Tag Archives: Darrell Steinberg

Another report urges changing API

A report this week from a Washington think tank bolsters Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s call for significantly revising the state’s primary accountability measure, the Academic Performance Index. Now, if Gov. Jerry Brown would only read it…

“Ready by Design: A College and Career Ready Agenda for California,” published by Education Sector, recommends that the API shift focus from students’ performance on standardized tests to measures of readiness for college and careers, such as high school graduation rates, results of Advanced Placement tests, and percentages of students needing remediation in college. Account-EdSectorStudyCover062012That’s essentially what Steinberg’s bill, SB 1458, would do without specifying what measures would be included, and that is what his bill last year, SB 547, would have done, had Gov. Jerry Brown not vetoed it with a snarky message sharply critical of quantitative gauges of school achievement.

The report concluded that additional measures would not be a panacea, “but an outcomes-oriented API would at least measure and reinforce what’s most important: graduating students from high school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in higher education and a career,” wrote co-authors Anne Hyslop, a policy analyst with Education Sector, and Bill Tucker, deputy director, policy development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report was funded by the James Irvine Foundation, a big promoter and funder of an initiative to combine college readiness and career technical education, called linked learning.

This is the second report from Ed Sector in a month on the California API. Last week, I wrote about “Academic Growth over Time,” in which author Richard Lee Colvin, a former executive director of Ed Sector, recommends Los Angeles Unified’s alternative way to calculate student results on standardized tests. The reports need not be mutually exclusive; recommendations from both could be combined.

When establishing the three-digit API index in 1999, the Legislature implied that it would be adding a range of measures, but never did. Instead, the API is based on California Standards Tests results, primarily English language arts and math, plus results on the high school exit exam, which are not indicators of preparation for life beyond high school. But by adopting Common Core standards two years ago, the state embraced the goal of aligning high school achievement with college and career expectations. The API needs to change to reflect this, the Ed  Sector report says.

In his veto message of SB547 last year, Brown said that changing API now, when facing the challenges of new Common Core curriculum, texts, and tests, “doesn’t make sense.”

Sharply rebutting that, the authors wrote, “In fact, what doesn’t make sense is implementing new standards, tests, and curriculum that are aligned with college and career readiness while continuing to evaluate school performance based on an entirely different goal. More important, Brown’s continued opposition to CALPADS, his refusal to apply for federal funds to improve the state’s data collection, and his veto of the API redesign, only serve to maintain the very status quo that he repeatedly condemns.”

While college acceptance rates are indicators of readiness, the report recommends adding evidence of post-high school achievement to the API, such as college remediation rates, percentage of students who return to college after one year, and the percentage of students who enter the military or who go straight to work after high school. Unlike states like Florida, which track students after high school, California has incomplete, voluntarily collected data – hence the criticism of Brown for forgoing chances for federal database money.

Underutilized EAP measure

California does have one measure of readiness that other states consider a model: the Early Assessment Program, a series of questions created by the California State University and administered as a supplement to CSTs taken by high school juniors. But the authors said that “while touted as a model for those developing Common Core assessments, its respect outshines its influence.” The University of California and most community colleges don’t use results of EAP, and most high schools aren’t using the followup courses in math and expository writing that would enable high school seniors to bypass remediation in college.

Quoting a 2006 survey that found 10 percent of high school teachers said their students graduated not ready for college, compared with 44 percent of college faculty who said students arrived unprepared, the report cited “mismatched expectations on both sides.” Including college readiness measures in the API would encourage high schools, colleges and business leaders to work closer to create common expectations and share expertise and knowledge. The report cited promising examples: collaboration between a San Diego high school and the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to redesign high school English courses; and the extensive agreements between Long Beach Unified and the local community college and CSU, Long Beach.

Calling SB 1458 “my highest priority,” Steinberg said, “I really believe this bill would bring about a change in cultures. It would create incentives to link education with needs of economy in a fundamental way.”

“The Administration is fine with the API the way it is. I disagree and want to limit the importance of testing,” he said.

The bill, which has passed the Senate, will be heard in the Assembly Education Committee on June 27. Steinberg said he hoped to negotiate with Brown on the measures in the bill. It includes the possibility of including school inspections, which Brown raised in his veto message and mentioned in his State of the State message in January.

Next step for Student Success Act

Retiring Community College Chancellor Jack Scott watched his signature initiative move closer to becoming law. The Assembly Higher Education Committee yesterday unanimously passed SB 1456, the Student Success Act of 2012.

The bill would implement two of the 22 recommendations developed by the Student Success Task Force, a panel of educators, policymakers, students, and researchers that spent last year studying and taking testimony on ways to improve the completion rate at California’s community colleges.

“SB 1456 is about community college students and the tremendous fierce urgency of doing something now,” the bill’s author, Democratic Senator Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, told the Assembly panel.

As TOPed previously reported, studies have found that after six years, only 30 percent of community college students earn a degree or certificate or transfer to a four-year college.

