Tag Archives: California

I hate this: State bungles CAHSEE policy, hurting students

UPDATE: Here’s the California Department of Education’s response: “Our hope is that the few students who find themselves in this situation will only have to defer their dreams of attending the college of their choice for one semester,” said Keric Ashley, deputy superintendent at the state Department of Education. “In the meantime, there are other options available to these students, including our California Community Colleges. I received excellent preparation at my local community college before attending university.”

Last night, several students from International High School, along with their principal and several teachers, came to talk to us about a really confounding and desperate problem. Details are in tomorrow’s San Francisco Chronicle, but essentially, here’s the story:

Last spring the state Legislature eliminated the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) as a graduation requirement. It wasn’t aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Anyway, the CAHSEE was never good education policy, unless you believe that one standardized test is a better gauge of high school academic achievement than four years of requirements and alignment with the UC/CSU’s required A-G course sequence for admission. Most members of the class of 2015 had already passed the CAHSEE, so for them the elimination of the test as a requirement was a moot, if somewhat annoying, development. But for newcomer students — those who came to the United States after being educated (or not) in other countries for most of their lives, the English Language portion of the CAHSEE represents a major barrier.

In San Francisco Unified, there are about 45 members of the would-be class of 2015 who had not passed the English language portion of the CAHSEE by graduation day. Per regulations from the State Board of Education, SFUSD (or any other district in California) is not allowed to issue a diploma without evidence that a student had passed the CAHSEE, even though the state legislature voted in June to dump the CAHSEE altogether.

There was supposed to be a July administration of the test, which our 45 students were counting on as their last chance to pass the CAHSEE and receive a diploma. But because the state isn’t recognizing the test, the July administration was canceled. And, because it went on vacation or otherwise decided to stop paying attention, the State Board neglected to update its direction to school districts to allow us to use our discretion — and rigorous graduation requirements–to issue diplomas to this group of students.

Watch the heart-rending testimony of our students here:

They’ve passed their classes. They’ve applied to college and been admitted. Their teachers, and their principal, agree they are ready to succeed. And yet the state, through either a bureaucratic bungle or a lack of concern, is saying that the San Francisco Unified School District may not issue a diploma.

I think we should defy the state and issue a diploma. What do you think?

You can help sway officials on this situation by contacting Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. His telephone number is 916-319-0800; or you can reach him on Twitter at @TomTorlakson . His email address is: superintendent “at” cde.ca.gov, or you can post a message for Superintendent Torlakson on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/torlakson . Finally,  you can write him a letter here:

The Honorable Tom Torlakson
State Superintendent of Public Instruction
1430 N Street, Suite 5602
Sacramento, CA 95814-5901


Scarier than Halloween . . .

Tonight the Superintendent sent a memo to the Board listing the effects if Prop. 30 and/or Prop. 38 don’t pass. It’s not good, and includes $10 million in additional forced closure (furlough) days this school year — school would end with a half day on Thursday, May 23 instead of a half-day on Friday, May 27–as well as $6.5 million in additional mid-year cuts. And then there’s 2013-14.

Though many school advocates feel Prop. 38 is better for schools in the long run (here is a more detailed comparison of the two measures as well as a fact sheet), the measure has never polled above 50 percent. Prop. 30 had polled above 50 percent until recently, but because of negative advertising the measure is now supported by less than a majority according to polls.  Though I have long advocated a “yes/yes” position on the two measures, with the reasoning that asking voters to choose between the two dooms both to failure, I think now during the stretch it is imperative that education advocates impress on voters who care about our schools that Prop. 30 must pass.   In other words, do whatever you want with Prop. 38 (I’m voting yes) but please, whatever you do, vote YES on 30. 

NOW it’s summer!

Most people — my children among them — think SFUSD let out for the 2011-12 school year on last Friday, May 25.  Nope! Today was actually the last day of the school year, but all the schools and district offices were shut due to budget cuts.  If you emailed the Superintendent or other member of the central office staff, chances are you got some version of the following autoresponder:

Thank you for contacting me.  I will be out of the office until Wednesday May 30th. All SFUSD schools and central services departments are closed for the Memorial Day holiday on May 28th and for a forced closure day on May 29th, caused by inadequate state funding for public education.

