Morning Read: Belmont High students, alone and from Central America, face challenges outside classroom

Nearly 1 in 4 students at this LA high school migrated from Central America — many without their parents

At Belmont High, nearly 1 in 4 of its 1,000 students came from Central America, many as unaccompanied minors. They are part of several waves of more than 100,000 who arrived in the U.S. as children, some seeking refuge from violence. While some crossed the border to reunite with mothers and fathers, others have no family in the U.S. By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times



Demolition of long-closed West Valley schools to begin Monday, leaving empty lots

The Highlander Road Elementary School campus in West Hills has been closed since 1982 and fallen into disrepair.

The Highlander Road Elementary School campus in West Hills has been closed since 1982. Demolition is slated to start next month and at Oso Avenue next week.


LA Unified will begin demolition Monday at the first of two schools to be razed in the West San Fernando Valley. But no new construction is planned, leaving empty lots in residential neighborhoods.

The Oso Avenue and Highlander Road elementary schools have sat mostly empty for more than 30 years, becoming eyesores and a source of conflict between their neighbors and the district.

The district is exploring the option of building new schools on the sites, but no solid plans are in place and the school board has yet to approve any new construction, said LA Unified Chief Facilities Executive Mark Hovatter. The current plan is to raze the schools but leave the concrete slab foundations which could be used as part of any new construction, he said.

“(Neighbors) have had to live with staring at old dilapidated buildings long enough,” Hovatter said. “I want to make it as amenable as possible to the local neighborhoods and I’m working with the local councils to make sure that what I’m doing is reflective of what they want us to do.”

Demolition at Oso is scheduled to begin Monday and at Highlander on Aug. 20, Hovatter said, at a total cost of $2,337,303.

The schools were closed in the early 1980s as West Valley enrollment declined. In total, 18 schools in the West Valley closed in the late 1970s and early ’80s and six schools have re-opened, according to LA Unified, and others are still in use for other purposes. One is in use as administrative buildings, one was swapped with nearby California State University, Northridge and other was sold. In total, five school buildings remain vacant. Highlander had been rented by a private school for several years in the 1990s and occasionally used for filming.

Hovatter said the district began informing neighbors around Oso about the demolition on Saturday by handing out flyers door to door but has not yet started outreach around Highlander.

Several neighbors of Highlander contacted by LA School Report were unaware the district had plans to tear down the school, which the board approved in May, and were not happy about it.

“This is the first I’ve heard of them tearing it down. I had no idea and I’ve lived across the street from it for 30 years,” said Bonnie Johnson. “It’s kind of hard to say if I like the idea of an empty lot. Right now it is really derelict. It is a fire hazard. It looks like homeless people sleep there. Every now and then someone vandalizes it. It has been a real eyesore. I don’t know how people will feel about an open vacant lot.”

Continue reading

Stamp honoring famed East LA teacher Jaime Escalante is unveiled

Forever stamp honoring famed East Los Angeles teacher Jaime Escalante. (courtesy).

Forever stamp honoring East Los Angeles teacher Jaime Escalante.

Garfield High School will forever remember its revered math teacher Jaime Escalante and now so will the U.S. post office.

The U.S. Postal Service on Thursday unveiled its new forever stamp honoring the late East Los Angeles math teacher.

A Bolivian immigrant, Escalante taught calculus at Garfield High from 1974 to 1991. He was recognized for building a high-level math program at the school.

He earned national attention in 1982, when a testing service accused his 14 students who passed the AP calculus exam of cheating. Escalante accused the testing service of singling out his students because they were Mexican-American immigrants from a low-income area of Los Angeles.

Twelve the 14 students took another test and all passed.

The event became the subject of the 1988 movie “Stand and Deliver,” starring Edward James Olmos as Escalante.

Olmos attended the stamp dedication ceremony that was held during the League of United Latin American Citizens’ 87th annual convention in Washington, D.C. U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr., LULAC National President Roger Rocha Jr. and Escalante’s son, Jaime Escalante II, also attended the event, according to the USPS.

The stamp depicts Escalante in his signature flat cap in front of a chalk board on which calculus symbols are visible.

Read more: Garfield High opens doors to new Jaime Escalante Auditorium and Winding path to teaching leads Garfield teacher to Yale award

In 1999, Escalante was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame.

