Friday, January 31, 2014

IS THE AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM DAMAGING OUR KIDS? Education has become an American institution—of the worst kind.

By Peter Gray from / Also published in Reader's Digest Magazine January 2014 |

kids sitting by the lockersParents send their children to school with the best of intentions, believing that formal education is what kids need to become productive, happy adults. Many parents do have qualms about how well schools are performing, but the conventional wisdom is that these issues can be resolved with more money, better teachers, more challenging curricula, or more rigorous tests. But what if the real problem is school itself?

The unfortunate fact is that one of our most cherished institutions is, by its very nature, failing our children and our society.

<<Richard Foulser/Trunk Archive

Children are required to be in school, where their freedom is greatly restricted, far more than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we’ve been compelling them to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there’s strong evidence that this is causing psychological damage to many of them. And as scientists have investigated how children naturally learn, they’ve realized that kids do so most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school.

Compulsory education has been a fixture of our culture now for several generations. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are so enamored of it that they want even longer school days and years. Most people assume that the basic design of today’s schools emerged from scientific evidence about how children learn. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Schools as we know them today are a product of history, not of research. The blueprint for them was developed during the Protestant Reformation, when schools were created to teach children to read the Bible, to believe Scripture without questioning it, and to obey authority figures without questioning them.

When schools were taken over by the state, made compulsory, and directed toward secular ends, the basic structure and methods of teaching remained unchanged. Subsequent attempts at reform have failed because they haven’t altered the basic blueprint. The top-down, teach-and-test method, in which learning is motivated by a system of rewards and punishments rather than by curiosity or by any real desire to know, is well designed for indoctrination and obedience training but not much else. It’s no wonder that many of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and innovators either left school early (like Thomas Edison) or said they hated school and learned despite it, not because of it (like Albert Einstein).

Most students—whether A students, C students, or failing ones—have lost their zest for learning by the time they’ve reached middle school or high school. In a telling research study, professors Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeremy Hunter fitted more than 800 sixth through 12th graders, from 33 different schools across the country, with special wristwatches that emitted a signal at random times of day. Each time they received a signal, the students filled out a questionnaire indicating where they were, what they were doing, and how happy or unhappy they felt at the moment. The lowest levels of happiness, by far, were reported when the children were in school, where they were often bored, anxious, or both. Other researchers have shown that, with each successive grade, students develop increasingly negative attitudes toward the subjects taught, especially math and science.

As a society, we tend to shrug off such findings. We’re not surprised that kids are unhappy in school. Some people even believe that the very unpleasantness of school is good for children, so they will learn to tolerate unpleasantness as preparation for real life. But there are plenty of opportunities to learn to tolerate unpleasantness without adding unpleasant schooling to the mix. Research has shown that people of all ages learn best when they are self-motivated, pursuing answers to questions that reflect their personal interests and achieving goals that they’ve set for themselves. Under such conditions, learning is usually joyful.

The evidence for all of this is obvious to anyone who’s watched a child grow from infancy to school age. Through their own efforts, children figure out how to walk, run, jump, and climb. They learn from scratch their native language, and with that, they learn to assert their will, argue, amuse, annoy, befriend, charm, and ask questions. Through questioning and exploring, they acquire an enormous amount of knowledge about the physical and social world around them, and in their play, they practice skills that promote their physical, intellectual, social, and emotional development. They do all of this before anyone, in any systematic way, tries to teach them anything.

This amazing drive and capacity to learn does not turn itself off when children reach five or six. But we turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of our system is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible.

The focus of my own research—I’m a psychology professor at Boston College—has been on learning in children who are of “school age” but who aren’t sent to school, or not to school as conventionally understood. I’ve examined how children learn in cultures that don’t have schools, especially hunter-gatherer societies, the kind in which our species evolved. I’ve also studied learning in our culture by students who are trusted to take charge of their education. In these settings, children’s natural curiosity and zest for learning persist all the way through adolescence into adulthood.

Another researcher who has documented the power of self-directed learning is Sugata Mitra. He set up outdoor computers in very poor neighborhoods in India, where many children were illiterate and most did not go to school. Wherever he placed such a computer, dozens of kids would gather around and, with no help from adults, figure out how to use it. Those who could not read began to do so by interacting with the computer and with other children around it. The computers gave these young people access to the whole world’s knowledge—in one remote village, children who previously knew nothing about microorganisms learned about bacteria and viruses through their interactions with the computer and began to use this new knowledge appropriately in conversations.

Mitra’s experiments illustrate how three core aspects of human nature—curiosity, playfulness, and sociability—can combine beautifully to serve the purpose of education. Curiosity drew the kids to the computer and motivated them to explore it; playfulness motivated them to practice many computer skills; and sociability allowed each child’s learning to spread like wildfire to dozens of other children.

What self-directed learning looks like.

In our culture today, there are many routes through which children can apply their natural drives and instincts to learn everything they need to know for a successful adulthood. More than two million children in the United States now base their education at home and in the larger community rather than at school, and an ever-increasing proportion of their families have scrapped set curricular approaches in favor of self-directed learning. These parents do not give lessons or tests, but they do provide a home environment that facilitates learning, and they help connect their kids to community activities from which they learn. Some of these families began this approach long ago and have adult sons and daughters who are now thriving.

My colleague Gina Riley and I recently surveyed 232 such families. According to these families’ reports, the main benefits of this approach lie in the children’s continued curiosity, creativity, and passion for learning, and in the freedom and harmony the entire family experiences when relieved of the pressures and schedules of school and the burden of manipulating kids into doing homework that doesn’t interest them. As one parent put it, “As an educator, I see that my daughter has amazing critical thinking skills that many of my adult college students lack … My daughter lives and learns in the real world and loves it. What more could I ask for?” But not every family has the ability, means, or desire to facilitate their children’s self-directed education at home. For many, a better option is a so-called democratic school, where kids have charge of their education in a setting that optimizes their opportunities and where there are many peers with whom to socialize and learn. (Such schools should not be confused with Montessori schools or other types of “progressive” schools that permit more play and offer more choices than standard schools but nevertheless maintain a top-down, teacher-to-student system of authority and a relatively uniform curriculum that all students are expected to follow.)

Over many years, I’ve observed learning at one such place, the Sudbury Valley School, in Framingham, Massachusetts. The students, who range in age from four to about 18, are free all day to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t break any of the school rules. These regulations, which have been created democratically by the children and staff together, have nothing to do with learning; they have to do with keeping peace and order. The school currently has about 150 students and ten staff members, and it operates on a per-child budget that is less than half that of the surrounding public schools. It accepts essentially all the students who apply and whose parents agree to enroll them.

Today there are about two dozen schools in the United States that are explicitly modeled after Sudbury Valley, and still others that have most of its basic characteristics. Compared with other private institutions, these schools charge low tuitions, and some have sliding tuition scales. Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

To people who haven’t witnessed it firsthand, it’s hard to imagine how such a school could work. Yet Sudbury Valley has been in existence for 45 years and has hundreds of graduates who are thriving in the real world.

Many years ago, my colleague David Chanoff and I conducted a follow-up study of Sudbury Valley graduates. We found that those who had pursued higher education (about 75 percent) reported no particular difficulty getting into the schools of their choice and doing well there once admitted. Some, including a few who had never previously taken a formal course, had gone on successfully to highly prestigious colleges and universities. As a group, regardless of whether or not they had pursued higher education, they were remarkably successful in finding employment. They had gone into a broad range of occupations, including business, arts, science, medicine, other service professions, and skilled trades. Most said that a major benefit of their Sudbury Valley education was that they had acquired a sense of personal responsibility and capacity for self-control that served them well in all aspects of their lives. Many also commented on the importance of the democratic values that they had acquired at the school. More recently, two larger studies of graduates have produced similar results.

Students in this setting learn to read, calculate, and use computers in the same playful ways that kids in hunter-gatherer cultures learn to hunt and gather. They also develop more specialized interests and passions, which can lead directly or indirectly to careers. For example, a highly successful machinist and inventor spent his childhood playfully building things and taking things apart to see how they worked. Another graduate, who became a professor of mathematics, had played intensively and creatively with math. And yet another, a high-fashion patternmaker, had played at making doll clothes and then clothes for herself and friends.

