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No, We should Not Boycott Florida….A School’s Bet on NonViolence ….NYTimes on CA’s Hunger Strike….

July 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The deeply painful issues that have arisen for so many Americans around the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the subsequent exoneration of George Zimmerman, are complex in nature and require honest dialogue and sustained, practical action if real change and healing is to begin to take place.

It is, therefore, disheartening to see people, whom one expects would know better, grasping for simplistic, feel-good gestures that don’t accomplish much of anything, but instead distract us from the far more difficult long-term work that is needed to help prevent future Trayvon Martins.

The new movement to boycott Florida is one of those unhelpful feel-good gestures.

We at WLA are relieved to see that the LA Times editorial board has come out roundly against this mis-aimed move.

Here’s a clip from the LA Times editorial on the matter:

….What would be the goal of a boycott against Florida? [California State Assemblyman Chris] Holden claims his target is Florida’s “stand your ground” law, a statute similar to those on the books of more than 20 other states, which allows a person to use deadly force in self-defense without first trying to retreat from danger.

There is legitimate question about the wisdom and fairness of such laws, which, this page noted this year, encourage a dangerous shoot-first mentality. President Obama on Friday was one of many who called for a reconsideration of such laws in the wake of the Martin killing and the acquittal of Zimmerman. We join those who are concerned about “stand your ground” laws.

But if the wrong to be punished and corrected is the adoption of such laws, it would be odd and unjust to direct a boycott at Florida alone, and not other states with such laws, merely because Zimmerman’s trial was racially charged and closely followed by the public. If the target was not the statute but rather this particular judge’s handling of the case or this six-person jury’s finding, a boycott of the entire state seems not merely wildly out of scale but wholly unrelated to the perceived wrong.

Also read this essay by our pal Rob Greene on the boycotting-Florida issue. In it he talks about why this notion of boycotting entire states—either Florida or Arizona—is wrongheaded, however momentarily emotionally satisfying it might seem.

(And, while you’re at it, be sure to read this essay for Time Magazine by author/civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander about what the Trayvon Martin case revealed about young men of color being viewed, not as having problems, but as being “a problem.’)


In a desperately poor, dangerous part of Philadelphia, Memphis Street Academy decided to ditch its metal detectors and focus on supporting students, instead of being fearful of them. Violence dropped by 90 percent.

Jeff Deeny, writing in this week’s Atlantic Monthly, has this hopeful and very instructive story about what happened when a troubled school changed its strategy and, in so doing, changed its students feelings about their school, and about their own potential. Here’s a clip from the beginning…and one from the very end.

Last year when American Paradigm Schools took over Philadelphia’s infamous, failing John Paul Jones Middle School, they did something a lot of people would find inconceivable. The school was known as “Jones Jail” for its reputation of violence and disorder, and because the building physically resembled a youth correctional facility. Situated in the Kensington section of the city, it drew students from the heart of a desperately poor hub of injection drug users and street level prostitution where gun violence rates are off the charts. But rather than beef up the already heavy security to ensure safety and restore order, American Paradigm stripped it away. During renovations, they removed the metal detectors and barred windows.

The police predicted chaos. But instead, new numbers seem to show that in a single year, the number of serious incidents fell by 90%.

The school says it wasn’t just the humanizing physical makeover of the facility that helped. Memphis Street Academy also credits the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a noncoercive, nonviolent conflict resolution regimen originally used in prison settings that was later adapted to violent schools. AVP, when tailored to school settings, emphasizes student empowerment, relationship building and anger management over institutional control and surveillance. There are no aggressive security guards in schools using the AVP model; instead they have engagement coaches, who provide support, encouragement, and a sense of safety.


Allowed to respond anonymously to questionnaires, 73% of students said they now felt safe at school, 100% said they feel there’s an adult at school who cares about them and 95% said they hope to graduate from college one day. These are the same Jones Jail kids who 12 months ago were climbing over cars to get away from school (Memphis Street Academy has since staggered dismissals and is using AVP techniques on the grounds as kids leave–nearby bodegas have stopped locking their doors when school lets out).

When asked about the security changes at Memphis Street Academy a ten-year-old fifth-grader sums up her experience: “There are no more fights. There are no more police. That’s better for the community.”


In this Sunday’s New York Times, Jesse Wegman, the paper’s new editorial writer on legal matters (hired in April of this year), had some things to say about the ineffective and Constitutionally-questionable way that California still insists on handling solitary confinement in its prisons.

