Featured Shifting Paradigms Washington Post

Her fiance gave her heroin. She overdosed. Does that make him a murderer?

Her fiance gave her heroin. She overdosed. Does that make him a murderer?

May 8, 2016

When Jarret McCasland and his fiancee decided to celebrate her 19th birthday with heroin, it meant the end of her life and the end of his freedom.

Flavia Cardenas, who worked in a nightclub, died of an overdose the next morning in Baton Rouge. After a prosecutor convinced a jury that McCasland administered the fatal dose, the 27-year-old pipe fabrication shop worker was found guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison in February with no chance for parole.

With deaths from heroin and opioids at their highest level in U.S. history, prosecutors have begun charging those who supplied the final dose with murder, even when that person is the deceased’s friend, lover, sibling or spouse.

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Featured Shifting Paradigms Washington Post

An unprecedented experiment in mass forgiveness

An unprecedented experiment in mass forgiveness

LOS ANGELES — Jose Gonzalez remembers feeling disoriented as he stepped out of Chuckawalla Valley State Prison and into the vastness of the Colorado Desert. A corrections van was waiting to shuttle him to freedom. The driver rolled down the passenger window and told Gonzalez to get in. The door handle felt foreign in his fingers, and he struggled to open it.

“I’d never been able to open my own door in 20 years,” he said.

Gonzalez had just served a long stint on a life sentence for his role in a grisly 1996 murder. Until his release last April, Gonzalez had no doubt he would die in prison: “If you had a life sentence . . . you were going to do life. No one was getting out.”

But Gonzalez, 36, returned to society and is now answering phones in downtown Los Angeles as a paid intern for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Human Rights Watch, two nonprofit groups that sponsored the law that cleared the way for his release.

Gonzalez is among thousands of felons benefiting from a grand experiment, an act of mass forgiveness unprecedented in U.S. history. In California, once a national innovator in draconian policies to get tough on crime, voters and lawmakers are now innovating in the opposite direction, adopting laws that have released tens of thousands of inmates and are preventing even more from going to prison in the first place.

(Read more)

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

Home school no longer just for the deeply religious, enters mainstream

Home school no longer just for the deeply religious, enters mainstream

Published Sept. 27, 2013


When he was a toddler, Joseph Biner of Westchester was shy and withdrawn. And yet he couldn’t sit still in a chair for any length of time.

His mother, Patty Biner, began to dread the prospect of sending him off to kindergarten.

“I wanted to find a more constructive way to teach him,” she said. “I didn’t want to just throw him to the wolves.”

Kids might bully him. Counselors might label him.

“I’m sure they would want to say he has ADHD and put him on medication,” she said. “I think most ADHDs are just boys being boys.”

Patty and her husband, George, decided to home-school their child. In doing so, they joined a rapidly expanding movement.

Once primarily the domain of the Christian right or the far left, home schooling is increasingly appealing to families that don’t consider themselves deeply religious or ideological.

The practice instead appears to be entering a new phase of mainstream attention, attracting greater numbers of people who are most concerned about subjecting their kids to the pitfalls of the traditional school environment: standardized testing, peer pressure, bullying and even violence.

Related story: Home-schooling families take play seriously

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released its five-year report on home schooling. Among its findings: the number of home-schooled students ages 5 to 17 in the United States has jumped 17 percent since the last study in 2007 — to a record 1.77 million students. That represents about 3.4 percent of all the nation’s K-12 students.

Meanwhile, the proportion of K-12 students who are attending private schools has shrunk in a decade, from 12 percent to 10 percent.

Pam Sorooshian, who co-founded a group for home-schoolers in Long Beach called Dragon Tree, said the home-schooling option is no longer perceived as bizarre in the way it was when she was home-schooling her three daughters, now all in their 20s. (Two are college graduates and the third is a senior at Cal State Northridge.)

“When we first started home schooling, people would kind of look at us blankly,” said Sorooshian, an economics professor at Cypress College in Orange County. “They’d say, ‘What? Can you do that?’ Now, they say, ‘Oh yes, my niece home-schools,’ or ‘my nephew home-schools.’ Everybody knows somebody who does it.”

As home schooling enters the mainstream, it is also becoming more secular, according to the survey.

Every five years, the Department of Education asks respondents to cite the most important reason driving their decision to home-school. In 2007, the one cited by the highest proportion of parents — more than a third — was “a desire to provide religious or moral instruction.” But the share of those parents has shrunk since then, from 36 percent to 21 percent.

Now, the plurality belongs to the 25 percent who say their chief reason for home schooling is a concern about the traditional school environment, specifically as it relates to “safety, drugs and negative peer pressure.”

To be sure, a large share of families still home-school for religious or moral reasons. By the study’s count, nearly two-thirds of the families included “a desire to provide religious instruction” among their three top reasons for home schooling. But even here, that figure is eclipsed by the 91 percent of families who selected “school environment” among their top three reasons.

By the survey’s reckoning, the growth of the home-school movement has been meteoric, doubling since 1999.

Joseph Murphy, a professor of education at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee — and a leading expert on home schooling — believes the growth will soon level off.

“Most home-schooled households have a mom who stays at home,” he said. “There are only so many people in the country that can afford to take a breadwinner out of the box.”

Data hard to track

In any case, reliable statistics on home schooling can be difficult to find.

