Saturday, May 24, 2008

National Math Panelist Speaks at a
Virgina School Board Meeting

Mr. Vern Williams to PWCS Board 5-21-08

"Well, thanks for allowing me to speak, and it should definitely be less than ten minutes. Before I read the comments, I'd like to mention that I should update my resume. I've been, I believe this is the 36th year that I've been teaching in Fairfax County. I decided to become a teacher when I was in junior high, back then, now they're called middle schools I guess. And the teachers were so fantastic at that time, that I decided I wanted to be like them and have been doing it for 36 years and I've loved every second of it. In fact the first 23 years, I didn't miss a day of school. The first day of school I missed was the week that my mom passed and I have missed very few since then. Now this National Math Panel thing sort of put a dent it that. They had me all over the country for a couple years but just wanted to let you know that I absolutely love teaching and am pretty impressed with what I've heard from you today.

So here is my presentation. During my tenure on a National Mathematics Panel, I heard testimony from many sources, including parents, teachers, textbook publishers, college presidents, mathematicians, technology specialists, and a host of researchers. I also listened to and learned from the other panel members, even though at times, we had varying opinions on many topics. One item that we all seem to agree on from the start was the need for focused, coherent K-8 mathematics curriculum leading up to algebra. (Seattle's choice to continue with EDM and CMP2 indicates disagreement with Mr Williams and the NMAP). We were tasked with determining the critical foundations for success in an authentic algebra course. Skip Fennel, NCTM President, at the time headed up the Conceptual Knowledge & Skills Task Group. He along with Mathematicians and researchers on the panel suggested a list of algebra topics and the critical foundations necessary for learning those topics. As a practicing middle-school Mathematics teacher of 35 years, my input was valued heavily by Skip Fennel's Task Group.(Seattle's current direction in the Strategic Plan indicates that input identical to Mr Williams input is not valued). After two years of peering over many reams of research, the panel reached conclusions that I had always assumed were no brainers. For instance, students need to use and understand the standard algorithms in order to succeed in grasping the critical foundations leading up to and including the topics of algebra. (clearly these were not no brainers for SPS math decision makers, as Dr Ruth Parker espoused an opposite view and she was employed as a consultant by SPS. The SPS adopted defective texts that almost any experienced teacher would have found defective.) This is my own opinion here. If one cannot make use of the division algorithm, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to understand and perform division of polynomials, nor will they be able to solve higher-level equations. Your Mathematics program should require fluency with the standard algorithms for addition and subtraction, multiplication and division. Fluent use of the algorithms not only depends on the automatic recall of number facts but also reinforces it. Your math program should also require that students have proficiency with whole numbers, fractions, and particular aspects of geometry and measurement, which will be found in of course the NMP report. Our students' proficiency with fractions seems to be presently lacking in many classrooms. Your task is to select Mathematics curricula that will allow your teachers to teach the critical foundations of algebra so that students will be prepared for an authentic algebra course, not just an algebra course in name only. You need to adopt focused coherent textbooks that students, parents and teachers all understand and at the very minimum, I suggest that you allow your individual school faculties and their students a choice in textbook and teaching methods.

I served on the Instructional Practices Task Group and one of our main findings was that all encompassing recommendations that instruction should be entirely student centered or teacher directed are not supported by research. If such recommendations exist, they should be rescinded; if they are being considered, they should be avoided. High quality research does not support the exclusive use of either approach. I suggest that you offer Mathematics programs and textbooks that will not force teachers to exclusively use one type of instruction.

During my 35-year teaching career, I have always had the following minimum expectation for even an average textbook. I would assign myself, if I were looking at a textbook and evaluating it; I would assign myself a topic to learn. I would find that topic in the textbook and pretend that I was a student or teacher who had a weak background on that particular topic and I would ask myself these questions: Was the presentation of the topic in the textbook focused and coherent enough for me to adequately learn the material? Were there clearly written non-infested examples? In other words, where the math comes out loud and clear. Were there enough practice problems of varying levels and were they actually related to the topic? At a minimum, a Mathematics textbook should possess the above traits and should also cover the critical foundations found in the National Math Panel Report. And that's it."

Dan's comment is:
..... Using the above criteria established by Mr. Williams the State of Washington, Seattle, and most school districts have failed miserably in the selection of math texts currently in use.

Chairman Johns-

Thank you very much Mr. Williams. Board members, we are going to allow about five minutes or so for questions since the presentation was less than ten. Mr. Latin.

Grant Lattin-

"Mr. Williams, I just want to tell you how much respect I have for a man who has spent 36 years teaching middle school, I just have so much respect for what you have done."

Vern Williams-

Before you continue, I need to tell you that whenever a neighbor or anyone else find out that I teach middle school period, they want to buy me something, just cry for me, anything they can do.

Grant Lattin-

"I have a couple of questions and I really appreciate your insight. Have you, especially with Gifted and Talented students, and you've been teaching them for so many years... It has been my own experience that they're with that group that a textbook is certainly useful but there are many other supplemental materials that a good teacher uses when they're teaching math. Is that an accurate statement?"

Vern Williams-

"Absolutely, absolutely. Many people may peg me as a traditional stand up at the blackboard and feed math to students type of teacher but when you walk into my classroom, you'll find that I teach varying, that I have varying teaching styles depending on the material and of course, the students so there are some gifted students who have impeccable math backgrounds, that I can say go home and play with this problem for a couple of hours and hopefully invent a way of doing it but on the other hand, if I'm teaching someone how to add fractions, I don't want anyone inventing anything. I want to actually teach the concept and then they can take that concept and apply it to some of these high level problems that I do with the gifted kids. But you're right it's a whole different world."

