6 top education news stories in Los Angeles in the first 6 months of 2016

Burning birthday candle number 1

(Photos courtesy of iStock)

The first half of 2016 brought high stakes and high drama to Los Angeles’ education scene, from dire budget predictions to heated charter debates to attempts at overhauling teacher tenure laws.

There were anniversaries to celebrate along the way — 25 years for both charter schools nationwide and Teach For America — and comings and goings of superintendents, plus and the glimmerings of electoral races to come (for the school board’s members and president, LA City Council, mayor and even governor) that promise a starring role for education.


The new year started with the announcement that Michelle King had been chosen by a unanimous vote of the school board to be LA Unified’s next superintendent, the first black female ever to lead the district and the first woman since 1929. The three-month nationwide search had ended at home, with an LA Unified “lifer” who was educated in the district and has worked for it for nearly 30 years. King replaced Ramon Cortines, who stepped down at the end of 2015.

King had to immediately grapple with how the district would co-exist with the growing number of charter schools and the school board’s opposition to a plan to significantly increase their numbers. In fact, the day she was confirmed by the board was also the day of the unanimous board vote against an early draft plan to expand charters.

King called for healing, and in her first community town hall she stressed, “It’s not us versus them.” She met three times with the new head of the nonprofit formed to lead the expansion of the city’s high-quality schools, Great Public Schools Now Executive Director Myrna Castrejon, who, like King, was announced in January, is a minority woman and single mother, and stands to have significant impact on the shape and state of education in LA.

King also took on the plummeting graduation rate as well as predictions of a massive deficit within three years, holding a series of special board meetings in May and June to address the predictions and as well as recommendations outlined in a November report by an independent financial review panel.

She presented her first budget in June, which most board members praised, but noted there was much work yet to be done.

“Are we there? No, we’re not there, but we are on a path moving forward in the right direction,” King said as she presented the budget to the board.

“In general, I think that your staff and you have done a good job of trying to meet the needs in the district with the limited funds we have,” board member Monica Ratliff told her.

Burning birthday candle number 2


The future is dire,” is what King heard at the outset of the special meetings on the fiscal health of the district.

Internationally renowned education expert Pedro Noguera of UCLA, hired by the district to advise King and the board and facilitate the special meetings, warned that unless more serious measures are taken, the nation’s second-largest school district is destined to lose more students.

The challenges LA Unified is facing, Noguera said, include declining enrollment because of the growth of charters and demographic shifts, chronically under-performing schools, structural budget deficits and the need to increase public support for schools.

The details were daunting: the budget deficit was projected to reach nearly half a billion dollars in three years; a district audit showed LA Unified debt outstripped assets by $4.2 billion; per-pupil funding had doubled but the district still faced financial crisis; and plans for a turnaround included boosting enrollment but not cutting staff. Indeed, even though the district has lost 100,000 students in the last six years, its certified administrative staff has increased 22 percent in the last five years.

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A graduation highlight: Oakland teen overcomes fears of parents’ deportation to land a spot at Yale

Lorena Ortega-Guerrero

Lorena Ortega-Guerrero

When Oakland’s Lorena Ortega-Guerrero starts Yale University this fall, she is looking forward to breaking out of her comfort zone. “I grew up in the Bay Area and I’ve spent the majority of my life with other Latinos,” she said, “so I’m excited to push my comfort zone and get perspectives from people who have lived very different lives from myself.”

While Yale is quickly approaching, just two years ago, the 18-year-old graduate of Holy Names High School wasn’t sure she’d be able to attend college. Ortega-Guerrero’s parents, who were in the country illegally at the time, were facing deportation.

• Read more: A passion for community activism propels this LA senior to UCLA

Ortega-Guerrero knew that if they left, she’d go with them to be able to stay with her family.

Luckily, an immigration lawyer was able to stop the deportation and keep her parents in the U.S., now legally.

Growing up in Oakland, education was always a priority for Ortega-Guerrero’s family. “I’ve lived behind Oakland High School my entire life and I knew it wasn’t the life I wanted” Ortega-Guerrero says. “We always pushed and strived to get whatever help we could to go to private school.”

With the help of the Children’s Scholarship Fund, Ortega-Guerrero was connected to the BASIC Fund, a privately funded organization that allocates partial tuition funds to allow students to go to the private school of their choice.

