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Green Dot

Education Reformer Steve Barr Announces a Run for Mayor in 2017

June 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Running against a well-liked incumbent Los Angeles mayor is usually considered…well…nuts,
but education reformer Steve Barr has a record for taking on the impossible.

Barr is the founder of Green Dot charter schools, which—in the early 2000s—launched small charters in low income areas of LA County, where sprawling and dysfunctional LA Unified School District facilities, like Jefferson High School, were then failing catastrophically, with drop out rates through the roof, and grad rates in the toilet. Yet, at the same time, local teachers’ unions and others got in the way of anyone trying to fix them.

Enter Green Dot, begun when Barr was unsuccessful in finding a way to partner with LAUSD. and was determined to give families living in impoverished neighborhoods an educational option that acted as if their kids actually mattered.

By 2007, in a grand and risky experiment, Green Dot managed against daunting odds to seize control of a large failing high school itself, namely Alain Leroy Locke High School, located at the edge of the Watts.

Locke, with its 28 percent graduation rate and 90 percent of its students performing below basic or far below basic on standardized tests—was emblematic of the worst of the LAUSD’s institutional failures. It was also the first such “hostile takeover” in the U.S. of a public high school by a charter, and it made national news.

Amazingly, Green Dot’s small-is-better education model, with its high degree of teacher autonomy and parent involvement, actually worked. Kids who showed up at the Green Dot start-up charters on the first day of class with their reading and math abilities discouragingly far below grade level, not only stayed in school and graduated, they applied to college.

By 2009 two of Green Dot’s charters were named among the 100 best public schools in America.

That same year,Barr was profiled in the New Yorker.

Two years later still, a UCLA study showed the Locke schools to be “significantly outperforming their counterparts on a number of state test score measures, as well as in remaining in high school over time, and in taking and passing challenging courses.”

Green Dot is viewed by many as being greatly influential in stimulating—and at times forcing—reform in the Los Angeles public school landscape during a period when LAUSD’s disastrously failing inner city middle and high schools repeatedly made headlines.

In 2010, Barr left Green Dot to do education reform work elsewhere in the U.S., helping to open a Green Dot-style charter schools in New York and New Orleans

In 2012, he turned his sights back to LA with an unusual partnership with LAUSD.

Now, he has announced he is running for mayor of Los Angeles in 2017, challenging Eric Garcetti. He filed the necessary papers on Monday. “I’m in,” he posted on his Facebook page.

The LA Times’ Peter Jamison and Howard Blume have more on the story of Barr’s candidacy. Here’s a clip:

Barr, a Silver Lake resident and darling of education-reform advocates who has not previously held elected office, said he has grown impatient with what he sees as Garcetti’s passivity in the face of a worsening public education crisis. He said Garcetti is “a really nice guy” who lacks “a sense of urgency” about solving the city’s problems, foremost among them the shortcomings of the nation’s second-largest school system.

“The school district – and I’m saying this as a big fan of the school district, as a parent in the school district – in some ways is a little bit like an alcoholic who hasn’t bottomed out yet,” Barr said. “It’s getting better, but we can’t afford as a city to just let this thing linger out there, because it’s not just affecting them anymore. It’s affecting our city and it has for a long time.”

Barr’s entry into the 2017 race comes amid a historic push by local activists to expand charter schools as an answer to problems in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and is likely to revive debate around a recurrent theme in L.A. government: the relationship between LAUSD and City Hall. L.A.’s mayor, unlike those in Chicago or New York City, has no formal authority over the school district.


In taking on Garcetti, Barr faces long odds against an incumbent who has built a broad base of political support and an impressive fundraising machine – and who has made no major missteps during his first three years in office.

Jaime Regalado, an emeritus professor of political science at Cal State L.A., said he thought nothing short of a serious scandal – or perhaps an abrupt exit by Garcetti to accept an appointment in a Hillary Clinton White House – would create “any chance at all” for Barr’s success.

Others cautioned against underestimating Barr’s appeal to an unpredictable electorate in a city where public school quality still tops most polls as an issue of voter concern.

“He’s running as an outsider at a time when voters are powerfully suspicious of the political establishment, and he’s running on an issue that’s close to the hearts of most Angelenos,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “It will be an uphill fight for him, but this is something that Garcetti and his team would be smart to take very seriously.”

