The Education Trust–West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, kindergarten through college, and to forever close the achievement gaps separating low-income students and students of color from other youth. Our basic tenet is this — All children will learn at high levels when they are taught to high levels.
Guest blog by Carrie Hahnel, Director of Research and Policy, The Education Trust-West
Whatever the verdict in the courtroom, the explosive Vergara v. California case has already made an important mark on California and the nation. A group of nine brave California students and their attorneys have gone head-to-head with the state of California and the teachers unions in the past three weeks to demonstrate that although California’s constitution guarantees every child access to a quality education, a trio of stifling laws deny low-income students and students of color access to great teachers.
Now in its fourth week, the trial’s legal process and intense media scrutiny have given air to a pile of evidence on the impact of effective teachers, the destabilizing effect of seniority-based layoffs, and the startling cost and duration of dismissal proceedings. (Conversation online has intensified so much that a Twitter search for “Vergara” turns up more posts about teacher tenure, layoffs, and dismissal than Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara. To distinguish the two, many people are now using #VergaraTrial to tweet coverage and other relevant news.) Most importantly, the trial has highlighted heartbreaking disparities in access to effective teachers, including our own research finding that black and Latino students in Los Angeles are 2-3 times more likely to have a low-performing teacher than their white or Asian peers, as well as our data on the disproportionate impact of seniority-based layoffs on poor schools in three large California districts.
Last week, Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Ed Trust–West, shared these findings with the court. He described the achievement gaps plaguing low-income students and students of color in California and explained how the current system of layoffs exacerbates these gaps.
Humanizing this and other data, a parade of teachers and students have taken the stand in the last month to share their sometimes heart-rending stories. One Teacher of the Year described how she was laid off five times in nine years, killing much of her desire to stay in the profession. Students started their testimonies by recalling teachers who inspired them to dream and achieve at high levels, before going on to describe others who didn’t teach well. Some recounted stories of horrifyingly damaging teachers who fell asleep at their desks and called students hateful and racist names.
No student — particularly one who already faces the obstacles imposed by poverty — should be taught by such teachers. In fact, those students with less at home need more in the classroom. And no school or district leader should be forced by byzantine laws to keep ineffective teachers in their schools year after year. Yet, this is the reality in which California students live and learn every day.
This trial, regardless of the outcome, may not change that immediately. Nevertheless, it is forcing a very public and sometimes uncomfortable conversation about education equity. And that will pave the road to better, fairer educational opportunities for these nine plaintiffs, for their younger siblings, and for the millions of other California students who stand to benefit.
Carrie Hahnel leads research and policy analysis for The Education Trust–West. She focuses primarily on issues of funding equity, accountability, teacher effectiveness, and public transparency in California.
Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director, The Education Trust-West
Remarks at California State Assembly Informational Briefing and Rally
Commemorating The 50 Year Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom
August 28, 2013
It is truly a privilege to be here and I want to thank Assemblywoman Weber for her leadership in commemorating the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The struggle against racial segregation that led to Brown v. Board and the March on Washington opened the doors of our public schools to many other marginalized and disenfranchised groups of students.
Fifty years may seem like a long time. But I grew up in the Deep South – in Memphis, Tennessee – at a time when the word diversity was represented by two colors: white and black. You were either one or the other. The March on Washington recognized that in the years after Brown, segregation did not disappear. Some states just ignored the ruling. In others, it was transformed into a different type of separate and unequal as white students went to private, all-white religious schools with every advantage and African-American students and others went to underfunded public schools. After spending my childhood in public schools, I entered one of those all-white private schools established after the Brown decision. As one of the first students of color, racism was part of my everyday experience. I was told I was less of a human being because of the color of my skin, my culture, my heritage, and my name. Back then, I would dream of living in a place where color, race and religion didn’t define you as a person. I wanted my children to grow up in such a place.
It is tempting to think that California is such a place. We are the most diverse state in the nation. My children are bi-racial and the names of their classmates are as varied and beautiful as our Oakland community. But the fact is that California remains deeply segregated by race and class. More fundamentally, we are segregated by outcomes. Based on current statistics, only 1 in 20 black and Latino kindergarteners will graduate from high school, enter our state university system and graduate in six years. It is more likely for a young black man to go to prison than to attend college.