Grand Lattin-

"So if you had a textbook that kind of focused more in one direction, on conceptual things, then you'd probably be supplementing it with some of the more traditional methods and or vice versa, if you had a textbook that leaned to heavily in one direction, then you'd probably be bringing in conceptual, in other words?"

Vern Williams-

"If I had a textbook that leaned more towards conceptual, I would want my students to be already prepared in the basic material so that they will have something that will allow them to handle these concepts. In other words, you can't just do higher level concepts without some kind of arithmetic background because the arithmetic background allows you and helps you to make these mental leaps so I really would not feel safe with a textbook that strictly went towards the conceptual."

Grant Lattin-

"And if you had one, what would you do?"

Vern Williams-

"If I had one, I would sneak under the table and find a textbook that wasn't of that ilk and make sure that my students had the basics and use both of them." ........ It seems that Mr Williams would likely be dismissed if he taught 5th grade in Seattle for insubordination and conspiracy to over-throw the Reform Math empire ... ditto for any similar course of action Mr Williams might use in Bellevue.

Grant Lattin-

"Would you focus on a textbook or there's lots of other materials besides textbooks?"

Vern Williams-

"Well, in spite of what people say about textbooks not controlling the curriculum or really setting the tone for the curriculum, they do. There is no doubt about it, especially for the newer teachers. You look at that textbook as your guide and if the textbook is focusing a certain way, you tend to focus that way.
Now, I've been teaching long enough that in fact with some of my classes, I don't even use a textbook but if I had to use a textbook."

Grant Lattin-

"And by the way, I think that's really typical of really good teachers, isn't it?"

Vern Williams-

"I can teach without a textbook whenever, it doesn't matter what the course. But if I had to have a textbook, I want one that I could look at and find some kind of focus. For instance, math teachers in general, there is so much math out there that if I don't teach calculus, and I don't, I'm not going to remember all the calculus that I was taught. So if I want to do some cool concept with a really bright eighth grader and its really more of a calculus concept and I need to go back and revisit that concept, I want a calculus textbook where I can find the concept and it's focused, it's well explained, it's well presented. I don't want a story about giraffes if I'm looking to go back and review a calculus concept and if I were learning it for the first time, I would especially need that focus."

Grant Lattin-

"I have one other question, and I really appreciate your insight as a middle school teacher on this question because it is something that has troubled me quite a bit and that is, in 2005-2006, that was the first year that middle schools were given an SOL in math at grade 7 and I'm looking at the Virginia SOL results and your county which was the best county in the state was a 60% pass rate at 7th grade math and the state pass rate was 44% so I'm wondering, what were we doing wrong that would not allow us to pass at a rate that is a failing rate by any measure. I'm wondering why you think we did so poorly on those SOLs in 7th grade math."

Vern Williams-

"Well it was the first year, and I remember the first couple of years when we administered the SOLs period, how dismal the scores were. And I believe one reason why they were so dismal is that many people thought they were going to go away and that we really didn't need to prepare the students for them if we just wait it out it was going to go away. And I think now, the 6th & 7th grade teachers are going to concentrate a lot more on preparing students for the SOLs at that level. Prior to then, we only had to worry about the SOLs for the 8th graders and I hate to use the word worrying because I think it's a good indication of how the students are doing. I know there are, well let me put it this way, the SOLs I think are probably too low level, but at least there is a floor. All right, at least there IS a floor. I know that a kid can at least do the bare minimum. So all the people who are against the SOLs, at least it reports something. Prior to SOLs, we of course had the POS but the POS didn't at one time, well I'm thinking Fairfax County. Sorry about that; they had a Program of Studies, and prior to the SOLs the Program of Studies was just something that you tested the kids on but the test meant nothing, only the classroom teacher saw it. So, I think because there is a product to achieve now, there is an end result to achieve. I don't care how low level it is, I think teachers are more prone to do some real teaching."
Chairman Johns-

"Thank you Mr. Williams, we appreciate your presentation. We appreciate your comments tonight. We definitely would invite you to come back for our Math Investigations work session. Board members we're out of time."

(Dr. Otaigbe expressed interest in asking a question as well, Chairman Johns asked for board consent and it was given.)
Dr. Otaigbe-

"Thank you. I'd just like to seize this opportunity to thank you for coming to speak to us tonight. I really appreciate it. I think when we talk about success in math, we talk about books, we talk about whether the books are the correct books, but the two elephants in the room, do we have a motivated student and family involvement. I just wanted you to comment on that from your honest feelings. "
Vern Williams-

"I think that in this day and age, we're giving students too much of an excuse not to be motivated. When I was in Elementary and Junior High, I was told by my parents and my teachers, that I had to work five times harder to get the same job as some other people were going to get and that part of your job was to go to school and learn. Whether it's fun, that is a bonus, but that's your job. The Asian students seem to do that and they go to our schools, they have the same teachers, they use the same textbooks, but somehow, that intrinsic motivation is there. And I always tell the Asian parents; it was like that for everyone here when I was growing up. And I think we need to get that back. I don't know exactly how to get it back but I can tell you with my students, I set an example myself; I'm excited about math. I'm motivated. I make sure I take care of them and I expect them to do their job. If you're going to have an exciting math course, part of it has to come from you...... This is virtually impossible to do when school districts like Seattle use a pacing plan to force teachers through defective materials ..... If I give you homework that is going to take an hour, you can't tell me about your soccer game. You have to actually buy into it. And I think if we do more of that instead of giving excuses about our horrible school system is causing you problems that the student has to be a part of buying into the system also."

Chairman Johns-

"Thank you very much Mr. Williams."

HERE is the LINK


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this - I hope it adds more clarification to what we've been saying all along on this blog site.

Textbooks and pacing charts provide the primary focus for curriculum.

Textbooks do matter!!!

