‘Parent trigger’ schools open

The first “parent trigger” schools have opened in California. Desert Trails, a low-performing elementary school in Adelanto, is now a charter “preparatory academy.” The school year started in early August.

In Los Angeles, 24th Street Elementary opened last week:  The district will run the K-4 grades while a charter operator will run grades 5 to 8; a preschool provider will offer early childhood education.

Parent Revolution, which is backing trigger campaigns, claims two other victories: Parents got what they wanted without taking over the school

At Haddon Avenue Elementary in Pacoima, the parent union paused — and then stopped — their Parent Trigger campaign.  This was because their pressure caused the district, teachers and administrators to put together a thoughtful plan to transform the school.  And in the Watts neighborhood of LA, the parents decided on replacing the principal and making in-district changes to turn-around the chronically failing Weigand Avenue Elementary.

We The Parents, a documentary about Compton parents’  “trigger” campaign to seize their children’s chronically low-performing school, has opened in Los Angeles. The LA Times calls it “inspirational but not too informative.” The Compton parents failed on a technicality, but drew a charter school to a nearby church to provide an alternative.

No choice for the wealthy

Actor Matt Damon, who opposes school choice for low-income students, has chosen to send his children to private school in Los Angeles, where he’s just moved, notes Andrew Rotherham in TIME, who calls the actor a “hypocrite.” The son of a teacher turned education professor, Damon has campaigned against education reform and in favor of public education. But he says there are no progressive public schools in Los Angeles, so “we don’t have a choice.”

Los Angeles has many charter schools and traditional public schools in demand by parents, responds Rotherham. Superintendent John Deasy offered to help Damon “tour a number of schools so he can have choices from our amazing portfolio of schools.”

 In addition to the traditional and charter schools in the LA system there are Mandarin immersion schools, magnets with different focuses, and even schools that focus on activism. If none of those schools turn out to work for the Damons that’s still a powerful argument for the ideas he works against publicly: Letting parents and teachers come together to create new public schools that meet the diverse needs of students. That’s precisely the idea behind public charter schools, an idea derided at the rallies where Damon is celebrated.

“Los Angeles now has a number of charter schools that are propelling first-in-family students into and through college,” writes Rotherham. That increases social mobility and reduces inequality. “If that’s not progressive enough, then what is?”

Wealthy parents can afford to live in an area with excellent public schools. That’s the most common choice for those who value public education.

Damon’s new movie, Elysium, is about a future dystopia were the uber-wealthy live in an edenic space station — with great medical care — while the 99.9 percent suffer on a polluted Earth.

It’s time to break up Los Angeles Unified

It’s time to break up Los Angeles Unified, argues Dropout Nation, which sees an anti-reform turn on the school board. There are 32 cities within the giant district. “L.A. Unified’s bureaucracy has proven long ago that it is impervious to change,” writes RiShawn Biddle.

Superintendent John Deasy threatened to resign if pro-union Richard Vladovic, a former teacher, principal and superintendent, became president of the Board of Education. Vladovic became president last week. Deasy backed down.

LA students win cars, iPads for attendance

I had perfect attendance in fourth grade at Ravinia Elementary School in 1961-62. The teacher gave me a plastic trophy — painted gold — that he’d won in a dance contest at the Hotel Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.

Los Angeles public schools gave new cars to two graduating seniors with perfect attendance, reports the Los Angeles Daily News. Five elementary students won iPads.

Of 357 seniors with perfect attendance, Vanessa Umana and Euri Tanaka each won the drawing for an $18,000 Chevrolet Sonic. Clear Channel Media donated the cars and many of the other prizes.

Over the last year, LAUSD has awarded monthly prizes to hundreds of kids who answered “here” every time their teacher took attendance. Rewards donated by local companies included bicycles, gift cards to Subway sandwich shops and guest passes to Knott’s Berry Farm and Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Six campuses also will receive $3,000 each to spend on attendance programs. (Does a magnet for gifted students need an attendance program?)

Attendance improved during the year-long contest, said Debra Duardo, executive director of Student Health and Human Services. That means fewer kids miss lessons and the district collects more money from the state, an average of $32 per student per day.

Vanessa credits her work ethic to her mother, Minerva, a pharmacy technician, and father, David, a Navy mechanic who served three overseas deployments while she was growing up.

“That shaped me as a person and taught me how to have goals and be independent,” she said. “They always encouraged me to go to school so it would lead me to have a better life.”

