95 LAUSD schools on state list of 1,000 underperformers

LA Unified's Fremont High School

LA Unified’s Fremont High School

The California Department of Education released its annual list of 1,000 underperforming schools earlier this month. The list includes 95 from LA Unified, and students attending them can now apply for an open enrollment transfer to any other public school in California for the next academic year.

The list is compiled each year as a result of the Parent Empowerment Act of 2010, which created the “Parent Trigger” act and the Romero Open Enrollment Act. 

Until recently, it looked as if the list would be irrelevant to parents at LA Unified looking to use it to enact their parent trigger powers, after former Superintendent John Deasy proclaimed over the summer that the district believed it was not subject to the Parent Trigger act this academic year.

However, Deasy’s replacement, Ramon Cortines, has reversed course and said the law would apply to the district this year.

The act allows for parents to make sweeping changes at an underperforming school if over 50 percent of them sign a petition. The changes can include firing the principal, replacing 50 percent of the staff and converting to a charter school.

The schools on the underperforming list apply to transfer requests for the 2015-16 academic year. The list is comprised primarily using API scores, but since California did not calculate 2014 API scores as a result of the state transitioning to Common Core testing, the list was based on 2013 API scores.

The new list is not the same as last year’s list, which also used the 2013 scores, as it was adjusted based on schools’ opening or closing, schools that converted to or from charter status and schools that changed to or from a school type excluded from the Romero Open Enrollment Act.

The state list includes 687 elementary schools, 165 middle schools and 148 high schools, and does not apply to charter schools.

Among the high schools this year is Jefferson High, which has been in the headlines as a result of major scheduling problems the schools has experienced, leading a judge to order the state to intervene. The ACLU and Public Counsel, which represent the plaintiffs in the case, are currently seeking state intervention at Fremont High and Dorsey High, which are both also on the list.

Cortines lifts LAUSD ban on Parent Trigger enacted by Deasy

parent triggerThe head of Parent Revolution said today that LA Unified has reversed course, lifting the ban on using the “Parent Trigger” law this year to overhaul failing district schools.

“As one of Superintendent Cortines’s first moves, it’s a sign that the district will be respectful of the law,” Ben Austin, founder of the group that helps parents organize and enact the take-over of a failing campus, told LA School Report.

“It indicates that Cortines wants to work collaboratively with parents and parent unions,” he added.

The state Parent Trigger law allows parents to make changes at their children’s school if a majority of parents sign a petition demanding improvements. So far, it has been used for only a handful of schools in California.

Superintendent Ramon Cortines and Deputy Superintendent Michelle King met with Austin last week to discuss the moratorium. In an interview with LA School Report a day later, Cortines confirmed the district’s change in policy.

“I believe in parent choice, and I mean parent choice. There is no ban,” Cortines said, adding that he had already notified the author of the law, former Senator Gloria Romero, about his position.

However, several district officials said they know of no such change. When asked about it last week General Counsel David Holmquist said he had been unaware of Cortines’s decision.

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LIVESTREAM coverage of today’s school board meeting

livestreamGrafix250Today, available by LIVESTREAM, the seven members of LA Unified school board will meet for the first time since the high-profile resignation of Superintendent John Deasy and the selection of Ray Cortines as interim replacement.

At 10:00 a.m., the board is set to hear an update on the troubled computer system, MiSiS, which, has caused management and scheduling snafus at several schools. The board is also set to vote on the terms and conditions of the employment contract for Cortines as well as hear public comment.

In a closed-door session to follow, of note is a late addition to the agenda of an item listed as ‘Public Employment, Chief Deputy Superintendent of Schools,’  a possible look at the employment Michelle King, who was passed over to serve as interim superintendent after she offered up her services to replace Deasy.  The agenda is here.

At 2:00 p.m., the Committee of the Whole is scheduled to meet to discuss the controversy over the district’s temporary suspension of the Parent Trigger Law will be discussed with a presentation by Gloria Romero, former California State Senator. The committee’s agenda is here.

