KIPP LA Prep in Boyle Heights named National Blue Ribbon School


KIPP LA Prep School Leader Carlos Lanuza and some of his students. (Courtesy: KIPP)

KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory School in Boyle Heights has been named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. The designation was given Wednesday to 279 public schools across the country and is considered the highest honor the federal government can bestow on a school.

KIPP LA Prep is an independent public charter middle school that serves a primarily Latino student body and was one of only two schools from LA Unified to receive the honor, along with Wonderland Elementary, a traditional district school. Last year KIPP Raíces, an elementary school, was the only LA Unified school, charter or traditional, to receive the honor and was the first school from the KIPP LA Schools organization to receive the Blue Ribbon.

Ninety-four percent of KIPP LA Prep’s students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, but the Blue Ribbon award names it an “exemplary high-performing school,” meaning it is recognized as a top school in the nation, not just a top school for low-income students.

“That’s the thing that we constantly tell our students, which is that we are not just competing against the neighborhood schools, we are competing with the rest of the world, with the rest of the population, and that has always been our focus,” School Leader Carlos Lanuza said Thursday.

KIPP LA Prep is one of 33 schools in California to receive a National Blue Ribbon Award and one of 29 public schools in California.

“We got nominated last year and then we did all the work that we needed to do on the application and the calls and the scores, and then this year we got the call that, ‘Hey, you got the Blue Ribbon award,'” Lanuza said. “I want to say it was vindication for our community. This is such a good feeling for Boyle Heights, that they deserve a quality school. And I think that our community knows that we are a quality school, but this award puts the stamp on it.”

The school began in 2003 in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood and moved locations several times before signing a 25-year lease eight years ago at its current location, which used to be a tortilla factory. Lanuza, who also started working at the school eight years ago and has been school leader for five, said a permanent facility allowed the school to expand its approach.

“We created this beautiful school and then our whole focus changed from just academics, where it was academics, academics, academics, to really a whole-child approach and making sure students are not just getting the high academic opportunities, but music, art, dance, electives and enrichment programs,” he said.

Steven Almazan is a graduate student at UC Berkeley and taught special education for several years at KIPP Sol Academy in East LA. Almazan grew up near KIPP LA Prep’s current location and reminisced in a recent blog post about smelling the tortillas from the factory as he walked past it on the way to his school. He didn’t realize the factory had become a school until he saw KIPP LA Prep featured in the 2010 documentary “Waiting for Superman” when he was in college. Seeing the work that was being done at KIPP, he said, “propelled him to want to work for KIPP.”

“It is really hard to find schools that can provide an excellent education in Boyle Heights. Typically we hear if you want a good education you should go outside of the neighborhood,” Almazan told LA School Report. “The fact that one of the best schools in the nation now is in Boyle Heights is just a huge testament to the work that has been done at KIPP.”

Almazan added, “KIPP LA Prep, I feel out of all the KIPP schools in LA, they have a lot of teachers who have been there since the beginning and a lot of teachers who essentially mastered their content.”

Lanuza said even when the school started adding more electives, the school’s API scores continued to rise, and the school has scored extremely well on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) tests, which began last year. On the 2016 tests, 72 percent of KIPP LA Prep’s students met or exceeded the standard of the English language arts test, and 74 percent met or exceeded the math standard. On the same test, 39 percent of LA Unified’s students at traditional schools met or exceeded the English standard and 28 percent met or exceeded the math standard.

Catching students up their first year and then keeping the bar at a high level is an important cornerstone of why his students are achieving so much, Lanuza said.

“We usually get students who are reading two or three grade levels behind, so we are making sure that we are doing the interventions, doing the tutoring and doing the re-teaching to get kids up to grade level,” Lanuza said. “And then once they get up to 6th grade to actually access the material, just exploding from there. We make sure we have a high level of mathematics. We actually teach geometry and Algebra II, which is not common for middle schools.”

Lanuza also said that while his students seem pleased that the school has received the award, they may not be grasping how big a deal it is.

“They are happy and they are proud and there is part of me that thinks they don’t know the magnitude of this,” he said. “We tell them every day that they are proving what’s possible, that Latino children in Boyle Heights can achieve. And they take our word for it, but I don’t think they have gotten down to the magnitude of what this award really means.”

Great Public Schools Now announces $3.75M in grants available for LAUSD schools

Great Public Schools Now holds a news conference Thursday where it announced $4.5 million in initial grants. Center is GPSN Executive Director Myrna Castrejon.

Great Public Schools Now Executive Director Myrna Castrejon at a June news conference announcing the first three grants.

