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[Updated] LAUSD loses over 6000 students to charters in one vote. And some charters get slapped, too.

I was at the Los Angeles school board meeting for 10 hours yesterday. I missed the morning session, figuring that since the charter approvals were on the consent calendar, there wasn’t much point. I was right. I guess UTLA made the same calculation because they did not show up either. Four charter revisions or renewals were approved and one new charter got the green light. Eight more charters--including four KIPP--were publicly noticed for hearing next month. According to one boardmember, that's 6000 students.

 Magnolia Charters' Caprice Young

Magnolia Charters' Caprice Young

Parent activist Carl Petersen joined me for the last half. All three Magnolia Charters were denied renewal. So they will likely appeal their case to the County, which rarely rejects charters. I don't know what was in the report that was not made public (why?) but even charter champions Monica "Cradle of Reform" Garcia and Ref "Never met a charter I didn't like" Rodriguez voted them down. The report that was public contained a letter from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson telling Magnolia that it was in violation for failing to respond to repeated requests for information.  Still, Caprice Young told a television news reporter that Magnolia had provided everything the state requested, the state gave Magnolia a "clean bill of health" and that she thinks LAUSD just does not want good charter schools.

Citizens of the World charter was approved to expand from elementary to middle school. It is located within three miles of five other LAUSD middle schools. For an introduction to their citizenship, take a look at this 1 minute video clip in which they explain that they're the vibrant vine strangling the dying tree of Stoner Elementary School.

Carl and I were two of only three parents at the board meeting advocating for district schools among nearly 200 people in attendance. Dozens more charter supporters had been bussed and waited outside. That’s what happens when a school is threatened with shut down. I guess when LAUSD starts closing our schools, parents might start showing up to board meetings, too. We shall see. We shall see very soon.

UTLA finally showed up in the form of one person, its president. He did not speak even though "labor partners" are allowed to speak on any agenda item. This plays into the charter lobby's favorite device: the fictional teachers-against-parents narrative, always claiming that it’s just doing what parents want.

For the evening session, we parents were only allowed one public comment for the entire meeting even though there were nine agenda items. Carl focused on details of El Camino and the harassment he has been subjected to since blogging about them. There was a collective, audible cringe from El Camino supporters when he approached the podium.

I implored the board to stand up for neighborhood schools and reminded them that they were our only hope because the CCSA has the governor on speed dial. That comment might be why the CCSA started following me on twitter last night.

One charter dad told the board that it should not oversee charters due to its "implicit bias" on account of the district competing with charters for tax payer dollars. But, he said, don't worry. We're going to get the law changed. In the meantime, here's a great NPR story for that dad to find out what implicit bias really is.

Here is Howard Blume’s report. I’m sure KPCC will have one later today. LA School Report will have several. That’s what they do to influence opinion. They tell the story from the charter lobby's point of view over and over until people believe it.

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Los Angeles school board will consider rejection of charter schools

Public education supporters in Los Angeles are shocked and gratified to learn that the staff of the Los Angeles school district has recommended rejection of several charter school petitions to be considered at next week’s school board meeting. For years, it seemed there was no reason to ever expect LAUSD to reject charters and recent reports show senior district staff coordinating with Eli Broad's nonprofit to expand charter choices even as it grapples with decreasing enrollment.

The board will decide whether the staff recommendations will stand at the Tuesday, October 18 meeting. Presumably, that meeting will include heated discussion among the school board and district staff, as well as comments from charter advocates and the public. It’s common for charter schools to organize large showings of supporters at their hearings, usually with matching t-shirts.

The recommendations were posted on the district’s website today. The district’s Charter Schools Division made the recommendations after facing heavy criticism for its perceived mishandling of oversight responsibilities in the wake of financial scandals at El Camino Real Charter High School.

The recommendation which has drawn the most speculation is the one to approve the issuance of a Notice of Intent to Revoke the charter of El Camino Real.

Staff has also recommended the denial of the renewal of three Magnolia Science Academy Schools, part of the Gulen chain of charters which are associated with the Turkish Imam suspected of organizing a coup against the government of Turkey. That California chain has been under fire since a legal complaint was filed last February, calling on the California Department of Education to investigate. The complaint was first reported on the PSconnect blog. It cited more than accusations, and included findings made in a state audit such as 69% of Magnolia's financial transactions being unaccounted for; that Magnolia routinely awarded large contracts to vendors with overlapping connections to their own employees and board of directors; and that Magnolia had illegally used hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to pay for visas for Turkish nationals. A report in today’s Los Angeles Times shows that number is closer to $1 million.

Other charter proposals facing the new wrath of the LAUSD: WISH Charter is hoping to add more grades to its school. Citizens of the World wants an additional school and to grow an existing school. Celerity Dyad and Celerity Troika schools are petitioning to renew their charters. Staff is recommending that the board reject all those petitions.

It is unprecedented in recent memory for the LAUSD staff to recommend rejection of so many charters since the district began instituting market based reforms years ago. A top priority of so-called reformers is charter school expansion, and the wind has been at their backs. One year, LAUSD voted for 67 out of 72 charters. California lifted its cap on charters when Netflix founder Reed Hastings forced the California legislature to accept a measure similar to the one currently on Massachusetts' November ballot. Senator Elizabeth Warren has taken a stand against that measure, called Question 2, and it's more and more common to see criticism of charter schools in major news outlets. The Washington Post recently published two pieces (here and here) by the Network for Public Education's Executive Director, Carol Burris. Capital and Main, a leading Sacramento political blog, has been posting a series (here and here) featuring the billionaires funding California's charter industry, and the NAACP has recommended its board pass a moratorium on new charters. (Diane Ravitch posted phone numbers to call to express support for the moratorium.)

Whether next week’s agenda represents the beginning of a reversal of fortune for the charter juggernaut in Los Angeles remains to be seen.

 

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Is California's new accountability plan "gobbledygook"?

Joe Mathews of KCRW's Zocalo thinks so.

I listened to Mathews complain about California's new accountability plan today on Los Angeles' NPR affiliate. He said the new program, which gives feedback on multiple measures rather than API, is confusing and lacks coherence.

He's missing the purpose of this shift.

“People want simplicity (that test scores provide) but simplicity hasn’t gotten us very far,” said former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig, in an Edsource interview. “We really have to look at the breadth of what is going on.”

If we encourage parents to choose a school based on a Yelp-like rating, we're encouraging a superficial look--usually based on test scores.

The new accountability plan aims to give parents a picture of many aspects of a school. That's important, because more and more research shows that test scores are a result of a lot that is beyond a school's control.

Encouraging parents to look at the many aspects of the school is a good thing.

Through most of the years of my children's education, schools were reduced to a single number. That meant that schools that were well-resourced, with students who were well supported at home and easy to teach scored high, while those schools that served needier students scored lower.

Should I look only at schools with one type of student? No. Diversity is better than division.

Walgrove Elementary school in my neighborhood of Venice has had a stellar special education program whose families are embraced by the whole school community. It's a large part of the culture of the school. So special ed students come from all over. This impacted the school's overall test scores for a while, making it look like there was a problem. One parent tried repeatedly to get the rating website GreatSchools.org to broaden its criteria, to no avail. I told LA Times columnist Steve Lopez about it, hoping he'd write about it. But he found it hard to believe that many parents really picked schools based on online ratings. (Isn't that almost sweet?)

The new accountability plan gives a school like this a better chance of continuing to do its good work because it provides some context to parents.

There's another reason the broader focus is better. The obsession with test scores pushed too many schools to narrow class offerings to what is tested.  

We want to help parents navigate, but we don't want to be overly simplistic. It's important we get it right, too.

"All across the country people are paying attention to what California is doing,” Stanford's Linda Darling-Hammond recently said.

What do you think? You can leave comments on Joe Mathew's story here: KCRW Zocalo.

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100% graduation is not a mission, but LAUSD has better ideas

The Los Angeles school board gathered last week under the premise of discussing Superintendent Michelle King’s draft Strategic Plan.

The morning session was a discussion of how to connect what the board and the district do to what happens in the classroom. In other words, what is the mission? 

Remnants of special interests were apparent. The discussion was framed as what reform (or as LA’s late, great Scott Folsom used to say ®eform) should look like.

Board President Steve Zimmer bristled at the term. “School reform has become a vulgarly distorted term that I’m not actually interested in anymore because I don’t know what it means.”

The news reports following the meeting mostly announced the board’s mission of 100% graduation (KPCC's report gave a fuller idea of what was discussed). 100% graduation is neither a mission nor a vision, but a goal. The morning conversation was about more than that anyway.

It would have benefited from some preparation in the form of research and policy analysis presented to board members ahead of time. Without that, each board member was left to his and her own devices in a loosey goosey rumination. Some were better informed than others.

PUC Charter Schools co-founder Ref Rodriguez blamed regulation: The regulatory environment keeps us centralized rather than ultimate school reform. Not sure what that means, but ®ef must be thrilled that Governor Jerry Brown vetoed two bills this week that would have required charter schools to adhere to California’s transparency laws that all public bodies in the state follow. He was the least helpful. He later suggested that empowered parents should be considered "just noise".

There was discussion about why parents and even employees go directly to board members instead of to the many district employees whose jobs are to do the things the board hears about. That might be because board members are elected and therefore accountable to the people. This should not be glossed over, but it's a topic for another post.

Some board members elaborated on their vision. The longtime school principals, Richard Vladovic, George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson, and classroom teacher Monica Ratliff described school communities as the center. Vladovic cited Edmonds’ research and talked about bringing in parents and the whole school to improve student achievement. Monica Ratliff grappled with whether and how board resolutions can make their way into the typical classroom. They discussed the need for district employees at every level to know that their whole purpose was to serve students. These were ideas that you could imagine parents, teachers, principals and aides coalescing around. They were talking mission and vision.

It’s hard to understand how hours of exchange about the goals and obstacles for a huge and diverse school district got reduced to a single number.

Maybe it’s because, by the afternoon, the Board Bully, Monica Garcia had joined the meeting. But why did Zimmer, too, insist on narrowing the focus “laser like,” as he said? And why was King so ready to reduce the district’s mission to one goal?

The superintendent, whom Zimmer reminded everyone, has the most trust of any superintendent in recent history, will now be judged by her ability or inability to achieve one target. The headlines will write themselves.

George McKenna understood that this was the wrong direction, knowing all the factors that are beyond the school’s control. There’s plenty of research about this, too.

But it seemed that having the Superintendent declare an easily stated goal was more appealing than grappling with the exigencies of a diverse and massive school district.

Reducing LAUSD’s mission to 100% graduation is downright baffling when you contrast it with California’s recent move toward the use of multiple measures in evaluating schools (after years of leading the country in bucking the Obama administration’s Race to the Top policies). Amidst ESSA's rejection of 100% proficiency goals of NCLB. In light of the shift in the national discourse from achievement gaps to opportunity gaps.

But this background was not even discussed.

Michelle King is a good listener. Recent reports say she has been listening to the Great Public Schools Now (GPSN) folks who plan to award grants to open more schools in LAUSD. Last week, the LA Times wrote:

Emphasizing possible collaboration, [GPSN’s] news release on Wednesday included a comment from L.A. schools Supt. Michelle King.

“I am excited about the opportunities to increase the number of high-quality choices for our L.A. Unified families,” King said. “We have schools in every corner of the district where students are excelling. Investing in these campuses will allow more of our students to attain the knowledge and skills to be successful in college, careers and in life.”

She added: “I have encouraged our local district superintendents to identify our most successful models and to work with their teams to develop competitive and forward-thinking proposals,” King said.

