Federal free lunches a lens into poverty that’s blurring

EdWeekWhen it comes to free school meals, it’s increasingly clear that students aren’t always what they eat.

The federal free- and reduced-price meals program, launched decades ago by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to combat child hunger through schools, has become a ubiquitous proxy for poverty in federal and state education and health programs, and public and private research on poverty.

As eligibility criteria and participation in the program changes, however, researchers and state data experts argue it is a less-accurate lens through which to view disadvantaged students.

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Vergara appeal (or not) divisive issue for Torkalson and Tuck

torlakson and tuck vergara

Tom Torlakson (left), Marshall Tuck (right)


The lower court’s final ruling in the Vergara case has pushed it into the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction as the latest proxy fight between supporters of reform and protectors of the status quo.

Tom Torlakson, the incumbent, is urging the state to appeal.

Marshall Tuck, the challenger, is urging the state not to appeal.

“While the statutes in this case are not under my jurisdiction as state Superintendent, it is clear that the Court’s ruling is not supported by the facts or the law,” Torlakson said in a statement today. “Its vagueness provides no guidance about how the Legislature could successfully alter the challenged statutes to satisfy the Court. Accordingly, I will ask the Attorney General to seek appellate review.”

Earlier today, Tuck put out his own statement, saying, “Now that the Vergara ruling is official, my opponent State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and other Sacramento insiders should do the right thing for California kids and drop any plans to appeal the ruling.”

Efforts to learn what California Attorney General Kamala Harris intends were not immediately successful. The state has until Oct. 27 to file an appeal. (The LA Times reported Saturday that the state filed an appeal on Friday.)

Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu‘s final ruling in Vergara vs. California, released yesterday, affirmed his decision in June that five California laws governing teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal violate the state constitution by denying students access to a quality public education.

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Romero pressing for LAUSD hearing on ‘trigger’ waiver

Gloria Romero, former CA State Senator

Gloria Romero, former CA State Senator

Gloria Romero, the former state senator who authored the California Parent Trigger law is asking LA Unified board president Richard Vladovic to schedule a public discussion on the district’s legal opinion that the law does not apply this year.

District lawyers say the Federal waiver granted LA Unified and seven other California school districts, allowing them to to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards, sets the law aside.

“Of course, I dispute the legal interpretation and I am in the process of seeking a state opinion on the matter,” she wrote to Vladovic. “Nothing that I have seen lends support to the legal opinion of LAUSD.”

She adds that none of the other districts granted a waiver has made such an interpretation.

Vladovic’s chief of staff, Chris Torres, said in an email that Vladovic intends to help arrange to put her request on the agenda of a future meeting.

The district’s legal interpretation is important, so far as parent groups who want to enact changes this year through the state law, which permits parents to initiate action at their children’s school if they can secure signatures from a majority of school parents.

The district is contending that without state-approved metrics for measuring academic performance while Common Core testing is phasing in, the law cannot apply because action through Parent Trigger requires two years of data to show a school is failing.

In her letter, Romero questions several aspects of the district’s decision, including whether the board was aware of such an exemption and why the legal decision was made without public discussion or announcement.

She also asks Vladovic that if the district was certain in its legal analysis, why did the district negotiate with parents at West Athens Elementary School for changes in exchange for their assurance not to use the Parent Trigger law, when in the absence of the law, the parents would have had no such leverage.

Finally, she asks, “Perhaps even more importantly — how could a District simply erase away a law and make a pact to keep this information away from the public?

Morning Read: Aquino defends his role in LAUSD iPad contract

Ex-LAUSD official denies steering contract to former employer
The former Los Angeles schools official under scrutiny for his role in the district’s $1.3-billion iPad program defended himself Thursday, saying that he did not improperly steer the contract to a company that once employed him. LA Times

LA schools iPads: Bid committee got free tablets, resort trips
Los Angeles Unified officials who evaluated bids for its massive technology project received iPads from Pearson, met with a Pearson software executive and attended a weekend sales pitch for that software — all ahead of the public bid process, documents show. KPCC

Judge sets up battle over teacher protections
A Los Angeles judge on Thursday affirmed a tentative June ruling that struck down five laws governing job protections for teachers in California. Politico

Single word at heart of regulatory debate
The State Board of Education next week will consider and possibly settle a debate over one word in the proposed final regulations for the Local Control Funding Formula. Edsource

Last-minute effort to enhance early learning educators
As part of a larger effort to give more of the state’s youngest residents a strong start in school, lawmakers want to offer up to $25 million toward training preschool and early-kindergarten teachers to better meet their needs. S&I Cabinet Report

JUST IN: Vergara ruling stands, judge rules in final review

Judge Rolf Treu affirm vergara decisionThe judge in Vergara vs. California today released his final review of the case, affirming his preliminary decision in June, that five state statures governing teacher employment rules violate the California constitution by denying students access to a quality public education.

