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LAUSD should not punish teachers and students for participating in historic National Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence in Schools

High school students have courageously led a national conversation about ending gun violence after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and have prompted the planning of school actions across the country, such as the March 14 classroom walkout, the March 24 March for our Lives rally in Washington, DC, and the April 20 Day of Action. This has been an urgent reminder that one of the primary purposes of public education is to prepare students to be engaged citizens. It's pretty clear the Parkland students are more than prepared.

But if students in the second largest school district in the country have any intention of joining the #NeverAgain movement, they're going to have to do it off campus.

As the largest school district in California, LAUSD should be taking the lead in supporting school communities' participation in this urgent teaching moment.

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But LAUSD’s only words on the matter have amounted to “Don’t."

In its directive emailed to school staff on February 23, LAUSD said, “District employees shall not promote, endorse, or participate in any student demonstration, distribution of materials, assembly, sit-in, or walkout during work hours or while serving as an agent or representative of LAUSD."

If LA students take it upon themselves,  as students across the country have, LAUSD's order will put teachers, principals and staff in a terrible dilemma of supervising their students or leaving them on their own.  

The Los Angeles Times is among thousands of news media outlets that have championed the activism of the Parkland students. California's elected representatives have celebrated their actions. 

Yet, LAUSD students are to sit out this historic lesson? This is wrong.

College Admissions Officers have urged schools not to suspend students who participate in these actions and the Network for Public Education has created a toolkit for school communities to participate in a National Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence in Schools

The public education leaders of LAUSD should proactively support this urgent teaching moment, and provide academic, social-emotional, and security resources to our school communities. 

Take it from the students:

"This is not just Parkland anymore; this is America. This is every student in every city, everywhere. It’s everybody.” - Ariana Klein, Stoneman Douglas HS student

“We want April 20 to be a day of solidarity for the lives lost. It’s about paying our respects. But we also want it to be a day of discourse.” - Lane Murdock, 15 year old Connecticut student who helped organize the April 20 events

Please tell LAUSD's Superintendent not to punish students and teachers for participating in these historic actions to prevent gun violence in schools.

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California’s real education wars are about who controls the money

This is a rebuttal to an op ed by Dan Walters: California’s school war flares upon three fronts. Both were published in the Napa Valley Register.

By Karen Wolfe

Dan Walters is right that there is a fierce battle over public education in California that is sure to heat up as the 2018 elections draw nearer. However, the framing of an entrenched establishment pitted against altruistic reformers is naive or misleading. 

The real fight is over who controls the money in the state’s second largest budget line and what that means for our notion of government. 

Do we update our public school system around the protections and oversight built into its foundation? Or do we privatize the system, handing over money and children to a free-market of charter school choices on little more than a promise to be responsible and effective? 

Setting aside for the moment that the purpose of public school is more than achievement on standardized tests, one factor to consider is that the charters, which are publicly funded and privately managed, aren’t doing any better than the traditional public schools, according to the often-cited CREDO study (Urban Charter Schools in California, 2015).

Cal State Sacramento’s Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Julian Vasquez Heilig, told me that in many cases California charters have a negative impact on student learning. Even where any impact is positive, it is minuscule, he said. This is especially important when charters are compared to other education reforms like universal pre-kindergarten or class size reduction, both of which have shown far larger positive impacts. 
 
In fact, these are among the reforms sought by the Equity Coalition, the group referred to in the op ed. But Walters doesn’t mention those reforms. Nor does he tell readers the primary objective of the Coalition’s lawsuit: A larger overall education budget.

It seems no matter the topic of education policy, the so-called reformers claim that charter schools are the only answer. 

This view puts them in close alignment with US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who seeks to privatize public education through charters and vouchers. Her home state provides a stark example of the failure of the free market. Education historian and author Diane Ravitch writes, “Since Michigan embraced the DeVos family's ideas about choice, Michigan has steadily declined on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.” From 2003 to 2015, the state's NAEP rankings on fourth grade reading and math have dropped from 28th to 41st, and from 27th to 42nd, respectively, she writes.

And what about the money?

Every day, new reports of financial scandals at charters are posted by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education. A study last year by consumer watchdog, In the Public Interest, found that California taxpayers have spent $2.5 billion for charter school facilities alone, many of them in areas that already had surplus classrooms. The Spending Blind report also underscored the CREDO findings: The education offered at three fourths of the charters was worse than that provided at nearby district schools.

Walters also asserts that civil rights groups are behind the push for more charters, a talking point of the privatizers. While an affinity for charters exists among many civil rights groups, the nation’s oldest and foremost civil rights organization, the NAACP, has called for a moratorium on new charter schools. Following a nationwide series of public hearings, the NAACP said it “rejects the emphasis on charter schools as the vanguard approach for the education of children, instead of focusing attention, funding, and policy advocacy on improving existing, low performing public schools…”

Next year’s election of a new State Superintendent will amplify the school wars. That race pits Tony Thurmond, a former school board member on the pro-public schools side, against Marshall Tuck, formerly of Salomon Brothers, for the privatizers. 

There is even more at stake in the race for Governor. Both front runners, Antonio Villaraigosa and Gavin Newsom, have ties to charter funders. Villaraigosa has a long track record of trying to advance the corporate reform agenda. Newsom’s platform is less clear. Current State Treasurer John Chiang has called for greater transparency and accountability for charters to even the playing field with pure public schools. 

Beyond the stories the candidates tell, the question they should answer is who will they entrust with educating California students? Profit-seeking corporations or locally elected school boards.

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This letter from parents to the LAUSD school board is a report on the state of public education.

What is most personal is most universal.

These words from Carl Rogers came to mind when I read this letter from the parents of Los Angeles public school students in response to an annual survey. The letter serves to be a report on the state of public education. It is posted here with their permission and with identifying names partially redacted.

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November 15, 2017

Dear Superintendent King and LAUSD Board Members,

As parents at R____ Elementary, we are writing in response to your student experience survey. We feel that if you really wanted to hear our opinions, you would have given us space—at the very least in a comments section—to express them. Giving your intentions the benefit of the doubt, however, we are creating that space with this letter.

The format of this survey epitomizes the aspect of LAUSD education that we are LEAST satisfied with: an apparent obsession with numerical, rather than qualitative, data. Willingness to sacrifice expression and genuine engagement in the name of standardization and check-box “accountability.” In short: standards = standardization = standardized “tests” = LAUSD/Ed Department hears only what it wants to hear (positive or negative, depending on the hearer’s love of charter schools).

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The tone of the survey is set from the beginning: “Today you will be completing a survey…” This is not an invitation, or even a request. Indeed, it is as if we are sitting in a test environment; we have been assigned a compulsory task. The only thing helpful about this instruction is that it gives us greater insight into the way our children will be treated when their “opinions” are sought or their “learning” evaluated by LAUSD. Not only do we do not like it, we feel it is actively destructive.

We are generally very happy with R___ Elementary, particularly with the quality of teachers, the principal, and staff. We particularly love the enthusiasm that Principal W____ brings to her work, the love that she, her staff and teachers express for the students, and the openness to parent involvement. Were we to fill out the bubbles on the extremely limiting set of questions you provided, most of our responses would be highly positive.

But what if they weren’t? If we are not satisfied with the overemphasis on “college and career readiness” for FIRST GRADERS, or the fact that “tests” are given in multiple choice, standardized-test-prep form to FIRST GRADERS, where would we register that opinion? Should we answer “Rarely” to “This school provides high quality instruction to my child”? With no opportunity to elaborate, what do you, as Board members, learn from this?

Nothing. Thus we suspect that this survey is an exercise in increasing teacher/principal anxiety and thus “standardization,” rather than a genuine inquiry.

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But again, because you (kind of) asked for our opinions: We want our children to be educated in an environment of love, curiosity, kindness, and safety. We want them to learn to read and figure because these are part of understanding and being understood by others, the bedrock of responsible, democratic citizenship--NOT just skills for a future workforce. R___ does a great job creating this environment within the limits it has been given.

We are less satisfied with the range and quality of the course offerings and facilities. Specifically, how is it possible that there is no dedicated art teacher or music teacher, no visual arts facility, not even a part-time arts integration specialist, at a VISUAL ARTS AND PERFORMING ARTS MAGNET PROGRAM? Our children have attended regular public schools in two other states, one rich and one poor, but BOTH of thesehad better arts facilities (not to mention P.E. facilities and Spanish language instruction) than R___’s. And we understand that at $17/student per year, R____ has MORE arts funding and programming than other schools!?! All LAUSD students deserve better.

The arts are not extra: they are fundamental. Fun, free play, and physical exercise (all of which the creative arts encourage) are fundamental. We are not making this up: There is ample research that demonstrates the correlation between art engagement and “academic” achievement. The arts emphasis at R___ was instituted by the prior principal because she understood that it increases students’ intellectual and creative engagement with all aspects of the elementary curriculum. The arts (including ample physical movement) increase the ability to focus, to problem solve, to think critically and creatively, to feel empathy, respect, and collective responsibility. Students do BETTER on standardized tests for what that’s worth. It also makes kids love learning and coming to school! 

Could there be a more important basis for future learning and innovation than this?

While our children do not complain about going to school, other than it is “just worksheets” (we know it’s not) and there is no running allowed on the playground (?!?), they are manifesting stress reactions. In conference our teacher admitted “School is stressful.” But WHY IN THE WORLD SHOULD THIS BE? Is there worry that if kids do not FEEL that they are “working” (or if their work does not register as labor to adults), that they won’t actually be learning? Could this be the reason that “rigor” and “college and career readiness” are the slogans of the day, rather than “preparing the citizens and innovators of tomorrow”?

The Webster’s definition of “rigor” gives a clue: 

1 a (1) :harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment :severity
(2) :the quality of being unyielding or inflexible :strictness
(3) :severity of life :austerity
b :an act or instance of strictness, severity, or cruelty
2 :a tremor caused by a chill
3 :a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable; especially :extremity of cold
4 :strict precision :exactness
5 a obsolete :rigiditystiffness
b :rigidness or torpor of organs or tissue that prevents response to stimuli
c :rigor mortis

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In whose interests is this “rigor” being enforced? Not our children’s. Perhaps Microsoft’s? The titans of industry or finance? There is no pedagogical basis for inflexibility, discomfort, severity, austerity, or even strict precision for its own sake. Our teachers are hamstrung by its demands, especially by the standardized forms in which it must now be expressed. In the interests of rigor, vigor (active strength of mind and body) is suppressed.

LAUSD’s (and the Education Department’s) approach here is short-sighted, and it is back-firing. Our first-grader has already told us on several occasions that they will NOT go to college. Why? Because that would mean more school, and why would you sign up for that if you didn’t have to?  We hope they will change their mind, but LAUSD is not helping. Displacing the economic anxieties of adults onto children is not productive. It encourages anxiety and conformity, not the creativity and innovation we need for future cultural and civic (and, yes, economic) health.

We are passionate believers in truly public (not “non-profit,” for-profit or private-public) education as the basis for democratic citizenship and building our children’s capacity for empathy, engagement, and innovation. We believe every child has the right to a safe, exciting environment that nurtures creativity, in-depth inquiry, and, most important, the desire to learn more and more.

We believe that experienced teachers are professionals, and that their professional expertise should be honored and nurtured, not “standard-ized.” We believe, as do all of the many teachers we’ve talked to, that “standards” should be based on child-development research, not on industry or adult-anxiety-based ideas of “rigor.” We believe magnet programs should be based on genuinely different pedagogical approaches, because one size does not fit all, but that ALL children deserve creative, well-rounded, vigorous education. Magnet programs should be incubators for best practice, which should be transferred to all public schools.

In our experience, R____ Elementary is doing the best that they can to pursue this, under some mighty constraints of funding and--even more distressing--administrative demands for standardized “accountability.” We support the principal, staff, teachers, and students there with our full hearts.

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Betsy DeVos is launching Rocketships from California. What does that say about her agenda?

This article originally appeared in The Progressive. It has been slightly edited here.

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Silicon Valley-based Rocketship is a charter school chain with a bevy of star backers that has reported sky-high student achievement and recently landed a $12.6 million grant from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education. But beyond the hype is a galaxy of problems, including plummeting test scores, litigation and allegations of student mistreatment.

