Friday, October 31, 2014

TECHNOLOGY CHIEF FOR LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT RESIGNS, the latest fallout from two troubled technology efforts: the iPads-for-all project and a new student records system.

By Howard Blume , LA Times |

Ronald S. Chandler

Ronald S. Chandler, chief information officer for L.A. Unified, resigned Friday in the wake of two troubled technology projects. (LAUSD)

Oct 31, 2014 | 8:20 PM  ::  The head of technology for the Los Angeles Unified School District has resigned, the latest fallout from two troubled technology efforts: the iPads-for-all project and a new student records system.

Ron Chandler, the chief information officer, headed technology programs for the nation's second-largest school system starting in 2010. For most of his tenure, district officials described his presence as something of a coup, based on his extensive background in private industry and government service.

In March, the district announced that Chandler was named "among the top 100 communications technology professionals nationwide" by Computerworld magazine.

But Chandler, 52, became associated with two major, troubled projects. The first was a $1.3-billion effort to provide every student, teacher and campus administrator with an iPad, a flagship initiative of former Supt. John Deasy.

Chandler and his team bore responsibility for some of the problems that accompanied the iPad rollout at 47 schools last year. For example, immediately after receiving iPads last year, students at three high schools figured out how to delete the security filter and freely browse the Internet.

Officials immediately took back the devices, and some schools made little use of them for the remainder of the year. L.A. Unified also has had problems remaining on time and on budget in its upgrades of broadband networks at schools — although such difficulties were widely anticipated.

This fall, computer distribution slowed, purchases under the iPad contract were suspended and other devices are being tried out.

Chandler could not be reached Friday, but he said in a recent interview that it's crucial for the district to press on in providing technology to students.

"I don't think we've spoken enough about the risk of omission," he said. "We talk about cost. But not about the students that, if we don't do this, will continue to be left behind. This is not just a matter of dollars and cents, but are we going to invest in your children?"

Chandler's position apparently became untenable in the wake of a second technology project called My Integrated Student Information System or MISIS. The system eventually is expected to integrate all student records, keeping parents informed of student progress, allowing educators to tailor instruction and helping students stay on track with graduation and college requirements.

But the system wasn't ready when it launched districtwide in August, and it caused chaos across the sprawling district of about 600,000 students.

As if to underscore the link between Chandler's departure and MISIS, new Supt. Ramon C. Cortines announced the resignation at the top of a written update on the records system.

With a Saturday deadline looming on some students' college applications, administrators still are trying to verify the accuracy of seniors' transcripts. Unresolved issues include courses appearing more than once or not at all and dropped classes appearing as still in progress.

Cortines earlier this week assigned additional counselors and administrators, including retirees who agreed to return, to high schools to help rectify problems.

Among many other issues is that some 4,600 parent/guardian records need to be verified or obtained again.

"This is not a pretty report," Cortines said in an interview. "It does not have anything good to say."

In recent weeks, Chandler appeared repeatedly at public meetings to apologize for the problems, describe what happened and update progress. Board members and others have expressed appreciation for his candor and also for his regular, frequent appearances in which he explained complex technology-related matters. But they have also criticized both efforts over which he had substantial control.

Under a separation agreement, Chandler will be paid through the end of the year, but his resignation took effect Friday. His annual salary was $212,724.

School board president Richard Vladovic said Friday that the district needed "new leadership in that area."

Cortines also took other steps this week related to the problematic student records system. He terminated the contract of a project consultant, Bria Jones, who was being paid at an annual rate of $280,800.

The superintended has asked another consultant, Gary Sabia, to oversee fixes. Sabia previously helped upgrade the cafeteria management system and the transportation system. His pay is $255,000 per year.

In addition, Cortines scheduled a special Board of Education meeting Tuesday on the records system.

Two other moves were intended to tighten district purse strings. Cortines announced a hiring freeze for non-school positions through January. He also took steps to limit off-campus meetings to reduce the use of substitutes and out-of-town travel.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

THIS SATURDAY MORNING NOVEMBER 1st: Free Spanish-language education event for parents with PTA and Univision

October 29, 2014

Don't forget to spread the word to your parents and families
Free Spanish-language education event with PTA and


Dear Southern California Parent & PTA Leaders:
Tell all of your parents, families and school community leaders about our FREE educational opportunity for Spanish-speaking families to learn more about college and career readiness, understanding the new Common Core State Standards and how to speak up for their children.
Plus, there will be free childcare for children ages 3-12 provided by Thirty-First District PTA's Creative Kids Program, and free lunch provided by Panda Express.

PTA and UNIVISION Parent Education Event
Saturday, November 1, 2014
8:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Birmingham Community High School
17000 Haynes Street, Van Nuys, CA 91406
For more information, visit the event registration webpage or contact the Thirty-First District PTA President at Download the event flier in English and Spanish.

This email is being sent to all PTA unit, council and district leaders in Southern California.

image image

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

MiSiS SHAKE UP: One consultant out, another consultant in


LAUSD dismisses outside consultant on MiSiS program

by Vanessa Romo, LA School Report |


October 29, 2014 1:52 pm  :: Superintendent Ramon Cortines has cancelled the contract for one of LA Unified’s top project managers on MiSiS as part of a larger effort to play a more active role in solving the software issues with the new student-data system.

Bria Jones, an IT consultant who secured a lucrative $280,800 a year deal with the district, was told Tuesday her contract would be terminated “for the Convenience of the District” effective Oct. 31. She’s been instructed to deliver any materials related to her work on the project by the close of business the same day.

In April Jones’ contract was extended for an additional year, through June 20, 2015.

Although Jones described herself as providing “day-to-day project direction and management of the MiSiS team” and took credit for “restoring trust in the project outcomes and on-time deliveries” — both, from her LinkedIn profileRon Chandler, the district’s Chief Information Officer, said Jones’ role was limited to “oversee different parts of the development of specifications and code development.”

Still, in an earlier interview with LA School Report about Jones just two months ago, Chandler defended the quality of her work, saying, “She’s leading part of the team and she’s done a great job.”

Jones was hired under a sole-source contract in 2012 to oversee the MiSiS project after district officials determined there were no other viable experts to handle the complexities of the program, according to a district procurement official, George Silva.

Silva said Chandler’s office sought multiple candidates for the position, and finding no others to meet the complexity and urgency of the project, solicited opinions from experts in the IT field, and that led the district to Jones.

Ultimately, the school board approved Jones’ contract, but in an August meeting Tamar Galatzan asked the district’s Inspector General, as part of its investigation of what went wrong with MiSiS, to look into how Jones came to be the only candidate for the job.

Jones declined requests for comment on her dismissal, saying only, “I plan to take a few weeks to reflect.”

The termination of Jones is the latest move by Cortines to whip the MiSiS team into shape after weeks of denial by John Deasy about the gravity of system’s problems and how many students it affected.

Since taking over Cortines has dispatched chief deputy Matt Hill to work intensively with the IT team trying to fix the seemingly endless set of bugs in the system. Rumors emerged that Hill’s office had been relocated from the executive floor down to the 10th, where the MiSiS team works. But district officials denied such a move had occurred.

Meanwhile, it is unclear what will happen to the man appointed by Deasy to serve as the “third party” liaison with the IT division. Arnold Viramontes was hired by the former superintendent in late August, when Deasy decided he needed someone “who is knowledgeable about changing student informations systems, to give insight into are we making enough changes, are we making our changes correctly.”

Viramontes, who reported directly to Deasy, has only met with Cortines once but he’s been working with Hill and Chandler to learn more about the student data management system, according to Communications Director, Lydia Ramos.

For now, Viramontes is under contract with the district through February 2015. Ramos said he’s expected to deliver a report containing “information that we can then use to refine the operations of the MiSiS project” by Nov 18.