Graduating with a GPA of 4.2, Vanessa has been accepted at UC San Diego. She plans to major in biology, with a long-term goal of becoming a doctor.

The grand prize for attending school is an education, not a Subway gift card or a Chevy.  Vanessa knows that. She didn’t need to be bribed to show up. What about kids with less education-minded parents?

I kept my attendance trophy on my dresser. It disappeared when my parents sold the house, when I was in college. I’ve still got the education.

Parent trigger used to oust principal

Using the parent trigger law, Los Angeles parents have ousted the principal of their low-performing elementary school. The school board voted 5-2 to accept the parents petition after 61 percent of parents signed on.

Weigand Elementary parents didn’t ask for a charter school. They want to fire the principal.

“We support our teachers,” said mother Llury Garcia.

“I think that the teachers are very intimidated right now” by Principal Irma Cobian, whom Garcia said is rarely on campus and has been unresponsive to parent complaints in the past.

The district will name a new principal for the school, which serves low-income Hispanic students.

Parent Revolution, which helped Weigand parents organize, is touting the campaign as evidence trigger laws are about empowering parents, not promoting charter schools.

“We keep hearing about how “parent trigger” is anti-teacher and about privatizing schools,” writes Eduwonk. The Weigand trigger could change the debate.

Los Angeles won’t suspend for ‘willful defiance’

Los Angeles Unified will not suspend students for “willful defiance,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

The proposal would ban suspensions of students for “willful defiance,” an offense criticized as a subjective catch-all for such behavior as refusing to take off a hat, turn off a cellphone or failing to wear a school uniform. The offense accounted for 48% of 710,000 suspensions issued in California in 2011-12, prompting state and local efforts to restrict its use in disciplinary actions.

Disruptive students can be kicked out of class, but not out of school, the school board decided. Principals are supposed to develop alternatives, such as “positive behavior incentives” and “restorative justice” strategies.

Students still will be suspended for violence, drugs, fights and other behavior that threatens others, Superintendent John Deasy told the board. But he said students shouldn’t be pushed out of school for non-violent misbehavior. “We want to be part of graduating, not incarcerating,” students, he said.

Black students, who make up 9 percent of enrollment in Los Angeles, drew 26 percent of suspensions for defiance. What if they account for a disproportionate share of alternative discipline referrals?

‘Converted’ school fires activist teachers

Half the teachers at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles were fired this month as part of the latest plan to turn around the low-performing school, writes Dana Goldstein. The “conversion” got rid of Alex Caputo-Pearl, an activist teacher and reform leader. One of the first Teach for America recruits in 1990, Caputo-Pearl taught in high-poverty Los Angeles schools for more than two decades. He helped design the Extended Learning Cultural Model, which drew federal and philanthropic dollars to the troubled high school. He led Crenshaw’s Social Justice and Law Academy, a small school within the school with high expectations.

For their final project, (10th graders) had to analyze a data set that included test scores at various schools; neighborhood income levels; school truancy rates; and incarceration rates.

In math, students graphed the relationship between income and social opportunity in various south L.A. neighborhoods. In social studies, they read conservative and liberal proposals for school reform and practiced citing data in their own written arguments about how to improve education. In science, students designed experiments that could test policy hypotheses about how to improve education. And in English class, they read Our America, a work of narrative non-fiction about life in the Ida B. Wells housing projects on the South Side of Chicago.

Some Crenshaw students were placed in paid community-service internships. Others worked with local colleges to conduct research in their neighborhoods.

With 30 different administrators in seven years, Crenshaw relied on teachers to lead the reform effort. Test scores began to grow, especially for African-American and disabled students, Goldstein writes. But the district has rejected teacher-led reforms at Crenshaw.

Superintendent John Deasy announced in November that Crenshaw would be reconstituted with three new magnet programs on the arts, entrepreneurship, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). There will be more Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate offerings and no Social Justice and Law Academy.

Teacher had to reapply for their jobs. Cathy Garcia, the teachers’ union chair, charges the district targeted reform leaders, Social Justice teachers and experienced black teachers who live in the neighborhood. She lost her job too.

Cities are breaking up large comprehensive high schools across the country, Goldstein writes. In New York City, the small specialty schools are superior to the big high schools, according to research from the New School. But who gets to go?