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California in the age of ESSA: Can schools be held accountable without real consequences

San Francisco trolleyThis is the last in a three-part series examining California’s approach to education data and school accountability. Part One surveyed how the state’s skepticism of test-based accountability starts at the top with Gov. Jerry Brown, who successfully took on the federal government; Part Two explored how the elimination of certain data systems has limited educational research in one of the country’s most consequential states.

California is hoping to redefine school accountability in the “California Way.”

While state officials are hard at work designing a system in line with the oversights demanded by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the new federal K-12 education law, they also want to remain true to the state’s ethos of de-emphasizing test scores and focusing on helping — rather than “punishing” — struggling schools.

“We have had now basically three years without a functioning accountability system and we’re approaching the moment when we actually have to put something in place,” said David Plank, a Stanford professor and executive director of the research group Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE).

A report released in May by a task force convened by the state superintendent lays out a series of metrics — beyond standardized test scores — for judging schools, but says little about what happens to the ones that persistently score poorly.

The system will also be crucial to the future of the state’s public schools, which grapple with limited funding and poor data systems that make it difficult to track areas where improvement is needed. California students post some of the lowest test scores in the country on federal exams and while, fairly wealthy, the state spends among the least on K-12 education.

As other states face similar tensions, California’s approach may point to the future of accountability across the country as one of ESSA’s pillars is devolving power from the federal government. The state appears on the verge of designing a system that moves beyond a narrow focus on math and reading test scores while including measures of equity, such as suspensions and expulsions, which fall disproportionately on special education students and those of color.

At the same time, it’s not clear that there’s the political will to give accountability any teeth — to intervene, and even, in some cases, sanction schools that are low-performing year after year by, for instance, labeling them as failing or dismissing staff.

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Morning Read: California could be at odds with federal regulations on school ratings

Education secretary takes heat for pushing single rating of schools

California is moving toward establishing a new accountability system made up of multiple measures, in place of the state’s previous Academic Performance Index, which assigned schools a single “summative” number based on test scores. This new approach has been championed by Gov. Jerry Brown and is currently being implemented by the California Department of Education and State Board of Education. But under the draft regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Education to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act approved by Congress last December, states would be required to come up with a single rating for their schools. That would appear to put California on a collision course with the federal government, at least on this issue. By Louis Freedberg, EdSource

Teacher tenure bill defeated in committee

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. (courtesy)

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. (courtesy)

State lawmakers on Wednesday once again failed to amend teacher tenure laws, this time rejecting a bill that would have extended the probationary period from two to three years — even after the bill was stripped of its boldest language.

The bill, AB 934, sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was defeated 5-2, with two senators abstaining, in the state Senate Education Committee. It drew the opposition of powerful teachers unions — the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — and education reformers, two sides that seldom agree.

The teachers unions said the bill went too far in taking away teachers’ due process rights, while the reform advocates said the bill didn’t go far enough in making teacher tenure an earned benchmark.

The bill was conceived to address some of the concerns about the state of education in California that were raised in the landmark lawsuit Vergara v. California, which was overturned on appeal in April, and to bring about “the necessary and overdue changes that must be addressed within our education system,” a statement from Bonilla’s office said.

“It is frustrating when two opposing sides are not only unwilling to compromise, but are vehemently reluctant to work together to achieve the mutual goal of providing a high quality education for all California students,” Bonilla said in the statement.

Students Matter, which filed the Vergara lawsuit on behalf of nine students, initially had supported the bill, but the version that was voted on by the committee was heavily amended and Students Matter withdrew its support last week.

Ben Austin, the group’s policy and advocacy director, called the bill “watered down and gutted beyond recognition.”

The issue of teacher tenure was the crux of the Vergara lawsuit. Plaintiff attorneys argued that teacher protection laws perpetuate a cycle of keeping ineffective teachers in low-income classrooms.

Bonilla, a former high school English teacher, said the amendments to the bill, AB 934, were needed to give it a chance of passage.

Other provisions in the bill included more training for new administrators and an additional year of coaching and mentoring for teachers in their third year of teaching.

The bill would have also authorized school districts and local unions to negotiate dismissal procedures.

Bonilla said the current dismissal process takes about seven months and typically costs districts $100,000 to $200,000.

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The purge: California leaves researchers (and policymakers) in the dark by gutting education data

keyboards in trash - better cropThis is the second in a three-part series examining California’s approach to education data and school accountability. Part One looks at how the state’s skepticism of test-based accountability starts at the top with Gov. Jerry Brown, who successfully took on the federal government. Part Three will consider what the next era of accountability in California might look like under the new federal K-12 education law.