Here’s a clip:

At Pelican Bay, the overwhelming majority of the men in solitary don’t even have a record of violence; they are placed in solitary for their “gang associations,” despite the fact that such associations have hardly any predictive value for a prisoner’s likelihood to be violent.

The little hope these inmates have of leaving solitary lies mostly in what prison officials call “debriefing,” or snitching on other gang members. (California officials say that about 200 inmates statewide have been classified for return to the general prison population under a pilot program that considers behavior and other factors besides debriefing.)

Opponents of solitary do not deny that certain inmates are too dangerous or disruptive to live among the general prison population. The issue is whether depriving thousands of people of virtually all human contact for years on end, without real opportunities to get out, goes beyond any reasonable standard of proportionality in punishment. “They want to make these people suffer — it’s exactly what the goal is,” said Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. “Whose interests are being undermined if you let someone for the first time in a year talk to their mother?”


At LA Observed there is an excellent photo of a backyard bear lounging over a fence attractively draped with bougainvillea. (I mean, for those of you interested in backyard bears and bougainvillea, of course.)

The bear looks very cheerful.

Posted in CDCR, Charter Schools, Education, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

ELECTIONS: National Eyes on LA’s School Board Races…The Howls About Outsider Money…How to Choose a Mayor….PLUS Some Non-Election News

March 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


It’s big enough news that even the NY Times was driven to report on LA’s school board contests.

Here’s a clip from the NY Times’ Jennifer Medina’s story:

On Tuesday, voters in Los Angeles will go to the polls for a mayoral primary. But much of the attention will also be on the three races for the school board, a battle that involves the mayor, the teachers’ union and a host of advocates from across the country — including New York City’s billionaire mayor — who have poured millions of dollars into the races.

The outcome of the political fight for the school board seats will have a profound impact on the direction of the nation’s second-largest school district. But the clash has also become a sort of test case for those who want to overhaul public education, weakening the power of the teachers’ union, pushing for more charter schools and changing the way teachers are hired and fired.

After years of pressing to take power away from local school boards, some advocates have directed their money and attention directly to school boards in the hope that they will support their causes, as unions have done in the past.

Last month, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City donated $1 million to a coalition formed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles to help elect candidates who will support the current superintendent and the policy changes he has promoted. Students First, a national advocacy organization created by Michelle A. Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington, donated $250,000 to the same cause.

(As we mentioned last Friday, we generally support the reform candidates—especially Kate Anderson.)


In an Op Ed for the Daily News, LAUSD board members Marlene Canter and Yolie Flores about the controversy over the out-of-state money coming in for the school board race.

Canter and Flores make the point that, for years, UTLA—LA’s teachers’ union--poured big buk into school board races, where the union stood to gain specific to gain by having “their” people on the board . Now, they write, the playing field has been leveled (or even tilted the opposite direction) by school reform groups and the unions are crying foul.:

Here’s a clip from their Op Ed:

Recently, there has been much talk regarding the “outside groups” who are trying to influence the LAUSD school board elections. But, as former board members with a total of 12 combined years of service, we know first hand the pressures facing LAUSD board members and candidates for the board. Both of us fought for significant changes at LAUSD, and we felt firsthand the strength of the powerful forces that are out to preserve the status quo.

When people with no vested, personal interest in the outcome try to help elect reform-minded candidates, they are branded as “outsiders” who are trying to “buy elections.” This is perplexing. These individuals have a longstanding interest in closing the opportunity gap for poor kids and kids of color, and improving educational achievement for all students.

Personally, they stand to gain exactly nothing if the candidates they are supporting get elected. They’re willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to improving education, and their participation is critical for leveling the playing field and keeping these school board races competitive. Yet, when “insiders” who do have a vested, personal interest in the outcome contribute significant funding, this is somehow seen as more acceptable…


Book author, and LA Times’ roving columnist, Jim Newton, is a very smart cookie, and he’s written an interesting column about the field of candidates running for mayor that flies in the face of what has become conventional wisdom—namely that the front five—or front three, really, Wendy Greuel, Erick Garcetti, and Jan Perry—are basically tepid, light-middle weights who have inspired the public to doze off.

It’s a stronger field than conventional wisdom would have you believe, Newton writes.

Here are some clips from Newton’s story:

This is a stronger field than people tend to think. All five of the leading candidates are smart and committed. Three already hold public office and have accomplished some important things while serving; the other two bring new ideas and insights. And they all seem to be driven by the opportunity to lead rather than by the prospect of skimming or doling out jobs and contracts to friends.

