Monday, December 31, 2007

How to leave no child behind — The Big Fix: WHAT DO L.A. KIDS NEED TO THRIVE?

The Big Fix | LA Times: December 29, 2007

Bilingual education | Strong teachers | Book it | Listen to kids | Beyond the classroom | Volunteer for kids | Respect your PTA

4LAKids notes: The on-line commentary is as good as this article!

Speak globally, learn locally

I have thought a lot about language since the birth of my twin daughters this year. I speak to them in Spanish, my partner in English, and I can't help feeling that this just isn't enough.

Frankly, I'm embarrassed that I live in a state that banned "bilingual education." Those with a long political memory will recall Proposition 227, approved by the voters in 1998. It was a culture-war wedge dressed as an education issue, and no matter whether you think it helped or hindered language acquisition, it did nothing to prepare California for a global future that's already arrived.

We should view the knowledge immigrant children have of their native languages as one of our greatest strengths. Although there are about 32 "dual-language immersion" schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (most are Spanish/English, with a handful Korean/English or Mandarin/English), this is far too modest for a city that calls itself the "capital of the Pacific Rim." We need trilingual classrooms in which the immigrant kids tutor the native ones and vice versa.

This would help the cause of tolerance and understanding, but it's not about sugary multiculturalism -- it's about economics. To be competitive, everyone from the CEO to the customer service rep must be agile culturally and linguistically. English, Spanish and at least one Asian tongue ought to come with a public school education.

We turn out immigrant kids today with shaky English and a withering native language, and native kids with shaky English and a couple of tourist phrases in a second language. It is time for Californians to start speaking in the tongues we hear all around us. That's the kind of world I'd like my daughters to inherit. Which means I had better start taking classes in Armenian. Like now.

Rubén Martínez is a professor of English at Loyola Marymount University.

Honor teachers

We all know that what determines student performance is the quality of teachers in the classroom. Providing every child in Los Angeles with a great teacher is the best way to serve our kids.

So how do we get this done? We need to recruit better. We need to retain the best. We need to make the career of teaching attractive financially, paying more to those with particular skills, those who take on tough school assignments and those who produce the best results. We need to involve teachers in every effort. Today, there are great teachers in some of our classrooms. If we focus on moving that from some to most, it would be the single most important change in our youngsters' school life.

Former Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Roy Romer is the chairman of ED in '08, which calls on all the presidential candidates to improve schools.

Book it

One of the great trials of childhood is writing obligatory thank-you notes, a post-holiday challenge now being undertaken in households across the country. How to sound enthusiastic and grateful, especially when the gift seems to have been selected for someone belonging to another species?

Solution: Let every aunt, uncle, grandparent, friend and parent make every gift a book, or several books. From newborn to college grad, wrap them up and hand them over in piles, because one of them will stick. It doesn't matter whether the recipient is an avid reader or not -- try audio books for kids who spend a lot of time in cars, or an offer to read the book aloud as part of the gift.

The thank-you notes still may not be very articulate. But the giver can be sure that a good book has the potential to provide a kind of global positioning system to the geography of the heart, or to worlds the reader might never have found otherwise.

Susan Patron is a former senior children's librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library and the author of "The Higher Power of Lucky," a winner of the 2007 Newbery Award.

Turn off, tune in

Imagine raising a child in a world with no television, radio, MP3 players or video games; no cellphones, smart phones, text messages or IMs. What would we have left? Conversation.

Listening is hard work. Parents too often do it badly. We're heavy on advice, judgment and solutions, but not so good at empathy, and very bad at keeping our mouths shut while our kids figure things out for themselves. Who has time?

We're supposed to speak up when there's real danger. We're not supposed to orchestrate their every move. The first 18 years of a child's life are not about building the family brand by slapping an Ivy League sticker on the back of the car. Better to listen to what the kids think, what they wonder or worry about or dream -- because that's who they are no matter where, or if, they go to college.

At the opposite extreme, take with a grain of salt the experts who say your child will turn into a monster tomorrow. They know some kids -- sadly, the ones with real complaints, because the happier ones are too busy living -- but they do not know your kid.

If you listen expecting too much or too little, you run the risk that your kid will find someone else to talk to. Listen without distraction, listen without an agenda, and you just might learn something.

Karen Stabiner edited and contributed to the anthology "The Empty Nest."

Get 'em outside the box

Let's fling open the doors of high schools and move restless kids from passive to active learning. Most education reforms now seek to cram more testable facts into kids' heads while they sit still, packed in pallid classrooms.

Sure, every teenager has to learn to read and tackle algebra. But the current approach isn't working: Fewer than half the city's 14-year-olds will complete high school. Many are distracted (by working, giving birth, dodging gangs). In a recent UC study, a majority said not one teacher really knew them well. They're disconnected.

So, how to connect? Los Angeles has an alternative model. Consider the medical magnet high school attached to Orthopaedic Hospital, which requires its 800 students to put in at least 200 hours yearly alongside nurses and doctors in health clinics and offices. The school is still new, but common sense and eyewitness testimony attest to its effects. "It teaches responsibility, keeps them motivated and engaged," says counselor Carmen Ochieta.

L.A. has other school and business partnerships (read about Lewis Chappelear's engineering program at Monroe High in North Hills on But dozens of new high schools are scheduled to open in L.A., and the majority will be kid-in-a-classroom traditional. Expand the partnerships instead, and free kids to really learn.

UC Berkeley sociologist Bruce Fuller is the author of "Standardized Childhood."

Spend your time

In these settings, success is getting tough kids engaged, and filmmaking -- storytelling -- does just that. Kids find video cameras cool, they ham it up in front of the lens, and film is a language they understand. (I've watched in surprise as a kid who didn't seem that interested instinctively transformed three shots into one, on the spot, accomplishing what the storyboard asked for, only faster and better.)

They choose the story, generally a parody (a takeoff on "8 Mile" called "42240 FT," for example, and a set of improvs based on Drew Carey's old TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"). I always insist on a script and a shooting plan, and we cast, in part, based on desire. (I've discovered there's nothing like a starring role to combat feelings of worthlessness.)

The work is incredibly rewarding. Sullen kids, forced to come to "class," end up fighting to read Bart Simpson's part in a sample-script run-through. They learn tricks of the trade, like how a skillful edit covers a blown line; they learn to work together; they learn to tell stories.

It can have lasting effects. One boy I continue to mentor landed at Santa Monica College and is making his way as a stand-up comic around L.A.

Filmmaking and storytelling are great tools to engage young people. But more important, a volunteer shows up, an adult pays attention.

Joe Petricca is executive vice dean at the American Film Institute Conservatory.

