Friday, May 31, 2013


Joanna Lin, Education Reporter, | Center for Investigative Reporting

●● This story was set up and bookended on KPCC’s Take 2 on May 31. When that program is posted online there will be a link here:

Special Ed - Garcia photo

Click for larger image - Michael Garcia (center in photograph), who was once a junior cadet in the Bell Police Department's junior explorer program, struggled to receive special education services as an inmate in the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail for 19 months.  - Credit: Kelvin Kuo/For The Center for Investigative Reporting

May 29, 2013  ::  TEHACHAPI, Calif. – School ended for Michael Garcia with a routine transfer from juvenile hall to adult county jail. There was no fanfare, diploma or cap and gown. He hadn’t graduated or dropped out.

He’d simply turned 18.

For the next 19 months, he was in limbo, unable to receive the high school diploma that he’ll need for most jobs and to attend college. Despite being eligible for special education under state and federal laws – Garcia has a learning disability, an auditory processing disorder and a speech and language impairment – in the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail, he was a student that no one wanted to teach.

California and federal laws allow students with disabilities to receive special education until age 22. But the laws are vague enough that deciding who should provide that education is unclear.

Garcia has spent nearly five years in legal battles trying to hold someone accountable. This year, the California Supreme Court is expected to hear Garcia’s case to determine whether an incarcerated student’s local school district – the one in which his or her parents reside – is responsible for his or her special education.

The case has implications for county inmates with disabilities and school districts across the state that could be required to send teachers into jails to instruct special education students. In L.A. County jails alone, attorneys for Garcia estimate, between 400 and 700 young adults are eligible for special education on any given day.

Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail

Click for larger image - Sheriff's deputies inspect a cellblock at the Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail. Michael Garcia was transferred there from juvenile hall after he turned 18 and did not receive special education services for 19 months. Credit: Reed Saxon/Associated Press >>

The court’s decision will come too late for Garcia, who is incarcerated at a state prison – a system beyond the scope of his petition. Still, said Garcia, who turns 23 in June, “it’s the least I can do.”

“I know other people are struggling to get education too but don’t have the courage to keep pushing,” he said. “I already went through that struggle. Why not keep going to help everyone else?”

During a recent interview in prison, Garcia recited the Lord’s Prayer quickly, unblinking, through the thick glass of a visiting booth. The words weren’t always this easy for him to recall. Garcia grew up with his mother, Yamileth Fuentes, and four siblings in Bell, a small city in an industrial corridor southeast of downtown Los Angeles.

After long hours of driving a county Metro bus, Fuentes would return home and teach Garcia angel prayers, first in Spanish and then in English, by having him repeat after her, line by line. Even after a month of saying the same prayers every night, Garcia would struggle to recite them on his own, Fuentes said. And because Garcia glossed over Rs and Ls, his words were garbled and difficult to understand.

In second grade, Garcia was found to have a learning disability caused by an auditory processing disorder and a speech and language impairment. He was assigned weekly speech therapy and placed in a special education class. Garcia said he hated the class for separating him from his peers and because it made him feel stupid.

So in sixth grade, when he realized he had been mistakenly placed in a general education course, Garcia said nothing. He relished the chance to prove he was smart, that he did not need special education after all.

“It was a conflict I had with myself because I knew I was smart enough,” he said.

He failed the class. With an F on his report card, Garcia was dropped from the Bell Police Department’s junior explorer program, in which he had been a proud junior cadet who hoped to someday be a police officer.

Garcia said he got involved with the wrong crowd shortly after. By the time he finished middle school, he was a member of the Barrio Mojados gang.

One evening in January 2006, Garcia was acting as a lookout as his friends tagged a corner store wall in South Los Angeles when two men from a rival gang came up to them and started shooting. Garcia said he ran toward them, shooting back.

He then took cover behind a car in the driveway of a nearby house. The man and woman who lived there told Garcia to get out and tried to push him off their property. As the couple tussled with Garcia near the front yard, another teenage boy approached, pulling a gun from his waistband.

The couple testified that Garcia told the other boy, a fellow gang member, to shoot the man – a claim Garcia denies. Still, the other boy fired, striking the man’s pants.

Garcia was sentenced to 12 years in state prison for one count of attempted murder and two counts of vandalism. With time served, he’ll be released in 2016, when he’s 26 years old.

Special Ed - Garcia family

<<Click for larger image - Michael Garcia's daughter, Michelle (center), looks at childhood photos of her father with her mother, Candy Vaquerano (left), and grandmother, Yamileth Fuentes (right). Michael Garcia has spent nearly five years in legal battles to determine who is responsible for providing special education to inmates in California's county jails.  Credit: Kelvin Kuo/For The Center for Investigative Reporting

Garcia was a high school freshman when he was sent to Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar to await trial. The Los Angeles County Office of Education ran the special day class he attended and provided him each week with 45 minutes of speech therapy and 30 minutes of counseling, to help him manage frustrations he felt because of his learning disability.

“I was still a kid,” he said. “I was going to the classroom, hanging out, not doing my work, fighting. I got older and I was like, what am I doing?”

A few weeks after he turned 18, he was transferred to an L.A. County jail, and his special education services vanished.

Under California law, county offices of education serve students in juvenile halls. For all other students, state law generally holds the school district where a parent resides responsible for special education. The district remains responsible for the student, who may receive special education services until age 22, as long as his or her parent lives within district boundaries.

An administrative law judge in 2009 found that the law extends to students incarcerated in county jails and ordered the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide special education services to Garcia, which the district did while also appealing the decision.

A district court judge affirmed the decision, and L.A. Unified’s second appeal is now awaiting a hearing before the California Supreme Court. While the case is pending, a related class-action lawsuit – filed by Garcia and 10 other inmates against the district, state, county office of education and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, among others – is on hold.

L.A. Unified is “meeting legal requirements” to provide special education to inmates whose parents resided in district boundaries when the inmate turned 18, a district spokeswoman said in an email.

The district currently provides special education services to one of L.A. County’s 18,520 inmates, said Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. At most, he said, the county has had no more than five inmates receiving special education, all from L.A. Unified, at the same time.

In court documents, L.A. Unified said that because there’s no law specifically assigning school districts to provide special education to inmates, the state Department of Education is responsible. The state, on the other hand, said it provides special education services only if it finds local agencies are “unwilling or unable” to do so – a circumstance that it said was not the case for students in Los Angeles County jails.

The state is “shirking their responsibility,” said Paula Pearlman, executive director of the Disability Rights Legal Center and an attorney for Garcia. When the local district and county education offices fail, the state is the “district of last resort,” she said.

Since Garcia’s transfer from county jail to state prison in September 2010, the special education services he received under court order from L.A. Unified have stopped. He’s currently housed in the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi.

Every Tuesday, Garcia attends a three-hour class in the prison to help him pass the General Educational Development test, which inmates can take once a month.

Practice exams have been challenging, he said, because he needs more time to comprehend each question than the test allows. The algebra in the test is difficult, too, especially because he can’t study with a calculator in his cell.

He plans to take the test as soon as he can receive additional time – an accommodation called for in his individualized education program, a legal document that outlines a special education student’s goals and services.

While Garcia’s case before the California Supreme Court is limited to L.A. Unified, Pearlman ultimately wants the state to provide oversight.

“If there was a system in place, it’s more likely these kids would get services … other than piecemeal, each district trying to figure out who’s there,” she said. “We don’t believe it should end based on your location.”

  • This story was edited by Robert Salladay and copy edited by Nikki Frick and Christine Lee.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


By Dalina Castellanos, LA Times |

Protest against changes at Crenshaw High

Parents, students and teachers rally in front of L.A. Unified headquarters to protest a proposal to restructure low-performing Crenshaw High School. Shruti Purkayastha, left, leads a small group of protesters outside the district headquarters. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times / January 15, 2013)

May 29, 2013, 4:42 p.m. ::  More than half of the teachers and staff at Crenshaw High School, including two teachers union representatives, are being displaced by a campus reorganization process ordered by L.A. Supt. John Deasy earlier this year.

In January, the school board endorsed Deasy's plan to remake the traditional high school into three magnets and require teachers to reapply for their jobs. The move came after years of high dropout rates and low student test scores.