Viramontes previously headed the IT department at the Houston Independent School District. Prior to that he was Chief of Staff for the Dallas Independent School District, where he was instrumental in launching an online “Parent Portal” that was supposed to help parents keep tabs on their kid’s attendance, homework assignments, and grades.

While the system appears to have been successful initially, it was shut down shortly after the roll out for being too costly to run.

Cortines names new overseer for fixing MiSiS problems

by Vanessa Romo, LA School Report |

October 29, 2014 5:29 pm   ::  The flurry of organizational changes within LA Unified to deal with the MiSiS crisis took yet another turn late today as Superintendent Ramon Cortines told the district’s Independent Monitor that he is creating a Program Manager position, responsible for managing and overseeing a team working to fix the student data tracking system

Cortines also said he intends to assemble a Project Stabilization team to research, develop and test solutions to bugs in the different components of the system, which has been plaguing district schools since before the start of the academic year.

To oversee the team seeking to resolve remaining problems with MiSiS, Cortines told the monitor, David Rostetter, he is appointing Gary Sabia, an official who has been assisting with the MiSiS project thus far, to a leadership role in addressing MiSiS issues.

“Mr. Sabia had successfully managed the implementation of several Information Technology projects within the District,” Cortines wrote.

Cortines also told Rostetter he is committed to hiring more project managers and allocating more funding to nearly every aspect of MiSiS.

As LA School Report reported earlier today, MiSiS Project Manager Bria Jones has essentially been fired — technically, the district terminated her contract eight months early “for the Convenience of the District.”

In his letter to Rostetter, Cortines explained that the changes are being made to address issues that Rostetter cited for how the district can fulfill a federal court order to satisfy a lawsuit. Rostetter was highly critical of the process leading up to rollout of the comprehensive software program and its development.

In the letter, Cortines agreed with his findings, writing, “[T]he current MiSiS Project composition was not structured in an optimal way to coordinate across development, training, change management, charter school implementation, and recent data correction effort for external systems.”

Torlakson v. Tuck: UNION POWER v. ®EFORM IN© – A sharp policy divide on California the ballot

Union power on the ballot

By: Stephanie Simon,  Politico |

October 29, 2014 05:08 AM EDT   ::  LOS ANGELES — It’s not often that interest groups pour millions into a nonpartisan race for a political office with little real power.

But the campaign for California superintendent of public instruction is on pace to be the most expensive contest in the state this cycle, with total spending likely to hit $25 million.

That’s because more than education policy is at stake: The race has become a highly symbolic fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party — and is shaping up to be major test of waning teachers union power.

Two Democrats are battling for the superintendent seat. The incumbent, Tom Torlakson, 65, is a former teacher and veteran legislator backed by all the traditional constituencies of a mainline Democratic campaign: Public sector unions, environmentalists, reproductive rights groups and even the party apparatus itself. The California Teachers Association alone has put more than $7 million behind Torlakson.

He faces a tough challenge from former charter school executive Marshall Tuck, 41, a Democrat who has been endorsed by every major newspaper in the state — and by a bipartisan array of wealthy donors.

Real estate magnate William Bloomfield Jr. has spent $3 million to boost Tuck’s candidacy. Former developer Eli Broad has kicked in $1.3 million. Alice Walton, an heir to the Wal-Mart fortune, has contributed at least $450,000 and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has donated $250,000. In one 12-day stretch in mid-October, Tuck’s supporters spent $5.9 million on TV ads.

The result has been a campaign that echoes the same “Main Street vs. Wall Street” divide that has roiled the Democratic Party in recent years.

But, as always in California, there’s a twist: The race has also become a referendum on the power of the California Teachers Association.

California is one of a handful of states — New Jersey and New York are others — where teachers unions still have major clout in state legislatures. So analysts say they need to muscle their man into office or risk being seen as impotent in one of their few remaining strongholds.

“You have the last stand here, the inner keep — it’s like when the gates are breached and everyone has to retreat into the inner sanctum,” said David Latterman, a principal with the political consulting firm Fall Line Analytics of San Francisco.

Union leaders are acutely aware of the race’s significance.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher and the differences couldn’t be starker,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which helped pay for a biting online attack against Tuck. Weingarten sees the race in very personal terms: Tuck and “his Wall Street friends,” she said, are out to “silence teachers’ voices.”

The one poll conducted this fall found Tuck with a slight edge, but with 41 percent of voters undecided. It was taken before either side began advertising widely.

Taking on teacher tenure

Tuck takes pains to say he’s not anti-union; he fully supports collective bargaining rights. But he’s not shy about attacking the CTA for its tireless — and largely successful — efforts to enshrine teacher job protections into state law.

Tuck aims to abolish seniority-based layoffs, which can protect veteran teachers even if they have poor performance reviews. He would also like to double, triple or quadruple the number of years teachers must work before they can even think about earning tenure.

He also says flatly that the state Democratic Party is too beholden to the CTA, which has seven lobbyists in Sacramento and has spent about $170 million on political campaigns in California since 2000, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

“The status quo does need to fundamentally change,” Tuck said between bites of a turkey sandwich as his campaign van bounced through the rutted streets of Los Angeles.

Tuck’s election would force that shift, pundits said.

“If you’re a Democratic candidate in California, you don’t want to cross the teachers union,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a public policy professor at the University of Southern California. “The message of a loss by Torlakson would be: Well, maybe you can.”

The unions would still have allies, of course, as well as plenty of money and manpower. But they’d clearly be weakened, Jeffe said — and “in politics, perception is reality.” A loss in California “could very well translate into a decrease in the influence of teachers unions in Democratic politics” nationally, she said.

Ben Austin, a longtime Democratic operative who now runs an education reform group and backs Tuck, served up a more colorful metaphor. “A lot of thinking Democrats will wake up the morning after this election,” he said, “and recognize that the emperor has no clothes.”

Crossing the teachers unions

Across the country, many Democrats have already made a declaration of independence from teachers unions.

The list of powerful Democrats who have crossed the teachers unions is long and getting longer daily — and it starts at the top, with President Barack Obama; his secretary of education, Arne Duncan; and his former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago. All have promoted policies that infuriate the unions, such as expanding the private management of public schools and insisting that teachers be evaluated in part by their students’ test scores.

Those policies have now become so mainstream within the Democratic Party, especially within the younger generation of politicians, that teachers unions have found themselves with few options in many races. Union leaders can either sit on their hands — as they are largely doing in New York, unable to bring themselves to back Gov. Andrew Cuomo — or they can grit their teeth and work for Democratic candidates who espouse education policies they find profoundly wrongheaded.

In New Jersey, for instance, the big teachers union recently endorsed Sen. Cory Booker for reelection, though he is one of the most ardent education reformers in the Democratic Party. Unlike most of his fellow Democrats, Booker even backs vouchers — public subsidies to help parents pay tuition at private and religious schools.

Teachers unions have won a couple of big victories of late, most notably in New York City, where they helped boost old-style liberal Bill de Blasio to victory in a crowded Democratic mayoral primary. And national labor leaders such as Weingarten believe they’re steadily building public support for an agenda of more school funding, less standardized testing and more autonomy for teachers.

But unions are also contending with declining membership, falling revenue and internal divisions. “You’re seeing a gradual erosion of union power,” Latterman said.

Standoff with the feds

CTA President Dean Vogel has little patience for talk about the national significance of the superintendent’s race. A referendum on union power? He doesn’t buy it.

In his mind, the contest is about who has the best vision for California’s 6.2 million public school students, plain and simple.

