Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Rick Rojas – LA Times/LA Now |

Cliff Ker
Photo: Cliff Ker   Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

June 29, 2011 |  7:58 pm - The coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s successful Academic Decathlon program has been reassigned, making his decathlon work a half-time job, apparently because of budget cuts in the nation’s second-largest school district.

Cliff Ker, who has led the district's Academic Decathlon program since 2000, said he was told that he would become an assistant principal at a high school starting next week.

Ker said he would continue as coordinator of Academic Decathlon, as a secondary, half-time position.

District officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

In the decade that Ker has overseen the decathlon, the program -- an intense intellectual endeavor for high school students -- has been a dominating force at the national level, winning seven national titles, including last year's victory by Granada Hills Charter High School.

L.A. Unified schools have won the national title 12 times since the district’s first victory in 1987, and the district now ranks as the best in the nation.

With the position reduced, Ker worries that L.A. Unified’s dominance could falter.

“I see this as another obstacle,” he told The Times on Wednesday, “but this might be an obstacle I can’t overcome.”


Forget paradise; they're studying

Smart, in an easygoing way

Los Angeles Unified is Academic Decathlon's star student

PTA Legislative Alert: VOICES FOR EDUCATION HEARD IN SACRAMENTO: “The Governor’s administration …is urging school districts to maintain current staffing and programmatic levels for the coming school year”.

California State PTA Legislative Alert


Voices for education heard in Sacramento

June 29, 2011 - Late last night, the Legislature approved a majority vote budget that maintains current levels of funding for K-12 education, if the revenue assumptions it is based on hold true.

This budget does not reflect the stable, long-term solution we hoped for.  And it does not protect and invest in children at a level that our children need.

This is, in large part, because the Governor was not able to secure the necessary two-thirds vote in the Legislature for the extension of temporary taxes.

However, the “worst case” scenario, an "all cuts" budget solution was avoided.
While far from perfect, this budget shows that your voices and those of other education advocates were heard in Sacramento.

Thanks to everyone who wrote a letter, sent an e-mail, participated in a rally, made a call or visited their legislator.  You truly made a difference for the children of California.

Here is a brief first look at the K-12 education budget |

June 29, 2011: A first brief look at the budget

Late last night, the Legislature approved a majority vote budget that – if the revenue assumptions it is based on hold true – would maintain current levels of funding for K-12 education.

While this budget does not reflect the stable, long-term solution we hoped for (the Governor was not able to secure the necessary two-thirds vote by the Legislature for the extension of temporary taxes), it does show that our voices and those of other education advocates were heard in Sacramento.

An “all cuts” budget solution was avoided – and the funding level for K-12 education will be $350 per student higher than what the Governor originally proposed in January, although $2.2 billion of that money will be deferred until next year.

The approved budget is based on alternative revenues sources and projections of $4 billion in increased revenues. Additional midyear cuts will be automatically triggered if the anticipated revenues do not come in. Of most interest to schools: If revenues do not grow by at least $2 billion, $1.9 billion in cuts will be triggered. Most of these would fall within the education sector, including an elimination of state funding for Home-to-School Transportation ($248 million) and a reduction of up to seven days in the school year ($1.5 billion). Major additional cuts to higher education would also be triggered.

The decision on whether these triggers will be pulled and additional midyear cuts made will occur no later than December 15. The cuts would then be effective starting in January. The Governor’s administration is confident that revenue projections will be met and is urging school districts to maintain current staffing and programmatic levels for the coming school year.

We will continue to analyze and share information about other important aspects of this budget.

Certainly, higher education, child care, healthcare, child welfare and other services for children and families will be impacted. Remember: More than $10 billion in cuts was previously approved by the Legislature in March (on top of $18 billion in previous cuts to education), so the overall impact on children and families is still enormous.

But we have been successful in preventing deeper cuts for now.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to write a letter, send an e-mail, participate in a rally, make a call or visit your legislator. You have truly made a difference for the children of California!




June 28, 2011 - Updated: 4:37 p.m. - Depending on your point of view, Sam Kass is either parroting the soft-drink companies, or he’s a realist who epitomizes the pragmatic approach to childhood obesity of his boss, First Lady Michelle Obama.

Kass, who rose from the Obama family’s personal chef during their Chicago days to Assistant White House Chef to Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives at the White House, was a keynote speaker on the first day of the national Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego.

Article Tab : Sam Kass, a White House Chef and a policy advisor for first lady Michelle Obama's nutrition program, works the room at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego.

Sam Kass, a White House Chef and a policy advisor for first lady Michelle Obama's nutrition program, works the room at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. Landon Hall, the Register>>

Echoing a crucial strategy of the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign, Kass said child obesity “will not be solved unless we really work with and involve the private sector.”

It was more than a year ago that Michelle Obama launched “Let’s Move!” as a campaign to bring pediatric obesity levels back to 1970s levels. That would be about 5 percent, a long way from the 16 percent the level is now. One-third of children are overweight or obese.

The campaign seeks to bring healthy foods to poorer neighborhoods by adding more supermarkets and farmer’s market. But its initial successes involved prodding food manufacturers like Kraft to reduce sodium and sugar in packaged foods. Walmart also announced it had convinced its food suppliers to reformulate their products to make them healthier, as well as reduce prices for fruits and vegetables at its superstores that sell produce.

Some advocates have criticized the approach as being too lenient on the food companies, but Kass emphasized that companies have to be part of the solution. He told the 1,800 or so attendees at the conference luncheon — many of them dietitians, educators, public-health managers, academics and health-care providers — that “we need to redefine who we deem to be stakeholders” in the debate.

Kass said companies should be given credit when they offer to make improvement, even if those efforts fall a bit short. If they get “70 percent of the way, and they get creamed for not going 100 percent of the way,” those companies won’t have an incentive to make their products healthier.

He added that the first lady believes that the issue can’t be solved with “a piece of legislation” or “a presidential decree.”

During a question-and-answer period, an employee at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco suggested the White House get behind an effort to ban sodas in hospitals. Kass said focusing on one food item doesn’t bring a comprehensive solution to a complex problem.

“This issue is not caused by one drink,” Kass said, echoing arguments made by the soda industry when a California soda tax was proposed. “It’s about a much broader food landscape.”

Kass praised the MyFoodPlate.Gov campaign by the USDA, a reboot of the outdated, confusing Food Pyramid. He said the public isn’t served by “conflicting sources and messages” on nutrition that “turn people off.”

He urged the attendees to coalesce around a single message. The USDA soon will begin offering quarterly messages surrounding the new MyPlate design, beginning with this simple precept: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables during a meal.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

CA BUDGET: Will the third time be the charm?

from SacBee CapitolAlert

28 June: For the third time this year, the Legislature will take up budget-related bills. But for the first time, the governor and legislative Democrats say they have a comprehensive agreement in place.

The Senate and Assembly are expected to begin floor sessions on the new deal in the late afternoon.

By accounting for an additional $4 billion in revenues, Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday that the revised majority-vote package to cross out a $9.6 billion deficit passes his tests. The deal includes a fail-safe if the extra revenues don't materialize.

Click here for details of the budget agreement.

Monday, June 27, 2011



Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government
June 27, 2011

SAC BEE | Capitol Alert: Jerry Brown, Democratic leaders announce budget deal

Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislative leaders announced today that they have reached an agreement on a new majority-vote budget plan.

"We've had some tough discussions, but I can tell you that the Democrats in both the Senate and the Assembly have now joined with the administration and myself and we have a very good plan going forward with the budget," Brown said at a press conference in his office this afternoon.

The proposal, outlined in this post,[in box] assumes that the state will bring in an additional $4 billion in revenues in the upcoming fiscal year, based in part on higher-than-expected revenue figures in recent months. If those revenues fail to materialize, steeper cuts to programs including K-12 schools, higher education, public safety programs and In-Home Supportive Services would occur later in the year.

Capitol Alert: New Democratic budget relies on $4 billion more

Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats are hashing out a new majority-vote budget that relies on $4 billion more flowing into state coffers but "triggers" mid-year cuts to education and other programs if that money never materializes.

The trigger cuts would replace some of the most dubious solutions in the previous Democratic budget, such as selling state buildings and imposing a quarter-cent local sales tax on a majority vote, according to sources unwilling to be named. If revenues fall short, cuts would hit K-12 schools and higher education, public safety programs and In-Home Supportive Services.

