About The EdVocate West

The EdVocate West is the official blog of The Education Trust-West, a statewide education research, policy and advocacy organization that 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.

April 13, 2010 at 11:34 pm

LCAPs are a chance to get real about college readiness

Guest blog by Orville Jackson, Senior Research Analyst, The Education Trust-West

By July 1 this year, shortly after the most recent cohort of high school graduates walks across the stage, school districts in California will have finalized their first Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs. Even though the deadline is fast approaching, there is still a chance for districts to add some small actions to their plans that will make big differences for getting more students on the path to college.

The simple fact is that too many districts have held low expectations and few college aspirations for many low-income students, English learners, and students whose parents did not attend college. In some cases, districts will reveal these low expectations through their LCAPs by making no mention of college beyond boilerplate references to college and career readiness goals. It’s simply not enough to set goals around college readiness if those goals aren’t supported by actions and services, meaningful metrics, and funding to make sure that the goals can be achieved. To make a real difference, districts will have to do more than just give lip service to college preparation. They must provide access to rigorous courses and academic supports, as well as the college counseling, financial aid workshops, and other activities necessary to truly help students be college ready.

Fortunately there are some simple things that districts can do, even at this late stage, to address college access and preparation through their LCAPs. For example, every unified and high school district in the state should aim to increase the number of students who complete the UC/CSU A-G curriculum and should ensure that every high school senior completes a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or California Dream Act Application.

There’s also no need for school districts to start from scratch on this part of their plan. There are a number of resources that provide guidance to districts as they address college readiness in their plans. The Education Trust-West, in partnership with the College Access Foundation of California, developed a template for how districts can include college financial aid-related strategies in their LCAPs. The College Board has also produced LCAP guidance and a list of college readiness metrics related to Advanced Placement courses and SAT/PSAT exams, available here. Other districts’ draft LCAPs can also serve as models. For example, the San Jose Unified LCAP includes plans for doubling the number of high school counselors in the coming year. And Elk Grove Unified proposes to develop a comprehensive district plan to increase participation in honors, AP, and IP courses as well as implementing 100 percent PSAT participation.

These two districts, and others, aren’t satisfied to simply “check the box” on their LCAP when it comes to addressing college readiness. It’s not too late for other districts to make some simple changes to their plans that will have real impact on preparing students for college.

June 19, 2014 at 9:03 pm Leave a comment

For California Students, Common Core is No Joke

Guest blog by Amber Banks, Practice Associate, The Education Trust-West 

Comedian Louis C.K. recently set off a Twitter firestorm with his critiques of Common Core implementation in New York after his daughters’ experience with Common Core-aligned standardized tests. His primary complaints stated that the tests are poorly written, the questions are too difficult, and the implementation of the new standards is being rushed overall.

Louis C.K.’s concerns highlight some of the public perception problems the new standards have encountered, nationwide and in California.  A recent survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that most Californians are supportive of the new standards, however there is still some confusion about the new standards and the tests aligned with them. As is quite common in the rhetoric about the Common Core, Louis C.K. blurs the lines between the two.

The Common Core Standards are a set of expectations of what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Teachers, content experts, researchers, and community members developed the Common Core State Standards and they reflect the skills our nation’s students need to excel in college and career in the 21st century. The standards are not a test, and do not lay out a required set of specific learning experiences. Classroom teachers have an immense amount of flexibility with regard to how they teach the standards, what teaching materials they use, and what types of assessments students are asked to complete throughout the year to demonstrate their learning.

Like any new effort, it will take time to adjust to these new expectations and ways of demonstrating mastery. The need for an adjustment period, however, does not negate the quality and promise of the standards. In order to close pervasive achievement gaps in our state, and across the country, we must invest in and support students and teachers to enable them to rise to the challenges of the Common Core.

With this new set of standards we have a new set of tests. And Louis C.K. is correct that these new standardized tests are more challenging than previous tests. But asking students to think critically, explain their logic, and go beyond filling in bubbles for multiple-choice questions is a step in the right direction. Granted, it will take time before parents, teachers, and students are acclimated to the new standards and the expectations they present. The new standardized tests will also require time before they are refined as well. For this reason, SBAC is currently field-testing in California and other states to calibrate and finalize the test items.

The Common Core aligned tests are but one component of the rollout of the new standards. It is appropriate to have new standardized tests that are aligned with higher expectations called for in the new standards. The tests are more rigorous, and they should be. All students, and high-need students in particular, deserve access to high quality instruction, effective and accountable teachers, and adequate resources to meet these higher standards in order to be college and career-ready.

May 14, 2014 at 6:33 pm Leave a comment

Thank a Teacher This Week! (May 5-9)

Guest Blog by Dr. Jeannette LaFors, Director of Equity Initiatives, The Education Trust-West

This week I’m personally thanking several of my teachers — the ones who inspired me to become a teacher, my colleagues who supported and mentored me as I learned how to become a teacher, and the teachers who modeled what it meant to pursue social justice through education.

