Educating Students Not #1 Priority of L.A. School Board and Teachers Union

LAUSD school busOn February 11, LA School Report released an internal Los Angeles Unified School District document which stated that just 54 percent of seniors in L.A. are on track to graduate. The drop off from 74 percent last year was immediately attributed to the new “A through G” requirements, which ensure that graduating students are ready for acceptance into California public universities.

The rather lame, “This is the first year of the plan, so we are just getting the kinks out” excuse does not hold water. The A-G plan was initially formulated in 2005, but the LAUSD school board didn’t pay much attention to it. So instead of ramping up the rigor, they decided that in 2017 students could pass with a grade of “D,” instead of the “C” as was in the original plan. (This year’s class had been green-lighted for a “D” passing grade all along.)

Oh but wait, there is some “good” news. Due to the district’s “credit recovery plan” – allowing students to take crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. – the graduation rate has just been upgraded to a less cataclysmic 63 percent. Yeah, 63 is better than 54, but it still stinks. And the demise of the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) has been left out of the equation. The test was killed a few months ago by the California Legislature and, worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively (going back to 2006) to students who passed their coursework but failed the test.

The exam was hardly rigorous. According to the California Department of Education website, the English–language component addressed state content standards through tenth grade and the math part of the test addressed state standards in only grades six and seven and Algebra I. Hence, whatever the graduate rate actually turns out to be in 2016, it would have been lower had the state not knocked out a test that every high school grad should be able to easily pass.

So what’s a school board to do? Simply divert attention away from the problem.

The LAUSD school board’s major agenda item of late has been to slow charter school growth. According to Sarah Angel, managing director of advocacy for the California Charter Schools Association, “We are seeing an unprecedented uptick in the recommendation of denials of charter schools.” She pointed out that the L.A. school board approved 89 percent of the charter school applications it received in 2013, but that rate has been cut in half this year. The anti-charter push came about when the board went bananas over philanthropist Eli Broad’s plan to turn half the schools in L.A. into charters. Nothing will invigorate monopolists like a little old-fashioned competition.

Not to be outdone by the school board’s turf-protection moves, the United Teachers of Los Angeles has swung into action, joining a union-led national demonstration of support for traditional public school districts. Dubbed “walk ins,” these events were led in Los Angeles by UTLA and involved parents walking into schools with their kids at the beginning of the school day on February 17. What this was supposed to accomplish is anyone’s guess.

The union also just raised its dues 30 percent, claiming more money is needed to “battle foes of traditional public education.”

Then, UTLA boss and class warfare expert Alex Caputo-Pearl began beating the tax-the-rich drum at a fever pitch. In an obvious reference to Eli Broad and some other philanthropists, he recently averred, “If billionaires want to be involved, they should not undermine programs, they should contribute their fair share in taxes.” Wondering how he knew what taxes certain individuals paid, I sent an email to Mr. Caputo-Pearl and UTLA’s communication director, inquiring which billionaires he was referring to and how much they paid in taxes. They have not deigned to respond to my query thus far. (Note to AC-P: The rich pay plenty of taxes, but 44 percent of Americans don’t pay any, and rest assured, there are no billionaires in that group.)

As if the school board and teachers union’s effort to damage charters wasn’t enough, there is a plan afoot to get an initiative on the ballot this year that would make charter schools illegal. Why? Because, according to the “Voices Against Privatizing Education” website, charters are “racist  … cherry pick students, falsify records, commit enrollment fraud, close down community schools, destroy jobs, bust up unions and segregate students.” Not surprisingly this bundle of outright lies has the backing of several teachers unions and individual union leaders.

You see, charter schools are not being singled out for demolition because they haven’t worked; they are on the radar of the school board and the union precisely because they have been successful. At the same time that so many students in L.A.’s traditional schools are failing to meet graduation standards, students from the same demographic groups are thriving in charter schools. By the time they’ve graduated, students at charter schools are over three times more likely to have completed courses needed for college admission than students at traditional public schools.

Also, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) conducted an analysis of charter schools in LAUSD in 2014 and found that its students gain significantly more learning time than their peers in traditional public schools. Among its findings:

  • Charter school students gain 79 more days of learning than their traditional school peers in math, as well as 50 additional days of learning in reading.
  • Latino students gain 72 more days of learning in math and 43 extra days in reading.
  • Latino students living in poverty gain 115 additional days of learning in math and 58 additional days in reading.
  • African American students gain 14 extra days of learning in both reading and math.
  • African American students living in poverty gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 36 additional days in reading.

