Archive for April, 2010
Great news! The Governor annouced California’s intent to apply for the second round of the Race to the Top competition today. For all those who think that California is an education reform basket case, this was an important sign. It shows that our leaders are committed to putting our best foot forward in a national competition with the potential to transform the lives of our Latino, African-American and poor students. Below is our release.
STATEMENT BY THE EDUCATION TRUST—WEST ON CALIFORNIA’S INTENT TO APPLY FOR THE SECOND ROUND OF RACE TO THE TOP
(Oakland, CA) – After much speculation as to whether or not California would drop out, The Education Trust—West commends California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Gloria Romero and state education leaders for formally announcing a new strategy to win a share of $4.35 billion in federal education stimulus dollars in the second round of the Race to the Top Competition. As the state faces massive budget deficits and persistent achievement gaps, California’s continued pursuit of funds aimed at improving teaching and learning in our public schools is worthy of praise.
“We met with state leaders last week and urged to them to keep California in the race on behalf of the millions of underserved Latino, African-American students and children in poverty in our state who could benefit from a combination of reform and funding,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust—West. “We also shared our ideas for revising the application to significantly boost our chances to win.”
According to a policy brief released last week, California’s Race to the Top: A Road Map for Round Two, The Education Trust—West contends California state leaders must be even bolder and more innovative in proposing second round reform strategies that will garner the points needed to keep up with returning Round One finalists.
In addition to the clustering of large reform-minded districts, the policy brief highlighted other concrete reforms that earned special recognition for first round winners Delaware and Tennessee, as well as top finalists Florida, New York and Illinois — three large diverse states like California. These states were rewarded for committing to innovative but feasible strategies with rapid timelines for improvement.
With the question of whether we would apply out of the way, California can win by quickly understanding why it lost the first time, what other states did better, and what it must do differently to win.
“Deciding to apply is a step in the right direction,” stated Ramanathan. “The next step is devising a new strategy that prioritizes a strong reform agenda instead of proposing the same old water-down reforms.”
The full brief is available online at: www.Edtrustwest.org
The Governor’s release is linked:
So this is what happens when you’re following a team and you happen to run into their trainer in a bar and the trainer tells you that the point guard and the power forward are out of the next tournament because they are depressed by the results of the last tournament where they came in 27th.
You take this information and construct a set of odds and potentially put a lot of money down against the team playing in the tournament.
Then, at the last minute, the Head of the Tournament calls your team president and encourages him to send his team to compete in the tourny because other teams are dropping out left and right and it wouldn’t be good if there were so few teams left that the sponsor decided pull out. So, your team decides to actually give it a shot – given the better odds.
According to this article from the LA Times, this is what appears to have happened to California’s decision on whether to apply for the second round of Race to the Top. Although, we are all still waiting for the final word from the Governor.
Kudos to the Oabama administration for the nudge that Secretary Duncan gave to our leaders. We hope that our Governor will take the nudge and commit to submitting a second round application. We hope that the information in the article is true and that California’s application will bed based on a strategy we floated in our Roadmap for the Second Round of Race to the Top. I like the Super LEA strategy of leveraging the work of a group of forward-thinking California districts committed to serious reform targeting their achievement gaps . However, once the parameters of the reform proposals in the application are determined, other districts willing to commit to making changes in areas such as assessing teacher quality and assigning the best teachers to the highest need students should be allowed to sign on. We also expect the state to hold districts accountable for their promises.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this process works out. If the Governor releases a statement indicating that we’re moving forward, we’ll post our recommendations for next steps on our website.
Ok. Where are we on Race to the Top? Is the largest state in the nation going to pass on the most important educational competition for significant dollars since…
Never. That’s right. There never has been a competition for federal dollars because normally the federal government just hands out dollars hand over fist without giving a damn what happens to them. See the Wall Street bailout if you need some proof of that.
Now, the federal government asks for education reform in return for dollars and what will California give them? I’ve calculated some odds based on an assessment of the current dysfunctional state of our state government, recent conversations and 10 minutes with one of those black balls that gives you an answer when you shake it up. Chances are the California will send out:
A quality RTTT application that builds on the strengths of the first round application and incorporates the best reforms from the top-scoring states - 12:1
The same application as the first round - 3:1
The application from Delaware with California’s name taped over the word “Delaware”: 2:1
No application at all – 1:3
A big middle finger with a CTA sign attached 2:5
I’ll be taking bets until the formal announcement.