The U.S. Department of Education’s figures must be viewed with a careful eye because the methodology changed from conducting random surveys by land-line telephone — which fewer and fewer people have — to sending them out randomly via mail.

In California, the statistics are even fuzzier. That’s because, technically, there is no such thing as home schooling in California. Here, it is done in several ways. Families that go it alone must establish what amounts to a miniature private school. They can hire a credentialed teacher to tutor their child. Or they can home-school through an independent study or online program sponsored by a public school.

While the California Department of Education keeps a tally of private schools in the state, it omits from the count any private school with fewer than six students — and in so doing neglects to track the number of home-schoolers.

As is required of private-school operators, home-school families that opt to become mini private schools need only fill out an online form every October. This is called a “private school affidavit,” and amounts to a notification to the state that the school exists. The affidavit includes a verbal pledge, agreed to under penalty of perjury, to offer the same general branches of instruction that students get in traditional public schools.

“You can’t be teaching basketball all day, or dance,” Sorooshian said. “To be honest, there is nobody who is authorized to check on that. We don’t report to anybody. We have a lot of freedom to do things the way we want to.”

Though K-12 home schooling is becoming more mainstream, it isn’t being treated as such by all four-year universities.

Some advocates single out the University of California as especially unfriendly to the home-school movement.

“I have people who talk to me about getting into college after high school, and I always have to warn them about UC,” said Wes Beach, a home-school advocate in Santa Cruz County who serves as a kind of guidance counselor for home-schoolers. “There just isn’t a way unless you get really high test scores.”

Beach said he’s worked with only one home-schooled student who went straight to a UC campus (Santa Cruz) as a freshman.

The reason: The UC system has strict guidelines on the coursework that must be completed before students are eligible to apply. Those courses — known in education circles as the “A through G requirements” — in essence need UC’s stamp of approval.

Conversely, home-schoolers often don’t draw a bright line between subject areas, instead favoring an approach that allows the interests of the child to drive instruction.

Julian Sharisi, who grew up in Long Beach but is now a student at the private Sarah Lawrence College in New York, remembers a typical school day during his high school years. He would wake up between 9 and 11 a.m., eat breakfast and then read whatever interested him. Class for that day might include a private piano or cello lesson, a dance or acting class, or a trip to a museum or play.

“I never really liked math or algebra; I didn’t see the point — I wasn’t particularly good at it,” Sharisi said. Then he got into music theory and computer science. “Suddenly, I have a passion for math and physics,” he said.

Beach says the one exception to the UC system’s impenetrability is UC Riverside. About five years ago at that campus, a group of professors whose children were home-schooled lobbied the administration to create a separate set of guidelines for such students. To this day, the campus has a committee of professors — many of them current or former home-school parents — that vets home-school applicants.

Many home-schoolers skirt the point-of-entry challenge by taking two years’ worth of community college credits, thereby rendering their high school transcript moot — and enabling them to transfer into four-year universities as juniors.

That’s what Sorooshian’s daughters did. All three went to Cal State schools. One is working as an adjunct professor at Cal State Long Beach.

Sorooshian isn’t really among the wave of more mainstream families. A statistician by trade, she’s a self-described hippie at heart.

Sorooshian subscribes to a form of home schooling called “un-schooling,” which some view to be radical, though she believes the method is widely misunderstood. The idea is to let the child’s interests or real-world applications drive instruction, rather than textbooks and curriculum.

When one of her daughters was 5, for instance, rather than make her fill out worksheets that teach the concept of counting money and making change, Sorooshian might instead have taken her to a bakery, given her a $20 bill to purchase a cookie, and then asked her how much money she should expect to get back.

The Biners, meanwhile, lean toward the libertarian end of the political spectrum. Their concerns had less to do with countering the establishment and more to do with the school environment. In a sense, their trail was blazed by Patty Biner’s brother, who pulled his son out of school long before Patty’s eldest child was of school age. The reason? The boy had been held at knife-point in a middle-school bathroom.

“The principal did nothing,” she said. “The teachers did nothing.”

Patty’s oldest son, Joseph, is 14, and now attends Da Vinci Science charter high school, which has no home-school component.

“He tested very well,” said Biner, a stay-at-home mom with a master’s degree in engineering. (Her husband is an engineer.) “His advisory teacher was shocked to find out he was home schooling his whole life.”

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

Case of cursing LAUSD teacher raises legal questions about secret recordings

Case of cursing LAUSD teacher raises legal questions about secret recordings

Published Oct. 12, 2013


It’s a story as old as smartphones.

A teacher has a weak moment in class and loses his or her cool — perhaps flipping a desk, or berating a student. A student in the class uses his or her mobile device to record the meltdown. The video or audio recording ends up on the Internet, and the teacher gets in trouble.

In the case of a high school English teacher at HArts Academy in Harbor City, the meltdown took the form of a profane tirade in response to being heckled by a student.

The teacher, who last week was placed on paid leave while Los Angeles Unified School District administrators investigate the matter, argues that she shouldn’t be disciplined because the student broke the law by making the recording.

But is that true?

It turns out the answer is complicated. Under California Education Code Section 51512, it indeed is illegal for any person — including a student — to use an electronic device to record what is happening in the classroom without the consent of the teacher.

