Exclusive: It’s ‘all hands on deck’ as LAUSD says nearly 1 in 2 seniors not on track to graduate

LAUSD graduation rateOnly roughly one in two LAUSD high school seniors is currently on track to graduate, and the district is scrambling to get extra assistance to an estimated 15,000 students in danger of being left behind this June.

According to internal district reports obtained by LA School Report, an estimated 54 percent of seniors are on track to meet their “A through G” requirements. The actual graduation rate could be even lower as there are several other requirements to graduate.

While the estimate is a stark drop from last year’s all-time high of 74 percent, it has been known for years that the district was facing a steep decline this year, when stricter graduation requirements went into effect.

But while the drop was anticipated, the recent internal reports showing a 27 percent plunge from last spring’s rate elicited an alert from the superintendent directing urgent new steps, including weekly updates from staff and letters sent monthly to parents, starting in February, informing them of the necessary courses that need to be completed.

The district would not disclose how many seniors had received “off track” letters this month. According to data available in October, the district had 33,420 seniors in the 2015-16 school year, meaning an estimated 15,373 would currently be off track for graduation.

The new estimate does not reflect progress by a $15-million credit recovery program begun last fall that puts students in specials classes after school and during breaks to help them pass classes they previously failed. District leaders in November had reported an extremely high participation rate in the program and predicted a high pass rate, which if proves true could land the 2016 graduation rate close to last year’s.

Still, despite the optimism over the ongoing credit recovery program, Superintendent Michelle King wrote in a January email to local district superintendents, “This is ‘all hands on deck.'” The email was sent a week after she was installed as superintendent, and King also created a timeline that calls for regular updates to her office as well as benchmarks for the district to meet between now and the end of the semester.

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Nearly 20,000 sign petition calling on California colleges to recognize H.S. computer science credits

computer scienceLast month, President Obama announced the $4 billion Computer Science for All initiative. The initiative looks to expand teacher training, includes investments in the computer science sector from tech heavyweights that include Google, Microsoft and Code.org, and aims to bring computer science to schools of all shapes, sizes and socioeconomic breakdowns.

Proponents hope this effort to expand access to K-12 students across the country will nudge 21 holdout states to finally offer high school graduation credit to students who take computer science courses. They also hope it shapes the debate in 29 states where, despite computer science classes counting toward a high school diploma, the courses are not officially recognized for credit at nearby public universities.

California is one state with such a roadblock. Despite efforts by Gov. Jerry Brown and the legislature to ensure that computer science classes count toward high school graduation, the independent University of California Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) has yet to make computer science count.

Until BOARS takes action, computer science classes remain electives in the state. Which means that while the coursework counts toward high school graduation requirements, they do not count as a core-math or science admissions requirement to the University of California or California State University systems.

This split is particularly problematic in areas like the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), where 73% of students qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. A report published by Gallup and Google in August noted that low-income students are most likely to lack access to computer science, especially when it is considered an elective. Meaning that even less than an hour’s drive from the Silicon Valley economy, high school students are hesitant to commit the time to computer science.

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Morning Read: UTLA members vote for dues increase

UTLA wins dues increase, vows to battle foes of traditional public education
The increase was approved by 82% of those who cast ballots, according to United Teachers Los Angeles, which tallied the votes Wednesday.
Los Angeles Times, by Howard Blume

One way to improve kindergarten attendance: Take the school bus
Students who ride the school bus in the critical first year of formal education – kindergarten – are absent less often, according to a new study.
EdSource, by Jane Meredith Adams

Data on teacher prep grads will soon lead to consequences for some programs
More states are tying teacher data back to teacher preparation, report says.
Hechinger Report, by Jackie Mader

Lawmakers eyeing loan repayment as teacher incentive
In light of a statewide teacher shortage, California legislators are moving to resuscitate an abandoned loan repayment program.
Cabinet Report, by Alisha Kirby

Assessing assessments: The new wave of testing
Perhaps not surprisingly, PARCC and Smarter Balance correlate best to the Common Core standards.
U.S. News & World Report, by Lauren Camera

School board’s high-drama discussion: Are we fair to charters?


