Analysis: Politics Could Affect LAUSD Waiver Approval

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 2.10.45 PMAs reported yesterday in LA School ReportLAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and others are in Washington today, making a final push to persuade the Obama Education Department to approve its revised application for a waiver from No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the 2002 federal education law.

Superintendent Deasy has said that a NCLB waiver would free up as much as $80 million in federal funding for other purposes.  Thus far, at least, neither Board members nor the local teachers union has been critical of the district’s pursuit of the NCLB waiver.

Publicly, at least, Obama’s education team has been signaling its support for the application, and the California Department of education is nominally supportive of the effort, too.

But there’s an unusually high level of conflict on education issues right now between Sacramento and Washington.  Conflicts between Washington and Sacramento — combined with objections from state and local teachers unions to certain requirements for waivers, and practical concerns  — could have some effects, direct or indirect, on whether LAUSD and eight other districts win approval from Washington to change some of the current NCLB requirements – or the final form of the waiver that is approved.

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LA’s Most Famous Teacher Critiques Common Core

Hobart Elementary Teacher Rafe Esquith, via the Clarion Ledger

Hobart Elementary Teacher Rafe Esquith, via the Clarion Ledger

Rafe Esquith may or may not be LAUSD’s best classroom teacher, but he’s certainly one of the most well-known — at least outside of LA.

His familiarity comes largely thanks to his own writing (including a new book coming out this year) and others like Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews writing about him as he does again for the second time in a week.

According to Mathews, Esquith is “the most imaginative and productive classroom teacher I know,” tireless and dedicated to current and former teachers alike.  But he’s also critical of the coming Common Core push towards nonfiction, imagination-killing directives from administrators in the central office, and after 29 years in the classroom he’s increasingly aware of the dangers of burnout.

You can read the full Washington Post column here: Why top teacher ignores latest reform directives.

Previous posts:  LA Teacher’s New Book Coming Soon

Update: Rules Allow Board Members to Censure Colleagues

winkler saugus 2013 scpr

Saugus School Board member Stephen Winkler was censured and then resigned last month.

More than a week after they first surfaced in the LA Daily News, we still don’t know very much about the harassment and employee abuse allegations being investigated against Board member Richard Vladovic.

According to LAUSD, Board members cannot “impeach” a colleague, but there is a 2003-approved code of conduct covering Board member behavior towards each other and others — and Board members have been censured in the past.

In nearby Saugus, Board member Stephen Winkler (pictured) was censured last month and subsequently resigned.

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Analysis: How Vladovic Won (& Zimmer Went Un-Nominated)

Screen shot 2013-07-03 at 4.05.31 PMWhile high-profile School Board votes are often said to be “baked” ahead of time — negotiated and known by the key participants well before the public vote — it’s not at all clear that was the case yesterday at the LAUSD School Board meeting, where the result was a 5-2 vote for Richard Vladovic as the new President.

In the days leading up to the vote, insiders generally thought that the vote would be between Vladovic and Steve Zimmer.  Just before the Board convened, rumors spread that Ratliff was the swing vote between the two.

However, during the meeting (see video below), Board member Marguerite LaMotte nominated Vladovic for the position, and Board member Monica Garcia nominated Tamar Galatzan. There were no additional nominations proposed.  The two nominated candidates were asked to describe why they should be President and who they would select as a Vice-President.  Then the Board voted.

Ratliff, who’d been thought to be the deciding vote between Vladovic and Zimmer, effectively blocked Zimmer from being considered, according to the LA Times. However, Garcia and Galatzan made a bad bet in pursuing the Presidency for Galatzan rather than making Ratliff choose between Vladovic and Zimmer, according to others.

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Friday’s Garcia Swearing-In Ceremony

Monica Garcia

Monica Garcia

On Friday, School Board member Mónica García was scheduled to be sworn in for the 2013-2017 term at the LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes.

According to a press release sent out by LAUSD, Garcia is “only the third Latina in 155 years to serve on the Los Angeles City School Board of Education” and was slated to be sworn in by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. Other VIPs scheduled to be in attendance were Gabriela Teissier, Univision News Anchor.

Tomorrow, Board member-elect Monica Ratliff will be sworn in and the Board is scheduled to pick a new President and approve the 2013-2014 calendar of meetings. Earlier in the week, Board member Steve Zimmer was sworn in at Hollywood High School.

