Parental Engagement

By Carl J. Petersen

Education issues as seen from a father's eyes.

Obsessive Testing

My wife and I believe that too much influence has been given to high-stakes, corporate testing and this has resulted in the placement of undue pressure on students. Therefore, at the beginning of the school year we exercised our parental rights under California law and signed the opt-out forms so that our children would not have to take these tests. Apparently this was not enough, as we later learned that our daughter’s high school had shut down their academic program for over half of a day in order to administer the PSAT to all students in the ninth through eleventh grades.

I remember taking the PSAT when I was in school and expected my children would take it in the same way. The test was given when I was in the eleventh grade and was administered on a Saturday morning so that no instructional time was lost. Since the student was responsible for paying for the test, it was administered on an opt-in basis. The results were supposed to give you an idea of how you would perform on the SAT and were also used for various national and state scholarships. Performance must not have been emphasized too much because, unlike the SAT, I do not remember how I scored.

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The LAUSD Board Is Not Off Of The Hook

If the Board’s official announcement of John Deasy’s departure is any indication, then they have not learned much from his tenure. A resignation in disgrace was almost a foregone conclusion after Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. ruled that the students of LAUSD’s Jefferson High School “have suffered and continue to suffer severe and pervasive educational deprivations,” but the Board worded their release like they were handing Deasy a gold watch as he headed for retirement.

Mismanagement of the MiSiS implementation, resulting in the interruption of education of thousands of students, was ignored as they celebrated “all of the successes of our students that have occurred during Dr. Deasy’s tenure as Superintendent.” Even worse, they stated they did “not believe that the Superintendent engaged in any ethical violations or unlawful acts” in implementing the $1.3 billion iPad purchase. They did this while acknowledging that the Inspector General had not even concluded his investigation.

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"Severe and Pervasive Educational Deprivations"

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. ruled that the students of LAUSD’s Jefferson High School “have suffered and continue to suffer severe and pervasive educational deprivations” and ordered the state to step in to fix the problems. Hopefully, the state will be able to find an adequate solution for these students. In the meantime, as a father and taxpayer I have to question why there has been no “organized effort to help those students” from the district itself.

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Where Is The Oversight?

Despite the vigorous debate by the BOC, school board member Tamar Galatzan, in sentiments echoed by her colleague, Monica Garcia, said debate at the school board level was not necessary.”

- LA School Report

Bond funds are not picked from the free money tree. Every year the taxpayers of the district open their mail to see the various line items needed to pay off these bonds (plus interest) added to their property tax bills. Money received from investors today will become the responsibility of taxpayers who are yet to be born. They are owed the assurance that these funds were properly spent.

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Opting In

My neighborhood school holds a “Summer Transition Academy” for all incoming Freshmen to help them “understand the school’s expectations both academically and behaviorally.” This two week program is mandatory to the point where anyone who misses more than four hours “will earn a grade of FAIL and will have to repeat STA next year…[and] THERE ARE NO PERMISSIBLE/EXCUSED TARDIES OR ABSENCES.” Students who are late for school are punished with detention. It is a program that establishes itself on paper as very serious and important one for setting the proper tone for a successful high school education.

Imagine my surprise when AFTER the academy was completed I received an email informing me that all ninth grade students completed “a computer based, adaptive test that helps identify a student’s individual learning level” with questions that “are aligned to the Common Core State Standards.” Instead of receiving her first experience in front of a high school teacher, my daughter was being tested by a computer that was classifying her and providing research material for the Northwest Evaluation Association. Welcome to the new world of “reformed” education.

It has been my experience that my children are unduly stressed by the administration of high stakes tests and I, therefore, signed the appropriate “opt-out” forms last year. Had I known that testing would also be part of the summer program I would have sent my daughter with a new form. This exposes a flaw in the system. Instead of parents having to work to exempt their children from a battery of tests that they consider to be harmful, they should have to give their permission for the tests to be administered.

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Unlocking Potential

Adam WaldenToo many of us with children enrolled in LAUSD’s special education programs are familiar with Rosanne Walden’s experience. As a parent, she knows what services her son, Adam, needs in order to unlock his full potential. The experts at the school Adam attends agree with her assessment. Unfortunately, some faceless bureaucrat with an office in the Beaudry headquarters has formulated a policy that prevents Adam from getting these services. That person has never met Adam or witnessed the progress that he has made, but that has not prevented him from enforcing a policy that stands in the way of unlocking Adam’s full potential.

At the last LAUSD board meeting, Ms. Walden testified about her experiences with the district’s bureaucracy. She explained that Adam is on the moderate to severe range of the autism spectrum and has severe communication issues. Despite these challenges, he is on an academic track to receive a high school diploma. In fact, in middle school he was even included on the honor roll. Adam’s mother gives a lot of credit to his Inclusion Specialist, Adrienne Johnston, for helping him to achieve this success.

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Breakfast in the Cla$$room

BICWe are taught from the time we are young that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and this is backed up by science. For example one study found that “the impact of breakfast was evidenced by the increase in positive mood and alertness, and a decrease in negative feelings.” Certainly the goal of making sure that every student has a nutritious breakfast every morning so that they “start the school day ready to learn” is a good one.

Unfortunately far too many children are growing up in poverty and may not have access to the nutritious breakfast that they require. Even in families where money is not an issue, mounting responsibilities outside the home have created a scarcity of time to prepare a nutritious breakfast. To compensate for both deficits, subsidized breakfast programs have been created to make sure that students have a chance to eat before they go to class. The LAUSD has decided that this is not enough and is rolling out a program to force all schools to serve breakfast in the classrooms.

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Admission Day?

With a national push to increase the amount of time that children spend in the classroom, it would have been understandable if the LAUSD had pushed back the start of the school year into August so that they could extend the school calendar. Unfortunately, the school year now also ends earlier. All they did was shift students into the classroom at a time of the year when temperatures are soaring and increased the costs for air conditioning.

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Willful Defiance

Students returned to school on August 12, under the promise of a new year. While summer vacation always seemed like it was ending too soon, I do remember the excitement of a fresh start afforded by new school supplies, new teachers and new classes. Unfortunately, parents were confronted by the same old district policies and the LAUSD’s habit of ignoring laws that they find inconvenient.

In 2012, Governor Brown signed AB 1575 which reinforced “the Free School Guarantee which has been in our California constitution since 1879.” This law specifically prohibits schools from selling “gym clothing with school logo, if the specific uniform with logo is required in order to be considered properly dressed for class.” Despite the straightforward wording of this law, both of the district supervised schools that my children attend are still trying to sell gym uniforms and are taking advantage of parents who are not aware of the rules under this legislation.

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The Hidden Children

Nicole_and_the_Triplets.jpgNicole eased me into the challenges of her family during our first online conversation. First, she casually worked in the fact that she had triplets. When that did not chase me away she mentioned in passing that two of them were on the autism spectrum and waited to see if I would find a way to end the conversation. It did not end and six years ago I married the woman of my dreams. I was now a father of five.

Prior to meeting my daughters, only one child had been introduced to me as being on the autism spectrum. According to the Center for Disease Control autism now affects 1 in 68 children. With such a high rate of occurrence, how is it possible that I had only previously met one child with this disability? Part of the answer is ignorance; without knowledge of what autism is, I probably met a lot more people with this disability and did not realize it. Additional explanation is provided by the fact that included in the statistics are highly functioning individuals who do not present their symptoms in a casual encounter. Unfortunately, the final part of the answer is that many of these children are simply hidden from view.

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