As enrollment is dropping and the superintendent is considering consolidating and closing schools (according to this TV interview), how are more schools the answer? Where will those students come from? But these are ideas brought to her by GPSN.

Michelle King is known as a good listener. Those of us who care about our schools should consider giving her something more to hear.

What do you want included in the strategic plan?

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Reforms in disguise: a report on the LAUSD board meeting

Sometimes corporate reforms come in disguise, like the "iPads are a civil right" that turned out to be a boondoggle for someone's favorite vendor.

LAUSD's school calendar may have been the same. For years, a so-called reform effort to boost achievement cut summers short. It seems no reform is worthwhile unless it punishes someone.

No evidence was shown that connected higher achievement to an earlier school year. Remember, the number of school days did not change, just the start and end dates of the school year. Reform means starting school on August 16th in sweltering southern California rather than after Labor Day.

When three retired principals on the school board, George McKenna, Scott Schmerelson and Richard Vladovic brought the issue to the board on September 20, they had their own experience to dispel the myth that hijacking families' summers led to higher achievement.

“I think the quality of instruction does not change based upon the calendar,” McKenna said.

Vladovic, who has championed a later start for four years, brought a ream of research, including data showing school districts like Torrance Unified's 96% graduation rate with a post-Labor Day start date.

Schmerelson had said, "My biggest concern is with family time. People from all over the world and the United States come to California to enjoy the beaches and the entertainment that we have, especially during July and August. And the people who cannot partake of that are the actual students in L.A. Unified."

Sounds reasonable. But the backlash was fierce.

Howard Blume was right when he wrote that senior staff seemed awfully invested in keeping the calendar as is. He wrote that the staff's extensive report rationalizing the early start seemed to evaporate on closer examination.

Staff seemed baffled by parents. The report said, "most parents express a strong preference for late start," but dismissed it as "tradition (what they recall from their school days)." Howard Blume wrote that although thousands of parents have signed petitions supporting a later start date, "the school system has not determined what the majority wants."

Corporate reform champion Monica Garcia knew what she wanted. She launched into an aggressive showdown, portraying the change as a slide back to low standards. In doing so, she dismissed the thousands of parents who had contacted the school district asking for their summers back.

She said the district should not roll back successful reforms simply for parents' convenience--and just because they had enough votes on the school board.

That's quite a departure from last week when she shouted at the charter schools Rally in the Valley: "When I say 'Parent!' you say 'Power!'"

Parent voice is important when you're trying to advance the reform of *parent choice*. But at other times? Not so much.

That's when I decided it was important to speak up. So I testified at the board meeting, reminding board members that education is not just about test scores, but about creating citizens. Parents play a big role in that, along with educators.

It's ironic that while the calendar was being deliberated, the LAUSD board room was bracing for a stampede of parents to testify on behalf of the 17 charter applicants that were next on the board agenda. The parents were organized by well-funded charter groups ready to give them voice--as long as they turned over their right to transparency of decision-making, access to financial records and notice of public meetings by going charter.

After the calendar passed in a compromise that would move the school year start date closer to Labor Day, the board voted unanimously in favor of renewing eight charters without any discussion. The other nine were simply announced and will be voted on next month.

Among the charter applications was the controversial Magnolia, now run by the founder of the California Charter Schools Association, Caprice Young. Young is also a former board member of LAUSD. So she was right at home. From my seat in the board room, she appeared to be warmly received by senior staff and some former board colleagues. She even had a well respected former LAUSD principal, John White, testify on behalf of Magnolia charters.

The Magnolia posse of parents left the board meeting feeling victorious. Outside, they were congratulated by White, who said "One thing LAUSD has not figured out is how to engage parents."

Dyslexia Awareness could lead to important changes

It's not all bad news though. There are examples of successful parent engagement. Scott Schmerelson's Dyslexia Awareness resolution showed patient listening. With good reason, too. It might show that listening to parents goes far beyond making parents feel heard. If LAUSD could tackle the extremely common learning disability (it's estimated that 1 in 5 people in the US has some form of dyslexia), the district would have a very good chance of actually proving it can improve student learning. There are already established evidence based interventions that have proven results. Dyslexia Awareness is the first step in that direction. With little fanfare, the board might have started something huge.

They'll have plenty of other opportunities to practice engaging parents, too.

Soon, the superintendent will propose a way to explore parents' reasons for withdrawing their children from the district.

Also, in an effort to save a ton of money in the form of 600 tons of organic waste per week including milk, LAUSD will consider studying the issue of why students don't drink milk in their school lunches. Think parents might have some insights there?

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Making Education Great Again - A charter rally in the Valley

Oh, edu-friends! Sometimes I can hardly keep a straight face at the forces trying to destroy public education. So, this time, I didn't even try. I hope you'll laugh at this video, too.

I wish you could have been in LA LA Land with me last weekend! I made this video for you in case you missed the charter rally in the valley!

Now that headlines from across the nation, of the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, the Network for Public Education, and the ACLU have all made clear—and John Oliver made hilarious—that the charter emperor has no clothes, the California charter lobby took its carnival to its favorite corporate reform playground, Los Angeles. Pacoima to be exact. The last bastion of that little inconvenience of democracy, the largest school district in the country that still holds school board elections, LAUSD.

Edu-friends, I thought I had stumbled into a Trump rally. It really made me feel like these folks are our only chance at *making education great again*. (watch video here)

“When I say ‘parent’ you say ‘power’!” corporate reform champion and LAUSD board member Monica Garcia shouted.

There were t-shirts with catchy phrases like “Fierce Learner”. Although I don’t know who let the guy slip in with an off-message t-shirt that read, “Public education is not for sale”. Ha!

There were t-shirts with metaphors like Phoenix! I could almost smell the smoke rising from the ashes. Although, let’s face it, that might have been the fresh aroma of bull****. Some hoped you’d forget they were any metaphor at all. Could the M.I.T. t-shirts actually, officially, almost be connected to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? Oh, who cares? Details, details!

The point is, these kids have a great shot at getting into a school like that because they received extra credit for attending this rally! Several of them told me so.

There were other ways to tell this was no ordinary rally. It was literally on—wait for it—AstroTurf! That’s right, edu-friends. Mere grass isn’t good enough for these disrupters!

It was like a carnival!

Just listen to this charter school principal, Yvonne Chan, shriek--I mean lead--the crowd.

“You have MORE accountability for MORE student learning! Can we do it? YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! SI, SE PUEDES [sic],” she cheered.

Only 5% of California’s students attend charters, but this rally looked like the whole world had descended to celebrate charters! They boasted 3000 attendees. The cop I asked estimated 900-1000.

So how did these folks get here? Nothing is left to chance by the charter lobby. They had buses! But it was billed as a march, so a march it will be! Buses dropped folks off three blocks away so they could march into the rally!

And at the pilgrimage to Pacoima, the messianic theatrics did not disappoint.

The charter principal used a waste basket to tell the story of “throwaway schools,” and trashes the idea of integration.

And if you think anyone in LAUSD has the solution, you just don’t know how to let private enterprise capitalize on a good old fashioned crisis. I couldn’t find anyone in LAUSD there to set folks straight.

Chan ends her dramatic oratory with the 1993 miracle of miracles, the charter school law. That’s the law that lets some students into a charter if they win the lottery.

By the way, what rally could be complete without a drawing of its own? Just fill out the address card and give it to CCSA Families. Gotta capture your personal data somehow.

And it’s going to take a lottery—or maybe that principal’s miracle of miracles—for our public school system to survive charter schools sucking them dry.

What are our district leaders doing about this? What of LAUSD Board member Monica Ratliff, a headliner at the charter rally?

“I believe that parents should have the right to choose the school that they think is best for their children: Charter schools, magnet schools, pilot schools, private schools, traditional public schools…” Ratliff said.

And if you think a debate about opposing views was a good idea, think again.

“Rhetoric that turns discussions about education into an us against them narrative is never, ever helpful,” Ratliff finished.

A narrative. So it seems that it’s all about a story. Is the story about re-segregation of schools? Or discriminatory enrollment practices? Or the bilking of millions of public dollars into private hands?

Edu-friend, that rhetoric is never, *ever* helpful! Especially with a new campaign beyond LAUSD where the charter debate is just icky. In fact, maybe she’s right. Maybe the real problem is those of us who *talk about* the problem.

But hey, politician’s speeches are nobody’s favorite part of a rally. And at this rally, EVERYBODY loves charters! In fact, they’ll pledge their allegiance to them, and that’s exactly what they did before boarding the buses to return home.

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Is the road to charter school accountability paved with good intentions?

It’s 9/11. Read the recollections on the web. Watch the tributes on television. Ponder. And please remember that Democracy was the target. The cornerstone of Democracy is public education. Can we redouble our efforts to save and support public education?

Wall Street Journal says elected school boards are passé—especially in big districts
Last week, blogger Peter Greene, aka Curmudgucation, told us:

Behind the paywall at Wall Street Journal, Chester Finn (honcho emeritus of the Thomas Fordham Institute), Bruno V. Manno (Walton Foundation), and Brandon Wright (Fordham) are happy to announce the death of one more piece of democracy in this country.

The trio reports that charter schools are spearheading a "quiet revolution" in local control. Because, like Reed Hastings (Netflix), they are happy to see the local elected school board die.

Oh, the elected school board was fine back in the day. "This setup functioned well for an agrarian and small-town society in which people spent their entire lives in one place, towns paid for their own schools, and those schools met most of the workforce needs of the local community." But this set-up does not work for a "country of mobile and cosmopolitan citizens." Not with money coming from the state and feds, and not when "discontent with educational outcomes is rampant." What does that mean? Where is the evidence? What do you mean?! Didn't you hear him? The discontent is rampant! Rampant, I tell you!

Also, they want you to know that some school districts are really, really big. So big that elected boards are no longer "public spirited civic leaders" but are now a "gaggle of aspiring politicians and teacher-union surrogates." Because gaggles of aspiring politicians are far worse than gaggles of aspiring financial masters of the universe. Hedge fund managers are known for their altruism (remember how altruistic Wall Street was back in 2008). Not that these guys are going to mention that the folks behind the great charter revolution are mostly hedge funders and money changers…There's more at Curmudgucation.blogspot.com.

 


El Camino Real = The Royal Road
After blaming its own alleged financial violations on the Los Angeles Unified School District for failing to provide enough oversight of the independent charter school, El Camino Real Charter High School is refusing to hand over the investigative report it commissioned. That’s rich.

Such is the Royal Road to charter accountability in California.

El Camino can’t quite get its story straight on the reasons it’s hiding the report. The Royal Road’s attorney says it’s because the report contains personnel matters. If the report is used for a personnel evaluation, that evaluation is subject to confidentiality, not the report. Just like a report about a robbery would be public, and then also might be used in a personnel evaluation that would be confidential. Just like an iPad contract would be public, and the evaluation of the superintendent who might have fixed it would be private. Other examples abound.

Then there’s the Royal Road’s argument that it’s covered under attorney-client privilege, according to the Los Angeles Daily News (full article text below).  

The investigative vendor, Oracle Investigations Group, is not a law firm. How can its report be covered under attorney client privilege?

If the school’s attorney commissioned the report, it seems that would have been part of the discussion when the president of El Camino’s board asked his board colleagues to approve the hiring of Oracle. But it never came up.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported that discussion back in June:

“Now the El Camino high board of directors has decided to launch an independent financial probe of the popular principal’s spending. The forensic accounting comes ahead of a year-long management assistance review by a state financial turnaround agency prompted by the credit card scandal.

“I want guidance from agencies to tighten up the (school fiscal) policy,” El Camino board Chairman Jonathan Wasser said after a unanimous vote late Wednesday to pay for the probe of its principal. “I believe in due process.