But here is where the matter gets tricky: The teeth in the law really applies only to people who are not students. That is, any nonpupil who is caught recording a classroom discussion without the teacher’s consent can be charged with a misdemeanor.

“If I want to audit my kid’s class — maybe I think the material violates some religious belief — I can’t record the class without the teacher’s permission,” said Rebecca Lonergan, an assistant professor of law at USC.

When it comes to students who are caught surreptitiously recording their teachers, the punishment is determined by school administrators.

“If it’s a student, you’re not going to criminally prosecute them for recording their teacher,” said Lonergan, who also has worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where she dealt with many wiretapping cases. After all, “they may be doing it with good motivations, as a study aid.”

That reportedly wasn’t the case for the student who recorded the HArts teacher, whose name the Daily Breeze has declined to publish.

According to the teacher, the student had been egging her on in front of the 12th-grade class.

That student then allegedly brought the recording to a faculty member on the campus of Narbonne High School, the comprehensive high school from which the brand-new academy split this fall. The HArts Academy teacher contends the Narbonne teacher began disseminating the recording to others on campus.

Does this mean that the student who recorded the teacher is subject to greater discipline because her intent was to do harm to the teacher? Not necessarily.

LAUSD spokeswoman Ellen Morgan said the district policy is that cellphones are not allowed to be turned on in class. The school policy does not distinguish between using a phone to text with a friend or using it to embarrass a teacher.

“On is on,” she said. “The policy clearly states it shouldn’t be on.”

Outside of the classroom, the laws on surreptitious recordings in California are relatively strict.

California is among 12 states nationwide to require “two-party consent,” meaning a conversation between two people in person or over the phone cannot be recorded unless both parties are aware. (The law also applies to conversations with more than two participants.)

The other 38 states, and the District of Columbia, require just one party to be aware.

Two-party consent law — codified in California law by Penal Code Section 632 — means an incriminating statement cannot be used against a person who was secretly recorded by another person who was not acting as an agent of law enforcement. In other words, the evidence is not admissible in court.

Does this mean that the teacher can be disciplined even though the evidence that launched the investigation was obtained as the result of an illegal act?

According to a precedent case in 1999, the answer is yes. In Evens v. Superior Court, Karen Evens, a science teacher at LAUSD, was surreptitiously videotaped by two students. Although reports online are not clear about what the video captured, it’s clear that it depicted some sort of misconduct on the part of the teacher.

The LAUSD school sought to use it as evidence in a disciplinary hearing. Through the teachers union, Evens filed a lawsuit arguing that the evidence was not permissible in court.

Ultimately, the California Court of Appeal ruled against the teacher.

The students, meanwhile, were suspended.

As for the student in this case, LAUSD officials said the punishment will depend on several factors.

“You always look at discipline of students as a continuum,” said Chris Ortiz, LAUSD’s director of school operations. “We look at: Does the student have a prior history of this type of violation?”

If so, he said, a suspension might be in order. If not, “we look at other means of correction — volunteering at the school, maybe, or writing a letter of apology.”

Officials from United Teachers Los Angeles declined to comment.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

El Segundo High valedictorian inspired, motivated by school custodian

El Segundo High student inspired, motivated by school custodian

June 24, 2013

El Segundo High valedictorian Kevin Qualls was inspired by an unusual mentor, school custodian William Ochoa. Qualls hung around the school while waiting for his mother to pick him up for their commute to South L.A. and the pair struck up a friendship. Ochoa, left, with Kevin in front of the school. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)
El Segundo High valedictorian Kevin Qualls was inspired by an unusual mentor, school custodian William Ochoa. Qualls hung around the school while waiting for his mother to pick him up for their commute to South L.A. and the pair struck up a friendship. Ochoa, left, with Kevin in front of the school. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)

It is often said that, to succeed academically, students need just one adult on campus to believe in them. For Kevin Qualls, a recent graduate of El Segundo High, that person was the school custodian.

In truth, many adults at the school surely believed in Kevin — who graduated earlier this month in the top 5 percent of his class. But in custodian William Ochoa, Kevin saw a kindred spirit.

Both grew up in poverty-stricken south Los Angeles, where Kevin still lives. Both were raised in single-parent families with an absent father. Both were outsiders who felt embraced by a suburban community whose quaint small-town architecture feels a world away from the gritty neighborhoods they’ve called home.

“Everybody shows me so much love here,” Kevin said.

Their friendship began one day after school hours, when Ochoa walked into the computer lab and found Kevin in there alone, lost in work.

Valedictorian Kevin Qualls gives his speech. (Photo for the Daily Breeze by Axel Koester)
Valedictorian Kevin Qualls gives his speech. (Photo for the Daily Breeze by Axel Koester)

Normally, Ochoa would kindly ask such a straggler to leave — in fact the rules require it. But Ochoa, who is commonly chatty with students, struck up a conversation. He learned that Kevin hung around the school or in the nearby El Segundo Public Library every night until 7 or 7:30 p.m., because that was the earliest his mother could get to school to pick him up after working all day in Century City.

“I thought to myself: If I kick him out, where is he going to go?” Ochoa said. “I figured, it’s not going to hurt anyone for him to stay here for an hour.”

Over the course of the year, Ochoa and Kevin got to know each other better. Sometimes, in the evening, Kevin would walk back to the school from the library — perhaps to retrieve a book he’d forgotten, or perhaps just to shoot the breeze. Ochoa would open the locked door.

