LA teachers’ union says ‘no’ to Broad bucks

Great Public Schools Now (GPSN), largely funded by billionaire Eli Broad, hopes to create 260 new charters in Los Angeles. Pledging to “do more of what works,” GPSN also plans to “offer up to $3.75 million to help L.A. Unified expand five promising schools” in low-income neighborhoods, reports KPCC.

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That only fueled the teachers’ union’s Broad Rage, writes Larry Sand on Union Watch.

Five district-run schools will be awarded $250,000 a year for three years to expand or replicate successful programs.

United Teachers of Los Angeles members at four schools voted to refuse the money, reports KPCC. However, none of the schools are on the list of possible grant winners.

The money will go through the school district, writes Sand. “UTLA is asking the LA school board to turn down the cash.”

Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl called the donation “a public relations stunt that offers chump change to a couple of LAUSD efforts while they continue to put tens of millions of dollars into unregulated charter growth.”

The union leader wants philanthropists to “give a substantial amount of money, millions of dollars, to the L.A. School Board … to spend in the way they see fit.”

That’s not going to happen.

Why LA’s teacher housing has no teachers

The Sage Park Apartments were built on vacant land near Gardena High School and opened in 2015.School employees — but not teachers — live in the Sage Park Apartments, which opened in 2015. Photo: Los Angeles Times

To retain teachers, Los Angeles Unified built two below-market apartment complexes on district land and is finishing a third. Not one teacher lives in the district’s affordable housing, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Teachers, who start at $50,300 a year, earn too much. Instead, the apartments are occupied by low-paid school employees such as cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers and aides.

Federal subsidies used to build the apartments “restricted the units to households that earned 30% to 60% of area median income,” the Times explains.  That’s less than $35,000 a year for a single person.

Diamond Jones, 24, a special education assistant who earns $15 an hour, pays $588 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, less than a third of the market rate.

Help ‘first teachers’ do better

Parents are children’s first teachers, says everyone. But engaging low-income, poorly educated parents in their children’s learning has proven to be difficult, writes Bellwether’s Sara Mead. We don’t know what works. Until now.

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ParentCorps, which trains preschool parents and teachers, is producing long-term results, concludes a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

“By 2nd grade, children who participated in ParentCorps had fewer mental health problems and better academic achievement” than non-participants, writes Mead.

Most children came from low-income, black families in New York City.

ParentCorps build children’s academic abilities and supports their “social, emotional, and behavioral regulation skills.” It’s not either/or.

Los Angeles Unified is expanding on-campus parent centers that provide a place for parents to learn English, discuss school issues and do projects for teachers. Engaging parents improves student attendance, school officials believe.

LA schools compete for students

Los Angeles Unified schools are competing for students with charters, reports Anna M. Phillips in the LA Times.

In heavily Hispanic Pacoima, a 90-year-old district elementary school, now known as Haddon Avenue STEAM Academy, is advertising on a billboard and a LA Unified delivery truck.

“With a declining enrollment, you have no choice,” says Principal Richard Ramos, who previously worked at a charter school.

Haddon’s enrollment dipped from 890 K-5 students five years ago to 785 last year, reports Phillips. “It didn’t matter that the principal had expanded the school’s mariachi classes or brought in a decorated speech-and-debate coach if none of the neighborhood’s parents knew about it.”

With the help of $9,000 for a billboard (it also advertises Arleta High) and the truck ad, Haddon is starting the year with 848 students, including 39 transfers from charter schools.

Scores are low at Haddon: Only 18 percent of students are proficient in English, 11 percent in math, according to Great Schools. At nearby Montague Charter Academy and Pacoima Charter Elementary, 22 percent are proficient in English and 20 percent in math. Is that significant? Some parents will think so. Others will prefer mariachi and debate.

The KIPP LA charter network spent $18,000 last year to advertise openings in its 13 charter schools in the area, spokesman Steve Mancini said. “We welcome the competition” from the district.“It’s healthy; it keeps you on your toes. One of the best accountability measures is knowing you have to fill your school every year with students.”

At Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter school network in L.A., the recruiting budget for its 28 schools is $13,000 to $15,000, spokeswoman Catherine Suitor said.

It’s good to see district schools figuring out how to appeal to parents, rather than trying to suppress competition, writes Reason‘s Scott Shackford.

John Oliver mocked the idea that competition might motivate schools to improve.

