New federal report: more poor kids, more charters, higher test scores

Providence_Photos_There are more children living in poverty today than there were two decades ago. Charter schools are ubiquitous, popping up in more neighborhoods all over the country. And the achievement gap between white students and nearly everyone else is shrinking.

Those are a few of the key findings in The Condition of Education 2015, a report released today by the National Center for Education Statistics.

The report, delivered to Congress, summarizes new developments and trends in education each year using a combination of updated census data, test scores and survey responses from teachers as well as other measures.

In 2013, nearly 21 percent of school-age children — about 10.9 million students— lived in poverty, reflecting families with household incomes of no more than $15,510. That was a 50 percent increase in the number of children from 2000. According to the report, another 4.8 million children under age 5 were living in poverty in 2013.

“Research suggests that living in poverty during early childhood is associated with lower than average academic performance that begins in kindergarten and extends through elementary and high school,” according to the report, which also found that poverty produces below average rates of graduation and college enrollment.

Teachers rating Kindergarten students on their eagerness to learn, ability to pay attention in class and personal organization, said poor kids are less likely to have “positive approaches to learning.” Students whose family household income rose above 200 percent of the federal poverty level, received higher scores.

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Students Matter cheers committee stall on state ‘anti-Vergara’ bill

sacramento_state_capital_houseLast month, leaders from Students Matter held a conference call to rail against several bills in the California legislature that the group deemed “anti-Vergara.”

Today the group is claiming a partial victory over Assembly Bill 753 after the Assembly Appropriations Committee voted to hold it in committee, essentially killing it for the current session. The bill would have extended tenure protection to teachers who work in small school districts and certificated employees that work in non-teaching positions.

“AB 753 flew in the face of the Superior Court ruling in Vergara and defied all logic by seeking to expand the very system the court found to be unconstitutional and harmful to California’s students and teachers,” Students Matter Policy Director Ben Austin said in a statement.

Students Matter is the group that funded Vergara v. California, in which nine students successfully sued the state and California’s two largest teacher unions over laws governing teacher employment. It’s currently under appeal, but Students Matter said that AB 753 and three other bills were unconstitutional as they ignored the Vergara ruling.


UTLA to ‘pack the board’ meeting, early ed in the spotlight

school report buzzThe LA teachers union, UTLA, has had a busy, visible 2014-15 school year, staging numerous rallies, boycotts and strike threats on the way to securing a new three-year contract and 10.4 percent raise.

But before the school year is out — or technically, just after, as the last day of class for LA Unifed is June 4 — the union is staging one more big event, calling on members to “pack the board” at the June 9 school board meeting.

UTLA is asking members to demand the board rescind it plan to layoff 609 school employees while cutting some programs. The plan was enacted earlier this year in the face of a possible budget deficit, but before Gov. Brown’s revised May budget has pegged an estimated extra $600 million-plus for the district.

UTLA wants as many members as possible to file in to the meeting, asking them to arrive at 7 a.m. to line up outside district headquarters for the 1 p.m. meeting.

Early ed in the spotlight

Speaking of the possible cuts to LA Unified programs, one on the chopping block is the School Readiness Language Development Program. The issue has brought early ed into the spotlight lately around the district as the same time there is new focus on it around the state. Some lawmakers and state leaders are calling the legislature to fund early ed at a much higher level, while Children Now president Ted Lempert recently called Brown’s budget for early education “stunningly minimal.”

Robin McCulloch, who runs the preschool program for San Diego Unified, said the state needs to readjust the income level required to qualify, telling KPBS that many needy families are disqualified from free preschool.

Check out the interview below.

LAUSD names Teachers of the Year

LA Unified has announced that 22 educators will be honored as 2015-16 Teachers of the Year at a luncheon in September.

“I congratulate our 2015-16 Teachers of the Year,” LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement. “They are the dedicated and compassionate instructors in the classroom who help our students achieve educational excellence. They awaken, brighten and influence the lives of young people and help shape the minds of the future.”

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Vladovic has widest margin of victory among three board elections

Richard VladovicRichard Vladovic, who is completing his second and final term as LA Unified board president, won by the widest margin of the three board elections last week, according to a final accounting by the Los Angeles City Clerk, released today.

His margin of victory over his District 7 challenger, Lydia Gutierrez, was 12.57 percent.