A floor vote could take place as soon as Tuesday, sources said. Brown will hold a press conference with Democratic legislators at 3 p.m. today, his office announced.

Brown's intense focus on a majority-vote plan suggests the governor has moved away from his months-long effort to convince Republicans to approve taxes. Brown press secretary Gil Duran, in an interview with KPCC radio last week, called Republicans "basically moronic" and said they "aren't smart enough to write reforms."

Duran would not say Monday where Brown stands on a majority-vote budget. "There have been some serious meetings, Democratic meetings," he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez met with Brown around noon today, accompanied by their budget aides, but would not say whether they had a deal. Pérez said they were "making progress."

The new budget plan assumes an additional $4 billion in 2011-12 revenues. Sources said Democrats believe the state can be even more optimistic in light of May revenues coming in $448 million higher than estimated, mostly on strong sales tax figures.

Brown vetoed Democrats' previous majority-vote budget on June 16, less than 16 hours after lawmakers passed their package. He said that plan was "not a balanced solution" and contained "legally questionable" components.

Controller John Chiang subsequently decided last week he would not pay lawmakers under voter-approved Proposition 25. He said the Democratic budget was not balanced, but for different reasons, chiefly because he said it ran afoul of the state's Proposition 98 guarantee for school funding.

The new Democratic budget retains roughly the same $49 billion in funding for K-12 schools and community colleges that the vetoed plan included, although some of that funding could be at risk under "trigger" cuts.

The new budget includes a tax swap that redirects 1 percentage point of the statewide sales tax to counties for Brown's public safety "realignment," sources said. Under that plan, the state would redirect lower-level inmates to county jails and shift parole responsibilities. The tax swap has the added effect of reducing the state's Proposition 98 requirement for schools.

Democrats have said the public safety realignment is necessary to comply with a recent Supreme Court decision forcing the state to reduce its prison population by 30,000 inmates.

Democrats believe that securing a deal with Brown is the best way to meet Chiang's pay requirement. Chiang spokesman Garin Casaleggio said Monday the controller believes he is only authorized to determine whether a budget is balanced in the case of a gubernatorial veto. Casaleggio said that in cases where the governor signs a budget, his own Department of Finance makes a determination that the budget is balanced to satisfy a 2004 voter-approved measure, Proposition 58.

Jim Sanders contributed to this report.

Posted by Kevin Yamamura

1:00 PM |


"We have severe trigger cuts that will be triggered and go into effect (without the projected revenues)," Brown said. "And those are real."

Brown vetoed the majority-vote budget that lawmakers approved ahead of the Legislature's June 15 budget deadline, calling the package of spending cuts, funding shifts and one-time fixes "not a balanced solution." Legislators have also lost their pay in the wake of Controller John Chiang's decision that the plan approved earlier this month fails to meet the requirements for pay under the voter-approved initiative allowing the budget to be passed with a majority vote.

The governor, who has been working for months to secure Republican votes needed to hold a statewide election on expiring higher tax rates, said without a deal on his original proposal, leaders will have to "look very seriously" at using the initiative process to qualify a measure to secure future revenues.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez said Brown and Democrats "have not wavered in our belief that new revenues are essential" to balance the budget over the long term.

"The conversation has been started and we will keep that conversation going as we move to the ballot next year," Pérez said.

Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton criticized the plan unveiled today as a "hope without change" budget.

"This latest budget is based on the hope that $4 billion in new revenues will miraculously materialize, but does absolutely nothing to change government as usual," he said in a statement.

Read more about the plan here.



By smf for 4LAKids News

A few years back the most obvious box-office generating film title of all time came out: “Snakes on a Plane”. The title told you everything you needed to know. You didn't expect a chick flick. You didn't expect engaging witty dialogue. You didn't expect Freudian introspection or Kierkegaardian angst in the Swedish countryside. You expected snakes. On a plane.

Now we have “Bad Teacher”.  And the serious education community is having a sense-of-humor failure re: this newest attack on their profession, already under assault from multibillionare philanthropists, clueless politicians and private sector entrepreneurs. And bad parents.

Please: “Bad Teacher” a sophomoric raunchy sex comedy. With a title ripped from the headlines. Those are five elements that sell tickets, popcorn and DVDs. Cameron Diaz IS The Bad Teacher. Light bounces off of her in interesting ways. She has great timing and jiggly body parts.

Gentle reader,  need to laugh.

Because if we don't, we take high concept moviemaking like “Waiting for 'Superman'” - and its message that charter schools have all the answers (while it shows the opposite right up there on the screen) seriously ….and that would be A Bad Thing!

You will be shocked to learn from the following review that “Bad Teacher” is political-scientifically incorrect. There's a reason why academics with MAs in Poli Sci generally don't write movie reviews. Laugh at the review/Laugh at the movie.

“Life is too important to be taken seriously” – this from a man who did time in prison for something they give marriage licenses in New York for.   And, to all the teachers who changed my life: I'm really not sorry about ending that sentence with a preposition!

Read on:


by Scott Janssen in the Huffington Post |

At theaters all across America this weekend, a new comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal hit the big screens. While a movie debuting on a Friday is nothing new, the content of this film stands out from the rest. The Bad Teacher title gives a subtle hint about the plot, and the movie's description reads, "Some teachers just don't give an F." It also describes Cameron Diaz's character, a teacher, as someone who "drinks" and who "gets high." Though comedies shouldn't necessarily be taken seriously, a television advertisement for the movie is what caught my attention.

The advertisement, which can be seen here, says that the United States used to have the number one educational system in the world, and we now rank 17th. The clip then proceeds to show Cameron Diaz's character throwing a dodge ball at a child before the Bad Teacher title line appears. The implication for the ad spot is clear: America's schooling has fallen because of bad teachers.

The timing of such an ill-advised commercial couldn't be worse for teachers, as educators across the United States are under attack from politicians and the media. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has led a large portion of the fighting against teachers, claiming they make too much money, that they're not effective, and that they're too difficult to fire. He proposed a new way of judging teachers with his merit plan, a system that would judge the value of teachers based on student test data. His plan has received broad attention from media outlets, though the veracity of his boisterous arguments has either been ignored or hasn't been sought out.

Vanderbilt University, in one of the first scientific studies of such a merit educational system, tested the theory by offering math teachers in Nashville, Tennessee, between $5,000-$15,000 if their students scored higher on a state-based examination. The results? It didn't work, and the students didn't score higher even with hefty incentives for the teachers. As the report concluded, "The experiment was intended to test the notion that rewarding teachers for improved scores would cause scores to rise. By and large, results did not confirm this hypothesis."

Rather than report scientific evidence that appears to contradict popular notions like a merit system, the media has instead decided to focus on the failures of American schools. ABC's 20/20, for example, did a special report on Abraham Lincoln High School in New York City. One student told ABC that teachers were dull to the point of students actually sleeping in class. Another school administrator complained that the teachers unions were too strong and that their district was having a hard time firing a teacher who allegedly sent sexually explicit emails to a 16-year-old student. ABC even spoke with proclaimed education experts, such as Jay Greene, author of Education Myths, who claimed that the issue of money for schools is a misnomer. "If money were the solution, the problem would already be solved," Greene said, referencing the levels of increased government spending on schools the past 30 years.

The claims made in the special were serious enough that they should be looked into. If there was one area the 20/20 segment was lacking, it was telling the story of the teachers. What did they think of the accusations being made against their lot? I attempted to answer those questions by contacting a teacher I'll call "Alicia" who has taught in urban schools in central Florida as well as schools in Michigan. Her version of events painted a much different picture.

Alicia dismissed the notion of students sleeping in class due to boring teachers. While she admitted there are "boring" teachers out there, she feels most of that is the product of teachers having their lesson plans down to a science. To help streamline the process of teaching material, many teachers will save their lessons from the previous year and teach them again. If an educator has been on the job many years, they've likely done the material so many times that it may even appear dull to themselves. Alicia suggests the best way to beat such a rut is to have "hands-on" lessons and to mix things up from time-to-time. Also, Alicia astutely quipped, if you ask students how they feel about school, odds are they're going to say it's boring. You won't always learn about a subject that interests you, which is all a part of becoming a well-rounded member of society.

