Archive for July, 2010
Statement by The Education Trust on President Obama’s Speech at The National Urban League Centennial Conference
WASHINGTON (July 29, 2010) – President Obama captured the essence of what’s at stake for our country when he said earlier today, during a speech at the National Urban League’s annual convention, “If we want success for our country, we can’t accept failure in our schools.”
As a nation, we can no longer accept schools in impoverished communities that fail their students year after year, when we know that no middle-class neighborhood would ever tolerate it.
We can no longer accept evaluation systems that deem virtually every teacher in a school to be excellent, while half of our black and Hispanic fourth graders possess reading skills that are below basic.
And we can no longer accept tired, old excuses about why we can’t make things better and expect more from our schools.
Today, the President made clear that his Administration stands firmly on the side of students, especially our most vulnerable students. There should be no confusion about what is at stake. Generations of students have been failed by our school systems—as they waited for adults to get comfortable with change—and our kids can’t wait any longer.
That is the premise of the Race to the Top. The great promise of this competitive grant program is its ability to drive meaningful, powerful improvements to boost student learning. Catalyzing sweeping policy changes from Connecticut to California, Race to the Top has led state after state to commit to the hard work necessary to ensure that all children get the kind of world-class education they need and deserve.
The President is right: The status quo isn’t working for any of our students. We have to do better. We have to change our education system so that gaps in achievement and opportunity no longer exist and so that all students aim high. The Education Trust applauds the Administration for its unwavering commitment to these twin goals.
Statement by The Education Trust—West on California’s Selection as Round Two Race to the Top Finalist
(Oakland, CA) – Today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the finalists for Round Two of the Race to the Top Competition. The Education Trust—West is pleased that California has been selected as one of 19 finalists. The nod from the U.S. Department of Education means California still has a shot at a portion of $4.35 billion in federal education stimulus dollars.
The Race to the Top Competition has been a driving force for education reform in California. After a disappointing finish in the first round, our second round application used a collaborative approach, leveraging the best thinking from a group of reform-minded California school districts.
“The state’s most recent application is a substantial improvement over the first-round effort and represents a watershed moment for education reform in our state,” 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 for students of color and students in poverty. “California has some of the widest achievement gaps in the nation for African-American and Latino students and students in poverty. The promise of this application is the potential it has to spur the strategies necessary to close these gaps,” said Ramanathan.
Specifically, the proposed reforms include a stronger focus on teacher and principal evaluations using multiple measures such as student performance data to identify effective teachers and principals. It also builds on and refines California’s standards and assessment systems, in order to support student achievement and turnaround failing schools which disproportionately serve high concentrations of students of color and students in poverty. Lastly, it enhances local data systems and provides training toward “real time” data-based classroom instructional improvement and decision-making.
“Driven by local school district superintendents, our Round Two application is a ‘bottom-up’ education reform plan that builds on district-level work already yielding positive outcomes for California’s students, with the hope of leveraging this success to usher in other reforms statewide,” maintained Ramanathan.
State education leaders will likely head to Washington in coming weeks to personally pitch California’s reform plan to U.S. Department of Education officials.
It was certainly an eventful weekend. There was the news from California School Boards Association, where the longtime head of the organization was asked to step down because of financial improprieties. It’s interesting when you have the head of an organization suing the state for inadequately funding schools using the taxpayer funded dues of local school districts to pay for 1/2 million dollar salary of its President and his thousand dollar spending sprees in casinos. Makes you also wonder what else might be happening with some of these dues-dependent organizations in Sacramento. Who do they represent again?
Tomorrow, we will hear whether California is one of the finalists for Round II of Race to the Top. We supported the state’s second round application. It was a vast improvement over the first round application, particularly in the area of great teachers and leaders. It was also forward-thinking in its use of a collaborative of reform-minded districts, rather than the state department of education, to establish the MOU and put together the application. The result was a far more reform-oriented document than the first round application. Edwatch has California on its potential finalist list.
And next week – the State Board of Education, will make a decision on whether to adopt the Common Core standards, with a few California twists. Given the Governor’s support for the Core, we are hopeful that the board will vote yes. But as we know, anything can happen in CA.
