What should teachers unions do to remain effective and relevant?


Today we launch “Yes, but…”, an engaging conversation among California’s leading thinkers in education. We’ll feature a new topic regularly, if not weekly, and bring together policymakers, teachers, scholars, and advocates for a spirited dialogue.

We begin with thoughts on the future of teachers unions. Our sages are Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel; consultant and researcher Julia Koppich; special education teacher KC Walsh, who’s a board member of the CTA and the National Education Association; Stephen McMahon, president of the San José Teachers Association; and Los Angeles high school English teacher Lisa Alva Wood. We’re asking our contributors to check comments during the week to continue the discussion.

Our next topic, to be published next week, will address the topic, “How should we measure our schools, if not by current API scores?”

Antonio Villaraigosa: Unions should advance agenda for change

Antonio Villaraigosa

Antonio Villaraigosa

As a former teachers union organizer, I have seen firsthand the dedication and long hours that teachers put in to ensure their students’ success. Thanks to that hard work and commitment, we have seen a steady increase in student achievement in California – including recent gains here in Los Angeles.

But despite these gains, California’s education system still faces enormous challenges. Our eighth graders rank 46th in math on national assessments and California is ranked 46th in per-pupil funding. And here’s the figure that should keep us all up at night: 1,000,000. That is the number of additional college graduates we need by 2025 to keep our economy afloat.

Education is arguably the most important issue facing our state, and the relevancy of teachers and their union on this issue is without question. I appreciate this opportunity to weigh in with TOPed and its thoughtful community on this topic.

For real change to occur at our schools, teachers’ voices need to be heard loud and clear. Without teacher input, we will not be able to build the education system that will place California among the best in the world. Teachers know what works and what doesn’t. And it is through their unions that these teachers’ voices will be raised at the negotiating table, the legislative floor, and the ballot box.

California’s schools need more funding to restore and expand early education, arts, music, and physical education and to bring modern technology to our classrooms. To successfully run these programs, we need not only to restore the teaching positions we’ve  lost – we need to take the lead in offering competitive salaries that will help attract top talent from around the country and keep quality teachers in the classroom.

But we won’t improve our schools with money alone. Funds must be linked to progressive efforts such as robust data systems, Common Core standards, and aligned assessments. They also must be linked to a multiple-measure evaluation system that ensures accountability, compensation, professional development, and career opportunities for teachers. Lastly, California needs a more transparent funding system where money follows the student and where allocations are weighted, so we are putting our dollars where they are needed most.

As a mayor, and as a parent, it is my hope that unions will advance an agenda such as this to improve our schools by working with leaders in Sacramento, parents, and local school administrators. If they do, teachers and their unions will not only stay relevant, they will lead California to a state of education excellence.

Since becoming mayor of Los Angeles in 2005, Antonio Villaraigosa has made education a priority.  Working to  elect and re-elect pro-reform candidates for Los Angeles Unified  School Board,  he helped to advance Public School Choice.  In 2007, he founded The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a school turnaround project serving more than 20,000 students across 22 schools. Its goal is to transform LA’s lowest-performing schools and create a model for district-wide change.

Dean E. Vogel: Fight for future of neighborhood schools

Dean Vogel

Dean Vogel

Teachers believe in opportunity for all children, not just a few. And we believe quality public education is essential to building better communities and a better future for America. This is the mission and work of the California Teachers Association (CTA).

Founded in 1863, today’s 325,000-member CTA is one of the strongest advocates for educators in the country.

Our effectiveness as a democratic organization is a matter of record – from billions of dollars secured for renovating and building new schools, to the landmark passage of the 1988 minimum school funding law. These resources made things better for our students. CTA also backed innovative reform with the landmark Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006, which provides $3 billion over eight years to at-risk schools for proven reforms like smaller class sizes, collaboration, and more counselors. These at-risk students are making good progress. When we improve the learning conditions for our students and the teaching conditions for educators we create sustainable progress. This is part of union work, and CTA is a vital part of the union movement.

But current economic conditions challenge our schools daily. A new report warns that California ranks 46th in per-pupil spending and dead last in teachers and librarians per student. That’s why our union work includes urgent community coalition discussions about a progressive ballot measure for next year to generate new revenues for schools and all essential public services.

We are also working more with coalitions to expose the billionaire reformers like Bill Gates and Eli Broad who seek to privatize public education. We are demanding that corporations pay their fair share of taxes. And we are asking Congress to rewrite the federal No Child Left Behind law based on CTA principles that would protect students and schools from being labeled by test scores.

CTA and its members are driven by learning, not by profit. We are the classroom experts and we know what works. Stopping those wealthy few who would silence our political voices will be key in the months and years ahead in the ability of public education unions to protect neighborhood schools, rebuild the middle class, and help provide a rebirth of the American Dream.

Dean E. Vogel is the president of the California Teachers Association, which is affiliated with the 3.2 million-member National Education Association.

Julia E. Koppich: Listen to voices of new teachers

Julia Koppich

Julia Koppich

Teachers unions are education’s favorite punching bag these days. Books and blog posts sound the theme: Teachers unions stand in the way of higher student achievement.

It makes good copy. But there’s not much empirical evidence to support it. Research shows that the evidentiary base for concluding that unions hinder (or for that matter, help) student achievement is thin.

Nevertheless, teachers unions’ influence is undeniable. Teachers are the most important in-school influence on student learning. State and federal education policy agendas focus on better teacher evaluation and new forms of pay – both negotiable – as central to ensuring teaching effectiveness. Union impact made manifest.

Yet change must come. Too often unions just say “no” when it comes to reform. This serves neither their members nor, more importantly, the students their members teach. What should unions do?

1) End the siege mentality. In the face of attacks, unions have hunkered down. Not surprising, perhaps. One reaction to attack is to head for the bunker. But the attack on unions is part of a broader attack on public education. In this fight, union and management are on the same side. They need to fight the forces arrayed against them, not each other.

2) Mind the demographics. The future of unions hinges on its members. Just a few years ago, the average teacher had taught for at least 15 years. Now it’s fewer than 10. This is a different population.

Research shows that these new teachers want a union (many say they worry about arbitrary district actions), but they want a different kind of union, one that helps them get better at their jobs. And these teachers like differentiated pay and more rigorous evaluations (though they’re not keen on using test scores for these purposes). Unions need to catch up to them.

3) Make improving teaching effectiveness the union agenda. We have examples of putting this precept into action in California. My colleague, Dan Humphrey of SRI, and I recently completed a study of Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) in Poway (San Diego County) and San Juan (near Sacramento). Skilled teachers provide intensive support to then evaluate the performance of colleagues. A joint union-management governing board oversees the program.

Unions are integral to PAR. They don’t shy away from tough decisions. PAR support is intense. But if support isn’t enough, the union has no qualms about recommending dismissal. These unions have taken labor-management collaboration to a new level. Union and management act as partners. Agreements center on high stakes issues. Improving teaching effectiveness to improve student learning is union work.

No magic bullet will cure what ails California’s schools. Problems are complex and multifaceted. Unions can be part of the solution by adopting new mental models, implementing new ways of acting, and being more open to new ideas, even – maybe especially – those that challenge long-held traditions and assumptions.

Julia E. Koppich is president of J. Koppich & Associates, a San Francisco-based education consulting firm. Her work focuses principally on teacher effectiveness and education labor-management relations. She recently completed (with Dan Humphrey of SRI) a study of peer assistance and review in California, serves as technical assistance lead for the federal Teacher Incentive Fund, and is working with the Memphis City Schools to redesign their teacher evaluation and tenure review systems. Dr. Koppich holds a Ph.D. in education policy analysis from the University of California Berkeley.

Lisa Alva Wood: Tone down rhetoric and reorganize

Lisa Alva Wood

Lisa Alva Wood

Earlier this year, in Los Angeles, teachers from various schools met with some representatives from the federal Department of Education. Two teacher-fellows and the facilitator shared the Dept. of Ed’s “vision” for the teaching profession. The main thrust was to “professionalize” teaching by having us work “professional” days, weeks, and hours (250 days vs. the 180 we work now) and to front-load the income-based rewards; newer teachers could earn up to $65,000 per year upon earning tenure, and master teachers could earn up to $100,000 per year for exemplary performance. So, the idea is that we save for our own retirements, saving the government millions of dollars in pension costs. Yes, but… what does that say about the perceived futures of our unions?

Younger teachers only know that the union has not protected them in time of pink slips; unions, in their minds, are the guardians of older teachers who coast through semesters on the cushions of sinecure. Mid-term teachers who have come halfway through their career spans see their unions as bastions of bombast, feeling alienated by the old-school fire-and-brimstone organizers who took cuts in pay and actually walked out on strikes. The senior teachers are frustrated by charter schools bleeding away membership – in Los Angeles this year our union membership numbers 30,000, down from 44,000 ten years ago. As troubling as this is, it’s not nearly as worrisome as the federal government seemingly planning for the demise of the teachers unions, as appears to be the case. What do they know that we don’t? (That was a naive question.)

Pundits and columnists are fond of saying that the Los Angeles teachers union is one of the largest, most powerful lobbies in the state, that together with the California Teachers Association, we control enough votes and influence to keep things exactly as we want them. Yes, but our own leadership in Los Angeles embarrassed us by terming out and then taking a principal’s position with “the enemy,” a charter school.

Some of us mid-career teachers have formed our own caucus to tone down the rhetoric. We are trying to convert more teachers to the cause, encouraging them to participate, build the faith and strength in our union that the future will require. Without a revival, we stand to fulfill the government’s prophecy: every man for himself. We cannot let this happen.

Lisa Alva Wood has been been teaching high school English  for 15 years, the last 10 at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles. She has been on the Board of Directors for the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools and spearheaded many school-based projects. She is a National Board Certified Teacher.

