Monday, March 31, 2014

A Teacher in L.A: WHO IS JOHN DEASY??

by “Geronimo” from Diane Ravitch’s blog |

March 15, 2014

dianeravitch writes: A teacher in Los Angeles has a gripe about his superintendent, John Deasy: he says Deasy is an uninspiring technocrat, not an educator. He has no educational vision. The LAUSD board recently extended Deasy’s contract to 2016, despite the fiasco in which Deasy committed to spend $1 billion on iPads while laying off arts teachers, closing libraries, increasing class sizes, and neglecting school repairs.

The teacher, whose handle in the comments is Geronimo, writes:

“Here’s my major beef with Superintendent John Deasy (and obviously there were scores of runner ups):

“Deasy has no clue what a “meaningful” education is.

“I have rarely met as uninspiring an educator in all my years of teaching. Of course one can’t even call Deasy an “educator”. He is a CEO and it was for THOSE skills he was hired for–not his ability to actually teach a class.

“The education he prescribes is antithetical to an interesting, smart and stimulating learning that thrills kids and prepares them to become true critical thinker/citizens of this country. The pedagogy of Deasy (and what gets championed by the LA Times editorial board and the unending financial and political weight of Eli Broad and Bill Gates) is all about a notion of education as a metric that can be measured.

“To say that Pearson Testing owns our country’s corporate education values is an understatement.

“There would be no iPad controversy at all if it weren’t for Pearson’s self-interested involvement or the stated need that all kids are required to take the Common Core and standardized tests on a computer. The whole system becomes a self-fulling financial/pedagogical dynamo as the Dept. of Education begins to de facto “require” states to adapt their requirements or suffer starvation for the public education system.

“In one of last year’s closely watched school board races that pitted Monica Ratliff, a fifth grade teacher, against a staff member of then Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with absolutely zero education experience, Deasy, along with all those champions of Education Reform, chose to back Ratliff’s challenger with a million dollars worth of support. In terms of credentials and qualifications it was obvious the best choice.. Deasy, however, couldn’t care less who the Reform candidate was (it could have been a horse) and, even more disgustingly, the needs of the Valley district. He wanted an empty shell to uncritically support whatever he wanted.

“That race clearly demonstrated how much Deasy and his political supporters care and respect the notion of true education. The contempt for the parents, students and community they serve was appalling. Ratliff BARELY eked out a victory that was widely applauded by the anti-reform crowd as a hopeful sign that Big Money can be beaten. Deasy and Company are keenly intelligent political animals and have learned from that race how to win the next time around.

As I mentioned before, Deasy is not an educator. Nor is Arne Duncan. Nor is Ted Mitchell. Nor is Bill Gates. Nor is Eli Broad. Nor is Barack Obama. Nor is Pearson Testing.

“They are businessmen who have been instrumental in creating a two-tier system of education.

“Yes, yes, you hear them say how much they LOVE and BELIEVE in public education all the time. Bill Gates will tell the National Board that this weekend at their annual conference.

“They’re like the wife beater who claims to “love his wife” but has to hit her so she knows how much he loves her. That much! That much! THAT MUCH!


“And then they wonder why the woman doesn’t love them back. Why she trembles when he comes in the room screaming what has to be done to get things right! How they demand to be respected as King of the House and prescribe all the ways that the woman has to “win” his love by “simply” doing this…and this and this and then this!

“What’s so hard about doing that?!?!? he bellows.

“There is nothing “mutual” in the relationship between these people and the public school system. There is nothing mutual in how Deasy commands LAUSD and the teachers and students whom he is supposed to work FOR.

“So back to the notion of a meaningful education.

“Parents and students of LAUSD: You will not get a meaningful education under John Deasy. He was not hired for that purpose. He was hired to raise test scores that these groups alone DEFINE as being “educated.” It is NOTHING LIKE the education that their kids receive. THEIR KIDS get the MEANINGFUL education and if you saw their schools, their classrooms, their opportunities, it would make you weep seeing what true education is possible of granting.

“Tough luck, LAUSD. That door is closed for you.

“Their job is NOT to provide that sort of education for you and your kids.

“Their job is to make public schools profitable on many levels and get you through so they can check you off their “success” box.

“The problems of society that appear in the public schools are not their purview Their testing is not going to change the grotesque hurdles my students face in their lives nor the ubiquitous inequality of a system that favors the Gates’, Broads’, Duncans’, Obamas’ and Deasys’ of the world. The children of all of them are going to be just fine without the pedagogy they think is essential for the students of LAUSD.

“Has anyone EVER heard John Deasy give an inspirational speech about education? All his utterances are all technocratic in spirit and design. His vision is the very definition of uncreative. Lackluster. Miserly. Limp.

“I would NEVER EVER want my own kids in a classroom taught by John Deasy..

“The children of LAUSD deserve a superintendent who has their interests at heart.

“Instead, they have a man who tells them vis a vis his financial and political backers to shut up and prove your worth by bubbling the right answer that your teacher has done their job by instructing you how to get their right answer

“And then you get your diploma.

“Congratulations. You’re Officially Educated.

“Now come in here and clean up this mess, woman!”

Sunday, March 30, 2014


 image image

smf: Phil Daro, named  above as a staffer of NCEE (National Center for Education and the Economy – Gates, Broad, Apple, Walton – complete list of funders HERE) currently works for Pearson Learning, LLCand with no apparent conflict of interest whatsoever -  is advertised by Pearson as a developer of the Common Core Standards AND the Pearson Common Core System of Courses.

The Pioneer Institute: Since 2009, Pioneer has led the campaign against Common Core national education standards and federal control of K-12 education policy, publishing a series of reports showing that the state’s adoption of national standards weakens the quality of academic content in Massachusetts’ classrooms, and raising serious questions about the legality and the costs of Common Core. They are funded through donations.


By Mike Sprague, Whittier Daily News |

Central Basin Municipal Water District director James Roybal during a board meeting at the district’s headquarters in Commerce on March 13. Leo Jarzomb — Staff Photographer

3/26/14, 7:40 PM PDT | COMMERCE  ::   Los Angeles Unified School District officials announced Wednesday that James Roybal, an elected director of the Central Basin Municipal Water District, is under investigation and has been placed in the district’s “teacher jail.”

Roybal previously taught special education at Wilson High School in El Sereno, according to district records obtained by this news organization. He was placed in the teacher jail on Feb. 20, 2013, according to those records.

“Teacher jail” is the colloquial term used to describe the facility that teachers who are under investigation report to each day. The teachers continue to receive their pay but perform no work while the investigation is ongoing.

LAUSD spokesman Thomas Waldman said teachers who are on similar paid suspensions are typically under investigation for a wide range of allegations.

“It could be of a sexual nature or potentially money missing,” Waldman said.

Roybal has not returned six phone calls over the past three days seeking comment.

An LAUSD investigation can drag on for months, with teachers collecting their full pay — an average of $6,000 a month, plus benefits — until they’re returned to work or fired.

Waldman said he didn’t know what led to Roybal’s situation.

Director Leticia Vasquez, a Roybal ally on the board, said she would like to know what happened.

“I really think we should know what is happening with him at work,” Vasquez said.

“He does have an obligation to talk about it with the public,” she said. “I’ve asked him over and over but he says he’s been asked not to talk about it publicly because it’s a personnel matter.”

The district, a water wholesaler, has been under increased scrutiny since receiving a subpoena from the FBI as part of the investigation into former state Assemblyman Tom Calderon, D-Montebello, who had a $12,000 monthly consulting contract with the agency until February 2013.

District officials also have come under fire for paying off $16,000 to a woman injured in a accident with Director Art Chacon. A resident of Commerce, Chacon has not had a driver’s license for nearly a decade but continues to collect mileage and $597-a-month car allowance from the district.

