Archives for category: California

Another scoop by KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson. The California State Auditor is investigating four of the state’s 11 Magnolia Science Academies, part of the Gulen charter chain.

“After sampling transactions from Magnolia campuses in 2012, L.A. Unified found over $43,000 in duplicate payments to vendors, flagging those as potential misuse of funds.

“The Los Angeles Unified school board ordered a second audit in 2014, voting to close two of the schools if any fiscal problems arose.

“The audit, which the district is calling a “forensic review,” revealed that schools sent $2.8 million to the network’s management organization. The funds were poorly documented loans, and much of the cash was never paid back to classrooms, according to L.A. Unified.

“District auditors found the management organization met the definition of insolvent, operating on a $1.7 million deficit.

“Magnolia refutes much of the findings.”

In the past few days, there has been vigorous debate about whether California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing was lowering standards; some critics went so far as to claim that future teachers in core subject areas would no longer need a four-year degree of any kind. None of this was true. I reached out to friends across California who assured me that it was untrue. Just this morning, the Sacramento Bee published an article by Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the CCTC, explaining exactly what transpired.

D-H explained that standards were not lowered and remain high in every field.

Here are the changes that alarmed teachers of physical education:

“The commission did vote to provide an authorization within the physical education credential for ROTC teachers. Those who pass a basic skills test and a test of PE knowledge and complete 135 hours of teacher preparation can earn this authorization. If they are to teach English learners, they must also meet the requirements for an English learner authorization. Under the new authorization, these individuals can still teach only ROTC courses. They cannot teach regular PE classes. However, they will have a stronger knowledge base in physical education, which will help them serve their students.

“Some of these instructors do not hold a bachelor’s degree, but they have relevant job experience that California has long recognized in lieu of a degree for ROTC instructors and other specific groups of teachers, like those from industry who teach in Career Technical Education programs.”

In short, ROTC instructors will not replace PE teachers.

Be it noted that Governor Brown is a strong supporter of ROTC, having started a military institute charter school when he was mayor of Oakland. With crucial decisions about the Vergara trial hanging in the balance, this is not a propitious moment to pick a fight with the governor when so little is at stake. He respects teachers; he loves learning. Message to California teachers: Unite on the big issues.

Read more here:

I recently received anxious inquiries from friends in California who read an article in the Sacramento Bee claiming that the state was lowering standards for new teachers.

The authors of the article said that the California Commision on Teacher Credentialing was dropping the requirement of a four-year degree in academic subject areas. They wrote:

“The commission has effectively lowered teaching standards by giving the OK for school districts to allow core academic subjects to be taught by instructors who do not have four-year degrees or, for that matter, may not even have taken any college courses. Core academic subjects with rigorous knowledge standards that are required for high school graduation include English, mathematics, physical education, history-social science and science.

This was a dramatic claim.

I sent out urgent requests to several friends in California, including Linda Darling-Hammond, who chairs the Commission. Linda assured me that the allegations are untrue. She has written a response, which I will post as soon as it is published by the SacBee. The Commission’s decision pertained only to ROTC and PE. Teachers of ROTC are not currently required to hold a four-year college degree but to have at least four years of military service and at least 135 hours if teacher preparation in an approved program.

Meanwhile, here is an official rebuttal by the CCTC:

Dear colleagues~

As you may have seen, The Sacramento Bee ran an opinion piece in today¹s paper that is in response to the Commission¹s June 20, 2014 action related to its Designated Subjects teaching credentials in ROTC. The Commission took action at its June 20, 2014 public meeting to create an Special Teaching Authorization in Physical Education (PE) that may be obtained by holders of Designated Subjects ROTC and BMD (Basic Military Drill) to signal that they have met a higher standard to teach PE in the context of ROTC and BMD. Unfortunately, the opinion piece significantly misrepresents the Commission¹s actions. We wanted to provide you with some information in case you receive questions or inquiries from members or stakeholders with whom you interact.

The opinion piece states that the Commission removed the requirement that teachers have a bachelor¹s degree.

· The Commission¹s recent decision was related only to its
Designate Subjects teaching credentials in ROTC; not to its general
education teaching credentials or any other of its credentials or permits.
More importantly, possession of a bachelor¹s degree was not an existing
requirement for the Designated Subjects teaching credential in ROTC.