Co-founded by the brain behind Yahoo’s first advertising platform, John Danner, and Teach For America alum, Preston Smith, Rocketship has attracted the support of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists whose fortunes were made disrupting industries with tech: Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and early Apple investor Arthur Rock, among others.

Rocketship has grown over the last decade into a network of thirteen schools around the country, serving nearly 8,000 kindergarten through fifth-grade students who are overwhelmingly poor and Latino. The venture proclaims it is “dedicated to eliminating the achievement gap” with a business model which, Education Week explains, “replace[s] one credentialed teacher per grade with software and an hourly-wage aide, freeing up $500,000 yearly per school.”

Rocketship’s initial results were promising. But the charter chain’s sky-high student outcomes have not held up: A 2014 analysis by the California Department of Education found that in the previous five years the number of Rocketship students scoring at the “proficient” level or above on California state tests fell by 30 percentage points in English and 14 percentage points in math.

Critical news reports questioned whether Rocketship was struggling to bring its game-changing “blended learning” model to scale. Preston Smith, the charter’s CEO, was still on the defensive last year when he told National Public Radio, “It’s not about opening multiple schools.”

But strategic pivots are common in Silicon Valley, and Rocketship is no exception. “It’s exhilarating. Things change dramatically year to year,” a Rocketship principal told PBS in 2012.

Now, with the help of $12.6 million over five years, the U.S. Department of Education is investing in Rocketship’s “replication and expansion.”

What does launching more Rocketships say about Betsy DeVos’ policy agenda?

"'Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department,' says Wernher von Braun."  --Tom Lehrer

If DeVos were candid, she might admit that Rocketship’s blended learning model suits her political agenda because it weakens Democrats’ loyal constituency: labor. It also fits with her lifelong goal to privatize public services and shrink government. Imagine DeVos doing to education what her brother, Erik Prince, did with war when he founded Blackwater.

“Ed-tech and privatization are two sides of the same coin,” San Jose State University associate professor of education Roxana Marachi told me.

Marachi spoke at the Network for Public Education Conference in early October about the intersection of privatization, technology, and health in schools. “Privatization is a vehicle to drive untested ed-tech programs into schools and to repackage and sell them elsewhere,” she said. “Children serve as unpaid beta-testers while public funding for tech contracts gets siphoned back up to Silicon Valley."

As a billionaire campaign donor, DeVos never had to explain her huge political donations. Being a Secretary of Education is different; doling out federal dollars requires explanations. The Department of Education’s official responseto Rocketship’s grant application—that it “assists youth in developing social emotional learning” and has “not had any significant student safety issues”—reflects a shared agenda to privatize public education and to reduce the size of the labor force, while overlooking serious concerns.

For years education activists and district officials have been raising alarms about Rocketship’s negative effect on student well-being. Students just five to ten years old sit in front of computers for 80 to100 minutes per day. The schools track, to the minute, the time that each elementary school child spends online, and their percentage of “goals” reached. That screen time is so valued by Rocketship that there's almost no time for art or play. Students are even discouraged from taking bathroom breaks. One former teacher told NPR, "I've never had second-graders pee their pants except for at Rocketship.”

A family physician in Santa Clara County with patients in Rocketship schools wrote the school board a letter noting a pattern of urinary tract infections and extreme stress.

Parents and former employees have also raised concerns about safety due to a student to teacher ratio around thirty-seven to one, and about the school’s extreme no-talking policy called “Zone Zero” they claim “amounted to hours of enforced silence.”

Another reason DeVos claims Rocketship deserves federal funding to support expansion is that it “has not been denied [a charter approval] or shut down.” This is hardly high praise. The claim obscures a controversial history in local communities where Rocketship has tried to expand.

In Nashville, where Rocketship has three charter schools, an audit found they were not providing services to children with disabilities or English Language Learners, and not providing free uniforms to homeless students.

The state of Tennessee denied Rocketship’s application for another charter school in Nashville, saying it came up short in every category. Morgan Hill and Contra Costa County in California have denied Rocketship approval in their districts, but the State Board of Education overturned those decisions.

In the heart of Silicon Valley, six different school districts have sued the Santa Clara County Board of Education for reversing local denials of Rocketship charters. “Local control” of public schools is a hallmark of California, but charters can appeal local district decisions to the County or the State Boards of Education. Rocketship withdrew 16 of 20 applications rather than face denial.

Do these details even matter? The litany of litigation and the well-documented problems that Rocketship has encountered would ordinarily make it a surprising recipient of government largesse in the form of taxpayer funded grants. But the Trump Administration does not function ordinarily, and charter schools are not expected to play by ordinary rules.

As Gordon Lafer of the Economic Policy Institute wrote in his paper on Milwaukee’s Rocketship school, “the very curricular model that Rocketship employs is shaped not simply by what is good for kids but also, in part, by what will generate profits for investors and fuel the company’s ambitious growth plans.”

Even CEO Smith admitted his own hand-wringing over this to EdWeek three years ago. “It puts us in a conundrum of do you continue to focus on innovation, and try to get it right, or do you actually start to push toward scale?”

Rocketship’s request for an expansion and replication grant makes its decision clear. And the Department of Education, in granting it $12.6 million, seems to agree.

 

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A bit mad at “The Urban-School Stigma” (or – when stuff we generally agree with lacks context and courage)

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Reposted from the crosstown kindred spirits at Integrated Schools.

By Courtney Everts Mykytyn, Ph.D

In an Atlantic article yesterday, “The Urban-School Stigma,” education prof Jack Schneider (who has also written “America’s Not-So-Broken Education System”) lays out an argument for rethinking our beliefs about urban schools – in particular, he writes about the myths of using test scores as way of assessing school quality. 

To give an under-nuanced summary (and I encourage you to read the full article), test scores tell us more about students’ parents socioeconomic status than they do teaching prowess.  Moreover, a reliance on test scores for assessing “quality” glosses over many other important skills that students learn in school (such as social, collaborative and creative problem-solving skills).

While these are important points that need to be uplifted, the article is problematic. Schneider talks about white flight (without ever saying ‘white flight’!) as a result of bad impressions of urban schools which is a result of the bad ways we assess school quality.

Firstly, Schneider casually drops this line as a given: “one can hardly blame parents with resources for acting in the best interests of their children…” Actually, no. This might, in fact, be the crux of the problem. Assuming that all parents could and should ONLY act in the best interest of their ONLY their own kids flies in the face of the very mission of our most public of public institutions. Sure, we should look out for our ‘own,’ but when that is done on the backs of other people’s kids, maybe some accountability is necessary. Maybe those of us making those choices on the public dollar should bear some responsibility for the large-scale consequences. 

Because while my kids attend public school, I have to also know that public school is for all kids. Because a while I care about my kids’ educations, I also care about the interest of all children. Because I want my kids to get a good education in order to have a good life (whatever ways that means), I also know that my choices help to build the world in which my kids are going to be adults.

The fact that he treats this so casually, as kind of a throwaway obvious FACT, is of grave concern. The insidiousness of treating this as common sense both supports and excuses the work of those who are actively opportunity hoarding. There are all kinds of reasons that families make these choices and I am not here to *judge* your decision, but as a society, we have to own up to it. Further, it places all the onus on the schools to be ‘quality’ as if parents and students are not part of equation but are only, rather, clients (and there is a lot of research out there about the marketplace of education, etc). In this one sentence, Schneider is effectively excusing parents from the responsibility of public-making, from having to be citizens. 

Then, Schneider writes that “middle and upper income parents,” “believing that they are fleeing bad schools, or securing spots in good ones, … have inadvertently exacerbated segregation.” Inadvertent? Really — oops? Like, it was a great, big accident?

History matters. The grueling history of racism in America is not merely a story of Charlottesville-esque torch-carrying. Though these are horrific, we cannot and should not ignore coded and/or less-media-sexy forms of racism. There are DIRECT correlations between testing and segregation and white flight and redlining and and and… And racism. **

We can also call into question the issue of white flight and talk a bit more about how many families are moving into the city, into diverse areas, doing all that gentrification. What about those folks? What about the fact that, as Nikole Hannah-Jones writes, “gentrification stops at the schoolhouse door”? Segregation is not simply an urban-suburban conversation.

And sometimes – often, even – segregation happens within a school. Think: special programs and tracking. There is much work to be done. It won’t happen overnight. It took us many millennia to dig this hole and we aren’t getting out of it easily. But if you ask me, our public schools are our best hope.

This critique is not to say that we should be mean and shame-y and self-righteous – but rather a call for greater honesty and bravery in how we talk about this issue. Race matters. Class matters. Citizenship and the common good matters. The “public” in public school matters.

Yes, as he says in closing, “parents and policymakers might do a great deal to reverse the intensifying segregation of American public education simply by educating themselves about what test scores do and don’t say about school quality… Questioning what they have long accepted, however, they might begin to create something different.” I would simply add that this is only part of the reality that we have to face – and maybe not even the biggest part.

** from a Nikole Hannah-Jones video (posting shortly!) “We started walking away from a firm belief in public schools right after Brown v. Board. That is when….so, in this country, and I talk about it in that piece, there was large support for public institutions among white Americans when there was legal segregation, where black Americans largely did not have access to those public institutions. Once you had Brown v. Board and then the 1964 Civil Rights Act, you start to see a very steep decline in public support among white Americans for public institutions, everything from hospitals to parks, to schools. And so, right after Brown, you had southern states that actually were willing to shut down public education in order to avoid a single black child from entering a school with a white child. And that’s where you start to see vouchers, the voucher movement, its forbearer is resistance to Brown, where states like Alabama, states like Virginia, other southern states, start to close down public schools and offer white parents tuition vouchers to pay for private schools. The “choice” movement, right, freedom of choice was an anti-integration program. The tests to get into schools that a lot progressive communities love now, right, to get into magnet schools, to get into your best schools, those are screened schools, those screens come out of resistance to Brown. So, I think we can see, you start to see, as soon as black children are starting to get access to white schools, is when you start to see white support for public schools decline.”

http://theatln.tc/2www9HF The Urban-School Stigma:Influenced by biases against urban education, parents are moving away from city schools and contributing to segregation in the process

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Student walk-out at Venice High School showed resistance to market reforms

 Venice High School in Los Angeles Public School District has a long, proud history of student activism.  Photo from the Los Angeles Public Library photo collection.

Venice High School in Los Angeles Public School District has a long, proud history of student activism. Photo from the Los Angeles Public Library photo collection.

Four days before the end of the school year, Venice High School students, organized by the Black Student Union and the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, walked out of class to protest their principal allegedly firing an African American college counselor.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This post originally appeared in The Progressive.

Complaints against Principal Oryla Wiedoeft had been brewing since she arrived a year and a half ago. Some students complained about a repressive dress code. Others were frustrated by her suppression of a movement to opt out of standardized tests.

Protests and free expression are part of the rich history of Venice, California. Venice’s unique cultural diversity is protected by law, and many officials have built careers celebrating it. L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin shared a video of his Venice field deputy gleefully marching in the recent Gay Pride parade. U.S. Congressman Ted Lieu, who represents the area, is an outspoken critic of Donald Trump. In the wake of Trump’s threats to crack down on immigration, the L.A. school district passed a resolution to make schools sanctuary sites for immigrant families.

Yet, according to a parent and a teacher I interviewed, when Venice High students planned a demonstration in support of immigrants last winter, the principal sent the school police to break up their meeting, saying the groups were becoming too radical.

One student said of the school principal: “She’s not for our trans students. She’s not for our students of color. She’s not for our undocumented students.”

If free expression is so widely accepted in Venice, why is the principal trying to stop it? The answer may have everything to do with appearances and market competition.

“We support cooperative education when it teaches our kids to go out and get work,” Yohuru Williams, historian and author of Teaching US History Beyond the Textbook,told me. “But we don’t say we should teach kids to make our community better, even though they’re both beneficial to our form of government,” he explained.

Some say Principal Wiedoeft discourages protest and inquiry because she is trying to compete with charter schools. In the competitive, market-based view of public education, schools compete by promoting a brand that will appeal to certain kinds of students. Kids who bring the highest test scores make the school look good, especially on yelp-like websites that rate schools at a glance.