“He would always ask about my kids,” said the 32-year-old Ochoa, who these days lives in Lawndale with his wife and two young children. “You never see a kid ask you about your family, about your kids.”

When Kevin worked the snack shack at Friday night football games, Ochoa and the other custodians would joke around with him.

When Kevin learned he was a finalist for the prestigious Gates Millennium scholarship — a jackpot award funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that foots the entire bill for the tuition, room and board of the lucky winners — Ochoa was one of the first people Kevin told.

From the beginning, the odds haven’t been in Kevin’s favor.

Half-black, half-Samoan, Kevin is a resident of Leimert Park, a south Los Angeles community located within the attendance boundaries of Crenshaw High School, where test scores are abysmal and the dropout rate astronomical.

In 2006, Kevin — an only child — saw his small family become smaller. That was the year his father, who’d long battled depression, was committed to a board-and-care facility for the mentally ill in Carson.

From that point on, his immediate family has consisted of two members — Kevin and his mom, Alofa Qualls. Every day, she drove him to school in El Segundo from Leimert Park, then traveled all the way up to Century City, where she works in the accounts-receivable department of an insurance company.The family actually lived in El Segundo in the distant past. But they moved out when Kevin was in kindergarten because they couldn’t afford it. Ever since, his mother had enrolled him in El Segundo’s public schools as a permit student.

Kevin was in middle school, he said, when the sacrifices made by his mother really hit him.

“I thought, if my mom is pouring so much sweat and hustle to take me here, I might as well make the most of it,” he said.

Alofa said her son has been undeterred by the roadblocks. “He’s not using any of those excuses to use it as a cop-out,” she said. “He rose from all that.”

At El Segundo High, where student test scores are exceptional, Kevin did more than hold his own. In addition to graduating near the top of his class, he won the contest among students for giving the valedictory address, which he delivered on commencement day June 13.

He was recognized by the El Segundo Masonic Lodge earlier this month as El Segundo High’s Student of the Year.

“I had the pleasure of teaching Kevin in AP physics this year,” said teacher Steven Eno. “Kevin is the most respectful and hardest working student that I have ever worked with. … Kevin made a habit of coming into class early and leaving class late to get as much time working with physics as possible.”

Most impressively, Kevin was a recipient of that Gates Millennium scholarship, which will cover the entire $62,000-a-year bill for him to attend and live on the campus at USC, where this fall he plans to begin studying mechanical engineering.

Shortly after he learned the good news, he sought out Ochoa.

“He was sweeping one of the science rooms, and I came up to him,” Kevin said. “We just looked at each other and he’s like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I got it.’ ”

Ochoa threw the broom down and gave Kevin a hug.

Any student who receives so many accolades in a year has also by now doled out public thank yous. During these moments, Kevin is quick to credit his parents — and Ochoa.

Ochoa — who in addition to his full-time job as a custodian works 20 or so hours a week at a print shop in El Segundo — is a little hesitant to take any credit for Kevin’s success.

“I don’t know what I did — he did all the work,” he said.

But Kevin assures that Ochoa was a big help.

“He was just the friend you could count on at the end of the day,” he said.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

Trapped in ESL: Some students wind up in English-learner programs even though they only speak English

Trapped in ESL: Some students wind up in English-learner programs even though they only speak English

Nov. 24, 2012

Julian Ruiz of Torrance has been classified as an English learner even though he doesn t speak Spanish, or any other language besides English. His mother, Millie Ruiz, has unsuccessfully been trying to get him redesignated as fluent in English. (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer)
Julian Ruiz of Torrance has been classified as an English learner even though he doesn t speak Spanish, or any other language besides English. His mother, Millie Ruiz, has unsuccessfully been trying to get him redesignated as fluent in English. (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer)

Julian Ruiz is an English speaker who doesn’t know a word of Spanish or any other foreign language.

Yet when the 7-year-old entered kindergarten in Torrance three years ago, he was classified as an English learner – a student not fluent in English.

This shunted him into a category that his mother, Millie Ruiz, says he shouldn’t be in, and triggered a dispute with the school’s administration.

Ruiz says her son is trapped in the school district’s English Language Development program, giving him a label he doesn’t deserve.

“There comes a point where we need to introduce some common sense into the whole scheme of things,” Ruiz said.

Related story: California’s English language learners getting stuck in schools’ remedial programs

In California, about 23 percent of K-12 students are English learners. Some believe the number is too high.

A 2011 UC Berkeley study concluded that California districts are misidentifying large numbers of kindergarten students as English learners, in part because the test that determines whether they deserve the label is too difficult.

The result: Scarce resources earmarked for the purpose of helping nonfluent students are being spent inefficiently.

“There is that unfortunate opportunity for these kids to be identified as English-language learners and be locked into a program that’s not appropriate for them. I guess the criteria needs to be changed,” said Gil Navarro, a member of the San Bernardino County school board.

Some English-learner advocates see it differently.

Dan Fichtner, president of a nonprofit support group for teachers of English learners, said it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“We believe that it is better to err on the side of being conservative than to make a mistake and lose those first formative years,” Fichtner said.

As for Julian – a second-grader because he was held back in kindergarten – he must keep the designation until at least third grade, like all students in the program.