Still, as usual, the minutiae of the campaign has tended to swallow up big ideas, leaving instead a pile of cliches that obscure more than they illuminate.


One reason the campaign has been so banal is that the leading contenders aren’t really all that far apart on the issues. So how should you make up your mind? Here are some suggestions for what qualities to look for in a mayor.

And then he lists qualities of courage, judgement and tenacity, creativity and personality—with examples of just exactly what he’s talking about.

A good read, and a good list of ideas to help you decide, if you haven’t already.



Annenberg’s Neon Tommy will be bringing their own smart and energetic brand of coverage to Tuesday’s races all through the day. So, consider keeping NeonTommy open from morning on as we all wait for returns.



Education News rounds up a spate of the new and sadly foolish suspensions.

Here’s a clip:

On Jan. 10, five-year-old Madison Guarna unwittingly committed a “terroristic threat” while waiting in line for the afternoon school bus.

During a discussion of butterflies, ladybugs and “kitty cats,” the kindergartner told her friends she was going to shoot them and herself with her Hello Kitty bubble gun, which was not in the girl’s possession at the time.


Since the Newtown tragedy, at least 15 students have been suspended from school – or threatened with suspension – for dubious reasons.

Just last week, a seven-year-old Baltimore student was given a two-day suspension for “biting his breakfast pastry into a shape that his teacher thought looked like a gun,” reports The Daily Mail.

Six of those suspensions were given to elementary students who made “gun gestures” with their fingers.

A Pennsylvania fifth-grader was “threatened with arrest after she mistakenly brought a ‘paper gun’ to school,” reports


A 10-year-old Virginia boy was taken into police custody and fingerprinted after he showed “a toy gun with an orange tip” to a friend. He was charged with “brandishing a weapon,” and now he has “a juvenile record and a probation officer,” reports the Washington Post.

And in Colorado, seven-year-old Alex Evans was reportedly suspended from school for “throwing” an imaginary grenade into an imaginary box, which resulted in an imaginary explosion.

The Sandy Hook shootings may be the reason for school leaders’ heightened sensitivity to all things gun-related, but it’s the “zero tolerance” policies put in place by local school boards that often require administrators to hand down these absurd discipline decisions.


In the face of the vexing news about outbreaks of zero tolerance craziness, there is some good news. Michael Gardiner at the San Diego Union reports that school safety measures that, post-Newtown being introduced in Sacramento. Here’s a clip:

California lawmakers have introduced nearly two dozen school safety measures that have been largely overshadowed by the more divisive debate on gun control.

The emerging campus security bills involve: inside door locks, panic alarms, mental health services, school safety plans and funding for other prevention programs.

A similar story has unfolded in Washington where Congress remains in conflict over regulating assault weapons, background checks and the size of ammunition magazines. But there is movement on other proposals to secure schools.

“The bottom line is it’s got to get done and it’s got to get done right,” said Marc Egan, who tracks federal school safety issues for the National Education Association.

The general consensus on both coasts is it will take a comprehensive approach to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. just days before Christmas….

Posted in Charter Schools, children and adolescents, Education, elections, Los Angeles Mayor, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Teachers’ Union Attacks Lynwood Parent Group— Parents Fight Back

January 5th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

This week there was yet another instance of a teachers union using disinformation and fear tactics
to try to intimidate parents who want to have an effect on their kids’ school.

See, it’s this sort of thing, by the way, that causes liberals, who are generally very pro union (and who are always pro teacher), to start feeling mighty grumpy toward California’s teachers unions—both the statewide union, CTA (California Teachers Association), and its branches, and such local unions as UTLA (United Teachers of Los Angeles)—all of which appear to have become so power-drunk by their decades-long vice grip on CA’s education policy that they actively want to assassinate any other person or group that has the nerve to want also to sit at the decision-making table (and sip a teensy bit of the wine of power too).

(By the way, I mean the word “assassinate” mostly in the metaphorical sense. Operative word: mostly.)

The most recent instance of attack-trained union behavior is occurring in Lynwood, where a group of local elementary school parents have organized as a “parents union” under the banner of the Parents Revolution, which is the group that was instrumental in getting passed the Parent Trigger law.

The Parent Trigger Law is the statute that gives parents the right to “trigger” reforms in schools that are chronically failing to meet minimum state improvement standards (chronic meaning for 4 years or more). In other words, these are the California schools that, year after year, for whatever reasons, give the kids in their care a substandard education. According to the law, when a school screws up to that degree, if at least half of the school’s parents sign a petition, the local school district must adopt one of a handful of reforms: 1. shut down school and let the students enroll in a higher-performing campus nearby; 2. convert the school to an independent charter, 3. fire half the teaching staff and replace the administration; 4. extend school hours and revise the curriculum under a federally recommended turnaround plan; or 5. adopt an “alternative governance” model, which is an option that has a lot of leeway.

