Saturday, August 30, 2014

iPads Are Good For Students, Aren't They?

If you believe technology can replace teachers, then yes. I do not believe it.

Let me back up. Hi! My name is Martha Infante and I have been in education for 24 years. I love teaching. I would also love a class set of computers for my students to do research and projects, but our schools have been decimated in recent years with budget cuts and we are only now recovering. In fact, this is what got me started in blogging.

Why is the iPad issue so controversial? It might be because our Superintendent John Deasy, who sees himself as a champion of civil rights, believes iPads will equalize educational opportunities for students from poverty. Not more teachers, counselors, clean buildings, resources, training...but iPads.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, however, is paying $768 per device for its students, teachers and administrators, making it one of the nation's most expensive technology programs.
After we overpaid for these devices with bond money, they made their appearance in my school for one purpose only: to test children. No opportunity to Skype with schools around the world, no ability to make Prezis, no general internet access to look stuff up. Once testing was over, these devices were sent back to the district.

What did we give up when choosing these expensive devices? Well, the money that could have gone to infrastructure went to iPads. As a result, schools have ant, roach, and rodent issues, broken classrooms and buildings, and few devices to use for instructional purposes.

I have a real problem with not involving teachers in the conversation. My main concern was that students would get robbed (and possibly injured) while taking their iPads home. This happens regularly in the neighborhood where I teach, for much less valuable items.

With no policies and safeguards in place, these devices would "disappear" from schools and find themselves on the black market.
At Dymally Senior High, "current and former administrators refused to take responsibility for missing computer devices," the report said.-LA Times
Students will not want to use these devices with only Pearson software installed on them.

Was each school's wifi network enough to handle the usage by their entire student body?

No one asked us, the teachers, and every last prediction came true. When people started asking questions, they were silenced.

Now I start my school year with students sharing cell phones with each other to do research (contrary to popular belief, not all students from poverty have internet access). I research ways to write grants for a class set of kindles, because these are the most affordable and at least they can connect to the worldwide web.

But worse, I suffer the insult of a Bostonian man telling me that he is more interested and invested in improving the lives of our students than I and thousands of others of educators are and have been.

I am not content to let this ride out. My students don't have a voice (yet) and I do. Stay tuned for more blogging this year, and thank you for reading.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reign of Error Affirms That We Are Not Failures

As a career classroom teacher, it has been a surreal experience to live trough the transformation of my profession. Where once upon a time teachers were vaunted, valued and respected, we are now the primary culprits for society's ills such as poverty, unemployment, and crime.

In this blog, I have written about the folks who have let schools down long before education reform came along, the same folks who blame teachers for "failing schools" yet who never lifted a finger to intervene against budget cuts, layoffs, the siphoning of higher performing students and resources to charters, etc.

There is one national figure who has consistently pointed out the contradictions in the education reform movement and battled valiantly against the education reformers. That person is education historian Dr. Diane Ravitch and her latest book, Reign of Error, is a must read for anyone interested in knowing the truth about what is happening in public schools today.

It was with great anticipation that I received a copy of the book the week before its release so that I could do a review on my blog. It did not let me down and it won't let you down either if you are looking for the truth about schools in America today.

One by one, piece by piece, Dr. Ravitch deconstructs the myths surrounding education reform:

  • high school graduation rates are dismal (false)
  • poverty has no effect on achievement (false)
  • merit pay improves achievement (false)
  • value added methodology can improve teaching (false)
  • education is in a crisis as demonstrated by our ranking on international tests (false)
I want to address the issue that our schools our failing and that is why we must move toward privatization in order to save them. Over and over through surveys, conversations, studies, parents have indicated that they support the public schools their children attend. Do they want to see improvements, of course. So do teachers. We share the same learning/work conditions. We thrive together and we suffer together.

But the message parents are receiving, along with the broader public, is that parents are wrong. Schools are in the worst shape they have ever been in, students won't be employable in the future, and teachers are causing them a life of poverty. We as teachers instinctively know this is wrong, but Reign of Error devastates the myth firmly and completely.

Dr. Ravitch can't be fooled by numbers because she is a professor of education. Something as simple as different methodologies of calculating a statistic can lead to wildly different conclusions on issues such as high school graduation. Are schools dropout factories, or are we helping students earn high school degrees in greater numbers than ever before? The latter is closer to the truth.