I’m convinced that Sudbury Valley works well because it provides the conditions that optimize children’s natural abilities to educate themselves. These include a) unlimited opportunity to play and explore, allowing them to discover and pursue their interests; b) access to caring and knowledgeable adults who are helpers, not judges; c) liberal age mixing among children and adolescents (age-mixed play is far more conducive to learning than is play among those who are all at the same level); and d) direct participation in a stable, moral, democratic community in which they acquire a sense of responsibility for others, not just for themselves. None of these conditions are present in standard schools.

I don’t mean to paint self-directed education as a panacea. Life is not always smooth, no matter what the conditions. But research in these settings—both mine and others’—has convinced me that the natural drives and abilities of young people to learn are fully sufficient to motivate their entire education. We don’t have to force them to learn; all we need to do is provide them with the freedom and opportunities to do so.

Of course, not everyone will learn the same things, in the same way, or at the same time. That’s good. Our society thrives on diversity. We need people with different skills, interests, and personalities. Most of all, we need people who pursue life with passion and who take responsibility for themselves throughout life.


by Tom Chorneau |  SI&A Cabinet Report |


#17 A (self-anointed, politically connected) group called NCTQ comes to town a few months before your teachers’ contract is up for negotiation and writes a Mad Libs evaluation of your districts’ teachers (for about $14,000) that reaches the predetermined conclusion that teachers are lazy and need merit pay. ["The (NAME OF CITY) School District has too many (NEGATIVE ADJ) teachers. Therefore they need a new (POSITIVE ADJ.) data-based evaluation system tied to test scores…”]

January 31, 2014 (District of Columbia)  ::   In a stinging evaluation of policies and standards governing classroom educators in California, the National Council on Teacher Quality put yet another spotlight on teacher protection laws.

The NCTQ, a non-partisan advocacy group that receives support from the Gates Foundation among others, gave California an overall grade of D-plus in its seventh annual survey of policies that affect teacher preparation, evaluation and compensation.

The negative report represents a status quo for California over the past three years that might sting more except that the council’s research team gave the same grade or worse to 16 other states and the District of Columbia.

Florida received the highest grade, a B-plus; while 13 states got a B or B-minus – including Louisiana, New York and Indiana. Nineteen states fell into the C category, including Colorado, Kentucky, Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

The report notes that during the past five years, 37 states improved their overall grade by one full level “because of signi´Čücant reform, particularly in the areas of teacher evaluation and related teacher effectiveness policies.”

California was not one of them, although in the council’s opinion, the state has improved in teacher preparation.

As much of the review is based on state laws and politically-driven policies, California was strongly downgraded as a result of rules that the council believes do not go far enough in weeding out ineffective teachers – an area of governance that the council graded as failing

The report specifically cited California’s laws around tenure and dismissals as key issues.

“California does not explicitly make teacher ineffectiveness grounds for dismissal, nor does the state distinguish the due process rights of teachers dismissed for ineffective performance from those facing other charges commonly associated with license revocation, such as a felony and/or morality violations,” they said, noting also that tenured teachers who are terminated have multiple opportunities to appeal.

The state’s tenure and dismissal rules are also in play before a superior court judge in a lawsuit that has attracted widespread attention.

The case against the state, brought on behalf of nine students from schools throughout California, is being pushed by Students Matter, led by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch. Supporting the state is the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers.

The lawsuit seeks to invalidate tenure and dismissal laws on constitutional grounds protecting student’s rights to equal access to an adequate education.

The trial began this week and is expected to last a month.

In terms of favorable review of California teacher policies, the council gave high marks around its induction program, professional development and compensation.

They praised the California Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) Induction Program as “a state-funded program, cosponsored by the California Department of Education and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, designed to support the professional development of newly credentialed beginning teachers and to fulfill the requirements for the California Clear Multiple and Single Subject Credentials.”


By Kathryn Baron  | EdSource Today

Rep. George Miller, D-Contra Costa, visited with EdSource Today staff shortly after announcing his retirement after 40 years in Congress. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

January 30th, 2014  ::  Rep. George Miller, a leading architect of the No Child Left Behind legislation, says he never anticipated that the landmark education law would ignite the testing obsession that engulfed the nation’s schools, leading to what some have charged is a simplistic “drill and kill” approach that subverts real instruction.

<<Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, visited with EdSource Today staff shortly after announcing his retirement after 40 years in Congress. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

EdSource sat down with Miller, D-Martinez, last week for a lengthy and wide-ranging conversation on his accomplishments, philosophy and hopes for the future of public education. The Contra Costa County congressman, who served as chair or ranking minority member of the House Education Committee and the Workforce Committee since 1997, announced earlier this month that after 40 years in the House of Representatives, he would not seek re-election when his current term expires.

In an animated discussion, Miller, 68, defended what has become one of the more controversial aspects of NCLB, testing and accountability. He said the purpose of the 2001 law that he co-wrote with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Republicans Rep. John Boehner of Ohio and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire was to inspire a broader discussion of how children learn and to hold states responsible for ensuring that all students were learning, especially those at risk of failing due to income, ethnicity, race and disability. To Miller, the most important part of the law – which was championed by then President George W. Bush – was to require districts to publish data on how well students were doing.

“In this education system, if you’re not counted, you don’t count,” Miller said.

Testing was intended as a way to measure schools’ progress based on how well their students scored and to show schools where they needed to make improvements. Instead, said Miller “the mission became about the test.”

“I don’t believe you can drive a car blindfolded,” Miller said. “So all we asked was, ‘How are the kids doing in your test?’ And it turned out to be a nuclear explosion, because it wasn’t in the interest of the school district to tell the community how each and every kid was doing on their test.”

He was particularly ruffled early after the law’s passage in 2001 when school districts argued that they could never meet one of its key goals – having 100 percent of their students score proficient or above by 2014 on state exams. At the time, many schools had proficiency rates in the single digits.

“School districts and states came in, in the first year, and waved the white flag, and said, ‘We can never make the goal,’” recalled Miller. “Their proficiency was like 7 or 8 percent. I said, ‘Come back when you’re at 70 percent.’”

“I thought it was a legitimate question,” Miller said: “‘Is my son or daughter in her fourth-grade class reading at her fourth-grade level? Just let me know. It’s not a big thing. And then maybe I’ll get them a mentor, a tutor, or something.’

“It turned out to be a firestorm.”

Rep. George Miller (back row, second from right) watches as President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Credit:

<<Rep. George Miller (back row, second from right) watches as President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Miller said the moment was a high point of his career. Credit:

Miller has also become involved in a smaller testing conflagration in California. He’s working behind the scenes, at the behest of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to help broker a waiver that would allow California to postpone state testing until the new exam aligned to Common Core State Standards is operational. That test is a year away, and is only for math and English language arts. The congressman doesn’t agree with the state’s position, but doesn’t want California to face multimillion-dollar fines either – as Duncan has threatened. Instead, Miller wants California to use data from this spring’s Common Core field tests, known as the Smarter Balanced assessment, to measure student progress.

“My position, I think, is that we should extract the data (from the Smarter Balanced field tests) that we can extract because it would be helpful. I think it would be helpful for teachers. If the kids in your classroom didn’t thrive, what would you change for next year?” Miller said. “And from what the people at Smarter Balanced say, they’ve developed a range of data that can be extracted, and supposedly, if this is a road test, you’ve got to bring something back to analyze.”

The congressman is also guarded about California’s two most significant education reforms, Common Core State Standards and the Local Control Funding Formula. He likes Common Core’s focus on college and career readiness, but worries it may be premature to establish a higher bar beyond the proficiency required by No Child Left Behind, given how many California high school students can’t read well or do basic math, based on their scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress and statewide exams.

He’s more skeptical about the Local Control Funding Formula, the historic change in the way California allocates money to public schools, particularly the local control part of it. He noted that districts had some local control until the 1970s, when a series of court cases found California’s method of school funding violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“That system wasn’t really working very well for most kids, and it certainly wasn’t working for poor or minority children,” said Miller, adding that this time around the state must have accountability. “You’ve got to have some system of determining how that local control is going.”

