So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

Costs for LAUSD special ed services climb as parents feel the pinch

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Maya Osborne, right, takes care of her granddaughter, 17-year-old Passion Rencher, in their South L.A. home on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014.

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Seventeen-year-old Passion Rencher, who has cerebral palsy, attends Widney High School – a special education magnet school in Mid-City.

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Passion Rencher is one of the roughly 82,000 special education students in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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Grandmother Maya Osborne exercises and massages 17-year-old Passion Rencher's hands every day.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Cerebral palsy causes Passion Rencher's hands to seize up. Her grandmother, Maya Osborne, has noticed improvement with her exercises.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Jackie Smith-Conkleton greets 17-year-old Passion Rencher at her South L.A. home on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014. Smith-Conkleton is a surrogate parent for Rencher and a special education advocate.

Seventeen-year-old Passion Rencher can't speak. Cerebral palsy causes her head to lurch back and her hands to seize up. She presses her fists against her chest and needs help to stretch out her limbs.

Despite her disabilities, she greets everyone with a wide, joyful smile, and according to her teacher at Widney High, a special education magnet school in near Mid-City, Passion can indicate yes or no when asked questions.

Passion is one of Los Angeles Unified School District's roughly 82,000 special education students whose disabilities can be profound and whose services are increasingly costly to the district.

Changing demographics, advances in care and stronger advocacy by families are all combining to drive up the expense of providing for students' special education needs.

Sharyn Howell heads the district's special education department and manages an annual budget of $1.4 billion, about 20 percent of LAUSD’s education expenses.


Three ways to super-charge holiday singing with your kids

Alex Pitt/For The Music Center

Singers take part in the Music Center's annual holiday sing-along in downtown Los Angeles.

If you find yourself sprinting for the nearest exit every time you hear Bing Cosby's "White Christmas," we've got some news that might stop you in mid-stride: holiday songs can be good for your kids. 

Whether participating in organized sing-alongs and or spontaneous warbling to piped-in music in the mall, young children register real gains from singing, experts say. 

Here are three suggestions from Susan Canizares, the chief academic officer at child care provider Learning Care Group, on how to help your young kids learn as they sing along. She says these principals work best for kids age 0 to five years:

  • Singing with your toddlers will help improve their reading skills. "There are a whole bunch of prerequisite, early literacy skills that need to be developed in the preschool and pre-kindergarten years, and one of the best ways to do that is through children having fun singing," Canizares says. This process allows children to play and hear the sounds of language — an important step in building strong readers. 
  • Allow your young kids to sing songs over and over and over again. Even if it drives you batty, the process of practicing and repeating songs helps kids learn. Canizares says this type of exposure to language is key when kids develop the ability to match written letters with sounds and later to read. "By singing those songs over and over again, they're beginning to listen to the different sounds that are in words," she says.
  • Let your kids make up words to the songs. Once your kids have mastered their favorite songs, Canizares suggests encouraging their imaginations to run wild. Let them incorporate new phrases or words into a tune they know well. This sort of playful experience with language will help improve their reading skills later on. The goal is to expose your young kids to as much language as possible. Research shows this exposure affects literacy rates as they grow.   


UCLA professors force vote on diversity class requirement

Proposed Budget Cuts Threaten Funding For California Universities

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Students go about their business at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

A diversity class approved by UCLA's Academic Senate is now on hold after dozens of professors signed and submitted a petition on Dec. 11 calling for a campus vote of all faculty members.

Under the diversity requirement, undergraduates enrolled in the fall of 2015 were expected to complete a class that would teach them to understand the perspectives of other people whose views, backgrounds, and experiences may differ from their own.

The goal is to promote a "better understanding of and appreciation for the complex differences they will encounter both in the United States and around the world so that they may thrive, function and lead in today’s and tomorrow’s world,” according to a description provided by supporters of the requirement.

Opposition came from 59 UCLA professors who signed a petition asking for another vote that would be open to faculty outside the College of Letters and Sciences whose faculty had proposed the class and won its approval from the Academic Senate.


Students' active engagement in music classes leads to brain gains, study finds

Annie Tritt for NPR

File: A new study finds students who study music by playing instruments show significant improvement in speech processing and reading scores.

Brain researchers are finding increasing evidence that music is a powerful learning tool.

A new study out Tuesday concludes students highly engaged in music classes boosted their reading scores and speech processing skills.

“Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain,” according to Nina Kraus, who heads the Auditory Neuroscience Lab at Northwestern University.

RELATED: Music and your brain – the science of change

Kraus is the lead author on the study that stems from a multi-year research effort with the Los Angeles music education nonprofit Harmony Project. The study is published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The results show the method used to study music can play a big role in gains in brain functioning. For example, Kraus found playing an instrument improved neural processing. Kids who simply took classes that focused on music appreciation without practice time with instruments didn't show the same level of improvement.


LAUSD superintendent seeks state testing relief

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Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Dozens of schools across LAUSD have iPads, but Superintendent Ramon Cortines said students need more practice before high-stakes testing in the spring.

Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines is asking state officials to hold off on using test scores to measure improvement for the second year in a row.

"We do not feel that our students have had adequate time practicing on the testing devices," Cortines said in a letter Friday to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. 

Students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 are scheduled to take the tests in the spring on newly issued tablets and laptops.

Under Cortines' request, first reported by LA School Report, scores would still be delivered to students, parents and schools, but would not be counted toward schools' Academic Performance Index, the measure by which California schools' determine improvement on tests.

Keric Ashley, an administrator at the California Department of Education, said the state board has the authority to set aside API scores and plans to take up the issue at its January meeting.