In District 3, challenger Scott Schmerelson beat two-term incumbent Tamar Galatzan by 9.53 percent of the vote, and in District 5, challenger Ref Rodriguez ousted one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser by 6.69 percent.

Overall, only 8.57 of the 841,643 registered voters cast a ballot, the clerk said.




Report urges moderation on issues raised in Vergara ruling

ecsFew topics in California education are as polarizing as the Vergara case, one of the most prominent battlegrounds for the reform vs. status quo wars.

The ruling by a California Superior Court Judge last year wiped out job protection laws for teachers when it comes to layoffs, tenure and dismissals, but a new report and analysis on the case from the non-partisan Education Commission of the States urges moderation and says the answer to problems with teacher job protections lies somewhere in the middle.

“Retaining current tenure laws or eliminating protections altogether represent two extremes. There may be a middle ground that states want to consider,” the report, “Vergara and the complexities of teacher employment policies,” concluded.

Funded by the reform group, Students Matter, the Vergara case saw nine students successfully sue the state and California’s two largest teacher unions, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. The students argued that current job protection laws deprived them of a quality education because they do not ensure the most effective teachers end up in the classroom.



Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but the case is currently under appeal and a ruling is not expected until next year.

The Education Commission of the States is a non-partisan organization supported by the states and US territories it serves. Its mission is to “track state policy trends, translate academic research, provide unbiased advice and create opportunities for state leaders to learn from one another,” according to its website.

In its analysis of the Vergara ruling, the report recommends moderation as states contemplate teacher employment protections. Among its recommendations:

  • Schools must ensure that teacher training and credentialing are rigorous and must show evidence of providing adequate support.
  • Model changes on top training and credentialing programs, such as those used by Cincinnati public schools and Montgomery County (Md.) public schools.
  • Teacher evaluation systems should have buy-in from teachers and administrators and use multiple measures.
  • States should provide suitable time for tenure to be determined. California is one of only four states that allow tenure to be awarded after two years. By far the most popular probationary period length is three years, which is the policy in 32 states.
  • Effective teachers should be rewarded by additional job protections.

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Editorial: Ethnic studies rollout an embarrassment for LAUSD


By The Times Editorial Board

It’s all too typical at the Los Angeles Unified School District: Leaders want to make a change to help the district’s students, but instead of investigating costs, options and whether the change is even achievable or desirable, the board forges ahead. Only after it has committed itself do the very foreseeable problems emerge.

The iPads-for-all project that blew up in the district’s face. The requirement that every high school student pass the full set of college-prep courses with at least a C, which has left most of its current 10th-graders unlikely to graduate unless the policy is reconsidered.

The newest example is the requirement that every student take an ethnic studies course in order to graduate, a policy scheduled to take effect in 2019 — meaning it will be imposed on the freshmen who enter high school this fall.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Morning Read: Starting sex education in kindergarten?

The case for starting sex education in kindergarten
By law, all primary school students in the Netherlands must receive some form of sexuality education. The system allows for flexibility in how it’s taught. PBS

LAUSD to pay $4.42 million in 3 Pacoima molestation lawsuits
The lawsuits alleged the district was negligent in its supervision of former teacher Paul Chapel, who was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison. City News Service

Ongoing issues face new LAUSD technology chief
Shahryar Khazei succeeds Ron Chandler, the district’s last chief information officer, who resigned abruptly last year. KPCC

Bill to deter, study recycled tires in artificial turf facing critical vote
LA Unified and New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation already banning the use of recycled tires for turf. San Mateo Daily Journal

Many students in Silicon Valley community not reading by 3rd grade
In San Mateo County, 43 percent of 3rd-graders are falling behind in reading, according to standardized test scores. Ed Source

Teachers Of All Races Are More Likely To Punish Black Students
Many studies suggest that implicit bias, not white supremacist intentions on the part of individuals, plays a role at nearly every stage. Huffington Post

Plan to overhaul Obama Global Prep Academy draws a union protest

UTLA member Cat Proctor

UTLA member Cat Proctor outside Obama Global Prep Academy

Dozens of teachers, parents and students protested today at a UTLA rally against LA Unified’s plans to reconstitute one of the district’s most troubled schools.

Barack Obama Global Preparation Academy in south LA is one of the district’s few Pilot Schools as well as one of 37 “Reed Investment Schools,” those involved in a legal settlement last year to address inequities at low-performing schools. Under the terms of the deal, the district agreed to provide additional funding to stabilize the schools and to retain teachers.

