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Learning Curves

Learning Curves: New Column Reports on the Education Wars

If privatization is making American education the Wild West for those wishing to profit off children using public dollars, then Los Angeles Unified is its Tombstone.

Bill Raden

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L.A. School Board Photo: Bill Raden

Editor’s Note: Today Capital & Main’s education reporter, Bill Raden, begins a new weekly column covering the contentious, ever-changing landscape of California’s education system. A staccato-paced selection of news items, profiles and dish, “Learning Curves” will report on everything from charter school controversies in K-12 schools to the skyrocketing costs of attending college. Other issues will include school funding, equity, and the intersection of education and inequality.

Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

We wanted the launch of Learning Curves, Capital & Main’s new weekly roundup of education inequality headlines, to be a Golden State affair. But the week’s leading education story turned out to be national: The unusually copious ideological paper trail left by D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s hard-right choice to replace Supreme Court Justice Anthony “Swing Vote” Kennedy. Politico reported that Kavanaugh favors —

One measure of the cost to California from privatization came out in May. Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts compared the current school budgets in Oakland, San Diego and San Jose — three of the state’s most chartered-up and financially stressed school districts — with a hypothetical alternative in which all students remained enrolled in traditional public schools. The difference, parsed by the state’s Local Control Funding Formulas, became the privatization price tag. The $57.3 million calculated for Oakland Unified, which claims the state’s highest percentage of charter enrollment, made up both its 2017 shortfall and paid off the $40 million still owed to California from its $100 million bailout and state takeover in 2003.

That kind of policy math has earned California a D+ in last month’s Grading the States report card, released by the Network for Public Education and the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

“[California] is near the bottom of the country when it comes to accountability and transparency,” researcher Carol Burris explained to Learning Curves. “California is one of only four states that allow for-profit charters, and even its non-profit charters can be run by for-profit corporations. … It is the Wild West for those who wish to make a profit off kids using public dollars.”

If so, the Tombstone in that Wild West is Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s largest charter school district in sheer enrollment, presided over by a pro-charter school board majority and its newly handpicked, no-experience-required superintendent, the Wall Street financier Austin Beutner. One vote taken at Tuesday’s board meeting turned into an OK Corral moment.

The Los Angeles global law firm Latham & Watkins won a conflict-of-interest waiver vote to do “realignment” work for the superintendent, thanks in part to an ethics nod by pro-charter District 5 board member Ref Rodriguez. The firm has frequently sued the district for millions on behalf of the California Charter School Association (CCSA), while Rodriguez has been under the cloud of three felony charges and 25 misdemeanor counts related to alleged money laundering from his 2015 election.

Ref also helped shoot down a CCSA-opposed local parcel tax measure proposal on Tuesday. Aimed for the November ballot and designed to take a significant bite — and much of the anticipated classroom sting — out of a $482.2 million shortfall projected for 2020-2021, the tax had already polled at an extraordinary 68 percent approval rating with voters.

“This is urgent now. If you wait, it may never happen,” former board president Jackie Goldberg exhorted after Beutner argued for putting it on the 2020 ballot instead.

The no vote may have had less to do with election timing than it did with “Hard Choices,” the financial restructuring blueprint released in June by a blue-ribbon task force chaired by none other than Austin Beutner. That report targeted district employees’ compensation, pensions and health care for “realignment,” but its presumptive sense of urgency would definitely not be served by a parcel tax rescue.

Meanwhile, United Teachers Los Angeles, which has been without a contract for over a year, last week singled out the task force report when it formally filed an impasse with the California Public Employment Relations Board. (The union later agreed to return to the bargaining table July 24.) Stay tuned.


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Will Los Angeles Teachers Strike Jan. 10?

A state-appointed fact-finding panel mostly punted on unresolved equity demands that form the heart of what Los Angeles’ teacher union has framed as a fight to save L.A.’s “civic institution of public education.”

Bill Raden

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Teachers and their supporters rally in downtown Los Angeles, December 15. (Photo: Bill Raden)

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Fasten your seatbelts Los Angeles, it’s going to be a bumpy strike. That was the subtext to a tumultuous week that saw over 50,000 L.A. teachers, students and families take to the streets Saturday to support a union faced with budgetary saber-rattling by Los Angeles Unified, and that climaxed on Wednesday with United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl setting a January 10 walkout date — unless Los Angeles Unified negotiators meet key union demands for investments in the district’s highest-poverty students.

Caputo-Pearl’s announcement came a day after L.A. Unified superintendent Austin Beutner erroneously claimed that the union had accepted the district’s six percent pay raise offer, as recommended in Tuesday’s report by state-appointed fact-finders who also urged LAUSD to kick in the modest equivalent of a one to three percent salary increase for new hires to reduce class sizes, and for both sides to work together to lobby Sacramento for more state funding.

