The debate — Torlakson vs. Tuck — that only a few people noticed

Tuck and Torlakson debate 9-17-2014

Tom Torlakson (right), Marshall Tuck (left)

Guess what: The two candidates for State Superintendent for Instruction — incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck — debated Wednesday night, and almost no news outlets covered it, including LA School Report.

No matter, here’s the video. It starts at the 11 minute, 43 second mark and runs an hour, 38 minutes.


Lots of strike talk expected as teachers union opens conference

Alex Caputo-Pearl strike talks UTLA

Alex Caputo-Pearl, President of UTLA

United Teachers Los Angeles opens its annual Leadership Conference today, and strike talk will be a prominent theme.

As part of the three-day gathering at the Concourse Hotel at LAX, local union leaders will hear from union chiefs from other cities who used the threat of a strike to get a new labor agreement. They’ll also hear from the last UTLA president to lead a strike.

Focus on such a disrupting possibility comes as negotiators for UTLA and LA Unified are meeting periodically over a new contract. But the sides remain far apart, making the possibility of a strike more real than ever.

The conference also comes as the union has intensified its animus toward district Superintendent John Deasy, whose support for the Vergara plaintiffs  — he was their first witness — and district missteps in the iPad and MiSiS programs have painted an ever growing target on his back. Deasy’s annual performance review by the school board is set for the Oct. 21 meeting, and an unsatisfactory review could end his tenure — if he doesn’t resign sooner.

While UTLA plays no role in the decision, apart from its fervid support for a handful of board members, it has called the for the board to hold Deasy “accountable” for his actions. Union officials have declined to explain what exactly that means.

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LAUSD says concerns cited in iPad report were expected

iPad program reportLA Unified officials said today they anticipated the concerns raised by an independent report on the district’s one-to-one iPad program, which found that schools are not using the devices to teach the new Common Core curriculum.

What’s more, said Bernadette Lucas, director of the District’s technology project, they were thrilled to get the bad news.

“I couldn’t tell you the exuberance that our team had over this,” she said in a briefing with reporters.

The problems identified in the report by American Institutes for Research (AIR), mirror those the district is now tackling, and that validates the district’s plan moving into the next phase of the rollout, Lucas said.

“The vast majority of the challenges outlined in the report have have been worked on for quite a long time,” she added.

Conducted in spring, the report surveyed the 47 schools involved Phase 1 of the program. And although the district is now in Phase 2, planned for 58 schools, only a dozen have received the tablets this year. The remaining 46 schools will get devices by November — an exact date has not been determined.

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Report on iPad program effectiveness gives mixed results

LAUSD iPad Program reportLA Unified’s ambitious plan to get computer tablets into the hands of its 650,000 students just received its first evaluation, producing decidedly mixed results.

In a 95-page report from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), a Washington, D.C. research group hired by the district to evaluate the Phase 1 rollout of the program, students and teachers reported numerous positive responses to the possibilities the tablets offered. But technical problems resulted in less than half of the classrooms observed using the devices and very few using their pre-programmed educational software.

“These initial hurdles included problems navigating the interface, login, and scheduling conflicts with instructional time,” the reports executive summary stated.

In response to the report, the district said it is already applying its findings in the planning for the 2014-15 school year.

“We welcome the constructive input and meaningful points highlighted in this report,” said Bernadette Lucas, director of the district’s technology project, in a statement from the district. “When we first embarked on the CCTP” — Common Core Technology Project — “we had a vision to have a device in the hands of every LAUSD student to close the digital divide. This is still our vision.”

Phase 1 of the $1.3 billion program involved the deployment of iPads to 30,490 students and 1,360 teachers in 47 schools during the 2013-14 school year. The total cost to the district so far has been approximately $61 million.

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Website that helps teachers find grant money takes off

HQ grant money teachers LAUSDTeachers are responding with enthusiasm to a website that helps them find grant money for classroom projects and professional development, according to the LA Fund for Public Education, the non-profit that launched the program last spring.

Called Grants HQ, the website puts hundreds of millions of dollars in educational grants online in one place and is available only to LA Unified’s approximately 30,000 educators.

