LOCAL Education

Welcome to Essential Education, our daily look at education in California and beyond. Here's the latest:

  • Cal State leaders will vote today on whether to end a six-year freeze and increase tuition.
  • Celerity Educational Group, in a newsletter to parents, defends its founder's 2013 income of $471,842.
HS Insider

Hard work pays off: The Spencer Freedman story

 (Blake Atwell / HS Insider)
(Blake Atwell / HS Insider)

Nationally acclaimed high school point guard, Santa Monica native and Mater Dei star Spencer Freedman aims to be great in everything he does.

Freedman attended Santa Monica High School his freshman year, before transferring to national powerhouse Mater Dei. Last year, during his sophomore season, he won Trinity League MVP honors and was named to the Open Division's All CIF 1st team.

This year as a junior for Mater Dei, Freedman averaged 14.5 points and 5.5 assists per game, which was second in the Trinity League. Spencer also shot 47 percent from the field, good for third best in the Trinity. He was named to the All CIF Southern Section 1st team for a second straight season.

While he doesn't participate in much social media, he loves movies such as "Space Jam" and "White Men Can’t Jump," and thinks, “some white men can actually jump wouldn't say I'm an example of this, but maybe one day I'll get there.”

He wants to major in Business, Political Science, or Law, and said he aims to be president of the United States.

He has official offers from USC, UCSB, Harvard, Princeton, Cal State Northridge, and Rice. Freedman also recently received an offer from the University of Washington, whose new head coach, Mike Hopkins, played on Mater Dei’s 1987 state championship team.


This is why you should go to school

California State UniversityHigher Education

Cal State trustees approve controversial tuition hike

 (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

After a heated morning of debate and impassioned statements from students, professors and lawmakers, California State University’s Board of Trustees voted 11 to 8 on Wednesday to increase tuition as a way to fill a looming gap in state funding.

“I don’t bring this forward with an ounce of joy,” said Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White, addressing the packed meeting chamber. “I bring it with necessity.”

Students stood up and shouted "Shameful!" and "Shame! Shame! Shame!"

California State UniversityHigher Education

Many want to speak out on proposed Cal State tuition hike

In rebuff to high court nominee Neil Gorsuch, Supreme Court rules for children with autism

 (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

A unanimous Supreme Court strengthened the rights of nearly 7 million schoolchildren with disabilities Wednesday and did so by rejecting a lower standard set by Judge Neil M. Gorsuch.

The ruling, one of the most important of this term, came as President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee is wrapping up his third day of testimony before a Senate committee.

First step in passage of Cal State tuition hike: committee approval

California State UniversityHigher Education

Heated debate happening now on proposed Cal State tuition hike

Cal State students protest tuition 'debt sentence'

Cal State protesters show up at dawn

California State UniversityHigher EducationUniversity of California

After six years of freeze, will Cal State approve a tuition hike?

Students protest outside meeting. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)
Students protest outside meeting. (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

California State University’s Board of Trustees is expected to vote Wednesday on whether to increase tuition after a six-year freeze — a proposal that has sparked protests, lengthy debates and legislative calls to action.

The vote will come at the end of a two-day meeting in downtown Long Beach. Protesters gathered outside the meeting Wednesday morning. 

University leaders had hoped Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget proposal would provide what was necessary to preserve the quality of the nation’s largest public university system. Instead, the amount he allocated in additional state funding is less than half what Cal State had requested.

Cal State's vote follows the University of California Regents’ 16-4 vote earlier this year to end their tuition freeze and approve a 2.5%, or $282, increase next school year.

At Cal State, the increase would amount to about 5%, or about $270 for in-state students. Tuition for out-of-state students as well as graduate and teacher credential programs also would go up.

These increases would generate $77.5 million in crucial net revenue, officials said. The more than 60% of Cal State students whose tuition is fully covered by grants and waivers would not be affected.