Alicia refuted the criticism of unions being too strong as a chicken or egg situation. Officials claim the unions are too strong, yet teachers need a strong union to protect them from organizations that wish to cut their funding, salaries and health care. The unions may protect some who aren't worthy of being educators but to use a potential pedophile and apply it to teachers generally is "not a fair situation for the good teachers," and is insulting.

Alicia seemed to take special offense to the claim money is a myth when it comes to education. She states:

I do believe money can be a big deciding factor in which schools get more money. I taught in an urban, inner-city school where we received much less funding per pupil than a school five minutes down the road in a wealthy area. These upper-class students had parents who were involved. Of course they are going to succeed better than my school, where the kids don't know where their next meal is coming from, except for school lunch. I believe the situation should be reversed. The schools that have a failing reputation due to low test scores need the money more than the schools who are producing high test scores and graduate rates.

Reading the criticisms of the American school system and speaking with Alicia has shown there are fundamental faults with the current system. What isn't fair, however, is to place all the blame on teachers, and a movie trailer implying educators are the reason our schools are falling apart is misinformed and in bad taste.

I wish to thank the teachers, such as Mrs. Carey, my first grade teacher, who wouldn't give up on me even when I had no desire to do my homework. I would like to thank the high school teachers who somehow managed to keep coming into school every day to teach a bunch of students who managed to unhinge the clock from our wall as a joke, or password protected our network computers so nobody could access them. I would like to thank the teachers who, when a quarter or dime hit the ground in the hallway and began to roll, would run in a full-blown sprint towards the change, shouting humorously that it would double their monthly salary. I would like to thank the teachers who pushed me to write even when I thought it was the most boring thing in the world -- you helped me earn my Master's degree and write for The Huffington Post.

To all my teachers: you changed my life, and this post is for you.

  • Scott Janssen is a recent graduate of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with a Master's degree in Political Science. He can be reached at

smf: I suggest reading this review on HuffPo  - as of this writing there are 16 pages of comments – proof positive that some folks need more stuff to do with their summers!


from the frugal living advice website Cheapest Service.Com |

June 26, 2011 - We hear the outcry on a nearly daily basis, “Cut Taxes,” “ No New Taxes” and it’s true, we all need to tighten our economic belts and cut spending. One recipient of our tax dollars, the public school system, cannot afford to have spending cut.

Here are 10 reasons why:

  1. Jobs: In every community, schools employ many people, paying the wages of not only teachers and administrators, but also aides, cooks, janitorial staff and bus drivers among others. The money paid out in wages is funneled back into the economy, which, in turn, maintains jobs and the standard of living for our communities. Cutting spending to education eliminates jobs and weakens today’s economy.

  2. Quality teachers: People do not enter the teaching field for the money. Teachers are considerably under-paid compared to equally educated peers who chose a different career path. Teachers are in the classroom because they gain personal satisfaction from helping others. But teaching is a difficult job, and if funding is cut so teachers are not compensated adequately, they will leave the profession and move into a career that may not be as personally satisfying, but will help them pay their bills. This will translate into a high rollover of teaching staff, which means students do not have continuity of service, and learning decreases.

  3. Staff to student ratio: When budgets are cut, usually the first thing affected in a school is the staff. There is an attempt to determine which persons/positions are least vital to the education of the fewest number of children. So, staff is cut and those remaining are shuffled around to cover the gap, and it happens again and again, until finally the staff-to-student ratio is unmanageable. One person should not be expected to create, teach and critique quality lessons for 30 to 35 children or teens while keeping track of behaviors, ancillary schedules, para-professionals, special needs students, federal educational standards, emergency procedures, and the list goes on and on. Ultimately, stress for everyone increases as learning decreases.

  4. Facility upkeep: Classrooms need to be painted, buildings repaired, windows get broken, roofs spring leaks, and boiler systems go down. All of these situations cost money, and the cost of maintaining these structures needs to be covered in order to have an adequate learning environment for our children.

  5. Quality curriculum: Generally speaking, kids need to learn a lot of information in order to have a solid background of understanding. Books and other materials wear out, get used up and must be replaced. The cost of replacing these items in the classroom continues to rise, which means that schools need to have funding available to buy these items so students can continue receiving quality education.

  6. Technological advances: Technology is the way of the future. If funding for schools is cut, our students will not have proper instruction on how to use the technology that is currently available, nor will they develop the higher level thought processes needed to create and produce future innovations.

  7. Extra-curricular activities: The “extra” component of our schools: music, art classes, competitive speech, etc. are often the first things to be cut when funding is scarce. These activities help to keep young people appropriately engaged with their peers and in school, rather than getting into trouble.

  8. Changing role of schools: Schools are providing more services to our children than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. Meals and social services for students are provided, as well as other services such as health screenings and childcare. When we expect these services to be provided to our children, we have to expect to pay for them.

  9. By investing in education, we invest in the future: And the future economic stability of our country. Our country’s economic stability is directly related to the education of our youth. If the United States expects to maintain its position in world affairs, our young people must be educated to prepare for that responsibility. If funding for education is cut, our collective knowledge base is reduced, thereby reducing the very foundation upon which this country was built.

  10. Higher return on our investment: When education funding is considered an investment in our children and their future, we can see the value of every dollar spent beginning with pre-school classes for at-risk students, through elementary classrooms where teachers have few enough students to give them all the attention they need, to extra-curricular activities that keep students engaged, to grants for disadvantaged or low-income graduates to give them a chance to obtain higher education.  Every dollar spent here means that someone is succeeding. He is contributing and giving back to society. She is providing more opportunities for the next generation. They are not promoting violence or drug use, nor are they in prison, which costs the taxpayer even more money with no positive return.

Ultimately, when it comes to spending money on education, can we afford not to?



Eric Thayer for The New York Times - Cindy Robinson teaching her kindergarten students how to tell time at Central Elementary in San Diego. Her class size could soon jump to 30 from 17.

June 26, 2011  - SAN DIEGO — Many in the forefront of what is called the education reform movement — like Bill Gates, the philanthropist, and Arne Duncan, the nation’s education secretary — have attended private schools with small class sizes. Others, like New York’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, and its former schools chancellor Joel I. Klein have sent their children to private schools with small class sizes.

Imagine if the poorest public school children had the same opportunity. That is what has been happening for several years in this urban district of 130,000 students. Using state money and federal stimulus dollars, San Diego has held class size to 17 in kindergarten through second grade at its 30 poorest schools.

“Small class size is the most important priority for us,” said Richard Barrera, the school board president. “These children are behind when they enter kindergarten. If they’re on grade level by third grade, most will be fine.”

Mr. Barrera believes that the rise in the district’s state test scores — to 56 percent proficient in English from 45 percent three years ago — is due, in part, to smaller classes.

However, in San Diego, 17 could soon become 30. Federal stimulus money has been spent. California’s governor and Legislature, after several years of budget cuts, are deadlocked over whether to cut again. All around the state, districts have developed worst-case budget plans.

At Central Elementary here, where 100 percent of the children are poor enough to qualify for free lunch and 85 percent learn English as their second language, increasing class size to 30 children would mean cutting the teaching staff to 23 from 38.

“We’re waiting to see if the state pushes us over the cliff,” said Cindy Marten, the principal.

While educators debate whether the academic gain from reducing class size is worth the cost, research has shown that significantly smaller classes make a difference in the earliest grades. San Diego’s decision to set a class size of 17 at its poorest schools was based on the most influential study in the field, the Tennessee STAR project. That research, done in the 1980s, concluded that students in small classes (13 to 17 children) outperformed those in regular classrooms (22 to 25) in kindergarten to third grades. The gains were biggest among poor minority children, and that advantage continued for years to come.

As a child, Ms. Marten attended a private school where the ratio of students to teachers was 16 to 1. For many years she also taught at a private school with small class sizes. At Central, reducing the number of students per class has been a top priority.

Last year, Dawn Taylor transferred her son Dakan, who has a learning disability along with cystic fibrosis, a lung disease, to Central, where she knew he would be in a first-grade class of 16, compared with 25 at his former school. “He’d been overlooked,” she said. “Now, he likes school, he reads well, his grades show pickup.”

Kym Lugo, Dakan’s teacher, is never too far from any of her 16 students. She listens for his breathing and coughing, watches that he eats and drinks properly. “He needs his protein,” she said.

