Wednesday, February 26, 2014


●●smf: I would say half-as-much Arts Ed to twice-as-many students is two steps in two wrong directions! (When you multiply fractions you get less.)

Mary Plummer

Mary Plummer, Education Reporter | Pass / Fail | 89.3 KPCC


Roaming music teacher - Linda Mouradian 7

Ken Scarboro/KPCC

February 26th, 2014, 5:01am  ::  Los Angeles Unified School district is proposing to cut the time that elementary students spend learning how to play musical instruments from a full school year to one semester, to serve more students across the district.

A plan by the Los Angeles Unified School District to cut the time elementary school children are taught orchestra in half is angering teachers - many of whom learned about it only after KPCC reported on the arts budget, which was released unexpectedly at a committee meeting last week.

"I think this is just such a travesty," said Kristin Vanderlip Taylor, a traveling visual arts teacher for elementary students at two schools in the district - Sylmar Leadership Academy and Roscoe Elementary. "I mean, honestly, it's not in the best interest of the students."

Traditionally, schools that get a musical instrument teacher get him or her for the full school year. Now district 0fficials want to cut that to one semester to reach more students. Each of the district's 32 traveling orchestra teachers would serve 10 elementary schools a year starting in the Fall, according to a district report.

The announcement came during a Budget, Facilities and Audit Committee Meeting on Thursday attended by a few dozen people.

L.A. Unified officials did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but during the committee meeting last week, the head of the district’s office of curriculum and instruction said it costs about $65,000 to $80,000 to equip a typical elementary school with a set of instruments.

"We are not proposing to actually increase [the number of instruments] because that would actually raise the budget by $13-16 million," Gerardo Loera said. The district proposes increasing the arts budget by $15.7 million by the 2016-2017 school year, in line with a school board mandate.

In Oct. 2012, the school board unanimously approved a motion to make arts a core subject.

"What core academic subject is only taught for one short period once a week for only one semester and then stops?" asked Michael Spector, an arts teacher who teaches music at five different elementary schools in district.

He said news of the proposal to cut the year-long orchestra program to one semester came as a complete surprise.

The newly released draft budget also showed how officials want to spend the new arts money. A huge chunk of the increase - $9.8 million - would go to hire 101 "arts integration" teachers to show classroom teachers how to integrate arts into subjects like math and history.

Many teachers contacted KPCC after the news broke, expressing doubts about that proposal.

"I think it's another drop in the bucket approach instead of giving more in depth time with individual educators to school sites," said Mary Brown, a traveling visual arts teacher who instructs elementary students at four schools in the northeast San Fernando Valley.

Russ Sperling, president of the California Music Educators Association, which represents more than 7,000 music teachers in the state, told school board members Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff in a letter Tuesday the proposals are "a step in the wrong direction."

"[I]t appears as though the district has no desire to provide an education in the arts with quality as a consideration," he said in the letter.

Sperling wants the district to instead expand certified arts specialists and use arts integration strategies as supplemental.

The district's new arts plan was released last summer without financial details. Those were due July 1, but the date came and went without a budget. School board member Steve Zimmer set another deadline for December - and officials missed that one, too.

In January, Danielle Brazell, the executive director of the arts advocacy group Arts for LA, wrote Superintendent John Deasy asking for the budget. She got no response. Arts for LA then launched a letter writing campaign rallying parents to demand a budget for the arts plan.

At a school board meeting Feb. 11, the board agreed that a budget should be presented in April.

On Thursday, the draft budget was slipped into a meeting of the school board's budget committee meeting following a request from board member Bennett Kayser, who chairs the committee.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


CSFDaily Titan

Opinion By Michael Chen in the Cal State Fullerton Daily Titan |

February 25, 2014  ::  The importance of libraries cannot be understated. Thousands of students across the state use libraries as a quiet haven to study, conduct research and to collaborate with their fellow classmates.

Taking that away from any student would be devastating to their academic success.

Neil Gaiman, a bestselling author, is an avid reader, writer and supporter for local libraries and their well-being.

“Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information,” Gaiman said in a Guardian article.

Libraries are not just a place to find dusty old books, and many students rely on the library for internet and computer access when they have no way of accessing these resources at home.

Libraries and librarians are vital for the success of future college students.

One of the most important factors of school libraries are the librarians in them that assist students with whatever help they need.

Budget cuts in the Los Angeles School District have resulted in those schools having to lay off hundreds of library aides.

Students would not be able to conduct their research for their school projects as well as they could have if they had a librarian helping them through the process.

School librarians are a direct link to improved standardized reading test scores and “studies conducted over the past two decades, both in Colorado and nationwide, show that students in schools with endorsed librarians score better on standardized achievement tests in reading, compared with students in schools without endorsed librarians,” according to the Library Research Service.

Scholastic Corporation, an American book publishing company known for publishing education material for schools and teachers, found that “over the past 20 years, numerous studies have shown that elementary schools with at least one full-time certified teacher-librarian performed better on state tests. In a 2010 study conducted in Colorado, more children scored ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ in reading in schools with a full-time, credentialed librarian than those without.”

While the budget cuts have not affected high schools, only elementary and middle schools, it is during the first stages of education where it is the most vital to make sure students learn to love education.

The thousands of books available in school libraries are a good way to ensure that happens.

“Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. ‘If you want your children to be intelligent,’ he said, ‘read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.’ He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand,” Gaiman said.

Libraries are a fundamental reason for why students succeed. Prioritizing libraries in terms of school budgets is detrimental to the schools and its students.

Budgets should prioritize funding for libraries and librarians as they provide crucial assistance to students on the path to college.


About Michael Chen
Michael Chen is a staff writer from the Spring 2014 COMM 471 class.



Report: No Librarians At Half Of LAUSD Middle, Elementary School Libraries

February 24, 2014 6:10 PM

LOS ANGELES ( cuts in the Los Angeles Unified School District have left about half of the 600 elementary and middle school libraries throughout the city without librarians, according to a report. As campuses across the LAUSD fight to receive extra money for library staffing, an estimated tens of thousands of students face losing regular access to nearly $100 million worth of books across the nation’s second-largest system, the Los Angeles Times reported.

No library in the middle of LAUSD schools

February 24, 2014 8:35 PM

The cuts in the budget of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD for its acronym in English) District have created an educational crisis: about half of 600 primary and secondary librarians do not have . According to the Association of California School Employees, LAUSD has left tens employment of its members since 2011, allowing "illegally" to other people without the necessary credentials to do its job, reported Los Angeles Times .

CALIFORNIA NEEDS THE YOUNG IF IT’S TO THRIVE: Age, not race or ethnicity, matters most for the state's future prosperity.

Op-Ed By Dowell Myers in the LA Times |

February 25, 2014  ::  California is the world's largest experiment in social diversity. It has had no majority racial ethnic group since 1999, when whites fell below 50% of the population. In March, Latinos will become the largest group here, making up 39% of state residents, according to demographers in the state Department of Finance.

The news that California now has more Latinos than any other ethnicity will unavoidably be spun in different ways and spur much pontificating about what California's future holds. But those who focus on the changing racial/ethnic demographics might be missing the point. It is generational shifts, not racial or ethnic ones, that will weigh most heavily on California in the decades to come. And stronger connections between generations will be our salvation.

No racial or ethnic group is projected to hold a majority in California until 2065, when Latinos are expected to reach a majority for the first time since statehood. Earlier estimates by state demographers targeted 2042, but growth in the Latino population has slowed dramatically. Instead, California likely will remain a state of all minorities for another half a century.

