Monthly Archives: September 2015

Plan to boost charters splits L.A. Unified board

la-2429903-me-0606-banks-metro-charter-kaf3-jpg-20150922 (1)Students work in a first-grade classroom at Metro Charter Elementary. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Dividing lines quickly emerged on the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday over an ambitious plan to double the number of charter campuses across the city, with two members vowing an all-out fight and two others applauding the expansion of choice for parents.

The three remaining board members had deep reservations about the $490-million proposal, suggesting that the money should be used for existing schools. One said the charter campaign should influence the selection of the next superintendent.

The unprecedented expansion plan, which seeks to shift half of L.A. Unified students into charters, is becoming the latest focal point in the battle over how best to improve the quality of education for half a million students.

“The concept amazes and angers me,” said board member Scott Schmerelson. “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.”

The project, which is being organized through the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, calls for creating 260 charters over the next eight years. The schools would enroll at least 130,000 students, according to a 44-page memo obtained by The Times.

Charters are independently run and publicly financed, exempt from some rules that govern traditional campuses; most are nonunion.

Board President Steve Zimmer also had a strongly negative response, saying that the financial impact would be devastating for the students who remain in traditional schools.

“Everyone understands 250,000 kids will not be part of this,” said Zimmer, who has criticized the rapid growth of charters. “There is collateral damage: We won’t be able to lower class size or provide comprehensive support our kids need.”

The private money, he said, “could ensure every child living in poverty in L.A. County … could have access to high-quality early education.”

Board member George McKenna, along with Monica Ratliff, said he wanted foundation money “directed toward the public schools that are already established and need all the private support that we can get.”

Ratliff also said that the charter plan underscores the need to hire a new superintendent who will promote L.A. Unified’s own successes. The district has launched a search to replace schools Supt. Ramon Cortines who has said he wants to leave by year’s end.

“It’s important that a superintendent publicizes that LAUSD schools are extremely competitive” with the best charter schools, Ratliff said.

Richard Vladovic attempted to strike a more neutral tone but agreed that some district schools, especially magnet programs, also deserve more funding.

Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez, who were strongly backed by charter advocates in their election campaigns, said they support giving parents choices that include charters as well as district-run schools.

“I am open to bold ideas that are grass-roots driven, whether they come from teachers, students, families or community members,” Rodriguez said. “We want our students and families to have high-quality options.… I welcome other and all ideas that are focused on creating quality and excellence in every single school across the district. There is no one path to excellence for our public schools.”

The strongest critics of the expansion, Zimmer and Schmerelson, also are those with the deepest ties to the teachers union. Like them, McKenna also was elected with heavy union funding. Vladovic has both union and charter backers, and Ratliff was elected without significant financial support from either charters or the union.

In recent board elections, neither group could achieve a clear majority. And those divisions are reflected in board members’ responses to the charter plan.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl called it an ill-conceived attempt by philanthropists who oversimplify the challenge of improving schools.

“It has long been known that there is a set of billionaires who are attempting to run schools more like a business and who are attempting to attack large urban systems and large urban unions,” he said.

The acting head of the California Charter Schools Assn. said the ambitious expansion was an effort to give parents the high-quality schools that they want for their children. Myrna Castrejon said the project is “doable,” but charters always face political hurdles.

“There is no question that with a vigorous political opposition, getting our charters approved through that board is going to continue to be a challenge,” she said. “Front and center that is probably the biggest obstacle.”

Los Angeles Unified already has the highest number of charters — more than 200 — of any school system in the country, enrolling about 16% of students.
Currently, L.A. Unified has declining enrollment, and about half of that decrease is related to charter growth, according to a district analysis. Traditional schools in some areas already are short on students. and a few charters also have closed for that reason.

Backers of the expansion assert that competition has benefited students, producing high-performing charters and even spurred the district to improve. And the more competition the better, with the target being a “50% market share” for charters, according to the memo detailing the plan.