A special dedication ceremony will also be held on Saturday at Garfield High, according to USPS.

Customers can purchase the stamp online at, by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724) or at post office locations nationwide.


Commentary: California — the state of magical thinking when it comes to education

Westside Rentals signBy Caroline Bermudez

The great Joan Didion rose to literary fame chronicling her love-hate relationship with her native California. In Where I Was From, she unleashed a cool invective about the state’s less than firm grasp of reality that still applies today:

“A good deal about California, in its own preferred terms, does not add up.”

California, in particular Los Angeles, is defined by its contradictions. It’s a place of indescribable beauty teetering on the edge of environmental disaster. It exudes a glamour and carefree spirit that draws thousands of hopefuls, but as you stroll through the city’s rejuvenated downtown area, you see rows of tents nearby inhabited by the homeless. The University of California system is the nation’s crown jewel of public higher education, yet prisons comprise a bigger chunk of the state’s budget.

Perhaps the most glaring contradiction of California is how it regards K-12 education as both a priority and an afterthought.

A report cited by a recent article in L.A. Weekly shows how out of reach a good school is not only for its many residents scraping by, but also for those who, if they lived in other regions of America, would have a surfeit of options:

“The jaw-dropping takeaway here is that the average home price near the highest-ranking public schools in L.A. is $1,430,000, the report from RentCafe found.”

The same RentCafe report the article refers to determined most high-achieving schools are concentrated in one wealthy area of Los Angeles:

“It defines highest top-ranking campuses as those with ratings of between 8 and 10 on the GreatSchools site. Those compose 12 percent of public elementary schools in L.A. Most of these campuses are on the Westside, the report states. That makes sense, since the median home price on the Westside is now $1.2 million.”

To live in proximity to an excellent public school, a resident of Los Angeles will have to pony up seven figures.

Pause here for a second.

But what about renting?

The outlook does not improve much, according to the report:

“Renters spend approximately $617 more on rent every month to live near top-performing elementary schools in L.A. than those living near low-ranking schools,” a RentCafe spokeswoman said. “That amounts to more than $7,400 a year.

The average rent in a bad-schools neighborhood is $1,614, while the same in a good-schools area is $2,231, the site says. That’s a 38 percent rent difference.”

Continue reading

Commentary: Democrats rewrite education platform behind closed doors, abandon core party values

Clinton-Obama panelBy Peter Cunningham

The Democratic Party has always stood for one thing: we fight for the little guy. In the field of education, the little guy is the student. He can’t vote. He doesn’t have much say about his school. He mostly has to do what he’s told. And he is trusting us to do right by him and set him on a path to success.

That should mean that we are giving him a good school filled with hard-working adults who set high expectations and hold themselves accountable for results. It should mean that when the student isn’t learning the adults in his school don’t blame factors outside the classroom. Instead, they make the most of things under their control – like time, curriculum, technology, parents and the trusted relationship between teacher and student.

It should mean giving him and his guardian the freedom to find the right school for his unique needs, whether he is gifted or struggling, non-English speaking, poor, gay, straight, trans, athletic, artistic, emotionally stable or vulnerable. It should mean that we don’t allow adult rules about governance or working conditions to inhibit the child’s right to a quality public school and an effective teacher. The needs of the student come first.

Unfortunately, the new Democratic platform does not fully commit to any of these things. Instead, the one adopted behind closed doors in Orlando last weekend affirms an education system that denies its shortcomings and is unwilling to address them.

For example, Democrats are now against “high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners as failing.” No argument here, but what about standardized tests that truthfully and fairly identify underperforming schools and struggling students? The platform is silent.

Democrats are also against “the use of standardized test scores as a basis for refusing to fund schools or to close schools.” OK, but are there any circumstances when Democrats support closing schools? What if those schools show little to no growth? What if parents stop choosing those schools? Would we keep them open anyway? Again, the platform is silent.

Democrats are also against “the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations.” Obviously, they didn’t check with America’s most-prominent Democrat, President Barack Obama. He thinks test scores, along with other measures like classroom observations, examples of classroom work, and feedback from peers, parents and even students, should inform evaluations.