KC Walsh: Organize parents and fight for proven reforms

KC Walsh

KC Walsh

Educators and their unions have been subjected to an incredible amount of scapegoating lately – ranging from biased movies like Waiting for Superman to multimillion-dollar foundations that think they know how to teach children better than the educated professionals in our classrooms. California leads the nation in education cuts — slashing more than $20 billion from our public schools and colleges in the past three years.

Noted labor leader Pat Dolan says unionism begins with a moral imperative to provide a voice for those who don’t have one. Our students benefit when we use our collective teacher voices as a union to fight for the quality education they deserve. To remain effective at this, teachers unions must listen to and organize more colleagues, parents, and communities in this mission. And we must continue our fight for proven reforms, like smaller class sizes, which studies show actually work in our classrooms.

From my vantage point in Silicon Valley, one major difficulty is that educators are not being listened to, but are being handed unrealistic mandates from the federal government. We are speaking out to Congress about flawed efforts like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top that are handcuffing educators from preparing tomorrow’s creative workers with their single-minded focus on standardized testing, rather than fostering creativity and critical thinking.

The California Teachers Association and the National Education Association are leading voices in education reform. CTA led passage of legislation that focused $3 billion over eight years toward helping at-risk schools; the Quality Education Investment Act of 2006 is making a difference for those students as test scores have increased and achievement gaps have narrowed. California teachers are working with administrators and parents to focus curriculum and professional development to improve student learning. NEA is working in a similar fashion to assist schools across the country to implement best practices. CTA is developing teacher evaluation systems that will help educators improve.

Changes are needed in education, and teachers unions will continue to work with parents and others in the school community to ensure that kids come first in that debate. As the leading voices in this conversation, CTA and NEA will remain relevant – and vigilant about the battles ahead.

KC Walsh is a special education teacher on leave from Bernal Intermediate School in Oak Grove Unified in San Jose. She is also on the  board of directors for the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association.

Stephen McMahon: We’re leading the classroom transformation

Stephen McMahon

Stephen McMahon

As president of the San José Teachers Association (SJTA), I experience the whole spectrum of public education on a daily basis, from the breathtaking to the reprehensible. I constantly think about the role of teachers unions in all that is public education. I also constantly think about district offices, boards of education, county offices, county boards, state departments of education, the U.S. Department of Education, publishers, consultants, advisers, contractors, researchers,  and everything else that consumes the well over $500 billion annually invested in educating our nation’s primary and secondary students1.  Among those institutions, teachers unions are far and away the most critical for anyone who genuinely puts students first.

The justification for teachers unions is straightforward. The magic of education happens in the classroom. It is all about teachers and students. No citations, research, or position statements are necessary to confirm that teachers and the work they do in the classroom are paramount. Yet only 58% of California’s K-12 education expenditures make it to the classroom2. Teachers know that the bureaucracy does not educate children – teachers do. Teachers know that the system does not inspire children – teachers do. Teachers know that the more than 40% spent outside the classroom does not change lives – teachers do.

SJTA’s mission is to “empower teachers to educate, inspire, and change lives through public education.” We in San José Unified are leading the way on: implementing a transformational evaluation process, offering different methods for compensating teachers for the work they do, exploring nontraditional approaches to the student instructional day and year, delivering instruction to students in a manner that reflects the dynamic and innovative environment of Silicon Valley, and how we measure and validate the success and achievement of both our students and our workforce. We are also transforming what it means to have strategic stakeholder partnerships that support all students.

SJTA is the natural leader in all of these areas because the daily work of its members is teaching and learning. That unmatched knowledge base has the teachers of SJTA primed with ideas, solutions, and willingness. We are taking progressive actions because we are committed to ensuring that every student receives the finest educational opportunities and experiences. We are a beacon for what is possible when the collective voice of more than 1,700 teachers is valued and respected.

All of the institutions within public education have things to be proud of and each is responsible for changes that must be made. When student learning and achievement are at the forefront, nothing exceeds the classroom in importance. Teachers are the heart of the classroom. A teachers union is its teachers. That places working with teachers unions at the top of the list for anyone seeking to truly enhance public education.

Stephen McMahon is president of the San José Teachers Association. SJTA represents the more than 1,700 teachers in Santa Clara County’s largest school district.

1:  U.S. Department of Education
2:  An Analysis of K-12 Education Expenditures in California, Davenport Institute, Pepperdine University, July 2010
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  1. Unions are a throw-back to the olden days, when people were forced to work long hours for very little. Today, unions work shorter hours and receive a whole lot more.  Unions have no role in modern-day society. They just need to go away once and for all.

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  2. Nice idea to create a forum for discussion but just didn’t work. This wasn’t a discussion it was a collection of pre-stated position papers. Almost no one answered the question they just printed their press release. A shame it was a good question.

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  3. Seems there’s unanimous agreement that in the large money is more important than teachers given the current state of education in California.  I think unions will stay relevant as long as they can find a way to play a role in determining how much money is spent and how that money is spent.  There seemed to be some calls to restore funding to previous levels, but no indication if that amount of funding is really adequate.  The support for smaller class sizes of  some contributors leads me to believe that they think just restoring previous levels of funding would be insufficient.  This blog has previously referenced reports that estimate how much school funding is needed to actually educate the children of California, and I’d guess some of these contributors would support those recommendations.  It might have been helpful if they explicitly mentioned such support.  As to how to spend any extra money there seems to be agreement on smaller class sizes.  There also appear to be some disagreements.  Mayor Villaraigosa says that money needs to be spent on Common Core, data systems, and alligned standards.  Whereas Mr. McMahon says that more funding should be directed to the classroom and gives a number of examples of how.  Even though Mr. McMahon’s statement is open ended its hard for me to call any of Mayor Villaraigosa’s suggestions as spending in the classroom.  On the whole it would be useful to have some priorities, but  once again maybe it is useful to refer to previous reports referenced in this blog.

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  4. I should have mentioned that I think ed100 is an excellent collection of reference for the issues of how and how much money to spend on California education.

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  5. Teachers’ unions protect teachers’ working conditions which are also student learning conditions. A prime example of a working condition is class size. Low class size, particularly for disadvantaged students, has been demonstrated to be a significant contributor to higher student achievement, graduation rates, and the attainment of college degrees. (See Tennessee STAR Study.)

    Unions also negotiate contracts for salaries and benefits. The unions also protect teachers from potentially arbitrary and capricious personnel actions by management  by enforcement of due process rights.

    Unions protect, to an extent, teachers seniority rights. Seniority rights grew from repeated cases of demonstrable mismanagement, when experienced, competent teachers were dismissed in favor of retaining less experienced teachers primarily because the more experienced teacher was the most expensive teacher. Recall that a number of groups and pundits have pointed to the disadvantages faced by students in schools in struggling communities who have less experienced teachers and, therefore, fewer dollars being expended in those student’s schools. Ironically, recent court decisions have now made it easier in some districts to pink slip more experienced teachers. (Go figure.)

    “Unions protect, to an extent, teachers seniority rights.”
    Let me clarify this statement. School boards have always had the right to define necessary “programs” in their districts and have the ability to “skip” over teachers with special qualifications in layoff situations in order to protect those programs. For example, most districts in CA have some requirements about teachers being “certified” in some way to teach English learners. If a senior teacher doesn’t have that certification that teacher  could be laid off and a more junior teacher with the certification could be retained.

    Let us also recall, that for those with a powerful focus on test scores of various kinds,  the nation’s only test used nationwide is the NAEP and the highest NAEP scores are found in states with the highest percentages of unionized teachers. These states also tend to spend the most per student on K-12 education.

    Teachers’ unions up and down the state have been actively working on updating evaluation procedures. The problem is that more intensive evaluations require more intensive investments in qualified evaluators. That costs dollars that the state’s disfunctional political system cannot presently provide.  Correcting the state’s almost unique requirement for a supermajority legislative vote, or passage of a well crafted ballot proposition, to bolster the education funding stream is a necessity here.

    The teachers’ unions do not support change for the sake of change. They do support research based reforms and more autonomy for classroom teachers to do what’s right for their students. Along, of course, with the resources to do things.

    Just pegging the terms “reform” or “progressive” to ideologically or politically driven mandates with no research base is not what teachers need or want. Their unions should protect them, and their students, from those efforts.

    The teachers’ unions then, in their continuing role of protecting teachers from those who would scapegoat them and working towards real reform and real improvements in resources, remain “effective and relevant” by definition. 

