles County, click here.