Commentary: LAUSD board meeting lost in transparency

LAUSD school boardFor more than a year, students, parents, community groups and even LA Unified members, themselves, have demanded greater transparency in how the board conducts the business of the nation’s second-largest school district.

Too often, critics say, the board moves with no apparent effort to broaden the conversation or even allow the public to watch the process unfold, let alone participate.

And now it’s happened again.

Maybe it’s only a small example, but it’s a perfect metaphor that illustrates the sometimes cavalier approach the school board takes to informing the public, thus strengthening community participation, input and trust.

The LAUSD board had a meeting last night — an open session, followed by a closed session. The agenda went up early in the week, along with the reminder that the open session would be televised on KLCS and live-streamed over the internet. Closed sessions remain private.

But when 6 pm came, time to start, screens stayed blank.

No video. No audio. Nothing.

A parent, a student, a community member who might have wanted to see what the members were up to were shut out. And so they missed an update on the federal government’s efforts to reauthorize No Child Left Behind. They missed a flurry of committee assignments.

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Students face LAUSD board, demanding end to military weapons

The LA Unified board endured a long and unusual protest last night as about 50 students demanded specific actions to get military-style weapons out of the hands of district school police.

The students, some of them wearing bullet-proof vests, chanted for 20 minutes at the start of a meeting — “Back to school, no weapons” and “We want justice for our schools” — in protesting the federal 1033 Program, a federal effort that provides school districts with surplus military-grade weapons. LA Unified has been a recipient.

Board president Steve Zimmer let the chanting continue and at one point said, “Let them go on.”

The demonstration inside the board meeting followed two hours of drumming and shouting outside LA Unified headquarters, with students holding signs bearing the face of President Obama and Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

Manuel Criollo, a protest organizer from the Labor Community Strategy Center, told the board that he wanted an end to the program, which had given the district a tank, three grenade launchers and dozens of M-16s. The district returned the tank and grenade launchers last fall, but has kept the M-16s. In a June letter the Criollo’s group, Cortines said the district had ended its involvement with the program.

Brillo called for the board to be more public about the weapons and demanded that they be returned.

“It’s ironic that we have surplus weapons but we do not have surplus books,” he said.

Inside, the crowd called out to the only black school member, George McKenna, and he responded by recalling his own experiences with civil unrest while defending the need for school police to be prepared for any occasion in which student safety is at risk.

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LAUSD board votes to request bids for superintendent search

superintendent searchThe LA Unified board voted last night to start the search for a new superintendent by issuing a request for bids to firms that would aide in the selection process.

The move is the first step toward identifying candidates to replace the current superintendent, Ramon Cortines, who has expressed a desire to step down by the end of the calendar year.

The board also voted to promote Sharon Howell to Associate Superintendent for Special Education. Previously an assistant superintendent, Howell will now see a $1 billion program for the 20 percent of students who fall into the program.


Survey: Majority of students feel unprepared for college, careers

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By Fermin Leal

More than half of high school juniors and seniors across the country don’t feel they’re ready for college and careers, even though these remain top goals for students, according to a survey released Thursday.

Results from a multi-year College and Career Readiness survey of 165,000 high school students conducted by YouthTruth, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, found that 45 percent of students feel positive about their college and career readiness.

An overwhelming number of students, 87 percent, want to eventually earn a college degree and land a career. But many believe that their schools aren’t helping them develop the skills they’ll need to succeed after graduation.