“Teachers want the grants,” Andrea Kobliner, a grant advisor with the program told LA School Report. “This is really the only grants website that is just geared for education, only for LAUSD teachers, and helps them by actually classifying the grants.”

Previously, hunting down grants required the arduous task of searching the Internet on many sites to find one that specifically fits an educator’s grade level and eligibility, according to Kobliner.

The program also offers free grant-writing workshops to teachers, which have been oversubscribed, she said. Two upcoming workshops this month and next are already full, with a waiting list of over 90.

At least seven successful grants totaling $12,370 have been handed out to LA Unified educators through the site. Kobliner said she thinks the actual numbers may be higher but teachers are not obligated to report their successes. “It’s kind of tricky, as we’ve asked everyone when they apply for grants… and then if they win an award to please notify us,” Kobliner said. “That doesn’t seem to be the case, and we have no other way to get the information unless they tell us.”

Kobliner said six of the seven confirmed grant winners had attended a workshop.

Kobliner said the site has 1,153 registers users and at the moment about 275 available grants. She recalled recently putting up a new available grant on the site at 9:30 a.m.

“By 11:30,” she said, “we had 257 hits on it.”

2 percent bonus arrives for school principals, plus others

LAUSD principals and teachers get two percent bonusMore than 13,000 LA Unified employees of labor groups that struck new contract deals with the district are receiving a 2 percent lump sum payment this week.

Among those that found the extra bump in their bank accounts are members of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles (AALA), which includes school principals, assistant principals, administrators as well as maintenance, operations and food services managers.

According the district, school administrators can expect a check ranging from $1,100 to $2,700 depending on their pay.

“Both AALA bargaining units negotiated the 2 percent bonus and are pleased to have received it,” union president Judy Perez told LA School Report. “While 2 percent is not ideal, we appreciate the fact that we did reach an agreement with the district on compensation for the next three years.”

The California School Employees Association and Teamsters Local Union 572 reached the same salary agreement with the district. All four groups also received a 2 percent raise in August, plus a 4.5 percent increase over the next two years.

In all, LA Unified officials report the cost of the bonuses is $12.4 million.

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Seven education bills await action by Gov. Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

Seven education bills are currently awaiting the signature or veto of Gov. Jerry Brown – and before too many more stack up, we thought a review was in order.

For more check out Edsource’s EdTracker, a tool that follows the ins and outs of education legislation in Sacramento.

“Willful defiance” bill
AB 420
 would limit the authority of a superintendent of a school district and a principal to suspend or expel a student for the act of “willful defiance.” It is meant to curb the number of suspensions and expulsions in the state for what critics say is a vaguely-defined infraction.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California is the bill’s sponsor and says the “willful defiance” infraction “disproportionately affects students of color, LGBTQ students, and students with disabilities,” according to the group’s website. Brown vetoed an earlier version of the bill, saying, “I cannot support limiting the authority of local school leaders,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

If passed, the bill would be a moot point for LA Unified, which in 2013 became the first school district in the state to ban defiance as grounds for suspension, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Bill to mandate kindergarten attendance
AB 1444 would make kindergarten attendance mandatory in the state. Currently, kindergarten is optional, but students starting in the 2016-17 school year must have completed one year of kindergarten before entering first grade if the bill becomes law. The bill is sponsored by the California Teacher’s Association (CTA).

A posting on the CTA’s website states: “CTA believes in providing students with a quality education that begins the very moment they get to our schools. Making kindergarten mandatory is critical so that all children can be better prepared for career or college by the 12th grade.”

Other groups, such as the Private & Home Educators of California, oppose the bill, saying it takes away a level of parental rights. A posting on the group’s website states: “Advocates of extending government control of all children from birth will be able to use passage of AB 1444 as an incremental step toward establishing seamless, cradle-to-grave government-controlled education and development programs.” Continue reading

What’s next *if* Deasy is out? Speculation abounds

John DeasyThe possibility that LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy will no longer be at the helm of the nation’s second largest school district – whether by choice or by force – is looming ever larger as the deadline for his annual evaluation approaches, leaving some district officials to speculate over how to replace him.

