Setting the Standard in Education

Archive for the ‘LA’ Category

The Road More or Less Travelled

In LA, Uncategorized on August 2, 2010 at 3:44 pm

I am happy to report that as expected, I will be moving to New York City. I should be there by the middle of the month. This may or may not mean fewer posts over the next couple of weeks, as you’ve seen this past week. I will do my best to blog as often as I can, but I can’t guarantee anything. Right now, I am waiting to find out what information I am allowed to disclose about my job, as I will be working for an education-related organization. I would love to be able to comment on relevant topics, but I need to make sure I don’t step on any toes or go over any boundaries. As such, I’m going to stick to non-New York-related topics until I find out what I am and am not allowed to say. I have lots of packing, cleaning, and selling of possessions to do in the next few days, so I’m going to go head off and do those things. Tomorrow, I’m going to try to get in a post comparing the education platforms of the two major candidates for California governor, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman. Both have some solid ideas and some inconsistencies. It should be a treat.

I will be seeing a lot of this on my drive from LA to NY.

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The Future of LAUSD

In California, LA on July 31, 2010 at 4:45 pm

Back in June, I reported that LAUSD had hired John Deasy as assistant superintendent under Ray Cortines. It’s important to note taht Deasy is being paid more than Cortines, who also gave Deasy the bigger office. Clearly, the assumption is that Deasy will be superintendent when Cortines finishes his term. A little over a week ago, Cortines announced that will be sooner than what was previously expected. Cortines had a contract that lasted until the end of 2011, but he says he will be done next spring. This comes as a bit of a surprise, but it’s not a huge change from what the original plan was. By retiring next spring, Cortines will have served about 2 1/2 years of his 3-year contract. These past few years and his previous term were both fraught with difficulties. He presided over huge budget cuts and layoffs.

Cortines is retiring early to help transition LAUSD into a new era.

However, that seems like it was the plan all along. Cortines is seen not as a reformer, but as a budget-slasher. While he has done some great things for LAUSD like pressing for allowing wider school takeovers by CMOs and other organizations, his main issue has been navigating a financial crisis. LAUSD has been in dire straits since he came aboard in 2008 and he has worked his way into making things better. While the district is by no means out of the clear, perhaps this is a sign that Cortines thinks things should be better by next year. Or that he’s done dealing with the financial woes. What seems clear is that he’s creating a fast-track for Deasy to takeover next spring and put his own print on LA’s schools.

Chaos and Teachers’ Voices

In Federal, LA on July 6, 2010 at 4:09 pm

As I was reading Joanne Jacobs’s blog today, I came across this tidbit from Organized Chaos. Its author, Ann Bailey-Lipsett, was invited to a panel discussion with Education Sector. You can see the whole video here. Here’s what Jacobs quoted that interested me:

With first graders this process usually starts out in a few different ways.

The “structure-seekers” ask a lot of questions like “Where do I put my pencil?” “What is the right answer?” and “Do you want us to use blue paper or light blue paper?” while the “oh good, freedom! Let’s see what we can do/get away with” group gets busy making something happen. Not necessarily the right thing, mind you, but paper gets cut, glue bottles are out, excited chatter starts. Then another group, of course, the “run and hiders” manage to sneak into the classroom bathroom, or into the classroom library . . .  All the while, the “I have the right answer” group of children is walking around the room telling everyone else what to do with utmost confidence. And of course, because they are 6 and 7, they end up crying, stamping their feet, and swearing that they are not Susie/Jamie/Max’s friend because Susie/Jamie/Max wont listen to their idea.

Which is, actually, somewhat similar to what’s going on in the education-sphere as we all react to Race to the Top, and the (possible?) changes in Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The act formally known as NCLB).

Some states immediately got busy applying for RttT grants, while others refused to participate in the process. Some are not acknowledging that any change is occurring and will not until they’ve seen progress from other states, while some, who comfortably followed NCLB, are still waiting for specific instructions. Even in the room today, as I listened to the debate over how much students’ standardized assessments should play into teacher evaluation I couldn’t help feel that this how we are reacting to the discussion even on a personal level. Some of us are the bossy first graders announcing we know what the answer should and should not be. Some of us figure it will all play out in the end and we’re just along for the ride, while others look at this as a blank check to start some change.

