Archives for category: California

The Los Angeles Times reports a new survey of 26 school districts showing that many of them are not complying with state law that requires them to evaluate teachers in part by student test scores. Apparently, the district leadership knows this is a flawed and invalid means of judging teacher quality.

 

Teresa Watanabe writes:

 

The review of 26 school districts serving more than 1.2 million students found that only Clovis Unified near Fresno and Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista fully complied with the law. Two others, Upland Unified in the Inland Empire and San Ramon Valley Unified in Contra Costa County, were “blatantly in violation” of the law by expressly prohibiting the use of state standardized test scores in their teacher evaluations, the study said. The findings were disputed by both districts.

 

The other school systems surveyed — which included Long Beach, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco — offered mixed findings, according to the study conducted by the EdVoice Institute for Research and Education, an educational advocacy organization in Sacramento.

 

Los Angeles Unified School District is still writing its method for evaluating teachers, in response to a court order telling the district to do it (even though most researchers have said it is invalid).

 

This is a big problem for “reformers,” constantly having to litigate against states and districts to force them to comply with invalid measures and policies that have negative consequences for students and teachers alike.

This commentary was written by a veteran education advocate who must remain anonymous because of a career situation. All sources are cited.

 

The billionaire-funded education “reform” operation Parent Revolution recently announced that its longtime director, Ben Austin, is leaving. I’ve followed Parent Revolution (PRev) since the beginning, so to mark the occasion and the new year, I’m presenting some informal history and observations – including predicting the likely fizzle of yet another once-hailed fad.

 

PRev has fallen drastically short of its own projected impact. PRev created the “parent trigger,” whereby a 50%+1 majority of parents at a school can sign a petition forcing “transformation” of the school, or forcing it to close. The parent trigger was originally projected to turn many “failing” public schools into charter schools. In reality, since its founding in 2009, it has turned just one public school into a charter, inflicting ugly divisiveness on the community in the process and resulting in wildly conflicting reports about the charter’s effectiveness.

 

PRev continues to tout itself as a success. It has won ample favorable press coverage from the beginning, and has persuaded legislatures in several states to pass laws allowing the parent trigger, though there are no reports since of parent triggers actually taking place in those states. PRev lists a string of high-ticket funders, including the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (of Enron), the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), the Gates Foundation, and the Broad Foundation. Its funders seem unlikely to maintain their enthusiasm as the lack of actual results becomes increasingly evident.

 

PRev began in 2009 under the auspices of Los Angeles’ Green Dot charter school chain, launched by the mercurial, once-high-profile Green Dot founder Steve Barr. The intent appeared to be to enable Green Dot to take over schools. PRev said it was targeting “failing schools,” but in early 2010 I researched the test scores, based on California’s Academic Performance Index, of the existing Green Dot schools. It turned out that 14 of the 15 Green Dot schools had lower test scores than the public schools PRev was targeting and defining as failing. In other words, by Green Dot’s own definition, almost all of its own schools were failing, which would seem to raise questions about Green Dot’s efforts to save other schools.

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/11/local/me-greendot11

Barr’s name is no longer mentioned in connection with PRev, possibly because of his checkered history, including a rapidly squelched flap about misuse of funds and some much-publicized failed projects. The story of Barr and the Green Dot charters he founded has been marked by rifts, feuds and separations. Since PRev began operating on a statewide and then national scope, there has never again been public discussion of Green Dot taking over a parent trigger school.

http://articles.latimes.com/2009/dec/02/local/la-me-greendot2-2009dec02

 

PRev at first operated only in Los Angeles. At the time, it was easy to follow online discussion forums connected with the schools PRev was targeting, and there were many comments from parents along the lines of “Parent Revolution, leave our school alone.” A budding parent trigger at Mount Gleason Middle School in the community of Sunland-Tujunga won press coverage in early 2010. But based on online discussion at the time, that parent trigger effort appeared to have only one supporter – a former parent at the school who wanted to have the principal fired. The effort evaporated. There were apparently no completed parent triggers in LAUSD during that time.

http://www.dailynews.com/20100214/parents-pulling-trigger-on-school

In 2010, the California Legislature passed a law allowing the parent trigger statewide. The parent trigger was to offer four options for parents to choose: turning the school over to a charter operator; replacing the principal and/or much of the staff; closing the school; or a restructuring process to be determined.The parent trigger was entrenched deeply in right-wing philosophy and ideas, including advocacy of privatizing public services and hostility to teachers, their unions, and their due process and job security. But PRev disguised its right-wing foundations by decking itself out conspicuously in Democratic Party trappings. Ben Austin had Democratic Party credentials, as have a number of paid PRev operatives, as well as then-state Sen. Gloria Romero, who sponsored California’s parent trigger legislation.
The first parent trigger: McKinley Elementary, Compton, Calif. 2010-11

After the state legislation passed, PRev embarked on its first parent trigger late in 2010, at McKinley in the impoverished Los Angeles County city of Compton. Reporter Patrick Range McDonald of the politically maverick/libertarian advocacy newspaper L.A. Weekly followed the process but didn’t write about it until late in the game, after the parent trigger petitions had been submitted.

