For LAUSD, more Chromebooks, iPads means more confusion

la-1418303-0426-me-0428-lopez-ipads1-mam-jpg-20130426Announcing the next phase of the digital device program to buy more iPads and Chromebooks was the easy part. Carrying it out is another issue.

While LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines was pretty clear on how he expected it to proceed, others in the district are not so sure.

The district’s Chief Facilities Director says the choice of devices might not be so wide as Cortines suggested, and at least one board member is uncertain how it will all play out.

Last week Cortines gave the go-ahead to spend capital improvement funds to outfit 27 schools with tablet devices and 21 schools with laptops — the so-called Phase 2B. The so-called Phase 2A authorized devices for 11 schools.

In a written statement, Cortines said school principals “will be key in determining which educational tools are best for their school communities” and added that this round would include “more options than previous phases.”

But Mark Hovatter, the facilities director whose department oversees the procurement of devices, says school leaders will only have two choices: iPads pre-loaded with Pearson curriculum or Chromebooks with content developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

“Those are the only two that are within the budget that the board has authorized,” Hovatter told LA School Report. “They already approved Phase 2B under that contract.”

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Man arrested at LAUSD board meeting for ‘annoying’ calls

Los Angeles School Police Department sealA man known for aggressive and sometimes belligerent public comments at LA Unified school board meetings was arrested outside a board committee meeting at district headquarters on Oct. 28 and charged with three misdemeanor counts of making “annoying” phone calls to board member Tamar Galatzan months before.

The man, George Buzzetti, 67, has been speaking at district meetings dating back to the 1990s, according to LA Unified board meeting minutes, and in recent years has made loud accusations of criminal activity aimed at the board.

Buzzetti has claimed at meetings to be the policy director for the Congress of Racial Equality – California (CORE-CA), a civil rights group, but Adrian Dove, chairman of the board for CORE-CA, told LA School Report Buzzetti has no affiliation with the Congress.

“I have written a letter to him asking him to stop identifying himself with our group, but I can’t seem to find an address for him to know where to send it,” Dove said. “He is not our policy director. He is not even a member.”

The Los Angeles School Police Department arrested Buzzetti but declined to comment on the investigation, calling it an ongoing criminal case. Galatzan also declined to comment.

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Commentary: LAUSD needs plan to prevent another Miramonte

Los Angeles Times logo

Via The Los Angeles Times | By The Editorial Board

The sexual abuse of students at Miramonte Elementary School was creepy beyond
measure, involving a “game” in which third-graders were blindfolded and fed cookies tainted with their teacher’s semen. But the astonishing $139-million legal settlement — on top of an earlier $30 million settlement with Miramonte students — had more to do with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s culpability than with the horror of Mark Berndt’s criminal mistreatment of trustful young children.

A new database of teacher conduct cases also should give administrators a better idea of which teachers attract the most complaints.

Schools can never completely protect students against predators in the classroom. But they can take action once they are given reason to be concerned, and in this case, administrators had ample warning. Former Miramonte students and their parents alleged troubling behavior by Berndt years before his arrest in 2012.

To read the full editorial, click here.

Morning Read: LAUSD sex assault court argument under scrutiny

LAUSD expert argues girl with low IQ may suffer less after assault
A psychologist hired by LAUSD testified that a 9-year-old girl’s low IQ provided a “protective factor” from a sexual assault. KPCC

Before LAUSD travel ban, Deasy flew 100k miles last year
Former LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy traveled more than 100,000 miles last school year, equivalent to circling the globe four times. KPCC

Patty Lopez ekes out surprise win over Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra
Political novice Patty Lopez has unseated incumbent Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra in an upset that has stunned the political establishment. Los Angeles Times

Researchers develop admission game
Professors from USC developed a video game called “Mission: Admission” meant to encourage low-income students to attend college. Daily Trojan

12 surprising things that can make you successful
From the month you were born to your comedic timing, the weirdest quirks can affect how successful you’ll ultimately be. Business Insider

Feds joining LAUSD’s effort to help solve issues with MiSiS

U.S. Secretary of Education  Arne Duncan

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

As if the recent efforts to fix MiSiS weren’t enough, LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines has called the feds.

In an email to school board members and their staffs on Friday, Cortines said U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, offered the district a lifeline.

“I spoke with Secretary Duncan today regarding various issues related to our District,” Cortines wrote. “The Secretary expressed his desire to provide support to our District, as needed, and agreed to send a team in December to work along with LAUSD staff to assess and advise on technology related issues.”

