Monday, November 20, 2006


Bob Sipchen | School Me | LA Times

November 20, 2006

Dear David Brewer:

Even before you officially became Los Angeles Unified School District's superintendent last week, you'd been pep-talking anyone who'd listen, and in discussing your hopes for the district, you've been touting Jim Collins' bestselling management tome "Good to Great."

If you really think you're starting with a district that's "good," you've been massively suckered by those school board members who've been showing you off like a circus bear they won in an all-night poker game.

"Dreadful to So-So" would be a more realistic trajectory. A tequila-soused optimist wouldn't go further than "Mediocre to Semi-Great."

Still, I'm confident that I speak for most students, teachers, parents and citizens concerned about the region's future when I say we'll do whatever we can to help you build on the impressive progress made by departed Supt. Roy Romer.

With that in mind, here are three interrelated suggestions, pieced together from thousands of conversations I've had in my many years as a district parent and several months as an education columnist.

1. Fire people. Fast.

This sounds harsh, but nothing will do more to boost morale than your getting rid of the bad teachers, principals and high-ranking careerists who make everyone else's job harder and the district look bad.

When we rode together to an event at the Santee Education Complex a couple of weeks back, you said you planned to hire an outside firm to do an independent performance review. Cool.

But you also said you probably wouldn't be able to "kick anyone out per se." Uncool!

You've been publicly waffling on your early pledge to get rid of bad teachers. Why?

One middle school principal told me, with a chilling shrug, that he is lucky to have only four teachers whom he'd characterize as utterly incompetent. Do the math. Together they may be rotting 600 or more student brains a day.

Your constituents are driven to blithering rage by the "Dance of the Lemons" that shuffles loser principals, teachers and muck-a-mucks from job to job.

End this injustice and you may just end the fear of retaliation that leaves parents, teachers and principals unwilling to discuss problems — a climate of cowardice that cripples your schools.

2. Supt. Brewer, tear down those walls!

Driven by paranoia and a misguided urge to coddle, the board selected you in secret.

I'd assumed that must have seemed silly to a Navy guy like you, but my colleagues Howard Blume and Joel Rubin report that your new cronies recently banned reporters from a fundraiser where, from what I hear, some folks paid $10,000 each for face time with you and other insiders.

I suggest you trust the people who pay your salary and those of us in the fourth estate whose job it is to keep an eye on public institutions for the people who don't have the money to attend pricey private fundraisers.

The district's $7.5-billion budget and $19.3 billion in building money tempts many. Corruption stalks every dollar. Keep things wide open and the public and press will help you hold this city's cunning predators at bay. Pull down the shades and you instantly endanger the spotless reputation you've spent your lifetime building.

3. Set clear goals promptly but be open to anything.

You and your wife must have exchanged high fives when the school board, like infatuated teens, made the astonishingly foolish decision to give a pedagogic neophyte a $300,000-per-year contract plus big perks for the maximum four years allowed by law.

Now you're probably noticing entrenched "educrats" trying to make themselves seem indispensable to the new guy who doesn't have a clue. Don't fall for it.

Your greatest assets are that you're a proven leader but not a district insider with a lifetime of old boy connections eager to cash in chips; that you haven't been addled by endless colloquiums into believing that education is an arcane realm whose problems are incomprehensible to all but a pedagogic elite.

You've said your plan is to assess and evaluate the situation and only then to act.

Fair enough. But, just between us, Southern Californians' patience is not as boundless as the generous school board and comfortable Beaudry Street bureaucrats might lead you to believe.

So why not knock off a couple of common sense reforms right away: For example, — how about making the whole thing easier on parents by starting school at 8 instead of 7:56? How about making sure every kid has a seat?

Just don't get mired in such micromanagement.

Southern California kids need big changes, and you're the bold leader to make them. We hope.

If the courts let Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa go ahead and grab a measure of control of the schools, will you pitch in wholeheartedly to help him, even if board members and bureaucrats would prefer to obstruct?