Ms. Lugo has experienced the difference, struggling with a summer school class of 30 last year. “I had kids cutting each other with scissors,” she said. “It was more discipline than learning.”

Fourth- and fifth-grade teachers at Central can have up to 35 students per class, but the school has three support teachers to help ease the load. Each day they pull out half of the students for extra instruction in English, math and science.

Francesca Virtue said she can also see the benefits that several years of smaller classes has had on the students who entered her room in September. “They progress much quicker,” she said. “Before getting to me, each child got the needed attention.”

In the past, she was never able to cover the entire fourth grade math curriculum before the state test. “There were always lots of items on the test we never got to,” she said. “This year I was able to cover everything.”

Teachers want to be at Central; 37 of the 38 have been at the school at least six years. Students want to be there, too; annual turnover is 20 percent versus 42 percent eight years ago.

And test scores have steadily risen since Ms. Marten arrived at Central eight years ago as a literacy coach (she has been principal since 2008): 41 percent of the students are now proficient in language arts compared with 18 percent in 2004.

As the school improved, Ms. Marten has been able to attract outside support. She has partnered with a nonprofit agency to open a day care center at Central for teachers’ children and with a local foundation to open a medical clinic on site.

There was a time, before Ms. Marten, when Central’s test scores were considered a national miracle. In 2000, the school registered a record one-year test score gain, with its California Academic Performance Index score jumping 20 percent. In recognition, the state awarded every Central teacher a $20,000 bonus.

Shortly before being elected president, George W. Bush made a campaign stop at the school, calling it a shining example of what his education reform — which became No Child Left Behind — would accomplish.

Alas, a year after Mr. Bush’s visit, Central’s state score dropped nearly 10 percent; the year after that, another 4 percent. Indeed, it was not until 2010 that Central matched its 2000 score.

The amazing single year score had not reflected student growth; it had reflected the unreliability of the test.

Nor did the $20,000 bonuses make a difference. Greg Leland, a fifth-grade teacher, was delighted to get his, though, he said, “with or without a bonus, I always try my best.”

At first, San Diego’s class size commitment came at modest cost. In the late 1990s, California had passed legislation to finance early grades at 20 students per class, so getting the ratio to 17 to 1 was not much of a stretch. But two years ago, there were state cuts, and early grade class size climbed to 24 in most places.

Mr. Barrera, the board president, said if the district has to go to 30 to 1, it would do substantial harm. “You’re pretty much guaranteeing you’ll lose five or six kids per class,” he said.

Leaders of the so-called reform movement, including Mr. Gates, Mr. Duncan, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein, say that in hard times, increasing class size is one of the best ways to save money, as long as there is a strong teacher.

Central parents like Ms. Taylor and Rosa Penamoya do not agree. For them, nothing matters more than small classes. At the start of school, they count heads in their children’s classrooms and for the rest of the year keep checking. In February, Ms. Taylor noticed there were 16 names on Dakan’s Valentine card list. Ms. Penamoya noticed that when she was asked to send in a treat for her daughter Aryanna’s third-grade class, she needed to make 19 cupcakes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

2,000 STILL FACE POSSIBLE LAYOFFS IN LAUSD: Tough decisions lie ahead for Los Angeles Unified schools

By Jason Song, Los Angeles Times |

Administrators must weigh the value of nearly 2,000 teachers, counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists who still could lose their jobs.Sally Stevens

Sally Stevens, an attendance counselor at Carson High School, is unsure of job prospects. (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times / June 26, 2011)

June 26, 2011 - Last school year, Carson High School students skipped 1,926 days of class. This year, the school reduced that figure by 20%, thanks to an aggressive intervention program that included tracking down students and meeting with parents.

Much of the credit goes to Sally Stevens, one of two school attendance counselors who are responsible for finding chronic truants.

    "They're the ones who deal with the hard-core students, and they find a way to get them to school," said Ken Keener, Carson's principal.

    But Stevens is among a group of nearly 2,000 Los Angeles Unified School District employees who are in danger of losing their jobs as the nation's second-largest district wrestles with a nearly $400-million budget shortfall.

    Earlier this year, the district issued preliminary layoff notices to almost 7,000 employees. This month, however, the school board rescinded almost 5,000 of those pink slips after the teachers union agreed to a four-day furlough, which saved $42 million.

    But that wasn't enough, and some school positions were funded by federal stimulus money that has now expired. So campus administrators must decide whether to reallocate scarce funding to pay for those counselors, teachers and nurses who remain in limbo or to lay them off.

    District officials said they are continuing to look for additional funding to protect as many positions as possible, but they began sending out final layoff notices Friday. Aside from counselors, others who are receiving the notices include teachers, social workers, nurses and psychologists.

    "We're going to try to the very last moment to save jobs," said Vivian Ekchian, the district's chief human resources officer.

    Parents and students at numerous schools have held rallies and protests in recent weeks in an effort to pressure the district to save their staffs. Several groups have taken their cases to the school board, and others plan to.

    Carson administrators have budgeted enough money to have a part-time attendance counselor next year. But job openings in the district are decided strictly by seniority, so Stevens, who has worked for L.A. Unified for four years, could lose her position to someone who has worked in the system longer.

    "It's a frightening time," said Stevens, who has two young children and is married to an out-of-work teacher.

    Stevens has signed up to be a substitute teacher, which would mean a loss of pay but "at least I'll have benefits," she said.

    Still, substitutes have even more competition for work now that they are vying for jobs with the many other teachers laid off by the district.

    On a recent Monday morning, Stevens was fretting because Roberto Mayorga hadn't shown up yet. Stevens had spent much of the year trying to break the freshman's habit of missing Fridays and Mondays. She often visited the boy's home and appealed to his family.

    "I hope nothing happened," she said.

    When Roberto arrived almost an hour after classes started, Stevens greeted him at the front door. "My friend is here," she said.

    She spoke briefly with Roberto's father, who had driven his son to school after he overslept, then took the student into her office. She gave him $10 worth of bus tokens to make sure he had a way to get to school and promised him a real "Simpsons" cartoon drawing if he continued to go to class.

    Later in the morning, Stevens called a junior into her office to make sure he had the right paperwork to transfer to another school and to remind him not to cut classes.

    "You know the easiest way to get someone to stop nagging?" she asked. "Do what they say."

    Stevens and other counselors said they are concerned that students may not trust new counselors.

    "One of my big, overarching goals is building relationships, and all of that goes out the window when a new person comes in," said Mary Ann Dibs, an attendance counselor at 75th Street Elementary School.

    Keener, the Carson principal, said he hoped Stevens could return but acknowledged that it was a long shot.

    "If we can't keep Sally, I hope we get someone as good as she is," he said. "That person will be hard to find."


    LA Times Editorial |

    The takeover by charter operator Green Dot hasn't yielded the quick and dramatic results many had hoped for, but there has been some solid improvement.

    Tenth-grade English teacher Beth Schmidt works with Locke students.  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

    Tenth-grade English teacher Beth Schmidt works with Locke students. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

    June 26, 2011 - Three years ago, the last graduating class of the "old" Locke High School listened to a commencement speaker whose main thrust was that only a small number of students had made it to that point. Odd words at most graduation ceremonies, but appropriate at Locke. Under the management of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the number of graduates at this public school in Watts was regularly a fraction of the number of students who had started out as ninth-graders.

    The class of 2008 started with 1,451 freshmen, according to the state's education database. Only 595 made it to their sophomore year. About 350 ultimately walked at graduation — but just 261 of them actually received diplomas.

      The following fall, after a bitter battle, charter operator Green Dot Public Schools took over Locke. And last week, the "new" Locke High graduated its third class. These were the last students to have experienced Locke as a public school, back when they were freshmen, and the last to represent Locke High School as a whole; younger students have been placed in small, individual academies on campus, each of which reports separately to the state. So this is a final chance to compare state figures on the school before and after the takeover.

      How did Green Dot do at stemming the tide of students who disappear from campus into lives usually plagued by high unemployment and low wages? Solidly better, but not the quick and extraordinary transformation everyone had hoped for. Not yet, anyway.