The Broad Foundation has given money to the California Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Los Angeles to support Education Matters, a new Times digital initiative devoted to more in-depth reporting on schools.

Twitter: @TeresaWatanabe

Twitter: @howardblume

Times staff writer Zahira Torres contributed to this report.



Behind Rauner’s call to ‘end unfunded mandates’

Rauner and Smith

By Mike Klonsky
Unfunded mandates. I hate ’em. Schools and school districts hate ’em.

It didn’t take our demagogic, education-know-nothing governor, with help from his much-smarter State Supt. Tony Smith, very long to figure that out and issue a call to end all unfunded mandates — which these days virtually means ALL mandates.

Former Oakland supt. Smith is a veteran of the old Coalition of Essential Schools and founder Ted Sizer’s less-is-more philosophy. In Oakland, he talked the Sizer Essential Schools talk in order to close public schools, fire teachers, and replace them with privately-run charters in their place.

Sizer’s progressive vision, expressed beautifully in his book, Horace’s Compromise (a seminal text and must-read, especially for high school educators) was about smaller schools (including charters) and classrooms which were more like learning communities than shopping malls, where skilled teachers were empowered to make the most important educational decisions (and yes, compromise between what’s nice and possible), to teach and not just test, and where students could engage in meaningful learning based on their interests and experience.

For Sizer, who served as dean of Harvard’s Ed School, less-is-more was never about union-busting or forcing schools to choose between basic necessities because of draconian state budget cuts to public education. It was never about austerity and do-more-with-less.

For Rauner/Smith that’s exactly what the call to abolish mandates means. Rauner wants nothing less than to privatize all public space and eliminate civil rights protections and public employee unions altogether.

Yes, let’s get rid of unfunded mandates like, Rahm Emanuel’s longer school day, like Common Core and PARCC testing madness. But we need to keep mandates that ensure student safety, special education, ELL, class size ceilings, caps on charters, and school desegregation as well as all other fundamental civil and human rights — including teachers’ right to bargain collectively with elected school boards.

The response to necessary, but unfunded, mandates, should be to adequately fund them, not abolish them.



Animal lovers come together to celebrate World Rhino Day

1rhino061815Sudan, the last male northern white rhino left on the planet, lives alone in a 10-acre enclosure, with 24-hour guards, in Kenya.

Animal lovers around the world, rejoice! Today is World Rhino Day. On September 22, the world celebrates all five species of rhinoceros, including the black rhino, white rhino, greater one-horned (Indian) rhino, Sumatran rhino and Javan rhino.

World Rhino Day was first created by World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) in 2010, and for the past five years, the world has honored the magnificent creatures on this day.

The rhinoceros species is native to Africa and Asia, and has been roaming the earth ever since cavemen were around. Today, rhinos are a vulnerable species because of habitat loss, natural disasters, and most gruesomely, poaching. In fact, poachers even go as far as sawing off the rhino’s horn, to use in Eastern medicine.

Rhinoceros horns are displayed in Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department Offices on November 15, 2011. Hong Kong Customs on November 14, 2011, seized 33 unmanifested rhinoceros horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about 17.4 million HKD (2.23 Million USD), inside a container shipped to Hong Kong from Cape Town, South Africa. AFP PHOTO / AARON TAM (Photo credit should read aaron tam/AFP/Getty Images)

Rhinoceros horns are displayed in Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Department Offices on November 15, 2011. Hong Kong Customs on November 14, 2011, seized 33 unmanifested rhinoceros horns, 758 ivory chopsticks and 127 ivory bracelets, worth about 17.4 million HKD (2.23 Million USD), inside a container shipped to Hong Kong from Cape Town, South Africa. AFP PHOTO / AARON TAM (Photo credit should read aaron tam/AFP/Getty Images)

With the constant threat to the rhinoceros and wildlife population as a whole, there is so much you can do to get involved, especially today on World Rhino Day and all the time. We encourage visitors and members of Reform Sasscer Movement to Visit to see how you can get involved.