Great Public Schools Now announced Thursday it will give up to $3.75 million in grant funds next year to expand up to five academically successful LA Unified school campuses in underserved areas — the nonprofit’s first partnership with the school district.

GPSN launched its program in June, when it gave its first grants, totaling $4.5 million, to Teach for America, an after-school program called Heart of LA and Equitas Academy, which runs three charter schools in LA’s Pico-Union neighborhood.

GPSN Executive Director Myrna Castrejon said replicating high-performing schools has not been attempted in Los Angeles before or anywhere in the nation at the same scale, and the organization is encouraging the “best and brightest” in the district to apply for grants to expand their successful schools’ impact on more children in LA.

“We are excited to begin this collaboration with LA Unified schools where we know high-needs students are finding supportive learning environments that result in high achievement,” Castrejon said. “Our goal is to increase the number of students enrolled in high-quality programs, and to do so quickly.”

 GPSN is encouraging schools that fit certain criteria to apply for the grants. Castrejon said her organization wants to help successful leaders do more, rather than tinker with what’s working.

“We feel strongly that it is actually the leaders and the school that have the will and vision to do more that should apply rather than us deciding to do x, y or z,” she said.

“Frankly, I’m really excited to see who will apply,” she said.

Castrejon said her organization has been working with Superintendent Michelle King and her staff to develop the process, which she described as collaborative and open.

“I am excited about the opportunities to increase the number of high-quality choices for our LA Unified families,” King said in a statement. “We have schools in every corner of the district where students are excelling. Investing in these campuses will allow more of our students to attain the knowledge and skills to be successful in college, careers and in life.”

The grants — that will range from $50,000 to $250,000 annually over three years — will only be given to district-run schools. They must be used to expand successful schools by either adding seats or adding a new campus of a school.

Here are some of the criteria:

  • schools must be non-selective, high-performing magnets, pilot or traditional schools;
  • at least half of the students must meet or exceed proficiency in math or English on state tests
  • no fewer than 25 percent of all students must perform at proficient levels
  • schools as a whole must perform significantly better in math and English than surrounding schools with similar demographics
  • schools must enroll special education students and English language learners at rates similar to the district as a whole
  • administrators should have the autonomy to pick their own teaching staffs
  • at least 80 percent of the students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch

GPSN will also provide up to five planning grants of $20,000 to help schools prepare their applications. The deadline to apply for a planning grant is Oct. 28.

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LAUSD’s Wonderland Elementary honored as National Blue Ribbon School

wonderland_1-1By LA Unified’s Office of Communication

Wonderland Elementary, a 500-student campus in the Hollywood Hills, has been named a National Blue Ribbon School in recognition of its outstanding academic performance.

Home to both a traditional school and a gifted/high-ability magnet, Wonderland is one of 279 public and 50 private elementary schools to receive the prestigious honor from the U.S. Department of Education.

“Great things happen at schools when theory and practice intersect,” Principal Sean Teer said. “Our school has chosen many high-impact and research-based practices that help us meet the needs of our students. I am so proud of the hard work of our students, staff and parents.”

Wonderland Elementary has implemented a new math program called Cognitively Guided Instruction that encourages students to create their own problem-solving strategies. They also participate in a Reading and Writing Workshop, which supports the development of literacy and language. In addition, a “Way of Council” program weaves social and emotional development into all aspects of the curriculum.

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Morning Read: El Camino teachers split over school leadership amid credit-card spending controversy

El Camino Real teachers divided over credit-card spending controversy

More than 50 teachers and parents protested outside El Camino Real Charter High School before classes Wednesday, demanding top administrators be held accountable for a credit-card spending controversy in an effort to “save our charter” while nearly two dozen other staff members gathered to express their support for the school’s leadership. Demonstrators held up signs at the “silent protest” that read “Step down” and “Our students, not steaks.” By Brenda Gazzar, LA Daily News

Underprepared high school grads spend $1.3 billion on remedial college courses, and Californians pay the most

GRADUATIONMillions of high school graduates are showing up to college unprepared and in need of remedial courses that are costing them an estimated $1.3 billion annually, and Californians pay the most, according to a report released today from the Center for American Progress.

Remedial courses do not count toward college degrees because they are designed to catch students up to the minimum standards of the college and cover material that students should have learned in high school. The report found that students who must take these remedial classes are less likely to graduate.

“What our takeaways were from this report, No. 1, students aren’t prepared for college-level work,” said Laura Jimenez, director of Standards and Accountability at the Center for American Progress, at a roundtable discussion of the report that took place today at East Los Angeles College. “We really shouldn’t need remedial education for recent high school graduates. They really should have the skills they need to enter into credit-bearing coursework.”