Previous posts: Harassment Allegations Could Hurt Vladovic’s ChancesBoard Presidency Up for Grabs TuesdayZimmer to Celebrate Re-Election at Hollywood High


Commentary: Understanding “Common Core” Backlash

Core Curriculum P20 Flow ChartEarlier today, veteran LAUSD teacher and Incubator School founder Sujata Bhatt posted some thoughts about the backlash against a set of new standards and tests called the Common Core: 

There’s been a lot of hullaballoo suddenly about the Common Core. Symptomatic of the strange political times we live in, the Tea Party Right and the social justice Left have found common ground on the purported dangers of Common Core standardization. What both sides miss, however, is the creative power of the Common Core: its potential to bring the professionalism in curricular creation and curation back to teachers.

In the past decade-plus of NCLB, teachers have lost much creative professional ground. States and districts have worked to ‘teacherproof’ curricula such that in many places administrators boasted of being able to leave one classroom mid-lesson and observe that very same lesson continue in an adjacent room. I still chafe at a note I received from an administrator after an Open Court observation: “Great job engaging the students with phonics, but you were supposed to be teaching short-vowel ‘ck’ spellings rather than short vowel ‘dge’” (actually, according to my scripted lesson plan, I wasn’t).

The more states and districts tried to control curriculum, the more power became concentrated in the hands of a few textbook publishers and the populous states whose standards dictated the content of those textbooks. And the less say teachers had in what was taking place in our classrooms. The less teachers were treated as professionals.

I believe the backlash to the Common Core is in part a holdover from these days of hyper-control. Teachers, beaten down by the regime of NCLB, continue to chafe under any threat of standardization. In doing so, however, we are in danger of overlooking its potential.

You can read the entire entry here.  Send guest commentary submissions to 

Previous guest commentaries:  Why Teachers Might Leave a Triggered SchoolWhy Fixing Teacher Prep is So DifficultTeachers’ Letter to Mayor Garcetti


Update: All Your Twitter Favorites in One Place

social-media-channelA couple of weeks ago we published a list of LA’s Top Education Tweeters — a semi-complete compendium of prolific and/or important people and organizations.

We got a lot of responses and suggestions — keep them coming, we’ll do an update soon! — and then this week the kind folks at the College-Ready Promise (@CollegeRdyPrmse) turned it all into a Twitter list.

What’s a Twitter list?  It’s a collection of individual Twitter feeds gathered together so you can follow all 69 of them at once, without having to sign up for them individually.

What’s the College-Ready Promise? It’s a coalition of charter networks “committed to graduating all students college-ready through innovative teacher support.”

Previous posts: Top Education Tweeters“Social Media? We Don’t Need No Social Media.”

Commentary: Board & Deasy Both Over-Reached

Keep Calm and Admit Your WrongWhile laid-off teachers and ardent school reform critics may be all aglow over LAUSD School Board member Steve Zimmer’s “Pacino-esque” speech on behalf of the proposed teacher hiring/ class size reduction resolution last week, perhaps it’s not quite yet time for anyone to declare victory.

Last Tuesday, the LAUSD Board debated and ultimately passed a resolution calling for a return to 2007 staffing levels — despite the fact that LAUSD has a budget deficit and has lost enrollment in the years since then.

According to folks like NYU school reform critic Diane Ravitch, the proposal is brilliant and its most impassioned defender — Zimmer — is to be greatly admired for his lengthy remarks on its behalf.

According to one observer, Zimmer’s performance was Pacino-esque.

Alas, not everyone would agree with such a kind view of the proposal, including the LA Times editorial page, which noted that the proposal Zimmer was advocating “made no sense” and LA Superintendent John Deasy, who mocked the teacher rehiring proposal as a “directive to hire every human being on the West Coast” (and in so doing committed an over-reach of his own).

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People: Interview with United Way Education Director

Ryan1 (2)-thumb-150x150-5117Here’s the Education Week interview with United Way’s Ryan Smith (pictured) we mentioned last week.

As you’ll see, the piece starts off with a few sentences about LAUSD’s challenges (high dropout rates, low scores compared to other big city school systems) and then moves on to Smith’s background (he’s a Native Angeleno) and views (very much in favor of parent organizing).   Some highlights from United Way’s director of education programs and policy:

“I predict L.A’s story of educational change will be a grassroots, bottom-up story of educational change, not the other way around.”

The education reform movement today has a critical weakness because it hasn’t engaged people of color and people who’ve lived in poverty as advocates for educational change.”

You can read the whole thing here: Young Education Leader: Ryan Smith

Previous post:  Local Reformer Named to “Top Ten” List;  New Coalition Launches with High Hopes, Few SpecificsLocal Groups Join Up for School Improvements

Coalition Spokesperson Hired for NJ Senate Campaign

addisu demissiePolitical news site Politico is reporting that US Senate hopeful Cory Booker has hired Obama campaign veteran Addisu Demissie (pictured) as his campaign manager.