It’s important not to let forced closure days go unnoticed — there have been eight of them in the past two years, representing thousands of dollars in pay cuts to teachers and other staff, and close to two weeks in lost education for students.

To learn more about how schools are [un]funded in California, and some possible short- or  long-term solutions to the problem, here are some great reports to read:

November 2012 ballot looks crowded with initiatives

Last week I was in San Diego for the California School Boards Association annual conference — and I’m working on a series of blog posts about issues I dug into there. Most pressing, however, is the number of initiatives that are being discussed to fix California’s revenue and/or spending, reform its educational and/or governance systems, or some combination thereof.

Qualifying an initiative for the ballot is not easy, so some of the measures we’ve read about will not actually make it to the ballot, but there are enough proposals in the works that political and education policy wonks are beginning to worry that the voters’ clear desire for a solution to our current problems will get lost in a confusing jumble of competing campaigns.

In the conference’s closing “State of the State” roundtable discussion on Saturday, CSBA’s legislative advocate Rick Pratt (soon to be the lead consultant for the Assembly Education Committee) didn’t mince words: “If all four [tax] initiatives make it to the ballot, none will pass.” And where would that lead us? Right back to where we are now, but a year later.

Here are proposals that received a lot of discussion at the conference:

  • “Think Long Blueprint for California”:  Billionnaire Nicholas Berggruen has assembled a committee of former legislators and heavy-hitters, including former Governor Gray Davis and former Assembly Speaker and SF Mayor Willie Brown. Its not-yet-public initiative would lower the overall tax rate but vastly expand taxation to services, raising at least $10 billion annually. It would form a somewhat scary-sounding Citizens Oversight Committee (appointed by the Legislature), with powers to unilaterally place initiatives on the ballot. Additional revenues would go to schools, but for specific, constrained purposes.
  • “2012 Kids Education Plan” : Ted Lempert, the director of the advocacy organization Children Now, has been working with stakeholders up and down the state to build a coalition of support for four principles that would form the backbone of an as-yet unseen initiative. These are: “a student-centered finance system”; “true transparency”; “significant workforce reforms”, and “new investments in education.” It sounds good, but the devil will be in the details.
  • “Our Children, Our Future: Local Schools and Early Education Investment Act”: The California State PTA and the civil rights organization The Advancement Project filed this initiative on November 30 and are beginning the push to collect the hundreds of thousands of signatures necessary to qualify it. The law would raise $10 billion in new tax revenue for Pre-K-12 education, and require those funds to be spent “at the local school sites, where kids are, not district administration.” It would prohibit the Legislature from directing how monies were spent, placing the new revenues in a  trust fund. The initiative would require re-approval by voters after 12 years.
  • Other miscellaneous tax proposals include an oil and gas extraction tax, and a “split roll” which would suspend Prop. 13 for commercial properties, allowing them to be re-assessed every year.

Update: Just this afternoon, Governor Brown announced he has filed his own initiative. From the Governor’s initiative announcing his action:

My proposal is straightforward and fair.  It proposes a temporary tax increase on the wealthy, a modest and temporary increase in the sales tax, and guarantees that the new revenues be spent only on education.  Here are the details:

  • Millionaires and high-income earners will pay up to 2% higher income taxes for five years. No family making less than $500,000 a year will see their income taxes rise. In fact, fewer than 2% of California taxpayers will be affected by this increase.
  • There will be a temporary ½ cent increase in the sales tax.  Even with this temporary increase, sales taxes will still be lower than what they were less than six months ago.

More details on Brown’s initiative is here.

Taking the necessary, if deeply wrong, steps

Yesterday and today have seemed like one long Board of Education meeting — a grand total of 7 and a half hours when all was said and done.  Tonight’s meeting was mainly about public comment and about the unpleasant but necessary step of approving layoff notices for 279 teachers.

