Tag Archives: California

The recession’s terrible impact on California schools

A group of researchers at UCLA have completed a sobering study of the effect of the economic downturn on California schools and their students, based on extensive interviews with 87 principals across the state.  The key findings in the study include:

–The recession has created acute new social needs for students attending a broad cross section of California public schools;
–California’s weak educational and fiscal infrastructure has limited the ability of schools to respond to these new needs, despite the extraordinary efforts of local educators;
–Conditions supporting teaching and learning have eroded;
–Many school programs and services previously viewed as essential (such as summer school) have been eliminated or cut back;
–Budget cuts have undermined efforts of schools to sustain improvement and reform;
–As school-by-school fundraising supplements inadequate budgets, opportunities for children in poor communities can fall further behind opportunities for children in wealthier communities. This has serious implications for attempts to close achievement gaps.

The study likens current conditions to what the state’s schools experienced during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the characterization is more apt than they know: California schools have not experienced funding cuts of this magnitude since–wait for it–the Great Depression.

I told you so . . .

Yep, just as I predicted. On Friday, the Governor released his proposed 2010-11 budget, and even though he pledged to protect education, it contains cuts (perhaps we should be grateful that he spared us from the worst, but that would mean rejoicing at devastating cuts in the social safety net that will impact families and schools anyway). The California School Boards Association has a preliminary accounting of the Governor’s proposal as it affects education, which includes reductions to funding that should be guaranteed under Prop. 98, reductions in class size reduction funding, and other sleights of hand. There is also good news coverage of the Governor’s budget proposal at the Sacramento Bee’s web site.

Governor: ‘I will protect education funding’

Well, Governor Schwarzenegger gave his State of the State address today, and midway through, made the following pledge: “I am drawing this line. Because our future economic well-being is so dependent upon education, I will protect education funding in this budget.”

I would love to take comfort in the Governor’s words, but similar promises have been broken too many times.  While it would be foolish to hold our breaths, parents, teachers and school districts should absolutely still hold the Governor to his words.

A flurry of activity ahead of Race to the Top deadline

In Sacramento today there was a flurry of activity to pass legislation that would allow the state to apply for up to $700 million in Federal Race to the Top funding.  Passed by the Assembly this evening and scheduled for the Senate tomorrow, the legislation takes several steps to bring California law into alignment with the requirements of Race to the Top, including:

  • tracking students’ achievement longitudinally as they move through the state’s education system;
  • enabling local districts to use test scores and other achievement data to evaluate teachers and principals; and
  • adopting several options for overhauling failing schools, including outright closure, replacing leadership and staff, or converting a school into a charter (neither the Federal guidelines nor the legislation specify what school districts should do with a failing charter – presumably revoke its charter and turn it back to a traditional public school?).

But the legislation doesn’t stop there – it also makes sweeping changes to the state’s open enrollment law and gives parents at a failing school the power to trigger one of the reform options. Students at one of the state’s roughly 1,000 failing schools would be allowed to apply to higher-performing schools anywhere; local districts would adopt their own rules governing how and when to accept these transfers.  The parent “trigger” would work by allowing a majority of 50 percent or more of parents at any of the state’s failing schools to request that one of the reform options (e.g., closure, charter conversion, replacing staff) be implemented.

School boards and the state’s labor unions are united in their opposition to these last two provisions, let alone many of the provisions in the original Federal Race to the Top guidelines. But the money the Federal government is dangling will probably prove to be too much to pass up. Indeed, the Superindent has called a Special Meeting of the Board on Thursday evening to ask for authorization to enter into the required Memorandum of Understanding with the State of California — this MOU must be submitted to the state by Friday so that the state can include it with its application to the U.S. Department of Education, due in Washington by January 19.

My own misgivings about this plan center both on the narrowminded insistence on test scores as a way to measure teacher quality and the rather heavy-handed approach to school reform. There are things I like about the parent trigger, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea that charters always represent reform – since there are both good and bad examples.  A nice summary of other uncertainties in the Federal rules and the state’s response to them is here, from the California School Boards Association. The California Teachers Association’s alert to its members, asking them to work to defeat the bills, is here. For its part, the California PTA is generally supportive of the legislation currently under debate.

