Archive for September, 2010
Earlier this week, we worked with a group of allies to put together the following statement.
(OAKLAND, CA) – Enough is enough. California’s state budget is now more than 80 days overdue, marking the record for the longest budget impasse in our state’s history. Today, California’s leading advocacy groups, including Alliance for a Better Community (ABC), Californians for Justice Education Fund, Children Now, Education Trust—West, InnerCity Struggle, and Public Advocates call on state leaders to pass a budget that protects education and provides funding for other critical services for children in poverty and their families.
The record for the overdue budget was accompanied by news from the U.S. Census Bureau of another dismal record for California. For the first time in over a decade, the percentage of Californians living in poverty reached 15.3%. There are now 5.6 million Californians living in poverty.
It is clear the Golden State is suffering from both an economic and governmental crisis. All over our state, services for our neediest citizens are being cut. Millions of children no longer have access to child care centers and local health clinics. At a time when our poorest families need them the most, critical services and supports are being shuttered because of political infighting in Sacramento. Without necessary state funding, school districts across California are barely making it and are being forced to take out loans to cover expenses.
In times of crisis, Californians look to their leaders for responsible decision-making. They also look to their leaders to protect our most vulnerable citizens, our millions of children.
We believe Californians are prepared to make shared sacrifices on behalf of the state’s children. We call on our state’s leaders to end the unproductive blame game and pass a responsible budget that protects education, provides critical services for California’s children and families, and lays the groundwork for a long-term solution to our state’s annual budget woes.
# # #
About Alliance for a Better Community (ABC)
Founded by a group of concerned Latino leaders in the year 2000, ABC promotes equity for Latinos in education, health, economic development and civic participation throughout the Los Angeles region. ABC focuses on improving the quality of life for students, families, and communities by developing solutions to systemic problems through policy and advocacy mechanisms. We fully support policies that will increase the number of students transferring to four-year universities, thereby increasing their earning potential and job marketability.
About Californians for Justice
Californians for Justice is a statewide grassroots organization working for racial justice by building the power of youth, communities of color, immigrants, low-income families, and LGBTQ communities. Led by students, we organize to advance educational justice and improve social, economic, and political conditions in Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, and San Jose. We also organize on a statewide level with the Campaign for Quality Education alliance and a national level with the Alliance for Educational Justice.
About Children Now
Children Now is a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization working to raise children’s well-being to the top of the national policy agenda. The organization focuses on ensuring quality health care, a solid education and a positive media environment for all children. Children Now’s strategic approach creates awareness of children’s needs, develops effective policy solutions and engages those who can make change happen.
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.
About InnerCity Struggle
InnerCity Struggle has worked with youth, families and community residents for the past sixteen years to promote safe, healthy and non-violent communities in the Eastside. We organize youth and families in Boyle Heights, unincorporated East Los Angeles, El Sereno and Lincoln Heights to work together for social and educational justice. InnerCity Struggle provides positive after-school programs for students to become involved in supporting our schools to succeed. We have empowered students to reach their family’s dream of college. The work of InnerCity Struggle demonstrates that youth and parents working together are a powerful force for improving their communities and making real change. InnerCity Struggle has also educated and empowered thousands of Eastside voters to be heard at the ballot box on critical issues impacting our communities.
About Public Advocates
Public Advocates Inc. (publicadvocates.org) is a non-profit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy and achieving tangible legal victories advancing education, housing and transit equity.
We are now well past the deadline for a state budget. All over California, people are suffering as the result of politics as usual in Sacramento. Child care centers haven’t received the funding they need to pay their staffs. Local clinics don’t have the resources they need to treat and help patients. School districts and businesses are suffering from the continued uncertainty and may soon be forced to use loans to cover costs. Could our elected officials be any more irresponsible? Isn’t it time to put responsible proposals on the table instead of partisan ideas to eliminate Cal Works or sell our state’s recycling program? Isn’t it time to reach the necessary compromises instead of pointing fingers? Our nation and state have reached the highest rate of poverty since the early Sixties and scapegoating families and children in poverty for our budget woes is simply irresponsible. These are hard times. Many of us know someone or have someone in our family who lost a job or has taken furlough days. We’ve pitched in to help however we can. I think most Californians are this way. We are willing to make shared sacrifices and protect those who are in the greatest need in these difficult times. If we took authority away from our legislature to pass a budget and gave it to a citizen’s commission and locked the lobbyists out of the room, I think we’d have a resolution pretty soon.