Everyone in California education policy circles knows it.

“Our governor has not been a fan of data,” said Ryan Smith, executive director of Education Trust-West, a civil rights and education group that generally backs tough school accountability standards.

Morgan Polikoff, a University of Southern California professor, echoed this sentiment, “California has an embarrassing relationship with educational data. … The governor has affirmatively stated that he doesn’t want to spend money on improving educational data systems.”

Indeed, it’s well understood in the education policy realm that California has bucked national trends by pausing school accountability and not requiring that teachers be evaluated by student test scores.

But what’s less discussed is how the removal of data systems in the state has made it hard for researchers to study California schools or for policymakers to understand and address educational challenges. Although it’s data for high-stakes accountability like teacher evaluation and school performance metrics that draws headlines, even data for low-stakes purposes, like academic research, is hard to come by in California.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s philosophy can be best summed up by a line in a 2011 message after vetoing a school accountability system: “Adding more speedometers to a broken car won’t turn it into a high-performance machine. … The current fashion is to collect endless quantitative data to populate ever-changing indicators of performance to distinguish the educational ‘good’ from the education ‘bad.’”

He’s also criticized the federal government’s $300 million Race to the Top program as having “a pervasive technocratic bias and an uncritical faith in the power of social science.”

California hasn’t done away with data altogether — school level test scores are publicly reported and several large districts together known as CORE have worked to create more robust data systems — but several researchers and advocates say they can’t fully judge the education policies of the most populous state in the country because of a lack of accessible data.

• Read more: Anatomy of school success and failure: Inside CORE’s accountability system

It’s a strange position for a state synonymous with being in the vanguard.

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Morning Read: LA Unified wants trial in drowning case moved out of LA County

Lawyer: LAUSD playing ‘dirty’ in drowning lawsuit

The family of a Los Angeles Unified School District special needs student who drowned while on a school field trip said the district is playing dirty and trying to move the upcoming trial out of LA County. If the judge decides to allow the case to be heard somewhere other than LA, they worry they could lose witnesses to the miles. By John Cadiz Klemack, NBC4

How Gov. Brown fought the federal government on education policy — and won

Jerry Brown -- green background -- 610 widthThis is the first in a three-part series examining California’s approach to education data and school accountability. Part Two explores how the elimination of certain data systems has limited educational research in one of the country’s most consequential states. Part Three will consider what the next era of accountability in California might look like under the new federal K–12 education law.

“Write your impression of a green leaf.”

This appeared on an exam that California Gov. Jerry Brown took as a student and it’s stuck with him ever since, he said in an interview with The Atlantic: “This is a very powerful question that has haunted me for 50 years, but you can’t put that on a standardized test.”

His point is that efforts to quantify education are doomed to fall short because of the inherent complexity, necessity of human judgment, and subjectivity of “correct” answers.

It’s a view that seems to have deeply shaped Brown’s ideology, and by extension California’s public schools, which serve over six million students in grades K-12. During his tenure, Brown has been one of the foremost critics of federally driven efforts to use data to improve education — and one of the most effective.

If Washington, D.C., went to one extreme, in focusing on test-driven accountability policies, as some argue, California has gone to the other: placing a lengthy pause on school accountability, devolving control to local districts, eliminating certain data systems, and declining to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores.

Challenging the wisdom of Washington, D.C.

Jerry Brown, a Democrat and son of a former California governor, was first elected to that office himself in 1974, serving two terms, but later failing in three runs for president and a campaign for U.S. Senate. By 1999, setting his ambitions lower, Brown had become Oakland’s mayor, and then in 2007, the state’s attorney general.

In 2010, he was elected governor once again and easily won re-election in 2014. Entering office in the wake of the economic downturn, Brown defied clear political labels, both cutting social spending and raising taxes to balance the budget, while maintaining solid approval ratings.  (Brown will not be able to run again in 2018 due to term limits.)

In 2009, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was solidifying his own agenda, one that encouraged states to expand data systems, connect student test scores to teacher evaluation, and turnaround long-struggling schools. But Brown, then attorney general, had other ideas. In a remarkable letter — notable for the sharp tone directed at a powerful federal official from his own party — he criticized Duncan’s proposed Race to the Top program:

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321 students have applied to new schools through Choice4LA pilot program

Information table for Parent Revolution's Choice4LA school choice program. (courtesy)

Information table for Parent Revolution’s Choice4LA school choice program. (courtesy)

Parent Revolution announced Tuesday that it has helped 321 students apply to new, higher performing schools through its Choice4LA pilot program launched in January.