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  6. My impression is that the goal was to let some policy makers state their stances and then let us have at ‘em.  ;-)
    A couple things: I agree that no one really answered the question very directly. I think unions are fighting against more anecdote than reality. This often makes their fight ideological instead of pragmatic. This is an unfortunate side-effect of voters unwillingness to evaluate critically, as well as a vested interest of politicians in keeping things vague. But this is not unique of unions. I think society is very willing to legislate itself right off a cliff if the actions required to avoid that are too severe. This is human nature and is supposed to be the reason we have leaders and not ‘merely’ representatives. I would not be surprised to see unions ‘ideologue’ themselves into oblivion, though I fully expect the quality of our education would suffer as a result.
    One specific set of comments to the report Stephen McMahon cited. While I applaud the reports intention, and dont necessarily disagree with its findings, I do have to question what we are trying to imply by saying that ‘Yet only 58% of California’s K-12 education expenditures make it to the classroom.2′ While I get the desire that all of our education funding would go directly into the classrooms, I think its obvious that is not possible. The number above does not include principals. Could we run schools without them? In addition, it does not include certificated central admin, ie no one to hire teachers and manage principals. While there is obviously other overhead involved in the district, the thing thats really missing from such a statement is what really is required and expected. One of the big problems with the data reporting in our state is there is no methodology to compare district ‘overhead’ in a way thats consistent. A good example is the difference in how we track classified staff compared to certificated staff, but thats only a staffing question. So while we can lament the 40% that doesnt get to classrooms, we have no idea whether 40% is reasonable overhead or not (of course it feels like its not, but we cant go simply on feelings here–if voters pass laws that require additional staffing in order to be compliant, can we treat that as unjustified? Is this somehow school districts being irresponsible?).
    I would also like to make a few points about the methodology of that study:

    the timeframe chosen was ’03-’04 to ’08-’09. I dont know whether that was arbitrary, but there were significant changes from ’02-’03 to ’03-’04 in many districts related to staffing . Similarly, in ’09-’10, a ‘correction’ of sorts occurred in many districts’ staffing levels (for example, state-wide, while 08-09 certificated administrator staffing levels were almost 8% higher than in 03-04, in 09-10 ,they reverted to almost exactly 03-04 levels. A similar change happened for pupil services staff and teachers). While I understand that a study can only be done when it is done, if we are having this discussion at almost the beginning of 2012, we really should take into account the impact of ’09-’10, as well as at least acknowledge whether ’03-’04 was a ‘special’ year by any measure. To be honest, I dont know what the specific impact of those things would be, but they would at least be a more accurate representation.
    I noticed that teacher staffing/salaries were gotten from the j-90 reports. As it turns out, those are FTE numbers, and even then they differ slightly with what districts reported to CDE (eg compare with ed-data). J-90s are optional I believe, and thus may be less accurate than other information. I chose a few districts at random in the current year and compared ed-data numbers with j-90 numbers and they seemed to vary by up to a few percent.
    The study tries to take a difference in increase as a first step in calculating how many teachers could otherwise have been hired. Of course the cost of an FTE is not the same for a part-time position as for a full-time one, and that will impact the calculation somewhat as well.
    In addition, any time you do multi-year comparisons, it is necessary to justify the inflation index one uses. As can be seen in the breakdowns of various expenditure types, not all types increase similarly. Its arguable that public sector deserves its own inflation index. It is also arguable that education deserves one thats even more specific. The public sector in general, and education specifically, are subject to all sorts of legislation and rules that are ‘outside their control’ and that dont necessarily apply to the general population and economy in the same way. That difference is relevant.
    I am not clear it makes sense to exclude deferred maintenance and similar funds. Some of those things are required expenses for districts, even if they are technically ‘infrastructure’ expenditures, though I am not an expert in those requirements.

    Lastly, I think in such a discussion it is necessary to clearly define the expected role of a union in the first place. Many criticize unions for not taking a more active role in evaluating the quality of their members (ie by critiquing them for defending so-called ‘bad teachers’). But this kind of critique is a slippery slope. Unions dont have a role in hiring. It is not their job to manage or evaluate teachers. In fact, it may even be possible to claim that part of the cost of maintaining a workforce afforded due-process is the need to staff effective administrators. But of course we would never consider that as an ‘in the classroom’ cost..

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  7. Well, first off the current system is the wrong paradigm for a profession. We aren’t putting tires on cars and we can not demand more money from the States to pay for negotiated agreements. The supply and demand system doesn’t apply to schools, yet we are compelled to work under rules meant for that labor market.  We need to develop a different system of governance, one where all parties have skin in the decisions. I am open to suggestions, but what about electing staff members to serve on a governing board along side community members? All employees could benefit (or the reverse) from wise decisions and the success of students (or again the reverse). The current system is not designed to benefit the students nor our communities. Any other suggestions?

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  8. Eric’s is an excellent suggestion! Bridging the labor-management divide would ultimately benefit student learning and help retain some of our most innovative, entrepreneurial educators.

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  9. Antonio Villaraigosa: “As a mayor, and as a parent, it is my hope that unions will advance an agenda such as this to improve our schools by working with leaders in Sacramento, parents, and local school administrators. If they do, teachers and their unions will not only stay relevant, they will lead California to a state of education excellence.”
    Methinks Mr. Villaraigosa has an eye on a higher political position. Otherwise, and with his Los Angeles experience, I can’t believe he means a word of the above.
    Dean E. Vogel: “CTA is one of the strongest advocates for educators in the country.”
    Well said. Precisely. For educators, not necessarily for students. Let us remember who CTA advocates for when it talks about “progressive ballot measure … to generate new revenues for schools,” or of corporations “pay[ing] their fair share in taxes.”
    Other responders: I generally agree with their sentiments, but I disagree that the unions can change. Why not form a professional union instead that will work for professionalism and excellence in teaching, rather than trying to remake a bloated labor union into something it cannot be? That’s what NEA used to be many years ago.

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  10. Apologies for the html garbage, and the unintended highlighting of the last para above. Cut-and-paste from Word, coupled with lousy comment-handling software on this site.

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  11. Well said. Precisely. For educators, not necessarily for students. Let us remember who CTA advocates for when it talks about “progressive ballot measure … to generate new revenues for schools,” or of corporations “paying] their fair share in taxes.”

    The above statement, perhaps unintentionally, uses an iteration of one of the more pernicious slogans currently in vogue: teachers’ unions represent the adults and not the children or “children first!” This, quite obviously, is a false dichotomy. When teachers’ unions are engaged in collective bargaining over teachers’ working conditions they are supporting improved student learning conditions. Even when negotiating salaries and benefits it may be in the best interests of the membership, but it simultaneously supports student learning and prevents a “brain drain” as teachers look to other districts or the private sector for  superior compensation. And I am aware that in unadjusted dollars CA “average” salaries are relatively high but, as the RAND Corp points out, in dollars adjusted for cost-of-living CA ranks the lowest in teacher salaries of the major industrialized states.

    It would be difficult to try and argue that CA’s funding per student, now ranked around 46th in the nation, is adequate to provide a quality education to the most challenging student population in the nation. Or argue that either a change in statute (eliminating the 2/3rds majority for tax legislation), bringing Prop 13 up to date, or that passing  tax initiative requiring the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share  isn’t necessary? It’s not reasonable to be an advocate of quality education and not be an advocate for doing what is necessary to provide equally high quality resources for the schools.

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  12. Just my view: Teachers’ unions are more relevant than ever, especially given the current prevailing view that teachers should be blamed and lacerated for being unable to regularly work magical miracles in remedying the ills caused by poverty and inequity. In fact, I didn’t even state that fully: A widely promoted view, including in the mainstream media, is that “bad teachers” are the cause of low academic achievement. Remember that “Waiting for Superman” claimed that poor schools are the cause of poverty, and don’t forget the Newsweek cover announcing that the trick to fixing education was to fire bad teachers.

    However, with apologies to my various friends involved in teachers’ unions, I think they’re suffering some effectiveness lapses — largely with their nearly nonexistent response to the ongoing demonization of teachers and teachers’ unions (just read the comments posted above this one). Then the failure to respond effectively leads to further weakened effectiveness, in a downward cycle.
    And caving in to the anti-teacher barrage  (as we saw in the infamous Jonah Edelman video, for example) is not an effective response. Teachers’ unions need to stand proud and strong, fighting for respect and rights for teachers — not cower and collapse.
    In “act locally” mode, I’d like to suggest that teachers’ union locals create and fund projects reaching out to parents throughout their kids’ school years. I noted that the Oakland Educators Association sponsored a public showing of “Race to Nowhere,” a film that many parents had been eager to see. That’s one small example of the kind of thing union locals should be doing regularly — constantly. Tables at school-related events (such as, in my district, the annual SFUSD enrollment fair); printed/online materials reaching out to parents about what the union does; events informing parents, and other such outreach should be part of the landscape.
    I have been in the situation that some parents experience, dealing with a teacher who was experiencing problems (not the “lazy deadwood incompetent” situation that so-called reformers like to portray as typical, but an individual who was having severe reactions to life stresses that made her inappropriate for a classroom situation until her problems were resolved). The heart of the issue was the administration’s failure to deal with it. A large group of parents meeting with the principal had a direct discussion about the situation with an edgy, defensive union rep. It was not a flattering view of the union, as the rep was badly misinformed about the situation and was utterly taken aback at what the parents were saying; he was basically silenced, unable to respond, once he heard us. I bring this up because this was most of those parents’ first-ever encounter with the teachers’ union, and it just should not have been that way.
    Also, one inherent challenge that teachers face, image-wise, is that a great number of people (either as a student or a parent) have had some kind of distressing or negative interaction with a teacher who was doing his or her job competently, conscientiously and effectively. I’m talking about that phone call or low grade for neglected work; discipline or truancy issue; even flagging of a concern about a possible disability or special health care need, something that stresses and often angers parents and can result in their lashing out at the teacher who brings it up.
    Even so, most people do respect teachers, as polls regularly show; but that is still a situation that makes it easier for the demonizing — “the teeth of your horrific blame machine,” as Texas educator John Kuhn put it — to make a mark.
    I’m posting this here on the basis that teachers’ union leaders are likely to see it. Think outreach and bridge-building as a regular daily part of the operation.

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  13. Gary Ravani: ” pernicious slogans currently in vogue: teachers’ unions represent the adults and not the children or “children first!” This, quite obviously, is a false dichotomy. When teachers’ unions are engaged in collective bargaining over teachers’ working conditions they are supporting improved student learning conditions.”
    Hmm… I simply quoted the president of the CTA priding himself on being one of the “strongest advocates for educators.” I didn’t even use the apocryphal Al Shanker comment that “when school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.
    In any case, if Mr. Ravani truly believes that distinguishing between the interests of adult teachers and those of the children they serve is a false dichotomy, why does he frequently object to the privatization of education, to charter schools, or to strengthening of businesses? Clearly one can make the same argument that distinguishing between the interests of businesses and their customers is a false dichotomy too. After all, it is also in businesses’ interest to keep their customers happy.