As a teacher who has participated in teacher delegations to Asian countries I can attest to what Dr. Ravitch discusses in the analysis of international test scores. Yes, Confucius did a great job preparing his students and entire civilizations for The Test. But today, Chinese and Japanese schools look to us for guidance on creativity and innovation. Why do we want to give up one of our greatest assets: the ability to produce thinkers, artists, and creators? Can't we learn from each other?

Reign of Error concludes that disparaging schools makes it easier for the public to accept their destruction and re-creation as private entities. Schools are being closed in cities nationwide and its all based on a false premise, that schools are failing. We are not failing! We are working with children that come to school under the most difficult circumstances in recent memory. Has the Great Recession affected you? It has affected families from poverty even more so. Yet our graduation rates are up. More children can read and do math. We outscore students from other countries when you factor for poverty. Reign of Error rejects the labeling of schools as failures and rightly assigns responsibility to district administrators who fail to act when they become aware that a school is under-resourced and all they offer is labels and blame.

Just as the Chicano art mural above rejects the label of minority, we educators reject the label of failures. Hold us accountable for what we is within our reach and fix what isn't. How to start doing this? Read the book.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Willful Defiance...

It is the dream again. The one where you're standing at the front of a classroom and a roomful of defiant students is disobeying your every instruction, laughing at your every command for order. It's a nightmare actually, and many teachers have it on a recurring basis. I'm sure Freud or any other psychoanalyst would have something to say about the root causes, but I think it boils down to fear. Teachers have an enormous responsibility for the welfare and education of each and every one of their charges. But when it comes down to it, the vast majority of time, teachers are alone in the classroom, outnumbered 35 to 1.

In real life, most would not guess that I suffer from this nightmare as I am one of the stronger presences on my gritty, urban middle school campus. I am a veteran of the curse-outs, pushes, shoves, death threats and punches. Flying doors that smack you in the face? Not me, I keep a three foot distance from the range of doors. Water bottles thrown down the stairs and hitting you smack on the head? Not gonna happen, I always look up before climbing to the second or third stories. And as for suspending students for not bringing pencils or talking back? Well, lets just say the consequences I impose on my students are less desired than suspensions.

Yet I support respecting the discretion of teachers to issue a suspension for willful defiance.

The truth is that over my 20 years as an educator in an urban district I have seen student behavior get worse, not better. Teachers are being asked to take on the roles of counselors, therapists, disciplinarians, and now food servers, as we implement Breakfast In the Classroom next year. Which is fine. I'm up for the challenge.

But don't take away my tools for behavior modification.

Counselors disappeared years ago. Psychiatric social workers are a luxury most schools can't afford. Administrators are carrying the largest loads ever, and support staff is severely limited. Budget cuts have left schools with skeleton staffs and the students know it. No one is there to help me. It is my nightmare come to life.

I have many tools at my disposal as a seasoned educator. Even the most defiant of students tones it down when it comes to my classroom. But every now and then you have to show students you can and will remove them from the classroom and even the school if they are unwilling to maintain the integrity of the classroom. I'm not talking about defiance toward me exclusively. It could be a student that won't stop calling your daughter a female dog, or your son a homosexual. One boy could not stop making sexual remarks in spite of getting a primo counseling spot with our school's only therapist and the parents were not able to stop him either. So when he got into an argument with a girl and said she needed to be raped, he had to go!
The counseling didn't work. The parents were ineffective. It's me, the defiant student, and 34 other children. And now I'm supposed to keep him in the classroom? I do not agree.

Most suspensions I've been involved with have to do with other teacher's students. I have no connection with them, cannot teach them the value system we create in the classroom. These are the students that say F you when you ask them to go to class, or blatantly tell you they are ditching when you ask them where they are supposed to be. Just yesterday I called for assistance on my radio in one such case, and the student laughed all the way to his next ditch spot. What can we do to help students understand how to respect authority? I do not have the answer to that. I think it lays with parenting. I think it has to do with the lack of follow through by burned out teachers who have had to deal with years, decades of troubled students with little support, and certainly no respect. Those kids know they can wear a teacher out and only the crazy ones will hunt you down to give you your consequence.

