LAUSD launches probe into district email use for Ashley Madison

Ashley MadisonLA Unified said today its inspector general is “looking into” the possibility that nearly 100 district employees used district email addresses to contact ashleymadison.com, a website that promotes extra-marital affairs, calling itself “the most famous name in infidelity and married dating.”

The district’s legal office has sent employees a memo yesterday, reminding them that the use of district email addresses for such purposes violates district policy.

“Failure to comply with the policy may result in disciplinary action being taken,” district lawyers told employees.

The actions came in response to a report yesterday by LA School Report that the hacked list of emails from the ashleymadison.com website produced about 100 email addresses that included lausd.net. Many of the addresses were letters and numbers, but it is not uncommon for district employees to use their initials and numbers for their email addresses.

In several instances, subscribers used full names.

The involvement of the district inspector general suggests that an effort would be made to identify people who used district-based email for their Ashley Madison accounts although it remains unclear what sanctions, if any, would be imposed.

The Associated Press has reported that the complete list of Ashley Madison email addresses included nearly 50 government e-mail addresses across California, some of which have announced the start of their own internal investigations.

What’s in a name? It depends on the LA Unified school

joynerThere’s an LA Unified school named after someone who led protests against the district (Sal Castro). There’s a school named after a baseball great (Jackie Robinson), a boxer (Oscar de la Hoya ), an explorer (Richard E. Byrd), a victim of terrorism (Daniel Pearl), a jazz legend (Duke Ellington), a children’s book author (Leo Politi).

Just yesterday, the former Alliance College Ready Middle School #9 was renamed for Kory Hunter, a tireless volunteer and fundraiser for educational programs who died of brain cancer in 2013.

For dozens of well-known people, there’s an LA Unified school named in their honor, even in one case, where the honoree has a controversial past, David Wark Griffith Middle School: There’s a movement to change the name because of the director’s insensitive film “Birth of a Nation,” which canonized the Ku Klux Klan.

So what’s in a (school) name? LA School Report decided to take a closer look at the district’s 1,274 schools.

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80% of teachers say kids learn better with paper assignments

ischoolguide

By Hanna Sanchez

The Paper and Packaging Board has released a new survey that explored the use of paper by US-based educators, students, and parents, and its role in learning.

Results revealed that despite the increasing popularity of digital technology in education, majority of Americans still prefer paper-based learning.

The survey, “2015 The Annual Back-to-School Report,” revealed that 91 percent of Americans still use paper on a daily basis, and most often in the form of books. In addition, 68 percent of students – aged 13 to 17 – carry books often. Majority of college students (82 percent) also rely on paper most of the time, particularly when preparing for an exam.

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: California Latinos still trail whites in ACT scores

Latinos struggle to close gap with whites in California ACT scores
“I find it really disturbing,” said Mark Schneider, a vice president at American Institutes for Research. Los Angeles Times


Bill protecting contractors in district leaseback deals dies in committee
A bill aimed at protecting school construction contractors from financial losses if their “lease-leaseback” deals are voided by the courts appears to have died. Fresno Bee


Report: Educators seek more clarity on implementing Common Core
The lack of clear guidance about how to implement the Common Core has created “initiative fatigue” among many educators, a report found. EdSource


Ashley Madison data breach spurs investigations statewide
Ashley Madison’s parent company is offering a $378,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the hackers involved in the crimes. Contra Costa Times


Audit calls for overhaul of school Medi-Cal claims
A complex program used to reimburse schools for medical services to low-income students should be streamlined, the state auditor says. SI&A Cabinet Report


Wondering at what age you can safely let a child play with a tablet?
What effect does exposure to digital screens have on children’s health? Hechinger Report

JUST IN: Nearly 100 LAUSD email accounts tied to Ashley Madison hack

Ashley Madison

Close to 100 LA Unified email addresses were used to set up accounts at AshleyMadison.com, a website for people seeking extramarital sexual affairs, according to information that was posted online recently by hackers.

Dozens of the email accounts appear to be connected to active employees, both men and women, including principals, teachers, athletic directors, athletic coaches, administrators, cafeteria workers and at least one school police officer. Ten of the email accounts are either no longer active or fake, and 18 are connected to student email accounts.

According to media reports, Ashley Madison did not confirm users’ email accounts, making it possible to sign up using someone’s account without their knowledge. LA School Report sent an email to each active account asking why an LAUSD email address was used to sign up for Ashley Madison, and only two responded. Both denied that they had set up the account themselves, and one, an assistant principal, claimed she has been the repeated victim of identify theft over the last few years.