. . . students whose schools close may not end up enrolled in those better schools; instead, a significant number of them will be enrolled by default in the nearest large high school that is still open, which itself has extremely low test scores. That school, in turn, will eventually be shut down, creating what the New School researchers call a “domino effect,” in which the most disadvantaged teenagers are shuttled from failing school to failing school, while those with more active, involved parents win spots at new schools.

. . . only 6 percent of students whose schools are shut down end up enrolled in a school within the top achievement quartile, and 40 percent of students from closed schools ended up at schools on academic probation.

Smaller, themed schools seem to be better for kids, Goldstein writes. But the transition may leave behind the students who need help the most.

At Crenshaw, a “politically and intellectually challenging” themed school-within-a-school reform was dumped and its leaders dispersed. That’s “discouraging,” Goldstein writes. It certainly doesn’t encourage the remaining teachers to become leaders.

Charters get $4,000 less per student

Charter schools received one third less per-pupil funding — about $4,000 less per student — than district-run schools in Denver, Milwaukee, Newark, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles in 2007 to 2011, according to a University of Arkansas study commissioned by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation. “In the large, urban school districts evaluated, traditional public schools receive substantially more local, state and federal funds than public charter schools,” said lead researcher Larry Maloney.

As of 2011, the charter funding gap ranged from $2,684 in Denver to nearly $13,000 in Washington D.C.

Denver—$11,139; $2,684 less than regular public schools
Los Angeles—$8,780; $4,666 less than regular public schools
Milwaukee—$10,298; $4,720 less than regular public schools
Newark—$15,973; $10,214 less than regular public schools
District of Columbia—$16,361; $12,784 less than regular public schools

The research will appear in the September issue of The Journal of School Choice.

A 2010 Ball State study of charter school funding in 24 states and the District of Columbia found that charter school students received 19.2 percent (or $2,247) less per-pupil funding than students in regular public schools.

‘I want to be a mass murderer’ when I grow up

“When I grow up, I want to be a mass murderer,” wrote Brian McGuigan in his second-grade journal. Abandoned by his father, he was an angry child who was “hated” by classmates.

The entry was a story about me as a grown-up, an emerging mass murderer with a Frankenstein combination shotgun and machine gun mounted to my arm. I was probably playing too much “Contra” then. I used the gun to shoot anyone who messed with me, not an indiscriminate killing spree but a revenge fantasy against nameless, faceless bodies, all of whom may or may not have been my father. . . . the police never caught me because a hockey mask concealed my face, like Jason’s.

His teacher called his mother, not the police. After a conference, he began weekly appointments with a therapist.

Ms. Ashley talked animated and slowly like a Teddy Ruxpin doll. We chatted about school, my mom, Nintendo, and since I had trouble sitting still, she let me play with the toys. My favorite were the cars. I could pretend I was driving anywhere. Miss Ashley asked me lots of questions — “What’s your favorite subject in school?”; “Are you a Mets fan or Yankees”?; “Do you like pizza?” but never “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sometimes my answers were one word, and other times I’d speak at length, spinning stories around her like a tether ball, some of which probably weren’t true at all because I lied often, not out of malice but boredom.

He also started taking Ritalin, which made it possible for him to sit still and focus in class.

 As my energy decreased, my motivation did, too. I spent most weekends zoned out playing Zelda for hours, basking in the fuzzed glow of the television. My mother told me to go out and play, but I just wanted to stay inside and play video games, relaxed and focused on the task, and not bounce around the neighborhood causing trouble.

By high school, “a class clown occasionally but no longer by trade,” he was an honor roll student.  When he was caught smoking pot, his mother showed him the second-grade journal entry.

I wondered where I would be if not for my mother, Mrs. McKierney and Miss Ashley, if I would have ended up like Jason, minus the succession of campy sequels.

It sounds like the Ritalin helped too.

McGuigan lives in Seattle where he is the program director at Richard Hugo House, a community writing center.

In Los Angeles, mental health workers work with schools and law enforcement to help troubled students who might turn to violence, reports the New York Times. 

Each day, several dozen calls come in to the program’s dispatch center from principals, counselors, school security officers or parents worried about students who have talked about suicide, exhibited bizarre behavior or made outright threats.

Mental  health workers try to convince principals not to expel students who’ve made threats. “Doing so only pushes the problem onto another school or leaves a child at home with free time to surf the Internet and nurse a grudge against the school.”

Do cops make schools safe?

Do police officers make your schools safer? Los Angeles students don’t think so, reports Colorlines.

South Dakota has passed a law allowing teachers to carry guns in school.