Miller brushed aside speculation that he is retiring due to polarization between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill that has brought most legislation to a standstill. This includes reauthorization of NCLB, formally called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. He said chances are “slim” that the current Congress will take action on the legislation, even though it should have been reauthorized in 2007.

In fact, Miller said his decision to leave Congress took root one day when he stood behind President Obama for a bill signing that he had spent years working on. And it wasn’t an education bill, it was the Affordable Care Act.

“I ran in 1974 on national health care and ending the war in Vietnam, and when he signed the (Affordable Care Act) bill … if I wasn’t on the stage behind the president, I probably would have jumped up and down. It was just a physical reaction, like, ‘Whoa, We just did it! It’s the law.’ And I started thinking, ‘Well, Jesus. You’re standing here on top of Mt. Everest, you know. There ain’t no up.’”

logo_edsource_sow4_v1-0-0Here are some additional excerpts from the interview with Miller:

NCLB reauthorization

No Child Left Behind, the name given the to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act during President George W. Bush’s administration, received strong bipartisan support when it first came to Congress in 2001. That harmony has since ended and reauthorization of the federal education law is now seven years overdue.

EdSource: What is the likelihood that No Child Left Behind will be reauthorized this session?

Miller: I think it’s pretty slim. We have probably less than 90 legislative days left in this session of the congress, and this is a controversial issue, certainly, within the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives. We did pass out the bill that our committee wrote, on a partisan vote, and I think that bill will have a very difficult time in merging with the Senate. There’s very little support for the Republican-passed bill.  … I don’t know if you can hammer out the differences at this stage. But the Senate is continuing to work on it, so if we get a breakthrough there, that would probably look more like a bill that you could pass and have the president sign. I think the House (Republican) bill has no merit, no legs, in the legislative process.

EdSource: What are the prospects of reauthorization beyond this year? Is it possible that this will just go on for years, not being reauthorized?

Miller: Well, it’s quite conceivable that that could be the case. I think that’s unfortunate, because No Child Left Behind is just so outdated. … I think the Race to the Top (a competitive $4.35 billion federal program for school innovation) program has … been very important (in giving) districts or states that really want to go to the future a chance to go, with some assurances about equity, about the use of data.

Testing and accountability

Miller is a strong proponent of testing, but says states went to the extreme after No Child Left Behind became law by putting all their efforts on teaching to the test instead of focusing on changing teaching methods to improve student learning.

EdSource: When you started out with No Child Left Behind, didn’t you have some expectation that this would have had more of an impact on closing the achievement gap? What happened?

Miller: To me, (it) was the failure to appreciate how the system would revert to a default position that the test became primary, as opposed to learning. So all of these different things were used to try to get kids over the hurdles, “drill and kill,” or however you wanted to do it, and we dropped everything else out.

In some cases, because of a lack of resources, (schools) reverted to this very simplistic approach. It turned out to be a disaster. But it was followed for over a decade, even when it was proving that nothing was going on.

EdSource: Can you fault districts for getting test-conscious when “proficiency” became the only measure? Isn’t it natural that that’s how they will respond?

Miller: That’s why we said, “Whatever test you’re giving, just let us know, how are the kids doing on that test, and are they proficient?” … I thought it was a legitimate question. “Is my son or daughter in his or her fourth-grade class reading at his or her fourth-grade level?” Just let me know. It’s not a big thing. And then maybe I’ll get them a mentor, a tutor, or something. It turned out to be a firestorm. … And now you’ve seen this come full circle, and people said, “We’re never going to get that proficiency standard if we don’t figure out how kids learn, because, obviously, what we’re doing is not working.”

But remember, there were people who believed that drill and kill could lead to learning. And there were people who were drilling and killing and saying “This is absolutely wrong. But that was the policy.”

The mission became about the test.

EdSource: Are you saying that the extreme focus on testing wasn’t the intention of NCLB?

Miller: Sure, it wasn’t the intention, but I didn’t anticipate that that’s what happened. In many instances, we probably didn’t anticipate how poorly so many schools were doing.

From right, Rep. George Miller, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Rep. Tim Bishop meet with student representatives in 2009 about HR 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. Credit: Rep. George Miller Flickr stream

<<From right, Rep. George Miller, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Rep. Tim Bishop, D-NY, meet with student representatives in 2009 about HR 3221, the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act. Credit: Rep. George Miller Flickr stream

Common Core

EdSource: What do you think of the goal of Common Core State Standards of getting students college and career ready, when we haven’t reached the proficiency goal yet?

Miller: Let me ask you this: In the existing system, given the level of proficiency, (what are) your chances of achieving college and career readiness? They may want to dismiss proficiency, but we have pretty good research on what happens if a child is not starting to read at a pretty proficient level in third and fourth grade, what happens to them in tenth grade, and the kinds of decisions they make?

So Common Core doesn’t say you just get to read the last chapter of the book. Common Core says you’ve got to understand all of the chapters in the process; and then you’ll end up with enough flexibility in your understanding of concepts that you’ll be able to pursue different careers or college choices, or the mixture of both.

But, again, if you can’t write, and you can’t understand concepts, and you can’t do basic, fundamental mathematics, your chances in this evolving economy are pretty limited. There’s got to be some benchmark somewhere along the line, because if I show up as a freshman at San Francisco State and I can only read “Jack and Jill,” I’m not going anywhere.

EdSource: So you’re a little skeptical?

Miller:  No, no, no, no. All I’m saying is, you can’t wait until college to find out whether you’re on track.  So I like the concept of “college and career,” because I think it reflects more what a workplace looks like today. Sort of college never ends, and the career is always evolving.

Teacher evaluations and tenure

School administrators in California have about two years to determine whether a new teacher will be granted tenure. Miller is among the critics of that system, who say that’s not enough time to make a well-informed decision about someone. He is a strong proponent of evaluating teachers’ effectiveness and using student test scores as a measure of teachers’ competency.

EdSource: Do you really think that linking teacher evaluations to student test scores will make a difference? This is such a key issue that it’s become the central stumbling block in terms of federal-state relations.

Miller: I think it’s a shorthand, manufactured issue to keep these reforms away from the schoolhouse door. … From the very beginning, this was a question of whether or not teachers wanted to be the architect of the system, or they just wanted to be the tenant. If you went back to Medicare, doctors chose to fight it at every turn, and they became the tenants of the system instead of those who were designing the system.

In fact, teachers unions have agreed to it in many parts of the country, so apparently it’s not the death knell (for teacher evaluation systems). But I think it’s important. Without any evaluations, after a few years, parents will tell other parents, ‘Don’t let your child get Mrs. Smith or Mr. Smith. You don’t want your child in Mr. or Mrs. Smith’s third-grade class.’ And the evaluation has already taken place because that (teacher) apparently didn’t work out for a lot of students.

EdSource: California has 1,000 school districts and these evaluation contracts are negotiated district by district. Practically speaking, is it possible to do in a state the size of California?

Miller: Of course it’s possible. All your preconditions are excuses to stay in the 19th century. It’s all possible. People are evaluated on the jobsites all the time today. Like it or not, employers want to know, “How are you doing? Is there value added through your participation in this enterprise?” And I don’t think that in something as important as teaching, that the personnel should be exempt from this.

Rep. George Miller greets a young constituent at a 2013 town hall meeting in Lafayette. Credit: Rep. George Miller's Flickr stream

<<Rep. George Miller greets a young constituent at a 2013 town hall meeting in Lafayette. Credit: Rep. George Miller Flickr stream

EdSource: Would you change the tenure system? Would you scrap it?

Miller: No, but these are just logical questions that people ask in everyday life and everyday employment. You want to know how these people are doing. But to say we want to hire them permanently, but we don’t want to know how they’re doing, is just a really bad decision for the child, for the parents, for the taxpayers – right up the scale, a real bad decision.

Early childhood education

In November, Miller introduced the “Strong Start for America’s Children Act” to improve access to full-day preschool for low-income children. During his nearly 40 years in office, Miller also supported legislation to fully fund Head Start.