I believe that removing the right to suspend students for wililful defiance neglects the reality that the role of teachers has changed. I'd give anything to not have to discipline students, but no one else is taking care of that for me. And the truth is that the smartest of the defiant students (and many of them are very smart) will figure it out and take it as an approval of their sometimes horrid behavior. And as this policy is set to start next school year,I hope with my deepest of hopes to be wrong.

Monday, September 17, 2012

You Talkin' to Me?

I knew a little girl once who came from poverty and that odds predicted little chance of her ever escaping it, much less becoming a professional, middle-class teacher that would lead professional organizations and travel the world representing her country in the field of education.

The odds were exactly 7%.

That is how many students, then and now, are able to graduate from high school in East L.A., make it to college, graduate from college, and get a professional job that might land them in the middle class.

The little girls from poverty was me.

“Poverty is not destiny!” keep shouting these education reformers, many who tend to come from predominantly affluent and Caucasian backgrounds from the likes of Teach for America. I look around and wonder, “Are they talking to me? Seriously?”

I don’t recall them being around while poverty was kicking my ass, growing up in a community lacking in resources, safety, and investments.  I don’t recall them shouting “stop!” when school budgets kept getting slashed and slashed and slashed. I don’t recall them giving me grants or scholarships when I worked three jobs to finish paying my way through college at UCLA (Remember that other recession in the 90’s? Yeah, it almost did me in.)

Graduating from college came from sheer will and determination, while battling all the problems that my middle class friends could not understand, only sympathize with. I remember my college roommate in sophomore year who is now a doctor who felt so sorry for me for leaving the dorms at 7:00 a.m. not to return until midnight on the days all three of my jobs were scheduled. “It’s okay,” I would say. “It’s got to get done.”

The author, empowering students since 1995

Fast forward to becoming a teacher in South Central L.A. And lo and behold: thousands of little boys and girls, just like me. I could only pray that I could instill the same inspiration in them that my teachers did in me throughout my K-12 schooling.

But suffering excuses and cries of poverty was not bound to happen in my classroom. Yes, you got the luck of a bad draw. Yes, your father left your family and your mom has to struggle alone. Yes, you sleep on the floor of the living room with your other siblings. Yes, your mom is strung out on drugs and you haven’t seen her in years. But no, I will not accept your lack of work and your lack of effort. We will get your mind right because you must succeed in spite of your circumstances. You have to.

My students have rarely seen me shed a tear, because how is that going to help build their resolve? They need confidence, not pity. They need a cheerleader, not a sympathizer. But while driving home or sitting at the bar with other teachers, those tears flowed. The sheer unfairness of the lives these children were born to made me want to commit acts of violence. We vented. We raged. And then we composed ourselves and planned. Planned lessons that we called “weapons of mass instruction” and told these kids that no one could ever take away their intelligence, and it behooved them to pay attention in class. The kids knew we cared, the parents supported every minute of it. And they still do.

But as my teaching career developed, my eyes started to really see the truth around me. That being in poverty is a condition that is perpetuated by a multitude of policies. That it could be mitigated by infusing schools with enough money and best practices, like those practiced at the Chicago Lab School and at the Sidwell Friends School. Maybe if we had a lower teacher to student ratio, teachers wouldn’t have as large of a burden as we have now. Maybe if my high poverty school had more teachers, counselors, and social workers we could get the students the real help they need to overcome poverty. It’s too late for my family that suffered many a microwave dinner when Mommy got home at 8:00 pm from parent meetings where I was trying to empower parents in the school system. But maybe future teachers could fulfill their passion of helping students and still keep a healthy family structure at home.

How dare you tell me poverty is not destiny while stripping schools of the weapons necessary to combat it?

My eyes now see that what’s good enough for rich children is deemed unnecessary for poor ones. My eyes now see that there are less spaces in college than when I went, less money to pay for it, and less chance of admission. My eyes now see that education reform policies are stripping kids of the ability to be critical thinkers to see for themselves when they are being robbed and cheated of a well-rounded education and  a productive future.

And I now wonder if my weapons of mass instruction will be enough to give my students at least the 7% chance that I myself had.

So I say this to the education reformers who cry “poverty is not destiny”: why don’t you give away your excess prosperity to my school? I know of a student who needs intensive counseling. One who needs to get out a of a homeless shelter. And one who needs a dentist and a bed.