On the one hand, there’s Tuck, whom Vogel describes as a “Wall Street financial guy” peddling a “crazy corporate agenda” for running schools like a business. (Tuck did work as an investment banker fresh out of college, but resents the union’s attempt to define him by that job. He left finance after just two years, spent a year traveling the globe, including a stint teaching in Zimbabwe, briefly worked for a Silicon Valley startup, then decided to devote his career to education.)

Torlakson has a more straightforward career path: He worked as a high school science teacher for seven years before turning to politics. “Working with him has been very powerful,” Vogel said, “because we speak the same language.”

Torlakson, with the CTA’s backing, has resisted the education reform policies coming out of Washington.

California is one of the few states that did not adopt policies favored by the Obama administration to get a federal waiver from the 2002 No Child Left Behind law. The waiver would have given the state more flexibility in spending federal dollars, but to get it, the state would have had to promise reforms such as tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Torlakson also provoked a tense standoff with Education Secretary Duncan when he refused to make California students take the old state standardized tests last spring, saying they would be meaningless since the state was shifting to the new Common Core academic standards. Duncan — a big advocate of test-based accountability — threatened to yank federal funding from the state.

Torlakson stood his ground, however, and eventually Duncan backed off. The upshot: Students across California got to take a pilot version of the new Common Core tests instead, to help them and their teachers prepare for next spring’s exams.

In his campaign, Torlakson has emphasized his independence from Washington and his efforts to push more decisions to local school districts, instead of dictating from Sacramento. He points to an increase in graduation rates under his tenure and notes with pride that California had the highest improvement rate in the country on eighth grade reading scores on the most recent national assessments.

There’s more to be done, he says, but he’s put the state on the right path. “People know me, trust me, trust my judgment,” he said.




Lest anyone mistake Marshall Tuck for a lamb – or a bellwether (a sheep or goat trained to lead lambs, separated from their mothers, to slaughter) – or perhaps a wolf in sheep’s clothing let me introduce you to the wolf in wolf’s clothing: The Chairman of California Democrats for Education Reform is Steve Barr, Founder of Green Dot Public Schools and Marshall Tuck’s mentor and former employer.

more on Barr here + here

Before Barr founded Green Dot – which unceremoniously dumped him a few years back – he was the co-founder of Rock the Vote – the “non-partisan” (but Democrat leaning) effort to register and turn out the youth vote in 2000..

Ask President Gore how well that worked out.

Sharp policy divide in schools chief race

By: Stephanie Simon -

October 29, 2014 12:20 AM EDT   ::  The candidates for California superintendent of public instruction are both Democrats. But they have plenty of substantive policy differences. Here’s a look at a few of the issues that divide incumbent Tom Torlakson and former charter school executive Marshall Tuck.

The Ed Code

Tuck was delighted to see a copy of the California Education Code waiting for him at a recent campaign stop. It’s one of his favorite props. He likes to hold up the heavy book — it’s easily six inches thick — and vow to winnow it way down to cut the bureaucracy and return power to local districts. Without all that paperwork, he says, principals will be free to do the work that really matters — mentoring teachers, communicating with parents and keeping students on track.

Such promises make Torlakson smile. He says he’s all for eliminating red tape: As a legislator and as superintendent, he backed bills that cut onerous rules in 37 programs outlined in the Ed Code, freeing up $13 billion for districts to use as they see fit.

But the code isn’t 2,000 pages of pointless bureaucracy, he says. It includes building safety requirements, anti-bullying policies and laws that give the superintendent the power to handle emergencies like an earthquake destroying a school. He’d like to see Tuck try to get rid of those.

The Vergara verdict

Tuck has fully embraced the landmark Vergara verdict, which struck down California’s teacher tenure and dismissal laws as unconstitutional. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu said the laws doomed too many children to inferior educations by protecting incompetent teachers. “Indeed,” he wrote, “it shocks the conscience.” Tuck, who has been endorsed by several Vergara plaintiffs, has cited the ruling as a clarion call to reform. Teachers can now get tenure after less than two years in the classroom. Tuck would like to see it take four to eight years. He also wants to abolish seniority protections during layoffs.

Torlakson calls the Vergara verdict “flawed legally and flawed on facts” and he is appealing it. He hedges when asked if the tenure should be reformed. “My opponent puts an over-emphasis on hunting for bad teachers,” he says. “Blaming teachers is not the way to solve our education problems.” Pressed on the propriety of using seniority to guide layoff decisions, he says research has shown that experienced teachers tend to do better than rookies. And he says the best solution of all is to maintain school funding so layoffs are not necessary. “I’m against layoffs,” he says.

No Child Left Behind waivers

In Torlakson’s first term, California became one of the few states to refuse to tweak its education policy the way the Obama administration wanted in exchange for a waiver from No Child Left Behind. Torlakson said the reforms the federal government demanded were unacceptable. They would have cost the state $2 billion to carry out, he said. And they would have required him to impose policies that he believes are wrong for California, such as requiring teachers to be evaluated in part by their students’ test scores.

Torlakson did sign on when a handful of local districts asked for — and received — their own waiver; he said that fit with his support for local control. (The California Teachers Association was not happy that he backed the districts.) Overall, though, it’s a point of pride with Torlakson that California did not give into demands from D.C.

Tuck, by contrast, says he will apply for an NCLB waiver at once if he wins election. If he can’t get widespread support to enact the policies the Education Department requires, he says he’ll ask superintendents across the state to band together to seek local waivers. On the touchy issue of teacher evaluations, Tuck says his personal preference is that student achievement scores count for 25 percent to 33 percent, but he would prefer to set a broad framework and let local districts work out their own formulas.

School Funding

Both candidates say they support an extension of the temporary taxes enacted in 2012 by Proposition 30. The measure, which Torlakson campaigned hard to pass, directed billions of funding to California schools. Torlakson considers his work on Proposition 30 a hallmark of his first term and accuses Tuck of being “missing in action” on that fight.

Tuck says he supported the tax hike and worked to spread the word among parents in Los Angeles. But while he wants an extension, he says he’s certain voters won’t approve it unless they see fundamental reforms to education policy. “We have to streamline the Ed Code and stop fighting Vergara” before going back to voters to ask for more money, he says.

Other policies

Torlakson has pressed for more career training classes and internships to connect students to the work world. He has also supported expansions of after-school programs.

Tuck prides himself on a “Parent College” he developed in Los Angeles. It offered workshops on topics from early literacy to college applications. He’d like to step up parent engagement programs statewide.

Both candidates talk about their support for a robust curriculum. Torlakson focuses on restoring arts and music, while Tuck promises more civics and foreign language classes.


A rock star to Big Labor

Union members clearly love Torlakson.

He was treated like a rock star on a recent trip to Carson High School in Los Angeles, where he had agreed to spend several hours doing clerical work so he could get a sense of the challenges school secretaries face.

Torlakson was there on official business, not as a candidate, but secretaries, custodians and clerks asked for his autograph, crowded next to him for pictures, reminded him that they had met at union conventions in years past. He even had to stop one union member from campaigning for him in the school, telling her she couldn’t do that on while on the clock at work.

“He’s a teacher. He’s not a businessman. He gets it. That’s huge,” said Kerry Woods, secretary of the California School Employees Association, which represents office clerks, food service workers and many other school employees.

Asked about the race, Linda Perez, the local CSEA president, could barely even bring herself to mention Tuck’s name. “He doesn’t know anything about anything. He’s a newbie in this business,” she said, disdain sharpening her voice. “How dare he compare himself with Mr. Torlakson?”

Tuck draws his support from a different crowd. He has circulated a campaign video featuring a number of Hollywood celebrities. And he has financial backing from icons of Silicon Valley, including former Facebook president Sean Parker and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, who has given at least $500,000.