Continue reading

Morning Read: Colors may be new indicator of school performance

‘Get to green’: California wants to grade school performance with colors instead of a single number

For the last 15 years, a number between 200 and 1,000 told parents in California how good their child’s school was. Up next: They might have to decipher performance through a series of colored boxes. The latest proposal, presented Wednesday at a meeting of the State Board of Education in Sacramento, is “the California Model,” a display of 17 colored boxes that summarize how a school is doing in such categories as math or career readiness, both in terms of current status and progress over time. By Joy Resmovits, Los Angeles Times

JUST IN: Judge denies LA Unified request to dismiss lawsuit filed by fired teacher Rafe Esquith

Rafe Esquith

Rafe Esquith

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Wednesday denied LA Unified’s request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by well-known former fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith, who was fired in October.

Esquith filed the defamation lawsuit against the district in August after he was placed on paid leave and assigned to “teacher jail” pending an internal investigation after a fellow teacher complained that Esquith made a joke about nudity in front of his students. Esquith had taught at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School located between Koreatown and Westlake for more than 30 years.

Students, parents and fellow teachers protested outside Hobart Elementary last year when Esquith was removed from the classroom.

The district’s attorneys filed an anti-SLAPP motion earlier this year seeking to dismiss the entire case.

Ben Meiselas, Esquith’s attorney, said an “army” of LA Unified attorneys were in court Wednesday and argued in favor of dismissing the case, but the judge denied the request. Esquith was not present for the hearing, Meiselas said.

“I think that their lawyers convinced them, I think improperly, that this case was not going to go to trial, but today we’re one step closer to going to trial,” Meiselas said. “It was a really, really, really big victory in court for Rafe Esquith.”

An LA Unified spokeswoman said the district plans to appeal the ruling.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision,” Shannon Haber said in an email. “As such, we intend to appeal the judge’s denial of our motion.”

Students chanted and carried signs

Students chanted and carried signs

The lawsuit also alleges infliction of emotional distress, retaliation and age discrimination. Lawyers for Esquith said the educator was hospitalized with stress-induced thrombosis. The suit also claims retaliation for Esquith’s complaints about teacher jail and the filing of a class-action lawsuit.

“Today was a real vindication of the claims being asserted and Mr. Esquith is prepared to continue his fight and continue to succeed against LAUSD and its army of bully lawyers,” Meiselas said.

Esquith filed the class-action lawsuit against the district about “teacher jail.” In that lawsuit, Esquith claims that the district has overseen the “unconstitutional imprisonment” of at least 2,000 teachers in teacher jails. His attorneys argue that the discipline is a “shrewd cost-cutting tactic, implemented to force its older and better-paid teachers out the door” by terminating them or forcing them to quit thereby preventing the teachers from receiving their pension and health-care benefits and saving the district money. The lawsuit describes the teacher jails as “nondescript, fenced-in, warehouse facilities,” where teachers are prevented from speaking to each other and forced to stare at the walls for six hours a day. The lawsuit seeks $1 billion in damages.

The district’s $7.6 billion budget for this fiscal year approved last month includes $15 million to pay salaries for teachers and other staff “housed” in teacher jails. The district said 181 staff members, an increase from last year, are what the district describes as “housed,” but what is more commonly known as teacher jails, while the district conducts internal investigations.

The class-action lawsuit has recently been moved from state court to federal court, at the request of the district, Meiselas said, because the case cites violations of federal civil rights laws.

The investigation into Esquith began in March 2015 after a teacher overheard Esquith recite a passage from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that referred to the naked king. Esquith, who is known for teaching Shakespeare to his students, said his students could recognize the passage from which he was quoting.

In December, the district released documents to the Los Angeles Times investigators found in their internal investigation that claim Esquith fondled two boys and a girl in the 1970s. Investigators said Esquith’s work computer contained inappropriate pictures and videos. There were other allegations.

Esquith’s attorneys have denied the allegations and called the investigation a “witch hunt” and “specifically orchestrated to assassinate Mr. Esquith’s character.”

Esquith seeks to get his job back through the lawsuit.

Last May, LA Unified reported Esquith to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing for a formal investigation for abuse and misconduct, but that body found the allegations to be without merit, Esquith’s attorneys said.

Esquith has written best-selling books and received numerous accolades for innovative teaching, including Disney’s National Outstanding Teacher of the Year award, a Sigma Beta Delta Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University, a National Medal of Arts, and Oprah Winfrey’s $100,000 “Use Your Life Award.”

