Morning Read: Duel between California, Obama administration over education continues

Science instruction is changing in California and 17 other states 

In an unexpected response two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education rejected California’s application for a federal waiver from having to administer the California Standards Tests in science, a multiple choice test based on outdated science standards adopted nearly two decades ago. What makes the latest run-in with the administration so head-scratching is that it comes in the waning months of the Obama administration — over a relatively small piece of a student’s standardized testing regimen, at least compared to the Smarter Balanced math and English tests aligned with the Common Core standards. By Louis Freedberg, EdSource

How an LA high school raised its test scores, despite an international ‘incident’


Sylmar students Briana Borunda and Alma Carrera.

When Principal James Lee learned that his students at Sylmar Charter High School had among the biggest jumps in state test scores in the local school district, he was thrilled but surprised, because they managed to pull it off despite a well-publicized lunchtime brawl that erupted on campus right in the middle of testing.

He credits the teachers who created their own data analysis to discover which type of questions students struggled with and then focused on those skills, as well as a new collaborative spirit that pulled the team together as they applied for and won affiliated charter status — the only LA Unified school to do so in the past two years.

How Sylmar’s test scores stack up: See the 10 most-improved LAUSD district high schools.

“I’m delighted we are showing up as most improved, it’s just that we had a bit of an incident that was going on right in the middle of the testing last year,” Lee said. “Apparently all of the preparation and special planning we did to prepare for the testing ended up working out well, despite the incident.”

The “incident” became international news when a schoolyard brawl was caught by a cell phone camera and the YouTube video went viral. It was incorrectly characterized as a racial incident, set against a backdrop of demonstrations throughout the country and presidential rhetoric perceived as racist.

“The dispute was between athletes and non-athletes,” Lee explained, with one group predominantly African-American and the other mostly Latino. Six students were suspended, but they all were allowed to attend graduation ceremonies.


Sylmar Charter High Principal James Lee.

“I got a lot of criticism for allowing them to culminate, but for four years they were good kids,” said Lee, although the decision was ultimately made by the district. “Three were very academically strong.”

As TV crews staked out the campus for days and celebrities jumped in to talk about the incident, the school was taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests scheduled by the state. They were on the third day of testing, it was near the end of the year, and the principal couldn’t change or stop the tests if he tried.

“We did prepare a lot, and that seemed to pay off,” Lee said.

The students’ English scores rose 13 percentage points from 45 percent of the students meeting standards to 58 percent. The math scores rose 15 percentage points, to 27 percent meeting or exceeding standards. Districtwide, English scores rose to 39 percent and math to 29 percent.

“Ironically, students were SBAC testing in the midst of our highly publicized lunch altercation, town hall meeting and student walk-out,” Lee said. “Students demonstrated much focus and resiliency.”

Also, 80 percent of students enrolled in the Math Science Magnet on Sylmar’s campus met or exceeded standards in English, and 57 percent did so in math. That compares to 80 percent in English and 59 percent in math earned by Granada Hills Charter, a rival school.

The only schools in Local District Northeast that did better are Triumph PUC Charter, Arleta High and two of the Chavez Humanitas schools, district numbers show. There are 17 traditional and charter high schools in the local district. The Sylmar Magnet exceeded the scores of some local competition: Triumph, Arleta and Chavez, according to Debbie Steinert, Sylmar’s magnet school coordinator.

Sylmar’s test scores are among the highest increases of any schools that have 80 percent or more families eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Reclassification of English learners was also one of the highest, at 20 percent, compared to the district average of 11 percent.

“All of this can be credited to the hard work of teachers who worked much more collaboratively last year in the spirit of our charter petition, and having the right mindset on lifting up students regardless of socioeconomic status, a turn away from the student deficit mindset,” Lee said.

Math teacher Tony Nunez is one face behind the success stories. He identified the types of questions his students were having trouble with and focused on them, particularly the new Common Core standards that give questions in word problem formats and ask students to figure out how math applies to real-world situations.

Continue reading

10 most-improved LAUSD high schools in math test score gains

Data obtained by LA School Report show how each LA Unified high school’s scores on the state standardized tests improved or declined over the past two years.

The district overall showed a 3 percentage point increase in math scores and a 6 percentage point increase in English language arts test scores. The improvements came along with increases statewide in the second year of the new assessments, which are aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

Sylmar Charter High School ranked seventh among high schools in its improvements on math tests, despite a well-publicized lunchtime brawl that fell during testing. On the tests taken this spring, 27 percent of Sylmar students met or exceeded standards. The previous year, 12 percent of Sylmar students met or exceeded standards. Read how data analysis and a new collaborative effort led to success.

Here are the top 10 high schools that showed the highest improvements on the math tests. The data do not include independent charter schools.