It was stunning how quickly the Latino population grew to prominence in California. From 12.1% of the population in 1970, the Latino share leaped to 26% in 1990, then grew more slowly to 37.7% in 2010. Meanwhile, the relatively stable population of 15 million whites represented a smaller and smaller slice of California. General perception, however, has lagged reality: The Latino population boom is over.

The reasons don't spell good news for California. Immigration has dropped sharply from its peak around 1990, and birthrates have plunged since then as well. We now have fewer adults of parenting age — as in the rest of the nation — and also declining numbers of children. These trends have been further aggravated in California by high housing prices and diminished economic opportunities post-2007. It's not just Latino population growth that has slowed, it's the whole state's. When will California reach 50 million residents? Old projections were 2032; now we think 2049.

Slower population growth can be useful; in essence, it can let the state borrow time to catch up on needed infrastructure improvements and reduce environmental impacts. But in California, it is problematic if we have fewer young adults, because we will grow top-heavy with retirees, courtesy of the massive, aging baby boom generation. This imbalance of ages — with more people over 65 and fewer in their prime working years — has big societal implications for employment rates, taxes, the housing market and more.

Our longtime solution — attracting new workers from outside California — is no longer a viable source of relief. Migration, both interstate and from abroad, has been dropping since 1990. And today, California must compete with other states and aging economies from across the industrialized world that are starved for workers because of low birthrates. Alternatively, the effects of an outsized senior population can be tempered (somewhat) by pushing baby boomers to delay retirement for five or even 10 years. But is that even desirable?

Ultimately, the most feasible path to continued California prosperity is to invest in the economic productivity of our youth.

Here is where generational and racial/ethnic demographics converge. Among this older population, some 60% are white, and because older people vote more heavily, whites will remain the majority of voters in the state until about 2032, by my projections. But our youth in training to be future workers and taxpayers are 52% Latino.

It's crucial that these generations get on the same page. White voters may have previously resented Latino population growth, particularly as it indicated more density and congestion and a greater tax burden. But now Latinos' economic well-being will be the underpinning of the whole state.

The emergence of this new plurality should prompt everyone to recognize how central young Latinos are to all Californians' future. Will older voters look backward or forward as they determine how much tax revenue to invest in schools, technical education and universities? Cultivating the potential of the next generation of taxpayers and workers is vital to their own self-interest. The success of the California experiment hinges not just on our multiethnic coexistence but on a partnership between generations.

Dowell Myers is a professor of policy, planning and demography in the Price School of Public Policy at USC.

Scherzo! Barukhzy! Fantoccini! TWO SPELLING BEES END WITH EPIC TIES

Two pairs of spelling contestants duel for hours, forcing judges to suspend competition for a while. In one case, organizers ran out of words.

By Matt Pearce | LA Times |

Jackson County Spelling Bee

Sophia Hoffman, 11, and Kush Sharma, 13, remain tied after more than 60 rounds of spelling at the Jackson County Spelling Bee in Kansas City, Mo. (Jackson County Spelling Bee / February 22, 2014)

February 24, 2014, 8:35 p.m.  ::  I-N-D-E-F-A-T-I-G-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y. Indefatigability means tireless determination, but these students almost certainly know that.

Two spelling bee competitions in the Midwest over the weekend had to be suspended and rescheduled when their brilliant young contestants dueled for hours to a temporary tie, having mastered dozens of bizarre and foreign words at an early age.

After more than 60 rounds of the Jackson County Spelling Bee in Missouri and more than 70 rounds in the DeKalb County Spelling Bee in Illinois, there are no winners.

Two contestants remain in each competition. Each pair was tentatively set for a rematch in two weeks to determine who will head to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

In Kansas City, Mo., Sophia Hoffman, 11, and Kush Sharma, 13, were so good at spelling that the judges ran out of words to give them.

Among the words they got right: "mahout" (an elephant driver); "scherzo" (a musical term); "barukhzy" (an Afghan hound); and "fantoccini" (a puppet show).

"Some of these words I literally don't even know how to say, and I have a master's degree," Anna Francesca Garcia, a co-coordinator for the bee, said Monday.

Organizers said Sophia was particularly worried about "schadenfreude" — right before she spelled it correctly.

Schadenfreude means feeling joy from the suffering of others. There appeared to be none of that at Saturday's competition in Kansas City, organizers said.

The 9 a.m. event began with 25 spellers, 23 of whom were eliminated in two hours. Former contestants stayed to cheer on Kush and Sophia as they battled into the afternoon.

That spirit infused Kush and Sophia too.

"This entire time they were extremely supportive of each other," Mary Olive Thompson, an outreach manager for the Kansas City Public Library, said of the pair.

"He's very good, very intelligent. … She was very intelligent too," Kush's father, A.K. Sharma, told the Kansas City Star, adding that it was his son's first competition at the county level.

The organizers started with a list of prepared words from Scripps, but had to turn to the dictionary for more when neither Kush nor Sophia could defeat the other.

"It was like watching a tennis match going back and forth," Thompson said.

The face-off had lasted more than four hours when organizers decided to halt the competition so the next words could be picked more carefully. Organizers wanted to ensure that each contestant got equally difficult words to spell.

"If I had my way, it would be great to send both of them as Jackson County Spelling Bee champions, because they're both phenomenal," Thompson said.

A similar battle stretched for hours in DeKalb County, Ill., on Saturday as Matthew Rogers, 13, and Keith Mokry, 14, conquered such obscure words as "trepak" (a Ukrainian folk dance), "issei" (a Japanese immigrant) and "Weimaraner" (a breed of dog), according to the Daily Chronicle.

Over 3 1/2 hours and 74 rounds, the crowd thinned out until only the boys' families, the contest administrators and a local reporter remained, according to Amanda Christensen, the event's coordinator.

The duel almost came to an end when Matthew misspelled "punctilio," a word for a small point of procedure.

And a punctilio is what ended up giving Matthew a second shot at spelling a different word when his parents appealed to the judges, who agreed that the announcer had mispronounced the word, Christensen said.

The event was eventually put on hold, with the final showdown tentatively scheduled in two weeks. The organizers still had words to give the contestants, but things were getting a little out of hand.

"They had been on stage for 3 1/2 hours," Christensen said. "They hadn't had lunch. It was time to call a rematch."

Such marathon sessions are not unheard of: The Etowah County Spelling Bee in Alabama reportedly went for 79 rounds this month before Joshua Kelley claimed the championship.


by Vanessa Romo, LA School Report |

Former Mayor Villaraigosa

Posted on February 24, 2014  ::  Former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has thrown himself into the District 1 special election race by endorsing Genethia Hudley-Hayes, one of 13 candidates running to join the LA Unified School Board.

Former Mayor Villaraigosa >>

Hudley-Hayes, who served as school board president until she lost her seat to the late Marguerite LaMotte in 2003, released a list of endorsers this morning.

The election is scheduled for June, with a runoff, if needed, on Aug. 12.

In addition to Villariagosa, the list includes Mayor Richard Riordan, U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass, California State Senator Holly Mitchell, civil rights activist Connie Rice, former LA City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, retired pastor of First AME Church, Cecil Murray and Carolynn Martin, a regional leader of the National Council of Negro Woman and member of the board of Parent Revolution.

Bass’ support is notable in that she had been an early backer of George McKenna, who is also running for the seat.


2cents small Where is Mayor Sam when we need him?  With all the other former mayors committed to running school districts in-the-worst-way, can former Mayor Bloomberg be far behind?

IF YOU BUILD IT: "What if you could bring back shop class but this time orient the projects around things that the community needed?"