Posted in Education, Green Dot | No Comments »

OC Sheriff Faces Cancer Diagnosis, Riordan Pension Reform Nixed, and Green Dot Finalist for Major Fed Grant

November 27th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens held a press conference Monday afternoon to publicly address her recent breast cancer diagnosis, and to say that she doesn’t intend to let her health affect her ability to perform her duties as sheriff. (We at WLA are sending wishes for Sheriff Hutchen’s full recovery.)

The OC Register’s Salvador Hernandez has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I will be fully engaged,” Hutchens said during a news conference Monday, accompanied by members of her command staff. “And I plan to run for a second term in 2014.”

Hutchens voice cracked as she described details of her recent diagnosis of breast cancer, but said she is intent in being involved in the day-to-day operations of the department.

“I think the best thing for this is to keep your normal schedule as much as possible and keep engaged,” she said.

A resident of Dana Point, Hutchens, 57, said she was diagnosed with breast cancer Nov. 9, about six months after a mammogram had shown no signs of a cyst. The discovery came as a surprise, she said, especially because there is no history of cancer in her family.

“I’m very optimistic about it,” she said. “I really believe it was caught early.”

Hutchens notified employees in the department in a memo Nov. 19, in anticipation that treatment could change her appearance, her schedule and raise questions about her health, she said.

But there will be no change to the department’s command.

“I’m going to be in charge,” she said. “If at any time I felt I could not carry on my duties, I would make other arrangements. That’s not going to be the case.”

By the way, there’s a video of Sheriff Hutchen’s news conference beneath the body of the story, so be sure to go over to the OC Register.


It was announced Monday that former LA Mayor Richard Riordan would drop his controversial city employee pension reform, an intended ballot measure for the May 2013 election.

The LA Times’ David Zahniser and Kate Linthicum have the story. Here’s a clip:

Tyler Izen, president of the Police Protective League, said he was not surprised by the collapse of the signature drive backed by Riordan. Izen said the pension proposal, which had been planned for the May ballot, never received the proper financial analysis in the weeks before Riordan began his push to get 300,000 signatures to put it on the ballot.

“The plan proposed by Riordan to close the defined benefit pension system as a way of saving money was both simplistic and costly … for the taxpayers,” Izen said in a statement.

Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents civilian city workers, released a statement from sanitation worker Simboa Wright, who said Riordan and his allies had failed because L.A. voters value the work of city employees.

“City residents weren’t about to let a bunch of billionaires rewrite city policies,” Wright said. “As city workers have been saying for a long time, Riordan’s half-baked plan wasn’t thought out. It died because it was bad for city workers and the city they serve.”


The Los Angeles charter group Green Dot Public Schools has advanced as a finalist for a $30 million Dept. of Education grant. LAUSD had also applied for the grant, but was unable to get the support of their teachers union—a requirement for school districts to be in the running.

It is a rather amazing turn of events that Green Dot has made the cut, in that the applications were primarily to have been open to full school districts. But evidently (and happily) Green Dot’s presentation was a strong one.

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has the story. Here’s a clip:

Green Dot Public Schools, which operates 18 charter schools, remains in the running for a “Race to the Top” grant, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday. If successful, Green Dot could receive $30 million over a four-year period.

In the application process, districts were supposed to set out a plan to “personalize education for students and provide school leaders and teachers with key tools that support them to meet students’ needs,” according to the Education Department.

But the devil for L.A. Unified was in the details. Participation by the teachers union was required and United Teachers Los Angeles would not sign on, citing concerns that Race to the Top could commit the school system to long-term spending not covered by the grant. Union leaders in L.A. and elsewhere also were concerned such a grant could commit them to the use of student test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation.


The Fresno Bee and kNOw Youth Media partnered to produce a series of first-hand accounts of kids affected by “zero-tolerance” school policies, and alternately, kids who have benefited from restorative justice in the education system.

Here’s fourteen-year-old Jane Carretero’s story:

My name is Jane Carretero and I am 14 years old. Towards the beginning of my 8th grade school year at Fort Miller I started doing drugs, and my mom found out about it.

One day, she and I got into a huge fight and she found a bottle of marijuana in my backpack. It was a difficult choice for her to make, but she ended up calling the police. They ended up taking me in for that.

After three days at juvenile hall, it finally hit me. I remember falling on my knees and I started crying for my mom, and I was like, “Why did I have to mess up so badly?”

When I went back to school, I had fallen behind a lot. A lot of people thought that I snitched them out. Some people even thought that I had gotten pregnant, and a lot of girls wanted to fight me, because they thought I was saying things about them.