The program is aimed at helping low-income families navigate a complex system of school choice by providing information on all types of schools, helping parents choose the right school for their children and providing support through the application process. In total the group has engaged with 734 families as of last week.

The group also announced it has received a $50,000 grant from the California Community Foundation toward the effort.

Choice4LA has been focused on a pilot area in South Los Angeles where it has partnered with community groups to reach out to parents who are interested in finding other school options for their students.

Seth Litt, executive director of Parent Revolution, said there are many barriers for families to applying to high-performing schools, including a lack of transportation and sometimes no internet access at home.

Many parents don’t have the type of jobs where they can take time off to tour new schools, he said.

“A lot of families are effectively shut out of choice,” Litt said.

Many parents do not even know about the options available, he said.

“Either school choice information doesn’t reach them through traditional methods, or the process is so complex that they don’t actually exercise those choices for their children,” Litt said.

Of the families that have applied to new schools, 63 percent have applied to both charter schools and district schools, according to statistics provided by the group. Twenty-six percent of families have applied only to charter schools, and 11 percent have applied only to district schools.

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Morning Read: Dark-money donors against Prop. 30 revealed

Activists reveal more dark-money donors to campaigns against unions and schools-funding tax

The campaign for extending a schools tax on high-income Californians kicked off this week with the release of undisclosed donors involved in fighting against the levy when it last appeared on the ballot. The new group, California Hedge Clippers, released the names Tuesday as part of a broader campaign to extend Proposition 30 in the November election. The temporary schools-funding tax passed in 2012 and is set to expire at the end of 2018. By Howard Blume, Maloy Moore and Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times

IDEA Public Schools wins 2016 Broad Prize, as charter conference braces for life after Obama

IDEA Public Schools accepts the Broad Prize in Nashville. (Photo courtesy of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools)

IDEA Public Schools accepts the Broad Prize in Nashville. (Photo courtesy of National Alliance for Public Charter Schools)

IDEA Public Schools was awarded the $250,000 Broad Prize Monday for its efforts to inject hope and opportunity into the educational lives of some 24,000 mostly Hispanic and low-income Texas students in San Antonio, Austin and the Rio Grande Valley.

Accepting the award, co-founder and CEO Tom Torkelson gave an impassioned speech in defense of the tens of thousands of undocumented children IDEA educates — in schools close enough to see the border wall dividing the U.S. and Mexico — and sends to college. These kids pledge allegiance to the flag every morning, Torkelson said, his voice rising, they light fireworks on the Fourth of July and, in some cases, fight for their country “and all they want is the recognition and the respect of their fellow citizens.”

“Nobody gets to choose where they are born, but they made a choice to come to school,” he said. “How much more American do you want us to be?”

• Read more: IDEA plans to expand beyond Texas

Torkelson continued a recent Broad Prize tradition by announcing  that IDEA would split the $250,000 award —  given to the charter network that has done the most to boost student outcomes, close the achievement gap and increase graduation rates — with its fellow finalists, Houston-based YES Prep and New York City’s Success Academy. All three, he said, will put the money toward making sure undocumented students “have someone fighting for them.”

The spirit of combat was in the air of the grand ballroom at Nashville’s Music City Center where the prize was announced at the opening session of the National Charter Schools Conference.

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EXCLUSIVE: Monica Ratliff launches campaign, hopes to bring education to Los Angeles City Council


Monica Ratliff is launching her City Council campaign.

Monica Ratliff got up from a picnic table in a shady corner of Sunland Park and walked over to a couple of moms chatting as they watched their toddlers play. “Hi, I’m going to be recording an interview over here and I just wanted to let you know in case we pick up some of your voices.” 

What they didn’t know was that this interview marked the launch of a Los Angeles City Council campaign — and the beginning of the end of a four-year run on the Los Angeles Unified School Board.

Ratliff is known as a stickler for transparency. In fact, her meticulousness about procedures has even become the brunt of jokes at the school board. Former Superintendent Ramon Cortines kidded Ratliff at his final State of the District speech last year for her habit of “asking just one more question after we tirelessly answered 20 before.” Even Ratliff regularly acknowledged at board meetings that some of the LA Unified staff would probably prefer to duck for cover when she unleashes her barrage of questions.

