Tuesday, December 31, 2013


Recruiters' patterns mean students at underserved schools may lose out in the competition for college entrance and aid, experts say.

By Larry Gordon, LA Times | http://lat.ms/1dnfFQN

College counselor Teresa Carreto's room at Roosevelt High in Los Angeles

Students gather in college counselor Teresa Carreto's room at Roosevelt High in L.A.'s Boyle Heights, one of the area campuses receiving relatively few visits from college counselors. (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times / December 13, 2013)

December 27, 2013, 5:02 p.m.  ::  The Webb Schools, a private high school in Claremont, is a magnet for college recruiters from around the country and the world. This fall, 113 Ivy League and other schools sent representatives to the campus — more than the 106 students in the senior class.

At Jefferson High School, a low-income public school with 280 seniors in South Los Angeles, eight recruiters from local universities showed up.

Recruiters' visits often are an important first contact for students to discover campuses far beyond their hometowns and for the colleges to discover talented applicants. Students may be left behind in the competition for college entrance and financial aid when admissions officials skip their campuses, counselors and education experts said.

A Times survey of public and private high schools across Southern California found that campuses with a high proportion of low-income and minority students had far fewer visits from college recruiters.

Among schools in affluent communities: La Cañada High School hosted 127 visits from recruiters between August and November. Palisades Charter on the Westside, 133; the private Marlborough School, a girls campus in Hancock Park, 102.

Corona del Mar, a public school in Newport Beach, had 85, sometimes booking as many as six in a single day. On Oct. 10, for example, representatives of Pepperdine, Yale, Lehigh, Washington State, Columbia and Whitworth, were there between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., according to college coordinator Mary Russell. The recruiters meet with students in a special lounge recently refurbished with parent donations.

By contrast, Pasadena High School had 20 visits over the fall semester; Compton High, five; Hoover High in Glendale, 15; Santa Ana High, five; Belmont High near downtown Los Angeles, about 25; Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights, 20.

"Underserved communities have trouble getting resources and access to things like that," said Jefferson Principal Michael Taft. He said his school lost funding for a full-time counselor who arranged for the visits and who could encourage recruiters to overcome negative images about low-income, heavily minority public schools.

Colleges, particularly from out of state, say they do not discriminate against those schools. But they say time and money constraints compel them to return to schools where they've been successful in enrolling students or at least garnering applications. Some concede that students' ability to pay tuition without substantial financial aid also can sway their choices.

Students at high schools receiving few recruiters often need more information and encouragement because they are more likely to come from families with less college experience, according to Gregory Wolniak, director of New York University's Center for Research on Higher Education Outcomes.

"Having visits from schools can serve to compensate for some of those family background differences," said Wolniak, who has studied how high school alumni enrollment networks help students get into college.

Roosevelt senior Beverly Vasquez said she found the college presentations at her public school helpful; she is applying to the University of Redlands now, in addition to Loyola Marymount, Occidental, UCLA, UC San Diego, Cal Poly Pomona and others. But she believes more visits could expand students' horizons, particularly with private and out-of-state colleges.

"I think it would make a huge difference," said Beverly, who wants to study engineering.

Her classmate Javier Evangelista is applying as a mechanical engineering major to Notre Dame, Stanford, UC Davis, UCLA and Cal State Long Beach, among others. He said some colleges probably stay away from public schools because they don't think "there could be a student in this school who has the potential to win the next Nobel Prize, come up with a new technology or change the world."

"I do believe they are making a mistake," he said.

Too many colleges stick to traditional recruiting efforts — often concentrating on high schools with substantial numbers of students who meet eligibility requirements and those that have previously sent graduates to enroll as freshmen, according to Shaun R. Harper, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.

"That is shameful since so many talented students are not given a chance or not introduced to the vast landscape of higher education opportunities," he said.

In research that tracked young Latino and black men with good grades in New York City, Harper found that many colleges avoided their high schools, wrongly assuming "that nothing good is going on."

Recruiters say they seek talented minority and low-income students through large college fairs, city-wide recruiting sessions, online outreach and videotaped presentations. Some join community-based organizations that help young people enter college, such as the national Posse Foundation, Bright Prospect in Pomona and One Voice in Los Angeles.

Admissions recruiters from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign travel to about 800 high schools nationwide, casting a particularly wide net around the school's home state and neighboring ones. When it gets farther afield, to California, for example, representatives tend "not to visit a school where the majority of the population may not be mobile and are not going to leave a certain radius of home" and are unlikely to be able to afford out-of-state education even with some aid, said Mike Drish, director of undergraduate admissions recruitment and outreach.

Given limits on recruiters' time, the pattern of high school visits can be "self-perpetuating," said Robert Springall, admissions dean at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. "The downside is that it locks you in to a circle of colleagues and schools, and it doesn't necessarily give you great opportunities to discover completely new schools."

His representative visited about two dozen high schools in the Los Angeles region this fall, including Marlborough and La Cañada, but no schools in the L.A. Unified district.

To help compensate for that, Springall said, Bucknell is part of the Posse Foundation, which connects bright public school students to colleges that offer them full-tuition scholarships. Bucknell annually enrolls 30 Posse freshmen, including 10 from Los Angeles.

Students who impress college representatives during high school visits may have a leg up because the recruiters usually help make admissions decisions.

Joshua Vincent, a Webb senior, said college visits to his school proved "super-important." As a result of one such meeting, he added Babson College in Massachusetts to his list of schools that includes Notre Dame, UCLA, USC and Claremont McKenna.

"I got to know the people who might have my fate in their hands," he said. "It doesn't feel like I am handing my application to some random strangers."

THIS IS THE COMMON CORE YOU SUPPORT? - or What Must Be Done in the Next Two Years …from two years ago!

by Paul Thomas, @The Chalk Face Blog | http://bit.ly/18VXzGe

December 23, 2013 by  ::  You have plenty of Urban Legend and baseless conspiracy theories swirling around the Common Core, and none of that really serves anyone well.

But you also have evidence (and from what I can tell, that doesn’t carry much weight).

So for all those who support the Common Core, and tend to ignore the evidence-based arguments against CC, I really want you to respond to this from David Coleman 2 Years Ago: We Were a Collection of Unqualified People (from Truth in American Education):


Let me help you since the video is long.

Introduction of David Coleman, architect of CC (see full transcript):

And he was invited to a sort of staff meeting where we were beginning in the Institute to think about what our stance was gonna be on the fact that new standards were maybe going to come our way. It was before the Common Core State Standards effort announced, and another person we were working with, whom I won‟t name tonight, asked if maybe at our next meeting he could bring David Coleman with him. And I said, “Who’s David Coleman?” and he gave me something like what I have in my hand. Those characteristics didn‟t seem particularly relevant to what we were gonna do, you know, like being a Rhodes Scholar and having both Cambridge and Oxford degrees – all that kind of stuff. That’s nice, but it’s really not so relevant. …

Okay, so this is the kind of person we are gonna be privileged to here tonight. He has been involved in virtually every step of setting the national standards, and he doesn’t have a single credential for it. He‟s never taught in an elementary school – I think. You know, I actually don‟t know. He’s never edited a scholarly journal, but I think he has written scholarly papers. And a variety of other things that have – you know, everybody here has done some of, he hasn’t done. [Laughter] You told me you didn‟t want to do a standard – [Laughter] so he hasn’t done the standard things, and now he‟s gonna tell you what he has done, or what he probably will say he has not done others have done, but which he has helped others to want to do and to ______ do. And we’re all gonna be living with the fruits of that, for the next five years, so listen carefully.