In his final ruling, filed yesterday, Judge Rolf Treu, said, “plaintiffs have met their burden of proof on all issues presented.”

The decision effectively starts the clock for the defendants — the state and its two largest teachers unions, which joined the case — on whether to appeal. They have 60 days to decide.

Jim Finberg, a San Francisco-based lawyer who represented the unions — the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and the California Teachers Association (CTA) — told LA School Report that the unions fully intend to appeal “and I fully anticipate that the state will appeal also.”

Treu’s ruling stops with his interpretation of the laws that involve tenure, dismissal and layoffs, leaving the ultimate remedy to the California legislature.

As he said in his decision, “All the court may do is apply constitutional principles of the law to the Challenged Statutes as it has done here, and trust the legislature to fulfill its mandated duty to enact legislation on the issues herein discussed, that passes constitutional muster, thus providing each child in this state with a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education.”

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LA Unified attempting to restore early childhood programs

Early Childhood Programs LAUSD* UPDATED

LA Unified is rebuilding early-childhood education programs that were nearly decimated throughout the bleak recession years, investing an additional $30 million through 2016-2017.

In a 6-1 vote Tuesday, the school board agreed to create a pathway for returning funding for the district’s three to four-year-olds, to levels not seen since 2007. By 2012 the budget had been severely reduced with the entire program facing extinction.

The resolution, crafted by board member Bennett Kayser, allocates more than $4.5 million in the current school year to open more slots for students and possibly re-open a handful of shuttered school sites. Another $14 million will be restored in 2015-2016 and $20 million in 2016-2017.

“Funding early education is a proven ‘reform’ that pays direct dividends to our children and community,” Kayser told LA School Report. “Investing on the front-end is always better than trying to do remedial efforts later. I want to thank the LAUSD employees who took furlough days to save the early education program a few years ago. With my motion, we have at best restored funding to 2007-2008 levels; we still need so much more investment early education.”

But Tamar Galatzan, who cast the lone dissenting vote, worries that the money is not guaranteed and the shape of the program is undefined.

“With this resolution, we’ve committed to spend $14 million next year and $20 million more the year after that on early-childhood education without knowing what programs are the most effective or whether those are appropriate amounts to achieve our goals,” she told LA School Report. “We’re counting on this money to come from the feds and the state through competitive grants, so there’s no certainty that we’ll actually get it. If we don’t, we’ll have to pull that money from other programs. Those are going to be difficult decisions to make.”

Educators agree that children in low-income households, who are least likely to attend early education programs, lose ground to their middle class peers by kindergarten. Studies show that gap only widens as they advance through elementary school and can have an effect well into adulthood.

Kayser’s plan also directs the district’s Early Education Division to use the current school year to identify and prioritize early education sites that would most benefit from additional resources once the additional disbursements kick in.

Early education programs at elementary schools with low third grade reading scores that are farthest from an existing early education site will jump to the top of the list for funding along with elementary school with high-concentrations of English Learners and children in foster care. Also, schools with persistent wait lists and located in distressed neighborhoods will get access to resources sooner.

“This is a ground-breaking moment because LAUSD’s resolution represents the largest single investment by a school district in early education in the last decade, as well as the first large-scale investment in early education that includes Local Control Funding Formula dollars,” Kim Patillo Bronson, Director of Educational Equity for the Advancement Project, said in a statement released by the district. “We believe that the achievement gap is a preventable tragedy. We commend LAUSD and Board member Kayser for their bold leadership in investing in a proven prevention strategy: high quality early education.”

*Adds comment from Kim Patillo Bronson


McKenna has filed to seek LAUSD board seat again in 2015

George McKenna files for next district 1 election

George McKenna, Board Member representing District 1

While George McKenna remained relatively quiet at his first board meeting this week, he has spoken loudly on one issue: He intends to run again for the District 1 seat next year.

Records show that he filed a Declaration of Intent To Solicit And Receive Contributions with the City Ethics Commission last week, a move that makes him eligible to raise and spend money on a re-election campaign next year.