The seven-member elected school board, often split between Deasy supporters and Deasy critics, could deem his performance over the last year “unsatisfactory” at a his annual review slated for next month, automatically preventing his contract from rolling over into a new year.

Or Deasy could choose to quit.

A number of sources say he has grown tired of defending himself amid a growing controversy over whether emails exchanged with vendors, including Apple and Pearson, were appropriate before the bidding process began in the $500 million dollar purchase of iPads for the district. He says the issue is fabricated by those trying to oust him, but has admitted he’s lost confidence in his ability to continue working alongside the fractured school board.

Under either departure scenario, several district officials say even with the warning shots, the process for finding a replacement will be long and arduous.

It’s up to the school board to set new hiring guidelines and processes, says Executive Officer of the school board, Jefferson Crain. “Only they can decide how they want to do it and how long it will take,” he said.

But no one is saying it will be easy.

“The truth is there aren’t a lot of superintendents out there who have run any government agency of this size,” a district staffer told LA School Report. “That leaves LAUSD with a very short list of candidates with actual experience.”

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Morning Read: Lawsuit challenges CTA’s power over dues

Lawsuit challenges teachers’ compulsory dues
A lawsuit working its way through the courts is striking at the core of the CTA’s power: its authority to automatically deduct hundreds of millions of dollars a year in dues from the paychecks of both members and non-members. Edsource

LAUSD police to give up some weaponry obtained in federal program
Los Angeles Unified school police officials said Tuesday that the department will relinquish some of the military weaponry it acquired through a federal program that furnishes local law enforcement with surplus equipment. LA Times

L.A. Unified students claim walkout over heat; district repairing A/C
As intense heat continued its stranglehold on the Los Angeles area, students from at least one high school said they walked out of class. LA Times

EpiPen, TB testing bills signed into law
Bills scaling back tuberculosis testing for school employees and requiring schools to stock epinephrine auto-injectors were signed into law this week by Gov. Jerry Brown. S&I Cabinet Report

North Hills elementary school at center of latest LAUSD molestation lawsuit
The latest in a series of lawsuits claiming Los Angeles Unified failed to protect children from predators alleges school officials knew a teacher’s aide was under investigation for distributing child pornography. LA Daily News

Google flash funds LAUSD teacher projects with $1 million

donorschoose logoLA Unified has received a generous surprise gift from Google, as the tech company announced it has funded all classroom teacher projects in the district on the crowdfunding site

The nearly $1 million donation will go to 769 teachers, who submitted proposals for projects and materials. The donation included pencils, books, laptops, musical instruments and other supplies.

“There’s something magical about the idea of a single moment when every teacher’s dream can come true,” said Charles Best, founder of He says Google’s offer to “flash fund” also provides a “singular opportunity to tell people about the site, and creates more teachers participation as well as more citizen giving.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti helped make the surprise announcement yesterday at Marina Del Rey Middle School.

“Our school teachers give their all every day to ensure that Los Angeles students reach their full potential,” said Garcetti, according to a press release. “We’re grateful for their ongoing dedication and passion that’s inspiring the next generation of Angelenos – and I’m thrilled that the help of Google and will help every student reach their dreams a little faster.”

Teachers at the school expressed gratitude at the generosity of the donation.

“Anything from pencils to technology, it’s going to help the kids in the classroom. Any professional with a well-supplied toolbox will be more effective,” history teacher David George told ABC7. “I’m blown away by the generosity. It’s super cool.”

Google has enacted similar “flash funding” campaigns over the last few months in San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Austin, and Kansas City. On Tuesday, Seattle area schools became the latest to benefit from the campaign. is a non-profit founded in 2000 to help classrooms in need. Teachers at half of all the public schools in America have created project requests, resulting in more than a million people donating $260 million to different projects.

Garfield High teacher selected for Yale Educator Award

Kevin Murchie

Garfield Senior High School teacher Kevin Murchie is a recipient of the 2014 Yale Educator Award.