Math and science teachers have had quite enough from frogs like Warfield, Treisman, Daro, Briars, Mumme, and Nelson.

Throw the rats out of OSPI. I hope this lots gets investigated and thrown into jail - they're up to their ears in corruption.

dan dempsey said...

Sang Park after reading the NMAP "Foundations for Success" said...
Two years for this? Dan could have written this in a week.

I am sure that Mr Williams could have written the NMAP report in a week.

The question as to: Why it took two years to write a no brainer? can be easily answered as you look at OSPI and the SPS largely trying to minimize its impact.

The many math leaders at the local and state levels are far removed from how to attain positive results in the classroom and many have little math content knowledge.

The continued advocacy for materials that do not have example based instruction, which is so common in all the math successful nations, reveals them as ignorant Charletons.

Perhaps someday the general public will out grow their thirst for snake oil. At the rate things are going that will be about the time our GDP matches Bangladesh.

The state and local math plan is to continue doing what does not work, only tell the public it will work with more force.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan! Thanks for this info...very helpful. (We've got Everyday Math at our school and are trying to figure out how to get rid of it. Slow going, as I'm sure you understand!)

Is Vern's presentation to the board available anywhere on the PWCS website? I've looked but can't find it. Any advice would be appreciated.


Sandra (math mom in Illinois)

Anonymous said...


I have not heard much from "Where's The Math" lately.
Have they taken a break or are they waiting for other big news?


dan dempsey said...


I think that WTM like all of us are trying to figure out a response to the blatantly fraudulent IMR Criteria selection team.

Me I put my $200 on the line and filed an action in Superior Court in Thurston County, that was before the Criteria team nonsense.

We sure need another good potential SPI to run now that Semler dropped out.

Four more years of Dr Bergeson, I would not be looking forward to that.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I'd like to see Bergeson prosecuted while she's still in office for bid rigging.

Anonymous said...

I think there is much more to this story - the ESD's are an obvious target for abuse, especially when we know the student enrollments are probably inflated. Many students stop attending school before the WASL or they switch to an alternative program (in Washington, practically the same thing as dropping out).

Anonymous said...

You can watch Vern's presentation at the 5/21/08 school board meeting here:

It's a couple of hours in, so fast forward near the end...

Anonymous said...

This pretty much brings people up to speed with regard to Skip Fennell who is widely known for long, dry, meaningless, zero-sum sentences. In particular, the end footnote, by Ralph Raimi dtd 12/11/2006 gives an account of how the NSF-EHM, combined with a few universities, has created the incentives driving this outrageous debate by dictating the curriculum schools will adopt. It combines extortion and bribery.

Here's examples of skip 'zero' fennell thinking on paper -

"learning the basics is certainly not "new marching orders" from the NCTM, which has always considered the basic computation facts and related work with operations
to be important."

next paragraph....

"The council has never promoted estimation "rather than precise answers." Estimation is a critical component to the overall understanding and use of numbers"

you see what I mean, skippy is tipsy.

"The focal points are not about the basics; they are about important foundational topics."

Apparently this was the next step to creating a curriculum - Focal points!!! Oops, We forgot to tell the teachers about focal points. Of course!!!! That's why we have kids that can't multiply, add, subtract, and divide. Lets teach focal points!!!

"The Council has always supported learning the basics. Students should learn and be able to recall basic facts and become computationally fluent, but such knowledge and skills should be acquired with understanding."

7x7!! What's there to understand? Do I need to know how to multiply, five different ways. What idiot thought that one up. Its so dumb, you would have to think there was a conspiracy to make Americans dumber! Come on Skip, who's paying you to say this stuff. You are the biggest either the biggest toadie in the business or a space cadet, just like your predecessor Burrill (Beam me up Scottie). Is that why they made you president?

Anonymous said...

Fennellisms abound all over the web - he's the masher of Mr. potatoeheads.

"The panel is to concentrate on algebra as the weak link in the math education process."

Francis Fennell, president of the math teachers group and a panel member, said the group's specific recommendations could help parents determine whether their kids are on the right track.

The draft report recommends a revamp of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a widely followed test administered by the Education Department, to emphasize material needed for the mastery of algebra, especially fractions. The draft calls for similar changes to the state tests children must take under the federal No Child Left Behind Law.

The document urges publishers to shorten elementary and middle-school math textbooks that currently can run on for 700 to 1,000 pages and cover a dizzying array of topics. Publishers say textbooks often must cover a patchwork of state standards.

Anonymous said...

NCTM and the publishers are so full themselves. They can't admit that they write bad textbooks. They will never admit that their studies were flawed/fabricated from the getgo. Where's the tar.

Anonymous said...

Who is the 'weak link' in the math education process???

dan dempsey said...

The weak link?

Hey this chain is so defective it is hard to find even a moderately strong link.

The weak links are to numerous to mention.

I recommend:
#1 heed Project Follow Through results

#2 follow the 2004 MSSG

#3 clearly define what kids are to learn at each grade level. Minimum as well as what should be aspired towards. Then actually have interventions that work. END SOCIAL PROMOTIONS

#4 states could recommend text books via reviews and ratings. The current textbook OSPI fiasco underway is another waste of money

#5 Get Bill Ayers former weather underground member now an ed school prof in Chicago and friend of Barack to get busy.

Mr Ayers lamented recently that he had not blown up more buildings back in the day. The weathermen were experts at blowing up unoccupied buildings.

Mr Ayers needs to start visiting unoccupied Schools of Education very early on Sunday Mornings.

#6 Example based instuction - use more of it.

#7 Stop allowing lunatics to set policy

#8 Let highly qualified Math teachers teach. Recognize that teaching is an art and stop trying to reduce it to easily monitored formulaic steps just so incompetent uninformed Edu-Crats have something to check off on an evaluation form.