In other words, the parent trigger law for the first time gives parents real power to advocate for change in behalf of their sons and daughters—power that previously was held only by the district and the unions, which for the past several decades have seemed more interested in maintaining their respective power bases—-than thinking about what might actually benefit… know….kids.

Wow! Bummer! Parents having a place at the bargaining table too! We certainly don’t want THAT!

As it turns out, other states DO want it, and the Trigger law has been spreading, as this Sept. 2011 MSNBC story outlines.

The fact that the dreaded parent-leaning statute might be catching on outside California caused the antipathy toward the Trigger Law to reach such a fever pitch that, this past summer, the American Federation of Teachers put out a power point presentation of how to undermine the law in California and in any other state where it might crop up. The document—which is a must read—openly talks about how the union’s goals are helped by the “Absence of…parents from the table.” (The Orange County Register has more on that shameless move.)

Since the Parent Revolution had its genesis during the rise of the LA charter school powerhouse, Green Dot, the unions have painted such parent groups as clueless dupes of charter school advocates, who cannot make their own decisions and are generally easily influenced idiots who certainly don’t know what their kids need.

The Lynwood union branch of CTA has reportedly used many of FTA’s tactics when they put out flyers and, more recently a newsletter to to try to squash any moves by frustrated Lynwood parents who are tired of sending their children to a school that doesn’t adequately educate them.

The LA Weekly has done a great job of reporting on this issue—both the Lynwood battle that has heated up this week, and an earlier battle over a Compton school, that blew up a year ago.

Here’s a clip from the Weekly’s Simone Wilson’s story on the press conference held Wednesday by Lynwood parents, who are pushing back against union pressure:

Education reformers in California have called Lynwood “ground zero for parent empowerment throughout the entire state.” For whatever reason, parents in the southeast L.A. County town have banded together with an extra sense of urgency, demanding a basic level of respect and competence from their kids’ teachers and administrators that should certainly, by now, be the standard statewide.

But even demands as basic as theirs have now, it seems, been twisted by the local teachers union into some kind of attack on public education as a whole.

Sigh. Fixing this state’s crap school system would sure be a lot easier if we could quit politicking and start discussing the needs of our children like civil human beings.

Uh, yeah. What she said.


The Dallas Observer has the story of Rickey Dale Wyatt who was freed on Wednesday after serving 31 years on a rape that Innocence Project head, Barry Scheck says Wyatt did not commit. (The LA Times also reports.)

It seems that although the actual rape victim described a man much larger and taller than Wyatt, and also clean shaven, unlike the then-bearded Wyatt, prosecutors withheld the evidence that likely would have cleared the man.

Although Wyatt’s sentence has been vacated, he has not been declared innocent. He must next appear at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals where Scheck says he is confident that Wyatt will be cleared.

It is important to note that Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins has been instrumental in a string of such dramatic releases in Texas because, rather than fighting defense attorneys at every step, Watkins and his office has opened Dallas County Conviction Integrity Unit, which has in many instances opened up files to the Innocence Project and others.


Oh, just listen. It’s a good story, even if Bratton has an ego the size of Wyoming.

Posted in Charter Schools, CTA, Education, How Appealing, Innocence | 5 Comments »

Compton’s McKinley Elementary Becomes 1st “Parent Trigger” School….Maybe

December 15th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Patrick Range McDonald and Simone Wilson at the LA Weekly
are doing a great job of covering the precedent-setting fight that is going on at McKinley Elementary School in Compton where a group of activist parents, together with the activist school reform group, the Parent Revolution, are using a new and controversial law called The California Parent Trigger to transform their failing local school into a charter.

Now, however, reports the Weekly, some of McKinley’s teachers are fighting back and according to parent organizers—and a video—some of those teachers are fighting dirty—telling parents that if their kid is in special ed, he or she will no longer be able to attend school..

Similar tactics were used several years ago when Locke High School parents, together with the Green Dot charter schools, attempted to turn Locke into a charter, after which UTLA strafed the Locke parents with misinformation in an effort to block the charter conversion—which happened anyway, and academic life at Locke has been much the better for it, thank you very much.