Before I did, I received one of the most powerful affirmations a teacher could get. One of my former students called me to say that she was so grateful I’d never given up on her even during times when she had given up on herself.

My former student took the 9th grade World History course I taught years ago. I recall her relief and pride after she’d overcome her fears of presenting her final project in a public exhibition. She was soaring in that moment. She also took a course to assist her and other predominantly first-generation college-bound students to prepare for and succeed in college.* Despite my constant assertions that college was within her reach, she never seemed to latch on to the idea that college was for her. At least not then.

This week on our call I learned that she has been attending a community college while working full-time and raising her two children. She is only a semester away from transferring to a four-year college where she plans to major in international relations. She told me that one of her instructors thinks she should publish her writing, and that I’d been right when I’d told her long ago, “It’s never too late to further your education.”

Just like it’s never too late to further your education, it’s never too late to thank a teacher!

Consider any of the following ways to express your gratitude:

  1. Reach out to one of your teachers with a message about how they have made a difference in your life. Call, send an email, write a letter, or message them on social media.
  2. Share your appreciation with others by posting an appreciation on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other venues. Participate in local and national campaigns to thank a teacher.
  3. Volunteer your time to help a teacher. Ask a teacher you know or visit a school to find out how you can help.
  4. Donate to an organization that supports teachers. Many school districts have foundations to support teachers, and DonorsChoose matches teachers and donors for specific needs.
  5. If you are a parent or guardian, discuss with your student how they can express their gratitude for their teacher, and add your own expressions of appreciation, too.
  6. Advocate for policies and practices that ensure all students have access to great teachers.
  7. Inspire the next generation of teachers to join the profession. Encourage anyone you know who might consider teaching as a profession to check out www.teach.org.
  8. Sponsor a Bay Area teacher to attend the Education Trust-West’s first annual Gala Benefit on May 14. We have a two-for-one special to recognize Teacher Appreciation Week.
  9. Keep learning! And keep thanking the teachers who helped you and others along the way.

*Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID.

May 8, 2014 at 4:44 pm Leave a comment

California’s Reed Settlement Supports Teachers, Students But Dodges Harder ‘LIFO’ Issue

Guest blog by Carrie Hahnel, Director of Research and Policy, The Education Trust-West

court settlement in California this month represents a victory of sorts for 37 Los Angeles schools that have, for years, suffered from a revolving door of teachers and abysmal academic results. But it’s hardly the “historic agreement” that some have touted it to be.

Although the Reed v. California settlement sends much-needed resources to these schools, it should not be considered historic that labor and district partners agreed to fund three years of professional development, special education support services, mentor teachers, counselors, and assistant principals — all arguably basic services every school needs. Nor should we celebrate the fact that Reed fails to address California’s “last-in, first-out” (LIFO) layoff law, which started the whole fight back in 2009.

That year, the recession forced the Los Angeles Unified School District to slash its budget and lay off thousands of educators, starting with newer teachers. These teachers were, predictably, concentrated in some of the district’s neediest schools. The Reed lawsuit, brought against the state and district, argued that the layoffs denied students in these schools the right to equal educational opportunities. The case ping-ponged between various courts and weathered appeals in the years that followed, until this month’s final settlement.

The settlement manages to sidestep tough questions of how teacher seniority or effectiveness factor into employment decisions, instead focusing on new and much-needed investments in educator supports. The settlement rightly recognizes the need to invest in teachers and encourage principals to come to, and stay at, needy schools. It remains to be seen whether bonuses of $10,000 per year are sufficient to attract and keep talented leaders, rather than just warm bodies.

In an attempt to head off future layoffs, the district plans to offer teachers in the 37 schools specialized training in how to teach “the unique student population” served by these schools. The district’s hope is that it will be able to skip these specially trained teachers when assembling layoff lists, just as it may skip special education teachers and language specialists. This band-aid approach to protecting certain schools from layoffs has been used with mixed success, at best, in a small handful of other California districts. While this might help these schools in the short-term, it’s hardly a long-term solution. What’s needed is the more sweeping overhaul of LIFO called for by Vergara v. California, which will be decided in the coming months. When no longer forced to make layoff decisions based on seniority alone, California districts might finally be able to make employment decisions based on what’s best for kids.

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.

April 24, 2014 at 10:05 pm Leave a comment

No Matter the Outcome, Vergara Trial Is a Win for California Students

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 TrustWest. She focuses primarily on issues of funding equity, accountability, teacher effectiveness, and public transparency in California.

February 27, 2014 at 9:34 pm Leave a comment

Remarks Commemorating the 50 Year Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

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

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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. 

August 28, 2013 at 9:20 pm Leave a comment

California Can Lead the Way in Closing Technology Gaps

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.    

August 13, 2013 at 3:59 pm 3 comments

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