In California, the estimated out-of-pocket cost for students taking remedial courses was $205 million, by far the most in the nation, and the state had the 13th worst remediation rate, with 47 percent of all first-time students in the 2013-14 school year enrolled in college remediation courses.

Students needing remedial courses are not limited to only those that struggled to get through high school. Nationally, the report found that an estimated 40 percent to 60 percent of first-year college students require remediation in English, math or both.

The report also found “the problem is worse for low-income students and students of color, whose rates of remedial education enrollment are higher than for their white and higher income peers. According to a recent study, 56 percent of African-American students and 45 percent of Latino students enroll in remedial courses nationwide, compared with 35 percent of white students.”

Gerson Liahut-Sánchez, an undocumented Latino student at East Los Angeles College and a graduate of LA Unified’s Garfield High School, spoke during the panel discussion and said he was shocked when he found out he needed remedial education in college.

“Back in high school, I thought that I was on top of the world. I was taking advanced placement courses, which is the quote unquote college equivalent for a high school student to take,” he said. “And so I thought, ‘Hey, I am college ready.’ I was ready to go out there and take over whatever college or university that I end up going to. My reality changed.”

The report offered a number of suggestions on how to fix the problem, and chief among them was the implementation of higher academic standards in English and math, such as the Common Core State Standards, which California has adopted.

Jimenez suggested that California should consider adopting the A through G standards statewide, calling the idea “low-hanging fruit.” A-G is a set of courses that students need to take and pass with a C grade or better for acceptance into California’s public universities. LA Unified adopted the standards as a graduation requirement last year, although it allows D grades to count toward graduation.

“Anytime we see more alignment with clarity, I think it makes the pathway for opportunity all that more available to students,” Frances Gipson, LA Unified’s chief academic officer, told LA School Report when asked if she supported the idea. Gipson also participated in the panel discussion.

The report did not estimate if the level of students needing remedial courses has grown and focused only on the current state of the problem. It also did not deeply analyze why so many students are coming to college unprepared. While several panelists offered possible solutions, there was no clear answer as to how to address the problem nationally.

“There is no one answer. We know there are a few,” Jimenez told LA School Report. “We know that the rigor of standards within the K-12 system has a heck of a lot to do with how prepared students are. Most states adopted either Common Core or college and career ready standards. They set their own standards and they set their own cut scores for the tests that were aligned with those standards. There were states where a 30 percent was passing on an assessment, and 30 percent on a test is very clearly a fail.”

Los Angeles’ community colleges may soon be getting a better sense if LA Unified’s graduates are college ready, thanks to a new program beginning in the fall of 2017 in which any LA Unified graduate will be offered a free year of tuition at any Los Angeles Community College District school. Scott Svonkin, president of the board of trustees of the community college district, told LA School Report the program is expected to bring an estimated 7,000 additional students from LA Unified into the college district’s schools.

“Will there be a spike in remediation? Possibly. But if the students in LA Unified continue to improve, we won’t see a spike, because they will come in, they will go to an LA community college full time, they will get a free education for a year and they will get through faster with less debt,” Svonkin said.

However, any student who requires remedial courses may still have to pay for them.

“I don’t know that we have worked out that detail yet,” Svonkin said when asked if the free tuition program would cover remedial courses. “I believe it is for college-level classes, so their first year of eligibility will be when they get to the college level. But we expect if you graduate with a high school diploma from an LA Unified school and go straight to college, you should be college ready.”

Strategic plan lacks clear mission, so board agrees to champion ‘100 percent graduation,’ but how?


School board members and facilitator Jeff Nelsen (far right) at USC’s Caruso Catholic Center for a special committee meeting.

LA Unified’s three-year strategic plan lacks a clear mission statement.

That was the consensus of an all-day school board session Tuesday. So the seven board members decided to fix it, landing on the goal of a 100 percent graduation rate. Yet the draft of the strategic plan remains light on exactly how to accomplish it.

Because even with every teacher and principal knowing that 100 percent graduation will be the ultimate goal for the district, the three-year plan presented by Superintendent Michelle King offers targets that expect only 81 percent graduation by 2018-2019, and only 52 percent of students getting a C or better in the A-G classes required for graduation. Board members agreed that while a 10-point increase in the graduation rate to 75 percent from the 2010-2011 school year was significant, it wasn’t enough.


Draft of strategic plan targets.


The strategic plan does not directly address what King has previously acknowledged as two of the most pressing issues facing the district: the decrease in enrollment and a serious financial deficit, which she addressed last spring when she held a series of meetings before the budget was approved to discuss major challenges.

During Tuesday’s discussion at the Committee of the Whole at USC’s Caruso Catholic Center, school board President Steve Zimmer said a number of times, “I would argue that people don’t have a sense of mission” in the district. He insisted, “This discussion today is so important. We’ve got to coalesce about something.”

