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

New science standards hard sell at cash-strapped Sylmar High School (Photos)

Sylmar High

Biology teacher Ronald Hitchcock teaches his advanced biology students. On the right, student Juan Santacruz.

Sylmar High

A view of biology teacher Ronald Hitchcock's American Bull Frogs from the science storage room behind his classroom at Sylmar High School.

Sylmar High

Advanced Biology student Jose Baltazar during class at Sylmar High School.

Sylmar High

Some of the critters in Sylmar High School science teacher Ron Hitchcock's classroom. Hitchcock, who has taught at the school since 2000, estimates that he's spent $10,000 on the entire collection.

Sylmar High

An American Bull Frog. High school biology teacher Ronald Hitchcock estimates he spends $3,500 a year on classroom supplies, which include critters like this one.

Sylmar High

An exterior shot of Sylmar High School, which celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this school year. The school is one of more than 100 high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Science Experiment: One of two stories looking at science in the schools – from pre-K to high school. Click here to read Part 2: UCLA Preschool and the California Science Center museum help turn kids into "pre-scientists."

Ronald Hitchcock has been teaching science at Sylmar High School for more than a decade. He's seen a lot of changes, but perhaps nothing has hit the school harder than the news last fall that it lost a $3.5 million QEIA grant.

"We're pretty cash strapped right now," he said. "The budget for the science department is usually in the $20,000 to $25,000 range for consumables and in reality this year we have just about $5,000."

Hitchcock has been following the development of new K-12 science standards, released by California and 25 other states earlier this month. He's excited about the potential of the new standards and likes their hands-on approach to learning.


LA Unified board member wants improvements to Breakfast in the Classroom program

On Monday LA Unified board member Bennet Kayser called for improvements to the school district’s one-year old Breakfast in the Classroom program, not its elimination.

The statement was prompted by a move by Superintendent John Deasy to put to a vote of the school board the future of a program that's the first project of LA Fund For Public Education, founded by Deasy and an LA philanthropist. The program has fed more than 200,000 students at a third of the district’s schools by moving federally-funded breakfast into the first 15 minutes of the school day

In a written statement, Kayser said an audit earlier this year of the Breakfast in the Classroom program returned a list of things worth fixing but did not propose the program’s elimination. The audit found that some clean-up procedures weren’t followed and that time allotted to eat the breakfast was exceeded by 5 to 30 minutes.


California gets mediocre grade for preschool access and quality

California Children's Academy Budget Cuts Preschool Education

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Elisabeth Romero watches over children at Jardín de Niños in Lincoln Heights.

California got a mediocre grade in both access to preschool and the quality of the programs in a new study released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research. The state meets only four of the group's ten benchmarks for quality preschool.

The overall findings in the report, titled State of Preschool 2012, are grim: state budgets for pre-k programs suffered the largest one-year drop ever in the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Funding across the country fell by more than half a billion dollars.

The institute gave California credit for setting educational standards for preschool and for requiring teachers in government-subsidized programs to get special training. But the state isn’t meeting the group’s benchmarks for class sizes or providing enough meals. It’s also not providing enough support services for children who need them.


First academic study of controversial LA Unified teacher evaluation program

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Pilot program using student tests scores to evaluate teacher gets its own good grade in first study.

An academic study of a teacher evaluation method that looks at how much teachers are able to improve students' test scores gave the pilot program a good grade. But the study comes too late -- the teacher's union and Los Angeles Unified School District agreed not to use the measure in the district's new teacher evaluation protocols.

The Academic Growth over Time became a lightning rod of criticism by the teachers union and some academics. At issue was whether it was fair to judge a teacher's effectiveness by looking at how a student's test scores had improved from year to year. Critics say the method doesn’t accurately capture all the factors in and outside the classroom that go into improving a student’s test scores.

USC researcher Katharine Strunk studied how it was implemented in group of L-A Unified schools last academic year.

"It indicates that the principals and other leaders that were assessing teachers using these protocols did a nice job doing that," she said. "It means that the value added score, the AGT that was generated, is also a solid measure. I think it speaks well for the district.” 

Strunk released her findings at a San Francisco conference this weekend attended by other researchers and L.A. Unified administrators.


Future of schools breakfast program has become a 'power struggle'

Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy  sp

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Los Angeles schools Supt. John Deasy wants the school board to decide whether to keep Breakfast in the Classroom.

In the latest power struggle in the nation's second-largest school district, Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy is putting the future of a breakfast program for students up for a school board vote.

Breakfast in the Classroom uses the first 15 minutes of the school day to feed students a healthy meal to power their learning. The program -- which launched a year ago and it's in a third of district schools -- doesn't cost the district a dime. It's funded by state and federal grants. And yet, it's getting caught up in a political fight. 

"I think there's been sort of a power struggle here whether this program is working,” said L.A. Unified Board of Education member Nury Martinez. 

To understand that battle, it helps to know how the program was created. Breakfast in the Classroom was the first project of the L.A. Fund for Public Education, a fundraising group created by Deasy and well-connected philanthropist Megan Chernin.