George McKenna and Monica Garcia in school board debate.

If anything, it was good television.

LA Unified school board members confronted each other headlong in a dramatic discussion Tuesday night over whether charter schools were being treated fairly by the district.

The discussion opened calls for a deep dive into how district staff comes up with its recommendations for denials or approvals of charter schools.

The debate erupted during talks about the renewal and a new application for two charter schools run by Partnership to Uplift Communities (PUC). By state law, the school board oversees the creation of charter schools in the district and renews the contracts for up to five years. LA Unified is the second largest school district in the nation and has the largest number of charter schools.


PUC students and teachers cheer after vote.

Because board member Ref Rodriguez co-founded PUC, he stepped out of the meeting and watched on closed-circuit live stream television, which is also available to the public.

The drama began when recent media reports, including those in LA School Report, were brought up that suggested charter schools were under more scrutiny.

Monica Garcia, whose district has the PUC schools, said flatly, “I think that the politics of the board has changed.” When asked to clarify the statement by board President Steve Zimmer, she repeated the statement.

Monica Ratliff responded, “I think something has changed. I’m not necessarily opposed to it, but let’s be transparent about it.”

  • VIDEO: To watch the board members’ debate, start at 5 hours 51 minutes into the meeting in this video

Ratliff asked the chief of the Charter Schools Division, Jose Cole-Gutierrez, why the staff suggested denying the PUC petitions. “It seems like you are saying we are always consistent in our denials,” she asked.

Cole-Gutierrez said, “We strive to be consistent, period.”

George McKenna, the senior statesman of the board and vice president, called out some of the statements by his fellow board members. Sitting next to Garcia, he said he didn’t like the idea that she suggested that charter school decisions are based on politics.

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College counselors on the front lines for low-income students

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 23: A student walks near Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA on April 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. According to reports, half of recent college graduates with bachelor's degrees are finding themselves underemployed or jobless. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

A student walks near Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA. (Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Every high school counselor has that story. The student who thought her dream school was too far from home. The senior who wasn’t going to attend the prestigious university because of the price tag. The valedictorian who didn’t think he was cut out for college.

With the right support, these stories have happy endings. But for students in underserved areas of Los Angeles, a lack of information and resources can make entering college a seemingly impossible pathway for low-income and first-generation students.

The secret weapon for high schools taking these challenges head-on? Often it’s investing in college counselors. Counselors make the vital connections with college recruiters. They coordinate college visits and are the first ones students turn to when issues arise in the application process. They ease parent concerns and guide families through financial aid talks.

Yet with tight school budgets, some guidance counselors are being asked to take on dual responsibilities: high school academics and college prep. The counselors who get to focus solely on the process of getting students into college consider themselves lucky.

“People expect guidance counselors to do everything,” said Downtown Magnets High School college counselor Lynda McGee. Her school averages around 60 visits from college recruiters per year. “Because of guidance counselors’ other duties, they can’t stay informed and have to stay at school. My principal lets me go to (college recruiting events). I can meet (recruiters) face to face.”

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Morning Read: UTLA counting votes after asking members to raise dues

L.A. teachers union seeks to raise dues as it fights a charter school push
This week the union asked its 32,000 members — down from 45,000 in 2008 — to raise their dues by nearly a third. The votes will be counted Wednesday.
Los Angeles Times, by Howard Blume

ICE agents won’t be going onto Los Angeles public school campuses
A new LAUSD school board resolution directs school staff members not to let any federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter school campuses.
Los Angeles Times, by Sonali Kohli

Los Angeles teachers union seeks to re-negotiate evaluation system
The proposal could spell more change for the district’s teacher evaluation system, which the union says has been in “transition” in recent years.
KPCC, by Kyle Stokes