Evelyn Macias, mother of Julia Macias, one of nine student plaintiffs behind the Vergara lawsuit, recently penned an op-ed for LA School Report, in which she wrote:

We need to look at state policies, legislation and labor agreements that have, over the course of decades, eroded and diminished the rights of children, low-income working families, and ALL families, by claiming the higher moral ground for employees, while much of our leadership remains silent.

Our children are falling through the cracks, while we stand and watch. Who besides their parents and student advocacy groups will step up?

Who besides parents and certain advocacy groups? Who, indeed? Certainly not the obstructionist school board and teachers union. They are intent on protecting turf and maintaining their monopoly. Educating children is far down on their to-do list. Shame on them.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

CA churches and schools protect illegal immigrants from deportation

from the L.A. Times

Amid a fresh wave of immigration enforcement crackdowns, several powerful organizations in California have flexed their muscle to protect or benefit those present in the state illegally.

The city of Los Angeles has become a focal point for several different efforts, triggered by raids last month that “swept up more than 100 people from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who entered the country and stayed illegally,” as the Los Angeles times noted.

“The seizures motivated church leaders nationwide who say they feel compelled to offer physical protection on their premises even if it violates federal law,” as the paper added, with at least three L.A.-area churches “vowing in recent weeks to offer refuge to Central Americans with deportation orders[.]” It is the Obama administration that has taken heat for the roundups:

“Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics and other Christian leaders across the country say they are outraged with the Obama administration’s actions, said Noel Andersen, a grass-roots coordinator with the Church World Service group for refugees. The group has built a network of sanctuaries for Central Americans targeted by ICE.”

Sanctuary schools

At the same time that California churches have shifted toward the approach that defined the state’s so-called “sanctuary cities,” schools and universities have also advanced complementary new policies. Los Angeles Unified Schools, for instance, have declared themselves to be ICE-free zones. “The school board has banned Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from setting foot on any campus without the district’s permission,” according to Fox 11 Los Angeles. Not only must the Superintendent of Schools approve any ICE presence, by the terms of the new vote, but LAUSD lawyers must as well:

“ICE claims that they do not come to schools looking for students, but parents fear sending their kids to school after information they received of ICE agents conducting a series of raids across the U.S. in January targeting Central American immigrants.”

Simultaneously, administrators in the UC system have forged ahead with plans to extend so-called DREAM loans to students who could potentially be deported. “Officials at California’s four-year public universities are reaching out to an estimated 10,000 undergraduate students who might qualify for a special loan aimed at reducing their tuition,” as U-T San Diego reported, “a program that further distinguishes the state as a national trendsetter in providing services to unauthorized immigrants.”

“The California DREAM loan program’s initial $7 million allotment — $5 million for the UC and $2 million for CSU — will be distributed to eligible applicants in the following weeks,” the paper noted. “The state provided half of the sum and the two university systems covered the other half. The loans are for the 2015-16 academic year, and they’re retroactive to last fall.”

Driving policy

As the public education establishment has come to the aid of would-be deportees, the state of California itself has continued to reward those who go public in some fashion with their legal status. California’s program to extend slightly modified drivers license privileges to otherwise undocumented immigrants far outpaced predicted demand. “Under the new law, 605,000 undocumented residents received licenses, accounting for 40 percent of all of the licenses issued last year,” the International Business Times reported. “Exceeding expectations, even more attempted to obtain a license: Around 830,000 undocumented immigrants have applied for a license since Jan. 2, 2015, the first day of the new policy at the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

The state’s aggressive action on normalizing residents who immigrated unlawfully has been rooted in two realities — first, the relatively vast and stable population of long-time residents crossing over from Mexico and Central America, and, second, the prevailing political agenda of Democrats wielding near one-party control over state policy for years on end. “California is among 12 states that now allow immigrants in the country illegally to obtain driver’s licenses, areas covering an estimated 37 percent of that population,” the Times observed, citing a recent Pew report. But California has also surpassed all other states in its percentage of unlawful residents eligible for a license, according to the report.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

A Half-Charter School District for L.A.?