Matt Hill, who oversees the implementation and development of the plagued student data system, confirmed that Duncan’s team will be working on MiSiS. But it is unclear how many officials the feds are sending, how long the team will be here and what their specific tasks will be. 

Over the past two months, Cortines has pumped about $11 million into patching up software glitches, paying for thousands of hours in overtime and boosting staff to issue transcripts and report cards on time. Another $3.6 million has been allocated to buy new computers for schools whose hardware was too old to operate MiSiS.

Just last week, the Bond Oversight Committee also agreed to spend another $12.1 million in construction bonds to cover the cost of MiSiS improvements through February. The board will vote on the expenditure at the next school board meeting.

Microsoft is chipping in, too. The district developed the current MiSiS system using software and programs it licenses from the Seattle-based company. Earlier this month Microsoft deployed two executives and 16 employees “to augment the MISIS team (which already contained some Microsoft people), develop further clarity of the problem, set goals, and craft strategies to meet those goals.”

The district said that in addition to sending immediate help, the company is exploring a long-term relationship with LAUSD in which Microsoft would potentially lead the MISIS efforts.

Duncan is also keeping the door open for LA Unified. According to Cortines’s email, “The Secretary reiterated that if the District needs more staff assistance, more will come.”

Cortines decision on bond money for iPads: a policy u-turn?

Superintendent Ray Cortines

Superintendent Ray Cortines

A decision by LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines to proceed with the next phase of the district’s controversial iPad program appears to contradict statements he made a month ago, opposing the use of construction bond money to pay for devices pre-loaded with curriculum.

Three days ago, Cortines gave the go-ahead to spend capital improvement funds to outfit another 27 schools with tablet devices and 21 campuses with laptops.

Tom Waldman, a spokesman for the school board, said Cortines is not in the office this week and would be unavailable to clarify any apparent discrepancy.

In January, months before Cortines replaced former Superintendent John Deasy, the school board unanimously approved $114 million to expand the program. But ever since Cortines took the reins last month he has come out swinging against idea of using bond dollars for the Pearson software that the board approved for the iPads bought from Apple.

He went so far as calling it “stealing.”

On his first week on the job he issued a statement on the subject saying, “I still need to meet with the Common Core Technology Project team to learn more about the plans in place but I think we will need to identify alternative sources to fund the curriculum ongoing.”

He also told the LA Times, “I don’t believe the curriculum should be paid for with bond funds, period.”

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Commentary: Is school reform progressive?

The Hechinger Report

Via The Hechinger Report | By Peter Cunningham

Whether the little guy was a Kansas farmer whose earnings were manipulated by commodities traders in Chicago, a woman denied the right to vote, an underpaid working man seeking union representation, blacks oppressed by segregation, or a low-level civil servant forced to pay homage to a powerful political machine, progressives made them their cause.

In education, the little guy was historically the teacher and over the years, many progressive reforms were adopted to serve and protect teachers: higher pay, health care and retirement benefits, tenure, seniority and professional development.

Along the way, however, we also realized there was an even littler guy than the teacher in need of protection – the student. The Supreme Court recognized this in 1954 and ruled that segregated schools are unconstitutional.

Congress recognized it in the 1960’s by passing a law providing federal funds to counter inequitable state and local funding for low-income students. Congress went further in the 1970’s when they passed a law to protect students with disabilities.

Read the full commentary here.

Morning Read: LAUSD reevaluates after major sex abuse settlement

Huge settlement in sex abuse case has LAUSD rethinking reforms
The district approved paying the staggering sum of more than $139 million to alleged victims of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt. Los Angeles Times

Ryan Smith: Organizing for equity
Smith, 33, arrived at Ed Trust-West after directing education programs and policy for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. Ed Source

Recent immigrants enthusiastic about American schools
Education is a top priority among Latinos living in the United States, according to a recent survey. Los Angeles Daily News

States get federal running room on teacher-equity plans
The Obama administration’s plan to help boost the equitable distribution of teachers appears to give states a lot of running room. Education Week

Time-out: schools reconsider recess as a tool for discipline
Concerns over taking recess away from misbehaving students continue to mount. SI&A Cabinet Report

Cortines approves next phase of LAUSD iPad program

LAUSD Superintedent Ray Cortines

LAUSD Superintedent Ray Cortines

Let the iPads roll. Again.

LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines today approved moving ahead with the next phase of the district’s iPad program, officially known as Phase 2B of the Common Core Technology Project.

It’s actually, iPads et. al.

The goal with this action is to complete the second round of buying digital devices by equipping teachers and students at an additional 27 schools with learning devices. That brings the total to 85 district schools with iPads or, in the case of the Phase 2B buy, other digital devices, such as Chromebooks.

The total reflects 47 schools receiving iPads in Phase 1 and 11 in Phase 2A, which was halted by former Superintendent John Deasy after questions arose about the procurement process.

The cost to date: $114 million, which covers devices, keyboards, charging carts, testing devices, and the laptop pilot program for 21 high schools.

In this latest phase announced today, each school will have the option of buying devices that the principal and teachers deem best for their students. And the district intends to sustain that approach going forward.

District officials said they expect this latest round of devices to reach students by February.

“Our students deserve the best tools available to meet the requirements to be successful in the 21st century workforce,” Cortines said in a statement. “Without the appropriate tools, they will be disadvantaged compared to their peers across the entire nation. We also need to keep the dialogue open with our schools. We want Phase 2B to provide more options than previous phases so that our students are fully utilizing the most appropriate and current devices available.”

Unlike iPads being purchased under a new request of $13.3 million from the Bond Oversight Committee for computerized testing at the end of the academic year, the Phase 2B devices will be loaded with instructional software.

The list of schools scheduled to receive new devices is here.

Palisades charter drawing ire of neighbors for all the NOISE

Pacific Palisades Charter High cheer leadersAdministrators from Pacific Palisades Charter High School were on pins and needles earlier this week as the LA Unified school board considered its renewal application. But the board’s approval on Nov. 18 was hardly the end of the story.

At a meeting at the beachside high school last night, about 15 neighborhood residents showed up to complain about the noise issue, which has lead lawyers to consider legal action against the school.

Tensions between school leaders, students and local residents have ramped up as neighbors say football games, band practice and PA announcements issued over loud speakers are ruining their quality of life.

“We have been plagued day and night by amplification,” the residents’ lawyer, Roger Diamond, told LA School Report. “They just keep barking, announcing, and yelling, ‘Whose house is it? It’s our house! Whose house is it? It’s our house!’”

Diamond lives in the area and contends that his granddaughter has been suffering from migraine headaches resulting from the noise.

“Everything changed when they built the aquatics center and replaced the football field grass with artificial turf,” he said. His theory is that the school, free from the concerns of maintaining and restoring living grass, has begun to use the field like an ATM machine, leasing it to a variety of organizations for non-school purposes.

“They are acting like a landlord collecting rent to increase revenue,” he said angrily.

The charter school’s board did not take any action on the matter yesterday. The members have scheduled a meeting for further discussion on Dec. 4.

Caputo-Pearl asks energetic UTLA rally: ‘Are you ready for a fight?’

The message was clear from United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) President Alex Caputo-Pearl as he spoke to hundreds of energetic, amped-up supporters yesterday: If teachers are going to get the raise and other concessions they are demanding from LA Unified in a new contract, it is going to be a fight.

“Now folks, we’ve got to fight for our next victory, and that is to win our contract demands in the Schools LA Students Deserve campaign. And let’s be really clear, folks, that is going to be a fight,” Caputo-Pearl told the crowd.

The teachers union staged five simultaneous rallies around Los Angeles yesterday, including at James Monroe High School in North Hills, in the latest and most significant of the UTLA leadership’s “escalating actions” as it looks to put pressure on the district at the negotiating table. That pressure has included hints at a strike, and the sight of hundreds of teachers dressed in red marching outside a school offered a preview of what that might look like.

The union’s contract demands are outlined in the Schools LA Students Deserve campaign, which includes teacher raises, lower class sizes and an end to “teacher jail.”

Hundreds of teachers turned out at Monroe as they marched up and down Haskell Avenue and Nordoff Street while many drivers in cars passing by honked in support amid the sounds of beating drums, whistles, claps and chants that filled the air. Some UTLA members held signs and flags, including one that provocatively read, “Eight years a slave,” referring to amount of time LA Unified teachers have gone without a raise.

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Miramonte settlement is largest ever involving LAUSD

Mark Berndt, former LAUSD teacher at Miramonte Elementary School

Mark Berndt, former LAUSD teacher

LA Unified has reached a settlement worth almost $140 million with 81 victims and their families from the sex abuse scandal involving former teacher Mark Berndt at Miramonte Elementary School.