 

The coverage made it clear that actual McKinley parents had been absent from the process. McDonald, writing from an openly pro-Parent Revolution viewpoint, reported that PRev had looked around the state for a school to target: “Parent Revolution decided to focus on McKinley Elementary School and approach parents there after researching the worst school districts in California,” he wrote. The article recounted how PRev had already determined that the school would become a charter and had pre-selected a charter operator before approaching any McKinley parents: “Already waiting in the wings [was] Celerity Educational Group. … Around the same time that Parent Revolution was researching Compton Unified, Celerity was looking to open a school in the stubbornly anti-charter district. The two organizations found each other.”

http://www.laweekly.com/2010-12-09/news/Californias-Parent-Trigger/

 

The Weekly article described the signature-gathering operation run by PRev – polished and professional but carried out “quietly,” without open community discussion: “[PRev Organizing Director Pat] DeTemple set up a computer program to track trends in the progress of his staff’s work,” McDonald wrote. “Once a parent signature was obtained, DeTemple input that parent’s address in the program, and a green dot appeared on a digital map of Compton. If a particular block in McKinley Elementary’s feeder area showed no green dots, he’d ask one of the five salaried organizers to make a follow-up visit to the block. … Field organizers… canvassed a large chunk of the 10-square-mile city of Compton, knocking on hundreds of doors, walking its sidewalks and driving its streets, asking people if their children attend McKinley.”

 

Emphasizing the furtiveness of the effort, the article described DeTemple’s decision to deliver the signatures on Dec. 7, 2010, as he semi-facetiously compared the “surprise attack” to Pearl Harbor: “Remembering that Dec. 7, 1941, was the ‘day of infamy,’ when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, DeTemple can’t help but eye Dec. 7. ‘It’ll be a surprise attack,’ he quips.” On that day, after its stealthy signature-gathering operation, PRev presented the petitions to the school district in a blaze of publicity, including chartering buses to take the press to the event.
The Weekly’s McDonald helped shield the signature-gathering from public view by not writing about it until it was complete. Apparently unversed in education issues, McDonald and fellow Weekly reporter Simone Wilson illuminated damning details of the operation despite their open intent to promote PRev’s viewpoint. However, the money and influence PRev wielded insulated it from much harm to its public image, and the oddity of the press’ actively helping to shroud in secrecy a process aimed at turning a public resource over to a private operator attracted no notice.

After the petitions had been presented, the Weekly’s Wilson covered a Compton school board meeting at which, her report related, “hundreds of angry parents” from McKinley showed up to protest the charter takeover they had supposedly demanded – “many of whom say they were tricked into signing the Parent Trigger petition without understanding its gravity.” Reports have quoted parents as saying they had signed petitions they thought were to improve or “beautify” the school. One said she thought it was to improve parking around the school.

http://www.laweekly.com/informer/2010/12/14/compton-school-takeover-supporters-pull-out-youtube-evidence-of-teachers-intimidation-tactics-hundreds-of-angry-confused-parents-show-up

These flies in the ointment didn’t register with the mainstream news coverage, and the process continued. There was legal back-and-forth about handing the school over to Celerity. Eventually, that plan fell through and McKinley was left as it was. Celerity opened a charter nearby. Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Newton gloated in September 2011 about what he predicted would be McKinley Elementary’s destruction: “The charter operator that would have taken over McKinley opened a school down the street, and it quickly filled up. A second one is opening in the neighborhood. By this time next year, parents will have voted with their feet, and McKinley will be a ruin.”

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/sep/19/opinion/la-oe-newton-parent-trigger-20110919

 

But actually, California Department of Education statistics do not show parents rushing to vote with their feet. McKinley’s enrollment dropped only 12.9% when the new Celerity charter opened in fall 2011 – there’s no way to know whether all those students transferred to the charter or left for other reasons – and has made modest bumps up and down year by year since. Four years later, McKinley continues to exist as a high-poverty public school and is apparently not a “ruin.” (There’s also no indication that Celerity has opened a second charter “in the neighborhood.”)