A few weeks ago, I noted how distant our elected officials and others in Sacramento were from the pain being felt at the local level. I wondered if our policymakers would feel differently if they actually had to deliver the painful messages that are the results of their actions (or inaction). If they had to deliver the layoff notice. Or tell a parent that their child care center was closed. Or turn away a child in pain from a local clinic. Perhaps they should send their salaries or their fortunes to those centers and clinics until they pass a responsible budget. Perhaps they should lose their authority to pass a budget to a citizen’s commission once they’ve passed the deadline for a budget. One thing is clear. Enough is enough.
New Ed Trust—West Reports Dissect the Continuing Crisis in Achievement and Opportunity for African-American and Latino Students in California Schools
Publication date: September 13 2010
(OAKLAND, CA) Two new reports from The Education Trust—West, a statewide education advocacy organization, demonstrate the disturbing impact of California’s failure to close opportunity and achievement gaps plaguing African-American and Latino children who together now make up almost 60 percent of the state’s student population. In Opportunity Lost: The Story of African-American Achievement in California, 2010, and Futures At Risk: The Story of Latino Student Achievement in California, 2010, the group reveals a number of local school districts successfully dispelling the myth that African-American and Latino students cannot perform at grade-level or make great gains toward proficiency. The reports call on California policymakers to no longer be satisfied with convening task forces that highlight problems everyone knows exist, and recommend that state leaders instead focus on finally implementing high-impact solutions that have long been avoided or ignored.
“As a state, there is still a long way to go as we strive to offer African-American and Latino students high quality educational opportunities that could eliminate pervasive achievement gaps,” said State Senator Curren D. Price, Jr. (D-Los Angeles), Vice Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus. “It is time for us to commit to providing every child in California with the great schools they deserve. Our state’s future is dependent on it.”
Achievement and opportunity gaps begin in elementary school and continue through high school and into college for African Americans and Latinos. For students who will be California’s future workforce, advancing to the next grade does not necessarily mean advancing in achievement. Student achievement declines and opportunity gaps persist from one grade to the next. As a result, African Americans and Latinos graduate from high school at a lower rate than their white classmates. Even when they do make it to graduation, they are too often unprepared for postsecondary education and career opportunities. Of those who make it to college, significant numbers do not obtain a degree.
“It is extremely important that California address the specific needs of Latino and African American youth. Education reform efforts must address the crisis presented in these reports,” said Assemblymember Tony Mendoza (D-Norwalk), Vice Chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. “We are at a critical point. If we do not make a shared pledge to close opportunity and achievement gaps for Latino and African American students, we are putting California’s future at risk.”
While there is much to be concerned about, there is also reason for optimism. Some districts are making headway in boosting African-American and Latino student achievement. The reports identify top performers for gains in CST scores among African-American and Latino students in California’s largest unified school districts. Conversely, the reports indicate which districts have more work to do in their efforts to improve student performance.
“Data from higher performing districts reveals inequitable access to a better quality education in our state. It’s time for us to learn from and celebrate those making the greatest gains and to finally hold those who are persistently underperforming accountable,” said Dr. Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the Education Trust—West. “We must also stop pointing the finger of blame at communities of color for our education system’s failures and instead leverage the strengths of our diverse students and fulfill the hopes and aspirations of their parents.”
The trends in the two reports are confirmed by 2010 Accountability Progress Report (APR) data released today by the California Department of Education. Though the data show academic gains and a narrowing of the achievement gap by California districts overall, vast disparities in achievement persist for the state’s African-American and Latino students.
- Although African-American students collectively increased their API scores by 15 points, from 670 to 685, they continue to trail their white peers by an alarming 153 points. Their score of 685 is well below the state target of 800.
- While Latino students statewide posted a 17-point increase moving their API score to 715, the gap between Latino and white students is 123 points.
Looking at how individual districts performed reveals glimmers of hope for students of color:
- At Manteca Unified in San Joaquin County, Latino student performance has steadily improved over the last eight years. This year, Manteca posted a dramatic increase of 72 points in Latino API.
- Garden Grove Unified in Orange County saw significant gains among their African-American students, improving 42 points to an overall API of 786.
- API scores for African-American and Latino students in Compton Unified in Los Angeles County increased by 43 and 37 points, respectively, in 2009-10. These admirable gains provide encouragement for the important work that remains as the district continues to address overall API for African-American (655) and Latino (686) students.
