Weekend News Chum to Fill your Loving Cup

Observation Stew’tis the weekend, and that means it is time to clear out the accumulated links that didn’t them… well, at least those I remembered to send back home from work. In the spirit of the day, feel free to share these stories with your sweetie.



Musings on ⇒ Recent LA News of 🏫 Kings and 🏈 Rams

userpic=los-angelesOver lunch, I’d like to share with you some thoughts on some recent LA-centric items in the news:

Former Teacher Michelle King Named First Black Woman to Head LAUSD

Before I explain why I’m so pleased with this selection, a bit of bio from the article:

According to the district, King attended Century Park and Windsor Hills elementary schools and Palms Junior High School. She graduated from Palisades High School and attended UCLA.

She began her teaching career at Porter Middle School in Granada Hills, teaching math and science, before becoming the math, science and aerospace coordinator at Wright Middle School in Westchester. She later served as assistant principal and principal at Hamilton High School in Cheviot Hills.

She served as Cortines’ chief of staff during his previous administration, then as a deputy under Superintendent John Deasy and again under Cortines following Deasy’s departure.

First, I’ll note that King and I went to the same high school, and we even went at the same time (I was class of ’77; she was Michelle Brewster in the class of ’79). I don’t believe I knew her, alas, but I’ve got the feeling that a number of my friends did (including the sister of one of my best friends). She also taught at the Junior High I attended (for 7th grade): Wright in Westchester. She’s also a UCLA grad!

Further, note what she taught: math and science, and then coordinated math, science, and aerospace. This means she is a technical woman, and knows the value of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). She also taught at Hamilton High, which has a performing arts magnet — meaning she likely understands the value of the arts as well. STEAM, in one package.

Next, note that she taught in both the valley and in the city, meaning the needs of the valley will be understood. She doesn’t appear to have experience in the inner city (the set of schools at which she attended or taught are mostly middle-class), but you can’t have it all.

She’s a product of the glory days of LAUSD (at least defined by when I went there), and knows what LAUSD is capable of.

Most importantly, she’s a great face for diversity and success. She’s a black woman leader, and I know from working at a company with a similar leader the value that such leadership can have in inspiring young woman today, and making the statement that with hard work, anything is possible.

Ms. King — best of luck in making LAUSD the best district in the nation.

NFL will return to Los Angeles for 2016 season

Now, I’m not a person who follows professional sports, or who even watches football, baseball, basketball, or hockey games with any frequency, or even at all. But the return of the Rams to Los Angeles just feels right. After starting in Cleveland in 1936, the Rams moved to Los Angeles in 1946, becoming the first NFL team to play in Los Angeles. They also became the first integrated professional football team during their first year in Los Angeles, when they signed Kenny Washington on March 21, 1946. (As a side note: Kenny Washington was one of four black players on the 1939 UCLA Football Team … another being Jackie Robinson, the man responsible for integrating professional baseball with a team that would later move to Los Angeles).

The Rams played in Los Angeles until 1980 (34 years), and I remember well driving past their headquarters on Pico Blvd in West LA. They then moved to Anaheim in 1980, and then departed for St. Louis in 1994. That’s a total of 48 years in Southern California. They were in St. Louis for only 20 years. Much as I love St. Louis, the Rams are really LA’s team.

Further, they are getting a new stadium without any public financing, and a stadium that will also be able to house NFL West Coast operations. I may not care about football, but I do care about Southern California — and that will be a significant economic driver for Inglewood and the surrounding communities both in year-round employment, support operations, and tourist dollars.

As for the other teams in the deal: I’m glad the Raiders are on the bottom. I remember them during their years here. They really didn’t have civic loyalty, and they projected an image that I wasn’t crazy about. More importantly, just like the Rams were never really STL, the Raiders were never really LA. The Raiders were born in Oakland (1960), came to LA in 1982 and left back for Oakland in 1996. That’s 14 years in LA, vs. almost 42 years in Oakland. They are an Oakland team, and their home should be Oakland.  Hopefully, their owner can figure out a way to reconcile with the city and get a new stadium there; if not, I hear St. Louis wants to build a stadium. Musical teams, anyone?