The only “successful” parent trigger: Desert Trails Elementary, Adelanto, Calif., 2012

In spring 2012, PRev found a foothold at this high-poverty school in a prison town in the high desert east of L.A. Despite the hugely favorable press coverage of the McKinley parent trigger, PRev had gotten dinged for the total absence of parent involvement, and it made a much bigger show of including parents in its next high-profile effort.

It was becoming apparent that charter operators actually don’t consider it desirable to take over existing struggling schools, with existing problems and already-enrolled students whom the charter operators may find undesirable. It’s evident that most or all prefer to start new schools. That became a problem for a process intended to turn public schools over to private operators. During the Desert Trails battle, there was no mention of a pre-selected charter operator “waiting in the wings,” and in the end, PRev had to scrounge to find one.

As predicted by parent trigger critics (and, realistically, by anyone with common sense), the effort in Adelanto ripped the school apart, creating a tense, angry atmosphere and destroying friendships. PRev engaged in an odd tactic, circulating two petitions for parents to sign – one calling for a list of improvements in the school such as more resources and smaller classes, the other for turning the school over to a charter operator – and then submitted only the petition calling for the charter. It’s not clear whether all signers signed both or understood that there were two petitions; those details are murky. After the petition was presented to the school district, the battle continued, with some parents asking to remove their names once the odd two-petition process came to light. Eventually a judge ruled that once a parent had signed a parent trigger petition, it was a done deal and the signer had forfeited the right to change his or her mind.

After more angry controversy and lots of publicity — this time the effort had not been stealthy, and parents opposing the petition were vocal — PRev dredged up two or three charter operators who said they were willing to take over the school, and held a vote for parents who had signed the petition to choose (only the petition signers could vote). An operator was elected, the school community scattered, and the charter operator took over as of the 2013-14 school year. Reports so far are wildly mixed. Some mainstream news reports have been glowing; other accounts portray a “dysfunctional” and “law-breakingly unprofessional” school. As with all charter takeovers of existing schools, it’s not clear how many of the students from the previous school enrolled at the charter or remained there.

http://www.sbsun.com/general-news/20130728/parent-trigger-law-changes-failing-adelanto-school-into-new-charter

http://capitalandmain.com/adelanto-report-card-year-zero-of-the-parent-trigger-revolution/

Once again, despite the largely admiring press coverage of PRev’s effort, it was apparent that the Desert Trails operation had been problematic, with the divisiveness it wrought on the school and greater community, the strange dual-petition strategy, and the brouhaha over the refusal to allow parents to rescind their signatures.

 

Beyond Adelanto

 

As all this was going on, PRev was lobbying in other states for the passage of parent trigger laws. The lobbying efforts were marked by deceit – from claims that California had seen numerous schools transformed by parent triggers to paid PRev operatives masquerading before state legislatures as grassroots parent activists. At least six other states now have parent trigger laws on the books, but there are no reports to be found of any actual parent triggers.

 

In California, reports have surfaced occasionally about PRev activity at schools that later simply fades out, including in San Diego, Orange County and Pasadena. PRev has been a presence in a few Los Angeles schools and touts itself as a huge success, but the acclaim otherwise has been muted. Since the Adelanto fracas, no other charter takeovers have made headway.

 

The Los Angeles Times has long been an enthusiastic supporter of the “reform” camp that created and sustains Parent Revolution, but its enthusiasm for the parent trigger has been rapidly diminishing. A June 2013 Times “voice of the newspaper” editorial headlined “The ‘parent trigger’ trap” raised concerns about the dubious results of a parent trigger at Weigand Elementary School in Watts:

 

“A petition requiring the removal of the principal, Irma Cobian, was signed by 53% of the parents. According to organizers, the parents didn’t want a charter school and wanted to keep all the teachers. But they apparently weren’t aware that many of those teachers thought highly of Cobian. After the petition was accepted by the district, 21 of the school’s 22 teachers indicated in writing that they would seek to transfer from Weigand [most or all of those teachers did wind up leaving], and some parents expressed regret over signing the petition.

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/24/local/la-me-weigand-20130525

“Weigand’s test scores are low,” the editorial continued, “but it’s unclear how much of the problem rests with Cobian, who has won praise for some of her work … Many (parents) were stunned to learn that the teachers didn’t share their views.”