2010: Another budget bloodbath

Well, the holiday weeks have been nice, with all the joy and lovely food and family time, but now it’s time to return to cold, hard, January-type reality.  Tonight’s KTVU report on the state budget wasn’t about education — it focuses more on the plight of adults with severe disabilities and their families. Respite funds, meant to give caregivers a break a few times a month, are now in danger, along with many other state-funded supports these families depend on.

Get used to hearing more and more sad stories from deserving people who should not be subjected to the kinds of cuts we’re going to be experiencing.  It’s going to be another difficult year.

Budget outlook: CSBA looks for the silver lining

It’s no surprise that the budget outlook for schools, and the state as a whole, continues to be grim. At the “State of the State” closing session at this year’s annual conference of the California School Boards Association,  several education lobbyists and policy experts gave their assessments for 2010-11 — trying to give local school board members some sense of a silver lining — but with limited success.

First, CSBA lobbyist Rick Pratt surveyed the wreckage of the past 12 months — three budgets, none of which were balanced, and an ever-increasing state budget deficit which legislators continue to try to close with gimmickry. According to the legislative analyst, the state’s budget gap going into the 2010-11 budget year is almost $21 billion, and climbing. Worse, the minimum funding guarantee for schools under Proposition 98 is down $9 billion to $49 billion for next year — all in, a cut that equals $2,000 per student statewide.

Then, Janelle Kubinek, an executive with School Services of California, offered a more philosophical overview of schools’ predicament. Prison officials, she said, were told to find a way to cut $1 billion out of their budgets last year — so in response, they told legislators they’d be forced to release 30,000 prisoners.  “It’s as if [schools] had said ‘we’re not going to be able to educate third graders next year. Where would you like us to drop them off?’ ” said Kubinek. The state education code and funding mechanisms have been restructured to allow schools to “do less with less,” Kubinek said, but what schools should do is think about “doing different with less.” 

Echoing the other advocates, Kevin Gordon of School Innovations & Advocacy said that schools have taken a disproportionate share of cuts in the state budget — education spending represents 40% of the state budget, and yet education has taken 50% of total state budget cuts. 

The silver lining? Schools are actually owed $1 billion in Prop. 98 money for 2009-10 (the reasons for this are complex), which gives us a chip in 2010-11 negotiations. The Governor has three options: pay us the money, defer the payments to future years, or suspend Proposition 98 entirely.  In addition, the state accepted stimulus funds, and those funds carried with them a requirement that states maintain current funding levels for schools rather than cutting back and using Federal funds to backfill. This is another chip we can use in negotiations — providing that the Obama Administration does not waive this “maintenance of effort” requirement for California (there is political pressure for the White House to do just that).

The advocates at the final session didn’t talk about the coming adequacy lawsuit, but that is a part of the silver lining, too. The Education Legal Alliance, a group made up of school districts, teachers, PTA and other education advocacy groups, is just weeks away from filing an adequacy lawsuit charging that there is a disconnect between our state’s education policies and our funding mechanism. In the words of one of the attorneys involved in the case, “successful schools in California are the anomalies, and not easily replicable . . . The point is that [most schools] can’t get there with this level of funding.”

I came away with a sense that there are advocacy opportunities: we can voice support for the adequacy lawsuit, pressure the Obama Administration not to let California out of its obligation to maintain its education funding efforts, or simply make sure our local legislators (Assemblymembers Fiona Ma and Tom Ammiano, and Senators Mark Leno and Leland Yee) remember that voting for any further cuts in education, even those recommended by the Democratic leadership, is not acceptable.

California’s higher-education debacle – LA Times

This opinion piece from Jeff Bleich, one of the Trustees of the California State University system, really hits home. Three generations of my family were educated in either the UC or the CSU system — both my grandfathers were UC professors and my dad and stepmother still are. Mr. Bleich writes about the opportunities his UC Berkeley law degree has given him, and his efforts to pay it forward through the years. He observes:

My story is not unique. It is the story of California’s rise from the 1960s to the 1990s. Millions of people stayed here and succeeded because of their California education. We benefited from the foresight of an earlier generation that recognized it had a duty to pay it forward.

That was the bargain California made with us when it established the California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960. By making California the state where every qualified and committed person can receive a low-cost and high-quality education, all of us benefit. Attracting and retaining the leaders of the future helps the state grow bigger and stronger. Economists found that for every dollar the state invests in a CSU student, it receives $4.41 in return.