      Charter schools are not the ultimate solution to bad public schools; rather, the solution lies in improving public schools so that they have adequate resources, good teachers and a stimulating curriculum. Like many charter operators, Green Dot has had financial help from outside foundations, help that isn't available to most public schools.

      Still, well-run charter schools have played a valuable role in pressuring public schools to improve, and they can be a lifeline to students who are sinking in crummy neighborhood schools or, in many cases, leaving school far too soon. In the case of Locke, the switch appears to be working, albeit more slowly and haltingly than Green Dot expected.

      The charter operator deserves praise for its massive and earnest effort at Locke. It was the first charter school in Los Angeles to accept all of the students within its attendance boundaries, just as public schools do, rather than restricting enrollment and accepting students through a lottery. Students who choose their charter schools are motivated to follow the rules and achieve; public schools take all comers. The Locke takeover served as the model for L.A. Unified's Public School Choice initiative, in which new schools and some failing schools were turned over to outside groups that filed the most promising applications. Some of those were groups of teachers, others were charter schools. All had to follow Green Dot's example and admit all students within their enrollment boundaries.

      Green Dot reports that it graduated 358 seniors at Locke on Thursday; it started with 617 sophomores. (The size of this class as freshmen isn't counted because Green Dot had no influence over those students.) That's a graduation rate of about 58%.

      Not so great, right? In fact, if Locke's numbers don't improve in coming years, its graduation rate would be considered unacceptable. But lined up against the same data from the L.A. Unified-run Locke, this figure represents substantial improvement. In 2008, the graduating class was 44% of what it had been in sophomore year. In 2007, even worse: about 32%.

      These numbers don't tell the full story of how many students drop out or stay in school for a diploma. Locke, where nearly all the students are either black or Latino and most of them are low-income, is located in a highly transient neighborhood in a highly transient district; more than a fourth of the students move every year. Those numbers have probably accelerated in the last few years as families left the Los Angeles area for more affordable areas with better job prospects.

      Green Dot retained most of its first sophomores through the beginning of senior year: 560 of the original 617, a remarkably high number for Locke. But by the end of the year, almost 90 of those seniors disappeared, and Green Dot officials don't know why or what happened to them. Another 110 or so lacked the credits to graduate, but Green Dot says those students all have individual plans for earning the needed credits over the next year and will be back. But Green Dot has kept substantially more students in school, and it did so while raising standards and prodding far more students into a college-preparatory curriculum. Attendance was higher. Far fewer students wandered the campus or left it during class time. A program that allowed students to make up courses through self-paced computer instruction helped many of those at high risk of dropping out get the credits they needed. Passing rates on the high school exit exam rose significantly (though it's worth noting that L.A. Unified's pass rates also made impressive gains this year). Meanwhile, retention rates appear higher so far at the small Locke academies that have been growing grade by grade since fall 2008.

      Green Dot did not pull off quick academic miracles, but these are all signs of long-overdue hope for students who have had too little.


      2cents smf smf: This is Year Three in a series of editorials from the Times that started out being called “A Year @ Locke“ + developed into a book that is a love letter to the Green Dot and Teach for America franchises. This installment ends “Green Dot did not pull off quick academic miracles…”  but neglects to mention that miracles – and 100% graduation/zero drop-outs/API of 700+ [Locke is 572] and 100% college admission was-and-is the Green Dot promise.  Green Dot’s manta when they took over was ‘incremental isn’t enough’ - ‘urgency’ was required! Green Dot still refuses to consider 9th graders in their grad-rate equation – yet it is 9th graders who fail to make it to the 10th (‘9-Rs’) that are the students that most need saving and consideration. Not enough mention is made of the huge extra unsustainable financial investment made by Green Dot and their sponsors into Locke that the regular schools can’t match ($7.8 million from Gates alone). Locke is the poster child for the argument that ‘throwing money at it’ isn’t the answer.

      “If money were the solution, the problem would already be solved."  - Jay Greene, author of Education Myths, What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About our Schools – and why it isn’t so.

      And yet – you don’t have to read too far between the lines to decipher that Locke is still – in the proponents own vernacular: a “failing school”, still a ”dropout factory” – still Waiting for Superman. 

      These kids deserve every extra bit of help they can get. But I’m afraid the attaboys and ‘good jobs’’’ to Green Dot are misplaced.


      Los Angeles County students thanked everyone from their parents to school security guards for helping them excel and stay safe during their high school careers.

      Grad speech

      Ziv Natan Bar-El gives a speech during graduation ceremonies at North Hollywood High School. Bar-El graduated from the school's Zoo Magnet Center. (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times / June 26, 2011)

      By Beth Shuster, Los Angeles Times |

      June 26, 2011 - High school graduation season concluded last week across Los Angeles County. Before hundreds of people, in English and in Spanish, valedictorians, student body presidents and others from the Class of 2011 gave their culminating remarks.

      Their speeches touched on everything from the recession to their favorite foods. The student speakers gave credit to their teachers, counselors, principals — "Let's be thankful because even though we made them frustrated at times they never gave up, but pushed us harder and always expected more from us," said Laura Meneses, of Santee Education Complex. Some even thanked the security guards — "Shout out to … JB, Pillsbury, Jose, Tank, Will, and Ms. Neka, who made it safe for us to come to school every day," said Jessica Rayside, of Inglewood High School.

      The students praised their parents for helping them make it to graduation — "To my mom and dad, through all the hardships and the tension of life, thank you for giving me all of the wisdom that I need to succeed," said Sean Tan, of Belmont High School.

      And, of course, they talked about their friends — "Among us are those who can solve Rubick's cubes while blindfolded, knit hats and dolls for their loved ones, perform magic tricks, dance like beasts," said Jimin Hong, of the North Hollywood High School Highly Gifted Magnet.

      Here are more excerpts from the students' speeches:

      "Being aware of this honor, I began doing my research in order to prepare an excellent speech. However, I quickly discovered that everywhere I look it stated that nobody ever remembers the valedictorian's speech.… Ain't that great? So you mean to tell me I wasted four years in high school exceeding in all my classes just so I will not be remembered a year from now?"

      -- Pedro Mariscal, Mendez Learning Center School for Engineering and Technology.

      "So, now that we've all come a long way from our homes to be here, I would like to take a moment to retrace my memories here at North Hollywood, a rather hot home for Huskies: the piercing shrieks of incessant fire alarms, chicken bones on the stairs, morning hallways filled with sleepy, zombie-like students, bright yellow school buses, the tree in the quad that one day disappeared so suddenly, the most memorable Senior Memory Book, the one-dollar chicken burrito at Taco Bell, and Chiang San, my favorite Thai food restaurant. Believe it or not, I'm going to miss them all."

      -- Jimin Hong, North Hollywood High School Highly Gifted Magnet.

      "Since most of us have grown up in a low-income community, we know that life can sometimes be relentless and cruel to us. Some of our parents have gone through very harsh conditions just so they could give us the opportunities that they never had. However, we are all here tonight to prove to our family and friends that we are something special."

      --Anthony Cerna, Santee Education Complex.

      "Throughout our twelve-year educational career we have learned plenty. Matter of fact is that the most essential knowledge was attained during kindergarten: From sharing is caring."

      -- Stefany Espana, Santee Education Complex.

      "Four years ago we entered John Marshall High School for the first time. We entered fairly confident. We had faith in our abilities as students, athletes, and members of a community. However, to be honest, over the past several months leading to this day, I have found myself a bit scared. We have no way of knowing if the decisions we make will be future regrets or the things that flash in our minds as happy memories decades from now. We do not know if our lives will work out as planned. What I do know is regardless of the path we choose after today; whether we pursue a traditional path of higher learning or we choose to enlist in the military and serve this great country of ours, or whether we decide to strike out into the world and travel from continent to continent, our choices will be made with a clear heart and mind."

      -- Manny Hernandez, John Marshall High School.

      "Our program, established to create a school dedicated to learning about animals in a hands-on environment, was threatened with being shut down or going charter this year. Ever since I've been a student I have noticed how the criteria of what makes a good school has shifted from what I have learned to how well I do on a test. Standardized test makers try to treat everyone exactly the same, and it turns students into a series of numbers and percentages. When this is done, we lose sight of what is really important, the individuality of students and the new world we can create."

      -- Ziv Natan Bar-El, North Hollywood High School Zoo Magnet Center.