Read more >>> Fate of entire subspecies of rhino left to one elderly male



3 Huge Problems With the Charter School Movement

hite1Dr. William Hite Jr who was a superintendent in Prince George’s County before applying to Philadelphia caused a similar mess in Prince George’s County. has a story this week that distills many of the troubling qualities of the charter school movement down to a disturbing essence. All these millions of dollars are being drained in Philadelphia school district under Dr. William Hite Jr (pictured above).

Yes, it’s that bad.

This deeply reported piece by Alex Wigglesworth and Ryan Briggs zooms in on one school and one deal: the academically well-regarded String Theory Charter School, which is housed in a high-end eight-story office building at 16th and Vine. This is the same building that not long ago was the North American headquarters for GlaxoSmithKline. It would be eyebrow-raising enough if the taxpayer-funded String Theory were merely leasing such high-end digs. But the school — or, technically, a separate nonprofit run by two of the school’s board members — actually owns the tower, and acquired it through a $55 million tax-exempt bond deal.


It was the largest bond deal of its kind in city history.

It is also the most conspicuous example yet of a risky, expensive, and fast-growing financial scheme underpinning the rapid expansion of Philadelphia charters — a market now worth nearly $500 million. But the bond financing behind the mountain of money gets little scrutiny on whether the debt is a smart use of Pennsylvania’s limited educational dollars.

The lack of transparency can translate into deals that may be unsustainable. Shortly after moving into its flashy high rise, String Theory posted its first operating deficit. After revealing they were $500,000 in the red from paying out millions annually to bondholders, administrators told parents they were cutting certain classes and suspending bus service as cost-saving measures.

Deeper in the story, we learn that the school leases the property from that nonprofit controlled by two board members, and then collects $188,000 a year from the state, which reimburses charter schools for some lease costs. This is, we are told, not at all unusual arrangement.

The story also shines a light on the consultants and attorneys who are profiting off these charter land deals. One New Jersey firm has collected at least $5 million in consulting services for charters that have received municipal bonds to fund capital improvements and property acquisitions.

It’s a complicated story, and you really should read the whole thing.

But here are my takeaways from the piece.

1. Charter school administrators and leaders are every bit as capable as school district officials of making boneheaded financial decisions that saddle their respective institutions with crippling debt.

This isn’t exactly news, of course, but nonetheless the overwhelming public perception is that it’s public school districts that squander taxpayer money, not charter schools. This crippling, false perception makes it politically easier for politicians in Harrisburg to fund public Philadelphia schools at levels well below their needs.

To be sure, there are many charters that are managed responsibly and effectively. These schools are, by their very nature, independent operators, and the bad decisions made by some charters don’t predict bad decision-making by others.

But it’s long past time to set aside the clearly bogus notion that charters = efficient stewardship of public money, and public school districts = waste and fraud.

2. Profit-minded businesses are destroying whatever moral authority the education reform movement had.

I’ve long cringed when ed reform skeptics attacked the motives of charter advocates and others who’d like to see the public school system reinvented (or scrapped). With very rare exceptions, the individuals I’ve interviewed and spoken with in the ed reform movement over the years are True Believers: their fury and impatience with traditional public education is real and righteous. I haven’t always agreed with where they’re coming from, to say the least, but I’ve long dismissed accusations that reformers are in it for the money.

 Now I’m not so sure. There plainly is a large and growing group of interests within the education reform movement that stand to profit as traditional public education shrinks. There have always been the for-profit charter operators, the testing companies and the curriculum consultants. More recent are the reports of non-profit charter operators and leaders who have gotten involved in complicated financial arrangements with the schools they serve. And then there is the emergence of a profitable consulting and legal infrastructure that services the booming charter sector (as chronicled in the story).

Wait, you might say, much the same has always been true of publicly-run school districts! And, yes, reports of bad contracts, undisciplined spending and politically-connected consultants were, in the past, commonplace in the School District of Philadelphia.

