Category: LAUSD

Give Art to Students

By , April 12, 2012 3:00 pm

DSC_0011 (1)As fellow ed-blogger, Joanne Jacobs, recently notes, schools should be teaching the arts for the arts’ sake.

I’m lucky enough to work at a school where I have wonderful colleagues who do exactly this. Mark Roeder is teaching a group of 6th graders who will be engaging in a sculpture project with a final exhibition in Chinatown near the end of the year.

Mr. Roeder’s students will be making small sculptures of an object that is or was important or significant to them at some point in time. The object they’ll choose will be something that says something about them or reveals something about them that they haven’t realized yet. Roeder says that sixth grade is a great time for them to take an art class because they’re not so concerned with their self-image yet and they’ll still take chances in expressing their thoughts, ideas, and experiences. They’re completely uninhibited with the materials for each new project. According to Roeder:

"Every project I have them do is geared towards getting them to look at their worlds like they’re a microscope, small pieces at a time. The more they reflect on their daily lives, the more considerate thinkers they’ll be, and the more considerate they are, hopefully they’ll make better decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities as they get older. I tell my students each and every day that the experiences they have this year, as artists, will make them more interesting people. Being an artist doesn’t require any inherent talent or prerequisite skill. Becoming an artist is a bizarre leap of faith that requires you to say, ‘I am an artist.’ This statement has now defined the nature and freedom of your existence."

While these students have already received supplies donations for their sculptures (microcrystalline wax and carving tools to plan and carve hand-sized wax sculptures), they’re still in need of funds for casting the sculptures at the foundry and purchasing materials to build 30 pedestals for the exhibition. The estimated additional cost of the project remains at a whopping $3500.

So here’s the cool part. Mr. Roeder’s class has already received 45% (that’s 9/20 for those of you 7th grade math students out there) of their goal! That’s already $1560 of their goal.

For those of you who’d like to make a contribution toward this amazing cause, you can do so on this Kickstarter website!

And for those of you who need a little extra push, Mr. Roeder’s class is even offering some pretty sweet rewards.

Check it out.

Slow Down

By , September 18, 2011 3:35 pm

Laurent Voulzy – The 59th Street Bridge Song

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Orba Square – All Apologies

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Yeah, so I haven’t updated this blog in earnest in about two weeks now. As you no doubt have surmised, school has started and thus blogging is now relegated to roughly 14th on my priority list. I’ll best update this blog as I can throughout the fall, but the reality is that I’ll be more likely to be spending my time lesson planning, grading papers, and the small little task of trying from within to transform LAUSD so we can actually better serve our kids.

In the meantime, the best I can offer is two pretty amazing cover songs perhaps slightly relevant. Enjoy.

My 3 Wishes for the Charter vs. Public School Debate

By , January 10, 2010 9:30 pm

Charles Ives – The Unanswered Question

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image Today’s L.A. Times article is sure to ruffle some feathers.The title “An unplanned revolution in L.A.’s public schoolsseems to suggest that the solution to the woes of public education in the city of Los Angeles has finally been arrived at in the form of charter schools. Unfortunately, as the authors admit within the article body, this is far from the case. Let me summarize:

I. There’s lots of charters in LA. Lots.

II. Most score better than regular schools.

III. There are three non-trivial critiques to the aforementioned point II.

And although for me the jury is still out on the notion of charter schools, what irks me the most is the way in which the debate has been framed, most often occurring as a series of oscillating jabs (in the form of Times articles, blog posts, and now even, tweets) betweens advocates of the different camps, frequently demonizing and disrespecting each other in the process. What follows is My 3 Wishes for the 2010 Charter School vs. Public School discussion:

1. Charter School advocates must: actually address the three main concerns (see paragraphs 18, 19 in Times article) of “student selection”, “student retention”, and “student accessibility”. Charter schools must either somehow statistically control for these variables when comparing scores, or else adopt similar policies as most LAUSD schools (Green Dot’s Locke at least follows the first main concern), without which, like apples and oranges, simple scores cannot be compared in this one-dimensional manner. If charter schools have better instruction, then show that it is actually better instruction that is making the difference.

2. Public School advocates must: actually address the concerns that defecting parents and students actually raise, namely that (1) LAUSD has held on to bad teachers, of which each year, between 25 and 150 kids are subjected to, and (2) there is little, if any, student accountability without which, the notion of “high expectations” becomes mere vacuous words, and some kids inevitably figure out that they actually don’t need to do anything in school. It’s these kids that I would, as a parent, work to keep my son or daughter away from.