To understand this story it is first important to understand how the Parent Trigger works. Here’s how the Weekly explains it:

The California Parent Trigger law was passed against huge odds by the Democratic-controlled, teacher union–friendly state Legislature, becoming law this year. The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers lobbied hard for its demise, but they were beaten by what one Sacramento insider later described as a “ragtag” bunch of minority parents and fierce reformers, who seemed to materialize from thin air.

The trigger gives parents the power to decide the fate of 75 failing California schools by petitioning the school district. It’s up to California parents to choose which schools.

Mothers and fathers who pull the Parent Trigger can pick four options:

1. Establish a charter school in the school buildings;
2. Bring in a new staff and exert some control over staffing and budgeting;
3. Keep the school intact but fire the principal; or
4. Shutter the school entirely and send the students to better, nearby schools.

But first, these hyperlocal reformers must get at least 51 percent of all parents whose children attend that school to join them in signing off on the idea.

The LA Times’ Carla Rivera also reports that parents say they are being intimidated by certain McKinley teachers:

Marlene Romero said that her son’s third-grade teacher asked to speak to her about his education and then spent an hour telling her why she shouldn’t support the petition drive.

“I want the principal and all the teachers to stop intimidating parents and especially our kids,” Romero said. “It’s really sad. My son told me he hated me for what I’m doing. I told him that I’m doing this for his future.”

The parents were joined by Michelle Rhee, the former Washington, D.C., public schools chancellor who heads the recently-formed reform group Students First. She urged district administrators to create ground rules for acceptable and unacceptable behavior by employees.

“If [educators] are saying that parents need to get more involved … we cannot create a hostile environment” when parents speak up, Rhee said.

However, by 8:40 p.m. Tuesday night, the Weekly’s Simone Wilson, blogging from the Compton school board meeting, reports that it is the anti-charter people who have come out in force.

And at the Wave, <a href="”>Leiloni du Gruy reports on the Parent Trigger situation from the perspective of McKinley’s school principal.

Obviously there is much more to play out in the days to come, so stay tuned.


Westwood Patch has the story:

Brown told the roughly 200 people at the briefing that the state’s financial situation is worse than it was in the Great Depression.

”We’re at an unprecedented moment of reckoning,” Brown said. ”This perfect storm, I think, is the worst it’s ever been because we’re not quite in the same position in the Depression, where government played a small, much smaller role in the life of our communities as it does today.”

Photo by Leiloni De Gruy for The Wave

Posted in Charter Schools, Education | 1 Comment »

LAUSD Audit Alleges Nearly $3 Million in Fraud at Canoga Park Charter

September 1st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

In case you missed it, this story on the $3 Million in fraud and mismanagement accusations leveled at the principal of a San Fernando Valley charter school, New Academy Canoga Park Elementary School, is a doozy. It seems that the man allegedly deposited more than $1 million in his own investment account, misplaced a million or so, and spent the rest on questionable items and phony expenses.

KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman Lopez has an audio version of the story.

And the LA Times’ Howard Blume reported on the jaw-dropping story as well.

Here’s a representative clip:

Among their findings, auditors contend that the school’s former principal, who isn’t named in the audit, withdrew cashier’s checks totaling $1,073,700 from school accounts to deposit in an investment account between July 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2009.

“The former principal claimed that funds deposited into his personal Ameritrade account were not withdrawn, but were deposited and repeatedly lost,” the auditors wrote.

Posted in Charter Schools, LAUSD | 1 Comment »

Social Justice Shorts

September 21st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


The photo above doesn’t have a thing to do with the stories in this post. I took it on Friday afternoon when I stopped to talk to police at the scene of an attempted robbery of a West Los Angeles marijuana physician’s office on Pico Blvd., just west of Sawtelle, in which two people were shot, one of them critically. (The guy in the snazzy hat is the detective.) The shooting, which took place just after 4:30 p.m., was an odd and scary one according to the two witnesses with whom I spoke. (The witnesses were two young men in their early 20s.) They told me that a couple of guys walked into the doctor’s office, one dressed unaccountably in a yellow reflective traffic vest, the other dressed normally but with a back back strapped to his chest. The yellow vest guy signed in as if he was a patient, then the backpack guy reached into his pack, pulled out a pistol and shot the doctor’s receptionist and another office employee, a single shot fired at each. Just like that. No demand. No warning. A few seconds later, the shooter and friend ran out. It is not clear if they attempted to steal anything, or not.


It is no shock to find out that this fall many LAUSD classes are absurdly large and crowded due to teacher cuts. On Sunday, the LA Times had a look into some of those classes and schools that are faring the worst.

