Setting the Standard in Education

Posts Tagged ‘LAUSD’

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.

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.

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.

Who Deserves to be Laid Off?

In California on April 29, 2010 at 10:55 am

That’s the question on the lips of many education  policy makers. It’s not that anyone really wants people to be laid off, but if someone has to, who should it be? In California, Governor Schwarzenegger has supported a bill that would end seniority-based layoffs. The current system, which forces school districts to get rid of their newest teachers completely ignores the strength of the teachers getting laid off. This has a few repercussions:

Someone's got to go, so who should it be?

1. The most obvious is that terrible teachers get locked in once they’re in a school long enough and great upcoming new teachers are kicked to the street. This not only lowers the quality of the teaching, it means that change rarely happens. New ideas in how to teach are much less likely to be put into practice. It doesn’t matter if teacher preparation gets better if none of the teachers coming out of those programs can’t hold down jobs. On top of that, it takes away some incentive for teachers to get better at their practice. If they are not pushed to be the best, they don’t have to be.

2. As Gov. Schwarzenegger points out, in a district like LAUSD, minority students suffer disproportionately. The ACLU has actually sued the state and LAUSD because of the extremely high rates of layoffs in poor neighborhoods. Because schools in high-poverty areas are often a rotating door for teachers, they have a much higher number of new teachers. How high? The three schools that the ACLU is suing over had between half and three-quarters of their teachers laid off last year.

3. By firing the employees who are newer and make less money, more teachers have to be laid off. A report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education from last year showed that almost 50% more people have to be laid off when layoffs are seniority-based, rather than seniority-neutral. For example, to have a 10% reduction in salary expenditure (which is a completely reasonable number in the coming year, by the way), more than a quarter million more teachers would have to be laid off using a seniority-based system.

Obviously, there are many great reasons to change the system. Opponents, like UTLA President A.J. Duffy think that without protections for teachers who have been teaching for a long time, the opposite will happen: the more expensive older teachers will be the first to be laid off, because they cost more. Obviously, this would also be a problem, since there wouldn’t be teachers with a great deal of experience to help newer teachers. However, aside from this not being very likely, the solution which is being proposed is simple: base firings on effectiveness and ignore seniority. That’s what should be done anyway. A strong veteran teacher should have the same protection as a strong new teacher and vice versa. Unfortunately, there are others who try to stall improvements. LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortinez says he is fine with changing the system as long has it is a solution that is developed by the unions and a task force. For those who don’t know, these task forces are notoriously slow, taking years to make reasonable decisions. These layoffs are happening this summer. There is no time to wait -and perhaps that is his plan. Take so long that it becomes irrelevant. Thankfully the state is trying to come through when the local district doesn’t have the chutzpah to do anything.