We heard almost 90 minutes of public comment on various site-based budget decisions that will result in cuts to programs: Washington HS, for example, will probably have to cut back on course offerings in language and other electives;  Lincoln HS has cut its music offerings (arts funding through Prop. H is protected, but the site has chosen to focus spending on visual arts rather than music).  Parents at Bryant Elementary came to protest the proposal that their school would feed into International Studies Academy for middle and high school;  teachers from El Dorado Elementary and Marina Middle School came to protest the layoff notices. Probably (at least for me) the most emotional moment of the night came when our student delegate, Athena Creer, tearfully told the visitors from Washington and Lincoln about the lack of programming at her high school (Burton) and expressed resignation that schools just aren’t able to offer what students want.  She was right to point out the inconsistencies across high schools in our own district  and her comments were thought-provoking. They were also tragic,  and refocused the room on the real problem: it’s not only that some schools should keep what they have, but that ALL schools should have more.

This week, teachers from up and down California are declaring a state of emergency and saying: No More. On last night’s news I saw at least one SFUSD teacher arrested for occupying the state capitol; each day there are activities to focus different constituencies on the state budget crisis and what it means for our futures. On Friday there will be rallies across the state for anyone who doesn’t think the status quo is OK. (Locally, our rally will be held in Civic Center plaza starting at 4 p.m. )

We thanked the teachers tonight for their advocacy and then did what was necessary, though deeply wrong: voted to issue several hundred layoff notices before the May 15 deadline.

Other actions:

  • The Board adopted a new proposed contract with SEIU Local 1021;
  • The Board accepted for first reading a proposal to place a $500 million facilities bond on the November ballot; the proposal will be vetted and discussed at a Committee of the Whole on May 17;
  • The Board unanimously passed a resolution in support of the May 9-13 State of Emergency Week of Action sponsored by the California Teachers Association;
  • The Board accepted for first reading a proposal to clarify the role of the Community Advisory Committee for the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) – the proposal will be heard at the next meeting of the Rules, Policy and Legislation Committee.
  • In its report to the Board, the Parent Advisory Council issued several clarifications and responses to questions raised in last night’s Student Assignment Committee meeting on the middle school feeder plan, most notably that the PAC had never reported “predictability” as a major concern of parents in student assignment.

What an “all cuts” budget looks like

Just home from six-plus hours of committee meetings, the first of which was the City-School District Select committee held at City Hall in the gorgeous Board chamber (they have way nicer digs than the Boardroom at 555 Franklin — not that I have any ideas! I like the school board. I do, however, covet the City’s microphone system, which allows you to add your name to a list for the chair if you wish to speak, rather than the system we use across the street, which is to hiss at the chair and repeatedly turn your microphone light on and off in order to get a word in edgewise. If the chair is mad at you h/she might pretend not to see you, which only causes louder hissing and more emphatic button pushing).

Anyway, SFUSD Budget Director Reeta Madhaven led the Supervisors (Avalos, Chu and Cohen) and Commissioners (Fewer, Maufas and Norton) in a presentation of our steadily worsening budget outlook. We’d heard the presentation earlier this month in a Committee of the Whole, but familiarity does not make the numbers more palatable. Due to the failure of the legislature to put a tax extension on the ballot, we are left with two alternatives: the Governor’s original doom and gloom scenario from January (which we were calling “Scenario B” but is now our best-case scenario), requiring cuts of $330 per student, or $25 million, for 2011-12, and deeper cuts for 2012-13;  OR an “all cuts” budget that could require cuts of $800 per student or more.  SFUSD staff has not yet completely costed out an “all cuts” budget, preferring to wait another week or two until the Governor releases his May budget revision (the “May revise”).  But the California Budget Project (CBP) has published a district-by-district breakdown at what an all cuts budget might look like, using an estimate of $764 per student — for us, they say it adds up to an estimated $41 million cut.  Remember, we already cut $113 million from district spending in the two-year budget we passed last spring — that cut was supposed to cover 2011-12 as well as the current year. It’s kind of staggering to think about.

