Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This fixes everything: ADS ON SCHOOL BUSES!

GOP Senate leader proposes funding fix: School-bus advertising

by Michael J. Mishak, LA Times/LA Now  |


February 29, 2012, 2:33 pm | Sacramento  ::  Tough times call for creativity.

So as California's cash-strapped schools look for ways to balance their books, GOP Senate leader Bob Huff wants to give them a new option: school-bus advertising.

The Diamond Bar Republican has introduced a bill that would allow school districts to sell ad space on the exterior of school buses. The legislation also gives districts the flexibility to use the funds however they see fit.

“California’s fiscal mismanagement has resulted in budgetary woes for our state’s public education system,” Huff said in a statement. “Extracurricular programs have been cut and funding for pupil transportation has been threatened. My legislation provides a new and needed source of funding for our schools at no cost to taxpayers.”

The lawmaker noted that state law already gives school districts the right to sell advertising space inside school buses, on campuses and in sports facilities. If Huff's legislation passes, California would join seven states, including New Jersey and Utah, that have enacted similar bills on school-bus advertising.

Citing a state Department of Education study, the lawmaker said 127 school districts face "severe financial jeopardy" because of state budget cuts.

To avoid deeper reductions, Gov. Jerry Brown hopes to sell voters on a tax hike that he plans to put on the November ballot. His budget calls for a painful $4.8-billion cut in public school funding if voters reject the levies.

Photo: A student flashes the peace sign after boarding a school bus at Taft High School in Woodland Hills on Feb. 2. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times


Deasy wants teachers' contracts changed over misconduct records

-- Howard Blume, LA Times/LA Now |

LauSD Superintendent John Deasy wants teacher contract changed
February 29, 2012 |  1:23 pm  ::  L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy ordered his negotiating team Wednesday to press the teachers union to eliminate a provision of the contract that allows information about alleged but unproven teacher misconduct to be removed after four years.

Deasy said the clause has hampered district efforts to identify potential problem teachers through a top-to-bottom review of district records — both centrally and at schools.

The superintendent's announcement comes the day after The Times revealed the little-known contract provision.

The issue emerged in the wake of the arrest of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt. He has been charged with 23 counts of lewd conduct, with authorities alleging that he spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded students as part of what he called a “tasting game.”

L.A. Unified could find no allegations of past misconduct in Berndt’s file, although former students, parents and investigators confirmed that unrelated allegations had been made in the past.

The automatic purging of records could substantially account for Berndt’s unblemished personnel file, district officials have said.

“In the interests of affording greater protections to our students, I have instructed the [district] negotiating team to enter into discussions immediately with the teachers’ union to change or eliminate this practice,” Deasy said in a statement Wednesday.

The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, had no immediate comment. The union and the school system are in negotiations over a new employment contract.

The clause is not unique to the Los Angeles Unified School District, but many school systems do not have such rules, including those in New York, Long Beach and San Diego.  Deasy, who took over the top job in L.A. Unified about a year ago, said he is not aware of such a provision in any district that he has previously led.

Photo: LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy wants teachers' contracts changed over misconduct records. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times


LA schools chief opens union talks over misconduct

Associated Press

from The San Francisco Chronicle |

Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 14:29 PST Los Angeles, CA (AP)   ::  The superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday instructed formal negotiations to begin with the teachers union over abolishing a four-year time-limit on teacher disciplinary files.

The move comes in the wake of the scandal last month at Miramonte Elementary School, where a former third grade teacher was charged with 23 counts of lewdness on children. Complaints of sexual misconduct against him were made as long ago as 1994, but investigations did not result in any action.

Superintendent John Deasy said at the time that Mark Berndt's personnel file contained no record of those complaints.

Deasy subsequently ordered a review of all teacher misconduct cases over the past four years to ensure they had all been reported to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

During that review, Deasy said administrators discovered a provision in the teachers' contract stipulating that misconduct allegations that did not lead to discipline would be dropped from a teacher's file after four years.

Deasy said he instructed the district's negotiating team to immediately enter into discussions with the United Teachers Los Angeles to change or abolish the provision, which he said was inserted into the contract 20 years ago at the union's behest.

UTLA is open to discussing the issue, said union President Warren Fletcher, in a statement.

"As teachers we always are open to discuss ways to assure children are safe," he said.

Complaints that do not lead to disciplinary action are put into a so-called "expired file" that is kept at the school. Deasy has ordered principals to review all expired files.

The district has been hit with a flurry of sexual abuse cases since Berndt's arrest last month. In the aftermath, it was discovered that Berndt and another teacher charged with sexual misconduct, George Hernandez, were never reported to the state teacher licensing commission.

Hernandez was investigated in three sexual misconduct cases, but no action was taken. After resigning as the third case was being investigated, he was later hired by the Inglewood Unified School District, where he is alleged to have molested a 7-year old girl. He is now a fugitive.

The commission does not need a criminal conviction to discipline teachers in sexual misconduct cases. If a teacher is charged, the commission can revoke the license or take other disciplinary action.


Information from: Los Angeles Times,


By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer | LA Daily News |


Program Coordinator Elsa Perez helps Darion Debora, 8, with his homework at the Greig Smith LAPD Devonshire PALS Youth Center in Northridge on Feb. 28, 2012. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

2/28/2012 08:01:06 PM PST  ::  Despite the school board's desire to end social promotion, Los Angeles Unified lacks the money and personnel to eliminate the practice of passing academically unprepared students to the next grade level, officials said.

The school board approved a resolution last July seeking a new policy to promote students to the next grade only if they meet academic milestones.

Although officials wanted the policy in place for the 2012-13 school year, the committee studying the issue has recommended indefinitely postponing any significant change because of the ongoing budget crisis.

Citing research that found little benefit in forcing a student to repeat a grade, the panel of district educators and parents discouraged student retention. And despite the constraints on money and personnel, they recommended making a greater effort to focus on struggling students before they get left behind.

"The committee felt very strongly that retention should be a last resort," Jaime Aquino, the deputy superintendent of instruction who oversaw the panel's work, said in an interview Tuesday. "We believe that professional development (of teachers) and early intervention (of students) will be more effective. We don't think that holding a student back will make a difference."

The staff recommendation was outlined Tuesday for the school board's Curriculum Committee and will be discussed further in upcoming sessions.

Social promotion is the term given to the unsanctioned practice of advancing students to the next grade level even if they are academically unprepared. While students who perform below grade level may be frustrated and at increased risk of dropping out, researchers say it is healthier for the youngsters' social development to remain with their peers.

Experts estimate that 7.5 percent of LAUSD's students have been retained for a year by third grade. The average child who is held back is a Latino boy who is younger than most of

Seven Nelms, 8, left, and Juliana Francisco, 8, work on their homework at the Greig Smith LAPD Devonshire PALS Youth Center in Northridge on Feb. 28, 2012. (Hans Gutknecht/Staff Photographer)

his classmates, is from a low-income family, and is an English-language learner with poor reading skills, according to the LAUSD staff report.

With the district facing a budget shortfall of some $500 million for the next school year, Aquino conceded there will be no money available to invest in additional resources. The budget-balancing plan now in the works shows across-the-board increases in class size, and no indication that summer school will be revived.

Instead, he said, administrators are identifying effective techniques that can be shared with teachers around the district to help bolster student achievement.

Napa Elementary Principal Victoria Christie can attest to the value of providing intense, personalized instruction for struggling students. Her Northridge campus saw its Academic Performance Index score jump from 668 in 2010 to 798 last year, an improvement she attributes to focused teaching and early intervention.

Two years ago, she said, the school intensified its curriculum in an effort to score well on the API, a standardized test administered to schools throughout California.

Teachers and aides reviewed student test data, then worked with struggling students in small skills-building workshops -- one of the techniques advocated by Aquino.