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  14. Let’s try and leave personalities out of this and stick to issues.
    What was said was, in so many words, of a teachers’ union is working for teachers it isn’t necessarily working for students. My reply was to assert that working for improved teachers’ working conditions was simultaneously working for students learning conditions. The separation of working conditions and learning conditions is the false dichotomy. Nothing was said to refute that.
    We did get an ad hominem attack against the late AFT president Al Shanker. Far right web sites (Andrew Breitebart’s-Big Government-for example) continue to reprint the apocryphal  statement: “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”
    There is nothing in the historical record indicating Shanker said those words. It’s an urban legend and the equivalent of educational “birtherism.”

    It was alleged that the comment could be sourced in the Congressional Record of August 1985 or a small newspaper in Mississippi, the Meridian Star. The newspaper had the “quote” with no attribution and the Record is absent of any comments of this type. Self styled education reformer Joel Klein repeated this nonsense in an article he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly. When challenged as to the attribution he responded:
    Did Shanker ever deny saying it? Not that I’ve discovered. It would be surprising that he didn’t deny it loudly and repeatedly if he didn’t say it. In addition, your interpretation of the words in the congressional record is ludicrous. True, student and teacher self-interest are often aligned. But not always. A terrible teacher wants to protect her job, even though that’s bad for kids. In that circumstance, the union will – has to, as a matter of fiduciary duty – protect the teacher. That’s what Shaker said, and, more importantly, that’s what happens every day in American education.
    (Shanker Institute blog)
    Shanker died in 1997 before the onslaught of attacks on teachers and their unions and wild stories spread on the internet. He may not even have been aware of the alleged “quote.” Note that Klein doesn’t really quote the Congressional Record just alleges that something is “ludicrous” about its interpretation. Just what is ludicrous soon becomes obvious when he states, somehow in support of his argument, that for a union it is a “matter of fiduciary duty [to] protect a teacher.” A fiduciary duty to protect a teachers due process rights? Well, yes. This is news?
    What else can be said? If you’re a dabbler in education issues with little real time in schools or lacking in familiarity with teachers’ unions it’s easy to be fooled by internet chicanery. Caveat emptor.
    To Carolyn’s comments:
    It’s easier to talk about aggressive responses to attacks on educators than do the responses. As they say: Never argue with a newspaper, they buy ink by the barrel. The media is led by what’s “bleeding.” Hysterical reports about the “crisis in the schools” has been the bread and butter of editorialists and pundits for over a hundred years. This is unlikely to change. And then there’s the politicians. Yikes! As Will Rogers said (responding to the media of the times-c. 1935): “The schools ain’t as good as they used to be, and I guess they never were.”
    The comments about the personnel issue mentioned. Obviously, the details are not available to me. but I can think of at least three possible scenarios: 1) the teacher really was having a personal crisis but lacked enough accrued sick leave to depart the classroom without adding financial disaster to what was on her plate; 2) the union rep may have well known the circumstances but, since it was a personnel issue, was not at liberty to speak candidly; and/or, 3) this was a case where the parent rumor kill was cranked up (trust me, this does happen) and the reality of the situation, to those who knew all the facts, was different than perceptions of those not aware of all the facts. Or some combination of above. Maybe. As I said, I don’t know the particulars but I do have (approaching) 40 years of experience in the profession.

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  15. Hi Ze’ev. I disagree that kids in the education environment are analogous to customers in the business environment. Kids dont pay for education. Even their parents often dont. Education (k12) is a requirement, not an option. The people who pay for education are mostly not those who eventually benefit from it (kids and society). And even then, decisions about payment for the service are not based on factors that can reasonably impact supply and demand (let alone quality, assuming there is even an analogous concept in the business world that is driven by those forces).
    I personally think most teachers would sell their souls for their students given the opportunity to do that. They would be slaughtered in our political environment if they were truly to align their desires with those of their students. That is not to say what Gary said is incorrect, in fact, I mostly agree with his statements. It is very difficult to separate what benefits a teacher and what benefits his/her student, just as being happy and healthy in life makes one a better and more effective employee.
    So it is not an accident that some of the things that are to be found in teacher contracts (reasonable class sizes, safe instructional environment and facilities, reasonable working hours, access to professional development, sufficient instructional material, a deference to experience and education, protection against arbitrary treatment) are all things that contribute, often directly, sometimes indirectly to the quality of education and benefit of students.
    This is not of course to imply that unions claim to do this on their behalf, but I am not clear why they should have to if the benefit is there for the students as well. This is why in my earlier post I felt it was useful to truly define a union’s role.
    In a sense, perhaps labor laws in the private sector would be a better analogy than customers.
    Lastly, I think its useful to wonder about the alternative. Lets assume teachers simply caved to the whims of California voters and our ‘reps’ up in Sacramento, and even local school boards, district administrators and even those all-knowing parents. Let me know if you think the result would in any way benefit students more so than it does today.
    I recently read an interesting quip from a book of musing from a retired teacher that said something along the lines of, ‘I dont like unions, but I expect without them we would have 60 kids per class and make $2,500 per year.’

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  16. Mr. Ravani seems to engage in certain amount of revisionism. He says that “[w]hat was said was, in so many words, of a teachers’ union is working for teachers it isn’t necessarily working for students.”
    No. What he previously wrote is that “[w]hen teachers’ unions are engaged in collective bargaining over teachers’ working conditions they are supporting improved student learning conditions.” I don’t see any qualifiers (e.g., frequently)  in his text.
    I agree that the interests of teachers don’t necessarily collide with interests of students. I also think that the interests of businesses, or of charter founders, do not necessarily collide with interests of students. Like with teachers and unions, they may, or they may not, be aligned with the interests of students. So one needs to evaluate the situation and decide the issue in every case. I think that of we will all accept that, we will all get along much better.

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  17. @navigio,
    The focus of this discussion is on UNIONS, and not on teachers, so let’s try and keep it this way.
    The status of students (or parents) as “customers” of the public education system is indeed muddled in our society, similar to the question of your status as a “customer”  when you visit your doctor — in most cases it is not you who pays the doctor. But there is little question who are the customers of charter schools and of private schools, and I believe that this clear relationship makes them generally better.
    As to the quip about having 60 kids per class and being paid $2,500 per year without a teacher union, have you considered that we do not have such conditions neither in all those states who do not allow teacher unions, not in the private industry that is mostly not unionized? Clearly there is more to working conditions than the existence of unions.

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  18. Sure. But then you must also consider that unionized states tend to perform better than non-unionized ones. Clearly there is more to lack of performance than the existence of unions.  :-)

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  19. To your other point, charters are public so the ‘customer’ status is still muddled. In fact, part of the muddling is not just the relationship of the payer to payee, but it is the inability to accurately assess quality. There is an assumption in those market-driven models that the result is quality (and often used as an analogy with business in general). I dont believe that. Most private school succeed merely because of their demographic and resources. And even so, the model in private industry is profit, in spite of quality if need be. In fact quality is in constant  competition with profit. This is the exact reason some have so many problems with privatized education as a national model.
    That said, I know of public schools that ‘perform’ better than privates. I know of many traditional public schools that ‘perform’ better than charters.
    Anyway, I agree we got off track. I apologize. I would like to say that one thing unions might do a better job of is to listen to their teachers more. I believe, for the most part, teachers understand best what their students need, in some cases even better than parents.

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  20. If I gave you details you’d agree that my account was entirely accurate, @Gary, but the blame lies with the administrator. (And maybe I will offlist.) I’ve discussed this with other staff from that same union local who ruefully acknowledge the accuracy. (My husband is a member of the union and I’m friendly with many in the union’s leadership.)
    But my point is that the parents had this distressing exchange and had NO previous contact with the union. Not good.
    I’m pretty well versed in outreach to parents and have been involved for many years in what is widely viewed as a very successful effort to transform the perception of public schools in San Francisco — as an Oakland parent said enviously, “Public school advocacy in San Francisco is on fire!” In this community, I honestly do know what they could be doing. I can’t attest that it would work that way in other places, admittedly.
    Overall, though, there are obviously best practices in damage control, and the teachers’ unions seem oblivious to the need.

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  21. You’re right, Bruce!  Effective and relevant – some of the better suggestions came from contributors farther down the page.  I liked the idea of taking charge of teacher development in Julia Koppich’s response.  If not us, then who?  She also said something critical – we ourselves must be willing to say goodbye to those who cannot or will not perform or improve.  Has your union done anything proactive in this regard?

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  22. Students are not customers. They are not “served’ education. They must be full participants in order to fully gain the benefits of education.
    Parents, in private school settings, are buyers of cache and prestige. There is no empirical evidence to support the idea the private or charter schools, when matched for SES provide a better education.
    Teachers’ unions don’t hire teachers, don’t evaluate teachers, and don’t press personnel actions against teachers. Unions (note above) have the fiduciary duty to protect teachers’ contract and due process rights. Why is this confusing?
    Dismissal  is not even covered by collective bargaining, it is dealt with by statute. It is not a union issue.
    Recall that around half (35% in CA) of new teachers leave the profession within five years of entry. The CSU system estimates this (in non lay-off years) costs the state close to 1/2 billion dollars in lost education, certification, and training investments. Plainly we have a problem keeping teachers, not getting rid of them. We need to focus on the real problems.
    There should be more collaboration between teachers’ unions and school management on bringing more quality professional development into the system. Increased collaboration is a goal of the CDE under Torlakson.

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  23. Gary,
    Do you really believe in what you write, or you do it just because you feel it’s your duty? Just wondering.

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  24. When I was at Locke, UTLA opposed every reform proposed, even one where the principal wanted to give each teacher $500 as a kind of Christmas bonus — the union opposed it because it wasn’t in the contract!
    Lisa, I recommend you reach out to Jordan Henry and NewTLA as natural allies; and another idea I hope you’ll pursue would be to bridge the managment/union divide through incorporating teachers’ representatives in management, in part through the potential hub of the department chair — a working teacher who is not out of touch with classroom realities but who, properly incorporated in a school’s strategic planning, could strengthen management’s influence at the classroom level, where the learning goes on. This is the practice at HMC (a network of independent schools in England that has strongly influenced my planning for One World Secondary School) schools, and there is nothing to prevent such empowerment of department chairs, and through them of alternative faculty representation, in our public schools.