Student action clubs conducted a survey on campus after the board's vote and presented its results at a meeting this week. A majority of the students surveyed said the school didn't have adequate time or resources to prove its potential.

Students and community members voiced their concerns this week about the changes at the Brotherhood Crusade Youth Resource Center near the Leimert Park campus.

The school received Ford Foundation and federal funding when it was restructured previously. But that funding will no longer be available after the district reorganization. Test scores improved in 2011-12; the Academic Performance Index score was 569, the district target is 800.  

Of the 62 teachers who reapplied for their jobs, 29 were selected. Fewer than 10 elected not to return, said Cathy Garcia, a Crenshaw math instructor and teachers union representative who was among those displaced.

"The kids are being traumatized after witnessing the upheaval [the reorganization] is causing," said Angelita Parker, whose daughter is a senior at Crenshaw. "Their grades are being affected because they're losing their mothers away from home: the teachers."

Some in the community say the survey and protests should have happened earlier, when the reorganization was first discussed.

"We knew this was happening," said Ahren Dessert, who will graduate from Crenshaw's gifted magnet in a few weeks. "This all should have happened last year."

Still, some say the gatherings might not change the district's course of action, but it could be beneficial to the community as a whole.

"We're letting people know what happened here," said Meredith Smith, who started teaching at Crenshaw in 1991. Her last day is June 30, after which she will interview for openings at other campuses.

The district responded to the survey Tuesday, saying the transformation is a group effort.

"Students, parents, alumni and community members helped create these educational programs and assisted in the selection process for faculty and staff," said George Bartleson, director of intensive support and intervention at L.A. Unified.

"The district, as well as the school's staff, believes the changes will establish rigorous academics, allowing all Crenshaw students to graduate college- and career-ready."

Tauheedah Shakur doesn't see it that way.

The 17-year-old junior will return for her senior year to unfamiliar teachers, she said.

"Who will be the teachers who will give me letters of recommendation?" Shakur said, referring to the letters needed for college applications. "Who will have known me and what I've gone through during the last three years?"


LAUSD magnet school (Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies) is one of three U.S. schools to receive award to encourage low-income students to seek higher education.

By Dalina Castellanos, L.A. Times |


Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / December 12, 2007)

May 29, 2013, 11:23 a.m.  ::  A top-performing Los Angeles school is one of three in the nation to receive a $25,000 award to encourage low-income students to seek higher education by expanding access to courses that will better prepare students to go to college.

The Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, more commonly known as LACES, was named a Gaston Caperton Inspiration Award school by the College Board on Wednesday.

The money will help add a class period to reduce the overall class size, resulting in more student-teacher time and preparing students to enroll in advanced placement courses, Principal Harold Boger said.

About 99% of the school's minority students go to college and $300,000 in federal Title 1 funding was recently reinstated to the Mid-City campus because 50% of its students are low-income.

“Though their students come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and represent 50 different ZIP codes across Los Angeles, last spring LACES educators celebrated as over 90% of their seniors both graduated and went on to attend college," said Peter Negroni, senior vice president of relationship development at the College Board about the magnet school.

"Their efforts demonstrate that with access to rigorous academic opportunities, every student can be successful."

The school attributes some of the success to its active parent community, which has formed various groups and gives parent workshops in different languages, plans college nights and invites guest speakers to involve families in the college-preparation and admission processes.

"LACES has achieved the great honor of being one of the top schools in Los Angeles, the state, and in the nation,” said Mary Jane London, assistant principal of LACES. “We are proud of our LACES family who have made education and preparing for college a goal for each child who walks through our doors."  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


State tax revenue may be higher than projected. But that doesn't call for a spending spree

L.A. Times Editorial |

Mac Taylor

Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, right, answers a reporter's question concerning his office's assessment of Gov. Jerry Brown's updated budget during a news conference in Sacramento. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press / May 17, 2013)

May 29, 2013  ::  Temptation, thy name is Mac Taylor.

Days after Gov. Jerry Brown urged lawmakers to spend conservatively in light of the fragile state economy, Taylor, the head of the Legislative Analyst's Office, estimated that the state's tax revenues would be $3.2 billion higher than Brown predicted. Now lawmakers are debating how much of that money to spend in the fiscal year that begins July 1. We share their desire to undo some of the penny-wise, pound-foolish cuts made in recent years. But it's important that the Legislature not push the state back into a fiscal hole by incurring new, ongoing expenses it may not be able to afford.

A key question for lawmakers is what to make of the $4.5 billion in surplus tax dollars that Sacramento unexpectedly hauled in during the first four months of 2013. Brown characterized it as something of a fluke; Taylor countered that the extra money stemmed from stock market and property value increases that would be maintained, if not expanded, over the coming fiscal year. Brown predicted that personal income tax revenues would plummet after July 1, and total revenue would drop about 1%. Taylor estimated that income taxes would hold steady and that total revenue would climb modestly. Hence the gap between their forecasts.

Not surprisingly, the Democrats who control the Senate and Assembly budget committees want to use Taylor's numbers. To their credit, though, they would put most of the extra money into reserve funds or, in the Assembly's case, into paying back more of the money the state owes to schools. The new spending the committees have proposed would mainly restore programs that had been cut in recent years, and in many cases they've targeted it to one-time expenses or program expansions that can be canceled if revenues fall short.

As unlikely and commendable as their restraint may be, they may not have gone far enough. As Taylor notes, the state still faces huge fiscal challenges — most notably, a looming $73 billion unfunded liability in the retirement fund for public school teachers and a $10.7 billion debt to Washington for borrowed unemployment benefits — that both Brown and the Legislature are ignoring. Although lawmakers can't tackle either of those issues without addressing deeper problems in the teacher retirement and unemployment insurance systems, it makes sense to start putting money aside now.

Taylor makes a persuasive case that Brown's figures are simply too conservative. Nevertheless, the state's experience with boom-and-bust revenues over the last 15 years makes a strong case for caution. If the Legislature is going to count on potentially chimerical revenue to spend more than Brown has proposed, it should take the same approach as it did last year: It should identify which of those increases it will cancel, or what other areas of the budget it will cut, if the extra dollars don't materialize. And it should start building up reserves to cover the multibillion-dollar liabilities Sacramento has yet to confront.


2cents smf: It’s amazing how the light at the end of the tunnel – or perhaps a lifeline – becomes a ‘windfall”.

Or is a ‘windfall’ the debris that falls during a tornado?


smf: No Ed-Speak buzz word left unused – but disproportionality seems to be the most overused.  And  if you listen carefully to the conference call you will hear about the mechanism for getting a waiver from the waiver …and for kicking naughty school districts out of the CORE waiver club.

by John Fensterwald, EdSource Today |

May 28th, 2013 :: Nine California districts resubmitted their application Tuesday for a waiver from key provisions and sanctions of the No Child Left Behind law after spending weeks revising the application in response to dozens of questions by a panel of reviewers from the U.S. Department of Education.

Screen Shot 2013-05-28 at 5.14.54 PMIf approved, the application by members of the umbrella organization California Office to Reform Education, or CORE, would be a first. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has approved waivers for 37 states with eight more states under review. This would be the only waiver granted to a group of districts, albeit one serving more a million students, and the approach, based on collaboration among teachers and districts and an accountability system deemphasizing standardized test scores, would be distinct. The CORE applicants include some of the state’s largest unified districts – Los Angeles, Long Beach, Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento City and Santa Ana – along with Clovis, Sanger and Oakland.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced last week that the state would not be submitting its request this year, eliminating a potential conflict with CORE – at least for next year – and making it easier for Duncan, who had been criticized by state chief education officers who are worried about the precedent of ceding state control to districts.

CORE officials expressed confidence that Duncan, who has final authority, will approve the waiver within weeks, in time for it to take effect in the fall.

The CORE districts are proposing a different school accountability system. Standardized test scores, now the sole factor in current state API system, would now be one of three components. It would be  included, along with the high school  graduation rate,  in the "academic domain," making up 60 percent of the index. Social/emotional learning factors and school climate measures each would comprise 20 percent.