But that’s precisely the point. Charters were supposed to be different. Traditional public schools were beholden: to teacher’s unions, to political masters, to a powerful class of consultants and attorneys. Charters were supposed to be the indies. But as the charter movement grows, a big corps of financial interests has grown up around it. Increasingly, charters look just as financially beholden to an array of interests, only it’s harder to tell exactly who and what those interests are.

This is a really significant problem for ed reform advocates, and I’m not sure that it can be solved. The moral clarity of the early charter movement — nonprofit, about the kids, self-reliant — well, that’s gone. Increasingly, it seems not just fair to question the motives of ed reformers, but necessary.

3. The charter movement is way too big and way too ambitious to operate on an ad hoc basis.

As reports, one of the entities authorizing these tax-exempt bonds for charter schools is PIDC, the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation. PIDC is an unusually effective organization (they run the Navy Yard, for instance), that’s run jointly by business interests and the City of Philadelphia.

PIDC’s reason for existence is economic development, and while you could make a case that building up charter schools is an economic development good, it’s hardly a slam-dunk, direct-line kind of argument. This isn’t a new Dietz and Watson factory.

John Grady, PIDC executive director, writes to say that the agency hasn’t made charters part of its economic development. Rather, he says, tax exempt financing “is regulated by federal and state law,” and that PIDC’s role is to administer “the legal process for accessing tax-exempt debt as required by, and pursuant to, these laws.” In other words, this isn’t a PIDC initiative, and charters are just using the agency to access tax-exempt bond markets, as is their right under law.

But is there a better way? One of the most interesting quotes in the story comes from Bruce Baker, a Rutgers education professor and a frequent critic of the financing mechanisms used to fund charter schools. As says:

Baker described the system as one that evolved out of necessity, with little foresight. No concrete financing vehicle was ever created for charters, and many schools had in the past relied on leasing buildings or taking out commercial loans with even higher interest rates.

“Who can blame them?” Baker said. “For each of the parties involved, their behaviors kind of make sense. But it’s still stupid public policy.”

There are 86 charter schools in Philadelphia alone, educating more than 64,000 students. This isn’t a boutique public education side business any more, and it hans’t been for a long, long time. And yet, we still lack coherent policy and mechanisms for something as basic as facilities financing for charter schools.

And it’s not just the buildings. The School District’s charter oversight office is still understaffed and under-resourced. And charter operators frequently bristle at the prospect of more accountability. But something’s got to give here. The charter movement can’t keep growing and eating up tax dollars while operating in the relative darkness.


School_District_of_Philadelphia_logochdb-map (1)***

Former PGCPS high school football coach convicted of having sex with a student

0522-andre-brown-webA former Prince George’s County teacher and head football coach was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor Friday after a 17-year-old student alleged that he had sex with her in the boys’ locker room during homecoming.

A jury found Andre Brown, 33, guilty Friday in the case stemming from a September 2013 incident at High Point High School in Beltsville, prosecutors said.

Brown had been out on bond, which was revoked after Friday’s conviction, according to prosecutors.

Brown’s first trial in March ended in a hung jury. He faces up to 25 years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced in October.

“As an educator who had the responsibility to care for and protect the students of his school, there is absolutely no excuse for Mr. Brown to engage in sex with a 17-year-old student,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said in a statement announcing the conviction.

The attorney listed for Brown could not be immediately reached for comment.
Read more>>> WUSA9

In California, New School Improvement Agency to Be ‘A Dramatic Departure’

The Legislation that created California’s Local Control Financing Formula and the companion Local Control Accountability Plan called for a new organization to account for the legislation’s results and help schools perform. The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence got a broad legislative mandate, including the expectation that it would deviate sharply from the punishment and compliance-driven intervention efforts of the last decade.