As you may recall, Demissie’s Sacramento-based firm 50+1 was hired to field work during the LAUSD school board election primaries, in which the Coalition outspent the union-endorsed candidates but only won one of three races outright.   For the runoff, Demissie was brought on as spokesperson for the Coalition, whose candidate (a former Villaraigosa aide) lost to a 5th grade classroom teacher.

The Newark mayor is running for an open US Senate seat.

Previous posts: Reformers Try to Match Union “Ground Game”Reform Coalition Hires New SpokespersonCampaign Consultants Win — Either WayA Good – But Not Great – Campaign

Mentions: Add UCLA News Roundup to Your List

Screen shot 2013-06-13 at 5.36.34 PMThe Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA) at UCLA put outs a daily Education News Roundup that’s a good source of information about education in LA and statewide. So it’s great when the newsletter includes stories from LA School Report like it did on Thursday (with Hillel Aron’s story about who might be the next President of the LAUSD School Board). Check it out here.  You can subscribe here.

Transgendered Student Policy Gains Committee Approval

Screen shot 2013-06-13 at 12.48.22 PMDistricts are increasingly being asked to consider transgendered students’ academic and emotional needs, according to a New Yorker article published earlier this year (About A Boy).

LAUSD has already begun to address the needs of transgendered students with its own student participation policy, and now there’s a proposed state law (AB 1266) that would call on every district in the state to take some similar steps.

According to this LA Weekly story (Born as a Boy, Play School Sports as a Girl?), the law being proposed by California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano requires districts to allow to play sports or do other student activities has been approved by the state Senate Education Committee.


Fact Check: Is LAUSD Required to Hire Teachers / Lower Class Sizes?

factchecklogoLAUSD Superintendent John Deasy and perhaps a couple of School Board members would rather give teachers raises and fund programs with any new money coming in rather than hire back teachers and lower class sizes.

But is it up to them?  Hiring teachers and lowering class sizes is contractually required, according to LAUSD teacher Brent Smiley:

“I’m all in favor of getting a raise,” commented Smiley, who is also an officer of UTLA’s political action committee, known as PACE.  “But the Superintendent needs to understand that his predecessor negotiated a set class size level. If the good Doctor Deasy wants to use the money for something else, then he must go back to the negotiating table.”

Well, according to LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist, Smiley is mistaken: “There is nothing in the current Collective Bargaining agreement between UTLA and the District requiring an automatic lowering of class sizes,” Holmquist told LA School Report.  Though, Holmquist added, “UTLA is certainly free to make such a proposal.”

Even if there’s nothing in the contract requiring restoration of certain staffing levels, Smiley and the teachers union may still get its through the class size resolution introduced by several Board members last week, endorsed by UTLA, and scheduled for a vote on Tuesday.

Previous posts: Board Likely Approves Call to Re-Hire TeachersDeasy: Raises & Deficit Reduction Before New HiresSpecial Board Meeting Not So Special After All

Commentary: Why Teachers Might Leave a Triggered School

infographic_ep_parent_trigger_smallThis is a guest commentary written by LAUSD math teacher (and Hope Change Choices blog host) Rustum Jacob about some teachers’ decision to transfer out of Weigand Avenue Elementary School:

As a teacher , if I’d been in the same shoes as the Weigand teachers, I would have left because of loyalty and respect for the kids and the community.When parents say they have no faith in the school you work at, then you should take the hint. When you have a principal that sticks around for 5 years in a low-income school, the principal becomes a symbol for the school.

When parents say they don’t want the principal, an engaged teacher should take that as a vote of no confidence. By all accounts, this principal is on the same page as Deasy, so the staff could expect the same type of leadership, the same parent outreach, and probably the same results.

There is no reason to stay at a school where you’ve been deemed (in part) a failure and the families are fighting each other to determine who best represents the school. Continue reading

Ratliff: “The Most Powerful Woman in LA”?*

ratliff deasy LA Weekly 060613A new feature in the LA Weekly claims Board member-elect Monica Ratliff “may be the most powerful woman in Los Angeles” (given the dearth of elected officials on the City Council) and compares LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy to former police chief William Bratton.

Written by LA School Report contributor HIllel Aron, The Woman Who May Change L.A. notes that Coalition for School Reform campaign veterans charged with defeating Ratliff in last month’s runoff may have been limited by “wildly naive” Coalition donors who didn’t want to attack Ratliff. They also believed erroneous poll projections putting Sanchez safely in the lead and ignored Ratliff’s controversial positions on teacher dismissal.