California worries about the price of education
California still ranked 41st in the nation for per-pupil spending in 2013, the most recent year available.
CALmatters, by Judy Lin

Transgender issue roils high school
The Poway Unified School District board meeting was packed Tuesday night with people raising a broad array of questions about student rights.
San Diego Union-Tribune, by Gary Warth

Patt Morrison interviews LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King
After some off-the-chart outsiders, like a Colorado governor and a former vice admiral, the newest chief couldn’t be more of an insider. What light of her own will she shine?
Los Angeles Times, by Pat Morrison

Just in: Winners, losers and a surprising existential charter debate at school board meeting

lasr logo squareGoing into Tuesday’s LA Unified school board meeting, three-for-three was the Charter School Division’s recommendations against two new charters and a renewal. In the end, it went the other way, with two votes going in charters’ favor (a new school plus a renewal for the Partnership to Uplift Communities) and one vote postponed (a new charter for WISH Westside Innovative School House Academy High School).

Another winner was a district performing arts school, which won the go-ahead to pursue expansion onto a long-shuttered school site in the west San Fernando Valley. But it came at the expense of a charter school’s plan to move onto that site. Read about that here.

And then there was the existential, heated debate over whether the board has moved toward an anti-charter slant, as put forth in an open letter to the district from the California Charter Schools Association, in which 23 charter operators said they see increased scrutiny of charter schools. For more on Tuesday night’s school board debate, come back to LA School Report Wednesday and we’ll tell you all about it.

School board OKs first steps for Hale expansion at Highlander site, rejects charter school



Vivian Ekchian, Local District Northwest superintendent

In dual votes Tuesday about a long-vacant school in the west San Fernando Valley, the LA Unified school board halted a charter school that was previously proposed for the site and instead allowed a district school to pursue it.

The school board gave a unanimous thumbs-up for Hale Charter Academy to pursue a proposal to develop a performing arts school on the campus of Highlander Elementary School in West Hills. Hale Charter Academy, named after the astronomer George Ellery Hale, is now 6th through 8th grades in Woodland Hills. The expansion, which would be called Hale Charter Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, would go through high school graduation and continue into two college level grades (grade 14), allowing for an Associated Arts degree.

Then, in a cliff-hanger vote an hour later, the board voted 4-3 against allowing an El Camino Real Alliance charter school to be built at the site after the charter held some meetings with the Woodland Hills community over the past year to replace Highlander, which had been vacant for three decades.

It’s an area of the LAUSD district where students have few options to attend a public high school and many move to private schools or charter schools, according to district staff.

“I am puzzled with the misperceptions about this plan, but I’m thrilled that we will be able to expand the arts and other wonderful programs already going on at Hale,” said Vivian Ekchian, the local district northwest superintendent for LAUSD, after the first vote was taken authorizing an estimated $500,000 for Hale to pursue the expansion. She was instrumental in clearing up some of the issues to the school board about the district school’s expansion. She said that the plan for expanding into the space was discussed for nearly a decade.

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LIVESTREAM of today’s LAUSD school board meeting

livestreamGrafix250The LA Unified school board is scheduled to hold an open session meeting today at 1 p.m.

Items up for discussion include a vote on the closed Highlander campus in the San Fernando Valley, which El Camino Real wants to develop into a K-8 campus.

There will also be votes and public meetings on several charter school applications and renewals.

Click here to watch the livestream of the meeting.

Charter operators say district has turned up the heat


LA Unified school board President Steve Zimmer


A number of charter school operators across LA Unified say the district and its school board are turning up the heat on them to an unbearable degree while using the Charter Schools Division and Office of Inspector General to make approval and renewals of charter schools increasingly difficult.

They claim there has been an increase in the number of investigations by the Inspector General’s office and more denials of charters by the board though increased scrutiny by the district’s Charter Schools Division.