“We need to have the forensic accounting look over all the information because it’s big, and I’m not an accountant, and it requires somebody trained to look over the evidence.”


El Camino might not be an outlier.

Everybody's doing it
In this KPCC report, charter schools advocates are blaming school districts' lack of expertise in oversight for the ACLU's recent report showing 1 in 5 California charters illegally discriminating in enrollment. They say it's all just a big mistake and if the school boards had the expertise, they could have just told the charter schools to stop requiring a birth certificate or a student essay or a parent's volunteer contract in their enrollment packets. A state oversight commission would seem like a good idea if you wanted to focus on one appointed board instead of all these hundreds of pesky elected school boards throughout the state. 

The wild, wild west
The Washington Post asks “How messed up is California’s charter school sector? You won’t believe how much.” Education reporter Valerie Strauss gives her column to Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education (NPE) who visited the wild, wild west to write a report on California’s charters. I’m glad to have had a chance to sit down with her and highlight the lowlights. The report is the first of four she will be writing.

Perfect timing! There are two charter accountability measures on the Governor’s desk.

Legislative update
Is the Charter Schools Association supporting El Camino’s earlier call for more oversight by urging its members to push the governor to sign them? Nah.

In an email to its members, it urges:


Ask Governor Brown to veto AB 709. AB 709 would apply a series of conflict of interest laws to charter schools. CCSA opposes AB 709 because it would impose Government Code 1090 on charter schools, remove important flexibility for charter school governance, and cost charter schools time and money spent on compliance that is better spent in the classroom. AB 709 is nearly identical to a conflict of interest bill from the last legislative session that was opposed by CCSA and vetoed by Governor Brown.
 
Please help us ensure Governor Brown hears loud and clear that AB 709 is bad for charter schools and charter school students, and should be vetoed. Send a letter today!


At last count, the CCSA was looking for 8,350 more letters.
The CCSA is also urging passage of AB 1198 – Assembly member Matt Dababneh proposed this bill to help charter schools buy or build facilities or refinance existing debt, even through personal deals with their own board members. 1198 passed through the legislature unanimously.

The NPE is circulating its own letter:

 
It is time for sensible regulation of charter schools in the State of California. Stories of illegal selection practices and even outright fraud and corruption are far too commonplace. Millions of tax dollars are wasted, even as millions more are drained from public school districts.

If you have not read our recent report on California charter schools, please read it now.  You can find it here.
 
Write Governor Brown today. We make it easy. Just click here. Ask him to sign two bills that are sitting on his desk today.
 
AB 709 requires charter schools to abide by the same oversight as district public schools, like the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act, because they spend public funds. Yet this reasonable measure is being fought by the powerful California Charter School Association lobby.
 
SB 739 puts a stop to one school district approving a charter in another district. It’s hard to believe this is allowed, but it happens. This bill would allow charter authorizers to place charter schools only in their own districts.
 
Write today by clicking here. Then share the link with neighbors and friends.
 

I listened in on a short conference call about AB 709, with its author, Assembly member Mike Gipson, State Treasurer John Chiang, LAUSD Board member George McKenna, Anaheim Superintendent Michael Matsuda, the California Teachers Association, the ACLU, and the Center for Popular Democracy, and now you can, too.

My favorite school district
Last week, the LAUSD board held its first Budget and Facilities meeting at which board members were to bring ideas for the year’s agenda. I was told no one mentioned Prop 39, which requires school districts to hand over empty classrooms to charter schools. I was told no one mentioned bond measures.

Tuesday, September 13th is the first Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting. 10am in the Board room.

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Teachable moments in headlines about protest--and LAUSD history closer to home

Sometimes history catches up with you. That is true of Los Angeles High School teacher and former football coach, Hardy Williams, who used to turn his back when the national anthem was played before LAUSD football games. That was 1985.

Now, 30+ years later, NFL player Colin Kaepernick is making national headlines for refusing to stand during the national anthem.

President Obama weighed in: "I'd rather have young people who are engaged in the argument and trying to think through how they can be a part of our democratic process than people who are just sitting on the sidelines and not paying attention at all."

Muhammad Ali's ex-wife says Kaepernick should apologize. Rolling Stone explains What White Folks Don't Understand About Black Athletes and Kareem Abdul Jabar says that criticizing Kaepernick says more about our patriotism than his.

Local electeds have covered this kind of thing long before Kaepernick made headlines. I have been in the room more than once when US Congresswoman Janice Hahn (now running for LA County Supervisor) protested in her own way. Whenever she recites the Pledge of Allegiance, she acknowledges that, for some, it’s aspirational. She reminds herself of the work left to do by changing the ending. She says,"with liberty and justice for all, SOME DAY.”

There are still LAUSD schools helping young people “engage in the argument” by restricting the free speech rights of students. My son and his MIT-bound friend discussed their responses to the principal who told them to take off their hats outdoors on campus because they did not have the school logo. She said if a shooter comes on campus, they’ll know he doesn’t belong because his hat does not say, “Go Gondos!” which raised this mother’s heart rate for more reasons than self expression. The ACLU has a long history of filing lawsuits on behalf of students whose schools instituted arbitrary dress code restrictions. http://www.riaclu.org/know-your-rights/pamphlets/know-your-rights-school-dress-codes  The school is located in the neighborhood the Beat poets called home back in the day. So…a history lesson, too.

Long before Kaepernick sat, L.A. teacher stood up to authority in anthem protest
Eric Sondheimer, Los Angeles Times Link to the original article
September 1, 2016

Hardy Williams, a physical education teacher and former Los Angeles High football coach, was getting his car repaired Saturday morning when his brother called and told him that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had refused to stand for the playing of the national anthem before an NFL exhibition game.

“What?” Williams said. “He’s immediately my favorite player.”

It was 31 years ago, in the fall of 1985, that Williams filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District and his principal at Los Angeles, Patrick DeSantis, after he was fired as a coach for turning his back when the national anthem was played before games.

When he heard that Kaepernick said he was protesting “a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Williams said, “I thought it’s been a long time since somebody picked up the torch.”

Williams, 69, had been turning his back to the flag and national anthem for years. His mother, now 99, was not too pleased with his stand.

“Naturally, she was afraid the powers that be would come after me,” he said.

And she was right. Williams stood by himself and no one complained — until DeSanits [sic], a relatively new principal, summoned the coach into his office in the spring of 1985 and asked, “Are you going to continue to turn your back?”

Williams replied: “Yes.”

“I don’t have any other recourse but to remove you from your position as assistant football coach,” Williams said DeSantis told him.

Williams called his friend from his Dorsey High days, Ted Eagans, an attorney, to seek advice. Eagans told Williams to ask the principal to put his complaint in writing. And he did.

According to court records, DeSantis said he “made it clear that during the hours of employment you are to act exemplary to students. You, in turn, upon careful consideration, stated that you could not face the field and pay respect to either the flag or the anthem of our country.”

Eagans sought an injunction in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Sept. 4, 1985.

“It was filed purely because I believe it was a violation of Hardy’s constitutional rights,” Eagans said.

The judge assigned to the case, John L. Cole, refused to issue a temporary restraining order, so Williams missed most of the 1985 season while waiting for his case to be heard. On Dec. 5, the same judge issued an injunction.

Twenty faculty members had signed an affidavit stating they were not disturbed by his actions.

“I’ll never forget it,” Williams said of the judge’s comments. “He said, ‘I don’t like it one bit, but that’s his constitutional right.’”

The LAUSD decided to appeal the judge’s decision. During a pretrial conference, Eagans said an appellate judge made it clear to the lawyer for the LAUSD that a settlement would be wise. In 1987, the case was dismissed.

Williams said he received $25,000 in damages. He invested the money in a condominium in Turtle Bay on Oahu that he still owns.

Former players who remember Williams’ decision to turn his back during the national anthem were calling him last weekend after hearing about Kaepernick and telling him, “You were doing that back then.”

“I understand perfectly what he’s going through,” Williams said of Kaepernick. “I know they’re not throwing stones — they’re throwing boulders. I think the times have changed very little.”

Williams said of turning his back to the flag: “It’s not true — ‘One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ We all know it’s not liberty and justice for so many people in America. It’s not an even playing field. So if I were to do that, I would be cheating myself. I just cannot do it. I would die before I salute the flag to America. It bothers me that much and all the people I’ve seen suffer.”

Eagans said Williams’ court case in 1985 went largely unnoticed. There was no Internet and no Facebook. There was little media coverage. Williams didn’t seek help from any political organizations.

“He did it because he saw it as representing the oppressive conditions African Americans are under,” Eagans said. “He did it silently. He didn’t preach to the kids. Most people didn’t even notice. He stood on his principle and won.”

Williams, looking more fit than some of his P.E. students with his muscular upper-body physique, has been a teacher at Los Angeles since 1973. He served two stints as football coach and also was athletic director. He turns 70 in November and plans to retire.

DeSantis, 82, and living in San Luis Obispo, was asked this week if he had any regrets trying to fire Williams.

“I felt you should stand and pay attention,” he said, then declined further comment.

Williams said he wishes he could meet Kaepernick.

“I was so proud of him,” he said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com
Twitter: @latsondheimer

 

 

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Parent Revolution (pRev) Repackaging Itself

By Caroline Grannan

This commentary is in response to recent Los Angeles Times coverage of the education “reform” organization Parent Revolution's repackaging of itself as an adviser to parents on choosing schools in Los Angeles.

Parent Revolution (PRev) started in Los Angeles in a blaze of publicity in 2009, predicting with great fanfare and much enthusiastic press coverage that it would transform many “failing” public schools into charter schools. PRev created the “parent trigger,” whereby a 50%+1 majority of parents at a school can sign a petition forcing “transformation” of the school, or forcing the school to close.  PRev lobbying led to a California law in early 2010 allowing parent triggers statewide.

Despite the fanfare, in those seven years, PRev has succeeded in turning only one school into a charter school – Desert Trails Elementary in Adelanto (San Bernardino County), Calif., in 2012. That effort ripped the school community apart -- splitting up friendships, creating deeply hostile factions and even leading to schoolyard fights among the kids. Reports on the results of the charterization are wildly mixed, and the mainstream media, which descended on Adelanto eagerly to cover the battle, lost interest in following up afterward. 

Parent Revolution began in 2009 under the auspices of Los Angeles’ Green Dot charter school chain, launched by the mercurial, once-admired Green Dot founder Steve Barr. The intent appeared to be to enable Green Dot to take over schools.

Barr’s name is no longer mentioned in connection with PRev, possibly because of his checkered history, including a rapidly squelched flap about misuse of funds and some much-publicized failed projects. The story of Barr and the Green Dot charters he founded has been marked by rifts, feuds and separations, as has the story of PRev itself. Since PRev began operating on a statewide and then national scope, there has never again been public discussion of Green Dot taking over a parent trigger school.

PRev has run parent triggers in a few schools around Los Angeles, claiming to have achieved some changes less drastic than charterization. In one case, its petitions got the principal fired – and all but one or two teachers left the school in protest, with many parents objecting that they hadn't meant to get rid of the principal or drive out the teachers.

There's never anything but the most vague and sketchy press follow-up of PRev efforts. Reports pop up in the press trumpeting PRev efforts that are never heard from again. I started following PRev to begin with because former PRev Executive Director Ben Austin told the press he had operations going in my school community in San Francisco. Yet there has never again been a sighting of PRev operations here.

PRev moved to the national stage, lobbying to get laws allowing parent triggers in various states. Because my ability as a volunteer to keep tabs on every PRev activity is limited, I can't give a complete count of what states PRev lobbied in and what states passed parent trigger laws, but the efforts and the story that the parent trigger was spreading nationwide were widely and enthusiastically covered in the press.