Was this classroom full of 6-year-olds or policy-makers?

I really enjoyed Bailey-Lipsett’s insights, so I figured I’d look a little deeper and see what the rest of her blog post had to say. I thought a few of her points were really important. First of all, there is a worry that this method of being “tight on goals, loose on means” as Duncan has said can backfire. Bailey-Lipsett says she named her blog “Organized Chaos” specifically because of the craziness that results in these similar methods. Everyone has a different reaction and it takes a lot of energy to get to the end. However, after thinking about it, she realizes that with the right constraints, she ends up with better products in her classroom than when she has more structure. The idea behind the methods is clearly that with so many people trying many different things, there will be a big mixture of successes and failures from which to learn. Those lessons can then be applied in the future. If we only try one method, we can only know whether that one method worked. If we try many, there are many lessons to be learned.

Another point that of worry for her is the part of teachers in all of this. This has been a particularly contentious issue recently. The Administration has said many times that they want teacher input, but most teachers don’t feel like they are a part of the process. They don’t even feel much connection to the process, since it takes time for any of the new initiatives to take effect. Schools are still caught up in whether or not they will make AYP, pitting teachers against a system of punishment and blame. She said Brad Jupp pointed to the ability of unions to be the voices of teachers in all of this, but to her, in the current climate, that’s not feasible. Teachers join unions for protection from lawsuits, not as a place to voice their opinions. Perhaps that is the critical point that needs to be made. The unions have become powerful in many places because of their large membership, but there are so many teachers who are members that don’t even follow what their own unions are doing. If you thought national voter turnouts were terrible, you should see union voting. Rates of under 20% are not unusual.

One solution would be to create a grassroots movement to get teachers more involved in their unions. Young teachers with new ideas could actually participate and make a difference. I had a discussion with some others about this very thing. Within UTLA it literally only takes a handful of votes to get elected as a delegate in the House of Representatives. Get some people together and you can have your voice heard. While this grassroots approach has potential, I am a top-down kind of guy. I think to get things done quickly, people at the top need to make them happen. Perhaps instead of dealing with unions (which also leaves out all those who don’t belong to them), the administration should be looking to create ways for teachers to have input. Task forces and advisory committees could be formed and polls taken to see what teachers want. Why should it be so hard to find out what teachers think?

What do you think? How can teachers be heard better? Tonight, I’m off to a screening of “Waiting for Superman.” I’m sure you’ll hear all about it tomorrow.

Locke Steps

In California, Federal, LA, Uncategorized on June 30, 2010 at 4:19 pm

On Thursday, Sam Dillon of the New York Times wrote about Green Dot’s transformation of Locke High School and the high cost in turning it around. I am particularly interested in Locke, having run a leadership program for students there while I was an undergrad at USC. When I visited the school in 2006, it was not uncommon to see graffiti in the building. I remember my first experience there waiting for the teacher to come to the front to tell the security guard that it was OK for me to come in. Parking was also interesting. The teacher parking lot was filled with cars, not just in spots, but double-parked behind other cars and some just stopped on the side. Although that doesn’t sound like a major issue, it was indicative of the climate of the school.

When it comes to organization, I can’t say that it seemed much different than the other LAUSD schools I had visited. I had received a grant from Ralph Lauren and MTVU to run a leadership and technology program for high school freshmen and sophomores. The idea was that I’d teach them skills to help them set up their own organizations at the school. For a couple of months, I went around to schools trying to get appointments with principals to ask if I could run the program for them. They didn’t have to do anything other than sign off on it. I had the transportation, I had the program. I had ways to recruit students. Everything. After almost three months of getting nowhere, I finally talked to woman who recruited me to Teach For America and she gave me the name of one of the teachers at Locke. I called her that night and she told me to come drop off the applications for students the next day. The program was off and running, but it certainly had nothing to do with getting through the bureaucracy of the higher-ups. If you’re interested in reading about the exploits of the TFA teachers at Locke, there’s a book.

Anyway, that was all a very long tangent to explain how Locke was  just your average crime-ridden poorly-organized behemoth of a school. In 2008, Green Dot Public Schools took over aiming to transform the school. One of the most important changes that people point to is the fact that Locke was split into seven different smaller schools, creating a close-knit environment. While it’s a little misleading to say that this is a complete departure from the past – there were already separate teams within the school that essentially created separate schools – the organization is the obvious difference. The school looks nicer, the staff is stronger, and most importantly, it seems as though the students believe in the school and in themselves. It’s clear that it’s basically a different school. This is no surprise, considering Green Dot’s track record.