At 3:15 p.m., the full board will return for a Special Session to report on the labor negotiations between the teachers union and the district. Agenda is here.

At 4:15 p.m. the Committee on Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment is set to meet to discuss, among other items, the Public School Choice Initiative, first launched in 2011 by then interim Superintendent Cortines. That agenda is  here.

In a narrow sample, Parent Trigger schools show gains

CST Life Science (5th-Grade) two LAUSD schools parent triggerWhen California’s first set of “Parent Trigger” schools in Adelanto Unified and LA Unified were taken over in 2013, the expectation was that a once failing school could turn innovative teaching and learning methods into academic improvement.

Advocates of the controversial law argued that that an overhaul was required for progress. Short of parent testimonials, advocates have had little evidence to prove themselves right since the state suspended standardized testing as districts transition to the Common Core.

Until now.

One set of statewide tests — the California Standards Test in science, strangely omitted from the testing ban — suggests students at the triggered schools have made impressive progress over the last two years.

True, the testing sample is quite small, but the results are positive.

Of the fifth graders who took the science exam at 24th Street Elementary, the first school within LA Unified to undergo a complete overhaul, almost twice as many scored Proficient on the exam over those who took the test in the pre-trigger year 2013. The percentage of students who rated as Advanced skyrocketed to 33 from 2.

Ben Austin, founder of Parent Revolution, a non-profit group that helped the two schools organize their petition to pull the parent trigger, conceded that the single test is a narrow measuring stick but insisted that it’s an indicator of wider success.

At 24th Street, LA Unified runs pre-K through fourth grade while Crown Preparatory Academy runs fifth through eighth grades.

“Potentially, the test scores speak to two things,” he told LA School Report, referring to the hybrid nature of the campus. “One is the value for children in these types of collaborative partnerships when adults put their ideological differences aside.”

“And it speaks to the very good work that Crown Prep has done as a charter school.”

At Desert Trails Preparatory Academy, formerly Desert Trails Elementary, which was the first in the country to be converted into a charter school as a result of California’s Parent Empowerment law, students made even more impressive gains. More students tested Advanced or Proficient in science than anytime in the past 10 years, including almost four times as many as those in 2013.

In addition to 24th Street Elementary, a handful of other LA Unified schools have leveraged the parent trigger law to make changes on campus: Haddon Avenue Elementary in Pacoima, West Athens Elementary and Lenox Elementary in Baldwin Hills, and Weigand Elementary in Watts.

Romero pressing for LAUSD hearing on ‘trigger’ waiver

Gloria Romero, former CA State Senator

Gloria Romero, former CA State Senator

Gloria Romero, the former state senator who authored the California Parent Trigger law is asking LA Unified board president Richard Vladovic to schedule a public discussion on the district’s legal opinion that the law does not apply this year.

District lawyers say the Federal waiver granted LA Unified and seven other California school districts, allowing them to to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards, sets the law aside.

“Of course, I dispute the legal interpretation and I am in the process of seeking a state opinion on the matter,” she wrote to Vladovic. “Nothing that I have seen lends support to the legal opinion of LAUSD.”

She adds that none of the other districts granted a waiver has made such an interpretation.

Vladovic’s chief of staff, Chris Torres, said in an email that Vladovic intends to help arrange to put her request on the agenda of a future meeting.

The district’s legal interpretation is important, so far as parent groups who want to enact changes this year through the state law, which permits parents to initiate action at their children’s school if they can secure signatures from a majority of school parents.

The district is contending that without state-approved metrics for measuring academic performance while Common Core testing is phasing in, the law cannot apply because action through Parent Trigger requires two years of data to show a school is failing.

In her letter, Romero questions several aspects of the district’s decision, including whether the board was aware of such an exemption and why the legal decision was made without public discussion or announcement.