3. EVERYBODY (both charter and public school advocates) must: dispose of the attitude that a legitimate concern against the dogmas of their particular camp are somehow a personal affront to themselves or call into question their love of educating children! This is what must end. In order to do this, we’ve all got to do a few things. First, we’ve each got to assume (at least initially) that the person with whom we’re speaking genuinely cares for kids. Personally, there’s nothing that p****s me off more than when someone implicitly accuses me of not caring about kids. Second, we’ve each got to raise our questions and concerns in a way that actually seeks a valid response, rather than raising questions that are meant to simply pigeon-hole our (now) opponent. Third, we’ve got to hear these questions and actually answer them with facts, rather than accusations about what the question itself might imply about the asker. And fourth, when concerns are legitimately addressed, we need to be able to take that and then ask ourselves “How can I now adapt this to better meet the needs of the kids in Los Angeles?”

No less than that is required in order for all of us who are advocating for kids in Los Angeles to actually do something to make a difference in the lives of these kids.

… I’ve been for a walk, on a winter’s day…

By , December 7, 2009 7:18 pm

Sufjan Stevens – Sister Winter

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nativity It’s finally winter here in Los Angeles, and for those of you who don’t know what winter is like, imagine a cold and rainy October day in the Northeast or Midwest. That’s basically it.

In the meantime, the steady trudge towards Christmas break and the end of 2009 continues. Current on the docket is the overwhelming efforts of folks in LAUSD to simultaneously fight off a 12% pay reduction, furlough days, and even the possibility of a charter takeover (the latter being the most temporally remote). The situation does look pretty grim, yet there are sparks of hope in the midst.

Today after school, I had planned on working for a few hours in my classroom, grading papers, planning for test review, and generally getting on top of things. Yet, much to my surprise, I had a former student (from my first class ever as a teacher) who is now a senior drop by with some questions about applying to Fresno State. We caught up a bit, worked on the application, delved into some upper level-math problems. Gotta say, despite all the negative stuff that goes on in the systems of school and LAUSD, it is the people who continue to make me hopeful and the difference that is made in individuals that makes the day-to-day grind and bureaucratic frustrations more than bearable.


Vision + Action = VACTION

By , October 20, 2009 9:45 am

Randy Newman – Burn On

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cleveland1Yesterday our Superintendent decided to get down to the nitty-gritty and actually do something about the dropouts facing LAUSD. So he, and mountains of other district bureaucrats traipsed through the neighborhoods, going door-to-door looking for drop-out and truant kids. While perhaps not the most efficient way to lower the truancy rate (I can just imagine a sleeping-in kid being awoken by the Superintendent of the nation’s second largest school district standing at your door), it certainly speaks volumes to the effect that we actually have a Supe who understands that without action, vision is useless.

So often, we have top-down people telling us what mandates we must accomplish, what goals we must have, and what aspirations we must…..uh…..aspire to. Yet, to paraphrase, the Father of Lies does actually reside in the logistics. It’s only when clear goals and clear steps to attain those goals come together that things can actually be accomplished.

Case in point, we constantly harp on our kids to “do your homework! Do your homework”, but so often, many don’t actually think about the details that it takes to get it done, namely, that they need a time to do their homework (right after school? before bed?), a space to do their homework (at a desk?, a table? a library booth?), and all the materials with them (pencils, papers, books, etc…). It seems so simple it’s crazy, but all of that must be in place for the “goal” of homework completion to occur!

Another case in point, I got word today that a principal at another LAUSD middle school has just mandated that their teacher’s do homeroom intervention (I take partial blame for this). While I certainly don’t have all the facts of this, rest assured that without the details of what this looks like, the endeavor will fail and teachers will be frustrated. You can’t mandate change from above without leaders on the front lines figuring out ways for the rubber to meet the road!

“Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a Deputy Superintendant of Public Instruction”

By , May 9, 2009 10:50 am

Gustav Holst: The Planets – Jupiter

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bones-2265  Work hard….play hard. That’s pretty much my modus operandi. And thank goodness, because “playing hard” got to consist of watching the Lakers win a wonderfully solid game last evening against Houston, followed by catching the new reboot of Star Trek with my roommate and some of his acting/writing buddies. Very surprised at how much I liked it, especially given the abysmal track record of the post-Shatner Star Trek film era. Especially entertaining was my new favorite character, Leonard “Bones” McCoy, who, while persistently bold and loyal, brings it all back to reality with a witty dash of cynicism.

Anyway, it was nice to relax a bit after a long week, which was especially boring as we prepare the kids to take their infamous California Standards Tests next week. The kids are tired, and ready to be done, as are many of our teachers.

On a different front, our district has managed to find itself at the center of much media this past week, for better or for worse (well,….actually it’s mostly for worse).

First, we can’t seem to fire any bad teachers. The other side of that coin is our wonderful union, who promotes the status quo in this regard by defending these bad teachers. Our union is staging a one day strike this Friday. I’ll take some photos and post them here. Furthering this dilemma, is the fact that in the midst of all this frustration, many god and qualified teachers finally opt out of the district and go work for charter schools! It seems to be working really well, or so reports The New Yorker in an article about Los Angeles charter organization, Green Dot (which my roommate currently works for). Finally, we had a front page Times article today about LAUSD’s failure to deal with not merely inept teachers, but potentially dangerous ones as well.