The ROTC credential is under the umbrella of the Designated Subjects
Credentials which recognize experience in a particular employment sector
as equivalent to a bachelor¹s degree for the purpose of credentialing. The
Commission issues Designated Subjects Credentials to individuals in a wide range of business and industry sectors, and these credentials are most
often used in Career Technical Education programs offered in California¹s high schools. ROTC Credential experience requirements include at least four years of military service; preparation requirements include at least 135 hours of teacher preparation in a Commission approved program.

The opinion piece states that the Commission dropped the mandate for
teachers to obtain preparation in the teaching of English Learners.

· Certification to teach English learners is a part of the clear
credentialing requirements for the Designated Subjects teaching

Currently, local school boards make the decision about who teaches PE and
which courses are counted toward graduation credit, within broad state
requirements. The CTC recognition of a ROTC specialization does not
change this local decision making. Holders of this ROTC specialization
would NOT be authorized to teach regular PE classes.

Holders of this Special Teaching Authorization in PE would only be able to teach ROTC courses that have been approved by their local school board to
carry PE credit. ROTC teachers can already teach these courses under
current law; the Special Teaching Authorization will recognize that
teachers who meet PE subject matter requirements (the CSET exam) and
satisfy the basic skills requirement have met a HIGHER standard to teach
PE in the context of a ROTC course than the regular ROTC credential

The following FAQs will provide additional information but please do not
hesitate to call us with any questions or concerns you may have.

Erin C. Sullivan, Consultant
Office of Governmental Relations
Commission on Teacher Credentialing
phone: 916-324-8007 fax: 916-445-0800

EduShyster has discovered a mole inside the reform movement in California. He or she plans to share insights into the wonderful world of school reform in the days ahead. Stay tuned.

This letter came from an anonymous source in San Francisco whom I know to be trustworthy. Why the anonymity? The usual reason: fear of being fired for blowing the whistle. It raises the question of why some people teach under difficult circumstances when they could hang up a shingle with a snappy name and get funded for big ideas that have never been tried.

He writes:

Tom Vander Ark’s Ed Week column ran a guest commentary by Sandy Speicher, an executive of the San Francisco design firm IDEO, which appears to lay the groundwork for IDEO to become involved in education “reform” projects.

The column touts an IDEO project in San Francisco brainstorming the use of “design thinking” to improve the “school food experience” in San Francisco public schools, and strongly implies that IDEO’s ideas have been implemented. That’s false; none of the ideas has been implemented in any SFUSD school. This is an important point for observers to be aware of if IDEO continues to hype the project, given the fact that Speicher’s column made it appear that IDEO’s ideas had been implemented and had an impact.

IDEO’s work on the “design phase” of this project was funded by the Sara and Evan Williams Foundation; Evan Williams is a founder of Twitter. The foundation “has committed to providing ongoing support as the school district begins to bring these design ideas to life,” according to IDEO (though in reality, it remains to be seen if the school district will ever be able to use any of the ideas at all).

Here are some points about the IDEO school food proposals in San Francisco schools.

The project deliberately focuses on improving the “experience” but not the actual food.

Again, none of the recommendations — not one — has been implemented in any San Francisco school at any time. The Speicher commentary implies that they have, but that’s inaccurate.

None of the recommendations has even been tested in a real-life San Francisco school setting. Some have been tested on a very small scale, but not in a real-life setting. There was one test in a school cafeteria during the summer with student volunteers who were compensated for their time, not actual populations of students during the school day. There was ample time — no lunchtime rush — and there were plenty of adults, far more than are present in an operating cafeteria during a real school day. And there was no attention paid to the ironclad National School Lunch Program regulations for school meals.
The project actually makes a recommendation that’s likely to lower the quality of the food: increasing the use of government commodity products, which are widely criticized for their inferior quality.

The project’s recommendations for middle and high schools would result in eliminating the use of items from Revolution Foods, a vendor whose products have improved the quality of SFUSD school meals.

The recommendations were made largely without awareness or consideration of the National School Lunch Program regulations for school meals, meaning some or many would be impossible to implement.

The recommendation that has won most acclaim (communal meals at small tables with an adult at each) would require vastly more adults than currently staff SFUSD cafeterias — either depending heavily on volunteers or at greatly increased staffing cost.

The amount that the Williams Foundation has provided is not publicly known. Estimates are that $1 million has been paid to IDEO and $400,000 to SFUSD.

Despite the issues detailed above, SFUSD officials and school board members have given high praise to the IDEO project. Observers speculate that that’s in the hope of securing more funding from the Williams Foundation for school food programs.