LAUSD policy requires that Roybal report to the Education Service Center East on North Soto Street in El Sereno. He is required to be in the office from 7:30 until 10:30 a.m. After that he is required to go to his house in the 4500 block of Maris Avenue in Pico Rivera. The LAUSD requires that Roybal remain at home until 3 p.m. He is allowed an hour for lunch.

The rules require that Roybal not hold a job during those hours.

Since LAUSD placed Roybal in teacher jail he has reported to 23 meetings during the school year. He is paid $233 for each of those meetings.

While teaching at Wilson High School, Roybal attended four meetings -- that began at 2 p.m. or earlier during the school year. He was paid $233 per meeting.

“The fact that he has defrauded LAUSD by collecting a second salary of $30,000 plus benefits from Central Basin is criminal,” said Ron Beilke a former Central Basin assistant general manager who was fired by the Central Basin board in Jan. 2013 on a 3-2 vote. Roybal was among those who voted to fire Beilke.

“LAUSD has been paying him his full workday salary while his paid water district meetings overlapped,” Beilke said in an emailed statement. “(Roybal) was president for over a year and could have rescheduled meetings to hours that would have prevented this, but chose not to do so.”

Beilke, a former mayor of Pico Rivera, was voted out of office and convicted in January 2011 of two misdemeanor political corruption charges. He is on probation and barred from holding elected office until 2015.


Celes King Funeral

30 March 2014  ::  The community, the Greater Community, The City of Angels we aspire to be, bid farewell to Celes King IV at his funeral yesterday morning and afternoon.

We celebrated a life well and completely lived – even if cut short. We prayed and wept and laughed and  sang – and learned things we probably should’ve known all along.

See:  CELES KING IV, Civil Rights Leader, Community Activist, Education Advocate dies at 70

Constantly in motion, Celes moved between the corridors of power in Los Angeles and Sacramento often – and (for a large man in a pastel suit  with a squeaky artificial leg)  at great speed.  He was busted recently in Victorville for doing 115 mph. Professionally a bail bondsman I don’t see how he could be jailed – especially as he knew every politician-in-and-out-of-office, red-or-blue, in every courthouse along the 5 Freeway and in every office in the Capitol. 

They probably took away his driver’s license – but like the banditos in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Celes needed “no stinkin’  license ”.  Though “Stinkin’” probably bowdlerizes the explicative.

A public man held dear by his family, gregarious and gruff – probably not the best-organized community organizer – Celes (known to those near and dear to him as Mike) transcended organization and was a champion for the causes he believed in. A Champion for Education, a Champion for Civil Rights– a double-and-redoubled champion when those two intersected.  As retired Congressperson Diane Watson said at the service: “Celes was the one who got things started”.

Any service in a Black church that begins with a Willie Nelson song promises much – and Celes was a man who always delivered.

The Crenshaw Elite Choir performed – led by Iris Stevenson– and we were reminded repeatedly of the ongoing injustice done by LAUSD to the students of Ms. Stevenson at Crenshaw High School by her forced removal from that school.

This was Celes’ last cause …and it is up to us to finish it.  Not just for Ms. Stevenson and her students but for all teachers unjustly housed and for all children unjustly impacted.

Then we must go on to work on the rest of Celes’ dreams. And our own and those of all these children.  -smf

Saturday, March 29, 2014


By JULIE WATSON Associated Press  / ABC News |

Associated Press

CHULA VISTA, Calif. March 29, 2014 (AP)  ::  The Chula Vista school district not only measures the academic progress of Marina Beltran's second-grader, it also measures her son's body fat.

Every two years, Antonio Beltran, like his classmates, steps on a scale. Trained district personnel also measure his height and then use the two figures to calculate his body mass index, an indicator of body fat.

The calculation isn't reported to Beltran or her son, who cannot see the readout on the scale that has a remote display. Instead it's used by the district to collect local data on children's weight.

Beltran supports her son's school in measuring students because the data has brought in help to address obesity, which can lead to diabetes and other illnesses tied to a lifetime of poor habits.

But the practice hasn't been embraced everywhere.

Other school districts have angered parents and eating disorder groups by conducting screenings to identify overweight children and send home what critics call obesity report cards or "fat letters."

Amid the nation's childhood obesity epidemic, schools in nearly a quarter of all states record body mass index scores, measuring hundreds of thousands of students.

Some, like the Chula Vista Elementary School District, do what is known as surveillance, in which students are measured to identify how many are at risk for weight-related health problems but they remain anonymous. Other districts do screenings to track the weight of individual students and notify parents whose children are classified at an unhealthy weight.

Chula Vista is being touted for its methods that have resulted in motivating the community to take action. When nearly 25,000 students were measured in 2010, it discovered about 40 percent of its children were obese or overweight.

Officials used the data to make a color-coded obesity map of the district and showed the community. Instead of creating a stir, the information acted as a distress call, bringing in help. Schools boosted partnerships with doctors. They planted gardens, banned cupcakes at school birthdays, and tracked kids' activity levels.

"I've seen a dramatic change," Beltran said of her son, who now eats carrots and looks forward to running club.

Chula Vista's program — which measures students in grades kindergarten through sixth grade — differs from California's state-mandated program for fifth, seventh and ninth graders that screens students and notifies parents of the scores.

Vicki Greenleaf said she received what she called a "fat letter" in the mail last summer from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her daughter does Brazilian martial arts four times a week and is built like Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton, but was classified as overweight by the state-mandated body mass index screening program, she said.

Critics say body mass index can be misleading for muscular body types.

Greenleaf, a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association, said her daughter knew about the screening's limitations but other children's self-esteem could be seriously harmed by such notifications.

"I think those letters make kids feel bad about themselves," she said. "For a kid that is predisposed to an eating disorder, those are the kind of triggers that can set it off."    [emphasis added by 4LAKids]

Massachusetts in October stopped requiring schools notify parents when a child scores high after receiving reports that the data was not safeguarded enough, "leading to alarm, confusion or embarrassment," according to the state's public health department. Parents can request the results.

"The current policies to protect student data are pretty inconsistent and at times woefully inadequate," said James Steyer, CEO of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Common Sense Media, which reviews technology and children's privacy.

Little is known about the outcomes of school-based measurement programs, including effects on attitudes, and behaviors of youth and their families. As a result, no consensus exists on their utility for young people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  [emphasis added by 4LAKids]

Schools, over medical clinics, have the advantage of having access to the largest number of children. The local data is valuable to researchers who have had a dearth of childhood obesity information, and it can be used to pinpoint places that need help, said Dr. Matt Longjohn, an assistant adjunct professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

"If parents knew the facts — that obesity solutions may be being applied to their communities inequitably or inadequately without this data — they would support this," Longjohn said.

Statewide childhood obesity rates in Arkansas have remained relatively stable since it became the first state in 2003 to mandate school-based screenings.

Arkansas has become a model for how to do it, as well as Chula Vista's school district, along with San Diego County's Health and Human Services Agency, which also now records children's body mass index scores, Longjohn said.

A kit by Chula Vista for other schools recommends a professional digital scale with a remote display so only trained staff sees the number, and not listing children's names in any report. Mirroring CDC's guidance for schools, staff explains to parents how the information will be used and they can opt out.

The district found that schools with the most overweight students were in the poorest areas and had the smallest number of parks and the highest concentration of fast-food restaurants.

Beltran said the map motivated parents, but they would have been uncomfortable if officials had issued body fat report cards.

"Nobody wants to feel attacked or put on the offensive by being singled out," she said. "So it helped that we were told we're all in this together."

The cafeteria at Lilian J. Rice Elementary, Antonio Beltran's school, now offers fruit and vegetables from local farms and eliminated chocolate milk. Parent Teacher Association fundraisers sell bracelets and magazines instead of nachos and candy.

In 2012, the district measured again and found obesity rates dropped by 3 percent and the number of students in the normal weight range increased by 3 percent — meaning about 750 students had moved down a level.