But after an “accelerated review,” Superintendent Ramon Cortines is calling for an immediate overhaul of the campus — a move that includes restaffing the instructional team. While current educators are encouraged to reapply for their positions, they are not guaranteed jobs.

The teachers union contends that such an intervention would further destabilize the school and claims it is a direct contradiction and violation of the Reed settlement.

“I have been a parent here since the doors opened,” Michelle Miller told the crowd gathered outside the school today. “If it wasn’t for the teachers behind me, my sons would not have graduated. [The people making this decision] don’t know the teachers, they don’t know the students. It’s not right.”

Maria Rivera, who is the Targeted Student Intervention Population Program Advisor at the middle school, said it has been “underfunded and understaffed” since it opened in 2010.

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CCSA paying Alliance alumni to promote anti-UTLA message



A bitter war of words between the management of  Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and UTLA, the union trying to organize its teachers, got nastier today.

UTLA accused Alliance management and the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) of “anti-teacher activity” by paying alumni to call parents of students to sway their opinion against union efforts to draw the Alliance teachers into UTLA.

The CCSA confirmed that it is paying alumni to make calls, but claimed to be doing nothing wrong.

UTLA released what it said were “leaked” emails from a CCSA employee, Annie Lee, that included the script the alumni were to follow when they called the parents.

“This is sowing the seeds of distrust among parents and students,” Michael Letton, an Alliance teacher, said in a statement issued by UTLA. “This is an unethical practice. Paying alumni to read a script designed to get parents to sign a petition against their own students’ teachers infuriates me.”

Elana Goldbaum, a teacher at Alliance’s Gertz-Ressler Richard Merkin 6-12 Complex who has been active in the union drive, said, “I don’t want parents to get misinformation. This is 100 percent a campaign to create fear among parents. It’s inappropriate.”

Alliance College-Ready Pubic School operates 26 charter within LA Unified, many of them high performing, and its teachers currently work independently without union representation. A group of teachers at Alliance has been working recently to organize Alliance’s 600-plus teachers to join UTLA.

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LA Unified turning to marketing to reverse declining enrollment

don-draper-2Where’s Don Draper when LA Unified needs him?

After more than a decade of declining enrollment, the impact of which is costing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue losses, the district has a plan to stop, or at least slow down, the exodus: Marketing!

Now, officials just need to decide on a plan.

Each year the district loses an average of 2.6 percent of students attending traditional public schools — that’s about 56,000 students per year. District officials estimate that every 3 percent drop costs the district $100 million in funding.

Currently, LA Unified serves just over 600,000 students, down from 694,000 in 2007–2008. And next year’s projections are even worse: the district expects to shrink by another 2.9 percent of non-charter students. It would make it the 12th straight year of enrollment decline.

While reasons for the declines are attributed to lower birth rates, outward migration from the city and the growth of charter schools, the board’s Committee of the Whole, chaired by Steve Zimmer, has taken up the issue to make LA Unified schools more appealing to families.

“We don’t have a strategic plan right now to present ourselves and what we do best,” he said at a meeting on the subject yesterday.

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Just in: ‘Game changer’ to game over for Westside ‘immersion’ school

Mark Twain expansionLA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines has cancelled the district’s plans for a proposed construction project at a Westside school campus that was to house an expanded foreign language immersion program.

Explaining the rationale for his decision in a three-page memo to members of the school board and its bond oversight committee yesterday, Cortines said the project “will not move forward,” but he vowed to work with district officials to provide an alternative pathway for students to continue their immersion studies into high school.

The decision is a blow to school board member Steve Zimmer, who had hailed the expansion of the program into a new school as a “game changer” for the district as part of an overarching strategy to stem the tide of falling enrollment.

The proposed Mandarin and English Dual-Language Immersion Elementary School on the current campus footprint of Mark Twain Middle School, approved by the board last year, was a $30 million project intended to house students from the immersion program at nearby Broadway Elementary, which currently has no space for an expansion. It was a bold move, projected as the first facility built by the district to accommodate an instructional innovation open to all students.

But opposition to the project from members of the nearby community, including the West Mar Vista Residents Association, was potent as concerns were raised about increased traffic and congestion the expanded campus and construction might bring to the area. Even LA City Council member Mike Bonin, who represents Mar Vista, voiced his opposition to the project.