#9 Read Everything that W. Edwards Deming ever wrote -- except perhaps an early statistics book. This guy knew how to fix systems. WOW!!! does our education system need fixing!!

#10 Recognize that the gravy train riding Edu-Crats do not want this system fixed .... then they would need to find real jobs.

#11 Reduce the size of district office curriculum related employment by at least 50%

#12 Pay math teachers more .. this is a competitive world. Art teachers salaries are competitive in the Art world. Same for P.E. etc in their worlds. Math teacher pay is totally absurd by comparison with the math world salaries outside of education. Also start treating teachers like professionals rather than imbeciles. The fact that most supervisors and experts know hardly any math should not be a cause for them to require math teachers to engage in clearly detrimental nonsense instead of effective though not politically correct instructional actions.

dan dempsey said...

W. Edwards Deming said:

If you can eliminate a job and it has no averse effect on performance output ... then eliminate it.

If we followed his advice, just think of the clean unoccupied offices at the district office.

Green Dot Charter schools in LA have no central office.

The Superintendent in Chino Valley Arizona years ago worked out of a double wide mobile. District office had 3 people. If he needed something done he paid teachers to do it. No curriculum director - paid committees of teachers to research and recommend curricular materials.

We largely work in an autocratic system with more centralized power each passing hour ...

Democracy... localization ... free exchange of ideas ... are all missing.

Relevant data is obscured rather than used.

Process trumps content is the eyes of the lunatics that run this show.

In a society based on deception telling the truth is the ultimate act of sedition.

That is the rest of the story.

Weak link? we should be so fortunate.

Anonymous said...

Green Dot does have an administrative center - don't be fooled by this group....

SANCHEZ: Today, for example, Barr runs into Elijah Woodson, a veteran teacher at Locke High School, where half the faculty recently voted to turn this school over to Barr's charter school operation, Green Dot. Woodson's whole body shakes as he points angrily at a smiling Barr a few feet away.

Mr. WOODSON: There's the man who took our school. We're enemies.

SANCHEZ: Wait a minute. You - he's who's enemy?

Mr. WOODSON: What do you - who are you?

SANCHEZ: I'm a reporter. I'm just following him around.

Mr. WOODSON: I've been here 21 years. And so they bamboozled us out. This is a Crip neighborhood, so they can't go to Jordan, they can't go to Washington, they can't go to Fremont.

SANCHEZ: But why doesn't they just come back here?

Mr. WOODSON: They don't want to go to Green Dot. They don't want to wear uniform. This is not a private school. This is a public school, not prioritized - what do you call it, he's making it private. It's just another way of -that's his thing, he's a moneymaker, he's here to make money, not to teach school. So he's the great, white hope. He's got our allowances, so ask him.

SANCHEZ: As far as Woodson's concerned, Barr is going to skim off a tidy profit from the millions of dollars he's getting in public funds to restructure Locke High and other struggling schools, unless somebody stops him. Barr revels in being the outsider, the antagonist.

Mr. BARR: Part of it, you have to be a battering ram. And you have to also acknowledge that people are so beaten down and so - part of me says God, we need more people being outraged here.

SANCHEZ: It's easy to be outraged in Los Angeles. All you have to do is look at the latest data - 309 chronically failing schools and a teacher turnover rate of almost 60 percent a year, mostly in high schools. Only a third of the city's 710,000 students can read at grade level.

We've gone from a model school system to a broken school system, says Barr.

Mr. BARR: So my job is to find a new model that is so clearly different and successful. And then create demand around the city that all public schools look like that.

SANCHEZ: That new model, says Barr, is Green Dot. Now in its seventh year, it runs 12 charter high schools of no more than 500 students each, with a college preparatory curriculum, a budget controlled by the school, and principals with the power to hire and fire.

Mr. BARR: That's a vision. That's like a moon shot.

SANCHEZ: To make sure Green Dot parents and teachers buy into his vision. Barr has created his own parents' organization and a teachers' union. The result thus far: small, orderly, rigorous schools in L.A.'s toughest neighborhoods, graduating 90 percent of their students and sending almost as many to college.

Mr. BARR: We've proven that kids can learn.

SANCHEZ: Billionaires like Eli Broad and Bill and Melinda Gates have been so impressed they've given Barr over $18 million. So with friends with deep pockets and a zeal for shaking up LAUSD, the Los Angeles Unified School District, Steve Barr seems unstoppable.

Ms. EVELYN BARRERO(ph) (Volunteer): (Spanish spoken)

SANCHEZ: Evelyn Barrero, a tiny olive-skinned woman with graying black hair who volunteers at one of Barr's charter schools, says he understands that a child learns best when he's loved and nurtured like a seedling. She says parents trust Barr because he's been truthful and because he grew up poor in a trailer park just outside San Jose, California. Abandoned by his father, raised by a single mom who had to put him and his brother in foster care when the family hit rock bottom.

Mr. BARR: You know, I grew up, my mom never made more than a thousand dollars a month. And we never had health care. There's that point in your life where you see your parents humiliated that it really has an impact on you. And I saw my mom humiliated often.

SANCHEZ: That's what dysfunctional schools often do to poor families, says Barr. Talk down to them. Humiliate them. Sitting at a kitchen table in his modest ranch-style home on a hill overlooking downtown L.A., Barr says a good public school education made all the difference in his life. But he's also been fortunate. After graduating from U.C. Santa Barbara with a political science degree, Barr worked as an advance man for the 1984 Olympic torch runners, then wrote a book about it titled, "The Flame: An Unlikely Patriot Finds a Country to Love."