As it was, every seat was taken. One young woman plopped on the floor, next to a microwave oven. A young man stood in the corner, shifting from one foot to the other. Three teens scrunched on top of a desk. Everyone’s attention was riveted on the slight, soft-spoken man pacing the small patch of bare linoleum in front of them….

But, hey, at least the state legislature avoided letting those prisoners out a few months early (and putting them on house arrest) Whew! .


During his Sunday media blitz, Barack Obama said that he would be open to giving tax breaks to newspapers that restructured as nonprofits.

The Hill reports:

….“I haven’t seen detailed proposals yet, but I’ll be happy to look at them,” Obama told the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Toledo Blade in an interview.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has introduced S. 673, the so-called “Newspaper Revitalization Act,” that would give outlets tax deals if they were to restructure as 501(c)(3) corporations. That bill has so far attracted one cosponsor, Cardin’s Maryland colleague Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D).


“I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding,” he said


The Washington Post reports:

A congressional push to enact a federal shield law for journalists is being held up by disagreement with the Justice Department on how to deal with cases that involve leaked national security information, congressional and media sources say.


This open letter to UTLA President A.J. Duffy from on of the union’s chapter chairs, Jordan Henry, a well-liked teacher and union rep at Santee High School.

(The link was in one of last night’s tweets by another LAUSD teacher/union activist, Jose del Barrio.)

In the letter, Henry suggest that the union rethink its knee-jerk condemnation of the charter school movement—for its own benefit.

Here’s a clip:

At this critical juncture in our union’s history, with at least one third of our union at stake, it is imperative we learn from past mistakes with haste. In particular, we must undo the misunderstanding, mischaracterization, and underestimation of the charter movement in Los Angeles which has marked your term and fueled the coalition of forces behind the School Choice Motion.


Okay, well if the 1962 infamous escape from Alcatraz isn’t a cold case, it’s mighty chilly. But according to Monday’s NPR story, U.S. Marshall’s are still actively working the case.

The U.S. Marshals Service is still actively pursuing the case on the chance that the three men pulled off one of the most daring prison escapes in U.S. history.

“Leads still come in. I just got one a couple weeks ago,” U.S. Marshal Michael Dyke said recently in his office in Oakland, Calif., as he poured over a stack of old file folders from the case.

Posted in California budget, Charter Schools, crime and punishment, LAUSD, law enforcement, media, Medical Marijuana, Obama, Social Justice Shorts | 40 Comments »

The Mayor’s State of the City Speech – The Education Take

April 15th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Okay, he gave it. It was pretty good.
Antonio can be quite moving when he puts in the effort. The man does, after all, have skills. And, since he is planning to run for Governor, he did put in the effort.

The LA Times has a nice rundown on the main part of the speech, which had to do with what the city was going to do to help itself and its residents survive this economy. (You can find the speech in full after the jump.)

Apart from the economy et al, there was one other significant section of the speech.
And that was the last big section, the stuff about education.

Antonio praised charter schools in a big way
—in particular Green Dot and its takeover of Locke High School—which, now that it is eight months into its first school year, can be tentatively labeled a real and very heartening success, even though it is still early days.

AV also praised the new Alliance charter that has opened up
to rave reviews on the Cal State LA campus.

Rather than fight the charters, Villaraigosa made clear that the district
must actively partner with them—thus giving a loud message to the union leadership (We’re talking to you, Mr. Duffy) that they need to get over their charter aversion and start making some deals.

None of this was new. Antonio was just swaying to the popular music of the moment, educationally speaking, and telling us to sing along.

But he assuredly set the right tone. Charters are the reform leaders right now. Anybody paying attention knows that. But the mayor saying so gave it a nice official stamp.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Charter Schools, City Government, elections | No Comments »

Charters Lead LA in State Picks 4 “Distinguished” Schools

April 3rd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


NOTE: Arrrggghhh. The lack of a post this morning was pure idiocy on my part. I wrote this story earlier than usual and figured I’d wait until midnight to actually put it online. Then I got busy and plum forgot that I never pushed the “PUBLISH” button. I’d like to blame this glitch on nefarious forces. But sadly it was me.

Look for additional stories
over the weekend.

Happy Friday!


This is a good news moment.

On Wednesday, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, announced the state’s 2009 picks for the California Distinguished Schools Award. According to the State Department of Education, the award “identifies and honors those schools that have demonstrated educational excellence for all students and progress in narrowing the achievement gap.”

