ISCA to close after 28 years of leading Lesson Design Study to members

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ISCA transitions to UTLA Lesson Design Study Project instead

Institute for Standards Curriculum and Assessments

Charlotte Higuchi
Charlotte Higuchi, retiring ISCA director.
Day Higuchi
Day Higuchi, former ISCA associate director will lead new design study project.

Charlotte and Day deeply appreciate the contributions of colleagues who have been supporters of ISCA over the years and hope that you will also support the current UTLA effort to make Lesson Design Study an affordable common touchstone of teaching practice available to all. For more information on ICSA, visit their website at


After guiding and supporting teachers to conduct teaching as lesson research in the form of UTLA Lesson Design Study for 28 years, Charlotte Higuchi NBCT has retired as ISCA director. Suite 924 on the 9th floor of UTLA is no longer the ISCA Office.

ISCA will continue in smaller quarters in Suite 906 of UTLA as a project to make UTLA Lesson Design Study a 3 salary point course that any member can take for a nominal fee. Day Higuchi, past ISCA Associate Director and former UTLA President, will lead this project. 

Having retired “for real” Charlotte is spending lots of time getting proper exercise and avoiding stress, hanging out with her grandchildren, cooking many gourmet dishes, and avidly pursuing other interests.

Charlotte Higuchi teaching ISCA design class.
Charlotte Higuchi explains the methods of lesson design to an attentive class.

She sends her warmest regards as follows:

Dear ISCA colleagues,

It has been my privilege to have had the pleasure of working  with so many outstanding teachers dedicated to providing ever better lessons, learning experiences, and guidance to their students, to have been welcomed into their classrooms and to their schools, to have learned alongside and from them, and to have been part of making a statement that the union supports its members’ aspirations to teach at the most accomplished level.
It has also been my privilege to have worked with administrators and union leaders who believe that teaching is the core work of schools, that better teaching/learning is the essence of better schooling, and that collegial support and collaboration is the best way to achieve this goal. No good thing can be done alone. We created so much good together.

To all who truly walked with me at points in this journey, You are what I enjoyed most through the years, and what I will miss most. 

Thank you,

ISCA History

ISCA seminar attendees from January 4-6, 2017.
ISCA seminar attendees from January 4-6, 2017.

ISCA began in 2002. Ever since, ISCA’s mission, with support from United Teachers Los Angeles, has been to increase the depth and breadth of students' learning by:

  • Offering schools seminars in the collaborative lesson design process for all disciplines, a process wherein teams of teachers research, develop, field-test and then improve the effectiveness of standards-based lessons and performance assessments in all disciplines
  • Promoting the lesson design study process as regular teaching practice
  • Establishing a professional community dedicated to creating the most effective lessons and assessments for students

Prior to ISCA, the knowledge base for UTLA Lesson Design study was acquired by Charlotte with the support of two large research grants for which she was principal investigator, first $660,000 from the Stuart Foundation 1994-1997, then $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Education 1998-2001. This work produced two Language Arts Handbooks edited and formatted by her — comprised of instructional units authored by teachers, and including rubrics developed in collaboration with the teachers for academic writing and reading comprehension.

These units were developed using the process described in the second Handbook that would become UTLA Lesson Design Study. UTLA owns the copyrights for both these handbooks. Teaching units from the Handbooks can be downloaded at

Part of the first, Stuart Foundation, grant was for Charlotte to lead the development of LAUSD language arts content standards, in a joint UTLA/LAUSD “Standards Project” that predated the adoption of national model language arts and California state language arts content standards. In 1992, more than 500 teachers, administrators, and community representatives were involved in this effort. California State Board of Education committees developing the state’s content standard often enjoyed representatives from this list who were able to contribute input from the LAUSD project to the development of California standards.

Prior to and during this work, and the ISCA activities that followed it, Charlotte was mentored and supported by the late Miles Myers, past President of CFT, Executive Director of the NCTE, and cofounder of the Bay Area Writing Project at UC Berkeley. Miles was volunteer Senior Researcher for ISCA until his passing in 2015.