The next hearing in the case is scheduled in September.

San Francisco principals defy school board, hire Teach for America recruits

san francisco chronicle- ogoA handful of San Francisco elementary school principals facing an urgent need to fill positions for the fall have hired Teach for America recruits despite the school board’s vocal opposition to the organization.

In May, the board severed the district’s partnership with Teach for America, which supplies enthusiastic if inexperienced teachers to thousands of schools in lower-income communities across the country.

The principals, including those at Bret Harte, Lakeshore and Flynn elementary schools, knew the board’s position. But with a big teacher shortage weighing on them, they said politics mattered less than finding the best teachers to put in front of children.

The principals, who have so far taken on eight candidates from Teach for America, didn’t break any rules.

The hires are intern-credentialed teachers, among several dozen such interns who will be teaching in city schools this year while enrolled at a university to earn a full credential. What makes them unique is they are still with Teach for America, often called TFA, and will be supported throughout the year by the organization.

The hiring of Teach For America members, though, clearly was in opposition to the school board’s will. Board Vice President Shamann Walton was “livid.”

To read the full story in the San Francisco Chronicle, click here

Morning Read: State moves to make student test scores easier to understand

New resources designed to make Common Core-aligned tests more useful

California is providing a range of new resources to teachers, parents and the public to make Smarter Balanced tests and student scores easier to understand — and more useful in actually guiding instruction. The State Board of Education on Wednesday will discuss new parent and teacher resources that are available to help understand the tests, as well as improvements to the public website, where this year’s scores are expected to be posted by the end of August. By Theresa Harrington, EdSource

How this LA Unified math teacher and blogger hooked his kids on data

Benjamin Feinberg

Luther Burbank Middle School teacher Benjamin Feinberg in the last week of class this June.


There were three days left in the school year, and final grades had already been turned in. Benjamin Feinberg’s 8th grade algebra students at Luther Burbank Middle School in Highland Park were looking forward to graduation and officially becoming high schoolers. But despite these kids having no tangible reason to stay engaged in the lesson plan and work hard, there they were on a June afternoon, each with laser-like focus as Feinberg worked his way through the day’s 84-minute class, the students learning simply for learning’s sake.

“I tell them ahead of time that I am going to keep teaching as if nothing is happening, so that they know it is coming” even though it’s the end of the term, Feinberg said. “And then I do that. They just keep learning. I find that totally works. Kids want to learn and they want to be ready for high school.”

Feinberg’s secret to hooking kids’ interest? Real world data. And not just real-world, but their-world data. Feinberg is fascinated with data, particularly about LA Unified. When a new set of accountability measurements came out in February, he dove in, crunching the numbers and even coming up with his own metric.

That fascination he then brought into the classroom and found that kids were surprisingly interested in dense data about the school district.

“Math lives all around us, so if we want to teach our students to be lifelong mathematicians, we have to emphasize that every aspect of our life can be analyzed mathematically and be part of the decision-making process,” said Feinberg, who teaches magnet students from Luther Burbank’s Math-Science-Technology Magnet and its Police Academy Magnet.

Feinberg also launched a data blog,, in February where he started by analyzing the new school accountability system developed by the California Office to Reform Education (CORE). He said he was inspired after reading’s LA School Report’s own analysis of the CORE data. The six California school districts in CORE, including LA Unified, chose not to do any public analysis beyond a school’s individual score, and the system will likely not be used again because the state is currently developing its own accountability system that will be required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

“At first (the blog) was just for students as a teaching tool, but now it has become more of a hobby for my adult friends to also read,” said Feinberg, who is from from Mar Vista, attended a magnet program at Venice High, earned his undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley and his Master of Arts in Education from Loyola Marymount University. He was nominated by his principal last fall for the California League of Schools Teacher of the Year award.

Using real-world data is a cornerstone of Feinberg’s teaching style as he strives to move math beyond just numbers and equations on the board. His lesson that June afternoon included a problem about the angle of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a blog post he wrote about the college acceptance rates of LA Unified’s high schools.

Students’ projects read more like social studies treatises than math class papers. Feinberg helps direct them to data sets about problems or situations close to home, such as the drought or ocean pollution. Using that data, they form their own conclusions and solutions.

Feinberg’s students said they appreciated the real-world aspect of his math teaching.