Oakland's Emily Pilloton retools shop class with conscience

by Jessica Zack in the San Francisco Chronicle |

Mikaela James, 9, gains guidance from architect Emily Pilloton while using a miter saw during a class on how to fix things. Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle
Mikaela James, 9, gains guidance from architect Emily Pilloton while using a miter saw during a class on how to fix things. Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle


February 23, 2014   ::  In a clip from her 2010 TED Talk that opens the new documentary "If You Build It," Oakland architect and teacher Emily Pilloton asks, "What if you could bring back shop class but this time orient the projects around things that the community needed?"

 [full TED talk follows]

Out with the trivets and birdhouses from old-time high school woodworking. In with a new kind of conscientious, youth-led "design-thinking" curriculum that Pilloton described in a recent interview as "students themselves determining what could make their community better and saying, 'I'm going to fix that. I'll build it myself.' "

That desire to infuse public education, as well as the design industry at large, with a sense of engaged citizenship and real-world purpose is at the heart of "If You Build It," as well as central to Pilloton's recent experiences teaching construction know-how to students at the Realm Charter School in Berkeley.

Directed by Patrick Creadon, "If You Build It" follows the 2010-11 school year that Pilloton, 32, spent teaching an experimental design workshop to high school juniors in one of North Carolina's poorest counties. Called Studio H (for its focus on "humanity, habitats, health and happiness"), the course was an offshoot of Pilloton's nonprofit Project H, a hybrid design firm/advocacy group she founded in 2008 to promote and teach socially engaged design.

In the film, architects Pilloton and (her former boyfriend) Matthew Miller ignite in their students a passion for hands-on problem solving. Yet despite the culminating class project of an outdoors farmers' market and enthusiastic response from the residents of Windsor, N.C., the local school board withdrew financial support from Pilloton's innovative program.

"I see the film as a call to action," says Pilloton, who landed back in the Bay Area energized to instill in students here, particularly young girls, "the feeling that they're capable of more than they realized."

At a recent after-school I Can Fix Anything class for fourth-grade through eighth-grade girls at Realm Middle School, Pilloton oversaw 10 girls making benches from scrap wood.

"Some girls start the class shy or hesitant, but I've been floored by how quickly they will literally grab the welder out of my hands," says Pilloton, who grew up in Kentfield and received her architecture degree from UC Berkeley. "There is something powerful about using these intimidating tools and developing an irreverent confidence. I can see it in their eyes. It's like, 'I just used metal, I dare you to tell me there is something I can't do.' "

"I love being here because you can build whatever you can think of, without anyone telling you exactly what to do," says 9-year-old Azusa James, pushing up the arms of her glittery sweatshirt and putting on safety goggles before picking up an impact driver.

This summer, Pilloton will offer her second annual session of Camp H for girls at Realm.

Pilloton says she feels a special connection with this age group of girls, remembering growing up in Marin with a Chinese mother and French father and "feeling like I didn't belong anywhere."

Discovering a love of architecture "was that perfect outlet for being a happy nerd about everything - math, material science, the environment, geography. Architecture is the one thing that combines the right and left sides of the brain seamlessly."

A self-described "contrarian" who is "not at all good with authority," Pilloton became disillusioned with conventional approaches to design as a student and then as a store architect for a global retail clothing company. "I just couldn't have another three-hour meeting about what doorknob to spec," she says.

She walked away from corporate work after a few years and launched Project H from her parents' dining room table with $1,000 in savings.

The core of Pilloton's design philosophy - evident in her teaching (all Studio H lessons and project plans are available for free online at and in her 2009 book, "Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People" - is a commitment to "build things that actually make the world better for people in some way."

Last year Pilloton's Realm students built additional classroom space from corrugated shipping containers. The eighth-grade class is now designing a student library since, Pilloton says, "the school ran out of money before completing its renovation.

"The projects are completely student-driven. To me, that's the best way to do community-based work. I have a designer's skill set to offer, but the what and the why have to come from the kids themselves."

…when you watch Pilloton’s talk, substitute the word “urban” for “rural”. They are only words, let’s not be limited by them..

trailer for IF YOU BUILD IT

If You Build It: Opens Friday at Bay Area theaters.

in L.A.: March 12 + March 16 Architecture and Design Film Festival  | Los Angeles Theatre Center | 514 Spring Street | Los Angeles, CA 85251

For more information  go to

Monday, February 24, 2014


A dispute over the name of a sea pits Japan's economic clout against Korean Americans' growing political influence.

By Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times |


February 23, 2014, 8:57 p.m.  ::  WASHINGTON — It's not the usual question considered in U.S. state capitols: What to call the body of water between Japan and the Korean peninsula?

Virginia's governor is poised to sign legislation that would answer that question. It would require new public school textbooks in the state to note that the Sea of Japan is also referred to as the East Sea in the region. New Jersey and New York are considering similar legislation.

The issue is about more than geography.

It has pitted the economic clout of Japan, whose ambassador hinted that the legislation could cost Virginia foreign business, against the increasing political influence of the growing Korean American population, who regard the use of "Sea of Japan" as a painful reminder of the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula.

"I can understand why people might ask why we, at a state level, are meddling with something that is international," said Mark L. Keam, a Korean American member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

imageBut for Korean Americans, Japan's 35-year colonial rule of the Korean peninsula, which ended in 1945, is a "period that they cannot forget that affects them even to this day," he said. During the legislative debate, he told colleagues that memories of the Japanese occupation still cause emotions to boil up in his mother, who is in her late 70s.

●●smf: This is is far too sensitive an issue for politicians or school boards to settle – let’s just let the textbook companies figure it out. >>

"When Virginia's kids are learning history and geography about that part of the world, they should be taught properly that there are two sides of the story," he said in an interview.

The Japanese government hired lobbyists to try to defeat the bill, and its ambassador, Kenichiro Sasae, warned newly elected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a letter that the "positive cooperation and the strong economic ties between Japan and Virginia may be damaged" if the bill becomes law.

The Virginia legislation, nonetheless, passed by wide margins with bipartisan support.

Still, there were some dissenters. State Sen. John Miller, a Democrat who cast a "no" vote, said: "This issue is way beyond the scope of the General Assembly of Virginia, and I have grave concerns where this going to lead.... In a year or two, somebody is going to say every time we refer to the Civil War, it's also known as the War of Northern Aggression. Where does it end?"

The actions have been closely watched on the other side of the world, where the sea's name has been debated for decades. It's one of a number of issues that have strained relations between Seoul and Tokyo, along with a territorial dispute over islets between the two countries and lingering Korean wounds — and demands for compensation — over Japan's use of Korean "comfort women" who were forced to work in a network of brothels established by the Japanese military.

After a bill similar to Virginia's measure was introduced in New Jersey, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called it "extremely regrettable" and pledged a "response through diplomatic channels."

On the other hand, South Korean officials have welcomed the Virginia legislation.

Peter Kim, a Korean immigrant living in Virginia, launched the effort to pass the legislation after seeing his son's fifth-grade textbook. Kim had been taught to call the body of water the East Sea. "I was shocked that my son recognized it as the Sea of Japan," he said.

Kim said he had been invited to Los Angeles to speak to Korean Americans about taking up the cause there. In California, some textbooks use both names; others use "Sea of Japan," said a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. A Los Angeles Unified School District spokesman said its textbooks use "Sea of Japan."

Of all states, California has the largest number of people of Korean descent — an estimated 540,000, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. New York and New Jersey are next. Virginia has 89,000 people of Korean descent, up from 53,000 in 2000 and 34,000 in 1990, according to the institute.

