Thursday, July 28, 2016

8 ways to make edu-mischief while California Superintendent Tom Torlakson is Acting Governor

8 ways to make edu-mischief while California Superintendent Tom Torlakson is Acting Governor
Dear Tom Torlakson: Here are 8 things we could do while the politicians are away! We gotta hurry!
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Imagine my surprise when I heard on NPR yesterday that State Superintendent of schools Tom Torlakson--my very favorite State official--is Acting Governor of California for the rest of the week. This is what happens when your whole state government comprises the biggest delegation at the Democratic National Convention.

While every other force in Golden State politics is looking for unity in the City of Brotherly Love, my mind leaps to the education priorities we could advance!

It wouldn't be the first time an Acting Governor did a whole lot of governing when Jerry Brown was out of state. But it's certainly a first for a Superintendent.

So I've penned a letter to the Superintendent to offer my assistance.

Dear Acting Governor Torlakson,

First off, congrats!

I am writing you to offer to rush to the State Capital to work feverishly alongside you to advance our public education priorities while the rest of California's political wish lists languish in the Philadelphia International Airport baggage claim. (It's not their fault they exceeded the 3.7 ounce limit.)

I admit, I've been feeling envy what with all the selfies my friends have been posting. Betsy pictured with Dolores Huerta. Randi pictured with Bill Clinton. Carolyn and Dallas were even interviewed about their experiences as mother and daughter in Hillary's and Bernie's respective delegations.

But, oh, the things we can get done for our schools while they're distracting our elected officials! 

By the way, Tom, I hope you don't let the *Acting* qualifier get in the way of the work we can do together. The philanthropists and politicians certainly haven't let their lack of credentials get in the way of dictating what our teachers and principals do. So let's give it a go!

Just say the word and I'll be on the next Southwest flight to Sacramento. I'll use carry-on, so my only baggage will be emotional--a decade of mourning for the once top-funded California public school system and my more recent PTSD from the assault on public schools by the charter lobby.

But there's no time for a pity party. Here's my short list!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

SUMMER HEATS UP ON THE SCHOOL REFORM FRONT Judge denies LA Unified request to dismiss lawsuit filed by fired teacher Rafe Esquith


LA School Report

                   "What's Really Going on Inside LAUSD"


JUST IN: Judge denies LA Unified request to dismiss lawsuit filed by fired teacher Rafe Esquith   Posted on July 13, 2016 2:19 pm by Sarah Favot
  Rafe EsquithA Los Angeles Superior Court judge Wednesday denied LA Unified's request to dismiss a lawsuit filed by well-known former fifth-grade teacher Rafe Esquith, who was fired in October.

Esquith filed the defamation lawsuit against the district in August after he was placed on paid leave and assigned to "teacher jail" pending an internal investigation after a fellow teacher complained that Esquith made a joke about nudity in front of his students. Esquith had taught at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School located between Koreatown and Westlake for more than 30 years.

Students, parents and fellow teachers protested outside Hobart Elementary last year when Esquith was removed from the classroom.

The district's attorneys filed an anti-SLAPP motion earlier this year seeking to dismiss the entire case.

Ben Meiselas, Esquith's attorney, said an "army" of LA Unified attorneys were in court Wednesday and argued in favor of dismissing the case, but the judge denied the request. Esquith was not present for the hearing, Meiselas said.

"I think that their lawyers convinced them, I think improperly, that this case was not going to go to trial, but today we're one step closer to going to trial," Meiselas said. "It was a really, really, really big victory in court for Rafe Esquith."

An LA Unified spokeswoman said the district plans to appeal the ruling.

"We respectfully disagree with the court's decision," spokeswoman Shannon Haber said in an email. "As such, we intend to appeal the judge's denial of our motion."

Students chanted and carried signsThe lawsuit also alleges infliction of emotional distress, retaliation and age discrimination. Lawyers for Esquith said the educator was hospitalized with stress-induced thrombosis. The suit also claims retaliation for Esquith's complaints about teacher jail and the filing of a class-action lawsuit.

"Today was a real vindication of the claims being asserted and Mr. Esquith is prepared to continue his fight and continue to succeed against LAUSD and its army of bully lawyers," Meiselas said.

