Our place in history ...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Time to step up.

(Originally published on November 28, 2011, as part of Leadership for Educational Equity's "Teach For America Alumni of Los Angeles" blog: http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/11/28/8377/3412).

May this note find you and yours as well as possible.

This is intended for TFA alumni interested in what's happening in and around L.A.'s schools. Usually a new entry is posted during the latter half of each week. Welcome back from Thanksgiving weekend!

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights came to Los Angeles to make it clear that policies and practices contributing to the achievement gaps plaguing ELLs and black students must change. http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/11/28/8377/3412

We will enjoy a tremendous window of opportunity to change statewide education policy in 2012.

We have arrived at a great moment to improve L.A. schools through a new LAUSD-UTLA contract.

Learn. Network. Take action.
Attend E4E’s first event in L.A.
RSVP: http://www.educators4excellence.org/events/nov30lattb

Sign the pledge www.dontholdusback.org
Email Felicia Jones & Edith Sargon
Let them know you’re a former/current teacher with something to say!

Please take a moment to check out this week's blog entry, and these as well:

Was it a mistake to implement changes to Public School Choice before concluding LAUSD-UTLA contract negotiations?

ABCs of lawsuit filed by parents claiming LAUSD failed to enforce the Stull Act. (http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/11/4/121226/173)

Lessons "Don't Hold Us Back" coalition should glean from the 11/08/2011 "Issue 2" election in Ohio.

Future pieces will address "Occupy LAUSD," "The 2012 Kids Education Plan," the tax overhaul proposed by "Long Term," ongoing collective bargaining negotiations, public school choice, teacher education and credentialing, as well as Regular, Special, and Committee of the Whole, Board of Education meetings.

Remember that the advantage of the LEE blog is the fact it's not public: Whatever you write will only be seen by TFAers, so please comment and share your inklings freely.

I hope you don't mind me reaching out to you via email. I've been asked by LEE (educationalequity.org) to reach out to all Teach for America alums in L.A., and get a dialogue going regarding the "perfect storm" shaking up the educational establishment. Please join the discussion, and join LEE's "Alumni of Los Angeles" group if you haven't already!

Thanks ever so much in advance for your willingness to contribute your thoughts!
Best of the best today and always, - Unai -


The Dept. of Ed.’s Office for Civil Rights says policies contributing to the achievement gaps plaguing ELLs and black students must change.

We will enjoy a tremendous window of opportunity to change statewide education policy in 2012.

We have arrived at a great moment to improve policies and practices at L.A. schools through the new LAUSD-UTLA contract.

Learn. Network. Take action. Attend E4E’s first event in L.A.
RSVP: http://www.educators4excellence.org/events/nov30lattb

Sign the pledge www.dontholdusback.org
Email Felicia Jones fjones@familiesinschools.org
Let her know you’re a former/current teacher with something to say!


On Tueaday, October 11, 2011, the L.A. Times reported on the 19-month investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that found the Los Angeles Unified School District LAUSD) fails to provide an equal education to English language learners (ELLs) and black students. Via a press event featuring Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, LAUSD’s Board of Education announced the district’s agreement to sweeping reforms intended to become a model for school districts around the country. The Department of Education did not find that LAUSD intentionally discriminated against ELLs and African Americans. Nevertheless, the settlement requires LAUSD to engage in a top-to-bottom revision of the district's Master Plan for ELLs (already under way), and to provide ELLs and black students with more effective teachers. Improved teaching is to result from “ongoing and sustained” training. LAUSD is to develop the details under continuing oversight from the Ed. Dept.’s Office for Civil Rights.