As a caveat, the trustees were expected to build into their proposal the right to reconsider their decision, if necessary, after the governor’s budget is set in June. For months, administrators, faculty and student leaders have been lobbying state lawmakers and are still hopeful for more funding.

But if history is any indicator, the university system still will be grappling come June with escalating pressures to enroll more students, graduate them faster and hire more faculty — all with a smaller share of state dollars than in years past.

State funding covers about half of Cal State’s operating costs, compared with 80% in the 1990s, according to administrators. The system relies on tuition and fees from its 475,000 students to cover the rest.

During the recession, the state slashed nearly one-third of its support to Cal State. From 2006 to 2011, tuition more than doubled, to $5,472.

Charter SchoolsK-12

L.A. charter school network defends its founder's 2013 income of $471,842

Celerity Educational Group founder Vielka McFarlane (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Celerity Educational Group founder Vielka McFarlane (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles-based charter school network on Monday defended its spending practices — speaking out for the first time since The Times published a story documenting a history of potential conflicts of interest and questionable use of public money.

Leading up to the publication of the story, Celerity Educational Group’s founder and former CEO Vielka McFarlane declined to speak to reporters. When The Times sent Celerity and its lawyer a list of questions about its finances, the network said it was having difficulty providing answers because many of its computers and records had been seized when federal agents raided its offices in late January.

California State UniversityHigher Education

To help students graduate sooner, Cal State is changing its remedial requirements

A Chicano history class at Cal State Northridge. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
A Chicano history class at Cal State Northridge. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

More than one-third of students admitted to California State University are not considered ready for college-level work, and the system is revamping its methods of helping them, university leaders told the Board of Trustees during a meeting Tuesday in Long Beach.

Currently, students who enter Cal State without demonstrating college readiness in math and/or English are required to take up to three traditional remedial classes before they are allowed to enroll in courses that count toward their degrees. (If students do not pass these courses during the first year, they are disenrolled from the university.)

The problem is that these non-credit remedial courses cost the students more money and time, and are not the most effective way to support students who come to college less prepared than their peers, said Loren Blanchard, executive vice chancellor of academic and student affairs.

In a recent study of similar college-prep work at community colleges, the Public Policy Institute of California found that remedial programs — also called developmental education — largely fail to help most students complete their academic or vocational programs. In fact, they often frustrate students and may even drive some to drop out.

At Cal State, administrators have decided to drop the non-credit remedial course requirement.

Instead, starting in fall 2018, students who need additional support in math or English will be placed in “stretch” courses that simultaneously provide remedial help and allow them to complete the general math and English credits required for graduation.  A few other states have experimented with this approach, and the results so far are encouraging, administrators said.

Having so many students start their freshman year being told that they are already behind and have only one year to dig themselves out doesn't help to foster a social or academic sense of belonging, officials said.

“We must fundamentally restructure developmental education,” Blanchard said.

The extra “stretch” support could include tutoring, small group study sessions and more frequent class meetings. Most of Cal State’s 23 schools already offer some form of this additional support for general credit English courses, and a few campuses, including Cal State Dominguez Hills, are beginning to do so for general credit math classes.

In addition to redesigning its remedial requirements,  Cal State will strengthen summer Early Start programs and work with K-12 systems across the state to better prepare students heading to college, Blanchard said. Trying to get  high schools to start requiring four years of math instead of three could help, he said.

The hope is that these efforts will help students obtain their degrees sooner —  which is one of the public university system's priorities. Cal State has committed to doubling its four-year graduation rate, from 19% to 40%, by 2025.

Betsy DeVosCalifornia State UniversityCharter SchoolsHigher EducationK-12LAUSD

Cal State votes, Celerity speaks, persistent suspension gaps: What's new in education today

Celerity Educational Group founder Vielka McFarlane (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Celerity Educational Group founder Vielka McFarlane (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

In and around Los Angeles:

  • Surveillance cameras caught a teen fighting off a kidnapper on her way to school in North Hollywood.
  • Charter school network Celerity Educational Group, which is under federal investigation, defended itself and its founder's compensation in a newsletter to parents.

