Tutoring center busted for scamming millions in fed dollars

imgres-1A tutoring company billing itself as “The trusted name for specialized tutoring” may not be so trustworthy after all. Unless, that specialty is in defrauding the federal government.

The Academic Advantage, whose website is endorsed by The Governator himself — Arnold Schwarzenegger – and former LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines, was busted scamming millions from federal supplemental-education services funds intended for needy students in under-performing public schools, according to a report in the New York Post.

The tutoring center, which has offices in Pasadena and Manhattan, forged student signatures on attendance sheets in New York for years, receiving $14 million from the government between 2010 to 2012, the report said.

The feds found out, sued the company and nine of its staffers, and now the they’ve agreed to pay back $2 million.

Schwarzenegger’s endorsement is pretty generic on the web site, but Cortines gets specific:

“I have yet to come across an after-school educational program that is more effective at equipping children with the tools they need to succeed in their schooling and beyond,” he says. “It’s no wonder The Academic Advantage has risen to become one of the nation’s leading tutoring programs.”


A telephone message left for Academic Advantage in Pasadena was not returned.

LA Unified district 1 candidate forum scheduled for 6 tomorrow

imgresCandidates for LA Unified’s open District 1 board seat are gathering again tomorrow for a community forum at the West Adams Church of Christ, 4959 W. Adams Blvd.

So far,  said one of the organizers, Rashad Trapp-Rucker six of the candidates have committed to participate — all but Alex Johnson — with a moderator kicking things off at 6 p.m. with a series of questions about Common Core, Local Control Funding and other issues that will affect the district.

The session continues at 7, with questions from the audience.

The seven candidates are competing in a June 3 special election to fill the seat vacated by the late Marguerite LaMotte, who represented District 1 for 120 years through her death in December.


Vision to Learn helping students with eye exams and glasses

Vision to Learn Eye TestHow can students excel in the classroom — much less learn — if they can’t see what their teachers are writing on the whiteboard? It’s a problem that afflicts approximately 15 percent of elementary school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

But one organization is working toward a solution.

Today, Vision to Learn, a local nonprofit created by the Beutner Family Foundation, is partnering with nursing services for the District’s Education Service Center – East to provide 70 elementary school students and seven early education students with eye exams, and if necessary, eyewear.

“Our vans visit 250 schools across the school district throughout the year,” Yolanda Lasmarias, field coordinator for the District’s Education Service Center – East, told LA School Report. “At the schools, the certified school nurses administer an eye screening to see if the students need eyewear, and if they do, they send them out to one of our vans to see our optometrist who give the an eye exam.”

Since its inception in 2012, Vision to Learn has equipped over 14,000 students with eyewear and other forms of ocular assistance. Since last January, the group has been helping pre-K students to acquire the eyewear they need.

“If our optometrists see that a child has special eye-related needs, like for glaucoma, we will connect them with our hospital partners and arrange for the child to have surgery,” said Lasmarias.

Part of the logic behind offering on-site care is that in many cases, parents and/or guardians aren’t able to take leave from work to obtain the glasses for their children. Vision to Learn, however, can administer the screenings and exams, and set up the children with eyewear so long that parents and/or guardians give consent.

All of these services come at no cost to the parents.


Effort underway to eliminate CA schools’ English-only law

Senator Ricardo Lara

Senator Ricardo Lara

Since the late 1990s the debate over bilingual education in California has been, ¿como se dice . . . controversial?  And it seems it’s an issue voters will be taking up again soon.

State Senator Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens, has proposed new legislation to overturn Proposition 227, a 1998 initiative that banned bilingual education in public schools.

“English will always remain the official language of California, but we cannot ignore the growing need to have a multilingual workforce,” Lara said in announcing his measure.

Lara’s bill, SB1174, would put the question to voters once again, as an initiative on the November 2016 ballot. It would effectively repeal Prop. 227, giving parents the option of enrolling their children in bilingual education or dual immersion programs.

“In an increasingly interconnected global economy, we have to prepare our students for a future in which their success depends not only on an ability to understand diverse perspectives and cultures, but also on an ability to communicate in different languages,” said Lara.

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Charters win $1.5 million in grants to improve kids’ health

imgres-2Via KPCC | By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

Sixteen California charter schools have been awarded more than $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education to improve the health of school-age kids.