In addition, students also were able to get homework help from tutors volunteering at the Greig Smith Devonshire PALS Youth Center, which opened in 2009 near the Napa campus.

"When you give them that extra scoop of instruction so they understand a standard or skill, you can really get results," Christie said. "If we see them responding to the intervention, we keep going. If they're not responding, then we change the materials or methods.

"We keep a close eye on the measurements to see whether they're making progress."

Christie said the improved skills that helped boost the API scores among the primary grades are reaping benefits as the students are promoted to higher grades, with higher levels of proficiency in math and English-language arts among the 75 percent of Napa students who are English-language learners.

Christie also gave a lot of credit to the PALS tutors, who see their work as backstopping the teachers at Napa Elementary and other schools located around the privately funded drop-in center. From 1-6 p.m. weekdays, retired teachers, education interns from California State University Northridge and Pierce College are available to anyone who asks for help.

"The teachers work hard, but they don't always have the resources they need. We help fill the gap for what's missing," said Sue Bruno, the center's executive administrator. "We'll sit down with the kids in small groups or in one-on-one sessions.

"Sometimes, the kids just need a sharp pencil and someone to encourage them."

Given Los Angeles Unified's financial problems and its dearth of new resources, the district is going to be looking for innovative ways to strengthen its teaching corps.

A planned reorganization that will streamline the central administration and place more experienced educators in the classroom will help, Aquino said.

The district also is training its teachers for the implementation of the Common Core Standards system in 2014. The program will take effect statewide in 2014, and will set specific academic benchmarks for each grade level -- a system he said will actually give teachers more time to work with struggling students.

"The Chinese word for `crisis' is spelled with two characters," Aquino said. "The first character means `danger' and the second, `opportunity.' So in every dangerous situation lies opportunity.

"The financial crisis is an opportunity for us to rethink the way we do our work."


smf notes:  "The Chinese word for `danger' is spelled with three characters," smf said. "The first two characters mean`two women' and the third places them in a single house.  So every Chinese pictogram offers a clich├ęd  philosophical metaphor.”

Please: When you fly into a cloud’s silver lining in the shiny optimistic airplane you are building in flight without a blueprint or a budget – or a parachute - you are in trouble!


A 1990s agreement, in exchange for a pay cut, to place 'pre-disciplinary' documents in an 'expired file' after four years complicates L.A. Unified's attempts to review records.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |

John Deasy

Nice Rolex: L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy says the contract provision "can compromise our ability to respond to misbehavior that might occur over a long period of time." (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

February 28, 2012, 11:02 p.m.  ::  The Los Angeles school district's effort to identify teachers suspected of misconduct has been complicated by a little-known clause in the teachers' contracts that limits how long allegations can remain in a teacher's file.

Under the contract, alleged misconduct that does not result in discipline is removed from personnel files after four years. The provision dates to the early 1990s when the L.A. Unified School District agreed to it in exchange for teachers taking a 10% pay cut.

The arrangement is unusual, but not unheard of. Many other school districts, including New York City, Long Beach, Fresno, Sacramento City and San Diego, for example, can keep teachers' discipline records indefinitely. Clark County, Nevada, and Chicago public schools, however, also have a process to remove them automatically after a few years.

The policy has limited L.A. Unified's ability to deal with misconduct allegations against teachers and weed out potential problem instructors. The most explosive allegations involved former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct for allegedly photographing students blindfolded, gagged and being spoon-fed his semen. Several earlier investigations and complaints about his conduct — none of which ever resulted in criminal charges or discipline — were not in his record.

The contract states that after four years, "pre-disciplinary" documents filed about teachers are either destroyed or placed in an "expired file" at the campus. These can include an unproven allegation of serious misconduct, a warning or reprimand, a principal's private notes about a potential problem or a memo that resulted from a meeting with a teacher over an issue.

"It is a provision that can compromise our ability to respond to misbehavior that might occur over a long period of time," said Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy, adding that he will seek to change that part of the contract.

Although teachers cannot be subject to discipline based on an incident in the expired file, administrators can use it to assess whether a teacher should receive harsher punishment for a later transgression.

Much documentation, however, has not survived in any file, officials said.

The contract does not specify what should happen to "expired" files over time, but they have remained on campus even when a teacher moves to another school.

Last week, Deasy announced that he had ordered school district staff to go back four years to look for any potential teacher misconduct that should be reported to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. The commission has authority to suspend or revoke teaching credentials.

Deasy also wants principals to review all employee files — even the expired ones — going back decades, if necessary, to flag potential issues. Administrators are to alert law enforcement authorities of any past case that wasn't reported. And if the response to a past allegation now appears questionable, principals are supposed to note that as well. Deasy gave administrators 60 days to complete the task.

"You are reminded that no document relating to any allegation of employee misconduct, including assistance and guidance provided to any employee, is to be removed from any school," Deasy wrote.

The administrators union immediately raised concerns.

"The district has never established clear procedures or guidelines for what goes into site files or working folders," countered Judith Perez, president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles. "Furthermore, district procedures regarding reporting of suspected child abuse cases have changed over the years."

Locating and sorting through the expired files pose another challenge.

"If there are separate, expired files at a school, as leadership changes, the knowledge of those files is going to disappear," said Randy Delling, the principal at North Hollywood High. "Those files could even be off-site somewhere."

Retired Principal Joseph Caldera called Deasy's directive "a hell of a burden," noting that construction at his former campus, Gage Middle School, led to files being moved to various places.

At Gage, he oversaw 175 teachers as well as other employees.

"I didn't look through 175 files," Caldera said. "I looked through files as I needed to. You rely on the principal before you to say who you should be concerned about."

He remembers immediate confusion when L.A. Unified first agreed to the contract provision. Principals wanted to know "what things could be forgiven if you didn't do it again." He doesn't recall receiving clear, consistent guidance.

In 1993, the Board of Education was locked in tense contract negotiations with United Teachers Los Angeles during a budget crisis. The district agreed to some key concessions in exchange for teachers accepting a pay cut. Among them: freedom from yard-duty supervision and winning the right to choose classes based on seniority. They even achieved privileges such as the right to use any bathroom previously set aside for the principal.

Teachers union President Warren Fletcher declined to comment and would not authorize anyone else from the union leadership to speak.

But retired union officials said the four-year rule was a response to the targeting of union activists or other teachers by administrators who raised incidents that had occurred long ago.

"We were looking at things to protect teachers. We went through a really long time when principals did whatever they wanted to teachers," said retired union Vice President Becki Robinson. "We were not talking about child abuse, but other stuff."


●● smf's 2¢:  Here we go again, conflating bad teachers (teachers who educrats claim -or test scores indicate- can’t or shouldn’t teach) with bad teachers (child molesters, statutory rapists and pederasts). In political rhetoric and pulp novels this flavor of misdirection  is called “framing”.

  • State law requires that suspected cases of child abuse by school personnel be reported initially+immediately to law enforcement or child protective services.
  • State law requires that teachers suspected of child abuse be reported by the superintendent to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
  • The keeping of records by law enforcement, child protective services and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing is not governed by the LAUSD/UTLA union contract.
  • State law forbids school districts from initiating investigation of these sorts of cases. They are mandatory reporters, not CSI investigators.
  • If LAUSD had followed the law and the regulations and its own policies the paper trail  and record of abuse reporting would exist - maintained by the proper authorities.
  • Read this: Really Dr. Deasy, When? And this: Office of the General Counsel: Help Manual.  District policy on maintaining the questioned records is – uh... questionable.
  • Finally, the District claims that this provision in the contract was in exchange for a salary reduction. Are they proposing to rescind the salary cut in exchange for a concession on records keeping?


Parents seeking to improve Desert Trails Elementary say opponents altered documents in an effort to defeat the petition to force change at the campus.

