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MISSING SCHOOL: LAUSD’s Chronic Student Absences & What to Do About Them…Plus Child Dependency Court & Reax to Dizzying Health Care Arguments

Chronic truancy is a daunting problem in districts all over California,
but it’s far worse in the Los Angeles Unified School District where nearly one fourth of the district’s middle-school students are chronically absent from school.

What is even more alarming is that an identical number of LA’s kindergartners— 22.7 percent—are also chronically absent from their classrooms.

(Chronic absence” is defined as missing 10 percent of the school year for excused or unexcused reasons.)

Fortunately, not every school district in the state has those miserably high truancy numbers.

In fact, earlier this week, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced that 11 districts have been designated as models of attendance improvement and dropout prevention by the State School Attendance Review Board. The 11 model districts, which include Alhambra, Montebello, San Bernardino and San Diego, will be given awards at a conference in April.

““There’s a very basic fact that is often overlooked: Even the best teacher can’t help students who don’t make it to school,” Torlakson said in a written statement. “These [districts] are proving that there are highly effective strategies for improving attendance and reducing the dropout rate”

After new research pointed to chronic absence as a key indicator of a kid’s academic future, reducing absenteeism became a major focus for Torlakson’s administration, which is trying to find low coast ways to motivate districts to identify students who are are missing too much school, and then intervene early.

“And by early, that means kindergarten, says David Kopperud, the chairperson of the state’s School Attendance Review Board. “We thought the problem began in middle school and high school,” Kopperud told me. “But it starts way before that. It turns out that even kindergarten is important because that’s when students learn beginning reading skills.” Once kids fall behind in their first three years, he said, the slide can all too easily become cumulative until, by middle school they’re in trouble.

“Now they’re too far behind to catch up, and so the next thing is, they start to misbehave.”

School suspensions follow the misbehavior, which means more classwork in missed.

“In a lot of schools,” Kopperud said, “20 percent of their absences are due to suspensions. And we find that schools with high suspension rates, have a high drop out rate.” It’s what other experts call the push out factor. And pretty soon you have this really large population that is lost to law enforcement.”

So what to do?

“We’re learning that the best kind of drop-out intervention, is prevention,” said Kopperud. “But that means analyzing the school attendance data so that you have a good early warning system to tell you when kids are missing too much school, and then intervening aggressively.”

But aggressive and timely intervention requires the personnel to do the intervening—at a time when districts like LAUSD are in a frenzy of cutbacks.

So that’s where the awards come in..

Kopperud said that he and his board members hope that the other districts will look at the honorees and think, hey, if those guys over there can improve , we can too. “So we’re handing out certificates and plaques,” he said.

“It’s a reminder that there are places where, despite the odds, they’re beating them,” said Kopperud. “So it can be done. Even in this economy, it can be done.”

Let’s hope LAUSD takes note. So far what they’ve done districtwide is….not much. (Unless you count paying consultants fat fees to produce this and that report and analysis, without any appreciable follow-up that would change outcomes for actual kids.)


Whittier Law School professor William Wesley Patton evidently slammed LA Times editor-at-large Jim Newton for his coverage of LA’s newly-opened child dependency court in an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Daily Journal (which is hidden behind a hefty pay wall, or I’d link to it).

Newton, who wrote two excellent columns about his visits to court in the weeks since Judge Michael Nash ordered the opening of the long-secret proceedings to the press (here and here), decided not to simply ignore the slam, but to point out its truthiness. Here’s a clip:

The shift from holding almost all Dependency Court hearings in private to declaring a presumptive openness of those proceedings to the press is understandably upsetting to those accustomed to working in private. It is hard to have prying eyes where once there were none.

And yet, what is often lost in the resistance to change is what is most important. The interests of children are, of course, paramount in all of this, but those who side with Patton, in my view, see those interests too narrowly. Secrecy in Dependency Court has protected social workers, lawyers and even judges who perform poorly from being held to answer for their work. We would never tolerate such immunity from scrutiny in our adult and family courts, nor should we when the stakes are even higher — the preservation of an opportunity for children who have done no wrong. In the end, the victims of secrecy in Dependency Court are children whose caretakers are allowed to fail them without consequence; the beneficiaries of a more open system would be children as well.