The issue has put McAuliffe in a tough spot. "He has Japanese businesses and diplomats after him over promising the Korean American community this change," said Geoffrey Skelley at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "At the end of the day, he can't have it both ways. He'll either have to sign it into law and anger the Japanese or veto it and anger the much larger Virginia Korean American community."

A spokesman for the governor said he would sign the bill.

The Korean and Japanese governments have posted extensive arguments online, reproducing old maps, citing historical documents and providing extensive lists showing how modern mapmakers and publications describe the sea.

Korean officials contend that "East Sea" was in use for hundreds of years and that "Sea of Japan" superseded it only because Korea was once under Japanese rule.

Japanese officials contend "Sea of Japan" has been used on maps dating to 1602 and dismiss "East Sea" as "nothing but a local name" used only in South Korea.

The National Geographic Society, citing the dispute, decided in 1999 to add "East Sea" below "Sea of Japan" on its maps — in parentheses.

At the U.S. State Department, which seems to want to steer clear of the controversy, officials say: "We encourage Japan and Korea to work together to reach a mutually agreeable way forward with the International Hydrographic Organization on this issue."


Budget cuts leave about half of L.A. Unified's elementary and middle schools without librarians, and thousands of students without books.

By Teresa Watanabe, LA Times |

Raising their hands, Alexa Martinez, 7, back row, left; Jennifer Hernandez, 6; Helen Hernandez, 7; and Noe Ortiz, 6, are eager to answer a question from library aide Cindy Ramirez after reading the book "Abe Lincoln's Hat" at San Pedro Elementary School in Los Angeles.

Hands raised  ::  Raising their hands, Alexa Martinez, 7, back row, left; Jennifer Hernandez, 6; Helen Hernandez, 7; and Noe Ortiz, 6, are eager to answer a question from library aide Cindy Ramirez after reading the book "Abe Lincoln's Hat" at San Pedro Elementary School in Los Angeles. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times /February 13, 2014)

February 23, 2014, 4:39 p.m.  ::  In the sun-filled space at the Roy Romer Middle School library, thousands of books invite students to stimulate their curiosity and let their imaginations soar. There is classic "Tom Sawyer" and popular "Harry Potter," biographies of Warren Buffett and Tony Blair, illustrated books on reptiles and comets.

But the library has been locked. The tables and chairs have been empty. That's because budget cuts in the Los Angeles Unified School District have eliminated hundreds of library aides, leaving Romer's library unstaffed for months at a time over the last four years.

Principal Cristina Serrano said the situation has handicapped students — especially as new state learning standards require them to use more research in their papers and projects.

"The students need access to books; they need guidance on how to use the library for research," she said. "But funding is not easy for us."

Romer isn't the only L.A. Unified library that has had trouble. About half of the 600 elementary and middle school libraries are without librarians or aides, denying tens of thousands of students regular access to nearly $100 million worth of books, according to district data.

The crisis has exacerbated educational inequalities across the nation's second-largest system, as some campuses receive extra money for library staff and others don't. It has also sparked a prolonged labor conflict with the California School Employees Assn., which represents library aides.

Since 2011, the union has alleged that L.A. Unified laid off their members, then illegally allowed parent volunteers, instructional aides and others to do their work at nearly four dozen campuses. The district issued a bulletin last year clarifying that library work can be performed only by those with proper credentials, but the union asserts that violations are still occurring. The issue is set for a hearing by the state Public Employment Relations Board in May.

Franny Parrish, a library aide involved in the union's unfair practice charge, said the issue is not only jobs, but the security of L.A. Unified's $205-million library book collection. Without trained staff to make sure books are properly checked out, returned and refiled, she said, thousands have gone missing.

Aiming to stem the problems, the Los Angeles Board of Education recently agreed to form a districtwide task force to seek ways to improve access to school libraries with more dollars, alternative arrangements and collaboration with other public libraries and charitable organizations. The move was brought forward by board member Monica Ratliff, a former teacher who saw firsthand the boost that school libraries gave her students at San Pedro Elementary in the low-income downtown Los Angeles garment district.

"Children love books, love reading and love information," Ratliff said. "But what's happening now is an inequitable distribution of resources. Some schools make it work and others don't. It's extremely problematic."

L.A. Unified paid for library staff in every school before the recession began in 2008. Today, it provides librarians in high schools but leaves most elementary and middle school campuses to make tough choices on whether to use their limited discretionary funds on library aides, nurses, counselors or other key staff. At Romer, Serrano said, parents' first priority has been a full-time nurse. But she recently secured federal funds to reopen the library next month.

Wide disparities have emerged among the system's seven districts. In the east and southeast Los Angeles area, for instance, 57% of libraries are unstaffed compared to 26% in the district covering south Los Angeles, according to L.A. Unified data.

Of 500 primary centers and elementary campuses, the district still directly pays for library aides at only 80 — those with significant African American student populations — as part of a 2011 civil rights settlement with the federal government.

In other schools such as Wonderland, active and more affluent parents have raised private funds to restore their library aides. At Lorne St. Elementary in Northridge, parent April Dobson organized a successful campaign to restore their library aide, featuring 1,000 protest letters, a public "read-in" event and calls to elected officials.

"Our parents were willing to speak up because we didn't feel it was appropriate to close our libraries and deny access to children," Dobson said. "But it concerns me to realize that we solved the problem for our children but that so many other schools are suffering from this."

The problem is magnified for many children in low-income neighborhoods who live in "print-deficient environments" with few books at home, Ratliff said.

A 2004 study by Stephen Krashen, a linguist and USC professor emeritus, found that children in low-income neighborhoods had access to fewer books or high-quality bookstores and libraries.

Krashen said his research and countless other studies have found that library access can help reduce the effects of poverty on reading achievement. His 2012 analysis of an international reading test in 40 countries found that access to a library with at least 500 books was nearly as strongly related to test scores as poverty.

At San Pedro Elementary, where nearly three-fourths of students are learning English and 85% are from low-income families, the school advisory council decided that developing literacy was so important that they chose to pay for a full-time library aide.

During a recent visit to the school's library, first-grader Marlene Sanchez clutched a popular book about a talking dog, "Martha Speaks," and said her weekly library visits were among her favorite parts of school.

"I don't have a bookshelf at home," she said. "It costs a lot of money and we can't buy books. But I would love to fill a bookshelf with books."

The school uses the library to promote its "million word campaign," which features a computer program that quizzes students on each book read and tallies up their word counts. Last year, 120 of the 750 students hit the mark — an eighth-grade standard — and the school posts pictures every month of its most voracious readers. Despite the preponderance of students not fluent in English, half of those who took state standardized tests last year were at grade level in reading.

"We ask our students to read daily," said Principal Hector Carreno, "and if the library were closed it would be hard for them to do so."

Sunday, February 23, 2014


By Dakota Smith, Los Angeles Daily News |

Julie Carson, a GED teacher at North Valley Occupational Center, speaks at a gathering of parents, teachers and students at Esperanza Elementary School in Los Angeles, Wednesday, February 19, 2014, to express their frustration that Superintendent John Deasy is redirecting construction bond funds to buy iPads instead of funding school repairs. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker/L.A. Daily News)

2/19/14, 8:32 PM PST |  ::  Critics of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s $1 billion iPad program gathered Wednesday outside a downtown school to call for money to be used on school repairs and funding for teachers.

Standing outside Esperanza Elementary School, Matthew Kogan, a teacher and creator of the Facebook page “Repairs Not iPads,” accused district Superintendent John Deasy of neglecting basic services at district schools.

The iPad program launched in 47 schools this fall and is being paid for in part by voter-approved construction bonds.