During those campaigns, PRev had paid staffers pose as school parents and testify before lawmakers – as was known to happen in Florida and Texas –  and PRev claimed routinely and falsely that it had successfully transformed many schools in California, as reported in the Florida press.

I follow education news coverage closely and have Google News alerts set for “Parent Revolution,”  “parent trigger,” “charter school” and other education “reform”-related terms. So I try hard to follow the story, and as best I can determine, the number of parent triggers that have occurred (or even been attempted) in any other state is: zero.

As wonderful as the “reformers” and the press have made parent triggers sound, why aren't they occurring far and wide? Here are some problems with parent triggers.

  • Most people in school communities actually don't want to attack and rip apart their children's schools. Any who do want to attack and rip apart the school don't generally win favor in the school community. That makes it pretty difficult to get a parent-trigger petition together. As seen in Adelanto, any effort that isn't done in secret (as occurred in an earlier failed effort in Compton, Calif., engineered entirely outside the school by paid PRev staff) will ignite destructive conflict in the school community.

  • In every parent trigger that's been reported, there has been a storm of protest afterward from parents who signed the parent-trigger petition and said they were misled about its purpose. Parents recall being told “Sign here to improve our school,”  “Sign here to beautify our school” or “Sign here to improve parking around our school.” This poses a major PR problem for PRev, among other difficulties.

  • Since parent triggers end up in court, they clearly incur high legal costs. Though there's an L.A. law firm that has represented PRev pro bono (apparently believing that it's representing low-income parents, though PRev has funding from billionaires), this can't be painless or free of costs for PRev.

  • A major problem for PRev is that charter operators actually don't want to take over existing troubled school communities (especially those ripped apart by an explosive, divisive parent trigger). That renders the primary purpose of PRev, turning public schools over to charter operators, entirely unfeasible, since the supposed beneficiaries don't want those schools.

    Anyone with experience in nonprofits can see the problem here: PRev is accountable to its funders and wants to keep its funding going, but has no track record of success, except its ability to win favorable press coverage and enthusiastic editorial endorsements, which sustain it only for so long without actual results.

    With a disastrous track record so far, PRev is now shifting its focus in a new direction, to providing advice to parents on how to choose and apply for LAUSD schools. This may persuade the funders that it's doing something worth investing in after all.

    The heart of the PRev story is the failure over its seven-year existence of its original mission. When the mainstream press allows PRev to simply switch its story without focusing on its history, especially given the ample, enthusiastic past coverage of its previous version of itself, that misinforms the reader by omission. Misinforming the reader is a journalistic sin.

    (In this commentary, I'm not focusing on whether turning public schools into charter schools – thus turning public property over to private operators – would be beneficial; I will just say that years of evidence indicates that it would not. That's a separate commentary, however.)

     

    About me: I'm a copy editor at the San Francisco Chronicle by profession and was a San Francisco public-school parent from 1996-2012. I'm writing this on my own time as an unpaid volunteer, unconnected with my job at the Chronicle.  I was previously a copy editor at the San Jose Mercury News, and I took a hiatus of many years from my newsroom career while my children were in school. I became a public-school activist during that time, and followed the story of the parent trigger closely from the beginning. Since I returned to working in a newsroom in 2012, I have carefully recused myself from working with copy on any issues in which I was involved in advocacy during my years out of the newsroom. Here is a wrapup I wrote in January 2015 of the parent trigger (on a volunteer basis and anonymously, as I was then worried about my right to speak).

     

 

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Qué syrah, syrah: Whatever will happen to LAUSD's El Camino Charter High School?

The charter school under fire for accusations that it used public money for luxury items like first class airfare, a bottle of syrah (not será) and late night charcuterie (and more…much more) defended itself by blaming the school district for failing to provide necessary oversight.

In Risky Business, did Tom Cruise blame his parents for leaving him home when his entrepreneurial experiment turned into the party of his life?

El Camino Charter Executive Director David Fehte’s party was the premier topic at LAUSD’s August 23rd board meeting. As has been widely reported and blogged, the board adopted a Notice of Violations for the high achieving, highly segregated—some might say that’s redundant—charter school.

(A transcript of testimony from this meeting has been added below this post.)

The charter school’s attorney said the problem isn’t unique to El Camino. “Like Charlie Brown kicking a football, charter schools are set up to make compliance mistakes, and then they’re heavily penalized when they actually do,” she complained.

If she means that, in the five years between renewal hearings, unregulated charter schools can be given enough rope to hang themselves, she may be right. But then she threatened legal action against the rope maker.

“…Approving this will expose the district to liability,” she said bluntly.

The testimony of the teachers, though, was emotional. Some had been teaching at El Camino for decades and they had thought carefully through a process to try to discern the best way to serve their students. 85% had voted to become independent from the district bureaucracy and convert to a charter.

One teacher said, “it hurts me personally to see our reputation under scrutiny.”

The rest of LAUSD and public school districts across the country might have a thing or two to say about the fairness of being scrutinized

The teachers touted the accomplishments of the school since they were granted autonomy: Having the highest paid teachers, adding staff to the tune of two dedicated college counselors, another counselor just for the Humanitas program, facilities upgrades, new technology and an administration that is 100% behind their collaborative model. None of them mentioned the open enrollment policy that allows charters to recruit the most motivated families.

Every person who testified on behalf of the charter school pointed the finger at LAUSD’s Charter Schools Division (CSD).

Melanie Horton, the charter school’s director of marketing, said, “…We need feedback and guidance. We pay oversight fees and we expect their support.”

Another teacher, Susan Freitag, the visual and performing arts department chair, said that since they converted to charter, the school has benefited from facility upgrades and new technology. She asked, “If the thousands of pages of violations sent to [El Camino Charter] hold any validity, I question the Charter School Division as to why these issues were not brought to our school’s attention prior to last year. We have the same administration. We’ve had the same financial team. We’ve had the same board members.”

Dean Sodek, head of the Humanitas Global Studies Academy at El Camino Charter said financial transparency is something we all want.

One wonders if these teachers pressed their charter school board for the same thing. For all the recent talk that “all schools are our schools in the LAUSD family”, its charter schools are independently governed by their own boards of directors. Nonprofits are subject to oversight even if they’re not schools because they’re handling public money.

The same administration. The same financial team. The same board members.

Former LAUSD school board member David Tokofsky quoted a page from history when he testified at the board meeting.

“I’m reminded, as a social studies teacher, of the phrase ‘What did you know? When did you know it and who did you tell?’ That refers not to you as a board or to the superintendent, but it may refer to your staff and it may refer to the board at this charter school.”

There will be plenty to be said, and plenty of people will need to say it, as the volumes of documents are investigated.

How much authority does the LAUSD board have over an independent charter school? Will charters start lobbying for more oversight? LOL. What will the California Charter Schools Association say about that? Why did so many public schools in former school board member Tamar Galatzan’s district convert to charter in the first place?

The discussion and the ramifications will reach far beyond El Camino Charter and the LAUSD.

Which recalls another quote from history:

'This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.'

Qué será, será.
Whatever will be,
we will be—watching.

(With apologies to Doris Day, Jay Livingston and Ray Evans)

 

WATCH the board meeting: http://lausd.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?clip_id=459

RUSH TRANSCRIPT FROM BOARD MEETING (copy may not be in its final form)

2:00 Good afternoon, board members and superintendent King. My name is Jeanelle Ruly. I’m an Attorney with Young Minney & Corr I’m here today on behalf of el camino –uh, did I lose the mic? OK. Great – I’m here today on behalf of el camino real charter high school. We ask that the board vote against adopting the notice of violations.

The notice of violations is Premature. El Camino staff have been in frequent and productive communication with the Charter schools division financial team since the end of oct of last year. El cam and the charter schools div worked through an iterative process whereby the charter school responded timely and fully to all requests that were made. It Made policy changes and it made other changes that were requested by the charter schools division.

El Camino truly believed that It had done what the Charter Schools Division had asked and satisfied those concerns. Particularly because Aaron Earlywine [of the LAUSD Charter Schools Division] came to the charter school at the end of the last school year and said everything looked good. To suddenly escalate matters to a notice of violations feels like a bait and switch sucker punch.

The notice of violations is replete with mistakes. The CSD states as fact items which are disproven by the evidence that are actually included in the evidence that it put together. Statements that an individual had a meal at a particular restaurant out of town are shown inaccurate on the item description that was actually included.

If the board takes action to approve this notice of violations, it’s ignoring its own duty to exercise due diligence. Moving forward with this document that contains errors and creates damaging, unsubstantiated innuendo is reckless.

The notice epitomizes the Moving target of compliance that charter schools sometimes face.

Like Charlie Brown kicking a football, charter schools are set up to make compliance mistakes and then they’re heavily penalized when they actually do.” This dynamic is unproductive for both sides and ultimately harms students because so many resources are poured into this back and forth.

Lastly, the notice of violations Violates the law because it does not take into account increases in pupil academic achievement are supposed to be the most important factor when the district is looking to revoke a charter.

Approving this will expose the district to liability. We urge you to vote against this item.

Steve Zimmer: Our next speaker is Ms. Gail Turner-Graham, I, forgive me if did not get your name right. I got it right? One for one. Don’t expect that ratio to continue. Welcome.

5:50 Gail Turner-Graham  – Good afternoon board members and Superintendent King. I’m a proud teacher at El Camino and a member of UTLA. I stand here in support of my charter school. Since converting to a charter school, el camino has enhanced the high school experience for students, providing the community with a premier high school option. Our administration and board of directors have increased the number of, educators, teachers and counselors by 15%. That means more classes, more programs, more clubs, more extra-curricular activities and more opportunities for our students. To name a few examples, we now have two dedicated college counselors who work with students and families throughout the college planning process. We started an alternative educational program to assist students in credit recovery enabling them to grad with ECRCH diploma. We started an independent study program to accommodate students who are unable to participate in a traditional academic curriculum due to family, health or career considerations.

The result of these efforts? Since conversion our cohort grad rate has improved from 79.8% in 2011 to 93.1% in 2016. We are so happy to share our success with families throughout Los Angeles. Our 3,600 students come from our neighborhood and over 60 zip codes throughout LA. In 2016, we received over 1000 applications for the lottery. And that’s not all. Among public schools, El Camino offers one of the highest average teacher salaries in California while also being one of the lowest funded schools in the state. We have achieved this through hiring talented staff and the establishment of a lean operating system. Our administrators work hard to maximize the resources that go into the classroom. Since conversion, our spending on teachers, counselors and teacher support staff has increased more than 40%. We feel this every day. El Camino takes care of its teachers. We earn 7% above the LAUSD salary scale, and our admins created a trust to set aside money for our retiree benefits. The average teacher took home more than 90,000 in 2015-16. In 2016-17, Governor Brown announced average K-12 spending of $14.5 per student. We willnow continue to receive less than $10,000 per student and we will continue to do more with less. With The passage of prop 30, ECR is projected to spend more than 95% of all new money on teacher salaries and staff bens LAUSD is projected to spend less than half of its money on those same things.

ECC is a well managed, successful school. Please let us keep focusing on what we do best, providing our students with an excellent education. Please vote no on issuing a Notice of Violations.

9:25 Lori Chandler
Good afternoon board members and Michelle King, superintendent. My name is lori chandler and I am a teacher at El Camino Real and a UTLA member. I graduated from El Cam Real in 1980. I’ve been teaching there since Oct 1985. To say that I am loyal, committed and appreciative to teach at El Camino would be an understatement. I was a teacher at El cam 14 years ago and we talked about going charter. Back then the tieme wasn’t right. We lacked confidence in the administration and the majority of the faculty was not in favor of becoming a charter school.