Tuck, who says a spiritual journey led him to work in education, also seems to have an easy rapport with many faith leaders.

On a recent campaign swing in the city of Inglewood, a community just south of Los Angeles, parents and pastors listened approvingly as Tuck reminded them of his experience as president of the Green Dot’s network of urban charter schools and then as CEO of a mayoral initiative to turn around struggling district schools in Los Angeles.

Joe Bowers, a local activist, said it didn’t bother him at all that Tuck had never been a classroom teacher. He liked Tuck’s passion, his business acumen and his plan to cut red tape in Sacramento.

“If you’re looking to hire a CEO, are you going to hire someone from the machine shop, or someone who’s an engineer and knows how to tell the guy in the machine shop what to do?” Bowers asked. “Being a teacher, that’s an admirable profession, but it doesn’t necessarily qualify you to run the state education system.”

Bloomfield, the real estate executive who has spent $3 million to back Tuck, said he was impressed by the candidate’s experience running networks of high poverty schools, many of which made strong gains in test scores and graduation rates.

“I’m not an educator. I don’t have the solutions,” said Bloomfield, a longtime Republican who became an independent a few years ago. “I just know that Marshall Tuck has had success in terms of turning schools around, and God knows we need help in the state of California.”

No ‘skin in the game’

The CTA has attacked Tuck’s wealthy donors as privateers seeking to make money on the backs of kids, but Bloomfield waved away that argument. “No one’s going to profit. No one has any skin in this game other than that we want kids to have the opportunities we had,” he said. “It’s an argument that’s absurd on its face.”

While Tuck is firmly in the education reform camp, he takes a moderate tone on many issues.

He embraces charter schools but does not support them being operated by for-profit management companies. (Green Dot is a nonprofit.) He wants to make tenure much harder to get, but doesn’t seek to abolish it. He believes teachers should be evaluated in part by student test scores, but wouldn’t set a statewide formula; he prefers to leave the details up to local communities. Unlike some of his donors, he does not support vouchers.

Analysts say it would take a political earthquake for Tuck to win, given the unions’ extensive get-out-the-vote effort and their hundreds of thousands of members statewide. But they believe he has a shot.

Even if Tuck loses, the CTA will likely face another major statewide challenge in four years — and not just for the superintendent’s seat.

Two of the names being bandied about as strong Democratic candidates for governor in 2018 — former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson — are both staunch education reformers. Tuck’s race could become a template for them to take on the teachers’ unions.

“We’re out to recalibrate the Democratic Party,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform [See Box at Left], which backs Tuck. Teachers unions, he said, should continue to play a significant role in the party. “We just don’t think they should have a monopoly,” he said.


By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News |

Posted: 10/28/14, 7:39 PM PDT  ::  Los Angeles Unified this week suspended all out-of-town travel and off-campus training as well as the former superintendent’s credit card.

According to the district, John Deasy’s final charge came Saturday at a Hilton hotel in Milwaukee, where he put $189.92 on his district-issued American Express card while representing LAUSD at the Council of Great City Schools’ fall conference, which ran Wednesday through Sunday. After the school district disclosed that it had canceled the card, spokeswoman Monica Carazo said in an email that Deasy’s travel expenses will be reimbursed by the Wasserman Foundation, a philanthropic educational organization.

The card was suspended “because it was his last trip,” Carazo said in a written statement. Carazo did not expand on her statement nor specify when it was decided that it would be his last trip. Deasy did not return calls to his cellphone or an email seeking comment.

Newly installed Superintendent Ramon Cortines sent an email Monday to the district’s 644 campuses announcing that all out-of-town conferences and off-campus training are suspended until Jan. 30.

“There are critical issues that must be addressed now to guarantee student success. These challenges require the focus and attention of all school and office-based staff members,” Cortines wrote.

On Monday, LAUSD dispatched retired counselors and principals along with staff typically stationed in district offices to high schools across LAUSD to identify erroneous transcripts before students were denied college admission or financial aid.

According to Cortines’ memorandum, requests for substitutes to step in while teachers take time away for professional development have “increased dramatically” in the past two years. The requests rose by 24 percent in October and 16 percent in September, compared with the same months last year.

Cortines singled out two Fridays as examples of exorbitant uses of substitutes. On Oct. 17, the district received 770 requests for substitutes to take charge of classrooms from instructors who wanted to take time for professional development. This past Friday, the requests numbered 735.

At least some of the increase, Carazo said, may have been due to teachers learning new instructional techniques associated with Common Core. The district did not respond to questions about how the ban on professional development days and travel would impact efforts to train teachers on the district’s new record-keeping software MiSiS and other initiatives, such as efforts to make iPads part of learning.

Requests for exemptions to the travel suspension must be made to Cortines’ second-in-command, and those for professional development days would need to be approved by another high-ranking district official.

The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, did not respond to requests for comment.

Deasy stepped down Oct. 16 as part of a secretive deal struck by the school board, placing him on “special assignment” and agreeing to pay him through the end of the year. According to the Council of Great City Schools’ website, Deasy is a member of the organization’s executive committee. The site Tuesday listed his position as superintendent of LAUSD.

Council of Great City Schools spokesman Henry Duvall said the organization waives conference fees for one or two representatives, typically a superintendent and board member, from each of 67 member districts.

LAUSD did not answer questions about how many staff members attended or how much the trip cost the district.


2cents small WTF? …over!

  1. The headline : LAUSD travel spending suspended after John Deasy’s final credit card bill arrives implies causation, which opens a correlation vs. causality can o’ worms best not gone into. My daughter is teaching Rhetoric up at Oregon State – maybe she wants to go there with her freshman students? Not I.  Are they freshpersons? What would Title IX say?
  2. The smoking gun here is the line: “The district did not respond to questions about how the ban on professional development days and travel would impact efforts to train teachers on the district’s new record-keeping software MiSiS and other initiatives, such as efforts to make iPads part of learning.” Every report I’ve read on the CCTP (The iPads 4 All Project – not to be confused with CCCP, USSR in cyrillic)  and the MiSiS Debacle faults the District and/or Administration for not offering adequate training to the rank-and-file. Can the District rollout of the Common Core Curriculum fare any better with PD banned?
  3. WTF was Deasy doing representing LAUSD at the Council of Great City Schools anyway? Had he forgotten he resigned? Was this junket to Milwaukee an added perk in his separation agreement? Was there nobody in the Office of the Superintendent to represent LAUSD at the CofGCS?  Has the Wasserman Foundation paid the expenses of the superintendent tat CGCS confabs in the past?  Do they pay the expenses of the Board of Ed representative?


A High School Educator/Administrator in LAUSD writes 4LAKids:

28 October 2014  ::  LTELs are Long-term English Learners, students who've been enrolled for a number of years without gaining enough English proficiency to be redesignated.  They must meet several criteria, one of which is passing the CAHSEE, the California High School Exit Examination.

Our school assigns each LTEL to meet with a faculty member, and today I met with a senior, a very nice young man, who has yet to pass the CAHSEE.  He did not pass the CAHSEE in either the 10th or 11th grade, though he said he came close on both parts.  He should have been sent a summons to take the exam in October but wasn't. 


He will be taking the CAHSEE next week, and it will be administered in February, March and May, but schools must use resources other than MiSiS to identify every student who needs to take the CAHSEE in order to graduate in the spring.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


byline photo

By Suzanne Gamboa, Senior Writer |

October 26th 2014, 3:06 am   ::  Something is afoot in the education of Latinos.

Consider these facts:

  • The Hispanic dropout rate, 14 percent, is the lowest it’s been in three decades and has been cut in half since 2000.
  • About a fourth of the people who took the GED test in 2013 were Latino, the largest share since 2003.
  • The graduation rate for Hispanics, different than the dropout rate, was up to 76 percent to 2012, a 15 percentage point increase from 2006.

