xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Don't Forget South Central: 2010

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.



Gigi,

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.

Respectfully,

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 utla.net:

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
Manhattan
West Athens
Western
Woodcrest

Middle Schools

Bethune
Clinton
Cochran
Gage
Los Angeles Academy
Maclay
Sun Valley
Vista

High Schools

Carson
Dorsey
Jordan
Los Angeles
San Fernando
South East
South Gate
Sylmar
Washington Prep
Wilson
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:

R-responsible
U-united with the communtiy
E-expert
L-free
A-friendly
S-social

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.
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photo by hofsportsonline.com

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thursday, September 30, 2010

When Newspapers Save Parents From Themselves


photo from msnb.,msn.com.
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

Monday, September 13, 2010

Test Scores Drop




















Today, the CA Department of Education released the Accountability reports for schools throughout the state.  Although LAAMS had received its raw scores in August, the API score released today is significant because it measures how our school has been performing over time.  After many years of positive growth, this last school year did not produce continued growth.  We went down by 5 points in the API measure.

This score is bittersweet.  We have an organized and efficient campus, one that many families flock to, and one that takes pride in serving the community.  We knew, however, that the loss of 23 teachers due to the 2009 Reduction in Force would have a terrible impact on our school community, and by extension, our test scores.  It did. 

We increased the number of students who sank to the the lowest of levels, Far Below Basic.  This is not an increase that we should have.  Because California gives the most points for moving students out of this level, you also get dinged pretty hard for increasing the numbers there.

This blog has served to chronicle how our school survived the brutal dismissal of some of our most esteemed and talented colleagues.  We survived, but our test scores show our survival was bloody.  There is no other way to explain how years and years of positive growth all of a sudden came to a stop.  According to the CDE website, our school has never had negative growth since it opened its doors in 1998.  In fact, the only time there was not evidence of positive growth was when we had a different principal, and there were testing irregularities, and as a result, scores were not computed for our school.  This happened in 2001. 

Of course we will look at the data.  We will analyze scores, class by class, to see if there is something we missed.  But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that when you lay off 23 teachers, leave thousands of students to be taught by substitutes, that you will not get a good result in the end.  I hope someone in the Beaudry building downtown bothers to pick up the phone ans ask questions instead of throwing us to the Public School Choice morass, and putting our school through even more turmoil, stress, and anxiety than we already have.

Further, a new middle school will be opening next school year resulting in the further loss of staff.  Up to 30% of our staff will be forced to transfer to the new school.  Truly, these years of upheaval are not lost on the students.  It is very difficult for them to handle the continuous changes in faces at school.  Their beloved counselors?  Gone or back in the classroom.  The dean they could trust to report bullies to?  Not enough funds to keep them in the office. 

So onward and adelante, to borrow a phrase from Scott Folsom, because there is no point in wallowing in this turn of events. 



photo by DeFreitas

Monday, September 6, 2010

L.A. Academy Star Releases Second Album


Lamar Queen continues his mission to educate and empower youth via math raps and songs that appeal to our students.  His sophomore album is called Second Period and features songs about Pre-Algebra.  In addition, the company he founded, Music Notes Online, has also "signed" a second artist, Mr. D, who has released his own album on Geometry.

Many fans search this blog for the lyrics to Mr. Q-U-E's raps, and they are finally available online by clicking here.  Enjoy!

If you are in the Los Angeles area, don't forget to join us at the Back to School Jam at Horace Mann Middle School on September 18th. 

It's going to be another great year in South Central!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Teachers and Turnarounds

Recently, Twitter has become my news feed of preference.  In a single look, I can receive updates from the education world, converse with colleagues around the world, and debate with pundits with opposing views.  In my short time on Twitter, I have come to "meet" and respect some folks whose opinion I value.

Which is why I have been perturbed ever since one of those "tweeps" responded to a rhetorical question I posed about reconstitution, or turnaround.

The reconstitution of Fremont High School has been distressing for educators in South Central Los Angeles.  We know how important it is for students to be connected with a source of stability, the school, which in many cases is the only source of stability in a child's life.  The feds have deemed turnaround as a viable reform option for struggling schools, laying the responsibility of student performance 100% on a teacher's shoulders.  If students do not perform well, the entire school runs the risk of turnaround, where teachers are fired en masse and required to reapply for their jobs.

On Twitter, I was commenting that 8 weeks into Fremont's turnaround, all teaching positions have not been filled.  I was lamenting the lack of forethought in employing this option, knowing from personal experience just how hard it is to staff a school like this.  It's not flowers and rainbows;  it is a dangerous place to work.  Not but a month ago, a respected principal was ambushed on 51st Street on his way to work; a car with a middle school-aged passenger bumped his car at the stop sign. When he exited the car to speak to the other driver he was met with profanity and had objects thrown at him.  He was a target because he had dared bring order to a school.

Teachers at Fremont had the choice to swallow their pride and reapply for the very position from which they were fired, or stand strong and seek employment elsewhere.  My views on this were mixed, and I described the choices they had to make as "grim."  I noted that on the grapevine, word was that ex-Fremont teachers were being deemed as untouchables, marked with scarlet letters as a result of the turnaround, and were having a hard time finding re-employment.  My thinking is, if the teachers were really valued, why fire them in the first place?  But on the other hand, shouldn't someone stay behind to help with the transition?