Of particular note are some juicy quotes from former Mayor Richard Riordan, who’s quoted saying the Coalition picked a political hack as its candidate (in large part because of SEIU opposition to another candidate, Iris Zuniga), “had the wrong people running our campaign” (a reference to losing campaign consultants SCN’s Ace Smith and Sean Clegg), and failed to focus on making losing candidate Antonio Sanchez more likable.

*Correction:  The original version of this post mis-identified the District 6 candidate who was opposed by SEIU as Nury Martinez.  See the corrected sentence above.

Previous posts: Board Member-Elect Highlights Vocational TrainingCampaign 2013: What Next for the Coalition for School Reform?Endorsements, Garcetti — and Race

Charters: Heading to Memphis

Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 4.21.09 PMThere are 210 charter schools in LAUSD this year, according to the California Charter Schools Association. Many of them hope to grow and expand within LA.

However, as part of the continued growth of charter schools nationwide, some Los Angeles-area charter school networks are spreading to other parts of the country, either by starting new schools or helping turn around existing ones.

For example, Citizens of the World has expanded to New York City.  Future Is Now, started by Green Dot founder Steve Barr, is operating in New Orleans. Green Dot most recently announced it has been approved to operate in Memphis starting in 2014.

Commentary: Teachers’ Letter to Mayor Garcetti

la–me–adv–mayors–raceThis is a guest commentary written by LAUSD teachers Jeff Austin and Edward Kusell-Zigelman to Mayor-elect Garcetti about what he can do to be a leader on education issues in City Hall:  

Dear Mayor-Elect Garcetti,

A few weeks ago, residents of Los Angeles made their voices heard by voting you into office. We’d like to congratulate you on your victory, thank you for your past leadership in the education space, and praise you for your willingness to take on the enormous responsibility of running the City of Los Angeles.

As you well know our city faces a number of challenges, none more important than how we improve the quality of education we offer our city’s children. As teachers in Los Angeles public schools, we know first-hand that this city has reached a crucial moment in public education; relations between the union and district have dipped to new lows, and thousands of teachers throughout the city are counting on your leadership to help us push through this impasse and refocus on our students.

For years now, Los Angeles has been trying – but largely failing—to attract more great teachers to our hardest to staff schools. At the same time, we’ve struggled to keep more families in our district schools. By working together—union and district— we can turn this around by putting professionalism back into the profession. Teachers need accountability as well as autonomy and control over their classrooms and the support to innovate for the betterment of our students.

We must work together and build more support and opportunity into a teacher’s classroom and career. If we do, great talent and eager families will flock to our public schools.

If we are unable to attract great teachers and thereby give students the world-class education they deserve, we will fail our students and fail to reach the promise of a more prosperous Los Angeles.

To that end, we’ve come up with a few ideas about how we can refocus the conversation about public education on progress and innovation for our classrooms and careers.

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Deasy Wants Stronger Teacher Dismissal Bill

sacramento_state_capital_houseA teacher dismissal bill aimed at ensuring the teachers accused of sexual misconduct can be removed from the classroom in a timely manner took another step towards becoming state law last week.

As reported by the Sacramento Bee, the legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) and championed by the state teachers unions “would make it easier to discipline and fire teachers accused of misconduct” and passed 51-12. Designated “AB 375,” it now heads over to the Senate.

While the LAUSD Board of Education has voted in support of the goals and objectives of the legislation, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy has expressed concerns about the legislation which remain despite a series of amendments that have been made.

“We still have some of the same issues,” said a LAUSD official familiar with the legislation, referring to the membership of the panel that oversees teacher dismissal cases and the timeframe under which cases must be resolved.  ‘We continue to feel that more could be done around the CPC panel.”

Former Democratic state lawmaker Gloria Romero, now head of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) California, is even more critical of the current legislation, writing in the Orange County Register that AB 375 has some merit but “the underlying impetus of the bill remains protection of teachers’ due process rights” instead of protecting children. Romero derides LAUSD as being “desperate for any change” and declares that “now is not the time to settle for a disingenuous bill.”

Previous posts: Deasy Requests Changes to Teacher Dismissal BillState Teachers Union Rejects Criticism of Teacher Dismissal BillVillaraigosa Expresses Concerns About Teacher Dismissal Bill

Parent Trigger: Times Debates Transparency, Urgency

parent-trigger1There are two interesting opinion pieces on the parent trigger in the LA Times  — both focused on the aftermath of the parent trigger petition at Weigand Elementary but coming at the issue from different points of view:

One of the two highlights the laudable desire to make sure that teachers and parents are fully aware of what’s going on when a petition process is happening.  The other explains that the debate over the principal’s ouster and the teachers’ dismay is fundamentally about the different timeframes in which educators and parents operate (and suggests that relationships play as important a role as test scores).

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