The Los Angeles School District has defended the principal, touting the higher test scores, lower suspension rates and higher enrollment during her tenure. For many in the community, those achievements don’t tell the whole story.

There is no inherent tension between academics and social justice.
— Yohuru Williams

The ACLU issued a report last year condemning the enrollment practices of one in five California charters for targeting certain students, leaving the harder to teach—and more expensive—students in the public schools. One of the methods cited in the report to discourage immigrant families from applying is to require birth certificates or other legal documentation. But Venice High has started doing the same thing. Its website states that a child’s birth certificate “is required to receive an enrollment package.”

“Up until last month, robo calls in Spanish weren’t available to our monolingual Spanish speaking parents,” student Faith Freeman told the news reporter. “And this school is about 65% Spanish speaking.”

“There is no inherent tension between academics and social justice,” said Williams, who is also incoming dean of College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Academic pursuits that are rooted in problem solving and critical thinking exercises should inspire inquiries that will lead students to larger questions of justice and equity common to social justice.”

Whether or not the students are right in saying that the principal is biased, one thing is certain: The market system rewards such selective behavior. It looks like this public school is taking a cue from its charter competition.

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Was the most expensive school board race in history all about the money?

When New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg spent half a million dollars to kick Steve Zimmer off the LA School Board, he picked up the phone. In a departure from his self-described “conflict averse” nature, Zimmer wanted to pitch his version of collaborative school reform to the “education mayor”.

The staffer screening the call told Zimmer that Bloomberg didn’t know who he was.

Sure he did. He just donated half a million dollars to beat me, Zimmer explained.

But the aide insisted.

Bloomberg, along with other billionaires, were disrupting public education. Anybody who wasn’t with them was facelessly labeled as the status quo.

That was four years ago. With the help of the teachers union and a small army of grassroots activists, the massive infusions of cash were understood as attacks on their community. Zimmer prevailed.

Last month, in a redo of the most expensive school board race in history, Zimmer lost to a candidate backed by the billionaire boys club, Nick Melvoin.

What changed in four years? That's an important question to anyone hoping to beat the deep pocketed privatizers in future elections.

Los Angeles is the biggest school district in the country that still elects its school board. That makes it harder to control by so-called education reformers, who seek to dismantle the public school system in order to create a marketplace of school choices, shifting billions of dollars in public moneys into private hands. Investment in elections here can pay huge dividends.

But the lessons to learn from Zimmer's defeat and the sweeping takeover of the LAUSD school board by charter school backers can apply anywhere.

If all politics are local, then maybe public schools are micro-climates, being such an integral part of a family’s daily existence.

Public Schools Are Micro-Climates

Los Angeles has been described, not so much as a city, but a collection of communities, each with its own unique identity. Its schools are sprawled across 700 square miles: urban pockets of extreme poverty, areas of extreme wealth, and a lot in between.

Of the seven school board seats, none encompasses as diverse a range of communities as the seat held by Zimmer for the last eight years, Board District 4.

If all politics are local, then maybe public schools are micro-climates, being such an integral part of a family’s daily existence.

Last election, the westside suburbs are where Zimmer won. It’s where the highest propensity voters live, and it’s where a gaggle of activists have helped instill parent confidence in public schools. This time, charter backers set up a structure to organize parents, matching the union’s greatest strength—pavement pounding activists.

Also since the last election, botched interventions at some schools created coalitions of constituents that had nothing in common other than frustrations with Zimmer, who has never really been comfortable on the west side.

Those frustrations extended to a school district bureaucracy perceived as out of touch, geographically and philosophically. It wasn’t always that way, and several retired LAUSD leaders are well respected members of westside communities. On the rare occasions that westsiders encounter the district “suits” now, they are seen as more of an obstruction than a support. Some school communities have pursued methods of autonomy, making the case that schools are better off on their own.

No school makes a stronger case for that than Palisades Charter High, a converted LAUSD school in an affluent neighborhood overlooking the Pacific Ocean. One of its former board members, Allison Holdorff Polhill, made a strong showing in the primary election and threw her support behind Melvoin. Her constituents followed. Public education activists will attribute this to them both being backed by the charter lobby, but their westside connection is what coalesced their constituencies.

Melvoin grew up on the west side.

Austerity's Impact

California ranks near last in per pupil funding, thanks to a decades old property tax cap. That’s a staggering drop from the Golden Age of public education during which the Golden State was near the topthe time when a lot of current LAUSD parents attended public schools themselves.

What had happened since then to let California schools sink so low? Nick Melvoin’s whole campaign was a part-fictional story of how Steve Zimmer was to blame.

Zimmer was constantly on the defensive. He fessed up to taking money from wealthier parts of the district to fund poorer parts. As a constituent who closely followed Zimmer’s board tenure, I had never heard him explain it in zero sum terms. To the contrary, he usually told a story of “all for one and one for all.” Now, he was almost asking voters to sacrifice their own kids’ education for others.

Melvoin tapped into frustration with austerity plans held over from the recessionimplemented by his own supporters—while at the same time slamming Zimmer for fiscal mismanagement.

National Politics

Melvoin’s promise essentially amounted to making Los Angeles schools great again. But the assertion that Melvoin was Trump-lite mostly fell on deaf ears. LA’s west side was full of proud Democrats and Melvoin was endorsed by Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Lost on most voters were subtleties like Duncan’s neoliberal education reforms being so unpopular that Congressional Democrats agreed to strip the Education Secretary’s post of most of its power.

“Indivisible” groups did not clarify the situation either. Two westside affiliates of the national movement to call out Democrats for being too moderate refused to allow posts about the school board election for fear of being divisive.

Call it Melvoin’s Uber to Zimmer’s taxi cabs.

The Gig Economy

Gentrification changed the electorate. Coined Silicon Beach because so many tech companies now call it home, the west side’s adopted model of disruption seemed tailor made to receive Melvoin’s message of easy fixes unencumbered by convention. Call it Melvoin’s Uber to Zimmer’s taxi cabs.

Zimmer’s campaign was run by a longtime teachers union insider. To voters, their explanation that “labor peace” was essential to moving schools forward seemed beside the point. This disconnect culminated in his election night event, which was like a labor rally replete with union chants. In the land of Snapchat, Google, and Hulu bikes, they were speaking a foreign language.

There were other moves that dumbfounded voters. UTLA mailed a letter telling voters the union would check up on whether they had voted. This reinforced Melvoin’s point that the union was pushing parents around. The LA Times reported the backlash from a similar “vote shaming” letter which no one claimed credit for sending.

I asked UTLA president Alex Caputo Pearl how the union tailored its efforts for westside voters. As a union ally, I cringed when he told me UTLA was proud of its work with parents and community organizations, and it would continue.

He said Zimmer ran a great campaign, but was outspent.

 Money Matters

“If money is the mother’s milk of politics, absentee ballots are the meat and potatoes,” former LAUSD school board member, David Tokofsky, told me. “Maybe they’re vegetarian.”

He was referring to the fact that no mailers were timed with absentee ballots, and Zimmer’s campaign offices opened a mere five weeks before the election. That barely left time to contact voters before they received absentee ballots, which was how over 60% of votes were cast.

The progressive case for public education was never made.
— Joshua Leibner, NBCT

Zimmer might have lacked comparable resources to share his story, but it seems his version for voters was never crafted at all. He mostly played defense. In debates, he explained how supportive he was of charters and choice, clouding the narrative of public school champion.

“The progressive case for public education was never made,” Joshua Leibner, National Board Certified Teacher, told me.

Rather, his campaign was by and for LAUSD’s old guard.

Although Zimmer conceded that Melvoin’s campaign was focused, he believes money prevailed.

 “The most important thing that money did was to enable them to win an election without having to debate any of the issues,” he told me on the phone.

It might be more accurate to say that their money allowed them to choose the issues to be debated.

They knew that if it was really about charter schools, they would lose. They don’t have a mandate.
— Steve Zimmer

Charter Schools

Melvoin’s campaign refrain was, “Parents want good schools, whether they’re traditional, pilot, magnet or charter.”

That seemed to resonate, but it obscured an agenda Melvoin’s backers have spent years and millions of dollars advancing, one that Trump's education secretary Betsy DeVos shares: the school choice marketplace not just as the means, but as the goal. It’s hard to tell if voters realize the privatizing camel’s nose inside the tent.

Melvoin said that’s not the case.

“I made it very clear that I was not a shill for the charter movement,” he told me a week after the election. “I think the reason the philanthropists have been investing in charters is that they see it as a more efficient route to reform.”

“They knew that if it was really about charter schools, they would lose,” Zimmer said. “They don’t have a mandate.”

They may not have a mandate for charters, but a fourteen point margin of defeat of an incumbent school board president is likely to be interpreted as a mandate for something.

As one LAUSD school administrator told me, “This is an absolute rebuke of LAUSD leadership. Of the board, of the district, of the union. Voters want better schools.”  

Melvoin’s deep-pocketed backers are sure to insist that that means charters. But jumping to that conclusion ignores the complexities that voters grappled with in this election, and the fact that they were not offered a clear alternative.

Making that progressive case for public education needs to start now.

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The Broken Promises of Choice in New York City Schools

by Elizabeth A. Harris and Ford Fessenden, New York Times, May 5, 2017

The city’s high school admissions process was
supposed to give every student a real chance to attend a good school. But 14 years in, it has not delivered.

"The sorting of students to top schools — by race, by class, by opportunity — begins years earlier, and these children were planted at the back of the line.

"Under a system created during Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration, eighth graders can apply anywhere in the city, in theory unshackling themselves from failing, segregated neighborhood schools. Students select up to 12 schools and get matched to one by a special algorithm. This process was part of a package of Bloomberg-era reforms intended to improve education in the city and diminish entrenched inequities.

"There is no doubt that the changes yielded meaningful improvements. The high school graduation rate is up more than 20 points since 2005, as the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio has built on Mr. Bloomberg’s gains. The graduation gap between white and black or Hispanic students, while still significant and troubling, has narrowed.

"But school choice has not delivered on a central promise: to give every student a real chance to attend a good school.

"Fourteen years into the system, black and Hispanic students are just as isolated in segregated high schools as they are in elementary schools — a situation that school choice was supposed to ease."

Continue reading the article here.

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Plan B: LAUSD's latest corporate reform scheme is being lobbied from the inside

This is the third post in a series. We’ve been deep diving into a Unified Enrollment scheme, a top priority of the charter lobby, that’s being pushed on LAUSD officials without a discussion of policy implications and almost no public input.  

In the first post, we laid out some of the scholarly research that finds Unified Enrollment systems exacerbate inequitable access to schools. They’ve been funded by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation in New Orleans and Denver.

In the second post, we revealed a process that looks a lot like the iPad scandal, complete with secret meetings to lobby board members and slick, pseudo-public presentations. Policy implications are not on the agenda.

In this post, as promised, we’ll introduce the privatizers who have infiltrated the school district to advance the interests of the charter lobby.

Conspiracy theory? Hardly. This just looks like the new business model. Since the iPad scandal, privatizers have had to find new ways to move their agenda. The scandal made direct corporate lobbying behind the scenes too risky. But there’s no need, if you have managed to plant your sales force inside the school system itself.  

The District personnel pitching the Unified Enrollment scheme are not just any LAUSD employees. They are Broad and Walton acolytes, trained and placed in the school system to move the corporate reform agenda forward from the inside.

Ani Bagdasarian Packard started working at LAUSD while corporate reform poster boy, John Deasy was Superintendent. For two years, she worked in LAUSD as a Broad fellow, just as Broad’s education empire shifted its focus. Previously a training academy for Superintendents, it would now focus on lower level staff “to make it easier for superintendents to define policy agendas, influence public opinion, coalesce political forces, and advance bold reforms on the ground,” according to a Washington Post article from that time.  

Bagdasarian Packard is now “advancing bold reforms on the ground” as Program Policy Development Advisor for LAUSD.

In her presentation to LAUSD’s Early Education and Parent Engagement Committee on February 28, 2017, Bagdasarian Packard explained that after the technology scandals that led to John Deasy’s ouster from LAUSD, “…my colleague and I decided to move forward with this, and we worked with IT to go with solution B, Plan B.”