Fact-finding panel chairman David A. Weinberg mostly punted on 19 of 21 unresolved equity demands that form the heart of what UTLA has framed as a fight to save L.A.’s “civic institution of public education.” The union won some minor points, like the allowing of teacher input on charter co-locations, and on scrapping a district privilege to unilaterally lift class size caps during fiscal crunches. But by accepting at face value LAUSD’s latest claims of imminent bankruptcy, Weinberg left unanswered a critical question: How could LAUSD annually project catastrophic, three-year deficits and still have its unrestricted cash reserves balloon from $500 million to nearly $2 billion during the same five-year period?

“We have watched underfunding and actions of privatizers undermine our students and our schools for too long. No more,” Caputo-Pearl warned on Wednesday.

The controversy over LAUSD’s “structural deficit” is already defining next March’s special school board election. Ten candidates have thrown in their hats for the seat left vacant by the July resignation of disgraced ex-Board District 5 member Ref Rodriguez. At stake is the single-vote edge enjoyed by Rodriguez’s former pro-charter voting block, currently led by board president Monica Garcia. But the race heated up considerably last week when former two-time BD 5 representative Jackie Goldberg won the UTLA board’s overwhelming endorsement. The contest hinges on which of the other candidates will attract the lucrative support of charter school backers, who in 2017 spent a record-shattering $6.6 million to oust former board president Steve Zimmer in favor of staunch Beutner ally Nick Melvoin.

Also heating up is speculation on how Governor-elect Gavin Newsom’s State Board of Education picks will alter the ideology of a board that has been seen as bending over backwards to favor charter schools. This week, the nonprofit education news site EdSource pointed out that, although it will take years to fully reshape the Jerry Brown-appointed, 11-member board, Newsom’s first opportunity will come on his January 7 inauguration day. That’s when current president Michael Kirst, who was instrumental in California’s adoption of dubious Common Core State Standards, retires. Departing a week later will be Trish Boyd Williams, whose pro-charter charter enthusiasm and career ties to corporate-reform cash have been the bane of local school boards. Also leaving in 2019 will be Bruce Holaday. The term of Karen Valdes, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2017, ends in January.


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Los Angeles and Oakland Teachers Rally Amid Deadlocked Contract Talks

A Los Angeles school board meeting turned raucous days ahead of two solidarity rallies to be held Saturday in L.A. and Oakland.

Bill Raden

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LAUSD school board photo and video by Bill Raden.

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Two California teachers unions, which are currently deadlocked in separate contract talks with their respective school districts, are on the verge of launching the West Coast’s biggest teacher walkout since 1989. What happens next will decide far more than fair wages for career educators. At stake are broader principles of equity, expressed as contract demands for smaller class sizes and less testing, the addition of sufficient health and social services staff, and an investment in community schooling and fair funding — aimed at restoring public education as a public good for all Californians, rather than as a private interest granted to the lucky few.

While they await the results of a state-mediated fact-finding process, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and the Oakland Education Association (OEA) have declared Saturday, December 15, a day of solidarity, and have invited all to join teachers in a rally to defend public education. The Oakland action kicks off at Omni Commons at 11 a.m., while L.A.’s march and rally begins at Grand Park at 10 a.m.

Meanwhile, an estimated 90 Oakland Unified teachers skipped classes December 10 in a one-day wildcat sickout to protest some of the state’s lowest teacher pay — against a backdrop of California’s fast-rising living costs. But a more fundamental grievance is with the $60 million that Oakland Unified must cut over the next two years. It has led superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell to adopt a draconian district downsizing plan that could close up to 24 mostly low-income neighborhood public schools and coordinate the remainder of the 87-campus district with the city’s 45 charters on things like enrollment and transportation. The strategy has been likened to a “portfolio model,” the controversial template for privatized district governance that favors charter expansion at the expense of traditional public schools.

It also bears an uncanny resemblance to “Re-Imagine LAUSD,” the prematurely leaked but still mostly secret pet portfolio plan of L.A. Unified supe Austin Beutner — just one of the issues behind the takeover by 50 placard-carrying protesters at the L.A. school board meeting last Tuesday. Students, parents and teachers seized the floor and unfurled a banner of union-aligned demands: an end to random student searches; reductions in class sizes and testing; and the hiring of more health workers, community schools and per-pupil funding. For good measure, they also chanted down attempts by board president Mónica Garcia to restore order, a caterwaul that eventually drove Beutner and his board allies from the room.

Interrupted was a budget hearing marked by a kind of testy déjà vu: CFO Scott Price again played down the significance of a nearly $2 billion cash surplus; and board members George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson again wearily pushed back against Board District 4’s Nick Melvoin’s insistence that the district’s so-called structural budget deficit was a recipe for mass layoffs and state receivership (in spite of how, in 10 years, none of the district’s projections of red ink has ever been manifested).

