Archive for December, 2010
Drug companies often hire researchers to evaluate the prescription medicines they’ve designed. Without fail, the studies reveal—surprise!—that the drugs work. Then, when they want the public to pay top dollar for a product, the drug companies dig up wise-looking doctors in lab coats who tout the “research-based” benefits in television commercials.
Last week, we learned that the California Teacher’s Association (CTA) has taken a page from the drug companies’ book. First, they asked a research firm to evaluate the nearly $3 billion education reform program that they helped design, promote and turn into law – the 2006 Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA). Then, when the researchers discovered that the program “worked,” CTA ran commercials on the radio touting its benefits.
Not surprisingly, the reforms included in QEIA are the same ones CTA has been promoting for years: reducing class sizes, expanding professional development, and adding staff. According to the commercials, these are the education reforms the state should be investing in.
Before buying these lines, we took a closer look at their claims.
Let’s start with the claim that, “for the 2009-10 school year alone, QEIA schools, on average, experienced nearly 50 percent higher growth on the California Academic Performance Index (API) than similar, non-QEIA schools.” Fifty percent seems high. But our question was: 50 percent of what? According to the report, QEIA schools made gains of 21.2 points, while the other similar schools moved 14.4 points. This difference of 6.8 points amounts to 50 percent, but given that this gain is calculated on a 1,000 point scale, 6.8 points is marginal at best. The average QEIA-funded school still needs to gain approximately 100 points in order to meet the state goal of 800.
So we looked in the report for more persuasive evidence of impact. We searched for information on how many QEIA schools had exited the final years of Program Improvement – the federal designation of a failing school. We searched for the number that had moved out of the lowest 20 percent of schools (only these schools were eligible for the program). We looked for overall state rankings and wondered how many students were passing the state tests.
Strangely, all of these critical signs of school improvement were missing. In fact, the study’s only evidence of “proven success,” was the extra 6.8 points. To satisfy our curiosity, we dug up some more data by visiting the California Department of Education website. We found that in 2009-10, close to 80 percent of QEIA sites were still in Program Improvement and more than 95 percent had yet to meet the state API target of 800. After the 2008-09 school year, 71 percent were still ranked in the bottom 20 percent of schools. On the state’s most recent exams, students in QEIA schools underperformed the state average by 20 points in English-Language Arts and by more than 10 points in math.
While we recognize this is a multi-year program, the fact still remains that these schools— which are receiving billions of dollars, are doing only marginally better than those who have not been pumped full of additional funds. As we illustrated in our May 2010 research brief, Keeping the Promise of Change: Why California’s chronically underperforming schools need bold reform, California has a long history of spending millions on school turnaround grants for marginal improvements in our state’s highest need schools.
The sad part of this is that the intended beneficiaries of those dollars, California’s mostly poor, African-American and Latino students, desperately need immediate funds to fundamentally reform their schools now. And although many local leaders and educators in the targeted school districts had ideas about how to spend school improvement dollars to significantly reform their schools, no one bothered to ask for their suggestions. Instead, QEIA was another piece of reform legislation dreamed up in the dark back rooms of Sacramento.
If asked, perhaps some of the state’s local education leaders would have taken a look at the broad evidence on the limited benefits of class size reduction and most of the other QEIA strategies—and would have instead chosen to invest in things more likely to result in long-lasting impact. Perhaps they would have recognized that the most important factor in improving a school isn’t the number of students in a classroom, but the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Then, they may have chosen to spend the dollars on evaluation systems that measure teacher effectiveness, incentives to attract the best teachers to high-need schools, support for struggling teachers, and rewards for the best teachers.
The CTA opposes any legislation that will allow us to reform the teacher evaluation system and use that information for high stakes staffing decisions. In contrast, reformers around the nation are recognizing that an effective teacher in every classroom is the most effective school reform strategy. By investing in reforms in the way we evaluate, develop, assign, support and reward our best teachers, we can expect to see gains in our neediest schools that are truly worth celebrating.
Ed Trust—West Urges New State Leaders to Prioritize Ending the Dropout Crisis; Highlights Urgent Need for Accurate Statewide Data on Full Extent of Crisis
(OAKLAND, CA) The Education Trust—West issued the following statement regarding the latest data on dropout and graduation rates:
The latest education data collected for the first time through the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) and released yesterday by the California Department of Education (CDE) reveals that the dropout rate remains at crisis levels for the state’s Latino and African-American students.
According to the data, students of color, primarily Latino and African-American students, remain sharply overrepresented as a share of the state’s dropouts in 2008-09. Latino students, for example, who now equal half of California’s public school students, comprised 57 percent of all dropouts. Meanwhile, African-American students, who represent 7 percent of public school students, comprised 14 percent of dropouts.
Our new state leaders should be appalled by these numbers. We call on them to make a public commitment to ending this crisis once and for all by closing the opportunity and achievement gaps that are the cause of the dropout crisis.
With this new data, we are finally getting closer to telling the truth about how our schools are serving our students, especially students of color who now comprise the ‘new majority’ in our state. For years, we have not had an accurate picture of the full extent of the drop-out crisis in our state.
While the CDE has been using student-level data to calculate dropout and graduation rates for the last three years, this marks the first year these data were collected through CALPADS. By next year, CALPADS is set to provide the most accurate student-level graduation and dropout rates the state has ever had in place.
Without a statewide system, it is impossible to track students from one district to another or effectively target student recovery efforts. Without the real facts, it is impossible to hold leaders accountable for poor results.
In school districts around the state, 9th grade classes are invariably larger than 12th grade classes, sometimes three or four times as large. District and state leaders often argue students have left their districts and likely enrolled in another high school. This excuse allows local education leaders to often downplay the severity of the drop in enrollment from 9th to 12th grade.