“The bond was intended for repairs and construction ... that money is going for a vanity project,” Kogan said.

Since going live in December, Kogan’s Facebook site has earned more than 1,000 “likes” and features photos of broken school bathrooms, cracked floors and other unsightly images in district facilities. District teachers have shared many of the photos eager to show off the neglect at their schools.

Koegan was joined Wednesday by a dozen students, teachers and parents.

“We have ancient portable classrooms here, where the walls are falling apart and we have termite damage, and like a lot of schools, paint that’s crumbling,” Esperanza Elementary first-grade teacher Anne Zerrien-Lee said.

During an event earlier in the day at City Hall, Deasy declined to comment on the planned protest or the Facebook page.

“I don’t participate in Facebook,” Deasy said. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a Facebook account.”

He also suggested the media was focusing too much on the iPad controversy.

“Sometimes I think you all make the issue, as oppose to (focusing on) the students having the equipment they need to take their state tests,” Deasy said.

The iPad program has been criticized for its cost as well as technical and administrative problems, such as students being able to erase digital safeguards and browse unauthorized websites.

Los Angeles Unified’s long-range plan is to give all of its 600,000 students computer tablets.


2cents small Dr. Deasy’s predecessor as superintendent didn’t do e-mail – but he had staff who did it for him!  LAUSD has a Facebook page. Here’s a picture of Dr. Deasy and visiting Hong Kong educators from it, posted last week:

If Dr. Deasy, who used this same “I don’t have a Facebook Account” excuse last week is claiming that he is totally unaware of the “Repairs not iPads” controversy he is frighteningly out of the loop and surrounded by the similarly intentionally ignorant.

As the to state test:  The test is:

  1. Whether schools have the equipment they need to take the test and
  2. Whether the equipment they have works and
  3. Whether the test itself works.

It is not a test that tests students’ knowledge or teachers’ teachings. There will be no student scores or teacher scores. It tests whether the hardware and software works and as such is is educationally meaningless. It’s the same as when the State of CA checks to see if the Smog Checking Equipment at the Smog Test Shops works.

Only this and nothing more.


By Susan Frey | EdSource Today

Ruth Gomez, left, Lisa Lacambra, Marivic Quiba and Isela Ramirez, all graduates of the PTA's School Smarts program, prepare to serve parents new to the program dinner before the training session begins. Photo credit: Neil Hanshaw

February 19th, 2014 | With 117 years of promoting parent involvement under its collective belt, the PTA thinks it has the right formula for training parents in their new watchdog role under California’s reformed school finance and accountability system.

<< From left, Ruth Gomez, Lisa Lacambra, Marivic Quiba and Isela Ramirez, all graduates of the PTA’s School Smarts program, prepare to serve dinner at a training session at Sunshine Gardens Elementary. Credit: Neil Hanshaw

The PTA program, called School Smarts, is aimed at giving elementary school parents the tools they need to advocate for their children and their school. The program includes a seven-week series of night meetings, held at school sites, that highlight the importance of parent involvement for their children’s success; explain how the school system works at the state, district and school level; and offer effective strategies to use to advocate for change.

School Smarts is being piloted in 14 school districts and 50 schools throughout California, including Sunshine Gardens Elementary in South San Francisco.

On a recent Thursday evening at Sunshine Gardens, about two dozen families gathered for dinner before the parents participated in the second weekly School Smarts training session. The sessions last from about 6:30 until 8 p.m. Child care is provided for the children in the cafeteria, while their parents attend the session in a nearby classroom.

Kimberly Abalos and her daughter, Ruthie, help set out plates for the parent dinner at Sunshine Gardens Elementary in South San Francisco. Photo credit: Neil Hanshaw

Kimberly Abalos and her daughter, Ruthie, help set out plates for the parent dinner at Sunshine Gardens Elementary. Credit: Neil Hanshaw

Parents who have graduated from the program came to dish out the enchiladas, rice and beans and help the new parents – many new to the country as well as California’s public school system – get acclimated.

The graduates said the program has been transformative.

Erica Sanchez Vallejo, who graduated from the program three years ago, is from Mexico. “Over there parents do not get involved in education,” she said. “Here the focus is on educating the parents and being involved with your child even if you don’t know English. I want to see my daughter go all the way to college and graduate. This is what this program has taught me.”

Isela Ramirez said she has become more involved with her children since graduating from the program, expanding their learning beyond the normal school day.

“I read to them daily,” she said. “They’re involved in sports. I take them to the library. I do arts and crafts with them. I keep them engaged.”

She also attends more school functions, including school board meetings, and has become vice president of the campus PTA. “I feel like I have a voice,” she said.

Ryan Wibawa – who came with his family, including his now 10-year-old son Vincent, to the United States two years ago from Indonesia – was attending his second session of the program. An engineer, Wibawa said he is eager to learn more about the school system and hopes to be involved in making decisions about the use of technology. He too notes a difference between the education system in his home country and here.

Ryan Wibawa and his son, Vincent, share dinner before the PTA School Smarts training session. Photo credit: Neil Hanshaw

<< Ryan Wibawa and his son, Vincent, share dinner before the PTA School Smarts training session. Credit: Neil Hanshaw

“In Indonesia, they are focused on test scores,” he said. “Children know what to do, but they don’t know why they need to do it. Here children are encouraged to be creative.”

“I like it here better,” piped up Vincent.

Colleen You, president of the statewide PTA, said that the School Smarts curriculum is based on research on how to involve parents, and was positively evaluated after its first year in 2010-11 by SRI International. The researchers found that the vast majority of parents felt much better informed about how to support their children at home and at school after the program than they had before. They also expressed a much greater willingness to become involved in various school committees and said they better understood how to make changes at their school.

Each year, the School Smarts curriculum is revised, You said. This year, session 3 is about the state’s Local Control and Accountability Plan, which requires districts to include parents in deciding how funds should be spent to improve student achievement.

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation is funding the pilot program at no cost to schools. But Alameda Unified was so impressed with the pilot that it decided to make it a district program, this year allocating $5,000 for each of its 10 elementary schools. The funds cover child care, interpreters, materials, a light dinner and a stipend for a coordinator.

Often graduates of the program teach the classes.

“Those graduates can empathize with the struggles of the new parents,” said Barbara Adams, assistant superintendent at Alameda Unified.

Adams said that School Smarts graduates are participating at all levels in her district: school site councils, English learner advisory committees and the new Local Control and Accountability Committee. School Smarts gives parents an opportunity to “build their self-confidence, know that their advocacy for their child is important, and learn how to advocate in ways that result in the action they are hoping to achieve,” she said.

Lidia Munoz shows the mask she made representing her son, Joel, who is interested in math and infinite numbers. She used the pi sign for pupils in the eyes. Photo credit: Neil Hanshaw

Lidia Munoz shows the mask she made representing her son, Joel, who is interested in math and infinite numbers. Credit: Neil Hanshaw >>

Creativity is also part of the lesson plan in School Smarts, which includes an art project in most of the sessions. Part of the program’s goal is to turn parents into advocates for including arts in the curriculum.

On this Thursday, Sunshine Gardens parents gathered in the 5th grade classroom of teacher Michelle Carabes, who leads the PTA training sessions. Her room is an advertisement for how to use art to make other subjects, such as math, come alive.

Not an inch of wall space is spared, as children’s colorful projects dominate the room, even hanging in the air from clotheslines. One clothesline holds a series of flowers called “Blooming Facts,” a project in which students assign numbers to the letters in their first name (A=1; B=2, etc.), then add up the numbers to determine whether their “name” is a prime number or a composite. Students show how many factors are in their name’s number by drawing petals for each factor on the flowers they have created.