EdSource: Do you expect Gov. Brown to pick up on national movement and go forward with an expansion of early education?

Miller: The governor is going to move forward on early learning …  with the use of these federal monies coming through existing programs. … Early Head Start is going to be used to handle part of that load, just as the schools and transitional kindergarten are all used to manage part of that load.

Other governors are running out way ahead of this, so I think there’s a way to do this. There’s a lot of infrastructure in early learning in California; some of it can be better quality, some of it can be better coordinated, some of it may need different leadership, so I don’t think any of that’s a barrier. And I think especially if you really look at the data on what it means to have those quality programs in terms of the future education of those children, (there is) a growing consensus on that part of it.

But the question is, are you going to insist upon quality? Are you going to insist upon skilled people delivering these services? You’re going to have to deal with it somehow. You’re going to have to deal with the question of pay to make this attractive, so you don’t just have this constant revolving door. The children deserve better than that, and the results will be better. …You’ve got to make the investment now, and the investment pays off later. It’s every bit as fundamental in terms of the economy of this state or the nation.

What’s next?

Miller was first elected to Congress in 1974 with a group of first-time lawmakers known as the “Watergate Babies,” who ran on a platform of cleaning up Washington in the wake of the scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. He said he is leaving now not because Capitol Hill is in a state of gridlock, but because 40 years is long enough.

EdSource: In two years, what might we expect you to be doing?

Miller: I can’t answer the question. I don’t have that kind of plan. I know that this stage is closed. I think I have some talent, and we’ll see whether or not it works in another environment, and we’ll just have to see. People have been very kind, talking about all kinds of different things, but I have not focused on any of them. The response to my retirement was more than I would have ever imagined, and I can just tell you that I’ve happily spent my time returning phone calls to people that have been so very, very nice in their comments, and that’s what I’ve been doing since we got home from Washington.


From the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles Weekly Update Week of February 3, 2014 |

Thursday, January 30, 2014 :: In President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on January 28, 2014, he referenced education less often than in previous years, but stressed it as a means to improve the economy and decrease poverty. Specifically, he called on Congress to expand preschool to more 4-year-olds, improve job-training programs and make postsecondary education more effective and accessible. The focus was not on education per se, but more on improving the lives of the American people. There were no new proposals for K-12 education in this speech and although he has addressed it in previous years, Congress has yet to pass any of his initiatives. Vowing, this time, to bypass Congress and use his executive power, he said, “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”


The President pushed for Congress to enact a major initiative that encourages states to offer prekindergarten to more 4-year-olds, improve program quality and increase access to Head Start programs. Recognizing that preschool programs are crucial for success and are one avenue to close the achievement gap and overcome inequality, lawmakers have introduced legislation to make these goals a reality, but due to the cost, it has not garnered enough support. Therefore, Obama said he would pull together a coalition of business leaders, philanthropists and elected officials to help expand pre-K for the neediest children.


He called for a need to bolster job-training programs and help high schools and postsecondary institutions prepare students for careers in the STEM fields. In 2012, the President presented a plan that would revise the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act which the House education committee is just now starting to discuss. However, $100 million has been allocated for schools to partner with businesses to increase their STEM offerings. The deadline to apply for these funds was January 26, 2014.


President Obama has allocated more than $150 billion in federal financial aid to help pay for post-secondary education and is calling for an expansion of income-based loan repayment plans, stressing that he did not want any middle-class student to be priced out of a college education.


The President called for an increased investment in the nation’s infrastructure, particularly as it relates to technology and to speed up the implementation of the ConnectEd program. The existing E-rate program needs to be improved to meet the increasing technology demands from schools. The president mentioned that he wanted 99 percent of the nation’s schools to have access to high-speed broadband within five years.


The President again asked for new gun laws to reduce violence. Last year, he called for a ban on military assault style weapons, more background checks and new resources for mental health and safety in schools. None of the proposals related to curbing access to guns made it through Congress this past year, although some funds were allocated for school safety and mental health.

Notably absent from the speech was any mention of the reauthorization of ESEA or of the Common Core State Standards, although he did mention that Race to the Top caused states to raise their standards. Education officials and education organization officials praised the speech for focusing on expanding opportunity and closing the income gap, subjects to which education is fundamentally connected.


A joint committee of members from both legislative houses in Sacramento is meeting this week to review the status of adult education in the state. Governor Brown proposed last year to shift administration of adult programs to community colleges because K-12 districts were reducing their offerings. Lawmakers rejected this plan but compromised by advising school districts to maintain services for two years while providing funds to plan for the development of better ways to serve the adult education needs regionally. While this is taking place in Sacramento, LAUSD’s DACE has continued to face budgetary cuts. We do not know the Superintendent’s plan for the expenditure of the additional revenue that the District has received or if adult ed will be the recipient of any new funding, but the letter below from an adult school administrator shows the current state of adult education in LAUSD.

  • Luisa (not her real name) wants to learn more English to help her son and daughter. Her daughter has just begun high school and her son is in elementary school. She would like to be better able to communicate with school staff and help or at least better understand her children’s homework.
  • Zhi Peng (not his real name) has a family and would like to take a Powerline Mechanics program and get a lucrative job with Southern California Edison. Both of these parents are on waiting lists because the classes are full.
  • Roger Medina (not his real name) is a concurrent student who needs a health class to graduate. Unfortunately, all the classes at his nearby Adult Education Service Area are full. Since many Adult Education classes for concurrent students are in Individualized Instruction Lab settings, Roger will have to wait until someone finishes so he can enroll.

In fact, there are more than 14,000 adults and concurrent students on waitlists for classes in the Division of Adult and Career Education. Such is one of the effects of the major budget cuts to Adult Education funding.

As you can see, cuts to Adult Education are cuts to us all.

Thursday, January 30, 2014


By Howard Blume, L.A. Times |

January 30, 2014, 4:24 p.m.  ::  The Los Angeles Unified School District will pay substantially less for thousands of iPads under the latest deal with Apple. The cost of the tablets that will be used on new state tests will be $200 less per device, although the computers won’t include curriculum.

The revised price will be $504, which compares to $699 for the iPads with curriculum. With taxes and other fees, the full cost of the more fully equipped devices rises to $768.

The iPads are part of a $1-billion effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and  administrator in the nation’s second-largest school system. In response to concerns and problems, officials have slowed the districtwide rollout, which began at 47 schools in the fall.

L.A. Unified also has been under pressure to contain costs; it recently became clear that the district is paying more for devices than most other school systems. The higher price results mainly from L.A. Unified’s decision to purchase relatively costly devices and to include curriculum.

District officials recently restarted negotiations with Apple and achieved two concessions. The first is that Apple would provide the latest iPad, rather than a discontinued model for which L.A. Unified was paying top dollar. The second is that Apple agreed to consider a lower price on machines for which curriculum was not necessary.

Deciding what that reduced price would be took several weeks.

The Board of Education authorized the latest iPad purchase on January 14, when price negotiations already were under way. At the time, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said he needed immediate board approval, so the district could purchase the iPads in time for this spring's state standardized tests. These exams are being administered by computer for the first time.

After the protracted negotiations, the purchase order finally went out Wednesday.

The lower price applies to about 45,500 iPads. If these devices ever need curriculum, the district would have to pay the the balance of the original price. A three-year license to use the curriculum would begin when it is activated. This alleviates some concerns that have been voiced about the curriculum. Critics have worried that the curriculum license could expire before teachers made much use of it.

Officials are hopeful that the new iPads will be set up in schools by April 7, the first day of testing.

Another issue is whether campuses will be able to connect properly to the Internet. Other school systems face similar challenges.

L.A. Unified plans to address this challenge with the help of carts that are used to store and charge the iPads. Each cart will be plugged into a school hard-wired network. Then, the cart will become a “hot spot” to which all the devices in a room will connect wirelessly.

“According to the specs, this will work. Now, the district needs to go out and check that it’s that way in the real world,” said Thomas A. Rubin, a consultant for a district committee that oversees the spending of voter-approved school construction bonds. These funds are being used to pay for the iPad project.