One of the facts about the summer school crisis that doesn’t get a lot of attention is the choices that districts made before deciding to eliminate or downsize summer school and cut the length of the school year. In most cases, districts chose the path of least resistance. The parents of students of color and students in poverty typically aren’t the ones that show up at board meetings to argue on behalf of summer school and a full school year. I’m sure it happened in some places. But when you look at the programs and the costs that attract the attention of the typical folks that show up at board meetings, it’s the unions first and then the advocates for special programs like band or athletics second and third. There just aren’t defenders of the educational programs that students need the most. This points out two things. First, cuts that impact services for kids should not be made in a public forum where the political capital is heavily weighted towards adult constituencies representing adult needs. Second, the governing bodies of many school districts in this state do not prioritize the services directed towards their highest need students over adult interests and special programs. Third, there is no accountability in California for those who make these types of appalling decisions. Indeed, we have removed any pretense that our education system should be placing the interests of kids and their families first. We rate systems based on their financial stability and state that those who cannot meet their obligations can be taken over by the state. We do not have a similar level of accountability for the districts based on student performance and the decisions they make while they continue to have appalling achievement and opportunity gaps. I believe the time has come for that type of accountability.
Given the appalling achievement and opportunity gaps for Latino and African-American students and students in poverty in California, the choices that are being made by districts around the state to shorten, roll back or just plain eliminate summer school are unconscionable. Students who are behind or have fallen behind need summer school. Every child that is not at grade level in ELA and Math should have access to a high quality summer school program. Cutting off access to these programs at the same time that districts are cutting down the length of the school year is nothing short of education malpractice. And don’t tell me that these decisions were forced on districts just by the state budget crisis. Clearly, our state’s underfunding of public education is at fault. But let’s be clear; it’s also about the decisions being made by school boards. Take one southern California’s district’s decision about the elimination of summer school. That board which also directly runs the distirct had a clear choice between negotiating for a five dollar increase in the employee copay - from $5 to $10 - or eliminating summer school. They eliminated summer school. This kind of choice has been repeated in districts across CA. It strikes at the role and the primary mission of our school districts and education system. There are some who think that our school districts are employment agencies and that is their primary function. I believe that school districts are primarily educational agencies and when they stray from that mission they have ceased to deserve to have the authority to make such important decisions.
The average male haircut doesn’t last very long. Sure – there are some guys who can take a long time getting a haircut – John Edwards, Gavin Newsom, Bill Clinton or Newt Gingrich (all of whom have something important in common), it’s a pretty rapid experience if you’re working with a skilled barber with a good set of clippers. So, when you actually see not one, not two, but three anti-Jerry Brown commercials in the course of a 15 minute haircut in early July, it gets you thinking.
First of all, the commercials are slick. I actually enjoyed watching them three times. The music was good – sixties psychedelic rock – and the montage cuts from one Jerry Brown scene to another were brilliant. There was even a clip of Bill Clinton attacking Jerry Brown when Brown ran for President. By the end of the commercial, even if you like Brown, you’re just one montage shot away from being convinced that he is the anti-christ. Second, there are so many shots of the young Jerry Brown that you sort of forget that he’s pushing eighty years old. The man has had a long career in politics. And for those of us rooting for the aged (see Jaime Moyer), you gotta give Jerry some credit for trying. Third, there’s a lot of peace signs in the commercials. Combine that with the psychedelic rock and the occasional shots of rockets shooting at the moon and there was something very California about it. I mean, we are in California, right. We like peace signs, psychedelic rock and rockets shooting at the moon. Come November, we’re actually going to be voting on whether to “legalize it” (if only Peter Tosh were still alive). There may still be people living in this state who are persuaded by fear mongering about hippies, but they’ve been shrinkwrapped in Palm Springs for the last forty years. Besides, a good third of the voting public are baby boomers who actually pine for the day when they had long hair, could dance without pain and the pills they were taking weren’t prescribed. Fourth and last, you can try to blame Jerry Brown for all sorts of things, but saying in a tv commercial that he was responsible for the longtime dysfunction in Oakland Public schools and the district’s bankruptcy is a serious cheap shot. In California, a mayor had as much control over public schools and schools boards as the local fire chief (or the superintendent of public instruction).
