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

LA County's Challenger youth probation camp moves from punishment to hope

Challenger School

Michael Juliano/KPCC

Keith Partner, 18, has been at L.A. County's Challenger youth probation camp four times since he was 15. “I seen a lot of changes there,” Partner said. “It went from good to bad, to bad to good…For me, I seen that it changed by more supports…little stuff to keep us motivated.”

What was once considered one of the country’s worst probation camp schools, beset by a federal lawsuit, negative inspection reports and an ongoing parade of monitors, is slowly emerging as a possible model for teaching incarcerated youths.

It's a place that's trying to move away from a culture of punishment and coercion to one of hope and cooperation. Students seem to be responding.

Tucked behind a state prison in the dusty high desert of Lancaster, the Challenger Memorial Youth Center is Los Angeles County’s largest probation facility. Each of its six camps is named after an astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster; the school, Christa McAuliffe High, takes its name from the teacher who was on board.

But Challenger has also become synonymous for the major class-action federal lawsuit filed against officials of the L.A. County’s Office of Education and the county’s Probation Department in 2010 by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the ACLU, Public Counsel and the Disability Rights Legal Center.

The suit alleged that the facility was systematically denying young people their fundamental right to an education by graduating a student who could not read his own diploma, locking students in solitary confinement (sometimes for months) and haphazardly kicking students out of class.

A 2011 settlement agreement requires monitoring and quarterly reports by a team of experts over the next four years who check on 13 areas of reform, including literacy, instruction and special education. A monitor is now at Challenger several times a month, sometimes on a weekly basis.

“There’s a lot of pressure on everybody,” said school Principal Marsha Watkins. “We live in a fishbowl pretty much. But the real bottom line is it comes down to kids. ... We weren’t doing what we needed to do for kids, and now we are. And we’re getting better and better … at it every day."


Miramonte lawsuits are on hold, attorneys hope to settle

Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angel

Krista Kennell/AFP/Getty Images

Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles, California February 6, 2012.

Two lawsuits filed by Miramonte Elementary parents against the LA Unified School District are on hold. The civil suits allege that the district neglected warnings about dozens of alleged child abuse cases.

Attorney Luis Carrillo is the one who pushed for the stay. He says the temporary delay gives his clients a chance to engage in settlement discussions with the school district.

The talks would be facilitated by a mediator and could begin as early as November.

Carrillo also argues the hold will spare alleged victims the emotional distress of going through grueling depositions.

"You have to remember that in a deposition process a child would be asked questions for many hours by opposing attorneys and that’s not helpful to the child," he said in a phone conversation shortly after the ruling.


Colleges ranked by "bang for your buck", California schools dominate list

George Washington

U.S. Mint

California schools ranked high in "bang for your buck."

Who doesn’t love a good list?

The Washington Monthly does. It's just released its annual college guide, ranking colleges not on measures of wealth and exclusivity (as the magazine claims is the case with the U.S. News & World Report list), but by measuring a school's contributions to students and society at large.

The good news for California is that five of the top 10 schools in the nation are within the Golden State's boundaries.

  1. UC San Diego, score: 100
  2. Stanford University (the only private university in the top 10)
  3. UC Berkeley, score: 90
  4. UC Los Angeles, score: 87
  5. UC Riverside, score: 85

Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation guest edited this year's list. He says the rankings are based on three factors:

Social Mobility: Recruiting and graduating low-income students

Research: Producing cutting-edge scholarship and PhDs


Many UC, CSU students aren't ready for college-level writing; USC tries to help

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez

USC instructor Brandon Martinez reveals the simple mysteries of good writing to a dozen students in need of remedial writing help before they begin college.

As California’s universities welcome freshmen for the fall term, administrators and students must deal with a problem that won’t go away: significant portions of these young people aren’t writing at the college level.

For 10 years, the SummerTIME program at USC has tried to make a dent in the problem. The 94 students in this year’s program competed to get in from Los Angeles urban high schools with low college attendance rates. For half of their six-hour days, they concentrate on intensive writing courses that offer what few of them have experienced before: one-on-one instruction, peer assistance and revision, revision, revision.

On one day during the program’s last week in July, students are critiquing the title and the arguments of Jazmine Kenny’s essay-in-progress about childhood obesity, her subject for the required 10-to-15-page essay in the course.


LA Unified plans to ban Styrofoam food trays

bookgrl/Flickr Creative Commons

Los Angeles Unified School District has opted to look for alternatives to plastic foam lunch trays.

For decades, schools across the country have served sloppy Joes, gooey lasagna blocks and all other manner of school lunches on disposable Styrofoam trays. If you can’t picture them, close your eyes and think of a TV dinner tray only made of polystyrene — a material that takes hundreds of years to biodegrade.

But on Tuesday, Los Angeles Unified school board members voted to join a growing list of school districts to ban Styrofoam from all of its cafeterias.

Apparently, the board voted in response to the urging of students and parents who pushed for their removal. It follows similar moves in San Diego, Oakland, Berkeley and Portland.

Superintendent John Deasy will announce the district’s ban at a press conference at Thomas Starr King Middle School in Silver Lake.

There is still no word on what exactly will replace the un-green trays, but opponents of the ban argue any alternative will be more expensive for an already cash-poor school system. And, they contend, there is no guarantee a substitute will be better for the environment.