She also asks Vladovic that if the district was certain in its legal analysis, why did the district negotiate with parents at West Athens Elementary School for changes in exchange for their assurance not to use the Parent Trigger law, when in the absence of the law, the parents would have had no such leverage.

Finally, she asks, “Perhaps even more importantly — how could a District simply erase away a law and make a pact to keep this information away from the public?

Outside group challenging LAUSD’s view of ‘Parent Trigger’

Gloria Romero, CA State Senator

Gloria Romero

* UPDATED

Parent Revolution, an organization that helps parents petition for change at poor-performing schools, is disputing an LA Unified legal opinion that says the state law that gives parents that right is invalid this year.

The conflict came to light in an LA Times story this morning, citing an opinion from a district lawyer sent to Gloria Romero, the former California lawmaker who wrote the 2010 “Parent Trigger” law.

Romero, who founded the California Center for Parent Empowerment last year, said in an interview this morning she felt “angry and betrayed” by a legal decision that was reached last fall by the district but not shared with her until she learned about it three weeks ago.

“I’m not saying LAUSD is wrong on the legal interpretation; I just don’t know, and that’s why I’m seeking another legal interpretation from the state,” she said, “But LAUSD’s decision violates the spirit and intent of the law.”

“What I want to know,” she added, “is why did they keep this quiet all this time.”

The district’s opinion stems from a Federal waiver granted LA Unified and seven other California school districts, allowing them to to create their own metrics for academic performance in the temporary absence of statewide standards — measures used to determine whether a school is failing.

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy said in an interview that the metrics used by LA Unified and the other districts granted the waiver still give parents the right to use the Parent Trigger law, so long as a school has been deemed in need of improvement for two consecutive years, ending with the 2014-2015 school year.

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Parent Revolution holding a forum to spread the ‘trigger’ word

Parent RevolutionEmboldened by the Vergara v. California ruling, which struck down state teacher tenure and seniority protections last week, Parent Revolution is trying to expand its reach.

The advocacy group, which pushes for Parent Trigger laws across the country, plans to hold a one-day “Parent Power Convention” in October, the first meeting of its kind. It’s timed to coincide with the countdown to the fall elections and “will incorporate vital discussions on the type of laws” the group seeks to enact.

In California, the parent trigger law creates a pathway for parents to make changes at their schools by collecting signatures of a majority of parents who want change. It has been used so far in only two schools, 24th Street Elementary in LA Unified and Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto.

“It should be clear that in the wake of the historic decision in Vergara, Parent Union leaders immediately grasped the opportunity and the responsibility to build upon their hard won seat at table around school site decisions into a seat at the table in Sacramento to advocate for the interests of all children in California,” Ben Austin, executive director for Parent Revolution, said in a statement.

Organizers expect candidates in the final days of their respective campaigns will be eager to gain the endorsement of Parent Union chapters, which they claim are a rising and expanding political constituency in California.

Few details about the event are available at this time, but a spokesperson confirmed it will “definitely be interactive.”

Just the threat of ‘Parent Trigger’ helps parents get what they want

West Athens Elementary School LAUSD parent trigger

West Athens Elementary School

It now appears that just the specter of a “Parent Trigger” action is enough for parents to get what they want.

Lerina Cordero, mother of a first grade boy at West Athens Elementary in south Los Angeles, says parents there had been trying for years to get the school’s leadership to stop rampant bullying and to change an overall attitude of complacency with the school’s academic performance.

“But it wasn’t until we said we were going to use the Parent Trigger law, that the principal finally sat down to meet with us,” Cordero told LA School Report. “And when we saw that they were willing to listen to us and collaborate with us, we decided we didn’t have to use the law.”

Now, six months after pressing the district for changes, the West Athens parents union, Aguilas de West Athens (AWA), and district officials are prepared to sign a Partnership Agreement, a plan to spend $300,000 on new staffing positions to address their concerns and roll out professional development programs for teachers.