- Oakland Unified in Alameda County posted gains for its African-American and Latino students of 20 and 32 points, respectively, well above the state average gains for these subgroups. Again, such gains provide encouragement as the district works to improve overall API for Latino (692) and African-American (645) students.
“While the gains posted today continue to move the state in the right direction, we recognize that the gaps that separate thousands of our minority and low-income students from their peers are unacceptable,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. “We know that we cannot rest until the achievement gap is completely eliminated and all of California’s students are well-prepared for college, work, and life.”
For more details, both reports are available online at www.edtrustwest.org.
Next week, we will release two reports about African-American and Latino student achievement in California. We’re very excited about these reports and have spent months putting them together. The first report is titled Opportunity Lost: The Story of African-American Student Achievement in California. The second is titled Futures at Risk: The Story of Latino Student Achievement in California. These reports track Latino and African-American student data through the grade levels and showcase those moderate to high poverty large school districts that are doing both the best and the worst jobs in overall Latino and African-American student achievement. Look for them at the beginning of the week.
Next week, California will release more data on student achievement in our schools. We are looking forward to crunching the numbers and are hoping to see gains in student achievement and reductions in achievement gaps. We know that our schools and systems are struggling right now with massive budget cuts and we wonder how long students can post gains given our state’s circumstances. It is clear that the cuts are killing those very programs that students in poverty need the most such as summer school, credit-recovery programs, and additional supports inside and outside the classroom. It is highly quesitonable for the state to provide funding flexibility to those distircts with the largest achievement gaps. In our state, there are leaders and boards who have made it a point to invest in student supports and teacher professional development because they focus on children first. In our state, there are district leaders and boards who only focus on the needs of the constituencies with the most power and prioritize their needs over those of students and parents. Funding flexibility should be provided to those who deserve the flexibility. For the others, I question whether they should have any flexibility at all.
Tuesday was my birthday and turned 41 years old. Now that I’m on the cusp of middle age, it made me nostalgic. I started to think about the Seventies, specifically the year 1975 when Jerry Brown became governor of California. I was six years old in 1975. We had just immigrated to this country from England. I had a perfect English accent and quickly had it beaten out of me in our apartment complex in Philly. I threw a rock through a neighbor’s window, got a hockey stick from the guy down the street who drove the Zamboni at the Spectrum and was fascinated by this new invention, the color tv. I also liked army men and ate a hamburger for the first time. That’s about all I can remember.
As I moved through school, I studied the Seventies. I learned about Gerald Ford, about whom there was not much to learn; Nixon, who did a lot of mean things and had an interesting nose; and Jimmy Carter, who now is the closest thing to a saint we have in this country but had some difficulties “messaging” as President.
What was it like in California in 1975? Not being from California, my earliest impressions of the state were formed by “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Valley Girl”. Those movies came our out in the Eighties when I was in my teens. For me, 1975 is like 1965 or 1955 with the only difference being I wasn’t alive in the Sixties or Fifties.
Given the fact that we have two generations of voters in this state – Generation X, and Generation Y - who are of voting age, it’s fascinating to me how much time our two candidates for governor are spending talking about the Seventies.
Things have changed. We are a majority minority state. Two issues that were damn near taboo in the Seventies – Same Sex marriage and Pot Legalization – are front and center in our current political debates. If you had asked someone about global warming in the Seventies, they would have either given you a blank state or asked whether it was the result of a nuclear holocaust. If you had bet anyone in the Seventies that a black man would become President of the United States, they would owe you a lot of inflation adjusted money right now.
I came to California in the Nineties. And when I got here, in the midst of the dot-com lunacy, I taught in a school in the Mission in San Francisco where all the students were poor. I had come from teaching in a school in Boston where all the students were poor but the resources available for those students were much better. I taught and lived around poverty in a place where new wealth was created at a rapid pace. People I knew became paper millionaires and spent like real millionaires. The vast contrast between rich and poor was similar to what I had seen in India and I found it appalling.
I still find it appalling. I am now a Californian. I was married here; my children were born here and I am a California voter. I see our schools; I see our kids who need so much better than what they’re getting and I want our candidates to talk about them and today. I want them to talk about how they will fulfill the aspirations of those children and their parents and create a public school system and university system that is the envy of our nation. Because, quite frankly, neither nostalgia or attack ads about a time that is a distant memory, provides the hope for the future I need.