Esquith filed the class-action lawsuit against the district about "teacher jail." In that lawsuit, Esquith claims that the district has overseen the "unconstitutional imprisonment" of at least 2,000 teachers in teacher jails. His attorneys argue that the discipline is a "shrewd cost-cutting tactic, implemented to force its older and better-paid teachers out the door" by terminating them or forcing them to quit thereby preventing the teachers from receiving their pension and health-care benefits and saving the district money. The lawsuit describes the teacher jails as "nondescript, fenced-in, warehouse facilities," where teachers are prevented from speaking to each other and forced to stare at the walls for six hours a day. The lawsuit seeks $1 billion in damages.

The district's $7.6 billion budget for this fiscal year approved last month includes $15 million to pay salaries for teachers and other staff "housed" in teacher jails. The district said 181 staff members, an increase from last year, are what the district describes as "housed," but what is more commonly known as teacher jails, while the district conducts internal investigations.

The class-action lawsuit has recently been moved from state court to federal court, at the request of the district, Meiselas said, because the case cites violations of federal civil rights laws.

The investigation into Esquith began in March 2015 after a teacher overheard Esquith recite a passage from Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" that referred to the naked king. Esquith, who is known for teaching Shakespeare to his students, said his students could recognize the passage from which he was quoting.

In December, the district released documents to the Los Angeles Times investigators found in their internal investigation that claim Esquith fondled two boys and a girl in the 1970s. Investigators said Esquith's work computer contained inappropriate pictures and videos. There were other allegations.

Esquith's attorneys have denied the allegations and called the investigation a "witch hunt" and "specifically orchestrated to assassinate Mr. Esquith's character."

Esquith seeks to get his job back through the lawsuit.

Last May, LA Unified reported Esquith to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing for a formal investigation for abuse and misconduct, but that body found the allegations to be without merit, Esquith's attorneys said.

Esquith has written best-selling books and received numerous accolades for innovative teaching, including Disney's National Outstanding Teacher of the Year award, a Sigma Beta Delta Fellowship from Johns Hopkins University, a National Medal of Arts, and Oprah Winfrey's $100,000 "Use Your Life Award."

The next hearing in the case is scheduled in September.

San Francisco principals defy school board, hire Teach for America recruits

Posted on July 13, 2016 8:08 am by LA School Report

san francisco chronicle- ogoA handful of San Francisco elementary school principals facing an urgent need to fill positions for the fall have hired Teach for America recruits despite the school board's vocal opposition to the organization.

In May, the board severed the district's partnership with Teach for America, which supplies enthusiastic if inexperienced teachers to thousands of schools in lower-income communities across the country.

The principals, including those at Bret Harte, Lakeshore and Flynn elementary schools, knew the board's position. But with a big teacher shortage weighing on them, they said politics mattered less than finding the best teachers to put in front of children.

The principals, who have so far taken on eight candidates from Teach for America, didn't break any rules.

The hires are intern-credentialed teachers, among several dozen such interns who will be teaching in city schools this year while enrolled at a university to earn a full credential. What makes them unique is they are still with Teach for America, often called TFA, and will be supported throughout the year by the organization.

The hiring of Teach For America members, though, clearly was in opposition to the school board's will. Board Vice President Shamann Walton was "livid."

To read the full story in the San Francisco Chronicle, click here


Morning Read: State moves to make student test scores easier to understand   Posted on July 13, 2016 7:49 am by LA School Report

New resources designed to make Common Core-aligned tests more useful

California is providing a range of new resources to teachers, parents and the public to make Smarter Balanced tests and student scores easier to understand — and more useful in actually guiding instruction. The State Board of Education on Wednesday will discuss new parent and teacher resources that are available to help understand the tests, as well as improvements to the public website, where this year's scores are expected to be posted by the end of August. By Theresa Harrington, EdSource

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fwd: PRESS RELEASE: District appeals court ruling that allowed parents to challenge forced mainstreaming.