So far, the district has little to say about the subject, with Communications Director Shannon Haber issuing a “no comment at this time” when asked if an employee using a district email account to access the site could result in disciplinary actions.

When asked if using lausd.net emails for personal use violated district policy, LA Unified General Counsel David Holmquist said, “It depends…we have an Acceptable Use Policy that governs.”

According to the policy, which was just updated this month, and the district’s guidelines for using social media and its Code of Conduct, using district email accounts and the servers that support them to access a site like Ashley Madison appears to be in violation of several district policies. Continue reading

In LAUSD, AUP turns to RUP to comply with CIPA . . .Understand?

computer labThe AUP is becoming the RUP. “That’s to prevent unauthorized access and … to comply with CIPA, COPPA and FERPA. Furthermore, the RUP clarifies the educational purpose of District technology.”

Got it?

That’s an excerpt from a new document that parents and students were given last week for any plan of going online or using computers at LAUSD schools. While the abbreviations are spelled out elsewhere in the message, it shows the complex use of LA Unified’s obsessive and sometimes confusing use of acronyms.

In this case, it was a memo from Shahryar Khazei, the Chief Information Officer Information Technology Division for the district, issued as a new Responsible Use Policy (RUP) that will replace the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) that was required since 2002. The agreement confirms with a federal law affecting the educational use of digital media called the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

Didn’t get the memo?

Basically, it explains that LAUSD uses technology to block or filter access to “visual and written depictions that are obscene, pornographic, or harmful to minors over the network.” The district also reserves the right to “monitor users’ online activities and access, review, copy, and store or delete any communications or files and share them with adults as necessary. Users should have no expectation of privacy regarding their use of District equipment, network, and/or Internet access or files, including email.”

Students and parents are asked to initial and sign two pages, checking off boxes that they agree to not share passwords, use appropriate language, avoid harassing and discriminatory communications, avoid vandalism, follow copyright laws and “practice positive digital citizenship,” among other things.

Teachers are asked to follow a more extensive contract that includes security issues and gives links to copyright guidelines.

According to the memo, “Site administrators must annually distribute, collect, and keep on file the completed attached forms prior to authorizing access to the Internet or the District’s network.”

LASR is HTH, ICYWW. SRLSY, JSYK.

Translation: LA School Report is here to help, in case you were wondering. Seriously, just so you know.

TTYL (Talk to you later).

CA Senate passes test waiver bill, now goes to Gov. Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

The California state Senate voted 37 to 0 yesterday to approve SB-725, which exempts 2015 seniors from passing the California High School Exit Exam, allowing them to receive their diplomas immediately.

The state Assembly passed the bill last week, 77 to 1.

The bill now goes to Governor Jerry Brown to sign into law. Because it carries an urgency measure, it would take effect immediately should the governor sign it.

The law corrects a problem created in May when the California Department of Education suspended the exam to save money, because the test itself was being phased out.

However, that left more than 5,000 seniors statewide who had planned to take the test in July unable to graduate. Of those, 492 were in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The exam was introduced in 2006 to assess whether students had grade-level competency in the state content standards for reading, writing and math. Students first took the exam in their sophomore year of high school. To graduate, they were required to pass the test by the end of their senior year.

In 2013, 95.5 percent of California passed the test by the end of their senior year.

Neighbors angry over Westwood middle school’s new grass

By CBS Los Angeles

Neighbors of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Middle School in Westwood are outraged that the school has recently installed lush, green grass – in the midst of a historic drought.

“I find this outrageous considering the Mayor of Los Angles has requested residents to remove their lawns or water as little as possible,” a KCAL9 viewer wrote in an email after the sod was laid down last week.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has defended the grass, saying the state requires the school to use real grass since it is a historic structure.