Unfortunately, on Twitter, you only have 140 characters to get your point across.  I asked the rhetorical question, "what is the incentive to work at a school such as Fremont and run the risk of being fired?"  A "tweep" whose online opinion I value much replied "you do it for the students."

I lost it.

In my 22 years in the LAUSD system I have literally come across heroes who forsake a social life, relationships, economic well-being for the sake of their students and schools.  For some, it gives meaning to our lives.  We're all going to die anyway; wouldn't it be meaningful if we could accomplish something while alive on this planet?  Lives are centered around students.  Who are you to say "stay for the students" if you do not understand what this entails?

I have come across teachers who have put up with with the most incompetent, unfair, belligerent administrators simply to be able to empower students with knowledge and confidence.  Others have been professionally attacked for defending students and young teachers.  Few can imagine how hard it is to serve students under such duress.  Let me enlighten you.

Many times, schools in the 'hood are the place where teachers and administrators go to fly under the radar, but I hold administrators most responsible because they have an obligation (and a job description) that requires them to monitor the campus.  Nonetheless, I have worked in schools where administrators sexually harassed teachers, persecuted those who spoke out about curriculum issues, and bequethed their friends and families with cush jobs and perks.

It was understood that even if you witnessed an injustice, you would stay silent about it if you wanted to maintain favor with said administrator.  As a result, there was high teacher turnover because few could stomach working under such conditions.  Those who stayed behind were the heroes, those who would defend their students against the forces of the status quo (this is the real status quo, not the term thrown around by the New Reformers.)

Many teachers paid the price for taking this stance.  Stress, divorce, coping mechanisms, being disciplined, being fired, were all the results of standing up for students.  No amount of notifying superiors alleviated the situation; everyone was in on it!  One teacher was aghast to find out that the District Textbook selection committee was fixed.  Teachers were supposed to meet and discuss which textbook would best serve the needs of the students.  The teachers met and debated, voted on the best textbook, but were overridden by the Local Superintendent.  When the teacher complained about the process, he began to be written up in his evaluations. 

Steve Rooney was a teacher, dean and administrator in LAUSD.  Colleagues had long noticed peculiar and disturbing actions by this individual that included inappropriate interactions with students, and violence towards adults.  Many a teacher brought up concerns about Rooney to administrators and District personnel.  Yet he was transferred and promoted as if nothing had happened.  In the case of Fremont High School, he WAS the administrator and the person responsible for ensuring campus safety.

Standing up for students takes its toll on earnest and dedicated teachers without the right leadership on campus.  There is only so much injustice one can take without it wreaking havoc and turmoil in your personal life.  But if those teachers have children of their own, now you take things to a whole new level.

How do you justify coming home late from work, your child being the last one to be picked up at day care?  How can you explain that Mommy isn't smiling because you just witnessed a student being mistreated at school and you couldn't do anything about it?  How do you answer your child when he hears the news about the SWAT raid on 69th Street and asks you if your school is a safe place to work? How do you explain to your child that you can't be at her presentation because you are required to stay for that of your own students'?

Fremont teachers encountered many of these injustices and more, but withstood them.  Then, the stakes were raised. Management became allowed to fire all faculty under the NCLB clause, and decide who to rehire.  Now, teachers faced the risk of not even having a job to worry about, no students to defend.  What do you do?

Do you stay?  Well, that is not actually your decision.  You can reapply, and see if you are selected.  Anyone who has gone through this process will tell you that the outspoken student defenders are not the first choice of administration to rehire.  They want a low key public servant, who will implement all policies regardless of their merit.

Do you leave?  If you do, you will be tarnished as an ex Fremont teacher, one who "couldn't hack it" and was let go.  You will have difficulty finding employment, but at least you left with dignity.

To come full circle, the choice is grim.  But one thing I have come to understand about teaching is that it isn't always what it appears to be on the outside or what is portrayed in the L.A. Times.  Many of these teachers have sacrificed more than we can imagine for students.  To suggest that they give more, including their livelihoods and family safety net is a judgment one should be reluctant to pass.   What more can we demand from educators that they haven't already given?  Their flesh and bones?  It sure feels that way.  Let's use our concern for education to lobby for improving public school management and leadership with real solutions, not silver bullets.  That, indeed, is what students truly deserve.

Posted by Martha Infante aka AvalonSensei
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photo from kpcc.org

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Race to the Top and South Central L.A.

 The big news this summer is the speed and ferocity of the federal governments new education reform plans that fall under the umbrella of Race to the Top.  RTTT is a competition for federal funding that will be awarded to winning states who adopt the reforms espoused by the President Obama and the Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  Some of these reforms include merit pay for teachers, reforming teacher evaluation, increasing testing in all subjects, imposing sanctions to the lowest performing 5% of schools, and lifting the cap on charter schools.

As we have said before in this blog, the ideas and policies of those in power always present themselves in a different iteration at the school level, and in South Central L.A., even more so.

For example, take the idea of reconstitution.  The idea is that if a school has very low test scores, and has had them for a long time, then it must be the fault of the faculty.  If you fire the faculty and only retain the best teachers (who have to reapply for their jobs), you can start over by changing the culture of the school.  Sounds logical, even exciting, because something is finally being done about those so-called "dropout factories."

