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Daily Report: K–12

Bill seeks to limit school police in discipline matters

April 30, 2013, 3:05 AM | Susan Ferriss and Ben Wieder, Center for Public Integrity

Vanessa Romo/KPCC.org Students protest last year in Los Angeles against school police tickets issued heavily at middle schools, low-income schools. 

As the national debate grows louder over deploying police in schools, the largest state in the union ­– California – is considering a bill that would require schools to set “clear guidelines” defining the role of school police and limit their involvement in disciplinary matters.

The Golden State joins Texas and Connecticut ­­­– home of the December Newtown school shootings – in considering legislation that would set limits on how schools involve police officers in discipline. Colorado adopted limits last year...

In one Calif. school district, teachers help teachers get better

February 19, 2013, 10:07 AM | Stephen Smith, The Hechinger Report

Stephen Smith/The Hechinger Report Writing coach Jandella Faulkner helps students at Edison Elementary School in Long Beach use "thinking maps" to tell a story. 

LONG BEACH – Jandella Faulkner crouches beside a table of busy third-graders in Jennifer Larsen’s class at Edison Elementary School. The students have pencils in hand, outlines spread around them, and a story about penguins and otters in progress.

Faulkner stands to call across the room: “Loving how this group is already talking, Ms. Larsen.” Then she swoops down on another table of young authors.

Faulkner is a teaching coach in the Long Beach school district. Her job is to train a select group of teachers at Edison Elementary, including Jennifer Larsen, in a new literacy curriculum called Write From The Beginning. It’s part of a districtwide training system that relies on teachers working with each other to improve classroom practices. So, with Faulkner’s help, Larsen and the other site coaches at Edison train their colleagues at the school how to use Write From The Beginning in their own classrooms...

'Parent trigger' strikes again in California

January 16, 2013, 12:59 PM | Natasha Lindstrom, The Hechinger Report

Courtesy of Parent Revolution The 24th Street Parent Union members have been working since for months to collect signatures for a "parent trigger." 

LOS ANGELES – The first time Amabilia Villeda tried to fix her children’s school, she joined several dozen fellow parents and teachers in a protest outside 24th Street Elementary.

That was three years ago. Villeda and the rest of the loosely organized group believed the struggling school just a few miles west of downtown Los Angeles needed a jolt. They collected a couple hundred signatures from parents and community members who decided the first step toward improving the abysmal test scores and poor campus climate should be to oust the principal, Villeda recalled.

But they didn’t make much of an impact. None of the school or district officials really seemed to notice, Villeda said, and the effort folded quietly.

The 41-year-old mother of three expects Thursday to be different. That’s because she and fellow parents have formed their own union, spurred to action by California’s so-called “parent trigger” law and the well-funded education advocacy group...

School discipline reform groups question plans for armed security

January 15, 2013, 8:03 AM | Susan Ferriss, Center for Public Integrity

Nick Ut/Associated Press Los Angeles police Sgt. Frank Preciado and Officer Wendy Reyes watch children arriving at Main Street Elementary School. 

As the White House considers proposals to allocate federal money for armed guards in schools, prominent school discipline reform groups have issued a report denouncing the idea as a misguided reaction to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“Placing more police in schools has significant and harmful unintended consequences for young people that must be considered before agreeing to any proposal that would increase the presence of law enforcement in schools,” says an issue brief [PDF] released Friday by the Advancement Project, Dignity in Schools and other organizations.

The Advancement Project, founded in 1999, has offices in Washington, D.C., and California and has worked with school districts and states to adopt alternatives to suspensions and expulsions. Dignity in Schools also is devoted to working with districts and advocating fewer suspensions and less involvement of law enforcement in school...

LA school police still ticketing thousands of young students

January 3, 2013, 6:17 PM | Susan Ferriss, Center for Public Integrity

Tami Abdollah/KPCC L.A. city councilman Tony Cardenas and L.A. Unified board member Monica Garcia join students protesting citations in February. 

Even as Los Angeles authorities continue efforts to reform school-discipline standards, fresh data show that police from the city’s biggest school district are continuing to ticket thousands of young students, especially minorities, at disproportionate rates that critics charge are putting them on a track for dropping out.

Citation rates for last year are little changed from 2011 data. Disclosure of the 2011 data this past spring led to federal civil rights scrutiny and promises that policies at the Los Angeles Unified School District would be reviewed, and likely changed...