Treat your 'kuriks' well

Pity the 21st century Los Angeles PTA. Such beloved fundraising chestnuts as See's Candy sales and Christmas gift wrap drives are out, one because it trafficks in banned sugar substances, the other for encouraging the insensitive celebration of an illegally religious holiday.

Meanwhile, the few tools left in the PTA arsenal can be wildly confusing to many of our English-challenged LAUSD parents. "What is bear?" a Guatemalan mom once asked me when faced with a giant display of $1 Build-a-Bear raffle tickets. "Chuck E. Cheese fundraiser? What is? What is?"

The good news is, while there is a massive culture gap for many families new to U.S. public schools, native Angelenos can help. Recently, an Armenian mother at our school expressed a vague, haunted feeling that she was being discriminated against by the front-office staff. They just didn't seem friendly, Lucine noted, with an eyebrows-drawn-together expression that, frankly, a good deal of our newer immigrant mothers rush around with all day long.

"Kurik!" I exclaimed. (I think that's slang for "girlfriend" in Armenian -- while my pronunciation is terrible, my kuriks seem to appreciate that I at least try). "You look so anxious!"

When I suggested that Lucine start over at the principal's office with a smile and a box of Krispy Kremes, her face lit up. She didn't know you could offer doughnuts. (Our ways are complicated: sugar for kids, no; sugar for adults, si.

The point is, parent to parent, we have to build bridges because PTAs still need to fundraise -- for the new gardens or music programs it may take the district until 2025 to get. Metaphorically speaking, PTA dollars come in all colors, and via home-cooked ethnic food sales, spelling bees with admission or ... shhh, even gift wrap. Christmas gift wrap. (An incredibly hot seller -- just don't tell anyone.)

Sandra Tsing Loh's commentary appears on KPCC-FM (89.3) and in the Atlantic.

Artwork credit: Susan Tibbles / for The Times

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The news that didn't fit from Dec 30th!


The Hayward Daily Review reports Superintendent Dale Vigil of the Hayward Unified School District said he has considered rejecting state aid under the Quality Education Investment Act which would go toward class size reduction and intervention programs at two schools because hidden costs to run the program would encroach upon the district's general fund..

Attorneys from a San Francisco-based civil rights firm Public Advocates sent a letter to the district claiming they would be violating state and federal laws if they refused the funds even if accepting the money would cost the district money (more)


The Washington Post reports the debate over the formula for rating the nation's public schools has stalled efforts in Congress to revise the No Child Left Behind law. At issue: What's the best way to measure whether schools are doing their job?

Unlike questions on the state math and reading tests taken by millions of children, this one has no clear answer. Reaching consensus in the coming election year is expected to be difficult. Without congressional action, the 2002 law will stay as it is.


The Los Feliz Ledger reports that Dorothy Lee, a 12th grade art teacher at John Marshall High School has won a $25,000 grand prize in a national Classroom Makeover Contest.

"Driver………..Moooovvve that bus!"

...and a SOMEDAY/SUNDAY FUNNY! Best of Urban Scrawl by Doug Davis

The following, published originally on May 21, 2007, was included in a "best of" retrospective in the Dec. 31, 2007 Downtown News:

Original political cartoons from Downtown News by Doug Davis


by Kristofer Noceda, Staff Writer | Hayward Daily Review

smf notes: Hayward Superintendent Dr. Dale Virgil is the former superintendent of LAUSD Local District J (now LD#6)

December 26, 2007 HAYWARD — If district officials decide to turn down a state program that would help two elementary schools, they would be violating state and federal laws, according to civil rights firm Public Advocates.

Superintendent Dale Vigil said he has considered rejecting state aid designed to raise test scores at Burbank and Faith Ringgold (formerly Charquin) elementary schools because hidden costs to run the program would encroach upon the district's general fund.

The schools are scheduled to receive funding under the Quality Education Investment Act. The estimated $3.3 million windfall, collectively over seven years, would go toward class size reduction and intervention programs at the two schools.

Attorneys from the San Francisco-based firm have sent a letter to the district outlining the possible violations if it were to reject the state program.

"We're urging the district to accept the program," said Michelle Rodriguez, an attorney with the advocacy firm.

Although a decision on whether to take on the program has not been made — staff are studying alternative ways to find funding — the letter from Public Advocates assumes the district has rejected state support.

Because of this, the firm said the district is in violation of the Brown Act, a state statute requiring all public agencies to openly disclose actions.

"A decision was never an agenda item, and that is not accurate," Vigil said, referring to the firm's claim. "Hayward Unified has not returned funds to the state."

Still, the letter warns the district of two possible violations if it were to give back state funding.

"Once a school applies and is selected for participation in QEIA funding, it can only be withdrawn from participation if the county superintendent determines that the school has not met the requirements of QEIA or the school has engaged in fiscal wrongdoing," the letter states, citing the Cali-fornia Department of Education. "The schools here ... have not failed the requirements. Thus, the board does not have the authority to withdraw the schools from the QEIA program."

In addition, attorneys say such a decision would also violate state and federal mandates regarding parent involvement in children's education.

The California Education Code says the district first must consult with school site councils before making a decision regarding such funds.

Administrators have met with staffs at both schools to discuss and find ways to run the program without encroaching on the budget.

"We want to look at all our options, but I'm very encouraged from the discussions we've had," Vigil said.

District officials said they plan to further study the issue with staff within the next month.

The two schools are scheduled to receive a total of about $328,000 to jump-start the program next school year. Hidden costs, according to Vigil, would force the district to pick up a near $240,000 tab.

QEIA, sponsored by the California Teachers Association, will allocate about $2.9 billion over a seven-year period to struggling schools.

Funding was made available after the CTA settled a lawsuit with the governor in 2005 that repays schools money they are owed under Proposition 98, a voter-approved amendment ensuring that schools receive shares of any increase in state revenue.

In order to qualify, schools must score in the bottom two deciles of the Academic Performance Index, or API — the state's way of measuring the academic performance and growth of schools through standardized tests.

The Hayward schools are two out of 488 selected by the state to receive funding.



By Maria Glod | Washington Post Staff Writer

December 16, 2007 For nearly six years, the federal government has defined school success mainly by how many students pass state reading and math tests. But a growing number of educators and lawmakers are pushing to give more weight to graduation rates, achievement in science and history and even physical education.

The debate over the formula for rating the nation's public schools has stalled efforts in Congress to revise the No Child Left Behind law. At issue: What's the best way to measure whether schools are doing their job?

Unlike questions on the state math and reading tests taken by millions of children, this one has no clear answer. Reaching consensus in the coming election year is expected to be difficult. Without congressional action, the 2002 law will stay as it is.