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  25. Bruce:

    Where did the $500 bonus dollars come from? One union principle is to support equity. If there are dollars to support a bonus at one school are there dollars to support a bonus for all employees? One of the reasons for collective bargaining is to insure equal treatment and an equitable distribution of resources. Not a distribution based on the whim of one principal.

    This is interesting to me because several years ago the state decided to award bonuses based on test scores. Our highest scoring school was to also receive, as I recall, something in the range of $500 per teacher. They refused to accept it. The dollars were donated to a fund to provide books to less well off students.
    One of the key reasons the teachers at the “high-scoring” school were so adamant in their refusal is telling. The school district, for some years, had “encouraged” job sharing for young mothers. Teachers would be paired in shared contracts-for example-one teacher worked 3 days on one week and two days on the next and this would alternate for a 50/50 contract share. Or, of course, one teacher worked 3 days a week and the other 2 for a 60/40 share.
    Due to the fact that the teacher/moms would have different needs as their children got older they would often pair with teachers at different teachers as the mom’s and the school’s staffing needs changed over time.
    This meant that a relatively large number of teachers at the “winning” school had taught at some of the lower performing schools.  And this meant they knew very well that whether they were a “winning” (good) teacher or a “losing” (bad) teacher depended on the site they were working at AND the demographics of students they had to teach. Same teachers, same district, same curriculum (EL would be more pronounced at some schools), same skill levels, same dedication= different kids/different results.  
    And-please-none of the tired “low expectations” slogans. The kids started academically at vastly different levels and had equally vast differences in levels of support in the home. With non-English speakers at home there is little reinforcement of English language skills. NOT the fault of non-English speaking parents. Our adult school ESL classes had long, long waiting lists. Those classes were never supported well and have now been defunded.
    What I write is based on nearly 40 years of experience in schools and in extensive reading of the research. Those are things not likely to be found in the board rooms of tech companies or hanging around the Hoover Institution. So read up. You’re getting the straight scoop here.

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  26. Nice riposte, Gary! I’ll shut up! Smile.

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  27. Caroline, your comments about union communication with parents are on point.  Mayor Villaraigosa reminds that “here’s the figure that should keep us all up at night: 1,000,000. That is the number of additional college graduates we need by 2025 to keep our economy afloat.”

    If that number is anywhere near accurate, teachers’ union leaders across California must show leadership to communicate this need to parents – and students.  I believe in the rights of workers to organize.  But, strong organizing means groups also have to win the hearts and minds of the community.  For teachers, that means the neighborhood residents around each school.

    Teachers’ union representatives, please remind all parents of what their children must do to be ready for college.  Take the initiative to reach out to municipal leaders and other community influencers – including representatives of faith communities, neighborhood groups, childrens’ sports and business organizations to encourage after-school tutoring and homework clubs.  Teachers’ unions must provide more than negotiations leaders with district administration.  Teachers’ unions can be high profile in the same way that trades unions’ leaders participate in chambers of commerce, municipal commissions and nonprofit efforts.

    If teachers’ unions are to be seen as groups of teachers who are committed to community betterment – including fair working conditions for teachers – the unions will be respected broadly.  If, however, teachers’ union representatives talk down successes at some schools because those successes highlight what could be done more broadly, then even supporters of collective bargaining begin to wonder what goals those union leaders envision.

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  28. Gary, you write: “And-please-none of the tired ‘low expectations’ slogans. The kids started academically at vastly different levels and had equally vast differences in levels of support in the home. With non-English speakers at home there is little reinforcement of English language skills. NOT the fault of non-English speaking parents. Our adult school ESL classes had long, long waiting lists. Those classes were never supported well and have now been defunded.”

    I want to push back on what you wrote because the current generation cannot accept an acceptance of future failure.  Everyone knows kids “start academically at vastly different levels.”  Everyone knows children have “vast differences in levels of support in the home.”  Everyone knows that “with non-English speakers at home there is little reinforcement of English language skills.”  Please, respectfully, tell us something we don’t already know.

    What we need to know is how to take the huge percentage of children who start low, with little support in the home and non-English spoken at home and nurture these children to proficiency in at least English language and Math by the time they finish middle school – so they reasonably can thrive in high school.

    * If the answer is more city-funded ELL classes for adults, then shout it from the rooftops.
    * If kids need to spend more time on homework or to have more access to competent adult assistance during evening hourse, then let that be known.
    * If communities need to create safe homework centers, speak that challenge.
    * If children will learn more effectively via direct instruction in readiness-leveled classrooms, please put forth that challenge.
    * If the local business community has a role – whether by “achieve at home” posters at ethnic restaurants or via surfacing tutors or by offering to raise money for educational supplements, then please put forth what is needed.
    * Is it longer school days?  Is it more resources?  Is it more community support?  Whatever it is – and there are multiple “whatevers” – we’ve got to get past the exhaustion and retap energetic idealism.

    Expectations do matter.  When you write “and please – none of the tired low expectations slogans,” to me that says you may be “tired.”  I write that respectfully.  As an advocate for unions.  As an involved parent who puts many hours into school site council and PTA and homework checking, in addition to local service on the community college board.  I have seen during 25 years of community leadership that school expectations for children are a huge impact in motivating kids to go beyond the expectations of what they receive at home.

    If you have “nearly 40 years” in the schools and you’re feeling attacked or bummed out or burned out or exhausted – then, okay, that’s to be understood and accepted.  But, the generations that have kids currently in school need inspiration and enthusiam.  Today’s students need to know how to overcome the financial abandonment of public schools by their grandparents’ generation.

    Public school teachers work hard.  They should be respected.  And most are earning a modest retirement pension that at least will pay for basic housing and food through teachers’ old age so those teachers can live a much higher lifestyle than many families they serve.

    None of this discussion is easy.  But too few of the comments deal with an urgency of now.  What to do now.  This year.  This school district.  This neighborhood.  This community.

    - Chris Stampolis
    Trustee, West Valley-Mission Community College District

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  29. Chris:
    You write: What we need to know is how to take the huge percentage of children who start low, with little support in the home and non-English spoken at home and nurture these children to proficiency in at least English language and Math by the time they finish middle school – so they reasonably can thrive in high school.

    There was an interesting article written some time ago entitled: Kindergarten is Too Late. Read-up on school readiness skills. There has been some attention given to this issue recently because of the coming Transitional Kindergarten issue. To sum it up: Poor kids start Kindergarten 1.5 to 2 years behind the non-poor in readiness (knowing how to listen/follow instructions/numbers/colors/etc) and in “word knowledge.” Poor children tend to have  a vocabulary, and a general familiarity with words, far lower than middle class children. That creates a “deficit.”

    Obviously that deficit increases for children from non-English speaking homes. The research on language acquisition suggests it takes 5-7 years to learn an new language at the academic level. That is, if you work and study hard.  Those working with 2nd language learners talk about two levels of learning: 1) basic interpersonal communications skills (BICS or “playground language); and, 2) cognitive academic language proficiency (CALPS or school/academic language). Kids pick up BICS pretty quickly. The CALPS comes much more slowly. Another issue is people of all ages learn at the CALPS level in their 2nd language much more easily if they’ve reached CALPS in their 1st language. Many of our (CA’s) 2nd language kids don’t have the CALPS level in their first language.  That is a deficit.

    Three other issues that occur to me are: 1) high transiency rates for poor and 2nd language kids; 2) kids don’t all arrive in the US with equal levels of academic backgrounds; and, kids lose out on content area instruction (math/science/history/etc) because of CA’s genuinely stupid position on bilingual education. And if CA changed that position it would take years to ramp up teacher preparation programs to produce enough bilingual teachers.

    We have schools with 30-40% transiency (and higher). For a teacher that means one third or more of your students will leave before the end of the year to be replaced by a third or more of a class of  different students.  And they are not necessarily transferring in from other CA schools and they don’t come and go at regular intervals.

    [As an EL teacher of some years experience I can assure you it was not unusual to get students at the middle school level who had never been in school and had no literacy skills.  Also kids who may have had 1-2-3-etc years of education. After being "in-country" for a year these kids took the CSTs. In English. How do you think they scored? Then there were the middle-class kids from Europe and Asia (primarily) with well educated parents (and middle-class expectations) who were well on their way to CALPS by mid-high school.  Not fluent writers certainly, but near CALPS in "receptive" ability. Receptive skills commonly come before "productive" skills.]

    Then there is the research indicating  not only do the poor start behind, but they lose more academically over breaks and the summer.

    Then we have the research (look at the ETS-CA’s testing vendor- website) indicating that only a third of test score variability can be accounted for by school related factors.  So, can the schools be the 1/3 tail that wags the 2/3rds dog? Why would you think so? Can schools make up all of the listed deficits? Why would you think so? Is there some “magic” language acquisition strategy that can erase the BICS/CALPS discrepancy that the schools could use but don’t? Why would you think so?

    What testing data really shows (check out the Sandia Report) is that from the mid-70s most data indicates there have been incremental improvement in the performance of all sub-groups. Minority students have improved, but the “achievement gap” persists because middle class kids improved too.  Did folks really think if teachers came up with instructional strategies that would improve  “achievement” they would only use them on the minority kids? Why would anyone think so?

    Study after study (I’ve written about these at this site-check the archives) indicates that what tests mostly measure is parental incomes and educational levels. The “achievement gap” is not a gap-singular-so much as it is the accumulation of “gaps”-plural.” The gaps create the cultural hurdles to education kids encounter in poverty. Want to close the achievement gap? Close the health care gap, the affordable housing gap, the early-care/pre-school gap/ the living wage gap/ the “food desert” gap/the urban pollution gap/etc/etc. Again, check out the ETS study” Parsing the Achievement Gap.”