Barr's upbeat journal sold pretty well. It gave him the freedom to work on all kinds of projects an a couple of failed presidential campaigns. Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis, and finally somebody who actually won, Bill Clinton. Looking back, Barr says, he was a liberal searching for his political soul and a purpose in life.

Mr. BARR: I had a pretty good midlife crisis working. I just buried a brother and a mom. And I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. But I wanted to be bold. And I didn't have a date, I didn't have a wife, I didn't have a mortgage. And so when I started Green Dot, I had about $100,000 in the bank.

SANCHEZ: That was 1999. Today, Green Dot operates out of the second floor of the World Trade Center in downtown L.A. where Barr employs 25 people, half are assigned to Green Dot schools or, as Barr puts it, one bureaucrat per school. We're not just creating better schools for kids who have been neglected, says Barr, his eyes widening, we're a political movement. Yeah. A movement that can be nasty and divisive, says Julie Korenstein, his harshest critic on the city school board. Korenstein agrees with teachers at Locke High, for example, who believe that deep down, Barr would like to privatize public education to make some money.

Ms. JULIE KORENSTEIN (School Board Member, LAUSD): I'm sure he would not waste his time doing this if he couldn't make a good living. I don't think that he's malicious at all, but I think it's a really good business.

SANCHEZ: Others say Barr is well-intentioned, but he has trashed the city school system unfairly.

Mr. ROY ROMER (Former Colorado Governor): Let me tell you, I was at that district six and a half years.

SANCHEZ: Roy Romer, a former governor of Colorado, was the superintendent of schools when Barr started badmouthing district administrators, including dedicated people who were turning schools around, says Romer.

Mr. ROMER: That district is serving a great, great function. It needs criticism, it doesn't need to have somebody trying to put a bomb in the middle of it.

SANCHEZ: Barr, though, is undeterred. At this gathering of like-minded school reformers from across the country hosted at a ritzy hotel in Marina Del Rey by an organization called The NewSchools Venture Fund, Barr addresses the session titled, "How to Inspire Evangelists."

SANCHEZ: Where are the evangelists?

Unidentified Woman: Right here. The evangelists are right here.

SANCHEZ: Barr's sermon is simple. Green Dot has become a political force because it has connected people's lives to something meaningful. Good schools - that's powerful, says Barr.

Mr. BARR: Especially if you're trying to stir and lead, as we are in Los Angeles, a parent revolt and now match it with a teacher revolt.

SANCHEZ: And there's no reason it won't spread to other cities, says Barr, his eyes widening. Next fall, he's opening a Green Dot school in the south Bronx with the blessings of New York's United Federation of Teachers. The union in Chicago is interested, too. After that, says Barr, maybe New Orleans.

Anonymous said...

Here's what happens when you push urban schools to create more AP classes. This is prophetic, and its just enough to push the system into freefall.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

High School Principal in L.A. Sparks Student, Staff Protests

Linda Jacobson / EdWeek
Published Online: August 20, 2007

A Los Angeles school with a reputation for violence is embroiled in another type of controversy—this time involving some of its teachers and highest-achieving students.

The storm erupted in mid-July when, according to students and teachers, Vincent Carbino, the principal of Santee Education Complex, dropped or changed numerous courses—including some Advance Placement offerings—in the middle of the semester, even though some students will need those classes in order to graduate.

Teachers allege that the principal cancelled the courses without warning in advance of a scheduled inspection required by state legislation known as the Williams settlement, because textbooks for the courses had never been ordered and teachers had not been trained.

Morale is now so bad that some teachers are considering filing a petition with the district’s board of education to convert to a charter school, said Jose Lara, a history teacher at Santee and a union representative for United Teachers Los Angeles, an affiliate of both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

Tracy Mallozzi, a spokeswoman at Green Dot Public Schools, a Los Angeles-based charter schools organization, confirmed that preliminary conversations with Santee teachers have taken place.

Earlier this year, some teachers at Locke Senior High School, another low-performing high school in Los Angeles, signed petitions asking the school board to have Locke converted to a charter under Green Dot, which is opening small high schools in Watts, the neighborhood served by Locke. ("L.A. District Faces Mounting Pressure Over High Schools,", July 18, 2007.)

“If things don’t get better soon, many teachers are going to go that route,” said Mr. Lara. “It’s been a roller coaster ever since.”

(Conversations with teachers at Locke suggest a different version of what took place; teachers presently are not too happy with Green Dot)

A former police officer, Mr. Carbino was brought in a year after the school opened in 2005 to address safety concerns as well as academic performance. He refused to be interviewed for this article.

But Los Angeles Unified School District officials say they are trying to work with students and teachers to calm the situation. The district also denies charges that the number of AP courses at Santee has been reduced. Instead, they say that Mr. Carbino increased AP offerings from two last school year to 13 this year.

“It’s a fairly small group of teachers and students who are engaging in these protests,” said Hilda Ramirez, a spokeswoman for the 708,000-student district.

Troubled Campus
antee opened two years ago under then-Superintendent Roy Romer and was supposed to be a symbol of educational renewal in a low-income community. Instead, the campus has been known for fighting, crime, and teacher turnover.

“It’s been a disaster from day one,” said Jordan Henry, an English teacher and a union official.

The latest controversy appears to stem from inspections required under the 2004 settlement that ended a lawsuit called Williams v. California, in which plaintiffs argued that many schools, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods, were lacking basic necessities such as textbooks, clean and safe facilities, and properly credentialed teachers. ("Improvements Seen to California Schools As Result of Williams Case Settlement," Aug. 13, 2007.)

The mandated inspections, conducted by county offices of education throughout the state, include a textbook audit to make sure students have the books they need.

Mr. Lara said no one was alerted to the course changes made in advance of the Williams inspections. Teachers found out, he said, when they logged on to their computers to take attendance and saw that the names of the courses they were teaching had changed. In some cases, AP courses were replaced with regular courses, he said.