The parents’ project that Thursday – to make paper masks that represent their child – also gives them a chance to get to know each other. Parents from different cultures and economic backgrounds sit on short, kid-sized chairs around tables, exchanging ideas, materials and laughter.

After completing their masks, one parent from each table held up a mask and explained it.

Lidia Munoz, who has a 5th grade daughter at Sunshine Gardens, chose to depict her 17-year-old son, Joel. Joel is focused on math, particularly the issue of infinity. She made the pupils in the mask’s eyes the mathematical sign of pi, an infinite number.

Kimberly Abalos held up a pink mask with a tiara representing her daughter, Ruthie, 7, who loves books, dance and fantasy. “I gave her only one ear,” Abalos quipped, “because she halfway listens to me.”

Wibawa’s mask of the quick-to-comment Vincent had an exclamation mark in the mouth.

The art element is a favorite among parents. “I reconnected with the artist in me after so many years,” said Marivic Quiba, a graduate of the program.

Roberto Minero works on a mask to represent his child at a training session for parents at Sunshine Gardens Elementary. Photo credit: Neil Hanshaw

<< Roberto Minero works on a mask to represent his child at a training session for parents at Sunshine Gardens. Credit: Neil Hanshaw

Quiba summed up what she learned from School Smarts in a speech at a Parent Engagement Night meeting at Sunshine Gardens, held to encourage parents to sign up for the training program.

The program has showed her that “learning begins at home, then at school, then back home – it’s just a cycle,” she said. “It’s taught me how to get involved, to understand the school system, to know your child’s progress and what they’re learning.”

School Smarts has also taught her “to be visible,” she said, “to speak up for the children to ensure they receive the education they so richly deserve.”


Going deeper

More information on the School Smarts parent engagement program


Marshall team members forge friendships, gain confidence and learn as they train for the statewide competition after winning the L.A. Unified contest.

By Alicia Banks, LA Times  |

Academic Decathlon coach Larry Welch talks to members of the John Marshall High School team.

Academic Decathlon coach Larry Welch talks to members of the John Marshall High School team. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

February 22, 2014, 3:00 p.m.  ::  Kenneth Huh and his parents have the same conversation over and over at the dinner table. They want to discuss the John Marshall High School junior's medals in the speech and interview portions of the Academic Decathlon earlier this month.

Kenneth, 16, suffers from hearing loss in both ears and the impairment affects his speech as well. He has trouble pronouncing words beginning with H, S and Z.

His parents, Kenneth said, are proud of him for those awards. "They don't bring up my six other medals, like in art and math," he said, smiling.

Winning the medals culminated in what he describes as "the best week of my life." Before joining the decathlon team, he isolated himself. Those who were nerdy or shy, or those with disabilities, he said, were his only friends.

"Joining decathlon, I was the odd one out, but as I got to know [the team members] more, I got included and felt better about myself," Kenneth said. "Now, one of my favorite things to do is say 'hi' to random people in the hallway or outside."

Members of Marshall's nine-member decathlon team have learned about themselves and one another, along with the 10 academic subjects they needed to know for the grueling competition. This year, the Los Feliz school beat out all other L.A. Unified campuses; Marshall will go on to compete in Sacramento next month. The school placed first in the L.A. Unified competition in 2010 and won the district's first national title in 1995.

Aside from Kenneth, Marshall's team members are Aninda Bhowmick, Kimiyo Bremer, Alexander Guillen, Ha Min Ko, John Lascano, Wen Lee, Alayna Myrick and Marvin Paparisto. The team consists of A, B and C students. The coach is Larry Welch.

Granada Hills Charter, which placed second in the L.A. Unified competition and has won three consecutive national titles, will also compete at state. One of Granada's coaches, Mathew Arnold, said team morale remains high.

"The school has done a great job of supporting the team, nurturing it and helping it grow," Arnold said. "It's part of the school culture."

At Marshall, study sessions start at 2 p.m. and are held six hours a day, six days a week. Students zip between rooms on the school's third floor and receive help from teachers and former team members Amy Tan, who is a co-coach in math, and Stanford University freshman Kevin Martinez, who specializes in economics.

Speech and interview practice start at 3:30 p.m. The boys slip into pressed blazers. To warm up, some read Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" with a cork between their teeth. The team's only girls, Kimiyo and Alayna, change into high heels over their mismatched socks. Alayna practiced her speech about family and baseball; her gaze never veered from the lockers a few feet away.

She joined the team after shattering her ankle playing softball. She wanted to feel part of a group again.

Alexander has a different story. He stopped attending decathlon practices last summer to continue playing varsity football. But he came around after his mother and Welch implored him to return to the decathlon team.

He said participating in decathlon eased his mother's fears that Alexander would drop out of school, as his brother did a few years ago.

He won nine medals at the competition, five of them gold.

"My brother told me 'You're going places.' It was the proudest look I've ever seen on his face," Alexander said. "To have that from my mother and brother was the greatest satisfaction I could have. I thanked Mr. Welch for that after the city win."

On a recent evening, the team discussed a practice economics exam. One question stumped the students — except Kimiyo.

"Yes! I got it. Do you want me to explain it?" she asked excitedly, as the group broke into laughter.

She said she joined the team as a way to challenge herself and as a way to thank her mother, a single parent, for working hard to support her.

Aninda joined decathlon after a trip to Bangladesh a few years ago. He saw throngs of children begging for taka, the country's currency, and he met a boy of about 13 who quit school to work in a car repair shop to support his family.

"It changed me and motivated me to use my time and the opportunities I had for myself," Aninda said. "Their lives aren't great and yet, I have a decently pretty good life. I was wasting it."

He started as a C student his first year and moved up to the B group. His parents were suspicious, wondering if Aninda truly was attending decathlon sessions — until his report card showed six A's and two Bs. His father cried.

Aninda didn't do it alone.

"Whenever someone has a problem or [is] feeling down, everyone gathers to help them out with a little intervention, if you will," Aninda said. "I had trouble with confidence before decathlon, but now I know I can do anything."

The group ended the recent study session by testing one another's strength with push-ups. On Valentine's Day, they played air hockey, activities that Welch sprinkles throughout the study sessions to keep the atmosphere fun.

Some students call him the father of the group. It fits — especially because Welch doesn't have children.

Welch worked with Kenneth on his pronunciation and articulation three months before the competition. Kenneth won a gold medal in speech and a silver medal in interview.

"The work that Mr. Welch does for us is insane," Alexander said, noting that the coach spent two years trying to convince him to try decathlon. "I've never seen someone dedicate themselves the way that he deals with us. Props to him."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


US Weekly Celebrity News  by OMG! Staff |

Michael Clarke Duncan and Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth

Omarosa says Michael Clarke Duncan's death inspired her to run for the Los Angeles Unified School District school board. Credit: Maury Phillips/

February 19, 2014 AT 3:30PM   ::  Omarosa Manigault is hoping to go from the boardroom to the school board.

The provocative star of "The Apprentice" has announced that her next gig will not be continuing her reign as a reality TV villainess. Instead, Donald Trump's crafty contestant is on a quest to help public school children by running for the Los Angeles Unified School District school board.

On Friday, the late Michael Clarke Duncan's fiancée filed her paperwork to make a bid for the vacant District 1 seat. It's a special election to replace Marguerite LaMotte, who died last year, and at least 10 others are vying for the spot. The election will be held on June 3 and the winner will finish LaMotte's term of an additional year.

