Archives for category: Los Angeles

Mercedes Schneider describes here the billionaire-funded plan to disrupt and privatize public education in Los Angeles, while deceiving the public and hiding the men behind the curtain.

Mercedes uses her superb investigative talents to follow the money and show the tight collaboration be tween the faux-Democrat Eli Broad and the far-right, union-hating Waltons of Arkansas.

She writes:

“It seems that the Walton-funded writing on the Los Angeles wall might well entail expanding charters as the answer to making all Los Angeles schools better. It also believes in bringing traditional school districts around to its market-driven-reform thinking via corporate-reform-group infiltration. Too, it seems that the Walton Foundation believes that grass roots support for its effort is a matter of getting the public mind in line with the Walton charter expansion priorities.

“The Walton intentions in incubating and expanding corporate reform fit hand-in-glove with the Broad intentions for Los Angeles. On its website, the Broad Foundation generously tosses around the term “public schools” even as it features KIPP, Success Academies, and Teach for America among its handful of “key grantees.” Furthermore, the Broad listing of current grantees is for the most part a corporate reform festival:

4.0 Schools
Achievement First
Achievement School District
Bellwether Education Partners
Bright Star Schools
Broad Center for the Management of School Systems
Building Excellent Schools
Center for American Progress
Central Michigan University Foundation
Charter School Growth Fund
Common Sense Media
Education Reform Now
Education Week
EXED, LLC
Great Public Schools Now
Green Dot Public Schools
Harvard University
IDEA Public Schools
Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP)
Leadership for Educational Equity
Michigan Education Excellence Foundation
Michigan State University – College of Education
National Alliance for Public Charter Schools
National Center on Education and the Economy
National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)
Noble Network of Charter Schools
Orange County Public Schools
Partnership for Los Angeles Schools
Policy Innovators in Education Network
Progressive Policy Institute
Results in Education (RIE) Foundation
Scholarship Management Services
School of Visual and Performing Arts
Silicon Schools Fund, Inc.
Success Academy Charter Schools
Teach For America

“Note that Broad is currently funding ExED, and that Great Public Schools Now has two ExED reps on its board/team: William Siart and Anita Landecker. What this illustrates is the all-too-common corporate reform funding incest. (According to the Walton 2013 tax form, Walton has also given ExED $50,000, and the Waltons loaned ExED $5 million for Los Angeles charter school facility financing.)”

Karen Wolfe reports here on the surprising dilemma facing the Los Angeles school board: Whodunnit?

As has been reported, the principal of the El Camino Real Charter High School used the school’s credit card for his personal expenses. Apparently, there were other school officials who racked up heavy bills at the taxpayer’s expense. The principal billed the school credit card for first-class air travel, expensive meals, hotels, wine, and other luxuries. Now the school has been given a month to straighten out its financial mess.

Some commenters on this blog have said that if this were a public school principal, he would have been fired, not given a month to make things right.

At the recent school board meeting, defenders of the school said the school should not be blamed. They said that the school’s problem were the fault of the district for its failure to supervise the charter school!

Really!

This is like the old story of the man who murders his parents and then begs for the court’s mercy because he is an orphan.

Joshua Leibner wrote an open letter to celebrated author Ta-Nahisi Coates, with the expectation that Mr. Coates would never see the letter.

Leibner, an NBCT teacher in Los Angeles for 20 years, wrote this letter to counter an “open letter” that John Deasy had written to Ta-Nahisi Coates.

Leibner acknowledged that both of them were using the format to make a statement directed at the public, not the author.

He used his letter to excoriate Deasy and his fealty to the agenda of the Billionaire Boys Club.

If Deasy would like to respond to Joshua Leibner, I welcome his letter.

Carl Petersen, an education activist in Los Angeles, attended the school board meeting in Los Angeles where the plight of El Camino Real Charter High School and its ethics-challenged leaders was discussed. Peterson is running to defeat Monica Garcia, a charter cheerleader, in the next school board elections.

It is astonishing. Several defenders of the charter school spoke, and they said the board was picking on the school. No defense of the extravagant charges to the school’s credit car. Just attack the board for daring to investigate this school.

The El Camino Real Charter High School was a successful public high school; in 2011, it converted to charter status, and it is now a successful charter school.