You can write a check C/O

Los Angeles Academy Middle School
644 E. 56th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90011

I’m waiting.

-Martha Infante
aka AvalonSensei

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Save Our Schools March

Parents, teachers, bloggers, and activists united in Washington over the weekend to rally for public education.  This speaker, John Kuhn, was the most electrifying of all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What's happening to our school (massive layoffs over 3 years, drastic funding cuts) is now the norm district-wide.  Below is a telling video by the students and staff at Roy Romer Middle School in North Hollywood that pretty much sums up what's happening at schools throughout South Central.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

If you had a chance to speak to the government about educational equity, what would you say?

Here's what I said today:

Good afternoon, everyone, my name is Martha Infante, and I thank you all for inviting me to speak on the issue of Educational Equity as it relates to schools in California and the nation.  I, like David Cohen, am a member of the Accomplished CA Teachers Network, am Nationally Board Certified, and am currently a middle school history teacher in an urban, industrial area of Los Angeles.

My educational background began in the public schools of East Los Angeles in the 1970’s.  I was fortunate to partake in a strong Gifted and Talented Education program and received a robust and fulfilling arts education as well.  As a graduate of UCLA, I continued benefitting from the investment made by the state in public schools and chose to return the favor by becoming a public school teacher in the hardest to staff area of the Los Angeles Unified School District:  South Central Los Angeles  where I have dedicated my service for 20 years.  In this time, I believe I have gained an insight that may serve the purposes of this committee and I will share the experiences of my students, as well as observations I have made of the various programs that have been created to reverse the educational inequities that have existed in schools for many, many years.

The state of education funding today has hit schools like mine in a way few have come to know.  Increases in class size are common, and limited classroom resources are the immediate, obvious results.  However, it is the precipitous state of the whole child that is affected in urban schools, when cuts hit hard and often.  Students with special needs such as autism and dyslexia appear in overcrowded classrooms but their needs go unnoticed by the predominantly novice teachers which tend to be employed in hard to staff schools.  Training to recognize the warning signs of emotionally disturbed students has virtually ceased due to the marked decrease in professional development funds, and even if funding were available, it is usually geared toward training in reading and math as this has been the focus of No Child Left Behind.  In the past year, our school counselors loads have doubled from 350 students per counselor to 700.    With further cuts looming, the number will surely rise.  Parents in my community are workers and do not often have the time to interact with the school as often as necessary, or the knowledge of warning signs they must look for to tell them that their child is at risk.  As such, the school becomes the last, best hope to help students before they become a danger to themselves.  In the past 12 months, I have identified two students with Aspergers, a suicidal student, and a student being physically abused at home.  These students had gone unidentified by other novice teachers on campus and missed by their counselor due to the tremendous strain of reduction in support services in the last several years.  I shudder to think what would have happened to these students if the teacher in front of them had been a new teacher, and at the same time realize that many such students have already slipped through the cracks.

My initial comments have focused on support services by counselors and mental health professionals because all teachers know that if a student’s basic needs of safety and security are not met, then learning is not happening in the classroom.  However, even in the best of times when schools have been fully staffed in this area, the issue of equity continues to be prevalent.  Staffing has been a constant issue in schools like mine because of difficult working conditions, and the depth of social, emotional, and economic problems that my students face.  These conditions have been known to defeat even the most valiant of educators because all workers like to believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Working at urban schools sometimes means surviving, not knowing if your colleagues will return to work the next day, whether your principal is there to make a difference or just passing through, and learning to fend for yourself when it comes to acquiring the necessary resources to teach students.  As a result, teacher turnover is extremely high in urban schools, and the learning curve is very steep for the rookie teachers who are relegated to teach in these communities.  Burn out is even higher at charter schools, and I wonder whose children suffer because of this.

To me, equity is not just a funding issue.  We have received generous Title 1 funds in the past, yet disparities continue.  Equity means acknowledging that every school, every community, every setting, has its own unique needs that call for individual solutions.  Take the problem of staffing at my school.  Many studies show that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor that can help improve education (socio-economic factors have the most overall impact) for underserved students, yet few programs have been successful in helping retain the most knowledgeable and capable teachers in the schools that need them the most.  Yes, there have been grants offered periodically, but systemic changes have not been made to the way teachers are assigned to schools, and how schools can work to retain key staff.