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: AP U.S. history course gets a ‘positive’ revision

Revised AP U.S. history standards will emphasize American exceptionalism
The move comes after significant pushback from conservatives who claimed the redesigned course fpainted American history in too negative a light. Newsweek

San Diego Unified’s had some dark days with solar
Despite its struggles with solar so far, the district is preparing to ramp up its solar footprint with a major investment of bond funds. Voice of San Diego

Parlier Unified board puts superintendent on leave after grand jury report
The report that found the district had misused millions of dollars and made unnecessary purchases. Fresno Bee

New research dogs effectiveness of Head Start
The latest evaluation of the federal Head Start program found positive effects on general reading achievement but nothing more. SI&A Cabinet Report

How the big new education law could cut testing time
The Senate version of the bill contains several amendments aimed at addressing one of the hottest issues in education: standardized testing. NPR

California’s school system ranked 9th-worst in the nation
The ranking is due to low reading and math test results, a high dropout rate and an abysmal score for the student/teacher ratio San Francisco Chronicle

LIVESTREAM coverage of today’s LA Unified school board meeting



LA Unified decided not to live-stream any of the meeting.

The LA Unified school board is meeting today at 6 p.m.

The board will first meet in open session before moving into a closed-door meeting, in which the discussion includes how to search for a new superintendent. Only the open session will be live-streamed.

In open session, the members will discuss the Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, several committee appointments and the selection of a representative to National School Boards Association.

Click here for the live-stream coverage.

Qualifications for serving on the Alabama ed board? None, apparently

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley

For all the criticism they might endure, California education officials are rarely accused of being unqualified for their jobs.

That’s not quite the case in Alabama.

The state’s Republican governor, Robert Bentley, is under fire for filling a vacancy on the state’s board of education with someone who lacks any credentials or background in education. As Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss wrote this week, the appointee, Matt Brown, is “a man with absolutely no history of participation or even interest in helping public schools to represent his district on the state Board of Education.”

Brown, 28, a design engineer at the Baldwin County Highway Department, did not attend public schools and has stated that his children will not. His only real connection to education is that he publicly opposed a report thatsaid Baldwin County would need 16-20 new schools by 2040. Brown was the organization’s head at the time, so he was in opposition to his own report, Strauss’ story points out.

Brown formed an organization that successfully defeated a tax proposal that would have helped the county pay for the new schools.

Public education activist Larry Lee wrote in a blog post the appointment “stunned educators” and in a letter to the governor said, “As chair of SBOE you know this body oversees 90,000 public school employees and a K-12 budget of $4.1 billion. The education community does not believe Matt Brown has the knowledge or experience to step into such a role.”

While there has been a lot of opposition in Alabama to the appointment, it is being cheered by the anti-tax crowd. “I don’t think there could be a better choice,” a Baldwin County school board member, David Cox, told, a website for three Alabama newspapers. “I think he’s going to do a great job.”

Civil rights group unsatisfied with LA school police’s demilitarization

Fight for the Soul of the CitiesSuperintendent Ramon Cortines of LA Unified confirmed in June that the district’s police force has ended its involvement in a federal program that delivered military-grade weapons to school districts. The decision on the so-called 1033 Program came on the heels of President Obama‘s announcement in May that he was severely restricting the parameters of the program.

The response from a local civil rights group, Fight for the Soul of Cities? Not good enough, show us the proof.

And members are planning to express their demands in a protest at 4 p.m. today outside LA Unified headquarters, prior to the school board’s 6 p.m. meeting. The group also wants a review of the history of the program.

As part of The Labor Community Strategy Center, the group says a simple letter from Cortines is not enough to satisfy it. The members want verification that the controversial program — which provides local forces with surplus military-grade weapons from the federal government — has ended.

It also wants a list of the school police force’s current stock of weapons, the destruction or return of some M-16s the department acquired through the program, a declaration from the school board the program has officially ended and any communication the district had with the federal government that could help verify that it cancelled its involvement.

“We still have deeper questions for the LAUSD Board: who made the decision to ask for these weapons? Who approved them? Why did they really truly need them?” the group said in a press release.

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Teachers see diversity lesson in new documentary of old Boyle Heights

A new documentary — focusing on the ethnic mix of Boyle Heights and how the construction of a freeway nearly destroyed the neighborhood — is drawing the attention of educators as a way show how the east LA neighborhood once stood as a monument to diversity and community strength.