“It’s called spin,” shrugged UTLA Central Area board member Tomás Flores at a post-occupy sidewalk rally. “What they have been spinning is that the district is at the edge of bankruptcy. … I believe that the fact-finding did not need to continue any longer than the three days. There wasn’t anything else to be said. The district hasn’t been honest.” (Beutner declined to comment for this story.)

If November’s blue wave means the tide has indeed turned against California’s market-driven ed reformers, grassroots activists aren’t resting on any laurels. That’s why they are circulating a petition launched by the Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN), asking Governor-elect Gavin Newsom to abide by four seemingly common sense hiring principles:

  • No conflicts of business interests
  • Education-related appointments must strictly mirror California’s 90/10 proportion of public-to-charter-school enrollments
  • No more Betsy DeVoses guarding the regulatory henhouse (i.e., appoint only seasoned, public school-committed educators to the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools)
  • Genuinely partner with the public schools community to uproot what OPEN considers the predatory incentives and equity barriers that it says are the legacy of California’s 25-year-long ed reform wrong turn.

One reason Newsom might want to expedite the restoration of California’s ed code to a less laissez faire era of grace is the deregulated marketplace’s tendency to incentivize a school’s drift into inequality. That’s the conclusion of “Are California’s Charter Schools the New Separate-But-Equal “Schools of Excellence,” or Are They Worse Than Plessy?”

The February study, by University of Connecticut law professor Preston Green and Montclair State University professor of counseling and educational leadership Joseph Oluwole, looks at California’s low-income public schools landscape, including the history of racially segregated, pre-civil rights “separate-but-equal” schools, to investigate claims that it can be advantageous to concentrate low-income black and Latino kids.

Their conclusion? Bad idea. Despite some worthy, individual examples, when taken out of the community or scaled up and put under an Education Management Organization (EMO), corporate priorities and financial gain invariably drain off resources. Green and Oluwole recommend that states ban EMO franchises altogether and allow authorizing districts to consider economic impact.


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A Come-From-Behind Win for Tony Thurmond?

L.A. Unified reimagines the 1990s. The effects of immigration crackdowns on Latino student enrollment. Tony Thurmond rallies to take the lead in state schools chief race.

Bill Raden

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Superintendent-apparent: Tony Thurmond

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

The lid on a secret scheme to radically decentralize Los Angeles Unified was partially pried open last week when the Los Angeles Times provided the first inklings of what LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner has variously called “realignment” and “reimagining” since his hiring in May. Times education writers Howard Blume and Anna Phillips say highlights include a purge of “discretionary” staff at the district’s Beaudry Avenue headquarters. Budgeting, hiring and curriculum authority would be transferred to LAUSD’s 988 district-managed schools, which will be organized into 32 geographic “networks” under the oversight of regional offices. The theory is that cost savings and “charter-like” autonomy will improve student outcomes. Beutner is expected to unveil details next month.

Reimagining’s actual reimagineers are outside consultants who carried out a similar reorganization of Newark, New Jersey schools using a highly controversial approach borrowed from Wall Street. Called the “portfolio model,” it means each of the 32 L.A. networks would be overseen like a stock portfolio. A portfolio manager would keep the “good” schools and dump the “bad” by turning them over to a charter or shutting them down much like a bum stock. Why that should fare any better than a short-lived LAUSD reform in the 1990s that also divided the district into small, semi-autonomous clusters but failed to budge academic performance remains unclear. The changes in Newark included neighborhood school closures, mass firings of teachers and principals, a spike in new charters and a revolt by parents that drove out former Newark supe — and current L.A. consultant — Cami Anderson.

One wrinkle in LAUSD going portfolio is the March 5 special election to fill the District 5 seat left vacant by the August resignation of disgraced board member Ref Rodriguez. District 5 veteran Jackie Goldberg’s October 26 announcement that she is running for a third term in her old board seat could effectively make the contest a local referendum on the Beutner plan. The progressive, twice-elected L.A. City Councilmember and two-term California Assemblymember has never lost a race in her political career. The pro-charter forces on the current one-vote board majority might consider having a kinder, gentler-to-public school families Plan B waiting in the wings.

Speaking of shoo-ins, it turns out that any talk of a Marshall Tuck victory in last week’s inconclusive election for California Superintendent of Public Instruction was a tad premature. As of Wednesday evening, the California Secretary of State reported that progressive Assemblymember Tony Thurmond has surged ahead of the former charter school operator by nearly 75,000 votes in the ongoing count of an estimated 4.8 million, mostly mail-in ballots that arrived after Election Day. Although millions of ballots remain to be counted, given the fact that late voters in California traditionally swing leftward and more diverse, Learning Curves is officially going out on a limb to be the first to congratulate superintendent-elect Thurmond on his narrow but decisive victory.