Wow. Gives me lots of hope…

This week so far…

By , May 29, 2008 10:14 am

In its entire conciseness, this week has nonetheless turned out to be fairly full with activity and drama, two things that I’d much rather not deal with as I finish off the year. First things first, though,…the iTunes shuffle, (which will be interesting since right now I’m actually proctoring a test and thus, won’t actually be able to hear the song while it’s playing….)

Don’t Want To Say Goodbye by the Raspberries. “The who???” Yes, the Raspberries….one of those late 60s/early 70s pop groups that you never hear on the radio because they never quite made it through the test of time. The song clearly fits within the context of other music at the time, but it is somewhat interesting to consider why on earth this band’s legacy does not live on, while other similar groups (the Byrds, the Kinks, and even the Association) clearly do. One potential guess ($$$).

The highlight of the week thus far has been my final L.A. Phil concert of the season, a Tuesday night performance in which Thomas Ádes led the L.A. Phil in performances of three of his works, including the North American premiere of his new work, In Seven Days, a stunning pseudo-piano concerto which is accompanied as well by a six-screened abstract video montage (created by video artist Tal Rosner, whose work is seen above). As some of you may know, I try to attend concerts in which the L.A. Phil is playing newer, more modern composers and pieces, many of which are conducted by the composer himself. Unlike Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms (composers in which you know exactly what you are getting yourself into) there’s little to no guarantee whether or not I will truly “enjoy” the piece being played. In other words, strike outs and home runs occur with about equal frequency. However, this past concert Tuesday night might just have been the best I’ve been to. I don’t know how to describe it without simply “gushing”. Luckily, the L.A. Times gives a much more articulate review than I could ever give.

Anyway, aside from that, I’m finding my job as department chair finally start to get interesting as I essentially have to work with teachers and administrators who may have competing and conflicting priorities and politics, with a less-than-clear indication of which set of values and norms is actual policy. Fun, fun, fun. Luckily, we’ve only got 3 more weeks of this to go, and then graduation. Then summer break. Yay!

The Weekly WTF

By , February 26, 2008 7:28 am


Upon opening my email inbox this morning, this is what I find, which begs the question of which of the following I find the most disturbing:

  1. That the time, energy, and money that LAUSD evidently has is being funneled into graphics design, rather than, oh say, hiring teachers or building schools.
  2. That the intern who deigned the graphic in the first place is likely just as qualified to run the school district as our current superintendent.
  3. That the actual schedule system maintenance this graphic announces is potentially more frightening than the pre-Y2K hype.

It’s nice to know that so many place such great faith in our amazing district.

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The Achievement Gap

By , January 3, 2008 1:29 pm

010308_11241.jpg“Our goal today is not to learn how to close the achievement gap, but to believe that we can.”

I couldn’t believe my ears, but yes, two hours later I had learned no new strategies, no new techniques, and no new ways to actually accomplish this. But then again, what do I expect, I work for LAUSD.

Top Five LAUSD Stories of 2007

By , December 27, 2007 8:54 am

In the spirit of Top Ten (or “Top Five”) lists, I’ve decided to take a route that I haven’t seen done before….ladies and gentlemen, I present the first annual Top Five LAUSD stories of the year! For those of you who aren’t bored by this post already, feel free to walk down memory lane this past year and revisit with me those moments from 2007 when I got a sense of the true caliber of the district that I find myself immersed in!

#5. United Teachers Los Angeles (“The Union”) settles for a 6% salary increase after President A.J. Duffy demands nothing short of 14%…oh, wait, now 9%…[January 2007]
aj_cnn_265_151.jpg Flashback to November 2006. The Union is in contract negotiations, and our Union President A.J. Duffy, a short, but fiery man with a penchant for rhetoric actually visits our school, Cochran, to drum up support for a potential strike! Claiming that enough is enough, he blatantly proclaims that we will strike we are not offered anything less than a 14% salary increase. Apparently, his long-term memory cells must have failed not a month later, when the new figure “written in stone” was 9%. And once on a roll like that, why quit? The final figure that was settled on this January was a 6% salary increase (which wasn’t truly even a 6% increase, see LAUSD Logic by my colleague Mr. Jacob). Here’s to you, AJ, for your nothing but superior leadership and verbal consistency this year! I know the district will listen even harder to us in the future because of all that ground we stood this year!