In a brainstorming session Tuesday that was described in the agenda as discussing “vision elements and core values” rather than specifics of the strategic plan, the school board was led by Jeff Nelsen of Targeted Leadership Consulting who has coached more than 2,000 principals and school leaders over the past decade.

“I will argue today that we should revisit the goals,” Zimmer said. “None of us is OK with 75 percent graduation, and we are being dishonest if we think so.”

Zimmer’s preferred goals are to eradicate the school readiness gap and have every graduate be bilingual and bi-literate. “We can lead the state and the nation with this,” he said.

But Zimmer was willing to let go of his ambitious goals to allow for one singular goal that the board agreed on that could encompass other goals. “We can really make real that we don’t give up on a single kid,”  Zimmer said. “We can lead in that area too.”

Zimmer told his fellow board members, “I don’t think we have a mission sense right now, and I think it’s our role to create it. And it has to be big, and the strategic plan should fall behind it. The strategic plan should be about implementing a broad mission.”

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Morning Read: Governor signs bill that will expand access to computer science, starting in kindergarten

Gov. Brown signs law to plan expansion of computer science education

Gov. Jerry Brown Jr. on Tuesday signed into law a bill that begins a three-year planning process to expand computer science education for all grades in California’s public schools, beginning in kindergarten. Authored by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, the bill, Assembly Bill 2329, requires State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to create by September 2017 a 23-person advisory panel to be charged with developing a long-term plan to make computer science education a top priority in the state. By Pat Maio, EdSource

It’s a first: An LAUSD school is the top feeder to USC’s freshman class, thanks to a neighborhood academic enrichment program

Students Lily Diaz, left, Mauricio Garcia and Stephanie Cuevas at the Neighborhood Academic Initiative Gala at USC, Thursday, May 6, 2016. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker)

Students Lily Diaz, left, Mauricio Garcia and Stephanie Cuevas at the Neighborhood Academic Initiative gala at USC in May. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker)

For the first time, there will be more students from an LA Unified high school in USC’s freshman class than from any other, the university announced Wednesday. Thanks to a long-running special program, the Neighborhood Academic Initiative (NAI), 19 of the university’s incoming class this year are from the Foshay Learning Center, which is near USC.

The great majority of the students in NAI are minorities and from low-income households, and the program has existed as a partnership between USC and LA Unified since the 1991-92 school year. Through the program, students from the surrounding neighborhoods near USC are given enrichment opportunities, guidance, counseling and education with the goal of helping them get accepted to college. Students who are accepted to USC get a full-ride scholarship minus loans.

Students begin the program in the 6th grade and attend all through high school. During the middle school years, the students come to USC on Saturdays to hear guest speakers, take classes and receive information about college. When high school begins in the 9th grade, the students attend English and math classes every morning at USC before going to their other classes at Foshay or two high schools in East LA. They also take summer school courses and attend on Saturdays.

Since 1997, 99 percent of students who participate in NAI have been accepted to college.

“We see them come in babies — ‘This is kind of a fun thing, I’m on a college campus and I’m just in the 6th grade. I just left the bosom of my 5th-grade teacher,’ — to graduating with a list of colleges that they have been accepted to. So NAI changes the question from am I going to college, or can I go to college, to which college am I going to,” said Kim Thomas-Barrios, executive director of USC Educational Partnerships, which oversees NAI.

Foshay has a little under 2,000 students, and about 700 of them are part of NAI. Several years ago the program also started serving students from the East LA area in the schools of El Sereno Middle SchoolNightingale Middle SchoolLincoln High School and Wilson High School.

What is impressive about Foshay leading the USC freshman class in acceptance is that it beat out many other private schools like Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City or The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks where many of the students come from privileged, elite backgrounds.

Few students from those schools have the background of Stephanie Cuevas, a USC freshman who attended Foshay and came through the NAI program. Cuevas lived in a one-bedroom apartment with eight relatives and slept in the living room with three siblings, her mom and stepdad. Her mom wasn’t working at the time, and her stepdad worked at a KFC restaurant. When she was in the 5th grade, some representatives from the NAI program visited her elementary school and gave a presentation. She said she was immediately interested in the program.

“I knew I had to go to college. I didn’t want to end up living the way my parents lived,” Cuevas said.

Cuevas also said she realized how far ahead she was of other students at Foshay who weren’t involved in the program when it came time to apply to college.