But what if the "best teachers" choose not to reapply?  The reality is that low performing schools are likely located in centers of poverty and crime and many teachers with families may not want to take the extra risk that comes along with working in such schools.  L.A. Academy, for example, is located in an industrial area south of Downtown L.A. and has undergone 2 lockdowns in 6 weeks due to massive explosions at factories near the school.  If you are a talented Math or Science teacher (of which there are such drastic shortages that the district has to import teachers from the Phillipines) and you have the choice between working near the beach or in the 'hood, then the beach will almost always win.

Reconstitution, in theory, would work if you would replace the fired teachers with notably more talented teachers.  Replacing them with the same old tired LAUSD teachers would not yield a different result.  Which is why the reconstitution, or turnaround, of Fremont HS (a high school in South Central L.A.) is so troubling.  As of this week, sources inside the school and on LAUSD's own Human Resources page indicate that not all teaching positions have been staffed.  It is the fifth week of school, and countless numbers of classes are being taught by substitutes.  The truth is, you are going to have to make it very worth the while of an able teacher to take on the challenges of teaching at a school forsaken by all, and which is now the focus of sanctions.

Teachers have concerns about the soundness and viability of RTTT.  We also have ideas and solutions.  But we have not been asked for them.  And when we speak of our concerns we are accused of standing for the status quo (see comments by Mike Piscal, CEO of ICEF charter schools), having low expectations, or just being plain lazy and greedy.  No fear; teachers are educators, and we have voices and words.  We will continue to speak the truth from schools and classrooms of America, and we will continue fighting for quality education for all students.
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Career Day!!

Many thanks to all the professionals who volunteered their time to share their career paths with the students of LA Academy.   Below are some pics of the event that took place yesterday, June 16, 2010:
The Principal, Maria A. Borges, with students and presenter

LAPD officer chats with students at nutrition

NBA Referee Violet Palmer motivates students to aim for the top

Cynthia Flores from Univision encourages shy girls to speak up

Jim Cloonan, Marine researcher makes his presentation in scuba gear

This event was well-received by students who learned about a wide variety of careers throughout the day.  Over 50 presenters were eager to talk to students and share information about each of their careers.  Poignantly, one student asked why no teachers came to present at the Career Day.  He reprimanded the organizers for not including teachers.  Touche.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Neighborhood Explosion Rocks the Academy



It's been a busy month at the Academy and we have not been able to post as frequently as in the past.  But for those of you who work in South Central, Friday was a day to remember.

Friday morning around 11:00 am, a massive explosion rocked the neighborhood.  The explosion was so powerful it shook all the buildings on campus.  It turns out the explosion came from a titanium fire at a recycling plant less than a block away from our school.

The plumes of fire and black smoke immediately rose over the back of our school building, but thanks to the staff's professionalism, all students were safely secured in their classrooms within 30 seconds of the explosion.

The school immediately implemented the Shelter-In-Place policy and all support staff checked the campus for any stray student, parent, guest, etc.  The lock down lasted 4.5 hours.

For a time, we were told we may have to evacuate to a neighboring middle school because of the air hazard potential.  That order was canceled however, and our students remained in the classroom.

While we were glad there were no fatalities, we felt like this was a good practice for us for when the big earthquake hits, except we know there won't be any internet service or electricity available.

News Coverage of Explosion
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Monday, May 24, 2010

Two Teachers, Two POV's

This email exchange landed in my inbox this week and shows the complexities of the issue of seniority, bargaining rights, and ed reforms.  L.A. Academy is ground zero for this debate, and we are working to try to reach a coherent, reasonable approach to all of these issues.  Of note, both teachers have been RIF'ed in the past 2 years.  (Exchange reprinted with permission of authors.)

Email #1

From today's LA Times.  Interesting to see that the "reform" effort in Colorado was headed by democrats and that the Colorado chapter of the AFT eventually supported the reform in exchange for some changes they wanted. This is just one more indication that teachers are losing the public relations battle with our "just say no to everything" approach.  It's no longer just Republican union-busters coming after teachers, but pretty much the whole political establishment.  I really fear that if California teachers' unions continue to say no to all reforms they are going to be ignored and we will have something really bad rammed down our throats.  Better to get a seat at the table and try to help create something we can live with than to stand in the street yelling when no one is listening and lose everything.  Read article here. (Dave D'Lugo)

Email #2
Dave--

With all due respect and affection, while it's clear that teachers are losing the public relations battle, your characterization of our approach is just plain false. "Just say no?"  We didn't "just say no" to pilots--which was a controversial initiative that thinned the contract and limited teacher protections.  We fought out butts off at the
HOR (UTLA House of Representatives) to get people to support it, warts and all, and won. BTW a bunch of good teachers are being ousted from their school because of a misuse of the pilot idea and the below-named "School Choice" garbage, but most of us who supported it are still glad we did.

We didn't "Just say no" to the "school choice" process either.  We, frankly made a decision that I hated and did get a seat at the table in a choice process that gives no choice to the communities and gives publicly funded schools away. Then we all rallied behind that unfortunate decision, rolled up our sleeves got involved and went out and won our schools back--even though the process was corrupt and stacked against us. And we're going to have to work even harder on the next round of schools because of that.