"We're not yet where we want to be, but we're close," Principal Ernesto Villanueva said. "Considering 80 percent of our most common disease could be prevented by changing what we eat, that's pretty powerful stuff."

Students will be measured again this fall.


from the PBS NewsHour for March 28, 2014 |


JUDY WOODRUFF: This week, Indiana became the first state to drop the so-called Common Core public education standards adopted across much of the country. State officials there will now create their own plan.

Indiana may be the first to do so, but likely won’t be the last. There’s growing anger about the overall role of the federal government in education, and often it focuses on the secretary of education.

The NewsHour’s special correspondent for education, John Merrow, has our report.

JOHN MERROW: Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who ran the public schools in Chicago for eight years, is President Obama’s friend and trusted confidante, and this former pro basketball player can still hold his own on the court.

MAN: Oh, my, what a look.

MAN: He’s got to be playing on the president’s team every pickup game, right?

JOHN MERROW: However, with national visibility and power comes criticism, on the right from John Kline, chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

REP. JOHN KLINE, R-Minn., Chair, Education & Workforce Committee: When you give the Cabinet secretary a big pile of money, and then he starts changing policy, in effect dictating policy, that’s acting like a superintendent.

JOHN MERROW: And on the left from Diane Ravitch, author of “Reign of Error.”

DIANE RAVITCH, Author, “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools”: We now have local communities asking their state for permission, and the state asking Arne Duncan for permission, and Arne Duncan as the nation’s school superintendent.

JOHN MERROW: Why are critics on the left and the right accusing Arne Duncan of meddling in the nation’s 100,000 public schools? How much power do they think he has? How much power does he have? It turns out, quite a lot.

Only nine men and women have served as secretary of education. That’s because the U.S. Department of Education didn’t exist prior to 1979.

FORMER PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: This administration declares unconditional war on poverty in America.


JOHN MERROW: Washington became deeply involved in education in 1965 with the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as ESEA. It gave money to schools serving impoverished children.

JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN, New York University: The idea was, we have to create social institutions that will help compensate for different kinds of disadvantage.

JOHN MERROW: So, it was about equity?


JOHN MERROW: Everything changed in 2001 with the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The fundamental principle of this bill is that every child can learn, we expect every child to learn, and you must show us whether or not every child is learning.


JOHN MERROW: Washington was no longer giving money to help one group, the disadvantaged. Now the federal government wanted results: Every school had to prove that all students could meet the mark.

Education historian Jonathan Zimmerman of New York University explains.

JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN: I think it was unprecedented in what it had the federal government doing, which is requiring everybody to test the kids in grades three through eight, requiring them to disaggregate its data in different ways, including based on race and ethnicity, tying various sanctions, positive and negative, to those outcomes.

JOHN MERROW: If schools didn’t improve, they faced significant consequences. Schools could be shut down, all teachers and administrators replaced. Before long, the law that everyone once supported was being roundly criticized.

DIANE RAVITCH: I fell for it. Lots of other people fell for it.

REP. JOHN KLINE: Now everybody knows it won’t work. It is time to fix the law.

ARNE DUNCAN, Secretary of Education: My plan A was always to work with Congress to fix No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind is fundamentally broken. It is obsolete. It had many perverse incentives, led to a dummying down of standards, led to too much of a focus just on a single test score. So No Child Left Behind was doing frankly a lot of harm.

JOHN MERROW: No Child Left Behind, which requires all students to be proficient this year, expired in 2007, but it remains the law of the land until Congress rewrites it. Because not a single state has achieved 100 percent proficiency, all 50 states are breaking the law, or would be, if Secretary Duncan didn’t grant them waivers.

The waivers are, in effect, carrots to avoid the big No Child Left Behind stick.

REP. JOHN KLINE: The secretary is allowed to grant waivers; his predecessors granted waivers.

But what he’s doing is granting temporary, conditional waivers. That is, you get the waiver if you do what I want you to do.

JOHN MERROW: Duncan has granted waivers to 43 states that have agreed to certain conditions, including using student test scores to evaluate teachers.

REP. JOHN KLINE: That’s a terrible way to establish education policy.

ARNE DUNCAN: Previous secretaries have provided waivers to states on various things, so this is, again — legally, folks are happy to challenge this if they want to, but we’re on strong, strong, solid footing there.

And we’re going to continue to partner with states. We are out traveling in the country every week. We talk to teachers, we talk to parents, students, school board members, and hopefully what you have seen is a much better sense of partnership.

JOHN MERROW: When the economy tanked in 2009, Secretary Duncan’s power over education increased dramatically. A desperate Congress approved a $100 billion education stimulus package to keep schools from shutting down, teachers from being laid off. Nearly $5 billion of that was discretionary, meaning that Duncan could spend it as he saw fit.

No previous secretary of education had ever had such power. In 2009, the president announced a competition for the money.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Rather than divvying it up and handing it out, we are letting states and school districts compete for it.

JOHN MERROW: Almost every state entered the race, but few were expected to win.

MAN: We’re nervous.

JOHN MERROW: So, states will get more money if they do this thing that Duncan wants?

ARNE DUNCAN: If you play by these rules, absolutely right.

JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN: Some of us like to talk about Race to the Top as No Child Left Behind on steroids. The principles of Race — Race to the Top are the same as No Child Left Behind, which is, you know, we’re going to reward states that set and maintain a high standard.

JOHN MERROW: States that agreed to Duncan’s conditions, including developing common standards and assessments and using student test scores to evaluate teachers, had a better chance of winning.

ARNE DUNCAN: I’m a much bigger believer in carrots and not sticks; and if, you know, you encourage people to go in a certain direction, if they want to go into a different direction, they absolutely have the right to do that.

JOHN MERROW: What the secretary called encouragement, his critics saw as coercion.

DIANE RAVITCH: The states went along with Race to the Top because they were all broke.

JOHN MERROW: You’re saying the states were bought? 

DIANE RAVITCH: They — yes, well, yes, of course.

JOHN MERROW: During the Race to the Top competition, a coalition of states released the Common Core state standards. These were developed with money from private foundations, not federal dollars; 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted them.

REP. JOHN KLINE: If you adopt the Common Core, you’re much more likely to get Race to the Top grants, much more likely to get a temporary conditional waiver. And that puts the secretary in the business of starting to drive national standards and perhaps national tests and national curriculum. We don’t want that.

JOHN MERROW: The Common Core is not curriculum. It’s up to individual states to develop how and what to teach. But Duncan’s Education Department has funded the development of Common Core tests, to the tune of about $350 million.

ARNE DUNCAN: I believe this new generation of assessments is an absolute game-changer for American education.

JOHN MERROW: Duncan’s critics say he went too far when he financed the tests.

DIANE RAVITCH: The law is very clear that no agent of the U.S. government may do anything to direct, control, or supervise curriculum and instruction.

JOHN MERROW: Testing is not curriculum.

JONATHAN ZIMMERMAN: Testing — no, it’s not. But it controls curriculum. Testing — what is tested is what gets taught. Everybody knows that.

REP. JOHN KLINE: That’s the ultimate fear, that the federal government does get in the curriculum business and tells the states what they’re supposed to teach.

JOHN MERROW: As for the secretary, he stays resolutely on message.

ARNE DUNCAN: It’s important to have high standards. We have encouraged that. How you teach to those higher standards, the curriculum behind that, we have never touched that, never have, never will do that.

JOHN MERROW: Although the discretionary dollars are almost gone, Secretary Duncan still has the power to grant or withhold waivers. And if any of the 46 states with Race to the Top funding or NCLB waivers do not live up to their end of the bargain, the secretary could force them to return millions of dollars.

HOW A DYSLEXIC NEUROSCIENTIST’S iPAD APP WILL BOOST YOUR KID’S MATH SCORES: A nonprofit demonstrates an effective program for bringing technology into the classroom.