The recent ACLU lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District attempted to address this situation.  This lawsuit exempted high needs schools from seniority-based layoffs.  However, as is the case with many education policies, no attempt was made to dialogue with teacher leaders who would have told the ACLU that exempting these schools from layoffs was only a stop-gap measure.  The ACLU won the lawsuit and 45 schools in LAUSD are now protected from layoffs, but no programs are in place to retain the most necessary and effective staff members who can help counteract educational inequities.  In other words, when conditions get to be too much to bear, teachers at these schools will transfer to schools like David Cohen’s in Palo Alto where they will likely serve out their career.

My school was successful in creating a New Teacher Support program and through very simple strategies we reduced teacher turnover from 40% yearly, to zero percent in 2009.  These simple strategies included mentorships, pizza welcome parties, new teacher photos bios placed in all the staff members’ mailboxes, bowling nights to build community, and even a new teacher welcome brunch at the Principal’s house.  Our staff was celebrating the solving of the quest to reduce turnover when the budgetary layoffs hit schools.  We lost 23 teachers that year, the year we should have lost zero.  The following year we lost 12, and this year we are slated to lose 28.  The number is higher this year because of the ACLU settlement which did not take into account the individual, unique needs of each school community.  Because of our lower turnover numbers, our school did not qualify for layoff protection, therefore we are forced to absorb even larger numbers of layoffs than other schools in the area with that had no teacher retention programs in place.  Again, an idea that seems great in theory, but poor in practice.

The last issue I would like to call attention to in terms of equity is the issue of challenging students.  Students with special needs, English learners, or those from disadvantaged homes not only require talented, experienced teachers, but they require the knowledge that their school will provide a safe haven from the tumult that may mark the lives they lead.  When I drive to school I get a smile on my face seeing John walk to school with his lopsided gait, or Jerome riding to school on the back of his friend’s bike.  They are rushing to school at the ungodly hour of 7:00 am because they know we offer breakfast and shelter, which may be more than they have available when they are not in school.  It takes every ounce of ability and resources to serve students such as these, and yet in the last several years, the concentration of such students seems to be rising at public schools like mine.  Our school does not have an admissions policy.  We do not require a 30-40 hour commitment from parents as a condition for their child’s enrollment.  We do not expel a student if he misses the opening week of school or refuses to stay for after school classes.  But other schools do.  And when these students are removed, they are accepted at the only place left for them, the traditional public school.  It seems to me that if we are really going to make an effort to increase equity for students like John and Jerome, we would require that all schools receiving public funds are required and held accountable for serving all students, challenging or not, and that if this is not the case, then increased efforts should be made to understand just what are the needs of each school community, be it funding, dialogue, partnerships, or support.  My recommendation to this commission is to talk to teachers, listen to teachers, and together we can help equity be achieved in all schools.  Thank you.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Case of Parent vs. Student Intersts

 L.A. Academy is rapidly approaching the end of its year-round calendar era.  For 12 years, our overcrowded school has operated on a three-track system, with two tracks of students on at any given time, and one on vacation.  Thanks to a massive school-building effort, all LAUSD schools will be placed on a traditional school calendar, with 180 days of instruction, like the majority of the district.

Recently there was a meeting of stakeholders, the Shared Decision Making Council, to get feedback on next year's bell schedule, with the issue of school start time as the main topic.  Two bell schedules were proposed:  one with school starting at 7:30 am, another with an 8:00 am start.

All the educational research shows that later school start times are much more productive for students due to teenage sleep cycles, circadian rhythms, etc., and our current 7:30 am start is particularly brutal for our middle school students.  Even if teachers had not read the research, classroom experience shows us that students are markedly less alert at this time than after 9:00 am, or after lunch.

In an era of education reform, teachers are often accused of putting adult interests first.  For many teachers, an earlier start time means an earlier quitting time and less traffic to battle on the way home.  Yet many are willing to set aside this personal convenience because they recognize the benefit to students.  (It is unclear whether the district will allow stakeholders to decide start times, but in case we are, allowed the feedback process has begun.)

So imagine our surprise when parents were adamant about their preferences for an earlier start time citing child care, work schedules, and school-drop off schedules for their other children as their reasons.  In other words, adult-centered reasons.  Attempts were made to convey the results of the research, but even after two hours, many still stuck to their guns.