Focusing on mismanaged schools, Oliver’s rant was “clever, glib and uninformed,” responds Nick Gillespie.

He cited education researcher Jay Greene’s analysis of randomized studies comparing lottery winners and losers (kids with equally motivated parents): Urban students “do significantly better in school if they attend a charter school than if they attend a traditional public school,” writes Greene.

A British comedian’s ignorance isn’t worth all the fuss, writes Robert Pondiscio.

LA’s 75% grad rate: What do kids know?

A “credit-recovery binge” helped Los Angeles Unified raise its graduation rate to 75 percent — while requiring all students to pass college-prep courses, reports the LA Times. Are credit-recovery graduates prepared for college, jobs or anything else?

“When we see kids completing three years of high school in a year through credit recovery, that should raise alarms,” said Pedro Noguera, director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of School Transformation.

The district can’t track how those students earned diplomas, reports the Times.

In some cases, students were allowed to make up work to change recorded grades. All records of the prior grade then disappeared from the district’s central data system, according to school site administrators, making it difficult to track such remediation in order to be fully accountable.

This year, graduates had to earn D’s or better in a college-prep sequence known as A-G that includes Algebra II, two years of foreign language and a year of a college-preparatory elective such as geography or statistics, reports the Times.

“We know 100% of all kids can graduate fully passing the A to G,” said Steve Zimmer, the school board president. (State universities don’t accept grades lower than C in A-G courses.)

Even before the credit-recovery push, many Los Angeles Unified graduates found themselves in remedial classes in college, Noguera pointed out.

College for all is a mistake, writes Walt Gardner, who taught in Los Angeles Unified for 28 years. Many of his former students “who gained skills through high school vocational courses or through certificate programs in community colleges are steadily making a good living working with their hands,” he writes. “In contrast, some former students with a bachelor’s degree have been underemployed for protracted periods of time, all the while struggling to pay off their student debt.”

LA teachers devalue evaluations

Under union pressure, Los Angeles Unified has gutted teacher evaluation, writes Thomas Toch, founding director of the Center on the Future of American Education at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, in Education Post. That will hurt students — and teachers — he argues.

The nation’s teacher unions used their lobbying muscle to make sure the new Every Student Succeeds Act ended the Obama administration’s pressure on states and school districts to evaluate teachers more meaningfully. And now, with the federal government no longer blocking their path, the unions are moving to weaken state and local evaluation reforms introduced in the Obama era, as is the case in Los Angeles.

The new agreement in LA diminishes the role of student progress in evaluating teachers’ effectiveness, writes Toch. The pact eliminates the “highly effective” category which will make it “more difficult to use evaluations to establish master teacher positions, career ladders, or performance-based pay.”

Experienced teachers will face evaluation as little as once every five years and formal classroom observations will be limited.

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“The new pact also slims from 15 to seven the number of performance objectives each teacher must meet and allows teachers to file grievances if they’re placed in the lowest overall evaluation category,” reports Education Week.

“The Los Angeles Times played into the union’s hands when it published individual teachers’ student testing results in 2010 and 2011,” writes Toch. Scores alone, without information from classroom observations and other measures, aren’t very dependable.  The Times created a backlash that’s weakened the city’s teacher evaluation system. It will be “more difficult to know who’s doing a good job, who isn’t, and why.”

If Hillary Clinton is elected president, “educators will have a partner in the White House” and a “seat at the table,” she told the National Education Association convention. The NEA endorsed her over Bernie Sanders.

Union v. charters in Los Angeles

A Broad Foundation plan to double the number of Los Angeles charter schools has sparked fierce pushback by the teachers’ union, writes Richard Whitmire in Education Next.

The $490 million proposal, which aimed to enroll half the district’s students in charter within eight years, was leaked last fall.

Not surprisingly, United Teachers of Los Angeles is using the plan “to pursue the national anti-charter theme of billionaires trying to privatize public schools,” writes Whitmire.

Teachers voted a big increase in union dues to fight charter expansion.

Los Angeles charter schools “are among the best in the nation at helping low-income minority students succeed in school,” Whitemire writes.

In 2014, Stanford’s CREDO found that L.A. charter-school students, on average, gained the equivalent of 50 additional days of learning per year in reading and 79 additional days in math, compared to district school students.

Currently, about one in five students in the district goes to a charter.

Parent Revolution, an advocacy group, has launched Choice4LA to help low-income parents apply to charter and district schools.