This week’s prize for the least surprising findings in an education study goes to Stanford researchers Thomas Dee and Mark Murphy, who determined that wherever county law-enforcement cooperated in ramped-up immigration enforcement with ICE agents, Latino school enrollment dropped by an average of almost eight percent within two years. Federal law prohibits schools and districts from adopting policies that deny or discourage children from enrolling because of immigration status. But Dee and Murphy’s “Vanished Classmates: The Effects of Local Immigration Enforcement on Student Enrollment” estimated that 300,000 Latino children were uprooted from their schools between 2000 and 2011 in 55 jurisdictions that had voluntary enforcement partnerships with the feds.


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Wealthy Charter Backers Flood California Schools Chief Race With Cash

The record-shattering spending on candidate Marshall Tuck mirrors the threat level that a Sacramento without Jerry Brown represents to the charter school lobby.

Bill Raden

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Photo by jcjusay

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

The state schools superintendent contest between East Bay progressive Assemblymember Tony Thurmond and onetime Los Angeles charter school operator Marshall Tuck has been what one might expect of a down-ballot race swamped by below-the-belt attack ads and low-flying slate mailers— namely, a race paid for by unprecedented levels of outside independent expenditure committee (IE) spending by conservative billionaires trying to remake California education according to their privatizing vision.

On October 28, the non-profit journalism website EdSource reported that campaign spending had pushed past the stratospheric $50 million mark, easily making it the costliest schools chief race in history. Roughly $34 million benefited Tuck, whose pair of PACs directed by charter lobbyists EdVoice outspent the lone pro-Thurmond labor IE by $28.8 million to $12.2 million. (Disclosure: Some unions financially supporting Thurmond are also supporters of this website.) Top Tuck contributors represented a Who’s Who of philanthropists who have been leveraging their personal fortunes to radically reconfigure public schools:

Contribution Contribution
1. Bill Bloomfield $6,761,900
2. The Walton Family $5,138,400
3. Eli Broad $3,216,305
4.  Arthur Rock  $3,216,305
5. Doris F. Fisher  $3,090,400
6. Richard Riordan  $2,007,000
 Total  $23,928,605

Source: Cal-Access

One problem with having the Walmart Waltons foot a candidate’s bills is the presumptive link to the far-right agenda of Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos. Carrie Walton Penner’s support for DeVos included a board seat on her pet pro-voucher organization, Alliance for School Choice. Tuck’s moneyed backers are also betting big on neoliberal neophyte Buffy Wicks (and against progressive firebrand Jovanka Beckles) to fill Thurmond’s Assembly District 15 seat. If successful, Wicks could help dilute any legislative fixes of charters before they reach the desk of Gavin Newsom, the gubernatorial bête noir of the California Charter School Association.

One advantage to having Walmart-sized buying power is traction. In mid-October, EdVoice’s $8.55 million “thermonuclear” media response to a $3 million pro-Thurmond ad buy had Tuck squeaking ahead in the polls by October 24. That lead widened in last Wednesday’s University of California, Berkeley IGS Poll, with Tuck polling 48 percent to Thurmond’s 36 (although a self-survey on iSideWith.com has Thurmond at 46 and Tuck at 34). The poll noted that 64 percent of Republicans favored Tuck, compared to 14 percent for Thurmond.

Tuck’s appeal to the right is no accident. Last week, members of California’s congressional delegation called on Tuck to disavow the $233,000 EdVoice has spent to plaster his face on Republican slate mailers around the state. During the primary, Tuck appeared on reelection mailers for key Trump allies Devin Nunes (R-CA 22) and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA 23). This time out, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA 13) complained, he’s effectively helping Republicans in districts key to Democratic hopes to flip Congress in Tuesday’s hoped-for blue wave. They include the 25th District, where 31-year-old Katie Hill appears poised to knock out Republican Steve Knight, and the 45th District, where UC Irvine law professor Katie Porter hopes to retire Orange County Trump loyalist Mimi Walters. And on Saturday, Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox tweeted his endorsement of Tuck, alongside that of Republican EdVoice cofounder Steve Poizner for state insurance commissioner.

Tuck is also taking heat for EdVoice attack ads tarring Thurmond with racially tinged falsehoods. On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California objected to its name being used on a Tuck slate mailer that doubled down on debunked claims in an EdVoice TV spot that the Obama White House “reprimanded” Thurmond over mishandling of Title IX claims when he was a school board member. That ad earned Tuck an angry censure by state Democratic Party Women’s Caucus Chair Christine Pelosi and Southern Chair Carolyn Fowler, along with California-Hawaii NAACP president Alice Huffman, over the ad’s alleged use of racist “dog whistles” and for “being willing to weaponize children’s trauma.”

The record-shattering spending on Tuck ultimately mirrors the threat level that a Sacramento without Jerry Brown represents to EdVoice executive director Bill Lucia. With Gavin Newsom ahead of his Republican opponent, John Cox, by 18 points in Wednesday’s poll, Newsom’s pledges for greater accountability and a moratorium on further expansion in charter-heavy districts are the stuff that keeps California school privatizers turning in their sleep. Of the supe candidates, Tuck alone has flatly rejected a “pause” in favor of limited financial help to those districts for orderly downsizing through school closures and mass teacher layoffs. For the laissez-faire ed-reform faithful, “disruption” is proof that deregulated markets and robust competition are working.