For more background, here’s a San Francisco Chronicle feature written by an IDEO insider on the project:

Here’s a critique by San Francisco parent volunteer Dana Woldow, an expert and frequent commentator on school food issues:

The California Teachers Association introduced the resolution calling for Arne Duncan to resign. Similar proposals had been defeated in 2011 and 2012. This one passed. Here it is.

Duncan is without question the most anti-teacher,anti-public schoolSecretary of Education in our history, and I say that advisedly. Both Bill Bennett Reagan’s second term Secretary) and Rod Paige (George W. Bush’s first term Secretary) had their faults, but they did nothing more than talk. Paige, remember, called the NEA a “terrorist” organization. But neither had the ability to open thousands of privately managed schools, neither persuaded states to judge teachers by the test scores of their students. Besides, both served Republican presidents so their antipathy to unions was not surprising. Duncan works in a Democratic administration. What is his excuse for applauding the mass firing of the staff in Central Falls, Rhode Island? The destruction of public education in New Orleans? The release of teacher names with student scores in Los Angeles? The Vergara decision, attacking due process rights? His close alliance with anti-public school groups like Democrats for Education Reform?

Here is what CTA said:


US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan once again showed his lack of understanding of education law and policy, his disregard of the true challenges facing our students and schools, and his disrespect for the hard-working educators in our schools and colleges across the country when he showed support for the flawed Vergara v. State of California verdict.

“Because of his ongoing lack of effective leadership and advocacy on what is really needed to help our schools succeed, the California delegation to the NEA Representative Assembly has submitted a New Business Item calling for Duncan’s resignation.

“His department’s failed education agenda has focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school children against each other based on test scores, and promoting policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching profession, education professionals and education unions.

“Since the beginning, Duncan’s department has been led by graduates of the Broad Academy, Education Trust-West and other organizations determined to scapegoat teachers and their unions. Most recently, some of these former Obama administration staffers announced a national campaign attacking educators’ rights.

“Authentic education change only comes when all stakeholders – teachers, parents, administrators and the community – work together to best meet the needs of the students in their school or college. Teachers are not the problem. Teachers are part of the solution. And it’s time we have a Secretary of Education who understands and believes that.”

The only puzzle is why the vote was close. Are there NEA members who like a Secretary of Education who is hostile to public school teachers?

For a few years, the American Indian Model Charter Schools in Oakland, California, were the most celebrated charter schools in the nation, beloved especially by the conservative and rightwing media, not only for their high test scores but for their founder’s scathing comments about liberals, unions, and “multiculturalists.” Despite the name of the charter, it enrolled few American Indians; most of its students are Asian-Americans. Its discipline was harsh. The school boasted of its “back to basics squared” conservative philosophy.

The adulation slowed when an audit revealed that the founder had diverted $3.8 million in public funds to his other business activities. The district and county officials wanted to close them because of financial mismanagement and possible fraud, but a three judge panel ruled that their high test scores were reason to keep them open.

“The Oakland school district can appeal to the state Supreme Court, but if the injunction stands, the schools would stay open while the legal case plays out.

“Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline, in the unanimous ruling by the First District’s three-member panel, agreed with the lower court ruling, saying in the decision that district officials did not adequately consider the schools’ academic performance in the revocation decision.”

And more:

“In the meantime, a Superior Court judge is expected to rule on the actual merits of the case, determining whether the decision to close the schools was valid. The two sides presented their arguments on May 20 and a ruling is expected any day, said district spokeswoman Sue Piper.

“The three schools, which had about 850 students in grades K-12 in the 2013-14 school year, have been among the highest-scoring schools in the state.

“While the schools were initially created to serve American Indian students, enrollment is about 70 percent Asian, 12 percent English learner and 75 percent low-income, according to state data.

“While the charters have been lauded academically, a 2012 audit of the charter organization found financial impropriety, including $3.8 million in payments to the school’s former director, Ben Chavis, and his wife through real estate deals, consulting agreements and other services, raising ethical and conflict-of-interest concerns. An April 2013 report by the state Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team confirmed those findings a month after the Oakland school board voted to shut the schools down.”

Chavis stepped down as director of the schools but he is doing well financially as he collects rent from them. He owns the properties.

Meanwhile, “the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service raided the schools and Chavis’ Oakland home, seizing several boxes of documents, phones and computers. FBI officials did not respond to inquiries regarding the scope or nature of any ongoing investigation.”