The board has already denied more charter applications in the last six months than it had in the previous two years combined, and it is likely to issue at least three more denials at today’s board meeting. Three other applications were withdrawn last week by Magnolia Public Schools after the Charter Schools Division was set to recommend denial.

The board rarely goes against staff recommendations on charters and has only done so one time in the last year.

“It’s starting to feel like a witch hunt as opposed to effective oversight and accountability,” said Magnolia Public Schools CEO and Superintendent Caprice Young, who served as LAUSD board president from 2001-2003. “I definitely believe some of the board members confuse increased bureaucracy with effective oversight.”

Previous to Young taking over Magnolia a little over a year ago, LA Unified attempted to shut down two of its campuses over fiscal mismanagement. But then a state audit issued in May said the district acted too hastily in trying to shut the schools down.

Young said Magnolia has been the focus of a series of investigations by the Inspector General’s office and it is beginning to feel like a never-ending investigation. Just as she thought the investigations of Magnolia were over and relations with the district were returning to normal, she discovered Magnolia was the subject of a new investigation when the Inspector General’s office asked for financial records dating back to 2002, something it had already fully investigated in the past.

“The Inspector General should not be allowed to investigate charters indefinitely,” Young said. “These investigations put an unnecessary cloud over charters, which I believe is intentional. The investigations are taking place in search of problems instead of in response to evidence of problems.”

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Morning Read: Vote on smaller CA school construction bond in the works

Vote on smaller June school construction bond possible within a week
The move would require a rapid series of committee and floor votes to meet ballot deadlines over the next week, and success is far from certain.
Sacramento Bee, by Jim Miller

Hoaxers increasingly going online to threaten schools
In almost every instance, the threats disrupted school for thousands of students, faculty and administrators.
Merced Sun-Star, by Christine Armario

Credentialing commission considers slowing rotation of substitute teachers
The issue is attracting additional attention because school districts throughout California are increasingly having to rely on substitute teachers without full credentials.
EdSource, by Louis Freedberg

District of Choice transfers increasingly popular
Initially launched in the early 1990s, the choice program was aimed at giving parents more flexibility in choosing when to send their children to school.
Cabinet Report, by Tom Chorneau

New, reading-heavy SAT has students worried
Chief among the changes, experts say: longer and harder reading passages and more words in math problems.
New York Times, by Anemona Hartocollis

Charter schools say L.A. Unified is unfairly scrutinizing their campuses
Charter supporters say the district is unfairly scrutinizing their independently run campuses because it sees them as a threat.
Los Angeles Times, by Howard Blume

School board may deny more charter requests than grant approvals at Tuesday’s meeting

SchoolBoard* UPDATED

The LA Unified school board is expected on Tuesday to deny more applications for new charter schools and charter renewals than they may approve. This is the first time the recommended denials exceed approvals since the new configuration of the school board was seated last July.

Already, the board has denied as many charters in the past half year than in the previous two school years combined.

On Tuesday’s agenda, three denials have been recommended by LA Unified’s Charter School Division and two approvals. The board is not bound to follow the recommendations but usually does.

Three additional charter proposals, from Magnolia Public Schools, were pulled in advance of the school board meeting because they had been recommended for denial. CEO and Superintendent Caprice Young said she withdrew the three new charter applications last week rather than face the likely rejection by the board. In 2014 LA Unified denied renewals for two of its charters based on what it said were questionable practices. A judge ordered the schools change some of its practices but allowed them to stay open. In May, the board voted to renew the charters and the district settled a lawsuit with Magnolia that the charter organization had filed.

Two of the three schools recommended for denial Tuesday are from the Partnership to Uplift Communities (PUC), which was co-founded by one of the newest school board members, Ref Rodriguez.