Carl Cohn-thumb-autox261-14898Carl Cohn, who started teaching in Compton 45 years ago and went on to lead Long Beach and San Diego schools, has been named CCEE’s first executive director. Cohn is also a former State School Board member and faculty colleague atClaremont Graduate University . Here is our slightly condensed and edited interview:

This organization you’ve agreed to lead bears an uncanny resemblance to prior organizations that the state used to intervene in schools and districts the state labeled as failing. These past efforts produced results that were modest at best. How is CCEE going to be different?

I think this is a dramatic departure from the past. Most of those other efforts were driven by state capitols and the federal government, but this is a major departure. The reason that I’m involved is that it is an opportunity to prove that the state of California has it right to emphasize teaching and learning and support for schools as opposed to embarrassing and punishing and shaming, which is what some have been all about since No Child Left Behind.

This isn’t a new version of previous CDE [California Department of Education] efforts at intervention. It’s a completely new philosophy and execution independent of the state bureaucracy. It’s designed to listen to people in the field and to bring them together around improvement. It also draws heavily on the principle of subsidiarity where those at the local level actually know better how to rescue kids that we care about. So, I see this as a fundamental departure from what we’ve done in the past.

How does that look different on the ground? I’ve got the 30,000 foot view .

Sure, I think as opposed to a lot of dictates and mandates coming from Sacramento, we start with the idea of collaboration, which is very different from what we’ve seen in the past. We start with best practice that is developed and honed at the local level. The idea is a powerful one in that you actually spend time in these places that have been labeled as failing, and you build their capacity.

In the past, it was a lot of one-off luminaries coming in and regaling people with their skill set, how to reach poor kids, how to reach ELs. In stark contrast, this is about embedding people in schools so that once you leave after an extensive period of time, the locals have the capacity to better serve kids who are poor, kids who are in foster care, kids who are learning English, kids who have special needs. Very different on the ground than what we have seen in the past.

Are there existing models in California or elsewhere you plan to borrow from?

Interestingly, the L.A. Times had a very compelling [op-ed] piece recently on Mission High School in San Francisco where extraordinary results have been achieved by taking this approach of starting with the voices of teachers and students in the school, and building their capacity to do better. I’m not sure that there is an existing state agency out there that does this. I’m interested in talking with Michael Fullan, Linda Darling-Hammond and others to find out whether or not internationally there is a model out there. But I’m excited about the philosophical underpinnings of this new agency.

The legislature in its beneficence has given you a $10-million budget, which in California budget terms is less than a rounding error. How are you going to get all this grand stuff done–embedding people in schools–with a budget that small?

I will spend two days in Sacramento, starting tomorrow, and I’ll be asking some questions about the $10-million: whether or not it is a placeholder, whether or not there will be additional funds, what are the expectations with regard to raising more funds in the philanthropy community.

I don’t find the initial investment of $10-million as an obstacle.

It has been suggested that a lot of what CCEE would do can be done through or aided by technology. Has this come up on your radar?

I think it’s an important part of how we will go forward. The whole issue of sharing and collaboration is important, and using the latest technology is a no brainer.

There are some other organizations using collaboration that are farther along: the Collaborative for District Reform and the CORE districts, but linking partners together with similar demographics to help the process move is a valuable and important idea.

I don’t automatically see technology as “Oh boy, because we’ve got technology we’re going to fix these schools or districts in a year.” This is a long, hard slog. Anybody who has really been involved in turning around schools and districts knows that there aren’t a lot of quick and easy shortcuts because of technology.

Is it possible to get the unions involved? Dick Gale’s organization that sits on the borders of the CTA, for example.

I’m a huge fan of Dick Gale, and actually worked with him when I was superintendent in San Diego. I think there are tremendous opportunities both in terms of the CTA and the CFT.

I will be sitting down with Joe Nunez (CTA executive director) in Sacramento, and I look forward to sitting down with Eric Heins (the CTA president) and Joshua Pechthalt (the CFT president)

Based on my experience in the second and third largest districts in California, I look forward to working with the teacher unions, and I think they will be very positive contributors to the work of the Collaborative.

The civil rights community has been seeking assurances that there are going to be hard number indicators of success or failure and demonstrable sanctions for people who don’t meet those indicators. This doesn’t sound like where you are headed.