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Eli Broad made his fortune in construction and real estate. But he’s building a legacy as a philanthropist and an education reformer. In September, the Broad, a $140 million museum of contemporary art, opened in downtown Los Angeles at the corner of a revitalizing Grand Avenue and 2nd Street, across from the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That same month, the Los Angeles Times published a leaked memo detailing Broad’s proposal to revitalize L.A.’s sclerotic public school system. Working under the auspices of his family foundation, Broad would gather some of the biggest names in private philanthropy — Gates, Walton, Ahmanson, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett, as well as David Geffen, Kirk Kerkorian and Elon Musk — to open 260 new charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District over an eight-year period, with an enrollment goal of at least 130,000 students. The memo discusses how to raise $490 million to pay for the effort, which includes recruiting teachers, acquiring real estate, providing outreach to parents and navigating political battles. If the octogenarian Broad succeeds, half of L.A. Unified’s schools would be charters by the mid-2020s.

Naturally, L.A.’s education establishment detests the idea. The LAUSD board’s president, Steve Zimmer, denounced Broad’s plan as “a strategy to bring down LAUSD.” In November, board member Scott Schmerelson pushed a resolution announcing the board’s opposition to the Broad Foundation’s plan by name. Later, Schmerelson changed the language to say the board opposed any “external initiatives that seek to reduce public education to an educational marketplace and our children to market shares while not investing in District-wide programs and strategies that benefit every student.” As an L.A. Times editorial pointed out, by that standard, “the board would have to oppose many of its own programs — magnet schools, programs to teach students fluency in English and alternative schools for students with chronic behavioral problems.” (In response, Broad’s new educational nonprofit expanded its proposal to support traditional public schools, including pilots, magnets, and other high-performing schools that serve low-income children.)

Former LAUSD superintendent Ramon C. Cortines was more charitable. At a forum with Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez earlier this month, Cortines didn’t ascribe ill motives to Broad, but rather suggested the billionaire was ill advised. “I think somebody brought him an elixir without having it be tested to see if it will really do what it is promised to do,” he said. But United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl was predictably unsparing in his vitriol. “Billionaires should not be running public education,” he said. The union boss also claimed that charter schools are unregulated and “deregulation doesn’t work.” Not to be outdone, retired kindergarten teacher Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education.”

Broad’s plan is ambitious, to be sure. In addition to fighting the school board and union, Broad and his foundation allies would need considerable community support to succeed. Charters already make up a sizable portion of schools in the district: nearly a quarter of LAUSD students — about 150,866 students — are enrolled in 282 charter schools from San Pedro to the San Fernando Valley. Another 40,000 students languish on waiting lists. The demand is there; it’s the supply that’s lacking, though procuring facilities for 260 new schools would take some doing.

California’s 1992 charter school law gives local districts the power to approve or deny charter applications, though applications cannot be denied without good reason, such as questionable management or shady finances. However, the district doesn’t have the last word. Charter applicants have the option to appeal first to the county board of education, and then to the state board of education, if necessary.

A closer look at many of the antagonists’ complaints reveals less anger about billionaires’ meddling in education than envy that Broad’s largess doesn’t extend to traditional public schools. But the schools already receive plenty of money. Official per-pupil spending in Los Angeles is $13,490, which is greater than the national average and doesn’t include expenses such as the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds and so forth. When those expenditures get added in, per-pupil spending comes to about $30,000 per year. If the new California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication, the money is not being well-spent. Only a third of the city’s students performed at grade level in English, while about a quarter performed at grade level or better in math. The district’s charter school students far outpaced their peers in traditional schools.

Don’t believe the anti-reform hype about lax regulation and looming public school destruction, either. Charter schools are public schools, funded by tax dollars and subject to regulation — just not to the same extent as traditional public schools, which are strangled by bulky union contracts that put seniority ahead of competence. Broad’s plan anticipates that 5,000 union members could be put out of work and replaced with staff hired through Teach For America, TNTP (formerly the New Teacher Project), and other groups that work with young instructors. The proposal makes no mention of recruiting teachers from within L.A. Unified.

Clearly, hundreds of new charter schools would find it difficult to fill their ranks with newbies. And therein lies an important but unstated aspect of the Broad plan. Those rehired from the current crop of experienced teachers would be the good and even great ones working now because they are qualified, not because they are protected by the state’s seniority statute. Needless to say, Caputo-Pearl has a different take. “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union,” he said, “which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.” That’s absurd, of course. Where is it written that that only unionized teachers speak up about “curriculum and school conditions”?

