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

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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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

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.

Morning Read: Parents could get to weigh in on charter school co-locations

Parents and principals could weigh in on charter placements at LA campuses

Families and schools in LA Unified could get more of a say in the way the district allocates space to charter schools, thanks to a committee the Los Angeles Unified School District board voted to create Tuesday. The school board directed the superintendent to form a group that will suggest ways to make the process for giving charter schools space on district school campuses more transparent for families and schools. By Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times

Morning Read: LA Unified board president warns of financial crisis if Prop. 30 isn’t extended

With latest budget crisis averted, LA Unified eyes next challenge: passing Prop. 30 tax extension

Real financial hardship in LA Unified could be the result this November, school board President Steve Zimmer said, if voters do not pass an extension of Proposition 30, a package of tax increases for state schools and health care plans likely headed to the general election ballot. By Kyle Stokes, KPCC

Morning Read: State budget could bring more preschool seats to LA

More preschool seats coming to LA in state budget plan
The state budget that lawmakers sent to Gov. Jerry Brown this week could open up scores of new preschool seats in the LA area and prompt the re-opening of an early education center. But the gains represent just a fraction of the high need that remains as many parents scramble to find seats for their children. By Dorian Merina, KPCC 

What’s really in LA Unified’s online credit recovery courses?

Logo_LATimesBy the Times Editorial Board

Because of new rules designed to raise graduation standards, officials of the Los Angeles Unified School District woke up in December to the grim news that only half of its students were on track to graduate, down from 74 percent the year before. The problem was that this was the first year all students had to pass the full range of college-prep courses — known as the A through G sequence – required by the University of California and California State University for admission.

But just a couple of months later, the situation suddenly, startlingly improved, with 63 percent on track to graduate. By the end of March, 68 percent had completed their A-G courses, and an additional 15 percent were close enough that they might be able to make it. The actual graduation rate will not be known for several months.

How did this remarkable turnaround happen, and what does it mean?

Partly, it was that Michelle King, LA Unified’s new superintendent, moved swiftly and decisively, plunging the district’s high schools into a full-bore effort to bring students up to snuff, with extra counseling, Saturday classes and after-school classes.

But also, the district relied heavily on what are known as online credit-recovery classes. These courses, which have helped boost graduation rates locally and across the country, have grown quickly from a barely known concept a decade ago to one of the biggest and most controversial new trends in education.

This is how they work: Students who flunk a course can make up the credit by taking classes either in computer-equipped rooms at school, or at home if they have the equipment and Internet access. Teachers lecture on videos, the computer displays the readings or practice problems, and students take tests that are automatically graded. Written work is supposed to be reviewed by a district teacher. The courses have certain benefits: Students can replay a lecture for missed material, something that can’t happen in a regular classroom. When they can’t concentrate any longer, they can put the course on hold and take a break.

But professors and other education experts are concerned that there is too little quality control to ensure that students have completed the equivalent of a regular classroom experience.

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

• Related story: By the numbers: Did ‘all hands on deck’ save LA Unified’s sinking graduation rate?

Morning Read: How students find success — through failure — in Advanced Placement classes

AP classes are tougher, but students are better prepared for college
Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge courses are increasing rapidly in high schools. This includes places like Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C., where 99 percent of the students are low-income and few land on the high-achievement end of any bell curve. But teachers and students at schools like Cardozo and a San Diego charter school have a different attitude and say the inner-city students are being more challenged. By Jay Mathews, Washington Post

Morning Read: Who’s advising Donald Trump on education anyway? Is anyone?

Looking over some of the things Trump has said and not said about education
There’s still a mystery swirling at the center of the Trump platform: education. Rarely has a politician successfully gotten this far after saying so little about our nation’s classrooms. By Carolyn Phenicie, The 74

Morning Read: LA Unified considers college savings accounts for students

LAUSD may create college savings accounts for its 640,000 students
The school district would partner with the city of Los Angeles and outside groups including the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce to hammer out the specifics of how the accounts would be opened, and possibly include matching funds for deposits. By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, KPCC

Morning Read: California expands computer science in schools

California moves to catch up on K-12 computer science curriculum
After years of lagging behind Arkansas, West Virginia and several other states, California is expanding computer science in public schools across the state and training teachers to teach it. By Pat Maio, EdSource

Morning Read: California, federal government on a collision course over rating systems

California and proposed federal regulations at odds on how to rate schools
Despite close parallels between California’s school reforms and those called for in the new federal law signed by President Barack Obama last December, California and the U.S. Department of Education appear to be on a collision course regarding the rating systems each wants to put in place to measure success or failure of the state’s schools. By Louis Freedberg, EdSource

State Board of Education president’s bold plan to improve California’s schools

Michael Krist

Michael Kirst (Credit: Stanford University)

By Judy Lin

One by one, dozens of blacks and Latinos lined up behind a microphone placed before the state school board appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Spanish-speaking mothers pleaded for the 10-member panel to evaluate schools based on parent involvement because they have felt unwelcome at their children’s schools. African-American students asked the state to compile school suspension and absenteeism rates because those problems cause students to fall behind on schoolwork, feel alienated by teachers and struggle to find their self worth.

“Please, we just want to make sure that it is a defining factor in the way you measure the success of schools,” George Green, a Sacramento high school student, said at the meeting in March.

How the state will close a staggering academic performance gap between students from poor communities and those in wealthier pockets that is nearly the worst in America rests disproportionately on State Board of Education President Michael Kirst. The 76-year-old retired Stanford University professor has served four decades as one of Brown’s closest advisors and witnessed how difficult it is to improve classroom learning.

Together, he and the governor have devised a dramatic transformation of the nation’s largest public school system that calls for dismantling decades of centralized state reporting and promoting teacher autonomy. It’s an experiment of California proportions that even its key architect doesn’t know how it will play out for millions of disadvantaged children.

“Even though this is my 52nd year in educational policy,” Kirst said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Click here for the full CALmatters story.

Morning Read: Why school start times play a huge role in kids’ success

Experts suggest middle and high school start times should be after 8:30 a.m.
Around the country, more school districts are moving to delay their start times. Teens currently aren’t getting enough sleep. And this lack of sleep is having a detrimental effect on their grades and mental health. By Rebecca Klein, Huffington Post

Morning Read: Changes coming to UC admissions

UC admissions applicants get more essay choices, shorter lengths
Changes are coming soon to the University of California’s application for incoming freshmen and transfer students, offering hundreds of thousands of them more freedom of choice in essays describing their interests, academic achievements and personal challenges. By Larry Gordon, EdSource

Morning Read: Easier-to-read Smarter Balanced scores due to parents this summer

Parents to receive easier-to-read reports on Smarter Balanced test scores
Parents across California will soon find out how their children performed on Smarter Balanced tests aligned with Common Core standards in math and English language arts. By Theresa Harrington, EdSource

Morning Read: LAUSD, UTLA in harmony over teacher evaluations

Remember when teacher evaluations were the subject of controversy in LA Unified? Not anymore
Only a few years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s system for evaluating teachers’ job performance was the subject of legal disputes, full-blown lawsuits and bitter fractious debate between district leaders and the teachers union. Not anymore. By Kyle Stokes, KPCC