Latino leaders and education experts cite these facts by heart, but they are less precise in pinpointing exactly how Hispanics got to these better education markers.

Explanations vary from the changed and tougher economy to policies instituted in the Bush and Obama administrations. Others point to local school districts manipulating data or the fact that larger Latino student populations have focused the attention of educators who previously may have neglected their needs.

There’s good reason for the varied reasons, said John Gomperts, president and CEO for America’s Promise Alliance, that has a goal of getting the national graduation rate to 90 percent by the year 2020.

“If someone had discovered a silver bullet, there are a lot of people who care deeply about this and we would have applied that vaccine nationwide if it was that easy,” Gomperts said.

Instead, he said, what has worked has been recognizing the challenge and becoming determined to fix it, as well as building community support for whatever in school or around school initiative, program or plan gets results.

“It is very complicated, there are so many factors involved,” Gomperts said.

What is certain is Latinos - who in polling consistently identify education as a top concern - have compelling reason to weigh in on who is making education policy and what policies they are making, particularly with control of the Senate in play in this November’s elections.

A key policy of the Obama administration has been granting school districts waivers to relieve them of rules put in place by the No Child Left Behind law of the Bush administration.

In place of target dates for math and reading proficiency that have drawn educators' complaints, Obama directed his administration to grant schools waivers that gave schools leeway in meeting the NCLB standards. In exchange, the schools are required to adopt Common Core or other federal standards, focus on lowest performing schools and implement teacher and educator evaluations.

Over 42 states participating account for 70 percent of the nation’s Latino schoolchildren, which number about 8.2 million, said Roberto Rodriguez, Obama’s education policy adviser.

Those changes are regularly the subject of debate and controversy. Some states have dumped the plans they adopted to get the waiver. Rodriguez said it’s too early to know how well the generally two-year-old waivers are working. But also in place are School Improvement Program grants that have provided $2 million a year for “rigorous intervention” in low performing schools in all 50 states.

“We are seeing some real encouraging results in student engagement and greater student attendance and some leading results around improved performance in those schools,” Rodriguez said.

“That work plays out across the country, along with other important reforms," said Rodriguez, who pointed to efforts to provide better teachers in the classroom, focus more on low-performing schools and provide more resources and more efforts to turn around performance. "All of those things have contributed to the progress underway in our education system for our Latino community,” he said.

The growth of the Latino school population has also helped. Successes and failures of the population are far more visible, said Patricia Gandara, a research professor of the University of California, Los Angeles Graduate School of Education.

“If it is a small population you can overlook it. If it is large and seriously affecting graduation rates, you have to do something about it. In a lot of areas, schools have had to take this seriously and implement the programs to affect the schools," Gandara said.

The community too has been getting the message, and there has been an increased "beating the drum" of the need to stay in school, she said.

Some have credited a changed economy in which it is tougher to get a job without a diploma. Gomperts said it's tough to prove that is the case, but he backed Gandara's argument that "there is a cultural thing that happened," a sea change in attitudes about finishing high school and in understanding the many reasons behind students leaving school and targeting those issues. Issues of equity in schools, making sure children of all racial background attend well performing schools, also have come into greater focus in recent years.

There are different ways of looking at school dropouts. Gomperts said his group focuses on graduation rates. But even there, there has been drastic improvement for Latinos, with 76 percent graduating, up from 60 percent just eight years ago.

America’s Promise Alliance studies how many young people go to what have been called “dropout factories,” where less than 60 percent of freshman graduate three years later. Ten years ago, 39 percent of Latino students attended such schools, said Gomperts. That number is now at about 17 percent, he said.

He named targeted school reforms and increased student support as drivers behind those improvements.

“Schools that have been historically bad are getting better and we’re paying more attention to the needs of students,” Gomperts said.

Not everyone believes the statistics.

Julian Vasquez Heilig, a professor at Cal State University, thinks the dropout and graduation data may be overstating the success because schools now are reporting data in a different way and have “gotten really savvy at hiding students.”

Gomperts said results seen in Texas have raised some questions. “Nobody knows the answer, but there are reasons to furrow your brow and explore further,” he said.

In the end, Gomperts said he considers his own two children who are now in their 20s. They were decent students and involved in soccer and music. He said it was learning clarinet that led to their success.

"I have no idea what works," he said. "It's the totality of things."


By The Times Editorial Board | LAUSD School Board

Los Angeles Unified School District interim superintendent Dr. Ramon Cortines, left, talks with Board member Steven Zimmer before LAUSD board meeting. (Los Angeles Times)

28 Oct 2014  ::  With John Deasy no longer in charge at the Los Angeles Unified School District, the school board needs a new superintendent who shares his passion for improving the lives of children in poverty, but not his adversarial approach or his refusal to listen to critics.

Even if the board finds such a person, however, that alone won't clear the poisonous atmosphere or do away with the rancorous politics that regularly slow progress at L.A. Unified. Even the world's most talented and collaborative superintendent will not be effective in a district where opposing camps are at war over high-stakes testing and weakening of teacher job protections, and where the board regularly interferes in minor administrative work. In fact, the board's reputation for grandstanding, micromanagement and factional conflict could well diminish its ability to draw top candidates.

As the board begins its search for Deasy's replacement, it must also take concrete steps to overhaul its own operations. 

As the board begins its search for Deasy's replacement, it must take concrete steps to overhaul its own operations as well. In recent weeks, one message has come through loud and clear from parents and the public: They're sick of the continual disruption. They want to talk about improving education, a conversation that too often has been drowned out by loud and bitter arguments over rules governing charter schools and whether student test scores should be counted in teacher evaluations. Parents, especially, were less interested in which ideological group won these arguments than in getting past the animosity and down to the business of teaching students well.

The school board has an opportunity right now not just to choose a superintendent based on educational rather than political considerations but to change the future of L.A. Unified by transforming itself. That doesn't mean that board members have to drop their personal philosophies or that there shouldn't be a healthy, productive debate about school reform. But they must reshape old habits if they hope to be effective at improving schools:

Common vision. In recent years, the board has tended either to cede the role of visionary to its superintendent, or to fight over clashing visions. Yet there are plenty of issues on which all parties should be able to agree. That doesn't mean there won't be future arguments about what to do about low-performing schools or how to reshape teacher evaluations, but by finding common ground now for constructive change, the board will rebuild trust with teachers, parents and one another.

Training of both current and future teachers, for instance, should be one of the board's top priorities. Enrollment in teacher training programs in California has been dropping precipitously, and about 40% of teachers leave the field within five years. Without more math teachers, students at Jefferson and other schools will continue to suffer from shortages of critical courses taught by qualified instructors.

While teachers unions and their opponents have battled each other furiously in recent years over whether teacher tenure agreements should be weakened, both sides can surely agree that there is much to be gained by better training of good teachers, who far outnumber ineffective ones. Training is especially important as schools move to the new Common Core-based curriculum.

L.A. Unified's iPad purchase was a mess from beginning to end, but no one should doubt that students need access to computer technology as part of their studies or they will be at a distinct disadvantage in college and future jobs. There are almost certainly more cost-effective ways to go about by purchasing a top-of-the-line iPad for every student, but the initial mistakes shouldn't overshadow the importance of purchasing adequate technology for district schools.

The district has gone a long way toward reducing truancy, but that's not the same as reducing absenteeism from valid but preventable causes. Two of the leading reasons for legal absenteeism are asthma and pediatric tooth decay. And legal absenteeism sets students just as far behind as truancy. What initiatives could the district launch to reduce these problems?

Whatever goals it sets for the next couple of years, the board should stick to them, avoiding unnecessary distractions or changes in direction. And it should determine in advance how to measure whether it's getting the results it sought.