    I saw Eric Hanushek at a forum on Value Added one time. He was lauding the international test scores of Finland. An audience member confronted him about child poverty rates in Finland (3%) versus child poverty in the US (22%) as well as all of the social services available in social democracies like Finland. (Finland has filled in the “gaps.) Hanushek said (not an exact quote): “Ah yes!  But here in the US the only policy lever we have is the schools.” Hanushek was wrong! The schools are the only policy lever we choose to use. We vote for people and policies (Prop13 for example) that prevent us from implementing policies like the social democracies have. A 22% child poverty rate is an international disgrace. And then we scapegoat schools, teachers, and unions. Also a disgrace.

    The “poverty gaps” are the “man behind the curtain” that we are not supposed to look at. If you accept that poverty is the school achievement issue then you accept that something needs to be done about poverty. We have the Hoover Institution, the Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Cato Institute, TFA, DFER, EdTrust, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, et al, who hold on to the curtain with desperation so that we don’t see what is hidden in plain sight and don’t draw conclusions about dealing with poverty.

    “The Schools Can’t Do It Alone,” (title of yet another article), and can’t close the inevitable impacts of the “gaps.”  Am I exhausted from dealing with all of this? Not even a little. I was much more tired after facing 150 middle school kids every day. Now that was hard work. We will have to deal with the 2nd language issues, of which CA has more of than any other state along with some of the lowest funding of any other state. There are no miracles. No silver bullets. Want all kids to perform like middle-class kids? Get all kids, or as many as possible,  playing on an even academic playing field when they enter school. But, the schools can’t do it alone.

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    • Gary,

      I sincerely thank you for engaging in dialogue about achievement gaps.  You write: “Want to close the achievement gap? Close the health care gap, the affordable housing gap, the early-care/pre-school gap/the living wage gap/ the “food desert” gap/the urban pollution gap/etc/etc.”  You also write: “We vote for people and policies (Prop13 for example) that prevent us from implementing policies like the social democracies have. “

      My generation did not pass Proposition 13, nor did the generation of 20/30-somethings, nor did my children’s generation now in school.  None of us were of voting age in the 1970s.  We also did not create the other gaps you mention were left to us by our elders in the boomer generation.
      But we have to deal with what we have inherited from previous generations – both for good and for ill.  We can whine about the failings of the generations who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s or we can acknowledge their shortcomings and expect to work thrice-as-hard to overcome the obstacles.

      There are high SED, high ELL, low PEL neighborhood schools that achieve strong proficiencies on the AYP standards – even with all the gaps you mention.  What’s it going to take to inspire leaders (including you) to focus on those successes and demand replication of what works?  You can whine about the failings of your own generation’s representatives or you can roll up sleeves to get something done in partnership with the parents of today’s children that mirrors successes led by members of your own generation.

      I have been a vocal, public advocate that school employees cannot be held responsible for what happens from the last bell of the day to the first bell of the next day.  There can be some partnerships, but educators have primary duty from the first bell of the day through the last bell of the day.  After the last bell of the day and through evenings, weekends and holiday seasons, the rest of the community has to step up.

      Acknowledging that what happens in those outside hours is highly influential, I do expect professional educators to demand – loudly – that community leaders step up to fill in the “gaps” – and to offer solutions.  I also expect professional educators to champion school excellence  – whether achieved by children of the affluent or by children of the poor.  There is excellence across the economic spectrum and professional educators should want to know about success – so such success can be emulated.  There are Title One schools across California that demonstrate success even with big SED/ELL/PEL challenges.  We should be spotlighting what they are doing well.

      You write: “So, can the schools be the 1/3 tail that wags the 2/3rds dog? Why would you think so? Can schools make up all of the listed deficits? Why would you think so?”

      That’s a straw man argument given my consistent messaging that the “schools” themselves can’t make up all the gaps.   There are some schools that are getting students to full proficiency.  From what I have seen, these higher-achieving schools tend to use direct instruction, a basics-approach, frequent in-year assessments such as NWEA, a well-structured student environment, high expectations of student homework completion and principals who are strong data analysts.  If you have different conclusions from the AYP data on the CDE site, please share.  One big spreadsheet of 15,000 rows and 200 columns does surface much valuable data.

      Is there some “magic” language acquisition strategy that can erase the BICS/CALPS discrepancy that the schools could use but don’t? Why would you think so?
      Gary, you tell me.  How might CALPS discrepancies be minimized if community leaders understood the difference between BICS and CALPS?  Should faith community leaders be trained?  City Managers?  Librarians?  Who is it going to take – outside  the classroom – to accelerate true language acquisition?  Most parents who speak languages other than English are unlikely to consider that their chatty third-grader may be set up for academic bumps because the student needs better learning skills in English.  Who needs to know more – now?

      Gary writes: “Study after study (I’ve written about these at this site-check the archives) indicates that what tests mostly measure is parental incomes and educational levels.”

      That conclusion only works if you look at aggregates.  The data also shows targeted school success with children of low parental incomes and educational levels.  So your “study after study” comes across as bowing to futility.

      The poor are with us.  Yes.  And, we as a society can care enough about the poor to DEMAND neighborhood public schools replicate the successes of SED/ELL-serving Title One schools that impart proficiency.  We also can demand that higher-income schools have no tolerance for persistent proficiency gaps in their own communities.

      Gary, are you willing to acknowledge that some schools are succeeding in Title One environments and other schools are not succeeding in comparable Title One environments?  Might it be possible that we need engaged communities AND replication of successful school tactics?  These successful tactics are enacted now – at neighborhood public schools, by unionized public school teachers.  We can and should champion these and other successes – and seek to replicate them throughout the system.

      Best regards,
      Chris Stampolis

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  30. Chris:
    Appreciate your commitment and interest. No offense, but I have no idea what you’ve been advocating for.
    You are aware that API and AYP are disasters and based on failed concepts of what schools should be doing. The feds are engaged in a 1/2 billion dollar project to try and upgrade assessments so that the drive  a broader base of skills than the narrow ones now measured by current assessments. CA’s tests were not chosen because they offered the most nuanced look at achievement. They were chose because ETS was the low bidder. (We have gotten what we paid for. ETS is not necessarily to blame.) I am not particularly interested in schools that show enormous success in implementing a bankrupt educational model. I don’t think other schools should try to replicate their “success.”
    That being said one of the fundamentals of education research and “reform” is that successful models are almost impossible to “scale up.”  Often the reforms are driven by one charismatic individual. You can’t replicate that. Then there are “gimmicks’ galore. Two groups of schools-”high flyers” and the “90-90-90″ are examples. One system had 90% of its kids at the “basic” level of test proficiency but implied it was at the “proficient” level. Basically, false advertising. The other system bragged about high test scores, and had them: at one grade level, in one subject area, for one year. Other schools (think of Aspire, or KIPP, or  the Harlem Children’s Zone) that get millions in donations from conservative foundations and have exclusionary attendance policies in order to get results that may not be as advertised when you look behind the curtain. Some schools, other than those mentioned, get grants or have foundations that support extra services or very low class sizes. Then you have the Atlanta model of “success”
    This is a lot more complicated than just adopting a “Little Train That Could” (I think I can, I think I can) “high expectations” model.
    Some of this is due to a lazy media that loves the human interest story, Jaime Escalante for example. The Cinderella story is not so magical when you look behind that curtain. Then there’s Michelle Rhee whose claim to fame, and credential to become CEO of DC schools, was her success at raising test scores phenomenally  at a high poverty school. Except she didn’t. Heard much about that in the media? Go to the Washington Post website and punch “Michelle Rhee resume” into the search engine. It’s in the news as well as opinion sections. Rhee would seem to be the most public advocate for “let’s get down to brass tacks” strategy that you seem to advocate. It’s the usual simple answer to a complicated questions. And it’s wrong.
    And I have other bad news for you. You’re a fan of direct instruction, basics, etc? That’s the NCLB model that has resulted in a decade of flatlined NAEP scores. It’s what the new assessments (Smarter Balance) and the Common Core are supposed to be a solution to. Direct instruction is the antithesis of a higher order skills/creativity developing/critical thinking based curriculum. At least that’s what the advertising says. Of course Arne Duncan doesn’t push too hard on those ideas because there are the direct instruction, children’s minds as empty vessels, diehards around he wants to corral. Then again, Duncan’s a basketball player masquerading as an Education Secretary, what does he know?
    There are research strategies for genuine school reform that unions support. They are not silver bullets, miracles, or faith based. The depend on resources and are not cheap. Other states do support their schools. it is not the impossible dream.
    Want to blame the boomers for all your perceived slights? Go ahead. They’ll laugh it off. Not responsible for prop 13? OK. What have you don’t to repeal or reform it? Done anything about the 2/3rds requirement to raise revenue in the legislature? Boomers can’t do everything. Instead of putting your energy into failed pedagogy get out and drum up support to tax the millionaires so we can have the kind of schools you say you want.
    Have a good holiday.