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: Teacher misconduct investigations speeding up

Marking a big turnaround managing teacher misconduct
Three years after an audit found the average misconduct case could take 22 months, state officials reported that timeline has been cut almost in half. SI&A Cabinet Report


Why some in education believe truancy deserves much more attention
It’s difficult to pinpoint the size of the challenge because every state has a different definition of truancy and chronic absenteeism. Washington Post


Oakland school district considers bid for teacher housing
The school district cited a precedent at LA Unified, which is currently building the second of three housing complexes for employees. San Francisco Business Times


Centinela Valley district bills piling up for Jose Fernandez investigation
In the latest financial hit, the district’s refusal to release public documents related to its investigation into Fernandez will cost nearly $80,000. Los Angeles Daily News


Square root of kids’ math anxiety: Their parents’ help
A common impairment with lifelong consequences turns out to be highly contagious between parent and child, a new study shows. New York Times


Two polls span two poles on testing
Standardized national tests — and the many other tests that states and districts add on top of them — have drawn controversy. NPR

LAUSD’s whooping cough vaccines at 93 percent compliance

immunizationThe anticipated thousands of 7th graders being sent home for not having their vaccinations didn’t quite happen last week, the first week of school.

LA Unified students were at 93 percent compliance, according to Ellen T. Morgan of the district communications office. That percentage “increases every day,” she said. There are about 36,000 7th graders at LA Unified.

Getting the word out to families early was key in educating the parents, although there were some glitches. Parents led a protest at the Thomas Starr King Middle School last week when their children were pulled out of class for not having their Tdap vaccine, which helps prevent whooping cough (also known as pertussis). Phone calls, letters and social media have been used to alert famlies during the summer in preparation for school.

Pertussis, a respiratory illness, is a contagious bacterial disease that can last for months but fade over time.

Starting next year, families will no longer get exemptions from immunizations due to personal beliefs, according to a bill signed by Governor Jerry Brown. Personal belief exemptions remain in effect until then.

 

 

 

Federal grant helping LA Unified spread the word about drought

TomasOGradySchoolGarden

Tomas O’Grady of Enrich LA at a school garden

LA Unified students are learning about water conservation methods needed locally because of the drought, and the effort got a big boost last week from a $50,000 federal grant.

An award from the Environmental Protection Agency is intended to support a pilot program to teach students how to conserve water. It’s part of the “One Water LA” Educational Initiative created in April 2014 through a resolution from school board president Steve Zimmer. It’s a collaborative effort that includes the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Metropolitan Water District and Los Angeles Sanitation department.

“Los Angeles is currently experiencing extreme drought conditions and it is the responsibility of educators to ensure the next generation is equipped with the necessary tools to develop solutions, not only for climate change but for other problems, or else the Earth as we know it today will cease to exist in the future,” Zimmer said.

Already, there are programs at many schools across the district. Vivian Ekchian, the area superintendent for the Northwest, said she is making it a priority to show how the school gardens can be grown in a drought-stricken climate. Students of Enadia Way Elementary School in West Hills, for example, are learning what flowers, vegetables and fruit trees they can grow in a 10,000-square-foot garden without using too much water.

Local businessman Tomas O’Grady has a nonprofit group called Enrich LA that has helped student gardens throughout LAUSD, including the transformation of a patch of unused mud in the center of Valley View Elementary School in Hollywood into a raised garden using a drip system. Teachers plant native flowers mentioned in poetry they are studying or draw from other Common Core teaching material.

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LAUSD grad, from expulsion to ‘Youth Warrior Against Poverty’

Eduardo Pacheco

Eduardo Pacheco

For most kids, getting expelled in the seventh grade for bringing a weapon to school is the beginning of a sad story, the first step into the school-to-prison pipeline.

But for Eduardo Pacheco, a recent graduate of LA Unified’s Woodrow Wilson High School, it ended up being a low point from which he slowly rose to become an inspiring student leader and recent recipient of the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s 2015 Sargent Shriver Youth Warriors Against Poverty award.

The $5,000 scholarship award honors 12 high students around the country for their vision, passion and dedication to improving the lives of families in their communities. Pacheco was recognized for work he did volunteering with Inner City Struggle and Brothers, Sons, Selves.

“When I heard I had won the Shriver award, I was astonished by it,” said Pacheco, who is now a freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Pacheco said the money has gone toward rent and books.

Pacheco is the son of two Mexican immigrants, and his life growing up around east LA was often filled with economic struggles. In middle school he said he fell in with the wrong crowd, which is what led to his expulsion. But not long after, something happened that made him see his life and its potential in a different light: his older brother was accepted to UCLA.

“I knew I had to change my ways, it was a bad thing for me, and no good was going to be coming to my future,” he told LA School Report. ” But I saw my bother graduate and go to UCLA, one of the best schools in California and the country. I felt like he was unique because not everyone gets accepted there. It motivated me to thinking that I can maybe be unique too.”