A veteran teacher at Garfield Senior High School has been selected for a prestigious award from Yale University thanks to one of his former students.

The Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions has honored Kevin Murchie, an English teacher at Garfield, as a recipient of the 2014 Yale Educator Award.

Murchie was nominated by former Garfield student, Janet Juarez, according to a press release from LA Unified. Juaraz is now a freshman at Yale and credited Murchie with shaping her as a student. Murchie was an Advanced Placement English Language teacher for Juaraz and also the faculty sponsor of the school newspaper, The Scuttlebutt, while she was the editor, according to the release.

Murchie has been working for LA Unified for 11 years, all of them at Garfield High teaching Honors English 9, AP English Language, Speech and Debate and Academic Decathlon, according to Garfield’s principal, Jose Huerta.

“The Garfield High School community is very proud that Mr. Murchie was recognized with this prestigious award,” Huerta told LA School Report. “It is well known around here that he is an outstanding teacher who has that gift of reaching all of his students regardless of their background. He does this by treating them with respect, holding them to a higher standard and instilling in them the value of a good education. Garfield High School is truly fortunate to have him as a member of our faculty.”

Garfield High in East Los Angeles has seen big improvements in its performance over the last few years, with steady increases in API scores, but is still struggling to meet targets.

The Yale Educator Recognition Program recognizes outstanding educators from around the world who are nominated by current students. This year, 53 teachers and 30 counselors were recognized, according to the school’s website.

“The entire Yale Admissions Office credits the excellent quality of the Yale student body to educators like these, who shape their students long before they attend Yale, and would like to thank these and all educators for their ongoing efforts in motivating and supporting their students,” said a statement on Yale’s website.

Teachers union changes tactics, urges board to ‘evaluate’ Deasy*

UTLA wants to fire deasy

Superintendent John Deasy

In an earlier version of this post we mistakenly reported that UTLA is “urging the school board to fire” superintendent John Deasy. This is incorrect. We try our hardest to write with accuracy, but on this one, we missed the mark – and we regret the error. What follows is UTLA’s letter to us (in part) and our corrected post:


Our September 15th news release does not state that UTLA is urging the school board to fire John Deasy. …You may speculate on what you think the statement means, but to report that as fact coming from UTLA is simply wrong. … We also did not state we want the school board to downgrade Deasy’s performance to “unsatisfactory.” We stated that the board has the opportunity to evaluate Deasy “ to determine if his work is satisfactory.” As a long-time journalist I believe you realize that both the headline and the story posted by LA School Report on September 16th are misleading.
UTLA requests an immediate retraction so that your readers and the LAUSD school community will be informed of UTLA’s actual position on this issue.
Sincerely ,
Suzanne Spurgeon,  Director of Communications, UTLA


The Los Angeles teachers union has given up one of its oldest and loudest refrains, calling on LA Unified chief John Deasy to resign. Instead, UTLA appears to be changing tactics; it is urging the school board to ‘evaluate’ the superintendent.

In a press statement, UTLA says it wants the board “to evaluate the Superintendent to determine if his work is ‘satisfactory’… and hold Deasy accountable” at his annual review to take place behind closed doors on October 21. A less than satisfactory review would effectively spell the end to the superintendent’s contract which – at his own insistence – stipulates he meet performance targets set by the board.

“Deasy must be held accountable for the iPad fiasco and MiSiS crisis……[he] holds teachers accountable for their classroom programs, yet he cries foul when serious questions are raised by his supervisors,” UTLA said in a statement yesterday.

But amidst a fast-moving saga that features a fractured seven-member school board and a superintendent increasingly under fire, the landscape without Deasy may not be a silver bullet for the union.

Not only could firing the superintendent become a campaign issue for the four school board members up for election next March, but it could have an impact on negotiations between the union and the district, currently at the bargaining table over a contract on behalf of 31,000 employees.

“It’s likely to have a disruptive effect on the negotiations,” cautions Chris Tilly, Director of UCLA’s Institute for Research and Labor Employment.