By Claire Martin / | TakePart

(Photography by Larry Hirshowitz)

March 28, 2014   ::  On a recent weekday morning, a six-year-old girl with brown pigtails stared at an iPad perched on the desk in front of her. As she studied the screen, she squinted her eyes, and her brow furrowed into a pair of delicate question marks. A minute ticked by. She was still perplexed. Then suddenly, the iPad emitted a soft, triumphant-sounding ping, and her face lit up.

The girl had successfully solved a mathematical puzzle in the educational software program ST Math. At adjacent desks, her first-grade classmates at Jack L. Weaver Elementary School, in Los Alamitos, Calif., were grappling with their own ST Math challenges. The room was silent, with no hint that the morning recess was just 15 minutes away. “They could do this all day,” the teacher, Kathi Ruziecki, whispered.

ST Math, which uses visual puzzles to teach concepts such as fractions and number lines to elementary school kids, is the creation of the Irvine, Calif.–based nonprofit MIND Research Institute. The organization’s work could help quell some heated debates being waged in school districts and around kitchen tables across the country regarding technology's role in the classroom.

Ever since Weaver Elementary’s principal, Erin Kominsky, signed on to try out the earliest version of the ST Math software 16 years ago, when its interface was only via traditional desktop computers, it has been a cornerstone of the school’s curriculum. Kominsky combines two 35-minute ST Math sessions per week, in addition to homework assignments as appropriate and the option to use the software in their free time, with traditional math instruction and cognitively guided instruction, a teaching style based on listening to children’s mathematical thought processes. The approach is a good example of blended learning, which combines traditional teaching methods with computer-generated ones.

Kominsky said her school has been transformed since incorporating ST Math: “It has changed the playing field with math for us.”

When Kominsky arrived at Weaver Elementary in 1996, it had been closed for 13 years. Even though Los Alamitos residents had recently voted to reopen the school, at first they weren’t eager to enroll their kids. As Kominsky put it, “We had no residents who would be caught dead coming here.” Parents from surrounding cities started driving their kids to Weaver.

<< (Photography by Larry Hirshowitz)

Within three years of adopting ST Math, “our school outperformed every school in this district” in math, Kominsky told me while we observed the first-grade class. Local families started getting a lot more interested in Weaver. Now the student body has swelled to 720, with the majority local to Los Alamitos, and there’s a waiting list to get in. This year, 98 percent of Weaver students tested proficient or advanced in mathematics, and the school’s Academic Performance Index, California’s measure of how well a school is doing overall, was the highest in Orange County. Weaver also scored higher than any elementary school in neighboring Los Angeles County. Kominsky credits much of the school’s success—not just the spike in math scores—to MIND Research Institute.

In classrooms across the United States, digital learning has become de rigueur. As of last year, there were 10 million iPads in American schools, according to an estimate by Apple. The U.S. market for educational software is valued at $7.9 billion. But while technologists have been clamoring to enter the education space, some educators have resisted the onslaught, wondering whether more time in front of a screen is a good idea for kids who already watch an average of 28 hours of television a week; whether tech is a good use of limited educational resources; and if it will be used as an excuse to cut costs in other areas, such as by replacing teachers and increasing classroom sizes. Other skeptics fret about privacy of student data, or maintain there’s not enough evidence that technology is effective at helping kids learn.

The Los Angeles Unified School District found itself at the center of the debate after it approved plans last summer to distribute iPads to 600,000 students. When 300 students hacked the security settings of their new devices and began using them for unsanctioned activities, complaints over the expense—$1 billion—segued into questions about whether the district had properly prepared for the rollout. By December, critics were howling about the multimillion-dollar spend on unproved software from education company Pearson, and a survey of LAUSD teachers showed that only 36 percent favored continuing the program.

The survey echoed educators’ attitudes toward technology nationally: A 2012 report by the education nonprofit Project Tomorrow showed only 17 percent of teachers believed tech helped students explore their ideas deeply and 26 percent thought it boosted problem solving. The same study, however, also showed that teachers in training are far more enthusiastic about using technology as a learning tool.

Those in the pro-tech camp like how software can assess students’ progress while they work, a facet known as embedded assessment. It provides teachers with real-time reports signaling which students need more help and allows them to reach all students at their individual ability levels. Given that educators have traditionally relied on tests administered every few weeks or months, most see this as a revelation. “It’s huge,” Damian Bebell, assistant research professor specializing in testing and educational policy at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education, said of embedded assessment. “It’s like the difference between sending an instant message and sending a letter by Pony Express.”

Research into educational technology and software is still in its infancy; companies, meanwhile, are operating at the speed of business. Developers seem to overlook that the stakes in educational software are different from, say, those of business or personal technology.

But the quality of the software that's out there varies widely. There are programs that simply add a point system to ordinary tasks, and video games where the action is periodically interrupted by lessons—a spoonful-of-sugar approach. Researchers say these types fail to keep children engaged because they’re not instilled with intrinsic incentives. For a game to work, it must be motivating in itself.

Given how crowded the educational software market has become, knowing where to find quality software and then figuring out which is most effective is a complicated task. “It’s a digital Wild West out there,” according to Michael H. Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a children’s educational media and research organization. “Curation and discovery are the biggest challenges for educators and parents.”

Research into educational technology and software is still in its infancy; companies, meanwhile, are operating at the speed of business. It’s a lot easier to write some code and package a product than it is to conduct a rigorous and reliable evaluation of such a product. Developers rushing to put out educational apps, games, and other software often seem to overlook that the stakes in education are different from, say, those of business or personal technology. “It’s rare that people stop and ask, ‘To what end?’ and ‘How would I find out if it’s working or not?’ ” said Bebell.

One organization that is asking those questions is MIND Research Institute.

(Photography by Larry Hirshowitz)

As a Southern California kindergartner in the 1970s, Matthew Peterson was diagnosed with dyslexia. “My challenges were reading, listening, writing,” he says. “The teachers told my parents that I couldn’t learn.” Peterson is now 41, with spiky black hair, and the bookshelves of his Irvine office brim with titles like Understanding Numbers in Elementary School Mathematics and Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. One wall has a giant whiteboard with mathematical equations scrawled across it.

Despite Peterson’s academic frustrations as a kid, he was enthralled with visual puzzles that required logic and spatial reasoning, but not language skills. Around the time he learned to read—fifth grade—he decided he eventually wanted to study the brain and problem solving. “I told my mom something like ‘I want to go into neuro-engineering,’ ” he says.

ST Math developer Matthew Peterson speaks at TEDx in 2011.>>

That major doesn’t exist, so when Peterson enrolled as an undergraduate at UC Irvine, he cobbled together the rough equivalent: a degree in electrical engineering and biology. While in college, where he also majored in Chinese literature and language, he developed an interest in interactive media, about which he went on to write a book, and he indulged his affinity for brain teasers and mathematical puzzles by creating computer puzzle games. His dream after college was to build software to teach children with dyslexia without using language. He soon realized he couldn’t do that effectively without first understanding how the brain works, so he went back to school to study neuroscience.

As a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley, Peterson began researching the brain’s capacity to think ahead in space and time, known as spatial temporal reasoning. (The "ST" in ST Math stands for "spatial-temporal.") He found that tapping into this ability could help improve critical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. He also studied how the brain’s neurons process information and how it develops mathematical reasoning abilities.

In 1998, while still a doctoral candidate, Peterson founded MIND Research Institute with the goal of making games designed to boost the intelligence of children who struggled with language, as he had, by strengthening their spatial-temporal reasoning skills.

