xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' Don't Forget South Central: 2014

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

AvalonSensei's Best and Worst of 2014 #LAUSD















Thumbs Down in 2014


1. iPad Debacle
John Deasy ordered the spending of millions of dollars for the highest priced tablets that could have been spent on lowering class sizes for more individual attention of students. Some classes reached the 50's...that's not instruction. It's crowd control.

2. Misis Catastrophe
The district dragged its feet to become compliant with a consent decree, and then hurriedly rushed out a software program riddled with glitches. Worse, they refused to slow down when warned repeatedly by teachers that the program wasn't ready to go live.

3. Lack of a contract settlement (7 years without a cost of living adjustment)
It's disheartening to see our leaders lie and deceive about how much money is in the budget to afford teachers and others a raise. Not even a raise, because that would take back pay on the 7 years our COLA was absconded with by the district. Teachers have families too.

4. Local control formula that keeps focusing on the same 'ol, same 'ol
What's the point in shifting control to local schools when the folks in power keep emphasizing English, Math, and the Common Core? What about the arts, sports, and gifted education?

5. Breakfast in the Classroom continues to bring pests into the classroom
Seriously, this was just a publicity stunt. If you're going to do it, do it right. Double the number of custodial staff at each school and buy better food. That bird seed bar has got to go. 















Thumbs Up in 2014

1. Ramon Cortines-He's a benevolent dictator, and I'm ok with that (he was an educator)
Welcome back, Mr. Cortines! Just remember that the public trusts YOU to do right by the kids and not by Pearson, Apple, and Scholastic. Just sayin'.

2. Prop 30 funding
Thank you, Californians!

3. Tom Torlakson re-elected
This is a man who knows what's best for schools. I look forward to 4 more years of leadership.

4. John Deasy exits the district
Don't let the door hit ya on the way out.

5. New union leadership (Alex Caputo-Pearl is the Business!)
Finally, an intellectual.

6. The dedicated teachers of South Central L.A (and all around the world!)
You know you are making a true difference in the lives of children.

Thank you all who read this blog. I want the record to show how the real people: students, parents, and teachers dealt with the consequences of the decisions made by people far from schools, some with no educational background whatsoever. 

We want schools to improve, but treat teachers with contempt. Well, that's never going to work. So we write. We march. We join. We participate. And we document.

Looking forward to a productive year in 2015!

Martha Infante aka AvalonSensei


Monday, November 24, 2014

Top 10 Takeaways from NCSS Conference












The National Council for the Social Studies conference was everything I thought it would be and more. While the experience is fresh in my mind, I'll share my top 10 takeaways from the conference.















1. Twitter is great, but nothing beats person to person learning, networking, and inspiration!
















2. The C3 Framework is coming. It's here. Lots of districts are moving on this. Is yours?























3. Michelle Herzog is the BUSINESS.






















4. Just when you had your mind made up about the immigration policy you hear this guy speak: Jose Antonio Vargas.














5. Boston was a phenomenal place to hold a social studies conference.


6. LAUSD (cc: Ramon Cortines), teachers need to leave the classroom, the school, and sometimes the state to get top notch professional development. ITS FOR THE STUDENTS!

7. Charter school teachers want to get connected. Their people won't do it. Our people won't do it. WE'll DO IT.

8.We honor our own. Nobody else does. Honor an educator by being a part of our community.














9. Teachers shouldn't have to stay in hostels to afford top quality training.

10. Do you belong to a professional organization? If not, why? Numbers=power, respect for the profession.

CA Council for the Social Studies
National Council for the Social Studies
National Council of Teachers of English
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
National Science Teachers Association

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Feds Take on Teacher Assignments

US to Focus on Equity in Assigning of Teachers

When I was a newer teacher, I used to think teachers should not get to pick their work location. I used to think that if there were superstar teachers, they should be assigned to teach the students who needed them the most, like the ones at the schools where I've taught.

Then I realized superstar teachers are few and far between.

The process to determine who is a great teacher is flawed, none exists yet.

Socioeconomics more greatly determine who is a great teacher than other measures in place today.