The CORE districts are proposing a different school accountability system. Standardized test scores, now the sole factor in current state API system, would now be one of three components. It would be included, along with the high school graduation rate, in the “academic domain,” making up 60 percent of the index. Social/emotional learning factors and school climate measures each would comprise 20 percent.

Stating the revised application is stronger and clearer, CORE Executive Director Rick Miller said Tuesday, “We are optimistic it will get approved. We’ve had regular calls with them (federal education officials), sharing drafts back and forth, and have answered their questions. We’re not confident this is the last draft, but are confident we will get approval this coming school year.”

Under the application, any district or charter school in California that agreed to the conditions would also be eligible for a waiver, although Miller said he expects that most districts would have trouble acting in time for this fall.

A waiver would offer several advantages: It would stop the clock on NCLB’s implausible requirement that every student be proficient in math and English language by next year. It would free up for other uses more than $100 million in federal Title I money that the districts’ schools, under sanctions for not meeting academic targets, have had to use for after-school tutoring and transporting students to other schools. And it would let the districts create their own accountability system, based on a broader range of measures and data than NCLB currently demands, for raising student achievement and turning around the lowest performing schools.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said the waiver offered an opportunity to “radically reorient” districts’ accountability systems toward a “holistic” approach to student achievement and school improvement. The focus will shift from compliance and sanctions to “assistance by peer educators, with shared responsibility” for improvement from teacher to teacher and school to school, he said.

In an 89-page evaluation completed in April, the panel of six federal reviewers requested more information on about 60 aspects of the application. They wanted more details particularly in three critical areas:

  • How districts would do annual teacher and principal evaluations that include the “significant” use of test scores to measure student academic growth, a waiver requirement:

This potentially presented the biggest obstacle, given resistance from teacher unions, which is a big factor that deterred Torlakson and the State Board from moving forward this year with a statewide waiver. CORE’s solution is to give districts two options to choose from.

One was lifted from Massachusetts’ waiver plan, which the federal government has approved and which may have the biggest appeal to districts in California. Results from standardized and other tests would not be used directly as a metric in an evaluation but would serve as a check. If test scores and an evaluation based on classroom observations and other criteria didn’t agree, the district would take a second look to identify the discrepancy and could create a one-year improvement plan for the teacher.

The second option would require that state standardized tests results would comprise a minimum of 20 percent of a teacher or principal evaluation, which, Miller said, should satisfy the definition of “significant.” Since it would be implemented in 2015-16, it would incorporate the new Common Core assessments, not the current state tests, the California Standards Tests. CORE plans to create its own method for determining how to measure student growth – a controversial and contentious issue. Districts with their own models, like Los Angeles Unified, could seek approval to use their variations from the CORE board of directors.

  • How, in the absence of state oversight, districts would account for student progress and fix schools needing improvement.

CORE is proposing its own school accountability system, called a School Quality Improvement Index, which would differ significantly from the state’s current Academic Performance Index, or API, based almost exclusively on results from the state tests. But it would be closer in line with the new API that the State Department of Education and the State Board are developing, under a new state law that limits tests scores to 60 percent of the API. CORE would include measurements of a school’s culture along with measures of social and emotional health of students, including factors like grit and determination that, Miller says, more fully reflect whether students are progressing toward the primary goal of college and career readiness. No other state is attempting to incorporate non-cognitive factors in its accountability system, according to Miller, and the federal reviewers questioned whether their inclusion would water down the academic measurements. As a result, Miller said that the application detailed the research showing the correlation between academic achievement and non-cognitive factors.

San Francisco Unified Superintendent Richard Carranza said work in his district has shown a correlation with early indicators of chronic absenteeism as a predictor of academic achievement, which educators have intuitively known. Codifying this factor into  an accountability system enables districts to get credit for effective interventions that they use, he said.

CORE’s accountability index would break down as follows:

  1. Academics, 60 percent: Along with scores from required standardized tests, graduation rates and middle school persistence – the rate of 8th graders who go on to 10th grade.
  2. Social and emotional factors, 20 percent: Chronic absenteeism rates; suspension/expulsion rates with a focus on ending disparities among ethnic and racial groups, and as yet undefined non-cognitive factors that will be tested next year.
  3. School culture and climate factors, 20 percent: Results of student, staff and parent surveys, English language redesignation rates, and rates of identifiying special education students.

CORE said that it plans to collect and publish more data than NCLB now requires, such as Advanced Placement test results and completion of A to G, the courses required to be eligible for admission to the University of California and California State University.

In addition, the CORE districts have decided to define 20 students as a subgroup within a school, compared with 100 students currently required under NCLB. Doing so will bring an additional 200,000 students into subgroup reports – an indication of CORE’s “commitment to shining a bright light” on data with the goal of ending racial and ethnic disparities in achievement, Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy said.

  • How CORE would ensure that other districts seeking a waiver would meet commitments under the waiver and, if they didn’t, force them to return to the old system under NCLB.

Hanson said the only requirements for admission would be districts’ commitment to share data and their expertise and their openness to use “the right drivers” for school improvement. The application provides more information on the process and timelines for applying for a waiver.

Going deeper:

The federal reviewers frowned on one of CORE’s ideas that challenged NCLB’s key requirement: annual state standardized tests in English language arts and math for every student in grades 3 through 8, plus once in high school. CORE had proposed tests for accountability purposes in only the last grade of elementary and middle schools and in 11th grade. CORE has now dropped the idea.

But the thrust of CORE’s proposal, challenging NCLB’s test-based approach to accountability, remains intact. School districts living under the demands of NCLB  “have too often been chasing success in a system that does not define success in a comprehensive or rigorous way,” the application’s executive summary states.

CORE officials and the application have cited the progress over the past decade of the Province of Ontario, Canada, as a model, and the work of the architect of Ontario’s approach, author and education reformer Michael Fullan, as a guide. Fullan, who told EdSource Today he’d like to work with the CORE districts, calls his process “motivational collaboration;” it relies on giving teachers a leading role in school improvement and an extensive use of data, provided to the public.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


William Celis | | Pass / Fail | 89.3 KPCC

Mercer 9154

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

May 23rd, 2013, 12:21pm  ::  Hawaii's $75 million school improvement campaign feeling growing pains.

If there was ever doubt about the challenge of school reform, Hawaii’s multi-million dollar campaign is an expensive reminder of how difficult it can be. An ambitious plan to extend the school day by an hour has been scaled back to a small number of schools as the state grapples with growing pains and learning what worked and what did not.

The school-day expansion was funded by a $75 million, four-year Race To the Top grant in 2010. Hawaii was only one of a dozen to receive the grant from the Obama Administration. The state promised to use the money to build better data systems, expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and improve academic performance at 19 lagging schools.  Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education lauded the state’s efforts.

As part of the reform efforts, Hawaii ran an extended day pilot program at 19 campuses during the 2012-13 school year. An extra hour was added Monday through Thursday and teachers got another dozen days of training.

But only two of the 19 schools are close to signing agreements to continue the extended-day program next year.

Al Nagasako, executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, told the Associated Press that the state didn’t give schools enough guidance on how best to achieve results, and it was hard to measure the effectiveness of any one change with so many going on at once.

Teachers also complained about the stress, saying the extra hour cut into family time, especially for those with long commutes to remote rural schools.


By Stephen Ceasar, L.A. Times/L.A. Now |

    May 28, 2013, 6:51 p.m. ::  The troubled Inglewood school district is once again facing severe financial uncertainty.

    The school system was taken over by the state last September when Gov. Jerry Brown approved legislation granting $55 million in loans to the district. But officials announced Tuesday that the district had depleted its reserves and used about half of those loans in the first year.

    A state review has found that the 14,000-student district will end the current school year with a $17.7-million deficit.  Without scaling back, the district will exhaust the remainder of the $55-million loan and other funds next year and will be unable to fund the school year in fall 2014.

    “The situation is grim,” said Michelle Plumbtree, chief management analyst with the state's Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team.

    But although Inglewood officials held a hearing Tuesday evening on its financial problems, the state released a report showing that school district budget crises have lifted in many other areas. State Supt. Tom Torlakson said that fewer than half as many California districts are in financial jeopardy now as a year ago. That number has dropped from 188 to 92 districts showing serious financial problems.