Improving these kids’ intelligence “was like this Holy Grail,” he says. “If you could actually increase it, then instead of teaching a subject, you would just increase intelligence” and they would be better able to learn the subject, whatever it might be. From the start, Peterson ran tests to see if his games were having the desired result. “People have been trying to improve intelligence forever, and it’s really, really hard,” Peterson says. His initial efforts confirmed this—the puzzles did not raise students’ scores on IQ or other intelligence tests he administered. Yet “brain exercise” programs that have become popular in recent years have shown that it's possible to improve working memory, and after some trial and error, Peterson found he could get the software to improve working memory for a targeted area. “This was a revelation,” he says. “If you are teaching math, then having improved working memory for working with numbers and other mathematical constructs is helpful. We’ve increased what is needed to solve math problems, which is very useful.”

Scores doubled after kids did Peterson’s puzzles. But when he tried to repeat the gain, he couldn’t. The reason? “It didn’t actually work,” he says. In the first instances, the software had engaged students. The takeaway? Simply teaching math wasn’t enough. They actually have to like it.

So he searched for other ways to gauge whether his puzzles could facilitate learning breakthroughs. He turned his mind to standardized tests, which are designed to measure students’ retention of the content they’re taught and improvements in their skills. Because this type of testing is geared to specific subject areas, he would need to focus on just one. Math was the obvious choice. “The one that’s closest to puzzles is mathematics,” he says. (Peterson also knew that math is a subject on which all 50 states administer standardized tests—unlike science and other logic- or reasoning-related subjects. A program that improved math skills would be valued by educational administrators and funders.)

Instead of relying on the puzzles he’d been using, Peterson created ones infused with math lessons. At the time, he was working with low-income students in South Los Angeles. He was ecstatic to find that their standardized test scores doubled after they’d been doing the new puzzles. But when he brought the software to other schools and tried to repeat the gain, he couldn’t. The reason? “It didn’t actually work,” Peterson says.

The discrepancy was that in South L.A., Peterson had spent a lot of time with the students, many of whom had never used computers and were excited by the novelty. The ST Math software had acted as a catalyst to engage the students in math and, with the help of Peterson and the teachers, positively influence the learning culture of the school. In the schools that weren’t able to match the early results, Peterson and his staff didn’t have a strong physical presence and weren’t stirring up enthusiasm for math learning. Peterson’s takeaway: Simply teaching math wasn’t enough. “They actually have to also like it and want to do it,” he says.

This jibes with research on the effect of tech in the classroom—that technology is something for teachers to add to their quiver of tools, not a solution in itself. “Where technology becomes the thing, as opposed to a tool to help an educator do a much better job, it’s inert,” as Levine of the Sesame Workshop put it.

Peterson and his staff threw themselves into more research on how to make the puzzles better and more engaging—how to transform the culture of learning through the software. They discovered that cultivating persistence in students was key; the puzzles needed to be challenging. They also eliminated multiple choice–type problems in favor of those that required students to build solutions. Instead of simply indicating if an answer was correct, Peterson’s new puzzles were embedded with elaborate feedback that was delivered in the form of animations showing why a solution either worked or didn’t work. “In these environments,” Peterson points out, “you can learn a lot by making mistakes.”

He also created JiJi, an animated penguin that’s a positive, motivating presence to guide students along and that teachers, who are an indispensible element in tech learning, use to continuously stoke students’ passion for math. The revamped software worked remarkably well; other schools started to see the same gains Peterson had witnessed in South L.A.

Several years ago, MIND Research Institute’s work got a boost when a study by scientists at UC Irvine revealed that the highest correlating factor between what kids know in preschool and how well they do later in their academic and professional careers is early math skills. It was a better predictor of how kids will do in reading than reading is of reading. The finding shoudn't be viewed as conclusive—another respected study pointed to small motor skills as the main factor—but for Peterson it was a motivator. He felt that the need for ST Math was even greater than he had understood, and redoubled his efforts.

The next step was to get ST Math into more schools. Peterson sought out historically low-performing schools in cities such as Las Vegas, Chicago, and New York, and he created partnerships with corporations and foundations, which provided the funding needed to cover the cost of the software and teacher training and support. Though Peterson had created the program for those with learning challenges, he quickly realized it was well suited to all students.

In 2013, an independent evaluation by the research firm WestEd confirmed MIND Research Institute’s finding that ST Math improves test scores two to three times faster than non–ST Math curricula. Today, 630,000 students are using the software in 2,050 elementary schools throughout the U.S. But Peterson’s goals are more ambitious still. “What we’re after as an organization is to get 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and love math,” he says. “I’m of the belief that all students cognitively have what it takes.” By this he doesn’t just mean fractions and geometry—he wants all students to master calculus, which requires a solid foundation in early math skills. “You can trace it all the way down to early elementary school,” he says. To that end, Peterson plans to expand ST Math to cover all grade levels.

(Photography by Larry Hirshowitz)

In the first-grade classroom at Weaver Elementary, a student I'll call Macon, who had a glimmering Southern California tan, was breezing through the ST Math puzzles. “He’s a different thinker,” Kominsky, the principal, explained. “He’s not a sit-still-and-listen guy. But he’s in there and he’s getting it. This makes total sense to him because he thinks in pictures.”

The imposition of standardized tests on younger and younger children has resulted in an increase of the teaching method known as "direct instruction"—i.e., a teacher at the front of the room giving a lesson and a roomful of kids sitting and listening. That's upset advocates of child-centered, play-based instruction in early childhood education because it imposes unrealistic expectations on kids that age, especially "different thinkers" like Macon. But if a six-year-old boy can sit still long enough to learn some computational skills, improve his working memory, and have fun doing it, perhaps ST Math can find supporters for its approach among folks on opposite sides of the debates over education reform.

JiJi the penguin scurried across Macon's screen again, signaling he’d solved another puzzle, and when Macon logged out, the program showed he’d successfully completed 13 objectives that morning. 

Kominsky then took an informal poll of the first-graders, asking whose favorite subject was math. All but a little girl in a brown-and-white polka-dotted dress raised their hands. Considering that getting kids to love math is one of Peterson’s top goals, this was a sign of success. When Kominsky then inquired how many thought they were good at math, all of their hands shot up, including that of the polka-dotted one.

This line of questioning reminded me of something Peterson had mentioned to me earlier. Last Christmas he went online to see if any students were doing ST Math on the iPads and other devices they’d received as gifts. What he found surprised him: 6,800 students were logged on to ST Math—on Christmas morning.

After spending time at Weaver, I tried out ST Math by doing some practice puzzles I’d found on the MIND Research Institute website. They weren’t as easy as I’d expected—but then, I hadn’t done any math since my high school calculus class. I stuck with the puzzles, as I’d seen the students do, until I’d mastered each one. Then I went back and did a few more, just for fun. Because they were a lot of fun, as I’d been hearing and seeing.

I wondered what other adults thought of ST Math, specifically experts in education. So I called up Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the co-author of Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School, to ask what he thought of the software. Hanushek related to me that he had participated last fall in a panel convened by the Business Round Table, a group that seeks out efforts it believes will help improve American competitiveness globally and strengthen the U.S. economy. The panel, composed of education experts, was asked to choose the five most effective educational software programs for elementary and secondary schools students from a crop of roughly 100 entrants.

MIND Research Institute was one of a group of 10 finalists asked to make in-person presentations. Whereas the other finalists trotted out PowerPoint decks or launched into long lectures, Peterson and a colleague showed up with an iPad and simply did ST Math. The panelists, like me and the six-year-olds, were transfixed.

“They’re getting people to have what we call higher-order skills—the ability to make inferences and to figure out patterns that lead you to do other things,” Hanushek said of the software, which was selected as one of the top five. But what surprised him the most was this: “They engaged a group of well-educated, seasoned analysts and policymakers in fifth-grade math.”

There's no question technology like ST Math will become more prevalent in classrooms—it's just a matter of how rapidly the shift will take place, and which versions will survive. If the Project Tomorrow study is any indication, as new teachers are trained, the profession will become more comfortable with it. Still, as Peterson's experience in South L.A. showed, enthusiasm for teaching, and for motivating students, will be as important as ever.

