LAUSD Turmoil Continues Despite Superintendent Resignation

John Deasy’s recent resignation as the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District ends three years of controversy. But a cloud of chalk dust remains over the mammoth district’s future.

Deasy conceded his policies sowed sharp disagreements. And a conciliatory statement by the LAUSD School Board acknowledged “academic achievement rose substantially despite severe economic hardships, and the students of the district have benefitted greatly from Dr. Deasy’s guidance.”

The LAUSD Board of Education tapped his predecessor, Ramon Cortines, 82, as an interim replacement, giving it time to find a longer-term leader who could take the troubled LAUSD in a new direction.

Deasy’s rocky tenure culminated in dual controversies — his emphasis on quantifying education improvement through testing and his strong personal push to increase the use of technology in the classroom. In the first case, critics said, Deasy contributed to a climate of stress and inadequacy for teachers unprepared to meet higher testing goals. In the second, critics blasted Deasy for overreaching with a rushed and ineffective $1.3 billion program to give iPads to all the district’s 650,000 students.

Testing trouble

Deasy’s reforms upset the L.A. status quo on a number of levels. As the Los Angeles Times observed, Deasy made waves with “a teacher evaluation system, stricter bars for gaining tenure, a classroom breakfast program and a stronger embrace of alternatives to turn around struggling schools — including charter schools and the complete replacement of staff.” Though most of these measures threatened to take control away from teachers unions, Deasy’s desire to hold teachers accountable through student testing drew the most ire.

Among administrators, Deasy wasn’t alone in taking that approach. Its prominence in the Common Core system, which is being implemented in California and many other states, led a growing number of unionized teachers to speak out in opposition.

Previous to his work with the Los Angeles schools, Deasy served as deputy director of education at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Common Core has been closely associated with Bill Gates, who almost single-handedly fueled the initiative with millions in funding and closed-door lobbying.

With that background, few were surprised when the testing reforms Deasy advanced were “fought by teacher unions and some community activists,” who opposed “so-called corporate reform because it often involves data-driven performance reviews that can affect high-stakes personnel decisions,” according to the Times.

The limits of technology

In the worst ordeal of his time as superintendent, Deasy tried to swiftly implement a plan that would make iPads a classroom standard. Although a LAUSD investigation concluded Deasy did not act unethically, his effort became an albatross amid technological failures, vendor problems and student hooliganism.

As Time reported, some students “hacked the devices — which the district had said were meant solely for academic work — to enable more general use. And when the program began, some schools did not yet have proper wifi infrastructure that would allow all their students to be online at the same [time].”

On the positive side, the hacking crisis did show LAUSD kids were more adept in the growing high-tech economy than district officials suspected.

A brewing crisis

Deasy’s departure summed up a broader trend in education reform battles playing out nationwide. It pitted traditional allies against one another, including Democrats and their teachers union backers.

Democrats’ flagging credibility on education has been exacerbated this year by election-year politics and the Vergara ruling, which held California teachers union tenure protections unconstitutionally infringe on students’ rights.

But Democrats — like many pro-corporate Republicans — turned to a small network of wealthy, successful elites to respond to the nation’s systemic education problems. GOP heavyweights like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett lent their support to Common Core in an effort to broaden Republicans’ appeal — despite the opposition of many of their conservative allies.

And Democrats embraced the Gates and Deasy approach as a way of taking the focus off of teachers unions. Gates, the world’s richest man, is a Democrat.

Those reformers discovered, however, that the public education system could not be transformed effectively through testing or technology.

Deasy’s exit again puts LAUSD policy up for grabs, with potential reforms including the perennial proposal to break up the nation’s second most populous school district to make it more responsive to voters, parents and students.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

 

Kashkari’s Attention-Getting Ad has a Point

Neel Kashkari’s campaign for governor sought to gain attention with its first statewide television commercial and succeeded. The ad titled Betrayal depicts a boy drowning before being pulled to safety by Kashkari. The boy is symbolic of the school children Kashkari asserts have been abandoned by Governor Jerry Brown when he appealed the Vergara vs. California case.