With respect to the Chargers: although they started in LA in 1960, they’ve been in San Diego since 1961. Ideally, the approval to be the second team plus the 100 million from the NFL might help San Diego get off its collective tush and build them a suitable stadium. They are a great draw for Orange County and San Diego. If not, well the new Inglewood stadium has room for two.


Sunday Stew: A Day Late, and Appropriately Short

Observation StewIt’s Sunday again, and … what’s this? No stew on Saturday? We must remedy this, with this hastily thrown together pot of material collected during what was, again, a very busy week and an even busier weekend:

  • It’s Too Big. Here’s a call from a congressional candidate in Los Angeles to break up LA Unified. What’s interesting here is how he wants to do it: His bill would make school districts with more than 100,000 students ineligible for federal aid.  This would affect almost every major city school district, and result in lots of wasted money as many of the supporting school services — payroll, human resources, legal, and such… as well as school boards — get duplicated. The larger question, perhaps, is how much of LA Unified’s problem is LA Unified. After all, there are schools within the district that are excellent (many of them charters, such as Granada Hills or Pacific Palisades). There are lower performing schools, but these tend to be in lower performing neighborhoods. Often, the district’s hands are tied by state and federal requirements, as well as their own procedures. Breaking up the district doesn’t solve those problems. Decentralization (where appropriate) and local empowerment (when appropriate) does.
  • It’s Everywhere. One little snippet in the latest from Donald Sterling was not emphasized in the news — where he repeated Jewish stereotypes. You might have thought or hoped antisemitism would be dead … but you would be wrong. A new ADL survey shows that pnly 54 percent of people polled globally are aware of the Holocaust — and an alarming 32 percent of them believe the mass genocide of Jews was a myth or has been greatly exaggerated.  The survey found that 26 percent — more than one in four — of the 53,100 adults surveyed are “deeply infected” with anti-Semitic attitudes. Nine percent of Americans surveyed harbor at least six of the 11 anti-Semitic views. About 31 percent of respondents believe Jews “are more loyal to Israel” than the U.S.
  • It’s Scary. Antisemitism is really scary. The Disney comedy Frozen, edited into a horror movie trailer, is less so. Still, it is a great example of how the Frozen mania is continuing unabated. I think the last Disney film that got this deep into the social context was The Lion King.
  • It’s Dying. When they came out, CDs were touted as the perfect music medium. Crystal clear digital reproduction (as opposed to those scratchy vinyl records or tapes that wore out and broke), and they would last forever. Guess what? That was all a lie — CDs are degrading at an alarming rate. I have a large CD collection (and a large LP collection, and a large digital only collection … my iPod just crossed the 34,000 song mark). Of these, only the LPs have a long life — they degrade by scratches and stuff. All the tapes I made of records are long gone, and I rarely pull out the physical CDs anymore. Will they be there as backups, or will only the professionally made ones be readable. This, friends, is why people stick with analog data in the form of vinyl and paper.
  • It’s Dead. The death of the Fountainbleu in Las Vegas is closer: the construction crane has been removed. It is now less likely that this 80% finished mega-hotel will ever be completed. More than likely, it will be an expensive scrap recovery project, with loads of material destined for landfills. What a waste. How much dead landfill space in Las Vegas is taken up by the remains of hotels?
  • It’s, uhh, I forget. There might be some good news for those of you taking antidepressants. It turns out that certain antidepressants — particularly Celexa — is good a combatting memory loss. This may help combat Altzheimers Disease.
  • It’s Back. Lastly, those in the Bay Area can rest assured in the safety of the Bay Bridge. Sure, the bridge might fall down in an earthquake due to newly discovered flaws. But the protective troll is back, protecting drivers from his barely visible perch.