In California, it all begins with a language survey, filled out by every parent sending a child to kindergarten at a public school. It includes four questions:

* What language did the student use when first learning to speak?

* What language does the student use most frequently at home?

* What language does the parent speak when talking with the student?

* What language is most often spoken by adults in the home?

Ruiz answered the first three questions with “English.” But her fourth answer – “English/Spanish” – triggered the language test requirement.

Like about 90 percent of state kindergartners who take the test, Julian failed to score high enough to avoid the English learner label.

Jose Collazo, 22, of Pomona came to the United States with his family when he was little more than a year old. He remained in ESL classes throughout elementary and high school in Pomona Unified.

Collazo took the English-fluency exam four times, and although he was under the impression he had passed, he was never taken out of the ESL program.

That became a problem in high school, he said.

“I didn’t understand why my other friends were taking college prep and I didn’t,” Collazo said.

After speaking to a guidance counselor, he was able to take college preparation classes, but was still required to take ESL courses.As a result, Collazo said, he was unable to take some of the college preparation classes he needed.

In the summer of 2011, Ruiz decided – after two years in the program – she didn’t want to participate any longer. She refused to take time off work to bring her son to the district office to take his mandatory annual California English Language Development Test.

The school sent her a letter that Ruiz took as a threat. It said, in all caps: “Please note that your child will not be put on a class list in September if he/she does not complete this testing process prior to school starting in the fall.”

Ruiz did not have him tested that summer. That fall, the school pulled Julian out of class to take the assessment.

The results came back a few months later: “No change for this school year.”

Staff writers Rebecca Kimitch and Beau Yarbrough contributed to this report.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

Why do foreign-born ESL students become fluent more quickly than native-born English learners?

Why do foreign-born ESL students become fluent more quickly than native-born English learners?

Feb. 9, 2013


Actually, she knew one phrase — “thank you” — as well as the 26 letters of the alphabet. But other than that, the Arabic speaker was surrounded by thousands of students with whom she couldn’t communicate.

“It’s like you’re just in your own world,” she said of those first few months. “You cannot understand anything.”

Late last month, the high school senior celebrated a milestone: She accepted a certificate showing that she has officially met the requirements to exit the school’s program for students who are still learning English. Put simply, she is now considered fluent.

Meanwhile, Stephanie, another senior at San Pedro High, remains stuck in the school’s remedial programs for English learners, even though she was born in the United States, and has been labeled an English learner since kindergarten. (The Daily Breeze is withholding her last name of the Spanish speaker at the request of her teacher.)

Gabriel Luna of Mexico, left, Cristian Garcia of Columbia, Eevan Nooh of Iraq, Leonardo Perez of Mexico and Yingjun Xie of China are among those receiving their certificates of completion in the ESL program at San Pedro High during a Jan. 30, 2013 ceremony. (LANG Staff Photo by Sean Hiller)
Gabriel Luna of Mexico, left, Cristian Garcia of Columbia, Eevan Nooh of Iraq, Leonardo Perez of Mexico and Yingjun Xie of China are among those receiving their certificates of completion in the ESL program at San Pedro High during a Jan. 30, 2013 ceremony. (LANG Staff Photo by Sean Hiller)

The difference between Eevan and Stephanie underscores a little-known paradox that has long been at play at San Pedro High and likely beyond: Foreign-born students who come to America as teenagers knowing nary a word of English consistently test out of the English-learner program before high school students who have been stuck in the program since kindergarten. In fact, the comparison isn’t even close.

In the last three years at San Pedro High, a full 100 percent of the foreign-born English learners — about 10 pupils a year — have exited the program before graduation, compared to just 15 percent of their U.S.-born peers, said Laura Rodriguez, the school’s English Language Development coordinator.

Although broader statistics on the distinction between native- and foreign-born English-learners are scarce – neither the California Department of Education nor the Los Angeles Unified School District keep such tallies – the issue is worth examining.

The phenomenon at San Pedro High jibes with a nationwide study released this fall by John Hopkins University concluding that immigrant children tend to academically outperform their second- and third-generation native-born peers.

The trend was on display on Jan. 30, during a little-after-school ceremony at San Pedro High for students who have met all the requirements for being redesignated as fluent. Eevan was among 11 students so awarded. Eight of them were like her in that they had recently emigrated from other countries. Amazingly, this crew represented as many countries as students: El Salvador, Colombia, Tanzania, China, Peru, Ukrania, Iran and, of course, Iraq. Just three of the students were born in the United States.

The eight students getting redesignated were among 35 foreign-born English-learners at the school. The three U.S.– born students — known in education parlance as “long-term English learners” — came from a pool of 136. Sixteen of those U.S.-born students are seniors and in acute danger of not achieving fluency before graduation.

Karla Glover is the teacher of the foreign-born students, whose program is known as English as a Second Language.

“To see my students reclassify when they are in ESL when there is 136 that cannot do it in 9 to 12 years … it’s a lot of honor for me,” she said at the ceremony.

Comparing the success rate of foreign-born English-learners with their U.S.-born peers may offer insight into how to tackle one of the state’s most pressing educational problems. Making up nearly a quarter of all of California’s K-12 students, English learners have the worst high school dropout rate of any demographic group in the state.