“Each school has to have a plan on how it’s going to do the test,” Rubin said. “There is no cookie cutter. And at most schools, no one is capable of putting this plan together. The district still has a whole hell of a lot of work to do to make sure this succeeds.”


Annie Gilbertson  | Pass / Fail | 89.3 KPCC


Maya Sugarman/KPCC

January 30th, 2014, 8:29am  ::  Los Angeles Unified School District officials said they don't have a complete accounting of computers at schools because they stopped counting during budget cuts - and a new survey meant to get an accurate accounting is incomplete, according to records, statements at public meetings and interviews.

With new computerized state standardized tests two months away, Superintendent John Deasy wants to rush order as many as 67,500 iPads to allow students to take the tests. The district released a new survey to KPCC on Monday showing only 38 percent of schools have necessary computers. But the survey only asked how many wired computers schools had - leaving out tens of thousands of laptops and tablets  - and about a quarter of the district's schools failed to respond to the survey.

For instance, according to the district's new survey, the Diego Rivera Learning Complex in South Los Angeles has thousands of students but no wired computers. What the survey leaves out is that every student at the school received a wireless iPad earlier this year.

District administration put together the survey after school board members repeatedly asked for a computer inventory and report on testing readiness.

This spring marks two firsts for California standardized testing: the exams will be given on computers and based on new learning standards called the Common Core.

At an L.A. Unified school board meeting earlier this month, board president Richard Vladovic assured school principals he understood their misgivings, having once been a principal himself.

"The logistical nightmare I would be having during testing period would not only skew results, but drive me - as a site administrator - crazy," Vladovic said, as he lobbied the board to let the superintendent buy all the testing tablets he deemed necessary.

"I believe you are going to be prudent - that you are not going to throw away our money," Vladovic said.

The board essentially agreed to issue Deasy a blank check, allowing him to purchase as many tablets as he found necessary for testing - and thousands more to expand the one-to-one iPad program to 38 additional schools this year. With that increase, the project will have been rolled out to 85 of the district's 800 schools.

Despite months of questions and concerns by some board members, parents and educators, Deasy has not retrenched on his desire to provide all students an iPad.

“I’m sick and tired of hearing that because of the zip code you live in you could possibly have something less," Daisy said when the program began last fall. "That’s not what this administration is about.”

Counting Computers

But Steve English, a member of the district's Bond Oversight Committee, has repeatedly complained the district's projected iPad needs do not take into consideration the tens of thousands of devices schools already own.

Granada Hills Charter Academy, for instance, has 2,000 computers for its roughly 4,000 students. Yet none of its inventory showed up on the districts latest survey; Granada Hills didn’t respond.

Junior Nicole Valderas said the school has been snapping up computers for specialized classes - such as video production - since she started in 2011.

"We have a lot of laptop carts," Valderas said. "We use it for projects and research. It's becoming a thing."

Granada Hills senior Pranathi Rao said she uses laptops every day in her computer science classes.

"I use it for business statistics," junior Derek De Leon chimed in as the three gathered outside the campus on a warm, late January afternoon. "We use Excel programs and Word documents on daily basis."

L.A. Unified's head of data and accountability, Cynthia Lim, said taking computers away from classes like these for testing disrupts the ongoing instruction.

But only juniors are tested at the high school level. At Granada Hills, that means 1,000 students would need a few hours to sit for an exam at some point during a six week testing period. A calculator provided the test manufacturer Smarter Balance estimates Granada Hills testing could be completed with fewer than 150 computers used only 2 hours day.

Yet the district estimates the school will need 450 iPads to hold exams.

English has scrutinized fragmented computers inventories from several schools, including Granada Hills, and urged the school board earlier this month not to waste its money buying too many iPads.

"There are thousands and thousands of devices out there in the district right now," English said, estimating the real number of need is 38,535 , about half of the number officials have requested.

English declined to comment for this story, but reported to the school board repeated instances of the district overestimating need.

English pointed out that Ivanhoe Elementary is slated to get iPads for testing, but all 4th and 5th grade students already have laptops. Huntington Park High recently scored 1,000 new tablets, but accounted for none on the district's most recent survey.

Without accurate inventory, L.A. Unified may be overlooking schools were the need for more technology is urgent.

"Harbor City Elementary has only one computer lab that services 28 students," the school's staff reported on the testing readiness survey.  "We do not have the capacity for small group testing or testing students with testing accommodations."

But district estimates don't account for such gaps: testing iPad requests are loosely dictated by the number of students rather than the number of computers already on campuses.

District officials did exclude schools that were part of the iPad pilot from getting extra tablets for testing. But, they didn't exclude the seven high schools scheduled to get laptops for all students from getting extra iPads.

"It does impact the integrity of the entire program," English said at January's board meeting, speaking the district's sputtering initiative to equip every student with an iPad. "The initiative is being closely watched."

English also reported the district is asking for test-taking tablets at schools were kids don't take standardized tests - like Primary Centers, which serve only kindergarten through second grade, and one school that only offers a-la-carte online courses for students attending other schools.

"When the district made its estimate that it needed 67,500, it did not take any of those devices into account for the very good reason that the district does not at this moment have a count of how many devices are out there," English told school board members.

L.A. Unified did not provide inventory records and did not respond to requests for an interview, but officials have discussed the issue publicly in school board meetings.

They said L.A. Unified doesn't have an inventory of computers because after the recession budget cuts, they couldn't afford to take inventory. The district's annual budget is over $6 billion.

The sticker price for Deasy's request of 67,5000 iPads is over $30 million. That doesn't include the staffing and network upgrades needed to establish the new fleet.

District officials said they are negotiating an iPad contract this week, but won't disclose the number of devices they are requesting.

"We’re still negotiating everything," said Shannon Haber, a district spokeswoman, in an email.

Providing all students and teachers with an iPad has been estimated to cost the district well over a billion dollars, $11.2 million of which is set to come out of general funds next year.

Lost Connection

New Smarter Balanced state tests are hosted on the web. L.A. Unified's readiness survey reports 11 percent of schools have infrastructure concerns, including issues with reliable internet connection.

“Connectivity of wireless prevents us from using wireless computers for testing,” Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood reported in the survey. Reed is scheduled to get 227 iPads - but those devices would also need good connections to administer the test.

“Some computers are slower than others they do not have equal bandwidth,” said staff at Bellingham Elementary, also located in North Hollywood.

“Some computers would not load the assessment (it kept spooling),” commented administrators at Garavanza Elementary in Highland Park, adding that the internet speed is slow.

L.A. Unified work orders for upgrading school networks show the problem is more widespread than the January survey indicates.

A report shows only 208 of the districts approximately 800 campuses are wifi ready, Another 486 are scheduled for modernizations before the end of 2014, averaging $736,000 in construction costs per school.

Only 59 more school sites will be fully wifi ready in time for tests in April.

The district is planning to spend over $500 million to pull wire, buy serves and connect antiquated schools to a data grid over the course of 2014.


2cents small Some of the concerns expressed in this article were addressed in today’s Bond Oversight Committee meeting.  As is usually the case some questions were answered and new ones emerged.

QUOTE: District officials said they are negotiating an iPad contract this week, but won't disclose the number of devices they are requesting.

UPDATE - Total: 45,500.   28,100 at $699 each (with Pearson content)  and  17,400 at $504 each without Pearson Content – plus keyboards.for all plus previous from Phase 1 at cost tbd.

The next opportunity for Q&A will be the Common Core Technology Project Committee meeting - February 6, 2014 at  1:00 pm |


The challenge is going to be when the new devices are delivered and whether each school has a plan in place to accomplish what Dr. Vladovic identified as the “logistical nightmare”: The roll out and initial implementation of the tests at the school sites  between April 6 and May 16.

The Tests this first time out will test the system+network of devices, connectivity, training, preparation, the tests themselves and the advance planning – a  “stress test” of the system. The only scoring of this years tests will be of how many students were able to complete the tests – not how well they did on the tests. STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT WILL NOT BE MEASURED OR REPORTED TO SCHOOLS, TEACHERS, PARENTS, SCHOOL DISRICTS OR MYSTERIOUS OFFICES DOWNTOWN OR IN STATE CAPTALS. TEACHERS WILL NOT BE JUDGED.