  • Venice High School improved by 29 percentage points for students who met or exceeded standards.
  •  Middle College High School improved by 20 percentage points.
  •  Downtown Business Magnet improved by 17 percentage points.
  • Chatsworth Charter High School improved by 17 percentage points.
  • Academy of Scientific Exploration at Cesar Chavez Learning Academies improved by 17 percentage points.
  • Solis Learning Academy improved by 16 percentage points.
  • Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets: Health and Sports Medicine improved by 15 percentage points.
  • Sylmar Charter High School improved by 15 percentage points.
  • Reseda High School improved by 15 percentage points.
  • Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy improved by 15 percentage points.

At Venice High School and Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnets: Health and Sports Medicine, the data showed that there was a large increase in the number of students who took the test this year compared to the previous year.

At Venice, 77 students took the math test in 2015 compared to 359 students this year. At WESM, 132 students took the math test in 2015 and 288 students took the test this year.

Venice High School Principal Oryla Wiedoeft said about 80 percent of students opted not to take the test last year, but the school had a much higher level of participation this year after an effort by administrators and teachers to get the students to see the value in taking the test and doing their best. 

Of the 112 high schools included in the data, 77 schools improved in math scores by at least 1 percentage point compared to 2015. Thirty-three schools showed no improvement or test scores declined; 2015 test results for two schools were not available.

Habor Teacher Preparation Academy was the top-performing school on the math test this year among all district high schools: 80 percent of the school’s 116 students who took the test met or exceeded standards.

Morning Read: NYT editorial board calls NAACP anti-charter resolution ‘ill-advised’

A misguided attack on charter schools 

The N.A.A.C.P., the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, has struggled in recent years to win over younger African-Americans, who often see the group as out of touch. The N.A.A.C.P.’s board will reinforce that impression if it ratifies an ill-advised resolution — scheduled for a vote this weekend — that calls for a moratorium on expansion of public charter schools, which receive public money but are subject to fewer state regulations than traditional public schools. These schools, which educate only about 7 percent of the nation’s students, are far from universally perfect, and those that are failing should be shut down. But sound research has shown that, when properly managed and overseen, well-run charter schools give families a desperately needed alternative to inadequate traditional schools in poor urban neighborhoods. The Editorial Board, New York Times

ESL teacher at James Monroe High is named 1 of 5 California Teachers of the Year


California Teacher of the Year Isela Lieber with Superintendent Michelle King.


Five state teachers have been selected as California Teachers of the Year, including LA Unified’s Isela Lieber, a former English learner who now teaches English and English as a Second Language at James Monroe High School, state Superintendent Tom Torlakson announced Wednesday.

Lieber is an immigrant from Ecuador who came to the U.S. with only a seventh-grade education and very little knowledge of the English language, according to an LA Unified press release.  

“I want to make a difference in the students I serve,” Lieber said. “I tell them that I studied hard and I worked hard and I have been able to achieve something, and that I believe they can do the same thing.”

Lieber also sponsors SUCCEED, a club she founded that provides information and support to first-generation high school students interested in pursuing a post-secondary education.

Lieber has been teaching for 10 years, starting her career at Sepulveda Middle School and working the last four years at Monroe High in the San Fernando Valley. She also worked six years as a specialist, training other educators in bilingual education.

“Her example to our students is living proof of a strong commitment to student achievement,” Monroe High School Principal Chris Rosas said in the release. “As an immigrant herself, English learner, and first-generation college student, she makes a daily commitment to serve by leading by example.”

Lieber said she was overcome with emotion when learning of the honor, especially after being nominated for the award by a former student.

“She said that I inspired her,” Lieber said. “She wants to be a teacher too.”

Torlakson also announced two other LA Unified educators as finalists for the Teacher of the Year honors – Marcella DeBoer, who teaches English at the Social Justice Humanitas Academy on the campus of Cesar Chavez Learning Academies, and Matthew Waynee, a cinematic arts teacher at the LAUSD/USC Media Arts & Engineering Magnet.

Other finalists include Glendale Unified’s Dominique Evans-Bye, who teaches biology and geospatial technologies at Clark Magnet High School, and Covina-Valley Unified’s Sheila Edwards, who teaches American history and pre-AP American history at Sierra Vista Middle School.

The California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972 to honor outstanding teachers and encourage new teachers to enter the profession. It is presented by California Casualty and the California Teachers of the Year Foundation.

The other four 2017 winners are:

• Megan Gross is an autism spectrum disorder teacher for ninth- through 12th-graders at Del Norte High School, Poway Unified School District, in San Diego. Torlakson also nominated Gross as California’s representative for the National Teacher of the Year competition. Gross will compete against other state nominees, and a 2017 National Teacher of the Year will be named in the spring.

• Shaun S. Bunn teaches mathematics to 8th-graders at Ethan A. Chase Middle School, Romoland School District, Menifee, Riverside County.