Five years ago things were very different. The majority of the faculty was in full support og going charter and we fully supported our administration. Becoming a charter school was the best thing that ever happened to el cam real. We now have full autonomy to best serve the needs of our students. Being a charter school to me means that decisions are made at the school level by people who are at the school site every day, autonomy, dealing with situations, issues, concerns, then trying to problem solve with outcomes that best serve the needs of the school, teachers, students and community.

 If you ask me, we’ve done a pretty darned good job. The fact that we’ve done so well, it seems to me, is the reason why you’d like to revoke our charter and bring us back to the district. Maybe it’s because we ‘ve won numerous city titles in athletics, 97 to be exact. Or because we’ve graduated 1000 seniors last year. Or because our Robust AP course offerings, or numerous film festival awards. Or everything else that el cam has done in the last five years. It is my understanding that charter schools lose their charters because they’re not successful academically or financially. How can you say we’re not successful academically or financially? Our school is in the black. Our teachers are paid well. We have several million in the bank for retiree benefits, facility improvements and savings, and we are thriving. Perhaps that’s the problem. We are thriving too much. For me it’s not just professional, it is personal. I have devoted 33 and a half years of my life to that school. So I ask you to allow us to continue to be successful. I’m asking you to vote no--N-O—on issuing the notice of violations to my school, El Camino Real. I thank you for your time.

12:00 David Tokofsky – Thank you, board members and superintendent. I’m reminded as a social studies teacher of the phrase, ‘What did you know? When did you know it and who did you tell?” That refers not to you as a board or to the superintendent but it may refer to your staff and it may refer to the board at this charter school. What did they know? When did they know it? and who did they tell?

You’ve had instances like this before in other charter schools in which the boards of those charters took action before this board took action.

The item before you, as legal counsel has just said may be premature but it is very detailed. And in fact, if it were to be delayed it would probably be even more detailed. And even more detailed. But we already know about the various specifics from the flights, to the meals, and those have more details that I’m sure the board of El Camino will look into as well as you and your staff. Obviously responses, and changes—there is a due process in which the charter gets to the 21st to respond to these items. And certainly they have probably detailed responses: That there was conference in Vegas they were attending. Or there was something in San Antonio that was important to school reform and charters.

Everything does look good at this school. I’ve competed against this school as a decathlon coach. But I never thought of El Camino to compare to Canoga Park. In fact, that’s one of the worst segregated lines in LA Unified’s history. But students come from Ventura County to get into El Camino. Students come from other countries to get into El Camino. You can’t compare Washington Prep and El Camino.

They have a FC MAT report done. All board members should see the FC MAT report and take a look at it.

But What did your staff know? When did they know it? And who did they tell?

This board and superintendent, since October, 2015, has voted on a number of items related to ECC. The info that’s in this board book was not presented in a public way during your renewal, the expansion of that charter, or land discussions and deals. Those items were not presented to you. Somebody knew. Somebody didn’t tell, perhaps, the superintendet and the board, and the Superintendent put her signature to documents and the board voted on documents while this information was available, at least to October ‘15. But I invite you to look before October 15 and take a look at items in October ’14 and ‘13 that previous boards have looked at and voted on while these issues were in play.

15:17 Hi. Good afternoon. My name’s Sue Freitag. I am a proud graduate of El Camino Real High School. I’m also a teacher there, I’ve been there for 17 years. I’m also our visual and performing arts department chair. I’m a national board certified teacher, and I’m a UTLA member.

I wouldn’t normally take time away from my students in the second week of school, but I thought coming down here today was important to urge you to vote against this agenda item, Issuance of Notice of Violations of ECRCHS.

I’ve seen ECR through different lenses and different stages. We knew six years ago that converting to a charter was going to be a growing experience. We were taking a risk to leave the big district and go out on our own. However, we were hopeful that being a charter would allow us to improve, build new, innovative programs and support the specific needs and students and families in our community. I believe we have surpassed our expectations. As a charter, we have flourished. The theater program alone has benefited greatly: Facility upgrades, and the new technology necessary for our students to be competitive in college and theater careers after high school.

ECR has been a part of my family for the past 32 years. From my perspective it has always been a great school with a pristine reputation. Excellence in academics, athletics and of course the arts is what ECR stands for. It hurts me personally to see our reputation under scrutiny.

If the thousands of pages of violations sent to ECRCHS hold any validity, I question the Charter School Division as to why these issues were not brought to our school’s attention prior to last year. We have the same administration. We’ve had the same financial team. We’ve had the same board members. If we were making so many mistakes, why did it take over four years for the CSD to point them out, and in pointing them out threaten revocation of our charter? It seems to me it might be more productive and helpful to a new charter and the students that we serve if we could have received guidance and assistance from CSD along the way.

Finally I’m here today on behalf of my students. They deserve a safe environment free of political interference. And again I urge you to vote no on this issuance of violation for ECR.

David Chay good afternoon. My name is David Che and I am a math teacher at El Camino Charter School as well as a member of UTLA. I was an employee at LAUSD Van Nuys High School. Volley ball coach and wanting to provide

Fluke Fluker
What did you know? When did you know it? And who did you tell it to? That’s a very good question. I ask that of the CSD.

Dean Sodek – Humanitas Global Studies Academy

85% of the faculty voted to go charter.

administration – fully committed to our curricular model, devoted resources, common planning time. Dedicating an exclusive counselor for his program.

Our staff learned of the notice in the first week of school. And many teachers have concerns about the process up to this point. It is our understanding that last year alone our school paid the district $300,000 in oversight fees for our charter, and over the past five years we have paid the district some $1.2 million in charter fees. Many teachers are perplexed as to why and how it is that we haven’t received any actual guidance from the charter office for so long. Yet here In the first week of our sixth year we have the financial kitchen sink being lobbed at us…only at the start of this sixth year do we receive a notice of violation listing items that extend many years back. Only in the sixth year, the year all teachers have exhausted their charter leave, losing potential return rights and access to medical benefits, only in this sixth year, the year the fight was funded against charter schools.

$1.2 million in oversight fees should allow for some assistance

To appeal to this board just to help the charter office do this the right way. In an effort to increase financial transparency, something that we all want.

Melanie Horton, Director of Marketing

We need feedback and guidance. We pay oversight fees and we expect their support. In the name of everything that is best for our school and for our students, our relationship with the CSD should be one of Mentorship.…Encourage the CSD to work together with our school and model a proactive charter/authorizer relationship.

 

 

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My last conversation with Scott Folsom - Or *What could possibly go wrong with education over summer vacation?

Decades-long champion for public schools, Scott Folsom, died last week. Howard Blume wrote a beautiful obituary in the Los Angeles Times.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Scott for the last time a couple of weeks ago. He was troubled not to have written his education homily the week before. He didn’t call it that, but it’s not far off. For years, district officials and parents religiously read Scott’s blog, 4LAkids, every Sunday. Board President Steve Zimmer and Superintendent Michelle King called Scott “the conscience of the district”. Steve said Scott had the ability to see when the emperor had no clothes.

In this era when so many people have found ways to make money off of public education, Scott gave two decades of unpaid public service. He was part watchdog, part caretaker. He criticized because he cared--and he showed great care. His blog was a mix of notes from the many, many meetings he attended, chatter heard-around-the-water-cooler, and broad educational and cultural references infused with Scott's wit and intelligence. He had majored in political science in the 60s. If there were song lyrics that fit a situation, Scott included them. When we read Scott’s blog, we understood both LAUSD and the world better. And we usually, with important exceptions, forgave both.

Scott had called me hoping I could listen to his thoughts on the week’s education happenings and put them into a blog post. I was operating on hope, too, not only because of my deep admiration for him, but because of my awareness--growing by the day--that he was running out of time. He had decided to discontinue cancer treatments, saying he had chosen quality over quantity. But he quibbled about the quality part.

Scott gave this post its title*. He had so much left to say and do, and we would all be better for his having said and done it. If I could help in any way, I was going to try.

So I sat and talked with him for a couple of hours while the Republican National Convention played on the TV in his living room.

Here is part of what he said between long pauses:

The process to put these together does not make it easy to narrate or dictate or any of those kinds of -tates.

I would love to be able to turn over a handful of my notes and have you make it whatever you will. The reality is I can never read my notes 24 hours later, and I don’t even know what I meant. I can read and toss ideas. My mind wanders completely. I love where it wanders. And now morphine makes all these new words.

I guess I could do like Melania Trump and find something that’s pretty damn good and use it. I could probably get away with it longer than she did.

But our campaign is education, and plagiarism is somewhere along with our sworn enemies.

The Trump campaign, on the other hand, has storm-trooped--not tiptoed--through the tulips, and created its own reality. It’s born from reality TV--and there is neither in either.

I was listening to Melania’s speech. Public education! At least she mentioned public education!

This Trump escapade is such a colossal and monumental failure of ethics. Ethics in government, ethics in journalism. The fact that the Republicans let it go this far. The Democrats let it go this far.

All of us let it go THIS FAR.

That the one little boy on the street corner didn’t point out that this particular emperor had no clothes.

Speaking of clothes, now for a subject that’s neither near nor dear, but very close to me.

I was reading somewhere—I think it came out over the gender identification discussion. It was about the signs on the restroom doors. Somebody was commenting about how the color pink had not always been identified with girls.

The haberdashery industry in the UK was all fixated with boys and girls, the ones the Dickens kids were aspiring to be. And so, in stories, if you were selling layettes, you sold pink ones to girls and blue ones to boys.

Amusing. Not the end of the world.

But I’m coming from a different end of the market.

I’m buying adult diapers.

The female ones are pink. Why are we not surprised?

But the male ones? I guess, my gender, in my day and age, blue doesn’t quite go with the GI Joe image. They’re green—Army Man green.

[Long pause.]

That was exhausting.

It had taken Scott over a half hour to say that much. And he was drifting in and out. Then he said,

I did a really bad job of downloading what went on in public education this week.

There’s so much fun to be had, and not enough time, and way too much explanation about Gülen. You and I both know that all charter schools aren’t Gülen schools. But it’s our government money, meant to educate our children.

[Pause.]

The promise made to me before the bait and switch was ‘quality of life’. I don’t want to overdose on anything because I don’t want to miss anything.

Scott had picked different people to take over what he’d be leaving behind. Rachel on the Bond Oversight Committee, Franny needling from the inside, me blogging. It says something that it takes three of us to do what Scott did, and those are the three I know about. I can’t speak for Rachel and Franny, but I can’t imagine I’ll live up to Scott’s example. The striving will make a difference though. So I will try.  

Late last week I heard Scott was nearing the end, and that he was worried. I called him the day before he died. I said, “Scott, you’ve done enough. We’ll take it from here.”

“OK,” he said. “Don’t screw it up.”

Then, always thinking of others, Scott instructed, “Karen, take care of those who need our care.”

So I will try.

 

 

 

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Breaking: NAACP calls for moratorium on charter schools

Julian Vasquez Heilig, education chair of the California NAACP posted news that the NAACP has called for moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charters. The motion was brought by California.

Vasquez Heilig said, "I believe the NAACP, the nation’s vanguard of civil rights, has AGAIN demonstrated and articulated critical leadership sorely lacking from many other civil rights organizations on the issue of school choice."

Vasquez Heilig is right about AGAIN. When I talked with him this morning, he outlined the evolution of NAACP's position. In 2010, the NAACP acknowledged that charter schools cause segregation. Last year, it stated that charter schools are privatization. Now, NAACP is boldly calling for action.