If anything, this is a test of how well throwing iPads at it solves anything.

My favorite slide in the PowerPoint that explained the District's strategy started out:

What can go wrong?

the answer was::


Stay tuned.


BY city news service FROM Beverly Hills Courier |

Posted Monday, January 28 – 5:30 PM  ::  (CNS) – Los Angeles Unified and the mother of a 17-year-old girl stabbed to death in 2011 at her high school in South Gate have reached a tentative settlement in her lawsuit against the district, an attorney for the plaintiffs said today.

Margarita Meza and Janet Santana, mother and sister, respectively, of Cindi Santana, brought the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court in March 2012, alleging wrongful death, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress and asking for unspecified damages. The suit also named South East High School’s principal, Maria Sotomayor.

The family’s lawyer, David Lira, said the case was tentatively resolved Monday after a fourth day of discussions with Judge James Dunn. Lira said the LAUSD Board of Education is expected to vote by late March on whether to approve the settlement.

LAUSD spokesman Sean Rossall confirmed the tentative deal between Meza and the district and said he was happy the case could be resolved in a way that would allow the teen’s family to heal. He praised Lira for helping both sides reach a fair resolution.

Lira said his clients have endured a significant amount of stress and are happy the case has reached its current stage. He said they look forward to giving victim-impact statements at sentencing in the criminal case of the girl’s accused killer, Abraham Lopez of South Gate, should he be convicted.

Trial is scheduled for May.

Lopez is charged with one count each of murder and false imprisonment by violence, two counts of bringing or possessing weapons on school grounds and three counts each of assault with a deadly weapon and assault upon a peace officer.

He allegedly stabbed the victim multiple times during a lunchtime argument in a courtyard about 11 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2011. A varsity football player, 11th-grader Jorge Garcia, and a female dean, Christina Ordonez, were stabbed while trying to stop the attack, school police said.

According to the suit, Meza and her late daughter met with Sotomayor shortly before the attack to discuss threats Lopez allegedly made against her.

They also told the principal that Lopez was about to be released from jail for making the alleged menacing statements and that the girl was worried about what might happen to her, according to the complaint.

Sotomayor and the LAUSD promised them Cindi would be safe, according to the plaintiffs.

“In reality, (they) did nothing to protect Santana while (she) was attending school…,” the suit alleges. “Sadly, (their) actions and omissions led to Cindi’s death.”

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said shortly after the teen’s death that her mother notified Sotomayor about Lopez’s alleged threats and that campus security officials were on the lookout for him.

If convicted, Lopez could face life in prison with the possibility of parole, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014



Written by: shelley IN THE oRANGE cOUNTY bREEZE |

January 29, 2014    ::  Yesterday, a three-member panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a per curiam opinion (pdf) against Los Angeles Unified School District in a civil case brought by the District concerning Michael Garcia.

The School District sought relief from the cost of providing special education services to adult students serving time in County jail.

Under California law in conformity with Federal requirements, a student between the ages of 18 and 22 without a high school diploma is entitled to continuing special education services even if jailed.

The question before the court was not whether Mr. Garcia was entitled to continuing special education, but rather who was going to pay the cost of that continuing education.

Broadly speaking, the taxpayers of the State of California bear the cost.

More specifically, the Ninth Circuit affirmed a ruling by the California Supreme Court that the cost of providing continuing education to a jailed student will be borne by the district in which the jailed student’s parent lives.

According to Court documents, Garcia’s mother has lived in the City of Bell since before his birth in June 1990. Bell is served by the Los Angeles Unified School District. In second grade, Garcia was ruled eligible for special education services.

Before his sixteenth birthday, he was arrested and sent to juvenile hall, where he received special education services through the Los Angeles County Office of Education. In June 2008, he was moved to Los Angeles County Jail to await trial.

Garcia wished to continue special education, but no one took responsibility for providing those services once he moved to County Jail.

After a long and winding road through administrative hearings, the matter eventually came before the Ninth Circuit in the form of Los Angeles Unified School District seeking relief from paying the cost of delivering special education services to students between the ages of 18 and 22 housed in Los Angeles County Jail.

The Ninth Circuit requested clarification of the State Education Code from the State Supreme Court, which ruled that California Education Code section 56041 places responsibility for providing special education to a qualifying individual who is serving time in a county jail on the school district in which the student’s parent resides.

This ruling applies throughout the State of California.

The Jan. 28 per curiam ruling applies the State Supreme Court clarification to the particular case.

According to a summary of the case prepared by Court staff:

Affirming the district court’s judgment, the panel held, pursuant to the Supreme Court of California’s answer to a certified question, that when a student between the ages of 18 and 22 who is eligible for special education services in California is incarcerated in a county jail, the cost of the student’s education is borne by the school district where the student’s parent resides.

In a per curiam opinion, the Court rules as a whole, rather than having a single judge issue a ruling.

The judges in the case were Alex Kozinski, acting as Chief Judge; and Barry G. Silverman and Kim McLane Wardlaw, acting as Circuit Judges. Judge Kozinski replaced Judge Betty Binns Fletcher after the latter’s death in October 2012. The case was originally argued December 9, 2011.

In the meantime, Garcia was moved to state prison after pleading guilty to a variety of charges and receiving a sentence of twelve years.

Editor’s note: because this case affirms an opinion issued by the California State Supreme Court, it applies to all school districts in the State of California — including Los Alamitos Unified School District and Anaheim Union High School District, serving students in Cypress, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, and Seal Beach.


The lawsuit stems from settlements involving claims of sexual abuse at Miramonte Elementary School

By Jonathan Lloyd and Adrian Arambulo, KNBC News|

Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014  |  Updated 1:12 PM PST  ::  The chief risk manager hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District to help settle a school sexual abuse scandal accused the district's public law office of "corruption and cronyism."

Top News Photos of the Week<<Miramonte Elementary School, in the unincorporated Florence-Firestone area, was the site of a sexual abuse scandal.

The accusations are part of a lawsuit by former LAUSD chief risk manager Gregg Breed, who claimed he was fired for questioning how the district was handling its settlements regarding sexual abuse claims involving two former teachers at Miramonte Elementary School.

A school district attorney characterized the lawsuit as frivolous and an attempt to grab money.

"These are baseless allegations made by a disgruntled former employee," said Sean Rossall, LAUSD Office of General Counsel.

LAUSD officials have not received the lawsuit, Rossall said Wednesday morning. The district will determine how to proceed after officials receive and review the lawsuit, he said.

Breed was hired as the LAUSD Chief Risk Officer in 2012 and developed what the civil complaint describes as "an innovative and comprehensive" sex abuse scandal resolution policy for the district. His lawsuit, filed Thursday, claims the district hired attorneys inexperienced in sexual molestation cases, ignored his advice on mediation payments and did not allow cut him out of crucial mediation sessions with Miramonte plaintiffs.

Breed's contract was not renewed after one year with the district, Rossall said.

"It was clear very early on in his employment that he was ill-equipped for the job," Rossall said. "There was a variety of performance issues as well as some judgment issues."

When asked for specific cases, Rossall said Breed discussed in violation of the law confidential matters that were raised during closed-session board meetings.

Breed's lawsuit claims he suggested an "individualized approach" to the settlements with Miramonte families, but attorneys opted for a flat rate for each claimant, according to the lawsuit. Breed alleges he was excluded from that process and subject to retaliation because attorneys knew he "would object to this non-specific and fiscally irresponsible approach."

In November, a judge approved 61 settlements to families involved in the sexual abuse scandal.

The accusations stem from the investigation involving former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, charged with 23 counts of lewd acts on 23 children age 7 to 10. He pleaded no-contest to the charges in November 2013.

Miramonte teacher Martin Springer also was charged with lewd acts on a child. He is awaiting trial.

The lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages in Superior Court.