Her colleague?

Maybe she was talking about Jodie Newbery, who presented with her at that meeting as well as at last week’s Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) to try to get the secret project funded with $24 million in school construction bonds.

Newbery was also hired when Deasy was Superintendent, in October 2011.

Where did she come from? Her three previous positions were in charter school promotion, according to her LinkedIn profile. First for the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence and then for the California Charter Schools Association. Her most recent job was as "Senior Manager, Walton Family Foundation Grant and Los Angeles School Development." Then she made the jump to LAUSD as Program and Policy Advisor, Portfolio Management. That doesn't require a conspiracy theory. How much more explicit could you get?

So a couple of low level co-workers inside LAUSD are behind a major policy shift for the District? That *is* bold. And could be great, if it meant that LAUSD were truly becoming receptive to bottom-up innovation. But the dynamic seems to be about something other than welcoming diverse input.

At the BOC, District administrative staff balked when BOC member Rachel Greene asked what Board policy the project was advancing before approving its funding. The answers were vague at best. District staffer Diane Pappas said the policy was Board approved in the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan. She neglected to mention that the Board has refused to vote on the Strategic Plan. Anyway, she said, they'd been meeting privately with individual board members to get buy-in.

I have found no evidence that a policy decision about Unified Enrollment has even occurred.

The BOC agenda materials claim that the Unified Enrollment System falls under the catch-all “School Upgrade Program” which is for “upgrading, building and repairing school facilities to improve student health, safety and educational quality.” Seems like a stretch in this case, as it did when Deasy used the same rationale to use bond funds to pay for the iPad Common Core Technology Project.

Just as with the iPad scandal, District staff is pushing hard. When BOC member Stuart Magruder, largely credited with first putting the brakes on the iPad boondoggle, asked if they were sure the District could meet the short timeline for Common Enrollment, Pappas answered, “We’re ready.”

Bagdasarian seemed more than ready. “These are just some snapshots of what it will look like—“ She stopped herself. “What it *may* look like,” she said in the February presentation.

And what multi-million dollar “reform” would be complete without a PR campaign?

Reports of a new coalition to advocate for the inclusion of charters

Cue PEAPS-LA, a coalition of nonprofit education reformers to champion Unified Enrollment. The Partnership for Equitable Access to Public Schools Los Angeles includes Parent Revolution (of Steve Barr and Ben Austin acclaim) and Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (of Antonio Villaraigosa and Marshall Tuck acclaim), among others.

So once again, all the pieces are in place, and the public only gets a seat to watch the result. With the iPads, the scandal surrounded alleged private lobbying efforts by corporate execs at Pearson. This time, the lobbying is hidden in plain sight, by LAUSD staff themselves. All they need now is the School Board's green light. No discussion necessary.

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Is LAUSD’s $24M Unified Enrollment system another technology boondoggle?

LAUSD Tech expenditures raise questions

The four projects:

·         Learning Management System – $23 Million – A platform that allows for personalized learning, online gradebook, deployment of professional development, teacher/student/parent communication, teacher collaboration, and integration with other instructional tools.

·         Unified Enrollment System – $24 Million – Unified Enrollment will provide a one-stop online search engine and application system that allows families to locate and save their school program preferences, rank schools, submit a placement application.

·         Enterprise Reporting System – $8 Million – A self-service report generator for MiSiS, Welligent, MyData (existing data systems).

·         40 School Telecommunications Modernization Projects – $24 Million – Replacement of telephone and P.A. systems at school sites.

That last one might be the only project that seemed to reflect what voters intended when they passed five school bond measures. Is an enrollment system used in a school district’s central office an operating expense? If so, it might need to be paid for out of the General Fund rather than the Bond Fund. The BOC seemed unconcerned about that though.

Standing at the bond trough, administration staff from the I.T. department strangely touted the Learning Management system as so good that the country of Uruguay uses it.

Really.

The Learning Management system and Unified Enrollment system raised so many questions that two committee members tried to divide the matter to allow the other two projects to be voted on unencumbered. Ultimately, all four projects remained together, but a vote failed for lack of a quorum. Why the BOC bothered to vote without enough active members present is a mystery. Only six of the Committee’s ten members even attended the meeting, and a whopping four of the 15 seats are vacant.

Without a recommendation from the BOC, the projects are still expected to advance to the School Board for its May 9th meeting. The rules call for a hearing, not for approval.

Whether the School Board will vote without the information that seemed to be lacking for the BOC is anybody’s guess. With the Unified Enrollment alone having a price tag of $24 million, one would think that both the advisory BOC and the School Board would get to see a budget, or at least a list of items that the $24 million would buy. Or is it lease? Or is it develop? Is it hardware or software? Is training for users included? We don’t know because the RFP #2000001340 is under a “Cone of Silence”.

BOC member Rachel Greene got the stink eye more than once during the meeting, maybe for interrupting the expedited presentation to ask some exploratory questions. Greene, a parent who represents the PTA on the committee, wondered if the School Board had even voted on a policy of Unified Enrollment before the BOC would approve spending $24 million to implement it. She said that before heading down the road toward what might be a district wide enrollment lottery system, it would be helpful to know the Board’s policy intent.

“Cart before the horse?” she asked.

LAUSD's CEO of Project Management and Digital Innovation, Diane Pappas tried to reassure the BOC by explaining that they had been meeting privately in individual board members’ offices and had gotten their buy-in.

So much for public scrutiny.

Continuing to make their pitch, I.T. staff said that of course the Board backed this policy. After all, Unified Enrollment was even in Superintendent Michelle King’s Strategic Plan.

They must have missed the memo—or news articles—reporting the Board’s refusal to vote on the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan.

LA Times: L.A. School Board won’t vote to approve superintendent’s strategic plan

KPCC: LAUSD’s King urges school board to approve retooled 3-year plan

If this is where the Unified Enrollment policy exists, it hasn’t been approved by the Board. So far, all we have are sales jobs. (I wrote last week about the slick presentation at the Early Childhood and Parent Engagement Committee meeting.)

BOC member Greene's comment about approving a bond before approving the policy that justified it applies equally to the whole process. Instead of a truly public process, the LAUSD administration seems to have done an end run: a sales job on the Board of Education in private meetings, without the benefit of input from critical or moderating points of view. It seems the BOC was expected to harvest in public what had already been planted and watered in private.  A thumbs-up from the little-known BOC would have taken the heat off the Board of Education and made its vote a foregone conclusion.

It seems the only lesson we’ve learned from the iPad fiasco is that the iPad deal was bad, but nothing about the flaws in the process that produced that terrible deal.

Let’s bring the ghost out into the spotlight. We’ll look at who’s driving this in my next post.

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In the one stop shop of common enrollment, it's buyer beware.

We know a lot about what happens with common enrollment from New Orleans.
— Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, California State Sacramento

The pro-privatization LA School Report (LASR) spun a school board committee meeting last month to say that just about everybody in LAUSD wants charter schools to be included in a universal enrollment system. This was alarming since universal enrollment is an urgent priority of the charter lobby.

“Common enrollment is a big Walton idea to put charters on the same footing as public schools,” education historian and national treasure Diane Ravitch told me in an email.

Whether they call it universal enrollment, common enrollment, unified enrollment, or OneApp, charters want to piggyback on the establishment. Always insisting that they are “public schools”, they want to be viewed that way by every parent, “regardless of zip code”. Similar enrollment systems in New Orleans and Denver were funded by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation.

Yet the headline to the meeting recap cheered, “All sides push for earlier inclusion of charters as LAUSD readies its Universal Enrollment site”.

This caused a bit of a stir because the article said that even the privatizers’ nemesis, UTLA, was on board.

“One of the committee members, Robin Potash, a teacher representing UTLA, said it was important for the district to include charter schools in the list of options and to do it faster than their present timeline.”

“We all know there are many new charters opening in the district and they should be included as soon as possible,” Potash said. “These are all our students and they should be listed as options.”

Given that universal enrollment is such a boon for charters, could it be true that there is consensus among the California charter lobby, the UTLA representative and all three LAUSD board members on that committee?

The common enrollment approach is a major cornerstone of how schools end up selecting students (instead of the other way around).
— Dr. Frank Adamson, Stanford University

I called UTLA’s Robin Potash to find out if LASR quoted her accurately.

She explained that her comments at the meeting came after a rosy presentation by the LAUSD School Choice department (you can watch here).

One LAUSD staffer said it was like a shopping cart. “What this will allow parents to do now is a one stop shop.”

We’re “hoping to increase the equity and access,” said another.

That resonated with Potash. She said her school, located in South Central LA, has four co-located charters impacting it. She was hopeful that the inclusion of charters in LAUSD’s enrollment application would also bring some much needed oversight of them.

Potash was looking for solutions to a problem that is so common that the ACLU issued a report last year admonishing the one in five California charter schools that were found using discriminatory enrollment practices, according to the report. The NAACP found discriminatory enrollment by charters to be such a significant problem that it called for a national moratorium on charter expansion until that and other issues were corrected.

Maybe including charters in LAUSD’s enrollment process would be a way of making them more accountable for using the standard enrollment methods employed by district schools. At least that’s what Potash hoped.

She’s not alone.

Last year, California’s State Senate Education Committee held a hearing about charter oversight. The committee was asked to push school districts for common enrollment for the same reasons Potash thought it might help.

In testimony to the committee, Silke Bradford, the Director of Quality Diverse Providers for Oakland Unified School District, suggested that a common enrollment system like New Orleans uses, would go a long way toward providing the oversight and accountability that charters need. You can watch her testimony here.

She said for charter schools to be “pure public schools”, a term she coined to distinguish charter schools that are using public funds transparently from those that are not, they have to do better about including all students. Specifically, she asserted that the increased oversight of a common enrollment system would prevent exclusionary enrollment because all parents would get applications rather than just the parents handpicked by a particular charter or those savvy enough to navigate a complex system. She said charters would no longer counsel out students who proved challenging or expensive to educate. She also thought it would give foster students a better shot at enrolling. Left on their own, charters set application deadlines before foster youth are placed in homes.

To be clear, Bradford is a charter oversight authority—a former Green Dot Charter School administrator--who was asking the State Legislature to push districts to enact common enrollment in order to help hold charters accountable for their failure to provide equitable access.

It should not be surprising, then, that someone would sit through a presentation about the wonders of universal enrollment and conclude that it could help provide some oversight that charters are currently lacking.

Plus, LAUSD’s School Choice department was so convincing. You can watch their presentation here.

So it seems the policy makers are all in. What does the research say?

Let’s visit the petri dish—or swamp—of charter takeover, New Orleans. Researcher and author, Mercedes Schneider previously examined the New Orleans’ unified enrollment experiment, “OneApp”, in July 2013. That post might have been the most in-depth review of the topic at the time. She said the selective enrollment has continued under OneApp.

In fact, four years later, we now know that inequity is worse in New Orleans than it was before implementation of the common enrollment system, according to a Stanford University study.  

Education researchers Frank Adamson, Channa Cook-Harvey, and Linda Darling-Hammond have issued a report called “Whose Choice? Student Experiences and Outcomes in the New Orleans School Marketplace”.

In an email, Dr. Adamson told me, “The common enrollment approach is a major cornerstone of how schools end up selecting students (instead of the other way around). This usually occurs through a variety of loopholes (some schools maintaining neighborhood, sibling, or other preferential treatment), lack of equal access in the stratification by race and class in terms of access to higher performing schools.”

You can read the full report here.    

They make us believe that we actually have a choice and we’re involved in the process of picking our children’s school, but ultimately, if the computer didn’t pick your [lottery number], it doesn’t matter.
— New Orleans parent

Even a Walton funded report conceded problems. It quoted a parent as saying, “They make us believe that we actually have a choice and we’re involved in the process of picking our children’s school, but ultimately, if the computer didn’t pick your [lottery number], it doesn’t matter.”

Last year, when Oakland Unified School District was considering common enrollment, Dr. Adamson was joined in a panel discussion by Julian Vasquez Heilig, the head of Cal-State Sacramento’s education leadership PhD program. He also chairs the education committee of the NAACP of California and is a board member of the pro-public school Network for Public Education co-founded by Diane Ravitch. His blog is called Cloaking Inequity.