“My cousin at Foshay, she didn’t know the deadlines or about the SATs and what to score to get to what college. She didn’t know her A-G requirements and what she had to take and what she shouldn’t have taken,” she said. “But at NAI they said, ‘Take this course,’ and they gave us everything you have to do. They handed everything to us and said, ‘Just do it.’ They handed us the plan, and all we had to do was do it.”

NAI’s budget this year is around $1.3 million, Thomas-Barrios said, and is funded directly by USC and corporate and private donors, including NAI alumni. Representatives of the program visit the area’s elementary schools and encourage students to apply for the program. She said they look for students who aren’t yet high-achieving.

“We are of the mind and always have been that those students who are doing really, really well are going to be captured into college access pathways. The students who are doing OK, with C+ average, they could go either way if they are pushed, and they can be put into that pathway, so those are the kids we are looking for,” she said. “So we capture their imagination and the imagination of their parents and say, ‘Let’s try this thing.'”

On Saturdays, the students’ parents are encouraged to attend and take part in the Family Development Institute, which gives them information on college and tips on how to help their child’s academic growth.

“Some of our Latino families will take the entire family to their country of origin for a long period to visit family who are ill or who have passed, and so everyone goes. For a child who is a senior and taking AP calculus, a month is a long time to be away,” Thomas-Barrios said. “So (the Family Development Institute) understands that and will make alternate arrangements for the child.”

USC also announced Wednesday that the freshman class is the highest-achieving it has ever enrolled, and also one of the largest and most ethnically diverse ever. The 3,068 freshmen make up the fifth-largest freshman class in USC’s 136-year history, with 9,023, or 16.6 percent, of the 54,282 applicants offered admission. Their average, unweighted GPA is 3.75, or 4.07 if weighted. Twenty percent had earned straight As in high school. Another 7 percent earned only one B in high school. 

Twenty-four percent of the freshmen come from underrepresented ethnic groups; 1 in 8 are the first in their families to attend college. Forty-one percent are white, 20 percent are Asian or Asian American, 14 percent are international students, 13 percent are Latino, and 5 percent are African American.

“We have made a strong effort to recruit students from a range of backgrounds to USC this fall,” Provost Michael Quick said in a statement. “They are the first in their families to attend college, transfer students from community colleges and high-performing graduates from a variety of public and private high schools across the nation and the world. We are pleased to have had such an impressive pool of applicants from which to select our vibrant freshman class.”

*Dark green denotes traditional public schools. Orange denotes private schools. Orange County HS of the Arts is a public charter school and Troy HS in Fullerton is a public magnet school.

LAUSD credit recovery vendor finds strong demand for online makeup courses nationwide

SchoolComputerLabValleyViewEver since LA Unified vaulted from a looming graduation crisis to potentially breaking its graduation record last school year after implementing a wide-scale online credit recovery program, questions have been raised about how much students are actually learning.

The apparent ease with which the district was able to substantially boost the number of diplomas it handed out through a $15 million credit recovery program turned heads and has some asking if the online courses are rigorous enough. Board President Steve Zimmer has questions, as did the Los Angeles Times editorial pages and some academics.

But while online credit recovery has been making headlines in Los Angeles this year, LA Unified is far from the only district using it, and one of the nation’s largest providers of online credit recovery programs has found a growing appetite for its product over the last 10 years.

Apex Learning CEO Cheryl Vedoe said the company began in 1999 by providing online advanced placement programs, but in 2005 it started providing online credit recovery programs, which have “really just taken off from there.” Before long, she said, Apex learned that when it comes to online classes, credit recovery is what districts want most.

Apex is one of two companies contracted by LA Unified to provide online credit recovery courses. The other is Edgenuity. Apex has over 1,500 contracts with school districts nationwide and is in the first year of a five-year contract with LA Unified to provide online courses. The contract for the two companies is not to exceed $5 million over the five years, and schools can choose between the two companies when selecting their courses.

Below is an edited version of LA School Report’s recent interview with Vedoe.

Q: What have you learned the most since starting online courses when the company began?

A: We learned very early on that where digital curriculum is most often used first in school districts is not with the college prep students, but rather with those who have not previously been successful. And so we have really focused on how can we support struggling readers, English learners, students who might have learning gaps and not have all the prerequisite skills to be successful in a course, and how can we best help those students who don’t have good study habits and skills. So we have really focused on building those supports and scaffolds into our courses. We believe that students do rise to high expectations and we have built a rigorous curriculum.

Q: Many parents are probably not aware how widespread online credit recovery is. Is it fair to say that it would be rare to find a large district not doing it, and that it has long ago moved past the experimental stage?

