September 28, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Monday, September 28, 2009

Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

The state has avoided facing the shortcomings in public schools long enough. California legislators should use the upcoming special session on education to make the sweeping reforms the state’s school system urgently needs. A legislative focus on grabbing more federal funds misses the point: California education requires fundamental changes in operation and governance. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month called a special session of the Legislature to help the state qualify for a share of $4.35 billion in federal schools money. The governor wants to link student test scores to teacher evaluations, a requirement for landing the federal dollars. Schwarzenegger also would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools and give parents more freedom to choose which public school their children attend, among other suggestions. (more…)

Commentary by Carmina Ocampo and Connie Choi/New America Media

On Sept. 24, 2009, a coalition of 80 Asian Pacific American (APA) civil rights, legal, student, and community organizations filed an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief with the California Supreme Court to support the right of undocumented APA college students to pay in-state tuition under state law. AB 540 is a California law that allows both documented and undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities if they have attended at least three years of high school in California, graduated from a California high school, and met other conditions. Enacted in 2001, AB 540 has made it possible for thousands of California high school students, including APA youth, to attend public community colleges, Cal State schools, and universities in the state. AB 540 and undocumented students’ ability to afford college is in jeopardy. (more…)

Reform efforts in Sacramento push the controversial proposal into the spotlight.
By Scott Martindale/Orange County Register

Imagine a teacher getting fired or disciplined for failing to improve his students’ test scores. To federal education officials and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the idea makes perfect sense – a way to hold teachers accountable and to weed out those who don’t belong in the profession. In fact, several school districts across the nation are experimenting with the idea.
For those in the trenches, however, the strategy is a chilling prospect – a plan, they say, that’s likely to wreak havoc on years of carefully planned efforts to boost student achievement. "Breathing down teachers’ backs is not going to get results; it’s just going to run people out of the profession," said Armando Gutierrez, an elementary school assistant principal in Santa Ana and a reigning Orange County Teacher of the Year. (more…)

Blog by Zach Miners/U.S. News & World Report

In recent months, an alliance of the nation’s governors and state education officials has led an initiative to develop common academic standards to which all public K-12 students would be held. In an early step toward that goal, experts convened by the group this week released a set of math and English skills they say students should master before high school graduation, the Washington Post reports. The hefty standards envisioned in the proposal, which is posted at, leave little to be desired in terms of quantity. In math, they range from core practices such as constructing viable arguments and making sense of complex problems to modeling quantitative relationships and mastering probability and statistics. And the standards for English language arts focus on reading and writing skills as well as speaking and listening proficiencies, including presenting information and responding constructively to advance a discussion. (more…)

Editorial/New York Times

With sound ideas and a commitment to rigorously monitor the states’ progress, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has revitalized the school-reform effort that had lost most of its momentum by the closing days of the Bush administration. His power to press for reforms was dramatically enhanced earlier this year when Congress gave him control of $4.3 billion in grant money — the Race to the Top fund — that is to be disbursed to the states on a competitive basis. Mr. Duncan will need to resist political pressure and special pleadings and reward only the states that are committed to effective and clearly measurable reform. Mr. Duncan’s exhortations, and the promise of so much cash, have already persuaded eight states to adopt measures favorable to charter schools, which Mr. Duncan rightly sees as crucial in the fight to turn around failing schools. (more…)

National Journal

The Common Core State Standards Initiative last week released a draft of its college and career-readiness standards for English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. Led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, this initiative has the Obama administration’s strong support. How would you grade this draft? How could common state standards impact the quality of U.S. education? (more…)


Students beware: The summer vacation you just enjoyed could be sharply curtailed if President Barack Obama gets his way. Obama says American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe. "Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom." The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go. (more…)

Study of eight districts looks at school autonomy.
By Debra Viadero/Education Week

Management expert William G. Ouchi wants to let educators in on a secret: The key to improving student achievement is lightening teaching loads. Mr. Ouchi lays out that message in a new book, The Secret of TSL, published this month by Simon & Schuster of New York City. The letters stand for “total student load,” which Mr. Ouchi defines as the number of students that teachers come in contact with each academic term and the number of papers they grade. In a not-yet-published study of 442 schools in eight large urban districts that have devolved power to local principals, Mr. Ouchi finds that schools that have reduced TSL in measurable ways also tend to have higher passing rates on state exams. “When you reduce TSL, you increase by far the likelihood that a student will encounter a teacher in a hallway or an office and have a one-on-one conversation that will motivate the student to keep going,” Mr. Ouchi said. (more…)

Federal judge says ‘vestiges of discrimination are no longer’.
By Azam Ahm/Chicago Tribune

Exactly 29 years after the U.S. government sued Chicago Public Schools for discriminating against black and Hispanic students, a federal judge has ended the resulting mandate for the district to racially integrate. U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras vacated the so-called desegregation consent decree late Thursday, stating in an opinion that within the district schools "the vestiges of discrimination are no longer." The judge also scrapped federal oversight of the district’s bilingual program, saying it was a state issue. The decision is likely to have the most impact on magnet and selective schools in the district, which have maintained race-based admissions while neighborhood schools draw from their local geographic areas. (more…)