Jill Aguilar, an associate professor of education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, believes the paradox demonstrates an oft-overlooked reality: Second-generation U.S. students whose parents speak another language at home often fail to gain a mastery of their supposed native tongue.

That is, many students who enter kindergarten speaking primarily, say, Spanish never really learn to read in Spanish, or even attain oral proficiency. This means they’re trying to learn a new language even as they are learning how to read.

“It delays their progress in Spanish and it delays their progress in English at the same time,” she said. “It ends up almost like a created learning disability.”

By comparison, students who arrive to the United States from other countries as a teenagers have often mastered their own native language.

“All they are doing is replacing words in their own language with English – it’s a vocabulary problem, really,” she said.

Aguilar believes bi-lingual education is the answer; she calls the 1998 decision by California voters to eliminate it a tragedy.

Rodriguez — the ELD coordinator at San Pedro High — disagrees. She believes the crux of the problem has more to do with motivation.

“The foreign-born students are more motivated because they are here for a better life,” she said. “Whereas the ones who have been here don’t see that. They feel more entitled.”

Eevan Noah certainly had good reason to appreciate her lot in life when she arrived at San Pedro High with her two siblings. Their Christian family was driven out of Iraq by Islamic militants irate that their father worked as a truck driver delivering goods to U.S. military forces, said Eevan’s older sister, Evett, who attended the Jan. 30 event to snap a few pictures of her sister.

“They gave us a paper saying you betrayed the country, and if you don’t get out of this country, we’re going to kill all of your kids,” Evett said. “The next day we got out of the country.”

Like Eevan, Evett went through the school’s ESL program, as did their brother, Andro. All three siblings are or were honor students at San Pedro High.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

‘Mean girls’ dropped: Cheer coaches fired for molding snobby high school squad

‘Mean girls’ dropped: Cheer coaches fired for molding snobby high school squad


El Segundo High School has fired its two longtime cheer coaches after members of the team and parents complained that they contributed to a “Mean Girls” culture by playing favorites, issuing threats and ostracizing certain girls, among other things.

Last week’s controversial firings of the two coaches, Marney Hagen and Nicole Martin, came on the heels of an independent investigation conducted by an attorney from out of town. The Daily Breeze this week obtained a copy of a three-page report, written by El Segundo High interim principal Ali Rabiei, based on that investigation.

“Each complainant generally alleges that District employees have each engaged in harassing, bullying and intimidating behavior director toward certain student team members; and have witnessed and condoned inappropriate and harassing behavior by ‘favored’ student Cheer Team members toward other student Cheer Team members,” Rabiei wrote. “We discovered sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations.”

In addition to the firing of the part-time coaches, the school has discontinued its competitive cheer team, which in theory is a kind of all-star crew, though parents say there were no tryouts for the team. Meanwhile, the regular cheer squad — which performs the traditional cheerleading routines for football and basketball games — will carry on, but with new coaches.

The firings, which happened Dec. 10, has divided the cheer community, with many parents and team members rallying to support the coaches.

“Most of the girls on the team want to keep the coaches — that should tell you something right there,” said Mark Reppucci, the father of a team member. “I know (the coaches) personally and I like them both, but I don’t know them as teachers or coaches.”

Parents on the other side say the bullying has been an issue for years.

“The coaches had an attitude of still being teenagers themselves,” said one parent, who declined to share her name for fear of retaliation.

“It’s ‘Mean Girls’ behavior that is promoted not just by the girls and the coaches, but also some of the parents of the ones in the in-crowd,” she added, referring to the comedy film from 2004 about teen cliques.

These parents noted that many students and cheer-squad members who support the coaches have been taking their frustrations out on a single girl via Facebook and Twitter.

“There was a firestorm” on social media, said another parent, who also requested anonymity. “One girl has been targeted as the scapegoat. But it’s not just one girl — it’s the whole culture of the team.”

The three-page report is short on specifics, likely because it is a summary version of a more detailed and confidential document from the investigation, which was based on 17 witness interviews and other pieces of evidence, collected over a period of two months this fall.

But the parents shared what they believed to be a few egregious anecdotes.

A few weeks ago, the team was on the bus for an away football game. With them was a mother who was not authorized to be on the bus. Sometime during the game, somebody filed a complaint about the matter to school district administrators, who quickly intervened, informing the parent that she couldn’t ride on the bus on the way home.

Just before the bus started back for El Segundo, a girl on the bus reportedly cussed out another girl in a threatening manner, believing she was the one who made the complaint.

The coach, the parent said, didn’t intervene.

“She never came to the girl who was threatened and said, ‘Are you OK?’

Another parent shared a story about a girl who complained to the coaches about being bullied by other teammates. That girl was cut from the team, the parent said.

“They allowed the girls to scream at each other,” she said. “The coaches would sit there and not say anything. ‘Fight it out,’ they’d say.”

The parents said the coaches discouraged parents from getting involved. They also said the coaches friended the students on Facebook.

The regular cheer squad consists of two teams, the varsity and junior varsity. Combined, it includes 47 girls. About 10 girls who tried out to participate didn’t make the cut, parents said. The competition team, which had been in existence for about four years, included about 20 members.

It does appear that the cheer team has experienced some success. The web page of El Segundo High School congratulates the team for first-place finishes at a U.S.A. Regional competition.