Claire Martin writes a column on business innovation for The New York Times. She is a volunteer writing mentor for the Afghan Women's Writing Project and has taught at UCLA.


2cents small It isn’t how you play the game, it’s who keeps score that counts:    ST MATH – which has been and continues to be in use in LA schools for years - was passed over by by LAUSD’s Common Core Technology Project evaluation team for inclusion in the District’s iPad curriculum because it “wasn’t game based” (an RFP requirement) – in favor of Pearson’s Common Core System of Courses – which wasn’t developed yet. We currently have to take oft-indicted Pearson's word for it that the Pearson CCSoC is now complete because nobody has seen it yet – Pearson claims Apple won’t let them show it!

Friday, March 28, 2014

GRIT: IT’S MORE POPULAR THAN SCHOOL ®EFORM – and here’s the data and and a chart to prove it!

data analysis driven hard and put away wet by smf for 4LAKids

This is a Ngram Chart. It tracks the incidences of the words Grit, School Reform, Charter Schools and Bill Gates  in what Google has decided is the corpus of American books [search “a  lot of books’] between 1800 and 2014.  While this proves nothing, it is amusing in a statistically twisted way. Plus it looks impressive and you should feel free to embed it in any and all presentations and PowerPoints.


A school that is famous for football is notable in an entirely different way.

2centsThere is much talk of late about “Grit” – old fashioned stick-to-it-ive-ness. Perseverance-meets-perspicacity, spunk+moxie:  Growth+progress towards a goal over the long haul.

“Grit”’s the newest Ed-Jargon-Buzzword du jour; the missing magic bullet from the bandolier of school ®eform. 

  • What if LAUSD had shown some grit and stuck with Small Learning Communities and Small Schools?
  • What if LAUSD had stuck with “Voc Ed” and CTE?

    What if….?  Read on:


by James Fallows , The Atlantic |

Walkways over the marshland, and beneath Spanish-moss-draped trees, to Camden County High School (James Fallows)

EMar 27 2014, 1:21 PM ET  ::  arlier this month my wife and I spent about a week, in two visits, in the little town of St. Marys, Georgia, on the southernmost coast of Georgia just north of Florida and just east of the Okefenokee Swamp. It's a beautiful and historic town, which is best known either as the jumping-off point for visits to adjoining Cumberland Island National Seashore or for the enormous Kings Bay naval base, which is the East Coast home of U.S. Navy's nuclear-missile submarine fleet and which is the largest employer in the area.

Inside Marriage Special Report bug

Reinvention and resilience across the nation>>

St. Marys is known to our family for its complicated and often-troubled corporate history, which I described long ago in a book called The Water Lords and which we'll return to in upcoming posts. But it also highlights an aspect of American education which we've encountered repeatedly in our travels around the country and is well illustrated by the school shown above, Camden County High School, or CCHS from this point on.

CCHS is the only high school in the county, drawing a total of some 2800 students from the cities of Kingsland (where it is located), St. Marys, and Woodbine plus unincorporated areas. Each year's graduating class is around 600 students. Its size gives it one advantage well-recognized in the area: it is a perennial athletic powerhouse and has won the state football championship three times in the past 10 years. It also has another advantage that I recognized from my own time as a student in a single-high-school community: it creates an enforced region-wide communal experience, across class and race, rather than the separation-by-suburb of many public schools. This part of Georgia has relatively few private or religious schools.

As a matter of statistics, the CCHS student body is more or less like the surrounding area: about one-quarter black, most of the rest white, and small numbers of other ethnic groups (including from Navy-related families). About 40% of the students qualify for reduced-price lunch, the main school proxy for income level, and about 60% go to post-high school training of any sort.  Each year, a small number go away to out-of-state schools, including selective ones. In 2001, only 50.5% of the school's students graduated from high school. Now that is up to 85%, a change that Rachel Baldwin, the CCHS Career Instructional specialist who showed us around, attributed mainly to the school's application of programs from the Southern Regional Education Board. CCHS has the best AP record of high schools in its part of the state. 

That's the background. Now what struck us, which was the very practical-minded and well-supported embrace of what used to be called "vocational education," and now is called the "career technical" approach.

Hallway sign showing stats for the six different "academies" at CCHS.>>

In practice what this means is dividing a large, sprawling campus and student body into six "academies," with different emphases. One of them is the Freshman Academy, to get the new students acclimated. ("I don't know if you've seen ninth graders recently," one person there told us. "But some of them look big and old enough to be parents of some others. It's a big range, and it helps to have a special place for them.")

The other five academies each have a "career technical" emphasis. After freshman year, all students enroll in one of the five. While they still take the normal academic-core range of subjects, they also get extensive and seemingly very-well-equipped training in the realities of jobs they might hold.

A few examples:

<<Rich Gamble, head of the CSI course at CCHS

-In the "law and justice" curriculum, which is part of the Government and Public Service Academy, a former Navy-Kings Bay NCIS official named Rich Gamble (right) trains students in conducting mock crime investigations, and preparation for testimony in court.

On the day we were there, he had staged a mock robbery, in which the perp grabbed a cashbox from an office, ran through the hallways, and dumped the box as he was escaping. (The students acting out the scenario wore their white CSI lab coats, so other teachers would know what they were up to.) Then Rich Gamble divided his students into three teams to investigate the crime -- making plaster casts of footprints (below), taking evidence, filing reports, preparing a case. "We emphasize a lot of writing," he said. "I give them issues where they have to defend themselves, in very few words, because courts don't like you to waste words. Some of these papers are as good as any written by NCIS."

Plaster casts of three footprints, by three of Rich Gamble's CSI student-teams.>>

In the Engineering and Industrial Technology Academy, students design and build doghouses and other structures, which they sell in the community; do welding (and compete in state and national welding competitions); run an auto-repair shop that handles county vehicles; do extensive electrical work, and other activities I'll suggest by the photos below.

<<Wood-frame construction /Student-built houses
Inside the wood-and-electric shop:>
Welding: >>
<<Auto shop:

This same academy also includes computer-aided design and robotics programs, under the direction of Fred Mercier.

The houses in the first photo are ones his students had designed and built, sitting on top of a 3D printer they use. The contraption in the second is part of the school's entry in a national robotics competition.>>
^^3D printer above, catapult-throwing arm for robot (with Fred Mercier) below. v v

(These photos show young men, but that is happenstance of where it was feasible to take pictures. The academies are diversified by gender and race.)

In the Health and Environmental Sciences Academy, students were preparing for certification tests by administering care to dummies -- in this case, representing nursing-home patients>>


There is more to show, including from the other two academies: Business and Marketing, and Fine Arts. CCHS has an industrial-scale kitchen and catering facility, overseen by a former Navy chef. It has a very large auditorium, where students not only perform plays, dances, and concerts but also learn to build scenery and make costumes.


I'm running out of time, and you've got the point by now.

Here is why we found this interesting and surprising. Among the non-expert U.S. public, the conventional wisdom about today's education system is more or less this:

  •   At the highest levels, it's very good, though always endangered by budget cuts and other problems;
  •   At the lower ends, it's in chronic crisis, for budgetary and other reasons;
  • And overall it's not doing as much as it should to prepare students for practical jobs skills, especially for the significant group who are not going to get four-year college degrees. Sure, the Germans are great at this, with their apprenticeship programs and all. But Americans never take "voc ed" seriously.