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Gloria Romero Leaving One Ed Reform Group to Start Another

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero, from her days as State Senate Majority Leader

Gloria Romero is stepping down from her position as Director of California Democrats for Education Reform (or DFER) to start a new organization, the Foundation for Parent Empowerment.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to have worked with DFER, but believe that it is time to move past party politics and focus my skills and organizing with parents who form the true base of any education reform movement,” she said in a statement.

In 2010, as a California State Senator, Romero authored the country’s first “parent trigger” law, which allows a majority of parents to replace a school’s leadership. But the fiercely independent Romero hasn’t always agreed with the tactics employed by Parent Revolution, the non-profit that has helped organize every parent trigger campaign in California to date.

Romero’s new organization will focus on empowering parents to affect change at their children’s schools.

“A myriad of federal and state laws exist which, when combined, offer parents greater opportunities to become more actively involved in helping their children pursue the American Dream via education,” she said.

Romero’s independence and unpredictability have earned her many enemies. Last year, she even broke with DFER’s national organization to support LA Unified and seven other California school districts in their quest for a No Child Left Behind waiver.

Nevertheless, DFER Executive Director Joe Williams lent a quote to Romero’s goodbye press release, saying, “We are extremely grateful for all the great work Gloria has done for children and families in California as an elected official in the California Legislature as well as her leadership of DFER in California.”

Previous posts: Reform Group Splits over Federal Waiver for LAUSDMayor Overreached Against Zimmer, Says ReformerHow Prop. 32 Could Affect LAUSD

CA Has a Plan for Using Test Scores — Even With No Tests (Updated)

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

While a bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature would end statewide testing for a year – he’s expected to sign it – state officials plan to use older test results to assure that California receives its annual Title I allocations.

To comply with federal regulations that states must provide annual test results to qualify for the money, the California Department of Education has decided to use the higher of two scores — a school’s 2012-13 API results, which were issued last month, or a three year average of the most recent APIs.

“We knew that we needed something in the law that said what are we going to do, given the fact that we won’t have English language arts and math scores for one year,” Keric Ashley, Director of Analysis, Measurement, and Accountability Reporting Division for the department of education told LA School Report.

The bill would give California school districts time to acclimate to the new Common Core State Standards curriculum and the computer-based Smarter Balanced assessments that will be used in 2015.

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No Statewide Testing Could Delay Parent Trigger Drives

parent-trigger1Sometime in hour five of yesterday’s marathon LA Unified school board meeting, the board approved a new set of guidelines to help principals, teachers and parents navigate the complex Parent Trigger process.

That’s the state law allowing parents to take over a failing school and force a complete overhaul, so long as a majority of parents have sought change through a petition drive.

But just as school board member Steve Zimmer – who won approval of establishing guidelines back in June – led a 5-2 board vote to approve the guidelines, a new set of concerns became evident.

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The Soldier, the Parents and a ‘New’ Weigand Elementary

laweeklylogo“Once we parents got united,” said Gloria Aroche, 24, a mother from El Salvador, who wears snap-button cowboy shirts and floor-length skirts with ruffles, “we lost our fear and felt the power. Felt it. Like a warm thing inside you.”

LA Weekly this week has the remarkable story of how parents with help from a Special Forces hero used the state parent trigger law to remove a principal and return Weigand Avenue Elementary School to an inspiring place of learning.

“In the end,” the story says, “these parents won. Just before school opened this week, (LA Unified Superintendent John) Deasy praised the parents, saying, ‘Having met them, these mostly mothers, what struck me was the courage it takes to raise your voice and demand that things be better — rather than just kind of tolerating what was there.’ “

 

 

Haddon Parents Abandon Trigger, Still Get Changes

Haddon Elementary Parents

Haddon Elementary Parents

In California public education, you sometimes don’t have to pull the trigger.

Parents of students at Haddon Avenue Elementary in Pacoima have ended their ‘parent trigger’ campaign to take over their school because they got what they wanted without it.