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  31. Off topic, but just some Prop. 13 observations.
    I’m a Boomer and was a 24-year-old California voter and homeowner when Prop. 13 passed in June 1978 (very likely the only person involved in this discussion who was; I voted no). Prop. 13 was a reaction by my parents’ and grandparents’ generation to the disconcerting reality that their home values had shot up — a phenomenon I don’t understand to this day — and their taxes along with it.
    Prop. 13 all but froze homeowners’ assessed valuations (only infinitesimal increases allowed) until the homes were sold. What that meant was that after only a few years, with home values still soaring, new homeowners were paying vastly more in property taxes than longtime homeowners of the identical property next door. That fell on the Boomers at the time, so there was definitely loud screaming about it. But the tax revolt had been so firmly established that opposition got nowhere.
    Now, of course, we Boomers are the ones paying low taxes on low assessed valuations compared to our younger neighbors. But I actually don’t think there’s strong support for Prop. 13 among Boomers, who have seen both sides and watched our schools and infrastructure deteriorate.
    Polls are constantly telling us that the people support Prop. 13, but when you think about it, most people have no clue what Prop. 13 is. You have to have been born before June 1960 AND living in California in 1978 to have voted for it, and how many people does that cover? And how many people are so well informed that they would know what it was if they weren’t here when it was floated, debated and passed?
    I questioned a well-known pollster for a blog post, and he told me that very few people they ask know what Prop. 13 was; respondents are shown a very brief description and asked their opinion based on that. I asked the pollster what percentage did know, but he didn’t respond to that question. I have a suspicion as to why he didn’t: I actually think that makes the polls on it totally invalid. I also think the press is committing malpractice when it hammers constantly that “Prop. 13 is the third rail of politics,” since, again, most people don’t know what Prop. 13 even is.

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  32. Very interesting discussion. I am interested in diving into this question of what test scores really indicate. On the one hand, aggregate scores clearly measure non-school factors (the larger the sample the more incredible the correlation–it is so consistent across PEL, race, ethnicity and economic status ( I know, all to some extent measures that are all correlated) that it’s impossible to conclude anything else). As a side note the fact that proficiency rates vary so greatly by grade (plunge in 3rd, spike in 4th) indicates to me a failure of our tests.

    So the question really becomes, as the sample sizes decrease (down to the district or school or classroom level), what explains the variability from the aggregate? Chris seems to feel that the variability can be explained by a difference in school environment, including teacher quality. Gary seems to feel either that the variation is more a function of normal variation in smaller statistical sample sizes, or perhaps more to point, the fact that our tests and classification criteria are not accurate enough to account for the things that in fact could explain the variability.

    As an example related to this last point, it seems clear that it is possible to become successful in school even if you have a parent who was a high school dropout. In fact, it’s even possible that that happens because of the actions of the parent. The point then being that the current classifications have no way of capturing that factor in the child’s success. Even worse, the PEL classification makes us believe we cannot look to the parent in that situation as a contributor to that success. To put it a different way, the PEL ‘gap’ is there, but the real gap, the one that PEL is supposed to measure is not.

    This is really a critical point, IMHO. I think what we are forced to admit is that classifications are meaningful at the aggregate level and become increasingly less meaningful as the sample size gets smaller. It seems obvious that this could be not only a function of the variability in the impact of what those metrics intend to measure but also just people bucking those expectations.

    It feels to me like our data schemes are insufficient for non-insiders or maybe even in general. I guess we think they are ok because they are so consistent at the aggregate level. But our inherent inability to properly disaggregate, let alone classify seems to make it useless for anyone but specialists and insiders (if at all), which is not so good if the system is not expected to succeed without community engagement. Let alone  the problem  created by simple statistical laws of decreasing sample size.

    Chris, would you mind providing a couple examples of low PEL schools with high proficiency? And if possible, explain what could be measured at those schools that would allow us to see that the primary factor is in fact something other than parents?

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  33. Navigio,
    I am not really sure I understand what bothers you, and what you are after. I will make some observations that may, or may not, address some of your questions. Perhaps we can work it out through couple of iterations.
    a) One does not need a huge sample to obtain highly reliable aggregate measure around 95%. About 15-20 students typically already provide reliability around 90% level for the kind of relatively lengthy assessment we use for CST.
    b) Please note that while one can identify gaps between the *averages* of populations with certain characteristics like SES ranges, or PEL ranges, or ethnic backgrounds, each such population with that characteristics range actually contains its own bell-shaped distribution of achievement, with the peak centered on that average value that we talk about. So, for example, among students with parents who did not finish high school you can find some that are achieving higher than the average students whose both parents have graduate degrees. That should be obvious, but is worthwhile restating. The question boils down to “how many”?
    To find schools where beating the odds happens, simply take the API database and make a scatterplot with API on one axis and % of low SES students (SD, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged in CDE parlance) on the other. You can do it for districts, for elementary schools, for middle schools, etc. You will get a big cloud trending to lower API with higher SD percentage, but you will also find outliers that do much better than expected. Those are the ones you want to explore, as they are clearly beating the odds. For example, you would expect API in the 900s at schools with low SD, and that where most high APIs appear. Yet you also find Manchester Gate elementary from Fresno Unified with API of 993 and SD of 40%, Sixth Street Prep elementary in San Bernardino with API of 960 and 87% SD, Lincoln Elementary in Berkeley with API of 953 and 83% SD, Celerity Troika Charter elementary in LA with API 932 and 96% SD, Wilder Prep Academy elementary in Inglewood with API 932 and SD 76%, and our local Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary in Santa Clara county with API 925 and 88% SD. (All these are 2010 API). All these are sizable elementaries that strongly beats the odds. I am sure there are more, but these are easy to find. It is not guaranteed that all these schools do earth-shattering stuff, but surely all of them do an excellent job with their students.

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  34. “we do not have such conditions neither in all those states who do not allow teacher unions, not in the private industry that is mostly not unionized? ” Oh, really? What about this story: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/09/19/v-fullstory/2541051/florida-charter-schools-big-money.html
    or this one:
    As for private industry, maybe you should read up on working conditions at Wal-mart.

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  35. Manchester in Fresno admits based on academic qualifications, like an elementary-level Lowell (in SF). It’s invalid and misleading to cite that as an example of “beating the odds,” and calls into question all the other schools cited. I only know that because I know someone with a connection there; I don’t have the wherewithal to research all these other schools.
    (Yes, I know about Rocketship’s schools and their “miracle” test scores — the latest magical-thinking fad of the corporate reformers. High skepticism is always called for when the corporate reformers launch yet another magical miracle fad. Let’s see if this one holds up over the long run; then we can drop the skepticism if so.)

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  36. I’ve been meaning to respond to Ze’ev (and thanks btw for your response Ze’ev) with some questions about those schools. Manchester in particular has 87% of its PEL respondents with some college education or higher, so the F&R metric (38%) is misleading as a ‘gap’. It also has 68% GATE students and 0 EL, 8% RFEP and 2% SWD, so Im not sure it qualifies as an example of a standard ‘beating all odds’ school. Even more interestingly, that 8% RFEP is counted as ELL on the AYP sheet, which means their entire ‘english learner’ population is already proficient (and RFEP is invariably among the highest scoring groups of all). In fact, on their AYP sheet, the ELL subgroup is 100% proficient in ELA, the highest of any of the subgroups in ELA. In other words, they probably have no actual english learners in testing grades, rather only students who have already tested out (if we could disaggregate, we could verify whether those were european or asian families, not that it matters if they are RFEP already).  Im not even clear how thats possible unless they only admit RFEPs since one of the criteria for testing out is a basic or above score on the CST ELA, which can only be taken starting in 2nd grade, and which would mean they’d still be classified ELL for at least one year.  In looking at their 2011 CST results, there were in fact 2 EL listed in 2nd grade, but 21 RFEP by the time they got to 5th. In other words, they probably only are admitting ELL students who are already classified as RFEP. Thats a nice little trick for upping one’s ‘ELL’ score, without hurting (in fact explicitly helping) one’s API.
    I also looked a bit at 6th street prep, and while this one looks more appropriate as an example of ‘beating the odds’, there are still some odd discrepancies. In general they have really good math scores but much less good english scores. Interestingly, their 3rd grade EL ELA prof rate is 18%, but the same group’s math rate is 100%. Not impossible to imagine but still surprising given the other grades’ ELA rates. Anyway, I didnt have time to look at their numbers in detail but will respond later.
    I will also try to clarify what I was getting at in my previous post.. I was typing on a cell phone so it could have been better organized.. again, appreciate Ze’ev making an effort to get that clarification. thx

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  37. If one concludes AYP data has no merit, under any circumstances, then there is little common ground for discussion about data.
    Likewise if one concludes that all efforts to replicate success are useless because success never can be replicated, there is little common ground for discussion.
    I believe there is some merit in AYP data. I also believe success sometimes can be replicated. Our education challenges are not hopeless. There are bright spots to review.