The teacher started yelling at everyone, and he turned to me. I said, “You’re yelling at us for no reason.” Then the teacher said, “Don’t talk back to me. I know kids like you. You’re messed up in life, and you’re going to mess up when you’re older, too. You’re going to go off to high school thinking you’re all cool and pretty like that, thinking you’re all hard. And you’re going to get beat up one day by a girl better than you,” he told me.

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAPD, LAPPL, LAUSD | 1 Comment »


July 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Unified School District announced an interesting partnership
with a national education reform organization called Future is Now Schools—or FIN—to create a group of “teacher-driven” academies within the LA school district.

The plan is for these new “hybrid learning” academies to be located in Silverlake, the Fairfax area and Venice, although no sites have, as yet, been firmly established. They are scheduled to open in time for the 2013-14 school year.

“I’m excited about the potential of this partnership to reinvigorate innovation in our school system,” Superintendent John Deasy said in a district-released statement. “We have the opportunity to make LAUSD a leader in collaborative education reform.”

While LAUSD’s partner— FIN—may not be a name familiar to most Los Angeles education watchers, its founder and board chair, Steve Barr, is very well known in LA as the founder of the influential Green Dot charter schools, which now runs 18 schools in the LA area.


The emergence of Green Dot, which Barr began in 2000, is viewed by many as being greatly influential in stimulating—and at times forcing—reform in the Los Angeles public school landscape during a period when LAUSD’s disastrously failing inner city middle and high schools often made national news.

Back then, Barr pushed reform from outside the LAUSD tent, even going so far to engineer what the district viewed as a hostile takeover of Alain Leroy Locke High School by Green Dot in 2008. This was at a time when Watt’s-located Locke—with its 28 percent graduation rate and 90 percent of its students performing below basic or far below basic on standardized tests—was emblematic of the worst of the LAUSD’s institutional failures.

Now, four years later, a UCLA study showed the Locke schools to be “significantly outperforming their counterparts on a number of state test score measures, as well as in remaining in high school over time, and in taking and passing challenging courses.”

Barr left Green Dot in 2009, and formed the national organization Green Dot America, which morphed into FIN. Thus far, FIN is in collaboration on schools in both New York City and New Orleans, in New York especially, working closely with the teachers’ union.


So what brought Barr’s focus back to LA, and drew him into a partnership with the district that had, in the past, often treated him as an antagonist?

When I spoke to Barr after the announcement, he told me that one of the factors was his warm relationship with district Superintendent John Deasy, whom he said, he views as one of the most innovation-friendly administrators he’s ever met.

But, most important to his decision, Barr said, was the fact that his daughter, Zofi age 6, was already at school age, with his son Jack, 4, rapidly zooming that direction.

“I’m committed to sending them to public school, and to an LAUSD public school,he said. “Los Angeles should have the best public school system in America. That’s what I want for my kids. I want my kids to go through LAUSD from kindergarten through the 12th grade”

But right now LAUSD is far from the greatest. And, given the state’s economic woes, if it is to just stay even, it needs additional tax revenue.

So what to do?

“Here’s the thing,” Barr said, “If you want to change your school district the fastest, you ‘ve got to be able to knit some coalitions together, and you’ve got to work with the [teachers'] unions.”

When Barr began Green Dot, he discovered that UTLA—LA’s often obstructive teacher’s union—had little interest in speaking with him, much less partnering with with him. In fact, UTLA’s then president A.J. Duffy, lost few opportunities to make clear his disdain of Barr and his charter ideas.

So Barr says he began talking to the union members themselves and, over time, developed relationships with some of UTLA’s more progressive factions, the members of which wanted more innovative approaches to education and helped to vote in UTLA’s current president, Warren Fletcher.

According to Barr and Deasy, the LAUSD-FIN partnership schools will be teacher-centric with teachers and administrators making most of the significant organizational and curriculum decisions, while the district oversees the operation of the physical plant.


Most of Green Dot’s original charters were in traditionally underserved, lower income neighborhoods in South LA, East LA, Watts and Inglewood, where many of the existing schools were underperforming in the extreme.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | No Comments »

The Inalienable Right to Call School Officials “Douchebags” & Other Must Reads

June 29th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


(Yes, you’re right, my inner 9-year-old does think it’s funny each time I type the word “douchebag.”)