ISCA Accomplishments

From 1999-2005, in collaboration with Mary Lewis, Director of the LAUSD District Intern Program, Charlotte trained the teaching methods instructors of the LAUSD District Intern Credentialing and BTSA Programs who in turn trained teacher candidates and new teachers to use lesson study as their protocol for teaching. Thousands of district interns and teachers -in-induction took the “ISCA” course, which, according to Mary Lewis, was rated the “best thing about the program” unanimously on the District Intern Program’s exit survey.

From 2002-2018, beginning at Foshay Learning Center with a generous $500,000 start-up grant from Washington Mutual, ISCA contracted directly with schools wanting their teachers to experience the UTLA Lesson Design Study process. ISCA recently also  contracted indirectly with schools via the School Improvement Grant (SIG) Program of the LAUSD.


Teacher & student responses to UTLA Lesson Design Study

Pie chart graphic on lesson planning and design categories.

On the basis of surveys and interviews by CSUN and UCLA researchers, detailed online participant surveys for the major steps and overall experience of UTLA Lesson Design Study, journal entries and testimonials of participants, the overwhelming bulk of 27 years worth of participants found the ISCA experience to be unique, demanding, but well worth what their schools had invested.

Some volunteered that it had forever transformed the way they would teach, even that it had changed their lives. Others said that the process was as much work as a masters degree but they learned more, that it was the best professional development they had ever experienced, that the only thing comparable was the process of earning National Board Certification, that their students did better, that it was something they would be willing to teach other teachers how to do.

A frequent lament was that the course was not part of their university credentialing. Forty percent of participants voluntarily participated more than once (between 2 and 9 times). At a middle school where ISCA conducted a Schoolwide Literacy Assessment based on Common Core Standards compared to NAEP performance levels,  students randomly assigned to teachers who developed and taught literacy units through a complete Lesson Design Study protocol demonstrated at least four times the growth of a roughly equal number of students randomly assigned to teachers who did not do so — on four dimensions of essay assessment: content, organization, style and mechanics-usage-grammar-spelling.

A large group of teachers studying in an ICSA class.
Above, ISCA participants pose for a group shot in July 2013. 


Collaborative relationships over the years

ISCA has been housed at UTLA and a UTLA professional development program since its inception. UTLA Presidents from John Perez, to Duffy, to Warren Fletcher to current President Alex Caputo Pearl have endorsed and provided support for its work.

Alex was himself a UTLA Lesson Design Participant. Charlotte was his ISCA instructor when he taught at Crenshaw High School. Over the years ISCA worked closely with the UTLA officers who served as point for UTLA professional development: Julie Washington, Juan Ramirez, Colleen Schwab, and now Gloria Ramirez and Dan Barnhart.

Former UTLA Director of Governmental Relations Bill Lambert was instrumental in obtaining the $600,000 1998-2001 U.S. Department of Education Grant.

Over the years ISCA developed an ever closer relationship with the Support Network for National Board Certification, also housed at UTLA.

This connection began with testimonials by teachers who completed Lesson Design Study then achieved National Board Certification, explaining to Charlotte and Day that their Lesson Design Study experience had made it much easier to meet the requirement for Certification.

The last two NBCT Support Network Coordinators, Susie Chow NBCT and Michael de la Torre NBCT completed UTLA Lesson Design Study themselves and verified that although the specifics may be different, the way teachers must think about students and teaching during Lesson Study really does align teachers with the point of view from which the National Board Certification process approaches teaching.

To quote Michael, it’s because “No matter how you describe it, good teaching is good teaching”.

A number of school principals and district administrators became staunch supporters of ISCA because they believed in listening to teachers and supporting them in the way they teachers wanted to be supported to improve their teaching.