      "I grew up seeing my dad struggle, causing me to learn the meaning of sacrifice and perseverance early on. There was my father, a widowed man at the age of 30, raising two children on his own, constantly trying to make ends meet and playing the role of father and mother as best he could. That's my story, but mine is not the only story. As the years went on in East L.A., Boyle Heights or Lincoln Heights, some of us came from single-parent households, homes that felt they would fall apart right before our eyes, others grew up with parents that weren't always there, or grew into larger, multicultural families, or grew up with both parents at home. No two stories are the same, yet we share one thing in common: MASS [Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School]."

      --Jessica Valles, Marc and Eva Stern Math and Science School.

      • Times staff writers Howard Blume and Jason Song contributed to this report.


      Students walk despite not passing state exam: Exemption long been allowed, even though school board policy forbids participating in commencement without passing statewide test.

      By Britney Barnes, Daily Pilot (Costa Mesa) |

      June 23, 2011 | 12:48 p.m. – COSTA MESA =Despite  board policy barring the practice, high school seniors who have not passed the state-mandated exit exam will walk in Thursday's Newport-Mesa Unified commencement ceremonies.

      The policy technically forbids the seniors from walking, but the practice has long been allowed, school officials said.

      Seniors who have passed all graduation requirements except the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), but retook the test in May, are given an exemption. Those retakers don't get their results until after graduation.

      "We like to make the assumption that the kids pass the test," said Charles Hinman, assistant superintendent of secondary education, adding that the district wouldn't want to deny a student the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

      Newport Harbor has about 10 students who fall into the exception, said Principal Michael Vossen.

      Costa Mesa High School has five students, said Principal Phil D'Agostino.

      Estancia High School has 11 students with the exception, said Principal Kirk Bauermeister.

      Corona del Mar High School Principal Tim Bryan said his school doesn't have any students who fit that situation.

      Back Bay/Monte Vista High School couldn't be reached on Wednesday for comment.

      Some students don't see the de facto policy as equitable.

      "I think they should pass (the exit exam), because it's kind of unfair that I passed," said Back Bay/Monte Vista senior Daisy Marin, 18.

      Board policy states that commencement is for students who have earned a diploma that cannot be obtained, in accordance with state law, without passing the exit test. There are some exceptions for students with disabilities.

      According to board policy, "High school graduation ceremonies shall be held to recognize those students who have earned a diploma by successfully completing the required course of study, satisfying district standards and passing any required assessments."

      Despite walking, students will not get a diploma until they pass the exam, said district spokeswoman Laura Boss.

      "It's always been our practice," Boss said. "It's nothing new."

      Graduating Back Bay/Monte Vista senior Kzamir Patelski, 17, said he doesn't know why students would want to participate in commencement if they weren't getting their diploma.

      "Why walk?" he asked.

      Thirty-year school Trustee Judy Franco said past policies were different at each school.

      After learning Wednesday about the exception, she said she doesn't see a problem with letting the students walk. She also made a request to look into the graduation policy and consider making the exception official.

      After the Daily Pilot made inquiries, the district sent out an e-mail Tuesday morning to the high school principals clarifying the policy, officials said.

      "The CAHSEE has always provided some confusion," Boss said.

      The statewide test was introduced in 2005-06 as a diploma requirement to ensure students are grade-level proficient in math, reading and writing, according to the state Department of Education.

      Students first take the test sophomore year and have multiple chances to retake it junior and senior years.

      Policies about graduation ceremonies vary by district.

      The Irvine Unified School District doesn't allow students to walk in commencement if they haven't passed the exam, spokesman Ian Hanigan said in an e-mail.

      However, Huntington Beach Union High School District's board policy permits students to participate if they have met all requirements other than the exit exam.


      Some students participate in graduation -- even without passing exit exam

      Britney Barnes, Times Community News-LA Times/LA Now |


      June 24, 2011 |  9:27 am - Despite a school board policy barring the practice, high school seniors who have not passed the state-mandated exit exam were allowed to walk in Thursday's Newport-Mesa Unified commencement ceremonies.

      The policy technically forbids the seniors from participating in the graduation ceremonies, but the practice has long been allowed, school officials told the Daily Pilot.

      Seniors who have passed all graduation requirements except the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), but retook the test in May, are given an exemption. Those retakers don't get their results until after graduation.

      "We like to make the assumption that the kids pass the test," said Charles Hinman, assistant superintendent of secondary education, adding that the district wouldn't want to deny a student the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

      At least 26 students at four of the district's high schools fall into the exception, school officials said.

      Some students don't see the de facto policy as equitable.

      "I think they should pass [the exit exam], because it's kind of unfair that I passed," said Back Bay/Monte Vista senior Daisy Marin, 18.

      Board policy states that commencement is for students who have earned a diploma that cannot be obtained, in accordance with state law, without passing the exit test. There are some exceptions for students with disabilities.

      According to board policy, "High school graduation ceremonies shall be held to recognize those students who have earned a diploma by successfully completing the required course of study, satisfying district standards and passing any required assessments."

      Taking part in graduation, however, doesn't necessarily mean a diploma. They don't get those until they pass the exam, said district spokeswoman Laura Boss.


      FEW STATE RULES FOR TRANSITION K: Light touch from Sacramento on new program

      By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

      6/24/11 • School districts that have complained for years that Sacramento attaches too many strings to new state programs should be pleased with transitional kindergarten, the new program for “old” 4-year-olds that districts must offer, starting the fall of 2012. There will be lots of latitude for the locals and few state-imposed rules. And that, says the law’s sponsor, Sen. Joe Simitian, is by design.

      Ending decades of talk but no action, the Legislature last year moved up the start of kindergarten, requiring that children must turn five on or before Sept. 1, instead of Dec. 2, to enroll in it. Students who turn five between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 will now be eligible for a transitional kindergarten followed the next year by a traditional kindergarten.

      California had been one of few states that allowed 4-year-olds in kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers and psychologists had argued for years that wasn’t a good idea and that children would be far better off coming to kindergarten developmentally ready.

      The Legislature’s approach was to adopt transitional kindergarten, as opposed to state-funded preschool or no substitute at all. Adding an extra year of kindergarten actually won’t cost the state any money until year 14, when the cohort of September to November birthdays would have graduated but instead will be in their senior year of high school. Proponents are betting a good portion of the cost will be offset by fewer special education expenses and fewer students being held back in elementary school. But to ease the transition, the program will be phased in over three years, one month at a time. Starting in September 2012, the kindergarten start date will be Nov. 1, then Oct. 1 in 2013 and Sept. 1 in 2014.

      As for the particulars of transition kindergarten, SB 1381 was vague, defining transition kindergarten only as “the first year of a two-year kindergarten program that uses a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate.”

      “I have been a local control advocate for years,” said Simitian, a Democrat from Palo Alto who served on the Palo Alto Unified school board for eight years before running for Legislature. “People said give us flexibility and so with transition kindergarten, we did just that.”

      There was also a financial reason for flexibility: avoiding creating state mandates that the Legislature would then have to fund.

      Questions answered

      Districts have had plenty of questions, and most have been answered in an FAQ on the Department of Education website. The basic message: The rules for kindergarten also apply to transitional kindergarten: Yes, there must be a credentialed teacher in the classroom; no, like kindergarten, transitional kindergarten is optional, not mandated for children. Otherwise, it’s each district’s prerogative whether to run combination classes, whether to go half or full day, whether to supply transportation and whether to offer transitional kindergarten at every school.

      Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California, a big advocate for transitional kindergarten, says she agreed with Simitian’s “light touch.”

      “I appreciated his strong belief that this was not about having the state creating more requirements and trying to centralize the program,” she said.

      What the State Board of Education has done is take the first step toward setting standards for transitional kindergarten, which will be a blend of early childhood learning guidelines and state kindergarten standards. The Board has asked the California State Advisory Council on Early Childhood Education and Care (ELAC) to propose them. Atkin praised the effort, while expressing worry whether ELAC will be around next year; Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed eliminating it.

      Meanwhile, for lack of a set curriculum, Preschool California, with Packard Foundation support, has encouraged school districts that already have a transitional kindergarten in place, such as Sacramento City Unified and Los Angeles Unified, to share their experiences and best practices with other districts. LAUSD currently runs the program in 36 schools and will add an additional 100 this fall, one year before the program formally starts.