Also Noted for Monday, September 28, 2009:

Green Dot Public Schools has been able to reduce class sizes by watching the pennies and going after grants and state funding. It raises the question of whether L.A. was shortchanging the students.
Editorial/Los Angeles Times

It requires a second or even a third look at Locke High School to discern the changes this fall, one year after it was taken over by charter operator Green Dot Public Schools. The uniforms are still an ensemble of chinos and polo shirts. The teenagers still gather in the quad for lunch. But almost without exception, the students now wear those uniforms without complaint, unlike last year when they would shrug off the shirts as soon as they thought no one was looking. And instead of huddling on the quad with a few friends in clumps, a large group plays pickup soccer on the grass. The teachers are still mostly young — well, one tough year older — and passionate about the mission of teaching disadvantaged students. The big difference: There are 43 more of them than last year, a 25% increase. (more…)

Control of the East L.A. school, setting for ‘Stand and Deliver,’ could shift because of its low academic standing.
By Howard Blume/Los Angeles Times

Garfield High, which became nationally known as the real-life setting for the film "Stand and Deliver," will be among the initial 12 local campuses, including six high schools, eligible for takeover because of persistent academic failure, officials announced Friday. The nation’s second-largest school system will invite bidders from inside and outside the district to run these schools next year through a proposal process that is still being developed. The Los Angeles Board of Education authorized this school-control plan in August; it applies to low-achieving existing schools and to 51 new campuses set to open over the next four years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Garfield, which for decades has served a largely immigrant Latino population in East Los Angeles, reached a high-water mark in the 1980s, when math teacher Jaime Escalante built his famed calculus program. (more…)

CLASS: San Fernando campus among 12 underperforming sites LAUSD may farm out.
By Connie Llanos/Los Angeles Daily News

San Fernando Middle School, the oldest school in the San Fernando Valley and the second-oldest in Los Angeles, is one of a dozen campuses that could be taken over by an independent operator next year under a new Los Angeles Unified School District reform plan, officials said Friday. District officials released a list of chronically underperforming schools, paving the way for charter organizations, the teachers union and nonprofit groups to submit proposals to operate the campuses. Under the original guidelines of the School Choice Plan approved by the LAUSD board in August, 302 new and underperforming schools were eligible to be taken over. The plan called for all schools that had failed to meet federal test goals for more than three years to be included on the list. (more…)

‘Youth and Education’ aims to bridge a cultural divide by providing tips on helping students on a wide range of questions.
By My-Thuan Tran/Los Angeles Times

Annie Mai knows what it’s like to be the only Vietnamese student in class. She understands what it is to have parents who work long hours and are unable to help their children with schoolwork. And she can relate when a child must translate for her parents during teacher conferences. Mai was 7 when her family arrived in Orange County in 1979 and was immediately confronted with such challenges. Now an education consultant for the Garden Grove Unified School District, she knows that Vietnamese families still face many of the same difficulties. The 48,000-student district has struggled to reach out to the Vietnamese community since refugees began settling in this middle-class suburb after the war, dramatically changing its demographics. In Garden Grove schools, the proportion of Vietnamese has shot up from 3% of students in 1977 to nearly 30% today. (more…)

The international high school provides an alternative to newcomers, some of whom have never been in a classroom.
By Anna Gorman/Los Angeles Times

Samuel Kanwea showed up for what should have been his freshman year in high school illiterate, malnourished and exhausted from years of living in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast. His family had never been able to afford the luxury of education, so he spent his early teenage years collecting firewood and selling fish. When the Liberian refugee started school in Oakland at the age of 17, it was the first time he had set foot in a classroom. "Everyone was speaking English and it confused me," said Kanwea, a lanky student with a wide smile. "And I felt scared because I think that I was the only one who didn’t know how to read." New immigrants and refugees have long posed challenges for educators in the United States, but Kanwea and others like him present unique problems because they are often strangers to traditional schools. Academic issues are only one facet of their adjustment. (more…)

Blog by Karin Piper/San Francisco Examiner

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been meeting with public school change agent Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot (charter) Schools and co-founder of Rock the Vote. The topic of the meeting has been whether or not Green Dot’s methods can help turn around 5,000 of the lowest performing schools in the country. Green Dot currently operates 19 schools in the Los Angeles area, the most famous project is Watt’s Locke High School. Located in the intersection of a multiple gang territories and known as the very area that both the Cripps and the Bloods were founded, prior to Green Dot’s management Locke High School was described as a tax-subsidized gang-recruitment center. Adults had no control and the gangs ran the show. In 2007 a riot broke out on campus. It went on for more than a half hour and gradually involved 60 kids. (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit If you wish to contact us, please e-mail

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