Police escorted one teacher who complained about the unexpected changes from the building, according to Mr. Lara. Since then, dramatic photos and videos of students protesting in the auditorium and outside the building, chanting “Fire Carbino,” have shown up in local news reports and on Web sites. And this week, students and parents were planning a march through the neighborhood to voice their concerns.

“I’m not going to receive [AP] credit,” said 12th grader Araceli Aca, who says her AP English class was changed to a course called Writing Seminar. “My mom is really furious because she hasn’t been able to get any answers.”

District Response
The district denies claims that the number of AP courses at Santee has been reduced. In a written statement, Carmen Schroeder, the superintendent of Local District 5, which includes Santee and is located in South Los Angeles, said the principal added the writing courses to help students pass AP exams.

The school also is part of a new partnership with Los Angeles Trade Technical College and the University of California, Irvine that allows students to graduate with both a diploma and college credit, or even an associate’s degree. Ms. Schroeder called the arrangement “a wonderful opportunity for the South Los Angeles community that has traditionally had very little access—or financial means—to college.”

But Mr. Lara argues that students at the school—which has three academic calendars, or tracks—don’t have equal access to AP courses. Most of the new AP courses, he said, are available only to those on the A track, which most closely follows a traditional school calendar. The students that started school July 2, before the changes were made, are on the B track.

A chart he has compiled shows that 35 classes, primarily English classes, have been changed, and more than 850 students have been affected.

In spite of the latest controversy, Ms. Schroeder expressed support for Mr. Carbino.

“I believe that everyone at Santee has the same goal: providing students with a rigorous and relevant education that will prepare them for college and careers,” her statement said.

Ms. Ramirez, the district spokeswoman, also said the principal has worked with students on conflict resolution and peer-to-peer counseling. And a profile of the principal published last year in the Los Angeles Times discussed his determination to keep the school from being taken over by the state because of low test scores.

But A.J. Duffy, UTLA’s president, said he doesn’t blame Santee’s staff for talking to charter school operators about leaving the district.

“Do I want that? No. Do I understand? Yes,” he said, adding strong words for Los Angeles Unified Superintendent David Brewer III. “If he doesn’t remove and fire [Carbino], he’s going to have another Green Dot school, and he’s going to be superintendent of nothing.”

Anonymous said...

May 23, 2008

This is a fair piece that tries to assess the actual picture at Locke High School. Part of the issue is personnel -

- new principal unfamiliar with the neighborhood
- less than 40% of staff will remain with Green dot beginning next year.
- security staff were cut.
- teacher morale is low.
- school was provided one extra administrator. but no help regarding the transition, which is expected to take place July 1.

'Neglect' cited as part of problem at Locke High
Turmoil has increased as the campus awaits its transition to charter school status. A district official concedes that inattention from LAUSD has made the interim more difficult.
By Howard Blume
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

9:31 AM PDT, May 23, 2008

The impending transition from a traditional school to a charter school has left Locke High in a difficult purgatory, said students, parents, teachers and administrators, and may have contributed to tensions that boiled over into a campus-wide melee involving about 600 students earlier this month.

The rioting came after months of turmoil as the district prepared to hand over the troubled Watts campus to Green Dot Public Schools, which is poised on July 1 to become the first private organization to run a traditional school in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Inattention from the school district made the transition period all the more difficult, said recently hired Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines.

"We did neglect Locke," Cortines said in an interview with Times reporters and editors. "And we neglected it as it related to security. . . . I would suggest we abdicated our responsibility."

In the middle of last year, Locke was a low-performing but relatively peaceful campus in a gang-plagued neighborhood. Much credit for the relative calm went to third-year Principal Frank Wells, who was generally well regarded for his ability to control students without alienating them.

But the district yanked Wells in May after he openly sided with Green Dot's effort to build faculty support for making Locke a charter school, thereby removing it from direct district control.

To replace Wells, officials brought in retired principal Travis Kiel, who lacked Wells' knowledge of the campus and its student body.

Many students protested Wells' removal. And after his departure, campus vandalism and graffiti rose dramatically.

"A few days after he was pulled out, there was kind of like a mini-riot," said 18-year-old senior Veronica Zuniga. "A lot of students felt they had nobody to restrain them. They started going wild in the hallways."

The school has had persistent problems with students wandering halls and grounds -- not bothering to get to class on time, several teachers said. Nearly 20% don't show up at all on a typical day -- a long-standing issue at the school with an official enrollment of 2,600 students.

Another challenge was that, last fall, Locke had an influx of students from a neighborhood dominated by Blood gang members, said teachers, security staff and Green Dot employees.

This proved a recipe for conflict at a school whose black students come primarily from neighborhoods associated with the rival Crips. The school also is plagued by Latino gangs, who are potentially hostile to each other as well as the black gangs.

At the same time, the district cut the number of school-based police officers from three to two and temporarily cut the hours of unarmed security aides by about half, said teachers, current and former administrators and Green Dot. Graffiti became rampart, staff members said.

There also was a rise in the student display of gang colors, which the dress code prohibits, said one district security employee, who feared repercussions from supervisors if he was identified.

"The administration let it get out of control from Day 1," the security employee said. "I didn't feel safe going out at lunch."

The employee recalled a September incident in which more than three dozen Broadway Crips "came up to school for a fight. They know the police are undermanned." The security team hastily locked the front gates, then ran to bolt the back gates when the gang members headed that way.

"They didn't get on campus that day," but within a week, he said, a major fight occurred on the perimeter that involved black students from rival gangs. (Much of this month's brawl was black versus Latino).

The district eventually dispatched another veteran administrator to help Kiel, and the team gradually assumed more control.