In California:

  • State legislators are reviving a bid to raise the bar on how long it takes for teachers to earn tenure.
  • Cal State trustees are expected to vote on a tuition hike today.
  • California schools suspended far fewer students in 2015 than they did in 2012, but black students still face far higher suspension rates than their peers.


  • Trump could learn a lot from Iowa's fight over school choice.
  • The Trump administration rolled back protections for those defaulting on student loans. But a major student loan collector has promised not to charge high fees if debtors make good.

California's schools suspensions are down, but black students still face higher suspension rates

Los Angeles School police Officer Henry Anderson on his beat at Robert E. Peary Middle School in Gardena. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles School police Officer Henry Anderson on his beat at Robert E. Peary Middle School in Gardena. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The California School Dashboard shines a new light on suspension rates, using them as an indicator of how well a school is doing.

The focus on suspensions comes after years of activism and research that show that suspensions are costly, can lead to students dropping out, and can be unfair, because teachers often treat different groups of students differently. 

As a result of such concerns, California passed a 2014 law that banned suspensions for "willful defiance," an ill-defined violation that gave teachers wide discretion. Some districts, including L.A. Unified, have encouraged schools to use "restorative justice" programs instead of pulling students out of the classroom, with mixed reviews from teachers.

These policies have dramatically reduced suspensions. But while fewer students are being suspended, the state has yet to resolve the fairness question, a new report finds. 

Tom Loveless, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, found that California public schools logged 539,134 out-of-school suspensions in 2012. By 2015, that number had plummeted, to 334,649. Suspension rates decreased for all ethnic groups over that period: for black students, they fell by 24.3%.

Latino White Black Asian 249,318 93,576 92,688 9,486 2013 173,897 66,891 66,277 6,654 2015 Latino White Black Asian 173,897 66,891 66,277 6,654 249,318 93,576 92,688 9,486 Suspensions in California, 2013-2015 Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 Joy Resmovits / @latimesgraphics Source: Tom Loveless

But that same year, even though black students made up only 6% of the state's public school enrollment, they faced 19.8% of suspensions.*

They had a suspension rate of 17.8%, compared with 5.2% for Hispanic students, 4.4% for white students and 1.2% for Asian students.

Hispanic White Black Asian 5% 4 18 1 Hispanic White Black Asian 5% 4 18 1 Suspension rates for California students in 2015 Data: abcdefg hijkl mnop qrstu vwxyz 1234 56789 Joy Resmovits / @latimesgraphics Source: Tom Loveless

Loveless dug deeper, and found that the problem was concentrated in just under one-third of schools. Schools that had a high suspension rate for black students — which he defined as 5% or above — were predominantly bigger schools and middle schools. They were also more likely to be schools with higher concentrations of black students.


"Perhaps these schools are in racially concentrated and very poor neighborhoods, where security might be a concern," Loveless said. "We don't exactly know."

Russ Skiba, a school psychology professor at the University of Indiana's education school, says that finding is consistent with previous studies, and reflects a theory known as "racial threat."

The idea, Skiba said, is that because of the perceived threat posed by higher concentrations of black students, such a school is more likely to have more security officers and higher rates of punishment.

Loveless noted that while much of discipline reform has focused on the offending students, their disruptions affect their peers. So he proposes addressing disparities in suspension rates by reorganizing schools. Smaller schools and integration, he said, will reduce suspension gaps.

The Loveless report comes just weeks after researchers Russell Rumberger and Daniel Losen of the University of California, who followed a group of California students, released a report that found that suspensions caused a 6.5 percentage point drop in graduation rates. They also found that a single grade of students that face high suspension rates could cost the state $2.7 billion in criminal justice and social costs over their lifetimes. 