The Student Press Law Center reports that the lawyers for two cases that involve online communication by students, and First Amendment rights, hope that the US Supremes will agree to hear their cases. Both address similar issues and have the potential to set precedent. Here are the rundowns on the cases, as reported by SPLC:

CASE 1: The Right to Mock in MySpace

“J.S.” was a student at Blue Mountain Middle School in Pennsylvania in 2007 when she was suspended for 10 days after creating a MySpace profile mocking the school principal, James McGonigle. Her parents sued the school district on her behalf for violating her First Amendment rights and their due process rights to discipline their child as they wished.

Both the district court and a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit found in favor of the school district. However, when the full Third Circuit court reheard the case along with an extremely similar one, Layshock v. Hermitage School District, it found in favor of the students in both cases.

CASE 2: The…er….Douchebag Matter

On April 25, a panel of judges from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Connecticut student Avery Doninger’s First Amendment rights were not violated when she was prevented from running for class office, and later prevented from accepting the office she was elected to by write-in ballot, after calling school administrators “douchebags” on her blog in 2007.

The Second Circuit determined that the district had been “objectively reasonable” in their decision to punish her for her blog post. It granted the district immunity from the lawsuit but did not address whether Doninger’s rights were violated.

Doninger attorney John Schoenhorn wrote in an email that he intends to ask the Supreme Court to hear an appeal in this case as well because the conflict between the Second Circuit and Third Circuit’s decisions could create confusion.

Here’s a more detailed account of the Doninger case.

Let us hope that the Supremes take on or both cases as the arguments will be interesting.


The LA Times Howard Blume writes about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s new homework policy, and how it is not a simple wrong/right matter.

Here’s how it opens:

Vanessa Perez was a homework scofflaw. The Marshall High School senior didn’t finish all of it — largely because she worked 24 hours a week at a Subway sandwich shop.

Alvaro Ramirez, a junior at the Santee Education Complex, doesn’t have his own room and his mother baby-sits young children at night. “They’re always there and they’re always loud,” he said, explaining his challenges with homework.

The nation’s second-largest school system has decided to give students like these a break. A new policy decrees that homework can count for only 10% of a student’s grade.

Critics — mostly teachers — worry that the policy will encourage students to slack off assigned work and even reward those who already disregard assignments. And they say it could penalize hardworking students who receive higher marks for effort.

Some educators also object to a one-size-fits-all mandate they said could hamstring teaching or homogenize it. They say, too, that students who do their homework perform significantly better than those who don’t — a view supported by research.

But Los Angeles Unified is pressing forward.….


It’s been three years since Green Dot Charter Schools fought for and won the right to take over and try to transform LAUSD’s desperately failing Locke High School. So how is the grand experiment doing?

An LA Times editorial says the progress is not exactly dramatic, yet it is slow, steady and in small increments.

That’s what I’ve heard too. In my experience, however, some miracles occur, not in a blinding flash of light, but in slow motion. Yet they are miracles nonetheless. Maybe the changes at Locke could be said to fall in that category.

Let us hope so.

The editorial is a good one. Here’s a clip. But read it all.

How did Green Dot do at stemming the tide of students who disappear from campus into lives usually plagued by high unemployment and low wages? Solidly better, but not the quick and extraordinary transformation everyone had hoped for. Not yet, anyway.

Charter schools are not the ultimate solution to bad public schools; rather, the solution lies in improving public schools so that they have adequate resources, good teachers and a stimulating curriculum. Like many charter operators, Green Dot has had financial help from outside foundations, help that isn’t available to most public schools.

Still, well-run charter schools have played a valuable role in pressuring public schools to improve, and they can be a lifeline to students who are sinking in crummy neighborhood schools or, in many cases, leaving school far too soon. In the case of Locke, the switch appears to be working, albeit more slowly and haltingly than Green Dot expected.

The charter operator deserves praise for its massive and earnest effort at Locke. It was the first charter school in Los Angeles to accept all of the students within its attendance boundaries, just as public schools do, rather than restricting enrollment and accepting students through a lottery. Students who choose their charter schools are motivated to follow the rules and achieve; public schools take all comers. The Locke takeover served as the model for L.A. Unified’s Public School Choice initiative, in which new schools and some failing schools were turned over to outside groups that filed the most promising applications. Some of those were groups of teachers, others were charter schools. All had to follow Green Dot’s example and admit all students within their enrollment boundaries.


Don Thompson of the AP has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A state lawmaker on Monday introduced a bill seeking a public vote on whether California should abolish capital punishment and convert death sentences to life in prison, citing a study that said most condemned inmates die of suicide or old age despite billions in taxpayer costs.

Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock, of Berkeley, said the state can no longer afford the cost of trying capital cases, defending them through a lengthy appeals process and housing inmates in the nation’s most populous death row.

She cited a study prepared by Judge Arthur L. Alarcon of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell that calls the capital punishment system “a multibillion-dollar fraud on California taxpayers.”

Their analysis, to be published next month, estimates California has spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. In that time, California has executed just 13 inmates, which works out to $308 million per execution.

“Capital punishment is an expensive failure and an example of the dysfunction of our prisons,” Hancock said in a statement. “California’s death row is the largest and most costly in the United States. It is not helping to protect our state; it is helping to bankrupt us.”

Yeah. What she said.

NBC San Diego also has a report on the bill.

Posted in academic freedom, California budget, Civil Liberties, Death Penalty, Education, Green Dot, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Thursday Must Reads

May 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Dear CDCR,

If the LA Times’ Jack Dolan has his story right, you’ve done a lousy job of sorting out who can be paroled without supervision and who needs high control parole supervision. If true, it means you’ve compromised public safety and betrayed those of us who have pushed hard for much needed parole reform.

And “Ooops, our computer programs need a little work,” is not an adequate response.

Please advise. Immediately.


More and more people who are veterans of many sides of the justice system are saying that we should reconsider putting kids away for life without the possibility of parole—LWOP kids, they call them.

A recent voice on the matter if Anthony Barkow whose essay on the topic appeared this week’s Huffington Post.

Barkow was a decorated federal prosecutor in the US Attorney’s office for 12 years before he became the Executive Director of the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law at NYU School of Law.

Here is a clip from his essay:

I was a prosecutor for 12 years. During that time, I prosecuted a wide variety of crimes, ranging from international terrorism to securities fraud, from domestic violence and sexual abuse to homicide. I prosecuted cases in which offenders received very substantial sentences. I am proud of my work as a prosecutor and I have no doubt that criminal punishment is critical to keeping communities safe.

One of the defendants I prosecuted committed murder when he was 17-years-old. He gunned down his victim and shot him 17 times in cold blood in broad daylight in the middle of a residential street. The same defendant had committed another murder before he turned 18. For these crimes, he was sentenced to consecutive terms of years that were so long as to be tantamount to life imprisonment, and he will never be released. And, in that case, that was a just result.

But at the same time, there are other youthful defendants who have been sentenced to unjust sentences of life without the opportunity for parole. For example, a 15-year-old boy in Chicago, “Peter A,” on instructions from his older brother, helped steal a van so that his brother could drive to the home of two individuals who stole drugs and money from the brother’s apartment. Peter stayed in the van while two others went inside. While Peter waited in the van, one of the men who had gone into the home shot and killed two people. Peter was sentenced to life without parole, even though the judge said at sentencing that he wished he could impose a lower sentence and described Peter as “a bright lad” with “rehabilitative potential.” But the sentence was mandatory and the judge had no discretion or choice to sentence Peter otherwise. Peter is now 29 and has spent nearly half of his life in prison. During that time, he has obtained his G.E.D. and completed a correspondence paralegal course. He has an exemplary record in prison, receiving a disciplinary ticket only once in the past six years (for possessing an extra pillow and extra cereal in his cell). But no matter how much Peter changes in prison, he will serve the rest of his life in prison without having even the possibility of asking to be released, much less getting out.

That is the critical fact to keep in mind about those seeking to end life without parole for juveniles. No one is arguing that any particular individual should be let out of prison. Ending juvenile life without parole merely leaves open the possibility that a child who commits a crime can petition for release later in life, if he can demonstrate that he is remorseful, has rehabilitated, and will not reoffend. Parole authorities can and should be trusted to make informed, reasoned decisions regarding the release and continued incarceration of inmates petitioning for parole…..

Read the rest.


Madeleine Brand interviews ,education wonk and commentator Alexander Russo, about his new book, Stay Dogs, Saints and Saviors: Fighting for the Soul of America’s Toughest High School chronicles the transformation of very troubled Locke High School—what has been accomplished and what remains to be done.
I’ve been looking forward to the book’s release for months, and will have more it once I’ve finished reading. In the meantime, listen to the interview. Russo’s a smart guy and has a bracingly clear-eyed view of why the “Locke experiment,” as he calls it, is important.