Governance. The board's single biggest weakness is that its members do not understand their jobs. They're not supposed to run the district. They're supposed to hire a superintendent they trust, and then, on most issues, they should act merely as overseers. Micromanagement of the district superintendent impedes progress, frustrates administrative staff and leads to divisive arguments and gridlock.

The board must set goals and overall policies; it must pass a budget, reflecting its priorities. But after that, its job is to stay informed about district operations and issues, and to make sure the superintendent is moving the district toward the goals. That frequently means board members must set aside their personal philosophies about exactly how the superintendent ought to proceed.

There are times to question the superintendent closely. Large, costly, districtwide initiatives such as the iPad proposal, breakfast in the classroom or the new student tracking system called for better-informed board members asking sharper questions. What shouldn't be part of their discussion, however: the minutiae of each school's small outside contracts or exactly which special-education consultant is employed by a high-performing charter.

Focus on education. What could be more elementary? But the school board is so politicized that it can't even get through a meeting without introducing and discussing scads of resolutions that aren't directly the job of operating the district. It celebrates long lists of tiresome, symbolic pseudo-events: retirement awareness days, for instance, or cultural awareness months. And it regularly takes positions on legislation or ballot initiatives that aren't about education.

When in doubt, board members should ask themselves this: Is what I'm talking about or debating directly related to better education and a smoothly running school organization, or am I bringing it up to satisfy my ideological itch or to give a speech that will impress my supporters?

It remains to be seen whether the board has the ability to take a hard, honest look at itself in the interests of reshaping the district's future.


2cents small “…As the board begins its search for Deasy's replacement….” 


The Board has Deasy’s replacement; Ramon Cortines is the General Superintendent of the LAUSD. He is not interim, he is the man – his contract runs through June.

Before June there will be a new contract with UTLA, There will be primary and general elections to decide a majority of seats on the Board of Ed. And a District Budget for 2014-16. That said,  board now has the time to search for the next LAUSD superintendent. They need to begin the search process but they need not trip over their shoelaces in the rush.

They need to agree on the process and the priorities and the protocols, but they have the time to do a good job. They shouldn’t waste it by adding ‘’procrastination’ to the alliterative “p’s”

Much of the rest of the warnings and criticism above are constructive and well founded – but The Times and the Board of  Ed need to realize that The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board and the publisher and Tribune Communications do not speak for parents and the public no matter how hard they pretend otherwise. The message that comes through loud and clear from parents and the public lacks both volume and clarity …and seems to emanate more from The Times traditional powerbases in business and commerce  and well-funded philanthropy and less from actual parents and the actual public. 

I believe that print journalism is still relevant, but it longer runs the show – we need to be careful which show runs it.

Just sayin’.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


By Howard Blume LA Times |


Students at Broadacres Avenue Elementary School in Carson examine new iPads purchased by the L.A. Unified School District in 2013. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

Oct 25, 2014  ::  Los Angeles Unified students could take school-issued iPads home as soon as next month under a new plan that officials say has dealt with security concerns.

The issue of when — or if — to allow the devices to be taken home has been much debated, but it was part of a $1.3-billion plan to provide a computer to every student in the nation's second-largest school system.

Last year, students took iPads off campus, and administrators hastily reversed course after high schoolers deleted security filters to freely surf the Internet. Devices were then collected, and some students had limited use of them for the rest of the year.

Now L.A. Unified is confident it can distribute the devices effectively and securely.

"The district has worked diligently to revise its policies and procedures," a team of senior administrators wrote in an internal memo that was provided to The Times on Friday.

The memo is dated Oct. 8 and addressed to the Board of Education and Supt. John Deasy. Deasy, who has since resigned, had come under critical scrutiny for his handling of technology efforts. His replacement, Ramon C. Cortines, indicated this week that the district needed to press on.

"We are committed to providing technology to our children — whether it be desktop computers, laptops or tablets — to help prepare students for the world they are living in," Cortines said in a statement.

(Cortines was less sure about how to pay for curriculum on the computers, saying he didn't want to use construction bond funds.)

Only 58 schools have iPads for all students, a much lower number than anticipated when the rollout began just over a year ago. The pace was slowed by the Board of Education because of technical, policy and political issues. Going forward, other computers will be tried out as well.

One persisting issue was whether iPads paid for with school-construction bonds could leave campus. A year ago, in-house attorneys asserted the devices could be, comparing them to bond-funded school buses and library books.

Under the new plan, principals will decide whether to allow students to take the devices off campus.

Either way, schools are required to teach students about "digital citizenship," which covers topics including using the Internet appropriately, handling the devices properly and refraining from cyber-bullying.

"Some students will find a way around even the most robust Web filtering system," according to the memo. "Thus, a comprehensive digital citizenship program is essential to helping students act responsibly online."

The goal is to enhance learning at home, but no homework assignments can require use of the Internet because not all students have access.

Parents also have to provide written consent for students to take home the $768 devices. If they are damaged, families could be financially responsible.

For the sake of their safety, students will be advised not to resist anyone who tries to forcibly take a device. Officials said they are confident that they have the tools to disable a device remotely, so that it would be of little use to a thief.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Readers React: By LA Times Letters to the Editor Editor Paul Thornton  |


LAUSD desk

An early-era LAUSD desk has a etching of a teacher in an exhibit of historical items from the district. (Los Angeles Times)

Submit a Letter to the Editor25 Oct 2014  ::  The teachers in Los Angeles who write to The Times — and I may be understating the intensity of their views here — are no fans of John Deasy. So when the embattled former superintendent resigned from the Los Angeles Unified School District last week, one might have expected a collective sigh of relief from our educator letter writers.

Hardly. Though a handful of teachers celebrated Deasy's departure, the vast majority who wrote us expressed continued anxiety and frustration over their jobs. If letters are any indication of broader opinion, it's safe to say there may be a morale problem in L.A. Unified classrooms.

Melanie Panush Lindert of Los Angeles takes the pulse of teachers: at several campuses:

I thought it couldn't get worse, but indeed it has: LAUSD teachers are even more stressed than last school year.

As an itinerant dance teacher, I work with several dozen teachers a year. I trudge to a different school every day. The teacher inferno has reached epic proportions this year, with no relief in sight. We must remember that what befalls our teachers trickles down to our children.

We have the endless flow of testing. One fourth-grade teacher explained how frustrated she was because there was no opportunity to prepare her children for a math test. Teachers must know the new Common Core curriculum, terminology, objectives and how to record data on computers.

Parents and principals are demanding more. There is a new, complex system for evaluating teachers, and teachers are required to take workshops to comply with this new system.

I thought it couldn't get worse, but indeed it has: LAUSD teachers are even more stressed than last school year. - Melanie Panush Lindert, Los Angeles

Teachers are serious, responsible, caring, creative, resourceful and patient. Why haven't these professionals been part of the team to create the very best system for our kids?

Rancho Palos Verdes resident Michael Whittemore gives credit to his fellow teachers for gains in achievement:

I am a retired teacher (30 years of experience), and I am amazed by the arrogance of education "talking heads" claiming credit for student achievement.

They don't teach; teachers do. It is the joy of that nexus that brings progress. Teachers love teaching.

Giving us decent class sizes, materials (most teachers spend their own money on classroom materials) and administrative support will result in even greater achievement.

Jim Wakeman of Long Beach says education reforms are driving away teachers:

Deasy's sympathizers give him credit for reducing the number of student suspensions and raising students' test scores.

Well, when teachers are required to keep students in class in spite of their behavior, yes, there will be fewer suspensions. And when teachers' jobs may be threatened by low student test scores, some teachers, understandably, will "teach to the test." Then, yes, test scores will improve.