If, after a few months or years, you decide that the sprawling district isn't manageable, will you push to dismantle it?

Most of us in Los Angeles are willing to do whatever it takes to guarantee our children a good education. If you have that same simple goal, plenty of people will knock themselves out to make sure you succeed.


To discuss this column or offer your own suggestions to the new superintendent, go to Bob Sipchen can be reached at

Connect the Dots / Great Minds Think Alike:
Compare Sipchen's Fire People. Fast. with Mayor Riordan's advice, reported in the Nov 19 4LAKids:

4LAKids: "I was speaking to Mayor Riordan at the summit and he posited that it might not be necessary to eliminate ALL the LAUSD bureaucrats at to shake things up. Just get rid of one of 'em – fire the worst of the worst rather publicly - and the rest may fall unto line! (Riordan tends to have ideas punctuated with exclamation points – it makes him dangerous but I like that about him!) This solution – right out of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Mikado" ("They'll none of 'em be missed…") has a certain resonance. I have candidates of my own …but I'm open to further suggestions!" -smf

L.A. FLUNKS SCIENCE: Ranked nearly last in science compared to the nation's urban districts, Los Angeles needs well-paid science teachers.

LA Times Editorial

November 20, 2006 - A NEW COMPARISON of science education in big cities reveals distressing but unsurprising news: Among 10 urban school districts nationwide, Los Angeles is in the basement.

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the gold-standard test for the nation's schools, L.A. fourth-graders tied for last place with Chicago. Its eighth-graders were second to last, a notch above Atlanta. Overall, L.A. placed last.

Meanwhile, according to the NAEP, California is among the few states that have improved science scores over the last five years. The figures represent the first time the NAEP has tested individual urban districts on science, though it regularly measures their progress in reading and math.

School officials can't hide behind demographics on this one. The district does have a high percentage of Latino and African American students who generally score lower on standardized tests. But all the urban districts have sizable numbers of minority students. And L.A.'s black and Latino students generally scored lower than black and Latino students in other districts.

Because good education starts with good instruction — a truth too commonly lost in the school reform debate — the top priority is hiring more fully qualified science teachers. That's admittedly a difficult task. Science teachers are at a premium, with too many school districts vying for too few teachers. An urban school district such as Los Angeles, with its low-scoring students, is at a recruiting disadvantage.

The district's administration — and, more important, the teachers union — should realize by now that half-measures don't work. The solution is simple: Pay top science teachers more. That is anathema, of course, to United Teachers Los Angeles, which insists that the schools pay teachers according to how long they've stayed in the same job rather than how well they're doing or how badly their particular skills are needed.

The district's performance reflects as badly on its teachers as on its students. Ultimately, it's in the union's interests to change its outmoded ways to accommodate unpleasant realities.

smf: This is an interesting idea. However, are there other large major unionized school districts in the US that pay more for science teachers "based on how badly their skills are needed" ...beyond paying additional for years of experience and/or academic credentials?

  • We need 'em, but is a good science teacher really more deserving than a good English, Foreign Language, Social Studies or Art teacher?
  • And teachers notwithstanding – at many schools LAUSD's science classroom facilities are really lacking, out of date ...or just not there! This is a problem that has been identified and quantified - and there is money in the construction bonds to rectify it - but the powers that be in the nether world where construction meets instruction seem to be having a real hard time coming up with a plan to address it!

Sunday, November 05, 2006


• Political reality is in play as Villaraigosa ponders which three L.A. high campuses to run from City Hall and showcase his education reform.

by Howard Blume and Duke Helfand, Times Staff Writers

November 5, 2006 - Monroe High School in the San Fernando Valley is hardly the lowest-performing campus in Los Angeles, but Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is thinking about choosing it as a centerpiece of his education reform effort.

Crenshaw High, in the historical heart of black South Los Angeles, also sits squarely in Villaraigosa's sights, even though it qualifies far more students for college than nearby schools.