In defeating Alex Johnson two weeks ago, McKenna won the right only to serve out the four-year term of Marguerite LaMotte, who died in office last December. By LA Unified custom, terms are up every other odd year, with districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 up next year and districts 2, 4 and 6 up again in 2017.

For the moment, McKenna has one opponent, Daymond Johnson, who declared his intention to run days before LaMotte died. He has since said that if he believes McKenna is doing a good job, he would withdraw.

McKenna, meanwhile, has more than $17,000 in cash remaining from his just-completed campaign and more than $21,000 in debts. By law, he must repay vendors owed money and offer to return campaign contributions, as part of working down to a zero balance.

Under no circumstances, according to law, can he use the money for his 2015 campaign.

Previous Posts: Another Johnson (Daymond) lining up for LAUSD District 1; Breaking News: McKenna wins election to LAUSD board; McKenna sworn in as LAUSD board’s seventh member

Segregation remains high among American public schools

metrotrends-blog-headerVia Metro Trends Blog | by Reed Jordan

Fifty million children will start school this week as historic changes are under way in the U.S. public school system. As of 2011, 48 percent of all public school students were “poor” and this year, students of color will account for the majority of public school students for the first time in US history.

What is surprising about these shifts is that they are not leading to more diverse schools. In fact, the Civil Rights Project has shown that black students are just as segregated today as they were in in the late 1960s, when serious enforcement of desegregation plans first began following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Read the full story here 

LAUSD moving slowly on older school earthquake retrofits

Earthquake preparedness LAUSDWith last weekend’s 6.0 earthquake in Napa County as the latest reminder of the need for earthquake preparedness, LA Unified is progressing slowly in retrofitting school buildings deemed vulnerable.

In accordance with a state law known as AB 300, the district in 2006 conducted a seismic evaluation and identified 667 buildings constructed before 1976 that required possible retrofits to withstand a big earthquake. The buildings were ranked by priority, looking at three risk factors: age, type of construction and proximity to an earthquake fault.

Since the list was released, only 17 buildings on school sites have been retrofitted to protect against earthquakes. Currently, 15 buildings on 10 school sites are in the design phase, meaning that experts are determining the scope of a retrofit or whether the building needs to be torn down and rebuilt.

“This is a further study of our priority buildings. Those are the ones within two miles of a known fault,” Roger Finstad, LAUSD’s director or maintenance and operations told LA School Report.

The survey of buildings begins with a seismic evaluation, which could take up to a year, followed by the design phase and finally the actual retrofit or upgrades.

Diana Friend, whose nine-year-old son attends West Hollywood Elementary, a school on the list of buildings in need of a retrofit, said the Napa earthquake made her think more about her child’s safety.

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Morning Read: LAUSD audit finds computers missing in action

LA schools’ audit finds computers stolen, missing, unaccounted for
An audit of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s computer inventory reveals 230 devices worth nearly $200,000 have been stolen or are missing – and school officials can’t account for another 3,105 laptops, desktops and iPads. KPCC

Emails prompt LA schools’ inspector general to reopen iPad probe
The inspector general of the Los Angeles Unified School District is reopening an investigation into the purchase of iPads and Pearson software based on findings in a KPCC investigation into communication between district officials and those companies nearly a year ahead of a public bid. KPCC

Before the MiSiS in Los Angeles Unified, there was ISIS — and a lawsuit
Before this month’s disastrous roll-out of student-tracking software MiSiS, the Los Angeles Unified School District was so dissatisfied with the predecessor program that it sued, saying it had paid the company $12 million “by mistake.” LA Daily News

Truancy package, apprenticeship, epinephrine bills OK’d
In the fast and furious final days of the Legislative session, a package of bills is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk this week that, if signed as expected, will initiate a systemic effort to increase student attendance by reducing chronic absences. S&I Cabinet Report

LA Unified board approves hiring of Aquino replacement

Ruth Perez LAUSD

Ruth Perez

Among the non-iPad and MiSiS issues before the LA Unified board yesterday was approving the hiring of Ruth Pérez as the deputy superintendent of instruction.

The vote was 6-0, with Monica Ratliff abstaining.

Most recently superintendent of  Norwalk-La Mirada school district, Perez has also served as a teacher and administrator in Florida and as chief academic officer for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public schools in North Carolina.

“I look forward to working with her in moving this District forward,” board President Richard Vladovic said in a statement issued by the district.