By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times |

February 29, 2012  ::  Parents battling to improve their struggling Mojave Desert school charged Tuesday that opponents had illegally altered documents in a campaign to defeat their petition to transform the campus into a charter school.
At a Los Angeles news conference, parents from Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto presented evidence that at least two documents ostensibly revoking support for the petition had been doctored. Their attorney, Mark C. Holscher, said he had asked the San Bernardino County district attorney to investigate the alleged fraud.

Last month, parents submitted the petition under the state's pioneering parent-trigger law, which allows parents of at least half the students at a failing school to force changes in staff and curriculum, close the campus or convert it to a charter school. Parents turned in petitions representing 70% of the school's 666 students. But the school board rejected the petition last week, saying parents of 97 students claimed they had been misled and rescinded their signatures; those rescissions and other petitions that were found to be invalid drove the support below the required legal threshold.

On Tuesday, however, petition supporters said they had regained their majority after examining all documents of parents seeking to revoke their signatures. They said they found that at least 27 had been inappropriately counted, including those missing signatures or signed by someone who had not signed the original petition. In two cases, parents said they had signed the document to remove their signatures without checking off any boxes as to why, but the boxes were filled in on a duplicate copy.

At least one parent said she had been misled into revoking her signature. Rosa Bracamontes, whose daughter is in fourth grade, said she knowingly signed the original petition asking for a charter school. But about a week and a half ago, she said, she was approached outside the school by people she had never seen before to sign a paper to "save the school."

"I had no idea what it was," she said. "They just told me that it was to save the school, so I signed it."

Those involved in the rescission effort, including the California Teachers Assn., the Adelanto District Teachers' Assn. and Chrissy Alvarado, a parent leader opposed to the parent trigger petition, denied any wrongdoing.

Alvarado said parents were being told the parent-trigger law does not allow rescissions, a position taken by Parent Revolution, the L.A.-based group that lobbied for the parent-trigger law and trained parent petition supporters. But the Adelanto school board and the state Board of Education say the law is silent on the issue.

Holscher said he would pursue legal action if the Adelanto school board does not approve the petition at its meeting Wednesday. Board President Carlos Mendoza, however, said the board would not act on the issue because it had not been placed on the agenda within the legally required time period. He said the board could call a special meeting or wait until its March 6 regular meeting to take up the issue.

Assistant Supt. Ross Swearingen said district officials have determined that their staff did not alter any documents and that any fraud investigation would be handled by the proper authorities.


●● smf's 2¢:

  • OK, if someone has altered legal documents on purpose, that’s a felony.
  • Folks who say “the parent-trigger law does not allow rescissions” are blowing legal smoke;  the parent trigger law is silent on rescissions. The parent trigger law doesn’t allow line-dancing on the Sabbath either.
  • While we’re there, the school has 666 students. Revelation 13:18. The Number of the Beast: Six hundred, three score and six. What would Rich Santorum say about that?
  • Note that the whole rigmarole went down in Adelanto.
  • Note that the press conference took place in Los Angeles.
  • Note that the jurisdiction of the court is in San Bernardino.
  • Is it about the kids, or media markets or the billable hours?

INGLEWOOD SCHOOLS GET LOAN TO AVERT LOOMING BANKRUPTCY: The $17.4-million short-term note will eliminate any need for a state emergency loan. The district had feared it would run out of cash by May.

By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times |

February 29, 2012  ::  The Inglewood Unified School District has received a $17.4-million short-term loan that will allow it to avert a looming bankruptcy, a district official said.

Supt. Gary McHenry said the cash infusion would eliminate any need for a state emergency loan, which would have triggered the California Department of Education to sideline the school board, fire the superintendent and take over district management until the loan is repaid. The district, hit by steep state funding cuts and the loss of 1,000 students since last year, had feared it would run out of cash by May.

"We definitely don't need" a state loan, McHenry said. "We should be OK through March of next year."

The loan, known as a tax and revenue anticipation note arranged with other needy school districts through the Los Angeles County Office of Education, was obtained from Royal Bank of Canada at about a 1% interest rate, McHenry said. The loan, which must be repaid by December, will help Inglewood pay its bills until the state provides $17.4 million in deferred funds as expected this summer.

Mel Iizuka, the county education office's director of business advisory services, called the loan "big news" for Inglewood that should keep the district afloat at least through the summer. But he said Inglewood's financial condition for the next fiscal year was still unclear.

McHenry said the district, which has 12,500 students and 18 campuses, still faces a $7-million deficit for next year.

To close the budget gap, the school board already has approved pink slips for 24 employees — all but one of them teachers — and is working with McHenry to find other extra dollars in special education, health benefits and other programs. Schools also are planning initiatives to attract new students.

Last week, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced that one-third of California students attend a school in financial jeopardy, with 127 school districts projecting possible red ink for this or the next two fiscal years. He said deep state budget cuts had created a "wide and deep" financial emergency and called for new funds for schools.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


By Chelsia Rose Marcius, NY Times |

Feb. 28, 2012, 5:57 p.m. | Updated 9:02 p.m. ::  Members of the New York State Assembly and Senate, parents and education advocates called for state legislation on Tuesday to give local school advisory panels the power to veto school co-locations in their districts.

The proposed legislation would ensure that no school could be co-located with another, reconfigured or moved to a different site unless the community education council for the area approves it.

The legislation has not yet been introduced, but Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem has said he would sponsor a bill.

Councilman Robert Jackson of Manhattan said the legislation would address a “boiling point” in the relationship between school communities and the Department of Education. The issue of where to place schools, school closings and the addition of charter schools has frequently put parents, teachers and advocates at loggerheads with Education Department officials and charter school networks.

“At the last PEP meeting, they had proposed to close so many schools, and co-location in many of the schools,” Mr. Jackson said of the Feb. 9 Panel for Education Policy meeting. “And so this is another boiling point where people are angry, frustrated in seeing mayoral control not working because closing schools is not the answer; fixing them is, and that’s what this is about.”

Advocates of the legislation announced their intention at a rally and news conference in front of the Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse on Chambers Street on Tuesday morning. The United Federation of Teachers was one of the organizers of the event.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers’ union, said a bill would empower community representatives to block any location proposals that it does not think is in the interests of the community.

“To tell another community we’re going to force another school into your building where it does not fit — this is not about saying, ‘oh, well perhaps we might need some space,’ ” he said. He said this has been a “hot bed issue” for years, but frustration among parents and local elected officials has been building.

The proposed legislation would put power into the hands of the community education councils — locally elected bodies that were created after the mayor gained control of the public schools to provide oversight of local issues. However, the councils have basically been toothless in that they can only act in an advisory capacity and can be overruled by the central administration.

Still, even that has been a problem. Last spring’s community education elections were a near fiasco. Parents said the Education Department’s office of family and community engagement did little to recruit parents, with only 500 people applying for 325 positions. Eligible candidates and longtime members seeking re-election were left off lists. Print voter guides were distributed with incomplete candidate profiles, while online the full information was password-protected.

Following those complaints, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott postponed the elections and later named Jesse Mojica as the executive director of family and community engagement, a new cabinet-level position.

In October, the borough presidents of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn, as well as the city’s public advocate, recommended modifications to both state law and city procedure that they say will ease parents’ frustration with the community education council elections.

Parents’ anger over the co-location process and other Education Department decision-making was on full display at that Feb. 9 meeting when the Panel for Educational Policy, the citywide advisory board, voted to close or truncate 23 public schools. Fred Baptiste, a parent at P.S. 161 The Crown, one of the schools that will have its middle school grades removed, said parents have been disenfranchised.

“All this policy process does is tell us that the mayor knows how to better educate our children, and that needs to stop,” said Mr. Baptiste at the rally. “Apparently, policy is not about educating children, but rather it’s about trying to maintain some kind of legacy on the part of the mayor.”