And Roosevelt High, the mayor's alma mater and a symbol of his Eastside Latino roots, also rises to the top of the shortlist, although it is nearly indistinguishable statistically from neighboring schools.

These campuses are top contenders under a new law that allows Villaraigosa to take control of three high schools and the clusters of middle and elementary schools that feed them.

The mayor's office has identified 19 high schools that satisfy the law's conditions, including a requirement that the campuses are in different parts of the city and are among the lowest 20% of schools in California as measured by the state's ranking system.

But in making this choice, what else should matter: the extent of the gang problem? the experience of the teaching staff? the number of ninth-graders who go on to college?

The selection will be based on political realities as well as educational needs.

The schools on the likely shortlist are in communities rich with key blocs of voters, including African Americans in South L.A. and whites in the Valley. Both groups helped propel Villaraigosa to his victory last year over Mayor James K. Hahn.

"There is political calculation that goes into this besides underperforming schools themselves," said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. "The mayor needs to placate … the north and south and mine votes for the future."

Villaraigosa insists the choice is not about politics.

"The initiative will have much broader support if it represents a geographic cross-section of the school district," said the mayor, who will select the schools in conjunction with the Los Angeles schools superintendent.

The success of the schools picked by Villaraigosa will be a litmus test for the mayor as an educational leader and could have a direct effect on his potential reelection in three years.

The schools Villaraigosa adopts are likely to reap a wealth of resources and money, which could pay for more teachers, improved buildings, new learning materials, dropout-prevention programs and other expert help. His staff is looking at model programs at some L.A. Unified campuses and at local charter schools, and interviews are underway to hire a "superintendent" and staff.

Some suggest these schools couldn't help but improve; Villaraigosa and his aides say they hope their involvement will invigorate schools across the district.

Five high schools seem likely to emerge as front-runners: Crenshaw and Dorsey in South Los Angeles, Monroe and Sylmar in the San Fernando Valley and Roosevelt in Boyle Heights. These campuses have been repeatedly mentioned by insiders and community leaders as likely picks.

Yet none of the five is among the bottom six campuses in the school system based on test scores, and the Valley schools lie roughly in the middle.

In fact, no Valley high school on the mayor's list rates as low academically as campuses in South Los Angeles, the Eastside or downtown.

Sylmar and Monroe are the lowest ranking of the five, at 38th and 34th, respectively, among 60 L.A. Unified high schools. Both schools, however, are considered strong performers when compared statewide with schools that serve similar students.

A late amendment to the Villaraigosa-backed law approved by the state Legislature this year allowed somewhat higher-performing schools to be included in the mayor's plan, opening up an opportunity for the Valley — a politically important region for any L.A. mayor. And Villaraigosa has promised to choose a Valley high school.

Including Valley schools would send an important message in a part of the city where there has been strong sentiment to secede both from the city and the school system, said Brendan L. Huffman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. "It shows recognition that improving education in the Valley is part of his vision and a priority for his administration."

If Villaraigosa chose schools strictly on academic shortcomings, he would focus first on South Los Angeles. But he would not necessarily choose Crenshaw or Dorsey. They score low on state English and math tests, but not as poorly as Santee, Jefferson, Jordan, Fremont, Locke and Washington Preparatory.

Other statistics tell a similar tale. A study by UCLA-affiliated researchers of the class of 2004 concluded that out of every 100 Crenshaw ninth-graders, 24 qualified for University of California admission. That number is nothing to brag about, but at Jordan the number was 10 per 100, and at Locke and Fremont it was 3.

All of these lower-performing schools are predominantly Latino except Washington Prep, where African Americans are the majority.

Villaraigosa has an incentive to choose a black-majority campus, because African American voters represent another key constituency that backed him in last year's election.

In addition, his campaign to take over the school district strained his relationship with some influential African American leaders, who did not uniformly support it.

One such leader dismissed Villaraigosa's interest in Crenshaw High as "ethnic symbolism." But others commended Villaraigosa for showing so much interest in African American children, who make up just 11% of L.A. Unified's 708,461 students.