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California’s Schools Chief Candidates Double Down on Accusations

State superintendent’s race turns angry. Trump says gender is all in the crotch. Math scores dive.

Bill Raden

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Marshall Tuck (left) photo by Andrew Blumenfeld; Tony Thurmond photo by LightSlash.

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

With the California Schools Superintendent race in its final stretch, the Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond campaigns traded angry broadsides last week over each camp’s ads. The sparring began with an October 12 cease and desist letter from Tuck over a Thurmond-produced TV spot claiming Tuck “is a paid backer of charter schools,” supported by Betsy DeVos and “financed by the same billionaires behind” the Trump education secretary. Thurmond in turn called on “Tuck and his supporters” to take down a cable TV ad that falsely suggested the progressive assemblymember was responsible for West Contra Costa Unified’s fiscal problems and had earned an Obama administration “reprimand” over district mishandling of sexual harassment during his term on WCCUSD’s school board.

Though an EdVoice fact-check slapped both with truth demerits and singled out the reprimand claim as “false,” it noted that some of the billionaire donors behind the now-$26 million raised by the two pro-Tuck EdVoice charter school super PACs have also written checks to a pair of DeVos nonprofits. Thurmond spokesperson Maddie Franklin, who said the campaign stands by its spot, added that as recently as 2015, Tuck was still a salaried board member of the Eli Broad- and Walton Family-funded charter lobby group Parent Revolution. Tuck spokesperson Andrew Blumenfeld was adamant that the campaign had no reason nor the legal means to even publicly call for EdVoice to pull the anti-Thurmond ad. “Not only don’t we have control,” Blumenfeld told Learning Curves, “it would be illegal for me to … communicate with them in any way about the content they produce. We’re talking about two very different things.”

Above: Thurmond attacks Tuck. Below: Tuck attack Thurmond.

Some 1.4 million American adults who define their gender as different from their biological sex at birth woke last weekend to headlines announcing that the Trump administration is set to define their sexual identities “out of existence.” On Monday, Donald Trump confirmed he is considering redefining gender as fixed at birth by a person’s genitalia. The move would reverse, among other things, the Obama administration’s 2016 guidance recognizing gender largely as an individual’s choice under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 that bans sex discrimination in schools.

Last year, Betsy DeVos withdrew that guidance in one of her first acts as education department chief. Since then, Inside Higher Ed reports, numerous colleges have failed to enforce transgender rights in disputes over admissions policies and access to bathrooms, residence halls and athletic programs. And an August investigation by Politico found many complaints by elementary and secondary trans students and their families have been dismissed by the U.S. education department.

College entrance exam results for 2018 high school graduates are in and the news isn’t great. Math scores plunged to an average of 20.5 —their lowest level in more than 20 years, according to exam data released last week by ACT in its annual report on college readiness. Average composite ACT scores fell in all racial and ethnic groups except for Asian-Americans. “We’re at a very dangerous point,” ACT chief executive officer Marten Roorda told EdWeek.

Not so fast, averred former National Council of Teachers of Mathematics president Matt Larson: “As a country, we’ve reached the limits of what we can get out of standards alone. We need to pay more attention to what is taking place in the classroom.” In a separate statement, Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, which tracks testing trends, went further, declaring, “This provides additional evidence that K-12 test-and-punish policies pursued by the federal government and many states have not improved readiness for higher education.”


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State Superintendent Race Hit With New Wave of Billionaire Bucks

In final weeks of race, pro-charter forces fill the coffers. DeVos fails to kill student debt relief rule. The kids are alright with socialism.

Bill Raden

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“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


With November 6 now a mere 19 days out, EdSource last week updated what has become a favorite pastime for California election buffs — toting up the eye-popping amounts of private wealth supporting the Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate opposed to meaningful charter school accountability reforms. On October 9, EdSource reported that two independent committees, comprised of a handful of mostly charter-backing billionaires, had collected $20.4 million in support of former charter school CEO Marshall Tuck, who is making his second run for state supe. A Wednesday recount by Learning Curves, however, found that total had swelled to more than $22 million.

That is more than twice the $9.6 million raised by an independent committee in support of Tony Thurmond, funded primarily by unions representing teachers and school workers. The progressive Assemblymember and former social worker from Richmond has pledged to consider supporting a “pause” in unregulated charter expansions that threaten to push fiscally stressed districts into insolvency.

Correction: Anyone skeptical of last month’s Stanford University study of Golden State K-12 underfunding must either be unusually perspicacious or a veteran California classroom teacher. That’s because the true amount should have been $25.6 billion — $3.5 billion more than the figure originally cited by Getting Down to Facts II and a 38 percent annual shortfall from what the authors say is needed to give all California students opportunities to succeed in college and career. Lead researcher Jesse Levin issued the correction last week after discovering a calculation error had over-counted the state’s actual schools spending for 2016-17. The updated number does not change the report’s overall findings, Levin emphasized.