• Corinne (Corrie) Traynor is a fifth-grade multi-subject teacher at Barrett Ranch Elementary School, Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District, Antelope, Placer County.

• Yun (Jenny) Tzu Anderson teaches science, technology, engineering and mathematics to students in kindergarten through fifth grade at Casita Center for Technology, Science, and Math, Vista Unified, Vista, San Diego County.

Torlakson will honor the Teachers of the Year and the finalists at a gala to be held in Sacramento in February.

Visit the Teach California Web site for more information. 

*This story has been updated to show that Marcella DeBoer teaches at the Social Justice Humanitas Academy on the campus of Cesar Chavez Learning Academies.

New guidelines for teacher preparation announced at USC by Secretary of Education John King with LAUSD’s Michelle King


U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. takes questions from reporters Wednesday at USC.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. was joined by LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King and a number of education leaders at the USC Rossier School of Education Wednesday to announce the release of his department’s new teacher preparation regulations.

The regulations call for more detailed information to be gathered on how new teachers are performing, aim to provide better tracking of retention rates, offers more flexibility to states in how they measure the performance of preparation programs and require states to report annual ratings on their programs.

“The regulations really try to establish a better feedback between our K-12 schools and our teacher preparation programs, so that teacher preparation programs are getting good information about how their graduates are doing,” Sec. King said to a group of reporters. “What kinds of schools are they going into? Are they staying in those schools? Are they being retained in the teaching profession? What kind of impact are they having on their students that they teach?”

In his opening remarks at USC, Sec. King referred to the information gathered in the old regulations as “surface data,” and Superintendent King offered praise for the new, more detailed data the regulations call for.

“The use of data and really focusing on outcomes I really think is critical. And so whenever we can put that in place I think it helps drive the whole system forward, which is important,” Superintendent King told LA School Report when asked how the new regulations would impact her district. “And we certainly want teachers that are prepared, that are making an impact and a difference for kids. And so we can look at that and go back and have our partnerships with the different universities and say, ‘Look, this is what’s working.'”

The new regulations also:

  • Will punish low-performing programs by cutting off federal TEACH grants.
  • Require feedback from graduates and their employers on the effectiveness of their program.
  • Give guidelines for measuring the student learning outcomes of those under novice teachers, including academic performance.

The new regulations were criticized by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

“It is, quite simply, ludicrous to propose evaluating teacher preparation programs based on the performance of the students taught by a program’s graduates,” Weingarten said in a statement.

The new regulations have been in the works for at least five years and were begun under Sec. King’s predecessor, Arne Duncan, who stepped down in 2015. Earlier this month, in an open letter to college presidents and education school deans, Duncan said, “The system we have for training teachers lacks rigor, is out of step with the times, and is given to extreme grade inflation that leaves teachers unprepared and their future students at risk.”

Sec. King also participated in a roundtable discussion at Rossier, where he was joined by Under Secretary Ted Mitchell, Superintendent King, Rossier School of Education Dean Karen Symms Gallagher and a number of education leaders. Also at the table were some educators and administrators at LA Unified schools, including Norma Spencer, principal of the Alexander Science Center, and Kristen McGregor, principal of Belmont High School.

One issue that was raised several times was the problem of teacher retention and the teacher shortage plaguing the nation. According to a new study from the Learning Policy Institute, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs dropped from 691,000 in 2009 to 451,000 in 2014. And according to a recent commentary on LA School Report by Jane Mayer and Jesse Soza, approximately 11,000 LA teachers are predicted to leave the profession in the next five years.

“What I have learned is that teachers are feeling isolated and when they don’t have other teachers or a support team there, they are more likely not to stay within the profession,” Superintendent King said during the discussion.

Kearstie Hernandez, a chemistry teacher at Huntington Park High School and a 2014 Rossier graduate, listed during the roundtable discussion all the different roles she has taken on at her school, including head of the girls’ basketball program, assistant athletic director, head of the science fair and several others.

“I sleep five hours a day. I commute an hour in the morning and an hour and a half in the evening back home,” she said.

Superintendent King was impressed with the list — and concerned.

“I was listening to all that stuff. That’s a lot for a new person. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, she is going to hit the wall and burn out,'” King told LA School Report. “So we really have to be very intentional about that and put the supports around them and really hook them up with other people. Because if you don’t, three years out, they just say, ‘It’s too much.'”

During his closing remarks at the end of the panel discussion, Sec. King had praise for Superintendent King and LA Unified.

“Certainly, Michelle, I really admire the things you are doing in LA and your commitment that LAUSD has to continue to get better and close gaps and create better opportunity. And your willingness to have the hard conversations to make that happen, I appreciate,” he said.