In some cities, parents can fill out one application to apply for district and charter schools. Superintendent Michelle King is working on “creating a unified application system for district schools only,” reports Ed Week.

Fudging grad rates via ‘credit recovery’


Owensmouth High  students received their diplomas on June 8. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Only 54 percent of Los Angeles Unified seniors were on track to graduate in December, due to new (absurd) requirements that everyone complete the college-prep sequence required by state universities.

By the end of March, 68 percent were on track, reports the Los Angeles Times. In June, an estimated 74 percent received their diplomas. What happened?

Online credit recovery courses enabled thousands of students who failed regular classes to qualify for a diploma, reports the editorial board. But did they learn anything?

LAUSD: English Language Arts 11A, which is supposed to be the first semester of junior-year English, could take 50 or 60 hours, reports the Times.

The reading excerpts come from fine and often challenging literature — “Moby-Dick,” “The Scarlet Letter,” great poetry and the like. Video lectures give the background of the works and teach lessons about tone, setting, vocabulary choice and so forth. There are four writing assignments during each semester.

But students can test out of much of the course, including the writing, by passing a 10-question multiple-choice quiz at the beginning of each unit.

With a score of 60% or better — six of the questions — a student passes the unit, without having to go through the lectures, read the full materials or write the essays. Opening up other tabs on the computer to search for answers on the Internet is allowed. That’s not really cheating: The questions aren’t about straightforward facts. Students must interpret passages, for instance. But there’s plenty of help online via Sparks notes and other resources, and a full hour is given to answer the 10 questions.

Students aren’t asked to read a full book in the first semester; the second semester requires one book.

“I’ve seen students make up a semester’s worth of credits in a school year’s final month and then miraculously earn their diplomas,” wrote teacher Mario Gonzalez in response. “I’ve seen kids who don’t even know their multiplication tables or how to reduce a fraction pass algebra (on paper, at least).”

He asks: “What’s the point of patting ourselves on the back for improved graduation rates if the diploma itself is highly devalued?”

Fudging graduation numbers is a lot easier than educating students, concludes the Times editorial board. “Under pressure to produce better numbers, school officials in California and nationwide have often done whatever it takes to get to those numbers, including lowering standards while pretending to raise them, and reclassifying students instead of educating them. These students then go on to college or the workplace, mistakenly thinking they have the skills they’ll need.”

LA schools open secret art collection


Los Angeles Unified’s art and artifact collection includes: (clock-wise from upper left) Pastel on paper by Raymond Nott, Desert Arab Man by Gordon Harrower Coutts, Chinese Junks by Arthur Edwaine, The Lazy Day by Ahn Young-il, Red Figure Skyphos (drinking cup, on low-footed base), Mesopotamian Cuneiform Tablet, Don Quixote metal relief by Salvador Dali.

Los Angeles Unified is providing a peek into its collection of more than 50,000 art works and artifacts, reports KPCC. Fifty pieces — including a metal sculpture of Don Quixote by Salvador Dali — will be displayed online.

A new Artscape site will turn the collection into a resource for teachers and students, the district hopes. It will include a gallery of students’ art.

How did the district get all that art? Apparently, it’s all from donations. “The pieces have been stored in a few schools and administrative buildings; many were locked away in vaults,” reports KPCC.

If it’s only going to be displayed online, the district could photograph it, sell everything of value and use the money to fund art supplies and teachers.

46% of LA seniors are off graduation track

Forty-six percent of Los Angeles Unified’s high school seniors aren’t on track to graduate, reports Craig Clough for LA School Report, citing district data.

This year, students must pass college-prep courses, known as A-G requirements, to earn a diploma. Those who pass with a “C” or better –a “D” is a passing grade — can apply to state universities.

Last year, Los Angeles Unified's graduation rate was 74%, but students didn't need to pass college-prep courses. Photo: Crystal Marie Lopez

Last year, Los Angeles Unified’s graduation rate was 74%, but students didn’t need to pass college-prep courses. Photo: Crystal-Marie Lopez

Los Angeles Unified’s school board decided to require all graduates to pass the A-G sequence in 2005. After 11 years to prepare, district officials are ramping up “credit recovery” programs to push more students to a diploma.

The district’s $15-million credit recovery program “puts students in specials classes after school and during breaks to help them pass classes they previously failed,” reports Clough. District leaders report an extremely high participation rate and predict a high pass rate.