    In Inglewood Unified, officials say budget problems were caused in part by a severe drop in enrollment at district schools.  Enrollment has plummeted 28% in the last seven years as the proliferation of charter schools nearby have lured away students, officials said.

    Officials expect to reduce the deficit by about $6.6 million through other means, but plan on entering into negotiations with its employee unions in coming months.

    They made clear, however, that employees will be affected.

    “The employees are not responsible for the problems here, but they’re going to have to share in the solutions here because there’s no place else to go,” said Richard Zeiger, the California Department of Education chief deputy superintendent.

    The crowd at the hearing, however, scoffed at that suggestion. "Are you going to pay my mortgage?" shouted one person. Another said: "OK, then, you're fired."

    About 72% of district expenditures are spent on employee salaries and benefits.

    About 60 teachers received pink slips this past year. About 170 classified employees -- those who are not teachers or administrators -- so far have been alerted that their jobs may be in jeopardy and more may be notified in coming months.

    The district is offering early retirement to 300 employees -– about 200 teachers and 100 classified and administrative positions –- but have yet to get a clear picture as to how many will take the offer, said La Tanya Kirk-Carter, the district's interim state administrator.

    District officials are asking the teachers union to walk away from an agreement made with the previous state monitor, Kent Taylor, who resigned after the Department of Education learned of that tentative agreement. Taylor, state officials say, had no authority to enter into such an agreement.

    Taylor needed prior approval from Torlakson or a designee before the completion of a financial review and plan to bring the district back to solid fiscal health.

    The would-be agreement reduces the budget by less than $1 million, not nearly enough to stave off massive cuts to make the difference, said Kirk-Carter.

    The union maintains that the agreement and a memorandum of understanding were negotiated in good faith and that union officials were under the impression that Taylor had the authority to enter into them, said Peter Somberg, president of the Inglewood Teachers Assn. He said the union may bring an unfair labor charge against the district.

    Pointing to the crowd inside the hearing, Somberg said: "A lot of those people inside would be out of their homes. It's not sustainable."

    Somberg said he still sees poor spending habits in the district. He also said teachers would like to be part of the solution rather than having to suffer the brunt of furlough days and layoffs.

    Before beginning the bargaining process, union officials asked Taylor several times if he did in fact have the power to make collective bargaining deals. He assured the union that he did, Somberg said.

    The state, however, has made clear that the agreement is void.

    The agreement would have kept current employee health benefits intact and limit the number of furlough days for employees over the next two school years. It also allows parties to resume salary negotiations based on state funding changes in 2013 and 2014, Somberg said.

    After years of cuts to programs, layoffs and salary reductions, the contract would give teachers a reprieve from further financial damage in coming years.

    Kelly Iwamoto, a fourth-grade teacher at Kelso Elementary School, said that after receiving her pink slip for the third year in a row, she has become somewhat numb to the feeling of having her job on the line. But the fact that the district has seemingly not improved at managing funds angers her. 

    “Nothing has changed,” she said. “That’s what makes me mad.”

    Taylor's resignation -- and his subsequent, controversial $100,000 buyout -- came two months after he was appointed by Torlakson to lead the school system.

    Torlakson then appointed Kirk-Carter as interim state administrator for the district. Nearly six months later, she is still in the position.

    Zeiger would not say whether the state would make her permanent but expressed confidence in her. The state does hope to “fill out the team,” Zeiger said, declining to elaborate.

    Zeiger said the state has tried luring leaders at other school districts to Inglewood.

    “Turns out that is difficult to do,” he said.


    The governor's goal to simplify the system is the right one, but he should be open to refinements.

    Los Angeles Times Editorial |

    Gov. Jerry Brown

    Gov. Jerry Brown held a news conference at Humphreys Avenue Elementary School with supporters to call for action on his plan, "Local Control Funding Formula," which aims to improve how schools are funded in California. (Los Angeles Times / May 17, 2013)

    May 28, 2013  ::  Probably the most important school debate in decades is unfolding in Sacramento, and for once it has nothing to do with fill-in-the-bubble tests or the phonics versus whole language reading battle. It's about the money: How much cash goes to which public schools and for what reasons? Gov. Jerry Brown is cutting through years of legislative torpor with his proposal to simplify the unwieldy and often unfair formula that determines how schools get funded and to provide extra funds to those students who need it most. The concept is spot on, but in this case the details matter too. Rather than simply defending his formula, which has its weak spots, Brown should be listening to those with valid criticisms and modifying his proposal accordingly.

    For four decades, California has used a school funding formula that could justifiably be called lunatic. It gives differing amounts of money per student to each school district, based not on need or real costs but on such anachronistic factors as whether the district was located in a largely agricultural area in the early 1970s, when the formula was devised. These days, its quirks mean that one district might get as much as $800 less per student than its neighbor, even if the student demographics are virtually identical.

    On top of that, numerous "categorical" programs provide extra money but dictate how it may be spent — on anti-tobacco lessons, for instance, or smaller class sizes for the youngest students.

    With the dramatic cutbacks over the last five years, and the passage of Proposition 30 last year — which brings some money back into the system — Brown sees an opportunity to press the restart button on school funding. He proposes to simplify the formula and to eliminate many of the categorical programs, handing many spending decisions back to the districts. At the same time, he wants to give a big boost to districts with poor students.

    Brown's formula would give all districts in the state an equal per-student base grant. It would then give districts an additional 35% for each "high need" student, defined as poor enough to qualify for federally subsidized school lunches or not fluent in English. In districts where more than half the students are disadvantaged, it would also provide an additional "concentration" grant. Districts would be required to use the extra money primarily for the benefit of the disadvantaged students.

    This is the way to fund schools: simple, transparent and cognizant of the fact that disadvantaged students — who make up 60% of the public school population — are more expensive to educate, through no fault of their own. Every student in the state must have a safe place to attend school, and the schools of low-income students are more likely to be located in dangerous neighborhoods. Preschool, summer school, after-school programs and extra tutoring can help make up for a lack of parental education and enrichment opportunities at home. Few would deny that schools with large numbers of low-income children need more money.

    But here's the problem: Whereas districts with large numbers of disadvantaged students would see their funding rise steeply year by year, others would see only small increases. By 2018, when the new plan would be fully rolled out, many working-class and middle-class school districts would receive about $2,000 less per student than districts next door with large numbers of students who are impoverished or not yet fluent in English.

    That would be no problem if all schools had adequate funding to carry out programs that should be seen as basic, but they don't. California is 49th in the nation in per-pupil education funding when adjusted for the cost of living. Starting in the fall of 2008, when education funding dropped abruptly, an estimated half of the state's school districts cut their instructional years by as much as 10 days; in fact, the state had to pass a special law to allow the shortened school year. Teachers were furloughed without pay, arts education shrank and class sizes increased.

    Although no school district would be worse off next year under Brown's plan than it was last year, those that don't receive the large supplemental grants for their high-needs students won't be appreciably better off either, at least for many years, and might fall further and further behind.

    Yet even among students who don't fit the federal definition of disadvantaged, many are far from financially secure or comfortable. The income cutoff for receiving subsidized lunches is about $42,000 for a family of four. A district filled with families earning above $42,000 but below $75,000 would probably face a lot of the same problems as a district with more families earning under $42,000, but it would receive no extra money as it struggled to catch up to former funding levels. Even by the 2019-20 school year, hundreds of these moderate- to middle-income school districts would still be far short of where they were in 2007-08, according to Ron Bennett, chief executive of School Services of California, a school consulting firm that opposes the plan.

    So what's the solution? Giving money to those districts that need it most is both fair and necessary. But providing a basic, adequate education to all students is also nonnegotiable.

    Bennett and some legislators have suggested that it makes more sense to let all school districts catch back up to the 2007-08 funding levels — when the state was still only 46th in per-pupil spending when adjusted for the cost of living — before implementing the governor's proposals. Bennett says that would take two to three years. That's not an unreasonable compromise, although maybe the delay doesn't have to be quite that long.

    We stand behind Brown's commitment to a saner, simpler school funding plan that gives a serious boost to disadvantaged students, but he should be working with the Legislature on refining his plan and making it more flexible so that all students are assured of the basics they need for a decent education for years to come.