A democratic process in schools is an important and pivotal part of their vitality.  But with democracy comes the responsibility to do what is better for the whole, not just for the few.  Our predominantly working class families are right to express concern about work schedules.  Many are hanging on to their jobs by a thread.  Yet given the opportunity, some are willing to sacrifice 30 daily minutes of alert time (multiplied by 180 days= 90 hours of instruction) in order to have a more convenient schedule for themselves.

This is a tough one for me.  I believe in parent empowerment, and parent education.  But with the swift rate of change being imposed on schools like ours, we do not have the massive amount of time needed to meet with all parents, explain the research carefully in two languages, and check for thorough understanding.

What should our Shared Decision Making Council do about this situation?  I welcome any feedback.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Classroom Superheroes Serve Students Daily

 L.A. Academy Teachers Melissa Naponelli, Carla Colindres

L.A.Academy students have the good fortune of being served by classroom superheroes on a daily basis--why wait for Superman when you have Superwoman and Batgirl on your side?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

L.A. Media In Love With Charters

These are the people who will be vying to take over my school.  See my comment below.


The charter school PR machine does a tremendous job of painting a pretty picture about purported academic success at its schools. You repeat it verbatim, with not a single critical question asked, or alternate point of view presented.

You do the public a disservice.

Public, please google "Stanford charter school study" and you will quickly find that only 17% of charters outscore public schools. 17%. If you choose to highlight successful charters (to which you must apply, impose a parent participation requirement, and in some cases legally hold back students a grade, none of which public schools are allowed to do) then you present the public with a misleading view that all charter schools are better than all public schools. Attrition at the "best" charters is high. Where do the students who don't want to be flunked a grade go? Right back to public schools who then get negative PR for being "Titanics".

Charter school CEO's sometimes pay themselves outrageous sums of money because they can, unlike public school workers. Most times they oversee far few less students. Google "Geoffrey Canada salary"

With no requirement to give parents a democratic voice in their schools, charters sometimes conduct financial malfeasance (google "Ivy Academia charter) or financial mismanagement (google "ICEF schools insolvent") with little to no transparency.

Sometimes, the schools are so poorly run, they close mid year or at the end of the year (google "green dot animo justice high school) leaving students and parents in the lurch.

There is no magic bullet to improving education. It takes hard work by parents, students, and teachers, and an interest by all members of society who should support success for all students, not just for a lucky few.


Martha Infante

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Union's Response to Latest Round of School Giveaways

UTLA's response to Public School Choice process, Round 3, from

November 3, 2010

PSC Round 3 – Is this really reform?

Late in the day on November 2 (election day!), LAUSD released the list of focus schools for Round 3 of the Public School Choice (PSC) process. PSC Round 3 is an escalation of LAUSD’s irresponsible school giveaway. UTLA contends that the LAUSD school board is abdicating responsibility for L.A. schools by giving them away instead of providing resources and addressing schools’ challenges.
Public School Choice unnecessarily politicizes school reform

The Public School Choice process promotes top‐down decision making from the Superintendent and LAUSD school board rather than bottom‐up reform. School board members should be held accountable for micromanaging what should be bottom‐up reform.

LAUSD has not taken action against many charter schools with similar API scores to those of the targeted focus schools.  Student learning should not be made to suffer as a result of forced reform.

LAUSD lacks capacity to support PSC
We question LAUSD’s capacity to fairly and rigorously oversee and support the PSC process which now encompasses over 92 schools. The rush could result in hasty decisions that will inflict unproven or inappropriate plans on students.

The District is increasing the number of PSC schools when there has been no analysis or data to validate the process. The school review process has just begun for schools in Round 1! The School Board’s giveaway of schools is morally irresponsible.  LAUSD should not give away brand new schools to outside operators. The LAUSD school board is abdicating responsibility for schools by giving them away rather than providing resources and addressing their problems

Teachers and parents can best formulate a workable plan for individual schools, as they know best what their local school needs.

PSC causes disruption at school sites
The PSC process already has and will continue to disrupt and distract focus from the education process at schools. Design teams at school sites must create plans on their own time, over and beyond their teaching responsibilities, stretching an already jam packed school schedule.