Career poster from CCHS hallway>>

I'm not trying now to address all levels of this perception, and one high school doesn't prove a national trend. But what struck us at Camden County High was its resonance with developments we have seen elsewhere,: schooling explicitly intended to deal with the third issue, serious training for higher-value "technical" jobs. This is theme that John Tierney has previously discussed regarding schools in Maine and Vermont, and Deb Fallows about South Carolina. "Non-college" often serves as a catchall, covering everything from minimum-wage-or-worse food-service jobs, to highly skilled hands-on technical and engineering jobs that may be the next era's counterpart to the lost paradise of assembly-line jobs that paid a family-living wage in the Fifties and Sixties.

"In the past, we've encouraged all kids to go to college, because of the idea that it made the big difference in income levels," Rachel Baldwin told me on the phone this morning. She then mentioned a recent public radio series on the origins of success, and said: "The recent evidence suggests really goes back to something like 'grit.' I think you are more likely to learn grit in one of these technical classes. The plumber who has grit may turn out to be more entrepreneurial and successful than someone with an advanced degree. Our goal has been getting students a skill and a credential that puts them above just the entry-level job, including if they're using that to pay for college."

<<And oh, yes: What the weight room looks like for a state-champion football team.

Thanks to all at Camden County High. And Rachel Baldwin has written in with a closing thought on the career-technical/traditional-academic balance:

As a naval community, Camden County appreciates the phrase “a rising tide raises all ships.” Our AP students at CCHS thrive in Career Technical options (we have more than 20 AP course offerings), along with students who would be considered traditionally  “vocational” in the past. Our administration and faculty, believing in "all ships rise," recognize and provide strong support for both achievement at higher academic levels and meeting the new technical demands of the workplace.


James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.



by Kimberly Beltran | SI&A Cabinet Report ::

March 28, 2014  ::  (Calif.) A nationwide survey found the high number of inexperienced teachers in public classrooms is a largely unrecognized problem that undermines school stability, slows educational reform and, according to new research, hurts student achievement.

Focusing on the causes and consequences of a less-experienced teaching force, a report released this month by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching at Stanford, examines escalating levels of teacher attrition in public schools and also offers promising solutions aimed at keeping new educators in the profession and helping them to become better faster.

“There are so many beginners in the classroom today not only because of greater demand for teachers, but because so many teachers in existing jobs are leaving before they become accomplished educators,” wrote Carnegie Senior Associate Susan Headden, author of “Beginners in the Classroom: What the Changing Demographics of Teaching Mean for Schools, Students, and Society.”

Headden’s research found that new teachers leave the profession in large numbers mostly because they don’t get the support they need. Comprehensive induction programs can improve retention and new teacher performance, the report says, but it is rarely provided.

“Money, or lack of it, is not the primary cause of rising teacher attrition,” the report concludes. “Teachers are leaving largely because of a lack of administrative support – poor professional development, insufficient emotional backing, and scant feedback on performance.”

Teachers today are considerably less experienced than a generation ago, wrote Headden, citing research from the University of Pennsylvania showing that in 1988 the most common teacher in America had 15 years of classroom experience; two decades later, that teacher was a novice in her very first year. Teachers with less than five years of experience – 22 percent in 2011-12 – are considered to be still learning their craft, researchers said.

Although the recent recession slowed the teacher exodus somewhat, teacher turnover rates are exceptionally high, according to the report, which found that from 1988 to 2008, teacher attrition rose by 41 percent.  In many urban districts, more than half of teachers leave within five years, the research shows, and they abandon charter school posts at especially high rates, a significant problem given the growing presence of charters in many metropolitan areas.

Many principals don’t track teacher turnover, the report states. And the critical issue of teacher/classroom fit – looking beyond competence to compatibility – is often overlooked, especially by school districts that scramble to fill spots even after the school year has already started, the author wrote.

While new teachers bring energy and fresh perspective to their schools, studies show that teachers simply are not as effective in their first years in the classroom as they are with more experience, Headden wrote. There is also evidence that the best beginning teachers make up a substantial proportion of the early leavers: In a 2013 study of teacher attrition in four large urban systems, TNTP, a teacher recruitment and training organization, found that nearly one-third of highly effective teachers left within two years, and almost half left within five.

The result, according to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, is that “students are too often left with a passing parade of inexperienced teachers who leave before they become accomplished educators.”

Hardest hit, says the report, are students in tough-to-staff schools in low-income neighborhoods – the very students who are in greatest need of outstanding educators. Studies cited in the report have found attrition in high-poverty schools to be 50 percent greater than it is in other schools.

In addition to the human toll, teacher turnover, says the NCTAF, costs school districts over $7 billion a year in teacher recruitment and induction expenses alone – from $4,366 per teacher-leaver in rural Jemez Valley, N.M. to $17,892 in Chicago. In 2007 alone, teacher turnover cost New York City $115 million.

Solutions to the challenge of keeping new teachers in the classroom, says the Carnegie report, begin with “making careful hiring decisions at the outset, then recognizing that new teachers have unique needs and providing them with the targeted support and real-world training they require.”

The report discusses in-depth teacher induction strategies designed to offer the sort of targeted training and intensive support that recognizes the first years of teaching as the make-or-break opportunities they are.

Comprehensive induction, writes Headden, includes high-quality mentoring by trained mentors, common planning time, ongoing professional development, external networks of teachers, standards-based evaluation, dedicated resources and an adequate and stable source of funding.

Comprehensive induction, said the author, is not:

  • A crash course in teaching
  • An orientation session that tells teachers where the copy machine is
  • A stand-alone mentoring program
  • A string of disconnected one-day workshops
  • A top-down, one-directional approach in which teachers are passive recipients
  • Only a benefit to beginners
  • A way to help teachers cope with a dysfunctional school

In addition to targeted support and real-world training, wrote Headden, “the problem also seems to call for fundamental changes in the profession – changes that would give classroom teachers more ownership of their careers and greater opportunities for leadership and advancement.”

New Teachers Carnegie Report

AFTER NEARLY 30 YEAR ABSENCE, MUSICAL THEATER RETURNS TO ROOSEVELT HIGH: Students and faculty join in production of ‘West Side Story.’

By EGP Staff Report | Eastern Group Publications

The West Side Story musical was presented at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights on Friday night.(Courtesy of Roosevelt High School)

The West Side Story musical was presented at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights on Friday night.(Courtesy of Roosevelt High School)

27 March 2014  ::  The performance of the Romeo and Juliet inspired tragic love story “West Side Story” last Friday on the Roosevelt High School stage marked an important first step in a new direction for theatre at the school, one where students and faculty have joined forces to bring the Performing Arts back to the eastside campus.

Four months in the making, the production was the return of full musical theatre to the school for the first time in nearly 30 years, according to post-show press release.

The production was made possible through a unique partnership between SHOUT (Striving to Heighten Outcome by Uniting Teens), an after-school program offered at Roosevelt since 2009 run by the Salesian Boys and Girls Club of LA and Jaxx Theatre.

While most of the performers in high school plays are students, Roosevelt’s cast included Dr. Christopher Berru and Elizabeth Bjornen, both social studies teachers, and Principal Bruce Bivens along with 24 students.

This is Bivens first year as principal of Roosevelt and according to the school he has made the return of the performing arts one of his “tasks” for improving student achievement and graduation rates.

Over 300 Roosevelt fans, including students, teachers and local residents attended the production, according to Bivens.

“On Friday night, we marked a new era at Roosevelt,” Bivens said in a written statement in which he also extolled the performances by the school’s “neophyte thespians that performed with confidence and perfection in song, dance, and stage acting.”

“Friday night’s rendition of West Side Story was an excellent reinvigoration of the Arts for a campus loaded with talented and enthusiastic students,” said Br. Tom Mass, executive director of Salesian Boys and Girls Club. “The administration and staff have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into caring for the kids at Roosevelt and we at SHOUT are proud to be a part of this Renaissance,” he added.

According to Tam Nguyen, program administrator with Salesian Boys and Girls Club, the idea to put on the play evolved out of the partnership between the school and the after-school program, and took four months of diligent work by the production team.  The program “provides an opportunity for students to explore their creative side and motivates them to take their passion into reality” with the support of professionals and staff, Nguyen told EGP via email.