2cents small If “LAUSD officials have not received the lawsuit”, how can they conclude  “the lawsuit (is) frivolous and an attempt to grab money”?  Just askin’.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Houston's PowerUp initiative appears to be the polar opposite of L.A. Unified's Common Core Technology Project

By Benjamin Herold  Digital Education - Education Week |

January 23, 2014 12:13 PM  ::  Undeterred by the high-profile problems experienced by other large school systems attempting to put digital devices in the hands of their students, the Houston Independent School District began distributing more than 18,000 laptop computers to high school students and staff members this month.

It's the first phase of a multi-year plan that, unlike troubled initiatives elsewhere, will be defined by "realistic expectations" and a cautious implementation plan, said Lenny Schad, the chief technology officer for the 210,000-student district.

"We are going to have bumps in the road," Schad said in a telephone interview. "But I feel very confident that when those bumps occur, we will be able to react, address the problems, and move on."


The Houston initiative, known as PowerUp, aims to distribute roughly 65,000 laptops—enough for every high school student and high school teacher in the district—by the 2015-16 school year. Eventually, the initiative is expected to cost about $18 million annually; this year, the Houston ISD is dishing out $6 million, all of it existing funds that were reallocated from other sources. The 2013-14 school year is being devoted to a step-by-step pilot program, and Schad—who previously oversaw implementation of a successful "bring your own device" initiative in Texas' 66,000-student Katy Independent School District—said the district is entering the 1-to-1 computing fray with eyes wide open.

"We're really focused on changing instruction," Schad said, "but it's important to appreciate how much of a cultural shift this really is."

Last fall, the 641,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District became the symbol for 1-to-1 initiatives gone awry; almost from its inception, the effort was plagued by security issues, confusion about who is responsible for the tens of thousands of iPads being distributed, criticisms around cost and how the initiative is being financed, and concerns about the readiness and quality of the pre-loaded curriculum meant to become the primary instructional materials for the nation's second-largest district. Following a series of skirmishes with the district's board and teachers' union, Superintendent John Deasy has been forced to slow his ambitious rollout plans.

The 72,500-student Guilford County Schools in North Carolina and the 70,000-student Fort Bend ISD in Texas also ran into high-profile problems with their 1-to-1 initiatives last fall, and the 354,000-student Miami-Dade County school district in Florida "pushed the pause button" on its planned initiative in response to the steady stream of bad news.

In several respects, Houston's PowerUp initiative appears to be the polar opposite of L.A. Unified's Common Core Technology Project:

Laptops Instead of Tablets: Los Angeles officials have taken considerable heat for their decision to purchase iPads for all grades— despite the fact that the devices don't come with keyboards, a requirement for looming online assessments and a component that most experts say is essential for much of the work expected of high school students.  The district has since had to budget tens of millions of dollars to purchase the keyboards separately.

Schad said that as soon as Houston ISD decided last spring it would focus its 1-to-1 initiative on the high school grades, officials eliminated tablets from consideration.

"We knew we wanted to have something that had a keyboard enabled with it, and we knew that for a majority of kids, when they go to college, a laptop is the tool they find most functional," he said.

Houston ISD is leasing HP's 9470m EliteBook under a four-year term that officials say works out to roughly $260 per year, per student.

Plenty of Advance Training: Students at most of the 11 high schools involved in this year's Houston ISD pilot are just receiving their laptops this month, but Schad said the principals and teachers at those schools received their computers in August and have been receiving consistent professional development ever since.  As a baby step to test the district's deployment plans, laptops were distributed to students at three schools in October, and all students have been required to take a digital citizenship class before receiving a computer. And in November, a group of Houston principals and district administrators took an extended field trip to Mooresville, N.C., to observe first hand one of the most acclaimed 1-to-1 initiatives in the country.

This nifty interactive timeline from Houston ISD details the district's cautious step-by-step approach. It stands in sharp contrast to L.A., where a contract with Apple was signed in July, teachers received three days of training in August, and distribution of an initial batch of 37,000 iPads to students began later that month.

Focus on Collaboration and Project-Based Learning: Whereas L.A. Unified elected to purchase a soup-to-nuts digital curriculum from education publishing giant Pearson—one that is still being developed even as it's rolled out, comes at undetermined cost, and to which access will expire at the end of three years—Schad said Houston ISD is focused on providing students and teachers with a suite of "Web 2.0" tools that can foster content creation, collaboration among students, and project-based learning.

"We want to create that space inside a classroom where kids are answering questions inside the same document, posting their own opinions, and creating videos," Schad said. "It's about changing the culture."

Schad acknowledged that will be a "huge" shift for many teachers and said the district has built a professional development plan that acknowledges that reality. The focus is on taking advantage of the enthusiasm and expertise of "early adopters" while making sure everyone gets consistent, content-specific support in how to use the new tools to teach their assigned subjects, he said.

"We'll have some teachers setting the world on fire and immediately leveraging the new tools, some teachers who are just dipping their toes into it, and some teachers teaching the exact same way they've always taught," he said. "In the first year, I'm totally comfortable with that."

Funding Sources: Unlike Los Angeles and other districts that are relying on bond money to pay for technology initiatives—a practice that has generated concern in some quarters—Schad said Houston ISD expects to rely entirely on repurposed savings, operating dollars, and grant funds to pay for its PowerUp intiative. This fiscal year, the district shaved expenses on books and software and repurposed federal Title I and Title II dollars to come up with the needed $6 million. The district's chief financial officer "has an idea where he will get the money from" in future years, Schad said, and it won't be bonds.

Given Houston's glowing self-assessment amid some negative news reports from other districts around the country, it's fair to wonder if Schad's confidence might border on hubris.

But Schad said it's all about having a strong foundation; since Superintendent Terry Grier announced the 1-to-1 plan last spring, Schad said he's had the heads from the district's curriculum, technology, and professional development departments, as well as principals and campus leaders, together at the table, involved in each aspect of the initative.

"Every time one of those [other] districts made the paper, we got questions from the school board and the community," he said. "We were able to come back to them and say, 'Here's what we've done, here's what we're doing, and here's what we're planning to do.' That gave everyone a sense of comfort."

Eighteen more high schools are expected to receive laptops through the PowerUp initiative next year, and 16 additional high schools will join their ranks in 2015-16.


For American industry, finding employees who have all the requisite skills is a big challenge, and hiring people who don't stack up can cost businesses a great deal of money. Special correspondent John Tulenko from Learning Matters reports on a certification test that aims to boost U.S. students' workforce readiness.

PBS NewsHour/Learning Matters | | PBS

GWEN IFILL: Next: the challenge of getting students ready for the working world.

While most high schools focus on preparing students for college, businesses in one community outside Chicago are rallying around a different approach, preparing students for work.

Special correspondent John Tulenko from Learning Matters has our report.

JOHN TULENKO: From the outside, Hoffer Plastics in Elgin, Illinois, looks about the same as it did when it was founded back in 1953. Inside, it's a different story.

Bill Hoffer is the CEO.

BILL HOFFER, Hoffer Plastics Corporation: We have got job after job that 20 years ago would be a full-time operator. Now it's a robot.

JOHN TULENKO: There are fewer workers, but they're required to do more.

BILL HOFFER: They need to be able to read blueprints. They need to follow procedures, document what they're doing. And that's all very important.

JOHN TULENKO: Right now, finding employees who can do all that is a challenge for Hoffer Plastics and for 40 percent of U.S. companies. The result? A revolving door of workers that cost businesses billions.

PAT HAYES, Fabric Images: Why do we keep spending money to solve the same problem over and over and over again?

JOHN TULENKO: Pat Hayes is founder of another local company, Fabric Images, a textile printer. Filling 150 positions here the usual way, relying on diplomas and GPAs, left Hayes frustrated.

PAT HAYES: What does an A mean to an employer today? I got an A in math. What does that mean? Nothing. Where did you go to school? What level of course? Was it accelerated? Was it a college prep course? I don't know.

JOHN TULENKO: To get a better read on an applicant's skill level, both Fabric Images and Hoffer Plastics turned to a job-readiness test called WorkKeys.

PAT HAYES: WorkKeys, it's an assessment, what you have accomplished in math, in reading and locating for information. Those three characteristics are in about, I don't know, 98 percent of the jobs at some level.

