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

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.

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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.

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After years with no arts classes, Compton elementary readies a holiday concert

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

First-graders Valeria Beltran, left, and Jarret Moore take part in a music class at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014. The class is supported by Turnaround Arts, a national program that brings arts education to high-poverty elementary and middle schools.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Music teacher Jennifer Carreras leads a song at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Fourth-grader Pedro Herrera plays "Linus and Lucy" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on the recorder during a music class at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Fourth-graders practice "Este Es La Navidad" for their upcoming holiday performance at Martin Luther King Elementary Jr. School in Compton.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

First-grader Valeria Beltran sings during a music class at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Fourth-graders Jennifer Moncada, left, and Josephine Moreno hug after Moreno is chosen to try out to perform at school district offices. The students take a music class once a week at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Fourth-graders practice "Este Es La Navidad" for their upcoming holiday performance at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

First-graders Sherlyn Asuna, left, and Jaden Armstrong practice a holiday song at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Music teacher Jennifer Carreras leads a song at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton on Friday, Dec. 5, 2014.


Students and teachers at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Compton are busy preparing for a winter concert that elsewhere might pass with scant notice.

For King Elementary, the concert is both their first full performance at a school where nearly all students come from low-income families and a sign that a program designed to turn schools around through music and the arts may be taking hold.

This year marked the first time for arts classes at King Elementary, a development made possible with funding help from Turnaround Arts — a national initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Turnaround Arts is supporting 10 of California's struggling schools over three years with the goal of  improving their academic performance by way of the arts. 

On a recent Friday afternoon, a few dozen 6th-graders at King Elementary sat perched in rows of chairs listening to their teacher's instructions. In their hands were shiny violins.

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Amid safety concerns, LAUSD students hauling home iPads

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores walks with students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences as school gets out on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Los Angeles School Police Sgt. Dale Cunningham visits Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014. The school is the first in the Los Angeles Unified School District that allows students to tote home iPads.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores is assigned to the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences campus every weekday.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Aiden Lafreniere, a junior at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences, plays a movie she made on her iPad for her Spanish class.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores is the only officer assigned to the Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences. Flores has been located at the school for four years, ever since the campus first opened.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Not a single iPad has turned up missing at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences, according to Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

After school gets out, Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores patrols the surrounding area by car. He checks storefronts, alleyways and bus stops to make sure students are safe.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Los Angeles School Police Officer Nick Flores patrols through Granada Hills on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 10, 2014. Last spring, L.A. school police tested take-home iPads for two weeks with small groups of students at two schools.


Students at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills are among the first in Los Angeles Unified School District cleared to tote home their iPads for homework.

Junior Aiden Lafreniere said having a tablet she can take with her makes it easier to stay in touch with teachers, even after hours.

"We have a place we can constantly go and check our instructions," she said. "There isn't that factor of losing work when you turn it in because of massive amounts of paperwork."

But parents and school staff worry that the take-home iPads may come at a cost: children who are targeted by thieves.

Valley Academy is part of a pilot program officials plan to roll out to all schools as the district implements its Common Core Technology Project, which will provide tablets and laptops to all 650,000 students.

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FCC funding to help California schools speed up Internet connections

Damian Dovarganes/AP

File: A decision by the Federal Communications Commission to boost funding for its E-rate program will help improve Internet speeds at the nation's schools and libraries, including those in California.

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to designate $1.5 billion each year to help public schools improve Wi-Fi access in classrooms and libraries, including those in California.

The action will likely increase consumer phone bills by $2 a year per phone, the Associated Press reported.

The additional funding for the FCC's E-rate technology grants will translate to about $733 million for California schools over the next five years, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington, D.C.-based national policy and advocacy group underwritten by AT&T Foundation among other sponsors.

Jason Amos, vice president of communications for the alliance, said the funding will help schools that may still have the same speed to browse the Internet as the average home.

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