And we didn't "just say no" to furloughs, even though the district still hasn't rescinded all the
RIFs (forgetting about last year) and less than a week after the deal, promptly dripped 300 mill+ on capital funds for school improvement with money that could have hired us all back.  You're not at the area meetings or the HOR lately, so you have no idea how infuriating this was to people.  Many wish now they had "said no" to the furloughs, and though I ultimately disagree, I absolutely understand why they feel that way.

The notion that they'll stop coming after us if we agree to take a seat at the table is ludicrous.  The forces stacked against us have one goal: the elimination of public sector unions. They want to create a right-to-work environment. You've worked in that, so have I.  We know how bad that is. That's what they want, Dave. We have worker protections precious few Americans have, and they're inconvenient to people in power. Notice how they never talk about bad administrators, but bad teachers--few as they are--are worth writing articles and articles about. What about overworked, underpaid excellent teachers who haven't had a COLA raise in four years and have to worry if they lose their jobs every year? Again, there is an agenda at work here, whether any of us want to see it or not.

The Colorado decision is not good, and
Weingarten is not making friends among her rank and file with her "seat at the table"approach.  Read the new piece in the NYT Magazine about unions and seniority. It's also very much stacked against us, but provides a little complexity.

You're clearly very passionate about this Dave. I'd like to invite you actually get involved in these discussions. With a little bit of participation and effort, you can be sitting on committees with officers and BOD members and getting your voice heard, and more than likely helping to direct our union.

But reading mainstream media articles that have a clear agenda against us will not get us anywhere if we don't do something.  As for the rest, I just hope you realize that this story is far more complicated than you indicate in your email. If you got involved, you'd truly know all the layers of complexity and then you'd be able to use your more than astute mind to help us figure out what to do about it.

We could really use the help. (Joe
Zeccola)




My two cents to both Dave and Joe:


I think the union should embark on some reforms NOT because we want a seat at the table (as a history teacher I keep thinking of Neville Chamberlain and his failed appeasement of Hitler).  I don't want to go down as the sucker who sold out the union in return for nothing.  Yet at the same time, we as teachers have identified areas of improvement for our union, such as the one I am most concerned about:  seniority based lay-offs.  We know what that did to our school.  I advocate making layoffs district wide, not by school site.  If there is s 5% layoff in our district, each school should lose 5% of its staff.  This is fair.  If you don't want to be in the 5%, go to another school where your seniority will put you in a safe place.  This is reform-minded, its right, and we can push internally  We wouldn't be doing it to prove anything to anyone, yet we would reap the benefits.
Just a thought. (Martha Infante aka avalonsensei)



photo from ancientfaith.com

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spring at the Academy

We are settling into the final two months of the year, now that the turbulence of C Track is behind us.  It's funny how every year there seems to be a cluster of students who define themselves by their disagreeable behavior.  It can happen at any grade level, any track.  It is like a contagion, and once it takes hold, it is hard to reverse course.  We wonder if the very noticeable behavior differences this year is a result of the layoffs (resulting in new faces on campus) or an increase in more challenging students, since we believe charters do siphon off more motivated families.  It would be great if someone had the data on this.  Until then, we can only wonder.

In our year-round school, we enter our final "mester" with A and B Tracks on, and the final 6 weeks of school upon us.  We are figuring out who our instructors for next year will be, since several of our newly RIF'ed teachers have not had their layoff notices rescinded in spite of the ratification of the tentative agreement, in which LAUSD teachers agreed to a pay cut via furlough days, in an effort to allow students to keep their teachers (and adults keep their jobs.)

On a positive note, all of our new employees have indicated they will return next year.  We will not spin this fact as an example of how awesome our school and community is (although we all love LAAMS), but perhaps it is a sign that in this recession, one can't be too overconfident about job possibilities.  Maybe teachers are staying put to be safe.

A Track teachers wonder if we will be allowed to put anything on our walls this semester.  It seems that we are scheduled for maintenance on our walls and bulletin boards.  In LAUSD this means repair men can arrive at any time, any month, and the walls must be completely bare.  The estimated time of arrival was given as "anytime in the Spring semester."  The bureaucracy strikes again!

Our 8th grade students are receiving their high school acceptances, and our Honors students in particular, have made use of district choice programs such as the Magnet Program and Advanced Studies Program to select schools more suited to their career interests.  One of our talented 8th graders has won a full scholarship to Harvard Westlake school in Bel Air; the competition was stiff this year.  Although 5 students received acceptances from private schools, only one student received a full financial aid package.  Nonetheless, we are proud of all of our upcoming graduates!

We are concerned for students who feed into Fremont HS.  We wonder who will be left to staff the school after Reconstitution.  While many advocate this "accountability measure," educators wonder if the cure will be worse than the condition.  Closing schools which are purportedly failing children and replacing them with...more of the same teachers and administrators from LAUSD, and expecting different results is perplexing.  We feel for the students and staff who are forced to undergo this destructive process that has yet to show positive results in any school around the country.  As Steven Krashen surmises, "fix poverty and you fix schools."  Until then, we continue to hold on tight during this roller coaster ride at Six Flags Privatization Park, and hope the public continues to keep their eyes open.


photo from S.W.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Video of Mr. Queen at the New York Stock Exchange




You can also click directly to the NYSE link here, for better video quality.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

HE DID IT! Lamar Queen Wins Ring the Bell Contest!