However, Dillon points to one problem with being able to replicate what Green Dot has done: the cost.

According to Dillon, Locke may have transformed like a butterfly, but the cost stings like a bee.

By some estimates, Green Dot had to raise $15 million in private funds to transition the school, two-and-a-half times the $6 million per school Congress is allowing districts to apply for. These numbers are a bit misleading for a few reasons, though. The $6 million is in addition to the normal operating costs that the school is already receiving. The school also gets per pupil funding. How much? The budget is for close to $30 million per year with the state paying for $25 million of that. While that may sound like a lot, with 3,200 students, that amounts to less than $10,000 per student. In comparison, it was just reported that the state of New York spends over $17,000 per pupil. The national average is higher than California (which seems odd, considering how much higher cost of living is in California). Is it any surprise that the school spent just under average for pupil spending? The problem seems to be California’s budget issues more than anything else. Aside from California’s already low spending on students, Alexander Russo says that he has heard that, charters get less to spend than traditional public schools, which accounts for as much as $4 million by itself. One would expect that a large school with lots of problems in an expensive area would cost above average to turn around, not below. If anything, Green Dot should be commended, rather than questioned for how much they raised to make big strides in such a problem school.

Back on track

In California, LA on June 24, 2010 at 11:56 pm

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s been a few days since my last post. Aside from applying for jobs in NYC (anyone have any leads?), I’ve been spending the week trying to catch up on all the articles I was behind on. I subscribe to 19 education news sources to get you the best tidbits from around the blogosphere and further, so after being in Israel for 3 1/2 weeks, I was behind by about 700 articles. I’ve managed to finally catch up, so I figured it’s time to get back to my article every day or two that I had going before.

There are a few  topics that I would like to cover. Tomorrow’s post will be about the recent selection of organizations that won grants to develop assessments aligned with the new CORE standards. Very exciting. I’ll also give you my thoughts on the scalability of the Locke High School turnaround, a school to which I have a personal connection.

Tonight, we’ve got  a local LA headline (from yesterday): John Deasy, deputy director of the Gates Foundation’s education division, has been hired as the new deputy superintendent for LAUSD. Not only that, but with a salary of $25,000 more than what Ray Cortines (the current superintendent and his boss) is making, there is speculation that he will take over for Cortines within two years. Before his stint with the Gates Foundation, Deasy was superintendent for Prince George’s County Public Schools from 2006-2008 and Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District from 2001-2006.

Deasy has been picked as the new deputy superintendent for LAUSD.

What does this mean for LAUSD? First of all, it could possibly be a strong step in the right direction. Under Cortines, the district has by-and-large bent to the will of UTLA, not wanting to ruffle any feathers. While I am sure Deasy intends to work with the union, rather than against it, his track record shows he is a big proponent of some policies that they have adamantly fought against. Most notably, he arranged a bargain in his Maryland district to incorporate performance pay into the teacher contract. Other policies he has advocated include data-based decision making, staff development, fair evaluations for both teachers and administrators, and revenue sharing by richer sections of the district with poorer ones.

Of note is his performance in his previous districts. While Deasy made large gains with Prince George’s County, he left after less than three years with the district still the second worst in Maryland. I doubt he’d leave so quickly from such a big project as this, but you never know. There is certainly a lot on the line for him if he is to step in after Cortines, who at the age of 77 is expected to retire within the next two years. One thing is for sure, it will be no easy task with so much dysfunction and so many budget problems both at the district and state levels.

For real this time…

In California, Federal, LA, Uncategorized on June 20, 2010 at 2:26 pm

OK, so my plan to write entries while in Israel did not quite pan out. It did not help that the adapter for my laptop decided to die. So now that I got that all squared away a few days ago, I’ve been in the process of trying to catch up on a month’s worth of articles. I thought perhaps I’d get through all of them and then start writing… I still have almost 600 articles left in my queue dating back to May 28. So instead of making you all wait another week or two, I’ll just start writing and hope that I can get back on track. Before I do, I thought I might mention that I’ll be relocating. The blog will stay here and I’ll still keep the national/LA stuff going, but since I’ll be heading to the NYC area, I’ll add in some NY/NJ local news once in a while, too. Since there are already lots of updates elsewhere on big to-dos in that part of the country, I don’t feel as obligated to make sure the general public is aware of them.