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LA Unified cancels all outdoor activities due to heat wave

LAUSD students outside activities heat waveAs a result of the massive heat wave striking the Los Angeles area, LA Unified officials on Tuesday decided to cancel all outdoor activities or move them indoors until Wednesday.

Triple-digit temperatures are hitting parts of Los Angeles with unusually high temps expected to last several days.  Los Angeles County Health officials extended a heat alert issued on Monday to last through Wednesday.

The move to cancel outdoor actives comes as LA Unified has been struggling to keep some students cool indoors as well. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reported record high power demand Monday and is expecting to break the record on Tuesday as well, according to NBCLA. Multiple LA Unified schools are having problems with air conditioning units working properly, according to KPCC.

The problems prompted the district on Tuesday to issue the following statement: “L.A. Unified is aware of the problems with the air conditioning units affecting many of our schools. We take these issues very seriously. Nearly 500 air conditioning service calls have been received since yesterday. When possible, students and staff have been relocated to other classrooms or multipurpose rooms with air conditioning to continue instruction. A crew of workers have been evaluating and fixing every issue.”


New deal could mean millions for LA Unified’s TV station

KCLS Money LAUSDAfter suffering years of harsh budget cuts, LA Unified-owned public TV station KLCS could see a financial windfall next year should its recently announced plan to auction off bandwidth to the FCC go forward.

The potential value of the deal has been estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. The money would likely go directly to the station, not the district, and could be used to fund the station in perpetuity through the creation of a foundation, according to LA Unified spokesman Thomas Waldman.

“It is possible, given some of the numbers we are hearing about, is that just the interest alone could keep the station operating,” Waldman told LA School Report.

The deal would involve KLCS and independent public TV station KCETLink sharing a single over-the-air-broadcast channel while auctioning off 6 megahertz of spectrum to the FCC in June of 2015. The deal would have no direct impact to viewers, as the stations will maintain separate channels on the dial because it is essentially a behind-the-scenes technical move.

Aside from regular PBS-affiliated children’s and adult programs, KLCS broadcasts LA Unified school board and County Board of Supervisors meetings, and provides over-80,000 hours of annual instructional/informational content and 700 hours of original content, according to its website.

The school board approved a memorandum of understanding to move forward with the agreement at its meeting on Sept. 9. The memorandum stated that a recommendation regarding disposition of revenues from the auction will be subject to school board action in the spring of 2015. In the meantime, Waldman said district officials and others involved with KLCS are excited with the news. Continue reading

Compare: LAUSD teacher salary competitive with other CA cities

Teacher salary LAUSDThe Los Angeles Unified school district offers competitive teacher salaries compared to other large districts in the state of California. That’s according to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), a nonprofit which complies data from across the country.

Despite a recent press report indicating LAUSD was below the average, it turns out on many measures, when compared with other urban districts in California, the district appears competitive.

Of course, how to measure (average salaries versus starting salaries) or which districts to include (size versus region) can change the numbers. But here are a few of the findings using the pool surveyed by NCTQ. Click here for a full comparison.

What is the annual salary for a fully certified first year teacher with a bachelor’s degree?


What is the annual salary for a teacher with a master’s degree on the highest step of the salary schedule?
Teacher Pay highest stepQUESTION:
What is the maximum portion of the employee’s health insurance premium paid by the employer?
Teachers fringe benefits



‘Email delete’ policy is misunderstood according to LAUSD

buried under paperA policy intended to delete unnecessary emails on LA Unified district computers has caused a media storm and much confusion, but ultimately is misunderstood, according to officials who spoke to LA School Report.

“It could be this is much ado about nothing” said school board member, Steve Zimmer.

The bottom line: the ‘delete’ program does not apply if employees are following policy, that is, properly archiving emails from their inbox.

“Those are absolutely safe,” said Lydia Ramos, district communications director. “If it’s on your hard drive then it stays.”

Last week the school board voted to approve software by Microsoft that would routinely destroy emails left in the “inbox” of LA Unified employees after a calendar year, in compliance with a policy from 2012 called the Record’s Retention and Instruction Policy – that has not yet taken affect.