Neither of these predictable results will improve student learning, but they will drive more teachers away from the profession.



2cents small The L.A. Times is obviously getting farther out on a limb than they feel comfortable. I guess if your window on the world is through The Times mailbag yours is a rather limited perspective – as evidenced by the editor/headline writer’s use of the qualifier  ‘possible’.  The world is possibly round and chocolate is possibly tasty. The newspaper industry is in a possible downturn.

District morale is abysmal, all the way to eleven on the knob.  And, like Captain Bligh in the old joke, apparently the flogging won’t stop until the morale improves.

All surviving LAUSD staff, whether in the classroom, the school, the local district, or the central office - have been through six years of RIFs, class size+workload increases and program cuts. They haven’t got a raise in slightly less than forever. They have worked hard, they have raised test scores, they campaigned for Prop 30 which brought in more money to schools – and are rewarded by the superintendent taking a 17% pay raise and offering them 2%. There is money for iPads and failed technology but none for the District’s most valuable asset: Its human resources. The powerless-that-be have turned back the billionaires who would break their unions and take away their jobs and outsource public education to charter schools at the ballot box…and are rewarded with a Time Magazine cover that hammers Bad Teachers with a Judge’s Gavel.  Never mind that the  cover story doesn’t even agree with the cover picture and headline – “Bad Teachers” sells magazines!

“Bad Teachers” allegedly don’t teach to the test with enough urgency. The “Embattled+Beleaguered Superintendent” may have fixed a contract according to The Times own reporting.  And the Publisher/CEO of the LA Times goes on the radio and bemoans his downfall.

LAUSD Parents Seek Los Angeles Superior Court Civil Grand Jury Investigation/Audit Into iPADS AND MiSiS DEBACLES + smf’s 2¢

by K12News Network Site Admin |

21 October 2014  ::  BREAKING: this morning, LAUSD parents filed a citizen complaint to ask that the Los Angeles Superior Court’s Civil Grand Jury investigate/audit the iPad and MiSiS deals that were costly but seemed highly ineffective. They want an independent body outside of LAUSD to conduct its own investigation.

The Civil Grand Jury consists of 23 residents of Los Angeles who consider whistleblower evidence presented by city or county employees, perform investigations and audits into county or city agencies, scrutinize jail conditions, and also consider requests by Angelenos to address the actions or policies of Los Angeles County agencies. They issue a public report and operate under the guidance of the Los Angeles Superior Court and the judges who sit there.

In addition to holding a press event, one of the main parents driving the request, Kahllid Al-Alim, also spoke to the LAUSD School Board during public comment at the regular session .

Open Letter to the Civil Grand Jury, 10-20-14 by k12newsnetwork

2cents small

  • There is an online petition to sign if you support this effort.
  • There are at least three issues in play:
    • The iPads piece, which has the potential for criminal, not just civil grand jury investigation. And federal, not just superior court action. Contract fixing is a felony.
    • The MiSiS piece, which is currently being adjudicated in the Alameda County Superior Court,
    • The letter writer is a member of the Local Control Funding Formula/Local Control Accountability Plan LAUSD Parent Advisory Committee and has every cause to be concerned that that committee was intentionally ignored in opposition to the legislative intent of the LCFF legislation.

Friday, October 24, 2014


from Politico Morning Education | by-email

  BATTLING THE BAD APPLES IMAGE: 24 October 2014  ::  American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is mounting an attack on Time Magazine, urging people to sign a petition [] demanding the magazine apologize for its recent cover about teacher tenure. The cover [ ], which shows a judge's gavel coming down on an apple, reads "Rotten Apples: It's nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher. Some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that." Weingarten said the cover made her feel "sick." "This Time cover isn't trying to foster a serious dialogue about solutions our schools need - it's intentionally creating controversy to sell more copies," she said. Weingarten is imploring people to tweet with the hashtag #TIMEfail. And she said the cover of the story doesn't even reflect Time's own reporting. "The Time article itself looks at the wealthy sponsors of these efforts," she said. "And while it looks critically at tenure, it also questions the testing industry's connections to Silicon Valley and the motives of these players." More from Diane Ravitch's blog: And Time's story, ICYMI:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


On his first day, Cortines feels a 'sense of urgency' at L.A. Unified

By Howard Blume, LA Times |

Ramon C. Cortines, who led L.A. Unified School District in 2000 and again from 2008 to 2011, agreed to return again through June. "We have some major challenges that together we have to address," he said on his first day back. (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times)

Oct 20, 8:35 PM  ::  Ramon C. Cortines' first day in his latest tour at the helm of Los Angeles Unified started in a familiar fashion: early, with his first meeting at 7 a.m.

That was practically indolent for Cortines, who is known to schedule meetings for 6 a.m. But on this Monday at least, the 82-year-old administrator-in-chief eased back from retirement.

The Board of Education turned to Cortines as the logical stopgap to replace John Deasy, who resigned last week under pressure. Cortines had led the school systems in New York City, San Francisco, San Jose and Pasadena. And in L.A. Unified, he previously served as interim superintendent in 2000, then led the district again from late 2008 through April 2011, when Deasy took over.

People are not celebrating anyone's demise. They're celebrating the return of Ray. He is welcomed. He is appreciated. He is respected. - L.A. school board member George McKenna

Now Cortines is back through June, at a prorated annual salary of $300,000, which is $50,000 less than his predecessor received. Cortines also elected to move into a smaller office and convert Deasy's space into a conference room.

Either the board or Cortines can terminate the agreement with 30 days' notice. Officials have yet to work out details on a search for a permanent replacement.

(The district on Monday also updated details of Deasy's separation agreement. He'll receive about $61,000 for unused vacation days in addition to about $70,000 in severance to be available as needed through year's end.)

Neither Cortines' schedule nor his history suggests that he'll be a caretaker. During a six-month stint in 2000, he reorganized the school system, hired an executive team and made major decisions about instruction and building projects.

Expect another busy period, he said.

"There's a sense of urgency," said Cortines at the end of the day. "The last three and a half years there's been progress in the district, but we have some major challenges that together we have to address."

On Monday, within a span of eight hours, his meetings covered a sweep of issues that have dominated public attention, including a crisis involving a student records system and labor negotiations with the teachers union, which has talked of a possible strike.

Board member George McKenna said he sensed relief at district headquarters on Beaudry Avenue with the arrival of Cortines.

"People are not celebrating anyone's demise," McKenna said, referring to Deasy. "They're celebrating the return of Ray. He is welcomed. He is appreciated. He is respected."

Poor relations with board members were a major factor in Deasy's downfall, and Cortines squeezed in meetings with two board members who had criticized Deasy: Steve Zimmer and Bennett Kayser.

The latter had met Cortines once before, as a teacher who was protesting the closing of a school.

"He remembered," Kayser said.

At 9 a.m. Monday, Cortines met with Vivian Ekchian, the district's chief labor negotiator. It's no secret that he would like to resolve protracted contract negotiations with United Teachers Los Angeles.

"It was as though nothing had changed," said Ekchian, comparing the past and present Cortines.

At about 2:30 p.m., he left to meet with Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA, at the union's Wilshire Boulevard headquarters.

It isn't clear whether UTLA was willing to reach a deal of any kind with Deasy, who had become a rallying point for union organizers who talked of strike preparations. Union leaders regard Cortines as more collaborative. But that doesn't mean Cortines is able or willing to offer a much better deal than his predecessor.

"Ray Cortines listened, and we had some preliminary conversations," Caputo-Pearl said.

Accompanying Cortines to the meeting was Deputy Supt. Michelle King, who had expressed interest to the board in serving as interim superintendent. It was Cortines who had urged her to do so, before the board began to pressure him to return.