I am about to work on an entry about The Lottery, an excellent film I saw last night. It will be up later today.

Is California Getting Some Help with RttT?

In California, Federal, LA on May 6, 2010 at 12:36 am

This article in the LA Times suggests that the state of California has recently been told by the federal DOE that it doesn’t need to get full participation from every district for Race to the Top as long as LAUSD (which has more students than half of the states in the US) takes part. There has been a lot of talk recently over whether it is better to have full buy-in from the districts, unions, etc. or to be bold. Duncan has had some frustration with this topic. There has been lots of speculation that because Delaware and Tennessee both had strong union support of their ideas, that was the way to go. However, Duncan has specifically said, “watered-down proposals with lots of consensus won’t win.” This points to an opening up of how the funding works. If it’s true that the strength of the proposal lies in how much reform there is, California has more incentive to target just a few districts that are willing to make greater strides than a large number of districts.

California probably figured it could win the race by shedding some weight.

Andy Smarick isn’t so sure that the article is accurate, though. His contentions are that: 1. Any application would be game if this were true, as long as they meet the data requirements. 2. It doesn’t make sense that the Department of Ed would have given them specific advice, since they are not apt to do that. And 3. It’s the judges that do the scoring, not the Ed Department anyway.

I’m not so sure there’s as big of a problem as Smarick thinks. First of all, if you take a look at the Race to the Top FAQs, question A-4 says that

The State’s applications for funding under Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (Stabilization) program must be approved by the Department prior to the State being awarded a Race to the Top grant.

It doesn’t say anything about not being allowed to make sure your application is legitimate; in fact, it implies the opposite. While the DOE last year said that LAUSD couldn’t apply on its own separate from the state, they never said the state had to have all of its districts in the race for its own application. In fact, if you take a look at section K of the FAQs, it talks about the process for LEAs (local education agencies, usually districts) to sign up (emphasis added):

Participating LEAs must agree to implement all or significant portions of the State’s plan and must enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) or other binding agreement with the State that specifies the scope of work that the LEA will implement. The expectation is that participating LEAs will implement significant aspects of the State’s plan…If the State is awarded a Race to the Top grant, its participating LEAs (including those that submitted too late to be included in the application) will have up to 90 days to complete final scopes of work (referred to as Exhibit II in the model MOU). At the conclusion of that period, States will notify LEAs of their final section 14006(c) subgrant.

The implication seems to be that there is no expectation that all districts will comply. There even seems to be an expectation that they won’t and that the funding is based on those that do, rather than what the whole state is doing. So perhaps, the LA Times article wasn’t wrong, so much as misleading. What probably happened is that those in charge of the state’s application asked if they could have a more limited scope, because the population of California is bigger than the 18 smallest states combined. I don’t think that there were necessarily any lengthy negotiations of what they could or could not do. California may have submitted a proposal that was then approved. The author of the Times article also seems a bit unfamiliar with what they’re writing about, making it seem as if the deal with the Department of Ed means that the portions about charter laws and other factors can be glossed over. If anything, with fewer districts, expect the state to have its application more in line with what Duncan et al. want with more loosening of charter laws and tying performance to pay for teachers. The scenario really appears to be a win-win. The districts that participate have a higher chance of winning and the Administration doesn’t have to spend as much money if California wins, while still getting their participation.

Also, can someone please tell Andy Smarick that there are three words that start with ‘t” in Race to the Top, not two?

Update 5/6: It looks like my hunch was right. Edweek says that there was no deal between California and the Department of Ed. Rather than having a deal where California didn’t have to ask any other districts to participate (which the article never actually says, btw), the idea is that there is not a requirement that there be a large number of LEAs participating. There never was in the first place, but there were probably some conversations with Duncan encouraging the state to apply and reassuring them it would be OK. You can read the DOE’s damage control here.