It would be the first time in 17 years of operating schools in the district that PUC would be denied, said Jacqueline Elliot, co-founder of PUC, which operates 14 schools in the district. “I haven’t experienced this level of challenge and scrutiny in my two decades as a charter leader in the city,” Elliot said in an email to LA School Report. “But I believe the school board will recognize the tremendous value PUC adds to the school district and will demonstrate leadership by continuing to support our program for the thousands of families hungry for excellent educational opportunities in these neighborhoods.”

Since July, six of 11 applications for new charters in LA Unified have been denied, according to an LA School Report analysis. This represents a 45 percent approval rate, compared with a 77 percent approval rate for the 2014-2015 school year, when 10 were approved and three denied. In 2013-2014, 17 were approved and three denied, for an approval rate of 85 percent.

The reasons for Tuesday’s three recommended denials include low test scores, which the staff report says is “well below the performance of the public schools that the charter school pupils would otherwise have been required to attend.”

The staff found that the charter schools present “an unsound educational program” and that PUC is “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program.”

Recommended for denial is a renewal for PUC’s Excel Charter Academy and a new charter for PUC’s International Preparatory Academy as well as a new charter for WISH (Westside Innovative School House) Academy High School.

PUC’s 14 schools show mixed results when compared to LA Unified schools in performance on the recent Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced standardized tests. The number of PUC students on average who met or exceeded the standards in the English Language Arts test was 40 percent, compared to 33 percent for the district. However, on the math test, PUC students averaged 23.85 percent, compared to 25 percent for the district.

PUC Excel’s average was below the district average in both math and English, with Excel averaging 28 percent in English and 15 percent in math.

The staff recommended that the board on Tuesday approve new charters for Arts in Action Community Middle School and El Camino Real K-8 Charter School, but the latter is at the former Highlander campus which may have another public school planned for the site and therefore could be denied by the board. The board is also being asked to renew the charter for the Gifted Academy of Mathematics and Entrepreneurial Studies.

Meanwhile, also on the agenda for Tuesday are three violations at charter schools, for Clemente Charter School, Ingenium Charter Middle School and Ingenium Charter Elementary School. The violations include fiscal mismanagement, violations of law and other concerns that the LAUSD staff found.

Independent charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed schools. Most employ non-union teachers, and the school board’s oversight of them is limited. The board can approve or deny new charter applications, and every five years existing charters must be re-approved. The board’s decisions by state law are to be based essentially on if a charter school has a sound educational plan, sound management and its financial situation is in order.

Already, LA Unified has 221 independent charter schools, which is the most of any school district in the country. And many more may be on the way through a new private group, Greater Public Schools Now (GPS Now), which plans a major expansion of school funding.

The school board meeting has a closed session beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday and a later meeting at 1 p.m.


* Updated to reflect that Magnolia now says it does not plan to resubmit its applications, and to include information about its settlement with LAUSD.

Craig Clough contributed to this story.


Commentary: Report on parent engagement meeting showed heat but not the light


Kathy Kantner at the Feb. 2 meeting of the LA Unified school board’s Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Subcommittee.

By Kathy Kantner, Rachel Greene and Juan Jose Mangandi

Readers of LA School Report’s coverage of the Feb. 2 meeting of the Board of Education’s Early Childhood Education and Parent Engagement Subcommittee can be forgiven if they only perceived the heat in the boardroom but not the light. It would be unfortunate, however, if LA School Report’s overly dim view of the state of parent engagement in the district was the last word on the subject.

In fact, we, the parents who chair the district’s central advisory committees, feel a budding optimism about parent engagement efforts within LAUSD. Now more than ever, LAUSD realizes that to increase enrollment in our schools, staff must commit to creating welcoming environments and truly partner with parents in word and deed. We believe a cultural shift is taking place.

For starters, the chair of the ECE/PE, Dr. Ref Rodriguez, asked us to present on the challenges and opportunities experienced by our committee members. This is the first time, to our knowledge, parents have been offered such a chance. Dr. Rodriguez invited us back to present recommendations for improvements at an upcoming meeting. We will certainly take him up on this.