Now Ratliff hopes to bring that scrutiny to the city of Los Angeles. She’s already researched issues as far ranging as horses, housing, high-speed rail and jobs for her district. But she’s also hoping to educate the city council about, well, education.

Although she filed to run in March, she expressly said she didn’t want to discuss her candidacy until the school year ended because she didn’t want the distraction from her teaching duties or the important decisions with the school budget, which was passed last week. She also didn’t want it to be on school board time, or at her district office.

And so, for more than an hour, Ratliff met with LA School Report at one of her favorite local coffeeshops, the Back Door Bakery, and at Sunland Park to discuss how she’s planning to bring education to city government.

“Actually, one of the main reasons I’ve been so motivated to do this is that I don’t think the city has been very involved with schools,” Ratliff said. “I think they’re totally hands off when it comes to schools.”

If Ratliff wins next May, local schools will be more than a backdrop for City Council photo opps.

• Read more: One Monica in, one Monica out: How the LAUSD school board will change

At 46, the lawyer-turned-teacher declared she is running for Council District 7 in the northeast corner of the San Fernando Valley when Felipe Fuentes decided not to seek re-election. So far, 18 people are running for the seat. Ratliff’s campaign manager is her fiancé, screenwriter Chuck Kanganis, whom she is planning to marry next March, the same month as the primary. She rented a home in Sun Valley from 2002 to 2007 and since 2008 she’s been living in an apartment in Sunland, so she knows the area well and has seen significant changes.

She grew up in Phoenix, daughter of a Mexican immigrant mother and Anglo-American father, who died when she was a teen, leaving her to help her mom raise her two brothers. She went to Columbia Law School on a scholarship, earned her law degree and worked with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Neighborhood Legal Services and even acted in a Lionsgate movie, “Battle Force,” before getting her master’s degree in education at UCLA. Since 2001 she’s taught third, fourth and fifth grades at San Pedro Elementary and recently taught English Language Development at La Cañada Unified.

“I was so incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to work with students again. The students, teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators and parents are great. I ended this school year with lots of plans for next year. I hope to be back there in August.” Although she has no children of her own, she feels like she has had plenty.

So far, no one is running to replace Ratliff in her District 6 school board seat, and she plans to remain there until the end of her term on June 30, 2017.

Here are excerpts of her interview, edited for length.

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Charter school founder Steve Barr to challenge Garcetti for LA mayor

Los-Angeles-Times-logoBy Peter Jamison

Charter-school founder Steve Barr will run for Los Angeles mayor in 2017, opening up a potentially challenging front for incumbent Mayor Eric Garcetti in what has so far shaped up as an all but uncontested re-election bid.

Barr, a Silver Lake resident and darling of education-reform advocates who has not previously held elected office, said he has grown impatient with what he sees as Garcetti’s passivity in the face of a worsening public-education crisis.

He said that though he plans to draw attention to other measures of urban decline, such as L.A.’s rising crime rate and growing homeless population, the focus of his campaign will be innovation and improvement in the nation’s second-largest school system.

“The school district – and I’m saying this as a big fan of the school district, as a parent in the school district – in some ways is a little bit like an alcoholic who hasn’t bottomed out yet,” Barr said. “It’s getting better, but we can’t afford as a city to just let this thing linger out there, because it’s not just affecting them anymore. It’s affecting our city and it has for a long time.”

Barr said he would file paperwork to run Monday. His entry into the race is likely to revive debate around a recurrent theme in Los Angeles politics: the relationship between the Los Angeles Unified School District and City Hall. L.A.’s mayor, unlike those in Chicago or New York City, has no formal authority over the school district.

To read the full story in the Los Angeles Times, click here

Commentary: A promising bill on teacher effectiveness is gutted in backroom deal

Beautiful young teacher writing on the blackboard

By Ben Austin

Last month, my organization, Students Matter, issued its support of California’s AB 934 – a state bill that, though imperfect, honestly attempted to address the grave defaults in the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws challenged by the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California. (A 2014 ruling in that case sided with the students but was overturned by an appellate court earlier this year; the plaintiffs are now appealing to the California Supreme Court.)