The judge declared in Vergara that conditions in California schools for minority students “shock the conscience” in concluding that “grossly ineffective teachers” protected by the state’s teacher tenure laws deny minority students constitutional protections for an equal education.

Kashkari’s attention-getting ad is intended to get the media and, through the media, the people talking about this issue. With the one sided advantage the governor has in financial resources Kashkari is relying on an edgy campaign commercial to get his word out.

Brown argued that the appeal to a higher court was necessary if the teacher tenure laws are to be changed. Previously, I wrotethat an appellate ruling would be helpful in validating the lower court’s decision.

However, Brown’s reasoning for the appeal ignored the main question ruled upon by the Superior Court. He did not take a stand on the issue. He did not say that his goal with the appeal is to confirm that the current standards must change; that the students are being denied a quality education. He was silent on the issue.

By not speaking up for the students who brought the Vergara case it clearly appears that Brown is playing up to the teachers’ unions, as Kashkari charges. The unions adamantly want to wipe Vergara away.

I suppose there is something to say about the attention getting aspect of the ad – a boy drowning until pulled to safety by Kashkari. Attention to a child in jeopardy worked in the famous political commercial put out by Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign in 1964. A little girl picking flowers disappeared from the screen replaced by the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion. That commercial actually ran only once but we are still talking about it 50 years later.

Kashkari, undoubtedly, was willing to use a dramatic image to get people talking.

Kashkari speaks of the problem examined in the Vergara case as a civil rights issue. If that is so, the dramatic ad to point out the issue can be compared to the demonstrations that were criticized during the civil rights era. They brought attention. But, the key for Kashkari is that people examine the core point he is making – that Brown is unwilling to stand up and proclaim that minority children are suffering under the current teacher protection laws supported by the unions — and not the ad’s image.

As Martin Luther King noted in his civil rights struggles of a half-century ago, while critics deplored demonstrations they failed to express similar concerns for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. He wanted his critics to deal with the underlying causes.

Kashkari hopes his commercial will bring attention to the underlying problem and those who resist change.

This article was originally published on Fox and Hounds Daily.

Tuck outraising incumbent, but union looms large in State Superintendent race

Education reformer Marshall Tuck has accomplished a rare feat for a political challenger: He’s raised more money than the incumbent.

According to the most recent campaign finance disclosure reports released Monday, Tuck has raised nearly $1.6 million since he launched his campaign to fix California’s failing schools. That’s roughly $200,000 more than incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. Both are Democrats.

In addition to raising more money, Tuck has more cash on hand heading into the final month of the campaign. Tuck’s $699,037 in available funds puts him with a nearly six-figure advantage over Torlakson, who reported $608,609 in cash on hand, as of Sept. 30.

Tuck’s strong fundraising shows donors are responding to his reform message. He’s the only statewide challenger to outraise an incumbent this year. In some cases, challengers are at a significant disadvantage.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Republican Ronald Gold, who is challenging Attorney General Kamala Harris, had $17,601 in available funds, with $80,000 in outstanding debts. Meanwhile, Harris reported $3.6 million in cash on hand for the most recent period.

Teachers union’s $1.9 million ‘issue’ campaign just beginning

But Tuck’s financial advantage is largely illusory. That’s because the California Teachers Association, the most powerful special interest group in Sacramento, has declared war on Tuck. The teachers union is the biggest player in the superintendent’s race, even dwarfing the candidates.

On Oct. 1, the state’s richest union launched its latest “issue” advocacy praising their loyal ally Torlakson. According to state campaign finance disclosure reports, the CTA reported spending $1.94 million in issue ads benefiting Torlakson. To put that number in perspective, it’s more than either of the candidates has raised for his entire campaign.