Some community leaders also said that educating low-achieving black students poses a unique challenge that deserves special focus.

At Crenshaw, African Americans account for 66% of 2,330 students; at Dorsey the percentage is 57% of 2,000.

"He is sending a conciliatory message that he is going to continue to do what is right," said the Rev. Eric P. Lee, executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles. "He's trying … to create model reform in representative areas."

Not everyone is won over.

Crenshaw-area resident Carma Chinyere, whose mother teaches at Crenshaw High, sees the mayor as an unwanted interloper in a school community that already is trying to make things better.

"He should be asking, 'What do you need?' " said Chinyere, who also teaches in the school district. "There are other pressing issues in the city that need his time and attention."

If Villaraigosa chooses one largely African American high school in South L.A. and one high school in the Valley, then political realities suggest the third school must be in a traditionally Latino enclave.

That brings the mayor to Roosevelt, the school from which he graduated after dropping out of a parochial school.

Overall, Roosevelt is 13th from the bottom among L.A. Unified high schools in academic rankings.

Nearly all of its 5,000 students are recent Latino immigrants, and the school is ripe for improvement because community groups have banded together, forming the Boyle Heights Educational Collaborative, said activist and school board candidate Luis Sanchez.

The mayor should choose "a school that has some form of social capital around it," said Sanchez, executive director of InnerCity Struggle, an Eastside grass-roots organization involved with education and housing issues.

What success will look like is unclear. Villaraigosa has spoken in broad terms of a partnership in which the entire community — especially teachers and parents — has a meaningful say in running schools. The mayor also has expressed impatience with slow change and about the necessity for every student to be proficient or advanced academically, as the state defines it.

The depth of the challenge requires citywide commitment, said UCLA education professor Jeannie Oakes.

"It's important that whatever schools he chooses, he develops some strategy for engaging all of Los Angeles, so that we can all feel invested in the mayor's experiment," Oakes said.

The mayor and his advisors are holding meetings around the city to make presentations, answer questions and elicit ideas from parents, teachers and others. These efforts included last weekend's "education retreat," which brought together academics, community organizers and others.

The mayor's staff had talked about announcing two of the three school clusters this month, but the choice might be pushed back. The law specifies a start date of July 1 with the third cluster beginning the following year. The entire process could be derailed or delayed by ongoing litigation challenging whether the mayor's involvement is constitutional.

Outgoing L.A. schools Supt. Roy Romer worries about an us-versus-them mentality that could tempt Villaraigosa's team to make his schools look good compared with the rest of the school system — or worse, undermine systemwide reforms that have begun to show results.

"I've worked for six years to bring unity" to the school district, Romer said. "We need to have the mayor put his arm around the entire district, to own it all."

At a teachers union gathering last week, the mayor's senior education advisor, Ramon C. Cortines, said that is the goal.

"These are not going to be exclusive schools," Cortines told the teachers. "These are not to be given special treatment. We need to deliver resources to all schools."

WHICH WILL IT BE?: Three of these 19 high schools would be overseen by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa under a new law scheduled to take effect in January.







Manual Arts




Los Angeles








Canoga Park





Source: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office/Los Angeles Times

Friday, November 03, 2006

Las voces de los padres cuentan/Parents' Voices Matter

Las voces de los padres cuentan (see english translation below)
OPINIÓN - 11/02/2006
El Diario/La Prensa (New York City)
Delsa Rosso y Priscilla González

El alcalde Michael Bloomberg ha hecho de la educación pública uno de sus temas centrales y ha puesto el sistema de 1.1 millones de estudiantes bajo el control de la alcaldía. Un resultado significativo de estas reformas ha sido la expulsión de padres de la toma de decisiones en la
educación de sus niños.