You could be a failing teacher at a failing school one year, and a superstar the next in another more affluent school or district.


How do you define a failing school anyway?

So the problem remains: who will best teach the students from poverty at schools such as mine?

First, I would abandon my naive idea of forcibly assigning teachers to work in places they don't choose. It would never work. The resentment and the stress alone would poison the precious relationship between student and teacher that is the foundation of learning. And I don't want to work with teachers who think their talents are being wasted in the "hood".

I would invest in our homegrown teachers by cultivating relationships with former students and following up on leads by local schools of education. While I enjoy the spirit of TFA teachers, I would employ them only sparingly, because for students in my neighborhood, stability is key.

A wide range of experience on staff would also matter.  We would have equal numbers of new, mid-career, and veteran teachers, all of which have something to offer to each other. Ideally, retired teachers would be replaced by new ones, keeping our staff in a sort of educational homeostasis.

Teachers on staff would routinely be sent on quality training, a lot of it off campus, and even out of state. It makes teachers feel like professionals and it helps them refine their craft. I know our new superintendent is against removing teachers from the classroom excessively, but sometimes you have to give something to get something.

I would follow the recommendations make by Tom Torlakson' s Greatness by Design report (full disclosure: I worked on this report) and make sure some of our teachers become teacher leaders, because sometimes you want to do more for your school than what you can accomplish in your classroom.

Finally, I would do what has been done at other great schools, charter and public. Offer health club memberships to teachers, day care, coffee trucks, and massages.

Pampered! Primped! But a teacher whose heart, body, and soul is cared for will have the fortitude and perseverance needed to teach the students sent to us with so many challenges. They will last in hard to staff schools. They will strengthen the social fabric of the school and community. And they will create their own solutions to each school's unique circumstances.


Friday, October 17, 2014

When It Comes to Students, It's Never a Celebration to Say "I Told You So"

from L.A. School Report
This week, teachers reacted to news of the Superintendent's departure with reactions spanning from joyful to sobering. As one of the many concerned teachers who wondered why on earth a non-educator would be selected to lead a school district, I felt John Deasy's decision to step down was the right one. But why was he ever hired in the first place?

The prevailing narrative is that public schools are failing and that infusing them with the business model of competition and reward and punish would push them to do better. This, in spite of no evidence that the schools are doing as poorly as those who have a vested interest in their failure say they are. I see nothing wrong in hiring someone that has risen through the ranks, knows the frustration of teaching in an overcrowded, under-resourced classroom. One that has been whacked in the head by a flying water bottle or a mushy burrito. One that has seen the gleam of understanding in a student's eye when they finally get the lesson that you crafted as an art.

Here's my wish list for the next superintendent of Los Angeles schools:

1. Select someone not beholden to corporate interests-There should be a law where if you serve in a public office, you are prohibited from departing to private industry to benefit from the decisions you made while in office. You shouldn't sit on corporate boards like Scholastic or make commercials for Apple while you are in office. Decisions should be researched based and sound.

2. Do for L.A. kids what you would do for your own-if small class sizes are a selling point for your child's private school, then they should be the same for the majority black and brown kids of our district.

3. Listen to teachers-maintain on open line with the troops on the ground. Sometimes the message gets filtered when you have to many people in between.

4. Require significant experience in schools-TFA teachers are great. But youth does not always equal greatness. In fact, there is no substitute for experience. The schools that survived the Misis crisis had veteran administrators on staff who knew how to program students without a computer. A superintendent has had to have risen through the ranks to know exactly how each level is supposed to function

5. Do something about unchecked charter growth-it's affecting regular schools by draining the most able of families. It causes destabilization. It drains resources. If the charter model is so great, allow schools the autonomy to do what charters do.

And finally,

6. Do something great! We are an amazing city with incredible students, dedicated teachers and staff, and parents who want to help schools. We should be a model for other districts.

While Deasy's departure could be a sign of better things to come, I am saddened at three years of lost progress. It is not a cause for celebration. It is a time of reflection for us as teachers for what we need to do to make sure our voices are heard and mistakes like these are not repeated.

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.