"Lots of stakeholders have different answers to this question," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a D.C.-based coalition of urban school systems. "The tug of war is over, if not state assessments, then what? You're ultimately going to get as many answers to the question as there are people to answer it."

The American Society of Civil Engineers wants science tests added to the mix. The NAACP and other groups say schools should get credit for achievement in subjects other than reading and math, as well as for improvement in graduation and college admission rates. Some want to give schools points for progress on locally developed tests and for increasing the number of students who excel in Advanced Placement classes.

Reps. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) say the law should push children to exercise more than their brains. They introduced a bill to give schools points if students spend more time on physical education.

Advocates for "multiple measures" say that learning is too complex to be judged by annual tests and argue that spontaneity and creativity in classrooms are being lost to test preparation and drills.

"There ought to be more in determining students' success than just one test score," said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union. "Preparing a child for the 21st century means reading and math. But it also means science; it means civics; it means art."

But the Bush administration and some civil rights, education and business groups say that too many tweaks would weaken a law credited with revealing pockets of struggling students, especially among poor children, minorities and those with disabilities. In their view, an overly complex rating system would mask problems in schools with many students who haven't mastered basic reading and math, skills they call the building blocks to success.

"Proponents of multiple measures say it will give a richer, fuller view of a school, but this isn't about a rich view of a school. It's about failures in fundamental gate-keeping subject areas," said Amy Wilkins, a vice president of the Education Trust, a D.C.-based advocate of better schools for the disadvantaged. "Parents know, 'My school is in trouble because it's not teaching reading and math.' "

At Charles H. Flowers High School in Prince George's County, where test scores in reading and math have usually met state benchmarks, the principal, Helena Nobles-Jones, said: "It's okay to add other factors, but they can't replace reading and math." The two subjects, she said, "are so very critical to any career a child would choose."

The law requires annual reading and math tests in third through eighth grades and once in high school. Schools and subsets of students -- including ethnic minorities and students from poor families -- must make gains over time. High schools also must reach target graduation rates, but the state goals have been criticized as weak and inconsistent.

Certain schools that don't meet standards are required to allow students to transfer or face other sanctions. The law aims to have 100 percent of children proficient in reading and math by 2014. But the ratings are more about identifying struggling schools than rewarding excellence.

George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House education committee, has been trying to craft a definition of school success that goes beyond standardized tests. In a draft bill he circulated last summer, math and reading scores would remain the biggest factors in rating schools. But schools also could gain points for raising science, history, civics or writing scores or increasing the number of students who succeed in college preparatory courses. The proposal would establish a national system to measure graduation rates, and high schools could be rewarded for progress.

Miller said such changes would encourage schools to lower dropout rates, broaden the curriculum and encourage more disadvantaged students to enroll in challenging classes. He said he aims to provide a "better, fairer picture of what's happening in schools."

But some GOP leaders say the picture would only become murkier. Under the law, parents can see how their school stacks up against others across town or across the state on the same exams. If some groups of students struggle, it shows.

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (Calif.), the top Republican on the education committee, said the law lets parents "cut through the clutter and see clearly how their children's schools are performing." Add too many measures, he said, and accountability would be lost.

Many advocates for children with disabilities agree. Ricki Sabia, associate director of the National Down Syndrome Society's Policy Center, said the law has forced schools to focus more on children with special needs. "What we've seen in the past five years is kids with disabilities are doing better than anyone expected," Sabia said. "We are very wary of seeing things roll back."

Likewise, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund applauds the law for drawing attention to Latino student achievement. The organization isn't opposed to adding measures, said Peter Zamora, a regional counsel for the group, as long as the system "can't be easily gamed."

But many educators report increasing pressure to tailor lessons to annual state exams, leading students to miss out on other educational opportunities.

"The fear is you have this narrowing of the breadth and depth" of the curriculum, said Elizabeth Burmaster, Wisconsin's state superintendent. Burmaster, president of the Council of Chief State School Officers and a former music and drama teacher, supports using local assessments together with state tests. "It's much more complicated," she said. "But it's more accurate."

Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, said the challenge is creating a rating system that includes a range of measures and provides a clear picture of a school's effectiveness.

"Most schools people -- and a lot of people who think about schools -- think school is about a bunch of different things, not just reading and math," Loveless said. "The problem is . . . as you list all those things, suddenly it's not as clear-cut what's a successful school and what's a failing school."

VEGETABLES OF MASS DISTRACTION: More than you ever wanted to know about the Federal School Lunch Program

Use the Daily News LAUSD lunch database to see how many students were enrolled in the free and reduced cost lunch program by local district or school between 2004-2006.


Vegetables of Mass Destruction - Farm to School Programs

by: Orangeclouds115 | Truth&

Nov. 18, 2007 — Nobody wants their kids tossed around as political footballs, and yet, when it comes to school lunch, that's the case. On the right correct side of the politics of school lunch are those who care about climate change, conservation, hunger, and childhood obesity.

The other side consists of those who profit when our children get fat: companies that sell junk, people who abhor allocating tax money to schools, and makers of high fat commodities that lobby the government to buy their products for the national school lunch program.

Caught in the middle are the schools. They must meet federal nutrition guidelines, please the kids and parents, and do it all while counting their pennies because they've only got about $1 per meal per kid (according to this article). Add to that the fact that budget constraints made many schools scrap their kitchens a long time ago. Oy vey.

The Laws
If you check out this PDF, you'll find the laws governing school lunch nutrition:

  • School lunches must provide 1/3 of the Recommended Daily Allowances for:
    • Protein
    • Vitamin A
    • Vitamin C
    • Iron
    • Calcium
    • Calories

  • School breakfasts must provide 1/4 of the nutrients listed above.
  • No more than 30% of the calories in school lunches and breakfasts may come from fat.
  • Less than 10% of the calories in school lunches and breakfasts may come from saturated fat.
  • Other foods sold in schools are not subject to the rules above (including foods sold a la carte or in vending machines).
    • These foods may not be "Foods of minimal nutritional value" (i.e. Less than 5% RDA per serving for 8 key nutrients) if they are sold in food service areas during meal periods. However, even those regulations do not apply elsewhere in the school at all times.
    • Schools are required to have a "wellness policy" including nutrition guidelines for these foods.

The same PDF cites a number of studies that show that school children eat more fruits, veggies, and other healthy foods when junk is less available (and vice versa). As you might expect, the studies also show a correlation between the children's BMIs (body mass indexes) and the availability of junk food at school.

The Budget
In order to meet the criteria above with the budget they're given, schools must work miracles. According to this article about barriers to bringing local foods into Seattle schools, schools have between $2.20 - $2.70 per student per meal (the difference depends on whether the student qualifies for the federal free lunch program or not).