 

The Times editorial called for open, public discussions in the parent trigger process. “This misunderstanding would undoubtedly have been avoided if there had been a more public airing of opposing views. … This process does a disservice to parents, some of whom miss out on opportunities to become more informed about their options — or in some cases even to know that a petition drive is underway — before nearly irreversible decisions have been made. … Reformers might fear that a more open process would lead to more misinformation and even intimidation of parents by teachers or others with a vested interest in the status quo, but a closed petition means that parents are shut off from debate and discussion that lead to truly empowered decision-making.”

 

What of parent triggers elsewhere? There’s still some activity in Southern California, including a current effort at Palm Lane Elementary in Anaheim, near Disneyland – a school already suffering turbulence over principal turnover.

 

A highly touted effort in Pasadena has faded. An involved Pasadena parent gave me an update as of December 2014: “The Parent Revolution effort here comes and goes. I haven’t heard of anything lately. Our former board member and Parent Revolution supporter Ramon Miramontes is submitting two charter school applications himself. He was responsible for Celerity Charter opening up a school, and now they have closed it and left town.”

 

The September 2011 Los Angeles Times column by Jim Newton that had applauded the impending “ruin” of McKinley Elementary also touted budding parent triggers at Los Angeles Academy Middle School and Woodcrest Elementary School, both of which have apparently quietly fizzled. A teacher at L.A. Academy Middle School told me, “They chose not to target our school after all.”

 

At this point it seems fairly safe to declare the parent trigger a failure. If its creators had sincerely intended to improve the education and well-being of low-income, high-need students, that would be a sad thing. As someone who has observed the machinations of education “reform” operatives for years – and who is aware of how much philanthropic funding is available for credible-looking, skillfully promoted fads – I don’t believe they had any such intentions. The level of deception and skulduggery PRev has engaged in throughout its history demonstrates the lack of sincerity.

 

The outcome is indeed a sad thing for those who were trusting enough to genuinely hope that the parent trigger would empower parents and improve the lot of disadvantaged children.

 

Even if the parent trigger had ever been effective and its process transparent and honest – even if it had ever been sincerely intended to improve schools – critics have pointed out the fundamental flaw in the notion that the parents who are currently using a public resource should be the lone voice in the design and operation of that resource. It’s as if the passengers on the municipal bus decided on their own to hand the bus over to a private operator, or the people in the park at a given moment elected to put it under private management.

 

Another Los Angeles Times “voice of the newspaper” editorial, in September 2013, further summed up the problems. The editorial was headlined “Fix the ‘parent trigger,’ ” – though most rational observers would see that such a badly flawed process is beyond fixing: “The lack of a public forum is fundamentally wrong. These are public schools, and the petitions have the force of law. The fate of taxpayer-funded schools should not be decided in secrecy.”

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-parent-trigger-lausd-20130920-story.html

Governor Jerry Brown’s Inaugural address includes the following remarks about education. Governor Brown understands that schools need adequate funding to succeed. One of his biggest challenges when he took office was to begin to restore the billions that had been cut from public schools by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think he is wrong about Common Core, which caused California to ditch some of the best state standards in the nation and will draw hundreds of millions, if not billions, out of strained school budgets (Los Angeles was about to spend over &1 billion on iPads for Common Core testing until the deal fell apart a few months ago). But, reasonable people differ, and time will tell whether the investment in Common Core is worth it.

Governor Brown said:

“Educating the next generation is fundamental to our collective well-being. An issue that has plagued our schools for decades is the enormous barrier facing children from low-income families. When my father was governor, he sought to remedy the wide inequities among different school districts by calling for equalization of funding. His efforts were not successful.

“Now – decades later – we have finally created a much fairer system of school funding, called the Local Control Funding Formula. Under the provisions of this law, state funds are directed to school districts based on the needs of their students. Districts will get significantly more funds based on the number of students from foster care, low-income families and non-English-speaking parents. This program also breaks with decades of increasing centralization by reducing state control in favor of local flexibility. Clear goals are set, and their enforcement is entrusted to parents and local officials. This puts California in the forefront of educational reform.

“After years of underfunding and even borrowing from our local schools, the state now has significantly increased its financial support for education. Next year schools will receive $65.7 billion, a 39 percent increase in four years.

“The tasks ahead are daunting: making sure that the new system of local control works; recruiting and training tens of thousands of teachers; mastering the Common Core Curriculum; and fostering the creativity needed to inspire students. Teachers need to be held accountable but never forget: they have a tough job to do. They need our encouragement, not endless regulations and micro-management from afar.