LAUSD is the nation’s second-largest public education system and has more students learning English than any other school district in the United States—about 195,000 students, or 29 percent of enrollment. In 2009-2010, only 14.4 percent of ELLs were reclassified as fluent. The investigation also found that black students, who make up an estimated 10 percent of the district’s enrollment, are underrepresented in gifted and talented programs but overrepresented in suspensions and disciplinary actions. LAUSD schools with predominantly African American populations also lack technology and library resources. These findings and LAUSD’s demographic makeup writ large, explain why the Obama Administration was prompted to launch their investigation to determine if students who entered school speaking limited English, most of whom are Latino, receive adequate instruction. LAUSD’s program for ELLs had long been criticized for allowing students to remain untransitioned through the majority of their schooling. Even when meeting redesignation criteria for mainstream integration, ELLS fell or remained behind grade level proficiency, and ended up dropping out (without passing their CAHSEEs, or fulfilling their A-G course requirements). Consequently, under the settlement, LAUSD must focus on the academic progress of ELLs before and after redesignation, concentrating efforts on students who reach high school without mastering the reading and writing skills necessary to enroll in a college-preparatory curriculum—thereby more at risk of dropping out.

In previous blog entries, I’ve discussed how the civil-rights movement was and continues to be inextricably tied to the state of public education systems that fail to provide equal opportunities for learning and success. The dismantling of de jure segregation policies were supposed to ensure that all students had equal access to education. Yet, this goal remained largely elusive because de facto segregation, and disparities in academic achievement among students of different economic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds persisted. When I bagan teaching in 1998, California passed SB2042, legislation inteded to overhaul teacher education programs statewide. Uncreatively named, “Teacher Preparation Is Changing,” SB2042, led the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC) to “establish and implement strong, effective standards of quality for the preparation and assessment of credential candidates” (a.k.a. classroom instructors applying for licenses to teach in California). When I left teaching and went off to graduate school in 2003, a report entitled “California’s Lowest-Performing Schools: Who They Are, The Challenges They Face, and How They Are Improving,” classified 109 of LAUSD’s elementary schools among the lowest-performing statewide. I can’t remember how many middle or high schools earned this rating, but I do recall the report recommended the adoption of a uniform curriculum, set of instructional tools, professional development programs, and common assessments. And this meant Open Court for all.

I’m not a fan of Open Court, Success For All, or any of the other form of “scripted” teaching. But based on what I’ve read and seen, the ultimate success of a Language Arts program depends, to a great extent, on a teacher’s training regarding its components, and application in meeting instructional objectives, as well as his/her efforts, commitment, and resourcefulness—creative use of (non)existing resources. Yet, while an effective teacher can often compensate for deficiencies in curriculum, materials, etc., his/her perspectives and views are vital in evaluating the effectiveness of a curricular program. It is a teacher’s expectations, theories, beliefs, educational knowledge, practical application of academic skill sets, as well as his/her reflections on classroom successes (and failures), that serve as the basis for any judgments and decisions about a program’s workability and relevance. Because a teacher’s role is so critical to its success, if his/her beliefs, values, and perceptions contradict or even conflict with objectives set forth by district officials, a program that does not take into account a teacher’s expectations, interests, and perspectives will instill anxiety, doubt, and diminished professional efficacy that translates into failure for vulnerable students.

Over a decade before this year’s settlement with the Dept. of Ed’s Office for Civil Rights, Eliezer Williams, et al vs. State of California, et al, a class action lawsuit argued that students received a fundamentally inequitable education statewide on the basis of wealth and language status. Around that time, California ELLs totaled around 1.6 million, or 40% of all ELLs nationwide. The primary claim related to inequity to the education of ELLs dealt with the lack of teacher training and credentials. At LAUSD’s Cahuenga Elementary for instance, 83.7 percent of students were ELLs, but 28 of the school’s 65 teachers lacked full, nonemergency credentials, and therefore were determined to lack adequate training to teach children in need of second language instruction. A lack of equal instruction, and therefore a lack of equal outcomes, were tied to the assignment of ELLs to less qualified teachers, inferior curriculum and less times to cover it, facilities segregated from their English speaking peers, assessments that provide little information about actual academic achivement. The case was settled in 2004, resulting in the state allocating $138 million in additional funding for standards-aligned instructional materials for schools in the first and second ranks (known as deciles) based on the 2003 Academic Performance Index (API), and another $50 million for implementation costs and other oversight-related activities for schools in deciles one through three.