“I’m very happy that this resulted in some changes at the school,” Martha Martinez, the founder of the Haddon Parents union, said through a translator, “but I still want to be involved in being a part of the process moving forward.”

The parent trigger campaign had been going on for a couple years until it was paused in March. The following month, teachers at Haddon voted instead to become a Local Initiative School, which gives it various autonomies from LAUSD. According to Parent Revolution, a non-profit that helps plan and support signature-gathering efforts, the Haddon trigger campaign served as leverage to force the teachers into agreeing to various reforms.

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School Board’s Strange Parent Trigger About-Face

Superintendent John Deasy accepts the petition from parents of 24th St. Elementary

Superintendent John Deasy accepts the petition from parents of 24th St. Elementary

A couple of odds things happened towards the end of the School Board’s late-night meeting on Tuesday:

Around 8:00 pm, as seven weary Board members were debating a proposal put forth by Board member Steve Zimmer calling on the district and state to bring greater transparency to the parent trigger signature-gathering process, Superintendent John Deasy suggested that the Board might as well lobby Sacramento to repeal the law instead of just lobbying Sacramento to change it (as the original Zimmer resolution requested).

Tired and perhaps a bit confused, the a majority of the Board approved Deasy’s suggestion and adopted the amendment and passed the resolution by a vote of 4-3 — over the objections of its  author and Board members Vladovic and LaMotte. Board member Bennett Kayser joined Deasy allies Galatzan, Martinez, and Garcia in voting ‘yes’ on the amendment.

Then, more than an hour later — after most reporters and staff had left the meeting and just as Board President Garcia was about to adjourn the meeting — Board member Zimmer interjected and asked the Board to reverse course.

Two days later, it’s not exactly clear why Deasy proposed the Board endorse a repeal of the parent trigger, why a mix of trigger supporters and opponents agreed to it, or why trigger critics decided that it was better to go back to the original, somewhat softer language of the original Zimmer resolution.

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Marathon Board Meeting Signals Changes to Come

Screen shot 2013-06-19 at 11.50.39 AM

Superintendent John Deasy, Board President Monica Garcia, and departing Board member Nury Martinez

As anyone following us on Twitter knows all too well, Tuesday’s School Board meeting was a marathon session that lasted well into the night — much of it accompanied by the sound of protesters drumming on the street outside.

Among several key decisions the Board arrived at during the lengthy session were votes to award a $30 million contract to Apple, close a charter school that had dodged a district audit, and add some local regulations to the controversial parent trigger process (but not call for the law’s repeal).

The last meeting of the 2012-2013 school year, it also marked the final appearance of Nury Martinez, who left the Board after four years to run for City Council.

School Board President Monica Garcia presented Martinez with a giant bell, and Board held a bizarre mid-meeting reception in her honor that included a soft jazz band and chicken salad sandwiches.

By 9 pm, when the meeting finally ended, the Board had also approved its 2013-14 budget and begun a furious (and likely to be long-running) debate on how to spend future revenue increases.

If last month’s Board meeting represented a series of hard-fought victories for Superintendent John Deasy and his allies on the Board, last night’s meeting included a couple of losses, with a hint of more to come when the Board changes composition and leadership next month.

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Commentary: Why Teachers Might Leave a Triggered School

infographic_ep_parent_trigger_smallThis is a guest commentary written by LAUSD math teacher (and Hope Change Choices blog host) Rustum Jacob about some teachers’ decision to transfer out of Weigand Avenue Elementary School:

As a teacher , if I’d been in the same shoes as the Weigand teachers, I would have left because of loyalty and respect for the kids and the community.When parents say they have no faith in the school you work at, then you should take the hint. When you have a principal that sticks around for 5 years in a low-income school, the principal becomes a symbol for the school.

When parents say they don’t want the principal, an engaged teacher should take that as a vote of no confidence. By all accounts, this principal is on the same page as Deasy, so the staff could expect the same type of leadership, the same parent outreach, and probably the same results.