“With respect to education beyond high school, California is blessed with a rich and diverse system. Its many elements serve a vast diversity of talents and interests. While excellence is their business, affordability and timely completion is their imperative. As I’ve said before, I will not make the students of California the default financiers of our colleges and universities. To meet our goals, everyone has to do their part: the state, the students and the professors. Each separate institution cannot be all things to all people, but the system in its breadth and diversity, through real cooperation among its segments, can well provide what Californians need and desire…..”

Brett Bymaster, a community activist in San Jose, California, here describes the chain’s current plans to increase the number of its charter schools. Rocketship withdrew its applications for 8 schools each in Dallas and San Antonio. But it is moving forward in Nashville and D.C.

Bymaster writes:

Recently released board material from Rocketship Education indicates that the charter school corporation intends to grow significantly, tripling in size over the next 5 years. Rocketship is known for its high stakes test prep K-5 schools that minimize arts and extracurriculars, packing 650 kids on a 1.25 acre campus, running 41:1 student to teacher ratios, and elementary aged children receiving > 90 minutes of computer time in massive labs staffed by uncredentialed aids. Local and national pushback earlier this year led to Rocketship delaying school openings and committing to less aggressive growth. But board documents released last month indicate that Rocketship is ramping up growth plans again, hoping to triple in size nationwide by 2019. In the next 5 years, Rocketship hopes to double San Francisco Bay Area schools, opening 5,000 new seats, while opening 4,000 new seats in Tennessee, and around 3,500 new seats in Washington DC.

Rocketship recently announced plans for school takeovers in Tennesse through the statewide Achievement School District, with takeovers slated for August 2015. Rocketship’s executives worried that the Nashville and Memphis “community may be resistant and potentially obstructive” to school takeovers, and then stated that they intended to “aggressively build relationships and identify parent ambassadors” to mitigate the obstructive community in Tennessee. Labeling the low income minority communities that Rocketship targets as “obstructive” seems worrisome, even more so when one considers that Rockteship intends to take over the community’s local public school and replace it with a high stakes corporate charter school that is run from distant offices in Silicon Valley’s ultra-wealthy Redwood City. Rocketship’s aggressive stance in minority communities in San Jose has led, sadly, to division and rancor in communities that should be working together.

Rocketship’s newest school in Washington D.C. provides a good example of what to expect. Rocketship let Andre Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund corporation pick the site of the proposed D.C. school in the Anacostia community. Agassi chose a site adjacent to a halfway house. Rocketship’s V.P. of growth, Katy Venskus (who was convicted for felony embezzlement in 2002 working for a different non-profit) said that Rocketship did not participate in the process of selecting a school site, abdicating their responsibility to Agassi’s for-profit hedge fund. Rocketship attempted to hire a local D.C. outreach coordinator, who quit shortly after taking the job. Rocketship was unable to replace him and seems to have lost track of the project. Rocketship’s CEO Preston Smith recently told the Washington D.C. school board, “We’re really proud of our community outreach and partnership that we’ve done in other communities and it’s very clear that in D.C. we’ve still got some work to do” and then told Rocketship’s board that “during the process of approving this charter however, it became more apparent that we could do a stronger job in engaging the Washington D.C. community, especially the Anacostia neighborhood.” Agassi also just acquired another site for Rocketship in Tennessee. I have to ask the question, is Rocketship leading Agassi, or are the for-profit hedge fund managers really in charge?

The Progressive Magazine just did a special issue on Rocketsihp, with a satire video called “Profitship Learning” by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mark Fiore

http://www.progressive.org/news/2014/12/187929/profitship-learning

http://www.progressive.org/content/dec-jan-2014-issue-table-contents

For more information on Rocketship’s growth plans, see:

http://www.stoprocketship.com/2014/12/15/rocketships-aggressive-new-growth-plans-triple-5-years/

http://www.stoprocketship.com/2014/12/07/rocketship-considers-forced-takeover-conversions-in-nashville/

On his blog, Julian Vasquez Heilig reports that the California Charter Schools Association is shocked! shocked! to learn that some charters require parents to volunteer time or pay not to volunteer their time. He discusses a survey conducted by a civil rights group called Public Advocates, which reached this conclusion.

 

 

Apparently the California Charter School Association hasn’t heard of such a thing happening in practice or charter school policy, even though Public Advocates delivered the evidence to the public via parent whistleblowers and publicly available policy documents. Public Advocates’ report documented its year-long investigation into an inequitable and illegal practice by some of California’s charter schools, and calls for charter schools to end requiring payment in lieu of volunteer hours. Public Advocates is demanding that the state take immediate action to stop the practice and increase its oversight of charter schools more generally.