Continue reading

Morning Read: Get to know the new LA Unified student board member

Meet the new LA Unified student board member
The newest Los Angeles Unified School District student board member — elected by other high school student leaders in the district — will have a voice at school board meetings. At 16, she will be able to put items on the agenda up for discussion at meetings, comment and vote. But her vote is just advisory, so it doesn’t factor into decision-making. By Sonali Kohli, Los Angeles Times

The elementary school-turned-affiliated charter that became so popular parents fake their addresses


Joe Martinez, principal of Carpenter Community Charter School, is a sport for his school.

LA Unified has so many different kinds of schools it’s hard to keep them all straight. With such varied terms as affiliated charter, independent charter, magnet school, pilot school, continuation school, option school and others, it can be a challenge to understand what they are, what they offer and how they differ. 

This is the third part of LA School Report’s examination of affiliated charter schools.

Previous stories are:
• Affiliated charters: A successful model on its way out?
• Does ‘charter’ make you look smarter? Principal of LAUSD’s newest affiliated charter says yes


Principal Martinez at a Governance Council meeting.

There isn’t much Principal Joe Martinez won’t do for his school.

He gets soaking wet while washing cars to raise money for kids who can’t afford the annual 5th grade trip to Washington, D.C. He dresses up as a sheik or a gangster for the annual fundraiser. This year he donned a tiara and a cowboy hat.

He even takes part in the unpleasant home checks to ferret out families who have faked their addresses in order to enroll in his popular Carpenter Community Charter School in Studio City, one of the wealthiest per capita ZIP codes of Los Angeles. Then, he has to gently transfer them to their proper home school.

In 2009, when some fed-up parents came to Martinez, who has worked in LA Unified since 1991, to figure out how to improve their school’s test scores, he agreed to help them become an affiliated charter school.

All three dozen teachers voted for the affiliated charter model, which allows greater autonomy in how to use school funds, as they had tired of asking parents for donations for toilet paper and photocopy paper. For parent Michellene DeBonis, the last straw was seeing her daughter’s 5th grade class swell to 41 students. “That was a killer year — never again,” said DeBonis, one of the signatories on the petition to turn the school into an affiliated charter.


Sign changes of the school in Studio City.

“It’s so important that we can choose our own way to spend that chunk of money,” DeBonis said. “We now have a mandate that we want them to work in smaller groups and figure out ways to creatively manage the numbers in the classes. That’s an affiliated charter.”

It means the school has its own autonomy as far as curriculum goes, but it relies on a lot of parent involvement and a commitment from the teachers. The school is still connected to the district as far as union contract obligations, calendar schedules and testing requirements.

When it came time to renew the school’s charter last year, a new set of activist parents explored every other kind of model for LA Unified schools. They decided once again on the affiliated charter model — even though it’s one of the least-used but most successful models available at the second-largest school district in the nation.

“When our five years ran out we started looking at pilot, magnet and independent charter models, and our strategic planning committee visited all kinds of other schools throughout the district to look at the next step for Carpenter, and they determined the affiliated model was the best one by far for us,” Martinez said. “It has served us well.”

So well, in fact, that families have faked their addresses to get in. From the moment the school sign out front changed from Carpenter Avenue Elementary School, what it had been since 1924, to Carpenter Community Charter School, it became highly sought-after. The California Distinguished School’s last Academic Performance Index score was 943 out of 1,000. It scored a 92 out of 100 in the newly released California Office of Reform Education (CORE) data.

Continue reading

Morning Read: Inside the education reform movement in Los Angeles

Los Angeles conflict escalates as charter schools thrive
Throughout the 1990s and well into the new millennium, the massive Los Angeles Unified School District barely noticed the many charter schools that were springing up around the metropolis. But Los Angeles parents certainly took notice and started enrolling their children. In 2008, five charter-management organizations announced their plans to dramatically expand their school portfolios, and now more than 100,000 L.A. students attend independent charters. By Richard Whitmire, Education Next

Response: What NPR’s ‘hit piece’ got wrong in attacking Rocketship’s ‘impressive results’

(Photo credit: Ms. Nguyen taught a social-emotional lesson while an NPR reporter visits her class / Rocketship)

Ms. Nguyen taught a social-emotional lesson while an NPR reporter visited her class. (Photo credit: Rocketship)

Last month, NPR’s Education blog published what is being called a “takedown piece” on Rocketship Education. As co-founder and CEO of Rocketship, a leading network of nonprofit public charter schools, I have grown accustomed to anti-charter attacks like this. But my staff and parents are not. They flooded my inbox with outrage over the voices missing from this story. As for the voices included in the story, six of the nine Rocketship sources contacted me to express their frustration over how NPR’s blogger mischaracterized their comments (more on that below).