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Commentary: Why do many big donors prefer charter schools? (Hint: It’s not because they hate unions)

KIPP Raices

Students at KIPP Raíces Academy in Los Angeles

By Richard Whitmire

Recent big-dollar donations from pro-charter philanthropists leave traditional educators sputtering: Why don’t they just donate their money to us?

Good question, and one that was raised in Los Angeles recently in light of a possible huge gift from philanthropist Eli Broad and others that appears headed mostly to charter schools. LAUSD board member Scott Schmerelson wondered out loud, the L.A. Times reported: Why not us?

The same questions are being raised about the recently announced $100 million education fund coming from Netflix’s Reed Hastings. If past predicts future, most of that money will end up in charter schools — which critics say is part of a larger plot to destroy traditional public schools.

So why do these guys (and they are mostly guys who made it big in Silicon Valley) seem to distrust our neighborhood schools?

The answer offered by charter critics is pretty simple. Big money hates big unions. That’s the take of charter antagonist Diane Ravitch. Her comments about the Walton Family Foundation, which has announced it will invest $1 billion over the next five years to back new charter schools: “The Walton Family Foundation, which was created by the billions earned by Walmart, is anti-union,” wrote Ravitch in her blog. “Walmart does not have unions. It has fought unionization and had to be pushed kicking and screaming to agree to pay minimum wages, eventually.”

So that’s it? Big money hates big unions?

Based on several years of reporting on charter schools, especially California charters for a book about Rocketship charters in Silicon Valley, I see a somewhat different narrative.

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Morning Read: LAUSD has long backlog of El Niño rain-related service requests

Under the leaking roofs of Los Angeles Unified schools
Every time El Niño dumps rain on the city, dozens of LA Unified schools feel the impact of old architecture and outdated roofs.
Los Angeles Times, by Sonali Kohli

How two San Fernando Valley schools have kept learning after an epic gas leak
After LA Unified took the unprecedented step of temporarily closing two of its schools because of the Porter Ranch gas leak, the campuses have settled into their new routines.
Los Angeles Daily News, by David Montero

Legislative Analyst endorses parental choice program
Forty-seven California school districts have opened their doors to students outside their borders, under a little-used program set to expire next year.
EdSource, by John Fensterwald

Academic decathlon Super Quiz is a sport unto itself — with the fans to prove it
LA Unified schools completed the annual decathlon Saturday with the game show-style Super Quiz event at the Roybal Learning Center downtown.
Los Angeles Times, by Sonali Kohli

Room to improve school services for LGBT students
Even with all of the progress made in recent years to improve educational services for LGBT students, their well-being is still at risk in many schools.
Cabinet Report, by Alisha Kirby

As immigration resurges, U.S. public schools help children find their footing
There were more than 630,000 immigrant students nationwide in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the latest federal education data available.
Washington Post, by Emma Brown

Parent leaders trying to engage with LAUSD meet with frustration


Maria Daisy Ortiz complains about parent involvement with LAUSD.

Parents representing some of the most important advisory committees to the LA Unified school board lodged a litany of complaints this week about a lack of connection with the district.

Long distances to meetings, inconvenient times, police intimidation near meeting sites and a lack of consideration of the parents’ advice were some of the complaints brought up in more than an hour of public comment at the Early Childhood and Parent Engagement Committee Tuesday. The parents said they often felt their advisory committees were held merely to comply with some legislative requirement and that the ideas they advised went nowhere, adding to the difficulty of getting parents to volunteer for the committees.

The three school board members listening to the complaints seemed surprised and dismayed and said the parents’ issues would be addressed. The parents had been invited to Tuesday’s meeting by committee chair Ref Rodriguez, who had asked to hear their concerns.

Some of the dozen speakers were community leaders and officers of major advisory committees to the school board. The Parent Advisory Committee, for example, has 47 parents who meet monthly downtown and come from all over the district, said Chairwoman Rachel Greene.