STUDENT MATH WHIZ AND TEACHER-RAPPER WIN OPPORTUNITY TO RING
THE OPENING BELLSM at the NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE

“Ring the Bell” National Contest Winners Honored for Outstanding Achievements in Math

NEW YORK— A math teacher who engages his students through rapping his lessons and a young math scholar opened trading on the New York Stock exchange Wednesday as the grand prize winners of the nationwide “Ring the Bell” contest, recognizing excellence in math education. Reign Glover, a 10th grade student at Choctaw High School in Choctaw, Oklahoma, and Lamar Queen, an 8th grade Algebra teacher at Los Angeles Academy, a middle school in South Central, Los Angeles, were named as winners for their skill, dedication and innovation in math education.

Get Schooled, the national education initiative co-developed by Viacom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the New York Stock Exchange co-sponsored the contest as part of Financial Literacy Week and in recognition of President Obama’s pledge to improve American students’ performance in math and science.

“Improving math literacy is vital to our country’s workforce and our competitive role in the world economy,” said Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, who accompanied the winners and Celebrity Education Ambassador, actor Hank Azaria, at the bell-ringing ceremony. “This contest honors those who not only understand the importance of a good math and science education, but are shining examples of it.”

Math scholar Reign Glover impressed contest officials not only with her outstanding math accomplishments, but the fact that she balances her demanding course load while managing to help take care of her five younger siblings in a single parent home. Also a student athlete, Glover maintained straight A’s over the last year and a half following an unexpected move from inner–city Los Angeles to Oklahoma and a tragic family loss. For the last two summers, she has participated in the prestigious Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth summer program, completing a three-week advanced math course at the University of Santa Cruz. She has been invited back this year for the CTY program at the Roger Williams University in Rhode Island where she will study game theory economics.

“Reign’s compelling drive to succeed against the odds and her inner strength” sets an inspirational example to others, according to Sara Hahn, a former teacher who nominated Glover for the contest. Hahn is the cofounder of Determined to Succeed, an educational nonprofit she started with Azaria that mentors and tutors disadvantaged youth.

In an essay written by one of his peers, winning math teacher Lamar Queen is recognized for his innovative teaching style, composing his lessons in the form of math raps. His first rap, “Slope Intercept Form,” became an instant hit with students, who once considered his class boring, and received more than 50,000 YouTube hits (www.youtube.com/watch?v=REjcPZeypVg). Three years later, Queen and a fellow middle school teacher released a Web site, www.musicnotesonline.com,  which features CDs and DVDs filled with songs and videos using Queen’s original music that are helping hundreds of students learn math concepts.

The essay stated, “[Queen] has developed a whole range of entertaining and educational raps for students of regular and higher math, and has turned on students to a subject they once feared.”

“NYSE Euronext's collaboration with Viacom's Get Schooled initiative reinforces the importance of being innovative and creative in how we reach today's youth with the fundamentals of education and financial literacy," said Duncan Niederauer, CEO, NYSE Euronext.

The “Ring the Bell” winners were chosen from a national pool of nominations that included students and teachers from dozens of middle and high schools across the country. In addition to having the opportunity to ring the New York Stock Exchange Opening Bell, Glover and Queen also received an all-expense paid trip to New York City, a chance to meet Get Schooled Celebrity Education Ambassador Hank Azaria, a backstage tour of the New York Stock Exchange, a Dell “Nickelodeon Edition” laptop and other prizes.

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 ABOUT THE GET SCHOOLED FOUNDATION
The Get Schooled Foundation connects, inspires and mobilizes people – from policymakers and corporate leaders to communities and kids – to improve high school graduation and college completion rates in the U.S.  It provides resources and information and creative programming that engage a range of audiences to address America’s education crisis. An independent 501(c)(3) organization, the Get Schooled Foundation’s co-founders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Viacom, including its divisions BET Networks, MTV Networks and Paramount Pictures.
 
Jimmy Pascascio
6th Grade Teacher
Los Angeles Academy Middle School
jap06511@lausd.net
(310)916-8295

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lamar Queen, the Rapping Math Sensation Entered in Get Schooled Ring the Bell Contest

 When the Get Schooled foundation asked for nominations for outstanding math teachers in its Ring the Bell Contest, one name stood out among the other:  resident superstar teacher Lamar Queen!  Below is the essay that was submitted on his behalf:

In 2007 a new Algebra teacher arrived at our urban middle school in South Central Los Angeles. Lamar Queen was the kind of teacher that you know off-bat will have a bright future.
His calm demeanor, impeccable dress, and rapport with students was instantaneous. We knew he would be destined for greatness.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way. His students got over his youth and looks and soon started complaining about class being boring. Mr. Queen was mortified. He became stressed.

He showed up at our school's New Teacher support meetings and admitted he couldn't sleep well at night trying to figure out a way to make class more engaging. And that's when the magic began.

Mr. Queen began writing his lessons in the form of math raps. He wanted these raps to pass the stiff criteria our students use to deem what is "cool" or "not cool." His first rap, Slope Intercept Form, was a huge hit with students due to its original lyrics and beats. Soon, a youtube video followed, and Mr. Queen became a certified superstar in the 'hood. He has developed a whole range of entertaining and educational raps for students of regular and higher math, and has turned on students to a subject they once feared.