One failure that explains at least part of the persistent underfunding, according to Confronting the Education Debt, a September report by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, is federal shortchanging of the country’s most vulnerable students. Between 2005 and 2017, high-needs schools didn’t receive a combined $580 billion in funding required through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The $347 billion in Title I money that congress failed to appropriate over the past 13 years, the authors point out, could have provided health and mental health services for every student at the U.S.’s highest-poverty schools and had enough left over to hire a full-time nurse, a full-time librarian and either an additional full-time counselor or a full-time teaching assistant for every classroom in every Title I school.

Betsy DeVos Watch: Good news for the 90,307 Californians potentially eligible for student debt relief from predatory for-profit colleges — a federal judge on Tuesday ordered the U.S. Department of Education to immediately put into effect an Obama-era student loan forgiveness rule. The order ends Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ yearlong attempt to delay implementation until the rules can be replaced by a rewrite that will make claims vastly more difficult for students saddled with debt and worthless degrees, now scheduled for 2020. The Education Department has reported that although for-profits account for only 10 percent of national enrollment, they generated 18 percent of the now $1.5 trillion in federal student debt.

Which may explain why American millennials’ opinion of capitalism has plummeted in favor of positive views of socialism, according to August Gallup poll numbers. If so, the connection is lost on the nation’s highest education official. Appearing Tuesday on the libertarian-leaning Daily Signal podcast, DeVos blamed a lack of K-12 civics classes for sending kids to college “without the background to even know and understand competing ideas.” It probably just slipped her mind, the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss noted wryly, that only last year the Michigan billionaire tried to cut federal funding for a program to improve American history and civics education.


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2018 Has Seen K-12 Strike Wave Sweep U.S. — And It’s Still October

A generational upsurge of public school walkouts. For San Jose teachers, home isn’t where the NIMBYs are. Death of a black Humboldt State student.

Bill Raden

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Austin Beutner photo by Bill Raden.

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

It’s official: 2018 has already seen the highest number of teacher work stoppages in a quarter-century, according to new federal numbers crunched by the Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In an October 4 Labor Notes blog post, UMass Amherst sociology professor Jasmine Kerrissey says that five percent of all K-12 teachers have walked off the job since January. “Our figures for 2018 don’t yet include the teacher strikes around Washington State in September — or the big ones that may still be ahead this fall in Los Angeles and Oakland,” she adds. Chalk it up to stagnant wages and years of draconian austerity.

Whether or not L.A. Unified follows suit now is a matter between United Teachers Los Angeles, LAUSD negotiators and state mediators. Last week saw the climax to a legal tug of war between the union (United Teachers Los Angeles) and LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner over a public records request for Beutner’s official appointments calendar. The resulting cache appears to confirm longstanding union suspicions that Beutner has been working closely and in secret with “charter operators, wealthy privatizers and related organizations.” UTLA documented at least 11 meetings between the superintendent and high-powered charter interests, including Jed Wallace of the California Charter Schools Association, Republican donor and charter backer Frank E. Baxter, and charter-aligned LAUSD lobbyists Mercury Public Affairs. How the discovery might impact contract talks remains to be seen. The next mediation is scheduled for today.

A NIMBY uproar by neighbors of San Jose Unified could threaten at least part of an innovative district solution to affordable teacher housing. With skyrocketing housing costs already a prime driver of SJUSD’s annual 200-teacher turnover, and with downtown San Jose in the running for a massive mixed-use Google development, the district has been considering nine properties on which existing schools with declining enrollments could be moved to make way for as much as several hundred housing units for teachers and school employees. The angriest battles have been in the tony South San Jose neighborhood of Almaden Valley, where residents signed an online petition, complaining that employee housing for public school teachers “will negatively impact the aesthetics of the area” and “will negatively impact home values.”

Inside Higher Ed is reporting that a disconnect between diversity recruitment goals by California colleges and the state’s least diverse communities is at the center of an unsolved April 2017 murder of a 19-year-old black Humboldt State University sophomore. David Josiah Lawson was stabbed to death during a fight at an off-campus party in the mostly white Northern California town of Arcata. Charges against a 24-year-old white local, identified by partygoers as the assailant, were dismissed for insufficient evidence.

The victim’s mother, Charmaine Lawson, has blamed police indifference and a lack of urgency by the university for the stalled investigation — charges that were bolstered by complaints from a consulting retired FBI agent over the lack of cooperation and honesty from the Arcata police department. Lawson has joined with students in demanding greater accountability from HSU: “They knew the type of environment where my son was going to school, and yet they recruited him. They recruited many students of color knowing that Arcata isn’t a safe town.”