But it has a big problem. Its principal and other top employees charged many thousands of dollars to the school’s credit card for expensive dinners, luxury hotels, and first-class air travel while moonlighting as a scout for a professional basketball team.

The school has been warned repeatedly, and now the school board is giving it one month to clean up the mess.

The case is one more example of tensions between the nation’s second-largest school system and its charter schools, which manage their own public funding and are free from some rules that govern traditional campuses. El Camino Real Charter High School was run by the district until 2011.

At last week’s meeting, board member Scott Schmerelson said El Camino as a charter remains “an excellent school.”

But it “is not a private school,” said Schmerelson, who represents the west San Fernando Valley area where the school is located. “It is a public school. They have to go by the same rules we do.”

The El Camino case could test the limits of that assertion. El Camino, for example, has declined to tell the district whether it has taken disciplinary action against Executive Director Dave Fehte, who has come under internal and external scrutiny. Such action could be considered a confidential personnel matter, to be kept even from L.A. Unified.

A report from the district’s charter school division accuses El Camino of demonstrating “an inability to determine how public funds are being used,” adding that “fatal flaws in judgment … call into serious question the organization’s ability to successfully implement the charter in accordance with applicable law and district requirements.”

According to L.A. Unified, a sampling of 425 credit card expenses from five El Camino employees, including Fehte, revealed that “countless expenses were incurred without adherence to any uniform procedure, and without verification of the necessary details.”

Apparently the charter school board thought that the school’s autonomy extended to its financial affairs. We will watch what happens.

Is it a public school or a publicly funded private school?

A 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles public school district, who is also NBCT, explains the Rafe Esquith situation here. The writer has the nom de plume of Geronimo. I know who he is; I have met him. But I am not telling.


ON RAFE ESQUITH’S SUIT AGAINST LAUSD

Education has been on trial for a long time in Los Angeles.

We have seen it in many forms, most notably in how business interests in education trump pedagogical interests on many fronts…corporate technology, standardized testing, Charter Schools and billionaire influence on public policy.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is misnamed. It is not a “unified” entity. It can be divided in two using hoary Edu-Marxism (apologies, but I beg your indulgence!). There is the 1% at the top of the District apparatus (or apparatchiks) who control and set policy and then there are the actual educators who are supposed to be the reason for the season–but have been demonized by the structure that ostensibly is supposed to support their efforts.

On Wednesday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Wednesday denied LAUSD request to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought by the internationally renowned fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith, whom they fired last October.

A veteran of the district for over 30 years, Esquith filed the defamation lawsuit against the district in August after he was placed on paid leave and assigned to “teacher jail” pending an internal investigation after a fellow teacher complained that Esquith made a joke about nudity in front of his students in regards to the production of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” the students were performing.

Huck Finn began the entire sorry process that led to Esquith’s dismissal and the current class action suit against LAUSD; it is a top level farce that Twain would have ridiculed in his day but would not have been the least surprised about.

It is most helpful to think about the people who actually run LAUSD as proprietors of a brand that should be called LAUSD, Inc.

LAUSD, Inc. is not interested in good teaching. It is not interested in good pedagogy. It is not interested in what inspires students to want to learn.

LAUSD, Inc. is interested only in LAUSD, Inc. itself.

LAUSD Inc’s greatest concern is for its brand. The apparatus set up in LAUSD headquarters functions only to propagate a self-serving system. In Ken Kesey’s famous “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, Chief, the deaf-mute Indian narrator, calls this system “The Combine.” Not that many of the people who run LAUSD have actually read that novel, but their day-to-day priorities are very different from what Education SHOULD and COULD be; it is much more mundane–the business of Education is the Business of education.

Alas, I also can not say with any confidence that many of the District’s top brass have actually read America’s most famous novel, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”–the literature that got him into trouble in the first place. They would insist that it wasn’t part of their job description and irrelevant to their duties.

Without going down the rabbit hole of all the anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-student policies that LAUSD, Inc. has championed over the years, let us examine this one emblematic case that sort of sums up all that is wrong with how education is viewed by the LAUSD Corporation.

Rafe Esquith’s case should give people who are interested AND vested in true, meaningful education great pause.