"The effect of suspensions falls more harshly on African American students," Skiba said. "If we are looking to have economic equality in our society, then reducing suspensions and the hidden costs associated with them will help in the long term."

*Because of some schools' small size or alternative characteristics, Loveless's analysis included 7,180 schools, or 87% of the 6.2 million K-12 students served statewide.

Charter SchoolsK-12LAUSD

New effort to extend the time needed for teachers to earn tenure

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

'Tis the season for introducing new bills in the California Legislature, and restaging some familiar legislative fights over education, including teacher tenure.

Assemblywoman Shirley N. Weber (D-San Diego) has introduced Assembly Bill 1220 to extend the time period for teachers to earn the strong job protections of tenure from two to three years.

A previous effort to extend the probationary period, led by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, failed at the ballot box. A lawsuit, Vergara vs. California, to do away with current tenure rules and some other teacher job protections prevailed at the trial court level in Los Angeles, then was overturned on appeal. 

Weber's proposed extension would bring California more in line with many other states, and some union leaders could accept the change with minimal protest. But they are not likely to give ground without a corresponding gain on another front. 

One such possibility emerged last week, when the local teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, highlighted bills intended to clip the wings of charter schools — targeting their growth and public accountability.

But charter schools — which are taxpayer-funded, privately operated public schools — would have something to say about that. Like the teachers unions, the state charter association is a powerful special interest group. Its legislative agenda includes supporting or opposing bills that run directly counter to what the unions want.

One bill on its wish list is being assembled in final form by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). It would put charters first in line to acquire surplus property being sold or given away by a local school district, according to the California Charter Schools Assn. Finding adequate, affordable locations for charter schools has been a persistent problem.


Higher Education

Op-Ed: The California bar exam flunks too many law school graduates

 (Sam Deaner / Associated Press)
(Sam Deaner / Associated Press)

Most of those who fail the California bar in their first attempt eventually pass the bar on the second or third try. After each attempt, however, these graduates do not learn to be better lawyers, they simply learn how to beat the test.

And the damage done from the initial failure can be great. In addition to the financial costs, they may find themselves timed out of promising professional opportunities that never reappear. Finally, there are the emotional and psychological costs that are possibly the most overwhelming consequence of even one failed attempt.

Betsy DeVosHigher EducationK-12LAUSD

A Santa Monica High School death, social workers on trial, school funding questions: What's new in education today

Santa Monica High School (Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times)
Santa Monica High School (Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times)

In and around Los Angeles:

  • Four social workers will stand trial for the death of an 8-year-old boy, a Los Angeles County judge ruled.
  • There's a dispute over how L.A. Unified spends money meant for its neediest students.
  • A Santa Monica High School student died after trying LSD.

In California:


  • Students in New York are learning how to distinguish fake news from the real deal.
  • A former for-profit college lobbyist left the U.S. Department of Education after his hiring raised questions.

Is money for L.A.'s neediest students spent as intended?

 (Howard Blume / Los Angeles Times)
(Howard Blume / Los Angeles Times)

No one questions that students at La Salle Avenue Elementary, with their low academic achievement, could use a hand up.

A civic coalition spearheaded by United Way of Greater Los Angeles puts the South L.A. campus at the very top of schools needing more services and attention; the L.A. Unified School District, however, puts the school at 293rd on its need index out of some 1,000 campuses, according to advocates.

That dichotomy is at the heart of two just-released reports, an ongoing lawsuit and a now yearly push to change the way the nation’s second-largest school district does business.

This dispute is over extra money the state provides to get extra help to the students it deems need it most: foster children, those from low-income backgrounds and those learning English. It adds up to about $1.1 billion per year for L.A. Unified.

“If you have students who are are generating those dollars, they should be the ones receiving services from those dollars,” said Sara Mooney, education program officer for the local United Way.

District officials said they still were reviewing the new research on Monday and the input from outside groups.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times