Usually, when I go to Sacramento, I want to take a shower afterwards. It’s not the elected officials. For the most part, and contrary to popular opinion, they’re pretty decent people. It isn’t their staffs. With some exceptions, they’re usually pretty policy wonkish. And what’s not to like about policy wonks?
It’s the education establishment lobbyists. They can be lovely people but placing them all in one room, like a committee hearing, is a bit grotesque. For an outsider, its like wandering into bullfight or an ancient Roman coliseum where slaves were being forced to fight wild animals to the death. The establishment lobbyists sit, 100 rows up, so distant and protected from the blood and guts that gets spilled down below at the local level, you wonder where and how many of them get the energy to shout and thrust their thumbs up or down.
But I digress. Yesterday was a good day. SB 955 passed out of the Senate Education Committee and made it to the floor. Two Democrats – Senators Romero and Senator Alquist voted for the bill along with the Republicans, and I commend them for their courage. The process was true theater. It came down to CTA vs. the Civil Rights community, and the leadership of LAUSD. CTA brought in the head of the AFT, Randi Weingraten, to the hearing to argue against the bill. She actually tried to make the case that protecting seniority was a civil rights issue. The debate lasted for two hours and kudos to Senator Romero for both keeping it on track and confronting every one of the many amazingly ridiculous assertions by CTA. In the end, it looked like the bill was going down in defeat. The votes weren’t there. Then, as the roll call was concluding , Senator Abel Maldonado (who wasn’t supposed to show up for reasons we won’t get into) popped in and voted ”yes”.
Now the fight heads to the Senate floor. And we’ll be there.
Opinion: Neediest schools should be able to keep their best teachers
By Arun Ramanathan
Special to the Mercury News
Posted: 04/20/2010 08:00:00 PM PDT
Last month, school districts around California issued layoff notices to 30,000 teachers because of the state budget crisis. It is deplorable that our state has forced the education system to take a disproportionate share of our state’s budget cuts over the past three years, forcing this annual layoff process.
But what’s just as unfortunate is the way that these layoffs are implemented. Instead of keeping the best teachers and laying off those who are least effective, districts were forced to let the newer teachers go first, regardless of how well they did their jobs.
In January, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed to change the outdated state law that prevents schools from considering anything other than how long a teacher has worked in the school system in the layoff process. Last week, state Sen. Bob Huff, R-Glendora, proposed legislation, SB 955, that would allow schools to make staffing decisions based on effectiveness without regard to seniority.
For years, the Education Trust has worked to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that affect our communities of color and students in poverty. Staff stability and teacher quality are critical elements of school success, particularly for the many high-poverty and high-need schools that serve California’s poorest students, English learners and students of color.
Because these schools are more likely to have less senior teachers, the state’s existing quality-blind law on layoffs
causes great churn in their staffs, forcing out many talented teachers. We believe that this cycle must stop and that high-need schools must be protected from the disproportionate impact of teacher layoffs on their staff.
SB 955 takes the first step in this process by permitting local schools to make their own staffing decisions that place a higher priority on teacher effectiveness — shown to be the single most important school-based factor in determining student achievement— versus years of service. This approach has several benefits, including recognizing that skills, talent and results matter in addition to experience.
Most important, quality-based layoff rules would allow schools to protect their best teachers at a time when great teachers are more important than ever. And, rather than being a state mandate, the bill provides districts the flexibility to make these decisions based on an assessment of their students’ needs.
Until we construct a solution to the boom and bust cycle of California state budgets, teacher layoffs are likely to continue. That is all the more reason for the Legislature to support the changes in SB 955 and give school districts the tools to make fair and rational staffing decisions that are in the interests of students.
It is critical that policy makers take action to promptly address the impact of seniority-based employment decisions on high-poverty and high-need schools before another annual cohort of great, young teachers is forced out of the classroom by an outdated system that does not put students first.