      Simitian still has a bill, SB 30, in the hopper in case unresolved issues need to be clarified. But at this point, he said, there aren’t any.


      MESS WITH PROP 98, DO NOT PASS GO: Chiang says budget doesn't pass balance test

      By John Fensterwald - Educated Guess |

      6/22/11 • In finding that legislators had passed a squirrely budget last week and therefore won’t get paid as of June 16, Controller John Chiang determined Tuesday that lawmakers had shorted the Proposition 98 obligation to K-12 schools and community colleges by about $1.3 billion (here is his analysis).

      He’s not alone. That’s roughly the same amount that School Services of California, consultants for school districts, calculated and that I reported last week.

      The Legislature has the right to appropriate less than schools are entitled to – they did it last year for the current budget – but suspending Prop 98 demands a two-thirds majority. Democrats, who passed the budget bill by a majority vote, didn’t try, and it’s no mystery why. Republicans, at this point at least, are saying they won’t supply the votes needed for suspension.

      Chiang angered many legislators by determining that the $89.75 billion Democratic budget was out of balance by $1.85 billion. The problem with Prop 98 accounted for the bulk of the total. Gov. Jerry Brown, who’s been trying to persuade Republicans to reach a budget compromise, issued a two-sentence response – an invitation to press ahead: “The Controller has made his determination. We should all work together to pass a solid budget.”

      John Mockler, who wrote the Prop 98 law two decades ago and was familiar with this year’s budget process, said that, in writing their budget, Democrats acknowledged that they owed school districts $1 billion in “settle-up” costs from the current and previous years’ budgets. This is the final amount after the books are closed. Mockler said that Democrats then disregarded the debt, figuring they’d pay it sometime in the future.

      The remainder of the shortage involved disagreement over revenue estimates and how much would have to be made up by cuts if temporary taxes weren’t extended. Mockler said Democrats estimated the state would take in $800 million more, which, depending on whether it was this year or next, would entitle schools to at least several hundred million dollars more. But they left the schools’ portion out of the budget.

      Jennifer Kuhn, director of K-12 education for the Legislative Analyst’s Office, said that calculating settle-up costs and estimating revenue for Prop 98 more than a year out are more art than science, and there will be legitimate disagreements over numbers. This would not be the first time that the Legislature would not be spending right at the Prop 98 guarantee, with the expectation of making corrections later.

      Michael Ricketts, associate vice president of School Services of California, who first discovered the Prop 98 shortfall, agrees. What was different this time, he said, was legislators in the latest bill deliberately chose to ignore the best Prop 98 projection. “They have to use consistent estimates,” he said.

      The trickery over Prop 98 shows how difficult it will be for the Legislature to cut the remaining $9 billion gap between spending and revenue without extending temporary taxes due to expire on July 1 or further cutting funds for K-12 schools and community colleges, which comprise 40 percent of the general fund budget.

      The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that Brown told Democratic leaders he would propose a budget with further cuts, perhaps as early as today. How he can do this without seeking a suspension of Prop 98, which requires Republican votes, is anyone’s guess. Now that they’re working gratis, however, legislators will have cause to get the job done.

      Saturday, June 25, 2011



      BY GARY WALKER – The Argonaut |

      Thursday, June 23, 2011 4:21 PM PDT - Los Angeles Unified School District officials have initiated a process that will invite a charter operator to enter into a lease agreement to build a school on two acres of open land at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School in Mar Vista.

      The official announcement, which has been in the planning stages since early June, came from LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer at a community meeting June 15 at the elementary school, which currently shares space with Ocean Charter School, a K-8 school.

      Zimmer began by discussing the contentious debate that erupted over the spring regarding colocations at several schools within District 4, which includes Mar Vista, Venice, Westchester, Del Rey and Marina del Rey. Charter schools petitioned for classrooms at Venice, Mar Vista and Del Rey sites, and existing charters were given additional rooms at campuses where a colocation exits.

      Colocation, where traditional public schools and charters share campuses and other facilities, is occurring with great frequency on the Westside. It is an outgrowth of Proposition 39, approved by the electorate 11 years ago to provide charter operators with the opportunity to have campus space on traditional school campuses where classrooms are underutilized or vacant.

      Charters are public, independently operated institutions that in many cases do not employ unionized teachers and have fewer students than traditional schools.

      Ocean Charter’s fourth and fifth grades and its middle school, are on Walgrove’s campus. The charter was awarded an additional four rooms last month but accepted only two.

      Zimmer noted that a degree of tension developed between some community and charter schools due to colocation. “It was a painful spring,” the school board member acknowledged.

      He said that as an elected representative, the question for him was balancing two rights: those of students whose families have chosen charter schools, and the rights of community schools to grow programs that they hope will bring children back to neighborhood schools.

      “Those two pressures kind of collided this spring,” Zimmer said. “And so my staff and the district facilities’ staff have really been trying to come up with long-term solutions so that we don’t have to go through having to chose between two things that are right every spring and having a lot of tension in the community.”

      Zimmer explained that the open, unused space on the Walgrove campus could be a possible elixir to those troubles, and the first step would be a vote by the school board to authorize a notice of intent to lease the land.

      The board voted June 21 to greenlight leasing the parcel, and now the process for choosing a school begins.

      That will be somewhat of an arduous process. Krisztina Tokes, LAUSD’s facilities management director of planning and development, said those that wish to apply would have approximately one month after the school board vote to submit a Request for Proposals to build on the school site.

      Prior to awarding any entity the right to build, an environmental analysis consistent with the California Environmental Quality Act would take place. Tokes said that is expected to last between a year and 16 months.

      James Brennan, a Mar Vista resident whose daughter attends Ocean Charter, inquired about how the possibility of three schools occupying the campus would be handled. He also sought answers about having more students in an area where there are already existing schools in a radius of less than two miles: Beethoven Elementary and Mark Twain Middle School.

      Eric Wise, a Walgrove parent who has lived in the area for 10 years, touched on some of the tension that has existed with Ocean Charter and the community school.

      “We’ve had a terrible experience with them,” he said. “I think the charter’s biggest offenses are parking, trash and a total disrespect for the neighbors.”

      Wise asked Zimmer to keep those concerns in mind when the board meets to decide which entity will be allowed to lease the unoccupied parcel.

      Jefferson Schierbeek, an Ocean Charter parent who is also the school’s founding president, inquired if Ocean Charter would have an advantage in the selection process due to its six years at the Walgrove campus.

      “The one question that I have is can and will previous occupancy on the Walgrove site be considered in the RFP?” he asked.

      Zimmer noted that one of the most debated points of the spring colocation controversy was the definition of what is a classroom that is being utilized. By offering unoccupied land to a charter operator, that problem could be alleviated, he said.

      “This also creates an opportunity for our charter partners not to have to worry about the facilities issue year after year after year,” he added.

      Venice resident Karen Wolfe asked Zimmer to take into account a charter’s viability when considering which entity to choose, including how they are viewed by their neighbors and host school, as well as the land use ramifications of traffic and density that will come when building a new school.

      “This was not considered when Ocean Charter came to Walgrove,” noted Wolfe, whose daughter will be in fourth grade at the Walgrove campus next year.

      Throughout the meeting, Zimmer sought to reassure the audience that no one had been selected and that the June 15 meeting was only one in a protracted process.

      “This is not a bullet train,” he stressed. “This is a process that has many steps along the way. There will be public input, and public comments.”

      One of the tenets of CEQA is the right of the public to be heard on the environmental and construction portion of the project.

      Ocean Charter officials were dismayed at what they believe is only a small window of time for those who wish to apply to lease the land. Ocean Charter Director Kristy Mack-Fett said she wants to work in collaboration with LAUSD, but would like all applicants to have an equal opportunity to compete for the lease.

      “My concern is that there be a fair, open and transparent process with access for all qualified parties,” she said.

      Due to what she feels is a small window of time for her organization to prepare and submit a petition, Mack-Fett feels other charters may have an advantage.

      “I believe that the process does favor a large organization that has the personnel to draft a proposal more quickly than a smaller organization like ours,” she said.

      Wolfe said she was surprised to hear that Ocean Charter representatives think that they might not have time to make a detailed presentation. “Since its inception, they have always wanted to have their own campus for a K-8 school,” Wolfe said. “Also, they have many parents who are architects and real estate attorneys.”