There is no reason to stay at a school where you’ve been deemed (in part) a failure and the families are fighting each other to determine who best represents the school. Continue reading

NYU Professor’s Non-Apology to Parent Revolution Head

dianeOver the recent Memorial Day weekend, NYU education historian Diane Ravitch penned a pair of angry blog posts about the parent trigger and Parent Revolution’s Ben Austin.

Among other things, Ravitch wrote that “There is a special place in Hell reserved for everyone who administers and funds this revolting organization that destroys schools and fine educators like [Weigand Avenue Elementary School principal] Irma Cobian.” She also called Austin “loathsome,” described him as the Walton Family’s “useful idiot.

While some applauded her writing, a handful of online commentators called Ravitch out for her language.  Parent Revolution sent out a series of press releases blasting Ravitch on the facts and on her tone. Austin himself wrote a deeply personal open letter to Ravitch describing difficult aspects of his own childhood as his motivation for wanting to help fix broken schools like Weigand Avenue Elementary.

On Friday, Ravitch apologized to Austin – sort of:  “I lost my temper,” she wrote, “and I have to explain why. I don’t like bullies. When I saw this woman targeted by your powerful organization, it looked like bullying.”

Ravitch also apologizes to Cobian, the principal, on behalf of Austin: “Maybe next time, he will think twice, get better information, and consider the consequences before he decides to take down another principal.”

Previous posts: Parent Revolution Reaches Out to UTLA TeachersParent Trigger: Times Debates Transparency, UrgencyTeachers Union Turning Back Against Parent Trigger

Parent Revolution Reaches Out to UTLA Teachers

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Parent Revolution’s Gabe Rose, left, and Ben Austin, right

On Sunday afternoon, around 25 classroom teachers who have been elected to represent their schools met at UTLA headquarters to discuss the contentious parent trigger petition process that’s unfolded at Weigand Elementary — and the possibility of additional trigger petitions in the future.

Parent Revolution, the non-profit that has led the organizing efforts on all signature gathering campaigns, publicly requested permission to attend the Sunday meeting and was immediately denied.

However, the nonprofit handed out flyers on Friday inviting UTLA members to come to a separate meeting later this month — and at least some teachers are planning on attending, whether they support the parent trigger approach or not.

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Parent Trigger: Times Debates Transparency, Urgency

parent-trigger1There are two interesting opinion pieces on the parent trigger in the LA Times  — both focused on the aftermath of the parent trigger petition at Weigand Elementary but coming at the issue from different points of view:

One of the two highlights the laudable desire to make sure that teachers and parents are fully aware of what’s going on when a petition process is happening.  The other explains that the debate over the principal’s ouster and the teachers’ dismay is fundamentally about the different timeframes in which educators and parents operate (and suggests that relationships play as important a role as test scores).

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Teachers Union Turning Back Against Parent Trigger

Pro- and anti-trigger protesters at Weigand Elementary (via LAT's Teresa Watanabe)

Pro- and anti-parent trigger protesters at Weigand Elementary (via LAT’s Teresa Watanabe)

In recent days, LAUSD teachers and union activists have been stepping up their attacks on the use of California’s parent trigger law and Parent Revolution, the nonprofit that has been coordinating parents’ efforts.

They held a Thursday press conference at Weigand Elementary, the school where parents and organizers recently petitioned to oust Principal Irma Cobian (but keep the teachers and remain a part of LAUSD).

Pro-trigger protesters were also there, as noted by the LA TimesTeresa Watanabe (see image above).

And the teachers union is holding a special meeting this Sunday for union representatives and others at schools that are “facing a possible takeover by ‘Parent Trigger.'”

One reason for the renewed opposition may be the concern about additional parent trigger petitions within LAUSD. A source within UTLA said there were at least 14 schools being “targeted” for future petitions. A Parent Revolution spokesman said that the group is in preliminary conversations with as many as 50 LAUSD schools.

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