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

County education officials question LA schools' financial plans

Project 365 #147: 270509 Testing Times Ahead

Pete/ Flickr Creative Commons

The Los Angeles County Office of Education is questioning the L.A. Unified school district's report on how it plans to spend new state funds targeted at disadvantaged youth - asking whether administrators are accurately accounting for past expenses.

"The district asserts $700 million dollars in 2013-2014 expenditures spent to serve and support low-income, foster youth and English learner (unduplicated count) pupils," wrote Marlene Dunn, Interim Chief Financial Officer for the county office, in an Aug. 13 letter to school board president Richard Vladovic. "We request the district provide rationale that supports the identification of these expenditures."

The district has until the end of the month to respond, and the county's concerns could result in budget revisions for the current school year. 

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Study bolsters use of arts integration — mainstay of LA schools' expansion plan

Math Arts

Mary Plummer/KPCC

Students at Jefferson Elementary School in Pasadena work on an arts integration project that merges math and budgeting with art skills.

A new study from The Kennedy Center found increased creativity and engagement among students who had the arts mixed into other subjects throughout the school day — the same method that makes up a large part of Los Angeles Unified's arts expansion plan.

Published this week, the study surveyed 4th and 5th graders from 32 schools across five school districts in the Washington, D.C. area. 

"This study adds to the growing body of knowledge about the impact integrating the arts with other subject areas has on students," said Darrell Ayers, the Kennedy Center's Vice President of Education, in a written statement. 

RELATED: Can art help students learn science and other subjects?

The study used a control group to track student results, and the authors suggest the findings "can be generalized to the larger population of 4th and 5th graders across the United States."

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Invisible dropouts: Thousands of California kids don’t get past middle school

Middle School dropouts

Sarah Butrymowicz / Hechinger Report

Devon Sanford dropped out of school the summer before ninth grade to take care of his sick mother, making him one of the thousands of California middle school dropouts who go largely unnoticed.

Devon Sanford’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was in the eighth grade. After barely finishing at Henry Clay Middle School in South Los Angeles, he never enrolled in high school. He spent what should have been his freshman year caring for his mother and waiting for police to show up asking why he wasn’t in school.

No one ever came.

“That was the crazy part,” he said. “Nobody called or nothing.”

Thousands of students in California public schools never make it to the ninth grade. According to state officials, 7th and 8th grade dropouts added up to more than 6,400 in the 2012-13 school year – more than 1,000 in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone.

Like Sanford, many of them just disappeared after middle school and never signed up for high school.

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Troubled Inglewood Unified gets warning about deficit, enrollment drop

An empty classroom

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

Two years after it was taken over by the state because it was on the brink of bankruptcy, Inglewood Unified is still struggling with its finances.

In documents filed with the Los Angeles County Office of Education, the district predicts it will spend 3.7 percent more money in the coming school year than it’s taking in, despite increases in state funding.

County education officials approved the district's budget, but sounded a warning.

“We request that the District monitor the projected deficit to ensure that it remains manageable,” Christopher Bundy, a county education official, wrote in a four-page letter to Inglewood Unified last week.

He was also concerned by Inglewood's projection that it'll lose 11 percent of its students in the next two years.

"The District will lose state funding over time if the decline in enrollment continues," he wrote, "and it must carefully monitor its enrollment trends and adjust its financial projections accordingly."

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Common Core: California public schools shift science teaching away from memorization

School Bonds - 9

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

California is at a critical stage in carrying out a wholesale change of how it teaches science and other core topics. It's a process that takes time when you're working with nearly six million students.

“You can’t just jump from something that you know and have been doing since 1998 into something you know nothing about,” said Karen Shores, manager of the STEM office of the California Department of Education. “If you want to serve the students in California well, it has to be planned, there has to be information provided to teachers.”

For teaching science, the shift toward the Common Core learning standards, scheduled to be in place in the 2015 – 2016 academic year,  involves relying less on students’ ability to memorize lessons and more on rewiring their brains to think like engineers.

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