I never knew no experience and no expertise was so funny!

And now, some remarks from David Coleman:

You know, you’d think someone with Lauren’s experience would understand you never tell the truth when you’re introducing someone. It’s kind of like a eulogy in reverse. I think the clear lesson from tonight is don’t ask Lauren to speak at your funeral. [Laughter] She clearly doesn’t understand what eulogy stands for….

One of them is the kind of humility she talked about, about qualifications. I actually think it’s really  important to try to base what I’m about to say to you on evidence I share with you rather than on the sands of my qualifications. So if I ask you or talk to you about doing something it should be evident that it makes sense to you to do, ’cause I have no other authority….

One of them is that these standards are worthy of nothing if the assessments built on them are not worthy of teaching to, period. This is quite a demanding charge, I might add to you, because it has within it the kind of statement – you know, “Oh, the standards were just fine, but the real work begins now in defining the assessment,” which if you were involved in the standards is a slightly exhausting statement to make.

But let’s be rather clear: we’re at the start of something here, and its promise – our top priorities in our organization, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about our organization, is to do our darnedest to ensure that the assessment is worthy of your time, is worthy of imitation. It was Lauren who propounded the great rule that I think is a statement of reality, though not a pretty one, which is teachers will teach towards the test. There is no force strong enough on this earth to prevent that. There is no amount of hand-waving, there’s no amount of saying, “They teach to the standards, not the test; we don’t do that here.” Whatever. The truth is – and if I misrepresent you, you are welcome to take the mic back. But the truth is teachers do. Tests exert an enormous effect on instructional practice, direct and indirect, and it‟s hence our obligation to make tests that are worthy of that kind of attention. It is in my judgment the single most important work we have to do over the next two years to ensure that that is so, period. So when you ask me, “What do we have to do over the next years?” we gotta do that. If we do anything else over the next two years and don’t do that, we are stupid and shall be betrayed again by shallow tests that demean the quality of classroom practice, period….

Student Achievement Partners, all you need to know about us are a couple things. One is we’re composed of that collection of unqualified people who were involved in developing the common standards….

This is a long talk, and it is always dangerous to offer excerpts of anyone’s speech. I do urge that you read or listen to this completely, but I want to stress that two key points are repeated in this from Coleman himself: the foundational architects of CC admit to no experience or expertise (causing me to wonder why I should consider any of this) and testing is central from the beginning (thus, claims that CC can be separated from the high-stakes tests is, again, without credibility; testing is part of the CC plan).

Coleman tends to run with common sense claims about education, such as faulty international comparisons, and appears to offer no acknowledgement of issues related to poverty and inequity. As a 31-year educator specializing in literacy and writing, I notice that his claims and supposed evidence-base are wildly off. Just as one example, his sweeping generalizations about what students write are powerfully refuted by the most recent analysis of student writing by Applebee and Langer, who clearly show with data that students write very little in middle and high schools primarily because of the negative influence of standards and testing (raising the question: How are new standards and testing going to alleviate that when the designers of those standards and tests themselves forefront the unavoidable influence of testing?).

Finally, all the laughter is important I think. Yes, CC is one big joke—but it has been pulled on politicians, the public, teachers, and students. And I find that not funny at all. And despite Coleman’s principles that appear to suggest CC isn’t intended to line anyone’s pockets, to use his own paradigm, we have abundant evidence that Coleman*, Pearson, test designers, and the like are themselves laughing all the way to the bank.

* Turn CC notoriety into position with College Board where you redesign and grow College Board built on the rise in importance of CC:

In 2007, David left McGraw-Hill and cofounded Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit that assembles educators and researchers to design actions based on evidence to improve student outcomes. Student Achievement Partners played a leading role in developing the Common Core State Standards in math and literacy. David left Student Achievement Partners in the fall of 2012 to become president of the College Board.


  • P. L. Thomas, Associate Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English before moving to teacher education.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


By MARTHA MENDOZA, - The Orange County Register http://bit.ly/19dSO5C


2013-12-22 15:58:35 – PAJARO  ::  As Hispanics surpass white Californians in population next year, the state becomes a potential model for the rest of the country, which is going through a slower but similar demographic shift.

But when it comes to how California is educating students of color, many say the state serves as a model of what not to do.

In California, 52 percent of the state's 6 million school children are Hispanic, just 26 percent are white. And Hispanic students in general are getting worse educations than their white peers. Their class sizes are larger, course offerings are fewer and funding is lower.

The consequence is obvious: lower achievement.

Just 33 percent of Hispanic students are proficient in reading in third grade, compared with 64 percent of white students. By high school, one in four Hispanic 10th graders in California cannot pass the high school math exit exam, compared with 1 out of 10 white students.

And while overall test scores across the state have gone up in the past decade, the achievement gap hasn't changed.

“The expectations at my school were just so low, and that's so shortsighted,” said Alvaro Zamora, 17, who excelled despite the educational challenges in the Pajaro Valley, a farming region near the Central Coast where his classmates were almost entirely Mexican immigrants or children of immigrants.

“Most economies are driven by innovation. If you don't have a math and science literate population you won't have the majority of the population innovating,” he said.

Nationally, an achievement gap is also showing up as Latino enrollment has soared from one out of 20 U.S. students in 1970 to nearly one out of four, and white students account for just 52 percent of U.S. first graders.

“We're falling behind,” said Antioch University Los Angeles provost Luis Pedraja. “Ultimately we will face a crisis where a majority of the U.S. population will be economically disadvantaged, which will reduce their spending power and contribution to taxes and Social Security, impacting all segments of society and our country's economic health.”

There are many factors contributing to California's educational divide; many Hispanic students are children of Mexican immigrants who did not complete high school and who cannot provide the academic and social support and advocacy of their white counterparts. The state also has a tax system that allows communities to increase local taxes for their schools — thus wealthier communities have wealthier schools.

Jackie Medina, a 4th and 5th grade teacher who has been teaching for nine years in Watsonville, said test scores may also not reflect actual achievement if they're requiring native Spanish speakers to test in English. A local leader in the California Association of Bilingual Educators, she teaches about topics like immigration in her classroom so her students get relevant curriculum that relates to them, in both English and Spanish.

“All educators want high achievement of all of our students,” she said. “We need to have a paradigm shift and look at how we're educating this large population, incorporating their native language.”

Dulce Sixtos, 16, said her father, a fieldworker, and her mother, who works in the cut-flower industry, come to their Watsonville home exhausted from low-paying jobs and tell her: “I don't want you looking like me.”

She wants to get an education and return to improve her community, but she worries that her high marks in school won't spell college success.

“Right now I feel people have given up on us, they say, `Oh, they don't need an education to work in the fields,“’ she said. “So I go to school thinking I'm going to get a great education, but I'm worried I'm going to go to college and see that I'm at a great disadvantage to the white students.”

Gov. Jerry Brown hopes to flip what he calls “a funding system that is overly complex, bureaucratically driven and deeply inequitable” with a budget change phased in over several years that will funnel more money to low income and non-English students.

California also has a law that allows parents to vote to take over a failing school; on July 29, Desert Trails Preparatory Academy in Adelanto reopened as the first public school in the nation to be taken over by parents under one of these laws.

Zamora, the son of Mexican immigrants, said he took the hardest courses offered in Pajaro, but succeeded by learning on his own and “with a group of nerd friends.”

“I'd get home and do my homework in about a minute,” he said. “In a whole year of high school we were assigned one book and two essays. It's not the type of education that prepares you for college or jobs.”