But, Ramos confirmed, emails properly archived by employees on department servers or on individual computers are not affected – and at least for now, the district says, it will not delete any emails at all.

Ramos also added that a controversial batch of iPad-related emails that were recently released would not have been slated for deletion, had the policy been fully in place. Continue reading

Next election season opens for 2015 primary

election deadlines lausdWith more than a month left before November’s election, the Los Angeles City Clerk is already looking toward the next election season. It announced today that candidates intending to run for office in the primary, slated for March 2015, must live in their respective districts by October 3.

According to the City Charter, failure to meet the residency requirement will disqualify candidates from running for office. Candidates must also be registered voters.

So far 13 candidates have indicated they are running for LA Unified school board seats according to the City Ethics web site. But there are still some hurdles: the official date to file a Declaration of Intent isn’t until November 3, and then there is the matter of getting thousands of valid signatures before a candidate can actually appear on the ballot.

Kamala Harris: absenteeism interferes with ‘students’ rights’

Attorney General Kamala Harris

Attorney General Kamala Harris (photo by KNX)

California Attorney General Kamala Harris appeared at LA Unfiied’s Malabar Elementary School today to highlight a report on truancy released by her office this week that shows a high correlation between attendance problems and both income and race.

But the argument she’s using to bring attention to the issue is curious: the report notes the high rates of absenteeism “interfere with students’ right to an education under the California Constitution.”

Sound familiar? You may remember that students’ rights argument from the Vergara case, in which a judge struck down California’s teacher tenure and dismissal laws based on findings that the laws interfered with students’ right to a quality education protected under the California constitution.

But Harris apparently didn’t buy it – late last month she joined the teachers union to fight that ruling by filing an appeal on behalf of the state, putting her at odds with recent public polling on the issue.

Meanwhile, back to the report. It found a high correlating between truancy and race: 37 percent of African American elementary students sampled were truant, the highest of any subgroup (including homeless students) and 15 percentage points higher than the rate for all students. African American elementary school students are also chronically truant at nearly four times the rate of all students.
Chronic Truancy Rates LAUSD Continue reading

Children’s Defense Fund names Alex Johnson as CA chief

Alex JohnsonAlex Johnson, who finished behind George McKenna in the race to fill the LA Unified District 1 board seat, has added two new lines to his resume since the August election runoff.

Nominated by his former boss, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Johnson is now a member of the LA County Board of Education, which mediates a variety of school district disputes, and as of tomorrow, he becomes executive director of CDF-California, the state affiliate of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Johnson is scheduled to appear at the official announcement tomorrow, along with Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of CDF, a non-profit child advocacy organization that has worked for 40 years to improve the lives of children.

Two years later, teachers fighting changes at Crenshaw High

crenshaw high school teachers allege removals LAUSD anti unionA labor board hearing opened yesterday with a dozen LA Unified teachers, including UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, claiming the district used the reorganization of Crenshaw High School in 2012 to rid the campus of active union leaders who posed a threat to Superintendent John Deasy.

The teachers union filed the unfair labor practice charge against the district and Deasy a year ago, after Crenshaw was split into three magnet schools, a restructuring the 12 teachers vehemently and publicly fought against. As a result, they argue, Deasy specifically targeted them for removal from the school, forcing them to find jobs elsewhere in the district.

“This is a case about discrimination and retaliation,” UTLA attorney Dana Martinez said in her opening statement. “As the evidence will reveal, his comments will clearly demonstrate his motivation to get rid of union supporters who challenged him.”

As it happens, the hearing before the state Public Employment Relations Board, or PERB, comes as UTLA is trying to win a new labor contract from the district. Caputo-Pearl and Deasy are among the chief strategists in negotiations that have barely progressed despite a handful of meetings.

Caputo-Pearl has linked the PERB hearing to other disputes between the union and Deasy, calling the superintendent’s actions at Crenshaw “Another Autocratic Deasy Decision,” as a headline on the UTLA website says. Caputo-Pearl has also called Deasy’s handing of the district’s iPad program and the student-tracking system (MiSiS) “autocratic.” And then there are the contract negotiations, which have gone nowhere.

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