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

Education and the 2012 election: A strategist's analysis

Julie Small/KPCC

"The governor [has] got to get out there and say 'Look, this is the California that I envisioned, and in that California, schools play a critical role. It's about the future of our kids. It's about the future of the state and the country. And this is how [Prop.] 30 fits into that," said Darry Sragow, a longtime political strategist.

Over the weekend, I spoke with Darry Sragow, an attorney and longtime Democratic strategist, about education's role in the 2012 election. Sragow has worked on several school bond campaigns at L.A. Unified and the Los Angeles Community College District. I picked his brain on the role of education in the national debate this election season. I also got some of his thoughts on the campaigns for Prop. 30 and Prop. 38. Educators throughout the state support the two initiatives to raise taxes in the hope that voters will approve them next month and school budgets will be saved.

Q: Why is education not really figuring into the national debate during this election season?

A: Education is usually in California the No. 1 issue. If it's not education, it's the economy, and at the moment, it's the economy. Education is not an issue most voters think can be inherently dealt with at a national level. Schools are local and so voters inherently expect to have a dialogue about education in local races and maybe in state races in their state, but it's really a national issue only in a very broad policy sense. That's not insignificant, because at a national level you can set standards, "No Child Left Behind," things like that. But it's tough to address it concretely in the national race. Plus, of course, the big national issue is jobs.


Parent Trigger group wins another legal battle

Parents in the desert community of Adelanto have won a critical victory in their mission to take over Desert Trails Elementary School under the “parent trigger law.”

A San Bernardino County Superior Court judge has upheld a ruling that allowed the Desert Trails Parent Union to move forward with plans to convert the failing elementary school into a charter school.

The judge also ordered the Adelanto School District to halt efforts to stop the changeover. In August, district officials announced they would not relinquish control of the school.

Cynthia Ramirez, a lead petitioner and organizer of the Desert Trails Trigger movement, said she’s “thrilled and obviously really excited" with the judge’s ruling.

"This decision finally lets us move forward with voting on who we want to come in and take over the school" said Ramirez.


Southland doctor uses Frida Kahlo paintings to recruit more Latinos to medical school

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Frida Kahlo, Autorretrato con collar de espinas y colibri (Self Portrait with Torn Necklace and Hummingbird), 1940

In his effort to increase the number of Latino doctors, surgical pathologist Fernando Antelo organized his first workshop titled "Frida Kahlo - The Forgotten Medical Student” six years ago.

When he carries out the workshop on Saturday at UC Irvine, Antelo will show students the 1945 Frida Kahlo painting titled “Without Hope.”

““Without Hope” is a self-portrait of the artist lying in a hospital bed and it doesn’t look like a hospital, however, because in the background it becomes very desolate it’s almost like she’s lying in the bed in the middle of a desert,” Antelo said.

A huge funnel overflowing with food spills into Kahlo’s mouth, conveying the distress of her hospital stay. Antelo will tell students that Kahlo took biology classes in high school and wanted to go to medical school. He’ll ask students about the colorful, circular designs she depicted on the bed sheets. They’re not polka dots.

“She was opening medical books and she was drawing exactly the same, these classical, historical hand drawings of bacteria, of fungus, of spirochetes, of all these microorganisms on the bed,” he said.

Antelo is Bolivian-American. He credits his mother’s nightly stories from her pediatric nursing job as the foundation for his interest in medicine. He maintains that few Latinos make that kind of personal or cultural connections to medical careers.

That could be one reason why, by one count, Latino doctors are five percent of all the physicians in this country. That leaves many Latinos wishing their doctor spoke their language and understood their culture. While the number of Latinos applying to medical schools has risen sharply in recent years, Antelo still senses a need for his workshops.

His goal is to spark interest in medical school - or to help college students marshal their families’ support in the grueling road to an M.D. degree.

“This female student was saying how her dad, you know, doesn’t want her to be in college; he wants her to be at home. And she was asking the panel, ‘How do I talk to my parents about this?’ By using Kahlo as an example, it’s a talking point that students can use to talk to their parents, their parents are familiar with her,” he said.

Yelennia Palacios took Doctor Antelo’s Frida Kahlo workshop several years ago. She remembers that one Kahlo painting he displayed - with a detailed image of a heart at its center - jumped out at her.

“I was just in awe. I mean, the human heart is amazing and I think it’s one of my favorite organs. To see that, to see how she drew it, I was speechless. It was so beautiful and she put a lot of her pain and suffering into that as well,” Palacios said.

Palacios is in her second year at UC Irvine’s medical school. She feels a strong pull to help people like her Mexican-born parents improve their lives. So she hopes to practice family medicine.


Majority of CA schools reach API test score goals: How did they do it?

Mercer 4313


A student walks past a LAUSD school bus.

Academic Performance Index scores for public schools are out Thursday. California education officials say that for the first time, a majority of schools reached the coveted 800-point goal.

The search for what’s working can lead to Benito Juarez Elementary School in Cerritos. Last year it fell four points short of the 800 API goal. This year the school scored 815. There’s no stopping now, says principal LuAnn Adler.

“Well, we just keep moving our goal up. So our new saying is ‘850 is nifty,’” she said.

Adler says getting to 800’s been hard. The school sets aside 90 minutes each week for teachers to talk about best practices, and the district has provided consultants.

“We moved our lunch hour back in the school day so we had a larger chunk of time in the morning where we felt that the children were fresher,” she said.


API: Scores up 10 points statewide, gaps between elementary and high school

An empty classroom

BES Photos/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)

California public schools officials released the yearly Academic Performance Index on Thursday, and for the first time in the 13 years since the state started using the index, a majority of schools scored the state goal of 800 points.

That’s good news and bad news. 

The good news is that scores are up: Schools can score a maximum of 1,000 and a low of 200. Statewide, scores rose 10 points. The index consists mostly of standardized test scores taken by students from second to eleventh grade.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson praised schools for raising test scores in spite of successive budget cuts to education each year. “We’ve set a high bar for schools and they have more than met the challenge, despite the enormous obstacles that years of budget cuts have put in their way,” he said in a statement.

The bad Academic Performance Index news is that there’s a gap the size of the Grand Canyon between elementary schools and high schools that reached the 800 goal. Nearly 60 percent of state elementary schools scored 800 or above. Half that proportion, 30 percent, of high schools statewide reached the 800 point API goal.