Sent from my iPhone

Begin forwarded message:

From: Carl Petersen <>
Date: June 13, 2016 at 7:32:01 AM PDT
To: Carl Petersen <>
Subject: PRESS RELEASE: District appeals court ruling that allowed parents to challenge forced mainstreaming.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Contact: Carl Petersen

(818) 869-0309

District appeals court ruling that allowed parents of moderately to severely disabled children to challenge forced mainstreaming.

"The district court further erred when it found intervention unnecessary to protect appellant's' interest in ensuring the receipt of public education consistent with their disabilities and federal law."

- Judge Carlos T. Bea

The LAUSD claims that "special education centers are unnecessary because the District can 'provide all supports and a general education site", but there are parents of severely disabled students who disagree with this assessment, especially when "their children began coming home after school with bruises and other injuries" after their children were transferred away from special education centers. The mainstream environment also failed a student who is on the autism spectrum and was "found 'walking alone a mile from the school' due to understaffing in [his] classroom and the lack of special safety features at [his] new general education campus". The Independent Monitor who oversees the District's compliance with the 20 year old special education consent decree found that general education campuses had "areas designated for '[diaper changing, feeding and health care protocols' [that] 'were located inside classrooms that lacked running water and drainage'; [that] special education classrooms were placed 'over 350 feet' from bathrooms scheduled to be renovated to accommodate disabled children [and] the placement of bus drop-offs and lunch areas required blind children 'to navigate slopes, uneven steps, tripping hazards and protruding objects' to get to class". Still, the District continues to fight parents in court so that they can forcibly transfer moderately to severely disabled students away from specially designed school environments and instead mainstream them in general education facilities.

Having "parent and community engagement" is a stated goal of the LAUSD, but court papers show how far the District and its outside lawyers will go to silence those advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable students. This includes allegations that "the LAUSD has threatened to terminate the positions of special education teachers and providers if they express an opinion about placement at their student's IEP [Individualized Education Program] meeting contrary to general education placement".  The District seems to argue that  it is a more knowledgeable authority than the concerned parents when it ignores their concerns to state that they are giving "students who would otherwise be segregated at a special education center the opportunity to be a part of a comprehensive educational environment." (emphasis mine) While the District claims that "planning for the integration of students was thoughtful and comprehensive", "parents of affected students were not invited to participate in the LAUSD/Class Counsel/Independent Monitor negotiations" that put the changes in motion. The lawyers even argue that the parents should be excluded from filing because they "did not seek to intervene in the proceedings" when the "underlying class action lawsuit was filed in 1993" and "the Consent Decree was entered in 1996", long before their children were even born.

The District bases its argument against the parents on the false premise that "Congress requires mainstreaming". While federal and state laws do "require that special education students receive services in the 'least restrictive environment'", it also specifies that this is based on the appropriate needs of the children. Therefore, the law allows the District to educate these children on separate campuses dedicated to their special education if their parents agree that it is necessary for their well being. Furthermore, there is nothing in the law that says that interactions with their non-disabled peers has to take place on the general education campus. General education classes could be taught on the special education campus, perhaps for students interested in a career in special education, allowing the special education students to remain in their safe place and facilitating a more productive interaction for both sets of students.

Last month, the 9th Circuit overruled a lower court and stated that parents did have the right to intervene on behalf of their children. This will allow them to continue the fight to keep special education centers as a choice available to them during the IEP process. If the LAUSD was serious about improving parental engagement, they would have used this loss as a reason to sit down with the parents with the aim of finding a collaborative solution that could end the litigation. Instead, their outside law firm has filed an appeal. In a District that constantly claims that they do not have the money to provide needed services to students, one has to assume that there were better uses for the money that will end up in the pockets of these lawyers.


I am a candidate for the District 2 seat on the LAUSD School Board, founder of Change The LAUSD and member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council. Opinions are my own.



Carl J. Petersen for LAUSD School Board 2017 (ID# 1384794)

All Kids Are Our Kids!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

How Charter School Powerbrokers Plan to Crater Public Education as We Know It | Alternet

How Charter School Powerbrokers Plan to Crater Public Education as We Know It | Alternet

How Charter School Powerbrokers Plan to Crater Public Education as We Know It

The Billion Dollar Investment

Charter proponents, most notably the Walton Family Foundation, contribute large amounts of money to expand charter schools in select cities around the nation. The foundation says it has invested more than $385 million in new charter schools over the past two decades and, earlier this year, announced that it plans to give $1 billion over five years to support charters and school-choice initiatives.