The story did get one thing right. Our students’ “results are undoubtedly impressive.” But rather than dig in and really understand what underlies our Rocketeers’ impressive achievements, NPR’s blogger, Anya Kamenetz, went to great pains in trying to undermine our success and defend her personal anti-testing thesis.

Eliminating the achievement gap is hard work. As Paul Tough’s latest work highlights, it is particularly hard for people who have not worked or lived in low-income communities to understand the unique challenges of teaching in high-poverty schools like Rocketship. And I’m sure it was very hard for Anya Kamenetz to understand, as she herself did not visit a single Rocketship school.


If our schools are really what NPR’s blogger portrayed, the critical question she didn’t ask is: Why did 90% of Rocketship students return this year? They don’t have to enroll at our school. They have a seat at their zoned district school waiting for them. But they come back, year after year. And they tell other families to do the same.

Over 250 parents of Rocketship Mosaic Elementary crowd into a standing room only reauthorization hearing in February 2016 to demand their school stays open another 5 years. (Photo Credit: Rocketship.)

Over 250 parents of Rocketship Mosaic Elementary crowd into a standing room only reauthorization hearing in February 2016 to demand their school stay open another 5 years. (Photo credit: Rocketship)


In our most recent parent survey, 72% of parents stated that “I have recommended Rocketship to another family.” To be clear, these are parents who actually recommended Rocketship, they are not simply saying “they would recommend.” 2,276 parents responded to this annual survey. Sure, not every parent is happy every day. But most days, most parents love their Rocketship school. So much so that they tell other families to enroll.

Continue reading

Morning Read: How PUC Schools uses exit interviews to change teaching methods

Like Yelp for school: How a charter network uses student reviews to change how they teach
A focus group-style exit interview has become part of the year-end ritual at PUC Schools. Over five weeks this year, co-founder Jacqueline Elliott spoke with all of the roughly 260 seniors graduating from the charter network’s high schools in the San Fernando Valley. The network’s other co-founder, Ref Rodriguez, interviews the seniors at PUC’s high schools in East Los Angeles. By Kyle Stokes, KPCC

Place top teachers in low-performing schools, LA Unified board members suggest as they ‘reimagine’ middle school

At the Committee of the Whole meeting on June 28, the board honored Class of 2016 commencement speakers pictured here.

At the Committee of the Whole meeting on June 28, the board honored Class of 2016 commencement speakers.

The district’s best teachers should be teaching at struggling schools, some LA Unified school board members suggested last week, with at least one board member calling for a future discussion on the issue.

The comments were made during a Committee of the Whole meeting last week on how the district can improve and “reimagine” middle school, which officials have acknowledged has historically received less attention than high schools and elementary schools.

Board member Ref Rodriguez, who penned the board resolution in January calling for the board to focus on the district’s nearly 200,000 middle school students, began the discussion on how the board can encourage successful teachers to teach at struggling schools. Board members Richard Vladovic and Monica Ratliff also expressed a willingness to discuss the issue.

“Who are our most talented teachers and are they being utilized in the most efficient and effective way in grades that really matter? … I really call to our partners about how are we more flexible in our bargaining contracts to make sure that the most qualified individuals work with our most needy students, but also in the grades that make tremendous difference, and the middle grades are those grades for me,” Rodriguez said.

“For me, it really comes back down to who is in front of our kids and how are they prepared,” he said.

Ratliff suggested the board discuss it at a future meeting.

The issue is likely to be contentious and will need to be hammered out through collective bargaining with the district’s teachers union, UTLA. It was also a key point in the landmark lawsuit Vergara v. California, which was overturned on appeal in April, in which plaintiff attorneys argued that teacher protection laws perpetuate a cycle of keeping ineffective teachers in low-income classrooms. The state Supreme Court must decide by summer’s end whether to hear the case.