Remarkable Teachers

userpic=young-meAs I left for work this morning, I saw posts on the Pacific Palisades Facebook Community about the death of Rose Gilbert at age 95. I’ve been thinking about this as I eat lunch, for Rose was one of those remarkable teachers who taught for the love of it, to inspire her students to be better people — it wasn’t just a job eeking out the years.  When Rose retired in March 2013 at the age of 94, she was the oldest full-time teacher in LAUSD, and had been teaching for 63 years. The first few years of that teaching career was at University HS; the remainder — since the school opened — was at Palisades HS. Further, she didn’t have to teach — she married into money and was essentially (and in reality, after his death) a millionaire. She donated largely to the school, including funds to build an on-site aquatic center.

Now, I never had a class from Mrs. Gilbert. She had the AP English and AcaDec students, not folks like me. But she is a shining examples of those public school teachers who change lives. This little woman — who everyone called “Mama G” — made the difference to untold numbers of students. I can think of numerous other examples at Pali — Bill Layton comes to mind — as well as the teachers who influenced the direction of my life. In particular, I think of George Wendt and Larry Schoenberg (son of the composer, Arnold Schoenberg), who influenced me to go into the computer world. I see similar teachers going above and beyond regularly — such as Fanny Araña and Jean Martellaro at Nobel MS, who run the drama program. These are teachers that change lives for the better. These are also the teachers that one never encounters if one depends only on home schooling.

So, on this day of Mama G’s death, let’s pause for a moment to reflect upon and thank the teachers that make a difference in the lives of their students. I’d love for you to share a story of a teacher that changed your life for the better.


Teach Your Children Well

userpic=ucla-csunToday’s lunchtime news chum brings together a collection of articles related to education:

  • The Middle “R”: The Ventura County Star has an interesting article on California’s writing standards: particularly, the standard that requires cursive to be taught. It’s an interesting debate: in this era where “typing”  (or is that “keyboarding”) is a required skill (when I grew up, it was optional), is there a need for two styles of writing: block and cursive? Is block sufficient? In particular, is block sufficient to provide a unique written signature upon which we still depend? As for me, I know my normal writing style is a mix of block and cursive, with a signature that doesn’t match either. But what about you? Do you still use cursive?
  • GPAs above 4.0. When I went to school, back in the dark ages, the best grade you could get was a 4.0; perhaps a 4.2 if you got an A+. Nowadays, AP classes permit even higher grades, and students are going to college with a whole portfolio of AP classes. Universities are fighting back. Here’s an example: Darthmouth has announced they will no longer accept AP credit. The concern is that AP courses do not resemble actual college courses in any way–for one thing, they are “teach to the standard test”.
  • Community Colleges. Community colleges are in trouble; in fact, the community college in San Francisco is on accreditation-watch and may close. So Gov. Brown is trying to rescue the institution (which is vitally important to the middle-and-lower tier HS students — it is a way to get the education HS didn’t provide and get the associates degree — a vital stepping stone to CSU or UC). Brown’s goal is to keep community colleges affordable, keep classes accessible and move students faster through the system to allow them to graduate or transfer to a four-year university at higher rates. His plan is to limit the number of credits students can accumulate, with a cap on state-subsidized classes at 90 units. Students who exceed that to pay the full cost of instruction, about $190 per semester unit versus $46 per unit. He would also change the funding formula to reflect students who complete the class, not students enrolled at the 3rd-week.
  • Online Courses. The Internet (founded, I should note, at my alma-mater UCLA) has revolutionized education. Earlier this week my daughter posted about the distance between two courses, noting that the second course (which was a 700 person Astronomy lecture) had a webcast that the professor was encouraging students to watch instead of attending†. The impact of the Internet is also seen in funding — based on direction from Gov. Brown, the UC Regents are exploring expanding online courses, although they are not sure whether they will make or save any money.  I think online courses can work if done right — in particular, they need the equivalent of face-to-face small sections to encourage student discussion and critical thinking on the topic. These sections could also be online, but if the online course is lecture only, it won’t be successful.
    [†: PS to my daughter if you are reading this: I encourage you to go the lectures anyway. Not only are you likely to meet interesting people outside of your discipline (History ≠ Astronomy), but you are likely to be able to see the board better, and being at the lecture will eliminate distractions.]
  • Paying for College. There were all sorts of things hidden in the fiscal cliff legislation — that probably doesn’t surprise you. Providing goodies to congresscritters (or there constituencies) is a way to get a bill through. I’ve previously mentioned the commuter benefit. Here’s another. The bill extended the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This credit “allows students and their parents to claim up to $2,500 a year for college expenses, (which) benefits 9 million families a year.” It also extended a few more tax deductions and credits until the end of 2013 and gave permanent status for employer-provided education expenses, the Student Loan Interest Deduction and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. I know that these will affect us — both the credit and the interest deduction (we are paying the interest on our daughter’s loans until she graduates). Alas, there may be some cuts to Federal Work Study programs.