Oakland school district mishandled federal money, state finds

December 21, 2012, 12:05 AM | Will Evans, California Watch

Michael Short/California Watch St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church and private school in West Oakland 

The Oakland Unified School District failed to follow federal regulations in doling out taxpayer money to benefit local private schools and must pay some of it back, a state review has found.

The state Department of Education cited Oakland Unified for not meeting federal requirements in its distribution of federal Title I and Title II money to provide teacher training and tutoring for struggling students at private schools. Private schools are entitled to a share of federal money, but public school districts are responsible for maintaining control of the funds.

The state found that Oakland Unified paid instructors who were not independent of their private schools, shipped materials directly to the private schools without taking an inventory and let private schools design their own taxpayer-funded programs...

State considers shorter service for under-prepared teachers

December 7, 2012, 12:05 AM | Joanna Lin, California Watch

Matt Kowal/Flickr

Under proposals the state's teacher credentialing agency is set to consider today, school districts would need to show on a case-by-case basis that no fully credentialed teachers are available before they resort to less-qualified educators, and under-prepared teachers could serve a maximum of three years instead of five.

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing is weighing the changes after expressing concern that under-prepared teachers disproportionately serve students who are living in poverty and learning English.

"Until that changes, we need to tighten up our process a little bit," Commissioner Kathleen Harris said at a September commission meeting, where possible regulatory changes for under-prepared teachers were first discussed.

California grants emergency permits to credentialed teachers so they may instruct English language learners, deliver a bilingual curriculum, or serve as resource specialists or teacher librarians before they have the required authorization to do so. In order to hire teachers on emergency permits each year, school districts must preemptively declare with the state the number of under-prepared teachers they might need and certify that they will first try to recruit fully credentialed teachers...

New environmental curriculum corrects plastic bag information

October 29, 2012, 12:05 AM | Susanne Rust, California Watch


The state’s Environmental Protection Agency finalized a revision of a controversial K-12 environmental curriculum on plastic bags Friday.

California Watch reported last year that whole sections of an 11th-grade teachers' edition guide for a new curriculum had been lifted almost verbatim from comments and suggestions submitted by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical and plastics industry trade group.

That investigation spurred politicians and state regulators to demand an examination into how the controversial text was compiled and changed, and whether industry bias was present.

State schools chief Tom Torlakson issued a statement saying his office would work with Cal/EPA to examine the material and identify areas “where further review may be warranted.”


And state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Santa Monica, also called for an investigation, to which Cal/EPA responded by saying it would review the chapter.

The new text provides more updated statistics on plastic bag consumption and recycling rates, many of which were provided by California Watch in its story on the...

Students support, but don't always eat, new school lunches

October 24, 2012, 12:05 AM | Joanna Lin, California Watch

Joanna Lin/California Watch Students pick up food during lunch at Harte Elementary School in Long Beach. 

In a taste test of new lunch items last year at the Long Beach Unified School District, the "fiesta salad" received a nearly 73 percent approval rating. One student even declared that the dish of pinto beans, cilantro, corn, tomatoes and cayenne pepper was "better than McDonald's." Yet the salad was a flop when the district put it on the menu this year.

Long Beach Unified isn't the only district in California dealing with lunchtime trial and error. In an effort to feed kids healthier foods, new federal nutrition standards require schools to offer more fruits and vegetables, regulate calories, and emphasize whole grains, among other changes.

A new statewide survey shows that while students overwhelmingly support the new nutrition standards, most are tossing the foods they don't like. About 40 percent of students say they eat school lunches in their entirety, according to the survey commissioned by The California Endowment, which provides funding to a number of media organizations,...

In search of quality teachers, charter network trains its own

October 24, 2012, 12:05 AM | Lillian Mongeau, The Hechinger Report

Lillian Mongeau/The Hechinger Report Mentor Amy Youngman helps resident teacher-in-training Danny Shapiro plan for his next week of teaching. 

Amy Youngman’s seventh- and eighth-grade humanities students had left for the day. Other than some shouts from the after-school program in the courtyard, all was quiet in her second-floor classroom here.

Youngman’s day of teaching at Oakland’s ERES Academy – part of the Aspire charter school network – wasn’t over, though.

Nor was Danny Shapiro’s day of learning. Shapiro, not 13 but 30, is learning to be a teacher. Youngman, three years younger than Shapiro but with six years of teaching already under her belt, is his mentor.

“Highs and lows?” Youngman asked Shapiro across the wide table that served as her desk...