Dr. Vasquez Heilig said, “We know a lot about what happens with common enrollment from New Orleans.”  

He explained that the higher performing schools fill up and many kids get stuck in lower performing schools. The more elite or higher performing schools create additional hoops that some parents don’t have access to, such as attending seminars or filing extra applications.

“OneApp is disingenuous because there are alternative pathways,” into the higher performing schools, he said.  

He summed up the lessons learned in New Orleans this way: “They’re last or nearly last in every single education indicator.”

The research on New Orleans provides extensive evidence about the consequences of unified enrollment. LAUSD officials should do their homework before implementing such a system in the second largest school district in the country.

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How I got schooled at the NAACP hearing

The NAACP Charter School Task Force held a hearing in Los Angeles on Thursday, February 9.

 NAACP Task Force Chair Alice Huffman, at a January, 2017 hearing in Memphis. Photo by Laura Faith Kebede.

NAACP Task Force Chair Alice Huffman, at a January, 2017 hearing in Memphis. Photo by Laura Faith Kebede.

After calling for a national moratorium on charter schools until certain concerns were addressed (see below), the NAACP received blowback from charter school advocates. But Jitu Brown, of the Journey for Justice, defended the moratorium in the Washington Post's education blog, the Answer Sheet, saying, "corporate reform has failed to bring equitable educational opportunities to all children."

This hearing was one in a series, a listening tour, making its way across the country.

The distinguished members of the Task Force, all pre-eminent civil rights leaders in cities from Boston to Sacramento, states from Mississippi to Minnesota, gathered testimony from people with direct experience of the issues the moratorium seeks to provide the breathing room to address.

There was massive organized presence by charter advocates. One charter supporter stacked the speaker sign-up sheet with people who would speak against the moratorium, by copying a typed-up charter school roster she had brought. 

The unions showed up, too. UTLA brought a contingent from Dorsey High School and CSEA came. The Santa Ana Teachers Association’s charter school task force came. Former Education Chair of the California Assembly, Jackie Goldberg, gave public comment.

I was part of a group of the California Badass Teachers Association (BATs), a grassroots group of about 2000 teachers and education activists. I testified as a recovering charter school parent, but what I heard was more important than anything I said.

I go anywhere that people are willing to talk about what charter schools are doing to public education because of their lack of oversight. Few official bodies in California, and perhaps none in Los Angeles, will openly discuss the need for charter school oversight for fear of the powerful California Charter Schools Association lobby (Gubernatorial candidate and California State Treasurer John Chiang is a rare exception).

So the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in our country, provided us with a rare opportunity. I was grateful for my two minutes at the mic.

When the charter advocates in the back of the room shouted me down, Alice Huffman, the chair, promptly regained order.

I’m sure for some in the audience it wasn’t my anti-charter message that got them riled up. Some were rightly suspicious of a white westsider telling them anything about educating urban, black youth. Heck, my own school board member’s chief-of-staff told me not to go to school board meetings, and to find a Latina instead, because it made things awkward for him in our primarily Latino district.

But I didn’t come to tell them anything about educating black youth. I came to share how charter schools are being used in my neighborhood to segregate our schools.

The west side of Los Angeles had, for a while, more charter schools than anywhere else on the planet (that distinction now belongs to South LA). In my neighborhood, charter schools marketed themselves to white, middle class families as a way to send their kids to school without “those kids”. Of course, they phrased it differently. At the charter elementary school my kids attended, we considered our mostly white, middle class school community to be “like minded".

That’s where better oversight might have turned good intentions into fairer access for all children, not just mine. That is what I wanted to tell the NAACP task force.

After my children transferred to the district middle school across the street, we drove past the charter school every day. One day, my then 11-year old daughter looked out at the charter students during our drive to school and said, “why was my elementary school almost all white and my middle school is almost all black and brown?”

Remember, these two schools were separated only by a little street. The middle school was half Latino and half African American. There, my children’s race was indicated as “statistically insignificant” on demographic reports one year. It was a neighborhood school and a magnet school, part of LAUSD's voluntary integration program, for black and Latino children living in parts of the city beleaguered by poverty, violence, and other harms of racial isolation.

Yet LAUSD has approved nearly every charter school that has been proposed to compete with that school, and offered little of extra support to our neighborhood schools. There's no question that charters deserve credit for pushing district schools to step up, but the charter brand also benefits from a grass-is-greener mentality among parents. More choices mean fewer students in each school. That, in turn, means less funding in district schools which results in fewer elective classes and less support.

I am grateful to the NAACP for the opportunity to share my experience. 

However, far more important than my comments were those made by the Task Force members themselves. (I’m counting on the formal presenters like LAUSD board member George McKenna, California NAACP education chair Julian Vasquez Heilig, Green Dot's Cristina de Jesus, and UTLA's Cecily Myart Cruz, to post their presentations on their own widely read blogs and other forums.)

The room was mostly cleared out by the time the committee members made their closing remarks. Unsurprisingly, they revealed deeply thought out views by pre-eminent civil rights leaders who are immersed in the issues of equity for black youth in regions across the country. Their thorough understanding of the charter school issue shone in stark contrast to some op eds that have portrayed the NAACP as out of touch with its members.

Here is a transcript of their closing remarks.

Michael Curry is a civil rights leader in Boston, an attorney and President of the nation’s oldest NAACP chapter. He has been involved in redistricting, pushed for Police body cameras and helped to press for a federal inquiry into racial incidents at an elite Boston school.

…about their history and about Du Bois and Booker T and Marcus Garvey. Excellent school. So I think the conversation is somewhat twisted. Because people believe that they’re here to tell us not to oppose charter schools, and that’s a false premise. This was never about opposing charter schools. I think we need to lift that up again. That this was a conversation about a traditional public education system that we fight all the time. Another false perception. We fight unions at times about policies. We fight school systems. We just sued--not sued--we brought a civil rights complaint against the Boston Public Schools just a few months ago, and had a civil rights finding against the Boston Public Schools. So it’s not like we don’t fight on the other side too. This is about, now you have a new evolving system.

And I love to hear the great stories, but what I need to hear from the charter advocates for expansion is that you have problems, too, and how you’re going to work together to solve the problems within this new system. It’s disingenuous if you come and tell a great story about what’s happening in your school, but right down the street, is another charter school that’s expelling kids, suspending kids, not accepting kids, not enrolling kids. And as you have this national conversation about charter schools, let’s keep it real. It’s a problem. It doesn’t mean that your school—that it’s an attack on your personal school but we’ve got to have an honest conversation about what’s going on across the country. My last point on that is I’m always concerned about any new, evolving solution that’s finding us by people who don’t look like us and people who quite frankly wasn’t on the front lines of solving public education since the problem before. So it makes me question why they’re putting this money where they wouldn’t put this money when we were fighting traditional public school. We were asking for higher funding, and trying to pass legislation and bring lawsuits. They weren’t there. But now, all the sudden, they’re putting all this money behind charters. You need to ask that question. I don’t know what the answer is, but I look forward to having that conversation soon.

James Gallman is a civil rights leader, the retired President of the NAACP South Carolina which, he said, has “the longest running lawsuit in the country because our state refuses to fund all schools the same way.”

My comments, on comments that Michael made early, very early on in this process. This is my fourth hearing. And I think that we need to clearly understand what we have called for and then I think we need to understand how the NAACP operates. There was a resolution, or there have been resolutions, coming out of our national meetings. It was not the Board that made that decision. We get a unit that would bring forth a resolution. That resolution is presented to a resolution committee, and it is screened and decided how we move forward. And then it goes to those delegates who come to the convention, and they say that this is what they want to have happen. So just being a member is one thing, but you need to understand how the NAACP operates. It’s not just having a $30 card, it’s how we operate. So when we got to the discussion about it, we made this decision. Let’s call for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools at least until such time as--and we identified four things that we wanted to see happen. Nobody said “let’s stop these charter schools”. We said we need to clearly—we need to be sure that there are things that are being done that fit all schools. Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools; public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system; charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate; and cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet obvious. So we want to make sure these things are happening at every school. So we didn’t come here tonight to beat up on charter schools or to praise public schools. This young lady here, I can’t remember her name, but she said something about, “we’re on a listening tour”. We are trying to get information from both sides. Then we will, at the end of these hearings, go back and sit down as a group, talk about what we’ve heard, present that to the board and then let the board make a decision. We didn’t come here angry with you. We came here to share with—to hear from you—about what is it that’s being done in your community. What’s going on in this country? And then we can make an intelligent decision as to what’s the best way to move forward with ALL children being given a quality education.

(Audience: Is the moratorium for a specific amount of time?) No.

Da’quan Love is a civil rights leader, a charter school administrator, and community organizer. As president of the Virginia NAACP Youth and College Division, he led an effort that defeated attempts to invalidate over 16,000 voter registration applications in Virginia during the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

I saw a lot of students, a lot of scholars here today. Are there any scholars still here? Probably left. But nevertheless, as someone who has worked since July in a charter school—a little history on myself. I have worked elementary all the way up to the higher ed level in North Carolina, Virginia, and now Minnesota. As someone who’s worked since July to build a first-year charter school. I was a fifth grade teacher, I was recently promoted to Dean of Institutional Advancement, I understand how difficult it is to get a charter school up and running. So before I move any further, I heard a lot of folks say that ‘I started this school,’ or ‘I started a network of schools’. And I just want to applaud your efforts because you saw a need and you are trying and you are fulfilling that need in your community. I want to first say that. We should give them a round of applause. It’s no easy fete to do that. Secondly, as it has been stated previously, we are not against charter schools. We want top quality, fair, equitable education for all our kids. Now, if that’s at a charter school, that’s fine. If that’s in a public school, that’s fine.  We just want transparency, as Board member Gallman stated. And we want those four things to be outlined. As I prepare to leave this hearing, one of the things that I am taking away is, quite frankly, many of us have the same objectives. We all want our scholars to be on a pathway to college, and/or career, and ultimately to be successful. We all want to ensure that our teachers have access and are able to feel, as I forgot who said it from, I believe the Green Dot schools, making sure they feel like they’re being empowered, they’re appreciated and they’re ultimately being successful. We’re really all pretty much on the same page. It’s just the manner in which we are approaching reaching these goals. And so I think that there are some things that we can do, and there are some things that we as a task force can take away from this and listen to the ideas and suggestions that you all present. But, moreover, the folks that are in this room and many of the folks who have testified today are the good folks. The bigger folks aren’t here. The folks who we’ve been talking about all afternoon aren’t here. Those are the school management organizations, those charter management organizations, those big folks, who we really need to be having those conversations with. Those tough schools, those tough charter schools that have not really made adequate performance progress. Those are the schools we need to be really concerned about. And the same for our public schools. So thank you. I appreciate you all for coming and I applaud your efforts. I think that we as a task force have some helpful information to move forward with.

Derrick Johnson is a civil rights leaders, an attorney, founder of One Voice, a social justice nonprofit, and President of the NAACP Mississippi. He lectures annually at Harvard University and throughout the country on Voting Rights Act, civil rights, civic engagement, and redistricting.

I want to thank Da’quan Love for speaking up because he is a charter school teacher. He’s now a charter school administrator. We are perhaps the worst public school system in the country: Mississippi. We have the weakest teachers unions in the country: Mississippi. So for me, it is not about charter versus public. We have a system of education in this country that has pitted poor and Latino and black children in the worst position possible. And now what I’m seeing is the distraction of charter versus public because many folks do not want to fully fund education for all children. And every time we come to one of these meetings, we have well intended, good people—be them charter or public—speaking from their positions, not understanding that we are being used as a distraction. And the real question is why have we not transformed education to ensure that all children are provided with a quality education? Now, in that process, it’s disheartening to see the multi-billionaire class utilize tax dollars to extract, to increase their wealth, on the back of our communities and then give talking points to folks in our communities to say this is where we want the NAACP, when in fact, they never show up here. Ms. Jesus had one of the best comments today: bad schools is our common enemy. And let’s be real. We have some really bad public schools and we have some really bad charter schools. And our children are being exploited and used as pawns. Our role, as the NAACP, is to do all we can to be the stopgap. And that’s [inaudible]. So I fight public education all day long in Mississippi. But I see the problem. When you privatize tax dollars, people are exploited. And if we don’t have transparency and standards and accountability, we will find ourselves just like Detroit, all the charter schools you can find. And I grew up in Detroit and education is worse now because it's like the wild, wild west. So we’re not, anyone in this room, enemies. I think we all want the same thing. But let’s not be fooled about what’s really going on. This is about who gets taxed, who’s not taxed, and how those tax dollars are being utilized to increase other people’s profits.