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LAUSD board has mixed views on foundations’ charters expansion plan

 Some think it is a threat to the public education system. Some welcome it. Members of the LA Unified school board have reacted quite differently to the announcement that the Broad, Keck and Walton Family Foundations are planning to expand the number of charter schools in the district to serve well beyond the 101,000 students (nearly 16 percent) now enrolled in the district’s 211 charters.

The role of charters has been a long-running battle among board members, and now it’s sure to intensify with so many more in the planning stage. Issues involving charters, such as applications for new ones, renewals for existing ones and operational transparency, are part of almost every monthly board meeting, and even before the first meeting of the new year, opinions remain divided, based on interviews with LA School Report and other media outlets.

The foundations revealed their expansion plans several weeks ago but provided few details. One unnamed source told the LA Times that the goal was to enroll as many as half of LA Unified’s students in charter schools within eight years.

One of the two new members, Ref Rodriguez, a charter school founder, said, “I believe we need to offer every family a high quality option in public education, and that can be a LAUSD school or a charter school. I also believe that we need leaders in this district to advocate for transformation. I always welcome ideas around innovative and life changing approaches to creating quality and excellence in every single school across this district.”

Rodriguez added, “Is this plan a bold idea? Maybe. I don’t know the particulars.  But, I want to stay open to hearing about bold options and ideas to get to excellence in all of our schools. And, I want those bold ideas to come from the grassroots – communities, students, and parents.  I want to hear directly from our communities about what they need, what they want, and what they deserve.”

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Hey, what about the smart kids? Schools may be neglecting them

NPR

By Anya Kamenetz

Chester E. Finn, Jr. has three very bright granddaughters. He thinks they “have considerable academic potential and are not always being challenged by their schools.” But Finn is not just a proud grandpa; he’s a long-established expert on education policy with the Fordham Institute and Hoover Institution.

So its not surprising that his grandkids got him wondering about — and researching — a big question: How well is the U.S. doing educating its top performers?

His answer: Not very. “High achievers are being neglected in all sort of ways by schools that had no incentive to push them farther up.”

His research became a book, with co-author Brandon Wright, out next month from Harvard University Press. It’s titled Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students. It contains an analysis of the U.S. issue, plus case studies on gifted education from a dozen countries around the world.

Click here for the full story.

Morning Read: CA lawmakers seeking mandatory Kindergarten

It’s true: Kindergarten is optional in California
Educators and state lawmakers who want to close this achievement gap say it’s time to do away with optional kindergarten for California children. Los Angeles Times


Raising graduation bar poses challenges for school districts
More than 65,000 LAUSD students were funneled into summer school this year because they were behind on credits. EdSource


LAUSD reaches settlement in music teacher sex abuse case
At least four former students, who were not identified, accused Vance Miller of having sex with them while they attended the high school. Los Angeles Times


Irvine police flub active shooter drill at elementary school
No shots were fired, but parents said they were concerned at the apparent lack of coordination at the police department. CBS Los Angeles


U.S. schools are too focused on standardized tests, poll says
The results released Sunday come from the 47th annual PDK/Gallup poll of attitudes toward public schools. Washington Post


New twist on accountability: focus on existing reports
State officials appear to be focused on using a number of existing academic and fiscal reports to help explain how well schools doing. SI&A Cabinet Report

With MiSiS working, Cortines setting sight on class size reduction

MichelleKingCortinesMiSiS

Cortines observes the MiSiS team

Now that the MiSiS crisis seems to be in the rear-view mirror, Superintendent Ramon Cortines is focusing on another difficult issue for LAUSD — class sizes.

“We are now beginning to make necessary adjustments to class size,” he said in a statement released today. “For instance, we can open a new class and assign an additional teacher if it is over-enrolled. We can also transfer students to a class that is under-enrolled. Our goal is to stabilize classes and schools as soon as possible – certainly within the next two weeks.”

When he took over the school district again last year, Cortines was appalled by some of the class sizes. At one point district records showed that there were 1,500 middle school classes and 1,200 high school classes with more than 45 students.

Since then, the district and UTLA, the teachers union, hammered out a new labor agreement that set the average class size for K-through-3rd grades at 24 students, while high school classes could have a maximum of 46 students, but a preferred average of 42.5.