The biggest local winner, 4,000-student ICEF charter school group, said it’ll use its $845,000 grant to give students more nutrition education during the school day and integrate academics with physical education.

“It feels great to be recognized,” ICEF CEO Parker Hudnut said, “but also to have the funding now to do what we have wanted to do to really try to improve the physical fitness of students and connecting that with nutrition.”

Read the full story here.

Report: Brown decision at 60, what have we learned?

images-5Via Economic Policy Institute | By Richard Rothstein

May 17 is the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision that prohibited Southern states from segregating schools by race.

The Brown decision annihilated the “separate but equal” rule, previously sanctioned by the Supreme Court in 1896, that permitted states and school districts to designate some schools “whites-only” and others “Negroes-only.” More important, by focusing the nation’s attention on subjugation of blacks, it helped fuel a wave of freedom rides, sit-ins, voter registration efforts, and other actions leading ultimately to civil rights legislation in the late 1950s and 1960s.

But Brown was unsuccessful in its purported mission—to undo the school segregation that persists as a central feature of American public education today. This issue brief highlights key elements of the American education system that have evolved in the wake of Brown.

Read the full report here.

A plan to add more meaning to CA computer science class

Sen. Alex Padilla, sponsor of  computer science bill

Sen. Alex Padilla, sponsor of computer science bill

Few students would likely take advanced computer science just for fun, even though the course is considered an elective in nearly all California high schools.

But a new bill, SB 1200, from State Senator Alex Padilla of Pacoima, would change that, developing guidelines for the course to count toward graduation by fulfilling a math requirement. And the UC and CSU systems would set academic standards for the computer course to apply toward undergraduate admissions.

The bill passed the Senate Education committee yesterday and is now headed to the Appropriations Committee.

“More high school students will take advanced computer science courses if the classes qualify for undergraduate admissions as a core subject like math,” said Padilla.

Only one high school in California offers advanced computer science courses that have been approved by the UC and CSU, and “not surprisingly,” said Padilla, the school is in San Jose, where most computing-related jobs are located.

He added, “Most college-bound students do not have the time to take an advanced computer science course that is not required for college admission.”

Fourteen states have implemented policies allowing computer science to count as core requirements toward high school graduation.  Where this happens, enrollment in computer science classes is 50 percent higher.

Parent panels now reviewing LA Unified’s next spending plan

images-3Parents involved in setting spending priorities for LA Unified have a lot of homework to do over the next two weeks.

Members of the Parent Advisory Committee and the District English Learner Advisory Committee have been instructed to “take home and live with” Superintendent John Deasy’s proposed Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) before providing feedback in time for the school board to adopt the 2014-2015 budget on June 17.

The two groups, which include more than 100 parents and guardians elected onto the committees by other parents, met with district officials last week.

It brings the district one step closer to fulfilling the state’s requirement for local participation in drafting the final LCAP — essentially, a budget explaining how LA Unified will disperse funds from Gov. Jerry Brown’s new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).

Rowena Lagrosa, executive director of the district’s Parent Community Services Branch, said the committees met over two days for 10 hours. But they’re not ready to weigh in on the budget just yet.

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Just in: LA County Board of Ed OKs Aspire renewals

Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy

Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy

The LA County Board of Education today reversed a decision by the LA Unified school board by voting to approve the renewal of two Aspire charter schools.

“We are delighted in the vote of confidence by the LA County Office of Education,” said Aspire Public Schools CEO James Willcox. By renewing our charters for Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy and Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy, the board has ensured the students and families in Huntington Park will continue to have access to a high-quality public education. Now we get to focus on what matters most in school, our students,”

Kate Ford, Aspire Public Schools LA Superintendent, said, “Today’s vote gives our Aspire families the peace of mind that their schools will continue to offer local students a supportive community that meets the needs of all children who choose to attend.”

The appeal was filed in February after the two schools in southeast Los Angeles were denied renewals by the LAUSD Board over questions of funding methods.


Too late to apply to LAUSD magnet schools? Try this instead

Gifted and Talented GATE LAUSDThink your child may be gifted but missed the magnet application window last fall?

Now’s a chance for LAUSD parents to act: the SAS program, which stands for “Schools for Advanced Studies,” is accepting applications until April 30.

SAS programs are, in essence, gifted programs that reside within a traditional school. Offered at dozens of schools district-wide (see list here), they are considered a well-kept secret, perhaps because performance numbers are not broken out from the host school so their track records are hard publicize.