Perez is expected to start her new position in mid-September, effectively replacing Jaime Aquino, who left the post last December.

Aquino, now Executive Vice President of Strategy and Innovation for the non-profit New Teacher Center, remains connected to LA Unified through new questions over his role in the district’s contracts with Apple and his previous employer, Pearson. 

Previous Posts: LA Unified names Ruth Perez as successor to Aquino; Casillas replacing Jaime Aquino as interim Deputy of Instruction; LA Unified Begins Job Search to Replace Jaime Aquino

The Ratliff report: one view of the iPad program gone awry

Monica Ratliff LAUSD school board meeting 8.26.2014

Monica Ratliff, District 6 Board Member

It’s long. It’s detailed. And it’s dry.

But here it is, LA Unified board member Monica Ratliff’s report to her colleagues on the work of The Common Core Technology Project Ad Hoc Committee. She was chair.

By now, most people know the iPad program didn’t go swimmingly, leading Superintendent John Deasy to suspend it this week and reopen a bid process that would continue the effort to get digital devices to all 650,000 district students.

In her report, which she alone wrote, Ratliff offers recommendations for how to avoid problems in the future. And just what happened this time? In short, she concludes, the district messed up. Big time.

LAUSD charters extending lead in academic performance

Charter schools API chart LAUSD

Source: California Charter Schools Association


A new report by the California Charter Schools Association shows a growing gap between the overall school performance of traditional schools and charter schools in LA Unified.

The report — Portrait of the Movement — says LA Unified charter schools, on average, produce stronger test results than traditional schools in the district. The data shows that charter school median API scores have been on a steady rise over the last six years, gradually expanding the difference over the other schools.

The report covers a five-year period between the 2007-2008 and 2012-2013 school years. A three-point difference in the median API score for charters and traditional schools in 2007-2008 grew to 47 over the five years, as the median API score for traditional scores slipped in the final year.

The charter association said the trend represents just one aspect of the charters’ overall achievement.

“The gap doesn’t just exist on one measure, the gap exists on a host of other measures across a spectrum of performance, whether you look at graduation rates, college readiness data or this particular data,” Elizabeth Robitaille, Senior Vice President, Achievement and Performance Management, told LA School Report.

She said this gap is likely to get bigger as more students in LAUSD start attending top performing charter schools.

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For LAUSD school board a new year, but old problems

Alex Caputo-Pearl UTLA LAUSD school board meeting

Alex Caputo-Pearl, President of UTLA

It might be the new school year, but it was a series of old problems awaiting the LA Unified school board yesterday as it met long into the night with a full complement of seven members for the first time in eight months.

After the swearing in of newly-elected District 1 member George McKenna, a closed session ran 2 1/2 hours late before the board emerged for an open session and spent the first hour grilling administrators about the anything-but-smooth implementation of the district’s latest student tracking system, known as MiSiS.

For the first time in public, the officials acknowledged that mistakes — seen and unforeseen — had plagued a rollout that began in June, causing “frustration, pain and suffering in our schools,” as described by Ron Chandler, the districts Chief Information Officer.

“This was not what we expected; it’s not what our students deserve,” said Matt Hill, LA Unified’s Chief Strategy Officer, who had the final say in putting the new system online. “We knew there’d be some issues, but not of this magnitude.”

MiSiS, which stands for My Integrated Student Information System, represents the final stage of a 10-year process for upgrading systems that allow administrators to enroll students in schools, make class assignments, and allow teachers and parents to track student progress.

Criticism of its flawed implementation echoed the response to the district’s iPad rollout last year — more on that later — particularly by the leadership of the teachers union, which has blamed the system for disrupting the first weeks of school for thousands of students.

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Morning Read: Calls grow to investigate LAUSD iPad project

Calls grow for wider inquiry into L.A. Unified iPad project
A day after Los Angeles Unified abruptly suspended the contract for its controversial iPad project, there were growing calls for a more thorough investigation into whether the bidding process for the $1-billion program was improperly handled. LA Times

Can Supt. Deasy survive LAUSD’s iPad fiasco?
Commentary: So, remember that $1-billion plan to get iPads for each and every Los Angeles Unified student the district has been working on and steadfastly defending for a couple of years now? LA Times

LAUSD’S John Deasy shoots his iPad out
Commentary: LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy has his own obsession: a billion dollar dream to put a brand-new iPad in the hands of every public school student in Los Angeles. LA Daily News