Students Matter worked with California Assemblymember Susan Bonilla’s office for months to craft commonsense legislation that supported effective teachers and prioritized quality across California’s public education system. When introduced, the bill drew praise from parents, educators, community leaders and newspaper editorial boards across the state.

All that progress was eliminated last week with the strike of a pen.

Late last Tuesday night, Students Matter got notice of a new version of AB 934, revised in advance of an upcoming vote before the California Senate Education Committee. Watered down and gutted beyond recognition, the new AB 934 preserves the unconstitutional and unjustifiable disparities in students’ access to effective teachers caused by the current laws.

• Read more: Parents want legislature to act on teacher tenure

Rather than bring California in-line with the states making strides toward educational equity, AB 934 continues California’s decades-long tradition of robbing students of the quality education they deserve. In an about-face betrayal of California’s students and hardworking families who depend on our public schools, AB 934 now abandons California’s 6 million public school students and hard-working public school teachers by embracing a harmful, unpopular and unconstitutional “business as usual” mindset.

So what happened? A backroom deal that was manufactured by the state’s most powerful special interest groups, which swapped a promising bill out for a reinforcement of the status quo. And while the new AB 934 might work for those groups and their lobbyists, it’s a bad deal for California students, parents, teachers and voters, who trusted their elected representatives to serve and protect the people.

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Morning Read: Wealthier students use summer school to get ahead

Leg up or catch up? Wealthier students use summer school to get a step ahead

Summer school is no longer only for students who want to erase an “F” grade. It’s increasingly becoming, for those who can afford it, the time when high school students stack their transcripts with classes for college admission. By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, KPCC

Commentary: Parents want legislature to act on teacher tenure

SpeakUP-Logo-horizontalBy Jenny Hontz

 When LA School Report reported this week that 181 LAUSD staffers are currently being paid to sit around and do nothing while they are investigated for alleged misconduct, costing the district $15 million a year, school board members expressed surprise.

The numbers are staggering, but it should be no surprise to anyone that this is happening. This so-called “teachers jail” system is the result of terribly flawed teacher tenure and dismissal laws that students and parents have been trying to fix for years in court and in the state legislature – so far to no avail.

In surveying our Speak UP members, 92 percent of parents said that “excellent teachers” were “very important” in their choice of a school – more than any other factor. 

But current state law and union contracts make it very difficult for districts like LAUSD to ensure that all students have effective teachers in every classroom. Unionized public school teachers currently receive lifetime job tenure after just 18 months, often with no meaningful performance review.

And once teachers receive tenure, it can take almost a decade and up to $500,000 to dismiss an ineffective teacher – rendering the process so costly and time consuming that districts like LAUSD rarely even bother to try.

That’s why LAUSD opted to pay Mark Berndt $40,000 to quit his teaching job at Miramonte Elementary School five years ago, despite photographic evidence that he spoon-fed semen to his students, blindfolded them and placed cockroaches on their faces.

These flawed laws also contributed to a level of bureaucratic indifference that led LAUSD to ignore repeated warnings of teacher sexual abuse, an atrocity that has now cost LAUSD $300 million over the past four years in sex abuse settlements.

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What the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action means for the nation’s minority college applicants

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: Plaintiff Abigail Noel Fisher (L) speaks to the media after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in her case on October 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. The high court heard oral arguments on Fisher V. University of Texas at Austin and are tasked with ruling on whether the university's consideration of race in admissions is constitutional. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Abigail Fisher after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in her case in 2012. (Photo: Getty Images)

In a highly anticipated ruling that’s been years in the making, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a University of Texas affirmative action policy that takes race into consideration when selecting applicants — a ruling that could have a profound effect on America’s minority high school students planning to attend college.

After the decision was announced, civil rights leaders said the court’s opinion helps secure a fair shot at college for students from all backgrounds.

The Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision can help ensure that students who attend segregated K-12 schools have access to colleges and universities with diverse student populations, said Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

• Read more: How UCLA is boosting campus diversity, despite the ban on affirmative action. By Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times

“So many of our students encounter people of different races for the first time, and have the most meaningful interactions with people of different races and ethnic groups for the first time, in the college setting,” she said. “And so I think this is an encouraging statement for all students of all backgrounds that they still have a promise of an education that will be rich in diversity and rich in experience because of the continuing affirmance of the use of diversity in admissions.”

The University of Texas at Austin wound up in court when it denied admission in 2008 to Abigail Fisher, a white Texan who argued she wasn’t accepted because the university’s admission policy favored less-qualified minority applicants.