As an African-American male, in a community desperate for role models, Mr. Queen has lived up to the promise we saw in him. We are lucky to have him in our school. His video is at

If Mr. Q.U.E. wins the contest, he gets a free round-trip ticket to New York City to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, April 28th, 2010!  Stay tuned for details, as we are awaiting word about the winners.  Feel free to contact Lamar at lamar.queen@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook at Mr. Q.U.E.'s fan page.  His music can be found at musicnotesonline.com

photo from lawattstimes.com

Sunday, April 11, 2010

It IS That Bad



This week at LAAMS we found out our counseling staff will be reduced in half next year, with each counselor carrying an 850:1 load of students.  Our deans are being reduced from three to two, and our categorical program coordinators reduced from two to one.  We may also lose an Assistant Principal, in our school of 2,400 students in South Central Los Angeles.

And we thought we were having discipline problems this year?

My position as half time GATE coordinator that oversees 700 Gifted/Advanced Students will very possibly be eliminated.  How will these 700 students and their families be served during one conference period, in addition to the 150 other students I teach in the classroom?

If forward progress paused this year because of the layoffs, it will most certainly reverse direction with these "final blow" cuts to our school.  If it wasn't for our fiercely dedicated teachers, our school may have collapsed already.  But we have spirit.

It is beside the point to moan about how these cuts will hurt kids.  All involved know that.  What is important to consider is how decisions have been made at the top; how the Governor protects the wealthiest Californians at the expense of the least.  How the President and Arne Duncan have decided to use Race to the Top Funding to further their own reform plans that have, through wide consensus in the education community, been deemed as not viable.  These funds, by the way, are awarded not by need, but by how much each state agrees to pursue the reforms the feds are pushing.  “We don’t know how many winners there will be,” Duncan said. “Quite frankly, there will probably be a lot more losers than winners in the first round.”

When our country collapses because we created a nation of uneducated, throwaway youth while fostering the development of hedge fund managers and the ruling class, let's be clear that it all started when we decided to kill public education.
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Post by AvalonSensei, aka Martha Infante

Monday, April 5, 2010

Cutting the School Year Short

This week, members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles will vote to approve 12 furlough days in the next 15 months. These furloughs translate in to a 5% pay cut. Should teachers vote for this measure, as a way to preserve jobs? Yes.

It is completely understandable why many UTLA members may want to vote this measure down. It is unclear whether the LAUSD has cut enough from its own bureaucracy in order to justify a pay cut for teachers. Although many districts have their budgets posted online as a way of promoting transparency, getting accurate numbers from LAUSD is like pulling teeth. As teachers see it, vast mismanagement of funds, and poor management in general led to a surplus of workers in a district with declining enrollment. Now, to balance the budget, teachers are asked to sacrifice pay. This is not okay.

Other UTLA members believe in the "last hired, first fired" way of fairly dealing with layoffs. That might make sense except at schools like L.A. Academy a.k.a. LAAMS (and Markham MS, and Fremont HS, and Jefferson HS) where no one wants to work, and thus are overly represented by bright-eyed, new teachers who had no other choice of where to work (we call them unknowingly lucky.)  When cuts come our way, we lose more teachers than in any other part of the district. In the 2009 Reduction in Force, South Central Los Angeles bore 40% of all the layoffs. Again, not okay, and the reason why the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the district.

Clearly, the system isn't perfect. The time has come for UTLA to take the lead in ensuring the fair distribution of new teachers across the district if it wants to maintain the current seniority system used to conduct layoffs. Otherwise, every time there is a turn in the economy, schools like LAAMS will be decimated and our students will be left as they are now, bereft of teachers who chose to work with them, planned to stay at our school for a long time, and were invested in the school and its programs.

From a teacher's point of view, starting over with new staff is at best, making no forward progress.  It takes time for teachers to learn about their new school, become familiar with the culture and climate, and to decide whether it is a place that is respectful and valuable for them to commit to.  All momentum towards academic improvement is stopped, and in many cases, goes back the other way.

A possible solution: across the board pay cuts. Every school and office takes the same cut. Teachers can keep their district seniority if they transfer to a hard to staff school, and they will be virtually guaranteed employment because the average years of experience at schools such as mine (84% teaching <5 years) is on the lower end. But if they insist on staying at a LACES HS or a Bravo HS, they run the risk of being laid off in a RIF year. This seems fair. On an issue like this, it is imperative for the agenda to be student, not adult-centered.

Finally, the shortening of the school year is the lesser of two evils  Far more harm will come to schools if you layoff the very people willing and able to make a difference in students' lives.  When we lost the people you see in the sidebar of this blog, it was like a piece of our collective LAAMS heart died.  We will never be able to replace the Ms. Sanlins and Ms. Umbers we lost to the budget cuts.  And it is a move that can never be undone.  Those 12 days will go by in a flash, but the loss of experienced and talented teachers is forever.

So UTLA members, we ask that you vote yes on the CBA.  The future of LAAMS depends on it.

Photo by Aaron Short

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Week of Turmoil and Tension


 This past week at L.A. Academy has been marked by the dread of imposed layoffs, uncertainty as to how many would actually go through, and the potential loss of our award-winning librarian.