The first proposal puts the onus on community colleges to provide support services for every student. These include orientation, assessment and placement, counseling and education planning, and tutoring or other interventions to help students who are falling off the path. Colleges would also have to evaluate the effectiveness of those supports and report them to the Legislative Analyst.

The second recommendation establishes for the first time academic standards for receiving Board of Governors (BOG) fee waivers. In order to continue receiving a BOG waiver, students would have to maintain a “C” average for two semesters.

“Why did we put in there something about the BOG fee waiver?” asked Chancellor Scott, in anticipation of the question.  “Well, we wanted not only institutions to accept responsibility for student success, but we wanted students to accept responsibility.”

Community College Chancellor Jack Scott testifying on SB 1456, the Student Success Act.  (Source:  The California Channel).  Click to enlarge.

Community College Chancellor Jack Scott testifying on SB 1456, the Student Success Act. (Source: The California Channel). Click to enlarge.

Scott noted that this is also required for both the federal Pell Grant program and Cal Grants. “We just didn’t quite feel it was fair for somebody to continue for 8 or 10 semesters and never achieve a 2.0,” he said.

Speakers heaped praise on Lowenthal for his willingness to work with key constituencies to find middle ground on some contentious issues.  The biggest concerns were over new restrictions on BOG fee waivers.  Lowenthal agreed to remove a provision eliminating eligibility for waivers for students with more than 110 units.  He also agreed to an appeals process and to phasing-in the changes over time.

As a result, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, the Student Senate, and MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund switched from opposing the bill to supporting it.

“I think that this is a stronger bill because all of the stakeholders have come to the table,” said Jessie Ryan with the Campaign for College Opportunity.  “We’ve done a great deal of work with social justice organizations across the state and student organizations to address their concerns, and I think we’re at a place where we can all acknowledge that completion matters and the Student Success Act puts us on that path.”

Well, not exactly.  The Community College Association (CCA), which is the higher education division of the California Teachers Association, argued that SB 1456 is more talk than walk.  Ron Norton Reel, a speech teacher at Mt. San Antonio College, testified that the bill contains no definition of success or strategy for measuring it, creates more inequalities among students and doesn’t provide any funding to hire the thousands of additional counselors that will be needed to help students establish educational goals and a plan to reach them.  Without that “then the intent is good, but the consequences are bad,” said Ron Norton Reel with the CCA.

Lowenthal countered by reading a section of the bill that clearly states that community colleges won’t be held accountable unless they receive funding to carry out the provisions.  “We all want additional funding,” Lowenthal said.  “The people who support this bill, more than even the opposition, want additional funding.”  Until that money comes, he said, colleges need to start preparing for the changes ahead.

Sunset, sunrise

Another of Chancellor Scott’s projects – which is about to expire – received a new lease on life by the Higher Education Committee.  SB 1070, introduced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, would strengthen and extend the Career Technical Education Pathways Initiative funded by Scott’s 2005 bill, SB 70.   These are typically academies within high school or middle schools where students learn many of their core subjects through the lens of a business or industry.  Some are in community colleges.

At Laguna Creek High School in Elk Grove Unified School District, students in the Green Technology Academy learn science and math through hands-on experimentation with alternative energy.  They build solar-powered vehicles, compare the effectiveness of different biofuels and study physics by making and launching small rockets and measuring their velocity and height.

“Every time I see one of these career pathways programs whether it be the partnership academies or linked learning or one of the other models, learning comes alive, and it comes alive without sacrificing rigor that prepares students for college and career,” Steinberg told the committee Tuesday afternoon.

Career academies should be tied to local business and industry needs.  (Source:  Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarge.

Career academies should be tied to local business and industry needs. (Source: Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarge.

SB 1070 would hold schools more accountable for success than its predecessor and require them to submit data about student outcomes.  Initial funding would come from the Quality Education Investment Act.  That’s the $3 billion program created to settle a lawsuit brought by the California Teachers Association against Gov. Schwarzenegger for failing to repay school districts and community colleges money borrowed from Proposition 98 in 2004-05 to help the state get through that year’s budget crisis.

The State Department of Education also funds the California Partnership Academy program.  They’re all competitive grants and together the various funding sources support about 700 academies in California schools, according to the Career Academy Support Network at the University of California, Berkeley.  Since 2005, the career tech academies have enrolled nearly 750,000 students, although they tend to be concentrated in about a quarter of the state’s 1,000 school districts.

The results are impressive. Attendance and graduation rates are higher in academies than in the comprehensive high schools where they’re located.  Test scores are a little better too, even though many of the students – 50 percent, by law, in the partnership academies – are considered at risk.

“Overall, in the career advancement projects, we’ve seen a 90 percent retention; that’s huge, we don’t see that in our other programs,” testified Carole Goldsmith, the Vice Chancellor for Educational Services and Workforce Development in West Hills Community College District.  The district runs a teacher pipeline with one of its career tech grants.  “I think all of us intrinsically know that when you link education to hands-on approach to what industry wants, you’re going to engage students.”