    ‘MIRACLE’ L.A. SCHOOL BOARD TRIUMPH: She thought of her students

    'Fifth-grade teacher' was underdog candidate Monica Ratliff's ballot designation. It resonated with voters, who propelled the 43-year-old to victory over heavily favored Antonio Sanchez.

    By Teresa Watanabe and Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |

    Monica Ratliff

    Victorious school board candidate Monica Ratliff. (Los Angeles Times / May 22, 2013)

    May 27, 2013, 4:54 p.m.  ::  For a fleeting moment in her underdog campaign, Monica Ratliff faltered. The candidate for the Los Angeles school board stood outside her chief fundraiser's home and balked at the task of asking people for money.

    Then, she said, she thought of three struggling students in her fifth-grade class at San Pedro Street Elementary, located in a gritty downtown Los Angeles neighborhood. She thought of the vocational programs, better training for teachers and other ideas she could push for as a board member to keep her students from falling off track.

    Her hesitancy vanished.

    "I am asking for them," she said after her electoral triumph last week. "After that, I was inspired."

    From start to finish in what supporters are calling her "miracle" win, Ratliff has been driven by thoughts of her students. The 43-year-old teacher defeated Antonio Sanchez, a political aide backed by a $2.2-million campaign (compared with Ratliff's $52,000) and supported by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, his allies, heavyweight labor unions and others.

    But, her supporters say, Ratliff had what Sanchez lacked: The authenticity of a 12-year teaching career and a deep emotional commitment to her students that visibly surfaces when she talks about those who need her help.

    Ratliff entered the race motivated by thoughts of those students — some of whom had stumbled after leaving her school but might have stayed on track with more sustained support. She learned of the District 6 open seat just three days before the filing deadline but jumped in anyway.

    "This is my chance to help these kids," she recalled thinking. "I could change their educational lives."

    During the campaign, she refused to take off any time from teaching, despite urging to do so from some of her campaign advisors. She went to bed at 11 p.m. on election night not knowing whether she won or lost, because she had to wake up at 6 a.m. to make the commute from Sunland to school.

    And as she prepares to join the Board of Education, Ratliff brims with ideas about how she hopes to make the nation's second-largest school district more effective for students. How far she will get in promoting her ideas, however, is uncertain. The seven-member board is divided on many issues, although not always along the same lines.

    One big theme Ratliff voices is more local control for schools to choose their own curriculum and spending priorities rather than follow top-down mandates.

    Her classroom experience gives her strong views on what works and doesn't. District assessment tests are a "waste of money and time" because the results come in too late to help teachers, who constantly assess their students anyway, she said. Why not free up money and let schools make their own purchasing decisions — as San Pedro has done with federal dollars to fund a nurse, library aide, teaching assistants?

    "You're not getting enough bang for the buck," she said of those tests, noting that charter schools are not required to give them.

    Ratliff prefers to teach reading and writing with children's literary classics rather than the district-issued textbook anthology. So far this year, her class has dug into such favorites as "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Old Yeller," "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" and, currently, "Holes" — books she says engages them far more than the shortened stories in district anthologies. How about encouraging all schools to make their own curriculum choices?

    Even questions of class size and campus security should be left to the local school, she said. Smaller classes could help struggling students, but others might do fine in larger ones.

    Does the district really need to spend $4.2 million for extra security aides at campuses in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.? If schools were allowed to decide how best to spend those safety dollars, she said, her own campus might have decided to fund a gated buzzer system after a school staff member was threatened by someone who walked in off the street.

    "I've felt some of the district mandates are disconnected from the classroom," she said.

    Another major interest, she said, will be working with the district and United Teachers Los Angeles to find incentives for highly effective teachers to work in low-performing schools.

    At her own school, for instance, the staff has boosted students who are overwhelmingly low-income and not fluent in English to outperform their district peers in reading and math. Nearly two-thirds are at grade level in math and more than half are proficient in reading.

    And she is keen to push for more vocational programs. One of her students, she said, could be more talented on a more technical path but may not make it if pushed along a rigorous academic track.

    The main goal of her opponent's biggest funders was to safeguard the job of L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy and strengthen his influence. During the campaign, Ratliff's position on Deasy "evolved," as she put it. Most recently, she said she wants to keep him on the job, but reserves her right to evaluate him.

    As her school's union representative, she had to defend the rights of teachers, yet she still enjoyed a strong rapport with her principal. She served in the union's main decision-making body — its House of Representatives — yet the union did nothing of substance to elect her. As a result, she may have that rare opportunity to demonstrate true independence.

    Her nuanced position on teacher evaluations aligns with neither Deasy nor the union. Although she's spent her career in a traditional school, she has no innate hostility toward independently managed charter schools, most of which are non-union.

    "She's not the kind of person ever to hold a grudge or base her decisions on who scratched her back and who is her friend," said Ruby Chavez, a San Pedro colleague. "If you know Monica, you'll understand she has a mind of her own."

    For now, Ratliff is savoring her victory. At a celebration party in Granada Hills over the weekend, more than 100 supporters ate barbecue and marveled at what many called her "David and Goliath" win.

    Fred Huebscher, her campaign consultant, said two decisions proved critically important: Her ballot designation as "fifth-grade teacher," which conjured up warm memories of elementary school and images of her "teaching cute kids." And her decision to place an accent mark over the "o" in her first name to signal her Latina heritage (she refused suggestions to use her mother's maiden name of Asenio Padilla because she did not want to dishonor her father).

    Other teachers who walked precincts with her said some voters told them they were repelled by Villaraigosa's and Sanchez's reliance on millions of dollars of outside funding. Chuck Kanganis, her boyfriend and campaign manager, said voters could connect with Ratliff's intelligence, compassion and "absolute integrity."

    As she put it Saturday: "My grass-roots campaign was so grass-roots, it's seeds. But thanks to you it grew and grew."

    TREADING WATER IS NOT AN OPTION: LAUSD needs a “repair” budget — not a “status quo” one

    Remember when Mayor Tony and The Forces of ®eform painted everyone who opposed their version of A Great New Wonderful Tomorrow as champions of the status quo?

    That was then; this is now.

    Now they are running the show and the despised status quo has become the new normal:

    The proposed LAUSD 2013-14 Budget

        There is no new program reduction in 2013-14. The Status Quo is maintained at 2012-13 levels.”

    by UTLA President Warren Fletcher from the May United Teacher |

    17 May 2013  ::  Warning: The next thing you read is going to make you mad. Superintendent John Deasy and his Beaudry Bureaucrats have put together a proposed budget for LAUSD for the 2013-14 school year. They are unabashedly trumpeting it as a great victory for students and schools. To hear them describe their proposed spending plan, you would think that they had pulled off a financial miracle and that every teacher, student, and parent in Los Angeles should be happy with the result.

    The so-called good news in the proposed budget can be described in two sentences, pulled directly from one of the budget documents presented to the Board of Education:  “There is no new program reduction in 2013-14. The Status Quo is maintained at 2012-13 levels.”

    That’s it—that’s the good news.

    Last year, when we teachers and health and human services professionals worked long hours to secure the passage of Proposition 30, we expected better than that. When parents and community members voted to tax themselves for the sake of the public schools, they expected better too. The promise of Prop. 30 was that we would have the funds to repair the damage that schools had sustained during the past five years of recession and state budget cuts. Announcing that there will be no new program reductions is not enough. While it was always understood that repairing the budgetary and educational damage inflicted since 2008 would probably take more than a single year to accomplish, no one imagined that the only positive effect we would see from Prop. 30 would be a moratorium on new cuts. That’s not repairing schools. That’s just treading water.