WLA doesn’t usually cover transportation issues but, seriously, this is a no brainer. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board votes on this issue today. Let’s hope they understand how important a station at historic and iconic Leimert Park station is, not just to South LA, but to the rest of the city.

Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas has an op ed in Thursday’s LA Times explaining very clearly why there can be only one possible answer to the Leimert Park station question.

Metro board, please get this one right.

Posted in Books, Education, Green Dot, LGBT, LWOP Kids, parole policy | No Comments »

Steve Barr & Green Dot Divorce, Cali School Sups Apply Pressure, & More on Value Added

March 29th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


I’m not sure why no LA media seem to have reported on this story since Barr has been such a significant figure in LA’s education reform movement, but….in any case, this story from the NY Times has the basics on Barr’s parting of the ways with Green Dot. He’d stepped down as head of Green Dot a couple of years ago, but had remained on the board of directors. But now, it seems, the divorce is complete.

It sounds like it would be a good time for WLA to check in with Steve and find out more. But until then, here are some clips from the NY Times article.

On Friday, Mr. Barr and Shane Martin, the college dean who succeeded him as chairman of the Green Dot board in 2009, issued a joint statement announcing that Mr. Barr would no longer use the Green Dot name as he sought to open charter schools in New York and elsewhere.

The Green Dot organization will continue, under the leaders who have replaced Mr. Barr
, to run its network of 16 charter schools in Los Angeles.


Alexander Russo, the author of a coming book on the efforts of Mr. Barr and Green Dot to overhaul the troubled Locke High School in Los Angeles, said, “Steve is a hard-charging visionary, as many founders are, and as Green Dot got bigger, people struggled to find an appropriate place for him in the organization.”


For more than a year, Mr. Barr has been in discussions with school and union officials in several cities, exploring ways of extending his vision of overhauling schools nationwide.

He has been operating as Green Dot America, and recruited a six-member board for that organization that includes two other directors who also sit on Green Dot’s board: Susan Estrich, the prominent Los Angeles lawyer, and Jeff Shell, the president of programming for Comcast.

On Friday, Green Dot America changed its name to Future is Now Schools. [Not the most felicitous of names, IMHO, especially with its acronym of "FINS." But maybe it'll grown on me.] Mr. Barr said the name was inspired by President Obama’s call in the State of the Union address to “win the future” by improving American education.

In an interview, Mr. Barr said that the use of the Green Dot name had become confusing as he sought to build the new organization, which he said would explore using a lot of technology in classrooms to augment traditional instruction in what he called a “hybrid model.”

Read more here.

As always, it will be intriguing to track what becomes of Barr’s newest venture.


Let’s hope that it works. The Fresno Bee has the story.

Here’s a clip:

With time running out for a budget deal, a group of California school superintendents is pressing for a tax vote, saying that the state’s schools will see debilitating cuts if tax extensions are not approved in June.

The superintendents told reporters Monday at the Capitol that they have urged Republican lawmakers to accept Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax election, a big part of his budget plan.

If the measure fails, Fresno Unified School District Superintendent Michael Hanson said, “We will spend the ’11-’12 school year decimating, devastating and tearing down programs … across this entire state.”


I’d still like to see a far more robust conversation about the advantages and pitfalls of the various approaches but Teresa Watanabe moved the ball down the field at least a bit, which is good.

It was slightly curious that the LA Times part in the controversy was so undermentioned. On the other hand, maybe that was a good thing as otherwise the Times part in the kerfuffle might have intentionally high-jacked the article.

(photo by Kris Krug, Flickr)

Posted in California budget, Education, Green Dot | 3 Comments »

The Education Reformers: Why Are These People Fighting?

May 13th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

There is a strong push for change in education policy in America.
As with the nation, school reform in California is at its beginning stages and, as a consequence, it is messy. In LA, the reformers themselves have fractured into warring camps, with one camp frequently accusing members of another of everything from personal profiteering to belittling and disempowering the lower-income parents they claim to champion.

The issue of charter schools one of the biggest areas of contention. Some reformers love the possibilities that the charter movement suggests, others decry it as the privatization of public schools.

After reporting on and observing education reform in LA since 2005, I’ve drawn a few personal conclusions about some of the issues and about which of the various players are worth taking seriously. But these are, as I said, personal conclusions.

Kevin Grant at Neon Tommy has written a story about some of the squabbling that is going on between various progressive factions and he lays out the issues informatively and evenhandedly, allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.