“East LA Interchange” debuted at a packed screening at the Downtown Film Festival last weekend. Afterward, the teachers appearing in the film, and many educators in the audience, expressed interest in showing the film to their students.

“I have been overwhelmed with the reaction,” said filmmaker Betsy Kalin who spent many hours in school archives and libraries to piece the story together. “We always knew this could be a great teaching tool even at a national level in social science, ethnic studies, political science and more.”

What drew her to the story was finding school class photographs going back to 1926 with ethnically-mixed students attending Roosevelt High School, Hollenbeck Middle School, Garfield Senior High School and Belvedere Middle School — all LA Unified schools.


Hollenbeck student council in 1940s. Photo by Bluewater Media

“People lived next door to each other in the neighborhoods, but it is at these schools where they became friends and they mixed,” Kalin said. Principals and teachers at the schools helped Kalin and her team with the project.

Roosevelt High was nicknamed the “United Nations of schools” because for decades it often had more than 100 different nationalities among the student population, Kalin discovered in her research.

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Last 8 schools set to dish out Breakfast in the Classroom

Breakfast in class (via TakePart)

Breakfast in class (via TakePart)

Overcoming lingering technical and logistical problems, eight remaining LAUSD schools will begin providing free breakfast in the classroom within the first two weeks of the coming school year, district officials said.

That will complete the largest school breakfast program in the nation after more than three years of planning, said Laura Benavidez, project manager for the LAUSD Breakfast in the Classroom program.

Breakfasts served in the first 10 minutes of class were to be completely rolled out by the end of last school year, but problems at the eight schools prevented them from happening, Benavidez said.

“We won’t be hitting all the eight schools with breakfasts on the first day because there’s always so much going on, but it will happen at all the sites during the month of August,” said Benavidez. School starts August 18.

The schools yet to roll out are: Encino Elementary, Van Gogh Elementary, Revere Middle School, Beckford Elementary, Brentwood Science Magnet, Hale Middle School, Vernon City Elementary and Esteban Torres High School.

Now, more than 350,000 breakfasts are being served, compared with the 100,000 breakfasts served district wide before the in-class program began.

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Students cannot transfer out of low-performing schools this year

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By Sarah Tully

Parents won’t be able to transfer their children out of California’s lowest-ranked schools under a little-known law because the state’s scoring index – the basis for the rankings – has been suspended.

The California Department of Education this year will not identify 1,000 low-ranking schools, where parents can request to transfer their children from, because no test scores are available to determine which schools meet the criteria, said Jenny Singh, education research and evaluation administrator for the department.

As a result, parents won’t have the option to transfer under the Open Enrollment Act next year.

The transfer program is falling victim to the lack of Academic Performance Index, or API, scores, which are suspended while state officials develop a new accountability system.

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: MiSiS won’t be a crisis this year, LAUSD says

LAUSD officials: MiSiS ready for the new school year
While the $133.6-million computer program isn’t fully functional officials said that placing students in the proper classes won’t be a problem. Los Angeles Daily News

BH High’s only black principal settled race case, now wants board seat
Carter Paysinger announced he would retire June 30, move to Beverly Hills and seek a seat on the school board. City News Service

Should body cameras be used in schools?
An Iowa school district plans to have its principals wear cameras to record their interaction with students. Ed Tech Magazine

Number of homeschoolers growing nationwide
As the dissatisfaction among parents with the U.S. education system grows, so too does the number of homeschoolers in America. Education News

Meet the grandmother of America’s best charter schools
Linda Brown is an undeniable force in the movement to create high-performing charter schools. The Seventy Four

Teach to Lead initiative expands opportunities for teacher leadership
Teach to Lead is an effort to improve the quality of instruction and learning in American schools. Education News

JUST IN: Ian McKellen, Hal Holbrook join video to support Esquith

In response to the “teacher jailing” of a beloved LA Unified teacher, Rafe Esquith, acclaimed actors Ian McKellen and Hal Holbrook joined past and present students in a You Tube video to offer their support for Esquith and to show how money spent from his after-school program, Hobart Shakespeareans, benefitted his students.