Alice Huffman is a civil rights leader and has been a political powerhouse in California for decades, as a political consultant. She earned her degree from UC Berkeley, Cum Laude, in two years. She is President of the California/Hawaii NAACP.

I want to thank the board members. I do want to make a comment. I came from public schools. And we sat in here and bashed the public schools like they’re all bad. They’re not all bad. They educated most of us in this room, that we’re now educated to run charter schools. And for my [charter] friends in the back, what I wanted to tell you, you need to stop bashing your NAACP. Like you don’t want us to bash charter schools, don’t bash your NAACP for doing its job. Thank you for being here.

Next stop on the listening tour: New Orleans.

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A California mom writes a letter to a Nevada Senator


Honorable Dean Heller
United States Senate
Fax: (702)388-6501   (775)686-5729   (202)228-6753

Dear Senator Heller,

I am a mother, not a teacher, and I urge you to vote no on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. Ms. DeVos is wholly unqualified. She knows less about public education than I do. She showed up to her confirmation hearing the way a high school student might have who had forgotten there was a test that day. Ethics experts from both Republican and Democratic parties have said that her refusal to address fundamental ethics concerns regarding her investments and her role in her family foundation disqualify her for a Cabinet position.

I am a proud Democrat from the great state of California, the state that helped turned Nevada blue. Because our elected officials stand firm representing our progressive values, we are able to devote our energies to helping to support our neighbors, your constituents in Nevada as they try to convince you to stand up for things like public education. My Democratic Club was able to donate to senatorial candidates in five other states because our candidates in California were secure in their elections and didn't need the money we had raised. There were fundraising events in my own neighborhood for candidates from as far away as Florida. We chartered busses and spent the weekend walking your precincts and talking to your voters about the things they care about. We spent days and evenings making calls from Santa Monica, Venice, Culver City and other places in California, talking to your constituents, our Nevada neighbors.

Nevadans aren’t very different from Californians. They want good schools. They want charter schools to face the same accountability that traditional schools face. They want their state legislature to fund public schools. They want stable faculties in their schools. They want the federal government to protect the rights of college students so that they can attend their classes without the risk of rape or sexual assault. They want a fairer student loan system. None of these values will be protected or advanced if Ms. DeVos is confirmed as Secretary of Education.

In November, one of our proudest moments in California was seeing Nevada turn blue. We can't take all the credit. Nevada voters are changing. Your great state voted for a Democrat for President, flipped two Congressional seats from Republican to Democrat, and elected a Democratic Senator, the first Latina woman to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Now we are looking for more outlets for our activism. My children both marched with me and other family members in the Women’s March in January. It was a beautiful civics lesson. You might have seen the news reports; Los Angeles had about 750,000 marchers demonstrating for the values we hold dear, values that we know our neighbors in Nevada hold dear, too. Who knows? If we had known about their demonstrations outside your Las Vegas office ahead of time, we might have joined them!

I hope you will stand up for those voters today and vote No on Betsy DeVos.

Sincerely,
Karen Wolfe

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Is more school choice the answer to declining enrollment on LA's west side?

This post was originally published as an Op Ed in the Argonaut Newspaper under the heading:
Science, Technology and Social Justice
Is LAUSD abandoning its core values by creating a new school for Playa Vista families?

The new Playa Vista Middle School approved last week by the LAUSD board illustrates how school choice can clash with the ideals of public education.

Every parent wants what’s best for his or her child. And in this era of education as a competitive marketplace, there is no shortage of products to fulfill the demand. But are we oversaturated? Even the high-performing Palms Middle School enrolled 100 fewer new students this year than previously.

Still, the bureaucratic Los Angeles Unified School District is vying with the massively funded charter industry for a bigger share of the school choice market by promising to create even more schools.

“One of our priorities has been to increase choice across the district,” LAUSD Supt. Michelle King said at last week’s school board meeting.

In the case of Playa Vista Middle School, other LAUSD officials twisted themselves into pretzel shapes trying to explain that this school was a new, different option responding to the demand from Playa Vista Elementary School — a “pathway,” they kept calling it.

“If there is a break in that pathway for our community, then that’s where we need to invest our dollars and our ideas in our thinking,” LAUSD Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson said. “In this particular case, with [support from] LMU, you see a STEM pathway that is different than the STEAM pathway [available at the existing middle school].”

Are Playa Vista families really so invested in keeping the arts (the A in STEAM) out of their middle school that they need a whole new school to avoid it?

Why so convoluted? Are Playa Vista families really so invested in keeping the arts (the A in STEAM) out of their middle school that they need a whole new school to avoid it?

Of course not.

Concerns have been raised at public meetings that this is an exclusive school only intended for certain families. LAUSD board member Ref Rodriguez said he was concerned with the emails he received about the school.

“So there’s this idea that we want to segregate kids … we don’t want them with the other kids coming from the surrounding — ” he said, stopping abruptly. “It’s very important that we take a real aggressive stand around that for obvious reasons.”

Added board member George McKenna: “If people look for their own best interests, then there is separatism.” He warned that the district needed to do more to prevent that than offer “lip service.”

LAUSD Board President Steve Zimmer, who represents this area, said he had “absolute hope in the better angels of this community.”

But a couple of years ago, he didn’t sound so confident in an interview for the LA School Report.

“In reference to issues on L.A.’s west side, Zimmer argues, ‘The parents buying up the houses, who have more resources, have a lot of fear about public schools … and when you give them the opportunity to really engage and create integration and diversity in their neighborhood public schools, they don’t want to.’ Instead, he says, they exercise their right to start their own charter schools or they send their children to private schools,” reads that May 2014 article.

So what makes Zimmer so optimistic about the better angels now?

It might be political. Playa Vista Middle School would operate on the Westchester Enriched Sciences Magnet campus, and it was only a few years ago that LAUSD botched an effort to build up the “family of schools” in Westchester. Many Westchester families fled LAUSD schools and put the blame squarely on Zimmer’s shoulders. Now up for re-election, Zimmer could benefit from an influx of new families into LAUSD.

But we’re still a long way from this school opening. Other contrary measures have been passed that never came to fruition. There will be plenty more discussion about this school, including after the March election, as bond funds need approval, etc.

Before LAUSD leaders open a new school, there are many more questions that need answering: The board members need to ask themselves if they’ve done everything they can for the existing schools in Westchester.  

Have they reduced class sizes?

Have they increased electives?  

Have they budgeted for more adults on the campus so everyone feels safe?

Have they supported wraparound services so higher needs students are cared for and don’t disrupt classes?  

Have they made sure campuses are clean and in good repair?  

Have they increased outreach budgets to forge meaningful relationships with neighborhood families?

Have they funded libraries so each school is fully stocked and employs a specialist who helps children learn essential 21st-century skills to differentiate fake news from real information?

If they haven’t done those things and they still open this new school, they need to create a real plan to make equitable investments in other Westside schools.

But that will only happen if those school communities demand it.

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In a Trump world, Rhetoric vs Reality in LA Schools

This post has been updated to correct the project cost information.

At Tuesday’s LAUSD board meeting, the school board will take on public school destroyer Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for US Education Secretary.

Board President Steve Zimmer will introduce a resolution, which reads in part:

…the Board of Education calls on the President-elect and his Nominee for Secretary of Education to re-affirm the role of public schools to serve every student that comes to the school house door, acknowledge that our public school[s] are an essential foundation [of] our democracy and indicate that they will support policies, initiatives and investments that serve all students and not some students and that they will support and invest in policies and initiatives that support equity, achievement and excellence while stabilizing instead of destabilizing our public school systems…
— Agenda item #38 here: https://boe.lausd.net/sites/default/files/12-13-16RegBdOBpostrev.pdf 

It's sure to be popular in blue, blue California. And it will keep board members, including those running for re-election, in the news.

But at some point, the press conferences will be over and we will be begin to navigate our new reality in real situations.

Turns out “at some point” is already upon us.

On the very same agenda, Board President Steve Zimmer is proposing a school that contradicts this lofty resolution. The Playa Vista Middle School is on the Board’s consent calendar. So, no discussion necessary. (Although, we’ve discussed it in the blogosphere.) A previous proposal for the school estimated a $10 million (to start) cost and didn’t even face a quorum to be vetted at the Bond Oversight Committee.*

The Playa Vista Middle School that caters to certain westside families cannot be described as a policy, initiative and investment that serves *all students*. It specifically serves *some students*. It does not *support equity*, but gives greater resources to a more affluent and less diverse population than at any of the surrounding schools. It specifically *destabilizes our public school system* because the district is doing nothing to enhance the existing middle schools in the area as it creates the shiny new school for a select few.

So when the rhetorical flourishes fade away, are LAUSD’s board members committed to implementing policies that reject the new Trumpian reality they keep declaring is so objectionable? Or are they caving to the worst parts of ourselves that his campaign revealed to be more prevalent than any of us dreamed?

We’ll find out on Tuesday.

*A previous version of this post stated that the current proposal costs $10 million+. The current cost has not yet been estimated. 

 

To be the public in public education

Last week, the LA School Board held a Committee of the Whole meeting at a special location. The address was not announced on the school district’s website, but it was revealed if you drilled down into the supporting documents, or if you were in the know.

I showed up at the District board room, the usual venue, after paying $8 to park. A security officer told me the meeting must be somewhere else because his boss was off campus.

Once I drilled down on the web, I got the new address and drove to the special location. No street parking was available in the bustling downtown Los Angeles location. I re-parked in the garage of the building, and found the meeting room on a plaza shared by a few popular restaurants.

The meeting was in full swing with board members and Superintendent Michelle King discussing the revised Strategic Plan, which was not posted with the board materials for the public. Some people in the room had printed copies, but I didn’t see a stack of them anywhere. So I listened and figured I’d get a copy later, off the web.

An hour and a half later, I left to pick up my daughter from school. The parking attendant told me I had chalked up a $38 parking tab!

That's a Betsy DeVos price tag! And it wasn't even for valet! Joking aside, that hefty price is shocking to me. It would be impossible for the many Title I moms whose children attend LAUSD schools.

As I fumed on the way home about the $38, I got to thinking about how hard it is to be the public in the 2nd largest school district in the country.

I already wrote about the Bond Oversight Committee voting to lighten its load, public disclosure be damned. That was just one example of the public being less and less a part of our public school district.

There are other challenges. We, the public, see the board agendas three days in advance. We have 72 hours to sift through upwards of 400 pages of documents to see if there is something of particular relevance. Important expenditures are stuffed into voluminous reports, so much goes unnoticed. Policy changes are sometimes disguised as innocuous actions. In three days, we are usually only able to react rather than thoughtfully participate in the issues of the district. Hence, the bug eyed looks and breathless comments sometimes seen and heard at those meetings.

Even if we were prepared to provide input on various agenda items, we would not be permitted to.

California has a good public meetings law and a strong FOIA-type public records act. But different agencies handle the public differently. While the Los Angeles City Council and the State Coastal Commission, for example, encourage public input by providing time for comment on each agenda item, parents attending five- or ten-hour long school board meetings with upwards of 50 items on the agenda are only permitted to make one comment during the entire meeting. That, of course, is absurd for a public school district. To add insult to injury, labor union representatives, on the other hand, may comment on every single agenda item they wish to. When the unions don’t bother to comment, that’s sometimes a sure sign that they’ve had internal meetings with District and Board staff to hash out concerns before the Board votes—and before the public weighs in.

It isn’t that employees should be prevented from participating in District business, of course. But public school parents shouldn’t be kept out either.

Some parents are accommodated, such as parents whose kids attend charters. Charter petitions are now heard at their own separate meetings with a “time certain”.  According to an article in the LA School Report, Steve Zimmer, Monica Ratliff and Monica Garcia worked to ensure charter parents do not sit for hours waiting to make their case for a charter renewal amidst 50 other agenda items.