“What some parents don’t know is that kids don’t have to test to get into these programs,” says Angel Zobel-Rodriguez, a mother of two, who started a website called,  Magnet Angel (and runs another called Ask a Yenta) to help parents navigate the complicated gifted-magnet application process.

Instead, students can be referred by schools if they meet the academic criterion (see description here). And unlike with the magnet process, students can apply to as many SAS schools as they want and don’t need “points” — an accrual system that is used for the gifted magnets.

According to the new LAUSD Gifted/Talented website, the programs are “an intensive academic articulated program in which both innovative and traditional courses are taught.” The SAS programs are open to students from neighboring areas (pending available space) who have been identified as high performers, and the SAS teachers are required to go through extra professional development training.

In general, you can expect “classes will be taught at a higher level,” says Zobel-Rodriguez. “Think of them as gifted magnets but without a bus.”

For more information:
LAUSD Gifted/Talented website
Ask A Yenta
Magnet Angel
Great Schools

LA County Board of Education deciding fate of 2 Aspire charters

Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy

Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy

The LA County Board of Education is set to vote later today on whether to allow two top-performing charter schools to remain open.

The appeal was filed in February after two Aspire public charter schools in southeast Los Angeles — Aspire Antonio Maria Lugo Academy and Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy — were denied renewals by the LAUSD Board.

The denials came at highly-charged school board meeting in February when members clashed over how the schools get paid for students needing special services.

The decision shocked parents and community members because the schools are among the best in the city, both well above the state goal of 800 on the academic performance index.

Aspire is California’s largest charter organization, operating 12 schools in LAUSD.

Officials at Aspire say they are confident that the LA County Board of Education will do the right thing.

“We are hopeful the LACOE Board Members will approve Aspire’s appeal to continue to serve Huntington Park students and families” at the two schools, James Willcox, CEO of Aspire, told LA School Report.

“We have worked with board members and their staff over the past few weeks to demonstrate the high quality education all of our students are receiving at these schools,” he added. “Parents, students, teachers and community leaders have expressed their support for keeping these quality schools open.”


LAUSD gets a new ‘index’ to help schools where needs are highest

imagesA coalition of education advocates and community groups has developed a new tool, a “student needs index,” and offering it to LA Unified to help identify high-need schools as the district refines its next annual budget.

Created by the Community Coalition, Advancement Project and InnerCity Struggle, the index uses environmental, social and academic factors that affect student learning to provide the district another measure of students living in poverty, beyond the usual metric of free and reduced-price lunch.

“The index not only measures academic results, but it also measures neighborhood conditions such as exposure to violence, access to youth programming, access to early care and education,” Maria Brenes, Executive Director of InnerCity Struggle, told LA School Report.

In identifying 242 high need schools in LAUSD, most of them in south and east Los Angeles, the index provides a better idea of where the need is greatest, specifically the student populations that money from the state, $837 million, is intended to help — foster youth, English learners and low-income students.

“We think [the index] is an innovative framework for the district in terms of how to target resources for the highest impact,” Brenes said.

The challenge for the community groups now is convincing the district to use the index.

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Caputo-Pearl: Fletcher made right decision, stepping aside

Warren Fletcher

Warren Fletcher

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the presumptive next president of UTLA,  said today that current president Warren Fletcher made the right decision by expressing a willingness to step aside in the race to lead the second largest teachers union in the nation.

“We look forward to the opportunity to expand the base of support behind an approach where UTLA leads the fight for quality schools and respect for educators through powerful organizing and coalition-building,” Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report.

In the recent union election of 10 candidates or president, Caputo-Pearl, head of the left-leaning “Union Power” slate, ran away with first-place in the first round of voting, gathering twice as many votes as Fletcher, even though only a quarter of the membership cast ballots.

As the top vote-getters in the first round, but neither with a majority, they are now competing in a second round of voting.

Candidates in the Union Power group swept the first round, picking up majority wins in nearly every leadership position within UTLA. The shift in Union Power suggests a major change ahead in union strategies and policies. Throughout his campaign Caputo-Pearl advocated for more aggressive actions on behalf of teachers, including a strike to secure a new contract for the union that would include a raise for the first time in seven years.

“We are glad that President Fletcher recognizes that the membership sees the need to move in this direction,” Caputo-Pearl said, adding, “The more we can be united behind this approach, the more successful we will be.”