Morning Read: 3 Magnolia charter schools could be shut down over use of teachers from Turkey

Magnolia charters face closure over past use of teachers from Turkey

Three Los Angeles charter schools could be shut down, largely because of their practice of bringing in teachers from Turkey, The Times has learned. The schools are part of a group of 10 campuses operated by locally based Magnolia Public Schools, which has relied heavily on using temporary work visas to import Turkish teachers. The three charters now under review have five-year operating agreements that are expiring, and the L.A. Unified School District must either approve or deny their renewal applications. The official word, with no accompanying explanation, reached their campuses by email Tuesday afternoon: School district staff will recommend denial. By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

Getting ready for college, for pre-K through 12th grade: LAUSD kicks off College Awareness Month


Carol Alexander, director of LA Unified’s A-G Intervention and Support

As part of College Awareness Month in October, LA Unified officials on Tuesday presented a new initiative designed to inspire and prepare the district’s students for college, starting at the pre-K and kindergarten level and continuing every year through 12th grade.

“The Division of Instruction wanted to begin a dialogue of specific activities by grade level, highlighting an activity by grade level that every child by grade level would have,” Carol Alexander, director of LA Unified’s A-G Intervention and Support, told the school board’s Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee.

The plan is one of several ways the district is looking to increase college awareness this month. Others include a new instructional video on the A through G graduation standards, which will be shown to students, and a personalized brochure that can be given to high school students on A-G in their native language. The district is also promoting upcoming college fairs, as well as partnering with Cash for College on upcoming workshops for parents and students on how to apply for financial aid.

The pre-K through 12th-grade plan isn’t required for schools but is a list of “suggested activities” that have been sent out to each school, Alexander said, and leaders at each site will decide how best to implement them. The activities include kindergarten students investigating and learning about different careers, researching a college or university in 5th grade, learning about the A-G course requirements and how to calculate their GPA in 8th grade and writing college essays in 10th grade.

Members of the school board on the committee reacted positively to the overall plan and added some suggestions of their own on how to get the district’s kids interested in and ready for college.

“I think every student should take a college-level class. Every high school student has a mandate to graduate,” said board member Richard Vladovic, who chairs the committee. “Back in 1963 — even if it has to be over television — I took from community college, Harbor College, an astronomy class over TV. And earned a grade. I took it. So we can do it, there are vehicles to do it.”

Alexander also played a six-minute video produced by the district about the A-G graduation requirements that will be shown to students. The standards, which were required for graduation for the first time last school year, call on students to take and pass a series of courses that would make them eligible for admission to California’s public universities if they earn all C grades or better, although D’s are allowed for graduation. The video featured a series of graphics and a voiceover highlighting the various classes students need to pass to qualify for graduation.

Board President Steve Zimmer offered what he called a “gentle critique” when he said the video could perhaps use a little more excitement.

“As I was watching the video, I was reminded a little bit and it felt a little bit like I was strapped into my airplane seat and I was watching the safety video of like — very important information, but I’m worried that people kind of tune it out,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer then recounted a time he flew on Virgin America and was surprised the company had produced a video that was so entertaining “you can’t help but watch it.”

College and Career Awareness month comes as the district enters the second year of its new A-G standards, and with the recent news that LA Unified broke its graduation record last school year. It also comes on the heels of the August announcement of the Los Angeles College Promise, in which every district graduate starting in 2017 will be offered a free year of tuition at any Los Angeles Community College District campus.

LAUSD leaders need to confront racism in schools, UCLA educator says


UCLA’s Tyrone Howard addresses board members on ways to avoid racism and stereotypes.

Racism and stereotypes continue to plague LA Unified, and it’s up to leaders to change that, according to a UCLA professor who is holding seminars at some schools.

Tyrone C. Howard, associate dean for equity and inclusion at UCLA’s graduate school of education and information studies, spoke to the Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee on Tuesday about how he is helping principals and teachers understand how to identify underlying racism and avoid enforcing stereotypes on their students. He said that initiating this difficult dialogue is among the steps needed to help persistently low-performing students, particularly African-American and poor children.

“Bias is real and discrimination is rampant,” Howard told the committee, made up of four school board members, administrators and representatives of some of the major school unions. “People don’t want to talk about race because it is not the politically correct thing to do. If we don’t talk about race, then we ignore one aspect of who they are as young people.”

He added, “Even teachers of color have biases against students of color. Lots of students feel like they have two strikes against them when they walk into a classroom because they are black or brown and poor and the teacher feels they can’t succeed.”

Every administrator and school board member will receive a copy of Howard’s book “Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Classrooms,” and some schools will get personal training by Howard, said Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson.


“We have a bold mission, and Tyrone Howard is an esteemed educator,” Gipson said, noting that some of his philosophies about understanding racial complexity “will intimidate some educators.”

Howard held a two-hour session last week with teachers at Cleveland High School in Reseda to discuss stereotypes and where those ideas come from in people’s lives. “It is going through a process of recognizing implicit bias and how we are all affected by it in one shape or form,” Howard said.