      Ocean Charter is not the only school interested in building on Walgrove’s campus.

      Green Dot Public Schools Executive Director Marco Petruzzi said his organization also plans to apply for the space on the Walgrove campus.

      “We’ve been trying to find a Venice location, so hopefully this might be an option for a final location,” Petruzzi told The Argonaut after the meeting.

      Green Dot has actively pursued establishing a charter middle school in the Venice/Mar Vista neighborhoods for several years. One of the speakers at the meeting, Barbara Einstein, whose daughters attended Walgrove, circulated a petition in 2009 seeking the support of local parents for such a school.

      Green Dot sought to collocate with Venice’s Westminster Avenue Elementary School in the spring, but ran into a concerted vocal resistance from parents, teachers and volunteers from the school. Ironically, many of the parents at Westminster are advocates of charter schools and of Green Dot in particular, and signed the petition for a charter middle school that Einstein circulated.

      “After children get to fifth grade everyone starts to realize that they have more choices,” Petruzzi said. “We’ve been talking to parents for three years, and we’ve been trying to open on the Westside for three years; we’re finally open.”

      LAUSD gave Green Dot six rooms at Cowan Elementary School in Westchester last month. They also have a high school, Animo Venice, located at Broadway Elementary School in Venice.

      Both Ocean Charter and Green Dot teachers are unionized.

      smf: Different unions/different contracts.

      Wolfe, who attended the community meetings on the Westminster proposed colocation, noted that there was not the same level of resistance at the Walgrove meeting that there was at Westminster.

      “I think part of that was because Steve Zimmer brought everyone into the process very early,” she said.

      Mack-Fett is also concerned about the possibility of having certain criteria in the selection process that excludes charter schools that have the same grade levels as Walgrove from applying. Green Dot, for example, will only be allowed to build a middle school if it is selected.

      “If that were the case, that would eliminate Ocean Charter from the process,” she asserted.

      The school that is chosen will be responsible for all costs of construction.

      Tokes said the entire process, including selection of an operator and construction, would take approximately three to three and a half years.


      image  smf: There are questions that need to be answered before charter schools build on District-owned land.

      • Who will pay for construction? …and from what money?
      • Who will hold title to the building? – buildings last a lifetime, charters last five years.
      • Will it be built to DSA/Field Act standards?
      • Prop 39 is not an entitlement to space because a charter wants it – it only makes space available if it exists and is available

      Keep an eye on the Environmental Impact Reports.

      Follow the money. ● Connect the dots. ● Sunshine the process.

      click here for Venice Tsunami Map . Not only is Walgrove within the Tsunami zone, but  it is also within a Seismic Hazard (Liquefaction) Zone. This is no place to scrimp on the school building codes and safety standards.

      Thursday, June 23, 2011



      smf: Much is made of data that shows LAUSD – and high school in general - doesn’t prepare students for college. It has been thus since the storied golden days of yesteryear when I went from high school to college. And it is true now in NYC – where the mayor (and formerly Joel Klein) runs the schools and everything is better than sliced bread. Or not.

      June 21, 2011 - Some of the New York City high schools that received the highest grades under the Education Department’s school assessment system are graduating students who are not ready for college, newly released data show.

      Of the 70 high schools that earned an “A” on the most recent city progress report and have at least one-third of graduates attending a college of the City University of New York, 46 posted remediation rates above 50 percent, according to reports sent to the city’s high schools.

      Some of those schools are small and sent only a few students to CUNY. But city education officials now consider that information so important that they will be making it part of the equation by which schools are assigned letter grades of A through F — a ranking that, if low enough, could result in a major restructuring or even closing of a school.

      City officials said they were still figuring out how heavily they would weigh this data against Regents pass rates and graduation rates, which are already considered when assigning the letter grades, in a process that is already complicated and frequently criticized. And when the new system is adopted in 2012, it will also give schools credit for the percentage of students who enroll in college, and include information on how students perform at State University of New York and private colleges.

      “We do know that the schools already have a sense of how many kids and which kids they sent to CUNY and how strong they were,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city’s chief academic officer. “They can draw more powerful conclusions with this data, and I’m hoping this pushes the conversation along. We’ve been really cautious about drawing conclusions ourselves, and we want to be cautious going forward as well.”

      Reports on the high schools’ remediation rates — the percentage of students who fail a CUNY entrance exam and require remediation classes — have been distributed only since last year. Over all, the remediation rate at CUNY colleges rose to 49 percent in 2010, from 45 percent in 2007. At the same time, the graduation rate from city high schools increased to 61 percent in 2010, from 52.8 percent in 2007.

      To be sure, the high schools are not solely responsible for students’ difficulty at college-level work: the new figures showed a clear link between college remediation and how well students performed before high school.

      The combined remediation rate for the 50 high schools serving the highest-achieving students, based on middle-school test scores, was 21 percent. For the 50 schools serving the lowest-achieving students, the CUNY remediation rate was 77 percent.

      Still, the new data could have repercussions for high schools like the Williamsburg Preparatory School in Brooklyn. With a graduation rate of 88 percent, the school is performing well above the citywide average and has earned A’s on its progress reports for the last three years.

      But of the 38 students — 39 percent of its graduating class — who went to CUNY last year, 75 percent could not pass the reading, math or writing exams CUNY uses to determine if freshmen can pass college classes.

      Williamsburg Prep has recently made adjustments to prepare its students for college better. They must now score above 75 on the algebra Regents exam before moving on to harder math. In the past, a 65 — the passing score set by the state — was enough to pass a student on to geometry.

      The principal of the Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies, Alyce Barr, said she was concerned about including the CUNY remediation rate in a school’s grade. Hers is a “performance assessment” school and has a state waiver that allows students to write research papers and conduct science experiments instead of taking Regents exams. Last year, the school sent 25 of its 64 graduates to CUNY schools but 83 percent could not pass the colleges’ remediation exams.

      Ms. Barr said her students were not used to taking exams, and she maintained that the skills the school focuses on, like essay writing, are a better indicator of how well they will do in college.

      SCHOOL TURNAROUNDS GET NEW EMPHASIS WITHIN U.S. ED DEPT - Safe and Drug Free Schools? Not so much.

      By Michele McNeil in Ed Week Politics K-12  |

      on June 22, 2011 2:22 PM | The U.S. Department of Education is creating a new office to focus on school turnaround efforts, officials there announced today. It will be led by Jason Snyder, who's been serving as chief of staff to Deputy Secretary Tony Miller, and will be housed within the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.

      The creation of this new office may seem like a very bureaucratic move (which it is) but it also shows how important the department, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, thinks these turnaround efforts are. After all, I've heard Duncan say that the $3.5 billion School Improvement Grant program, and the four turnaround models the feds have created to intervene in the worst schools may be some of the most important work the department is doing.

      Today's news follows the announcement from earlier this week that the department was eliminating the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools and moving those programs over to the elementary and secondary education office, too. Department officials tell me this should be the end of the bureaucratic shuffling—that this isn't the start of some big departmental restructuring.

      Here's the memo Deputy Secretary Tony Miller sent to staff today on the new turnaround office:

      The Department is committed to developing and deepening program and policy expertise in the program offices, especially in high-priority areas. Consistent with that objective, we are planning to establish an Office of School Turnaround in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education that will help focus our support to states, districts, and schools as they implement critical reforms to turn around our lowest-performing schools.

      The Office of School Turnaround will be responsible for the administration of the School Improvement Grants program and will play an important role in ensuring that our support of state and local turnaround efforts is coordinated across department programs.

      The Office of School Turnaround will be led by Jason Snyder, who will serve as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy. As many of you know, Jason has been working with OESE (particularly Kandace Jones and the SIG Team) on conducting an in-depth review of SIG grant recipients in order to inform our policy development, monitoring, and technical assistance efforts for this program. Jason is leaving his position as Chief of Staff in the Office of the Deputy Secretary (ODS) and will join OESE in early July in order to work full time on school turnaround issues. Deputy Secretary Miller has asked Wendy Tada to serve as Acting Chief of Staff in ODS.

      The structure and staffing details of the office will be determined in the coming months and we will provide additional information as it becomes available. The Department will work with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union to address workplace issues that may affect bargaining unit employees.