Rodriguez was thanked Wednesday by Steve Zimmer during the Annual Board Meeting for bringing middle schools to the attention of the board. Zimmer was unanimously re-elected as the board’s president for his second one-year term. Recently adopted term limits prevent board members from serving more than two terms. During his remarks Zimmer went around the dais and thanked each board member for specific contributions they made to the board in the last school year.

Continue reading

Commentary: How to weed out bad-apple teachers? Ask parents

bad-applesBy Lindsay Sturman

The epic battle over how to improve public education in California grew more stratified last week when a bill to mildly reform California’s onerous teacher employment laws was gutted beyond recognition and quickly died. With it went the hope that our elected officials would finally decide the question which is at the heart of the debate: Is there a fair way to fire a teacher? 

Assembly member Susan Bonilla’s AB 934 was meant to address (and head off) the issues raised in Vergara v. California, a lawsuit brought by nine students who argued the laws are too protective. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed; an appeals court did not. Now the state Supreme Court is expected to decide this summer whether to take up the case. While both sides agree there are ineffective teachers in our public schools, and they are concentrated in low-income communities, they can’t agree on what to do about it. Unions say there is no objective way to evaluate teachers, arguing principals can be biased and incompetent, and test scores are influenced by factors outside of a teacher’s control (such as poverty). The default system is that teachers get almost no scrutiny, and terrible teachers are left in the classroom indefinitely because no one is identifying the bad ones.

No one, that is, except for parents.

When a teacher is mean, lazy, chronically drunk in class or “grossly ineffective,” the parents know immediately. They know from their friends, from their kids or simply from observing a class. What has been overlooked by all parties in the debate is that in the absence of workable teacher dismissal laws there is an outsize role parents play in what happens to truly bad teachers. In affluent and high-performing schools, PTA parents — with booster club money, political clout and enough free time — will march into the principal’s office, file petitions with the district and protest until someone does something about a poorly performing teacher. That something is coaching (or nudging) the teacher to improve, and if that doesn’t work, “coaching them out.”

The phenomenon of “coaching out” is when administrators are forced to work around the stringent dismissal process, which can take a decade and cost $250,000and convince incompetent teachers to leave on their own. Teachers only agree to this when there is another job waiting for them. That job is very often in a low-income, low-performing school, where turnover and vacancies occur more frequently. This shuffle of teachers is known as the “Dance of the Lemons” and was part of the testimony in the Vergara trial.

But the parent part of the equation went unnoticed amid bigger headlines (such as teachers calling students racial epithets and slurs such as “whore” and no one doing anything about it, and that students can lose nine to 12 months of learning from one year with a grossly ineffective teacher). Mark Douglas, assistant superintendent of personnel services at the Fullerton School District, referenced the role of parents. He said the Dance of the Lemons results in the transfer of less effective teachers to economically disadvantaged schools because an “(ineffective) teacher can exist without parent pressure at a lower-end school.”

In other words, bad teachers cannot survive in affluent and high-performing schools because they can’t survive the parents. Empowered parents will hold everyone’s feet to the fire until a poorly performing teacher gets support, improves or moves on. If parents are constantly pressuring a school to stay on its toes and strive for excellence, is it such a surprise when affluent students do well? It’s important to note that parents in low-income and low-performing schools do protest and fight to get rid of ineffective teachers, but their voices go unheard in the same way voices from low-income communities across the country go unheard. Just look at Flint, Mich.

Continue reading

Morning Read: LA Unified would gain the most of any district from tax ballot measure

Los Angeles Unified has most to gain from upcoming income tax initiative
Already facing an uncertain budget future, Los Angeles Unified has the most to gain of any district in the state from passage of a ballot measure in November that would extend income taxes on the state’s highest earners. By Michael Janofsky, EdSource

JUST IN: No lawsuit for 20th Street Elementary as parents, LA Unified agree to plan by Partnership for Los Angeles Schools


Former Superintendent Ramon Cortines with 20th Street families last summer. (Photo by Omar Cavillo)

After two legal attempts by parents to take over a South-Central LA elementary school they said was failing their children, an agreement has been reached for the school to join the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. The deal averts a threatened lawsuit and ends a two-year “parent trigger” battle.

The agreement moves 20th Street Elementary into the Partnership family of 17 schools in South LA, Boyle Heights and Watts. The organization takes over low-performing schools while working in conjunction with the district to manage the schools and retaining union contracts.