So, old school, public school parents, it seems all we need is a labor leader, a lobbyist or a lawyer to lead us so that we might be accommodated once in a while, too.

This is more than an exercise in alliteration.

It might be more efficient to run a public school district without the public. But before we start advocating for that, let’s remember that it’s largely what Betsy DeVos has achieved in her state of Michigan. It’s what we are sure to see more of coming out of Washington, DC soon.

Will LAUSD resist that?

E-mail, call or write your school board member:
Scott.Schmerelson@lausd.net213-241-8333
Monica.Garcia@lausd.net213-241-6180
Ref.Rodriguez@lausd.net213-241-5555
George.McKenna@lausd.net213-241-6382
Monica.Ratliff@lausd.net213-241-6388
Richard.Vladovic@lausd.net213-241-6385
Steve.Zimmer@lausd.net213-241-6387

And the Superintendent:
superintendent@lausd.net 213-241-7000

Write a letter to the LA Times editor:
http://lat.ms/2bynXZy

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LAUSD watchdog group calls off the dogs

The watchdog group that oversees LAUSD’s construction bond funds wants to call off the dogs.

The Bond Oversight Committee (BOC) voted at its monthly meeting last week to make it easier to pass LAUSD construction bond projects.

A lot easier.

In fact, why bother holding meetings at all?

If the school board approves the BOC’s revised Memorandum of Understanding, the Committee will be able to approve billions of dollars in bond projects with just four votes. Currently it takes seven of the 13 members.

It's easy to imagine a project like the now infamous “iPads are a Civil Right,” aka Common Core Technology Project, getting pushed through when particularly active committee members are home with the flu.

But let’s go back even further.

The Committee was formed in 1997 in order to ensure rigorous oversight of school construction and repairs contracts before they approved a $2 billion+ ballot measure, Proposition BB, which had been narrowly defeated the year before. The ballot information included in the new measure reassured voters:

"To ensure that the bond money reaches the schools and is spent as the voters want, Mayor Riordan insisted that a strong independent Oversight Committee monitor the bond expenditures.
"The Oversight Committee included in this measure is comprised of accountants, engineers, architects and auditors. It will review projects and will report directly to the public.
"The oversight Committee findings and recommendations will be available at schools and libraries so that local voters can follow the progress of repairs at their neighborhood school. The committee will make sure that the contracts guaranteeing the repairs at each school will be completed on time and within budget."

So why call off the dogs? The committee says it’s about bureaucratic efficiency.

One BOC member told me the change is the outcome of a workgroup with the Superintendent's staff. And some of the recommendations are good. Insisting that the charter school association's seat is filled by a parent rather than a lobbyist makes sense, especially since the charter lobby's common assertion that it is the authentic voice of parents is not always true.

The BOC might also consider following its own rule that bumps members off the committee if they stop regularly attending meetings.

LAUSD is a public school system. If it continues to find ways to keep the public out, it will find that its only constituency is its own employees. That’s a problem when it's the public that's footing the bill.

Plus, as we saw with the iPad boondoggle, LAUSD makes better decisions when the public is involved.

The Los Angeles School Board, whose members are elected by the public, will have the final say.

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It's over.

 This is what the world's best cartoonists are saying about the election results.

This is what the world's best cartoonists are saying about the election results.

Well, it’s over.

I mean OVER.

O-V-E-R.

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” --André Gide

I posted some analysis of the election at the bottom of this post. But let’s move onto public education.

There was plenty of local coverage of the education propositions that passed in California: 51, 55, 58, 59.

Georgia and Massachusetts both refused to open the floodgates to charter schools. Perhaps after all the national coverage from the Network for Public Education’s Carol Burris, they saw California as a cautionary tale.

Myra Blackmon explains what’s next for Georgia here.

Edushyster tells us why the statewide ban on the charter cap went down in flames in Massachusetts.

Since the presidential campaigns included almost no talk about federal education policy, we can look to Indiana to see what is coming our way. We have good reason to believe that Mike Pence will play an active role in the administration. He already booted Chris Christie from Trump’s transition team. He’s a grown-up Republican, rather than a pre-verbal toddler. Pence speaks the language of the Republicans who still hold a sweeping majority in the House and a narrower majority in the Senate.

So let’s call Indiana the Trump/Pence pilot program.

Hoosier buddy in education? Not Mike Pence  
Stop feeling reassured by checks and balances on federal executive powers. Pence is not a Republican in the traditional “local control” sense. This is the governor who signed a law that allowed businesses to discriminate based on their religious beliefs. The NCAA (that’s not a typo) pressured him to moderate it, saying they’d pull their lucrative Final Four tournament from the state otherwise.

He also signed a law preventing Indiana municipalities from passing any laws restricting the use of plastic bags.

Pence stripped the independent State Superintendent of Schools, Glenda Ritz, of most powers and created a second Department of Ed that he could control. She received more votes than he did and their terms were rife with conflict. Read about their war here.

If advocates for public education across the country fought against charters and testing with Bush/Obama, think now about a fight for local control, more testing than you can possibly imagine, school letter grades, merit pay, and federal incentive programs for vouchers in addition to charters.

Don’t tell yourself, “At least he’ll get rid of CCSS.” Out of political expedience, Pence essentially renamed Common Core for Indiana and required a new battery of standardized tests.

Vouchers are hardly ever discussed in California, but in Indiana, they’re a mainstay of “school choice.” My high school US History teacher, who now works for the Indiana State Department of Education (you can thank/blame him and a couple others for my interest in public policy), sent me this article a couple of weeks ago to explain what vouchers have done in my home state:

The report by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University called Indiana’s voucher program one of the most expansive in the country. No annual audits are required and there is no cap on the number of vouchers that are distributed. Sounds like California charter law. Poking a hole in the phony argument that vouchers are an escape ticket for poor children from their failing public school, in Indiana, most vouchers pay for private and parochial school for children who never attended public school in the first place. Rather, vouchers have proven to be an expeditious way to get the state to pay the private school tuition parents were already paying. This has reduced funding to public schools.

Remember how Race to the Top based funding to states on adherence to federal policies? Now think of Pence controlling such a fund.

The race to unseat LAUSD incumbents just got very interesting

Two candidates may change the entire race to try to unseat incumbents in the March LAUSD board elections, according to a City Ethics report.

Running against Board President Steve Zimmer, Allison Holdorff Polhill is an attorney, a Palisades Charter High School board member and a parent. Pacific Palisades is one of the most affluent areas in LAUSD.

Until November 2, 2016, she was also listed in the staff directory of the California Charter Schools Association as a Parent Organizer, according to my computer’s cache.

Across town, teacher Lisa Alva has rocked the “Cradle of Reform,” as board incumbent Monica Garcia calls her district, by joining the race to unseat the corporate reform queen.

Alva’s entry into the race is sure to rock the reformers' world, who will now have to divide their resources and energies. She became nationally known when she very publicly quit the reform movement. She had given Educators 4 Excellence, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, and Teachers for a New Unionism a try.

Things are about to get very interesting. I posted about this two days ago.

(Stop here if you’re tired of the Presidential election.)
 
More on the Presidential Election
Analysis of the election falls into two groups. Just like standardized testing, it’s either Math or Language. It will come as no surprise to those who know me (that includes you, Jose V.) that I will focus on Language.

Data ruins everything (Thank you, Rachel, for sharing):
According to Bernie Sanders’ digital creative director and Obama’s videographer, It sacrifices inspiration for incremental growth, it promotes races to the bottom, it is the walnuts on the political brownie.

Data is often cited in the U.S. as the difference between a cutting edge team and, say, the "Remain" campaign in the United Kingdom.

Still, having served in creative roles for both President Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders (videographer and digital creative director, respectively) I can tell you that data wasn’t what catapulted them into the culture and toward a metric ton of votes. It was their message, the moment, and their authentic manner that was forefront in these contests. Read more here.

For a campaign or a school district or even a school to craft an effective message, you have to know your audience. There are a few researchers who have spent the last few years studying rural America. We will probably spend the next few years studying them:

The deep story of the right goes like this
You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs. Read more here.

Backlash against big city elites
For the better part of the past decade, [Kathy Cramer] the political science professor has been crisscrossing Wisconsin trying to get inside the minds of rural voters.

…Cramer argues that this “rural consciousness” is key to understanding which political arguments ring true to her subjects…

…politics have increasingly become a matter of personal identity. Just about all of her subjects felt a deep sense of bitterness toward elites and city dwellers; just about all of them felt tread on, disrespected and cheated out of what they felt they deserved.

It’s absolutely racist to think that black people don’t work as hard as white people. So what? We write off a huge chunk of the population as racist and therefore their concerns aren’t worth attending to?

How do we ever address racial injustice with that limited understanding?

Of course [some of this resentment] is about race, but it’s also very much about the actual lived conditions that people are experiencing. We do need to pay attention to both. Read more here.

Garrison Keillor ain’t havin’ none of it
To all the patronizing B.S. we’ve read about Trump expressing the white working-class’s displacement and loss of the American Dream, I say, “Feh!” — go put your head under cold water. Resentment is no excuse for bald-faced stupidity. America is still the land where the waitress’s kids can grow up to become physicists and novelists and pediatricians, but it helps a lot if the waitress and her husband encourage good habits and the ambition to use your God-given talents and the kids aren’t plugged into electronics day and night. Whooping it up for the candidate of cruelty and ignorance does less than nothing for your kids. Read more here.

I’m a coastal elite from the Midwest—the real bubble is rural America
We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.

We must start asking all Americans to be their better selves. We must all understand that America is a melting pot and that none of us has a more authentic American experience. Read more here.

This is how the world’s best cartoonists are reacting to the presidential election results (thank you, Sharon).

We’re going to need the artists, the musicians, the writers to get us through these next years. It’s fitting that the last week has filled the airwaves with tributes to Leonard Cohen. RIP

For a chilling analysis of the election, KCRW’s Left, Right and Center discussed last Friday:  

Dahlia Lithwick of Slate:
"This isn’t just about policy disagreements. This is a man who, really, in every way, telegraphed that, if you are a woman or a minority, you should be very afraid.”

David Frum of The Atlantic Monthly:
"Over the next four years, a lot of things are going to happen that are going to be very alarming and disturbing. The future of the rule of law in the United States really is in question."

"Don’t concede the flag to the people who are attacking the Republic and the Constitution. That’s not their flag. The people who are defending the Republic and the Constitution own the flag."

“It’s ALL about growing up. One of the things that has destroyed the left and one of the things that has made this victory possible is precisely that it validates feelings and self indulgence, “my identity as an—fill in the blank—over any political end.”


California's Legislative leaders issued a statement


"We have never been more proud to be Californians.
By a margin in the millions, Californians overwhelmingly rejected politics fueled by resentment, bigotry, and misogyny.

"The largest state of the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy has shown it has its surest conscience as well.
California is – and must always be – a refuge of justice and opportunity for people of all walks, talks, ages and aspirations – regardless of how you look, where you live, what language you speak, or who you love.

"California was not a part of this nation when its history began, but we are clearly now the keeper of its future."

Full statement here:
http://asmdc.org/…/joint-statement-from-california-legislat…

 

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The race to unseat Los Angeles school board incumbents just got very interesting

Two candidates squeaked in before today’s deadline and entered the race to try to unseat incumbents in the March LAUSD board elections, according to a City Ethics report.

Running against Board President Steve Zimmer, Allison Holdorff Polhill is an attorney, a Palisades Charter High School board member and a parent. Pacific Palisades is one of the most affluent areas in LAUSD. http://www.allisonforstudents.com/about-me

ntil November 2, 2016, she was also listed in the staff directory of the California Charter Schools Association as a Parent Organizer, according to my computer’s cache.

“As a parent organizer for CCSA Families, Allison builds teams of parent leaders who advocate to protect and expand charter schools for all families in Los Angeles.”

Holdorff Polhill is the second corporate reform candidate to put their name on the ballot for School Board District 4. TFAer nice guy Nick Melvoin was the first.