He suggested that requiring ethnic studies classes and emphasizing early literacy are also important steps to helping black and Latino students.


Frances Gipson

“We are one of the most racially diverse cities in the world, and we have the momentum and will and need to start having those conversations,” Howard said.

Howard, who grew up in poverty in Compton, said he would not have succeeded unless teachers put aside racial biases and saw his potential.

Howard said the district is moving in the right direction. He pointed out that 42 percent of students are now making a C or better in the A-G classes, twice what it was a decade ago. But he also noted African-American and Latino students make up more than 60 percent of California’s population but less than 25 percent of the UC system. And under-represented minority groups have not experienced substantial increases in college-going rates.

“We have to tell the narratives and promote things that are moving in the right direction on an ongoing basis,” he said. “We have to be frank and honest that African-American students lag seriously behind others and that it continues to happen. We also have to dismantle the belief that poor kids cannot succeed.”

Continue reading

LAUSD expands magnet offerings as application period opens

Cadets at Reseda High’s Police Academy Magnet. (Credit: LAUSD)

Cadets at Reseda High’s Police Academy Magnet. (Credit: LAUSD)

The application period began Tuesday for LA Unified’s popular magnet schools and centers, which next fall will add nearly a dozen new options for families seeking a specialized education.

Applications will be accepted online and by mail until 5 p.m. Nov. 10 for one of the 225 themed magnets, which will have an estimated 87,000 available seats for the 2017-18 school year.

Programs known as STEM or STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math – are also becoming increasingly popular. Eight of the 11 new programs for next fall are designated as STEAM programs, while Angeles Mesa Elementary School created a variation of the STEAM theme dubbed DREAMS – design, research, engineering, arts, math and science.

Also opening next fall is the district’s third Center for Enriched Studies, a rigorous instructional program that emphasizes critical and creative thinking. Currently under construction in Maywood, the 1,400-student span school will open with grades 6-11 and will add a 12th grade the following year. The $78-million school will feature a state-of-the-art library, music and dance studios, an outdoor amphitheater and a wellness center.

• Read the full article and access the application at

• Magnet schools make up more than a third of the LA Unified schools eligible for new grants from Great Public Schools Now, a new KPCC analysis shows.

• Read more about magnet schools from LA School Report

Morning Read: How Great Public Schools Now came to donate to LAUSD schools

Why an organization once seen as LA Unified’s biggest threat now plans to give money to LAUSD schools
In late January, a mere three weeks into her tenure as Los Angeles Unified School District’s superintendent, Michelle King welcomed two surprising guests into her office: representatives of the nonprofit group that sprouted from the controversial “Great Public Schools Now” plan. Since it was leaked to the press four months earlier, the document had been a lingering source of tension in the district. Backed by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other deep-pocketed charter school supporters, the plan had called for doubling the number of charter seats in Los Angeles. By Kyle Stokes, KPCC


Pasadena-based company codeSpark raises $4.1 million; app teaches kids programming

Elementary Students Working At Computers In Classroom

A Pasadena-based startup called codeSpark has raised $4.1 million in seed funding for web and mobile games that teach kids how to code even before they know how to read and write effectively.

CodeSpark’s games were developed for kids 4 to 9 years old, and with a goal of not just teaching them STEM concepts, but engaging boys and girls equally well. The games feature characters who are girls, and storylines that do not involve the rescue of girls, for example.

Co-founder and CEO Grant Hosford said the edtech startup’s first game The Foos Coding has been played by 4 million kids in 201 countries to date. Part of what’s fueled the game’s popularity is that Hosford, and co-founder and Chief Product Officer Joe Shochet, designed its content to be visual, not verbal or numeric.

The funding round was led by Kapor Capital. Other investors included Idealab, PGA Venture Partners, Felton Group, NewGen Capital, and angel investors including Umang Gupta.

A year ago, the company secured $1.35 million in seed funding to expand The Foos.

Read more on the funding from TechCrunch and EdWeek Market Brief.

Read more on codeSpark at LA School Report.

Report: Charter schools provide stronger support for Hispanic students

Latino studentA new report shows that growing numbers of the 12 million Hispanic children in American public schools are turning to charter schools, where they tend to reach higher levels of achievement than at traditional district schools.

“While district public schools still continue to serve the majority of Hispanic students, an increasing number of Hispanic families are choosing to enroll in charter public schools,” the report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reads, “as new charter schools continue to open their doors in neighborhoods with concentrated Hispanic populations, they are also investing in the future of the Hispanic community.”

Hispanic students make up approximately 30 percent of charter school enrollment and 25 percent of the total student body of traditional public schools. (LA Unified is 74 percent Latino.)