A: I would say that the vast majority of school districts who offer credit recovery are doing it through some form of digital content. But it makes sense that would be the case. The need for credit recovery is not new. Before digital curriculum was available, districts required students to retake the entire course, but when I think about that these are students who failed it the first time, and these are students who are not likely to be successful in the same model. So the online and digital programs have really played a key role. And we are seeing a higher success rate than we ever saw in those old programs.

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Morning Read: Under pressure from LAUSD, El Camino charter school makes policy changes

Trying to get right with LA Unified, El Camino charter school hands down discipline, policy changes
The board of El Camino Real Charter High School has disciplined at least one employee and enacted a long list of changes to its financial policies amid questions from LA Unified officials about “seemingly exorbitant, personal and … improper” transactions made using school funds. By Kyle Stokes, KPCC

New website seeks to spur conversation about LA schools

Screen shot of

A sample page of the new site,

A new website has launched that encourages thoughtful discussion about issues involving LA schools and school board elections.

The new site,, is run by Loren Bendele, a technology entrepreneur who co-founded coupon website 

Bendele, a father of two, said he first thought of the idea about eight years ago when he became interested in school issues.

“I found it very difficult to quickly figure out what was going on,” Bendele said. “It just takes a lot of time with an issue as complicated as education. It’s almost like you have to make it a full-time job.”

Growing up in Texas, he said he was fortunate to attend good public schools and, as an adult, he wanted to give back to his community in some way by doing more than just write a check. He came to Los Angeles for work and better weather from Dallas 19 years ago and lives in Pacific Palisades.

“I honed in on education because I think it’s the most fundamental,” he said. “If we can help create a path for everybody to get a good education, now you have more educated citizens who can make decisions from an educated place.”

Bendele said there were over 30 pages of comments on an article about education that he read when he first became interested in the topic. Ninety-five percent of the comments were not useful, but 5 percent had valuable information, he thought.

With this in mind and building off of user-generated content platforms like Yelp, Trip Advisor, Wikipedia and others, Bendele got the idea for his site.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be great if we had something like that for education and other complex subjects and issues where we could really engage people in a thoughtful discussion,” Bendele said.

On Bendele’s site, the comments that other people agree with rise to the top.

The site can be described as “comments on comments on comments.”

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Gov. Brown vetoes bill intended to place more emphasis on test scores

EdSource LogoBy John Fensterwald

Sending a strong message endorsing the school accountability system adopted by the State Board of Education, Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have placed more emphasis on standardized test scores in measuring school and district performance.

In a message issued Saturday in vetoing Assembly Bill 2548, Brown credited the state board for creating a “thoughtful and integrated federal, state and local accountability system” after spending two years listening to public opinion. The board has adopted a process for annually reviewing and improving the system, he wrote, adding, “It is unnecessary and premature to impose additional requirements at this time.”

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, who authored the bill and is a former school board member, expressed disappointment with Brown’s veto. “My legislative colleagues and I are still convinced that we need to focus more on closing achievement gaps and making the information about school performance more accessible and usable for parents,” she said in a statement.

The new accountability system, which the state board adopted earlier this month, shifts from California’s near-total reliance on test scores to measure how well schools and districts are doing to one based on a half-dozen measures, including non-academic measures.

Under the new accountability system, test scores on math, English language arts and, eventually, science will be included as key indicators of performance. Others will be rates of high school graduation, student suspensions and chronic absenteeism; how effectively English learners have learned English; and how prepared students are for pursuing college and careers. Districts will receive assistance if ethnic, racial and other students subgroups performed poorly in one or more of the measures.

Districts will also be held accountable for creating their measures of parent engagement, school climate and the rollout of the state’s new academic standards.

Legislators laid out multiple measures of accountability three years ago in the Local Control Funding Formula. They reaffirmed that intent in overwhelmingly approving Weber’s bill.

Read the full article here.

Morning Read: Q&A with Marcia Reed, California’s National Distinguished Principal

California’s National Distinguished Principal Marcia Reed of LAUSD talks about her school’s successes

Marcia Reed, principal of 186th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles Unified, was honored this month as a 2016 National Distinguished Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals. The association recognizes one outstanding principal in each of the 50 states each year. Now in her 13th year as principal, Reed was selected by her fellow principals statewide, in part for the academic improvements at her K-5 school. She answers a few questions about her school, known as the “Home of the Wise Owls.” By Michael Janofsky, EdSouce

Character Day 2016: LA schools celebrate good character and join worldwide events

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Schools throughout the LA Unified school district joined more than 90,000 groups worldwide on Thursday to celebrate Character Day and talk about how to develop character strengths.


Although it’s impossible to tell exactly how many classrooms dealt with Character Day activities, Susan Ward Roncalli of the district’s Social Emotional Learning division said she was busy traveling to schools and helping with assemblies, rallies, photo boards and a balloon stomp.