And the union is likely just getting started with its outside campaign spending. According to the Los Angeles Times, the CTA spent $2.5 million in independent expenditures during the June primary on Torlakson’s behalf. Despite the union spending, Torlakson received the fewest votes of any statewide incumbent, an anemic 46.5 percent of the vote.

Vergara decision alters the race

Since the primary, things have only gotten worse for Torlakson as more voters are becoming aware of a landmark court case, Vergara v. California, which has fundamentally changed the dynamics of the superintendent’s race.

In June, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu found California’s teacher tenure and dismissal process violates students’ rights by leaving low-income and minority students with the worst teachers. Immediately, the teachers union adopted a “you’re either with us or against us” policy, attacking anyone in their way, even the judge.

“The Vergara ruling makes clear that Judge Treu failed to engage the evidence presented in court by education experts and school superintendents who testified that teacher rights are not impediments to well-run schools and districts,” California Federation of Teachers President Joshua Pechthalt said in a press release condemning the ruling. “Instead he issued a blanket decision to scuttle these important statutes, absent the kind of compelling evidence that should be the standard for changing state law.” The CFT is the state’s second teachers union.

In August, Torlakson, a staunch union defender, announced he would appeal the decision. “The people who dedicate their lives to the teaching profession deserve our admiration and support,” he said in a statement. “Instead, this ruling lays the failings of our education system at their feet.”

In contrast, Tuck has praised the ruling and vows to drop the state’s appeal if elected.

“When I win … I’m immediately submitting to the appellate court our request to no longer be a defendant and will side with the plaintiffs in the case,” Tuck told the UT San Diego.

Tuck’s reform message resonating with all Californians

The teachers unions’ campaign onslaught could backfire. But, much like Republican Meg Whitman proved in 2010 with her run for governor, money sometimes can backfire. Every major newspaper in the state has endorsed Tuck — all citing Torlakson’s cozy relationship with the union as part of their reason.

“As for Torlakson, he seems too busy defending public schools to think about fixing them,” wrote San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders. “Torlakson actually has attacked Tuck for working on Wall Street during his first two years out of college. That’s the sort of nasty salvo that made it easy for every major newspaper in California, including The Chronicle, to endorse Tuck.”

On Monday, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune became the latest newspaper to back Tuck.

“Torlakson has joined in a legal appeal of the Vergara ruling, and mouths the union line that people want to streamline the hiring and firing rules are ‘blaming teachers,’” the paper wrote. “Tuck applauds the Vergara decision and has called on the state Board of Education not to wait through an appeal before developing alternative rules, including longer evaluation periods before tenure is granted.”

This piece was originally published on CalWatchdog.com.

 

Is Common Core Technology Worth It?

This piece was originally published on Fox and Hounds:

California’s transition from its previous STAR program to the Common Core State Standards has been slow and more costly than expected. With the first Common Core tests scheduled for this spring, school districts are still struggling to provide all of the necessary technology and bandwidth for the new assessments, which are required to be administered electronically in lieu of traditional paper-and-pencil tests.

State Budget Solutions, a nonprofit research organization, released a report last week on the technology spending for Common Core in California’s top five districts: Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, Fresno, and Elk Grove. The study revealed technology cost overruns, controversial funding plans, and a myriad of problems that accompanied the new technological devices in multiple districts.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), for example, has been heavily criticized for using public bonds to finance its iPad program that is estimated to exceed $1 billion. Immediately after the first batch of iPads was distributed, LAUSD dealt with additional challenges of students breaching firewalls, missing and stolen devices, and confusion over accountability. Last month, the district officially suspended its contract with Apple due to high costs and ethical questions regarding Superintendent Deasy’s relationship with Apple during the bidding process.

Other districts, such as Fresno and Elk Grove, are facing problems of technological readiness. Fresno Unified found that the new tablets are difficult to use for students who are unfamiliar with touch-screen keyboards and do not have computer access at home. Elk Grove Unified would like to incorporate more online content in the classroom, but lacks adequate funding after spending the majority of its Common Core money on installing wireless access, replacing obsolete computers, and buying over 8,200 Chromebooks.