Frank Thomas, a Department of Education spokesman, said in an e-mail message Tuesday night: “These issues were carefully considered by the Legislature and no doubt will be again when the school governance law sunsets. That is the proper time and forum for this conversation. That said, more than 700 schools across the City already share space and we would strongly oppose efforts that jeopardize our ability to continue providing parents a variety of great options.”

Norman Frazier, 61, of Brownsville, Brooklyn, was one of hundreds of people who turned out on Feb. 16 to voice their disapproval of the proposal to co-locate a new Success Academy charter school with Junior High School 50 John D. Wells in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

“I was there, I yelled my guts out,” said Mr. Frazier, who attended Tuesday’s rally. “I’m sick of it and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where we go from here.”

An earlier version of this post contained incorrect information about the number of co-located schools in the city.

Chelsia Rose Marcius is a freelance writer.

DUNCAN+RHEE: Amid a Federal Education Inquiry, an Unsettling Sight



A spokesman for Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, cautioned against the presumption of guilt in an investigation of Washington schools under the direction of Michelle Rhee. photos:Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press; Alex Wong, via Getty Images

Published: February 26, 2012 What was Arne Duncan doing sharing the stage with Michelle Rhee at a recent education conference?

Mr. Duncan is the education secretary.

Ms. Rhee was the chancellor of schools in Washington from 2007 to 2010.

Since last summer, the Office of the Inspector General in Mr. Duncan’s department has been investigating whether Washington school officials cheated to raise test scores during Ms. Rhee’s tenure.

You would think Mr. Duncan would want to keep Ms. Rhee at arm’s length during the investigation. And yet there they were, sitting side by side last month, two of four featured panelists at a conference in Washington about the use of education data.

“This is an amazing panel, so I’m thrilled to be part of it,” Mr. Duncan said in his opening comment.

If there is any hope of getting to the bottom of what went on in the Washington schools — whether Ms. Rhee is as amazing as Mr. Duncan said, or whether test scores were inflated by cheating — it is through the inquiry by the inspector general. (Catherine Grant, a spokeswoman for the office, confirmed that an investigation was under way, but would not give details.)

Ms. Rhee’s reputation as a national leader of the education reform movement has rested on those test scores, which soared while she was chancellor. Then, last March, USA Today published the results of a yearlong investigation of the Washington schools that found a high rate of erasures on tests as well as suspiciously large gains at 41 schools — one-third of the elementary and middle schools in the district.

Since then, Ms. Rhee has refused to talk to the reporters who know the story best, although she has been talking to many other people.

During the last year Ms. Rhee has, according to a spokeswoman, scheduled more than 150 public appearances as the head of Students First, an advocacy group that favors vouchers, charter schools and evaluating teachers by test scores, while opposing tenure and teachers’ unions.

Ms. Rhee has also given speeches around the country for a fee of up to $50,000, “plus first-class expenses,” according to an e-mail from Peter Jacobs of the Creative Artists Agency that was posted online by one of Ms. Rhee’s critics. (Emily Lenzner, spokeswoman for Ms. Rhee, said that the former chancellor charges for a “handful” of speeches a year and that the “amount varies.”)

Does it really matter that Secretary Duncan has appeared onstage with Ms. Rhee?

Mr. Duncan doesn’t think so, according to his spokesman, Justin Hamilton. “It’s irresponsible for a New York Times columnist to presume guilt before we have all the facts,” Mr. Hamilton wrote in an e-mail. “Our inspector general is investigating the cheating issue in D.C. public schools, and we should all let the findings speak for themselves.”

The Office of the Inspector General is an independent oversight agency, although the secretary can refer cases for investigation. 

Richard L. Hyde is one who believes that Mr. Duncan should keep his distance. Last year, Mr. Hyde directed 60 state agents in a nine-month investigation of cheating in the Atlanta public schools. They identified 178 teachers and principals in nearly half of the city’s schools who cheated — 82 of whom confessed. The case they built is so strong that criminal indictments are expected.

Mr. Hyde said that to get witnesses to cooperate in such investigations, they must believe that the political leadership is committed. “I’m shocked that the secretary of education would be fraternizing with someone who could potentially be the target of the investigation,” he said. “The appearance of a conflict of interest is troubling because it can cause the public to lose faith in the investigation.”

In Atlanta, the governor at the time, Sonny Perdue, provided extensive resources for the inquiry and then stayed away. “I purposely kept a very low profile and let investigators do their work,” Mr. Perdue said in an interview.

Ms. Lenzner, the spokeswoman for Ms. Rhee, noted in an e-mail that Washington’s scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress had improved under Ms. Rhee’s leadership, a sign that the gains made on other tests were real. The federal test is considered the gold standard of assessments and beyond tampering.

Washington did record some of the highest gains in the nation on the federal math tests. However, reading results were less impressive, with eighth graders scoring lower under Ms. Rhee than they had a decade before.

In Atlanta, gains on the federal tests were even higher than Washington’s, yet cheating was pervasive on the state tests that are used to rate schools, principals and teachers and to pay performance bonuses.

The Atlanta and Washington situations are similar in several ways. Ms. Rhee and Beverly Hall, the former Atlanta superintendent, both relied on fear to motivate, relentlessly driving their work forces. Dr. Hall told principals that if scores didn’t go up enough in three years, they’d be fired. Ms. Rhee bragged about how hard she pushed. “We want educators to feel the pressure,” she said.

Erasure analyses of answer sheets indicated the possibility of widespread cheating in both districts.

In Atlanta, as in Washington, it was journalists who first questioned the test results. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published its first articles in 2001. In the years before widespread cheating was documented by state investigators, Dr. Hall denigrated the newspaper coverage and the education establishment rallied to support her.

Michael Casserly, director of the Council of Great City Schools, called the early news reports about Atlanta “badly misleading” and based on “very bogus analysis.” Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit student advocacy group, wrote that scores were being questioned because people wouldn’t believe that children of color could achieve.

Both Ms. Rhee and Dr. Hall conducted their own internal investigations that found little or no cheating. Both cities hired Caveon, a private test-security company, which reached the same conclusion. The state investigative report for Atlanta criticized the company, noting that “many schools for which there was strong statistical evidence of cheating were not flagged by Caveon.”

In 2009, Ms. Rhee announced that Caveon’s inquiry had cleared the district, but the company’s owner, John Fremer, disagreed, saying that the scope of the investigation was limited and that he was not asked by Ms. Rhee to do more.

Of course, just because there are similarities does not mean that the same level of corruption that existed in Atlanta exists in Washington.

But the public is entitled to know. And school officials cannot be trusted to investigate themselves. Kaya Henderson, who was Ms. Rhee’s deputy and is now the chancellor, has called the cheating accusations “harmful” and “unfounded.”

It will take courage for people to come forward and bear witness.

So it is disheartening that federal officials have selected Ms. Henderson as a keynote speaker for a daylong conference on Tuesday that is sponsored by the department’s National Center for Education Statistics.

It is billed as a “Testing Integrity Symposium.”

GOOD PRINCIPALS MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN HIGH-POVERTY SCHOOLS – Study: "Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The Case of School Principals"

From guest blogger Jaclyn Zubrzycki/Edited By Sarah D. Sparks | Education Week |

February 28, 2012 11:37 AM :: How important is school leadership? Where are the most effective leaders, and how can we tell that they—and not circumstance—are responsible for their schools' success?

"Estimating the Effect of Leaders on Public Sector Productivity: The Case of School Principals," a new working paper from Gregory F. Branch of the University of Texas, Dallas, Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University, and Steven G. Rivkin of Amherst College sets out to answer these and other questions about effective principals, using data on 7,429 principals from the University of Texas, Dallas's Texas Schools Project.

The report focuses in particular on principal transitions and on principals in schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students, to test the argument, echoed in public debate on education, that leadership is "especially important in revitalizing failing schools."