“These activities are offered free to students from Roosevelt and the local community through the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant,” Nguyen added.

Another play will be coming soon, Nguyen said.


from Diane Ravitch's blog |

March 28, 2014

Diane Ravitch writes:

Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters describes the deal to benefit the billionaire-funded charter schools  that is being negotiated right now by the New York legislature and will be voted on next week.

It is not too late to make your voice heard!

Governor Cuomo, who received $800,000 for  his re-election campaign from charter school advocates, is making good on his promise to take care of charters. These privately operated schools, supported by billionaires like Paul Tudor Jone, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Bloomberg, and a long list of hedge fund managers, will never have to pay rent for their use of public facilities; they will get additional public fund; and a guarantee that they can never be moved out of their public space. The billionaires proved in the past month that they are willing to spend $5 million or so on attack ads, but they will not pay rent to the city for their use of public space. The Robin Hood Foundation, founded by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, is able to raise $80 million in a single night. But the charters can’t pay the city rent for use of public space. According to Forbes, Paul Tudor Jones manages $13 billion in assets, and he has decided to “save” public education. He and his fellow hedge fund managers have determined to privatize public education. With the help of New York’s feckless legislature and cold-hearted Governor, they are on their way.

Leonie Haimson writes:

According to today’s NY Post, the legislature is about to make the worst possible deal imaginable: considerably more per pupil funding for charters, including more than $1100 per student over three years, and free space or rent paid for by NYC for any new or expanding NYC charter going forward – just in NYC, by the way, where we have the most overcrowded schools in the state, with more than half our students sitting in extremely overcrowded schools by the DOE’s own metrics, which we know are an underestimate.

Thousands of kids on waiting lists for Kindergarten each spring, thousands more sitting in trailers, and the capital plan provides less than one third of the seats needed to eliminate current overcrowding and address future enrollment growth. But charters will be guaranteed the space to expand – paid for by city taxpayers, while our public school students are crushed into larger and larger classes with less space to learn.

Call the Speaker’s office now: tell him to say NO to the deal forcing the city to pay for facilities forever for new or expanded charters, while public school students will sit in increasingly overcrowded buildings.

Speaker Silver: (518) 455-3791

Then call your Assemblymember and urge them to say NO to this deal as well; find their contact info here:

If this deal goes forward, this will truly create a two tier system in which the charter schools will be the only ones in uncrowded facilities, with the rent paid for by NYC taxpayers, and all parents will be forced to apply to charter schools whether they want to or not, just to guarantee a seat for their child in a school that is not hugely overcrowded.

Please call the Speaker’s office and your Assemblymember now.


Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

2cents smf 

Superintendent Deasy’s homegrown but unaccountable LOS ANGELES FUND FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION  is patterned after New York’s  ROBIN HOOD FOUNDATION [see:John Deasy Announces Formation of 'Robin Hood West']. The LA Fund has come nowhere close to raising $80 million in-a-night …instead putting up billboards and bus ads promoting Arts Education (as opposed to actually promoting+funding Arts Education) and force feeding (but not cleaning up after) Breakfast in the Classroom.

BUILDING AN EFFECTIVE SCHOOL BOARD: A new report finds school board members with a background in public education are not better informed than their colleagues.

Emily Richmond | The Atlantic Online |

Eric Gay/AP Photo

Mar 27 2014, 12:17 PM ET  ::  When it comes to the decisions that most directly affect the business of public education and what happens in classrooms, few people are as influential—and often as unacknowledged—as local school board members.

Indeed, a new report from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute suggests the makeup of local school boards can have a measurable effect on student achievement.

The report is part of a joint project between Fordham and the left-leaning Center for American Progress looking at how school governance influences education reform. The findings are based on a 2009 survey of more than 900 school board members in districts across the country. Board members were asked about their level of experience and backgrounds, their awareness of their district’s fiscal picture and top challenges, and their personal political leanings.

“First God created idiots;  that was for practice.  Then He created School Boards.”

-Mark Twain

Before I jump into the findings, my usual caveat: Surveys are subjective, and the questions that are asked are as important as the answers. At the same time, surveys offer a snapshot in time, rather than a complete or definitive portrait.

According to Fordham, school board members “generally possess accurate knowledge about their districts regarding school finance, teacher pay, collective bargaining, and class size but appear less knowledgeable about academic standards.” Districts where board members put a high priority on student learning had stronger academic outcomes, the report concluded.

There were some provocative findings, particularly about whether school board members with professional background in public education are better informed about the finances and other particulars of their district than their “civilian” colleagues: The report concludes they are not. That finding goes against conventional wisdom in many communities, where former teachers and administrators often have a leg up on their competition in school board races simply by virtue of their firsthand experience as an “insider.”

And then there’s the question of political ideology. From the Fordham report:

“…Political moderates appear to have more accurate knowledge than their liberal or conservative counterparts. This is troubling not because ideology or experience shapes board member opinions—that is unavoidable—but because voters in today’s polarized climate might favor strong conservatives or liberals over moderates (‘at least they have an opinion!’) and former educators over system outsiders (‘they know what it’s really like’). Voters need to be more aware of these tendencies and respond accordingly. (So far—in what we take to be a good sign—school board members as a group are more ‘moderate’ than the U.S. population as a whole.)”

The National School Boards Association, the source of the survey data, praised the report overall as a valuable contribution to the conversation on district achievement efforts, but also pointed to its limitations.

“For example, in determining the accuracy of school board members’ knowledge of district funding, the authors conflate relative per pupil dollars with school board members’ perceptions about how sufficient those dollars are—two entirely different things,” NSBA said in a statement.

The researchers also examined the impact of the election process itself. Districts were more likely to have “beaten the odds,” i.e. had stronger student outcomes than might have been predicted based on the demographics and funding levels of the district, when the school board elections were held “on cycle” with general elections, and members were elected “at large” rather than within a smaller ward.

The first piece of that finding—the potential benefit of an on-cycle election—is an easy fix policymakers could make right away, said Michael Hartney, one of the authors of the report.

“It’s a revenue neutral reform,” Hartney told me. “If anything it’s going to save school districts money because they can piggyback on existing elections. How can you really justify holding elections at an odd time of the year when your voter turnout will lower, and it will cost the district more?”

He acknowledged that the issue of “at-large” candidates vs. dividing the district up into geographic wards will be more difficult for policymakers to act on.

“We know with ward elections that minorities are more likely to be elected, and the board’s makeup is likely to be more representative of the community,” Hartney said. “We need to tread a little more lightly there. But an open election is going to get more people concerned about high achievement across the board.”

At the same time, moderate candidates are more likely to be elected during on-cycle elections, which mean it’s more likely to produce a school board in which the members focus on student achievement rather than worrying as much about pet issues of their smaller groups of constituents, Hartney said.

Kris Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, said the new Fordham report confirms what she came to believe after nearly a decade on the Fairfax, Va., school board: More diverse backgrounds among individual members make for a stronger and more effective group.

“School employees prove to be pretty good at spotting areas that others might miss, while business people might catch something else entirely,” Amundson said. “I was on a board with someone who was an actual rocket scientist. We had a couple of lawyers. In a healthy board you find a way to capture all of those perspectives and talents.”

But “people don’t always know where their blind spots are,” Amundson said. “I’m sure those school employees (in the survey) would be surprised by the disconnect between what they see and what actually exists.”

In many districts school board elections get little or no attention, and it’s unusual to have a wide field of highly qualified candidates, in part because the position often pays only a small stipend for what can turn out to be a significant amount of work. But as the Fordham report makes clear, the work of the school board (and how its members are ultimately chosen to carry out that work) should matter—to everyone.

Does School Board Leadership Matter?