Of that money, 4% goes for equipment and supplies and 59% goes to labor, leaving only 37% for the food itself. Translation: Seattle schools have only $1 per student per meal in the best case scenario.

The $1 breaks down as follows: $.45 for the entree, $.22 for milk, $.10-$.15 for vegetables, $.10 for fruit, and $.10 to $.20 for bread and/or dessert. If you've been to a farmers' market lately, you probably know what you'd get if your fruit and veggie budgets were about $.10 apiece. NOT MUCH.

If you haven't been to a farmers' market, here's an idea of what you'd pay there. I'm used to paying about $2.49/lb for organic apples, $1 for an eggplant or a bunch of beets, $1 for a bag (5 oz.) of spinach, $5 for 3 pints of strawberries when they are in peak season (double that otherwise), $3 for 4 lbs of organic oranges, and $2 for a cantaloupe.

Farmers selling to stores receive lower prices than they do at farmers' markets, so there's some hope that a school district could get a deal since they'd be buying food in bulk - but would that bring the price down enough?

Not only that, but about $.20 of each child's meal comes from free commodities. Free to the school, that is. The federal government buys them and provides them to the school lunch program as a subsidy to farmers. What local farmer can compete with free? (Unfortunately, although some of the free commodities may come from local farms, the government doesn't coordinate to send those foods to nearby schools).

More Barriers to a Farm to School Program
If the budgetary concerns raised above aren't enough, schools that use federal money in their lunch programs must shop for foods without any preference based on geographic origin of the foods (there's talk of changing this in the 2007 farm bill... if there even is a 2007 farm bill anymore). And if they could, the quantities demanded by the schools often cannot be supplied by small farms.

Other barriers mentioned by the article are:

  • Schools have ripped out kitchens and replaced them with closet-sized rewarming centers with no capacity to deal with things such as dirty carrots.
  • Seasonal availability, liability insurance requirements, lack of processing equipment and distribution networks prevent smaller farms from being able to reliably deliver products that schools want.

Another article, Local Carrots with a Side of Red Tape, goes into the hurdles faced by New York farmers attempting to introduce their carrots into New York schools. Simply slicing the carrots would be too labor-intensive for the schools, so instead they tried baby carrots.

Baby carrots are full carrots whittled into their "baby" form, and most originate from California. The New York farmers were growing a different variety of carrots than the California variety used to make baby carrots, but one farmer took a chance and grew the baby carrot variety as a test.

The test was a bust. The carrots grew poorly in New York soil - and by grinding them into babies the farmer wasted 70% of each carrot. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending because the schools and farmers came up with a coin-shaped carrot slice they could bag in individual portions for the kids.

Once the New Yorkers found the right way to serve the kids carrots, they had to work through even more logistics - ensuring they'd have enough carrots year-round, finding the right distributor, making sure they aren't breaking the laws by favoring their local carrot farmers, etc. For the farmer, he must either ship the carrots out to another state where they can be processed into coin shapes or invest in the proper equipment himself.

For a simple problem - finding how to get local foods into nearby schools - the solutions are often incredibly complex.

Success Stories
Despite the roadblocks, farm-to-school programs are popping up all over the country. In Wisconsin, Mt. Horeb schools participating in the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch program spend about 10% of their food budget on local foods.

This article recognizes the difficulties discussed above, but tells how the Mt. Horeb schools overcame them, serving the kids organic veggies from their teacher's farm. To make the program work, they require parent volunteers to tend school gardens over the summer, and they make compromises (like serving local apples with less expensive tacos made from commodity beef and refried beans, or skipping on dessert).

I've got a special spot in my heart for this Wisconsin - and not just because I lived there. I used to participate in REAP Foodgroup, the group that works with the University of Wisconsin to run the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch program. Not only that, but I've eaten some of the same foods the Mt. Horeb kids get in their lunches.

Another article tells of South Hampton, New Hampshire's program. In it, the program director notes that the Farm to School program will help keep New Hampshire rural by giving farmers the business they need to stay on the land.

The New Hampshire program is new, and there is more work to be done before it grows, such as working out the logistics and educating school administrators. In contrast, California has had farm to school programs for a decade already. With ten years of data to look back on, they report impacts such as greater school lunch participation and increased consumption of fruits & veggies among the kids.

In addition to the obvious benefits named above, a surprising (and wonderful!) effect of the program occurred as students, teachers, and parents built relationships with local farmers and began giving them more business. Even better, the programs generated interest in locally sourcing foods from other nearby institutions (such as hospitals).

If you'd like more information about farm to school programs near you or advice on how you can get involved in starting one, check out the Farm to School website. Another fun website to check out is Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard site.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Marshall High Teacher Wins $25,000 for Classroom


Ms. Lee is flanked by JMHS cheerleaders after learning she was the $25,000 grand prize winner. Photo credit: Allison B. Cohen

from the January 2008 Los Feliz Ledger

Dorothy Lee, a 12-grade art teacher at John Marshall High School has won a $25,000 grand prize in the national 2007 EXPO Classroom Makeover Contest.

Lee received over 9,000 votes in the on-line contest between Oct. 31 and Dec. 3rd.

In her prize winning essay, Lee wrote, “Our teachers work extremely hard [and] with the limited resources that they have, they teach eager students about art even as our facility falls apart.”

EXPO and school officials kept the news secret until they could surprise Lee at a lunch time assembly, complete with the cheerleading squad.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


‘You have to deal with the politics. I don’t think that you can avoid it.’

More than a year into his job as superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, David Brewer says he wants to "segue into partnerships with the community." - Photo by Gary McCarthy

by Gene C. Johnson Jr., Staff Writer | Los Angeles Wave Newspapers

At the close of 2007 — during which a power struggle between Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the L.A. Unified School District resulted in a new mayor-friendly majority on the school board, and a judge’s ruling reaffirming that board’s legal authority over public education — no individual has been closer to the most city’s most politically charged issue than David L. Brewer.

Unanimously selected by the LAUSD board to be superintendent and awarded a four-year contract in November 2006, Brewer has now concluded a year of assessment in terms of the needed changes for the school district. During an exclusive interview with the Wave in his downtown office, the 61-year-old retired Navy Admiral explained why he is calling 2008 his “year of execution.”


What were some of the things that you were able to accomplish during your first year as superintendent?