The exact amount, $139,250,000, is the largest settlement involving LA Unified and possibly of any school district in the country.

“This puts to rest all of the litigation that is currently at issue,” General Counsel David Holmquist told LA School Report.

By reaching an agreement with the families, the district avoids going to trial in a series of civil cases. Jury selection on the latest had begun on Monday.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines said the deal “struck a balance” for the two sides.

“Our goal from the outset of these appalling revelations has been to spare the Miramonte community the anguish of a protracted trial, while at the same time being mindful of the financial consequences stemming from settlements,” Cortines said in a statement issued by the district.

Holmquist added, “Our priority has been to resolve these cases without the need for potentially painful litigation for these families. We know that these settlements will provide for the future needs of these students.”

About 65 families had accepted a separate $30 million settlement last year.

Berndt, 62, pleaded no contest last year to 23 counts of lewd conduct upon a child. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, which at the time the judge called “a life sentence” due to his advanced age.

The investigation into the veteran teacher was launched after a convenience store film processor came across a series of disturbing photos depicting blindfolded children whose hands and feet had been bound by tape.

An independent process had been established with the court, allowing the judge to review each of the claims and assign the appropriate individual amount.


LA Unified officials praise Obama’s immigration order

President ObamaIn a rare sign of unanimity, LA Unified officials and school board member are praising President Obama‘s immigration speech last night.

The order relieves the threat of deportation for up to 5 million undocumented immigrants, including parents of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents. It also expands eligibility for those who were brought to the country as children under the existing “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program.

“I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers… I’ve seen the courage of students who – except for the circumstances of their birth – are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love,” Obama said in his speech.

Here is how some LA Unified officials responded to the President’s announcement.

While LAUSD embraces all students and families, regardless of citizenship, on their quest for the American dream – for many, the reality one step outside of the school gates still remains a nightmare,” board member Monica Garcia said in an issued statement. “Deportation and family separation is one of the greatest fears for families in my district and across Los Angeles.”

She added, “I applaud President Obama’s executive action to address this immigration crisis – including the expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the opportunity for work permits, and reducing the likelihood for family separations. While this executive action was signed by the President’s pen, it is a victory for a broad coalition of immigrant rights, labor, and student activists, like our DREAMers, across the nation and here in Los Angeles – the epicenter of the immigrant rights movement.”

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Just In: LAUSD settles Miramonte civil cases for $139 million

LA UnifiedThe Los Angeles Unified School District has just announced a settlement today in civil cases stemming from the actions of a former teacher at Miramonte Elementary School. The school district resolved the remaining Miramonte litigation at issue for a total of $139,250,000.

“There is nothing more important to us than the safety of the students we serve,” said Superintendent Ramon Cortines. “Our goal from the outset of these appalling revelations has been to spare the Miramonte community the anguish of a protracted trial, while at the same time being mindful of the financial consequences stemming from settlements. Given these circumstances, we believe we struck a balance between those objectives.”

Check back with LA School Report later for more details.

Morning Read: South LA ‘Promise Zone’ application submitted

Coalition submits application for South L.A ‘Promise Zone’ designation
A coalition led by Los Angeles Trade-Technical College finalized an application Thursday seeking to make South Los Angeles a “Promise Zone.” City News Service

Chino Valley Unified target of suit over prayer at board meetings
A local school district is the target of a lawsuit that claims prayer during board meetings violates the First Amendment. CBS Los Angeles

How many K-12 students are illegal immigrants?
How many illegal immigrants are attending K-12 schools in the United States? Washington Post

Federal funds reauthorized to provide child care for low-income families
More federal funds are in the pipeline to help low-income families following President Obama’s signing of the Child Care Development Block Grant reauthorization. KPCC

Is school reform progressive?
At its core, to be “progressive” is to fight for the little guy against powerful forces of self-interest. The Hechinger Report

LAUSD bond panel OKs another $25 million for MiSiS, devices

Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill

Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill

The LA Unified Bond Oversight Committee today agreed to approve another $25 million in bond fund spending to help the district fix MiSiS problems and equip schools with computers for standardized testing in the Spring.

A team of district officials, including Superintendent Ramon Cortines, made lengthy presentations to the nine member committee, insisting that in both cases the district would fail to comply with state and federal mandates without the additional financial help.

About $12.1 million of the money approved today is intended to provide a series of temporary “band aids” for MiSiS that will cover the costs of fixing bugs, stabilizing district servers so they can handle high volumes of traffic, and adding customer support and help desk staff. It will also pay for the implementation of MiSiS at the district’s charter schools, which the district has delayed doing despite a legal obligation.