This is the unfinished business of the March. It is the result of an educational system that has put the interests of adults ahead of the interests of children and blamed these poor results on children, their families and communities. Our children and communities deserve better. They deserve leaders who will acknowledge their strengths, god-given talents, and potential for success. We need our leaders to remember that our new favorite buzzword – local control – once had a very different meaning. In the 1950s and 1960s, it meant the right to maintain separate and unequal schools. Now, we have the opportunity to make it mean something different. But that will only happen if our state’s leaders remember that they are still responsible for ensuring equity and protecting the powerless – even when that means confronting powerful special interests and challenging the representatives of the educational status quo. The civil rights movement opened the doors of our schools. It remains our task to make those doors open into a better future for our children.
Recently, I visited a classroom just ten miles from Silicon Valley and a few blocks away from a dozen new technology companies. With the exception of three mismatched computers pushed against the back wall, the scene had the power to evoke the nostalgia of someone in their sixties or seventies. The teacher stood in the front of the classroom. Her students sat in rows of desks staring at a whiteboard covered with two dimensional scribbling.
For some, including many educators, this nostalgia is comforting. Yet, for the parents of children living in our highest poverty communities, the failure of the typical American school to evolve into our technology and information age should cause profound concern.
In this new age, college and career success and long-term economic security are tied to both access to technology and the ability to make sense of the vast amount of information it brings to our fingertips. Wealthier families not only possess more social capital than poor families; they possess more technological capital.
So what is technological capital?
Take two students – an upper middle class student in a well-off school district and a low-income student in a high poverty district. The better off student has a laptop and a smart phone connected to the internet. Her classroom is equipped with the newest devices. The low-income student has to walk to a computer room equipped with second-hand computers with slow and fitful access the internet. He doesn’t have a computer at home or uses an outdated machine that lacks the processing speed to run programs using video as an instructional tool.
Between the two students is a broad hardware gap.
We could close this gap by buying a new computer or tablet for our low-income student. But that doesn’t address the fact that our better-off student lives in a home where high-speed internet access is as basic a utility as electricity. She can walk into any room in her house and use wi-fi to access her devices. In our low-income student’s house, electricity and gas are the basic utilities. Paying for them is a higher priority than internet access. If he wants to access the internet, he has to take a bus to the library.
Between the two students is a gap in internet access.
Even in schools that have closed hardware and access gaps, there’s another problem. Online instruction appears to be following the well-worn tracking patterns of traditional schools. Our well-off student can access enriching online curriculum and higher-level coursework in her online high school. In contrast, our low-income student is stuck completing online remediation courses in English and math.
Between the two students is a gap in the quality of the online education experience.
For better-off students, state-of-the-art hardware is a birthright. They have 24-hour internet access. They receive high quality online enrichment at a very early age. From the first time they pick up a mouse as preschoolers, they are banking technological capital. In contrast, low-income students start at a net disadvantage in technological capital that increases exponentially as they grow up in their disconnected world.
But the biggest problem of all isn’t something we can fix by equalizing access to hardware or the internet or high quality online instruction. It’s the lack of connectivity between our new technology world and our traditional education model at nearly every level from data analysis to classroom instruction.
For starters, most of the data that emerges from our three-dimensional online universe never appears in our two-dimensional K-12 world. Once it does arrive, it’s rarely used in a systematic way to change teaching practice in order to improve student performance and close achievement gaps. Because our low-income student enters school already at a disadvantage, the dual failure of our K-12 system to use technology to analyze his data and change instructional methods to target his needs has more serious consequences for his success.
Despite the best efforts of education technology promoters and receptive policymakers to market an alternative vision, the technology revolution has mostly floated outside our education system instead of transforming it. Without simultaneous work to close technological capital gaps and initiate a structural transformation of the K-12 system, the current application of technology in education has the potential to recreate and even exacerbate existing inequalities. This could further widen current opportunity gaps plaguing communities of color and low-income communities.