But the problem of sagging morale within some classrooms has been even more challenging. Most of the school's faculty has no personal investment in the school's future. At best, Green Dot hopes to hire about 40% of the existing staff, and it hasn't reached that level yet. Green Dot has no interest in some teachers; others have doubts about Green Dot. Many never favored Green Dot's entry in the first place.

Students have "had teachers saying, 'Green Dot is bad. Green Dot is bad,' " said cheerleading coach Marlo Jenkins. "The morale has really dropped because [staff members] don't feel like they have everybody behind them. . . . They're working on empty. It's just really disheartening."

Senior Cindy Romero, 18, said some "teachers don't care no more. Last year, teachers would force students to keep up with the work, but now they gave up."

Cortines said he was disturbed, during a recent visit, to see several teachers showing movies not related to instruction or letting their students play cards. He said also observed good teaching and had no issue with Kiel's management.

Senior David Marshall, 18, praised teachers for "doing everything they can to help students graduate."

Even in this difficult year, Kiel said, there have been positive initiatives under the current regime, including teacher-training led by specialists from UCLA, he said.

"We had so many distractions here," Kiel said. "But there is a foundation of instruction here that's pretty good. And it needs to be built upon."

Times staff writer Mitchell Landsberg contributed to this report.

Anonymous said...

June 7, 2007
This is from one of the leaders of the teacher's petition for Green Dot Schools
(I'm trying to keep a hopeful eye about this piece)

L.A. Unified: the school bully
A teacher's inside look at the district's aggressive campaign to keep Locke High School from going charter.
By Bruce William Smith, BRUCE WILLIAM SMITH teaches English at Locke High School.
June 7, 2007
I AM ONE OF THE LEADERS of the teacher revolt at Locke High School. Locke was, for many years, the ashcan of the Los Angeles Unified School District, mismanaged in every way. Things have improved here, but not enough, and efforts to do more have been frustrated by district interference.

Now, after a majority of teachers expressed a desire to break away from the LAUSD, the district has revealed to everyone how little regard it has for teachers, majority rule or state law.

Conflict, controversy, despondency — all are present in full measure these days at Locke, a 2,500-student campus in Watts, as we wrestle with the future of the school. Green Dot Public Schools, the most prominent charter school operator in Southern California, negotiated with the district for months about the fate of Locke. But then, on April 13, the Los Angeles Board of Education — showing little concern for our current students and teachers — approved eight Green Dot start-up schools for the surrounding neighborhood, which would certainly bleed Locke dry.

But another option emerged a couple of weeks later: Alain Leroy Locke Charter High School. This would keep the charters on our campus but under a Green Dot umbrella, funded directly by the state. Founder Steve Barr and Green Dot fully realize what many teachers here have long known: The only satisfactory solution is to save Locke but remove it from LAUSD control.

To that end, I and other teachers last month circulated a petition that documented our support for the new Green Dot plan. A majority of our tenured teachers — 41 out of 73 — signed it. On May 8, the day we finished collecting signatures, Principal Frank Wells was escorted off campus by an LAUSD official. Three days later, when the petition was filed with the district, I was relieved of all my non-teaching duties (coordinating assessments and writing our school improvement plan) and was assigned to supervising our legion of rebellious, tardy students. I lost my summer employment too, and thousands of dollars in pay.

The district's disinformation campaign was launched the next week. We had a mandatory after-school meeting, at which representatives from the LAUSD and the teachers union attacked the plan for three hours. Green Dot was barred from participating. Mat Taylor, the United Teachers Los Angeles rep from Fremont High School, told our faculty: "You fired yourselves when you signed that petition." Others said that Green Dot offered no healthcare benefits (a falsehood retracted after I objected), that a continual stream of unhappy Green Dot teachers reapply to the LAUSD and other distortions.

After all that, some teachers withdrew their signatures.

In the following week, six hours of meetings (time originally scheduled to prepare for reaccreditation) were spent hearing about five new rival proposals for Locke's future — as if we'd never made a choice. An anti-Green Dot petition was circulated persistently until, having cajoled, confused and intimidated our teachers, the LAUSD was satisfied: 17 had rescinded their signatures.

When the LAUSD threw out our charter petition, district officials, including Supt. David L. Brewer, insisted that no one was pressured or coerced. This simply strains credulity.

The LAUSD has proved again and again that it can't manage urban high schools. Test scores are low. Student attendance is low and declining. Parents have no confidence that they're sending their kids to safe campuses. There's massive teacher and administrative turnover, so improvement plans are drawn from scratch year after year.

Among the attacks launched against Green Dot is that the charter plan is all about money. Well, that's true. This is about money. If Locke — and then maybe Santee or Taft, where teachers are also talking to Green Dot — withdraw from the LAUSD, district enrollment will continue to decline. Funding is based on enrollment, so if that keeps dropping, then how will the district pay for its bloated bureaucracy?

The LAUSD doesn't have the right to summarily reject our charter. State law is clear: A petition can be discarded by the school board only if it "did not contain the requisite number of signatures at the time of its submission to a school district." On May 11, the date in question, ours did. By acting as if our petition never happened, the LAUSD keeps it from reaching the Los Angeles Board of Education. Without a board vote, the LAUSD's reasoning goes, a rejection can't even be appealed to the county or state boards of education.

This is a shameless ploy by a desperate district. Like any party to a dispute, we are entitled to a fair hearing before an impartial body. The district bureaucrats should let the members of the newly elected Board of Education, their new bosses, consider and vote on Locke's charter. If the LAUSD is to have any credibility in educating our young people about open, democratic government and fair play, it must.

Anonymous said...

Teachers at Locke (named for an African-American who wrote during the Harlem Renaissance) said that they were pressured to sign the petition to go charter. I have to agree with them, why would you choose Green dot and lose tenure?