“It is our response to their request for 15 years of financial records of the Hobarth Shakespeareans,” said attorney Ben Meiselas, who is representing Esquith with Mark Geragos in a dispute with the district. The response was accompanied by a July 28 letter and signed by Geragos, questioning why an outside law firm hired by the district is delving into the school program that was paid for by donations and often by the teacher himself.

Geragos also questioned who hired the firm, Sedgwick, and under what authority is it investigating the financial history of Hobarth Shakespeareans.

In a letter to Sedwick lawyers, Geragos wrote:

“Your letter states that the scope of the investigation has changed, yet again, and is now focused on ‘Mr. Esquith’s compliance with government ethics laws in his actions with the Shakespeareans.’ Your July 20, 2015 letter to the Shakespeareans and your statements concerning Mr. Esquith constitute defamation of character per se. Please notify your legal malpractice carrier that we now intend to include the Sedgwick law firm as a defendant in our action against LAUSD for defamation of character and for aiding and abetting the tortious conduct and due process violations by LAUSD.”

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Report: Fixing CA teacher shortage requires ‘profound shift’ in thinking

teacherAmong the biggest challenges facing California school districts in the coming years is a growing teacher shortage. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs has plummeted since 2008, and more than 100,000 teachers are expected to retire in the next decade.

Despite the gathering storm, the state lacks any cohesive strategy to solving the problem, according to a new report from Bellwether Education Partners, a national non-profit that focuses on improving education, especially for high-needs students. The solution would require a “profound shift” in thinking and involve a multi-faceted approach that would bring more cohesiveness to strategies at the statewide and local level, the report finds.

“California has created a highly fragmented approach to teacher preparation, in which teachers receive content training in an undergraduate bachelor’s degree program, followed by pedagogical training in a separate post-baccalaureate traditional or alternative program, and then by completion of a separate induction program once they begin teaching—with little or no integration between these experiences,” the report states.

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LA Unified board preparing first step toward hiring new superintendent

Superintendent Ray Cortines

The LA Unified board takes its first step in choosing a new superintendent, with a largely closed door meeting scheduled for tomorrow night.

It’s a baby step, with the seven-member board most likely deciding on the parameters and requirements for a head-hunting firm that will bring them the top names for the position.

While it’s a lofty job and a challenge for any search firm, given the complexities of LA Unified in terms of size, annual budget and classroom demands, there are a handful of companies that specialize in educators and school administrators, such as Korn Ferry Executive Recruitment and Talent Management based in Los Angeles, which was hired for two past superintendent searches.

This time the board is seeking a successor for Ramon Cortines (again), who stepped in after John Deasy left last year. Cortines, who was hired without a search firm, has said he wants to leave by the end of the year but might agree to stay until an ideal replacement is found.

The administrative position paid Deasy nearly $440,000 a year salary. That’s more than the governor makes, and about $100,000 more than the district is paying Cortines. This second-largest school district in the nation has about 644,000 students.

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For diversity, are the days numbered for SAT and ACT?


By Claudio Sanchez

Many high schoolers hoping to attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., one of the top private universities in the country, breathed a sigh of relief this week.

GWU announced it will no longer require applicants to take the SAT or ACT.

The move comes after the school formed a task force to study the pros and cons of going “test-optional.” GWU attracts lots of high-achieving students who do well on both exams, but the task force concluded that the school’s reliance on these tests was excluding some high-achieving students who simply don’t test well.

Of particular concern were low-income, minority students who don’t even bother to apply because their scores are too low.

GWU will still require pre-med and home-schooled students, as well as athletes, to submit test scores, but, like many of the more than 800 other four-year colleges and universities that were already test-optional, it hopes its admissions criteria will now capture a more diverse pool of students.