The suit followed a 2003 Supreme Court decision which held the University of Michigan Law School could use race as one factor among many in admissions decisions in order to achieve educational diversity on campus.

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Morning Read: New state agency will help fix lowest-performing schools

New state agency gets infusion of money to promote school success
The new agency charged with helping to implement and enforce the state’s school accountability and improvement system has a fresh source of money and a plan to spend it, starting this fall. The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence, overseen by Carl Cohn, a former State Board of Education member and retired superintendent of Long Beach Unified, has been allocated $24 million in the state budget awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. By John Fensterwald, EdSource

Washington, D.C. — The pre-K capital where nearly all 4-year-olds (and most 3-year-olds!) go to school

US President Barack Obama sits with students during a tour of a Pre-K classroom at Powell Elementary School prior to speaking on the Fiscal Year 2015 budget in Washington, DC, March 4, 2014. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

(Photo: Getty Images)

Editor’s note: With Los Angeles poised to be able to expand preschool access once Gov. Jerry Brown signs the budget, here is a look at one city that has invested heavily in early education.

It’s a typical Wednesday morning at the Lincoln Park campus of AppleTree Early Learning, a network of pre-K charter schools dotting Washington, D.C. Inside the school, a converted row house a mile from the Capitol, three-year-olds participate in the daily Sounds, Songs, and Symbols lesson.

The kids are nearing the end of a three-week unit on paleontology and archeology, so the old Hokey Pokey gets a Jurassic spin: “you put your dino-claws in, you take your dino-claws out,” they begin to sing, concluding with an emphatic “and that’s what it’s all about!”

The class also puts in, takes out, and shakes all about their dino-teeth, tails, and gratifyingly oversized dino-feet.

The four-year-olds, a week deeper into AppleTree’s curriculum than their younger schoolmates, sit in a classroom down the hall. A teacher reads the story of best friends Chester and Wilson. There is a pause while the students discuss whether, as a character suggests, a watermelon really could grow in someone’s stomach.

Dino-dances, stomach agriculture debates, and other adorable activities resounded across the city that morning, testifying to the fact that Washington, D.C. sends nearly all of its children to pre-K. Spurred by a landmark 2008 law, the District enrolls 85 percent or more of its four-year-olds (depending on who’s counting) and an even more remarkable 60-plus percent of three-year-olds.

“The city has committed to providing a high-quality seat [to every pre-K child,]” said Travis Wright, who leads early learning programs for District of Columbia Public Schools. “That’s not something every child in the United States has.”

The National Institute of Early Education Research, which tracks enrollment nationally but uses a different methodology than the District, said 86 percent of Washington, D.C.’s four-year-olds and 64 percent of three-year-olds were enrolled in publicly-funded programs in 2015.

By contrast, Vermont, which leads all states in NIEER’s early-education enrollment analysis, had 84 percent of four-year-olds and 26 percent of three-year-olds in programs that year.

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Fund set up to raise money for LA Unified merges with group starting two charter schools


By Howard Blume and Zahira Torres

Two organizations set up to work within the traditional public school system are moving away from their original mission — and from the Los Angeles Unified School District — in the name of better helping students.

The governing boards of the Los Angeles Fund for Public Education and the group LA’s Promise have voted to merge to create a new organization whose plans include setting up charter schools.

The LA Fund initially was established in September 2011 to benefit L.A. Unified with donations outside the reach of district control. That was a selling point for philanthropists who were critical of the school system’s management.

The goal was to raise $200 million over five years. Although specific figures were not available Wednesday, that target was never approached.

LA’s Promise manages three L.A. Unified schools south of downtown: Manual Arts High School, West Adams Preparatory High School and Muir Middle School.

The combined annual budget of the two groups is about $6 million, with each group contributing about half of that total, said Veronica Melvin, chief executive of LA’s Promise.

“We want to create the maximum opportunities for the most disenfranchised youth of Los Angeles and we realized that together we could have a great impact,” said Melvin, who also will head the new group, under the name LA Promise Fund.

The school district recently rejected a bid by LA’s Promise to start two charter schools. L.A. school board President Steve Zimmer said at the time that LA’s Promise needed to concentrate instead on improving achievement at the schools it was managing for the district.

The group then got approval to open the charters from the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which also has jurisdiction.

Click here for the full story in the Los Angeles Times.