Studies do not claim to prove a “causal relationship” between student achievement outcomes and teacher professional development, yet the view that a relationship between teacher preparation and pupil academic achievement is advocated by a preponderance of research experts, including criticis of current efforts to evaluate educators on the basis of student test data, such as Linda Darling-Hammond. It has been demonstrated that good professional development increases a teacher’s sense of competence and provides him/her with tangible strategies for better meeting student needs. Yet, while teacher professional development has been a cornerstone of many states’ education reform plans, surprisingly little emphasis has been placed on the specialized needs of teachers whose classrooms are comprised of ELLs. The instructional demands placed on teachers of ELLs have always been intense—expected to provide instruction in English language development while simultaneously or sequentially attempting to ensure access to the core curriculum. Sadly, the historic data is clear. Even where teachers have been teaching a majority of English learners, the professional development they’ve received dedicated to helping them instruct these students has been minimal. During my Corps years, the amount of hours dedicated to the instruction of ELLs represented a single digit percentage of professional development, despite the fact that California had very publicly, and controversially, eliminated bilingual education via Prop. 227 in 1998.

States that have passed ballot measures to get rid of bilingual education like California and Arizona, have greater gaps in achievement between ELLs and non-ELLs in math and reading, based on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, than do states such as Texas and New Mexico, that require bilingual education. This of course, should not prove surprising to anyone who has studied the role of first language development in learning the English language, or any scholars out there who follow what research proves about the advantages of developing reading and writing skils in multiple languages. I was never in support of Proposition 227, and it is my hope that after years and years of evidence, everyone has joined me in asserting that dismantling bilingual education in California was a mistake. Nevertheless, the most important point is that the road forward for ELLs in California will be a long and difficult one without the support of teachers who view parents and families as allies, and embrace their role as agents of change.

Since 2008, California has required candidates for preliminary Multiple and Single Subject Teaching Credentials to pass assessements of their teaching performance designed to measure their knowledge, skills, and ability with relation to California’s Teaching Performance Expectations (TPEs), including demonstrating their ability to appropriately instruct all students in Student Academic Content Standards. Whatever happens with Felipe Fuentes’ educator effectiveness legislation AB5, or the Stull Act lawsuit, current and former classroom instructors are the ones who are going to have to advocate on behalf of a system that takes communicating educational progress and needs to parents and families, as well as student outcomes into account when it comes to training, coaching, and evaluating teachers—especially those with Culture, Language, and Development (CLAD) preparation and full credentials. We do not live in a time where it is enough to focus on delivery of instruction, and the development of pedagogies capable of meeting the needs of diverse students. The Dept. of Ed.’s Office for Civil Rights says policies contributing to the acivement gaps plaguing ELLs and black students must change. Believe me when I tell you that the final policies that will ultimately harm or benefit students have yet to be written. It’s time for us to step up.

We have a tremendous window of opportunity. 2012 education policies in Sacramento are still being written. There is still plenty of time to impact what state legislators will vote on when it comes to educator effectiveness evaluation, for instance, and how they will vote. 2012 education campaigns tied to statewide ballot initiatives are coming together, and there’s still time to educate your peers over social media, make phonecalls, knock on doors, and write letters to the editor in order to provide more education funding. Most importantly, we have arrived a great moment to improve policies and practices at LAUSD schools:

Learn. Network. Take action. Attend E4E’s first event in L.A., “The Behind-the-Scenes Work of Turning Around Schools: Lifting Morale & Performance,” featuring award-winning principal, Howard Lappin.
Date: Wednesday, November 30. Time: 5:30-7:00 pm. Location: Downtown Magnets High School. RSVP Here: http://www.educators4excellence.org/events/nov30lattb

Sign the pledge www.dontholdusback.org and join 26 organizations, and a growing number of parents and teachers calling for a reform contract between LAUSD and UTLA. Once you’ve done so, email Felicia Jones fjones@familiesinschools.org to let her know you’re a former/current teacher with something to say.

If you doubt me, just read L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez: “Politics, ego, endless skirmishes between school districts and teacher unions — it all gets in the way of the kids’ best interests. And California spends less per pupil than all but a few states when you adjust for regional cost-of-living differences, leading to an annual ritual of laying off thousands of teachers and other staffers… But in Los Angeles, the status quo is under attack… It’s time for the grown-ups to stop mucking things up for the kids.”

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