“That part has been really difficult to do,” Chief Strategy Officer Matt Hill told the committee, referring to computer systems that would prove incompatible with MiSiS. “What we found is that the charter systems have bolted on other applications and tools to their data management systems and given the number of charters we have, it’s very difficult to get them into MiSiS.”

Hill estimates it will cost about $1.3 million to integrate them into the student data management system.

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Report: ‘Forced’ parent work at charter schools violates state law

Chart via Public Advocates report on parent volunteering at CA charter schools

Chart via Public Advocates report on parent volunteering at CA charter schools


If you are required to do it, is it still “volunteering”?

That is the question at the heart of a report issued yesterday by Public Advocates, which researched 555 charter schools in California and found that 30 percent of them require parents to do work at the school for a set quota of hours.

But requiring parent volunteer hours as a requirement for student enrollment in a charter school is illegal and discriminatory, the report says.  

“These policies exclude kids whose parents can’t spend time doing that work at the schools,” Hilary Hammell, an attorney at Public Advocates and the lead author of the report, said in a statement. “Charter schools with these policies risk leaving out kids whose families struggle to make ends meet, which, by the numbers, is more than half our state’s kids. This is not just wrong; it’s also prohibited by the California constitution. Our findings support the notion that these policies make it harder for high-need kids to get in the door of these charter schools. The charter schools in our survey enroll fewer foster youth, English Learners, and low-income kids than comparable non-charters.”

In response to the report, the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) conceded that some charters do require parents to volunteer, but that the law allows it. 

“The law is also clear that charter schools may require that families agree to volunteer for the charter school,” CCSA said in a statement. “Our guidance to charter public schools is to be as flexible as possible to find as many opportunities for families to be involved. This may include on campus volunteer service hours or financial contributions or contributions of supplies and materials for classroom and school use. Forced labor is an inappropriate way to refer to this issue.”

Public Advocates said it is sending the report to the California Department of Education and a letter asking the department to issue clear guidance to charter schools that requiring parental volunteer hours is unlawful.

Each school that Public Advocates said it researched and found to be requiring volunteer hours is listed in the report, and included are 73 from Los Angeles County, many from LA Unified, including KIPP LA PrepAlliance Renee & Meyer Luskin College-Ready Academy and Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts.

Click here to read the report.


* Corrects to add proper link for access to report.


Commentary: Cheers for LAUSD’s sub teacher appreciation day


Via The Huffington Post | By David Lyell

In my 13 years of teaching at over 100 schools within LAUSD, K-12, regular and special education, students have asked me this question more times than I care to remember.

While some question the commitment and contribution of substitute teachers, the tired cliche of a Substitute Teacher reading the newspaper and drinking coffee while students hang from the ceiling is just that. The Substitute Teachers I know take the job seriously, and recognize the impact we have on students’ lives. According to some estimates, students spend an equivalent of one year with a Substitute Teacher in the course of a K-12 education: (Albuquerque Public Schools).

So it’s heartening to see substitute teachers recognized in a resolution proposed by LAUSD Board Member Monica Ratliff and adopted at the November 18, 2014 LAUSD School Board Meeting declaring November 21, 2014 Substitute Educators Appreciation Day.

Click here to read the full story.

El Rancho might have answers for LAUSD Ethnic Studies plan

Jose Lara, El Rancho Unified board VP and LA Unified teacher

Jose Lara, El Rancho Unified board VP and LA Unified teacher

El Rancho Unified, a small, majority Latino school district of a dozen schools in Pico Rivera, is way head of LA Unified in setting up an Ethnic Studies program, which the LA Unified board approved just this week.

By next year in El Rancho, a high school course in Ethnic Studies will be required for graduation, and district officials are studying how to weave a ethnic studies material into the elementary school curriculum for use soon after.

The LA Unified board took a first step in the same direction this week, approving a plan to have Ethnics Studies as a high school graduation requirement by the 2018-2019 school year.

But in passing the resolution, big questions went unanswered, presumably left for a task force appointed by Superintendent Ramon Cortines to answer within the coming months.

One person task force members might interview for insight is Jose Lara, who addressed the board in supporting the resolution. Lara is vice president of the El Rancho Unified School Board, Dean at Santee Education Center (an LA Unified high school) and a member of the United Teachers Los Angeles board.

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