“I have reflected on what I learned from our District technical experts, as well as the concerns I have heard from community and school stakeholders,” the Cortines memo said. “It is important that this established Mandarin Foreign Language Immersion Program continue to be offered at Broadway for the long-term. I am supportive of expanding the District’s Mandarin Foreign Language Immersion Program and other Foreign Language Immersion Programs; however, the construction project at Mark Twain is not the avenue to do so, and it will not move forward.”

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Musk didn’t like his kids’ elementary school so he created his own


By Maya Kosoff

Elon Musk didn’t like his kids’ school, so he started his own, the inventor and entrepreneur said in an interview on Beijing Television.

The school is called Ad Astra — which means “To the stars” — and is small and relatively secretive. It doesn’t have its own website or a social media presence.

Christina Simon, who writes about private elementary schools in Los Angeles, has done some digging around Ad Astra.

She says she’s been in contact with a mother whose child attends Musk’s school. The mother told Simon that the relatively new Ad Astra School is “very small and experimental,” and caters to a small group of children whose parents are primarily SpaceX employees.

Click here to read the full story.

Morning Read: LAUSD sued after alleged sexual assault on campus

LAUSD sued after student allegedly sexually assaulted on campus
The lawsuit claims that the school principal said she was too busy to help when notified during the attack. ABC7

Wall Street cheers Brown’s revised May budget
A key Wall Street rating agency gave California a positive credit report last week. SI&A Cabinet Report

Can we really prepare kids for both college and career?
California is making a big investment in “linked learning.” Hechinger Report

Number of kids treated for mental health issues has risen 50% in last 20 years
The research is published in the May 21 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. iSchoolReport

7 lessons learned from a successful 1-to-1 laptop program
Last year, Savannah-Chatham County Schools launched a 1-to-1 laptop learning program that has spurred higher test scores. The Journal

LA Unified board announces new hires for district area chiefs

Frances Gipson

Frances Gipson


After forging ahead with a massive overhaul of LA Unified’s Education Service Centers by Superintendent Ramon Cortines in March, the school board today approved contracts for three new local area superintendents and renewed contracts for another three.

Among the new hires is Vivian Ekchian, who will head the newly created Northwest region. As the district’s chief labor negotiator, Ekchian was instrumental in reaching new contract deals with the district’s major union partners, including the teachers union.

Frances Marie Gipson is taking over from Roberto Martinez to lead the East office. She is currently the principal of El Sereno Middle School and Magnet Center and has worked for the District for more than 20 years in numerous administrative positions, including administrator of instruction for Local District 5.

Martinez, in turn, is moving to spearhead another newly created office, Central, while Byron Maltez, becomes head of Northeast. Christopher Downing is replacing Robert Bravo in South, while Cheryl Hildreth is staying put in her current position in the  West.

The newly appointed superintendents, the top executives in the regional districts, will report directly to Cortines. Their first priority will be to select instructional directors, operations administrators and additional support staff, district officials said in a statement today.

“As a former teacher and a principal, I know firsthand, decisions made locally tend to be more responsive to the needs of schools and families,” Cortines said.

Cortines re-drew existing ESC borders to cover more “geographically based” areas for the 2015-16 school year. He also eliminated the Intensive Support and Innovation Center that worked across the district overseeing services for students with special needs and gifted and talented instruction. The district’s pilot schools were also placed under the purview of ISIC. It currently serves 149 schools and approximately 100,000 students throughout LA Unified.

The new configuration ensures each district will contain fewer than 100,000 students, and fewer than 150 schools.

Another appointment approved today was that of Shahryar Khazei who is getting a promotion from Deputy Chief Information Officer to take over as Chief Information Officer. The position was was left open in October, 2014 when Ron Chandler resigned amid public outrage over the disastrous rollouts of  the the district’s two biggest technology programs: iPads and MISIS.


*Updated: An earlier version said Chris Downing previously ran the South ESC. It is currently lead by Robert Bravo.

As school year ends, so does Vladovic presidency; Zimmer next?

ZImmer Board Meeting March 3, 2014


The close of the school year next month also brings an end to Richard Vladovic’s second term as LA Unified board president. Rules bar him from serving a third consecutive year.

While critical issues await the new president — transformation to new technology, managing the growth of charters, dealing with new budgets, among them — nothing may be more critical than leading the search for a successor to Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who has re-upped for what is almost certain to be his final year.