Rachel Greene, chairwoman of the Parent Advisory Committee

“We have people coming from Porter Ranch and San Pedro so it is difficult for some to get to the Central Area.  But there are there are pros and cons for meeting centrally there are certain record-keeping requirements for [the Parent, Community and Social Services] to comply with that can be accomplished more easily there.  And they do provide food and beverage for members there.  If they start moving to Porter Ranch, the people from San Pedro will have something to say about it, and vice versa. But having some moving around is something to consider.  Having a joint meeting with some of the other committees so we could hear others’ input could be good but could also be a burden. But as Mr. Mangandi mentioned, the lack of childcare is a problem.”

She said the parents who attend the meetings “were usually at some point stymied by LAUSD, or something went wrong with the district or their school down the street or the one that our children take hours to ride buses to get to. We want to work with you, I don’t think there is any other group of human beings who want to see this district succeed as much as we do.”

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Duncan gives himself ‘a pretty low grade’ on desegregation, wanted more pre-K

Arne Duncan

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (Credit: Department of Education)

Arne Duncan’s administration of the Education Department saw plenty of notable accomplishments: billions of new dollars for preschool, a rewrite of the country’s primary K-12 education law, and a record high school graduation rate.

Yet for all he achieved in his seven years, Duncan said he’s disappointed to leave office without having made sufficient progress in several other areas, including school desegregation.

He sees the connection between his top three self-proclaimed disappointments — failure to further expand preschool, offer financial aid to undocumented students and clamp down on gun violence. They all reflect an unwillingness to protect and invest in children, he said.

“It’s just not seeing our children as the assets — as the extraordinary potential — that they truly are,” he said in a recent phone interview.

More notably, perhaps, is Duncan’s admission that he couldn’t do enough to desegregate the country’s schools. In some regions, America’s schools are now more segregated than they were in the late 1960s.

“I would give myself a pretty low grade on that,” he said.

Duncan said the department poured millions of dollars into magnet schools, public schools with a specialized focus or curriculum designed to draw a diverse group of students. Some, like those in Hartford, Connecticut, are making a big impact, but the program largely failed to make a noticeable difference integrating the country’s schools.

“I don’t so much blame those districts and schools,” he said. He posited that perhaps his department didn’t ask grant recipients the right kinds of questions, or didn’t give the money to the right places.

The country “can and should do more” to integrate schools, both by race and income, he said. Duncan said he’ll never advocate integration achieved by forced busing, but instead thinks schools should offer a wide variety of excellent choices to entice all types of families.

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Morning Read: New L.A. schools chief ‘up to the challenge’

Michelle King talks to 100 community leaders
Speaking at an NAACP reception at First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the new LAUSD superintendent discussed her plans and challenges for the district.
Los Angeles Wave, by Cynthia Gibson

What happens to the $63 million if no one claims California lottery ticket?
Money from unclaimed lottery tickets goes to the schools. The distribution, however, gets a bit more complicated.
Los Angeles Times, by Sonali Kohli

Santa Monica State Senator Ben Allen tackles California teacher shortage
Legislation could provide matching grants to school districts to create training programs, modeled on those that already exist in LA Unified.
Santa Monica Lookout

LA84 Foundation awards $1.3 million in grants for youth sports
LA’s Best will receive $335,000 for after-school programs in 188 elementary schools in LA Unified.
Los Angeles Times, by Eric Sondheimer

Is it time to ditch Tdap as a routinely recommended teen vaccination?
Routine immunization with Tdap did not prevent pertussis outbreaks, according to a new study by Kaiser Permanente.
Forbes, by Tara Haelle

State to begin collecting data on students who are chronically absent
California will begin its first statewide collection of data on students who are chronically absent, a key indicator of academic trouble.
EdSource, by Jane Meredith Adams

Jindal lawsuit against Common Core scrapped by new governor
Although new Gov. John Bel Edwards is against Common Core too, he ended Louisiana’s lawsuit against the Obama administration’s education standards.
Associated Press, by Melinda Deslatte

6 things to know about LAUSD’s new school accountability system

raising-hands-in-classroom accountabilityA group of six California school districts, including LA Unified, this week unveiled a new school accountability system that represents a far more complex and intricate way of ranking schools.