Some of the naysayers claim that a half-charter district would leave too many children behind, but other cities’ experience suggests otherwise. Washington, D.C., and Detroit have moved in recent years to a 50 percent charter model. New Orleans may offer the best evidence of how charter schools can serve a low-income and underprivileged population. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the Crescent City in 2005, a much more vibrant charter system emerged in the aftermath. Today, 92 percent of the city’s students are enrolled in a charter school. Ten years ago, 62 percent of schools in Orleans Parish were failing. Today, just 7 percent of schools are failing. During the same period, the portion of city schools with students performing at or above grade level rose from 35 percent to 62 percent. As it happens, Paul Pastorek, the former superintendent of public education in Louisiana who helped oversee the turnaround, has been appointed to lead Broad’s effort in L.A.

Philanthropy has the power to transform institutions for the better. More charters in Los Angeles would certainly disrupt the dismal status quo—likely to the advantage of good teachers, their students, and taxpayers. Opponents see Broad’s proposal as a way of “bringing down LAUSD,” but building up alternatives to a dysfunctional system may be exactly what L.A.’s children need.

After closing all schools, LAUSD finds threat not credible

As reported by the L.A. Daily News:

It was a tale of two cities, with New York officials shrugging and Los Angeles officials quaking.

The threat came via email to Los Angeles Unified School District board members. It named schools. It talked about bombs and guns. It came less than two weeks after San Bernardino — just about 60 miles east of downtown — was rocked by a massacre that killed 14 and was linked to international terrorism. It came less than two weeks after an American casualty in the Paris terrorist attack was buried in Downey.

It was enough.

LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines decided to close more than 900 schools, an unparalleled act at the nation’s second largest district. More than 700,000 students were suddenly given the day off and many parents were given to juggling anxiety, both for the threat and their disrupted workday. …

Click here to read the full story

L.A. Unified In Danger of Bankruptcy

Los-Angeles-Unified-School-District-LAUSDHere’s an old tune you’ve heard before: The Los Angeles Unified School District could face bankruptcy with one of the chief contributing factors being high pensions and health care costs for retired employees.

The L.A. School Board will discuss a new report raising that ominous red flag this week.

Pensions are not the only issue driving the school district toward insolvency. The report cited declining enrollment as a factor driving down revenue. Enrollment is falling due not only to fewer potential school age children but the fact that many students have decamped to independently operated charter schools.

Still, the pension issue is cited as part of the problem as it has been with so many financially struggling government agencies.

One year ago this week, the University of California announced it would have to seek a series of tuition increases. At the time, the UC Chief Financial Officer cited retirement costs in explaining the need for tuition increases. He said tuition hikes could be avoided if the state helped with retirement costs.

City bankruptcies or near bankruptcies in California also highlighted the pension burden. Stockton, for example, was spending $13 million in pensions at the turn of this century, a decade later the cost was $30 million and was predicted to double again in only a few years.

The possibility of the state’s largest school district facing bankruptcy will play into the push to extend the Proposition 30 tax increases beyond the date the so-called temporary taxes were to end. Voters won’t hear much from supporters of the tax extension about funding pensions – the campaign rhetoric will be about the students – but pensions are a major factor for those supporting the extension.

Last January, the Manhattan Institute’s Steve Malanga wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that a good portion of the original Prop. 30 tax increase was dedicated to pensions. (Disclosure: I was quoted in the article.) He wrote that the problem of school pension costs would continue and an effort would be made to continue the Prop. 30 tax increase to cover those costs.

Now it is almost certain a form of the Prop 30 extension will be on the November 2016 ballot just as he predicted. Malanga concluded his piece: “It’s a reminder that in some places the long struggle to pay off massive government pension debt is just starting.”

It is not starting but continuing in the Golden State.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Eli Broad’s Charter School Plan Would Shake-Up Ranks of LAUSD Teachers

Philanthropist Eli Broad’s ambitious plan to create 260 new charter schools over an eight year period in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students, will have major ramifications for many of the city’s 25,600 teachers. With this in mind, the Los Angeles Times Howard Blume wrote “Thousands of LAUSD teachers’ jobs would be at risk with charter expansion plan” last week. (Interestingly, the online version of the piece was originally titled “L.A. charter school expansion could mean huge drop in unionized teaching jobs” – a more honest title.)

The Broad plan would include places for about 5,000 more charter school teachers, which simply means that 5,000 thousand current teachers in Los Angeles could be displaced. What Blume’s article doesn’t address is just which teachers will be losing their positions. Due to seniority or last in/first out (LIFO) – a union construct that is written into the California Constitution – the teachers who could lose their jobs would not be the 5,000 poorest performing ones, but rather the 5,000 newest hired. But there is a silver lining here. While some of the 5,000 should not be in the profession, many are good teachers and some are terrific. And the latter groups will not be unemployed for long, because charter schools are independent (mostly non-unionized) and therefore not beholden to the district’s industrial style employment hierarchy, so competent teachers will be snapped up.)