Music: I Can Get It For You Wholesale (Original Broadway Cast): “The Sound of Money”


Mandating College Standards

One of the big news stories today (and hence, seen in my lunchtime reading) relates to LA Unified mandating the UC/CSU A-G standards for graduating seniors. For those not familiar with these standards, they require a particular number of math, english, science, foreign language, visual/performing arts, and history classes. To be precise, what LA Unified mandated is that students must pass these courses with at least a “D” or better starting this fall, rising to a “C” by 2017. The board also reduced the number of required credits to 210 to graduate, allowing students to use extra periods to get tutoring or do remedial courses.

Lots of people are up in arms about this, believing it is mandating that all students must go to college. Lots of those complaining about this state that going to college is no guarantee of a good job, and that for many students, vocational education is sufficient.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Mandating the A-G standards does not mandate that the student go to college. All it mandates is that they have a minimum level of education that includes a reasonable level of math (enough to understand loans and problem solving), a reasonable level of history (so they know what has failed in the past), a foreign language (so they they can deal with people from other cultures), a reasonable knowledge of literature, and a basic understanding of science. It requires they be exposed to the performing arts. I’m sorry, but if we want people who can operate in society, and make intelligent choices during elections, we need this level. I’ll argue that many folks who “poo poo” science and believe much of the junk circulating on the internet are precisely those who have not learned critical thinking.
  • For those that are thinking this is something new — it isn’t. LAUSD has supposedly mandated these standards since 2005, although I remember LAUSD pushing the A-G standards when I when to high school, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth, LAUSD had lettered districts, and we were still using mark-sense cards and FORTRAN.
  • Jobs are increasingly technical — even if they are vocational education level jobs. Mandating the A-G standards helps to ensure that even those going into vocational jobs will be able to work with the increasingly sophisticated devices and procedures found on those jobs, ensuring them greater success in that environment.
  • Critics are correct: college does not guarantee a job. However, those with a college education are statistically more likely to find employment quicker than those with only a high school education. Note that I said “only”. Vocational trade schools provide specialized skills that modify the equation. Further, those with a college degree, if they find a job, will find a better paying job than those with only high school degrees. No guarantees here, but if you go to college, you are more likely to find a better paying job.
  • Success of A-G requires good and effective teachers who can excite students. This means focusing on what must be learned, and not the specific path to how it is taught. It means de-emphasizing all the standardized testing that leads to “teach to the test”. It also means making the commitment to pay good and effective teachers what they are worth (and to weed out the poor teachers… and to do both of these based on performance, not seniority), and to have a commitment to have excellent and affordable state universities (UC, CSU) available to these students when they graduate. Alas, I’m not sure we’re going to have this with the way the budgets are going.
  • Edited to Add 5/10: Note: I do believe there should be exceptions to this policy for those kids who are incapable of meeting A-G (e.g., special education, developmentally disabled). I also think the point about good and effective teachers must go hand-in-hand with this. If teachers do not have the freedom to adapt the method of teaching these subjects to the particular students, then the goal of A-G will fail. We do need to recognize that every student learns differently–or to put it another way, there must be both “Physics for Blondes” (as we called Physics 6 at UCLA) as well as “Physics for Engineers”, and the equivalent in the humanities.