In other words, instead of simply flagging schools that are doing poorly under No Child Left Behind, since 2000, the state has endeavored to use a carrot along with the NCLB stick by honoring the schools that are doing well.

In even years, O’Connell’s office honors elementary schools. In odd years (like 2009), middle and high schools are given awards.

This year the area of Los Angeles covered by LAUSD had 12-schools honored, the most Distinguished School Award winners of any region in the state.

Given all the bad news we’ve been hearing lately—the budget problems,
the proposed teacher layoffs (the overpaid consultants) it is cheering to have some good news.

Yet, here’s the interesting thing: out of the 12 LA schools named, 10 of them are charters.

Now, it is important to mention here that, according to the rules of the award,
if a school was named “distinguished” in the last awards cycle—which for middle and high schools would be 2007—one cannot apply for the following year. By the same token, the schools that won this year, can’t apply until 2013.

That meant that a few of the great LAUSD magnet schools named last time,
were not in the running this time.

But not many.

The LA Charters named were: Animo Pat Brown Charter High, California Academy for Liberal Studies, CALS Early College High School, College Ready Academy High #4, College Ready Academy High #6, Gertz-Ressler High School, Marc and Eva Stern Mass High School, New West Charter Middle School, Oscar De La Hoya Animo Charter High and Renaissance Arts Academy.

So what does this mean?
That LAUSD sucks? Well, yes, probably, in certain ways. But we knew that already. We are looking to the future here.

(And, to be fair, LAUSD does much right too. . There are those magnets, and some great neighborhood elementary schools.)

Still, the awards configuration suggests that, despite the problems of the LA Unified School District, a new model—or series of models—is emerging.

“It means that the charter school movement is getting lots of traction right now,” Jed Wallace, the head of the California Charter School Association, told me when we chatted about what the awards signified. “It means that a lot of charter schools are figuring out an instructional model that makes sense, and that really includes the community in which they’re located.”

Wallace said that he felt there was far less resistance to charters
among LA leadership—people like the mayor and Ray Cortines, the LAUSD sup. “Maybe I’m being optimistic,” he said. “but I think they sense that Los Angeles is being remade in terms of school reform, and that reform is being driven by charters.”

Okay. Maybe. Sort of. Last Thursday, when the Marc & Eva Stern Math and Science School—a state of the art charter—- opened on the campus of Cal State LA , the mad rush of the LA dignitaries was something to behold. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Dick Riordan, Ray Cortines, and State Sup, Jack O’Connell all were there and all gave effusive speeches. (As illustrated in the photo above.)

(NOTE: A Marc & Eva Stern sister school was one of the “distinguished” campuses named by the state.)

As one education policy watcher pal of mine put it
after the ribbon cutting and the speeches, “Obama has opened the charter floodgates and everyone is tripping over him/herself to say that charters are great and we need to learn from them.”

Yep. Probably. But that isn’t a bad thing at all.

It’s good.

Posted in Charter Schools, Education, LAUSD | No Comments »

Car Washing for Diplomas – The Sequel

February 2nd, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


On Saturday, as promised, I went to have
my hideously dirty Escape Hybrid washed by the kids at that new charter high school I wrote about late last week, FreeLA High.

As you remember, FreeLA was opened by a partnership headed by the Youth Justice Coalition. Its raison d’etre is to provide a high school education for kids who have dropped out or been tossed out of other LAUSD schools—and for kids who have had trouble being readmitted to school after they’ve returned from a probation camp or juvenile hall.

Saturday’s car wash was a fundraiser intended to earn money to pay for the school’s first graduation in June.

While my car was being washed, I toured the nearby school campus, which was located in a stucco and brick former office building across the street from where the car scrubbing was taking place. Inside the school building, I met a bunch of the students, including Maritza (below), the girl whom I’d interviewed for the earlier post.

My tour guide was a sixteen-year-old named Gabby who, like Maritza, said she had dropped out of Locke High School, which she described as a chaotic place in which overstressed teachers seemed unaware of their students’ needs and often allowed kids to simply walk out of class rooms and out of campus at will.

At FreeLA high, by contrast, the kids I met seemed to view the school with a sense of ownership. Even on a Saturday afternoon, there were quite a number of students in evidence. Some were there to help with the car wash, of course. Others were in classrooms working at computers. One guy was practicing drums in an upstairs space that had been set up as a music room. Other were simply chatting comfortably with couple of teachers.

In terms of the school site itself, FreeLA high had several unusual features. For instance it had a cinderblock “art room.”