Schools are already short staffed due to budget cuts. Teachers, principals and local District staff are overloaded and are hard pressed to find the time to implement reform in a thoughtful and deliberate way.  The PSC 3.0 list includes 26 existing “focus” schools and 17 new schools. The focus
schools are:

Focus schools

Elementary Schools
42nd Street
107th Street
La Salle
West Athens

Middle Schools

Los Angeles Academy
Sun Valley

High Schools

Los Angeles
San Fernando
South East
South Gate
Washington Prep
Fulton College Prep (6th – 12th grades)

In addition, Superintendent Cortines said he will “accelerate” the process for Huntington Park High School and Jordan High School, a step taken without consultation with UTLA. Focus schools may be considered for removal from Public School Choice 3.0 based on demonstrating accelerated improvement in student performance as measured by standardized tests and other criteria. UTLA is investigating the criteria for removal from the list.

As with rounds 1 and 2, UTLA will be providing sustained support and resources to help design teams develop research‐based instructional plans and to build parent/community support for those plans. In Round 1 of Public School Choice, the majority of schools plans selected were teacher‐led plans. While we will diligently support our school teams, UTLA does not support the Public School Choice process itself. The PSC process is part of the larger push nationwide to privatize public education, bring in unhealthy corporate‐style competition, and weaken teacher unions. UTLA believes that the PSC motion is not true reform and should be rescinded in favor of an in‐district, collaborative process that empowers school stakeholders to design and implement change.

Letters of intent for Round 3 are due March 1, 2011, and final applications are due October 14, 2011. The schools are scheduled to open in August or September of 2012.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The maestro is missed

A vigil was held tonight, in front of the L.A. Times building, to remember the life and work of Rigoberto Ruelas, a dedicated teacher in the South Central community.  The students' signs say it all:

U-united with the communtiy

Yet newspapers that serve corporate interests deemed this esteemed man ineffective.

I say, L.A. Times, your reporting is what's ineffective.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Set Up for Failure

When our school lost 23 teachers in the 2009 Reduction in Force, we lost some very accomplished individuals who had chosen to work at our previously hard to staff school, and were making progress with our students in South Central Los Angeles.

When $17,000,000,000 in budget cuts occurred over the last 2 years, we pulled ourselves together and made do with less counselors, less supplies, less professional development, less, support staff, and less summer and Saturday school opportunities for students.

When our school got hit with layoffs again this year, we gritted our teeth, knowing that the positions would not be filled in a timely manner because when all is said and done, the sad truth is that South Central has a bad reputation, some of it well-deserved, for being a scary place to work. We still have not staffed unfilled positions from 2009.

So it was no surprise to anyone on the campus when we received the news that we did not achieve our test growth target according to the California Department of Education. Our score dropped by 5 points.

The mood has been grim since then because in the era of testing fanaticism and sanctions, we knew we would not escape unscathed. And we didn't. This week we received the news that we, along with 42 other schools, would be placed on the auction block to be bid upon by outside operators in LAUSD's Public School Choice process.

Accountability. According to the reforms sweeping the nation and supported by the President himself, if schools don't meet their testing targets, they will receive a sanction. In our case, the reasoning is that we have failed to meet our targets because of something we are doing wrong internally, such as governance or instruction, and the $17,000,000,000 in budget cuts + massive layoffs had nothing to do with our students' test scores. This is not true.

Our school has made progress every year since it opened in 1998. We have never, not once, had a drop in test scores, although in some years our growth was not what we would have liked it to be. It is the simplest form of cause and effect to see that the economic collapse has had a negative impact on students, parents, and schools in poverty.

We experienced greater growth at the higher end, with close to 30% of our students scoring Proficient or Advanced in English, and in the mid-twenties in Math. This is a great accomplishment for a neighborhood school because our students arrive in our classroom with serious deficiencies and gaps in learning, but high-achieving kids scoring well does not get recognized by this administration or in the API scoring system.

Now, we are labeled as a failing school, and we must be saved from ourselves. We must write a plan to defend why we should retain management of our own campus, and why we should not be handed over to an organization like Green Dot or ICEF who know better than us how to educate students.

We have the rest of this school year and next to write a plan. Schools will be awarded some time next school year. By 2012-13, we will begin the school year as a public school or a charter.