I’ve stabilized a major crisis, that’s the payroll system — a crisis that I inherited. My first year was clearly centered around assessments. We have created several new positions. I have cut the budget by $95 million and 500 positions. I was able to use those deficiencies to create some new positions, [such as] a deputy for Professional Learning, Development and Leadership — which I found that we were severely lacking in this entire organization — not just in teachers and principals, but in the entire organization. The other thing is that any type of organization has to have innovation, what we call research and development. So we created an innovation division. Through that particular division we’re going to … segue way into partnerships with the community. Like I said when I first arrived here: education is the responsibility of the entire community. This give the community — what we call network partners — an opportunity to come in and work formally with our students. Here’s a key point: I did not arrive at the beginning of the school year. I arrived at the middle of the school year. So for all points and purposes, I had one-half of a school year in order to get this done. So I think we moved pretty fast. This is the year of execution. This will be my first full year. The board did not approve of these positions until July. People have to take that into consideration and put everything into context. When you arrive in the middle of the school year, you don’t have the same opportunities to execute as quickly. But we are going to execute this year.

How does your going about the “year of execution” relate to your military training?

It relates in terms of its intensity. This is a very intense job. I have to apply a lot of the same skills, change management, leadership, etc. — even with the media. We had a lot of media training in the Navy and … this [endeavor] is media-intense. I think that has been one of the biggest surprises for me is how much media attention I get.

Are you bothered at all by the media attention?

I take it in stride. For me, it’s an opportunity to speak to the public. Because as I’ve said before, the community should come to realize that education is everybody’s responsibility.

Well, in terms of the black community, what is your reaction to being under its very watchful collective eye?

Again, in my assessments, one the first things I found out very quickly is that African-American males are the lowest performing in the school district. So I immediately began to focus on that. We have two outstanding boys’ academies right now. One at King-Drew and one at Jordan [high schools]. We’re going to benchmark and replicate those because we realize that, not just for African-American males, but males in general — because you can’t segregate by race — so all of our boy’s academies will have boys. So, in essence, that’s one of the things that we’ve already accomplished. And they’re doing well, by the way.

What is your relationship with the mayor? How often do you meet with him to discuss education issues?

I’m very supportive of the mayor’s [education] initiative. In fact, we’re working with him and helping him to choose his family of schools. He’s choosing two families of schools. Again, by creating our Innovation Division that facilitated that process, that relationship. People don’t understand that you have to create the organizational construct. You have to create the structure and the systemic changes, everything else is just ideas. And even if you tried to execute them, they would not be executed effectively. We have the Innovation Division, so the mayor can now segue way in with his partnership for L.A. schools.

What is being done to close the achievement gap between black and Latino students and whites and Asian-Americans?

Here’s the key: literacy. Literacy is the key. For Latinos, it’s English-language learners —as well as several other ethnic groups. So we are focused like a laser on language acquisition in terms of English-language learners. And in terms of African-Americans, it’s standard English. African-Americans, many of our kids speak the language of the streets, but they don’t speak academic English. So we’re treating that as language acquisition — a second language acquisition. Not to take away from your [African-American] culture, do your own thing. But when you come into that classroom, you’re going to speak academic English. We recognized that very quickly and so that’s why we [had] a national summit on language acquisition Dec. 13-14 for English-language learners and Spanish English-language learners, because we found out that they are [among the] lowest-performers in the entire school district. Unfortunately, African-Americans are our lowest performers.

What is your reaction/response to several new charter schools opening up in South Los Angeles, for example the View Park Preparatory schools?

That [charter schools] started back in the late ‘90s. L.A. [the school district] actually asked charter schools to relieve overcrowding. They continued to proliferate. I call it the vacuum theory. If you have an academic vacuum, somebody’s going to fill it. And what charters are doing is filling that academic vacuum. However, we treat charters as partners. Our best traditional schools are still better than the best charters. That’s a point that’s missed. One of the best schools in the entire state is Balboa Magnet. There aren’t any charters that can compete with that. Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies is number 47 in the nation. What they do at the Watts Learning Center is very intense in terms of curriculum and instruction. More importantly, they take these kids on field trips — to Africa. We do have great charters. Watts Learning Center is a school that, as a part of the language acquisition summit … will be brought into that process. We want to see what they are doing at Watts Learning Center in order to drive student achievement among African-Americans. They have one the highest academic performance index of any elementary school in the entire district — charter or traditional — and they are a charter school. This is why we have to study charters — and benchmark and replicate what they do.

How many hours does it take a day to do your job?

I work half-days, you know. I work 12 to 14 hours a day. Being given my military background, I get up early in the morning, have my physical fitness workout just about every morning. I lift weights. I alternate between lifting weights — upper body and then I’ll run the next day, lower body and then run. It’s the “Body for Life” [program] by Bill Phillips.

As superintendent, when will you know that you have accomplished all of the goals you have set out?

When we’ve begun to meet some of student achievement goals. I’m focused on student achievement. And it’s very hard to do in the district because of all of the politics. There’s so much politics in L.A.

So do you see yourself as a politician as well as an educator?

Well you have to deal with the politics. I don’t think that you can avoid it. So to the extent that you deal with it, that’s one thing. But my job is to, really, improve student achievement here in Los Angeles and to make sure that our children graduate college-prepared and that’s my vision. I will know when we are successful when see a higher percentage of students who are proficient and advanced as opposed to basic and below. Right now we are at 33.4 percent in proficiency and advancement. So that means we have to get to at least 50 to 60 percent proficiency and advancement. When we cross that threshold, then we can say whatever programs we put in place have taken … effect. One of my best attributes is that I know how to manage change. I know how to find efficiencies in an organization.

Do you have a yearly plan for achieving your goals?

This year it’s high priority schools. In other words we’re looking at our lowest-performing schools and we’re going to create a plan — strategies and tactics — to improve student achievement in our high-priority schools. The following year we’ll take those same strategies and tactics and begin to permeate those into the entire system so that we can raise student achievement for the rest of the district.

What can the district to do reduce childhood obesity?

We just hired an executive chef from USC to help us with menu development. Plus the [LAUSD] board had already passed a policy several years ago taking junk food and sodas out of the school district. Also we need to teach our families, and children nutrition — and get more physical education for children. This school year will be the year of execution. I invite the entire community to come in and help us. We’re going to find ways for most people to come and help us, in terms of educating our children. L.A. Unified School District was not structured to accept help. People would come and volunteer, but nothing would happen. That’s why I created the Office of Parent and Civic Engagement.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Democrats Make Bush School Act an Election Issue

Joshua Lott for The New York Times

Students at Central High School in Davenport, Iowa, listening to former President Bill Clinton.

December 23, 2007 - WASHINGTON — Teachers cheered Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton when she stepped before them last month at an elementary school in Waterloo, Iowa, and said she would “end” the No Child Left Behind Act because it was “just not working.”