Overall, the researchers find wide variation in principal quality. The variation is greater among schools with large concentrations of low-income students. The researchers found that high-quality principals—as determined by a value-added model that includes student achievement and school characteristics—had a large positive impact on their students' achievement:

"A principal in the top 16 percent of the quality distribution...will lead annually to student gains that are .05 standard deviations or more higher than average for all students in the school (emphasis is the authors')."

They also tended to be associated with teacher turnover in the lowest-performing grades in their schools—indicating, perhaps, that these principals are trying to replace low-performing teachers with more-effective ones.

The report finds that schools with a high number of low-income students are more likely to have first-year principals. First-year principals are also more likely to be present in schools with low achievement as measured by scores on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS).

An interesting note is that "the operation of the labor market...does not appear to screen out the least effective principals. Instead they frequently just move to different schools." The researchers call for a separate investigation into this issue, which brings to mind this recent Texas-to-D.C. principal transition.

Does this ring true? Where are the effective leaders in your district?



Posted By Joanne Jacobs - Community College Spotlight |

February 28, 2012 @ 6:15  ::  States should spend more on education [1], President Obama said at the National Governors Association luncheon. ”The countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.”

President Obama is a “snob” [2] for pushing the college-for-all message, said GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum last week. (Remember “egghead?”) Not everyone wants or needs college, said Santorum, who complained of indoctrination by liberal academics.

In his speech Monday, Obama stressed workforce training at community colleges.

“The jobs of the future are increasingly going to those with more than a high school degree.  And I have to make a point here.  When I speak about higher education we’re not just talking about a four-year degree.  We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment.

The president also urged states to mandate school attendance through age 18.

“I think that we all realize that everybody’s not going to be headed to college, that we have to have … community colleges and good job training,” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, after the luncheon.

“We want someone to be career ready or college ready,” said Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia. “If we haven’t done one of those two things for the young people, we’ve failed you. You don’t have access to the American dream.”


A Sociological Eye on Education The Hechinger Report

POSTED BY Aaron Pallas in the Hechinger Report, Teachers College at Columbia University |

February 20, 2012  ::  The word rigor comes up a lot in teacher-evaluation systems. It’s akin to motherhood, apple pie and the American flag. What policymaker is going to take a stand against rigor? But the term is getting distorted almost beyond recognition.

In science, a rigorous study is one in which the scientific claims are supported by the evidence. Scientific rigor is primarily determined by the study’s design and data-analysis methods. It has nothing to do with the substance of the scientific claims. A study that concludes that an educational program or intervention is ineffective, for example, is not inherently more rigorous than one that concludes that a program works.

In the current discourse on teacher-evaluation systems, however, an evaluation system is deemed rigorous based either on how much of the evaluation rests on direct measures of student-learning outcomes, or the distribution of teachers into the various rating categories, or both. If an evaluation system relies heavily on NCLB-style state standardized tests in reading and mathematics—say, 40 percent of the overall evaluation or more—its proponents are likely to describe it as rigorous. Similarly, if an evaluation system has four performance categories—e.g., ineffective, developing, effective and highly effective—a system that classifies very few teachers as highly effective and many teachers as ineffective may be labeled rigorous.

In these instances, the word rigor obscures the subjectivity involved in the final composite rating assigned to teachers. The fraction of the overall evaluation based on student-learning outcomes is wholly a matter of judgment; and if you believe, as I do, that a teacher’s responsibility for advancing student learning extends well beyond the content that appears on standardized tests, you could conceivably argue that increasing the weight given to standardized tests in teacher evaluations makes these evaluations less rigorous. This is, however, a hard sell in the absence of other concrete measures of student-learning outcomes that could supplement the standardized-test results.

Even more importantly, describing a teacher-evaluation system as rigorous hides the fact that the criteria for assigning teachers to performance categories—either for subcomponents or for the overall composite evaluation—are arbitrary. There’s no scientific basis for saying, as New York has, that of the 20 points out of 100 allocated for student “growth” on New York’s state tests, a teacher needs to receive 18 to be rated “highly effective,” or that a teacher receiving 3 to 8 points will be classified as “developing.” In fact, the cut-off separating “developing” from “effective” changed last week as a result of an agreement reached between the New York State Education Department and the state teachers’ union—not because of science, mind you, but because of politics.

And it’s politics, and politics alone, that accounts for the fact that the rules for the overall composite evaluation say that any teacher who scores 0 to 64 points will be classified as ineffective, and that the two subcomponents for student “growth” and local assessments, each of which counts for 20 points, classify teachers who score 0 to 2 points on each component as ineffective. This means, as New York principal Carol Burris and others have pointed out, that if a teacher is classified as ineffective on both of these subcomponents, that teacher is automatically rated ineffective overall, even if that teacher is rated highly effective on the 60 points allocated for measures of a teacher’s professional practices. It certainly seems odd that two components accounting for 40 percent of a teacher’s overall rating can trump the remaining 60 percent –but this isn’t science, it’s politics.

Other states face the same challenge in assigning teachers’ value-added scores or student growth percentile scores to performance categories, and most of them have punted, issuing regulations that defer these difficult decisions until later. Illinois says that it’s “working diligently” on this. Georgia claims that its model will be identified soon. Michigan is counting on a rating system to be developed by the Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness. After a year of debate, Delaware concluded that it couldn’t figure out how to use students’ scores on the state assessment system in teachers’ summative ratings for the 2011-12 school year, and deferred implementation until the future.

It violates a basic principle of fairness for teachers to be held accountable for performance criteria that aren’t clearly specified in advance and that may be unattainable. These states, and many others, have their work cut out for them.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the mapping of teachers’ value-added or student growth percentile scores onto the ratings composing a teacher’s summative evaluation. The value-added or student growth percentile scores are measured with errors that can be substantial, especially when they are based on a single year’s worth of student achievement data. But the scoring bands for ratings categories such as “developing” or “effective” have strict cut-offs. What to do?

One way of reclaiming the concept of rigor in teacher-evaluation systems is to assign ratings that take into account the uncertainty or errors in the measures. This is consistent with a scientific conception of rigor: the assignment of teachers to rating categories should be consistent with the quality of the evidence for doing so. A teacher shouldn’t be assigned a rating of “ineffective” based on a value-added score, for example, if there’s a substantial probability that the teacher’s true rating is “developing.”

So here’s a challenge, and a proposal. The challenge is to state education policymakers across the country who have hitched their teacher-evaluation systems to measures that seek to isolate teachers’ contributions to their students’ learning: Develop clear and consistent guidelines for assigning teachers to rating categories that take into account the inherent uncertainty and errors in the value-added measures and their variants.

And here’s the proposal:  A teacher should be assigned to the lower of two adjacent rating categories only if there is at least 90 percent confidence that the teacher is not in the higher category. Operationally, this involves a statistical test based on a cut score, a teacher’s score and the error associated with that score.

Suppose, for example, that the cut-off separating “ineffective” and “developing” is a teacher being in the 10th percentile across the state on a value-added or student growth percentile measure. Teacher A’s percentile rating is the eighth percentile, but the standard error for her rating is two percentile points. Given the uncertainty in the rating, there is a 16 percent probability that Teacher A’s true percentile rating is greater than the 10th percentile, and an 84 percent probability that her true percentile is lower than the 10th percentile. Thus, in my proposal, Teacher A should be classified as developing, not ineffective.

Conversely, Teacher B’s percentile rating is in the fourth percentile, and the standard error for her rating is three percentile points. Given the uncertainty in the rating, there is only a 2 percent probability that Teacher B’s true percentile value is above 10, and a 98 percent probability that his true percentile rating is lower than the 10th percentile. Teacher B would therefore be classified as ineffective.