The study found that charter students get more instructional time than traditional counterparts. Charter students have additional learning equivalent to 22 extra days of math and six extra days of reading instruction as compared to peers in traditional schools, the report said. For Hispanic students living in poverty, this number jumps to an extra 48 days in math and 25 extra days of reading.

Read the full article from

Credit recovery at charter schools: Higher grad rates mean less need for online makeup classes; pre-test bar is more stringent than LAUSD’s

computer lab


While LA Unified is firmly committed to online credit recovery classes as a means to the district’s newly stated top goal — 100 percent graduation — Los Angeles charter school operators use these classes much more sparingly, as their graduation rates tend to be far ahead of the district’s.

At three of the city’s largest charter management organizations, no more than 5 percent of students have taken an online credit recovery course. LA Unified has yet to report how many of their 2016 graduates used credit recovery to gain a diploma. A $15-million credit recovery program took LA Unified’s projected graduation rate from 49 percent last fall to an estimated 75 percent this summer, a record. The official graduation rate will be reported later this fall.

The three CMO’s also have more stringent policies for testing out of a course. LA Unified allows students to test out of much of a course if they can score 60 percent on a pre-test. The charters set that bar higher or don’t allow testing out.

“I strongly support the use of online learning, not just for credit recovery but for enrichment and for broadening the curriculum. That said, across all of our schools, only 1.3 percent of the course credits are provided through online learning,” said Caprice Young, who is CEO of Magnolia Public Schools and also a former LA Unified school board president.

Last school year, as part of a $15 million program, LA Unified for the first time implemented a major push for online credit recovery courses across the district. The move was in response to a looming graduation crisis, as the school board raised the bar for graduation requirements and installed a series of courses called “A through G.” Students would need to take and pass the A-G courses before the end of their senior year, and if they earned all C grades or above would be eligible for admittance into California’s public universities, although the district allows D’s for graduation.

The district was unprepared for the raised bar, so part way through the fall of 2015 the credit recovery program kicked in. This year the courses were offered as soon as school started.

The dramatic increase in the graduation rate has turned some heads in the academic world, with some experts questioning the validity and rigor of online credit recovery courses. In that program, students without enough credits to graduate retake classes during free periods, after school, on Saturdays and during the winter break. The courses are online and have either a teacher running the class along with a computer program, known as blended learning, or an all-online course known as virtual learning. If students prove proficiency with the material they receive a C grade at LA Unified. A’s and B’s aren’t an option.

But LA Unified is not alone in using online credit recovery programs despite their controversial nature. Most large districts across the country also use them, as do at least three of the largest CMOs authorized by LA Unified, although each one appears to use them on a far more limited basis. And each CMO — PUC Schools, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and Magnolia Public Schools — had a different set of guidelines regarding if students could pre-test out of some course material.

Continue reading

Morning Read: LAUSD says it will pay lifetime benefits to El Camino teachers

L.A. Unified backs down and agrees to provide lifetime benefits to charter school teachers
The Los Angeles school district and a well-known charter school have quietly resolved a conflict in a way that will help a group of employees but deepen the district’s long-term budget deficit. L.A. Unified has agreed to pay lifetime health benefits for 10 employees who worked at El Camino Real Charter High School through last year. By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

Commentary: Benefits of early school start date outweigh concerns about summer heat

calendarBy Marisa Crabtree

In the new era of the Local Control Funding Formula and the Every Student Succeeds Act, school districts have begun showing a renewed dedication to teacher, parent and community engagement. I was disappointed, however, that the Los Angeles Unified School District missed an opportunity to weigh student, family and community concerns before deciding to shift the school calendar once again, delaying the start of classes until later in August.

My time as a teacher at Lincoln High School has shown me what is possible when our district listens to the community. In the 2009-2010 school year, a team of students, parents, teachers, administrators and other school-based staff developed a new operating plan and submitted it to the district through the district’s Public School Choice Initiative. This plan was created through active dialogue, collaboration and commitment to developing school-wide, student-centered reform for the academic and behavioral benefit of all our students. Through this transparent and open process, the team repeatedly heard about the importance of Lincoln High School to the community – how it is more than just a school. It also contains a bank branch, a vibrant parent center and an adult school. These voices were united about the importance of starting school in mid-August – weeks before other LAUSD schools began.

This strategic decision prioritizing the success of our students has benefitted them in a variety of ways. The early start gives teachers and students more time to prepare before tests in the spring. Our students’ pass rate on Advanced Placement exams has risen steadily since making the shift, and our current rate is now greater than the LAUSD average. Our schedule more closely mirrors the semester system of many colleges, allowing our students to participate in the concurrent enrollment opportunities our community worked to develop with California State University Los Angeles and East Los Angeles College and in college preparatory courses like Upward Bound that take place over the summer.

I worry, not only that these important gains that we have made at Lincoln could be jeopardized, but also about the precedent this sets going forward. Empowering schools to make decisions locally allows them to tailor educational opportunities to meet the needs of students in their communities; shifting away from local decision-making may have unforeseen consequences, as a centralized board may not be fully aware of how their decisions could impact local programs, services and educational opportunities.