Mrs. Clinton is not the only presidential candidate who has found attacking the act, President Bush’s signature education law, to be a crowd pleaser — all the Democrats have taken pokes. Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico has said he wants to “scrap” the law. Senator Barack Obama has called for a “fundamental” overhaul. And John Edwards criticizes the law as emphasizing testing over teaching. “You don’t make a hog fatter by weighing it,” he said recently while campaigning in Iowa.

This was to be the year that Congress renewed the law that has reshaped the nation’s educational landscape by requiring public schools to bring every child to reading and math proficiency by 2014. But defections from both the right and the left killed the effort.

Now, as lawmakers say they will try again, the unceasing criticism of the law by Democratic presidential contenders and the teachers’ unions that are important to them promises to make the effort even more treacherous next year.

“No Child Left Behind may be the most negative brand in America,” said Representative George Miller of California, the Democratic chairman of the House education committee.

“And there’s no question about it,” Mr. Miller added. “It doesn’t help to have people putting themselves forward as leaders of the party expressing the same disenchantment they hear from the public, saying ‘Just scrap it.’ Congressmen read the morning papers just like everybody else.”

Democrats had long dominated the issue of education until Mr. Bush seized it in his first presidential campaign, making frequent stops at schools to condemn the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for minority children and to pledge that schools in poor areas would improve test results or face federal sanctions. The No Child law passed in his first year of office with the support of a strong centrist coalition.

Seven years later, policy makers debate whether the law has raised student achievement, but polls show that it is unpopular — especially among teachers, who vote in disproportionate numbers in Democratic primary elections, and their unions, which provide Democrats with critical campaign support.

“There’s a grass-roots backlash against this law,” said Tad Devine, a strategist who worked for the past two Democratic presidential nominees. “And attacking it is a convenient way to communicate that you’re attacking President Bush.”

These political realities are making it extremely difficult to rebuild the bipartisan majorities that first approved the law during Mr. Bush’s first year in office, when he worked on the legislation with Mr. Miller and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat who is now the chairman of the education committee. Mr. Miller, a passionate advocate of school accountability, took the lead this year in trying to draw up a bill that would change troublesome provisions but preserve its core goals.

He faced obstacles from the start, including opposition from many Republican lawmakers, who say the law intrudes on states’ rights, and from Democrats, who say it labels schools as failing but does too little to help them improve. And by all accounts Mr. Miller worked doggedly to build consensus.

But virtually every proposed change in the law ignited fierce battles, and when Mr. Miller released a draft bill for comment in late August, it pleased no one.

“His bill got creamed,” said Amy Wilkins, a vice president of Education Trust, a group that advocates for disadvantaged children, who has worked closely with Mr. Miller’s staff.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings also threw herself into the effort, meeting with scores of congressmen and barnstorming through Ohio and Indiana in a school bus, seeking Republican support.

“I killed myself,” Ms. Spellings said. But she acknowledged that the effort now faces tremendous obstacles. “It’s a minefield. If I were George Miller, I’d be saying, ‘How can I put Humpty Dumpty together again?’”

Mr. Kennedy now plans to take the lead with the bill early next year. “We have to convince people that the bill we introduce, that this will not be a rubber stamp of the current law,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Kennedy tried to clear the air last month by quietly inviting Mr. Miller and the presidents of the two largest teachers’ unions to a meeting on Capitol Hill. All four pledged to strive for agreement, but both union presidents said later that it remained unclear whether Congress could produce a bill acceptable to union members.

“I don’t think you recognize the magnitude of the anger that’s out there,” said Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association. “My members are driving me, and if they think I’m not doing everything I can to change this law, they’ll take me to the woodshed.”

What is not acceptable to union members is unlikely to be acceptable to Democratic presidential candidates. The teachers’ unions have little influence with Republicans, and several Republican presidential candidates, including Mitt Romney, Rudolph W. Giuliani and John McCain, have voiced support for the law. But the Democratic candidates can hardly ignore unionized teachers in Iowa and New Hampshire, who are calling for sweeping change.

Alan Young, president of the National Education Association affiliate in Des Moines, got some television exposure about a year ago when he addressed Mrs. Clinton during a town-hall-style meeting. Pointing out that she was on the Senate education committee, Mr. Young urged her “not to be too quick to reauthorize the law as is,” but rather to rework its basic assumptions.

In the months since, Mr. Young said he has spoken about the law personally at campaign events with Mr. Richardson, John Edwards and Senators Barack Obama and Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“We want them to start over with a whole new law,” Mr. Young said.

Three of the Democratic presidential candidates, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama and Senator Christopher J. Dodd, are on the education committee. Mr. Kennedy acknowledges that campaign criticism of the law could complicate his effort, but pointed out that even though the candidates have criticized the law, most have also expressed support for its core goals.

Mr. Obama, for instance, in a speech last month in New Hampshire denounced the law as “demoralizing our teachers.” But he also said it was right to hold all children to high standards. “The goals of this law were the right ones,” he said.

When Mr. Edwards released an education plan earlier this year, he said the No Child law needed a “total overhaul.” But he said he would continue the law’s emphasis on accountability.

And at the elementary school in Waterloo, Mrs. Clinton said she would “do everything I can as senator, but if we don’t get it done, then as president, to end the unfunded mandate known as No Child Left Behind.”

But she, too, added: “We do need accountability.”

Even though the candidates hedge their criticism of the law with statements supporting accountability, it is hard to imagine their accepting revisions that fall short of a thorough overhaul — and that could be difficult for Mr. Bush to stomach, said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. Even Mr. Bush’s catchy name for the law is likely to disappear in any rewrite, he said.

“I can’t imagine that Democrats could write a bill that would satisfy their caucus but not be vetoed by President Bush, at least in the current environment,” Mr. Petrilli said.

More than you probably want to know about the I-Division elections

More News than Fits 12/23


  • A valley sports league protests LAUSD's misbegotten policy to charge for after school playground use by kids and
  • San Diego gets an retired navy flag officer to head their schools too.


LAUSD TOLLS MIGHT SURPASS $210 MILLION: New payroll system continues to drain the District.

LAUSD TRIES TO STEM THE OUTFLOW - An effort to bring neighborhood children back to neighborhood schools.

Obituary: MARNESBA TACKETT: A LONG LIFE WELL LIVED IN PURSUIT OF LA EQUALITY: As chair of the Los Angeles NAACP’s Education Committee, Tackett raised money to pay for the Supreme Court briefs submitted by Thurgood Marshall in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. case that desegregated the nation’s schools in 1954.

That done, she turned her attention to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which she found was just as discriminatory as the district in Topeka.. She had textbooks with stereotypical presentations of blacks removed from the classrooms and she filed and won a lawsuit, Crawford vs. LAUSD, to make the Jordan High School facility and environment more conducive to the educational process.