State to investigate SF’s handling of special education services

October 18, 2012, 12:05 AM | Trey Bundy, The Bay Citizen

Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen

The California Department of Education said it would investigate whether the San Francisco Unified School District violated federal regulations by improperly denying summer school services to students with special needs in order to cut costs.

The state investigation follows a report by The Bay Citizen, sister site of California Watch, that Lisa Miller – the district’s head of middle school special education – directed teachers and staff to consult with her prior to authorizing summer school for those students because the cost had become “exorbitant.”

“My big concern is whether they’re doing something illegal, in which case they have to correct it,” said Donna DeMartini, an education programs specialist at the Department of Education who will lead the investigation.

Special education teachers and attorneys said the directive – issued in a Jan. 4 email obtained by The Bay Citizen – violated the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which prohibits administrators from influencing a student’s education plan or denying services based on cost...

With court win, 'parent trigger' school reform moves to crucial vote

October 17, 2012, 12:05 AM | Natasha Lindstrom, The Hechinger Report

David Pardo/Victorville Daily Press Doreen Diaz, mother of a fifth-grader at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., speaks about school reform during a parent union press conference in January.

About nine months ago, at a small park playground a few hundred feet from their children’s struggling school, a group of parents chanted, cheered and delivered passionate speeches about their growing frustration with Desert Trails Elementary.

That Jan. 12 park rally – which drew a throng of camera crews and reporters from around the state to the tiny desert city of Adelanto, Calif. – marked the beginning of a bitter battle in the national spotlight. That was when the Desert Trails Parent Union announced its petition to use the so-called “parent trigger” law to force a major overhaul of a school. They hoped to become the first parent group in the nation to do so...

School official targeted special education program to cut costs

October 15, 2012, 12:05 AM | Trey Bundy, The Bay Citizen

Adithya Sambamurthy/The Bay Citizen The San Francisco Unified School District's offices 

A San Francisco Unified School District administrator urged teachers to re-evaluate whether to offer summer school to special education students as a way to cut costs, a move that special education teachers and attorneys say violates federal regulations.

Lisa Miller, the district’s head of middle school special education, said in a Jan. 4 email to her staff that the cost of summer school – known as extended school year, or ESY – had become “exorbitant” and instructed all middle school special education staff not to authorize the service without her approval.

“At this time, I am asking that all middle school special education staff consult with me PRIOR TO authorizing/offering ESY,” she wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Bay Citizen, sister site of California Watch.

The directive appears to violate the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which explicitly requires each child’s special education plan to be agreed upon by the student’s family, educators and disability experts, not district administrators. The regulations also prohibit districts from denying student services based on cost...

Imperial County earthquakes highlight unresolved school risks

October 10, 2012, 12:05 AM | Corey G. Johnson, California Watch

Division of the State Architect Ceiling plaster litters Palmer Auditorium's stage in Brawley Union High School after the school was rattled by earthquakes. 

The swarm of earthquakes that rippled through Imperial County in late August has exposed more fissures in the state's system for identifying and fixing school buildings considered structurally unsound.

At Brawley Union High School, an Aug. 27 inspection of the school's auditorium by state and district engineers found cracked walls, toppled fixtures and chunks of ceiling plaster littered across floors, seats and the performance stage. The auditorium has yet to reopen. School officials estimate the building could be closed for a full year.

The damage to Palmer Auditorium occurred when 400 small earthquakes erupted from Aug. 25 to Aug. 28 in Brawley and other areas in Imperial County. There were no deaths or major injuries, but scattered power outages occurred. One hospital temporarily evacuated its patients.

State officials now acknowledge the auditorium should have been red flagged well before the quake...

Disparities persist for children's well-being, study says

October 10, 2012, 12:05 AM | Joanna Lin, California Watch


California has made gains in the early stages of children's academic trajectory but has failed to sustain them, a new assessment of kids' well-being has shown.

The findings, released yesterday by the research and advocacy group Children Now, showed statewide improvement in 11 indicators of well-being, including certain measures of academic performance and student engagement at school. But they also highlighted 12 areas in which the state has made little or no progress, such as the rate of high school seniors who graduate on time.

"California is on the right track," said Jessica Mindnich, associate director of research at Children Now. "You are seeing some of the effects where the state has decided to prioritize."

In the percentage of third-graders who read at grade level, for example, California improved 39 percent between the 2002-03 and 2010-11 school years. Its percentage of seventh-graders meeting or exceeding state standards in math jumped 67 percent during the same period...