In announcing its $1 billion strategic plan to support new and existing charter schools, the foundation has said the money would go to four initiatives – investing in cities, supporting the school-choice movement, innovation and research. It identified 13 cities nationwide where it said it can have the biggest impact, including Los Angeles and Oakland. Los Angeles already has more charter schools than any other school district in the United States and Oakland has the highest percentage of charters for any district in California.

"If funders like Eli Broad or the Walton Family Foundation were truly committed to education equality," says John Rogers, an education professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, "they could have taken steps to simply support reducing class size or after-school [activities] or summer programs that would provide more educational opportunity, rather than try to invest in strategies to undermine the capacities of a school district. The primary aim is to dismantle the school district as a whole and replace it with a new way of doing public education."

Gary Miron, a professor of education at Western Michigan University, agrees. "They believe in privatization," he says. Miron co-authored a critical study, sponsored last year by the National Education Policy Center, that focused on the charter industry's funding policies.

But why do so many charter advocates embrace privatization?

"I don't think it's about the money," says Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "They like charters in part because they decrease the publicness of public schools. They want a system much more based on market forces because they don't trust democracy."

Netflix founder and prominent charter advocate Reed Hastings seemed to confirm this view when, during a 2014 convention of the California Charter Schools Association, he decried publicly elected school boards for their alleged lack of stability in governance. He then praised the closed-governance charter model of private boards whose "board members pick new board members."

But should the private sector be in charge of public education?

"No," says Welner. "The public sector should be in charge of public education. Public education should be under democratic control."

Welner is not alone in his view.

"The radical agenda of the Walton family," says a damning report issued last year by the American Federation of Teachers and In the Public Interest, "has taken the U.S. charter school movement away from education quality in favor of a strategy focused only on growth. It's been lucrative for some, but a disaster for many of the nation's most vulnerable students and school districts."

Capturing school boards has become a major goal of the charter-school movement.

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The direct funding of charter schools is only one of several strategies charter advocates are using to influence public opinion and school policies. They also fund academic studies and "grassroots" organizations such as Parent Revolution, along with powerful political lobbies such as the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). Just as important, they contribute millions of dollars to school board elections in order to replace those perceived to be anti-charter with pro-charter board members, as seen in recent elections in Los Angeles and Oakland, two cities where charter-expansion partisans have been particularly aggressive.

Reshaping School Boards

"Idon't see myself as just pro-charter," Ref Rodriguez tells Capital & Main. "It's a little more nuanced. My focus is on quality." In 2015 Rodriguez ran as a pro-charter candidate for a seat on Los Angeles' Board of Education. Rodriguez admits he received a lot of money from charter advocates, but says that he is not beholden to them. In any case, he handily defeated his incumbent opponent, Bennett Kayser, in a bitterly-fought election that gave charter school proponents a key ally on the seven-member board. Even so, Rodriguez says he does not support Broad's plan, citing what he believes is its flawed data relating to the plan's claims about long charter-school waiting lists.

The election of pro-charter members to school boards has become a major goal of the charter-school movement. The boards make critical decisions involving charters – from hiring school superintendents to creating policy about whether, and how many, charter schools should be authorized and renewed within a district.

In last year's Los Angeles Unified School District board race a CCSA political action committee spent more than $2 million, including roughly half a million dollars in negative ads, to defeat Kayser, a onetime teacher and school administrator who was generally opposed to opening new charter schools. By contrast, Rodriguez was the cofounder of a charter school network, Partnerships to Uplift Communities, and a former CCSA board member.

In addition to money spent by the CCSA PAC, Rodriguez received contributions from Eli Broad and his wife Edythe, from Laurene Powell Jobs (the widow of Steve Jobs and a wealthy charter advocate), from a PAC affiliated with the StudentsFirst education advocacy group, which was founded by Michelle Rhee, and from numerous employees and officials at various charter schools.