Melvoin has raised the most money at $161,000. Zimmer, who has been endorsed by UTLA in previous races, has raised about $29,000, and Gregory Martayan has raised $40,000, according to the City Ethics webpage. Martayan held a fundraiser emceed by Mark Geragos, the celebrity attorney who announced a class action lawsuit against LAUSD while representing famed teacher Rafe Esquith. Tracy Grand is also running. Neither she nor Holdorff list any campaign contributions yet.

But when it comes to elections and charter school lobby, we all know the drill. The big money will be in Independent Expenditures. If previous school board elections are a guide, some of those will be State rather than local, with a less frequent reporting cycle. So we may not *technically know* who the donors are until after the election. But I bet we could all guess today!

Across town, in the “Cradle of Reform,” as board incumbent Monica Garcia calls her district, teacher Lisa Alva has joined the race to unseat the corporate reform queen who has enjoyed steady support from SEIU.

Alva has been asked many times by many people to run for school board. She became nationally known when she very publicly quit the reform movement.

Her wake-up call came in the form of a conference call coordinated by the United Way to organize an astro-turf demonstration outside the LAUSD Board meeting to show support for the now disgraced, now departed superintendent Deasy in October, 2013.

Alva's Dear John letter was addressed to the reformers and posted on a teachers blog. Picked up by the Washington Post, and Diane Ravitch, it was a light shone in the dark corners where astro-turf groups, civil rights groups and corporate funders huddled while they thought no one was looking.

After what I heard, I couldn’t stay any longer working with these ‘reformers.’
— Los Angeles School Board candidate, Lisa Alva

Another light-shiner, parent activist Carl Petersen, is running in Board District 2, as are Manuel Aldana Jr. and Miho Murai. Garcia has raised $132,000. 

The primary election will be held on March 7, 2016 and the general on May 16.  

Things are about to get very interesting and, hey, it's not even noon yet. That's the final deadline for candidates to file.

 

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EEK! elections - emails - education

It's Halloween and the fate of the Republic is in our hands. A double whammy, if you dare.

There’s much talk about how little talk there has been about public education in the presidential election. I guess the Russians just aren’t interested enough in American education policy to dump emails on the topic. Quick, somebody call Finland and tell them to check their firewall!

One leaked email did have particular relevance to public education though. David Dayen in the New Republic calls it “the most important Wikileaks revelation.”

A month before the 2008 presidential election, a senior Citicorp executive sent his appointment picks to Obama advisor John Podesta. Those preferences included Arne Duncan as Education Secretary. So now we know for sure why schools started to feel like franchises. Duncan, who put the public-education-as-a-competitive-marketplace on steroids. So destructive was Duncan that his legacy turns out to be a backlash. The years-in-waiting revamp of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act removes most of the power from anyone who becomes the Secretary of Education.

Flash forward to 2016, when some education activists are crying foul that their union leaders might be, well, leading. Randi Weingarten and Lily Eskelson Garcia appear to be having discussions about education with Hillary Clinton. For shame!

While many education advocates are grateful that the frontrunner’s advisors this time around include actual educators, the more militant activists see something nefarious. They could be relieved, though, that leaked emails show that the Clinton campaign recognized Rahm Emanuel as a liability for the civil war he has stoked against Chicago public schools. These are indicators that we might be in for some change of thinking about public education policy.

You do not need WikiLeaks to see that education issues are out in the open in other elections.

Massachusetts is having a hu-u-u-ge public debate about lifting its charter cap, which even LAUSD ex-pat and Boston Supe Tommy Chang opposes. Edushyster tells us that elected officials in that state, from mayors to Senator Elizabeth Warren, oppose lifting the cap, and the massive out-of-state and decidedly right-wing money backing “Question 2” has raised eyebrows enough to show the charter agenda is about a lot more than charter schools.

In Oakland, the charter group deceptively named Parent Teacher Alliance (the same PAC that ran the disgusting campaign against L.A. school board veteran Bennett Kayser) gave money to an anti-rent control group. It’s connections like this that show the charter lobby has far bigger interests than putting students first, or in this case, even under a roof.

Salon reprinted a post from Capital and Main about what those billionaires really want out of the charter industry (and a third installment is coming soon).

Closer to home, local reporters are a little too helpful to the charter lobby (CCSA) as far as I'm concerned. KPCC helped make CCSA's point by highlighting the highest priority of the charter lobby: to transfer the power of charter authorization away from those pesky elected school boards. Afterall, it would be a lot easier for the charter lobby to control one appointed state board than to pick candidates in so many messy local elections for school districts up and down the state.

That drew the ire of Curmudgucation, a.k.a. Peter Greene, who had a thing or two to say about Kyle Stokes’ framing of the board as the fox in charge of the henhouse. This notion that the school board is somehow too biased to make decisions about the school district it was elected to represent is lifted right out of the charter lobby's playbook. KPCC gave it serious consideration last week.

I’m no reporter, but, no, simply asking school board members for reactions to the CCSA's talking points does not count as in depth reporting.

The public deserves a fuller picture of what charter corporations stand to gain if school boards get out of their way. Articles about it should explain the inherent conflict between the CCSA and LAUSD. The school board is elected by the public to oversee public assets and investments of the school district. The fact that the board is pushing back against the massive giveaway to charter school corporations is a result of voters throwing out the rubberstamping board members of yesteryear. Presenting CCSA's perspective without explaining that its mission is to displace the public school system is misleading at best.

The time is NOW to make it clear that our own elected leaders are the only officials who should authorize schools in our district. Tell your elected officials at every level how important this is. It's the week before a presidential election. Chances are, you'll be hearing plenty from them in the next few days. And the backers of the agenda to have someone else make those decisions are probably sending their own Citicorp-style lists to the Governor already. So don't delay.

LAUSD does not always make it obvious that we're looking out for our schools either. For example, why is this neighborhood school advertising Great Public Schools Now's takeover of the district as just another parent choice? Is somebody in LAUSD wanting to give away our schools?

It's confusing enough to find our who's on our side. Take a look at this convoluted web:

Button your hatches! In my neighborhood and all over the west side, the CCSA has paid parent organizers and a group called SpeakUp Parents! infiltrating grassroots school groups, promoting *choice* and trashing the district for being non-responsive to parents. Are they haunting your neighborhood yet?

There is still a thing called a public school system. If California and LAUSD are going to sell it off to private corporations--Citicorp, Magnolia, Green Dot, KIPP, or franchise it through the Great Public Schools Now syndicate, we should at least have an open debate about it.

Did you see this? PSconnect got mentioned in the Washington Post for fighting on behalf of Los Angeles public schools!

Please support our public programs. We really want to engage the community in discussion about the issues that matter for the survival of public education in Los Angeles. We've lined up awesome speakers! Can you donate $10 today?

 

 

 

 

 

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This week in LAUSD

Such is life in the 2nd largest school district in the country that nearly every news report about education issues has something to do with what is going on in LAUSD. Let's take a look at some of the week's news.

But first, one of the biggest disruptions to schools was not discussed publicly at all.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the LA school board delegated its authority to make Prop 39 charter co-location decisions to the Superintendent. Prop 39 is the state law that requires schools to turn over “available” classrooms to charter schools. Following a court settlement, this is based on a count made at every school every single year. this has turned the school district into a land baron negotiating invasions on many fronts. The item was placed on the Consent Calendar. So, with no discussion, the Board took the public out of the process. More on this later. Much more.

Turning principals into compliance managers:
How gratifying for a parent to read the broad perspective expressed in the Administrators’ newsletter. We expect principals to lead efforts of the whole school community in the newly created “marketplace” of competitive school options. They can’t do this if they’re filling out reports 10 hours a day. We need them out in our communities developing partnerships, pondering possibilities, leading discussions about curriculum and instruction, talking about a place called school. Not filling out flushing logs. I encourage every parent, teacher, principal--anyone who cares about our schools--to read this:
From AALA's Update last week 

ICYMI – I attended the school board’s marathon meeting on charters and lived to tell it. No need to repeat.

NAACP moratorium:
That’s rich: The Wall Street Journal tells the NAACP it’s out of touch. You know, the newspaper whose "Home" section is called "MANSION".

Steven Rosenfeld explains in Salon who is really out of touch on the issue.

Alan Singer of Hofstra University weighs in in HuffPost. He also quotes Carol Burris from a Washington Post column. As a principal, Burris disaggregated the data to show how a neighborhood school really compares to a charter.

Jitu Brown of the Journey for Justice writes a letter to the New York Times. A community leader in Chicago, Brown has fought devastating school closures.

Author Mercedes Schneider looked ahead at Huntington Park’s moratorium on charters based on land use and zoning issues.

Reports on the outcome of the vote: The Wave Newspaper and the Los Angeles Times.

Charter school co-locations often come up as land use issues because public schools were impeccably designed—to be one school. When 200-400 cars suddenly descend upon a neighborhood twice a day on top of an existing school campus, neighbors freak.

Is anyone else in our LAUSD community working with City Councils that overlap our 700 square miles to address charters through land use and zoning policies?

Last week, a California appellate court ruled that charters cannot expand outside the district that authorized them. Recent legislation would have accomplished something similar if Governor Brown had not vetoed it.

POLITICS: Mixing politics with school
Dorsey High School hosted a Black Lives Matter discussion. CBS News covered the event. There were reports that LAUSD had tried to prevent the event from occurring on campus. What is the appropriate balance between community movements and schools? There are many views.

Last week, Yohuru Williams wrote an eloquent (as always) piece for The Progressive on how Seattle teachers are using the issues raised by BLM as a teaching moment. Well, more like a teaching day. Williams is Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University in Connecticut. He regularly contributes to the national discourse on racial and social justice issues impacting schools, with his thoughtful commentary. He even makes it to L.A. occasionally...so let's invite him.

In his article, Williams shared this golden nugget from MLK speechwriter Vincent Gordon Harding:
"I wonder how, with the resegregation of our schools and communities, do you get to know the content of anyone's character if you're not willing to engage in life together with them?"

Yes, Virginia, there is DUAL LANGUAGE
Quick! Which states are the fastest growing for dual language learners? If you didn't guess Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, think again.

A new report from the New America's Dual Language Learners National Work Group explains, including how one Virginia school district has become a leader in dual language learner education.

Virginia is where Anne Holton served as Secretary of Education until recently. She resigned when her husband, Tim Kaine, became Hillary Clinton's running mate. So there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll be seeing more of programs like this in the immediate future. When is this policy, which has been prioritized by Board President Steve Zimmer, going to be discussed at a public meeting?

POLICE ON CAMPUSES: The Right to Remain a Student
A new report by the ACLU looks at best and worst practices—and names school districts in both categories—for questioning students as witnesses, arresting students suspected of crimes, and the role school officials play. This report and how LAUSD policies compare to best and worst should be discussed in public by the school board, senior staff and the community.

KPCC’s Larry Mantle talked with attorneys and school officials.

Anna Phillips’ article in the LA Times says: “Los Angeles Unified School District receives some kudos for its policy requiring police officers to have a warrant or court order before removing a student for questioning. But the report notes, disapprovingly, that the district continues to require school staff to screen middle and high school students randomly and daily, using a metal detector wand.

“While the policy expressly states that police should not conduct the searches, the ACLU’s review of the district’s search logs revealed that police frequently perform the searches,” the report says. “This policy has led to the unnecessary criminalization of students who possess minor contraband or do not wish to comply with the searches.”

What's the agenda description for this item? Which board committee would address it? Which resources are impacted?

ATTENDANCE: In School + On Track
State Attorney General Kamala Harris released a report on suspensions + drop outs. Which California school districts are doing it right?

Lawndale spent $22,000 and reaped $260,000 for its efforts. Long Beach launched its All In campaign for under $100,000, and increased its revenue by half a million.

What does LAUSD’s program look like? What does it cost? How much revenue are we projecting?  Who in the LAUSD community has the best ideas that could inform district policy? There is an Attendance and Truancy agenda item at Tuesday's Committee of the Whole meeting. Will we have a robust discussion? Hopefully, board members will do their own homework because the materials on the agenda look like they're from a time capsule.

IN CONCLUSION
These are our issues. If news outlets are devoting so many resources to covering them, if advocacy organizations are bothering with policy recommendations, shouldn't we be looking into them, too?

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