ARUN RAMANATHAN is executive director of Education Trust-West. He wrote this article for this newspaper.
We’re tired of waiting for California’s leaders to signal their plans for Round Two of Race to the Top. We’re the largest state in the nation. We have the largest student population, the largest achievement gaps and the biggest budget deficit. We’re in sore need of education reform focused on shifting our educational system from satisfying the needs of adults to meeting the needs of children. We have a chance to present the federal government with an application and a plan that leverages the best that California has to offer in education reform and have a chance at significant federal dollars in a time of budget crisis. Yet, we still have no idea whether our state’s education leaders are going to develop and submit a second round application.
Today, we released our easy to follow roadmap for California’s second round application. To construct this roadmap, we analyzed the comments of the reviewers of California’s application, the applications of the winning states Delaware and Tennessee and top-scoring applications from Florida, Illinois and New York. If our leaders needed a blueprint to get them started, they have one now. If they needed a roadmap to figure out where to go for revisions and reforms, they have one now. The clock is ticking. The deadline is little more than a month away. There’s no more time to waste.
Never a dull moment here in California – even when budget woes seem to dominate every second. Tomorrow the Governor will be at Markham Middle School to talk about the devastating impact that seniority based layoffs have had on this high need, high poverty school in LAUSD. Markham is one of the schools where the turnover in staff over the last few years has been so severe that the ACLU has filed a lawsuit.
First, let’s get something straight. I hate layoffs. California needs to fix our state budget to prevent these boom and bust cycles. Our leaders must also stop forcing education to take a disproportionate share of the budget cuts. Take a look at the recent LAO report on the Governor’s budget proposal and you’ll see that K-12 education got killed over the last three years. But let’s be clear. California voters were given a chance last year in a series of initiatives to support education and offset these budget cuts. They didn’t. So, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
All of this blame falls on adults. Almost of the pain, however, seems to fall on the kids. Seniority-based layoffs are just one symptom of this longstanding equation in California. This is a mechanism that was created and exists to benefit a certain set of adults in our education system. I haven’t heard a single supporter of this seniority explain how it benefits students. And I haven’t heard anyone deny that it doesn’t disproportionately impact the students who need teacher stability and quality the most. That is why this law has to change.
There’s no need to say it when somebody else says it better. The Editorial Board of the Sacramento Bee placed the blame for the state’s failure to put in a strong application for the federal Race to the Top competition directly where it belongs. Call it the teachers unions, timid district leaders or school boards. I call it ”The Forces of Inertia.”
It’s been weeks since the Department of Education released the reviewers comments on California’s application. There’s only six weeks until the next application is due. I’m worried that the Forces of Inertia have stalled the process yet again. Of course, it’s their job to keep things they way they are. And California’s bottom-ranking education system is a reflection of just how good they are at their work. I just hope they don’t win out this time. For the largest state in the nation to fail to put together a revised application that signals our commitment to real education reform would be a sad statement.
Yesterday, the Governor’s office released its proposals to reform teacher layoff policies. The legislation, SB 955 (Huff): School Districts, would allow schools to layoff, assign, reassign, and transfer teachers and administrators based on effectiveness and subject matter needs, without regard to seniority.
According to the Governor’s Office, “Current fiscal difficulties have resulted in the loss of many recently hired but highly effective teachers, while some ineffective teachers continue to be either ignored or shuffled from school to school. These seniority provisions also disproportionately impact struggling schools in low-income neighborhoods because the teachers at these schools tend to have little seniority. These state barriers on local school districts will help California regain the luster of a school system that was the envy of the nation three decades ago.”
The proposal includes other reforms in such as the ability to expedite the dismissal of ineffective staff. Jason Song of the LA Times wrote a remarkable expose last year about the difficulties LAUSD had in dismissing even abusive teachers in its public schools.
I’m excited that the Governor has taken the issue of the impact of seniority-based layoffs seriously and that Senator Huff has agreed to carry the bill. But I think it can expect massive opposition from CTA and others. As a result, I hope that the Governor will continue to address these fixes as part of the budget process, as he indicated in his January budget. Making a change of this magnitude, correcting a problem that has had such a negative impact on our highest need schools and students, could be a significant part of his legacy.
Three budget crisis ago, San Diego Unified sent out 900 pink slips to teachers and other certificated staff. I believed the layoffs were unnecessary. They seemed more driven by the budget department’s desire to downsize and the school board’s desire to prove its fiscal discipline than the severity of the cash crisis. There were other alternatives that weren’t taken and I wasn’t very popular with some folks because I kept pointing them out.
At that time, I was working with the Education Coalition in San Diego to highlight the impact of the cuts on our schools to our elected officials. There are Republicans in San Diego, some of whom can be characterized as “moderate”. As a result, there was a lot of statewide political attention focused on influencing them to vote against budget cuts or for revenue increases (in Republican-speak “commit political suicide”).
Part of this effort involved organizing rallies. There seemed to be a rally every other week. One of the largest was held at Serra High School, a high school in a Republican district. We had a long a parade of luminaries from Senator Jack Scott, to Gloria Romero, to Denise Ducheny come to speak. I remember sitting in the break room at Serra High School with four Senators sitting at the other end of the table, listening to them banter while a huge crowd of protesters gathered on the lawn outside.
However, the main thing I remember about that time is a group of teachers that came to every single one of those rallies. They all worked at a single elementary school, Jackson Elementary in southeast San Diego. The student population of Jackson is 100% poor. The students are Latino and Vietnamese and nearly all are English Learners. Jackson had a long history of low performance but three years earlier, under the leadership of a new principal, Rupi Boyd, they had started a remarkable turnaround.
At the heart of this turnaround was a single “human resource” strategy. After most of the previous staff retired or chose to leave, Rupi had a chance to hire nearly all of the teachers. Most of those new hires were first year graduates of local teacher preparation programs. Over the next three years, these teachers built a culture of quality instruction and high expectations. They analyzed student data, implemented targeted interventions, and a built strong measure of staff cohesion and a close connection to the community. After looking at their performance, we started to use Jackson as a demonstration site for visits from elected officials and their staff. One year, Jackson’s success was highlighted in the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s state of education speech.
The big negative of this turnaround strategy became clear when the pink slips went out. All of Jackson’s teachers received a layoff notice. Because they were at the bottom of the seniority totem pole, they were going to be bumped out by more senior teachers. That’s why they came to the rallies as a group. They weren’t just trying to save their jobs. They were trying to save their school.
A few weeks ago, I co-authored an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times with Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project about the lunacy of the seniority-based layoff system. We know that our higher need schools tend to have less senior teachers. Many of these teachers are great instructors who are changing the lives of children. Yet, because we treat them like interchangeable parts. Because we focus on adult needs instead of the needs of students and communities, we allow appalling policies such as seniority-based layoffs to exist. Year after year, these policies disproportionately damage our highest need schools. Then when some of those schools with the greatest churn don’t improve, we call them failures. Are they failures or has the system failed them?
Fortunately, every now and then, the floodgates of common sense open. The most recent evidence of this phenomenon is the surge of bills across the nation reforming teacher tenure and seniority laws. The bills would allow other factors than how long a teacher has taught to be used when making decisions on teacher layoffs.
The bill that’s getting the most attention is Florida. There, the embattled Republican Governor, Charlie Crist, is stalling on a decision to sign or veto a bill that would overhaul tenure, seniority and compensation rules for the state’s teachers. The opposition from Florida’s teachers unions has been swift and dramatic. And the pressure on the Governor from both sides is enormous.
In other states, similar efforts are underway. But the bills aren’t caught in the same highly politicized process that’s characterizing the Florida debate. Both Tennessee and Delaware submitted major revisions of their tenure and seniority policies as part of their winning applications for Race to the Top. Recently, New York state and Colorado both took up the issue of allowing school districts to use factors other than seniority in layoff processes. In New York’s case, the bill is being pressed by Democrats.
If politicians in other states on both sides of aisle can make this type of commitment, we should expect the same for our California politicians. The Governor, in his January budget, made a proposal to allow districts to use other factors than seniority such as effectiveness in layoff decisions. Given the depth of this years budget crisis, the number of layoffs and the possibility of another year or more of difficult economic times in California, this change is long overdue.