So far, the experiment in Los Angeles Dependency Court is bearing out that argument. Perhaps that’s why Patton distorts it.

What Jim said.


Dalia Lithwick of Slate sounds stunned and depressed after Wednesday’s round of arguments….

Amid all the three-day psychodrama, it’s easy to get confused about what’s happened and what hasn’t. Court watchers seem to generally agree that the individual mandate is in real peril and will rise or fall with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy. Court watchers also agree that 19th-century tax law—while generally adorable—will not prevent the justices from deciding the case by July. And they also agree that they may have counted five justices who appear willing to take the whole law down, along with the mandate, and the Medicaid expansion as well.

But the longer they talked, the harder it was to say. A lot of today’s discussion started to sound like justices just free-associating about things in the law they didn’t like. That doesn’t reveal all that much about the interplay between the four separate challenges—what happens when they all have to be looked at together—or anything at all about what will happen at conference or in the drafting of opinions. Could the five conservative justices strike down the entire health care law, and take us into what Kagan described this morning as a “revolution”? They could. Will they? I honestly have no idea anymore. As silent retreats go, this one was a lot less enlightening than I’d hoped.

While Adam Teicholz at the Atlantic wonders morosely…but interestingly…. if bloggers killed the health care mandate before it got to court…

Back in early 2010, before the 26 state attorneys general, before the angry protests and the breathless headlines, before the six hours of oral argument at the nation’s highest court, the legal challenge to the individual mandate was greeted with head-scratching skepticism. The constitutional argument was dismissed by many Court-watchers. A week after the first challenge was filed, one liberal scholar suggested the claims were so frivolous that the lawyers could face sanctions.

Now, however, the atmosphere has changed, “and that,” Adam Liptak, Supreme Court correspondent for the New York Times, told me last week, is in part “a testament” to the persistence of a small group of conservative and libertarian attorneys. In the last few days, Politico and the New York Times have shone a light on Randy Barnett, the Georgetown Law professor who has taken on the dual role, unusual for an appellate lawyer, of spearheading advocacy both in court and in more public forums.


Blogs — particularly a blog of big legal ideas called Volokh Conspiracy — have been central to shifting the conversation about the mandate challenges. At Volokh, Barnett and other libertarian academics have been debating and refining their arguments against the mandate since before the ACA was signed. At the beginning, law professor Jonathan Adler fleshed out the approach that came to typify the elite conservative response for the first months of the public debate: the Founders never intended for the Constitution to permit such broad federal power, but given New Deal-era precedent, the mandate, if it became law, would pass muster. Things changed on Volokh around the time that it became clear that an insurance mandate would be part of whichever health care reform package passed into law.

One congressional floor speech seemed to mark a tonal turning point for Volokh, the moment its writers realized their power to shape debate…..


Amid the Aero Bureau controversies, it’s important to remember the great work LASD pilots do day in and day out, both in patrol and rescue. Here’s a KTLA report of the most recent dramatic example of Air-5’s rescue work. (Scroll down for the video.)


  • When Nancy Pelosi pushed through Obamcare on a Christmas eve without giving the Republicans a chance to read it, she said that they needed to pass the bill to find out what’s in it. Once we found out, it was not only unacceptable, but also unconstitutional.

    If the Democrats had just kept the original wording of calling the mandate penalty a “tax”, which they didn’t want because Obama said the bill would not raise taxes, and had they not cut out the severability clause, the act would had stayed in place. But, it’s best that it die in its entirety.

    Now, assuming that the Surpreme Court rules in favor of the Constitution, this gives the nation a chance to address medical care issues in a bi-partisan manner, to ovecome overwhelming public objections, and to erase the unsustainable costs that this entitlement would have entailed.

  • Celeste mentions the LASD and there’s no comment about it? Oh, wait. Her reference to the LASD was positive. Nothing to see here.

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