All too often, black and Latino students are disproportionally taught easier material than white or Asian kids, said Alan A. Aja, who teaches Latino studies at Brooklyn College.

“No one wants to see themselves as racist,” Aja said, “but educators have this ingrained belief that black and Latino kids are cognitively inferior and they lower expectations. It's racialized tracking. So if they assume these kids are going to underachieve, if they assume they don't have capacity to tackle hard topics, well, no wonder there's an achievement gap.”

At Zamora's high school, just 6 percent of students scored proficient or advanced on standardized math tests, compared with 51 percent statewide. He remembers one math teacher offering extra credit for bringing in calculator batteries.

Zamora, who scored top marks on college entrance exams, was the first in his family to go to college. He just finished his first semester at Brown University where he's studying astrophysics.


2cents small The test scores are unimportant; the lost opportunities for children are paramount.

Quoting: Latino student’s “class sizes are larger, course offerings are fewer and funding is lower.” 

Those are three strikes against Latino students – 68 years after Mendez v. Westminster, which guaranteed equality of education for Latino students in California.  And those three strikes will be held against The System when and if this situation returns to court. And it will. The crime is that it’s going to take court action to get the situation corrected, sixty-eight years after it was supposed to have been.

We like to  think that this isn’t discrimination or racism, That it’s some kind of unpredictable demographic outcome caused by geography or economics..We might as well be wearing sheets.

Remember the story: In 1945 Gonzalo Mendez expected that his children could attend Westminster Main School, the same school that he had attended with other Mexican and Anglo kids when he was a child. His kids were turned away because they were Latinos.

You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away.


Jim O'Connor is a strict disciplinarian at St. Francis High, so it wasn't until students volunteered to help with a blood drive that they discovered he had a gentler side.

By Nita Lelyveld | LA Times City Beat | http://lat.ms/1d72t2r

Students only know a fraction of math teacher's good deeds

Jim O'Connor carries month-old patient Mace De Luna at Children's Hospital. O'Connor is known for his no-nonsense demeanor in the classroom, but he is a frequent blood donor and volunteers at Children's Hospital. (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles Times / December 11, 2013)


December 23, 2013, 6:21 p.m.  ::  No one saw the superhero in mild-mannered Clark Kent.

Jim O'Connor keeps his students fooled too.

In his algebra and calculus classes at St. Francis High School, he is stern — no excuses, no coddling. "If you look at the clock," said senior Michael Tinglof, who had O'Connor in his freshman year, "you're on his bad list for the rest of the class."

The 70-year-old teacher's look also is all business: spine straight, close-cropped silver hair. When he cracks a joke, he's so deadpan that the boys often miss it, senior Pat McGoldrick said.

"Like in our class, he'll put a problem up on the board and then someone will say, 'Oh, can you do it this way?' And then he'll respond, 'Oh yeah, I'll just do this and I'll just change that and I'll do all this extra work and I'll get the same answer. It's totally worth it.' "

Until they get accustomed, Pat said, "everybody thinks he's being really mean."

For the record, O'Connor embraces the reputation. "You want to teach a class with 30 boys, you've got to be strict," he said.

Michael and Pat might never have found out how little they really knew about their teacher if they hadn't signed on this year to recruit donors for a school blood drive.

One afternoon, the boys took a field trip to see where the donated blood would go. In the hallways of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, they were greeted like VIPs because they were associated with one.

"He was like a celebrity there. Everybody knew his name," Pat said of O'Connor.

They discovered one reason when they went to the hospital's Blood Donor Center, which has a plaque ranking the top donors. O'Connor's name is engraved in the top spot, 50 gallons — though that total is way out of date.

Since he first gave blood at Children's Hospital in 1989, at the urging of a friend's wife who was a nurse there, O'Connor has donated more than 72 gallons of blood and platelets.

That enormous gift — worth well over half a million dollars had it been purchased — has been especially valuable because he is a universal donor. His O-negative blood can be given to people of all blood types. It can be used for newborns and, in an emergency, before a victim's blood is typed.

Once a month without fail, O'Connor arrives at the hospital's donor center to give platelets, which are vital for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and for those who have had open-heart surgery or bone-marrow or organ transplants. It can take about two hours for a machine to draw his blood, separate out the platelets by centrifuge and then return the remaining components to him.

O'Connor also gives blood every other month, which is as often as regulations allow. He's been the hospital's top donor for years — by a long shot.


O'Connor grew up in New York. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, doing electrical work on an aircraft carrier. Before becoming a teacher, he worked deep in the Holland and Lincoln tunnels as an electrician for New York's Port Authority.

College came late for him — and took a while to complete. He started with night school, graduated at 30 and came to California in 1973 to be an engineer at Hughes Aircraft. He coached youth sports on the side and enjoyed it so much that he decided teaching was what he should do with his life.

He spent a decade at St. Francis in La Cañada Flintridge, starting in 1976, before a 20-year stint at Harvard-Westlake. Rather than retire, he arranged to return to St. Francis part time. His schedule alternates from Monday, Wednesday and Friday to Tuesday and Thursday.

When he's not at school, he's usually at the hospital.

Before O'Connor ever set foot in Children's, he had given blood regularly at Red Cross drives, never knowing where his donations would go. But when he took a tour of the hospital wards, what had been an abstraction turned personal.

He saw newborns who had had major surgery, toddlers undergoing chemotherapy, parents under strain as their children's hospital stays stretched from days to weeks to months.

It didn't take long for him to ask what more he could do to help.

Soon he was rocking babies in his arms. Babies whose parents were working or at home taking care of other children. Babies whose parents could not visit because abuse was suspected.

O'Connor has never married. He doesn't have children. He was nervous at first, he said, especially about infants with tubes and wires attached, unhappy and sore after major surgeries or trauma.

But that faded.

Now, the nurses say, he is the one they turn to in the toughest moments. They have called him in to sit with babies who are dying and whose parents are too traumatized to be present.

"No matter how sick they are, no matter how devastated, he's just so caring, he brings such a warmth and peace," said Jeri Fonacier, a nurse in a general medical surgery unit on the fifth floor.

"We see him and we say, 'Oh Jim, oh thank God you're here,'" nurse Rebecca Day said.


The St. Francis boys heard that and much more when they visited the floor.

Before seeing this side of their teacher, Michael said, "we heard rumors. 'Mr. O'Connor holds babies.' I'm like, 'What? I don't see that. No, I don't think so.' "

Now it's different.

"I mean, if you really think about it, his whole life is service," Pat said. "Half the week he's teaching, giving knowledge to his students, and the other half, he's donating blood and giving his time to children who need it most. It's pretty amazing."

So will news of O'Connor's alter ego be kryptonite to his classroom control?

Ask him at the right moment, and he could not care less.

"When I hold a baby, my blood pressure goes down. I have to concentrate. Nothing else matters," he said on a recent afternoon as he stood holding a 4-week-old boy, who was twitching in a fuzzy blue onesie decorated with polar bears.

Moments earlier, the baby had been wailing. But then O'Connor lifted him into his arms and started to sway.

Eyes shut. The tiny body stilled. The hospital room was silent but for the strict math teacher who cooed, "Oh my goodness, what a face, what a face."


2cents small You feel kinda dumb drinking your morning coffee and reading the paper on your Kindle when you find yourself a little misty-eyed reading about a math teacher. Dumb in a good way.