Americans: Xenophobic Since 1776

In LA on April 30, 2010 at 11:54 am

Old white people are at it again, spreading fear and hatred of other cultures to “protect the children.” OK, I know I shouldn’t say that and it’s a gross over-generalization, but it got you interested, right? Today’s local LA story comes from Hacienda Heights, an “unincorporated census-designated place” about 18 miles east of downtown Los Angeles (it’s also the home of The Dutchess). The area has more than its share of racial angst with drastic demographic changes in the last 30 years. An area that was once very white then became heavily Asian, and now  also very Hispanic. The most recent census data shows that Asians and Latinos each make up a little under 40% of the population with Caucasians being just under 20%.

How has this played out? One example is the protesting of the building of a Buddhist temple in the 1980s because of fears there may be animal sacrifices and that the use of gongs would be disruptive toi the neighborhood. No, really, that was not an exaggeration. More recently, the district voted whether to be come a city on its own in 2003, but that was struck down. Some worried that it would become too easy for the Asians to take control. That being said, the one major council that Hacienda Heights does have, the Board of Education of Hacienda La Puente School District, is a majority Asian.

Now that we have our scene set, we watch as the action unfolds. The Chinese government recently began a program called the Confucius Classroom, an effort to teach children Chinese and about Chinese culture to try to root out misconceptions, or as one editorial called it, “tantamount to asking Hugo Chavez to send his cadres to teach little American kids economics.” I wish I were kidding. Anyway, back in reality, the Chinese government has funded these classrooms all across the US, 60 so far and another 80 planned for the next two years, aside from the 45 to be set up in North Carolina. It is paying the school district $30,000 per year plus providing 1,000 textbooks, CDs, and other educational materials. The Hanban, China’s language teaching agency, was even going to send a teacher, but the school board thought better of it with there already being so much resistance. Without a California teaching certificate, the person would have had to be a teaching assistant with another staff member there anyway.

Confucius - Warping Young Minds Since 551 BCE (man, I'm on a roll with these slogans) Image from http://media.photobucket.com/image/america%20not%20confucius/weedini/confucius-1.jpg

Anyway, you can see where this is going. People (mostly old white people, mind you) are opposing the program, because they think it’s un-American. They think that the program will indoctrinate children into being Pinko Commies. They have even shown up to school board meetings with signs like “America, Not Confucius” and have promised to try to unseat the four members who voted for the program. Did I mention one person opposed to the program said her concern is that if you Google Confucianism, “it says it’s a religion”? Oh the irony. A program meant to keep children from ending up as ignorant and closed-minded as these people may not happen because of their ignorance.

UCLA’s CRP Has Its Head in an Oven

In LA, Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

It is like having your feet in the oven and your head in the icebox, and saying that, on average, the temperature is just right.

Those are the words University of Arkansas education policy professor Gary Ritter used to describe the methodology that UCLA’s Civil Rights Project used in comparing charter school segregation. As a USC grad, I appreciate any time I can make fun of UCLA. Ritter ripped the CRP for a biased sample, comparing charter schools in predominantly segregated inner-cities with all public schools, both in segregated and non-segregated areas. The CRP concluded that charter schools are much more segregated than public schools based on national, state, and metropolitan averages, rather than comparing to schools serving the same populations. When those schools are compared, Ritter said, there is very little difference. For example, the study pointed out that students in the DC metro area have a 20% chance of being in a hyper-segregated school (more than 90% minority or more than 90% white), while those in charter schools in DC have a 91% chance. What they fail to mention is that the DC metro area includes Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia, whereas the majority of the charter schools in the DC metro area are within DC city limits which Ritter shows gives students an 86% chance of being in a hyper-segregated school. He says that what would be better than aggregated data like this is data showing students who switched and comparing their current schools to the ones they otherwise would have attended.

Ritter points to a study by the RAND corporation in 2009 that did this very thing. It found that:

Transfers to charter schools did not create dramatic shifts in the sorting of students by race or ethnicity in any of the sites included in the study. In most sites, the racial composition of the charter schools entered by transferring students was similar to that of the TPSs [traditional public schools] from which the students came.

In some places, charters tended to be slightly more segregated and in some places, they were slightly less segregated. Overall, the UCLA study seems flawed in that its focus was on the segregation specifically in charter schools, when the real segregation is in the cities themselves, regardless of whether the children are attending charter schools or not. To call the charter schools “apartheid” is not only incorrect, it spits in the face of those who had to actually live under forced segregation.