Depressing as this telling fact is, I will not go into how completely unsurprising that not any single District Big Shot ever could make it down to Hobart Elementary School to watch Esquith’s magic in action. The author of many acclaimed bestselling books on teaching and an instructor responsible for changing hundred of young lives, his Room 56 had international guests and world class educators parade through marveling at his unconventional teaching methods–but nobody of any authority–not an LAUSD Superintendent nor even one solitary School Board member could be bothered to visit.

They were not interested in anything Hobart Shakespearean related.

Beaudry HQ gave it a big yawn.

The reality for LAUSD, Inc is, they couldn’t really care less what happens in a classroom–just don’t cause it any grief.

The LAUSD, Inc. brain trust in Beaudry is not made up of a bunch of smartypants.

This is not a group known for its inspired, intellectual curiosity.

This group who runs LAUSD, Inc. adhere to the same dynamic, corporate thinking that you would find populating the board rooms of Mobil Oil or Ralston-Purina.

Education–how you and I might think of it–does not disturb their machinations.

So much about Esquith’s case is troubling and indicative of a school district that has zero concern for the intellectual well-being of the students. If it did, LAUSD, Inc. would be championing a pedagogy VERY DIFFERENT from the one that they foist on LAUSD’s children. The leaderships view of what good education is in Rafe Esquith’s individual case is a personal tragedy for him; the leadership’s view of what “good education” is for the 600,000 students in their charge is a tragedy of grand proportions.

The investigators asked Esquith who he dated in college and who at the school disliked him. They asked for all his financial records since 2000. The “incriminating” evidence they used as the backbone from their case, the district searched his personal emails to obtain. According to the LA TIMES article http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-rafe-esquith-lawsuit-20160713-snap-story.html, Esquith’s attorney, Ben Meiselas claimed that the emails were taken out of context. Elsa Cruz, one of Esquith’s former student whose email had been singled has denied that he ever sent her anything inappropriate as alleged in LAUSD’s charges. “The communications described in the statement of charges between Mr. Esquith and myself are small pieces of much larger conversations that are taken wholly out of context.” She claims that the district.”cherry-picked points “to depict our conversations as having an inappropriate or sexual nature that is completely inaccurate.”

This is the modus operendi of LAUSD. A little history lesson is in order before going back to Esquith:

In the dark days of Supt. John Deasy, the entire elected School Board was mum on his pedagogy and methodology. The Board gave him tacit cover to do whatever he wanted. It is not an exaggeration to say that Deasy went after teachers with a Dick Cheney zeal using David Holmquist, the District’s General Counsel, as his John Yoo to give him the legal cover.

This is a school system that offers cover to those at the very top. David Holmquist, whose base salary is $260,552, has fought vigorously to protect the District from any bad publicity and loyally served John Deasy’s call to purge hundreds–maybe thousands–of teachers from the ranks and vigorously prosecuted LAUSD’s Teacher Jail program. A different set of priorities and standards were devised by Holmquist for the those who screwed up and abused their positions if they were in District power offices.

Some in Los Angeles Unified were definitely more equal than others.

“I will never apologize for putting students’ interests ahead of teachers,” was Deasy’s righteous mantra during his tenure where this man arrogantly placed business and corporate interests ahead of both students and teachers time and time again. His moral courage was how much he could bully teachers such as Patrena Shankling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlIuF1em_Y0 and never to any person of power above him who was politically connected with money and influence.

If you are not sickened by what happened in Shankling’s classroom and believe that John Deasy should ever be allowed to be near educators OR children again, then you and I have very different standards of classroom behavior and decorum.

Like all of his patrons, Deasy was a man who never apologized and took great pride in his use of executive and autonomous power and privilege. This was encouraged by many of the management team whom he worked with at District Headquarters and rewarded.

Deasy enjoyed and served a life of patronage from powerful men who paid for his entire, hopscotch career through the moneyed power corridors of education. Even when he left LAUSD in abject disgrace where the toady LA TIMES editorial board could only manage to bluster about the tragedy of his downfall, he could count on the largess of the corporate benefactors who puffed up his churlish bravado. Currently, Deasy remains obscenely well-paid in the Fortress of Solitude of Eli Broad’s empire, an opulent private world where he answers to no one except the rich and powerful, re-emerging only as a paper phantom, issuing friend of the court briefs to Vergara and offering his insights to Edu Reform Managers-to-be.

One day there will be a full accounting for what happened to all those teachers and their “rights” and “due process” that LAUSD assured the public they received.