A Who’s Who of Gates/Broad/Walton Ed ®eform: ABC, Deasy’s own CORE CA, Ed Trust/West, Ed Voice, Parent Revolution, Michelle Rhee’s Students First & Teach Plus Hammer on California's Common Core Test Plan

By Alyson Klein - Politics K-12 - Education Week http://bit.ly/18JZYnnon

December 24, 2013 2:00 PM  ::  So remember how California is planning to suspend most of its accountability testing for a year in order to help the state's schools get up to speed on new tests aligned with the Common Core standards?

U.S. Secretary of Education of Arne Duncan is none-too-happy about that idea, as my colleague, Catherine Gewertz, reported. And neither are a number of state and national advocacy organizations, including StudentsFirst, Teach Plus, The Education Trust-West, and the Alliance for a Better Community.

Their latest argument: Not explaining to teachers and schools how their students—particularly subgroup kids, such as English language learners—perform on assessments is a major missed opportunity for professional development.

The groups made their case in letter sent to Duncan on Monday. Reading between the lines of the letter, it sounds like they are hoping that the Secretary will include some additional reporting requirements for the state education agency when the department considers California's recent request for a "double-testing waiver."  (Check out the full text following.

"The teachers, principals, and superintendents with whom we work have been very clear: they need to know how their students are doing," the groups write. "This is not only essential in assessing how schools are adapting their curriculum and instruction to meet the [common core standards], but critical to teachers in their own professional development and continuous improvement to meet the needs of their students."

Any waiver that the Education Department grants the Golden State from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act—the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—should, at a minimum, call for the state to "provide useful data on student progress back to the districts," the letter says.

Some background: More than 40 states and the District of Columbia have waivers from the NCLB law, but California isn't one of them. However, the Golden State was one of 15 that applied for the department's so-called "double-testing" waiver. That waiver allows states to get rid of some or all of their current testing programs in math and language arts to focus on the field tests being given this spring by PARCC and Smarter Balanced, the two common-assessment consortia. So far, California hasn't heard back on its request. 

Clearly, the groups are hoping that Duncan will call for some additional data reporting to districts before green-lighting California's request.

image image image


by Lisa Alva Wood From InterACT/The Accomplished California Teachers blog |http://bit.ly/JobOrb

this post has been reblogged by The Washington Post Answer Sheet

December 6, 2013

I QUIT.  I had to.

Hopefully, you’ve never picked up the telephone and felt the hair stand up on the back of your neck as you realized who was on the phone and what they were talking about, felt your heart empty out and felt dread and despair flooding in.  I have, twice.  The first time, it was my ex-husband.  The second time, it was the United Way of Los Angeles.  I phoned into a conference call that wasn’t what I expected, and it ended my relationships with the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Teachers for a New Unionism and Educators for Excellence, and put some others in the doghouse.  The call confirmed some of the most discouraging talk I’d heard or read, and some of my most disappointing experiences.  After what I heard, I couldn’t stay any longer.

photo (1)We’ve had a hard time with education reform in Los Angeles, and with a broken relationship between LAUSD and UTLA; what happened this fall just made it all worse.  Early in the school year, LAUSD began implementing a plan to provide iPads to every student in the district, and distributed the devices at 47 schools.  Students at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights quickly figured out how to overcome security filters that blocked social media sites, and the rollout had issues at two other schools. The iPads were quickly recalled and the bumbling start of the iPad program made national headlines in late September and early October.  The school board soon erupted in a fit of 20-20 hindsight that was not improved by subsequent emergency meetings.  All of this is chronicled in the press, but I mention it to set the stage for a little feint that John Deasy pulled on October 24, 2013, right after the iPad scandal and right before he was going to be called in for his own job evaluation. It was the last straw.  Although I had publicly stuck up for him after a UTLA poll of 16,000 educators rendered a 91% “no confidence” vote, I lost all faith in him with the iPad situation, and had to face some very hard realities about reform groups in LA.

The United Way does wonderful things in Los Angeles, with a focus on ameliorating poverty and keeping local activists and educators informed and engaged.  I am currently serving on an advisory team for a holiday educator-recognition event sponsored by United Way (I gave my word).  I was honored to be a panelist with Warren Fletcher (president of UTLA), Judy Perez (president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles) and Evan Stone (CEO of Educators 4 Excellence) at an event sponsored by the United Way earlier this year.  On this fateful day, I had asked to be included in a conference call the United Way was sponsoring to discuss the state’s Local Control Funding Formula.  When I called in, I heard a roll call of 51 educational, community or political groups whose sole purpose on the call was to support John Deasy in his fight to keep his job.  The news that Deasy was threatening to quit had changed the topic and galvanized the group.  These good people were planning to skip school to show support at the October 29 Board meeting.  They were bringing students and teachers to testify in his favor.

I was… flabbergasted.  I didn’t have the heart to even make the roll call.  By the time they got to “anyone else?” I was too intimidated and overwhelmed to say, “Here.”  I didn’t know what affiliation to claim.

Long story short, these folks made a huge showing outside the morning Board meeting, while 35,000 union members were busy serving the needs of our youth.  It was a much needed wake-up call.  I began to realize the extent of the ignorance and hubris that fuels many ed-reform decisions, as well as the extent of my own ignorance.  The addition of businessmen and socialites to a board I sat on made sense suddenly, as did their posturing and pronouncements. If you’ve ever heard people mis-speaking about things you know intimately, or talking about you when they thought you weren’t listening, you know how pained I was and still am.  I couldn’t speak then and have just found the words, now.

Some of the groups in the pro-Deasy rally  - Students First, Green Dot, KIPP LA – were to be expected, although they have no business in LAUSD’s superintendent evaluation.  Others made me gag in wonder – Goodwill of Southern California?  Inner-City Struggle? LA Education Partnership?  I thought we were friends!

They weren’t talking about me, personally, but they clearly saw themselves as supporting their hero, a hero whose arch-enemy is my union, UTLA.  It was, and is, very difficult to understand why they need to draw a protective circle in the sand around John Deasy.  (Speculation is rampant, but facts are hard to come by).  The bottom line for me personally is that there are too many good people distracted by too many superfluous groups.  The best place for an educator to protect and promote public education is the teachers’ union.  Over time, for better or for worse, the union is the educators’ bastion and it is set up via a democratic process in which any member can participate.  If UTLA needs to be more positive and professional, we need to make it that way ourselves, but that’s another story.

What do these people want, for our youth, really?  School choice is a wonderful thing for those of us who actively choose – but we all have the sacred obligation to provide a quality public education for all children.  This means I could get my own daughter into a magnet school by filling out the applications, kissing principal butt, following through with phone calls and then getting her to the bus stop at oh-dark-thirty; I did that.  But I still have a very real obligation to the kids down the street to make sure that our neighborhood school is fully staffed and resourced, and functioning with district support.

LAtweetThat’s why I phone banked and voted for Prop 30 and am very upset this money is being co-opted for tech toys.  My own school badly needs campus aides for safety, reliable internet access to promote equity on the battered old computers we still have, a reading program to ameliorate the effects of poverty and social promotion, and professionals to care for the kids’ out-of-the-classroom needs.  What do the 51 groups think is more important?

The question is how to get these 51 groups to share their goals and concerns with UTLA.  How did 35,000 teachers alienate these well-intended groups? How can we get on the same page?  Help me, United Way.  Help us, Warren Fletcher and Eric Garcetti, and all you Board of Education members and everyone else with power, please.  Can you have a change of heart?  I can.