The United Teachers Los Angeles union spent about $800,000 in support of Kayser.

Jason Mandell, CCSA's director of Advocacy Communications, says that the charter lobby's political action arm gives money in an effort to ensure that charter schools get a fair hearing on school boards.

"We hope for school board members who understand charter schools and are supportive of their growth, or at least the high performing ones," he says. "There are folks who are opposed to charter schools, period, regardless of their impact on students. We think the communities are better served by having school board members not so ideologically extreme and who are happy to support charters when they are performing well and helping kids. School boards make real decisions on charter schools."

Molding Public Opinion

In an effort to shape public opinion and sway policy makers, the Walton Family Foundation awards research grants to professors studying charter schools and other educational initiatives. The grants, totaling millions of dollars, have funded academic studies at Harvard University, MIT, Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, the University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame. These studies are then quoted in the mainstream press or in the media that pro-charter philanthropists directly control – creating an echo chamber that is used by the charter movement to expand the numbers of charter schools across the United States.

These institutions officially say that they maintain control of research findings and that the studies don't always reflect the views of the funders. A study by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), funded by the Walton foundation, concluded last year, for example, that students who take courses at online charter schools make significantly less academic progress than students at traditional public schools.

Nonetheless, the funding of academic studies raises concerns. "It's part of the war of ideas," says UCLA's Rogers.

That war of ideas certainly includes funding education coverage in the media.

The Los Angeles Times' "Education Matters" initiative to expand education coverage, for instance, is receiving $800,000 from a group of foundations, including the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. And the respected Education Week, among others, has received funding ($250,000 in 2014) to cover "school choice" issues from the Walton Family Foundation.

Last January a New York-based charter school advocacy website called The Seventy Four, which has received funding from the Walton Family Foundations took over LA School Report, a respected online publication devoted to covering Los Angeles public schools. The Seventy Four – named for America's 74 million school-age children – is owned by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, a high-profile charter-school advocate and a key player in a lawsuit to end teacher tenure protections in New York.

The Seventy Four's takeover of LA School report is part of a pattern in which prominent charter school proponents, such as philanthropist Eli Broad and the Walton Family Foundation, seek to influence the public and school policy makers by acquiring or investing in education coverage. The move, which involved replacing LA School Report's editor, came months after a group led by Broad proposed that half of the Los Angeles Unified School District's students be enrolled in charter schools within the next eight years. (Broad did not respond to requests for comments for this article.)

"The direct investment in media companies is [meant] to sway public opinion," says John Rogers. "[Charter proponents] are trying to win the public relations campaign so they can move forward their political agenda with as little resistance as possible."

Overall, the Walton Family Foundation spent more than $80 million to "shape public policy," according to its 2014 grant report, the latest publicly available figures. In addition to its foundation's grants to Education Week, the Walton family also funds two media outlets that are generally perceived as somewhat progressive. The foundation gave a $342,000 grant to National Public Radio in 2014 and another $550,000 to The Atlantic, whose money went to fund two live events in partnership with the Aspen Institute think tank, according to the publication Inside Philanthropy, which reports on how foundations and major donors give away money and why.

The proponents of charter schools claim the schools are filling a vital need in education. In an interview, Marshall Tuck, a former president of Green Dot charter schools, said he believes that charters give low-income families an opportunity they've never had.

"Higher poverty families never had a choice before charters," says Tuck, whose unsuccessful 2014 campaign to become California Superintendent of Schools was backed by Eli Broad, members of the Walton family and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. "Higher poverty families never had options. Their only option, at times, was to send their children to underperforming district schools. Having more public school choices for high-poverty families is a good change."

Yet for all the money that charter school proponents spent on the 2015 Los Angeles school board elections, the Broad Plan continues to be vigorously opposed by the education community. Last January all seven board members, including its two pro-charter members, voted to go on the record as opposing the plan. One of those no votes came from Ref Rodriguez, the beneficiary of $2 million of CCSA largess. Rodriguez says it is impractical and unrealistic to believe that the charter school community could expand so much in Los Angeles and still maintain high standards.

"I'm not a proponent of the plan," he says. "It's just not possible."