To better illustrate the point, look at four randomly selected districts across the state. In 2006-07, McClatchy High School in Sacramento City Unified had 656 freshmen. In 2009-10, four years later, there were only 488 seniors. At Skyline High School in Oakland Unified, there were 625 students enrolled in 9th grade in 2006-07. In 2009-10, there were only 426 enrolled in 12th grade. Two of the starkest examples are Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified and Fremont High School in Los Angeles Unified. In 2006-07, Sunnyside High School had 1,139 9th graders. In 2009-10, the number of 12th graders stood at 673. At Fremont High School, the number went from 1,781 students enrolled in 9th grade in 2006-07 to 470 enrolled in 12th grade in 2009-10.
Without a statewide education data system, we will never know the truth about the full extent of dropout crisis in our state. We will never be able to identify the sources of the dropout crisis in our school districts. We will forever allow districts to pass the buck on responsibility for meeting the educational needs of our highest-need and most vulnerable students without accurate information.
For this reason alone, the veto of CALPADS funding by the Governor was short-sighted and counter-productive. Quite fundamentally, without accurate data to identify the extent and the source of a problem, our efforts to find solutions cannot be measured and our limited education resources cannot be directed where they are most needed. CALPADS moves us in the direction of implementing the statewide data system that will provide policymakers, educators, and communities in every school district with the timely, meaningful, actionable data that they need to fix achievement and opportunity gaps that undermine the dreams of so many of California’s students.
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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.
(OAKLAND, CA) The Education Trust—West issued the following statement regarding the release of a new report on for-profit colleges and universities by its national office, The Education Trust:
In California, for-profit institutions are growing at a rapid rate in a time when state support for higher education is declining. In opening their doors to—and often directly targeting—disadvantaged students, these schools offer the promise of college and career opportunities. But how effectively are they fulfilling students’ dreams of a great career, and at what cost?
In The Education Trust’s newly released report entitled, ‘Subprime Opportunity: The Unfulfilled Promise of For-Profit Colleges and Universities,’ the sharp increase in enrollment at for-profit universities is clearly presented. The number of students enrolled nationwide in for-profit colleges has increased 236 percent over the past 10 years.
For-profits serve a large proportion of students from California’s underserved communities and communities of color. In 2008, 29 percent of students in California for-profits were from low-income backgrounds, and 31 percent were African-American, Latino, or Native American. While for-profit institutions have the potential to provide more access to higher education, the report illustrates a crisis in lost opportunities. For-profit graduation rates are appallingly low. Only 27 percent of first-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students in California, who enroll full-time in for-profit institutions actually graduated after six years.
Students at for-profits often incur debts that can burden them and their families for decades, regardless of whether they graduate. While for-profit institutions insist that their low graduation rates are a function of the populations they serve, this report highlights the fact that some non-profit institutions with similar admissions policies and comparable percentages of low-income students are able to graduate their students at higher rates.
In addition, not only can tuition be higher at for-profit institutions, but the out-of-pocket cost for students after receiving grant aid can be higher than private, non-profit colleges and universities. As a result, students can incur huge, often lifelong debts that they are unable to repay.
“Given the expanding role of for-profits and their poor results, it is clear that they need greater oversight,” stated Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West, a statewide education advocacy organization that works to close the gaps in opportunity and achievement for students of color and students in poverty. “The harsh reality behind many of the television commercials touting the benefits of for-profits is the individual broken dreams of thousands of California students. We owe our students a real chance at higher education and the great careers that will fulfill their dreams and re-invigorate California’s economy.”
For the first time, Latino students are a majority of the state’s student population. Numbering more than 3.2 million, the Latino student population of California is larger than the individual student populations of every state in the Union except Texas. And when Latino students are combined with Asian, African American, Pacific Islander and mixed-race students, the “minority” students in California make up 73 percent of all students.
Clearly, when it comes to our public schools, the old notions of majority and minority have been turned upside down. One would imagine that this demographic shift would be accompanied by a similarly dramatic shift in the perspective of the policymakers in charge of our public schools. Unfortunately, our political and educational systems have a long way to go before they catch up with the needs of the new majority.
Too many California students fall through gaping holes in our college and career pipeline. On average, only six of 10 African American and Latino students graduate from high school. Last year, there were more Latino 12th-grade dropouts than Latino freshmen on a UC or CSU campus. For those African American and Latino students who get into our California State University system, less than four of 10 graduate in six years.
There are no silver bullets for this systemic breakdown of lost opportunities. California is at a generational crossroads, in which the old majority-minority paradigm and attendant deficit view of communities of color is not merely offensive, it’s downright dangerous. This isn’t a “minority” issue; it’s about the future of our state. Once the Baby Boomers retire in California, who will take their place? Where will the college graduates and highly trained workers who will fuel the next generation of California’s growth come from, if not the extraordinary mix of students in our schools?
The true heroes of California’s public schools are the children and their parents who desperately want a better future. What they need are courageous political leaders willing to grasp the scope of our demographic change and capitalize on the benefits of our students’ linguistic and cultural diversity in an increasingly globalized world. We need leaders willing to construct education policies aimed at both taking advantage of those strengths and making the hard budget and programmatic choices necessary to fund our children’s needs.
This means breaking free from the orthodoxy of both political parties – with public-employee unions on the left and taxpayer associations on the right, and shutting down the sideshow debates over charter schools or math pedagogy. It means finding Democrats willing to stand up to those teacher unions focused on meeting the demands of their longest-tenured members and Republicans willing to stand up to taxpayer associations that refuse to fund the educational needs of the new majority.
It means finding politicians of all stripes willing to focus on investing in the future of California instead of refighting the issues of the past.