I’m looking forward to sitting down with the civil rights and advocacy folks. When I was on the state board and this was unfolding, I was very moved by my experiences listening to representatives from faith-based and advocacy organizations including PICO, the Advancement Project, Ed-Trust West, and others. I’ll never forget the young people that I encountered at Our Lady of Solitude in Palm Springs, and St. Bernadine’s in San Bernardino, who spoke so eloquently about how this change in governance and finance might influence their chances for a better life.

What we have to get to is a conversation about how we get to a bias for action that better serves kids that the advocacy groups care about. Based on the feedback that I’ve received so far, we’ve made the LCAPs a huge new compliance exercise. What we need to get to is what I call a bias for action.

It shouldn’t be about “plan-itis”; it should be about better serving kids, and whenever we find that something isn’t working, we pull people together, we talk about how we can do it better, but the whole focus is on action. It’s not about checking boxes that some group is going to say, “well, that box isn’t checked, and therefore, you’ve got a problem.” We have been bureaucratic in the past, and I would argue that we need to take time, and we need to be better focused on how we can really serve these kids that we all claim we care about.

There are two impediments. One is the need for a metric to determine whether people are doing the right things, and, if they’re not, the ability to go to court. The other is the extremely low trust environment. The organization that you are going to head is really in the middle of trying to get advocacy organizations to do something other than sue people.

I don’t expect instant Kumbaya, but over time, I hope we are all saying this or that school district has a real bias for action: they are not doing the same things that they were before. They have new monetary investments, and they are spending it in ways that we think are reasonable given their circumstances. I don’t expect to wave the magic wand or for anybody to say that Carl Cohn has worked with whatever groups in the past. I believe there’s going to be a period of time where trust is going to have to be built. So, I’m hopeful that we avoid a lot of quick lawsuits and have some deep conversations about progress. What does a good outcome look like attained by this bias for action?

Your name keeps popping up in LAUSD as a desirable candidate for superintendent. Are you are at all wooable?

I don’t think so. I do appreciate Superintendent Cortines’ recent revival of his decentralization plan. If I thought that there was a real commitment to meaningful decentralization, and ultimately to full empowerment at the local level, I might consider it. But I still think that, as I argued in the EdSource piece, there is a lot that’s broken that needs fixing, and I don’t think that you want a superintendent who believes in ultimate breakup.

Via Education Week


PGCPS misleads the public on school lunches fiasco.

CNhioWDUsAA3-VYThe “can’t fix, won’t play by the rules” mantra by the PGCPS regime in response to the original tweet and the food did not come from their schools despite a tweet from a student on August 28th, 2015. (See below). The tweet shows an expired juice being served to the students.

This approach of misleading and falsifying information to the public rubbishes those who take care of our poor children in public schools every day, and also depicts a regime that is fully committed to the return of the imperial superintendency that caused this county so much pain and damage over the years.

So much so, that eliminating this sort of superintendency was the major reason for the demands for a new constitution for county schools in Maryland General assembly through HB1107.

In their press release, Their conclusion was that none of those pictures came out of a Prince George’s County school cafeteria. They said they know this because some of the trays, food items and milk brands aren’t stocked here.

And yes, while it is not as simple as re-allocating funds after the budget has been passed, a gesture of goodwill to engage the law makers, teachers, students, bus drivers, civil society etc in discussions on how, and when, these problems could resolved would be a healthy sign of good faith and respect.

This year the regime requested more millions for schools, an increase of several millions over the previous year and yet, they are in trouble accounting for simple things like good food for the students within the schools. This is the highest rise for schools in the region and one of the highest in the world.

We certainly need to demand better food security for our students this year, given the serious crisis of corruption within the county schools here in Prince George’s County, but throwing money at the Prince George’s County Public Schools is not the only way to deal with insecurity, especially when impunity, corruption and disrespect thrive.

>>> Read investigative news here.