Fletcher on Sunday told the LA Times he will no longer actively campaign for reelection because “only a fool fights in a burning house.”

In an interview with LA School Report today he expanded: “We are facing a lot of unprecedented outside challenges — attacks on our profession. We are in a situation where we need to make sure that we are as strong as we can be and that’s part of what’s driving the decision on my part.”

If he loses, Fletcher said he’ll return to the classroom.

“It helps that I like teaching,” he said laughing. “Remember, I went to college and studied to be a teacher. This three year period has been the exception and I’m going back to the thing that is my profession.”

SEIU 99 decides not to endorse a candidate for District 1 board seat

SEIU99SEIU Local 99, the service employees union, which represents more than 30,000 cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, special education assistants and other school support staff at LAUSD, has decided not to endorse a candidate for the district’s vacant District 1 Board seat.

The local is the largest labor unit within LA Unified that chose not to get behind any of the seven candidates in the June 3 special election.

The decision not to endorse followed what the union described in a press release as “a lengthy endorsement process,” which included conversations between the candidates and members of SEIU Local 99, a review of candidate questionnaires and a formal town hall meeting where SEIU members interviewed the candidates.

“We recognize that there are many candidates in this race who share our goals for improving education inside and outside the classroom and who believe that when parents have good jobs, their children have the economic stability at home that they need to thrive in school,” said SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Courtni Pugh. “Our decision not to endorse one candidate is, in great part, a reflection of the strong field of contenders in this race.”

Pugh said the union would continue to follow the election and, if a run-off is necessary, would re-evaluate the candidates to consider an endorsement.

Among the other large unions with LA Unified employees, the teachers union, UTLA, endorsed three candidates — Rachel Johnson, Sherlett Hendy-Newbill and Hattie McFrazier. The union representing principals and other administrators, AALA, endorsed George McKenna.


UTLA unsure of financial support for teachers in board race

imagesWinning endorsement is one thing. Winning financial support is quite another.

UTLA, the teachers union, has endorsed three candidates in the June 3 special election to fill LA Unified’s District 1 board seat, all three with ties to the union: Rachel Johnson and Sherlett Hendy-Newbill are teachers, and Hattie McFrazier is a former teacher.

The head of UTLA’s political action committee, PACE, said the union will promote all three on the ballot equally, but that support might not come with a lot of union financial support.

“We believe in all of the teachers we’ve endorsed,” Marco Flores told LA School Report. “But the truth is, whoever gets elected won’t be there very long.”

Flores says the timing of the special election in June is too close to the regular school board elections in 2015, when four seats will be up for grabs, including District 1 again. And campaigning for those races, he said, will begin on Labor Day — just shortly after the new District 1 member would take a seat on the board if the election goes to an Aug. 12 runoff.

The question before UTLA and PACE, he said, is: “How much are we going to ask for, from our friends, from our affiliates, from the different groups that we get money from, for this particular race when nine months from now we’re going to be having another four races?”

Next year’s elections will be for board districts 1, 3, 5, and 7.

So far two board members have declared their intention to run as incumbents: Board president Richard Vladovic (7) will be seeking a third term and Bennett Kayser (5) is going after a second.

Barbara Jones, Chief of Staff for board member Tamar Galatzan (3), told LA School Report last week, “She hasn’t announced yet whether she is running.”

L.A. teachers union president ready to step aside for challenger

Los Angeles Times logoVia the Los Angeles Times |  By Howard Blume

Los Angeles teachers’ union president Warren Fletcher said he will no longer actively campaign for reelection, clearing the path for challenger Alex Caputo-Pearl to become the next leader of United Teachers Los Angeles.

In the first round of voting in March, Caputo-Pearl received 48% of the votes and Fletcher 21%. The runoff election takes place this month with ballots set to be counted April 29.

In an interview Sunday, Fletcher said he has not formally suspended his campaign, and that he would serve again if he won. But the one-term incumbent emphasized that he has accepted the near inevitable.

Read the full story here.




Bus crash update: LAUSD offers no names of dead and injured*

LAUSD Supt. John Deasy Bus Crash


LA Unified officials had no additional information by mid-day on the fate of 19 students from 16 LAUSD high schools who were on the bus involved in a fatal crash yesterday, heading to Humboldt State University.