20151014-UW-Sand

Philanthropist Eli Broad

Blume mentions that the new plan refers to “hiring from an expanded Teach For America and other groups that work with young, inexperienced instructors” and “makes no mention of recruiting instructors from the ranks of L.A. Unified.”

The plan might not make any mention of recruiting current teachers, but clearly the charter schools could not fill their ranks with all rookies. And therein lies the beauty of the Broad plan. Those rehired would be the good and great teachers who are working now because they are qualified, not because they are LIFO-protected.

Broad spokeswoman Swati Pandey elaborated: “We are in the process of listening to educators and community members to determine how best to support the dramatic growth of high-quality public schools in Los Angeles. We know that without great teachers, there can be no great public schools. We’re eager to engage and support teachers as part of this work.”

Needless to say, United Teachers of Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl had a different take. He said, “The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union, which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions.”

The experience of being in a union…? What?! And where does he get the idea that only unionized teachers dare to speak up about “curriculum and school conditions?”

But then again, maybe the UTLA boss is just mouthing the union party line and his transparency should be applauded. In 2009 UTLA president A.J. Duffy told a group of young teachers at Liechty Middle School, “Saving your jobs would mean that more experienced teachers would lose theirs. Seniority is the only fair way to do it . . . and any exception would be an act of disloyalty.” The California Federation of Teachers website claims that “Seniority is the only fair, transparent way to administer layoffs. It ensures equal treatment for all teachers.” (Yes, for Teachers-of-the-Year and incompetents alike, LIFO does ensure “equal treatment.”)

Others who actually have children’s and parents’ best interests at heart have a different view, however. Alluding to the teachers unions’ claim that thousands of teachers will need to be recruited over the next decade, Jim Blew, president of the Sacramento-based advocacy group StudentsFirst, said, “… they say there’s no room for teachers from organizations with proven, documented records of creating quality teachers…. L.A. needs more great teachers, and everyone should welcome them regardless of who recruited them to the city.”

Jason Mandell, Director, Advocacy Communications of the California Charter School Association (CCSA) added, “Great teachers change students’ lives. Charter school teachers do that every day and the evidence is in their students’ progress. Teachers are the heroes of the charter school movement.”

And parents agree with both Blew and Mandell.

As CCSA points out, there are 40,000 kids on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Also, as I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the recently released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores showed that only one-third of students in traditional LA schools performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math, while LA charter students far outpaced their counterparts.

It should be noted that the current seniority and tenure laws, both of which are toxic to students, are imperiled. In the Vergara case, Judge Rolf Treu ruled these byzantine legal protections unconstitutional and went on to say that “it shocks the conscience.” However, the state and the teachers unions are appealing the decision. And even if Treu’s decision is upheld, we have no guarantee that the archaic statutes will be replaced by anything much better.

In summing up the situation, we are left with the following:

  • Charters allow children to escape from the antiquated zip-code monopoly education system.
  • Charters only flourish if parents choose to send their kids there.
  • Kids on average get a better education in charters.
  • Good teachers will always find work.
  • Charters will choose and retain the best teachers who fit in with their mission.
  • Poor-performing teachers will find it difficult to stay in the field.
  • Unions will have less money and power, due to diminishing ranks.

In other words, the Broad plan is a win-win-win situation for good teachers, children and their families. Mr. Caputo-Pearl, does that matter to you at all?

This piece was originally published by UnionWatch.org

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

L.A. Teachers Union Livid Over Plan to Charterize 260 Schools

According to a memo unearthed by Los Angeles Times writer Howard Blume, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and other charter advocates want to create 260 new charter schools in Los Angeles, enrolling at least 130,000 students. The document includes various strategies that include how to raise money, recruit teachers, provide outreach to parents and navigate the political battle that will undoubtedly ensue. In addition to Broad, other education philanthropists named in the plan are David Geffen and Elon Musk, as well as the Gates, Bloomberg, Annenberg and Hewlett foundations.