The saga continues.

Rocketship charter chain had an audacious plan to enroll one million students nationwide, drawing students from poor and immigrant communities, putting them in front of a computer in large classes, and relying on low-wage (mainly Teach for America) “teachers.” The chain got high scores and began opening charters outside San Jose, California, where it originated, but then something happened that was unexpected. The scores fell.

But now Rocketship hopes to enroll 13,000 students in the next three years.

“We didn’t deliver,” said CEO and co-founder Preston Smith, about disappointing results that led Rocketship to slow its growth. “That’s in response to our own expectations.”

“Primary among its difficulties, Smith concedes, is the failure of an audacious plan to knock down walls and create 100-student classrooms, which Rocketship is abandoning. Rocketship also suffered through a leadership transition after the exit last year of co-founder John Danner, who began a firm to supply software to schools.

“Yet, Smith maintains, “We have really great schools.” He also points to Rocketship’s loyal parents, long waiting lists for its eight Bay Area schools, all in San Jose, and proficiency scores that outshine schools with similar students. Rocketship still envisions tripling in size to 13,000 students in three years.

“Rocketship, Smith said, has been targeted partly because it challenges the status quo.

“Not so, said the network’s leading nemesis. Brett Bymaster, of San Jose, whose successful lawsuit led Rocketship to abandon plans for an already-approved school in Tamien, southwest of downtown. He said he’s most concerned about governance.

“What happens when you have a relatively secretive organization that has an unelected board and has large growth plans?” asked Bymaster, who organized his Tamien neighborhood to oppose a proposed Rocketship school there, filed a successful land-use lawsuit that has slowed the charter network and now runs a “Stop Rocketship” website that has attracted a local and national following.

“He noted that Rocketship reneged on a promise to maintain local school boards and instead consolidated them with the national board. “How do we as a community hold them accountable?”

“Rocketship maintains that its recipe works. Hiring enthusiastic recent grads from top colleges and employing online learning, the brash nonprofit won awards and attracted investment by getting the hardest-to-educate children to score as high as their wealthier peers. Placing children on computers and with non-credentialed tutors for more than an hour a day has saved on teacher salaries.

“The school day, even for young children, is eight hours. Teacher raises depend on test scores.

“Staffers’ long hours, however, are both a key to success and a source of burnout. Current and former Rocketship teachers characterized their workday as 11 to 16 hours, with just five weeks for summer vacation.”

The teacher burnout rate is high. Many find the workload and hours unsustainable. Certainly it is not compatible with a family life. Rocketship depends on a steady supply of low-wage college graduates willing to devote their life to the school until they can’t anymore.

An earlier post about the Vergara case contrasted the testimony of a plaintiff (a student) who said Ms. McLaughlin was a “bad” teacher with a video in which several students spoke highly of the same teacher, who was named by the Rotary as Pasadena Teacher of the Year.

Christine McLaughlin, the teacher who was the subject of the post, left the following comment:

“I was so surprised to hear of this post regarding the case and my involvement. I want to point out two important facts that might add additional insight into this case.

1. The case was a lawsuit against the State and lawmakers, not individual teachers. The teachers listed in the student’s testimony were pawns in this process. I was sadly one of those pawns.

2. Miss Monterroza stated that every teacher she had in PUSD from 5th through 9th grade were “bad” teachers. Except one! The one that recruited her to join this lawsuit. He had his agenda because he was RIFed and he did not like the system. I was moved into his position ( I was RIFed that year too).”

Adam Bessie, who teaches in California, writes here about the neat rhetorical trick of the people and groups behind the Vergara case. Although they were spending millions of dollars to attack the rights of teachers and workers, they cleverly positioned themselves as part of a campaign for civil rights. Even the decision was written in that frame. Bessie says that teachers must reframe the debate–or lose public education.

He writes:

“As angry and frightened as teachers are of more scapegoating, we must refuse to be cast as villains in a very well produced fictional drama staged by the elites, one that distracts us from looking at the very real causes of inequality of opportunity, of broken dreams, and lost chances. The Vergara verdict must push teachers to make stars of themselves, by reclaiming their role as public servants working on behalf of social justice, working on behalf of students, working on behalf of communities and the country for the public good, working towards civil rights, and better opportunities for all students – or, it will signal the concluding act in public education, and a shot at the American Dream for all students.”


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