 

Heilig quotes the story in the San Francisco Chronicle:

 

At least 170 California charter schools are violating the state Constitution by requiring parents to volunteer up to 100 hours a year if they want their kids to participate in field trips and other activities or remain enrolled in the school, according to civil rights lawyers in a report released Thursday.

 

A survey of 555 California charter schools — about half of all charters in the state — found that nearly a third impose family volunteer time, with some allowing parents to pay $5 to $25 per hour to buy their way out of the commitment.

 

“One of the reasons it’s so alarming to us is it’s punishing a kid for something that’s not the kid’s fault,” said Hilary Hammel, attorney at the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates and lead author on the report.

 

Hammel cited an Oakland parent who found on the first day of seventh grade that her son was not enrolled at his charter school because she had not completed the required volunteer hours the previous year. She was told she could either pay $300 on the spot or go buy three large boxes of paper.

 

She went and bought $80 worth of paper and returned to enroll her son.

 

Does that happen in public schools too?

 

 

 

 

The race for state superintendent in California cost over $26 million, far more than the governor’s race. Tom Torlakson, the incumbent, was supported by the California Teachers Association. Marshall Tuck, the charter school executive, received large sums from billionaires. The key issue between them was teacher due process rights. Torlakson appealed the Vergara decision; Tuck prouded not to do do.

The Network for Phblic Education, which endorsed Torlakson, analyzed the spending behind Tuck’s campaign.

“Heavy hitters in the “education reform” movement, namely Broad, Walton and Fisher, really stepped up to the plate for Tuck by donating millions to multiple Independent Expenditure Committees, (AKA Super PACs) as well as smaller direct contributions to Tuck’s campaign. The biggest Super PAC contributing to Tuck was the deceptively named “Parents and Teachers for Tuck for State Superintendent, 2014.” The Super PAC’s funding came from no less than a baker’s dozen of privatization focused billionaires, and assorted elites from the financial and technology sectors, with a net contribution of almost 10 million dollars.

“Parents and Teachers for Tuck also received contributions from a host of other Super PACs with names like Parents and Teachers for Putting Students First, Education Matters, EDVOICE, and Great Public Schools for Los Angeles. A closer look at these Super PACs tells us that they too are funded by essentially the same cast of characters behind Parents and Teachers for Tuck, with additional millions from the Broad, Fisher and Walton families lining the coffers of each of the Super PACs.

“But you’d be hard pressed to find a public school parent or teacher who contributed to any of the Super PACs for Tuck.”

There was once an ideal in American education, which held that the community public school would be a place where children of every background would meet, learn together, and learn to live amicably. This ideal was supposed to promote a sense of American citizenship, a realization that regardless of our origins, we are all Americans.

 

That ideal, as we all know, was frequently violated. It was violated by racial segregation, which assigned black and white children to attend different schools. It was violated–and continues to be–by class segregation, in which the children of the affluent live in communities with elegant facilities while the children of the poor attend cinder-block schools lacking the playing fields, the small classes, the arts programs, the foreign language classes, the laboratories, and the beautiful libraries found in the schools of the outer ring of suburbs.

 

And yet the ideal is not dead. There are schools that are racially and economically diverse and that are much admired in their communities. It is important not to forget the ideal, the belief that the common school would bring us together, teach us about what we share as human beings, and teach us the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. The ideal teaches that we are all in the same boat and that we have mutual obligations to one another.

 

Now we live in a time of growing racial and class segregation. Charter schools are facilitating that segregation. Where the media would once look askance at a segregated black or white or Hispanic school, they are now more than willing to celebrate the “success” of segregated schools.

 

Sacramento now has a charter school designed for the children of immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

 

In their early years in Sacramento, members of the region’s fast-growing population of immigrants from the former Soviet Union clashed with public schools. Children had a hard time communicating with teachers, and parents, many of whom were evangelical Christians, expressed alarm over sex education, Halloween and laws forbidding religious instruction.

 

Today, these families have a public school of their own.

 

The Community Outreach Academy, an elementary school built inside the former McClellan Air Force Base, is open to all students, but its pupils come overwhelmingly from families that emigrated from the former Soviet Union. The children attend Russian language class twice a week. There’s a Russian library that serves parents as well as children. The principal, a Belarussian refugee, frequently appears on Russian radio.

 

School administrators say they don’t teach religion, and they follow state laws on sex education. But they’re cognizant of parents’ sensibilities. Halloween, for instance, is not promoted as a school celebration.

 

The school has high test scores.