That said, high schools are failing in teaching student life skills. I believe there must be a mandatory course that teaches basic life skills. These skills would include: (a) basic cooking skills; (b) basic financial skills — balancing a checkbook, understanding common loans, understanding credit; (c) basic electrical — how to replace  a light switch; (d) basic plumbing — how to repair a sink or fix a toilet; and (e) basic technology — how to do backup, how to pick a good password, how to secure data, and understanding privacy.

P. S.: I’m also curious what people think about this quote from Supt. Deasy about whether this new policy will result in more dropouts:

“They will rise to the challenge, as they always do,” Deasy said. He stated that students do not drop out because they are held to higher standards. “Students drop out because they’re bored out of their minds.”

I’d agree. Schools need to challenge. Classes that are too easy or boring are what lead to students skipping the course. If the class is hard, most students want to attend. Those that skip hard classes would be skipping them even without these requirements.


Deaths of Interest: Actual, Imagined, or Anticipated

A number of deaths have come across my desk in the last few days:

  • Gene Spafford. Gene Spafford has died. Well, actually, he hasn’t, but he has written his obituary in advance. You should read it–it’s a hoot! It truly reflects Gene’s unique sense of humor. We’ll miss him.
  • Hybrid Roses.  Earlier this year I got the urge to plant bare-root roses. I went over to Lowes… and there was nothing of interest. I remember the days when I’d visit Green Arrow Nurseries, and there would be loads and loads of varieties. Today,  it is harder and harder to find interesting hybrids and varieties, grandifloras and such. There’s a reason: Varietal roses have gone out of style: rose breeders have gone bankrupt, and in this economy, people are more interested in hardier landscape roses.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. The print edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica is dead. I remember growing up in a world of encyclopedias. We had the World Book at home, with yearbooks added regularly. We also had Funk & Wagnalls. Today, everyone believes that well-known bastion of knowledge: Wikipedia and Google. Yet another sign of the devaluation of learning in our society today (if you need another example of the devaluation of learning, just look at the Republican Presidential campaign).
  • Education in California. Steve Lopez has an excellent piece in the Los Angeles Times about how, at every level from public K-12 to universities, California has gone from an educational giant to a laughingstock. I touched upon this a few days ago. I, too, am a proud product of California education: Los Angeles Unified (Palisades HS) and the University of California (UCLA). My wife is also California-educated (Chatsworth HS and CSUN). Yet our daughter is escaping LAUSD just in time (she’s a senior), and hopefully she’ll be able to go to a good school out of state (because we’re not sure if we could afford state schools). It is just sad to see this.

Now, some of these deaths are inescapable: I don’t think there is any way to save Britannica. Some are imaginary: I hope Gene continues to be around and enlighten our industry for years to come (although I’m not sure his grad students feel the same way). But the rest we can do something about: We can demand good varietal roses. We can demand the California stop decimating education in favor of prisons. We can elect politicians who want to save education — at the state and the local level. It is up to us to prevent unavoidable deaths.

Music: Aspects of Love (1989 Original London Cast): ‘She’d be Far Better Off With You’


Hurting the Schools

Here in California our schools have been hit very hard by budget cuts. In many ways, I’m glad my daughter is out of LAUSD this year, but we still don’t know on where she’s been accepted yet — if UC, I’m still worried. I’ve written previously about how it is cheaper to go to Harvard or Yale than to go to Cal State. Today there were three more articles that focused more on how LAUSD and community colleges are dealing with the cuts:

  • LA Unified is talking about getting rid of adult school entirely. This will affect the people who need education the most, and need skills to get into the job market and get jobs.
  • LA Unified could axe the academic decathalon program. This is a program that brings good academic prestige to the city. We have schools that are in the top of the nation. So what do they want to do? Kill something that encourages academic prowess. We should campaign to cut high school football instead.
  • The college farm at Pierce Community College may be axed. Founded in 1947 when the campus opened as the Clarence W. Pierce School of Agriculture, the farm is the cornerstone of a rigorous program that prepares students for transfer directly to graduate veterinary schools, — one of the few such programs in the country. So what do we do? We cut it.

These cuts are having a disastrous effect on the future of our state. We need to figure out a way to fund education  that works.