Oakland schools seek kitchen upgrades with ballot measure

October 9, 2012, 12:05 AM | Katharine Mieszkowski, The Bay Citizen

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Public schools in Oakland are looking for major kitchen remodeling with a measure on the November ballot.

If approved, Measure J would authorize the Oakland Unified School District to issue up $475 million in bonds to improve school facilities. 

Along with seismic upgrades and lead-paint removal, the bonds could help underwrite a planned overhaul of kitchen facilities in the district, including building a new central kitchen in West Oakland. It’s part of an ongoing effort to improve the food the district serves to students, some 70 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced-priced meals.

Oakland has made strides toward serving healthier and fresher food in recent years. For instance, the district now buys more fresh fruits and vegetables from within 250 miles of Oakland. There are salad bars at 67 schools.

But it’s infrastructure, not ingredients, that’s become the biggest barrier to making lunches healthier and tastier. Many schools have antiquated kitchens – if they have a kitchen at all...

'Parent trigger' law divides struggling school, community

October 4, 2012, 12:05 AM | Natasha Lindstrom, The Hechinger Report

David Pardo/Victorville Daily Press Desert Trails Elementary School Principal David Mobley (left) receives 465 signatures representing nearly 70 percent of students at the Adelanto, Calif., school. The signatures are part of the state’s “parent trigger” law to force dramatic overhauls at underperforming schools. 

Doreen Diaz left the red carpet movie premiere of “Won’t Back Down” in New York City last week feeling encouraged.

But then the 47-year-old mom, a key figure in the education movement that “inspired” the feature film, headed back to the tiny desert city of Adelanto, Calif., and her tract home near Desert Trails Elementary School. That’s where the real battle over the so-called “parent trigger” law drags on, with no tidy Hollywood ending in sight.

“The movie makes it look a lot easier than it really is,” said Diaz, who started drumming up support to overhaul her local public school more than a year ago...

Veto pits charter school autonomy against reduced-price meals

October 3, 2012, 12:05 AM | Joanna Lin, California Watch

DC Central Kitchen/Flickr

Arguing that he did not want to "erode the independence and flexibility" of charter schools, Gov. Jerry Brown last weekend vetoed legislation that would have required charters to provide low-income students free or reduced-price meals.

Brown's veto message [PDF] of AB 1594, authored by Assemblyman Mike Eng, D-Alhambra, pits student nutrition against charter school autonomy – issues that supporters said should not be at odds.

"I respect the governor's concern that charter schools thrive, but I believe that it's not necessary to choose between meals for children and good policies for charter schools. We can do both," Eng said in a statement to California Watch. 

Supporters of the legislation, which included food banks, teachers unions, the California School Boards Association and California School Employees Association, said nutritious, affordable meals were integral to students' well-being and academic performance...

State reported inflated rate of teachers lacking credentials

September 28, 2012, 12:05 AM | Joanna Lin, California Watch

U.S. Census Bureau

The rate was startling: Nearly six in 10 teachers at California's lowest-performing schools were not properly credentialed for the classes they led. It's a rate California has worked to shrink for the past six years. It's also a rate that was wrong.

The percentage of teachers and other certificated staff lacking proper credentials was actually 29 percent, not the 58 percent the state reported for the 2005-06 school year. The revelation, sparked by errors in state data identified by California Watch, means the state has been using an incorrect baseline as it measures progress at its lowest-performing schools.

Misassignments, as they're known, have decreased dramatically since the state agreed to give the problem greater attention at low-performing schools. Unlike higher-performing schools, which are monitored every four years, the lowest-performing schools are monitored annually. The action was one of many stemming from the settlement of Williams v. California, a landmark class-action lawsuit that sought to ensure all students were taught by qualified, credentialed teachers...

Aging, polluting school buses remain on California roads

September 19, 2012, 12:05 AM | Kendall Taggart, California Watch

John Clements/Kings Canyon Unified A retired school bus gets crushed.

Tens of thousands of California schoolchildren ride aging school buses that emit harmful pollutants, an analysis of state data shows.

Unlike many states, California does not require bus owners to take buses off the road after a set number of years. As a result, California has some of the oldest buses in the nation.

The emissions from older school buses are harmful to both children and air quality for the broader community.

Children riding in conventional diesel school buses are exposed to more air pollution than those riding in cleaner natural gas or low emission diesel buses, according to a 2003 study conducted by the California Air Resources Board.


Buses manufactured before 1990 can pollute as much as six times more than new buses, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. There are about 3,000 buses in the state built in the 1980s and earlier, according to a California Watch analysis of data maintained by the...

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