This is the story of a broken romance.  I love knowing the passionate, intelligent individuals I’ve met in the reform arena.  I want to go out for drinks as friends.  As professionals, I want to hash out our differences for the sake of the left-behind kids and schools, like mine.  Is this a case of irreconcilable differences?   Or am I kidding myself and need to move on?


(By Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post)

Lisa Alva Wood is a Los Angeles teacher who was working with school reformers at the same time she belonged to the United Teachers Los Angeles, a union that has been a target of those same reformers. In this post, she tells the story of how a single phone call caused her to fall out of love with school reform.

<<Image: Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post


2cents small I was on that same phone call with Ms. Wood; what she recounts is true.

When they called the name of the organization I was representing at their roll call  I did not answer as being present because :

A. I  was not representing them in any official capacity and

B: I recognized that by answering present my organization would automatically be included as a supporter.  And we weren’t.

And  C. to be honest I suspect they called our name to make sure we weren’t there!  (My strategy is called “lurking” when it’s not being called “Opposition Research”.)

When Antonio Villaraigosa became Mayor Tony he recreated the United Way of Greater Los Angeles into a political organization in his own image. It was no longer the charity that supported The Salvation Army and Easter Seals and the Boys and Girls Clubs – and PTA Health Clinics.  It became a political machine delivering his vision and supporting his causes.

The Call was organized around the “OMG: The Sky Is Falling” theory of community organizing (“Deasy is Leaving!”) and the unusual suspects aligned themselves with Chicken Little The United Way of Greater L.A.  in characteristic panic – forming  an off-the-Ollie-North-shelf  group called the Coalition to Save Los Angeles Schools (CLASS). The acronym for the Coalition to Save John Deasy’s Job wasn’t as cool.

Of the 51 Organizations subsequently named in a blizzard of CLASS broadsides and  press releases a few quickly disavowed their membership and there was a series of emailed apologies sent to the offended organizations …they had been included in a mistaken abundance of enthusiasm. But, as even I have been known to say:  It’s often easier to beg forgiveness afterwards than ask permission at the time.


And, after all, the “groundswell of support” from the Astroturf grassroots had it’s desired effect: John Deasy, like a headliner who was going to do an encore no matter how mediocre the show was, was encouraged to stay!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Appoint or Elect? WHAT A MESS!

McKenna’s the perfect replacement. But…..

Opinion By Betty Pleasant, Contributing Editor | The Soulvine /Los Angeles Wave |  http://bit.ly/19mjsPD

Thursday, December 19, 2013   ::  It is most disconcerting to look up and find yourself on a list of people supporting something that you don’t support and, to add insult to injury, note that also on that list are people you don’t like and people with whom you never agree. Well, that’s what happened to me with respect to the issue of filling the late Marguerite LaMotte’s school board seat.

Let me set the record straight: As I wrote in last week’s Soulvine, I, Betty Pleasant, contributing editor of the Wave Newspaper, wholeheartedly support the filling of that seat through the election process. I said last week, “Let the people decide,” and the “people” I was talking about are the voters in the LAUSD’s District One who had overwhelmingly elected LaMotte to the board for three terms. I did not mean a motley group of “people” from everywhere coming together to decide who LaMotte’s replacement should be. I am thoroughly opposed to the whole concept of appointing anyone to LaMotte’s seat because I don’t trust the remaining board members to appoint someone to the vacant seat who will carry on LaMotte’s legacy of stalwart advocacy for educational excellence for all the district’s children, regardless of their race, color or creed.

Now, as to that push under way to get educational giant George McKenna appointed to LaMotte’s seat. I love me some George McKenna. He’s my kind of guy: bold, fearless, tenacious, experienced and well versed in the machinations of the entire Los Angeles Unified School District. He would be a perfect replacement for LaMotte. But don’t you think the board knows that? Do you believe that the members — given their series of disastrous decisions — would appoint a “take no prisoners” person like McKenna to join them on the board? No, they wouldn’t.

So all this whooping and hollering about getting McKenna appointed to the board is for naught. If they are allowed to appoint, the board members will pick someone they like, someone of their own mindset, someone they can control and someone who would certainly not be George McKenna. And there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Just because a bunch of Black folks are pressing the board to appoint McKenna, doesn’t mean he’ll be appointed.

After all, the board members are impervious to pressure from outside their own districts. If the board is permitted to appoint and it does not appoint McKenna, then there’s not a damned thing Maxine Waters and them can do about it because the board members cannot be politically pressured by her and her followers.

I believe McKenna would be an excellent board member for District One and the only way he — or any of the other two or three outstanding educators in the district — can be seated is through the election process. There are people balking at calling a special election to fill the seat, claiming such an election would cost a lot of money. So what! We spend a lot of money on a lot of things all the time — like the unprecedented fortune the school district spent on that “IPad-for-every-kid” debacle which has turned into an expensive and embarrassing mess. Nobody has batted an eye about calling special elections when needed in the past. Hell, we just had one this month.

So spend the money to have a special election for the LAUSD’s 1st District, for cryin’ out loud! It’s the American way! If this tragic problem had arisen in the Valley, I am certain a special election would move forward pro forma. But no, such a thing is too expensive for the inner city?! Bah. Humbug. So, I support having an election in which McKenna and everyone else who aspires to the seat can present their bonafides to the people and the people can decide.

And oh, do not put my name on any list without my permission!


U.S. Secretary of Education praises L.A. Unified for school-improvement efforts reflected in 2013 national test scores.

By Howard Blume- latimes.com http://lat.ms/19aHWc3

L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy

L.A. Unified Supt. John Deasy at a school board meeting. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / October 29, 2013)

December 22, 2013, 6:05 p.m.  ::  L.A. Unified is improving faster — in some categories much faster — than most other large, urban school systems, according to the latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests a sample of students nationwide.

And while the district's overall scores remained relatively low, its progress elicited praise from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Los Angeles is among the school systems that are "examples for the rest of the country of what can happen when schools embrace innovative reforms," Duncan said.

Of the 21 urban districts that took part in the 2013 assessment, L.A. Unified achieved the highest gains over two years on fourth-grade reading scores for African American students, white students and those from low-income families, according to a district analysis.

When taking all fourth-graders into account, L.A. Unified had the second-highest gains in reading — although its overall progress ranked 14th. Much the same held true for gains made in fourth-grade math and eighth-grade math and reading.

Only students in fourth and eighth grade were tested.

The federally funded National Assessment is given to a scientific sample of students and is considered more difficult than most state standardized tests.

While it does not test all students or produce results used to gauge the success of schools and teachers, the assessment does provide an opportunity to compare districts and states. Massachusetts, for example, has fared relatively well, while California has not.

The National Assessment is "the gold standard," L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said. Yet, like other standardized tests, it has sparked debate.

One issue is its tough grading standards. Only 18% of L.A. fourth-graders measured as proficient or better in reading on the National Assessment; the state test, in contrast, rates 58% of L.A. fourth-graders as proficient or better.

That could foreshadow how students will perform on new exams tied to the Common Core learning standards, which are intended to result in more rigorous and relevant curriculum, that most states will soon be using. Officials across the country have expressed concerns about having to respond to lower test scores, more akin to those on the National Assessment.

While the factors contributing to higher scores are impossible to ascertain exactly, Duncan credited L.A. Unified with transforming how it recruits, trains and retains talented teachers and principals.

Deasy has been a proponent of more demanding teaching standards. For example, he has insisted on dismissing greater numbers of teachers before they receive tenure protections.

Some of Deasy's efforts have been controversial, including linking test scores to teacher evaluations — an approach just getting underway.