Their stated reasons for getting behind UTLA Lesson Design Study ranged from “It is not professional development that targets some isolated aspect of teaching, it addresses everything about instruction all synthesized together from beginning to end” to, “The teachers just went ape-**** over it”.

Early support from district administrators Sid Thompson, Ruben Zacarias, Ramon Cortines, Mary Lewis, John Leichty, Judy Perez, Sheila Derrig, and Kathy Kibala helped make ISCA possible.

Just as important were now retired school principals Veronique Wills and Neal Kleiner, who saw the value of UTLA Lesson Design Study when it was still invisible to most.


Charlotte & Day also want to recognize: 

Professor Wellford “Buzz” Wilms of UCLA who provided not only early research studies on our work, but good advice, support, and cheer.

School Improvement Grants administrators Paul Hsu and Darlene Torres, and past UTLA Secondary and AFT Vice President Gregg Solkovits, who advocated for and supported ISCA to be a provider for the SIG Program. 
Three teachers who served repeatedly as ISCA seminar instructors, whose knowledgeable help, efficiency and steadfastness were vital and essential to the quality of the experience of participants—retired teacher and UTLA activist Linda Baughn, Monica Au NBCT, and Kevin Nagaishi NBCT.

The administrative and technology assistants employed at ISCA, who made sure business was taken care of, brought ISCA into the digital age, and without whom the work of ISCA would have been difficult—Derick Ulac ( from 2005 to 2018) and Sack Xaymountry (from 2005 to 2011), and Lynette Howard (from 1996 to 1998)
The many teachers, parents, and community members on hundreds of design teams who worked with and inspired us over the years.


Looking Ahead: UTLA Lesson Design Study Project

In the past, UTLA Lesson Design Study has been a high per-teacher cost item paid for by schools or large grants to ISCA. The need now is to scale up and offer an easily affordable way for teachers to conduct teaching as collaborative lesson study, with support for them to continue in the collaborative  lesson study mode as normal practice.

As a step in this direction, ISCA has temporarily suspended its UTLA Lesson Design Study seminars while a new model for offering Lesson Design Study seminars is developed by Institute Director Day Higuchi in collaboration with Support Network Coordinator Michael de la Torre and a small working group of NBCT’s, yet to be recruited, who have successfully completed UTLA Lesson Design Study seminars.

Day envisions the new model to be a blended face-to-face/online course that would make parts of the seminar agenda requiring instructor presentations of concepts and facilitation of participant learning activities available to course instructors to “run” at a click, a digital library to which instructors can add their own content as they gain experience.

For participants, such materials would also be available at a click as many times as they need it until a concept or activity is sufficiently understood to the participant’s satisfaction.

The ability for instructors and participants to confer, share, and work on common work products online would also be built-in.

This would make it possible for design teams to be composed of teachers from different schools — important because some teachers are the only teacher at a school who teaches lessons in their subject (e.g. high school physics).

Another benefit would be the fact that just as participants experience project-based learning in completing lesson design study, they would also be experiencing blended learning in this model.

The first two courses to be simultaneously designed to these criteria and piloted by and the working group will be a LDS Instructor (Trainer  of Trainers) course, and a basic lesson design study course which the trainees, now instructors, can offer as UTLA Lesson Design Study salary point course. 

Next Steps Moving Forward

To find an online system that supports the "blended instruction" model that UTLA Lesson Design Study seeks to become, one which will make it far easier for teachers personally fluent with lesson study to become instructors for UTLA Lesson Design Study courses, and which will also make it possible for participants from different schools to be on the same design team.

To convene the planning/advisory group of NBCT's who have previously experienced and completed UTLA Lesson Design Study with ISCA.


Looking for New Instructors

If you are NBCT who has previously completed UTLA Lesson Design Study with ISCA and are interested in being a UTLA Lesson Design Study Project course planner/instructor for NBCT hours please contact

  • Day Higuchi at dhiguchi@utla,net
  • Send ideas about how we can maximize the power of UTLA Lesson Design Study going forward