So as someone who has lived the California dream, there is nothing more painful to me than to see this dream dying. It is being starved to death by a public that thinks any government service — even public education — is not worth paying for. And by political leaders who do not lead but instead give in to our worst, shortsighted instincts.

It breaks my heart that a system that has offered so much opportunity to so many is in tatters. When will we wake up and realize that you can’t have a world-class educational system if you don’t invest in it?

What we could do with that money . . .

The Chronicle reports that the Marin Community Foundation will donate $35 million over three years, or $19,000 per student, to struggling Marin County school districts:

The organization is making grants to schools in the San Rafael, Sausalito Marin City, Novato and Shoreline school districts, which are attended by the highest percentage of low-achieving students in Marin County. About 19 percent of the 9,970 students in those districts fall below or far below basic performance levels on the state’s standardized tests.

The five districts mentioned in the article as receiving this bounty have the following API scores:

  • San Rafael High School:  743
  • San Rafael Elementary (K-8): 788
  • Shoreline Unified: 788
  • Marin City-Sausalito Unified: 796
  • Novato Unified: 822

These scores are reasonably lower than the API results for Mill Valley Elementary and its companion, Tamalpais Union High School District — 924 and 862 (probably the high water mark for Marin public schools),  but above the combined API score for San Francisco Unified — 777 (note that every one of Marin’s “troubled” districts except the San Rafael High School District scored higher than SFUSD).

What I think is particularly interesting (well, other than the fact that there don’t seem to be very many black people in affluent parts of Marin!) is the state of the  achievement gap in each of these districts.  (Aside: at this weekend’s Parent Engagement Summit one person suggested that the gap between Whites/Asians and African American/Latino/Pacific Islander students should be called the “opportunity gap” to put the onus of solving the problem back on adults.) Our gap, whether you look at White-African American, White-Latino, Asian-Latino, Asian-African American etc., etc., is wider than any of those we can see in Marin (I have summarized it all in a spreadsheet on Google docs, for those who want to wade more deeply into the data).

Seriously, what we could do with that money! I commend the Marin Community Foundation for stepping up and working to make sure that every student throughout the county has high quality academic opportunities. There is a lot of money in Marin, but there is also a lot of money here in San Francisco. Not enough of it has gone to improving opportunities in our public schools.

Rebuilding California: Update

This past July I attended “Rebuilding California: From the Ground Up,” a joint summit of representatives from cities, counties and school districts. Now the joint task force has posted an interesting and very comprehensive summary document (PDF) of the themes they heard from participants in the conference, as well as a pretty thorough selection of powerpoints and video from the event (the UI could be better: to find the materials on the CCS home page, scroll down to the box with the big “Rebuilding California” headline).

The special education achievement gap

UPDATE: (Sept 13) The data have been updated by the CDE and so I’ve reposted it.

I learned tonight (August 25) that the CDE has pulled all of its special education results to recalculate them due to some unspecified error. So I’ve redacted the figures I posted last week and will correct them when new figures are available. This would be more suspicious if some kind of correction didn’t happen every year, but it does. More info as  it becomes available.

The gap in achievement between students with special learning needs and their typical peers gets less attention than the racial achievement gap, but it is no less important and no less shocking. Every once in a while someone points out that African American students in San Francisco have in recent years scored lower than special education students (that is actually not true this year, in English/Language Arts or Math). Does that mean it is somehow OK to expect special education students to score the lowest of all, and the height of shame when another group captures the bottom rung of the ladder?

The vast majority of students in San Francisco Unified identified as having a disability are not cognitively-impaired, but rather students who learn differently and who need more individualized attention and teaching strategies. This does not mean that these students cannot learn; nor does it mean that you cannot measure their learning in the same way you would measure the learning of a typical student. Assuming a student with a learning disability has been appropriately taught and receives appropriate accommodations during testing (say, a quiet room, extra time or strategies to curtail visual distractions during test-taking), we would expect that student to post a reasonable score on the tests.  Perhaps, if we were particularly enlightened, we would also recognize that many students do not adequately demonstrate what they actually know on multiple choice testing, and so we would consider test scores as only part of an overall measure of student achievement, but that is another discussion.

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