A year ago, a female high school student appeared at a televised meeting of the LA School Board, and told the Board of the terrible condition of her school's restrooms.

Superintendent Roy Romer screamed at the the soft-spoken young girl and said he was tired of enemies of the LAUSD trying to discredit the District.

That was Roy Romer, former LAUSD superintendent former Governor of Colorado, and former head of the Democratic Party. What a disgrace for Democrats.

And doesn't that sound all too familiar with MGJ - establishing poor public relations, poor relations with unions, poor internal controls, poor academic programs,...Its a blue print for creating charter schools.

Just how many Birsin-Alvarado clones do we have out there?

Also, LAUSD installed a new Payroll System, installed has created nothing but chaos, for all employees except administrators.

Teachers who are eligible for additional pay have yet to see a dime.

Where is the Union?

Anonymous said...

This was an interesting post on another blog:

The Green Dot one (contract) can be found here:

1) Those who are proud that Green Dot is "unionized" are actually more proud that the the Green Dot union is really marginalized.
2) No accumulated sick leave, defined contribution health care (~$420 a month, below market rate), no pregnancy leave, inferior top end of salary scale, no disciplinary procedures, no binding arbitration.... suggests that the only people Green Dot expects to employ are the young and idealistic, and even them, not for long. Teaching is temporary, missionary work, for young, mostly white folks to go save the poor, black, and brown. Its certainly not a career, unless its a springboard into management, where the real money is at
3)Why can't you vote out Steve Barr? (Head of Green Dot)
4) CTA (and not UTLA) nominally organizes the charters because no one else has the resources to spend taking on this massive project. CTA gets dues, Green Dot gets labor movement street cred, and the foundations of public education as a public enterprise are weakened. Energy might be better spent figuring out how to stem the rising tide of semi-private, sub-standard schools based on a promise of college and offering not much else...

FYI-the politics with SB, Villaraigosa, CTA, UTLA, and the privatizer lobby are quite complex.., from one on the inside..

I have to agree

charter schools and privatization = loss of funds for public education = loss of teacher jobs

Anonymous said...

In Edwize's latest offering, entitled Steve Barr, Welcome to Our World, the UFT's Leo Casey attacks both Andrew Rotherham (aka Eduwonk) and me.

Here is how Mr. Casey refers to us:

From the “make up whatever facts fit today’s rant” school of thought, there is the assertion that Barr has thrown tenure out the window. Ed Sector boss Andy Rotherham adds his two cents, that throwing out tenure is a good thing.

While Casey criticizes Rotherham, he makes essentially the same point--that Barr's contract is fine as is. However, the statement about tenure, attributed to me via the link, was actually from an LA Times editorial. Had Mr. Casey paid closer attention to the post he linked to, he'd know that. Here is exactly what they wrote:

Last week, a majority of tenured teachers at the low-performing school signed a petition favoring the move — thus showing that they are perfectly willing to loosen work rules and toss tenure out the classroom window if it means a safer and more vibrant campus.

It's regrettable that Mr. Casey could not be bothered reading the post he criticized, let alone the referenced article.

What's worse, Mr. Casey, despite his long explanation, appears to have very limited familiarity with the topic at hand.

After a brief lecture on the meaning of tenure, Mr. Casey quotes one passage from the Green Dot contract, stating no teacher could be fired without just cause, and implies I should have read the contract. Why he supposes I have access to it I have no idea.

However, the Green Dot website is freely available, and makes specific mention of the contract. What else does it say?

Key reforms written into the contract and agreed to by the union include: teachers have explicit say in school policy and curriculum; no tenure or seniority preference....

And that is precisely what Mr. Casey is welcoming to "our world."

Perhaps there's some nuance which eluded me in that clause, but it's tough to discern. Does Mr. Casey suppose they make this very public declaration because they consider it meaningless? Is that why they specifically refer to it as a "reform?"

Did they write it into the contract because they had a bit of empty space to fill?

Mr. Casey, representing the UFT, embraces a person who plainly rejects tenure and seniority rights, a person with whom UFT President Randi Weingarten is meeting today.

Mr. Casey concludes:

...why let the facts get in the way of a good rant?

Why indeed? Mr. Casey appears to have a highly abridged notion of the facts, and can't be bothered looking them up before he writes.

That, in fact, is the more generous of two possible interpretations.

What is clear from the Green Dot board member and you can read her piece on Fox from last year is...

Green dot schools have higher test scores (WASL???) than public schools, but once again I think its a safe presumption that there are two different standards being applied. The only difference I see is teachers have given up their tenure and in this increasingly political business, tenure affords at least some layer of protection.

Anonymous said...

What is the point of all this?

Textbooks that don't aid in teaching kids and policies that have teachers working lockstep using questionable methodologies, while teaching to the test are lowering teacher and student morale.

Add to the camel's back, AP classes (more rigor than honors) in an already embattled system is a sure fire why to breed discontent and a bull's eye for predatory takeover, like Green Dot 'Public' Schools.

This is instilling fear in a community - and it sounds just like government-sponsored terrorism.

dan dempsey said...

Dear Sandra Math mom in Illinois,

Write me for Seattle Spreadsheets,

Everyday Math is a total joke very easy to see on an excel sheet.


dan dempsey said...

Many Thanks for the Locke - Green Dot coverage in the Watts part of LAUSD.

Anonymous said...

What really irks me about these politicians is they are willing to settle for compromises and they feel justified? I'm not. If its going to be a war, let's win it. Why settle for a poor quality education and the same goes for teachers - they worked hard to make teaching a profession, why give all that back to these twits? I hope unions are paying attention and doing something - for instance, which candidates are they backing and why?