Judging by the United Teachers of Los Angeles response, you’d think that Hitler had reinvaded Poland. In full battle-mode, the union staged a press conference and protest rally in front of the new Broad Art Museum in downtown L.A. last Sunday. Led by UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl, we were regaled with the usual barrage of bilge. Perhaps most indicative of the union leader’s ideas, which come right out of a Politburo manual on the importance of the centralization of power, “Deregulation has not worked in our economy, has not worked in healthcare and has not worked in housing, and it is not going to work in public education.” Other telling comments from the union boss included:

  • “The billionaire attacks must stop.”
  • Charters are “unregulated” and will create “inappropriate competition.”
  • “Billionaires should not be running public education”
  • Citing alleged horror stories, “Broad and John Arnold funded New Orleans after Katrina”

Not to be outdone by Caputo-Pearl’s ludicrous comments, retired kindergarten teacher and protester Cheryl Ortega groused, “Charter schools are destroying public education. Mr. Broad wants to own 50 percent of our schools. … That’s untenable.” (You’re right, of course, Cheryl – it’s a business venture! An 81 year-old man worth $7.6 billion has an evil plan to increase his wealth by buying our schools.)

The billionaire-phobia has apparently spread from unionistas to their Los Angeles school board cronies. New board member Scott Schmerelson is really ticked. “The concept amazes and angers me. Far from being in the best interest of children, it is an insult to teaching and administrative professionals, an attack on democratic, transparent and inclusive public school governance and negates accountability to taxpayers.” Board president Steve Zimmer, chock full of righteous indignation, claims that the Broad plan to expand the number of charter schools in the district “represents a strategy to bring down LAUSD … .”

While much of the naysaying can be laughed off, some of their talking points do need to be debunked. Perhaps worst of all was Caputo-Pearl’s “unregulated” crack. Nothing could be further from the truth. As public schools, charters are indeed regulated, though not as heavily as the sclerotic traditional public schools. While LAUSD is in part strangled by its bulky union contract, only a small percentage of charter teachers are unionized. The non-unionization factor – along with his far left politics – forms the basis of his “inappropriate competition” claim.

Something that Caputo-Pearl doesn’t address is the fact that wherever charters emerge, parents flock to them. As the California Charter School Association points out, there are 40,000 kids who are on charter school waitlists in Los Angeles, unable to enroll in a high quality school of their parents choosing because there aren’t enough seats. Broad’s proposal would certainly delight those families.

And truly absurd was Caputo-Pearl’s insinuation that New Orleans schools hit the skids after Katrina. While the hurricane did devastating damage to the Crescent City, a much more vibrant all-charter school system sprang from the catastrophic floods. Courtesy of the Heartland Institute:

Before Katrina (2005) After Katrina (2015)
State district ranking 67 out of 68 41 out of 69
Percent attending failing schools 62 7
Percent performing at or above grade level 35 62
Students receiving free or reduced lunch 77 84
Percent graduating 4 years 54.4 73
Percent attended college < 20 59

However, a closer look at many of the complaints reveals not so much anger about billionaire involvement in public education, but envy that Broad doesn’t want his largess to go to the traditional public schools. But really, why would he do that? He may as well flush his money down the toilet.

LAUSD does not need more money. The “official” per-pupil spending in L.A. is $13,993, far more than the national average. This dollar amount is really not accurate, however, because it omits a few “minor” expenses like the cost of building and maintaining schools, interest on various payments, bonds, etc. When all these expenditures are added in, the spending figure comes to about $30,000 per student per year.

And just what kind of return-on-investment do we get? Very little, if the just released California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) scores are any indication. The test results showed that only one-third of L.A. students performed up to their grade level in English and one-fourth did so in math. (Not surprisingly, L.A. charter students far out-paced kids who went to traditional public school schools.)

Perhaps New Orleans is the model the philanthropists should look at. Mr. Broad wants to raise almost a half-billion for his new project, resulting in half of Los Angeles schools becoming charters. Maybe he and his partners can be coaxed to throw in another half-billion and make the city an all-charter district like New Orleans.

As for L.A. School Board chief Zimmer’s comment that more charter schools are going to “bring down LAUSD” – nope, LAUSD has managed to do that all by itself. Luckily, charter schools are there to pick up the pieces and hopefully, more children will be rescued from subpar schools in the future, thanks to Mr. Broad and his philanthropic partners. Standing ovations all around.

Originally published by Unionwatch.org.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Time To Break Up The Los Angeles School System

Now that the recent school board elections are over in the Los Angeles Unified School District, there will be the usual calls for a new beginning and getting down to the serious business of charting a bright future for the 600,000 or so deserving students that the board is privileged to serve.