Simply put, it is not all about standardized test scores anymore, and the school with the highest scores may no longer be the highest ranked school under the new system.

Education leaders in the state and nation will be keeping a close eye on how the new system is received, as it is the first one to be created that fits the requirements of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA.) Under ESSA, each state is required to implement a set of high-quality student academic assessments, and the developers of the California districts’ system said they hope it becomes a national model.

Here are six things you need to know about the new School Quality Improvement Index.

What is the School Quality Improvement Index?

The index was developed by LAUSD and five other districts — known together as the California Office of Reform Education (CORE) — as part of a deal with the federal government. (Technically there are nine districts in CORE, but for various reasons only six are participating in the new index system.)

The districts banded together for the purpose of getting a much-desired waiver in 2013 from the stringent mandates of the No Child Left Behind law, and part of the waiver required them to develop a comprehensive way of evaluating and ranking schools. CORE became the first non-state to get a waiver.

In CORE’s new system, a school with high test scores won’t necessarily be ranked the highest, like it was with California’s Academic Performance Index (API), which was discontinued in 2013 to give the state time to transfer over new Common Core-aligned standardized tests and develop a new accountability system. The state and LAUSD have operated without any annual accountability system since then.

“[The index] gives schools the ability to take a more complex, comprehensive look at what is going on in their school,” said John McDonald, a consultant to CORE. “And now you have schools that traditionally, if you were just looking at API, may have been at the very bottom. When you look at this index, those schools may not be in that bottom because you are looking at different indicators.”

So if the system is not only about test scores, what is it about?

While test scores still play a role, the CORE index also includes other factors that were not previously considered, like graduation rates, attendance rates, suspension rates and the performance of English learners. It will even include “social-emotional and culture-climate” factors that will come from student surveys. Overall, 60 percent of a school’s score is based on academics; the social-emotional and culture-climate factors account for 40 percent. The surveys are not yet part of the scoring system as they won’t be given until this fall, but everything else is currently part of the scoring system.

How do I find out my school’s score, and how is that score reached? 

Click here and search schools by name. The overall score is on the last page of each school’s report. The list includes 723 LAUSD schools, including traditional schools and affiliated charters but not independent charters. It also doesn’t include adult, continuation or special education schools.

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Bebe Rexha surprises Jefferson High with big gift

Students get instruments and selfies with hit singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha

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This week the 800 students of Jefferson High were surprised by singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha with a big gift: $80,000 worth of musical instruments and a live performance. The gift was compliments of the nonprofit Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, along with event marketer StubHub, which announced last year it would commit $1 million in an effort to provide musical instruments to schools. Rexha, co-writer of the hit song “The Monster,” this week has a new No. 1 song on the rap charts, “Me Myself & I.” She performed for a rapt audience of assembled students including Jefferson’s band members and posed for a few selfies with students.

According to the LAUSD, the donation will support the Jefferson school band and allow student-musicians a total of 2,040 additional hours of practice time in class each year.

Located in South Los Angeles, Jefferson has a long history of producing musical talent, counting singer Etta James and saxophonist Dexter Gordon as alumni.

The school, which has struggled with performance and academic progress for decades, was recently part of a court settlement between the district and the teachers union, aimed at rectifying the practice of sending less experienced teachers based on seniority to high-needs schools. Jefferson was also hit hard in the fall of 2014 with a scheduling crisis after hundreds of students were left without proper classes due in part to a malfunctioning MiSiS computer system.