The plan was announced Tuesday by parents at the school, the Partnership and LA Unified in a district press release, which said LA Unified and the Partnership signed a five-year Memorandum of Understanding for the organization to manage the school, starting with the upcoming school year.

The parent group, known as the 20th Street Parents Union, has been supported by Parent Revolution, a nonprofit group that helps parents take over failing schools through the state’s Parent Empowerment Act — known as the “parent trigger” — which allows parents to enact changes at a school if a majority of them sign a petition. The changes can include replacing administrators or converting the school into an independent charter school. In this case, 20th Street will remain a traditional LA Unified school but with some changes.

“I really think we have reached a place where the families that have led this campaign over the last two years are ready to work with all the other families, ready to work with the school and ready to work with the Partnership and have everyone on the same team moving forward,” said Seth Litt, CEO of Parent Revolution. “It’s an important part of the progress of this school, not just signing the MOU but that the whole community comes together to support the school, and I think this is a moment where everyone is focused on that.”

Parents at 20th Street, a K-5th grade campus serving nearly 600 students, first enacted a parent trigger during the 2014-15 school year but withdrew it when LA Unified changed principals at the school and made a number of assurances. But parent leaders were unhappy with the progress, and in January they enacted another parent trigger petition.

Omar Calvillo, a 20th Street Parents Union coordinator, said he is pleased that the Partnership will now manage the school.

“We are very excited to work with the Partnership organization, our school staff, and all parents at the school to work for the education our children deserve,” said Calvillo in a statement. “We want to thank both LAUSD and the Partnership for coming to a collaborative agreement that addresses our concerns and offers a strong path forward for our community. Now it is time for all of us – parents, teachers, and the Partnership team – to come together and work as one team on behalf on our children.”

Continue reading

8 things to know about education funding in the new California state budget

Gov Jerry Brown LAUSDGov. Jerry Brown last week signed the state’s $171 billion budget for 2016-17.

Here are some highlights of education spending in the budget, including increases for additional preschool seats, efforts to address the teacher shortage and programs to prepare students for college.

1. Overall numbers

The $171 billion state budget includes total funding of $88.3 billion for all K-12 education programs.

This money supports about 6 million students who attend kindergarten through 12th grade in more than 10,000 schools throughout the state. There are more than 1,000 local school districts, 58 county offices of education and more than 1,000 charter schools.

This year’s budget is a 4 percent overall increase in revenue from last year for K-12 funding.

Per pupil spending increased to $10,643, which is $3,600 more than in 2011-12.

2. College readiness

$200 million in one-time funding for College Readiness Block grants to school districts and charter schools serving high school students to provide additional services to help students transition to higher education. Funding will be based on the number of high school students who are English learners, low-income or foster youth.

3. Teacher shortage

An increase of $35 million to fund several programs aimed at recruiting additional teachers. This includes: $10 million for the Integrated Teacher Preparation Grant Program to provide grants to colleges and universities to develop or improve programs so that students can earn a teaching credential and a bachelor’s degree in four years; $20 million to establish the California Classified School Employees Credentialing Program to recruit non-certificated school employees to become certificated classroom teachers; and $5 million for a local educational agency to establish and operate the California Center on Teaching Careers to recruit teachers.

4. Charter school startup grants

An increase of $20 million for operational startup costs for new charter schools in 2016 and 2017, which will help offset the loss of federal funding.

5. Restorative justice grants

An increase of $18 million for truancy and dropout prevention grants.

6. Full-day state preschool

An increase of $7.8 million to provide access to full-day state preschool for an additional 2,959 children from low-income working families starting March 1, 2017. Over a period of four years, a total of 8,877 new full-day state preschool slots will be added costing $100 million.

7. A-G initiative

$4 million to expand University of California’s existing Scout program and provide free online classes and curriculum to meet the A-G subject requirements with the goal of making college preparatory courses more accessible for students.

8. Unfunded liabilities 

$2.4 billion for state contributions to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). It is estimated this unfunded liability will be eliminated in about 30 years.

State retirement liabilities for health care benefits total $74 billion, and $72.6 billion for teacher pensions. The state portion of the unfunded liability for teacher pensions is $13.9 billion.

Source: California State Budget 2016-17