En una reciente entrevista, el alcalde Bloomberg dijo, "los padres saben de sus hijos pero no son educadores profesionales. No hay razón de pensar que ellos deberían estar ni diseñando ni dirigiendo un sistema escolar. ¿Quieres que los padres tomen decisiones sobre asuntos médicos?
No lo creo". La actitud del alcalde no puede quedar sin respuesta.

Nosotros como padres somos los primeros educadores de nuestros niños. Ellos se benefician cuando nosotros participamos activamente en su aprendizaje. Esta participación depende mucho en que seamos respetados. Sin embargo, a los padres inmigrantes se les hace sentir que no tienen nada que contribuir a la educación de sus niños. Partiendo de nuestras
experiencias y conocimientos culturales, somos una fuente importante de información para el desarrollo del currículo escolar, la planificación del presupuesto escolar, y el diseño de políticas o reformas escolares. El alcalde y los funcionarios del sistema educativo público sabrían esto
si fueran educadores en lugar de especialistas de negocio.

Les advertimos a todos los que están estudiando nuestro sistema de educación pública en Nueva York como posible modelo a seguir que las tácticas del alcalde, semejantes a un apoderamiento empresarial, han significado que la voz de nadie cuenta, especialmente de los padres.

Pero nos estamos organizando para levantar nuestras voces. En el Centro de Familias Inmigrantes, padres y miembros de la comunidad se unieron y exitosamente desafiaron un proceso de admisión en el Distrito 3 que favorecía a las familias blancas y de clase media. Esta acción demuestra que sí se puede.

Las familias y niños minoritarios de bajo ingreso – quienes constan la mayoría del sistema de educación pública en Nueva York – sufrirán lo peor de los fallos de las reformas educativas del alcalde. Lucharemos como padres para hacernos escuchar con el fin de lograr un sistema educativo que funcione para todas las familias en nuestra ciudad.

Delsa Rosso, una madre de dos niñas en las escuelas públicas de Nueva York, y Priscilla González son miembras del Centro de Familias Inmigrantes.

• Para el contacto adicional de la información entrar en contacto con por favor a Donna Nevel en el Centro de Familias Inmigrantes :: 20 West 104th Street :: New York, NY 10025 :: phone: 212-531-3011 :: fax: 212-531-1391 :: email: ::


Parents' Voices Matter
OPINIÓN - 11/02/2006
El Diario Newspaper (New York City)
Delsa Rosso and Priscilla Gonzalez

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made public education one of his central issues, placing the 1.1 million-student public education system under mayoral control. A significant result of this reform has been that parents have been left out of the decision making process in their
children's education.

In a recent interview, Mayor Bloomberg said, "Parents know about their kids, but they're not professional educators. There is no reason to think they should be designing a school system or running a school system. Do you want parents to make medical decisions? I don't think
so." The Mayor's attitude cannot go without response.

As parents, we are our children's first educators. They benefit from our active participation in their learning. This participation requires us being respected. However, immigrant parents are made to feel they have nothing to contribute to their children's education. Building from our experiences and cultural knowledge, we are an important source of information for school curricula development, school budget planning, and designing school policies and reforms. The mayor and DOE officials would know this if they were educators and not businesspeople.

We issue a warning to all those who are looking to our public education system in New York as a possible model that the mayor's tactics have, in fact, been like a corporate takeover, meaning that nobody's voice counts, especially not that of parents.

We are organizing, however, to make our voices heard. At the Center for Immigrant Families, parents and community members united and successfully challenged an admissions process in District 3 that favored white and upper class families. This victory shows that we can do it!

Low-income children and families of color -- who make up the majority of the public education system in New York -- will bear the brunt of the failures of the mayor's educational reforms. As parents, we will fight to make ourselves heard until we have an educational system that serves
all families in our city.

○ Delsa Rosso, a mother of two in New York City public schools, and Priscilla González are members of the Center for Immigrant Families.

• For further information contact please contact Donna Nevel at the Center for Immigrant Families :: 20 West 104th Street :: New York, NY 10025 :: phone: 212-531-3011 :: fax: 212-531-1391 :: email: ::