Cortines has made it clear that he wanted King to play an integral role; his first meeting of the day was with her.

Also on Cortines' schedule were meetings with Ron Chandler, who heads the district's technology division, and chief strategy officer Matt Hill. They are managing the district's technology efforts; two troubled projects contributed to Deasy's departure.

The first was a $1.3-billion effort to provide an iPad to every student, teacher and campus administrator. Deasy recently announced he would relaunch the bidding process; more than 100,000 devices have been purchased. Cortines indicated he would reexamine the district's approach to classroom technology.

This fall, another issue emerged when a new student records system malfunctioned. Thousands of students had faulty schedules and lost instructional time or couldn't get courses they needed to graduate or fulfill college entrance requirements. Some seniors had troubled getting transcripts or grade point average calculations.

"I have to find out how that happened, who was asleep at the wheel," Cortines said. "How dare we do what we've done to some of these students and some of these parents and some of these schools — and some of those schools are the most needy ones."

Deasy's exit reflects other school battles across the U.S.

By Teresa Watanabe and Stephen Ceasar, LA Times |

John Deasy

John Deasy's departure as L.A. schools superintendent last week shows how difficult it has been for big-city school leaders to make changes in their districts. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

21 Oct 2014, 3AM  ::  Like Deasy, top leaders in some of the largest school districts have come under tremendous pressure

John Deasy was one of a group of big-city school leaders to push for radical change: More independent charter schools, using student test scores to help evaluate teachers and relying less on seniority when teachers are laid off.

And Deasy's departure as L.A. schools superintendent last week shows how difficult it has been for them to succeed.

Top leaders in some of the largest districts — in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., Texas and elsewhere — have come under tremendous pressure: some lost their jobs, one faced a massive teachers strike, and lawsuits have been filed against them, among other things.

John Deasy

Deasy left his job in the nation's second-largest school system despite gains in such areas as student test scores, graduation rates and attendance (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

These administrators have been fought by teacher unions and some community activists who have joined to oppose so-called corporate reform because it often involves data-driven performance reviews that can affect high-stakes personnel decisions, and expanded school choice for parents that includes charters.

Deasy left the L.A. school district last week after 31/2 years, during which time he clashed repeatedly with the teachers union and struggled to maintain solid relations with some school board members. Union leaders say Deasy's exit marked a repudiation of his policies.

"Deasy's resignation is a reflection that this top-down, my way or the highway, competition-driven, test-score-fixated way of doing schooling is not working," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in an interview. "The John Wayne strategy does not work."

Deasy supporters sharply dispute that. They assert they want to hold teachers and schools to higher performance standards so that children, especially those in poor communities, receive a quality education. The unions, they said, feared that those policies would weaken their power.

"The job of a good superintendent like John Deasy is to push hard for school improvement, and too often good superintendents get a lot of grief for trying," said Bruce Reed, president of the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation in Los Angeles, which runs an academy for superintendents. "In L.A. and cities across the nation, we still have a long way to go to give kids the equal education they deserve, and we should all be pushing harder and faster for equal opportunity. Parents don't want a go-slow approach."

The fight between these forces is intensifying nationally.

"There is clearly a pushback, and it's having a real effect," said Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank. "The riptides are so strong that even a superintendent like Deasy, who tried to be strategic and deliberate, got pulled out in the undertow."

In L.A. and cities across the nation, we still have a long way to go to give kids the equal education they deserve, and we should all be pushing harder. - Bruce Reed, president of the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation

Deasy left his job in the nation's second-largest school system despite gains in such areas as student test scores, graduation rates and attendance since he took over in 2011. But his ability to lead was compromised by a confrontational teachers union, a shift in the school board makeup and back-to-back policy snafus on two technology projects, the iPad rollout and the computerized student information system.

The fate of his key policies are still unknown. But they and similar efforts across the nation are facing new challenges.

Charter schools, which are independently run but publicly funded and frequently non-union, are embroiled in bitter battles in New York, Louisiana and elsewhere. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio succeeded charter enthusiast Michael R. Bloomberg and vowed to start charging charter schools rent and temporarily forbid new schools from using public facilities. With the backing of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, charter advocates succeeded in winning the right to use public space, but De Blasio remains ambivalent.

The Journey for Justice Alliance, a new educational advocacy group funded by national teacher unions and such philanthropists as the Ford Foundation, has unveiled a new tactic against charters: federal civil rights complaints.

The Advancement Project has helped parents in Newark, New Orleans and Chicago file complaints with the federal government, arguing that the closure of their neighborhood public schools and the expansion of charters violate their children's educational rights. In Chicago, closures of some campuses have created massive overcrowding at others, and some students in New Orleans were denied admission to nearby charters and forced to attend distant alternatives, said Jitu Brown, national director for the Chicago-based Journey for Justice.

In Los Angeles, United Teachers Los Angeles is pushing contract proposals requiring stricter oversight of charters and other sweeping changes in struggling schools, such as replacing staff and curriculum. Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said his members will work to slow charter approvals in favor of a "community schools" model that widely collaborates in developing reforms.

Jed Wallace, chief executive of the California Charter Schools Assn., said parents will continue to back charter schools. Nearly a quarter of L.A. Unified students attend those campuses, with tens of thousands on waiting lists — a show of support, he said, that charter opponents cannot stop.

"They can make it more difficult, but ultimately they cannot stop this process from happening," he said.

Standardized testing is another hotly contested subject. Diane Ravitch, an education historian and critic of Deasy and others with similar positions, called testing the "linchpin of the corporate reform movement" because low scores can open the door to school takeovers by private operators. They are also being used for such crucial decisions as teacher hiring, firing and pay in some districts, with instructors judged in part by their students' gains in test scores.

Resistance to standardized testing has mushroomed across the nation, with student unions forming against them in such cities as Providence, R.I., and Portland, Ore. In Texas, 90% of school districts have adopted resolutions against high-stakes testing. In Florida, 11 school districts representing 42% of public school students called for the state to suspend standardized testing.

Caputo-Pearl said the union would push for changes in Deasy's teacher evaluation system, including an end to testing data for anything other than framing goals or shaping teaching practices.

That will probably draw a challenge from organizations such as EdVoice, a Sacramento-based educational advocacy group funded by the Broad Foundation and others. Bill Lucia, the group's executive director, said California court rulings have ensured that policies involving teacher evaluations and job protections would continue regardless of who runs the school district.

In 2012, an L.A. County Superior Court judge affirmed that state law required the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations, while another judge this year struck down five laws involving traditional teacher job protections, saying they violated students' constitutional rights to an equal education by keeping "grossly ineffective" teachers on the job. Deasy supported both cases.

Most agree that the growing backlash against testing, charters and other policies opposed by teacher unions and other activists is spelling peril to superintendents who push them. Last week, former school superintendents in Oakland and Sacramento spoke out in support of Deasy, saying their efforts to push changes had also sparked huge teacher union opposition.

Tony Smith, the former head of Oakland's schools, said some of his changes — including closing schools, sidestepping seniority rules and requiring some teachers at failing campuses to reapply for their jobs — prompted union members to march on his house in protest.

"Anybody who is talking about putting students first from the superintendent's seat is a target," Smith said in an interview.

Hess said Deasy's departure follows the exit of similarly minded school chiefs, such as Joel Klein in New York and Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. He predicted that their critics could aim to take down others like them, such as Tom Boasberg in Denver, Terry Grier in Houston or Rhee's successor in D.C., Kaya Henderson.

"Deasy was one more domino in the chain," Hess said. "The biggest effect is that the anti-reform angst that got targeted on Deasy will now rush to find a new target, and some superintendent who was getting less attention is now about to win the lottery."