Sadly, if Rafe Esquith’s and the other hundreds of teachers in similar situations were just the work of John Deasy and David Holmquist, that would be bad enough.

The current LAUSD President Steve Zimmer, with chest thumping vigor, thundered in a campaign speech that he has proudly voted to fire EVERY SINGLE teacher who came before him for justice. Zimmer put on his most concerned, self-righteous face channeling some Texas Governor on steroids, stating that in his eyes, those hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of teachers were guilty and should not be teaching in his system.

There was zero doubt in his blankly, incurious mind.

Were the students of LA protected from a thousand dreadful teachers?

No.

LAUSD, Inc was protected.

LAUSD claims Esquith’s emails weren’t hacked, so one supposes they got them off his school computer when they sealed his classroom and his personal account was open on it. Under the pretense of an investigation, LAUSD went through thousands upon thousands of personal emails to find evidence against him. It is a chilling abuse of employee privilege that claims that right. Obviously if they were a law enforcement agency, they couldn’t do that, but LAUSD doesn’t believe it is bound by the same rules of engagement.

It begs the question if any employee is safe from their employer going through every personal detail of their lives to render judgment on that individual.

Could anybody withstand someone going through twenty years worth of emails to figure their moral worth? Would something invariably crop up?

The emails of John Deasy and David Holmquist are scrupulously under lock and key.

Reading the entire 32 page document of LAUSD’s “case” against Esquith–and please do!– http://laschoolreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Responsive-Documents-Esquith-SOC_redacted-final.pdf it clearly shows that they threw in EVERYTHING they had into their “findings”.

EVERYTHING.

They didn’t leave anything out. What is also indicative of LAUSD’s mindset is the fact they STILL used the initial Huck Finn joke as part of their indictment against Esquith despite the ludicrous nature of that comment.

This is not the work of intelligent scholars in an academic institution.

This is the work of lawyers who want to get rid of an employee that has proven troublesome to the corporation.

David Holmquist is planning to appeal this latest ruling hoping to stem Esquith’s suit. Hopefully he will fail and the dark files will be open on what LAUSD, Inc has perpetrated over the years. The East German Stassi nature of those cases highlight the brute force and cruelty that LAUSD, Inc. perpetrated on so many teachers who thought they were working for an organization called Los Angeles “Unified” because it worked for the betterment of all–not just those on the corporate end.

I have no special insight to Esquith’s particular case, although the fairness and justice LAUSD, Inc. administers to its employees is eerily similar to the justice cops administer to poor neighborhoods compared to the inhabitants of rich ones.

You may be predisposed to place your faith in the justice and righteousness of LAUSD Inc.’s wisdom and sense of proper pedagogy.

So much of the intellectual evidence is contrary to granting that good will, however. In the cases of many teachers in the system, Deasy, Holmquist and the School Board have a finger on the scale that instinctively forces teachers to prove themselves worthy of their bankrupt leadership.

I’m as anxious as you are to see this Shakespearean play’s ending. Misuse of power, according to Shakespeare, never ends well.

Rafe Esquith has many admirers around the country. Rafe was a fifth grade teachers at the Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles. He was fired by the district based on allegations of sexual misconduct. Rafe has demanded a trial. This week, a judge heard his request for a trial and LAUSD’s request to dismiss Rafe’s request. The judge ruled that the trial may move forward.

One of Rafe’s strongest supporters is Jay Mathews of the Washington Post. This is Jay’s account of Rafe’s current situation.

Rafe Esquith, the celebrated Los Angeles public school teacher and founder of the Hobart Shakespeareans, won an important legal victory. He is suing LAUSD, which fired him, as a class action on behalf of all teachers in the district who have been removed from their jobs and placed in limbo awaiting due process. LAUSD moved to dismiss his lawsuit, but the judge denied the district’s request. This brings the fifth-grade teacher to a trial of his claims.

http://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-edu-rafe-esquith-lawsuit-20160713-snap-story.html

JUST IN: Judge denies LA Unified request to dismiss lawsuit filed by fired teacher Rafe Esquith

We were told when “Great Public Schools Now” began functioning, it would support all schools, whether they were public schools or charter schools. This is the group funded by Eli Broad and his friends that intends to take over half the student population in the Los Angeles public schools and put them into privately managed charters.