“We have this room because a lot of our students like to write,” said Gabby when she brought me into what appeared to be some kind of large cement storage area, its wall covered with elaborate graffiti. .

“Write?” I asked, confused. The “art room” was a furniture-free space, the walls of which were covered with floor to ceiling graffiti. When we walked in, a couple of guys had just finished skateboarding.

I stared around me, perplexed. Then suddenly, I got it. By “writing” Gabby meant tagging.

In other words, since many of FreeLA’s kids had likely gotten in trouble for tagging in the past, the school wisely gave them a safe place to do it with gusto.

“There’s a lot we’re still trying to figure out,” said Kim McGill, Youth Justice Coalition’s founder and director, when I came to retrieve my newly clean car.


No doubt. But even my brief visit suggested that this atypical little school was also getting a lot exactly right.


PS: When I asked Maritza if she had been back to Locke High School since the Green Dot takeover and, if so, what she thought of its new incarnation.

She said she hadn’t been back. But that, from what she’d heard, she had some concerns. “But me and Gabby could go over and do a report for you, if you want,” she volunteered. “We’ll write it up and then you can edit it or do whatever.”

Sold, I said. You have an assignment. We talked about some guidelines she and Gabby should use when reporting, and set a deadline.

Last night after the Super Bowl, I talked to Green Dot’s Steve Barr and told him there might be a couple of student reporters taking a critical look at the Locke transformation.

“Great,” he said. “Bring ‘em on! I want to hear what they have to say.”

Me too.

I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

Posted in Charter Schools, Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 7 Comments »

2009: The Rosebowl, Citigroup $$ and Education Victories

January 1st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

The Rosebowl is on as I type
(Go Trojans! Fight on!), so I want to draw your attention to a rather winningly encouraging commercial that will be running at some point during said bowl game.

(Pete Carroll rules! Trojan defense is awsome! Must stop Derrick Williams! In the nicest possible way, of course. Fight on! ….ahem. Sorry.)

The commercial features students from ICEF Public Schools, a South LA charter school group that operates 13 schools serving 3000 of LA’s minority kids. Founded in 1999, ICEF—which stands for Inner City Education Foundation—takes kids from low-performing urban areas, and has an impressive record of academic success.

For instance, in 2007, ICEF graduated its first senior class from the View Park Preparatory Accelerated Charter High School and sent 100% of its graduating class of 71 kids to college—-This in our fair city where the LA-wide public school graduation rate hovers at a dismal 50 percent and only 10 percent of south LA seniors go on to college. Actor Don Cheadle gave the keynote address at the graduation.

According to its statement of purpose, ICEF Public Schoolswill transform South Los Angeles into a stable, economically vibrant community by providing first-rate educational opportunities and annually graduating 2,000 high school students.”

In other words, ICEF along with Green Dot and others are working to remake the education possibilities in Los Angeles, inspite of the ongoing blockades thrown up by LAUSD.

After years and years of so many of LA’s children being allowed—to our shame and heartbreak—to slip through the educational cracks, these break-throughs in the charter school world this past year, are a source of much welcomed good news.

The bad news is that the lovely 30-second commercial is funded by Citigroup. In other words, some part of our $326 billion in tax dollars bailout of the self-same Citi-folks was used to buy this high ticket commercial. (A Super Bowl spot costs $3 mil these days. I’m sure a Rose Bowl spot is cheaper, but still…..)

Interestingly, originally the commercial was going to be billed as a “Chairman’s message,” but Citigroup wisely decided to back-out of the limelight and merely let the schools and the kids shine, rightly deducing I suspect, that otherwise the spot would draw exactly the criticism I am leveling.

A better use of bucks than executive bonuses, I suppose. (I notice that on Wednesday, new Citigroup chairman, Vikrim Pandit announced that the companies top executives would be forgoing bonuses this year. Nice of them. A little late, since in 2007, the year in which many of the decisions were made that led Citigroup into this year’s trillion dollar catastrophe, the companies top executive officers earned more that $70 million in compensation.)

Citigroup aside, looking into the faces of these smart, beautiful kids—-who represent all the kids nationwide whom our future rides—-seems like an excellent way to begin 2009. They remind us what is possible—-and what, in the end, really matters.

Happy New Year, everyone!

(7-0 7-7 14-7 24-7 31-7 38-24! Go Trojans. Go Mark Sanchez! Woo-hooo!!!

Also, Go OU, and then let’s take a long hard look at who should be declared the national champions damn-it! Fight on!)

Posted in Charter Schools, Economy, Education, LAUSD | 2 Comments »

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