Such a view ignores the fact that LAUSD’s governance structure is fundamentally broken and needs to be replaced by smaller units of school governance that are much more capable of delivering educational change that better serves students and their parents. In addition to being nimble and flexible, smaller school districts are physically closer to the parents they serve, and can initiate change strategies in a much more timely fashion. For example, Long Beach Unified, Garden Grove Unified and ABC Unified are all known as urban districts that can move quickly to implement needed changes that parents care about.

Ten years ago, while a faculty member at the University of Southern California, I served as the federal court monitor for the Modified Consent Decree, the blueprint for improving services to students with disabilities in the behemoth district.

During moments of frustration with the district’s intransigence, I would sometimes say to the courageous disability advocate lawyers representing the plaintiffs that I had a tough time figuring out how students and their parents benefited from maintaining the district at its current size, and that breaking it up into smaller units would better serve students’ interests.

They would quickly counter: “Now, Carl, if you broke it up, you’d get a lot of Comptons or Inglewoods, which might be even worse than what you’re getting now.” And I’d came back with: “You might also get some Long Beaches, which would be a vast improvement over what these kids and parents are getting now.”

The argument for breakup becomes even stronger today when you consider the important equity promise of Gov. Jerry Brown’s remarkable LCFF/LCAP school funding reform initiative, which places even greater authority at the local level to get things right for kids. When Los Angeles Unified screws up, more than half a million California youngsters are denied a critical opportunity to get a decent education during their one shot at using education to alter their life chances.

The missteps of the district are legion – everything from expensive attorneys arguing for the district that a middle school student was mature enough to consent to have sex with a teacher to the billion-dollar iPAD and MiSiS technology debacles and school board elections where records have been broken for adult special-interest-group spending.

No single event better captures the failure of this system than the recent revelation that 75 percent of the current class of 2017 is not on target to meet the school board’s 2005 adopted policy requirement that all students must meet UC/CSU A-G college entrance requirements in order to receive a high school diploma. For urban school boards, there’s more to policymaking than adopting well-intentioned higher standards. An important part of the job is to make sure that staff develops timely implementation plans without waiting 10 years to check progress. No matter how much we adults may wish it so, not all youngsters need to go to college.

Urban school boards like Los Angeles need to first deliver on the basics before they start adopting high school graduation requirements that are higher than those in the Palos Verdes and Palo Alto school systems. Last October, you had students at Jefferson High School still walking the halls and in auditoriums without scheduled classes even though school had started back on Aug. 12. Even worse, you had a superintendent giving a deposition in court (Cruz v. California) that he was powerless to get these students scheduled in the right classes, and that he needed assistance from the State of California to get this basic responsibility done.

I often wonder how the Long Beach school community would react to school starting in August and high school kids still without classes in October. I know from experience that there would be a universal and collective sense of community outrage and betrayal that no school board or superintendent could survive.

The Los Angeles school system has fundamentally lost its way, and the notion that a couple of new faces on the board and a skillful interim superintendent, Ray Cortines, can improve it is a huge disservice to the youngsters and their parents who deserve much better.

A blue ribbon task force with representation from the more than 20 cities served by the current district might be the best way to go. In the past, the strongest argument against breakup was that you would end up with new racially segregated districts. Today’s demographics make that a weak argument. On the other hand, Gov. Brown’s belief that the rescue of urban kids will take place closer to schools, classrooms and families bolsters the case for this type of change.

Breaking it up won’t be easy, and I’m sure that Sacramento doesn’t have this on its “to do” list, but we who advocate for education change often frame the debate as those who are committed to the adult status quo against those who are really for the kids. This will be the ultimate test of where we stand.

Originally published by EdSource.org

Carl Cohn is Director of the Urban Leadership Program at Claremont Graduate University and until earlier this year was a member of the State Board of Education. He was formerly superintendent in Long Beach Unified and San Diego Unified.  He is co-chair of the  National Research Council’s Committee for the Five-Year Evaluation of the Washington D.C. Public Schools.  He is a member of the EdSource Board of Directors.

Los Angeles Will Spend Over $70 Million Implementing ‘Ethnic Studies’ In Schools

Los Angeles plans to implement a district-wide ethnic studies curriculum, but it has run into a massive $70 million road block.

Last fall, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) took the almost-unprecedented step of requiring every student in the district to pass a course in “ethnic studies” in order to graduate high school. When the school board approved the measure, however, it did so without any clear price tag. An initial estimate suggested the price of implementing the decree would be only $3.4 million.