This guest editorial ran yesterday in the Educated Guess
In George Orwell’s masterpiece, Animal Farm, a group of farm animals led by pigs take over their farm from an abusive owner and decide to run it as a collective. They begin by writing a new set of laws, starting with “All animals are equal.” Later in the book, the pigs take over the farm, enslaving the other animals. One day, the other animals notice that the first rule has been changed to read, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Orwell was making a point about the power of language and the ability of the powerful to twist language to turn night into day and black into white in order to maintain their power.
Here, in California, this approach has been perfected by those who have long run our education system and written its rules. A few months ago, one of those long-time Sacramento powerbrokers, a “consultant” to one of the largest state teachers unions, showed me the data that he had constructed to show that the state’s achievement gaps for black and Latino students had nearly disappeared. It was truly an Orwellian moment.
I’ve been having a lot of Orwellian moments lately. I especially love it when California’s achievement test results are released, and there’s a chorus of backslapping and handclapping about student performance levels and gains that should be a source of profound embarrassment. Moments after the scores are released, the education establishment crows, “Almost half of our students are performing at grade level in math and English! Two percent more are proficient than last year! The achievement gap between Latino and white students in mathematics is down to 30 points! Let’s celebrate!”
Then, there is the recent backlash against the impending release by the Los Angeles Times of data linking over 6,000 Los Angeles Unified elementary school teachers to the English and math performance of their students. The data reveals the effectiveness of each individual teacher at improving the overall English and math performance of their students in comparison to other teachers in the district.
Now, the last time I checked, it is the job of elementary school teachers to improve the performance of their students in English and Math. The only way to assess that improvement is by testing them in English and Math. And knowing how effective you are at your job relative to your peers is both professionally relevant and fundamental to your performance evaluation. Of course, you might not believe that any more after you listened to the critics of the Times.
When the scores were released, they argued, “A teacher’s performance should not be judged based on the math and English performance results of their students. The tests were not designed to assess teachers. Everyone knows what a good teacher looks like! They have the right things on their walls, and their students are engaged. Teachers should be judged on how hard they are teaching instead of the results of their teaching.”
Wow. If only our state’s students and our high school graduates could benefit from the same Orwellian logic when getting the results of their SATs or hearing back from employers about job applications.
But then, according to the powerful interests that control Sacramento on the anti-tax right and public employee union left, the problem really isn’t our education system but our “much too diverse” students and their parents. This has produced a whole new set of Orwellian laws written in stone in the corridors of power around the state. Some of my favorites are “Those children do not want to learn.” “Those parents are not invested in their children’s education.” “We must prepare those children for the lives we expect them to live instead of the lives they aspire to lead.” And for those who enter our schools speaking a different language: “One language is better than two!”
Children do not want to learn? Parents do not want the best education for their children? In our current politically polarized state, language of this sort serves both sides in their fights over resources. If the problem is the students and their parents, the answer for the public employee unions and their friends in the education establishment is paying people more money and lessening their burden at work in order to compensate them for having to teach those kids and deal with those parents. If the problem is the students and the parents, the answer for the taxpayer associations and certain business interests is starving the education system of money because those kids and their parents aren’t worth it, and besides we need cheap undereducated labor to keep costs down.
Either way, our state’s 6 million students – half of them poor, three quarters of them students of color – and their parents are caught in crossfire between two fundamentally “corporate” entities. The public employee unions and the taxpayers associations are locked in a zero sum game over maintaining resources for their longest tenured members and paying handsome salaries to Sacramento lobbyists to prevent any change, especially the long-term systemic change that our state’s children and their parents need. So much for the generational obligation of leaving our state and nation better off than you found it.
Of course, in Sacramento and school districts around California, some animals are more equal than others.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every elected official and candiate – both Republican and Democrat - made the following comittment: I will pass the state budget on time and make the necessary sacrifices to my own term-limited chances of re-election because that is the right thing to do for the people of California and if I don’t, I will resign on the day it is overdue. Then, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they then had those words enscribed on the walls and floors of their offices and on the ceilings above their desks so they could see it when they leaned back in their chairs. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if they pooled their money so that when they left their offices, a man or women (perhaps someone who lost their job because of an overdue state budget) followed them around and chanted “Pass the Budget or Resign”. I wonder if that would have any impact?
Or perhaps, what if they were each responsible once a week for delivering a layoff notice to someone who’s job had been cut, or if they had to tell a senior citizen that their home care services had been eliminated or tell a young student expecting to go to college that they wouldn’t be able to afford to attend this fall or any of a million other scenarios.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the folks who make these decisions, elected or otherwise in Sacramento, actually had to deliver them face to face to the people feeling the pain. Do you think that would have the power to fix this mess?