Recent surveys suggest the superintendent is unpopular with rank-and-file teachers, but Duncan gave him credit for challenging the "status quo." Like Deasy, Duncan has been a target for those who criticize the current direction of school reform.

The National Assessment scores, Duncan said, "suggest that the ambitious, courageous and sometimes controversial reforms undertaken [in L.A.] …are working for the children they seek to serve."


2cents small Last week the District released these results with no fanfare. The Times Editorial Board and 4LAKids recognized the incremental gains as fairly meaningless and indicative of nothing. But test score reporting is like Chinese plate juggling; if it’s just laying there you spin it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

(Various CCTP Documents)


Original BOC RESOLUTION 2013-33 Nov 20, 2013 1 - 4
BOC IT TASK FORCE REPORT Nov 18, 2013 5 - 15

The District’s Common Core Technology Project (“CCTP”) Phase 2 Proposal : APPENDIX FROM THE CCTP AD-HOC COMMITTEE - BOARD OF EDUCATION CCTP RESOLUTION

Nov 12, 2013 16 - 17
THE FIRST BOARD REPORT  129 13/14 DATED DEC 10th Prior to 11/20 18 – 51

THE SECOND BOARD REPORT  129 13/14 DATED DEC 10th   (Dec 5, 2013)

image image image

image image

….committing their lives, fortunes and sacred honor.

note that the superintendent’s signature is per procurationem, signed by another on his behalf .

smf: the entire Board Report can be found on following pp. 68 from the Full Meeting Material’s page here.  (huge file)


image image

Revised List of Devices 12-6-13 School List for Testing Devices


BOARD REPORT No. 129-13/14



Page 2, first bullet, second paragraph, change to read as follows (additions in bold italic, deletions in double strikethrough):

"Based on the number of students required to take the 2014 Field Testfour separate assessments, staff estimates the total not-to-exceed number of storage charging carts of 1,101approximately 1,900, consisting of 38,53567,500 iPads and physical keyboards (35 of each per cart)."

At the end of "Therefore, be it resolved that" 1., add the following:

"1. The School Construction Bond Citizens' Oversight Committee recommends that the Board of Education adopt an amendment to the Information Technology Division (ITD) Strategic Execution Plan (SEP) to update the Common Core Technology Project (CCTP) as described herein and in Board Report No. 1239-13/14, a copy of which is attached hereto in the from it was presented to the BOC and is incorporated herein by reference, except as otherwise specified below."

Add new "Whereas 2.-6." as follows:

"2. A maximum of 1,101 iPad carts and 38,535 iPads and keyboards are recommended for purposes of taking the Smarter Balanced Field Test in the Spring of the 2013-2014 school year, with the understanding that staff will make every reasonable effort to avoid the procurement of tablets and carts not explicitly required for this purpose.

"3. Staff will return to the Bond Oversight Committee and Board of Education to report on the number of tablets and carts that will be needed for the 2014 Field Test.

"4. After the 2014 Field Test is completed and staff has had the opportunity to access the requirements for the number of tablets and carts required for the Spring 2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Common Core tests in light of other on-going CCTP events, staff will return to the Bond Oversight Committee and Board of Education with its recommendations for procurement for this purpose.

"5. The Bond Oversight Committee strongly recommends that the District implement an inventory system for all desktops, laptops, tablets, and other computer devices at schools – which have been paid for predominantly with school construction bond funds - as soon as possible, with an ultimate objective of having a real-time system for such purpose.

"6. The BOC Information Technology Task Force Report is an integral part of this resolution and shall be attached to it for all purposes."

The original "Whereas, be it resolved that's" 2. and 3. shall be renumbered 7. and 8.

List of Projects

BOC Resolution 2013-36A - AS AMENDED 12/18


The high school student's 'Ido in Autismland' is part memoir and part protest, a compelling message to educators on how to teach people such as him.

By Thomas Curwen/ Photography and video by Genaro Molina |Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/1fy6f4x

Ido Kedar takes a breather while working out at a local high school. Kedar doesn't play sports, but his parents try to keep him in shape by having him work out with a fitness instructor. More photos

Dec. 21, 2013  ::  I t-h-i-n-k ...

Ido Kedar sits at the dining room table of his West Hills home. He fidgets in his chair, slouched over an iPad, typing. He hunts down each letter. Seconds pass between the connections.

... A-u-t-i-s-m-l-a-n-d ...

He coined the word, his twist on Alice's Wonderland.

"C'mon," says his mother, Tracy. "Sit up and just finish it, Ido. Let's go."

He touches a few more keys, and then, with a slight robotic twang, the iPad reads the words he cannot speak.

I think Autismland is a surreal place.

For most of his life, Ido has listened to educators and experts explain what's wrong with him. Now he wants to tell them that they had it all wrong.

Last year, at the age of 16, he published "Ido in Autismland." The book — part memoir, part protest — has made him a celebrity in the autism world, a young activist eager to defy popular assumptions about a disorder that is often associated with mental deficiency.

He hopes that the world will one day recognize the intelligence that lies behind the walls of his "silent prison," behind the impulsivity and lack of self-control.

I want people to know that I have an intact mind.

Yet Ido gets nervous easily and likes to retreat to his room or to a cooking program on television. At one point, after answering a few questions, he steps outside to pace beside the family swimming pool.

He plucks a rose and puts its petals into his mouth.

Ido Kedar wears sound-blocking headphones because of his heightened sensitivity to sound. "My dogs bark like shotguns. The gardeners mow with tanks and blow leaves with hurricanes," he wrote. More photos

During summer, when temperatures in the San Fernando Valley push into triple digits, Ido's refrain is "osha, osha," and his father, Sharon, drives him over the mountains to the ocean.

Approaching Zuma Beach on a Sunday afternoon in September, Sharon repeats the rules: "Follow my instructions, and stay behind me at all times."

"Eee, num, num, num," Ido says with a laugh.

"You're happy now that we're going to the beach," Sharon says.

They drop their towels in the sand by Tower 12. Ido waves his arms and grabs Sharon's arm as they march into the waves.

Autism, Ido says, is like being on LSD, something he learned about in health class, and his experience in the world can be at times terrifying and overwhelming. Sensory minutiae that in other people are filtered and organized, collide indiscriminately in his brain. Feelings of anger, sadness, even silliness can escalate, and he can have difficulty calming down.

The water surges around them. The sound of the waves and sea gulls, the voices and screams of children and families, the surf, rising and falling, its ceaseless crescendo and diminuendo, rushes at Ido as a terrible cacophony like the buzzing of mosquitoes, loud and inescapable.

As unsettling and as unpredictable as autism is, it also brings a strange pleasure to Ido's life. Glints of sunshine, pockets of shade mesmerize him, and objects in motion reveal traces of acceleration, like stop-motion photography.

He grabs a strand of kelp, strips off the leaves and begins whipping it over and over in an S-pattern against the dissolving foam. Waves rise and fall against him, but he stays focused on the movement that he's created against the water's surface.

Breaking the silence:  'Autismland'

Ido Kedar, 17, has emerged as an essayist and spokesman.

Like many of his repetitive behaviors — arm-flapping, finger-dancing, string-twirling — this gesture, referred to in the autistic community as a "stim" (for self-stimulation), enhances sensations around him and has a narcotic effect.

They take me to a sensory experience that is pretty intoxicating. I don't get lightheaded, but I can get so absorbed in a stim I sort of vanish from my personhood.