At some point, I hope Candidate Whitman will spends some of those gagillions of dollars to present a positive vision and specific fixes to Californians, especially on education (and just saying we need to change and cut the waste isn’t enough). Same thing for Candidate Brown. The stakes are too high. The problems too serious. And the millions of Californians getting haircuts in the coming months, deserve better.
Yesterday, I had a chance to talk to a reporter about ELL redesignation rates. She had attended a redesignation ceremony at a local elementary school and wanted some comments on redesignation rates.
When I think about this system, one in which I taught, one where my child is labeled an ELL because spanish is spoken in the home, I start with some adjectives: abysmal, horrible, unconscionable and backward.
This is a broken system. Any system that allows a child to remain an ELL from Kindergarten to 12th grade, is broken. Any system that dooms so many smart and able youth to dumbed down, second rate coursework in middle and high school is a broken system. Any system that has no consistency from district to district, school to school, even classroom to classroom within a school is a broken system. Any system that allows a child who is fully proficient or advanced on the CST to remain an English Learner is a broken system. Any system that cannot bring a child to full proficiency in 3 years, is a broken system. Any system that does not acknowledge and build on the strengths of a child in their native langauge is a broken system. Any system that disempowers parents across the board, neither allowing them consent on designation or consent on educational programming, is a broken system.
California has 1.3 million English Language Learners. That is a quarter of the ELL’s in the nation. Each of those children and their parents deserve a better system – one that acknowledges the strengths and skills they bring to the classroom, the importance and value of their native langauge and the importance and value of full English proficiency. When we have that system, when the discussion on ELL’s is placed within that context instead of the outdated politics of langauge, we will have a true “education” system.
After a breathless media frenzy, the so-called riots in Oakland that were supposed to happen after the Mehserle verdict yesterday resulted in press people outnumbering rioters more than 2:1. There was more vandalism and mayhem in Los Angeles after the Lakers won the world championship and UCLA won the NCAA basketcall championship than after this verdict. Next year, if the Lakers are in the finals, I hope that LA will be just as prepared as Oakland for the “riots” that are sure to happen. I for one, will not forget the shots of mobs of drunken UCLA students smashing cars, shop windows and setting fires. A big thumbs down to the press. A big thumbs up to the City of Oakland’s leadership, the clergy and citizens of the city who grieved in peace and to the many community based organizations who went all out to ensure that the protests stayed peaceful and purposeful.
Drove by my old elementary school where I taught in the Mission in San Francisco – Cesar Chavez elementary school. It’s a beautiful school to visit - literally covered with murals with a huge mural of Cesar Chavez on one side. I visited there a few weeks back and met with some of my old colleagues. I was surprised to see so many of them there after all those years. I was also surprised to see some of the changes in the student population. It used to be a much more diverse school with many more African-American and Chinese students. Now, it’s predominantly Latino. There’s a lot of research out there saying that schools are becoming more segregated – that there are less opportunities for students of different races to learn with and from each other. In a city as segregated, particularly on class lines as San Francisco, I would hope that the schools could be a driver of societal change instead of just reinforcing the existing system. Perhaps I am hopelessly out of date.
I also knew that Chavez was on the state’s persistently underperforming list. I guess it wasn’t much of a surprise. But I did know that the school was on an upward trajectory and then slid way down after its principal was moved a few years back. The year after, it lost over 100 points in API.
SFUSD has decided to apply for SIG funds for Chavez using the turnaround model as the option. The option requires replacing 50% of the staff. I know that this will impact people I once worked with. I’ve been wondering about what this means? How do you identify the 50%? What criteria are used? I’ll be following up in a future blog as we find the answers.
SB 1285 – the Steinberg bill that seeks to extend “equal protection” to students being subjected to the disproportionate impact of layoffs has a curious definition of equal protection. Since when did equal protection only get extended to students of low performing schools – the bottom 30% in fact. We thought equal protection applied to students who were suffering from an unequal system because of their race or class. Clearly, that is not the thought in this bill. Only in California could we have reached this point where even our civil rights lawyers have reserved a protection from a ridiculous process such as seniority based bumping only for students in our lowest performing vs. our highest need schools. Granted they are often sadly the same. But more importantly, they are often not (there wouldn’t be any hope if we couldn’t show otherwise). What was the line in Animal Farm – we are all equal; but some of us are more equal than others.