#4. Educational maverick Steve Barr’s Green Dot charter school system successfully takes over Locke High School, one of the most troubled schools in LAUSD as well as the nation. [May 2007]

32485136.jpg In the community of private schools run with public money (“charter schools”), Steve Barr’s Green Dot public schools are some of the most successful and have been set up to run in some of the most challenging communities. However, up to this point, the Green Dot model has only been tested with small schools, attended by fairly self-motivated students, and equally self-motivated parents. Hoping to show that the Green Dot model will work equally well with a gargantuan, overcrowded, low-income, low-functioning, and low-performing school. Mr. Barr successfully convinced a majority of teachers, parents, and many community members as well to secede from LAUSD and join his charter school movement. In a highly contentious vote, the LAUSD board approved this conversion to take place beginning in 2008-2009. I hope, for the sake of all involved, that this bold move actually works as it might provide some ideas as how to reform similar schools in similar situations. Plus, my roommate (who currently is a physics teacher at a Green Dot school downtown) will find even more reason to keep bugging me about applying to be a teacher there. NPR recently ran two stories, one here, and another here.

#3. LAUSD spends $350,000 not on building new schools, not on hiring new teachers, not even on raising test scores, but on consulting contracts to clean up the district’s image [November 2007].

8-16-2007-8-04-28-pm-8298852-brewer-1.jpgYes, that’s right, Superintendent David Brewer decides that the real reason LAUSD is an underperforming district is because it has a negative image from a public relations standpoint. Now, I’ve only taken a basic logic class in college, but it seems to me that maybe, just maybe, he’s gotten it reversed. If Superintendent Brewer is trying to find creative ways to put $350,000 to good use, I could potentially offer several suggestions, including maybe hiring 7 new teachers for Cochran Middle School so that we could have semi-reasonable class sizes. Maybe using the money attract some new teachers to the profession. Or maybe even hire a few more security personnel. But oh no, that would be too simple, and it just wouldn’t do to leave the public image of LAUSD in such a sorry state. Goodness, why even bother thinking that this money might be spent on something as practical as…

#2. Fixing, re-fixing, un-re-fixing, and then finally re-un-re-fixing the LAUSD payroll snafu [January-December 2007].

mostwantednoface.gifLAUSD is brilliant (….actually serious on this one). Beginning in January of 2007, they decide to pay teachersonce per month, rather than every four weeks. I was actually excited about this one! For once, the district actually implementing a policy that is helpful for teachers. I’ll actually be able to correlate my income with my expenses on the same frequency. However, this is where “brilliance” turns into utter ineptitude. It was only January and the fun was about to begin. At the beginning of February, we noticed that teachers were being paid incorrectly, some up to double or triple their salaries and some in the neighborhood of a tenth of their salaries. I even heard of a teacher that got a check for $0.12 on February payday. Apparently, I had been overpaid $450, which I now owed the district. Not happy. Immediately the Union was up in arms and the district was backpedaling. Anyway, the district quickly and correctly realized that it had to make sure teachers were getting correct current paychecks before they could fix previous ones and for the next several months attempted several tired efforts at fixing the new system. Finally, in June, when they had got it just about working right, they send out letters to everybody saying how much they now owe the district, our Personal-Payroll-Histories or some such name like that. Unfortunately, these PPHs had just as many errors as did the documents they sought to remedy that the district eventually scrapped that. Finally, in November, after 10 months of flubbing around, LAUSD finally gets their heads on squarely, fixes the payroll system, forgives everybody up to $250 net and then gives some clear answers as what should happen next. Eventually, this got to the point where I was sick of hearing about it from everyone from the LA Times to the Daily News to NPR to LA Weekly to blogs to the television stations! Honestly, I look back at this whole situation and while it’s funny to laugh at the district’s ineptitude, it’s nothing short of horrific to realize all this time, money, and effort spent toward fixing this system when it could have been spent helping kids learn!!!!!!

#1. The Mayor and the Superintendent get in on the reform boat [November 2007].

smackdown.jpgNot to be outdone by hotshot Steve Barr’s Green Dot reform package, both Superintendent Brewer and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have just recently jumped onto the reform wagon. After an unsuccessful attempt at a coup of the entire district, Antonio has settled on leading 3 “clusters” of schools (3 high schools and their feeder middle and elementary schools) into the future. Meanwhile, Superintendant Brewer has just released his plan to radically reform the 34 lowest performing middle and high schools in the district. My school, Cochran Middle School, is one of the named 34 so it will be very interesting to see if this new plan actually does the things it needs to do (reduce my class size down from 30-35 to 25, and actually hold kids back who don’t meet grade promotion requirements….after all, why try if you can fail ALL your classes and still move on to the next grade) and not be just another document filled with district rhetoric and fluff to make it sound like we’re progressing. What matters is kids, and this is what it seems we keep forgetting about time after time!

Anyway, that pretty much recaps the year 2007 (actually, it doesn’t even come close to recapping the entire year, but hey, it sounds cool)! Thanks for those of you who’ve read this far! You each have earned 1000 points and a gold star!

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