Kevin’s piece is just a beginning, a glimpse really,as education reform in LA alone is a topic that could easily be covered at book length.

But it is a good beginning. Below you’ll find the opening to Kevin’s story. I urge you to read the whole thing.

On his first day as a member of the California Board of Education, Ben Austin voted against a proposed charter school at Piru Elementary in Ventura County.

“I think most outside observers would consider me an easy vote in favor of a charter school,” said Austin, the executive director of LA-based school reform group Parent Revolution, after his first day in Sacramento. “But there’s nothing inherently good about a charter.”

A group of teachers at the school had petitioned to take Piru out of the control of the Fillmore Unified School District. They contended that parents and teachers could run the school more effectively than the district could. However, the board rejected the request by a 6-2 vote.

Speaking from his hotel room May 5 after what he described as a 12-hour first day, Austin said he voted against the charter proposal because the district was already making steady progress improving student performance. He wanted to make it clear that the charter model is not desirable in every case.

“We don’t support all charters,” Austin said. “It doesn’t help to have underperforming charter schools representing the charter movement.”

Austin’s star has been rising as the head of Parent Revolution, a non-profit started by charter school operator Green Dot Public Schools in 2006 as “a coalition of parents who tired of sending our kids to broken schools.”

In Los Angeles and across California, the charter school model has been promoted by leaders ranging from Schwarzenegger to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to Senator Gloria Romero.

But as Green Dot prepares to close one of its 19 Los Angeles schools, Animo Justice High School, after just four years in operation, Parent Revolution is coming under fire for failing to support parents and students at the south LA school.

At the same time, the aggressive growth of Green Dot, which made its name working to overhaul the underperforming Jefferson High School and Locke High School, appears to be slowing.

Given that Education Secretary Arne Duncan was reported to have told Green Dot’s founder Steve Bar that he had apparently “cracked the code” for reforming education, the organization’s challenges may be a matter of national significance.

You’ll find the rest here.

PS: By the way, Kevin Grant is one of the 13 grad students whom I had the privilege of teaching this past semester at Annenberg, and this story is a version of his final paper for the class. You’ll be happy to know that right this minute there are 12 other wonderfully interesting final papers, each on different topics, in my class “assignments” file. With any luck, some of those will be posted on Neon Tommy soon too.

Posted in Education, Green Dot | 2 Comments »

The Evolution of LA’s Parent Revolution

March 26th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Ben Austin is the executive director of an LA-based organization
known as the Parent Revolution, which has been extremely active in lobbying for various kinds of education reforms at an LA and a statewide level. In doing so, the group has often found itself on the opposite side of the influence-wielding push-pull from the various teachers’ unions—UTLA and CTA. As a consequence, Austin is either revered or despised, depending upon who’s doing the talking. Yet, whatever one thinks of Ben Austin and his organization, he has emerged as a recent big player in the world of school reform—both locally and nationally—alongside more recognizable stars in that firmament, like Green Dot’s founder Steve Barr .

Neon Tommy’s Jessica Flores (who also happens to be my smart student), took a look at how Austin’s Revolution is evolving with the passage of the so called Trigger Law.

(This week my USC class has been reporting on education, and they have found a number of LA ed stories that are under-reported, this among them.)

Here are some clips from Jessica’s story:

In a modest office with mostly bare walls and a few desks in downtown Los Angeles, Parent Union organizer Shirley Ford spends her time these days strategizing for, what she calls, a revolution.

“I’m making a list of people that I’m going to sit down with now that the Parent Trigger Law is passed, because that gives us leverage,” says Ford.

A new state law gives wings to a promise the Los Angeles Parents Union first made early last year, when it was headed by Green Dot, its mission to get parents to sign on to transform poorly performing Los Angeles schools to charters. They call the movement the Parent Revolution and promise parents to deliver new charter schools within three years if 51 percent of parents sign up for reforms. But no laws held-up their pledge, which was more hope than certainty.

“We were building the airplane while it was in the air. We didn’t exactly know how we were going to back it up,” said Ben Austin, the executive director of the L.A. Parent’s Union.

Now they do know. After the Parent Revolution aggressively campaigned for the trigger law, the state passed it earlier this year. For the first time, parents have the codified right to demand changes in failing schools. If a majority of parents organize to reform consistently failing schools, they can call on officials to take one of three steps: transform the school to a charter, fire the principal and half the staff or close the school altogether.