Sadly, the justification for making this change — concerns about rising summer temperatures in the classroom or summer vacation planning — does not rise to a level of importance greater than the need for flexibility, tailored student support and community voice. This is perhaps most true for my school’s families, 62 percent of whom are from lower socio-economic backgrounds and may not have the privilege of air-conditioned homes. In some cases, temperatures at school may actually be cooler than at home.

As LAUSD fights to attract more students, it should encourage schools to adapt to meet their students’ needs, rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach. We serve diverse families and students who deserve to have a voice in how their school serves students. As we all continue the fight to improve educational outcomes for our students, we must trust school communities – students, parents, teachers, administrators and school-based staff – to make the best decisions.

Marisa CrabtreeMarisa Crabtree teaches English and AVID at Lincoln High School in Los Angeles. She is a member of E4E-Los Angeles, a teacher-led education policy and advocacy nonprofit.

Morning Read: Local parents fear clown pranks and have called LA schools, which have not reported any incidents

Clown hoax brings warnings from authorities
The national craze of clowns scaring school-aged children has caused concern for local parents. LA Unified School Police Chief Steven Zipperman said that several district schools “have fielded calls from concerned parents regarding social media reports of individuals with a clown persona committing potential acts of violence.” There is even a Twitter handle, @ClownsSightings, dedicated to posting about various clown sighting across the U.S. LA Unified has not reported any. By Amber Marron, LA Canyon News

Parent centers proliferating at LAUSD, leading to better test scores, attendance and engagement


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of the most popular classes at 20th Street Elementary School has 43 dedicated students who come twice a week.

They’re all parents.

The parents of this 600-student school just south of downtown Los Angeles come here to learn English. They do projects for teachers. They discuss school issues. Their children even help them with their English homework. And it’s all taking place at one of the most active rooms on campus: the parent center.

LA Unified officials, board member Monica Garcia and about 50 parents gathered Tuesday to dedicate the new parent center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and student performances. The ceremony also marked a healing of sorts among divided parents who had twice moved to use a “parent trigger,” a California law that allows parents to take over a failing school.

District officials and the school board have come to realize that encouraging more parent centers on school campuses leads to more community engagement, higher attendance and eventually better test scores and higher graduation rates.

Nearly half of the school sites — more than 500 — at the nation’s second-largest school district have at least one classroom dedicated specifically as a parent center. Many of them have computers, Internet, desks, materials, copy machines and other supports for parents to use during and after school and sometimes on weekends.

This year alone, 70 parent centers opened at district schools and 40 more will open before the end of December, said Rowena Lagrosa, senior executive director of parent, community and student services. The district has a request before the school board for 155 more centers.

The Parent Center

The 20th Street parent center.

“These centers are a game changer, and it results directly in improved classroom attendance,” Lagrosa said. “Getting our parents involved with the school is integral to getting our children college-bound, and as we see here, it starts at the elementary level.”

The costs per school for a new parent center run from $65,000 to $100,000, according to Lagrosa, who added, “Some of our schools need a little more TLC.” The district provides a cart with 20 Chromebooks, like those already provided to schools for testing.

“This is a great space for parents to come together and work together now,” said Karla Vilchis, who is on the English Language Advisory and School Site councils. She recalled the contentious years when parents tried to take control of the school. “Everyone has the desire to get the best education for our children.”

The school’s principal, Mario Garcielita, welcomed the parent center and acknowledged the difficult period with different factions of parents. For the past year, parents met at nearby homes to figure out how to force improvements at the school. Now they can meet on campus to voice their issues and talk among themselves.

“This was a tough year this last year, and I respect that past and the issues that came up, but I’m so excited about the future,” Garcielita said. “Parents are now coming together and sharing their vision for the school. This is a great new beginning.”

In June, the parents, teachers and the district agreed to move 20th Street into the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which now operates 19 schools in South LA, Boyle Heights and Watts. With Partnership, the school remains under district control but is granted more educational autonomy. It also benefits from the nonprofit organization’s many community connections and resources. Partnership CEO Joan Sullivan attended Tuesday’s dedication and pointed out the importance of parent centers.

“Investing in adults, who are the primary teachers of our children, is a centerpiece of what Partnership believes,” Sullivan said. “Equal access to quality education is the biggest civil rights battle going on, and it’s more important than the suffragette movement or integration or abolition, and the movement will look to parents to lead the way.”

Although the parent center was in the planning stages before Partnership came on the scene, Sullivan said they have helped with equipment and supplies for the center.

“Sometimes parent centers are second thoughts and put off in the corner of the school somewhere,” Sullivan said. “But these are important spaces where parents come together and feel empowered. They learn together and strategize. It is a space where parents can raise their voices and realize they are true partners in the education of their children.”