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: Bilingual teachers in higher demand to fill shortages

Why schools are rushing to hire more bilingual teachers
Global events and continued growth among the Latino population have led to higher levels of students who don’t speak English. Fusion

Taking aim at the ‘middle school plunge’ with a positive culture
Fear of being publicly embarrassed or even physically hurt is widespread among students who are entering middle school, according to research. EdSource

Bill would close exemption for concealed guns on campus
Gun owners licensed to carry a concealed firearm would be prohibited from bringing it onto a K-12 or college campus. SI&A Cabinet Report

Effort to recall Richard Pan over vaccine bill cleared for signatures
Opponents of California’s vaccine mandate law have turned to the ballot box with a recall aimed at Senate Bill 277’s champion. Sacramento Bee

Black students get criminalized while white students get treatment
White kids are more likely to be pushed into special education services or receive medical and psychological treatment, according to a study. Huffington Post

Key & Peele sketch imagines a world where teachers are paid like athletes
The comedy duo eviscerate sports culture in support of the people who really deserve a signing bonus: public school teachers. (Go straight to video!) Buzzfeed

23 new teachers win ‘rookie’ awards to see Dodgers play Angels

RookieOfTheYearThe Rookies of the Year have been chosen among the LAUSD new teachers, and 23 of them will be going to the Dodgers play the Angels Sunday at Dodger Stadium.

The winners were selected from among 920 first-year teachers last year, 87 of whom were nominated by school administrators and new teacher support staff. The winners were picked by a committee.

The winning rookies will watch the game from a private box provided by Security Benefit, with Superintendent Ramon Cortines joining them — who knew he was a baseball fan?

“Our teachers are the essence of our great schools by inspiring our young people,” Cortines said in a statement. “They give their students the strength and courage to learn and embrace lifelong learning. I hope our honorees will be with the LAUSD for many years to come.”

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CA charter schools association to LAUSD: ‘We’re not the problem’

California Charter Schools AssociationAfter contentious LAUSD school board elections in which the California Charter Schools Association was widely criticized for negative campaigning and accused of draining money from traditional district schools, the association pushed back today asserting that its opponents have mischaracterized the group as detrimental to district.

In a conference call with reporters, the association presented data that suggests charters continue to be a valuable option for LA-area parents seeking an alternative to traditional district schools for their children. The association built its case around data provided by the state Department of Education and other sources.

One of the biggest issues addressed was whether the steady loss of students to charter schools puts a drain on LA Unified’s traditional schools, in both numbers and money.

No, said association officials. The CCSA vice president of policy, Colin Miller, said charter school money does not come out of the district’s budget and up to 3 percent of charter schools revenues go back to the district for oversight costs.

“The decline in enrollment at LAUSD is not due to charter schools,” Miller said, alluding to one of the chief reasons district officials cite as a cause of the district’s budget deficit. In the past decade, LAUSD enrollment dropped by 194,251 students and charter school enrollment increased by 106,710 students, according to state figures. He said that leaves 87,541 students  — or 45 percent — of the decline that isn’t accounted for by charter school enrollment.

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LA Unified, AALA announce new evaluation process for principals

AALA and LAUSD contract agreement 2014Principals at K-12, option and early education schools at LA Unified will start the 2015-16 school year next month working under a new evaluation system that was developed over the course of a two-year, no-stakes pilot program.

The new system was announced in the recent newsletter of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), the union that represents principals and other district administrators.

The new School Leader Growth and Development Program includes a number of key changes to the previous system, including a four-level evaluation instead of two.

The old system ranked administrators “meets standard performance” or “below standard performance” while the new one has four evaluation levels — “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” and “ineffective.”

“It’s really important to note the district has really listened to directors and principals and made modifications in the last two years,” AALA President Juan Fletcha told LA School Report.

The new system also has a portion of the evaluation based on student performance measurements and test scores, which is not new, but what data is used may be changing in the next year.

For high school principals, the data includes graduation rates, the percentage of students on track to meet the A-G graduation requirements, AP enrollment and AP exam pass rate. It also includes the high school exit exam, although the state Legislature is currently debating if the exam should be eliminated.

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