The topic is sure to come up at next month's conference of the National Urban League in Baltimore, when Vasquez Heilig joins a panel with Steve Perry, John King and others who have co-opted the language of the civil rights movement to advance charters and the privatization agenda.

You can read the rest of his post and others on his fantastic blog Cloaking Inequity.

 

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Superintendent Tom Torlakson: Governor for a day! (or 3)

Torlakson B.jpg

Well, here's our chance!

Imagine my surprise when I heard on NPR this morning that State Superintendent of schools Tom Torlakson--my very favorite State official--is Acting Governor of California for the rest of the week. This is what happens when your whole state government comprises the biggest delegation at the Democratic National Convention.

While every other force in Golden State politics is looking for unity in the City of Brotherly Love, my mind leaps to the education priorities we could advance!

It wouldn't be the first time an Acting Governor did a whole lot of governing when Jerry Brown was out of state.

So I’ve penned a letter to the Superintendent to offer my assistance.

Dear Acting Governor Torlakson,

First off, congrats!

I am writing you to offer to rush to the State Capital to work feverishly alongside you to advance our public education priorities while the rest of California’s political wish lists languish in the Philadelphia International Airport baggage claim. (It’s not their fault they exceeded the 3.7 ounce limit.)

I admit, I’ve been feeling envy what with all the selfies my friends have been posting. Betsy pictured with Dolores Huerta. Randi pictured with Bill Clinton. Carolyn and Dallas were even interviewed about their experiences as mother and daughter in Hillary’s and Bernie’s respective delegations.

But, oh, the things we can get done for our schools while they're distracting our elected officials! 

By the way, Tom, I hope you don't let the *Acting* qualifier get in the way of the work we can do together. The philanthropists and politicians certainly haven't let their lack of credentials get in the way of dictating what our teachers and principals do. So let's give it a go!

Just say the word and I’ll be on the next Southwest flight to Sacramento. I’ll use carry-on, so my only baggage will be emotional--a decade of mourning for the once top-funded California public school system and my more recent PTSD from the assault on public schools by the charter lobby.

But there’s no time for a pity party. Here’s my short list of what we mice should do while the cats are away.

What’s that? Charter = accountability? That’s so funny you say that because...they’re lying.

Charter schools claim to receive autonomy in exchange for more accountability. But this is just a slogan because--have you opened a newspaper lately?!

There’s the report of Principal David Fehte of El Camino Real Charter High School in the Southern part of the state who’s been flying first class and buying expensive wine and charcuterie plates at fancy hotels (does he wine & dine alone?) while he moonlights as a scout for the NBA. (Now that Arne Duncan has resigned as US Secretary of Education, I’m pretty sure basketball connections no longer exempt alleged cheaters from scrutiny.)

Then there’s the LA Times report of a charter school paying $566,803 to a teacher who sued because the director, Kendra Okonkwo, forced her to travel with her to Nigeria to marry Okonkwo's brother-in-law to gain US citizenship.

And Gulen.
I know, Caprice Young is cozy with the politicos--but they’re all in Philly this week! [Note: send Philadelphia Inquirer reporter list of California Democrats who have ignored the Gulen scandal said reporter has been covering for years. Pitch idea of confronting them on the Convention floor.]

And I get it; geo-political conflict is complicated. But the moms at the PTA meeting said there isn’t room on Tuesday’s agenda between the bake sale and ordering “I’m a proud public school parent” t-shirts to debate which side of an attempted foreign coup our middle school should be on. They just want the money for our schools that the cult leader in the Poconos is allegedly sucking out of the US education ATM through the vast network of charter schools he has *inspired*.

Here are a few articles in preparation for our discussion: the Washington Post, the New York Times,  60 Minutes, The Atlantic Monthly, just for starters.

I can't make any promises, but I’m pretty sure the expert, researcher Sharon Higgins, would rush right over to Sacramento from Oakland to brief us on this. Shall I tell her 10:00am on Wednesday? [Note: Locate entrance closest to freight elevator for her BOXES of documents.]

Tom, do the blinds in the Capital totally block the sun? I ask because we could co-host a screening of Killing Ed, the Mark Hall documentary that tells this story. (The Nigerian forced marriage has not yet hit the big screen, but we can discuss with Hollywood producers if you wish. Geronimo could write the *based-on-a-true-story-I-swear-I’m-not-joking* screenplay. [Note: clear 4 front parking spaces for stretch limo and ego of Hollywood producer.]

Voters were hoodwinked and they know it. Here's a 4-minute video to brief you on how the parasitic law creates conflict, featuring *me*.

Just throw away the whole project. Period. [Note: Do not exceed 5 minute discussion on this item.]

Some politicians might think kids need more reading and writing drill-and-kill just because I said "ain't" but I know you can take a joke. KPCC’s Mary Plummer covered this law when she was the knock-out arts education reporter for the NPR affiliate. Guess what? Now, she’s the knock-out *political* reporter, so she can go exactly where the story takes us. I would imagine she could cover a political angle for a lot of the reports she covered in education.

My own LAUSD middle school’s library has been shuttered for five years since LAUSD cut all the school librarians in an effort to offload pension costs of elderly teachers. It was shameful. And, no, telling principals they can cut something else in order to fund a librarian is not funding libraries.

Google could provide wifi, HP could provide the printers, VOX could create a digital version of The Weekly Reader (I know--I'm showing my age), etc. etc. In exchange, hang a plaque in each library saying they did something for humanity by helping to make this generation literate.

Sure, AB1369 was progress, but *suggestions* rather than requirements don’t go far enough. 1 in 5 students have dyslexia, and most cases go undetected for years. Can you imagine sitting in school and not being able to access written curriculum for years? We currently don’t test until two years after a teacher notices that a student is suffering. There is lots of evidence that this would put a major dent in the high school dropout rate, too. Now that’s a Data Wall I’d like to see in every school! I could pretty much promise that the dedicated folks from Decoding Dyslexia would rush over to help us with the details. They’ve been working on it for years.

12:00 lunch meeting on Wednesday? [Note: Search yelp for good lunch deliveries near the Capital.]

Charter schools should not be offloading their pension costs onto the public school districts. That's like charging the US Postal Service for the pensions of FedEx drivers. 
[Note: Are the union leaders away this week, too?]

I hear Eli likes to send his money to Arizona. Getting Eli out of education policy is our best chance of returning education funding to levels that are not a national embarrassment, and eliminating all number of his *disruptions*.

That about covers it for now. If Jerry has a long layover, I'll make further plans. I await your call!

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Activists & Advocates make a dent in Democrats' Education Platform

There has been much debate in the last week about whether the Democratic Party is signaling a change in education policy, and this weekend’s Convention Platform meeting provides the best measure.

Earlier in the week, Hillary Clinton spoke to the National Education Association and was well received, except for a comment distinguishing for-profit charters from nonprofit, as if there is a way to qualify the threat charters pose to public schools. Dana Goldstein wrote in Slate that “Hillary Clinton is changing the Democratic Party’s relationship with the school-reform movement.” But education advocates are not so sure.

Blogger Peter Greene is not believing it, saying Clinton is just parsing words. He has the best line ever written on the topic:  "...a modern non-profit charter school is just a for-profit school with a good money-laundering plan."  Jeff Bryant says, maybe and Diane Ravitch says, “time will tell,” advising, “we should all give Hillary Clinton a chance to change direction.” All that is speculation based on interpretation. Advocates are petitioning Clinton to meet with Ravitch for more assurance. The Network for Public Education made headlines for helping advocates with a grassroots push to influence the platform.

Yesterday’s amendments to the Democratic Party’s education platform are the first indication of anything concrete. Much of what was found in the amendments are also recommended by the Network for Public Education.

Of course, bloggers and activists will continue to debate. To help that discussion along, here is the text of the amendments and some of the remarks made during the Committee’s consideration. (Quotation marks indicate direct quotes. Full remarks can be heard on the C-SPAN link, which is indexed and easy to navigate.)

The session started with higher education topics including eliminating college debt and increasing access to college. K-12 amendments were introduced by Chuck Pascal, a Bernie Sanders delegate from Pennsylvania, and AFT President Randi Weingarten, a Hillary Clinton supporter.

AMENDMENT 76 – Testing – passed unanimously

We are also deeply committed to ensuring that we strike a better balance on testing so that it informs but does not drive instruction. To that end, we encourage states to develop a multiple measures approach to assessment and we believe that standardized tests must meet American Statistical Association Standards for reliability and validity. We oppose high-stakes standardized tests that falsely and unfairly label students of color, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners as failing; the use of standardized test scores as a basis of refusing to fund schools or to close schools; and the use of student test scores in teacher and principal evaluations, a practice which has been repeatedly rejected by researchers. We also support enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests without penalty for either the student or the school.

Chuck Pascal: We should only be using standardized tests that are statistically valid. The current standardized testing only indicates that a student is in poverty...We oppose the toxic test and punish culture that allows these invalid test scores to be allowed to use to close schools, be used to punish schools, be used to defund schools and to demonize teachers. We would ask that Randi Weingarten be able to speak.

Randi Weingarten: …Schools become places of joy for children again where we engage kids and we care about their wellbeing.

Amendment #77 – A comprehensive curriculum - passed unanimously

We will invest in high quality STEAM classes, community schools, computer science education, arts education, and expand linked learning models and career pathways. We will end the school to prison pipeline by opposing discipline policies which disproportionately affect students of color and students with disabilities and by supporting the use of restorative justice practices that help students and staff resolve conflicts peacefully and respectfully while helping to improve the teaching and learning environment. And we will work to improve school culture and combat bullying of all kinds.

Chuck Pascal: Recognition that arts are important, too. Of course we support a well rounded education that also includes social sciences and humanities. The amendment importantly talks about discipline policies. 

A secondary amendment also passed unanimously. It was introduced by Troy LaRaviere, a Chicago Public Schools principal and President of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association. If Pascal and Weingarten’s unity says something bigger about Clinton and Sanders—and it does—LaRaviere’s presence says something bigger about the Democratic Party. He has famously tangled with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the neoliberal Democrat who represents what some progressive education advocates believe has been the Party’s worst self.

The Democratic Party is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps, particularly those that lead students from low income communities to arrive to school on day one of kindergarten several years behind their peers from higher income communities.

That means advocating for labor and public assistance laws that ensure poor parents can spend time with their children. This means being committed to increasing the average income in households in poor communities. It means ensuring these children have healthcare, stable housing free of contaminants and a community free of violence in order to minimize the likelihood of cognitive delays. It means enriching early childhood programming that increases the likelihood that poor children will arrive to kindergarten with the foundations for the expectations that we have for them in the areas of literacy, numeracy, civic engagement, and emotional intelligence. It means that we support what it takes to compel states to fund public education equitably and adequately as well as expand support provided by the Title I formula for schools that serve a large number and high concentration of children in poverty.

It means that we support ending curriculum gaps that maintain and exacerbate achievement gaps. We’re also committed to ensuring that schools who educate kids in poverty are not unfairly treated for taking on the challenge of serving those kids.

This means an end to the test and punish version of accountability that does no more than reveal the academic gaps created before they reach school.

We support policies that motivate our educators instead of demoralizing them. No school system in the world has ever achieved successful whole system reform by leading with punitive accountability.

We must replace this strategy with one that will actually motivate educators and improve their training and professional development in order to get results for all students with an emphasis on equitable results for students of color, low income students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

Amendment #38 - Restorative Justice - Passed

We will encourage restorative justice and reform overly punitive disciplinary practices that disproportionately affect African Americans, Latinos and students who identify as LGBTQ.