The Daily Breeze reached out to both coaches via Facebook, but neither responded to the messages. Hagen had been a coach for eight years; Martin had been one for five. Both women are in their forties, according to parents.

Geoff Yantz, the superintendent of the El Segundo Unified School District, declined to comment about the matter, citing personnel confidentiality laws.

The report concludes, “it is apparent that the culture of the cheer program is hostile toward Cheer Team members deemed as ‘non-favored.’ The employees, whether intentionally or unintentionally, have created, or allowed to be created, an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, and general unfairness.”

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

LAUSD teacher placed on leave after profanity-laden outburst is recorded by student

LAUSD teacher placed on leave after profanity-laden outburst is recorded by student

An audio clip of a high school English teacher repeatedly dropping the F-bomb during a classroom outburst has gone viral on the campus of Narbonne High in Harbor City.

In the clip, which was recorded by a student on Sept. 26, the teacher yells “I know my f–ing s–t. Don’t f— with that. I’m tired of trying to educate you, and you guys resist every step of the f—ing way. Get the f— out of here.” (Listen to the audio clip).

The outburst occurred in the classroom of a fledgling new school for performing arts that is located on the campus of Narbonne High. Called Humanities and Art Academy — or HArts Academy for short — the school officially broke away from the comprehensive high school this fall.

Although students at Narbonne and HArts know the teacher’s name, the Daily Breeze has decided not to publish it, believing that wide dissemination would cause years of damage to her reputation, far outweighing her transgression. The teacher has been placed on paid leave while Los Angeles Unified School District administrators investigate.

Reached at home, the teacher said she is deeply sorry.

“You know, I had a weak moment,” she said. “Forgive me.”

The teacher added that the clip was recorded by a student who had been heckling her in front of the 12th-grade class. That student then allegedly brought the recording to a Narbonne High faculty member with whom the teacher has had an adversarial relationship. The HArts Academy teacher contends the Narbonne teacher began disseminating the recording to others on campus.

“This girl took my moment of weakness and used it against me,” the teacher said of the student. “And then the teacher (at Narbonne) egged (the student) on to send it to her, and then they disseminated it. It’s just cruel.”

The episode is the latest example of how students using their cellphones to take pictures or recordings of what is happening in the classroom can have a profound effect on campus. It also raises questions about what constitutes inappropriate behavior on the part of a teacher in the classroom.

Several weeks ago, a teacher was placed on leave at Da Vinci Science charter school in Hawthorne after a student snapped a photo of a test question that took a jab at crosstown rival Hawthorne High.

Said the prompt: “Little known fact: the early years at Jamestown were characterized by violence, a lack of knowledge and the presence of many women of questionable moral character. A little like modern-day Hawthorne High School.”

The prompt was photographed by a student at Da Vinci, who emailed it to a friend at Hawthorne High, who in turn posted it on Instagram. The photo eventually made its way to officials at the Centinela Valley Union High School District.

Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at Cal State Dominguez Hills, said the incidents are a reminder to teachers — and, really, to everyone — that these days, every human interaction has potential to be public.

“Technology has led us into a conundrum,” said Rosen, a leading scholar on technology devices and their effect on the human psyche. “On the one hand, you get to know everything, everywhere, anytime you want. But the price you pay is your privacy.”

Rosen said he bears this in mind when delivering his lectures, though he says has hasn’t allowed the presence of mobile devices to alter the way he teaches.

“I still swear in class,” he said with a laugh. “But I knew that if I didn’t tame my language, somebody could have complained about me long ago. But I think (swearing) can provide a hook for some students to remember material.”

Of course, college and high school are different environments, and their standards for what constitutes acceptable behavior by teachers differ accordingly.

LAUSD’s code of ethics includes a dozen behaviors for teachers to avoid. Among them:

“Engaging in any behaviors, either directly or indirectly with a student(s) or in the presence of a student(s), that are unprofessional, unethical, illegal, immoral, or exploitative.”

Ellen Morgan, a spokesperson for LAUSD, said that, generally speaking, a violation of the code will trigger an investigation.

“At the outcome of the investigation, he/she will meet with the individual and conference, reprimand, discipline and/or move to recommend dismissal,” Morgan said in an email.

She added that, in situations similar to the one in question — provided no other information surfaces to contradict the action — the employee will often be issued a “notice of unsatisfactory act” for the behavior.

The HArts Academy teacher did point out that the girl who recorded the outburst broke school rules just by having her cellphone on in class. Indeed, LAUSD policy prohibits the use of cellphones during class time.

In any case, the teacher was leading a classroom discussion about race and ethnicity when the confrontation erupted. The teacher said she was trying to make the point that the term “African-American” is, in some respects, a misnomer.

“You’re an American first,” she said, adding that her forebears were Italian, and she doesn’t refer to herself as Italian-American.

The teacher — who worked at Narbonne for many years before switching over to the new school — said the girl repeatedly told her that she was wrong. “I was trying to explain the difference between race and ethnicity, and this girl kept poking the bear,” she said.

“I’ve always felt safe with my students,” said the teacher, who attended Narbonne herself. “That’s why it hurts so much that someone would do this.”