Superintendent John Deasy met with reporters at a noon press conference but couldn’t offer much beyond reports of earlier in the day.

The authorities confirmed that 10 people died, five of them students, but LAUSD has been unable to say whether any of them were from the district’s schools.

The district identified the students’ high schools as San Fernando, Grant, Dorsey, Fremont, City of Angels, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, Manual Arts, Banning, Carson, Chavez, Diego Rivera, Belmont, Wilson, Chatsworth, Jefferson High and Middle College.

The district has set up a support fund to help LAUSD families affected by the crash. The website is here.

*Adds information on family support fund.

Commentary: Mayor Garcetti’s elephant in the room



In his first State of the City speech, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti laid out a plan to boost job creation, safety and the city’s ability to compete in a global economy.

Noticeably absent, however, was any mention of the vast education challenges facing the city.

The Mayor’s vision of Los Angeles was notable for its optimism and his passion. And the half-hour speech (transcript here) was heavy on specifics — including a focus on neighborhood improvements, DWP rates and carpool lanes. He cited how he “pushed and prodded” the feds to open a lane on the 405 earlier than expected, and he pledged to “pave more streets and fix more sidewalks.”

But wait, is he talking . . . potholes?

I couldn’t help but flash back to my home town, Chicago, where the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, ran the city with an iron fist for more than 20 years in the 60s and 70s. Boss Daley knew how to fill a pothole, but sadly, at the same time he presided over a disastrous decline in the city’s pubic education system.

Mayor Garcetti’s goal, of “building a better city,” while admirable, is ultimately not achievable without addressing the elephant in the room — education — and his hands-off approach is bad for students, parents and ultimately the economy. The recent departure of Thelma Melendez, who carried the title of education deputy but in practice was almost invisible makes matters worse. And, so far, he hasn’t named a replacement.

Granted, the mayor’s office in Los Angeles officially exerts very little control over the vast LA Unified School District, run by an often fractured seven-member elected board. But that didn’t stop Garcetti’s predecessors from using the bully pulpit to try and enhance the educational opportunities for city students. The outgoing Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who considered improving public education his mission, devoted a large portion of his 2013 State of the City address to education and saw it as vitally linked to job-growth and the economy.

The district is slowly improving, but challenges like high dropout rates and low student achievement are so profound that it’s hard to argue that all hands should not be on deck, especially those of the mayor.

And the excuse of not having mayoral control? Well, the last time I looked, the mayor doesn’t have much influence on the 405 federal highway project, either.

With post-trial briefs in, Vergara 90-day clock starts ticking

Judge Rolf Treu Vergara

Judge Rolf Treu

Just in case Judge Rolf Treu might have missed anything during the two months of Vergara v. California, a battle over teacher employment protections that concluded last month, the parties filed their post-trial briefs yesterday, each making one last effort to influence Judge Treu’s decision.

At issue are five state laws that govern tenure, dismissal and seniority. Defendants want to keep them. Plaintiffs want them struck down. He now has 90 days to decide who wins.

Each side echoed the same themes from closing arguments:

“In two months of trial, Plaintiffs proved that the Challenged Statutes are creating vast and unjustified inequalities in the educational opportunities being afforded to students across California,” lawyers for the nine student-plaintiffs wrote.

“It is remarkable that after a month of testimony from twenty-two different witnesses, Plaintiffs have been unable to answer the most basic questions surrounding their theory that the Challenged Statutes cause the hiring and retention of ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers in California public schools,” said lawyers for the state.

“After a lengthy trial, Plaintiffs are entirely unable to prove their unprecedented equal protection claims,” said lawyers for the intervenors — the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) — who joined the state in defense.

The entire 30-plus page filings can be found here (plaintiffs), here (defense) and here (intervenors).

Sacramento City Unified won’t renew NCLB waiver

947ff2df8b9acd4f6b4187e5b1d44046Via EdSource | By John Fensterwald

Faced with intense opposition from teachers, Sacramento City Unified announced Wednesday it would not join other California districts in reapplying for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Its defection leaves seven of eight districts seeking to extend a waiver from the federal accountability law through the California Office to Reform Education, a nonprofit that they formed. The waiver they got last year was the first for school districts, as opposed to a state department of education.

The CORE districts applied because California was one of only four states that either didn’t seek a waiver or had its request rejected.

Read the full story here.