This outcome would be criminal.
For years, educators have focused on three core “low-tech” strategies to close achievement gaps – differentiated instruction, response to intervention and extended learning time. Technological advances ranging from adaptive online instruction to high quality text-to-speech tools have the power to provide true differentiation, target interventions and extend instruction far more efficiently and effectively than an individual teacher. We spend millions, if not billions of dollars, on skill-building and remediation efforts that have failed to pay dividends because they are wedged into the traditional school day. In fact, these strategies are often explicitly counterproductive because they replace students’ access to core curriculum with pull-out remediation or substandard classroom support lacking in the expertise, differentiation and consistency necessary for sustained academic improvement. Students with disabilities and English learners experience these systemic failures year after year.
To truly accelerate achievement and close achievement gaps, we need a new vision. We must be willing to make the large-scale investments necessary to close technological capital gaps while restructuring our K-12 model to align with those investments. This transformation will require unprecedented collaboration between government, business, school systems and communities. It will require both education technology investments through bonds designated to close technological capital gaps and the repurposing of current education funding focused on remediation. It will require changing or eliminating current laws and regulations that are barriers to school-level innovation, including 19th century funding models, seat time requirements, and the traditional school day. It will require new ways of training and re-training our teachers to become facilitators of learning rather than just holders of content. And it will require new ways of communicating with parents and students that speeds feedback and expands opportunities to learn into multiple settings beyond the classroom.
Most of all, it will require leaders willing to re-imagine our education model. Fortunately, in California, they don’t have to go very far to see promising examples to build on – from Rocketship Education’s technology-intensive program to San Diego Unified School District’s massive “i3” investment in education technology to close hardware and internet access gaps. Throughout California, hundreds of innovative companies have pioneered new ways to communicate, use data, and expand learning. Now, with over a billion dollars in funding to accelerate implementation of the Common Core and the new online Smarter Balanced Assessments, school districts and charter schools have additional funding they can use to close technological gaps.
We are at a critical point. If our leaders are willing to take the same risks and reach for the same rewards as the visionaries who have spurred our technological revolution, they could lead an educational innovation revolution that could transform the lives of our students.
Guest blog by Carrie Hahnel, Director of Research and Policy, The Education Trust-West
Today, The Education Trust released a new report showing that California lags behind other states on national test performance, suggesting that it may have a steeper road ahead than other states when it comes to implementing the Common Core State Standards. The paper, Uneven at the Start: Differences in State Track Records Foreshadow Challenges and Opportunities for Common Core, looks at patterns in 2011 performance and 2003 to 2011 improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for fourth and eighth graders in reading and math.
When its overall reading and math performance and improvement are considered together, California has one of the weakest track records in the country. Most other states post higher NAEP scores than California. In fourth grade reading, for example, only a handful of states that include Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico score lower. This would be less concerning if the state was improving faster than the U.S. as a whole. But since 2003, California has improved at about the same rate as the nation, meaning that it is not catching up with national averages, or with higher performing states.
California’s results are most striking—and concerning—for Latino students. When performance and improvement across all grades and subjects are considered together, California has among the nation’s weakest track records for Latino students, faring better than only one other state. And with Latinos comprising 54 percent of the student population in California, a whopping 3.2 million students, their academic success is critically important to this state’s future prosperity. Two of the states with the strongest track records for Latino students, Texas and Florida, also serve large Latino populations, dispelling the myth that California schools and educators face near-insurmountable obstacles not seen in other parts of our country.
We all know that the Common Core will stretch students to perform and learn at higher levels than ever before. We know that the instructional shifts this will require of our educators are not insignificant, and that serious energy will need to be invested in new teaching strategies, instructional tools and materials, professional development, and teacher collaboration and shared planning. This NAEP data should serve as a stark reminder that for California, this urgency must be felt even more strongly, and that realizing the potential of the Common Core may be more challenging here than in some other states.