 

Community Outreach is also one of California’s most segregated schools. About 98 percent of its 1,231 students are white. No other school in the state with more than 20 students had a higher percentage of white students in 2013, state data show. In a district with 4,800 black students and 12,000 Latino students, Community Outreach Academy enrolled three black students and six Latinos last year.

 

Futures High School, a Gateway school that also serves the area’s Slavic population, is 95 percent white, data show.

 

Charter schools are booming in California; more than 515,000 students attended them last year. And like the Outreach Academy, a growing number are drawing most of their students from a particular ethnic group.

 

During the 2008-09 school year, roughly 34,000 students attended California charter schools in which at least nine of every 10 students belonged to a single ethnic group, according to the state Department of Education. By 2013-14, that number had nearly doubled to 65,000.

 

Let us not forget that the public schools were supposed to make us one nation, not to provide a setting in which each ethnic, racial, and cultural group could self-segregate. That was the meaning of the Brown decision. It seems to have been forgotten.

 
Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/education/article3654240.html#storylink=cpy

My friend Deborah Meier tells me she loves this school in Long Beach, California. It is a charter school that fulfills the original vision of what charters were supposed to be: innovative, risk-taking, open to all kinds of kids. That’s what this school is and does, but its test scores are low. The Long Beach school board wants to close it; they should not.

To the members of the Long Beach school board: Save the Néw City School. Let innovation thrive. Let this functioning community live.

This is the letter that Deb Meier forwarded to me:

Dear Dr. Ravitch:

Several hundred low-income kids in Long Beach, CA need your immediate help. Their teachers and parents are desperate.

I have been following your work over many years, in particular the series of letters between you and Debbie Meier – she is a friend of mine whom I met through the North Dakota Study Group. It is for this reason that I dare to write a request, will the full knowledge that I might come off as a bit crazy.

15 years ago, I co-founded the New City School in the center of our city. Long before most had heard of charter schools, we rescued an abandoned hospital building [and later a warehouse] and turned them into learning oases in a blighted community that had long been without a small, loving neighborhood school. Consistent with the original intent of charter school legislation, our school would innovate in a district that has a single-minded focus on Broad-funded test-prep. Our school is fully bilingual – Spanish speakers learn English AND English speaking students of many backgrounds learn to read and write in Spanish too. We feature lots of art, great literature with read-alouds every day in every grade, 2 huge libraries, and music instruction for all students, grades TK-8. Members of our community built the area’s biggest playground AND a 1/3-acre working organic farm, growing fresh fruits and vegetables with our students and their families.

Scholars, including Deborah Meier, Stephen Krashen, and Constance Kamii have visited and worked with our teachers to help them be the best they can be. Students share their accomplishments via quarterly public exhibitions in two languages. We are a neighborhood school that does not prequalify students for enrollment. Parents love the school and would do anything to help it survive.

The problem is that The Long Beach Unified School District cannot stand us because we don’t get high test scores and we won’t stop our teaching and learning practices in order to simply prepare students for exams day in and day out. For years, the LBUSD has threatened our school with closure for refusing to comply with their dystopian view of education as standardized test preparation. Two years ago they nearly closed us down, but we closed our high school and combined our 2 small elementary campuses into one, and kept moving forward. In addition to ideological blindness, LBUSD seems hell-bent on reclaiming the meager per pupil allocation our school manages to live on. We have no corporate sponsors or celebrities hosting galas on our behalf, just working-class parents and highly professional constructivist teachers sacrificing to save a school they love.

As you might imagine, the constant threat of closure distracts us from our mission of educating young people.

This Tuesday, November 18th, the LBUSD is holding ANOTHER hearing to discuss whether or not to renew our charter or close our school. When this happened a few years ago, the school district police ended up dragging parents out of the meeting and turned off their cameras! One parent was hospitalized in the melee.

You have an enormous platform to generate assistance for us. Would you please consider writing a letter of support? I would appreciate it so immensely if you could ask your colleagues and readers to do one of the following:

Send a message of solidarity and support for The New City School – a small community-centered, authentic public school – to the Long Beach Unified School District Board [Diana Craighead, President] and Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser. Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education – 1515 Hughes Way, Long Beach, CA 90810…send letters to info@newcityps.org

Visit the New City Public Schools (Long Beach) Facebook page or the New City Farm Facebook page and leave an encouraging message there – we will collect and send them as well – say why it matters to stand up to relentless testing and “accountability” that discounts parents’ involvement in teaching and learning, as well as their children’s development and interest!

For any support or encouragement you could offer to us, I will be forever in your debt.

Sincerely,

Stephanie nicole Lee
Public school educator since 1990

At the end of the elections yesterday, there were two very bright spots.