SCHOOLING ANTONIO: The mayor learns to settle for less than a total takeover of L.A. Unified - or - TKO! MAYOR V DISSES ROMER. While the mayor touts his takeover of the cluster of schools as an issue of accountability, some parents have expressed skepticism about the plan, calling it little more than a political ploy and worrying that students under the plan will suffer if the mayor loses reelection in 2009 or runs for governor in 2010.

States' Evidence: WHAT IT MEANS TO MAKE 'ADEQUATE YEARLY PROGRESS - or - "GAMING NCLB" - Avoiding becoming a Program Improvement school, district or state - through legislation rather than education - and without risking losing the federal funds!



A San Fernando Valley youth sports league urged the Los Angeles school board Wednesday to reject a plan to charge youth groups that use district athletic fields and facilities. The fees go into effect next year and would raise about $4 million, which officials say would help the district recoup a $95 million budget shortfall. The charges were approved in June as part of this year's $6.2 billion budget, but the fee structure was not put into place until several months later. In a letter to the board secretary, an attorney for the nonprofit Valley Youth Conference, Inc. said that the group cannot afford the fees, which can cost up to $25.50 an hour, and asked the board to reject the program before January 15. About 10,000 students and 7,500 families participate in the youth conference's programs. District officials said that they have not seen the letter but have maintained that the charges are important to the school system's financial health. --Jason Song



A retired Navy rear admiral has been named interim superintendent of the San Diego school system as the board of trustees seeks a permanent replacement for Carl Cohn, who is set to retire next week.

The board announced Wednesday that William Kowba, now the district's chief administrative officer and chief financial officer, will take the interim post. The district, the second largest in the state, has 135,000 students; Cohn is leaving to resume his consulting business and take a lectureship at San Diego State University.


Daily News Editorial

December 17, 2007 - Slowly - way too slowly - but surely, Los Angeles city and school leaders are inching toward a common-sense plan that would benefit communities immeasurably: After hours, when schools aren't being used for instruction, they would be open for countless other uses.

Imagine: Playgrounds could be parks. Classrooms could be community meeting rooms. Arts and athletic facilities could enrich cultural and fitness opportunities for everyone.

This is, by the way, not just fantasy, but what the Los Angeles Unified School District promised voters when we approved billions of dollars in school bonds over recent years. The new campuses, we were told, would be hubs for community life.

But bureaucracy has a way of interfering with common sense. District and city officials have squabbled over liability, operation and maintenance costs. Never mind that the people paying the costs - L.A. taxpayers - are the same, regardless of whether the bill goes through the LAUSD or City Hall.

Fortunately that is changing ... slowly.

On Wednesday the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan to expand agreements with the LAUSD to keep schools open for the public on nights and weekends. Under the proposal, a master joint-use agreement will be developed, and the school board is set to take up a similar proposal soon.

But the progress is only incremental. Currently the city and school district operate just 30 joint-use sites, and the new plan would create only 17 more. Given the size of the LAUSD and the enormity of its real-estate portfolio, that's barely a drop in the bucket.

Still, a small start is a start. City and school officials must keep working to make L.A.'s resources available to all Angelenos.

LAUSD TOLLS MIGHT SURPASS $210 MILLION: New Payroll System, Previous Errors Account For Charges


December 16, 2007 -- LOS ANGELES -- The state's largest school district might end up spending more than $210 million to roll out a new payroll system, and fix the thousands of errors that have bedeviled the project, it was reported Sunday.

"There's going to be a judgment day when all of this is over," said school board member, Richard Valdovic.

The Los Angeles Daily News said Sunday that the system's original $95 million cost has ballooned to at least $132.5 million, and officials said they don't know what the final cost to the district will be.

At least $6 million in overpayments to teachers, police officers and other district employees may have to be forgiven, because of the accounting nightmare that has developed. Some employees face paying income tax on supposed overpayments, but have no accurate accounting on what their actual pay should have been.

The latest computer expert hired by the district to sort out the payroll system fiasco, Tony Tortorice, says the giant district underestimated how much it would cost to switch over from an antiquated and unproductive pay system.

Tortorice told the board last week that a large organization should expect to spend at least one percent of its payroll implementing and ironing out a new payroll system. He noted that errors have dropped from 5.9 percent of the district's employees in October to 1.3 percent this month.

But LAUSD may have overpaid its employees by as much as $53 million during a five-month period of upheaval that saw some people put into financial duress due to underpayments, and others with overpayments that they could not calculate.

About 60 percent of the people who were overpaid have agreed to reimburse the district a total of $14 million, the Daily News reported. About $15 million in claims are currently outstanding, officials said.

As much as $6 million can never be recovered, district officials said, because the amount of each overpayment was less than $250 and the district would have to spend more than that to calculate the correct figure and recover the overpayment.

When the first payroll checks under the new system were sent out last summer, some teachers received nearly no money at all. The district set up an emergency loan program for them, but teachers reported they had to take a day off of school to go to district headquarters to process the emergency payments.

The third phase of the new accounting system, involving all purchase orders and bill payments by LAUSD, is yet to be implemented.


by Paul Clinton, Staff Writer | Daily Breeze

December 17, 2007 - Hoping to stem the tide of sixth-graders abandoning Los Angeles Unified elementary schools on the Westside for private schools, trustee Marlene Canter is stepping up recruiting efforts for seven middle schools.

Canter wants local parents to take another look at LAUSD, so she's offering tours of higher-achieving magnets, hosting an open house and extolling the virtues of Los Angeles public schools in speeches.

"Many families in the areas that I represent send their children to LAUSD elementary schools, but opt for private schools when their children get older," said Canter, who represents schools from Westchester to the San Fernando Valley.

"But as the district opens new schools in overcrowded areas, we now have the opportunity to increase local resident enrollment."

Her case should be bolstered by the decision of two Westchester schools to opt out of LAUSD bureaucracy and partner with Loyola Marymount University in a "family" of campuses.

Last week, parents and teachers at Wright Middle School and Kentwood Elementary School agreed to a five-year experiment to bring decision-making powers over curriculum, hiring and budget issues to school communities.

Parents often switch from LAUSD to private schools, because they perceive them to be safer and believe they offer higher quality academics, parents and educators say.

Or they'll search out homes in places like Torrance or El Segundo just for access to quality public schools.

"You get a heck of a lot more house for the dollar in Westchester than you get in El Segundo," said Terry Marcellus, a member of the Westchester-Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council. "In El Segundo, you get less house for the money because you get to send your kids to the El Segundo schools."