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Stanford Report Gives California Schools Mixed Report Card

Good news/bad news for state schools. Charter lobby’s burned bridge problem. Austin Beutner ratchets up tensions with Los Angeles teachers.

Bill Raden

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“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Both sides of California’s neoliberal divide will find something to like in “Getting Down to Facts II,” the sweeping new report on the state of public education released this week by Stanford University and PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education). The good news: Overall test scores and high school graduation rates are improving, the achievement gap is narrowing, and out-of-school suspensions and school expulsions are decreasing. The bad: This progress has been limited, and California’s education landscape continues to be rife with inequality.

Some highlights:

  • California will need to find an additional $22.1 billion per year to give all kids an adequate education.
  • The state’s charter authorization, oversight and renewal laws are a hot mess, though urban charters score well for academic growth.
  • California lags behind most states in providing medical and mental health services, as well as school counselors.
  • California’s highest-needs schools get stuck with the least-experienced and worst-paid principals.
  • All the progress with new standards, curriculum, instruction and assessments is under threat by the qualified-teacher shortage crisis.

EdSource is predicting that this year’s race for California Superintendent of Public Instruction will be the most expensive ever. Again. With seven weeks to go before Election Day, the same pro-privatization billionaires that in 2014 unsuccessfully poured $10.4 million into unseating current state schools chief Tom Torlakson have already surpassed that amount in new fundraising for Marshall Tuck. That leaves the teachers-backed candidate, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), at a two-to-one money disadvantage.

And, says Julian Vasquez Heilig, educational leadership and policy studies professor at Cal State Sacramento, the flat rejection by voters of the charter camp’s gubernatorial candidate in the June primary is sure to see spending go even higher. “They spent a lot of money against [Gavin] Newsom on Antonio Villaraigosa, so they burned their bridge,” Heilig told Learning Curves. “You know what they say: If you burn your bridge, you have to learn how to fly. And [they need Tuck] to make sure that their agenda continues to march forward.”

California is officially rescuing fiscal train wrecks Oakland Unified and Inglewood Unified. Both school districts, which have been languishing under state receivership, will split $52.1 million under an education finance trailer bill signed by Jerry Brown on Monday. The catch? In Oakland’s case, it could still mean closing dozens of neighborhood schools, selling or leasing property, and laying off hundreds of teachers, nurses, cafeteria workers and custodians.

Teachers protesting Austin Beutner’s speech. (Photo: Bill Raden)

Which is more or less the scenario that Los Angeles Unified superintendent Austin Beutner has been raising in a PR blitz around stalled contract talks with teachers. His austerity campaign appeared to shift last week after union doubts about district claims that LAUSD had $1.2 billion in unrestricted cash reserves were proved justified (the amount is closer to $2 billion). At a policy speech delivered in the RFK Community Schools library, the superintendent ratcheted tensions with a call for “a transparent, efficient and fair process to manage ineffective teachers out.”

This veiled threat to teacher job protections, delivered against the backdrop of a possible strike, could explain why teachers were barred from the invitation-only event. And the unhappy fate of John Deasy, the onetime LAUSD supe who joined an anti-tenure legal attack in 2014, might further explain why Beutner quietly slipped out a side door while teachers protested in the front courtyard.


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Report: Do College Admissions Offices Ignore Black Activist Applicants?

Wanted: Black College Students (just not at our college). Diane Ravitch’s Power Elitists. An inconvenient truth for LAUSD.

Bill Raden

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Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Topping this week’s list of least surprising findings in an education study: White college admissions officers are more prone to screen out prospects who appear to be black civil rights activists. At least that’s the conclusion of “We Want Black Students, Just Not You,” a Sacha Baron Cohen-esque sting of admissions offices devised by Florida Gulf Coast University assistant professor of sociology Ted Thornhill and published by the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity.

Thornhill created four fictitious black personas, ranging from an assimilationist milquetoast to a racially woke activist, and sent emails in their names to 517 white admissions counselors at predominantly white colleges and universities. He asked each of them if “he” or “she” would be “a good fit” at their colleges. The result? “Racially salient” emails had a response rate of only 55 percent — 10 percentage points lower than the nondescript milquetoast. The response to the likely Black Lives Matter applicant dropped 17 more points.

Black Names Matter: Names chosen by Ted Thornhill to hint at racial identities to admissions counselors.

Looks like the Trump rescue of for-profit colleges — via Betsy DeVosproposed gutting of Obama-era “gainful employment” and “borrower defense” rules — has come too late for Education Corporation of America. The national for-profit college operator said on Wednesday it will close 26 campuses by early 2020, including four of its 10 California Brightwood College campuses, located in Bakersfield, Fresno, Palm Springs and Sacramento. “Insufficient enrollment demand,” explained an ECA spokesperson. Regulatory crackdowns, negative publicity and a booming job market, adds Inside Higher Ed’s Andrew Kreighbaum.