It turns out that estimate was off by a factor of 20. A recently completed analysis by the district’s Ethnic Studies Committee concluded that the price to implement the new program will be a staggering $72.7 million over four years, with most of the price coming from the need to buy thousands of new textbooks and train instructors in the new curriculum. That’s about $105 for each student in the district.

That’s a hefty chunk of change for a district whose annual budget is about $6.8 billion. LAUSD is already struggling with its finances; its deficit for the 2015-16 school year is expected to be over $150 million.

The huge price tag vindicates those who criticized the district for rushing into adopting the ethnic studies requirement without much study beforehand. Board member Tamar Galatzan, the only person to vote against the proposal, warned in an editorial last November the district was acting without any real research on how the requirement would impact hiring decisions and the financial bottom line.

Activists insisted that ethnic studies was an urgent need for LAUSD and pushed for a quick adoption of the requirement. Board member Steve Zimmer argued that ethnic studies were a pressing need to keep kids in school and on the path towards success.

“In some places, there is resistance , but what we do here today will bring down the walls of resistance,” Zimmer said at the time. “We are losing kids because we are not connecting to their story.”

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Audit of L.A. ‘training institutes’ reveals abuse of ratepayer dollars

Photo courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

Photo courtesy of 401(K) 2013, Flickr

Ratepayers are mad as hell after Controller Ron Galperin’s financial audit of the Joint Safety and Training Institutes revealed that we have been ripped off by IBEW union boss Brian D’Arcy for tens of millions of dollars. This audit revealed bloated salaries, credit card and expense account abuse, prohibited payments to DWP employees to conduct training sessions, and no bid contracts totaling millions.

The City Administrative Officer’s performance and operational evaluation revealed an inefficient organization without adequate management, oversight, controls, policies, and procedures.  As a result, the CAO’s report outlined 36 recommendations, all of which have been agreed to by DWP and the IBEW.  This includes appointing an executive director and developing a plan for a money saving merger of the institutes.

The CAO’s report indicated that the Institutes provided some value, including servicing as a catalyst and focal point for training and safety and an incubator for “researching, developing and implementing programs relatively quickly to address specific issues or concerns.”

Because of the lack of adequate controls and performance metrics, there is no way to determine how much bang for the buck the ratepayers received for their $20 million that was funneled to the two nonprofit trusts over the last five years.

We have a right to be mad as hell as the Joint Safety and Training Institutes have squandered over $40 million of ratepayer dollars over the last 15 years without any accountability.  But our wrath should not be directed at DWP and its management, but rather at the city council which has provided air cover for IBEW union boss D’Arcy and his shenanigans.  But this is not surprising as at least ten members of the city council have received campaign contributions from the IBEW and its cronies. The other members are whipped into shape because they fear that D’Arcy will use the IBEW slush funds to finance the election campaigns of their opponents.

This kowtowing to D’Arcy was evident in the delays leading up to the release of Galperin’s audit.  It took over a year from the Los Angeles Times front page expose in September of 2013 for the city council to approve a limited five year audit of the trusts, and another six months before the financial review was completed.  This included a two month delay because D’Arcy was concerned that the audit was too comprehensive.

Furthermore, previous general managers and other senior members of management were told by then-Mayor Villaraigosa and selected members of the city council that the Joint Safety and Training Institutes were off bounds and none of their business.

Rather than bury the reports of the controller and the city administrative officer, the city council and the Energy and Environment Committee, led by D’Arcy acolytes Wesson and Fuentes, respectively, should hold comprehensive, open and transparent hearings so that ratepayers and voters can develop a better understanding of what happened to the ratepayer money that was funneled to the trusts over the last five years.

The trusts would need demonstrate that they are efficient and why they should not be shuttered, especially given that the department spends over $100 million a year on safety and training.

The trusts would also be required to discuss the timetable for implementing the 36 recommendations that IBEW and DWP have approved.

Ratepayers deserve a full accounting of what happened to their $40 million that was laundered by the Joint Safety and Training Institutes.  Without a full disclosure, the Mad as Hell Ratepayers will vent their fury November 2016, when the city, LAUSD, the county and the state want us to approve massive increases in our taxes.

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee, The Ratepayer Advocate for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, and a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate. Humphreville is the publisher of the Recycler Classifieds — www.recycler.com. He can be reached at:  [email protected]