While this may seem a little out of left field for some (those who only know her for her colorful TV antics), the 40-year-old has long been an advocate for education, she tells Yahoo. She grew up in the projects in Youngstown, Ohio, where she went to public schools and witnessed tragedy. She then went on to graduate Central State University in Ohio and complete her master's degree and doctorate studies at Howard University. She's been teaching for more than a decade at the university level, including currently for Howard's executive MBA program (for which she also serves on the board).

"I'm surpised by the reaction that I've received," Omarosa tells Yahoo about the attention she's received over her campaign announcement. "My life's work didn't start when I walked into Donald Trump's boardroom. I have been working and advocating long before I ever got on television. To me, that's important for people to know. It's time for me to break out of that 'Apprentice' persona and do something meaningful to help people."

Omarosa, who also studied to become a minister and is a full-time assistant pastor at a L.A. church, says she's been advocating for special needs students for the last 14 years, and quietly completed the process to become certified as a LAUSD-certified special education substitute teacher last fall. Because of her new role as a sub with the school district, she was aware when LaMotte, whom she knew, died suddenly of a heart attack. With her own loss — Duncan also died of a heart attack in 2012 — it hit home.

"After Michael died, I was in a low place and I needed something that inspired me — and it reconnected me," she said of working with special needs students. "That's how I was so aware of what was going on with the school board. I've also been out advocating about heart health since Michael died of his heart attack, so to know this woman and see that she was a strong champion in the community… There are so many more layers than just me running for this spot."

Omarosa, who has also worked as educational director for the Los Angeles Clippers Youth Hoops Camp and director of education and research for Bill and Camille Cosby's National Visionary Leadership Project, said that it was her position at her church which turned her on to the needs of the younger members of her community. Children talked about not feeling safe in their schools, so that is a big part of her campaign. She also has a strong background in telecommunications and thinks that will help the troubled school district, which committed a billion dollars for technology into their schools last year, spending 30 million on iPads last year. (The school system has about 640,000 students; 300,000 of which fall into District 1, she says.)

"I think people know I'm educated, but they don't know that my masters and doctorate study was in the digital divide and telecommunications. My educational focus has always been telecommunication policy, so I'll bring a unique perspective in this situation," she says. "Additionally, at Howard University where I teach, our executive MBA program is an completely online program. I'm already implementing and utilizing a digital curriculum on the college level, so I can be an asset showing best practices in incorporating technology into the K through 12 classrooms."

"My own personal success comes from hard work and education," she says. "I'm the product of a public education system. When people ask, 'What's your experience?' Here's my experience: I grew up in the projects. I took what I had and created a successful life out of it. … And I hope that some kids say, 'Wait, she grew up in the projects?' The violence I suffered — my brother was murdered, my father was murdered, my classmates. I'm not just saying this, I sincerely believe I can connect with the kids. I think my story will resonate with them and their parents.”

If she wins the vote, she'll have to utilize many of her talents from "Apprentice" — she also appeared in "Celebrity Apprentice" last year — while on the job.

"Because it's a special election, the person who wins has to hit the ground running. There's no time to train, for explanations, or anything. I think America has seen me in the boardroom, in high-pressure situations. I've been in a pressure cooker and I had 28 million eyeballs on me while I was doing it," she says.

Plus, she's just trying to find new ways to give back after enduring her personal loss when Duncan died. After saying she's doing better these days, she shared a story about visiting a doctor after her fiancé passed and asking for mood-stabilizing medication to help her cope.


2cents small They can’t print it in the tabloids if it isn’t true: 300,000 of LAUSD’s 640,000 students come from District 1.  Does the redistricting commission know about this?


by Alan Singer from the Huffington Post |


I received an email from a kindergarten teacher who wrote, "the Pearson-designed assessments for the enVisionMATH curriculum are confusing to children. Teachers have to reformat all of the graphics . . . I find it unconscionable that we pay Pearson to put out shoddy material which assumes too much symbolic understanding on the part of 5 year olds." I decided to check it out.

Pearson Education is currently marketing enVisionMATH to elementary schools in the United States. The program was supposedly designed to be aligned with the Common Core State Standards and is based on "critical foundational research and proven classroom results." According to Pearson, enVisionMATH is the leading math curriculum in United States elementary schools where it is used to teach math to more than six million children.

enVisionMATH is sold to school districts as a mathematics core curriculum for students in kindergarten through grade 6. Pearson's claim is that it will "help students develop an understanding of math concepts through problem-based instruction, small group interaction, and visual learning with a focus on reasoning and modeling. Differentiated instruction and ongoing assessment are used to meet the needs of students at all ability levels."

The program was field-tested in eight elementary schools in eight different states, Colorado, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee. Pearson staff trained 54 teachers for about 5 to 6 hours before the curriculum was used in their classes. These teachers received a three-hour follow-up training session after 2-3 weeks and some teachers received additional follow-up support. 1,156 students participated in the study, of which 89% or 1,029, were identified as White.

I started researching this article on Pearson enVisionMATH with a series of questions.

1. Was the field test valid?

2. Did Pearson skew the field test results by providing support services to teachers and schools that are not included in the basic enVisionMATH package?

3. How much does the Pearson enVisionMATH program actually help students learn math and perform on Common Core based assessments?

4. If the program is adopted nationally, how much money does Pearson stand to make?

1. Was the field test valid?
Does enVisionMATH produce the same "results" across the demographic spectrum, or was it field-tested in a few cherry-picked overwhelmingly "White" schools. In the Pearson test group, 89% of the children were White. In 2010-2011, there were 49.5 million public elementary and secondary school students in the United States. Fifty-two percent of students were White; twenty-three percent were Hispanic; and sixteen percent were Black. But these students are not distributed evenly across the country. In New York City there are about 1.1 million students public school students with only 14.3% of these students listed as non-Hispanic White. In addition, there are about 40% of students in the public school system living in households where a language other than English is spoken.

Amongst the test states, only in New Hampshire where 89.8% of the students are White did the test group correlate with the state's student demographics. In Montana and Kentucky, 82% of the children are White; in Ohio the figure is 74%; in Massachusetts it is 70%; in Tennessee it is 67%; in Colorado it is 57%; and in North Carolina 53% of the states public school children are White,

So the first question stands unanswered. We do not know if enVisionMATH will work effectively for all students in all schools.

2. Did Pearson skew the field test results by providing support services to teachers and schools that are not included in the basic enVisionMATH package?
Pearson provided extensive staff development and support to the field test schools and teachers. Will Pearson's enVisionMATH get the same student results without the initial staff development and the follow-up support for teachers? I found no evidence that addresses this question, but of course districts and schools can always purchase expensive Pearson Professional development services that are delivered online, through webinars, and in site-based workshops.

3. How much does the Pearson enVisionMATH program actually help students learn math and perform on Common Core based assessments?
To answer this question I looked at claims made on the Pearson website and compared them to results reported by the United States Department of Education.

A) What Pearson Education Claimed

On its website Pearson posted a press release with the headline: "Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse Grants Top Ratings to Pearson's enVisionMATH K-6 Research, 'Statistically Significant' Gains Recognized in Problem Solving, Understanding of Mathematics Concepts and Communications"

The press release, dated January 24, 2013, claimed "The U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse has issued a report validating research that Pearson's enVisionMATH elementary school curriculum increases student achievement above and beyond other K-6 math programs." The enVisionMATH program reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse is currently the #1 math curriculum in U.S. schools, with more than six million students learning elementary mathematics with the program. enVisionMATH is designed for students in grades K-6 and seeks to help students develop an understanding of math concepts through problem-based instruction, small-group interaction, and visual learning with a focus on reasoning and modeling.