But Great Public Schools Now made its first grants, and none of the money went to public schools.

A group that has vowed to start high-quality schools across Los Angeles on Thursday announced its first grant recipients: a charter school that is expanding, an after-school and summer enrichment program for children, and an organization that recruits recent college graduates for two-year teaching stints.

None of the money went to the Los Angeles Unified School District, although it’s likely to benefit from the teacher-recruitment effort.

Of course, it is doubtful that the public schools will benefit from a program that recruits more inexperienced, ill-prepared Teach for America recruits. Why not fund a program that recruits experienced teachers or creates a pipeline to develop career teachers?

What has logic got to do with it?

We knew all along that Eli Broad and his fellow billionaires don’t want public schools in Los Angeles, except as a dumping ground for kids kicked out of charters.

My bet is that the group will make a contribution to a public school to maintain the illusion of even-handedness. But we know where its heart is. Privatization.

Your advice is needed. What is the best way to improve graduation rates, without cheating or gaming the system.

The Los Angeles Times recently published two editorials about high school graduation rates.

The first looked at the new phenomenon of “online credit recovery” as a means of helping students get credits to graduate. As a general rule, online credit recovery has a poor reputation. A few years ago, the NCAA conducted its own investigation and found online programs in which the questions were so simple that students breezed through them. In some cases, they were given more than one chance to answer a multiple choice question. The Los Angeles public schools are using a program with a better reputation than most, but questions still remain about the educational value of online courses for students who should have face-to-face encounters with teachers.

The second editorial reviewed the methods that states have devised to boost their graduation rates, such as lowering standards, eliminating exit exams, online credit recovery, reclassifying students as “leavers” rather than dropouts, etc.

The editorial contains some startling good sense, as in this section:

Russell Rumberger, director of the California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara, is not a fan of measuring a school’s success by its graduation rate for precisely that reason: Doing so encourages schools to lower their standards or to use misleading numbers or to find ways to get failing students out of their schools without having to count them as dropouts. In any case, he says, “a diploma is a blunt instrument” for measuring learning; one study found that low-income students need to show better mastery of the material than merely a pass in order to have a real shot at reaching the middle class.

Under pressure to produce better numbers, school officials in California and nationwide have often done whatever it takes to get to those numbers.
Like it or not, Rumberger says, higher standards — such as those in the Common Core curriculum standards recently adopted in California and most other states — tend to mean lower graduation rates, and it’s disingenuous for states to say they can raise both at once, and quickly.

This is the first time I have seen a public admission in the editorials of a major newspaper that raising standards lowers graduation rates. This is a contrast with the usual blithe claim by pundits and legislators that making tests harder will force kids and teachers to try harder, to “up their game,” thus producing more learning. Rumberger is right: When the tests are harder, more students will not pass.

The editorial concludes:

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which never did much to encourage higher graduation rates, might be dead, but its successor will have little chance of succeeding if policymakers aren’t realistic about the work and patience required to raise standards, test scores and graduation rates. It’s slow, hard, incremental work without magic solutions, and improved numbers aren’t always evidence of better-educated students.

The editorial is thoughtful, and I don’t mean to cast aspersion on the writers’ efforts to puzzle through this dilemma. But the quest for higher test scores and higher graduation rates was the singular goal of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. An honest assessment compels a frank admission that NCLB and RTTT failed. Even if one can find examples of higher numbers, do they really demonstrate that students are better prepared or do they reflect the result of twelve years of test prep?

Chasing better data is not the purpose of education, and we make a grave error by doing so. As the LA Times acknowledges, most of what has been produced at a cost of many billions over the past 15 years are creative efforts to game the system.

It would be far more fruitful to ask different questions: How can American schools do a better job of preparing students to succeed in life after high school? How can they encourage students to pursue learning on their own? How can they awaken a need to know? How can we reduce the growing racial segregation in our schools? (If only the $5 billion wasted on Race to the Top had been used to promote desegregation and to collect data on successful efforts to do so!) Are they adequately resourced and staffed to meet the needs of children growing up in extreme poverty, students without medical attention, students who come to school hungry, students who are homeless?

Until we ask these questions, the data are meaningless, as are such noble aspirations as “No Child Left Behind” by the magic of annual testing or “Every Student Succeeds” by a combination of standards, testing, and data.