The teacher said she was feeling burdened by two major stressors that day. First, she was in physical pain, and soon after had an appendectomy. Also, HArts has been locked in a bitter fight with Narbonne High over 90-plus students who are reportedly being kept from switching from Narbonne to the new school. The dispute has forced the new school — which enrolls 385 students — to shed four of its 16 teachers. Meanwhile, Narbonne has added three teachers to its roster.

The resulting tension has had the effect of pitting some teachers against each other on the same campus. The teacher in question said she believes this atmosphere of distrust added incentive for teachers at Narbonne to pass the sound clip around.

“These are people who used to be my friends,” she said.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze Shifting Paradigms

Lennox teacher lauded for starting reading club for boys

Lennox teacher lauded for starting reading club for boys

Diego's Dudes lunchtime reading club at Felton Elementary School in Lennox. Fourth grade teacher Alex Carrera brings her Chihuahua Diego to class as a mascot to help boys improve reading skills. (Brad Graverson / Staff Photographer)
Diego’s Dudes lunchtime reading club at Felton Elementary School in Lennox. Fourth grade teacher Alex Carrera brings her Chihuahua Diego to class as a mascot to help boys improve reading skills. (Brad Graverson / Staff Photographer)

Not long ago, Alex Carrera was killing time at a yard sale when she spied a book that caught her attention: “The Trouble With Boys. ”

The fourth-grade teacher at Felton Elementary School in Lennox fished a dollar out of her purse and made the purchase.

The message of the book by Peg Tyre jibed with Carrera’s classroom experience: Girls are outperforming boys in academics, and the gap is growing.

Inspired, Carrera came up with the idea for “Diego’s Dudes,” a reading club that involves her, a handful of boys who struggle with reading and Diego, the mascot of the club and the calmest of Carrera’s three Chihuahuas.

This fall, the small group began meeting three days a week, sitting on the floor of the empty classroom while the rest of the boys and girls romp outside during recess. For 15 minutes, the four boys read out loud passages from books of their own choosing while Carrera moderates. (Then they join their classmates for the second half of recess.) As for Diego, well, he tends to just lay on the floor and blink.

“He’s a good listener, and he doesn’t judge,” Carrera said. “He just wants to hear a good story. ”

The voluntary club is merely a drop of medicine in an ocean of need, but it sure made an impression on the SoCal Honda Dealers Association. Recently, the organization selected Carrera among five teachers in Southern California to be honored for Teachers Appreciation Week.

Carrera was nominated for the award by her principal, Scott Wilcox.

“It’s boys, and it’s Hispanic boys and minority boys, who are dropping out of high school,” he said. “You stop kids from dropping out of high school by intervening with something out of the box like this in the early grades. ”

Felton Elementary serves a high-risk population. Nearly 95 percent of the students are Latino; about 70 percent of the students are native Spanish speakers who are still learning English.

One of them is Edgar Vera, a member of the club. At the beginning of the year, Edgar not only felt shy about reading, but he also refused to speak English. Now he’s an eager participant during reading time.

“This club made me think that reading is fun for me,” he told a reporter during a visit. “I learned words and now I like a lot of reading. ”

Another student in the club, Charles Allen, said the group has helped with his comprehension of certain words, like “embarrassed. ”

“I used to say ’embraced,’ ” he said.

The gender gap in reading is a phenomenon that transcends ethnicity. A 2010 study by the Center on Education Policy found that boys lag behind girls in reading in all 50 states.

Males also are increasingly outnumbered by females on college campuses. It is widely reported that women in the United States now earn 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, 60 percent of all master’s degrees and more than half of all doctoral degrees.

Taking a page out of “The Trouble With Boys,” Carrera decided that the key to getting boys excited about reading – especially those who are “reluctant readers” – is to let them choose the materials.

With this in mind, Carrera was careful to recruit one of her most rambunctious boys, Miguel Tuznoh, to select the books for the group.

“He’s had trouble in the past with behavior,” she said. “He’s considered a leader. I picked up on that, and so rather than using his leadership skills in a negative way, I decided, ‘OK this is going to be my ringleader.’ ”

Miguel shared his criteria for book selection: anything “Gooey, disgusting, worms, sports … ”

“Boy stuff,” Carrera chimed in.

The reading list thus includes books like “How to Eat Fried Worms,” “Tales from the Crypt: Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid” and “The ‘Air’ Apparent: Kobe.”

The group is currently reading a book by Ellen Potter called “Slob,” about a fat kid who is a genius inventor but gets picked on. Carrera suggested that because she is female, she might have been subconsciously out of touch with the kind of selections more appealing to the male gender.

“They want to read biographies, irreverent humor, comic books,” she said. “Girls want to read about superstars. Right now Taylor Swift is big in my class. ”


The boys not only selected the books, but they also came up with the three rules of Diego’s Dudes.

“The only thing I say is ‘Give me three rules that have to do with character,’ ” Carrera said. And so they did.

Rule No. 1: Treat the books and mascot with care.

Rule No. 2: Come to the club meetings on time.

Rule No. 3: Respect our friends when they’re reading out loud.

“Mind you, they came up with that,” Carrera said. “We can’t laugh, we can’t make fun. And you see, they are helping each other out. ”

Next year, Carrera wants to add an element to the program in which male role models come to the class to read out loud to the boys.

“A lot of boys who struggle with reading don’t really have a male role model who they see reading,” she said. “I want to include male role models to come in and say, ‘This is my favorite book. Check it out.’ “