Pearson's Director of Academic Research, Marcy Baughman, said, "The significant gains experienced by enVisionMATH students in the research study affirm the instructional design of our enVisionMATH curriculum. Recognition by the What Works Clearinghouse of the strong research supporting enVisionMATH is a critical validation for schools that are now choosing math programs that will prepare their students for college and careers in a technology-driven global marketplace." She added, "Our core enVisionMATH program contains all of the critical elements required by the Common Core State Standards, including the required focus on 'conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and applications.'"

B) What The Government Report Actually Found

a. The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) identified one study of enVisionMATH that both falls within the scope of the Elementary School mathematics topic area and meets WWC evidence standards. The study meets WWC evidence standards without reservations, and included 1,156 elementary school students in second and fourth grades in eight locations across the United States. The WWC considers the extent of evidence for enVisionMath on the math performance of elementary school students to be small for the mathematics achievement domain, the only outcome domain examined for studies reviewed under the Elementary School Mathematics topic area.

b. enVisionMath was found to have potentially positive effects on mathematics achievement for elementary school students.

c. envisionMATH consists of 120-130 teacher-led lessons for each grade. Lessons are designed to be completed at the pace of one per day. Each lesson includes daily review and a small-group, problem-based activity, followed by guided and independent practice activities. Instructors use daily assessments to track student progress. These assessments also allow for targeting of additional practice and homework activities for students needing more support. Lessons are organized into a customizable sequence of topics and use texts, workbooks, manipulatives, and technology, incorporating both group and individual activities.

4. If the program is adopted nationally, how much money does Pearson stand to make?
According to the What Works Clearinghouse report, student editions of envisionMATH for kindergarten through grade 2 cost $26.97 per student per year, with a discount available to districts through a subscription model. This cost includes access to interactive digital courseware for one year. The student editions for grades 3-6 cost $65.97 and include access to the interactive digital courseware for six years. The teacher's edition for each grade costs $525. Additional materials, including workbooks, manipulatives, digital resources, instructional materials, and teacher guides may be purchased separately with prices varying by material and quantity purchased.

I do not know how much profit Pearson makes marketing envisionMATH but I can estimate its gross revenues. If schools pay the lower price for one-third of the students using envisionMATH and the higher price for the other two-thirds, then at a minimum Pearson is grossing $320 million a year on the basic envisionMATH package without counting in teacher editions and support. The potential elementary school market is almost 40 million children. Using the same ratios, the potential revenue stream for Pearson is over $2 billion a year.

In summary, for the cost of cost $26.97 per student per year in grades kindergarten through 2 and $65.97 per student per year inn grades 3-6 and $525 for each teacher's edition, schools get a math program where the evidence for its effectiveness in improving student performance is "small for the mathematics achievement domain," although there are "potentially positive effects on mathematics achievement."

I do not think small but potential is the same as the "Top Ratings" Pearson is advertising for its very expensive product.

Post-It Note: Apparently our friends at Pearson are doing similar outstanding work all over the world. On February 16, 2014 on page 1 The New York Times reported that a publisher in India, Penguin Books India, under threat of a law suit withdrew from publication and destroyed remaining copies of a book described as a "scholarly work on Hinduism by an American professor." Penguin Books India defended this act of self-censorship saying that publishers must respect laws, "however intolerant and restrictive those laws may be" and that they have a "moral responsibility to protect our employees against threats and harassment where we can." Award winning Indian writer and Penguin author Arundhati Roy addressed an open letter to Penguin Books India denouncing their decision. "Everybody is shocked at what you have gone and done--at your out-of-court settlement with an unknown Hindu fanatic outfit . . . Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so? Have you forgotten who you are? You are part of one of the oldest, grandest publishing houses in the world . . . ad you stood your ground, you would have had the weight of enlightened public opinion behind you, and the support of most--if not all--of your writers."

Oh yes, Penguin Books India is a Pearson affiliate, owned in partnership with the German publisher Bertelsmann.

Alan Singer, Director, Secondary Education Social Studies
Department of Teaching, Literacy and Leadership
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INDEPENDENT STUDY: Gov. Brown’s new online learning target

by Tom Chorneau, SI&A Cabinet Report |

February 19, 2014 (Calif.)  ::  After withdrawing an aggressive plan to enhance online learning in K-12 classrooms last year, Gov. Jerry Brown has returned with a less ambitious proposal – but one that may have broader impact.

Brown drew national attention in early 2013 for his embrace of flat rate college courses offered online and for a system that would allow K-12 districts to collect state attendance funding for students enrolled in asynchronous online instruction. But questions over accountability of the K-12 system forced the governor to drop his ideas heading into final budget negotiations.

This year, Brown is looking merely to streamline the system schools must go through for converting student independent study work into seat time and thus state funding.

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst, in its latest review of Brown’s education budget proposal, said his idea is generally a good one – but suggested it should be applied across the entire K-12 system instead of just high schools.

“This time the governor isn’t so focused on whether the learning is being done entirely online or partially in a traditional setting,” said Kenneth Kapphahn, a fiscal and policy analyst at the LAO who helped write the section on independent study.

“Instead, he’s proposed a broader plan, trying to make the whole system more flexible and take some of the complex, compliance rules out of the program,” Kapphahn said.

Last year about 140,000 students relied on independent study for at least half of their coursework, according to the LAO, with about two-thirds of that coming from high schools and the remainder from the lower grades.

Independent study has become the default vehicle for many types of alternative curriculum in California – including online learning – because it provides districts some method of giving students freedom to work outside the traditional classroom and still qualify for state support.

The problem, as Brown has pointed out, is that the current independent study system was designed decades ago, before the advent of the internet. It is also saddled with a long, complex set of rules imposed on district administrators and teachers aimed at ensuring students are doing work that is aligned with state curriculum goals.

In the traditional setting, districts qualify for state funding only for the days that students are physically in school. Districts are required to offer a minimum number of classroom hours, or seat time, which vary by grade. The independent study program allows students to earn credits for work their do on their own, overseen by a teacher who is charged with certifying that the work can be translated into seat time.

Kapphahn explained that the current system for certifying work into seat time is very prescriptive and can discourage districts from offering the option given the investment required to administer the program.

Last year, Brown suggested that the independent study system should be reconstructed so that the academic contract focused more on measurable outcomes than sequence of a step-by-step work product. He also supported the notion that online learning would benefit by allowing instruction to take place independent of when a student was working and when an instructor was checking in.

But because of concerns raised by the California Department of Education and the LAO over accountability, the governor decided to shelve the proposal.

Brown’s latest plan, offered in his January 2014 budget, would retain existing requirements that students work under written learning agreements and the general supervision of a teacher as well as a provision allowing instruction to occur off site. The governor, however, has dropped his idea to allow districts to collect ADA for asynchronous online instruction.

He is asking, however, that the local school board be given authority to certify coursework. That is, instead of making teachers go through the process of certifying that all individual assignments meet state standards, make it a one-time certification granted for an entire course by the school board.

The LAO said the idea is a good one given that it would reduce the amount of administrative work teachers would need to perform and allow more time for helping students.

Brown’s seat-time conversion plan would be limited to high schools but he’s proposed a variation for lower grades.

K-8 independent study would still require a contract with the student, but Brown would require daily, on-site instruction to be under the supervision of a teacher. The LAO suggested this idea wasn’t much of an improvement over the existing system.

“The supervision requirements are more flexible than the rules for classroom-based instruction, but less flexible than the rules for existing (independent study) or the new course-based option,” the LAO said. “We think a blended learning program willing to make the effort of establishing learning contracts for all of its students would be likely to use one of the more flexible (independent study) options.”