Coincidentally (or not), students decided at this time to behave in a manner unseen in years, to the faculty who has been around since the opening of the school in 1998.  There were “rolling fights” on campus, where students run in hordes from place to place, to witness fights or other disturbances.  This situation has the potential for lots of physical injury because if you are in the way of an approaching horde, you will get knocked down, run over, and trampled.  Two students were injured, and many others were pushed, shoved, and stepped on.

Is there a connection between these two situations?  Teachers believe so.  Our school is a distinctly different place since 23 of our established faculty were laid-off in the 2009 Reduction in Force.  More than half of those teachers left the school, and the other half are working as substitutes, a tenuous status for anyone who has ever worked in education.  Coupled with our class size reduction, we have over 15 new teachers on staff, most with no middle school teaching experience.  And our students know this; they feel it.  A small group of students has exploited this situation to its advantage all year long.  C Track, especially, has seen this element increase and wreak havoc in the classrooms of some of our new teachers.  Sinks have been set to overflow in science rooms, tagging and vandalism is on the rise both in and out of the classrooms, and disrespect against adults on campus is at an unfathomable level.  Example:  a student threw his trash on the ground and was told to pick it up by a teacher.  The student instead, threw the trash towards the teacher, using profanity against her.  A crowd of students around him laughed at the whole incident and refused to disburse until the dean was called.

Teachers, not about to hand over control of the school to this group of students, showed up en masse to conduct voluntary supervision during lunch and nutrition on Friday.  Whistles were handed out, students felt their presence, and we were able to end the week without any further major disruptions.

It is painful, however, to be dealing with the issue of “control of the school.”  This was an issue dealt with and resolved almost 5 years ago, when our current principal arrived to strengthen student discipline.  It feels like we have traveled back in time.

Nonetheless, Saturday morning arrived with the news that we seem to have dodged a bullet, when UTLA and LAUSD reached an agreement to save most positions via “shared sacrifice”:  teachers agreed to 12 furlough days to help balance the budget and preserve class sizes to their present numbers.  Furlough days are a pay cut of about 5% for teachers.

While this is a good moment, it is not a long-term solution to the chronic under-funding of California schools, that has led us to be 47th in per-pupil funding out of the entire 50 states.  I guess you get what you pay for.

image from http://rtmulcahy.files.wordpress.com/2007/06/oil_turmoil.jpg

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Numbers: Do They Tell the Whole Story?

















 

The internet has given many folks the opportunity to chime in about education reform (including those that author this blog, teachers from Los Angeles Academy MS).  Our school that has been labeled "Program Improvement" -California's label for "failing" schools--- for the last several years.  This is due to one simple measure, created by George Bush in his signature piece of legislation known as No Child Left Behind.   In NCLB, each school has to have 100% of students scoring Proficient or higher to be deemed a successful school.  This includes all English learners, and special education students who are mentally impaired.  Many schools, including ours, did not meet our targets, hence the PI label.

But does one single test label measure the worth of a school?  I believe not.  Having worked at several schools in the Los Angeles Unified District, and having hundreds of colleagues spread out all over the district, state, and nation, I have some thoughts on what hidden factors constitute a good school.

1.  Teacher Transiency:  For students in poverty, having teachers who know them, want to work with them, and don't feel sorry for them is paramount.  They don't thrive when new staff travels through the school for short stints, and takes almost the whole year to learn anything about the population, then poof!  they are gone again.

Teachers who stay also show a commitment to the school and community, become experts in teaching this specific population, and tacitly acknowledge that it is a "good school" simply by staying, and not choosing to flee to a better location.  Teachers staying is good.

2.  Student and Staff Attendance:  If you go to work or school, it means you want to be there.  It means something is happening in the classrooms that is worth your while.  It means teachers are committed to teaching and students to learning,

3.  Truancy:  When you walk the school campus during class periods, how many kids are "ditching?"  Large numbers of truants show the security/management of a school is not working.  Its like the broken window theory:  if you can't keep the kids in the classroom, you can forget about learning.

4.  Student Defiance:  When you tell a student to go to class, do they:
  • do what you tell them?
  • run away?
  • not even acknowledge you spoke?
  • curse you out and keep walking?
None of these responses are acceptable but the first.  A student who runs away knows there isn't a system in place to handle that.  How a student responds to adults on the campus tells a HUGE story about what the expectations are for student conduct at the school.

********  You may wonder why there is a focus on student discipline up to now.  Remember, this is a blog about teaching in an urban school, where students arrive to us with a multitude of social and economic problems such as poverty, domestic violence, drug abuse, foster homes, physical abuse, gang influence, etc.  Each school and each community is different.  These are challenges we face here, and this is why there is no one solution that will fit all schools and communities.

5.  Office Staff:  Are they courteous and efficient?  Do they treat parents and visitors with respect?  Again, this little detail will likely not be noted in the ESEA reauthorization, but it tells lots about a school campus.  It says that all workers at the school are expected to be knowledgeable about their duties.  It means no one is working at the school due to nepotism or cronyism.  It means that office staff are the first people we encounter when visiting schools, and first impressions are pretty accurate.

6.  Instruction in the Classroom/Test Scores:  This is where I believe that the merit-pay, NCLB fanatics have it wrong.  I do not believe test scores tell the whole story about what is happening in the classroom.  Quite simply, if teacher quality is based on test scores, or if pay is impacted by tests, then  teachers will teach to the test. 