 

First, Tom Torlakson was elected state superintendent of education in California with 52% of the vote, despite the accumulation of millions of dollars for his opponent from people like Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Walton family, and other billionaires. It was teachers that re-elected Tom.

 

Second, the proposal to enshrine value-added assessment of teachers into the state constitution in Missouri failed, and it wasn’t even close. Amendment 3 would have ended teacher tenure and put teachers on renewable contracts, with everything tied to test scores. It went down by about 75-25%. This vote showed enormous popular support for teachers.

 

There was not a lot to celebrate, but these were big victories.

 

 

Network for Public Education endorses Tom Torlakson for California State Superintendent

Network for Public Education is proud to endorse public education champion Tom Torlakson for California State Superintendent. NPE Board president Diane Ravitch says, “I hope that the voters choose Tom Torlakson, a veteran educator who will truly fight for the kids, their teachers, and their public schools.” The race in California is a test of democracy and a referendum on public education. Can the voters be hoodwinked by Big Lies and Big Money?

The 2014 election receiving staggering contributions from Big Outside Money is the State Superintendent race between the incumbent, former teacher and legislator Tom Torlakson and the challenger, former Wall Street and charter school executive Marshall Tuck. It’s no surprise that corporate reform heav y weights have come out in droves in support of the candidate with ties to Wall Street and charters.

The race has been flooded with more than 25 million dollars, with Tuck raising approximately $3.5 million more than Torlakson at latest count. Much of the corporate reform money for Tuck is flowing through a PAC deceptively named “Parents and Teachers for Tuck for State Superintendent 2014.”

Familiar corporate-ed reform philanthropists top the list of donors, including Eli Broad ($1,375,000); Walton daughters and heirs, Alice ($450,000) and Carrie ($500,000); Julian Robertson of the Robertson Foundation ($1,000,000) and Doris Fisher of the Donald and Doris Fisher Fund ($950,000). Ex NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg contributed $250,000, as did Houston billionaire and DFER friend John Arnold and San Francisco venture capitalist and TFA Board member Arthur Rock.

Why so much money in this particular race?

Vergara.

Torlakson released a definitive statement within hours of the decision, and has appealed the ruling that could decimate tenure laws in California and beyond.

“All children deserve great teachers. Attracting, training, and nurturing talented and dedicated educators are among the most important tasks facing every school district, tasks that require the right mix of tools, resources, and expertise. Today’s ruling may inadvertently make this critical work even more challenging than it already is.

“While I have no direct jurisdiction over the statutes challenged in this case, I am always ready to assist the Legislature and Governor in their work to provide high-quality teachers for all of our students. Teachers are not the problem in our schools, they are the solution.”

Tuck not only supports the ruling, the plaintiffs in the case have endorsed his candidacy. Tuck offered his whole-hearted support for the decision at an event he recently attended with the Vergara plaintiffs.

“For too long, we have defended a broken system that fails to put the needs of our kids first. As State Superintendent, I will be an advocate for our students in Sacramento. I will immediately push to stop the defense of the onerous laws challenged by Vergara and will work with any and all stakeholders who are interested in building a better education future for our state. We owe it to our kids, and they deserve nothing less.”

Torlakson holds the slightest of leads among likely voters over Tuck, but with a third of the electorate still undecided, it’s anyone’s race. A field poll last week found an even tighter margin, with the candidates even at 28% and 44% of voters undecided!

Public education activist Robert Skeels says, “Tom Torlakson, AALA-endorsed candidate for California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, will fight to increase education funding, fight to restore funding for science, social studies, art, music, drama and sports and fight to reduce class size.”

This race is crucial. We simply cannot allow Big Outside Money to install a Wall Street and charter executive in the California State Superintendent’s seat. We simply cannot allow Big Outside Money to spread the Vergara verdict across the country.

Re-electing Tom Torlakson will send a powerful message to those that seek to privatize public education and undermine our nation’s teachers. It will send the message that our schools are not for sale.

Support The Network for Public Education

The Network for Public Education is an advocacy group whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve and strengthen our public school system, an essential institution in a democratic society.

Over the past year, donations to The Network for Public Education helped us put on our first National Conference, and the first PUBLIC Education Nation. In the coming year, we will hold more events, webinars, and work on the issues that our members and donors care about the most!

To become a Member or to Make a Donation, go to the NPE website and click on the PayPal link. We accept donations using PayPal, the most trusted site used to make on-line payments.

http://networkforpubliceducation.org

The Network For Public Education | P.O. Box 44200 | Tucson | AZ | 85733

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