This week’s must-read for the informed anti-privatization activist comes courtesy of Diane Ravitch and an encyclopedic trove of new research from her Network for Public Education Action. “Hijacked by Billionaires: How the Super Rich Buy Elections to Undermine Public Schools” is not exactly a Forbes 400 of anti-public education plutocrats — call it a description of a dark money pipeline that has been financing the destruction of America’s democratic system of universal public education, one school board race at a time. Los Angeles Unified school board members Ref Rodriguez, Nick Melvoin, Kelly Gonez and Monica Garcia get featured billing — and an interactive money map — in one of “Hijacked’s” nine national case studies of the independent expenditure spigot in action.

The looming likelihood of a teachers’ strike at the nation’s second-largest school district wasn’t on the official agenda of this week’s Los Angeles Unified School Board meeting, but the boardroom fairly seethed with subtext. Especially when the district’s positive budget was down-certified by L.A. County Office of Education’s chief financial officer, Candi Clark, to a “qualified” rating. That’s when District 1’s George McKenna gave a lesson in leadership to a board majority weirdly complacent with the coming storm: Resurrect and put before voters, McKenna advised, the parcel tax that had polled high in July but which the majority flatly rejected. “How can bold people lack the courage to take the step?” demanded the ex- Compton Unified deputy superintendent incredulously. “I’m saying it’s in good faith to [show] our labor partners that we’re trying to do something other than to threaten them with cuts.” Mediation is set for September 27.


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U.S. Department of Education Flunks School-Shootings Math

Why Betsy can’t count. How school kids lost 11 million days of class. Will CAVA cave?

Bill Raden

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Photo by Pandora Young

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Even by the standards of a White House besotted with “alternative facts,” the U.S. Department of Education’s botched tally of school shootings for the 2015-2016 academic year was a lulu. Instead of the “nearly 240” incidents claimed last spring by the department’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), NPR reported last week the true figure was probably closer to the 29 tracked by the Everytown for Gun Safety database. Blame the confusing design and wording of the biennial survey of the nation’s 96,000 public schools, NPR concluded.

Why the carelessness? American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California attorney Amir Whitaker points to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed repeal of Obama-era discipline guidelines aimed at easing racially skewed suspension rates. “The administration,” Whitaker said, “is now using the flawed data on school shootings to emphasize a need for more school discipline — which has turned schools into militarized places that deprive students of color of an equal education.”

Whitaker just co-authored “11 Million Days Lost,” the first of two data snapshots from the CRDC written with Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, which together make the case for staying the Obama course. The report says that California’s share of the 11 million instructional days lost by American kids to suspensions during 2015-16 totaled nearly 750,000 days, and were disproportionately suffered by African-American students. That may change should Governor Jerry Brown sign SB 607, authored by state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). The bill, which cleared the legislature last week, expands through the eighth grade the state’s current ban on “disruption and defiance” suspensions for grades K-3 (though Skinner’s bill originally barred such suspensions in all grades through high school).

But the most anticipated education bill passed in August may be the for-profit charter school ban authored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). Assembly Bill 406 would affect 34 for-profit charters in the state, including California Virtual Academies (CAVA), the state’s largest and scandalously low-performing for-profit cyber charter run by Virginia-based K12 Inc. Unlike a similar measure vetoed by Brown in 2015, there appears to be little reason for him not to sign McCarty’s, given that it already won the state charter lobby’s support by narrowing the bill’s definition of “for-profit management.”

Not everyone’s impressed, however. Though the ban would stem the outflow of tax dollars to shareholders, San Diego education attorney Sarah Sutherland warned Learning Curves that it will still allow corporate-governance schemes to convert ed dollars into private wealth. “It’s a small step in the right direction that is likely to have little impact,” she said.

In a powerful rebuke to Los Angeles Unified over stalled contract talks, United Teachers Los Angeles reported that members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, should UTLA leaders decide one is necessary. With 81 percent of members casting ballots, the vote was 98 percent in favor. The vote came amid sparring by both sides that also included an exchange of unfair-labor-practice charges. But at least one union complaint has been sustained by the district itself. An August 6 review by the district’s Independent Analysis Unit of “Hard Choices,” a controversial report released this summer by then-private-citizen Austin Beutner’s Advisory Task Force, agreed with the union that “many” of the report’s assertions “appear to be based on questionable data, assumptions, or methods.”

The most contentious assumption of “Hard Choices” was that comparing L.A. Unified teacher wages with other districts could offer a window on fair pay. Not so, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In research released Wednesday, EPI authors Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel found that pay for teachers everywhere has been deteriorating, particularly relative to other professions. That widening gap — which they called the “teacher pay penalty” — grew to a record 23.8 percent last year, meaning U.S. teachers earned 76.2 cents to their non-teaching college classmates’ dollar. Though California’s 14.2 percent pay penalty is better than some, the widest gaps were claimed by Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Colorado — states that virtually encompass the entire red state teacher rebellion.


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