To say the staff was devastated is not quite accurate. We have an active UTLA chapter, and many teachers are in the know about the direction education policy is taking these days. We are however, tired. It has been tremendously difficult to deal with an increase in student misbehavior in a challenging neighborhood, with three less counselors, and one less dean to assist teachers and students. Not meeting our testing target has resulted in increased mandates from the District resulting in less conference periods to lesson plan or meet with parents. Instructional time is reduced as assessment time increases. The students are stressed out too because teachers are constantly urging them to do well on tests.

A plan will be written, of course. And our parents will support us, because we have provided a valuable service to the community. They trust us. But the time we could be spending improving our teaching will now be dedicated to fulfilling the mandates of a misguided policy that would have the public believe that data and accountability are all that's necessary to improve our schools. It is false, and it's maddening.

What does our school need? We need our support staff back. We need our resources back. We need about five full-time Psychiatric/Social workers to help students deal with the problem they encounter in this community on a daily basis: poverty, violence, abuse, gangs, few role models, unhealthy food, health care, and united families.

Because the last thing hungry, angry, and abused students want to do when they walk into a classroom is 1. see a substitute and 2. learn about the change in Buddhist thought during the Tang dynasty.

DFSC will continue blogging during the Public School Choice process.
photo by

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Newspapers Save Parents From Themselves

photo from msnb.,
The community of South Central has been struck with another painful blow, in a part of town already plagued by crime, poverty, and violence.  This week, a teacher, a respected and integral part of the Miramonte community took his own life, due to pressure faced about his public job rating, according to family members.

According to parents, students and co-workers, this was the kind of teacher who changed lives and served as a real-life role model for his students and their families.  Making out of the neighborhood is a challenging obstacle for many kids; fewer than 10% actually make it to and graduate from college.  Rigoberto Ruelas defeated those odds, but he did not leave the ‘hood.  He came back, put down roots, and decided to make a life out of helping English learners like himself overcome the obstacles of our stratified society.
Former students of Rigoberto Ruela (from left): Karla Gonzalez, Alicia Hernandez, and Perla Cruz
 photo by Brian Watt/KPCC

Parents loved Mr. Ruelas.  They looked forward to placing their children in his class.  Former students came back and visited often.  He took entire families to the beach, to help them navigate the culture of the Westside, and to enjoy the beauty of nature by the sea.  To parents, Mr. Ruelas was a hero, one that had the power to protect their kids from the temptations of gangs, or of disconnecting from school.

But according to the Los Angeles Times, these parents were wrong.

The L.A. Times labeled Mr. Ruelas as an ineffective teacher.  The value-added method, they explained, took out all the subjectivity in evaluations, and produced a hard number that allowed for comparisons between teachers and schools.  This “value added measure” took into account poverty, language difficulties, etc. and could be considered a reliable evaluation.  It was so reliable, they espoused, that they felt confident in labeling people according to these scores (while at the same time stating they should only be considered as one criterion with which to measure teachers.  Nevertheless, this did not stop them from taking their data manipulation to label teachers as Most Effective, Effective, and Least Effective. 
Letters & Drawings honoring Rigoberto Ruelas posted on a memorial wall outside Miramonte Elementary School. 
 photo by Brian Watt/KPCC

Which leads me to my question, who gave these outsiders the right to judge who is best suited to teach the children of South Central?  Or put it this way; why does this newspaper think they know better than parents?  The paper issued a statement saying it published the data so that "the public could judge it for themselves."  The public never had that chance.  The LA Times reporters, Jason Song and Jason Felch did that for us by taking the raw data, and drawing conclusions from it.  Conclusions they published for the whole world to see.

Maybe a parent doesn’t have the technical expertise to read data graphs, or formulas.  Maybe a parent can’t tell the different between criterion-referenced or norm-referenced tests.  But they know when their child is being challenged.  They can see the light in their child’s eyes either brighten or dim, depending on their experiences at school.  They can tell when a teacher is trying their best or when they are skating by.  They may not be college graduates, but they are no fools.

This community loved Mr. Ruelas.  This community respected the maestro.  But now, a classroom of students is left without a teacher, a school is deprived of a noble leader whose simple presence at school taught students volumes about perseverance and hope.  Qualities, which cannot be measured by any test.

If would like information about the L.A. Times boycott, click here.

To learn more about the life of Rigoberto Ruelas, click here.

Martha Infante aka avalonsensei