I have seen this happen with teachers who put forth minimum effort.  If administration says "turn your grades in on time," those teachers are the first to do so.  If they say "put the standards on the wall," they have the nicest posters and put them up immediately.  Whatever the panacea of the day, slacker teachers will quickly understand that this is on what they will be evaluated, and they comply.  They do little more than that, and are always in compliance.

If we make jobs and pay contingent upon test scores, I have no doubt anything not being tested will be eliminated from the curriculum (science, social studies, arts, depth, complexity, novelty) and students will be drilled and killed, and do well on tests.  The teachers will keep their jobs, and some may even earn merit pay.  But learning has not improved.  Two true stories:  in one school, a teacher promised his students that if they studied hard and did well on the test in May, he would give them all of June to watch movies in class.  They did well, and watched movies all of June.  Great teaching?  No.  Another teacher paid each student $5 for scoring Advanced on the state test.  Did her scores improve?  Yes.  Great teaching? No.

Perhaps a better way would involve something we do in the GATE program here at LAAMS.  Once a year teachers conduct GATE observations of their peers.  No administrators are involved.  The GATE Coordinator and a teacher visit each and every classroom and look for the elements of differentiated instruction.  We look for:
  • Relevance:  Is the lesson a part of the standards?  Does the teacher make a connection to real world applications of the lesson?  Is it relevant to a gifted learner?
  • Instructional strategies:  is the lesson taught using strategies tailored to gifted learners, such as curriculum compacting, tiering, novelty, multiple groupings, etc?
  • Bloom's Taxonomy:  ultimately, at what level of Bloom's did this lesson reach?
  • Student Product:  did the student have choice?  Is the assignment/task rigorous and complex?
  • Teacher:  Is the teacher using any of the instructional strategies learned at workshops/conferences?
After the observation, there is a debrief where the observed teacher is asked to reflect on the lesson. Many times, there is a surprise because they felt a lesson was on a higher level of Bloom's, but the debrief shows them it was not.  Teachers tend to listen to other teachers, because they can't be hoodwinked like administrators.  We know exactly what standards should be covered and how they should be taught.  We can't be fooled.  All teachers are invited on these observations and earn professional development credit (they must fulfill a 16 hour PD requirement yearly to qualify to teach GATE classes) for every class observed.  You learn as much, maybe even more, being the observer, not the observed, many teachers say.

Students in the GATE program also evaluate their teachers and their instruction anonymously.  Teachers get a copy of the evaluations at the semester break, and adjust their teaching accordingly.  While administration never sees the evaluations, the GATE coordinator does, and teachers are encouraged by her to make adjustments to meet the students' needs.

What is the incentive?  Teaching GATE classes.  If teachers are not participating in the program in the manner which it was designed, they will not be assigned to teach GATE classes.  The teachers in the program trust the authentic evaluation that comes from their peers, and are willing to do what is asked of them. 

In an environment where myths are being propagated about teachers and accountability systems, it is clear to me that when you empower teachers to improve themselves, they rise to the occasion.  If you throw stupid programs and stupid benchmarks for them to reach, they will act/react accordingly.  And nothing will be improved.  The fallacy of higher test scores can make some schools seem stellar.  But are our students learning to be critical, independent thinkers?  Or are they learning to memorize and regurgitate isolated pieces of information, never making connections to how they are relevant to today's world?  I think we all know the answer to that.

photo from dcist.com
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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Kick 'Em While They're Down



























Starting at dinner time on Friday the 12th, the texts and phone calls started coming in.  "I'm fired,"  "guess I'll be looking for a new job" or  "I get it, LAUSD, you don't want me."  Apprehensive teachers had made their way home to find their pink slips waiting for them.

Unlike last year, the teachers were realistic about their chances of getting another one this year.  Nothing can really prepare you for getting the letter that tells you you have less than four months left of being a teacher and working with your students.  LAAMS lost 23 teachers last year, and with that fact in mind, and no clear UTLA plan of action, our new crop of RIF'ed teachers are grim about their future, and the future of our school community.

At least 10 new RIF's have been confirmed, but LAUSD saw it fit to send duplicate RIF's to last year's laid-off teachers who are currently working as substitutes.  In a time of contract negotiations between the district and the union, we are told to have faith in the budget numbers LAUSD is sharing with the union.  Yet LAUSD is RIF'ing nilly-willy, with no seemingly logical reason to double-RIF substitute teachers!  We are supposed to trust their accounting?


As of today, L.A. Academy Middle School has lost 33 teaching positions in 9 months.  This is 30% of our staff.

How do you watch your school being dismantled step by step, day by day by cuts, layoffs, transfers, media attacks and even a blatant lack of support by the President himself?  How do you compartmentalize this huge attack on your school (intentional or unintentional, no matter) and go in the classroom and smile at the children, reassuring them that its going to be okay?  CST testing begins this week, for C track students.  Yeah, the state exam by which our school will be labeled a "success" or a "failure".  None of this will affect test scores, I'm sure, right?

How do you look at your new teachers and support them as they see their dreams of being educators dying in slow motion?

Please, someone give me an answer because we don't have it here, and this school community is desperate for one.
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