Roberta Achtenberg said, During the 2011-2012 school year, about 3.5 million students were suspended, 260,000 were referred to law enforcement and 92,000 were arrested either in school or through school activities. Rather than improving the quality of our schools, overly punitive disciplinary policies make matters worse. They fuel mass incarceration epidemics. These policies have a discriminatory bent. We need to change our approach to school discipline. 

Amendment #65 – Charters – Passed

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high quality public school options and expanding these options for low income use. We support democratically governed great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools. And we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools, focused on making a profit off of public resources. We believe that high quality public charter schools should provide options for parents but should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools. Charter schools must reflect their communities and thus must accept and retain proportionate numbers of students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners in relation to their neighborhood public schools. We support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

Randi Weingarten said, “We started the education section with a unity amendment and we are ending the education section with a unity amendment because Democrats should be foursquare for high quality public schools for all children regardless of zip code, regardless of race, regardless of economic status.

“So we have called for a commitment to democratically governed public schools. We’ve said in this amendment that there is a place for charter schools--public charter schools--but we have also said that we can’t have what is happening in Detroit right now where entities like the DeVos Family and the Koch Brothers are trying to use charters to kill off public schools. We need to make sure that we level the playing field for all kids and ensure that all kids have the right, the opportunity to learn and that all public schools are schools where parents want to send their kids, where educators want to work and most importantly where children are engaged and have the opportunity to learn. That is why together we submit this new amendment.”

Chuck Pascal said, “Just to wind up here, this amendment talks about democratically governed public schools, and what that means is we support schools being accountable to their communities through having an elected school as opposed to an appointed board that’s accountable to no one in the community.

“We also want to make it clear that, while we understand that charters’ original purpose was to be innovative and experimental—and small, what we have now is not that. What we have is a dual system that is purporting to be equal, but in reality, it is perpetuating a segregation, a segregation by race, a segregation by income and a segregation by opportunity. That has to stop.

“I want to thank Randi Weingarten for working with me over the last day to get these unity amendments, and to get agreement on language, from those of us in the activist education, and activist community and to the unions and to the Clinton Campaign, I want to thank you for that. “

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In smoothing over co-locations, did LAUSD give away the farm?

The LAUSD Board voted late on Tuesday to direct the Superintendent to either more transparently assist privately operated charters in the takeover of district-owned, public facilities, or to create a fairer process, depending on what is to be believed.

George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson, both retired principals, voted against the motion, which was brought by PUC charter founder Ref Rodriguez and fellow charter champion Monica Garcia. 

Garcia’s opponent in the upcoming school board election, parent Carl Petersen of Change the LAUSD, spoke up on behalf of neighborhood schools, calling Rodriguez’s bluff in the motion’s claim that Prop 39 presents an opportunity for district and charter schools to collaborate.

“I’ve never heard a parent say, ‘Gee, I really hope a charter co-locates on our campus next year.”

He said the situation reminded him of a song lyric from his youth: “You say it’s raining, but you’re pissing down my back.”

Petersen represented parents throughout the district whose children attend co-located schools when he called on LAUSD’s charter division to look for alternatives that put protecting neighborhood public schools ahead of accommodating charters.

But with the exception of McKenna, none of the board members seemed to view the measure in the context of the threat by the charter groups to privatize the school district. Although they reassured each other that the polcy would remain in their hands, not the superintendent's. In discussion, Monica Ratliff acted like a mediator, trying to find a way to get unanimous approval for a measure she said lays out a transparent process. McKenna was not budging. He seemed to think the measure was a surrender. He gave an impassioned speech in support of our schools, saying it was the district's responsibility to try to make our schools the best, not make it comfortable for charters. 

"I don't know how we keep our schools stabilized if we continue to make it easier for us to share our resources." 

McKenna wondered if the real purpose of the motion was to force the board members to make their positions on the issue public. This is no small thing considering board President Steve Zimmer will be up for re-election next year. The California Charter Schools Association is a big player in school board (and beyond) elections. It helped Rodriguez knock veteran educator Bennett Kayser off the board last year.

McKenna directly appealed to his frequent ally: “Mr. Zimmer, I hope you heard what I said.”

But Zimmer voted for the measure, and said the charter schools association has all the power because they sue. Was he acknowledging that the real decision will be made not by the school board, but by a judge? Or was he backing down to the powerful lobby that defeated Kayser? Both fates potentially await.

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A parent testifies about charter co-location

I don't know who the blonde haired, blue eyed woman wearing the sport coat was. When the board members were an hour late, she huddled with three Latina moms and asked if they could hang just a little longer. She said the board members were on their way. The reporter from the LA Times interviewed them but refused to acknowledge the woman in the sport coat. Once the meeting started, two of the moms made public comment about how important it was for charter schools to keep their funding. One said the teachers union is trying to keep their schools from getting money for special ed. Stealing was mentioned. Another explained how much better special ed is in the charter school. The teachers at the regular school had tried to put her child in a special class. Now he has art.

Then I spoke. Here are my prepared remarks, and below is a recording of my four minutes. I sound strident, but damn. I can't believe we are fighting this fight. 

"I noticed that this resolution seeks to find an impartial group of people currently working on co-located campuses. As a parent who has been a charter parent co-locating, as well as a traditional host school parent, I wish you luck in that. You have all heard about the fences that divide co-located campuses. If you come to our schools, you wont find anyone sitting on that fence. There are people firmly planted on one side or the other.

"So the best we can hope for is a balanced group from both sides of the fence: of people pushing for more privatization through charters, and those of us who seek support for our district public schools.

"I would request that you include in your discussion concrete examples in real life, many of which we have sent to some of you:

- The misrepresentation of waiting lists, including charters asking the public to sign even with no intention of enrolling in order to game the system to get more Prop 39 space. You check our work; you count the students in the classrooms we say are unavailable. Check the work on the waiting list and make sure they’re official.

- The increased burden on the public district school that turns principals into multi-tenant property managers.

- An equitable allocation of classrooms—a charter classroom is considered full when there are 24 students and the district’s classrooms are sometimes well over 40.

"I share the anecdote [video tape here] of a charter parent confronting me on a public sidewalk near a shared campus and asking me, what is wrong with the charter, a vibrant vine, wrapping itself around the dying tree of the district school?

"Lastly the charter lobby informs parents of meetings like this so their voice will be heard. Please do the same. Tell your school communities that important policies like this are going to be discussed so that we have an opportunity to save our own schools and save public education. The public schools don't advertise; the charters do. Please do your outreach. It is odd to me that many charter advocates on the board and in the district proudly proclaim to be so, yet our district’s public school advocates remain quiet. We need you to speak up. Defend our schools. Defend public education.

"Please, get off that fence."

There was no discussion among the board members today. They will deliberate and possibly vote on the resolution at the next board meeting. 

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LAUSD retreats on charter co-location. Meeting today.

The LAUSD school board will retreat--er, meet--today at 10:00am to consider Ref Rodriguez's (founder of PUC charters and current school board member) recommended changes to Prop 39 implementation.

Prop 39 is the state law that requires neighborhood schools to turn over underutilized public classroom facilities to privately managed charters. A copy of the resolution is here.

The resolution seeks board approval for an "impartial group of District and charter school leaders, currently working at co-located campuses, [to] be assembled".

He hasn't mentioned yet how he intends to find anyone working on a co-located campus who could possibly be described as impartial.

Rodriguez's resolution claims that Prop 39 is "an opportunity for charter schools and traditional schools to collaborate by sharing resources that benefit all public school students..."

So, it's all good. And to make it obvious that this is going to be an amicable conversation--whether you want it to be or not!--the board meeting will be "retreat style". Rather than the usual, chilly board room, the retreat will be held at the California Community Foundation. That's the foundation that administers Eli Broad's grant to fund Los Angeles Times coverage of  Broad's and the charter industry's hostile takeover plan of LAUSD. Again, impartiality abounds.

What could possibly go wrong?

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A teacher remembers

I celebrate Memorial Day as the proud daughter of a World War II Marine, the first in his family to go to college--on the GI bill. It seems if we celebrate that, we must remember people like Adrianna "Audrey" Castellanos, too. So I'm posting this with the permission of the author, Joshua Leibner, NBCT. It is one of Josh's regular emails to a list of former students. I'm lucky to have gotten on that list and would be luckier still if I'd spent time in his classroom.

Hey All--

One of my favorite contemporary authors is a poet from Milford, Michigan named Thomas Lynch. He is also the town's undertaker.

In one of Lynch's many extraordinary essays about death and life, he noted a truth about his trade:  "When we bury the old, we bury the known past, the past we imagine sometimes better than it was, but the past all the same, a portion of which we inhabited. Memory is the overwhelming theme, the eventual comfort. But burying infants, we bury the future, unwieldy and unknown, full of promise and possibilities, outcomes punctuated by our rosy hopes. The grief has no borders, no limits, no known ends, and the little infant graves that edge the corners and fencerows of every cemetery are never quite big enough to contain that grief.  Some sadnesses are permanent.  Dead babies do not give us memories.  They give us dreams.”

Ten years ago today, one of the most remarkable students I ever had, Adrianna "Audrey" Castellanos, was driving home to Carson from her first year at UC Santa Cruz when a car swerved in front of her and caused her car to crash. Audrey died that day.

Most of you, of course, didn't know her--although a lot of you did, or you heard of her.

Although Audrey wasn't one of Lynch's "babies," she was still in the infancy of her potential future and a life and unrealized dreams that would have gone on to affect many others. 

Most students aren't politically "aware" until later in life.  All of you who have moved beyond high school have at one point been made cognizant of how much politics and its application dictates everything about our lives.  On your college campuses you certainly saw activists protesting and campaigning for causes both global and local and you saw how your one tiny life can create a change in the universe by lending your own voice to a movement.

I first met Audrey when she and some friends wanted to sponsor a Peace Club at Carson High. 

Okay.  Sure. Come here meet during lunch.

But what I was most impressed by was that this wasn't some wussy, namby-pamby Kumbaya organization that was more feel good for college bound participants than truly a meaningful, thoughtful activity. Audrey had a very sophisticated understanding of oppression politics as played out on minorities and the poor.  She was determined to make the Peace Club live and breathe.

Audrey and that Peace Club did something in March, 2003 that I will always remember. In a now faraway era of the Bush-Cheney years, the machinations for the Iraq War invasion were fully in place. They had greased the political wheels for an assault on that country among the population, but, all ground wars need soldiers to show up.

The sickening truth is that the US Military recruits on high school campuses across the country--but they target poor and minority schools to get their working class soldiers.  How did we know Bush had decided on war? A few days before the attack on Iraq, the Army came to campus with all the candy. The Humvees and glitzy war props were set up in the Carson quad...the glossy brochures with promises of a college education after a four year commitment...the promises of a "career" after service...the flags and gang-like brotherhood of soldiers with words of "honor", "respect" and "duty" tossed like star-spangled graffiti on a population whose country only comes to them with goodies if blood is required.

The Peace Club reacted quickly with a counter protest of their own and surrounded the snappily dressed recruiters with signs saying "Go Recruit in Manhattan Beach!" or "Take your Humvee to Palos Verdes!" and got in their face challenging their promotion pitch. Nervous administrators were worried about these student protesters and thought it was disrespectful to the school's "guests" to confront them in such a manner.

I have never been so proud of a bunch of high school students in my entire life.

Audrey would go on to further her education and activism at  UC-Santa Cruz, a school with a fabled history of social justice. Two months before her death, Audrey had already participated in supporting striking bus drivers in Santa Cruz and traveled to Tecate, Mexico for her spring break to help build houses for the poor. She belonged to the Coalition Against Militarism in Schools and Amnesty International.

She was one of only six winners statewide of the Youth Activism Award, an honor presented each year by the California Teachers Association. 