    Among some of the unacceptable “status quo” situations the District plans to continue in 2013-14:

    • Adult Education: In 2012-13, more than half of the state funds dedicated to Adult Ed in Los Angeles were redirected to the general fund. This resulted in massive closures of programs and many hundreds of lost Adult teaching positions (far and away the largest number of jobs lost in the 2012-13 RIF cycle). With the passage of Prop. 30, many people assumed that most or all of those redirected funds would return, and that Adult Ed programs and teaching positions would be restored. However, for 2013-14, the superintendent again plans to “redirect” the majority of funds away from those classrooms and teachers. Continuing a 63 percent funding cut from one year to the next solves nothing.
    • Outlandish and dangerous class sizes: Throughout the recession, the District has saved money by laying off teachers and boosting class size. There is no question that this has inflicted severe educational harm all across the District. One reason that voters approved Prop. 30 was to remedy this. While nearly all classes and levels have been affected, there is probably no better example of excessive class size run amok than secondary Physical Education, where class sizes now routinely exceed 50 or even 60 students. A “status quo” District budget means a continuation of these levels for 2013-14. A “repair” budget would consciously and intentionally apply newly available funds to lowering those class sizes. And in the bargain, the 96 fully credentialed P.E. teachers currently on the RIF rehire list could be brought back to contract status. This example is equally applicable for the 109 English teachers, the 59 health teachers, and the 49 art and music teachers on those RIF rehire lists (among many other subjects).
    • Counseling services: A “status quo” budget for the 2013-14 school year would amount to a betrayal of every statement that the superintendent has made about the importance of college readiness for secondary students, and of the importance of student mental and emotional health at all levels. Currently, 135 permanent counselors (secondary, elementary, and PSA) remain on the RIF rehire list, while high schools and middle schools grapple with sky-high counselor-to-student ratios, and at all levels, the most at-risk students suffer.

    We will be told, over and over again, by the superintendent and his senior staff, that continuing the budgetary “status quo” is necessary. As a 29-year LAUSD teacher, I can tell you that there has never been a situation when the District ever did not plead poverty, regardless of how much money was available. But this year, the reports from Sacramento tell a different story.

    On May 14, the Governor released his “May Revision” of the 2013-14 state budget. According to the respected Sacramento website EdSource:

    Gov. Jerry Brown proposed Tuesday to direct all of the $2.8 billion extra in revenue that the state expects to receive this year to K-12 schools and community colleges…

    EdSource also reported:

    Brown would use the extra Prop. 98 money next year in two ways that will benefit districts: Speed up the payoff of deferrals by an extra $1.6 billion. Deferrals are year-late payments owed to districts that forces them to borrow money to make payroll, and have created havoc for some districts. Two years ago, deferrals totaled nearly $10 billion; administration is projecting they will be paid off by 2014-15, one year ahead of schedule.

    While the final state budget will not be adopted until mid-June, the combination of new revenues from Proposition 30, additional lift from the slowly improving economy, and a governor and Legislature finally focused on funding the schools has come together to create the conditions necessary to begin in earnest the task of repairing our schools. It is a rare opportunity, and it is important that we seize it.

    And in a very hopeful sign, the School Board is beginning to behave like, just possibly, they understand the urgency of beginning to repair the system. On May 14, Board member Bennett Kayser spoke eloquently about the need for the District to get its priorities straight and to quickly and effectively put new money where it is needed, right away, for 2013-14. That is not a surprise. Kayser was a career classroom teacher, and he is never shy about advocating for the classroom. What was pleasantly surprising was that, when Kayser made a motion to convene a special Board Meeting in early June to discuss these very immediate priorities, a majority of the Board agreed to such a meeting. While this is a small step on the School Board’s part, it signals that, perhaps, the Board members are coming to understand that keeping the promise of Proposition 30 is their job too.

    The budgetary decisions that are made in the next few weeks will profoundly affect what kind of educational opportunities L.A.’s kids will have for several years to come. We cannot allow the current degraded levels of funding and staffing at our schools to become the “new normal.” Our students deserve better.

    Monday, May 27, 2013


    Strict, supportive campus environment deemed a key to student success

    By Barbara Jones Staff Writer, LA Daily News |

    Linda Calvo is the principal at high-achieving Arleta High School. (Hans Gutknecht / Staff Photographer)

    Arleta High School student Cobey Paiz. (Hans Gutknecht / Staff Photographer)>>

    Related: Arleta High honors its three top Mustangs

    5/26/2013 04:07:38 PM PDT  ::  When Arleta High holds its commencement ceremonies next week, its graduation rate of 92 percent will be the highest of any traditional high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

    All but a handful of the 391 members of the Class of 2013 applied to college, and those who didn't are headed for the military or a family business.

    Ask the students how they did it, and they credit Principal Linda Calvo and the strict-yet-nurturing campus environment that encourages them to do their best, support one another and believe in themselves.

    "I think about being a Mustang and just feel joy and how proud I am," said graduating senior Cobey Paiz, who plans to study kinesiology this fall at Cal State East Bay.

    Achieving that level of school spirit was Calvo's goal as she prepared to open Arleta High in October 2006. The glass-and-steel structure was built to relieve overcrowding at neighboring San Fernando, Monroe and Francis Poly High schools, and she wanted to give students who would have gone to those campuses a place of their own to love.

    "Parents and students wanted a school that was clean and safe, where the expectations were high," Calvo said during a recent interview. "I wanted a school where students were treasured. "

    For the kids she affectionately calls "my Mustangs," Calvo developed a curriculum and support system based on her own version of the Three R's "" rigor, relevance and relationships. Students enroll in one of three small learning communities, with themes to help them set a course for their future. They take eight classes a year rather than the usual six, with longer-than-usual periods so they get more in-depth instruction.


    <<Arleta High School student Abner Hernandez. (Hans Gutknecht / Staff Photographer)

    A midday advisory period gives kids time to learn leadership skills or prepare for the California High School Exit Exam. Seniors participate in College Summit, a nonprofit-run program that guides them through the post-secondary application process. They can also work on their portfolio, a four-year scrapbook of their achievements that is a requirement for getting a diploma.

    Flipping past pages displaying outstanding classroom assignments and a rock-solid academic transcript, Abner Hernandez stopped at the certificate he received as Mustang of the Week for his behind-the-scenes assistance to the football team.

    "We get recognized for the little things," said Hernandez, who will be heading to Valley College in the fall, with the long-term goal of joining the LAPD. "Having someone realize what you're doing "" it means everything. "

    Calvo said she uses a formula of high expectations and positive reinforcement to ensure that her Mustangs get a good education and become valuable members of the community.

    Nearly 90 percent of this year's sophomore class passed the CAHSEE on their first try, including 27 students who got perfect scores. (They earned a "CAHSEE-dia" party as a reward.) The school's Academic Performance Index, based on standardized test scores, has skyrocketed by 110 points to 688 points since it opened. Students must earn at least a "C," not a "D" to pass a math class, a requirement being implemented districtwide this fall. The football team was honored this year for having the highest grade-point average - a 3.1 - among all school in LAUSD.

    Arleta High School student Jennifer Sanchez. (Hans Gutknecht / Staff Photographer)>>

    And there's an emphasis on staying in school, with networks of staff members and classmates to prevent anyone from falling through the cracks.

    "Everyone is held accountable," Calvo said. "There's no discussion. My Mustangs know, 'This is what's expected of me.' This lets us have a positive relationship and accountability."

    Rather than chafing under the tough standards, students say they thrive because of the school's supportive atmosphere.

    "My friends at other schools say Arleta is too strict, but I think it's really good for us," said Jennifer Sanchez, a math whiz who plans to major in biology at Cal State Northridge, with an eye toward becoming a veterinarian. "It's like a warm hug. "

    <<Arleta High School student Mariela Dorado. (Hans Gutknecht / Staff Photographer)

    For all of their academic success, students said it's the all-for-one atmosphere they find most appealing.

    There are no mean girls. No bullies. No cliques that make outcasts out of smart students or kids in the band. Anyone who crosses the line is just as likely to be scolded by a classmate as reprimanded by a teacher.

    "If someone doesn't buy in, they find their way to another school," Paiz said.

    Frequently shunned in junior high because of her exceptional grades, Mariela Dorado found acceptance at Arleta High, where she not only excelled in her classes but became a star in the school's leadership program.

    "I learned that I love to help other people," said Dorado, an aspiring attorney who will be attending UC Irvine in the fall. "Feeling good is not about yourself, but about how you help others. "

    Calvo's efforts have won kudos from both inside and outside LAUSD.