“I visited three Orchard schools in Bell and Marina Del Rey Middle School, and all activities were great,” said Roncalli.

Marina Del Rey teacher Andrea Burke led students in joining the global conversation of characteristics such as empathy, kindness, honesty, leadership, resilience and justice. “We love Marina’s participation in this global event,” Burke said.

The Character Day education has involved 65 school districts, 24 universities and 70 nonprofit groups. In August, school board member Ref Rodriguez got a resolution passed that encourages district schools to celebrate the day.

Character education has been prevalent since the 1890s, is central to citizenship education and is focused on preparing individuals to make ethical judgments to improve conditions of civil society, Rodriguez wrote in his resolution.

Rodriguez tweeted photos at Magnolia Science Academy charter school and was represented there by Erica Gonzales.

“This is the district’s way to ensure a safe, caring and nurturing environment for all our youth,” Rodriguez said.

When teens resort to crime so they can eat: New studies on food insecurity and school lunch programs

eatingburgerIn Los Angeles, a young man talked about selling drugs for cash because his family needed the money.

In Portland, where stealing from local grocery stores is normal behavior for some school-age locals, a young woman explained the benefits of failing school — you repeat a grade — or being locked up in jail.

Across the country, teens talked about why some girls they know would sell their bodies to older men.

“I ain’t talking about robbing nobody,” one Chicago student said. “I’m just talking, like, going [to the store] and get what you need, just hurry up and walk out, which I do. If you need to do that, that’s what you got to do.”

For a small subset of young Americans, several of whom spoke with researchers for two recent reports on teen hunger, crime can appear to be the most feasible way to get food.

About 15 million children in the U.S. in 2014 suffered from food insecurity, with 7 million of them between the ages of 10 and 17. Despite extensive efforts to prevent child hunger, such as the National School Lunch Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, teens still aren’t getting the food they need, according to studies released last week by the Urban Institute and Feeding America.

Constrained by limited employment opportunities and the stigma of asking for help or appearing hungry, and often unaware of the food programs available to them, some teens had shoplifted, sold drugs and traded sex for food, researchers found. While the reports acknowledge that food-insecure teens aren’t engaging in risky behaviors en masse to eat, they provided anecdotes highlighting the challenges some of America’s most vulnerable children face every day.

Urban Institute Senior Fellow Elaine Waxman said the findings were unexpected and shocking, in part because little research has focused on how teenagers cope with food insecurity.

Study investigators created 20 focus groups in 10 low-income communities across the country for 193 teens to discuss their perceptions of available food and their experiences with programs that address food insecurity, from federal offerings to summer meal options.

“The theme that really comes through is that a lot of our traditional approaches for addressing food insecurity, whether that be charitable feeding or federal programs, are not necessarily teen-friendly in the eyes of teens,” she said, adding that focus group participants “really do talk pretty frankly about, ‘Well, by the end of the month, money is running out and there’s not a lot of other alternatives’” to crime.

According to an analysis released this year by the Food Research Action Center, nearly 21.5 million kids in the U.S. are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals, yet only one in six takes advantage of free meal programs over the summer.

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4 things to know about LAUSD’s pension costs and other benefits obligations for its teachers and other staff

This graphic from the district's Independent Financial Review Panel's November 2015 report shows the contributions the district must make to CalPERS and CalSTRS under new pension reforms.

This graphic from the district’s Independent Financial Review Panel’s November 2015 report shows the contributions the district must make to CalPERS and CalSTRS under new pension reforms.


LA Unified is facing a budget deficit that will increase to nearly half a billion dollars within the next three years primarily due to declining enrollment and increased pension and healthcare costs.

Last weekend, the Los Angeles Times, CALmatters and Capital Public Radio published the first of a series of stories examining the effects of the expansion of retirement benefits for the state’s public employees. Here are some things to know about LA Unified’s pension obligations:

  • LA Unified’s total unfunded liability for other post-employment benefits (OPEB) is $13.6 billion (or more than 1.5 times its 2016-17 operating budget of $7.6 billion). 


  • LA Unified is the only school district on a list of top 10 government entities across the country that can’t afford their OPEB obligations — the top spot going to the city of Detroit.
  • In 2013-14, the district paid $2,621 from its state funding of $9,788 for average daily attendance per student (or 27 percent) for all employee benefits, including health and welfare, other post-employment benefits and pension benefits (19.4 percent higher than the statewide average).
  • According to the superintendent’s 2016-17 budget, the district will pay $566.8 million this year to the California State Teachers Retirement System and $139.4 million to the California Public Employees Retirement System.

*UPDATED: This story has been updated to clarify the costs include other post-employment benefits.