The perennial Christmas favorite movie It's A Wonderful Life speculates about what would happen to one man's community if that person wasn't around to "change" things for the better.  I often wonder what difference Audrey would have made to plenty of communities if she were still around rolling up her sleeves and motivating others towards working to a more just society.

You should know that I'm tremendously proud that a lot of you have taken up work and passions that seek to assist others in ways that challenge power structures and demand rights and empowerment for many who have been hurt and injured by a system that has ignored their needs. Despite its working class and minority status, Carson High produced a lot of hearts who have dedicated themselves to a broader, societal perspective.

Schools (and education pedagogies) are not neutral. Educators have a duty and obligation to expose and challenge their students to understanding the world that they are entering into and give them the opportunities and tools to find their own voices and ways in doing so.  Each student will discover their own unique and individual way of expressing that world, all navigating how they choose to live in it.

But they must LEARN and EXPERIENCE that world for themselves.

So this note is not for Audrey who is sadly dead these past ten years.

This is for you, the living, in hope that whatever you are doing or thinking, you are finding a greater meaning in the opportunity that merely being alive affords.

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What is the New Yorker cover really telling us in "Commencement"?

 "Commencement,” by R. Kikuo Johnson. (courtesy of The New Yorker 2016)

"Commencement,” by R. Kikuo Johnson. (courtesy of The New Yorker 2016)

By Michael Cavna, The Washington Post
POMP
 is so often short-lived, because it necessarily must run headlong into circumstance. And to illustrate that point perfectly, one image this week keeps floating back, as resilient as hope, into my visual consciousness.

The work is called “Commencement,” by Brooklyn-based artist R. Kikuo Johnson for The New Yorker magazine, and at first blush, it can register as simply a leafy seasonal illustration that glides across your awareness as light as whimsy. Then pause a moment and the visual joke hits: A fresh graduate glimpses one possible future, as embodied by the manual labor of the...
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Forget the presidential race. These students are getting politically engaged in issues at school.

We can’t be measured with numbers. We’re more than numbers. We’re human beings.

The presidential primaries are putting a huge emphasis on political engagement among our youth, but some youth are cutting their political teeth on issues closer to home.

At Venice High School, two students have started the Union of Venice Students to inform their classmates about their rights, especially the right to opt out of standardized tests.

The students, Cobalt and Ruben, were inspired by the movie “Defies Measurement”, a documentary that traces the transformation of an Oakland, California school from a creative, nurturing incubator for students into a test prep institution. The documentary is a moving portrayal of corporate education reforms sucking the life out of a school.

Armed with detailed information and plenty of passion, the Union of Venice Students is imploring their classmates to get engaged and opt out of the upcoming standardized tests.

I interviewed these courageous and intelligent activists after a copy of their no-longer-underground newspaper Venice Posted found its way to me.

PS: So how did you get involved in student politics?

Ruben: The school system is here for us. It’s always been a philosophy of mine, but with the student union, I felt as though it would be a powerful way for us to really kind of establish that philosophy among our fellow peers. Get more and more students involved in what’s going on in our education system.

Cobalt: My focus on the union is awareness of rights. Because in state law, with education code and all that, there are all these rights that students have. But students don’t know they have these rights and the administration doesn’t recognize these rights. So that, I think, is one of the main forces of evil.

 

PS: Evil is a pretty big opponent, but you don’t strike me as someone Waiting for Superman. How are you fighting evil?

Ruben: Last semester I sent an email to our principal where my stance was on the Smarter Balanced test and I was kind of asking her why she was putting so much pressure on it. I told her Instead of focusing on these exams, we should maybe focus on making the school better. Ya know? Well, she really rebuffed it and kinda said, ‘oh, just meet with me in person’. I really wanted something in writing, too, to see what her stance was on it.

 

PS: Why?

Ruben: I felt it’s more clear what her position is and there’s no miscommunication, where, ‘I heard she said this.’ Having it in writing is what she said, to make it more clear.

 

PS: Is this the first time you’ve considered political action?

Cobalt: I’ve always been sort of saying ‘hey, I’ve got this right and I should be allowed to exercise this right’. It has gotten me into some trouble in the past.

One of the rules at school is you’re not allowed to wear hats that don’t have the Venice High School logo on it. But I always saw that as infringing on my free speech. So I have this hat with a red star on it that I bought when I was in China. And I always wear that. Then this year I got called out on it. I was in the Dean’s office for three hours while they basically told me that if I didn’t agree to follow this rule they were going to send me out of the school. That’s how that ended, I sort of stopped wearing the hat because I wanted to focus more on organizing this so we could have a larger body with more strength than just one person wearing his hat.

 

PS: Kind of the opposite of a dunce cap. What else?

Cobalt: The [administration] is putting in a lot of things to convince students that you’re better off taking the test. She’s bringing back the policy of Off-campus passes for seniors next year. The requirements are you have to have 3.0 GPA, high attendance, and you have to have taken the Smarter Balanced test. There’s also, I’ve heard talk of local businesses giving money to the school for every student that takes the test and some teachers are only going to sign you letters of recommendation [for college] if you take the test.

Cobalt: Yeah, a couple of my teachers have said that they would only sign you a letter of recommendation if you’ve taken the test.

 

PS: So is that the typical response from your teachers?

Ruben: We have an interesting response from teachers. Either you’re completely for the test or you’re completely against the test. That’s something we’ve noticed, a trend. Several teachers have approached us telling us to kind of quiet down, I want to say, with our distribution of our newsletter, and other teachers are completely endorsing us like ‘yeah, I’m with you 100%’. But they don’t want to put it out there and, really stay out of trouble with the administration. I thought that was an interesting trend.

 

PS: Has the administration talked with you about your activism?

Cobalt: Not directly. She went to [our teacher] and told him to tell us to stop. He basically said, ‘I’m not in charge of them. They have this right to do that.’ She’s never actually come to us directly. She’s always tried to go indirectly around or talked to someone else to tell them to tell us to stop.

Ruben: More recently, she’s told all of my teachers. They’ve got pressure from the administration to tell us to stop distributing this newsletter.

 

PS: New York State had 200,000 opt outs last year. How many did Venice High have?

Cobalt: Last year, I feel like the bulk of the opt out movement was because it was happening at the same time as the AP tests, and not having anything to do with the whole standardized testing in general.

We’ve noticed that it seems to be flipping around this year. A lot of the people who have been telling me, “oh yeah, I’m definitely going to opt out’, most of the people who I feel like  I’ve been hitting the most with this message are people who aren’t in AP classes. The people who seem to be in opposition to the movement the most are the ones who are in the AP classes.

Ruben: I think they’re just trying to be as much of a scholarly student as they possibly can.

Cobalt: There’s also a lot of propaganda going around about the test. Like if you don’t take this test your life is not going to be able to be good. You’re not going to be able to have a good college education. You have to take this test. It’s almost being brainwashed into some people that, this test, you have to take it.

 

PS: Last election, someone named Marshall Tuck ran against our State Superintendent on the platform that the Ed Code is too long and cumbersome for adults to understand. What do you think?

Cobalt: Ever since I’ve been getting into issues regarding free speech and stuff, I’ve gotten myself well versed in several sections of the Ed Code.

Ruben: He knows them like the palm of his hand.

Cobalt: Like, that one is Section 60615. I think it clearly says that these tests, you can’t be forced to take them, and the parent does have the right to opt them out. But I do feel like it should be worded as more of an explicit right and less of a ‘this is something you can do’. I feel like if it was listed as more of an explicit right, then that would, ya know, like all the things that are happening like with the principal saying, ‘you have to take the test in order to get this thing’, I feel like that would sort of stop because you can’t be punished for exercising your right.

 

PS: After some parents sued their school district, LAUSD has actually told schools they have to send a letter home informing parents of the right to opt out.

Cobalt: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve gotten that.

 

PS: What do you think about the idea that parents just want to look at a school's overall test score to decide on a school for their kids? What do you say to them?

Cobalt: For me, when I was looking at schools, we first were looking around and my mom had found this school because of the foreign language magnet. I had always been into foreign languages. She said oh let’s go here. we went to the tour, one thing we noticed on the tour was the tour was being run by students and they were all happy to be at school and they loved the program and they were all talking about the activities and the clubs they were involved in, the classes they were taking. Someone mentioned that there was a trip to China they took with the Chinese class and that’s really what got me to want to come to this school. And then I went to another school and the entire first hour of the tour was sitting in the library watching a presentation, a powerpoint where they were talking about their curriculum and what they focus on and then going through their test scores, like a chart or graph of their test scores and you didn’t actually get to see the classes. What I liked about this school’s tour was that we went into a lot of classes. The other school, we didn’t go into any classes. It was just focusing on these scores and numbers that didn’t mean anything.

 

PS: You’ve been handing out the opt out forms. Do people get it?

Cobalt: Some people do. If they read the newspaper. I wanted to distribute it with the newspaper but I didn’t have enough copies printed. That was the only problem. So we’re going to have an Opt Out Day. We were originally planning to all stand out on the front lawn and make a large line and hand them out. Have a couple extra copies but then it rained that Friday. So we were stuck.

 

PS: In the movie, we pretty much see how a school district’s obsession with test scores can suck the life out of a school. Has all the life been sucked out of Venice High School?

Ruben: No, now it’s just two or three minutes of a teacher explaining why we have to take the tests. Not much of a curriculum change.

Cobalt: I feel like that will be coming soon. This is only the 2nd year of Smarter Balanced, so I think that as the years go on, curriculum will start to shift to teaching to this test specifically.

I’d always had the idea of, hey, teachers have a union. Maybe students should have a union. But then with the growing issues at the school, I decided, you know, I think we should actually start one.

 

PS: What do your parents think?

Ruben: They’re behind us 100%.

 

PS: There’s no standardized test for student activism. So how do you measure your success?

Cobalt: The way we distribute [the newspaper], is we go out in the hallways or after school out on the front lawn, and we just hand it to anyone we see. We look around and can see a couple people reading it. That’s what we like to see.

Ruben: We’re adamant about not distributing during class time. To make sure it’s legitimate and we don’t violate--

Cobalt: We don’t hand it out during class time because that can be disruptive.

Ruben: We have a lot of mixed response. The more scholarly students are like, ‘You guys are crazy. Stop doing this nonsense. Take the test and get over it.’

Cobalt: ‘You can’t do this. You’re going to hurt the school too much’. I‘ve heard other people saying, ‘Man, I’ve just read this, everything is so right, I’m opting out right now.’

 

PS: What else did learn from the movie?

Cobalt: In the movie, they said there was some law regarding statistics, that when you take a statistic that measures something and you really focus on it, then the focus shifts to the statistic itself rather than what that’s trying to measure.

What I think is happening is this country, the education system, the people in charge of it, the government and all that, is focusing on these test scores, but they’re not really focusing on what these test scores are measuring: the quality of our education.

 

PS: What do you think would be the best measure of your education?

Cobalt: Personally, I don’t think that you can measure the true quality of one’s education. I feel like that’s just too complex of a thing. It’s multi-sided. You can’t actually accurately measure it with any sort of testing, or any sort of assessment. It’s something that develops within a person and they take that and go into the real world and put that in action.

Ruben: I agree with him. We can’t be measured with numbers. We’re more than numbers. We’re human beings. We have different qualities. Some people have qualities in art. Some people love math. Some are more analytical. Some are a bit more closed minded. I feel like numbers, or choosing A, B, C or D really can’t measure what kind of human being you are. What’s your ranking as a human being?

 

PS: Are either of you planning to run for elected office any time soon?

                              Note: The school principal did not respond to requests for an interview.

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