A half-hour later, Ido and Sharon are heading home. Ido cues the "Nutcracker Suite" on the CD player. Tchaikovsky is one of his favorite composers. Flutes and oboes, trumpets and tuba, triangle, celesta and glockenspiel begin to weave their complex melody.

Music is a beautiful gift. I see pretty images of moving light. Different composers have different patterns.

Sharon and Ido hold hands as they crawl through traffic.

Ido has a speech to write. In almost two weeks, he will address graduates from the department of special education at Cal State Northridge. The invitation came from a professor who calls "Ido in Autismland" one of the most profound books he's read.

As committed as Ido is to explaining his experience with autism, he is equally passionate about how to teach autistic children. Some of his worst teachers have become his best teachers for what not to do, and he thinks he knows why.

They have to let go of their love of power.

Sitting in the living room, Tracy, Sharon and a friend, Adrienne Johnston, are helping Ido organize his thoughts. He is communicating with his letter board, a laminated piece of cardboard with the alphabet printed on it. His right hand dances among the letters, a blur of quick expression, far quicker than his iPad.

Johnston, who will be speaking at Northridge as well, works for the Los Angeles Unified School District and helps students with disabilities navigate from special education to general education classes. She met Ido in middle school and continues to help him at Canoga Park High School.

"When I first graduated, I thought I knew it all," she says, thinking about new teachers. "We need to remind them that their attitudes must be open."

The special education idea is to maintain and contain.

Ido Kedar spends a quiet moment to himself in the schoolyard during lunchtime at Canoga Park High School. "I'm a strange mixture. I am smart as a mind and dumb as a body. I can think of insights and my body ignores them," he says. More photos

"What should they do, sweetie?" his mother asks.

I think they should all be kept mute one day and sit in a low autism class as a student, listening to baby talk and the weather.

Tracy and her husband laugh. Years of frustration and guilt have turned to pride. She's 53 and works as a school social worker and private therapist, and he's 50, a geophysicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

They recall one administrator at a former school who insisted that Ido wasn't doing the classroom work, that his aide was answering the questions.

It's a familiar and painful memory. His dependency on others is considered evidence of his inability to think for himself. After one of Ido's presentations, Tracy was approached by an older man who asked if Ido really understood everything said to him.

"Eeeee, eeeee," Ido interrupts.

"He was a bully," Tracy says, remembering the administrator.

He told my teachers that I was not understanding the work. He would stand behind me taking notes on my behavior. He told me that I would never graduate.

As an infant, Ido seemed to hit all his developmental benchmarks. He even began to talk at an early age. But somewhere between 2 and 3, he suddenly felt as if he were standing at a divide in a road. Try as he might to join other children, he couldn't.

Tracy remembers the day she got the phone call from the preschool.

I can get so absorbed in a stim I sort of vanish from my personhood."
— Ido Kedar in 'Autismland'


"We have our concerns," the administrator said.

Tracy and Sharon took Ido to a psychiatrist, who made the diagnosis in 20 minutes.

Ido was enrolled in Applied Behavior Analysis, the most popular and recognized treatment for the disorder.

For two years, aides set up school in his home and ran through daily drills to teach motor and social skills, such as how to eat with good manners and wash, how to recognize words and emotions, how to wave goodbye and point. Rewards came in the form of tortilla chips, cookies and tickles.

The lessons frustrated him, and the aides seemed unaware of his discomfort. They wanted, for instance, to teach him to maintain eye contact, but light reflecting off eyes unsettles him, and because he was unable to speak or coordinate his hands to indicate comprehension, the drills were repeated.

"Very stimmy today," wrote one aide in a log dated 2003, when Ido was 6. "Lots of jumping around the room @ the beginning of the session. Last 1/2 hour seemed tired & cranky. High frustration."

As other children progressed with ABA — one even going into kindergarten — Ido fell more deeply into Autismland.

I felt kind of terrified when I was a kid that my life would be this way forever.

Once Ido started school, Tracy worked with him at home. She helped him hold a pen, and with her hand over his, she guided him through his letters.

He always loved letters. As a toddler, he would clap at the credit rolls on television and sit by the pool watching his grandfather paint the alphabet on the pavement. Ido enjoyed watching the patterns evaporate in the sun. Each letter, he says, has a unique personality; his favorite is H.

One day before his seventh birthday, Tracy and Ido were preparing invitations.

"Please come to my party," they wrote, and when she asked him for the name of a friend, she felt him moving the pen. The lines were wobbly; his coordination was poor, but he was writing the letters himself.

After years of silence, Ido and Tracy had found a way to talk to each other.

Ido Kedar, second from left, answers a question with the use of a letter board held by aide Anna Page. He prefers the letter board, inscribed with the alphabet, over an iPad. More photos

When Ido was younger, he hid in a closet when visitors dropped by. On the eve of his 17th birthday in May, he is darting from the dining room into the kitchen. Family and friends have begun to arrive.

Tracy lights two candles for Sabbath and says a silent prayer. She turns to her son. "Happy birthday, Ido," she says. "Here's to a wonderful year, and may you continue to be a blessing."

She kisses his forehead. Sharon drinks a little wine from a small silver cup they received when Ido was born.

After dinner, Ido twirls an upside-down plastic cup on his knife, hypnotized by the motion, and asks to be excused. He settles on the sofa to watch "Alice in Wonderland."

Later, over marzipan and white chocolate cake, everyone gathers to sing "Happy Birthday." But at the first words, Ido cups his hands over his ears. Soon they are whispering the song.

Sensitive to sound, he often wears his "bulletproof" headphones, the type that shooters wear at firing ranges.

My dogs bark like shotguns. The gardeners mow with tanks and blow leaves with hurricanes.

Ido says he can also see auras, emanations of color around people that help him gauge their temperaments.

His mother is blue, his sister is green and his father is greenish-yellow. Purple, he says, is the most open-minded color, brown the most closed off.

Brown is the color of my ABA teachers.

He was pulled out of the ABA program when he was 7 and began working with a woman who had been successful teaching her autistic son.

Soma Mukhopadhyay met Ido at her apartment in Hollywood for an hour each Sunday. The lessons were not dependent on drills or rewards.

Soma was different from any other teacher because I knew immediately that she saw I was smart.

During one session, after fighting with Mukhopadhyay, he threw himself on the floor, crying. Tracy apologized.

"It isn't a tantrum," Mukhopadhyay said. "It is sorrow."

Ido Kedar, with his mother Tracy, writes on his iPad. "I felt kind of terrified when I was a kid that my life would be this way forever," he once wrote. More photos

Ido takes his favorite desk in a corner of Amber Tesh's classroom. Tesh is reading a scene from "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Ido has just come in from lunch, where he stimmed in a secluded corner of the crowded schoolyard out of the way of other students playing handball, making out or texting.

I'm a strange mixture. I am smart as a mind and dumb as a body. I can think of insights and my body ignores them.

This afternoon Tom Robinson is on trial, and Atticus is questioning Mayella in court.

"What do we know about Mayella?" Tesh asks.

"She's dumb," says one of the students.

"Yes, but what else?"

In the silence, Ido leans forward, rocking back and forth, smiling and laughing slightly to himself as if someone has just told him a joke.

He begins to point to the letter board his aide is holding in front of him.

She likes Tom.

"That's right," says Tesh, who is proud of Ido's work. In the California High School Exit Exam, he scored 443 out of 450, missing one answer.

Of all his classes, Ido likes his honors English class most, especially because Tesh treats him like other students.

He knows that his behavior is unusual. He envies his sister, and wishes he had her independence and friends. Unlike some autism advocates who champion the disorder as an emblem of diversity, Ido would prefer to be typical.