The law is changing how the Parent Revolution is positioning itself in the charter school movement. The Parent’s Union is saying they aren’t working for Green Dot or Green Dot’s agenda anymore. But the law is also fueling fire between the organization and other players in the education field who say the Parent Revolution simply pushes a charter school agenda, which is not necessarily better for students.

“The parent trigger assumes charters are the answers and they are not,” says UTLA Vice President Gregg Solkovits. He underscored studies that show charters have struggled to serve disabled and ESL students.

But Austin points to the new law as proof that other solutions are on the table and to show his organization will advocate for whatever parents deem necessary.

“The idea of the parent revolution is to say F-U, that every single thing about our school is going to be about kids. Otherwise, I’m sorry, we are going to take our kids and go elsewhere,” said Austin.

Read the rest here.


Also, on Neon Tommy, this story by LeTania Kirkland tells about community efforts to rescue the iconic Watts Tower arts center from budget-force privatization, and its recent—even if temporary—success.

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD | 13 Comments »

LAUSD School Choice Chooses….Not So Much Change

February 24th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



At LAUSD school board meeting Tuesday In a large win for UTLA, the teachers’ union, 22 schools were handed off to the districts’ teachers to reorganize. That was 22 out of the 30 that were that were up for grabs as part of the controversial school choice plan. Three of the 30 were given to the mayor’s group to reorganize and another three were given to charters, with one last school given to some kind of partnership between teachers and charters and—I don’t remember who else..

And a most perplexing decision, three charter school operators were yanked completely out of the mix: the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools and ICEF Public School—and Green Dot (which only bid for one school). In other words, the charter companies that are best known for their success in running schools in Los Angeles County.

“We missed an opportunity to make bold change today,” the Daily News reported that school board member Yolie Flores said grimly. Flores, who was the one who authored the district’s School Choice plan, was not a happy camper. “Clearly, there is a line of board members that are still beholden to unions. I am beholden to children.”

Howard Blume at the LA Times has the best account of what was evidently a very wild, very woolly day.

Hey, we all hope for the best.

Photo by Brian Vander Brug for the LA Times

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAUSD, unions | 12 Comments »

Schools & Prisons, Tra-La: An Update

August 25th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



It was hoped—foolishly, as it turns out-–that the California state assembly, after making a stupid and spineless number of compromises on the corrections reform package, that the thing could be slammed through to a vote so that it could take affect and we could stop hemorrhaging millions of $$ unnecessarily on a daily basis. The vote has been postponed until….well, until they can agree.

The San Francisco Chronicle was withering in its assessment of the Assembly’s paralysis.

And here’s what the Ventura County Star reported on the issue:

Observers said the paralysis should have been expected, because crime-and-punishment issues have produced political gridlock for decades.

“There’s been a 40-year trend wherein Democrats have been demonized as soft on crime and Republicans have painted themselves into a corner of never being able to be anything but hyper-tough on crime,” said Tim Hodson, executive director of the Center for California Studies at CSU Sacramento.

“Of the 80 members of the Assembly,
I suspect there are at least 78 who understand the necessity of cutting from the corrections budget, but I don’t know if there are 41 who are willing to vote for it.”

Yeah, that about sums things up.

(cough) Constitutional convention. (cough)


The so-called School Choice plan introduced by LAUSD board member,
Yoli Flores Aguilar,is scheduled to be voted up or down on Tuesday at the school board meeting. The plan would allow nonprofit entities, private companies and charter schools to compete with LAUSD and submit proposals to run the 50 new district schools scheduled to open in the next three years.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is strongly in favor of the plan, as is the LA Times. The teachers union, UTLA, and other related unions are dead set against it. (You can read their reasoning in great detail at the UTLA website.) Union leadership has urged their members to show up in force at the meeting tomorrow.

Those supporting the plan are also planning to arrive in droves. (I have received two messages informing me of pre-meeting rallies, one from the Charter Schools Association, and another from the Green Dot-associated, Parent Revolution that is combining with Families That Can. The pro-Flores Aguilar plan rallies begin at noon.

UTLA wants the faithful to arrive at 8 a.m. in order to pack the room before it is packed by others.

The LAUSD board meeting is set to begin at 1 p.m. It should be quite a wild ride of an afternoon.


IN OTHER SOCIAL JUSTICE NEWS.…The LA times has an interesting editorial about the principles called up by the the Troy Anthony Davis case and the right to prove one’s innocence.

Posted in Green Dot, LAUSD, parole policy, prison policy | No Comments »

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