    Some neighborhood public elementary schools with high SED/low PEL populations achieve consistently higher test results than other similar schools that take exactly the same tests.  Not selective-admission magnets. Not parent-application requirement charters.  Neighborhood public schools operating with teachers’ unions and classified staff unions and that offer enrollment to all children in their geographic catchment areas.
    The AYP data can be reviewed at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ay/aypdatafiles.asp
    I suggest the adb file in .dbf format imports easily to Excel. Columns GH through GO provide data for socioeconomically disadvantaged (SD) students. I first sort by column C (type) to filter only for elementary schools (“E”). That gives us 5983 public elementary schools in California. Then sort by column GJ (EPP_SD) to rank all those schools by the proficiency percentage of SD students.
    4578 of the schools achieve below 60 percent proficiency in English Language Arts for SD students. 1004 public elementary schools achieve at least 60 percent proficiency in English Language Arts for SD students. (The other schools did not have enough SD students to track.) Then sort the 1004 by total number of SD students in the public elementary school. Of the 1004, 576 schools have less than 100 SD students. So, I filter out those elementary schools and only look at the remaining 428 schools with 100 or more SD students.
    Then, another sort by the Latino/Hispanic categories (FB through FI). Filter out elementary schools that achieved less than 60 percent ELA proficiency for Latino/Hispanic students which eliminates 100 schools. Sort again by total number of Latino/Hispanic students and filter out schools with less than 100 Latino/Hispanic students. Filter out the 30 charter schools and 15 magnet schools (for purpose of this analysis). This leaves 218 neighborhood public elementary schools in California that have at least 100 Latino/Hispanic students who were tested and at least 100 socioeconomically-disadvantaged students who were tested and that achieved at least 60 percent proficiency in English Language Arts in both categories. Knock out the 15 schools that didn’t also achieve at least 60 percent proficiency in Mathematics in both categories and we’re now at 203 neighborhood public elementary schools to review.
    So, where are these 203 schools? Of our state’s 58 counties, 17 counties have at least one of these higher-achieving schools with high SD and high Latino/Hispanic enrollment: 1 in Alameda County, 1 in Contra Costa County, 17 in Fresno County (14 in Clovis Unified and 3 in Sanger Unified), 2 in Imperial County, 3 in Kern County, 73 in Los Angeles County (spread over 30 districts, including 20 in Los Angeles Unified), 6 in Orange County (over 6 districts), 38 in Riverside County (spread over 10 districts, including 12 schools in Lake Elsinore Unified), 4 in Sacramento County, 18 in San Bernardino County (spread over 7 districts), 26 in San Diego County (spread over 9 districts, including 11 schools in Chula Vista Elementary), 1 in Santa Clara County, 3 in Solano County, 4 in Stanislaus County, 2 in Sutter County, 3 in Tulare County and 1 in Ventura County.
    Is there merit in reviewing the successes of the 30 charter schools and 15 magnet/GATE schools?  Sure.  But, for this discussion, I’m seeking to surface replicable success at neighborhood elementary schools. FYI, these 203 neighborhood elementary schools range from 821 to 953 API. And, if we draw the socioeconomic cutoff line at 65 percent proficiency in both English Language Arts and in Mathematics, we would eliminate 108 of the 203 neighborhood elementary schools. The remaining 95 schools all have at least 65 percent proficiency in ELA and Math for all SD kids.
    Those 95 schools have API ranges of 854 to 953. Only two counties drop off the list (Alameda and Contra Costa).
    Thirty-six of the 95 remaining schools have more white students enrolled than Latino Students. Fifty-nine of the 95 schools have more Latino students enrolled than white students. Of those 59 schools, four have more Asian-heritage students enrolled than Latino students, so I’ll filter those out also for the final analysis.
    A quick snapshot of the remaining 55 schools: these schools have more Latino/Hispanic students enrolled than white students or Asian-heritage students. The schools achieve at least 65 percent testing proficiency in both English Language Arts and Mathematics among their socioeconomically disadvantaged students and above 60 percent testing proficiency in both categories for Latino/Hispanic students.
    Of our state’s 58 counties, 13 counties have at least one of these 55 schools with high SD and higher Latino/Hispanic enrollment than Asian or White enrollment: 2 in Fresno County (both in Clovis Unified), 1 in Imperial County, 1 in Kern County, 26 in Los Angeles County (spread over 11 districts, including 8 schools in Los Angeles Unified), 11 in Riverside County (spread over 4 districts, including 6 schools in Lake Elsinore Unified), 3 in San Bernardino County, 5 in San Diego County (spread over 2 districts, including 3 schools in Chula Vista Elementary), 1 in Santa Clara County, 1 in Solano County, 1 in Stanislaus County, 1 in Sutter County, 1 in Tulare County and 1 in Ventura County.
    I will be glad to email this filtered file to anyone who wants it. But, I suggest you’ll get more out of the analysis if you review and sort the data yourself. We are graced to live in a state that publicizes this amount of data.  There are more numbers that can help with review of grade-by-grade proficiencies.

    The important next step is identifying what pedagogical and/or structural similarities are shared among these high-performing, high-SED, high-Latino population neighborhood public elementary schools.  Those similarities, when identified, merit discussion about replicability.
    - Chris Stampolis
    Trustee, West Valley-Mission Community College District
    Member, State Board of the California Community College Trustees (CCCT)
    408-390-4748 * stampolis@aol.com

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  38. Hi Chris. Thanks for that.

    I dont think people who are concerned with the accuracy, meaning or usage of AYP data are necessarily saying that it has no merit under any circumstances.

    Its possible some believe that, but I expect most just dont think it has the kind of validity that we tend to attach to it.

    My personal take is that it can be very meaningful, but that we dont do a good enough job providing the ability to disaggregate it so all of our metrics are skewed in a way we dont have the ability to understand. And we dont take that into account when we use it for decisions that impact our schools.

    That said, even if people did believe the data were not meaningful, there is still cause for discussion, and that would be to try to convince others that it is not meaningful. In the end, I dont think anyone believes the data is perfect, so discussing how it is lacking is absolutely valid. The same can be said about replication of methods.

    Also, thanks for your data exercise. I actually did something like what you said and found some interesting things. Basically, only 10 schools in that list have an SD ELA prof rate of over 80%. All the rest are below that. To be sure, between 60% and 80% for SD is nothing to be scoffed at, but we should be clear about what we’re talking about. Of all the schools in the entire state, only 10 meet your criteria and provide about 80% proficiency for SD.

    Furthermore–and i’ve only done this for the top 20 so far–there are only 2 schools in the top 20 that have PEL averages lower than 2. Not a single of those top 20 has more than 50% non-high school grad PEL, and all but two are below 17%. Half of the top 20 schools have non-HS grad PEL rates below 10%. 7 of the 20 are below 5%.

    in addition, half of those schools have a white + asian population over 50% and only 2 of them have that population below 10%. 8 of the schools have a hisp population over 50%.

    In other words, of the top 20 schools, while you can argue for servicing SED and Hisp subgroups, it is clear that the SED and Hisp metrics are not the whole story. We clearly know that SED and Hisp (and most other subgroups for that matter) will succeed with high PEL, regardless. And that can clearly be seen here. I will try to do more of these schools to see if the trend continues.

    Perhaps, if there is anything to be gleened from this list of top 20 schools, it is that a diverse environment breeds success, though its hard to say from just numbers which is the cause and which is the effect.

    In spite of the ‘caveats’ listed above, there do seem to be 2 schools of this top 20 that dont obviously have something else in the AYP data that would explain their success. One is 82% F&R, the other 96%. Oddly enough the latter is 31% SWD, so maybe there is something else going on at that school (in fact, both schools had extremely high SWD proficiency rates in ELA, highest and 2nd highest among all subgroups in their respective schools). I did notice in its star data that that latter school’s 3rd grade scored 100% proficient on ELA (3rd grade was 45% last year, so its hard to argue for school-based factors that can be replicated there).

    Anyway, my goal is not to say these results arent good, rather it is to try to clarify why the results may be what they are. I would love if we could uniquely identify aspects of environment (school or otherwise) that truly were deterministically linked to success at the school level measure, but every time I see something that makes me think we are close, I see something else that ‘explains’ the success away, if you will..

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  39. Thanks navigio for your post.  I appreciate your discussion of the numbers.   All I’m trying to do is find some statistics that can demonstrate some successful pedagogical trends for neighborhood everyone-enrolls public schools.

    If we look at the overall state numbers, it’s numerically clear that the Asian subgroups perform most highly in aggregate on STAR tests, followed by “white,” then by Filipino, then by Latino, Pacific Islander and African-American groupings.  But, with millions of students, aggregates only provide a very top level snapshot.  When we look more closely at which schools are performing well with otherwise low-performing subgroups, it merits discussion of what’s working at those especially successful schools.

    Also, a dispassionate look at the AYP data shows that more than half of elementary charter schools in California perform at low or mediocre levels.  Being a “charter” isn’t magic.  Nonetheless, there are some very highly performing charter schools, just as there are some highly performing neighborhood public schools.

    To make this data discussion positive, let’s dive into which schools are performing highly.  I personally think a cutoff of 80 percent proficiency is a bit too high – though it’s a great goal for which to aim.  Given the big majority of schools with 35 to 40 percent proficiencies for Latino and African-American students, I find a 60 to 65 percent success marker to be worth a special look.

    I’ll look more deeply at the spreadsheet and suggest some schools and school districts that merit more review.  The results show Southern Cal and the Inland Empire have quite a few sites that demonstrate success.

    - Chris Stampolis

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  40. Thanks Chris. I have a theory about the geographic region differences. I would not be surprised to see high SED rates for even relatively higher PEL rates than normal in places like the inland empire. My belief is that could be a result of the disproportionate impact of the recession in those areas, but thats only a guess.
    I also didnt intend to limit my discussion to 80% and over schools, rather I started at the top and worked my way down gathering data. That is time-consuming, so I didnt get too far.. :-)

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  41. Gary, I don’t remember where the extra money for the proposed bonuses came from — it was sudden, and in December, so I speculate that some unspent money from a previously won grant was discovered by the new principal who tried to distribute it before it went back to Sacramento, but that’s just speculation. It clearly wasn’t because we were a high-performing school — we were about the lowest in the state — and we were also, collectively, the lowest-paid faculty in LAUSD, so any qualms from the nobility about turning down money that other schools weren’t getting seems peculiarly inapplicable to this school in Watts. But that was a long time ago, three principals back before the entire district bureaucracy was chased out of there, and so the details have likely vanished into history.

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  42. CTA proclaims in their literature, in their verbal dialogues, and in their election season promotions that they are for students.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a PhD to decipher the true intent of the CTA: To assure rising incomes and benefits for teachers to the extent which the people of this state will allow.  If not the case, then why haven’t teachers accepted across-the-board cuts in pay? If not the case, why stuff students into larger classes? If not the case, why is 75% to 90% of a school district’s budget normally committed to salaries alone?
    Maybe the students are of secondary importance.  But even that is questionable when CTA grabs up over a million dollars to donate to the campaign against Proposition 8; as if to suggest that every teacher in this state would agree with their dues funding one side of a sharply divided issue.
    All you teachers out there need to consider your dues to one of the most powerful unions in the world; Is it right? Do you really need to strengthen it further? Think of it: In rough numbers the CTA is pocketing Millions of dollars per year.  Are they worthy of your ongoing donations?

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