Some of the records show that a class is over-enrolled, but may not be. “Some students may be registered, but have not shown up for class,” Cortines explained. “Other students may be enrolled at more than one school. Principals, counselors and other school-site staff are verifying records, and eliminating no-shows and duplicate students from MiSiS. At the same time, our human resources team has begun verifying that schools have the appropriate number of teachers.”

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Suspended teacher sues LAUSD over Facebook page he says is fake

FacebookA teacher at LA Unified filed a lawsuit against the district Wednesday after he was suspended in 2014 over a lewd Facebook page that was created with his name and image on it.

A student was eventually arrested by the LAPD and charged with creating the page, but not before the teacher, Jason Duchan, was suspended from his job as an art instructor at John Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley.

Duchan’s lawsuit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and seeks unspecified damages, includes allegations of retaliation, harassment, defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to City News Service. Duchan also claims he has suffered panic attacks and other mental health struggles as a result of his suspension and the district’s retaliation.

Duchan spoke to LA School Report in March and he outlined the details of his complaints against the district, which began in November of 2014, when he said he was suddenly suspended without being told why. Duchan said if district officials had asked him about the Facebook page, the matter could have been cleared up in one afternoon without a suspension.

“They should have called me in and showed me the Facebook page,” Duchan said in a phone interview.

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Why the Smarter Balanced tests are so different, and maybe better

SmarterBalanceTestExampleIn a memo regarding the Smarter Balanced Assessments, LA Unified officials explained to Superintendent Ramon Cortines and members of the school board how the new test is so different from its predecessor and why scores may appear lower than in the past.

Cynthia Lim, executive director of the district’s Office of Data and Accountability, said she knows parents will make comparisons between the previous California Standards Tests and the new tests. That would be unfair, she said, describing it as worse than an apples-and-oranges comparison.

“Students are being measured in different ways than in the past tests, and there were five different performance bands; now there are four,” Lim told the LA School Report. The five “Far Below Basic,” “Below Basic,” “Basic,” “Proficient” and “Advanced” — are now “Has Not Met the Standard,” “Nearly Met the Standard,” “Met the Standard” and “Exceeded the Standard.”

Lim said she has seen preliminary scores for LAUSD — about 96 percent of the scores in grades 3 through 8 and 84 percent of the test scores in 11th grade — and they are not great. She declined to provide details but admitted that the scores would be “lower than what we’ve seen in the past in terms of what we would say is proficiency.”

The way the students are taking the tests could hurt the initial scores, too. All the tests are conducted on tablets, with no paper and pencil, no bubbles to fill in, no multiple guess. And, no student gets the same questions.

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11 not-well-known facts about the computers running LA Unified

The MiSiS black box shown by Shahryar Khazei

The MiSiS black box shown by Shahryar Khazei

Not many people know much about LA Unified’s $133 million MiSiS computer system that has held the center of attention for the past year—and will determine the success or failure of the school year now underway.

District officials this week gave LA School Report a behind-the-scenes look at the system to understand what it does and how it works.

The public can keep up with MiSiS and it’s progress (or not) through newsletters on the district website. But, here, courtesy of Shahryar Khazei, the district’s Chief Information Officer of the Information Technology Division, are a few things not widely-known about the system, with the formal name, My Integrated Student Information System

1. Everything is stored in a Hewlett-Packard black box, larger than a coffin, on the 9th floor of the district’s downtown Beaudry headquarters.

2. The  black box is a state-of-the-art memory system known as “DragonHawk,” and this latest version was installed in May.

3. The temperature of the room is set at very cool 69 degrees, but if temperatures rise to 85 or above, or if the power goes out, two back-up generators keep the system cool enough to prevent burnout.

4. At the moment there is no DR (Disaster Recovery) site if something were to happen to the black box. A separate site is being built in Van Nuys, but it will not be ready until next year.

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State Assembly passes exit exam waiver, bill heading to Senate

sacramento_state_capital_houseIn an emergency vote yesterday, the state Assembly passed a bill that exempts 2015 high school seniors from passing the California High School Exit Exam, enabling them to graduate.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which will take it up Monday as the body is not in session today. If it passes there, it will be sent on to Governor Jerry Brown.

The California Department of Education suspended the exam in May. That left more than 5,000 seniors statewide who had planned to take the test in July in limbo and unable to graduate. Nearly 500 of them were from LA Unified.

Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat and one of the co-authors of the bill, said he was pleased the bill is moving so quickly “to remedy a bureaucratic decision that placed our students and their futures in limbo.”

“None of these students should have their dreams deferred,” he said.