Cortines was plucked out of retirement last year to replace John Deasy and end a tumultuous period within the district. In large measure, he has succeeded. But turning 83 in July, he’s not the face of LA Unified’s future.

The board that will start the next academic year is essentially a young group in terms of service, with two new members after election victories last week — Scott Schmerelson and Ref Rodriguez — and two others with two years of service or less, Mónica Ratliff and George McKenna.

Mónica García served six years as president, the longest of any board board member in 80 years, but she is barred from returning to office because board rules now limit members to four years in total as president.

That leaves Steve Zimmer, a member since 2009, as the likely favorite to replace Vladovic.

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Report: More time, a lot more money needed for ethnic studies

Supporters of Ethnic Studies rally outside LAUSD headquarters (Credit: Twitter user @Manuel Criollo)

Supporters of Ethnic Studies rally outside LAUSD headquarters (Credit: Twitter user @Manuel Criollo)

When the LA Unified school board passed a resolution that would begin the process of making ethic studies a graduation requirement, it did so without knowing how much it would cost.

But now, after a draft report from the Ethic Studies Committee was released last week, it has some idea, and it is not chump change.

The committee estimates it will cost almost $72.7 million over four years, an amount that far exceeds the initial district estimate of $3.4 million that was tossed around at the November meeting when the resolution was voted on.

“My concern is that there’s no money attached to the resolution,” board member Mónica García said in November before she voted in favor of the resolution. “Whether it’s $3.4 million or $30 million, an action without a budget is nothing.”

As it turns out, $30 million would have been cheap. In the coming school year alone, the committee estimates the cost to be $5.75 million and ratchet up significantly over the next several years. Much of the costs could go toward new textbooks and training staff.

While many district schools already offer ethnic studies courses as electives, LA Unified became only the second district in the state after El Rancho Unified to have an ethnic studies course required for graduation.

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Editorial: No fake classes for California’s students


By The Editorial Board

When it was revealed that students at Jefferson High School in South Los Angeles and other schools were being assigned to “classes” in which nothing was actually taught, many people wondered how this could happen. Isn’t it against the law to stick kids in fake classes and deprive them of basic educational opportunities?

In a word: Nope.

But declaring something illegal doesn’t automatically make it stop.

Click here to read the full editorial.

Morning Read: Violent crime on campuses drops nationwide

Survey Finds 9% Drop In Reported Violent Crimes On School Grounds
Public schools nationwide are tightening their security measures in the years surrounding the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012. iSchoolReport

Programs aim to boost preschool educations for low-income children
Decades of research show that what children learn between birth and 5 years old makes a major difference. Los Angeles Times

Report urges more attention to English learners in LCAPs
Advocates for English learners sharply criticized school districts’ failure to explicitly commit money and adequately address students’ language needs. Ed Source

Breakfast in the classroom debuts to controversy at Valley LAUSD school
Controversy continues to be served up alongside breakfast in classrooms as Los Angeles Unified rolls out morning meals. Los Angeles Daily News

Students to spend less time taking Common Core-based exam
Students in 11 states and the District of Columbia will spend less time next year taking tests. Associated Press

Dreams of sports stardom lead disadvantaged students astray
A new book portrays after-school tutoring sessions for athletes as a well-intended gesture to help kids that instead leads them astray. Washington Post

Zimmer still angry about Rodriguez campaign but vows to work together

Steve Zimmer

Steve Zimmer

Drinking too much at a work dinner or hitting on a co-worker’s spouse can make things truly uncomfortable at the office. But what about publicly damning a future colleague before his first day on the job?

That’s the situation LA Unified school board Vice President Steve Zimmer faces, now that Ref Rodriguez has defeated his good friend, Bennett Kayser, for the District 5 board seat.

“If there ever was a relationship there with Rodriguez, it has been seriously damaged,” Zimmer said a day before Tuesday’s election, piqued by the tenor of Rodriguez’s campaign.

Zimmer accused Rodriguez and his backers of crossing “new frontiers of depravity” and “using a type of lies and distortion, that lowered the entire moral climate of political discourse” throughout the campaign, even if much of the nastiness was orchestrated by groups working on Rodriguez’s behalf, not the candidate himself. Anyway, Zimmer said, the candidate ultimately bears the responsibility for the tone and scope of the campaign.

His position now?

“I meant what I said, and I stand by it,” he told LA School Report today.

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