Millikan: Please save our school

In tough times, art and creative expression can be the best strategy. Check out this response to the budget crisis from students at LAUSD’s Millikan Middle School, a performing arts magnet school. (Looks like embedding has been disabled for this video so you’ll have to watch it on the YouTube site. But it’s worth it. )

Bad news from Sacramento: June election is dead.

The June special election is dead, officials in Sacramento agree. They disagree on who was more unreasonable in their demands, and therefore who should be blamed for the failure to JUST LET THE VOTERS WEIGH IN on whether the state should raise taxes.

What does this mean for SFUSD? I haven’t received updated guidance from the Superintendent, but last month the Board was told that without voter-approved tax increases, we would be looking at a $330 per student, or $20 million, cut for 2011-12.

I’ll keep you posted on the options.

Update: Listen to the Governor on the decision to end the negotiations:

At long last — an adequacy lawsuit against the state

This morning, a historic lawsuit was filed against the state of California, alleging that the current school finance system in the state is unconstituional, and asking that the state be required to establish a system that provides all students with the same opportunity to meet the academic goals set by the state.

The lawsuit, Robles-Wong v. California,  was filed by a broad coalition, including more than 60 individual students and their families, nine school districts from throughout the State (including SFUSD), the California School Boards Association (CSBA), California State PTA, and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA).

According to the CSBA press release:

California’s broken school finance system has undermined the ability of districts to educate our children by making no connection between what is expected of schools and students and the funding provided in order to meet those expectations.California has set clear requirements for what schools are expected to teach and what students are expected to learn. But the state has failed in its obligation to provide the resources necessary to meet these requirements. The state’s failure to support the required educational program adversely affects all students. Academic achievement results show California’s irrational, unstable and insufficient school finance system denies students the opportunity to become proficient in the State’s academic standards.

It’s very important to note that this district is incurring no legal costs (other than the staff time required on the part of the General Counsel and the Superintendent)  for being a party to the lawsuit. And though this is not a “quick fix” — it could take a long time to wind its way through the courts — it’s at least a ray of hope on the horizon that the courts will finally force the Legislature to do what we’ve been asking them to do for years.

For more information on the lawsuit, go to http://www.fixschoolfinance.org .  For background on adequacy lawsuits, this web site, maintained by Teachers College of Columbia University, is a treasure trove.

Going for Round II of RTTT: an update

Have you been following the state’s plan to apply for Round II of Race to the Top funding? It’s been quiet lately, but lots of work has been going on behind the scenes.  Six districts — Fresno Unified, LAUSD, Sacramento City, Sanger Unified, Clovis Unified and of course SFUSD — have been working together to craft a different approach for California to take this time (after a dismal showing in Round I).

I have to admit that I briefly lost sight of the process, and I did a double-take when I read this and this — accounts of what districts participating in Round 2 of Race to the Top are agreeing to, based on the final version of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was released on Tuesday. According to John Fensterwald:

This time, there will be no coaxing or convincing, with a wink or a nod, that districts can always back out later if they don’t like the terms. This time, the state’s not going all out to build a big tent of participants at the sacrifice of strong commitments. This time, superintendents, local union presidents and presidents of the boards of trustees should sign the dotted line only if they’re  prepared to agree to a specific and lengthy set of reforms.

He’s not alone. Even the state’s FAQ for school districts considering participation in Round 2 says:

Unlike Round 1, California will not be allowing opt-outs for Round 2. There are two reasons: 1) there is significant point loss if signers are not committed and have the ability to back out; 2) in the interest of time, we have to have a full commitment to move forward. We are hoping we will get more than the six superintendents, but these six have made the commitment and if that’s all that sign on we will still have the representation of over 1 million students; more than the two states that won Round 1.

The timeline is very short: at a special meeting tomorrow, the Board will be asked to formally adopt the MOU — a signed version is due back in Sacramento by Friday. I’m still absorbing everything that is in the document, but I’ve already noted some elements that need more discussion — like basing 30 percent of every teacher and principal evaluation on growth in student achievement (as measured by CST scores?) The stakes are very high here, and yet all of this is feeling to me like a bit of a rush job.