El Camino Charter updates spending rules amid credit card controversy

LosAngelesDailyNewsLOGOBy Brenda Gazzar

The governing board of El Camino Real Charter High School revised its fiscal policies Wednesday night in its latest effort to placate Los Angeles Unified School District concerns about liberal credit-card spending by school administrators and inadequate board oversight.

The meeting of the El Camino Real Alliance board, which took place in a mostly full auditorium at the Woodland Hills school, was held two days before El Camino’s deadline to respond to LAUSD’s “notice of violations” that was unanimously approved by the district’s Board of Education last month.

The notice, which alleged “fiscal mismanagement” and open-meetings violations, is the first of three steps to potentially revoking the school’s charter. El Camino officials have denied any wrongdoing.

Wednesday’s vote marks the third time the El Camino board has updated its fiscal policies and procedures since L.A. Unified issued a warning to the school, which converted to an independent charter in 2011, last October. The board was also slated to discuss possible employee “discipline/dismissal/release” in closed session Wednesday night, a continuation of a discussion started at an urgent meeting held Friday, said Jonathan Wasser, the board’s president.

To read the full article, click here

Morning Read: State releases foster youth test scores for first time, and they’re not good

For the first time, California releases test scores for foster youth

California education officials have separated out the standardized test scores of the state’s foster youth — and advocates now have sobering proof of what they long suspected: These students are learning far less than their peers. In 2014-15, the first year scores of the new, harder state tests were reported, 18.8% of students in the foster care system met or exceeded standards in English/language arts, compared with 44.2% of their non-foster peers statewide. In math, 11.8% of these students reached or beat the benchmarks, compared with 33.8% of non-foster students. By Joy Resmovits, Los Angeles Times  

Former Superintendent John Deasy previews new initiative to rethink juvenile prisons

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy speaks before listening to public com

(Credit: Getty Images)

See previous interviews by The 74: Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Senator and Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, University of Michigan economist Susan Dynarski, Harvard Education School Dean Jim Ryan. Full 74 Interview archive here.

As superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, John Deasy laid out an ambitious vision for improving schools. Today, his supporters say he succeeded in significantly improving student outcomes across the city, while his critics point to poor relationships with many of the district’s stakeholders and his botched plan to integrate iPads into Los Angeles classrooms. Deasy resigned under pressure in late 2014.

Now Deasy is back in the news, planning to launch a new program that he says will fix juvenile prisons in a way that both reduces recidivism and improves the life prospects of incarcerated youth.

I spoke with Deasy in depth last month about his vision for the program, how it might be implemented and whether it amounts to a form of privatized prisons.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

The 74: Can you start by telling me about your new initiative — what you’re working on, what you’re hoping to accomplish?

John Deasy: In October, I am launching a new organization called New Day, New Year. This organization is going to design, build and launch a set of alternative juvenile prisons in the country: in Los Angeles County and Alameda County in California, and then hopefully in Oklahoma and in New York City. In short, what I want to do for the next 10 years is to be part of the rethinking of juvenile justice in this country — and specifically youth corrections.

Our youth will leave our experience drug- and substance-free; on track for graduation or enrolled in community college, depending on their age; resilient; and also employed.

The theory is, we want to reduce recidivism by 50 percent as compared to the local county recidivism rate. That’s the short answer.

(Stay updated on the latest 74 interviews. Sign up for our newsletter.)

What immediately jumps to mind is that this is a sort of charter school for juvenile prisons. Do you see it along those lines?

We don’t at the moment have successful alternatives where you have dramatically lower recidivism for youth, and we want to create that opportunity. I don’t know if it’s charter-like, because I don’t think there’s such a rule or a vehicle.

What would the governance structure be, then? Is this under the traditional governance of publicly governed prisons? I’m asking because there are a lot of concerns about privately run prisons.

I have enormous concerns around privately run prisons, and abhorrent concerns around for-profit prisons. The governance structure is as it currently is, and we’re aiming to provide the current governance structure an alternative setting. Judges could sentence or re-sentence youth — obviously it’s a willing proposition — to New Day, New Year, and in turn we will abide by the guidelines of the state that we work in and produce dramatically different results. But it’s certainly not for-profit, and it’s not private.

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Morning Read: New agreement will allow LAUSD students to take community college classes at their high schools

LA Unified paves the way for 15,000 students to take community college classes during their high school day

It will be easier for L.A. students to take community college classes for free — while sitting in their high school classrooms. The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved an agreement Tuesday with the Los Angeles Community College District that will let high schools enter partnerships with their local community colleges to offer classes on campus, during the regular school day. The schools hope to serve 15,000 L.A. Unified students a year. By Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times