Counties approve high number of LCAPs
An EdSource survey of a sampling of county offices of education found that they approved nearly all school districts’ inaugural Local Control and Accountability Plans, laying out spending and academic priorities under the state’s new funding formula, by the Aug. 15 initial deadline for the review. EdSource

Mexico’s president thanks California leaders for welcoming immigrants
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto thanked California’s leaders Tuesday for welcoming immigrants from his country — even those who came illegally — as he capped his first official trip to the United States. LA Times

LIVESTREAM: First LAUSD school board meeting of the year

LAUSD livestream

Click this picture to watch the livestream of the meeting

The LA Unified Board meeting reconvenes today with a full compliment of members. The board now includes a representative from District 1, George McKenna, who was sworn in earlier in the day. He is replacing the late Marguerite LaMotte.

Among the items for discussion are a review of the district’s labor contracts, a handful of procurement issues and and a vote to affirm the potential revocation of charters for Magnolia Academy 6 and Magnolia Academy 7.

The board voted to close the schools over financial improprieties in June, but a court ruled they could stay open, on the condition of meeting certain criteria. The board is voting to make official its position on revocation.

The board is also planning to approve new committee chairs and set forth meeting schedules.

For the livestream of the meeting, click here.

For meeting agenda, click here, and board materials, here.

McKenna sworn in as LAUSD board’s seventh member

George McKenna sworn into office LAUSD district 1George McKenna, third from left, officially became the seventh member of the LA Unified school board today, representing District 1, after he was sworn in by Rev. Jesse Jackson, left.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, second from left, and Danny Bakewell, publisher of the LA Sentinel, far right, also participated in the brief ceremony, which preceded the board’s first meeting of the new school year.

Describing the ceremony as “an emotional experience for me,” McKenna said, “I take this oath more seriously than any other oath I’ve taken.”

Deasy puts Apple deal on hold, starts new bidding process

Deasy cancels ipad contract*UPDATED

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy told members of the school board yesterday that he is halting the district’s contract with Apple, Inc., effectively ending his grand plan to put an iPad in the hands of every district student.

Following the disclosure of emails that suggest he and aides had tailored the bid process to favor Apple and the software maker, Pearson, when the district was seeking proposals for digital devices, Deasy said the district would reopen the bidding to take advantage of a changing marketplace and student needs.

In his letter to board members, who are meeting today, Deasy said “Moving forward, we will no longer utilize our current contract with Apple Inc.” He explained the decision in adding, “Not only will this decision enable us to take advantage of an ever-changing marketplace and technology advances, it will also give us time to take into account concerns raised surrounding the CCTP and receive new information from the California Department of Education regarding assessments.”

CCTP stands for Common Core Technology Project, the district’s over-arching plan to supply and distribute digital devices to students. A committee headed by board member Monica Ratliff was appointed last year to oversee its implementation. It was after her draft report leaked was to media outlets last week that emails were disclosed, showing that Deasy and his deputy at the time, Jaime Aquino, exchanged ideas that appeared to some that the district was rigging the process to favor Apple and Pearson.

The original plan was for the devices to be rolled out in phases as part of a $1 billion spend. By his action yesterday, it will go no further than iPads delivered to 52 schools and laptops to 18,000 students under the existing contract, he told the members.

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Morning Read: iPads coverage here, there, everywhere

L.A. Unified halts contract for iPads
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy suspended future use of a contract with Apple on Monday that was to provide iPads to all students in the nation’s second-largest school system amid mounting scrutiny of the $1-billion-plus effort. LA Times

Deasy abruptly cancels controversial iPad contract
Faced with mounting questions about the propriety of the district’s handling of an effort to provide iPads to all of its students, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy abruptly canceled the $1 billion program Monday. San Fernando Valley News

LAUSD Superintendent Deasy cancels $1 billion iPad program
Faced with mounting questions about the propriety of the district’s handling of an effort to provide iPads to all of its students, Los Angeles Unified School District John Deasy on Monday abruptly canceled the $1 billion program. LA Daily News

LA schools cancel iPad contracts after KPCC publishes internal emails
The school district announced Monday it will cancel the contract with Apple and Pearson and open its one-to-one technology project to new bids. KPCC

L.A. schools chief halts massive iPad contract amid questions
John Deasy, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified school system, abruptly suspended the district’s contract to provide iPads to students, amid questions about the fairness of the process through which the massive project was awarded to Apple. EdWeek