This is the best way to start turning around the school, said Central District Administrator of Operations Eugene L. Hernandez. “This is the beginning of turning this into a top-notch school,” he said. “Parents need to be engaged.”

Continue reading

Morning Read: El Camino charter school’s principal to take pay cut, business chief to leave

LA charter school parts ways with business chief, cuts principal’s salary

The governing board of El Camino Real Charter High School announced Wednesday night that Marshall Mayotte will no longer be the school’s chief business officer by the end of December and that Executive Director David Fehte is taking a cut in both salary and length of contract. The “letter to the community” was posted online following a four-hour closed session board meeting in which possible “discipline/dismissal/release” of one or more employees was discussed amid a controversial probe by LAUSD. By Brenda Gazzar, LA Daily News

JUST IN: LAUSD remains a huge water waster as state conservation efforts continue to slip


Water dripping off kids’ chins wastes 7 million gallons of water per year at each fountain, LAUSD says.

As the state reported today that Californians’ conservation efforts are slacking off, millions of gallons of water are still being wasted each year by LA Unified because of unnecessary flushing of the water fountains, a report revealed Tuesday.

Plans to end the practice won’t take place until the end of the 2017-18 school year, but board members expressed the need for higher urgency at a committee meeting Tuesday night and planned to notify the superintendent immediately.

“We have been spending a fortune flushing entire campuses when theoretically only 20 percent needed to be flushed at all,” said board member Monica Ratliff at the Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee she runs. “That’s a lot of wasted water.”waterfountainbottlefiller

The facilities division has spent $5 million of a $20 million program to upgrade and fix the 42,814 water fountains throughout LA Unified. The plan has also included installing bottle-filling stations at a cost of $4,135 each, which a few of the school board members seemed to think was too costly for the district, especially for the plans to include one or two at every school site.

“Couldn’t we teach the students to just tilt the bottle to fill it up?” asked Ratliff when hearing the cost of each new bubbler.

The water concerns come not only as the district is facing severe budget shortfalls in the near future but also as California officials noticed a severe drop in water saving measures over the past few months. Californians saved less than 18 percent in August, according to the state Water Resources Control Board, and the state is at a “yellow alert” status and is still in drought status.

waterflushingFlushing the water fountains every day at LA Unified schools is being done out of an abundance of caution because of lead found in about 10 percent of them. Lead can affect the brain and nervous system and is particularly harmful to children.

“The district has been overly cautious when it comes to lead in the water, so we do more than what the environmental regulations suggest,” said Mark Hovatter, the district’s chief facilities officer. “But we do want to end the practice as soon as possible.”

If one fountain at any school registers any lead in the first 30 seconds, then all the faucets in the school must be run for at least 30 seconds every day. That’s 9,500 gallons of water a day, or nearly 2.5 million gallons a year going down the drain, most of it unnecessarily.

• Read more: Yes, you can drink the water. No lead scares here, LAUSD says.

“We took the ultra-conservative approach that if one fountain needed flushing we flush the whole campus,” Hovatter explained. “When we first started doing it we didn’t know a lot about lead in the water and wanted to be fully safe and fully educated.”

waterflushing-complianceIn fact, the nation’s second-largest school district was far ahead of national standards. LA Unified started the flushing in 1988, according to Robert Laughton, the director of the district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety. That was long before federal warnings of lead in 1991, state legislation in 2009 and federal laws in 2011. Now fountains that show any lead levels are being replaced or taken out altogether.

“We all agree flushing is bad for a variety of reasons,” Hovatter said.

Ratliff pointed out, “At a meeting last week the superintendent said, ‘Please, please stop doing resolutions’ and what you’re telling me is that it sounds like this calls for a resolution. We have the power to change our policy. It sounds to me that what you’re saying is that we could identify the fountains that need to be flushed and do not need to flush the entire campus. I will send that along to the superintendent that we do that.”

• Get more school news delivered to your inbox daily. Sign up for the LA School Report newsletter. 

Already 11 percent of the school sites, or 113 schools, have been exempted from the daily flushing of the fountains, and schools continue to be added to the list. The district has surveyed 894 schools (89 percent of all school sites), completed sampling of 300 school sites (about 30 percent) and become better at water flushing compliance throughout the district, Hovatter said.

Among the myths, Laughton said, is that newer schools have cleaner water. That ended up not being true, and in their sampling, the district found an elementary school built in 1913 with 100 percent of the faucets without lead levels, while a middle school built in 1969 had only 65 percent deemed safe, while a high school built in 2009 had only 44 faucets deemed safe.

“Are you telling me, and I hesitate to ask, that there’s a school built in 1913 out there that is 100 percent safe and we are flushing the entire school every day anyway?” Ratliff asked.

Continue reading