    Superintendent John Deasy describes her as an "A-No. 1 principal" who helped make Arleta a "stunning example of a highly, highly successful high school." The Valley Economic Alliance last week presented her with its Champion of Education Award, although she insisted the honor recognize the accomplishments of the staff and students and not just her own.

    The school's June 7 commencement ceremony will be among the last officials duty for Calvo, who is quietly retiring after 37 years with the district. She's pledged to come back when the Class of 2014 graduates, and has no doubt that she'll find the Mustang spirit intact.

    "Our programs are designed to be sustainable," she said. "The school's legacy will continue. "


    Beau Yarbrough, Staff Writer, LA Daily News |

    Updated:   5/26/2013 08:13:54 PM PDT  ::  In an era of pressure to make sure Johnny and Alicia can read and do algebra, there's just no comparable movement to assure they can be healthy and avoid obesity.

    More than two-thirds of the state's students are lagging well behind when it comes to be physical fit.

    For the second year in a row, only one student in three got passing grades in the state physical fitness test.

    "We have done so much to improve student achievement in our schools, unfortunately it took (new federal and state standards) and sanctions to help change behavior and create a 'sense of urgency' to move to a more learning-centered model," said Vista del Valle Elementary Principal Dave Stewart in the Claremont Unified School District.

    Stewart is the former Canadian national decathlon champion and one-time training partner of Olympic gold medal decathlete Bryan Clay.

    "I don't know that legislators will go to these lengths to improve physical fitness in our schools, but school leaders definitely have the power to make positive change in our schools. "

    Stewart would like to see a variety of physical fitness activities offered at school sites, including fitness clubs for staff and teachers, structured activities during recess, moving recess before lunch and adding five-minute exercise breaks throughout the day.

    In the state tests, only 31 percent were rated as "healthy" in six out of six of the

    areas evaluated in the 2012 Physical Fitness Test by the state Department of Education.

    "When I was in school, that was an F," said Alecia Sanchez, policy director for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, a non-profit advocacy organization. "These issues really are about the environment that the kids are living in, including the school environment ... that really make making a healthy choice harder than it ought to be. "

    Things are already improving, Sanchez said, with federally mandated changes to school lunches, which include more fruits and grains. But more needs to be done, in her opinion.

    "(Some) middle schools and high schools still drink sports drinks. ... But they're like the cousins of sodas. They're filled with extra calories. ... Sugary drinks contribute huge numbers of extra calories to kids' diet. Making some progress in that one area would be huge to us. "

    Kurt Madden, superintendent of the Bear Valley Unified School District, wants more physical fitness training, more teaching of the value of daily exercise and creating nutritional plans for students at school and at home.

    And Madden is in a position to know the importance of physical fitness.

    "I was chubby as a young child and was told I would not live past the age of 5 due to a heart problem," said Madden.

    "I recently achieved a personal record in a 100-mile running race after racing this distance for 18 years. The benefits of daily exercise and quality foods has contributed to my health. My current resting heart rate is 38 beats per minute, and my body fat is approximately 6 percent. "

    Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, would rather see changes made through incentives at the local level, rather than top-down changes from the Legislature.

    "People rise to the bar that is set for them and respond to recognition," he said. "If the bar is set low, performance will be low. Results will rise dramatically if we challenge students to meet a higher standard and incentivize hard work in academics, fitness and community leadership. "

    State law requires a certain minimum number of minutes of physical education for students "" 200 minutes every 10 days for grades 1-6 (and for elementary districts teaching grades 1-8) and 400 minutes every 10 days for secondary grades 7-12 "" but districts battered by budget cuts have been tempted to cut back on their athletic programs, despite recognizing their value.

    "We've come awfully close" in the past to reducing or eliminating high school sports, Long Beach Unified spokesman Chris Eftychiou said. "Our school board came close to eliminating our middle school athletics program. " Our community came forward to provide funding for the program, so it's still going, but it nearly wasn't. "

    And Long Beach is home to one of the country's top high school sports programs. In the end, the 127-year LBUSD, the third-largest school district in California, cut more than 1,000 jobs in the past four years, but none of them in physical education.

    Los Angeles Unified actually did cut their athletic program "" briefly.

    "Going back about four years ago, we did take a $1.4 million cut to the program," said Barbara Fiege, director of interscholastic athletics for the Los Angeles Unified School District. "However, because that made the news, the LA 84 Foundation spearheaded an effort to raise funds. " With the efforts of LA 84, and teams such as the Dodgers, the Lakers, Chivas USA and others, we were able to raise the $1.4 million, so we didn't have to make the cuts that we were going to make at that time. "

    The cuts would have eliminated more than 700 coaches.

    Most of the coaches' jobs ended up being spared, although assistant swimming coaches, freshman basketball coaches and other lower level coaches did end up being cut.

    The district has tried to make athletics and physical education cuts in other areas.

    "Where we have taken the cuts is in the amount of funds that goes for transportation for the teams," Fiege said.

    Smaller teams, like golf or some tennis teams, have to take private cars and when buses are used, the district tries to put as many athletes on them as possible.

    "The goal was to reduce the program because of the financial cuts but do it so that we weren't taking away the opportunity for kids to play and maintain their physical fitness, stay in school and all those good things," Fiege said.

    The passage of Proposition 30 let some districts avoid cuts that might have impacted physical education.

    "Through the past five years of cuts, we've tried to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible," Redlands Unified school board member Neal Waner said. "While the cuts have indeed impacted learning across the spectrum, we haven't pinpointed athletics or PE " as something that's acceptable. "

    The worst case scenario budget created by Redlands Unified didn't include physical education or athletics cuts on its first tier of cuts to be made in case Proposition 30 had failed and the district had been hit with automatic cuts. It did include them on later levels of cuts, when the district would have had to cut deeply in all programs.

    "We did not lay off any PE teachers during last year's budget cuts," San Bernardino City Unified spokeswoman Linda Bardere said. "Thanks to Proposition 30, we have not had to make any changes to the ways we deliver PE instruction this year. "

    The annual Physical Fitness Test rates students in aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper body strength and flexibility.

    Wednesday, May 22, 2013


    Companies Say the Darnedest Things As They Try to Avoid Regulation

    by email from The Prevention Institute

    22 May 2013  ::  Tobacco. Leaded paint. Junk food. Sugar-laced soda. Seems like every time communities or states try to pass laws that would help protect families and children from unhealthy products, a public relations effort is unleashed by the makers of those products and their allies.

    Scientists friendly to industry are funded to cast doubt on the consensus of other scientists that say cigarette smoke causes cancer or that sugar-sweetened drinks are a major contributor to diabetes.

    Front groups disparage the regulatory efforts and talk about the freedoms that may be taken away — like people's "right" to smoke cigarettes on airplanes or in restaurants, or the "first amendment rights" of companies to advertise junk food to toddlers.

    Companies start telling us how much they care about us and our children and create new programs to demonstrate it.

    In a two-part series in Forbes Online that began yesterday and concludes today, Prevention Institute's Rob Waters and William L. Haar take a look at Coca-Cola's new "Live Positively" campaign and at the "nanny state" rhetoric raised by so-called independent groups that promote junk science, and can be counted on to oppose any attempt to rein in the marketing of unhealthy products.

    We all want a marketplace that supports small businesses to sell healthy products and families to have truly healthy choices in buying food for their children.

    Check out the series here — and then do what you can to raise awareness in your community — with a letter to the editor, a conversation with your neighbors, or a dialogue with a merchant you know about stocking healthy items.


    Coca-Cola's "Frank Statement" a Slick Move to Stave Off Regulation

    Rob Waters

    by Rob Waters, Contributor with William L. Haar in Forbes Online |

    From Coca-Cola Content 2020 Part One marketing video as seen on YouTube>>.

    21 May 2013  ::  Earlier this month, Coca-Cola KO -0.21% unleashed a new PR blitz complete with full-page ads, press events and appearances on TV news programs, all aimed at showing the world that Coke folks are good corporate citizens that care—really care—about the global epidemic of diabetes, obesity and related chronic health problems. Yes, the company seems to be saying, we understand there’s a problem and we’re willing and eager to do our part.