With the shift to the Common Core, California has the opportunity to reverse the troubling achievement trends of the past and demonstrate that it can not only compete with other states, but that it can also surge ahead. The $1.25 billion that Governor Brown and the legislature have agreed to invest in Common Core implementation is a terrific start and demonstrates that California takes this opportunity seriously.
Now, districts must invest that new money wisely. We suggest districts start by assessing how ready they are to implement the core and identifying their most urgent priorities. Then, districts should spend dollars designated for Common Core to address those priority areas, which may include providing teachers with collaborative time for developing lessons and strategies for teaching the Common Core; investing in the development of district-level capacity and expertise to support the implementation of the Common Core; working with teachers and administrators to ensure they are teaching content aligned with the standards; expanding access to open source lesson banks; ensuring English learners and students below grade level have the supports they need to meet the demands of the core; and building the technology capacity, bandwidth, and expertise needed to support the new computer-adaptive assessments and expand educator access to online content and professional development.
With this new money, California districts have been offered an unprecedented opportunity to ready their educators and students for the Common Core. This may just be the turning point needed to raise expectations and performance for all students, so California’s lagging performance becomes a thing of the past.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said that the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice. With his plan to fix California’s inequitable and irrational education finance system, Gov. Jerry Brown is taking the arc of history and yanking it toward justice. His Local Control Funding Formula proposal would close long-standing funding gaps between rich and poor districts.
The LCFF would increase funding for all schools, according to the governor, while providing additional dollars for low-income students and English learners. The proposal creates a base grant for every student, a supplemental grant for disadvantaged students and a concentration grant that provides extra dollars for California’s highest-poverty districts.
In our 2012 paper, the Cruel Divide, we documented that school districts with the most low-income students received $620 less per pupil from state and local sources than our state’s wealthiest districts. In a district of 6,000 students, that’s a difference of $3.7 million a year. The Local Control Funding Formula would close that gap.
To continue reading, click here.
On March 20, 2013, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released “Teacher Quality Roadmap: Improving Policies and Practices in Oakland,” an in–‐depth study that examines teacher quality policies and practices in the Oakland Unified School District.
The study was commissioned by the Oakland Effective Teaching Coalition, a group made up of diverse organizations committed to helping Oakland’s students succeed and its teachers be supported in the classroom. The Effective Teaching Coalition is comprised of Great Oakland Public Schools Leadership
Center, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), Youth Together, Youth Uprising, The Education Trust—West, SEIU Local1021 and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Our coalition sponsored the NCTQ study so that an organization with an outside perspective could help collect the data, highlight important issues, and increase awareness of ways to support effective teaching. While the NCTQ study does not include every possible solution, the Effective Teaching Coalition agrees the district should seriously engage with the data and the recommendations.
To view the study, go to http://bit.ly/NCTQOak
School finance has the power to bring tears to my eyes. Sometimes, when I am reading the latest School Services of California bulletin, I start squinting. Then I start yawning. Then, before I know it, I’m squinting and yawning simultaneously, causing my eyes to water. When I see the words “revenue limit,” I begin looking for a pillow. The explanation of the difference between a “Test 1” and a “Test 2” year for calculating Proposition 98 funding can actually cause my brain to melt out of my ears.
Despite these disturbing effects, my organization, the Education Trust-West, is focusing our attention on education finance. Earlier this year, we released “The Cruel Divide,” looking at the difference in funding between wealthy and poor districts. After running the numbers, we found that the poorest districts in California actually receive $620 less per pupil than the wealthiest districts. Around the time that we released that paper, the “Occupy” protests were in full swing, and the issue of income inequality was in the media spotlight. To this day, I wonder if I shouldn’t have taken our finance briefs to the Occupy encampment in downtown Oakland and given a detailed explanation of the impact of Proposition 13 on unrestricted school district revenue. My speech would have given protestors something useful to attack – or saved downtown by turning them catatonic.
Last week we released our second finance paper, “Tipping the Scale Towards Equity,” using a new set of school finance data collected by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights (OCR). This paper examines differences in spending on teachers and schools inside California’s 20 largest school districts.
To read more, click here.