Other approaches are certainly viable; the 90 percent confidence rating is arbitrary, but one that seems sensible to me. In most educational, social and medical research, a common standard is to trust an observed effect only if that effect could be observed by chance under 5 percent of the time, relative to the hypothesis that there’s no true effect in the population. The 90 percent standard I’m proposing is slightly more lenient. And of course this approach doesn’t address the arbitrariness in the New York scheme described above.

If policymakers aren’t willing to take measurement error into account in a defensible way in teacher-evaluation systems, don’t talk to me about rigor—rigor is dead.


Parents are invited to weigh in on the proposal on Thursday March 1 from 6-7 p.m. at Walter Reed Middle School, 4525 Irvine Ave.

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Homework Working Group Summary for Forums Eng and Spa

Map to Walter Reed Middle School

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THREE CA EDUCATION REVENUE INITIATIVES FOR NOVEMBER, 2012? A Comparison, Because Voters Will Probably Only Support One


by Cynthia Liu, | 

February 28, 2012  ::  I recently had the opportunity to hear Molly Munger describe in detail to the California PTA how her proposed ballot initiative, Our Children, Our Future, would produce revenue to pay for K-12 public education.

Governor Brown‘s Schools and Local Public Safety Act ballot initiative proposal has also been public for some time, as has the Courage Campaign‘s proposed ballot initiative (pdf). All three are in the process of collecting signatures to be certified by the California Secretary of State to appear on the November 6, 2012 ballot.

With the process still fluid enough to influence, yet with much at stake and a great deal of political brinksmanship and back channel horse-trading still to take place, I’d like to open up the discussion of the merits of the three possible initiatives now because I feel we Californians are being asked to thread the needle. No one initiative seems to contain the best way of funding public schools and addressing a budget deficit left over from the Schwarzenegger administration of about $9.2 billion. Instead, each initiative has its strengths and weaknesses. If all three make it to the ballot, there’ll be chaos, and there are mutual exclusivity clauses that complicate voting for all three.

Moreover, there are currently bills under consideration in the California Assembly and Senate that would greatly impact public education funding if passed, and ought to be considered as they may be able to become law by the end of the legislative session on June 30, 2012, which is also when the state’s budget for 2012-2013 must pass.

Threading the needle is risky; to some extent when the legislature and Governor must work together, some of that patchwork quality cannot be avoided. But when it comes to the ballot initiatives, for the good of the K-12 kids and higher education students the ballot initiatives aim to serve, I feel the three competing ballot initiatives need to sort out the best features of each, merge, and go forward as one ballot initiative everyone can get behind. Polls show that voters really only have the time and attention to vote for one education initiative.

For we voters and supporters of public education, we’ll have to be strategic and have a strong sense of timing, opportunity, and advocacy. How best to focus and organize voter energy is what I want to talk about here.

To launch that conversation, I’ve created a chart from various tables, narrative assessments, and Legislative Analyst Office reports. Mind you, I’m not an expert on education finance. I’m simply a concerned parent with a child in public schools and a very large stake in seeing our state’s public education system funded properly. Like many parents, I’m more well-informed than some, less informed than others. So I present the following for discussion. I look forward to your comments, corrections/additions, or blog posts in conversation with this one.

24 Questions About Ballot Initiatives To Fund California Education


Notes on the 24 Questions:

green = worthwhile

yellow = warning flag, needs more clarification or discussion

1. What does the initiative amend?

Do we need to amend the CA Constitution with Governor Brown’s initiative? This means local government carries the burden for public safety, mental health, and other services FOREVER.

2. Formula for raising revenue?

From what I observe, both the Brown’s sales tax on individuals and Munger’s “sliding scale” income tax are regressive. The middle class is wary of additional taxes; the appetite for taxing the top 5% of earners is much greater. Do note, however, that according to the California Budget Project’s 3-way comparison, the sales tax would also be applied to businesses, so there’s something to consider there.

However, I have a big question about the Courage Campaign’s Millionaire’s Tax: does it pass the Mark Zuckerberg Facebook gazillionaire test? Here’s what I mean by that. Silicon Valley entrepreneurs typically pay themselves salaries of well under $250,000 per year, and take all their wealth as stock options, which are usually taxed at 15% or under as capital gains (the Mitt Romney tax plan). So how does the Courage Campaign’s plan to capture an additional 3% on $1,000,000 of taxable income or 5% on taxable income of $2,000,000 or more catch Facebook gazillionaire Mark Zuckerberg in its net? A lot hinges on the definition of ‘taxable income.’ I’m not sure Zuckerberg’s modest $250,000 salary (hypothetical, you get the idea), minus deductions, would suffer much of a tax hit at all under the Courage Campaign’s plan. And Zuckerberg’s gazillions would be subject to capital gains taxes, leaving the state of California to collect only on the relatively paltry $250,000.

Jerry Brown’s stepped tax of 1% levied on earners between $500,000-$600,000 sweeps Silicon Valley couples who pay themselves $250,000 each into the pool of taxpayers paying for public education, and further secures revenue at 1.5% on those who have taxable income of $600,000 and up, and 2% on taxable income of $1,000,000 and over. This seems the best way to ensure that state income tax actually impacts those who make salaries in the Silicon Valley upper management range who also take some of their wealth in stock.

View Brown’s proposal in light of Munger’s highest range of percentages on top earners (which she puts at 2.2% on $10,000,000 taxable income earners or above; 2% on taxable income of $1,500,,000 and above). Brown’s addition to the state income tax is more progressive and more craftily designed.

3. Legislative Analyst’s Office analysis of estimated revenue?

The LAO notes that Brown’s initiative would probably bring in less than he calculates. (See CBP 3-way assessment; also the Legislative Analyst’s Office report.)

4. What taxes increase?

As mentioned earlier, everything hangs on the definition of ‘taxable income.’ The LAO notes, with regard to the Courage Campaign’s Millionaire’s Tax, that there may be a discrepancy between income from stock or dividends versus taxable income:

Most of the income reported by California’s upper-income filers is related in some way to their capital investments, rather than wages and salary- type income. While upper-income filers’ wage and salary income is volatile to some extent (due to the cyclical nature of bonuses, among other things), their capital income is highly volatile from one year to the next.

5. Duration?

Munger’s 12 year duration of the tax increases appeals to me, as it’s long enough to be sustained beyond several electoral cycles, yet not so long that we can’t revisit and tinker if it isn’t working optimally. Brown’s 4-year sales tax and 5-year income tax and amendment of  the state constitution strikes me as too ephemeral on the revenue-generation side, and too permanent on the allocation of burdens to local government. Likewise a permanent raise in millionaire’s taxes could be appealing to put the state on a firmer financial footing for the long-term, but not if Californians who make their wealth from stock options slip through the net forever also.

6. Where does the money go? General Fund?

These are all the same in the establishment of a special purpose trust separate from the General Fund and two of them say the Legislature cannot count these special purpose funds toward meeting the Prop 98 minimum guarantee of education funding (as specified in the state constitution).

7. Is the Legislature able to spend or borrow money from the special account?

These are all the same in disallowing the Legislature from borrowing or otherwise moving around money from the special purpose trust to the general fund.

8. Uses of money raised? – 9.  Effect on higher ed?

The Courage Campaign’s Millionaire’s Tax directs less money to K-12 directly, and funds infrastructure such as roads and first responders. If by its own estimate the taxes bring in $6-9.5 billion in the first year, then only $1.5 – $2.0 billion per year would go to K-12 education and the remaining 40% of the money set aside for education, $2.4 – $3.84 billion would go to UCs, CSUs, and CCs for direct instruction. What’s good is that there’s an attempt to address everyone’s needs, and certainly California’s higher ed has sustained deep cuts over the past four years as well.

However, K-12 was cut $18 billion over 4 years (about $4.5 billion per year), while CCs and CSUs/UCs were cut about $750 million per year. Under the Courage Campaign’s Millionaire’s Tax, higher ed would receive about $2.4 billion a year. These proportions seem off — K-12 spending comprises about 28.6% of the state budget and higher ed about 7.1%. This has nothing to do with how much each are valued, but is instead a recognition that the K-12 population of public schoolchildren mandated by law to attend school is 6.3 million, whereas there are approximately 2.3 million community college, Cal State, and UC students who opted to attend in 2010, the last countable year (2.8 million in 2008).

I have yet to reconcile this to the promise to return K-12 and higher ed spending to 2008 levels, which is part of the language of this ballot initiative, and make this actually line up with the anticipated revenue figures.

10. Effect on state deficit?

Currently, debt carried over from the Schwarzenegger administration totals about $9.2 billion (Department of Finance estimates) to $13 billlion (Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates). Only Brown’s addresses systemic underfunding and the deficit it has created.

11. What else does the initiative do?

Brown’s initiative permanently shifts revenue of about $5.5 billion to local governments so they can implement state programs. Are local governments equipped to handle criminal justice duties that the state normally handles, such as parole and rehabilitation of adult offenders? I need more information on the types of programs local governments will be expected to take on.

What Brown’s initiative also does is account for the $9.2 billion deficit (the “wall of debt” that he confusingly referred to in the spring of 2011 and still has the state on a less than robust footing now). His budget accounts for the deferrals and other accounting tricks that previous administrations have used to kick over deficits from one fiscal year to the next. It tries to pay this down, and this is why if no revenue measure is passed, we’ll continue to have painful cuts from all the services we care about and rely on. However, and this is the sticky part, Brown’s initiative would allow the money collected under the initiative to be counted as part of the Prop 98 minimum.

Munger’s proposal, according to her argument, promises to take a portion of the first four years of revenue and pay down education bond servicing, thus freeing up about $3.7 billion to go back into the General Fund. So this is a welcome development to acknowledge that there are other areas that have suffered cuts that the General Fund pays for and would further protect Prop 98 minimums from sinking further.

Both Munger’s and the Courage Campaign’s proposals would keep money collected for education in a special trust above and beyond Prop 98 minimums. This is a key difference from Brown’s initiative and because Prop 98 is so tricky, I feel this needs to be explained more carefully.

However we might want to, we can’t view education funding in a vacuum: funding for seniors, families who receive CalWorks assistance, parks, first responders, and all other programs are paid through the General Fund. (Remember the $9.2 – $13 billion a year in deficits we face at the current level of revenue collection?) The General Fund must also be adequately funded. If California voters succeed in passing either Munger’s or the Courage Campaign’s revenue proposals, we could STILL be $2 billion or more short of what we need for education, and subject to cuts. This excellent short post and accompanying radio show from KQED spells out why:

First, the notion of a deeper deficit. Budget experts explain it as follows: Brown’s proposal, which also codifies the 2011 budget’s realignment of state and local services, is the only way under current law that the existing budget pencils out. If his proposal doesn’t prevail, the 2011 budget reclassification of $5 billion in sales tax revenues crumbles — revenues that the budget removed from the constitutional formulas that drive K-14 school funding.

Still following? Hope so.

And if those sales tax revenues revert to their normal general fund placement — thus, counting towards establishing the Proposition 98 funding level — schools will be owed another $2 billion. And, given the state isn’t exactly sitting on surplus cash, that could mean $2 billion in new cuts… even though voters, in ratifying either of the alternate initiatives, would have assumed that new taxes mean no new budget cuts.

(I told you Prop 98 was tricky. It’s said only 3 people in the state really understand how it works.)

See also #13 below for details. The upshot: we were drastically underfunded for years and we’d need a raft of revenue measures to bring us up to par. Passing any one of the education-focused ballot initiatives isn’t a silver bullet, but at minimum we need to pass at least one revenue measure that funds public education, period. This is where the burden must shift from individuals to closing corporate loopholes.

12. Effect on/amounts raised for K-12?

In the first year of each hypothetical year of the respective initiatives, the Munger plan would deliver about $6 billion for K-12, the Brown plan about $4.3 – $6.1 billion for K-12, and the Courage Campaign plan about $1.5 – $1.9 billion for K-12.

13. How is money allocated, K-12?

The Munger initiative is very specific about the kinds of categories of education funding the monies can be used for. 18% can be used specifically for low-income students. This is important because there’s no other accommodation in her plan for social service cuts (such as to CalWorks, the cash assistance provided to families with minor children living below the poverty line; about 77% of low-income children in California are helped by this program).

As the California Budget Project has pointed out, when children living in poverty have CalWorks funding cut AND they experience school funding cuts, the most vulnerable children in our state experience twice the deprivation. When the General Fund has been chronically underfunded as it has for the past decade or more, we end up with a situation where we must cut $940 million (more than higher ed was cut in a single year, and almost one-fourth of what K-12 was cut in a single year) that helps California’s most indigent families. So Munger’s school-site money for ensuring that there are longer days, after-school enrichment programs or tutoring is good, but it’s not the same as restoring funding to a cash assistance program that allows low-income parents to buy their children clothes, food, pay the rent, or other subsistence expenses that can’t be supplied through or met by the school.

14. What K-12 schools are eligible to receive funds?

Public schools eligible to receive funds — all are about the same in defining public schools, including special ed, charters, neighborhood schools, and county offices of education.

15. Who decides how the money is spent?

Brown and Munger provide for local school boards to decide at public meetings how money from this special trust will be spent. This is HUGELY important and must remain in the final ballot initiative.

The Courage Campaign centralizes fiscal accountability with the State Controller’s office but otherwise doesn’t make any provision for local oversight. This is a big mistake.

16. How does oversight on spending funds raised by the initiative work? I.e., site budgets, public explanation of improvement of student outcomes, independent audits?

Munger’s plan is clearly most well-thought among the three and provides for mandatory parental input, school board-generated budgets and a public reporting process, plus subjecting districts to independent audits. This MUST also remain in the final version of the ballot initiative. Brown’s version is too lax, and the Courage Campaign’s too distant from where the money will actually be spent (shows a lack of knowledge of local school governance and the importance of community buy-in).

17. Penalties for misuse of funds?

Here I like Munger’s and Courage Campaign’s approaches. Munger changes the penal code to make it a felony to misappropriate funds. The Courage Campaign specifically provides for a clawback option for misused funds and puts the misappropriated money back into the general pot for redistribution. I’d like to see more of this in the final ballot initiative.

18. Permissible areas of spending, K-12?

Again, Munger’s proposed ballot initiative is very specific about what special trust funds can be used for. I was very pleased to see that money should be used to improve student academic performance through enriching and broadening the curriculum, putting more teachers with students and increasing instructional time, putting resources toward the law recently passed (which K12NN supported) that incorporates P21 principles of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, deeper engagement, STEAM, financial and other 21st century literacies, and hiring support staff like nurses, librarians, special ed teachers, English Language Learner specialists — in short, everything BUT testing. I feel this must be articulated very carefully in whatever ballot initiative is the final one, otherwise education profiteers will seize upon this new special trust money and try to use it to fund unproven online learning or testing or some other aspect of education that is a profit center for them, but not especially beneficial for children.

In fact, this is a central weakness of both Brown’s and the Courage Campaign’s ballot initiatives. By not specifying some of the specific ways special education trust money can be spent, they leave the door wide open to testing/textbook/ed tech lobbyists to try to divert as much funding as possible to their interests instead of broadening the curriculum and reintroducing the arts, music, history, and all the other parts of the curriculum that have been narrowed and eliminated due to No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on testing.

19. Impermissible areas of spending?

No administrative bloat allowed by any of the three initiatives, but the Courage Campaign goes several steps further by specifying that the special trust fund should not enable vice provost/provost bloat or be spent on inflating regents’ or chancellor’s salaries. A good proviso.

20. Effect on Early Childhood Education and child care?

There must be money set aside, as Munger’s does, for Early Childhood Education (ECE) and care. Study after study shows the benefits of 0-5 early childhood stimulation, proper nutrition, and a rich and stimulating preschool experience. And we know this pays off handsomely throughout the child’s lifetime. Brown’s proposal is silent on this; the Courage Campaign only goes so far as to say that levels will be restored as of January, 2008. But what if even those levels of spending were too low?

21. Effect on Prop 98 minimum funding guarantee?

Munger and Courage Campaign specify that special trust funds are above and beyond Prop 98 guarantees. This is preferable to Brown’s, which allows special trust funds to be swept into the Prop 98 minimum. That minimum can be suspended (and has, upon occasion), and is susceptible to trickery that makes the floor act like a ceiling. General funds should still be appropriated to fund the Prop 98 minimum instead of letting special trust funds fill the gap for basics.

22. Small class sizes? – 23. Reintroduction of art, music, PE, history, etc, classes?

Small class sizes and the return of PE, history, music, arts, and other classes would be funded more widely by the Munger initiative. Classes cut from the day due to test prep and teaching to the test would be replaced with arts, sciences, music and other classes would replaced only at districts where visionary administrators see fit to make these a priority under the Brown and Courage Campaign plans.

However, if Assemblymember Julia Brownley’s AB 18 becomes law, it would tweak the state funding formula for public education to make it more simple, easily understood, and equitable. This would also allow for smaller class sizes. We should support AB18′s passage provided the “equitably weighted student formula” is indeed equitable. A key difference between Brownley’s AB18 as it currently stands is that it would count funding that follows the student more than once if the student fell into categories that receive specific funding. So an English Language Learner who is also a special needs child would be counted and funded twice, whereas under Brown’s version of weighted student funding, the child would only be funded once.

In some locales, a parcel tax will also allow for small class sizes. But this is limited only to jurisdictions to which the parcel tax applies.

24. If both/all pass?

If Munger’s initiative gets the most votes, the alignment parts of Brown’s initiative will take effect but not his K-12 proposals.

If Brown’s gets the most votes, then it cancels out Munger’s.

If the Courage Campaign wins and is challenged, then remaining parts are still valid and lawful. If it’s approved by voters, but superseded by another measure that is unlawful, then the Courage Campaign’s will be self-executing and lawful.

Clearly AB18, which would clarify and simplify the way school funding is handled by the state of California, is sorely needed. Will the legislature be able to push this through by the end of this legislative session, or will consideration get moved even deeper into 2012?

Assembly Speaker Perez has launched the Middle Class College Scholarship Act, which would close a corporate loophole to fund a 2/3 reduction in college costs. But is this just showboating in an election year, or are California legislators really intent on passing this?

If both bills pass and are signed into law, it would ease the burden on the November 2012 ballot initiative(s) meant to fund education in California. Perhaps even by then, the three parties will have sorted out the strengths of each into one initiative all Californians can get behind. Will this happen?

It depends on you and me, and all California voters, to inform ourselves, debate, and to ASK our legislators to take action. Don’t ask us to thread the needle — sort it out and make the right path forward open to an up-or-down vote.

So, what’s the best way forward?


from LA Daily News |

02/27/2012 01:28:57 PM PST   ::  A public forum will be held Thursday in North Hollywood on a proposed LAUSD policy that would cap homework assignments at 20 percent of a student's grade and set guidelines for how much time should be spent on outside assignments.

Parents are invited to weigh in on the proposal on Thursday March 1 from 6-7 p.m. at Walter Reed Middle School, 4525 Irvine Ave. 

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Los Angeles Unified officials said they are trying to schedule additional forums before the policy is considered by the school board, probably in April.* The district came under fire last year when officials implemented a policy limiting homework to 10 percent of a student's grade without first seeking comments from parents.

Plans call for the policy to take effect in the fall.


*Previous LAUSD communications said that this would be the second of only two public forae.

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CALIFORNIA’S FLAWED ‘PARENT TRIGGER’: Education reform benefits from parent involvement, but state rules on the so-called parent trigger need revision.

LA Times Editorial |

February 28, 2012  ::   The first "parent trigger" petition in California, which sought to allow a charter organization to take over a Compton elementary school, ultimately failed amid bitter charges on both sides that parents had been harassed and lied to. The state Board of Education had a chance to make the process less chaotic by requiring open meetings at which both reformers and opponents would lay out their arguments, enabling parents to make an informed decision. But the board adopted regulations that fell short, so no one should be surprised that the state's second trigger petition, this time in Adelanto, resulted in similar confusion and rancor.

The trigger law allows parents to force major change at their low-performing school if half or more sign a petition. They might call for a switch to charter, closure or the replacement of staff.

Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto certainly fit the description of low-performing. Its Academic Performance Index score is well below the state goal, and its improvement has been plodding at best. Still, parents running the petition campaign didn't seek one of the usual trigger reforms. Their petition called instead for keeping Desert Trails as a traditional public school but turning over control of hiring, firing and instruction to an independent board of parents and outside education experts. In order to pressure the district to negotiate, they persuaded parents to sign a backup petition that would turn the school into an independently run charter.

The first petition was problematic. If Desert Trails remains a district school, the district takes responsibility for what happens there. It can't abdicate key instructional decisions to an outside panel. And with two petitions, it was predictable that some parents would later complain that they had not understood what they were signing. Fired up by an opposition campaign late in the process, dozens of parents rescinded their signatures, enough for the school board to reject the charter petition. The pro-trigger forces have 60 days to persuade 20 or so of those parents to change their minds again, or find new parents to sign up.

Once parents sign petitions, their signatures shouldn't be subject to changes of mind. But that's true only if there has been a sensible and transparent process to provide them with complete information. The state board should refine the rules for trigger petitions. All parents should be officially notified about trigger campaigns affecting their school; that's not the way it currently works. And before they sign anything, parents should have an opportunity to attend open forums where they can hear from both sides, ask questions, challenge assumptions and debate details. Parent-driven school reform shouldn't be subject to misinformation or lack of information, or depend on which argument was heard most recently.


-- Angel Jennings, LA TIMES/LA NOW |

North Hollywood High wins Science Bowl
February 27, 2012 |  5:39 pm  :: A day before the Academy Awards, five students at North Hollywood High School took home the Oscar of the science world.

The team won the 20th Annual Regional Science Bowl Competition in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, securing a spot at the national contest in Washington, D.C. Though officials compare the event to the star-studded Academy Awards, the contest actually looks more the game show "Jeopardy."

In the daylong competition, students from across the Los Angeles Unified School District -- including those from private, charter and religious schools -- were quizzed on their knowledge of math, science and technology in a fast-paced question-and-answer segment. About 53 groups vied for the first-place title and cash prize.

The  competition, sponsored by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, was created in 1993 to spark high school students' interest in science and encourage them to pursue careers in the field.

“We need to have engineers and scientists with a lot of technological expertise,” said LADWP spokesman Walter Zeisl. “We need a workforce that is strong in this area, to continue to produce water and energy for our customers.”

North Hollywood High team members Daniel Bork, Rain Tsong, Vivek Banejee, Kennedy Agwamaba and Chiyoung Kim each received a $1,000 Hitachi scholarship, along with an all-expenses-paid trip to the nation’s capital in April.

They will compete against 69 other regional high school championship teams from 40 states at the national contest, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Ten teams from California will participate. The top prize: a vacation abroad.

This is North Hollywood’s seventh regional championship in a row and the school’s 14th LADWP regional championship overall. But instead of a golden statuette, the winners were handed a 2-foot-tall trophy cup.


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Photo:  North Hollywood High School won its 14th LADWP regional science championship and seventh in a row. Credit: Courtesy LADWP