    It reminds us of another advertising blitz by an industry whose products were coming under increasing scrutiny. On Jan. 4, 1954, the “Tobacco Research Institute” published a full-page ad in the New York Times and more than 400 other newspapers around the country. It’s title: A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers.

    In the Frank Statement, the tobacco companies said:

    We accept an interest in people’s health as a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business.

    We believe the products we make are not injurious to health.

    …and, incredibly:

    We always have and always will cooperate with those whose task it is to safeguard the public health.

    Flash forward 60 years and Coca-Cola’s new “Coming Together” initiative expresses similar concern for the public’s well-being and touts its own commitment to promoting “moderation” in consumption and “transparency” in disclosing the calorie content of its products. Yet the company’s plans include no substantive changes to its basic business model of getting more people to drink more sugar, regardless of the health consequences.

    Coke’s real agenda is to stave off regulatory changes that would force them to change their current practices. For example, Coke and other soda companies have steadfastly opposed taxes on sugary drinks, including a bill currently in the California legislature that would impose a penny-per-ounce tax on soda. Research from UC-San Francisco suggests that such taxes would reduce consumption by 10 to 15 percent over a decade preventing nearly 100,000 cases of heart disease, 8,000 strokes, and 26,000 deaths. The California legislation, like most proposals, would channel the tax revenue into health programs. Legislatures in Vermont, Texas, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut are considering similar bills.

    As consumer advocates increase the pressure on the soda industry through proposed taxes and regulations, Coke’s response is to position themselves as responsible stakeholders. Coke hopes to forestall policies that would have a real impact on their business by embracing voluntary, self-enforced corporate initiatives. This dovetails with the company’s bid to enhance its image by funding exercise and education programs through its Live Positively campaign.

    At the same time, Coke is making a concerted effort to coopt and subvert the public health message that soda is bad for health. An analysis released this week examining the link between soda and obesity found that four studies funded by the food and beverage industry found little evidence connecting soda to poor health, while 13 independent studies all found a significant evidence of soda’s harmful effects.

    Funding scientists to debunk other scientists is a page out of the tobacco industry’s handbook. So is misrepresenting data using eye-pleasing infographics that, for example, compares overall calorie consumption over a 35-year period to sugar consumption over a cherry-picked eight-year period to give the false impression that soda has added little sugar to the diet since the 1970s.

    In its new initiative, Coke claims to be a responsible partner because of its new worldwide commitments. Let’s take a look at those pledges:

    1. Offer low- or no-calorie beverage options in every market.

    Coke’s principal business is still selling sugary sodas, priced lower and marketed more aggressively than alternatives. Sugary drinks remain the vast majority of the company’s portfolio.

    2. Provide transparent nutrition information, featuring calories on the front of all packages.

    Front-of-package labeling is a small victory for consumer advocates but listing calories isn’t enough. Numbers on the front of a can don’t compensate for the $2.9 billion Coke spends on marketing each year.

    3. Support physical activity programs in every country where Coke does business.

    Drinking soda has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and about 180,000 deaths a year, according to data from Harvard researchers. Physical activity is important but it’s self-serving for Coke to suggest that the problem with their unhealthy products is the exercise habits of their customers.

    4. Market responsibly, including no advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world.

    Coca-Cola has long claimed it doesn’t market to children under 12 in the U.S. Yet the average American child sees 200 Coke ads per year on primetime TV—and children of color and adolescents see even more. We can expect this same as Coke’s current campaign goes global.

    A Coca-Cola marketing video is explicit about the company’s desire for positive branding. In classic marketing-speak, the company says:

    “Our brand stories must show commitment to making the world a better place. So we must partner with the brand teams to build the BVA (Brand Value Architecture) with a clearly positive lens.”

    The same video also reveals Coke’s underlying goal:

    “We intend to double the size of our business – that’s a lot of incremental servings!”


    5/22/2013 @ 1:15PM |

    Ignore Evidence. Deny Science. Minimize Problems. Then Cry 'Freedom! (And Invoke the Nanny State)


    Rob Waters, Contributor with William L. Haar in Forbes Online |

    I write about health, science and our crazy healthcare system.

    Freedom's just another word for... a bowl of Count Chocula cereal?

    First they ignore. Next they deny and bury. Then they minimize. Finally, they shout about freedom—and how politicians are taking it away.

    These are, to the best of our reckoning, the four stages of corporate response when the public and political leaders start demanding restrictions on products that make us sick or do us harm. And, of course, if political leaders do try and act, company executives and PR people lob inflammatory phrases like “nanny state” to rile people up.

    That’s what Karen Harned of the National Federation of Independent Business did recently on this website when she derided Mayor Michael Bloomberg for working to “expand the nanny state that has become New York City.” Bloomberg stands accused because he is attempting to limit the size of sodas—after previously oppressing New York residents by restricting public smoking and regulating sodium and trans fats in food.

    Pity the poor food conglomerate, whose God-given right to expose its customers to carcinogens and artery-clogging trans fats has been so savagely attacked! Next, Harned actually suggests, Girl Scouts may be forced to sell apples instead of cookies and employees may be required to use stairs instead of elevators.

    These kinds of absurd arguments aren’t new. Take a moment to snicker at this column from 1988, which makes the case that freedom died in America when the Reagan administration prohibited smoking on domestic flights of less than two hours. Despite the fact that such an idea is laughable 25 years later, the similarities to Harned’s column are striking. It’s all there: the allusions to totalitarian government, the invocation of the slippery slope that will lead to our loss of freedom, and, of course, the complete lack of evidence.

    But here’s the interesting thing. The stated arguments used to oppose regulations that would protect the public’s health are usually about consumer freedom. But the real drivers of the anti-regulatory agenda are almost always the very industries that want to keep selling harmful products with unfettered ease.

    When Congress asked the Interagency Working Group, a group of federal health agencies and regulators, to develop standards for the marketing of food products to children, they did just that. The IWG’s initial guidelines, released in 2011, said that any food promoted to children must have ingredients like real fruit, vegetables, whole grains, extra-lean meat or eggs, low-fat dairy, etc., making up at least 50 percent of its weight.

    In other words, food marketed to children should have, well, actual food. Seems like a good idea, right? Not to General Mills GIS -0.67%, maker of Lucky Charms, Trix and Count Chocula cereals. The company submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, the lead federal agency developing the guidelines, noting that “of the 100 most commonly consumed foods and beverages in America, 88 would fail the IWG’s proposed standards.” That’s a pretty telling statement about the reality of American processed food.

    For good measure, the General Mills letter also invoked the specter of government coercion, arguing that the proposed standard “restricts free expression in violation of the First Amendment.” And sure enough, pressure from General Mills and other big food companies forced the IWG to withdraw the guidelines, even though they were only proposed as voluntary measures.

    Businesses shouldn’t have carte blanche to sell products known to make people sick, yet there is compelling and overwhelming evidence that soda is uniquely harmful. Research presented to a conference of the American Heart Association in March linked soda consumption to about 180,000 deaths a year from diabetes, heart disease and other conditions. So far, help isn’t coming from the federal level, sticking communities with the responsibility to develop, pilot and defend consumer protections, just as we did with cigarettes, seatbelts, and lead in paint. It may make Harned’s blood boil, but communities can and should create laws to protect themselves against the excesses of industries more concerned with profits than the health of their customers.

    While Harned wraps super-sized sodas in the flag and issues dire warnings about the “nanny state,” families are worried about something else: how to keep their children from becoming part of the first generation in history that may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.


    2cents smf: Conspiracy?…or co-inky-dink? …or 60 Minutes story?

    In 2003 Coca-Cola attempted to co-op the argument by “lending” John H. Downs Jr., Coca-Cola Enterprise¹s senior vice president for public affairs and its chief lobbyist to National PTA  to serve on PTA’s board of directors…to help “get PTA into the 21st Century”.

    Downs finagled a nomination for a “Coke-friendly” business exec  (Venture capitalist Ricardo Lopez Valencia)  to be National PTA President-elect.

    The move was defeated in true PTA fashion using parliamentary procedure – in an election contested from the floor at the Charlotte, NC convention.

    Roberts’ Rules of Order defeats political shenanigans nine times out of ten!

    Source: Personal recollection and Education Week: