Archive for June, 2010
Today we released our inaugural Equity Alert. This Alert highlights California’s newest statewide rankings and uncovers all-too familiar achievement gaps. The state’s 2009 Base Annual Performance Index (API) data and statewide rankings reveal that race and class continue to play a substantial role in shaping educational opportunity, and that systemic inequity is pervasive in California’s schools. The report outlines actions state policymakers and education leaders can take to address these patterns of inequity. These actions include: implementing policies to identify, recruit and retain highly-effective teachers and principals; ensuring that high-need students have access to the supports and interventions they need from the earliest grades; and providing additional resources to the state’s lowest performing schools in exchange for greater accountability.
In many ways this is a familiar story on a large scale. The sad part of this story is the millions of individual stories of lost opportunities and lives that underlie this data. Those stories, each individual one, is why this data must change.
Wow – changes are afoot in California’s largest urban school districts.
We know that John Deasy, the former superintendent of Prince George’s County in Maryland will be the Deputy Superintendent in LAUSD. He was most recently a major figure in the Gates Foundation and given the challenges faced by LAUSD, he’ll be thrust into the fire pretty quickly. It’s a sign of the times in LAUSD that they chose to bring in a nationally respected education leader to work with Cortines and their leadership team to take the next step in their transformation of the district. By focusing on doing the right thing for kids and parents, through approaches such as the Teacher Effectiveness Taskforce, LAUSD is suddenly getting national attention as an innovative, reform-minded district.
We also know that Bill Kowba, the former interim superintendent in San Diego is now the superintendent. Bill was a former Navy admiral. I worked for him in two stints when he was interim superintendent in San Diego and I know his heart is in the right place. In his first stint, we didn’t always see eye to eye, especially on the massive layoffs the district did. But that was a different time with a different board. Given that the current board took a “no layoff” approach until recently, it’s an interesting turn of events. There are 120,000 students in San Diego Unified and some truly wonderful educators and I hope that closing the district’s longstanding opportunity and achievement gaps for students of color and students in poverty will be the leadership team’s first priority.
Then there is San Jose, where ETW’s superintendent in residence, Linda Murray, was superintendent for over a decade. The district has been under the very able leadership of Don Ingelias for nearly ten years and I don’t think the district has received the credit it deserves for some of its innovative approaches to improving student achievement, particularly its A-G for all policy and its use of data. I know Vince from his time as an area superintendent in San Diego. He wasn’t there for long but he impressed me and many others with his sharp mind and unbending focus on closing achievement gaps.
It’s interesting and amazing when you look at districts like San Jose, Long Beach, and Garden Grove at the stability of their leadership and their process of succession between education leaders. There are clear factors in board and administrative leadership and their focus on students over politics that produces such stability and lays the framework for improving student achievement (there may be a direct correlation between the length of board meetings and district stability and success). There’s a great book by Frederick Hess called “Spinning Wheels” that talks about the typical churn of urban districts. It paints a very recognizable picture of dysfunction. What we lack is the opposite picture – the blueprint of those places that have found the way to not only avoid the typical dysfunction but make a real difference in the lives of their students and their families. But at least, we know where to look and where not to.
So we’ve had a chance to take a good look at SB 1285 from Steinberg and the initial reviews are mixed. Clearly, we want to ensure that high need schools are not disproportionately impacted by layoffs. Capping the number and percentage of layoffs in a high need school has promise. But we’ve been clear that the way not to do it is forcing districts to balance teacher years of experience in all schools. That’s a legal strategy, not an education reform strategy and can lead to senior teachers displacing less senior teachers who may be more effective. There are many great elements of SB 1285 that would allow districts to deviate from a strictly seniority based process and those we applaud. We’d like districts to have the opportunity to equitably distribute teachers based on effectiveness. That’s the kind of equal protection that will produce the greatest changes in the lives of students.
Well, I’ve been very bad about posting lately mostly because I was out-of-town at an Achieve meeting in Washington D.C. That’s not really a good excuse given that people blog from Washington D.C. all the time. So, I’ll give up that excuse in the future (along with whining).
In D.C., we presented our updated Education Opportunity Audit and Blueprint process to representatives from 22 states. We focused on the recent work we’ve been doing to take this work to scale through the analysis of large district high school transcript databases. This work allows us to look at all transcripts at a district level and identify the course taking patterns of students by race, class, geography, etc. We can see trends at the district or cluster level and then use that information to promote deeper explorations and make the necessary fixes.
What was particularly interesting about this meeting was the reaction of the participants to our presentation and the questions they asked. Most of these twenty-two states had committed to implementing or were implementing college and career ready standards. They had made their version of the A-G default, their state’s default curriculum because they believed that they had a responsibility to ensure that all of their students could make a real choice between college and career. What a concept!
We’re accustomed in California to getting some pretty typical feedback about our work and confronting the belief of some “that not all students should have the opportunity to attend college.” Here, we were presenting to 22 states who had already made the right decision. So their questions were not about doing the work but about “how can we take it further?” by linking our analyses to other data sets.
It reminded me of recent Common Standards meeting in Sacramento. Linda was sitting on a panel with an academic with a history of advising a certain gubernatorial candidate and this academic was throwing out the old thinking about kids needing to train to be auto mechanics. I’m thinking we have millions of poor kids, millions of immigrant kids in this state and the best you can throw out to their parents is old school thinking on career tech education. Is this what you’re going to advise your gubernatorial candidate? Or are you going to advise him to talk about the possibilities that a quality education opens up for your kids? How about the opportunity to ensure that your children have a better life than you had? That sounds like a pretty good message to me. Isn’t that the American dream?
By the way, Mr. Professor, I had a chance to listen to industry folks from the local auto sector explain to me once why they didn’t hire our high school graduates. It was because they were insufficiently prepared in the high level mathematics and critical thinking they have receieved from college and career-ready work. That’s what they wanted us to fix.
So I’m sitting in an airport and about to board a plan to Washington D.C. where we’ll be presenting at an Achieve conference on our work on college and career readiness and I wandered into a bookstore where I saw Diane Ravitch’s book prominently featured among the non-fiction. So I stopped and since I had a couple of hours to kill read a few chapters (I’m a great believer in free content).
I interviewed Diane for my dissertation before she became the apostate of the charter and accountability movement. She was a great interview and had some fascinating insights. I got a big kick out of reading a little bit of her book, especially the chapter on San Diego Unified (where I worked for the last three and a half years). Diane should go back there now and see what life is like with a union-run board and a completely dysfunctional central office run by individual members of the school board. Strange how the pendulum never stops in the middle. Always has to go all the way - one way or the other. I guess that’s how it is with addicts of any stripe. When they see the light, it usually blinds them.
Last week, I attended a meeting on the Common Core Standards in Sacramento. The morning was about the core itself. The afternoon was a discussion about the core by an esteemed panel. Earlier in the week, I’d met with David Coleman of Achieve who is considered to be one of the driving forces behind the core.
David was great. It was nice to talk about the education standards with the focus on lessons from education research and practice rather than the lunatic politics of standards setting that are so prevalent in Sacramento. In particular, we had a great conversation about how the core could potentially transform education in this nation by actually making them relevant to teachers and parents and allowing for meaningful state to state comparisons. We also talked about how ELD standards could be used to facilitate the process by which English learners could more rapidly achieve English proficiency instead of languishing in substandard programs for their entire school careers.
At the very least, we had a conversation about standards that was meaningful. Contrast that with the Sacramento meeting where the usual suspects sat in a room thinking the usual ideas and raising concerns about the impact of the common core on career and technical education. Fortunately, Linda Murray sat on the standards panel and had an opprotunty to both show and talk about the data revealing how far our students are from achieving our “world-class” standards.
Indeed, the meeting made it very clear once again how distanced Sacramento is from the day-to-day of school systems. Instead of thinking – what are college and career ready standards? Do we have a system to measure those standards? And do we have the data system to make informed decisions based on how well our students are doing in achieving those standards? We focus on how wonderful our standards are and how important it is to make them more and more rigorous and if fewer and fewer achieve them it’s because of their failure (or their communities).
At this point so few of our Latino and African-American students are entering college and succeeding in college that we should be questioning all aspects of our system. And we should be asking whether the common core can change that trajectory.
What an odd and wonderful state we live in.
Let’s start with the big ticket:
For Governor, the Republicans selected Meg Whitman who ran a company that ten years ago was basically the classified section and the primary source of revenue for most of the major newspapers in the state. In some ways, you could say that Ebay’s rise and Whitman’s fortune was built on the slow and steady decline of every major newspaper company in California and the nation.
For education, one can only hope that Whitman has a more coherent agenda that the current administration who has drifted from self-interested political pragmatism to partisan bashing to something in between often in the space of a single day. The only practical result of this has been to confuse everyone and create enemies on all sides. All in all, a remarkable accomplishment.
On the other side, the Democrats selected the late Governor Jerry Brown. My apologies. He’s alive. It’s really wonderful for me to know, now that I’m forty years old, that our Governor could be twice my age and dated stars from movies made before I was born. Really gives me hope. By the way, didn’t we just have a campaign for President where the Democrats and the Republicans did the opposite thing with John McCain and Barack Obama? What if Obama had come from CA instead of Illinois? From the looks of it, he’d have to pay his dues for another thirty years before he could run for Governor.
I’m not sure where Mayor-Governor-Attorney General Brown stands on education policy issues. But since he’s going to need the union’s deep pockets to win, he most certainly will owe them some loyalty. Or perhaps he is beyond that point given his long history in politics?
Given how Whitman will owe business and because of her business roots and how Brown will owe labor, we’re likely to see issues of education reform in the coming campaign constructed around the same themes as the past twenty years – MORE MONEY vs. CUT THE WASTE. That would be sad given how much our state has changed and how different our student population is now. We are a majority-minority state with students of color comprising over 70% of the K-12 population. Who will be speaking on behalf of those students and their parents? I’d love to hear from our candidates how they are going to close achievement gaps, place the best teachers with the highest need students, hold people and schools truly accountable for performance and ensure that all of our students will be prepared for a real choice between college or career.
As for the other ticket – Superintendent of Public Instruction. It looks like Aceves vs. Torlakson. What a fight! The big loser is Gloria Romero and the remarkable result is how close the three were and also how many votes went to the other seven candidates. It looked like a lot of people just picked a name out of a hat.
Torlakson is the Education Coalition candidate. Aceves was supported by ACSA. The Education Coalition represents all the adults in the system (especially the adults working in Sacramento). ACSA represents the administrators.
As a former member of both ACSA and CTA, this is a fascinating result. Here you have two organizations that seem like best buddies from a policy perspective. In fact, in Sacramento, the lobbyists for ACSA are so aligned with the agenda of the CTA, I used to wonder where all those ACSA dues went? ACSA opposed allowing principals of high need schools to prevent voluntary transfers a few years ago (the same position as CTA). Now, they are opposed to giving principals and other managers the ability to conduct evaluations of teachers and other certificated employees that actually have meaning and could hold folks accountable for their performance (the same position as CTA). Sacramento ACSA lobbyists are currently opposed extending the probationary period from 2 to 4 years because it would “create more work for administrators” a position that is laughable to anyone who has had the experience of trying to release an ineffective probationary employee vs. releasing an ineffective permanent one.
As far as I can determine my primary benefit from being a member of ACSA was a visit to Shamu. This was in stark contrast to the two other unions/professional organizations I’ve belonged to - the teacher and paraprofessional unions.
To this day, I remember when my paraprofessional union got us health care benefits. I also remember very clearly, when I received a big raise as a young teacher living in a very expensive city because of the work of my union.
For the most part, I cannot remember anything ACSA did beyond the Sea World tickets and the offer to lower my rates for supplemental health insurance. They certainly weren’t there when the local teacher’s union was calling for cuts in “high-priced” administrators (code language for the people who supervise them). They weren’t there when the school board demanded the heads of administrators on stakes to appease the unions. They weren’t there when I had to explain to folks that I had to cut positions and give them unrealistic responsibilities to satisfy the calls to cut management. They weren’t there when I had to explain to a principal who managed two school sites, over two hundred students with disabilities and five programs in addition to three hundred other students, that I couldn’t fund her vice principal because we “couldn’t add administrators.” They weren’t there when she looked back at me in absolute exhaustion and said “we are the dirt under people’s fingernails”. They weren’t there when principals at their wit’s end would call me to beg me to move an employee because they had no faith that the evaluation process they were engaged in would work. They weren’t there when we had to place the folks left at the end of the dance of the lemons at schools and with students who deserved to be educated by the very best, instead of the very worst.
Of course, they were there with me at the check-out line in Sea World. And for that I am grateful.
We’ve been using a lot of ink to illustrate the impact of the teacher layoffs on high need schools.
Fortunately, we’re not the only ones creating the ruckus on the issue of the disproportionate impact of teacher layoffs. There are efforts in the senate, sacramento, courts, local districts, the race to the top process and the state budget process. We’ll see if anything sticks given the power of the California Teacher’s Association but the real hope is shifting communities of color and their representatives away from the notion that teachers unions have their interests and their kids interests at heart.
The next two months are critical. I think that too many folks are focused on the issue of existing teacher evaluations and how difficult it is to use them in this process. My feeling is that there are already evaluations that should be used in this process. No teacher with an unsatisfactory rating should be allowed to bump out a teacher with a satisfactory rating. That would be a great place to start with the issue of using teacher quality in the layoff process.
Oakland, CA) – As California policymakers attempt to address the disproportionate impact of seniority-based layoffs on high need schools, a new brief by The Education Trust—West called Effectiveness, Not Seniority contends that attempts to correct this inequity must prioritize teacher effectiveness. The brief argues that solutions to this problem must ensure that high need schools can retain their most effective teachers.
Too few of our highest need students are taught by highly effective teachers, even though research shows that quality teaching is the most important factor in improving student achievement. Students in high need schools—most often African American and Latino students—too frequently are the victims of churn when teachers are laid off through a seniority-based reduction in force. Teachers in these schools disproportionately receive pink slips, subjecting students to a revolving door of teachers and substitutes.
This problem has been magnified by three years of devastating cuts to public education, a result of the state’s ongoing deficit, which currently stands at $19 billion. The topic recently received increased attention when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge barred California’s largest school district from laying off teachers at three of its worst-performing middle schools for budgetary reasons.
As a result, legislators and local education leaders are seeking to identify policy solutions that mitigate the impact of layoffs on high-need schools. One solution under consideration is to balance average years of experience across schools in an effort to equalize the impact of seniority-based layoffs.
According to the brief, this solution is both unnecessary and potentially counterproductive. Average teacher experience is already roughly equivalent across schools statewide. Even in the most struggling schools, the average years of teacher experience is high. For example, in the lowest performing 10 percent of schools in the state, those with an API rank of 1, the average teacher has more than eleven years of experience.
“The notion that a more experienced teacher is a more effective one is a myth. Bottom-ranking schools are providing students with access to teaching staffs that are on average, decidedly veteran,” stated Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust—West, a leading policy, research and advocacy organization that works to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement pre-kindergarten through college for students of color and students in poverty. “Our highest need schools and students need effective teachers, regardless of how many years those teachers have been in the classroom.”
Teacher performance should be the determinant criterion for layoff decisions. However, making teacher effectiveness a top priority in staffing decisions will only happen if the state legislature and district policymakers pursue solutions that give school leaders the flexibility they need to measure teacher quality and make decisions that protect the most effective teachers.
“Using experience as a proxy for effectiveness is not an adequate solution, and it does not make sense to mandate the “mix” of teacher experience in our schools,” said Ramanathan. “Any attempt to address the disproportionate impact of layoffs on our most vulnerable students without directly addressing the issue of teacher effectiveness may have significant negative consequences, such as pushing out the great teachers that students and our school systems need.”
The full brief is available online at: http://www.edtrustwest.org
About The Education Trust—West
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.
June 1 – also known as the first day of June.
Today was the deadline for the state’s Race to the Top application and with the typical fanfare that accompanies any sort of education announcement – the usual suspects gathered at an elementary school in the Long Beach Unified School District to congratulate themselves for a job well done. And if you consider how much the details of the application pissed off many in the Sacramento education establishment, there was something to congratulate them for. Remarkable how well we Californians can do when we turn an education effort over to educators and education thinkers instead of a bunch of former legislative staffers and Ed Coalition lobbyists. If we don’t come in better than 27th this time, I will be shocked. In fact, in an upcoming post I’ll be releasing my odds and lines on where we will land.
The second deadline was for turning in the SIG application and in typical fashion that was delayed because the state’s application for the funds was found wanting. According to the CDE, the DOE has come back with questions and requests for revisions – e.g., the state has been asked to make some changes to its scoring procedures and to make its rubric more clear. For those applications that have already been received, districts will have the opportunity to make revisions once a final set of guidelines becomes available.
So far the big concern is a lack of transparency in the process. I think its vital that the scoring process is transparent and that external reviewers are used in the assessing the quality of the applications. An external review process can be used to good effect just as we’ve seen with Race to the Top and the applications for school take-over candidates in LAUSD. Extra time is also a benefit but only if the feds are careful to ensure that schools also have the time to plan for implementation. School improvement dollars are dear in these difficult budget times and the students in our lowest performing schools shouldn’t be subjected to more of the same. I haven’t gotten the sense over the last few years that our CDE is capable of exerting serious oversight or ensuring accountability for implementation. But hope does spring eternal. Especially on the first day of summer.