The tidal outflow may be starting to reverse itself.

Stephen Rochelle, principal of Wright Middle, said he has captured more local residents in the past two years. He also acknowledged the district must improve its academic program.

"We need to reform schools, so we can do a better job of educating all children," he said. "When we do a better job, we will get the results we're looking for. Those results will be higher test scores, lower suspension rates, higher attendance rates and high rates of parent satisfaction, teacher satisfaction, student satisfaction."

At Wright, about half the incoming sixth-graders arrive from five local feeders - Cowan Avenue Elementary, Kentwood, Loyola Village Elementary, Paseo del Rey Magnet and Westport Heights Elementary schools.

Of the crop of 306 entering in 2005-06, 162 arrived from local feeders. Another 109 arrived from other LAUSD schools. The remaining 35 moved into the district or transferred in from a private school.

When they leave LAUSD, parents often enroll their sixth-graders in private schools such as the Westside Neighborhood School or Westchester Lutheran School.

Nancy Timmons removed her son from Cowan Avenue Elementary midway through second-grade and enrolled him in Westchester Lutheran.

Her son had been identified as gifted and was often bored in class.

"In LAUSD schools, there's a particular curriculum they have to abide by," Timmons said. "If your child falls outside of that, they will not tailor the curriculum to your child's needs."

The LMU Family of Schools has set a goal of repairing the broken feeder link. Only a small group of students attend LAUSD schools from kindergarten through 12th grade on the Westside.

Drew Furedi, executive director of the LMU Family of Schools, said keeping students on one education path would provide them better continuity in instruction and likely raise achievement.

"The overall thing we're seeing is that parents, now going back several years, are making other choices," Furedi said. "If you're creating those linkages (between the schools), there's greater support for those students going through the pipeline."

Parents have until Jan. 11 to apply for enrollment at LAUSD magnet programs.

Wright and Loyola Village both house magnets, which typically offer smaller school environments and can be attended by any student in the district.

After Jeanette Salazar's son leaves Loyola Village in the spring, he'll likely head to Wright Middle's aerospace magnet.

"Private schools are so expensive," Salazar said. "If they improve the academics at the public middle school, that could be a good decision for me."


by Betty Pleasant, Contributing Editor | LA Wave Newspapers

December 20, 2007 - Marnesba Tackett, the granddaughter of slaves who led the fight to desegregate the city of Los Angeles, went to sleep Sunday night and did not wake up.Tackett was 99 years old and in relative good health when she died in her West Adams home, which 55 years ago became the headquarters for the community organizing, civil defiance, protest demonstrations and legal actions that resulted in the outlawing of restrictive covenants that maintained segregated housing in Los Angeles, that broke open boundaries that kept the public schools segregated and forced the businesses on Crenshaw Boulevard to stop discriminating against black people.

Less than five feet tall, Tackett was a fiery little woman who never took “no” for an answer to anything. She was the recognized mother of civil rights on the West Coast and the driving force that wrested from the entrenched white majority virtually every right African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Hispanics in Los Angeles now take for granted.

Tackett was a civil rights activist since she was 13-years-old and refused to pay for a hot dog at a segregated lunch counter in her Kansas City, Kan., hometown. Having joined the newly formed NAACP as a child, Tackett participated in all the sit-ins, demonstrations and protests held in the 1930s to integrate public schools and other facilities in Kansas City, and then moved on to fight Jim Crow in Tennessee, Georgia and Michigan. Then she came to Los Angeles in 1952 and the city has not been the same since.

“When I came to Los Angeles, I found the same kind of racial discrimination that I found in Kansas City, in Detroit, and very little better than what I found in the south,” Tackett told me during an interview four years ago. Upon arrival here, she immediately set about fighting the racism she saw all around her.

While working at an early job as an insurance agent, Tackett single-handedly forced the insurance industry to drop its practice of devaluing the lives of African-Americans by charging them higher premiums than whites, yet paying them less in benefits. Today, many of the country’s insurance companies are being used by black policy holders for those racist practices of yesteryear.

As chair of the Los Angeles NAACP’s Education Committee, Tackett raised money to pay for the Supreme Court briefs submitted by Thurgood Marshall in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. case that desegregated the nation’s schools in 1954. That done, she turned her attention to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which she found was just as discriminatory as the district in Topeka.

She had textbooks with stereotypical presentations of blacks removed from the classrooms and she filed and won a lawsuit, Crawford vs. LAUSD, to make the Jordan High School facility and environment more conducive to the educational process.

Tackett’s activism had outgrown the constraints of the NAACP, so she created and directed a coalition of like-minded firebrands, called the United Civil Rights Council, which became the most effective civil rights group on the West Coast. UCRC held a series of massive civil rights demonstrations. One, in 1963, had 5,000 people in attendance, which for that period was an impressive number of angry people.

Tackett and her UCRC took on the school board for its racism, the police department for its brutality, the businesses along Crenshaw Boulevard for their refusal to hire black people and the White Citizens Council for its insistence on segregated housing.

Tackett worked with attorney Loren Miller to defeat Los Angeles’ housing covenants in the U.S. Supreme Court, and she and her UCRC stood toe-to-toe with the White Citizens Council against housing discrimination in Torrance, Covina, the San Fernando Valley and other parts of Los Angeles County. She fought the California Real Estate Association’s attempt to legalize housing discrimination in the state, and her success gave rise to the creation of some 40 fair housing groups which today monitor the treatment of minorities who want to live wherever they can afford and which take legal action against housing discriminators.

Tackett served on the board of directors of the Los Angeles Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1966 to 1976 and became SCLC/LA’s first female and first lay executive director. She created the Martin Luther King Legacy Association, Project AHEAD and the Black Agenda Inc., sat on the board and chaired several committees of the NAACP and was the leader of the Community Relations Conference of Southern California.

Born Feb. 4, 1908 in St. Louis, to Elizabeth Edwards and Ivory Adkins, Tackett’s grandparents, Richard and Annie Edwards, were both slaves who were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. She married Joseph Edgar Tackett in 1926, who was the assistant minister at Second Baptist Church when he died in 1958. Her daughter, Hazel Maurie Keller, died in 1988 and her stepson, Joseph Orin Tackett, died in 1978.

She is survived by seven grandchildren, including Michelle Keller Cole and Benjamin H. Keller of Los Angeles; 11 great-grandchildren, which include Terri Keller McRae, Dwayne Godoy and Isaac Keller of Los Angeles, and one great-great grandchild, Lauren Khali McRae.

A private family funeral service will be held Dec. 27, but her granddaughter, Keller Cole, said a public celebration of her life will be held on Feb. 4, 2008, which would have been her 100th birthday.