JOHN TULENKO: More specifically, WorkKeys, developed by ACT, the nonprofit behind the college entrance exam, uses actual workplace scenarios to measure how well individuals can decipher charts, graphs and other visual information, convert ratios, measurements, and make calculations across a variety of situations, and effectively comprehend memos, instructions and other authentic workplace documents.

There are also tests of visual observation and listening comprehension.

PAT HAYES: In our company, we can profile every job that we have based on these core skills. For the first time, I saw a commonality of what an individual had and what I needed, and I could start putting the two things together.

JOHN TULENKO: More than 1,000 companies use WorkKeys. Though it hasn't been evaluated by independent researches, company testimonials describe sharp declines in employee turnover and training costs.

And businesses may not be the only winners. Recent high school graduate Sarah Rohrsen was accepted at a four-year college, but she found the tuition beyond her reach and decided instead to look for a job.

SARAH ROHRSEN, recent high school graduate: It was kind of a disappointment. The only options really were was fast food or, if you're lucky, seasonal work.

JOHN TULENKO: Sarah wound up behind the counter at a Wendy's restaurant and kept looking. Nine months later, she applied for a job at Hoffer Plastics, which requires applicants to take WorkKeys. Sarah's top-notch scores landed her a well-paying full-time job with benefits as an inspector.

SARAH ROHRSEN: I wasn't happy working at Wendy's, and to come in here thanks to WorkKeys and to be able to know each week my paycheck is going to have 80 hours on it, since we're paid biweekly, it's pretty awesome.

JOHN TULENKO: Conventional wisdom has held, the answer to closing the skills gap is to send more people to college. But Sarah Rohrsen's experience points to a different solution: expanding the talent pool to include some 36 million Americans who got into college, but never finished.

PAT HAYES: Are they to be thrown away? Why can't we understand where they are? Why can't we get them to some level and utilize them?

JOHN TULENKO: And how does WorkKeys help those folks?

PAT HAYES: It defines where they are. I have something that says, I achieved this level.

JOHN TULENKO: Based on their scores, test takers can earn a work force readiness certificate. In Elgin, more than 100 local businesses have gotten behind the certificate called an NCRC for short, putting signs like this one on their doors.

And the businesses lobbied the schools, so high school students would have a chance to test for the certificate, too.

JOSE TORRES, U-46 School District: The reason that we have WorkKeys is because I listened to the community, to the business community.

JOHN TULENKO: In 2010, local school superintendent Jose Torres made earning NCRC certificates a crucial part of his five-year plan.

JOSE TORRES: Our goal in our district is to have 75 percent of our kids about above a gold, which is almost the highest level.

JOHN TULENKO: So we went to Elgin High School, a predominantly low-income school where administrators say half the students go directly into the work force, to see how they were doing.

Raise your hand if you have heard of something called an NCRC certificate? No hands. OK.

It was like this in virtually every classroom we visited, and this was four years after the district adopted the 75 percent goal.

Where are you today?

JOSE TORRES: We're at 22 percent.

JOHN TULENKO: Why are so many students missing the mark for work force readiness? It comes down to priorities.

LAURIE NEHF, Elgin High School: I'm not told to have them job-ready. I'm told to have them college-ready.

JOHN TULENKO: Like math teachers everywhere, Laurie Nehf follows a curriculum designed to prepare students for college-level calculus.

LAURIE NEHF: I'm focusing on linear functions, quadratic functions, polynomial functions, higher-level types of questions from WorkKeys.

JOHN TULENKO: WorkKeys doesn't go there, because it's math most students are unlikely to use on the job.

Surveys indicate 90 percent of all jobs, including many that pay well, do not require this kind of math. Advanced math is used in most science and technology jobs, but, even with expected growth, they will make up just 5 percent of the nation's work force.

LAURIE NEHF: Is it important that they know that a negative under a square root creates an imaginary number? No, that's not really that important.

JOHN TULENKO: The impact that math has on many students is important.

How often is it that teachers will help you see how what you're learning in class is applicable outside of school?

CURTIS MAJKA, student: I don't think very often. A lot of school subjects, like, you don't use, and a lot of people believe that. A lot of people don't try in math because they don't think they're ever going to use it.

JOHN TULENKO: To others, that's a misunderstanding.

JOSE TORRES: I'm no math expert, but, algebra, what it does, it helps you to think, think critically, think logically. And that is exactly what people need in the workplace. They need to be able to think critically and logically.

JOHN TULENKO: Trouble is, those lessons aren't getting through. Across the country, 75 percent of 12th-graders scored below proficient in math.

At Elgin High School, it's not much better. Last year in math, 60 percent of students missed the mark. A number of teachers here told us it's not uncommon they find students in their classes who have yet to learn the math taught in middle school. Regardless, these students are placed in algebra and geometry.

LAURIE NEHF: They just shut down. They get very frustrated. We won't accept meeting kids where they're at and helping them where they're at.

I would love to spend all my time working on percentages, fractions, all that stuff with number sense. That number sense skills is what matters in the real world.

JOHN TULENKO: But, right now, providing alternatives to the traditional high school math could be risky. Historically, this math has been a gatekeeper. It's what's tested on college entrance exams, the SAT and, ironically, the ACT, made by the developers of WorkKeys.

And unless that changes, there's little incentive for high schools to do more with the kind of math most of us will use on the job.


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WorkKeys is a job skills assessment system measuring real-world skills. WorkKeys connects work skills, training, and skill testing for educators and employers.


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Mercer 3674

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images | A view of the defendant's table in a courtroom at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles.

January 24th, 2014, 6:01am  ::  The major players in California public education will face off in an unusual trial in a Los Angeles next week, where a judge will be asked to determine whether California teacher job protections interfere with students' constitutional right to an adequate education.

The lawsuit is being financed by Students Matter, a non-profit belonging to wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, a charter school advocate. And the California Teachers Association is paying for lawyers on the defense team.

“This is a major case for California schools,” said well-known lawyer Ted Boutrous, who heads the plaintiff's team. “We are challenging the system..."

Boutrous, who successfully argued against California’s ban on same sex marriage at the US Supreme Court last year, argues the state is putting teachers above students by using seniority - not teacher quality – to determine who gets laid off, and by giving teachers permanent job status after only 18 months.

“We have parents who are going to show that these statutes are having a real and appreciable impact - that they are creating inequality," he said. He argues job protections reduce the quality of California’s teacher corps, leaving ineffective teachers on the job in violation of every California child’s constitutional right to an adequate public education.

Sofia – a whole different Vergara!
But it’s all show biz>>

Jim Finberg, a lawyer hired by the teachers’ unions on the defense side, said the teacher protection laws are legal - and good for kids.

“Labor economists will tell you that if you take job security away from people that you need to raise salaries in order to recruit and retain people of the same quality,” he said. “Nobody cares more about the students of California having a good education than the members of the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers.”

The suit, Vergara v. State of California, was brought on behalf of teenager Beatriz Vergara and eight other named California public school students. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu will preside over testimony and render a verdict in the bench trial. Opening statements are expected Monday.

The witness list is long, over 100 possible witnesses, including Governor Jerry Brown, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy, and other local school officials - and the presidents of California’s largest public school teachers unions.

Cal State Fullerton politics professor Sarah Hill said the plaintiffs face an uphill battle proving these protections directly deprive students of an adequate education.

“It’s difficult to prove, you have to show that students are not getting the basics they have to get," she said. "If some students are getting more, that’s fine, but to show that students can’t even get a minimal education, it’s tough to show.”

This is clearly the latest salvo, she said, in an ongoing battle in California and the rest of the country over the future of public schools. Both sides have faced off on use of student test scores in teacher evaluations and public funding of charter schools.



Lawsuit challenging teacher tenure, seniority protections goes to court next week

January 24th, 2014   ::  The trinity of teachers’ rights in California – tenure, seniority and due process in dismissals – will be under attack next week in a trial in Los Angeles with statewide impact and national interest. In Vergara v. California, a nonprofit organization, Students Matter, is suing the state to overturn five statutes in the Education Code on behalf of Beatriz Vergara, a Los Angeles Unified student who was 13 when the lawsuit was filed in 2012, and eight more students in five districts.