Can I visit Autismland instead of living here?

Ido Kedar sits with former teacher and friend Adrienne Johnston, right, along with his family after speaking at Cal State Northridge. More photos

The Cal State Northridge campus is crowded with graduates. Tracy, Sharon, Ido and his sister, Liat, walk toward the open square where the department of special education will gather for its commencement. Pachelbel's Canon plays in the distance; Ido adjusts his headphones.

As a guest speaker, he is given a black gown. Tracy helps him put it on, and they take their seats.

He's grown accustomed to public appearances. He says he only gets embarrassed when people gush over him.

It drives me crazy when people do that. My situation may be new and tragic to them, but it is my life.

Tracy places her hand on Ido's shoulder. She hopes there isn't too much stimulation for him today. After he got home from school, she had him walk for 20 minutes on the treadmill and spend 10 minutes on the rowing machine. She also gave him a small dose of Ativan to ease his anxiety.

Ivor Weiner, a special education professor, introduces Ido. He tells the audience how they met in January at an autism conference.

"Ido's words," he tells the graduates, "stopped me in my tracks. I admit it, for a long time, whenever families had children with significant challenges, my expectations for these individuals would often be mediocre. After all, how could these individuals contribute to society?"

Tracy stands and guides Ido by the hand to the podium. Sharon connects the iPad to the outdoor speakers.

It is hard to be a teacher of kids who don't communicate. The kids don't have writing, or gestures, or speech, or facial expressions, but that doesn't mean they can't think.

As his words are broadcast, Ido turns away from the audience. He curls his arms overhead, stretches and yawns.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Written by Joseph Mailander, MAILANDER’S LA  | City Watch |  http://bit.ly/1kuOuH7

<<Right - Jimmie Woods Gray
George McKenna III – Left
20 Dec 2013-The death of Board member Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte was not the thing that made the Los Angeles Unified School District go wall-to-wall ninnyhammer for the holidays.  No, our billions blowing, low performing, gerrymander-dominated, million-megaton District was already a basket case long before the African American and UTLA-friendly Board stalwart suddenly passed in San Diego at age 80 on December 5.

The thing that made our lumpenproletariat leviathan weigh all nuclear options simultaneously was the fact that LaMotte died at a time when nobody has any control of anything. The untimely death comes when it may or may not make sense to fill her seat with a caretaker appointment, a special election, some combination, or by waiting a long sixteen months until her seat comes up again for election.  And nobody--not the Superintendent, not the Board, not the Mayor, not the union, not the teachers--have the authority to make an immediate decision.

So as LaMotte ascends the Pearly Gates, the decision about how to replace her lingers for an unknown duration precisely where so many students and teachers and staffers have lingered for so many years: in LAUSD Board Purgatory.

In a District in which paranoia strikes not only deep, but strikes daily, fervently, as expensively as possible, and typically takes no prisoners--leaving nearly everyone who says anything at all about it looking extremely silly--even the slightest vacancy or change dependably drives the those with twitchy fingers to fire before aiming.

But this was indeed an extraordinary situation, a death on the very cusp of entering an uncertain election cycle, and of a Board member who is a key cog not only in LA's black community but also on behalf of its top teacher's union.  Thus, all stakeholders were only too willing to lock and load immediately.

Even well before the body had been interred, District corporatists--some of the same corporatists who brought the District the billion dollar iPad boondoggle--nominated a uniquely authoritarian guy for the only African American dominated district in the LAUSD: George McKenna III, a longstanding controversial District figure.

When McKenna's name was thus floated for something other than another African American oral history interview, various UTLA members floated and even flaunted their own persistently spilling outrage at the thought.

"One of the happiest days of my life, after the birth of my son and my wedding day, was the day I transferred out of Washington Prep. to spend the next 23 years at Huntington Park High School," one such letter began. "Leaving George McKenna and that awful school behind, did wonders for my outlook on life. His Gestapo agents were everywhere spying on the faculty. God, what a dictator of a self-aggrandizing megalomaniac! Please, no more McKenna. By the way, encourage all your friends to quit subscribing to the LA Times as soon as possible. The sooner we can give that rag a dirt nap, the better."

I'm all for the latter concept, even if precisely which LA Times should take a dirt nap remains difficult to parse. Is it the LA Times that editorialized in favor of holding elections? Or the LA Times that published a plaintive wheeze from two ex board members, infra-liberals by way of Berkeley, David Tokofsky and Jackie Goldberg, admonishing the District to appoint rather than special elect?

"How hard is teaching? All you have to do stand up there, open a book, and read. How hard is that?" another outraged teacher quoted McKenna as telling teachers and other staffers in another bygone meeting. That doesn't sound like either education or democracy to me.

"These are quotes that he would stand up and say in front of our staff meetings. He consistently disregarded us and the opinions of our staff. He implied that because teaching was so easy that he could just bring anybody in to replace us. Every time he came to a Fremont meeting, he berated us and told us that we were trying to blame test scores on the fact that our students were from low economic families."

Trying to learn a little more, even as some teachers were generous with their bilious appraisals of McKenna and the Board, as usual the UTLA's media office was most useless of all to me. They offered no position nor even any information whatsoever.  They instead wondered if I would be at the Board meeting.  They also wondered if I had listened to Warren's show. (Warren who?) In short, they threw everything back at me, as though I was a dangerous spy from some other side (which other side?) for actually having a few questions about what they might be thinking.  I have been to enough LAUSD Board meetings and listened to enough Warren to know that if you want empty viewpoints, empty talking points and loads of empty bullet points by the barrel-full, these outposts are for you.

I did learn that most UTLA leadership favor the appointment of Jimmie Woods-Gray, if she's available--she's presently a City of LA Fire commissioner, a Garcetti counterweight to his absurd appointment of under-educated Parent Revolution factotum Lydia Grant to the EmpowerLA commission.  "She's excellent.  I've worked with her for years.  Intelligent, fair, politically involved in the best sense of the word," was the most representative sample of the way Woods-Gray was described to me by UTLA rank and file.  Garcetti had appointed Woods-Gray to the LAUSD redistricting commission in 2011--where Woods-Gray worked towards preserving District 1's African American legacy, something increasingly difficult to do given the way the region's demographics are panning out from Census to Census.

The Board when it met only resolved not to resolve anything at all until next month, the kind of non-decisiveness that has made the District the bloated pig it is.  Monica Garcia issued a statement: "I look forward to a healthy discussion befitting Ms. LaMotte’s legacy and the District’s leadership when the Board of Education meets on January 7, 2014.  The children and families of District 1 and the greater LAUSD deserve no less."

"Deserve no less" is one of those phrases.  Nobody, neither the Board nor the UTLA nor Superintendent Deasy nor the deceased Poindexter LaMotte, thought much of the children and families of LAUSD deserving fundamental rights such as freedom from classroom misconduct until the Miramonte scandal brought the District to fire 127 teachers and accept the resignations of 110 more since February of last year. More decisiveness earlier could have helped the many, many victims.

I have to confess that the way LAUSD can blow money so remorselessly on everything from iPads to half-billion dollar new schools to Astroturf, the idea of it worrying about the cost of a special election is a challenging and unbelievable one to me.  The students of District 1 deserved "no less" than a delayed decision in which indecision ruled the day about as much as they deserve Monica Garcia telling them what else they deserve after failing them for so long.

Stand up, someone. Quit trying to game it your way--let the people game it their way.  Let's let democracy work: let's have an election, and sooner rather than later.

  • (Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs here.)