These findings raise an important question that states and school districts ought to consider: is Common Core technology worth it? Advocates often talk about closing the “digital divide” and providing students with the skills and technology necessary for the 21st century workforce. Ideally, every student in the country will at least have access to a personal computing device in the near future. But to ask states and school districts to finance this massive technological overhaul in a limited time span of a few years is not only likely to fail, but also fiscally irresponsible given the deep cuts in education during the recent recession.

The report lists a handful of the many solutions available that can offset technology costs for districts. Among them include a tax credit to incentivize low-income families to buy computers or tablets for students to bring into schools. California education leaders have a tough job of implementing Common Core ahead of them, but ensuring the state’s financial stability and focusing on student learning and growth (as opposed to standards-based exams and technology purchases) are essential for the future of the state.

Hannah Oh is a Visiting Analyst at State Budget Solutions, focusing her research on education. 

Is a coming student loan crisis the next to burst?

From the Blaze:

First the dot.coms popped, then mortgages. Are student loans and higher education the next bubble, the latest investment craze inflating on borrowed money and misplaced faith it can never go bad?

Some experts have raised the possibility. Last summer, Moody’s Analytics pronounced fears of an education spending bubble “not without merit.” Last spring, investor and PayPal founder Peter Thiel called attention to his claims of an education bubble by awarding two dozen young entrepreneurs $100,000 each NOT to attend college.

Recent weeks have seen another spate of “bubble” headlines — student loan defaults up, tuition rising another 8.3 percent this year and finally, out Thursday, a new report estimating that average student debt for borrowers from the college class of 2010 has passed $25,000. And all that on top of a multi-year slump in the job-market for new college graduates.

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No Education without Representation: how special interests are robbing our students’ futures

The U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Educational Statistics on Tuesday released what it calls the Nation’s Report Card. The compilation of student test scores nationwide reflected a 1 percent improvement by fourth- and eighth-graders in mathematics but essentially no improvement in reading proficiency.

While the tiny improvement in math marks the highest scores in the history of the test, what makes the results troubling is that only 40 percent of fourth-graders and barely 35 percent of eighth-graders tested proficient in math and roughly one-third proficient in reading.

Shortly after the release of the Nation’s Report Card, Michelle Rhee, an education reformer and former head of the public schools in the District of Columbia, called me to discuss the state of education in the United States and what ought to be done to improve public schools. Rhee made headlines for her tough, data-driven approaches to education reform and battles against teachers unions in D.C. which eventually led to her resignation after unions spent significant resources to unseat Mayor Adrian Fenty, who hired Rhee. Rhee also was featured in the acclaimed education reform documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman.'”

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(Brian Calle is an Opinion Columnist and Blogger for the Orange County Register. His blog is called Uncommon Ground.)

Liberal Oakland outfit wants more taxes; “Do it for the Kids” angle, yet again


From the Silicon Valley Education Foundation:

A partnership of education, parent, and business groups is aiming to put on the November 2012 ballot an initiative combining sweeping education reforms with a tax increase dedicated to preschool to twelfth grade, called The 2012 Kids Education Plan.

In a short statement (see below), the dozen groups used the code words for fundamental changes in school funding and personnel laws like teacher tenure without yet citing specifics: “a student centered finance system, true transparency, significant workforce reforms, and new investments in education through a statewide broad based revenue source and lowering the voter threshold on local revenue” (a reference to the current two-thirds majority needed to pass a parcel tax).

Ted Lempert, president of Oakland-based Children Now, said the groups were considering a tax that would raise $6 billion to $8 billion annually for education – the equivalent of roughly an additional $1,000 to $1,330 per student – an amount that would recover much of the state funding that has been cut over the past three years. While a big ask in a recession, it would still fall shy of raising California’s per-student funding to the national average.

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