Leg erases Gov’s ed reforms

John Fensterwald co-authored this article.

The Legislature’s budget package is missing many of Gov. Brown’s controversial education initiatives. A joint Senate and Assembly plan outlined yesterday protects transitional kindergarten, the science mandate, and the AVID program, rejects the weighted student funding formula, and offers districts a choice in how they’re paid for state mandates.

“This budget protects and invests in public education this year, and increases Proposition 98 funding by $17 billion over the next four years,” said Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez during a press conference Wednesday morning with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

The overall budget plan that lawmakers will vote on this Friday would erase California’s $20 billion structural deficit, balance the budget for each of the next three years, and create a $2 billion reserve by fiscal year 2015-16, according to Pérez and Steinberg.

Spending for K-12 education would be $53.6 billion for the 2012-13 fiscal year. That’s about $1 billion more than the governor had anticipated. Because the budget assumes more revenue for education through the passage of Brown’s tax initiative in November, the state is obligated under Proposition 98 to start paying off the “maintenance factor,” the IOUs given to schools during bad times. But if the tax increase fails, the Legislature and governor are in accord on the need for cuts of $5.5 billion for K-12 schools and community colleges. That would translate to a K-12 cut of $450 per student.

About $2.9 billion of that would come from lowering the Prop 98 guarantee due to a drop in state revenues. The rest would be made up through shifting two expenses into Prop 98 that are currently funded outside the guarantee. Those are repayment of general obligation bonds for school construction and the Early Start early education program. (Go here to read more about that in an earlier TOPed article.)

In addition, the legislative package would include trailer bill language allowing K-12 schools to cut 15 additional days from the next two school years.

Weighty issue

The governor’s biggest loss, for now, is the weighted student funding formula. Lawmakers’ refusal to include it in the budget isn’t an outright rejection of the concept of a simpler, fairer finance system that sends more money to districts with high proportions of English learners and indigent students. And Brown is expected to bring up the issue again this summer. But many lawmakers felt that the governor was jamming them to accept sweeping changes without justifying the basis for his formula, while legislators from suburban districts called for restoring all of the money lost to cuts over the past four years before redistributing new money.

Rick Simpson, the deputy chief of staff for Speaker Pérez, said that lawmakers wanted more assurances that the money under a weighted formula would actually reach targeted students. As part of his reform,  Brown proposed giving districts total flexibility in deciding how the dollars would be spent. “If you’re going to deregulate the entire school finance system,” Simpson said, “and if you’re not going to regulate inputs, you ought to have an accountability system to make sure you get those positive outcomes. We have lots of disparate pieces that we refer to as accountability, but it’s not a system.”

High school science intact

Brown had proposed eliminating the mandate for more than two dozen K-12 programs, including (the most expensive) requiring schools to offer a second year of high school science. Dropping a mandate would mean that districts could continue offering a program by finding money in their existing budgets. Brown also proposed reimbursing districts a flat $28 per student for the remaining mandated programs.

Science teachers and the business community protested that the state shouldn’t retreat from its commitment to science education (see commentary on this page), and the Legislature agreed, keeping it and all of the current mandates intact. However, lawmakers didn’t increase the reimbursement rate either, so districts can expect to continue accumulating a big IOU for meeting the science mandate. The state has also gone to court, arguing that the $250 million cost on the books for offering a second year of science is way too high, based on a false assumption that high schools had to add a period to the day to accommodate it, according to Paul Golaszewski, an analyst with the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Applying for a straight $28 per student would be the easiest, quickest way for districts to be reimbursed for mandated costs. However, the Legislature also would continue to allow districts to submit bills detailing the cost of complying with mandates – and hope that the state accepts the claims.

Starting early

The joint budget proposal allowed the early childhood education community to exhale a bit, by denying a number of significant cuts that the governor was seeking. He wanted to cut the reimbursement to preschool providers by 10 percent, raise the financial eligibility requirement, place a two-year cap on families receiving childcare services while attending a school or a job-training program, and eliminate full-day preschool starting next year.

“The Legislature has really stood up for young children,” said Scott Moore, Senior Policy Advisor at Preschool California. No one got away unscathed, however, and childcare will be taking a $50 million cut and losing 6,000 spaces for children in full-day state preschool, the childcare voucher program, and the infant-toddler child development program.  That’s on top of a billion dollar reduction and 100,000 spaces lost since 2008. Still, said Moore, “it’s significantly less that we were fearing would be cut.”

It’s a bill’s life

California school buses won’t be wearing anything but yellow for the foreseeable future.  This week, the state Senate Education Committee killed SB 1295. Introduced by Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, it would have permitted school districts to selling advertising space on the outside of buses to raise revenue.  This is a shortsighted decision by Democrats on the Senate Education Committee,” said the Diamond Bar Republican.  “We should be providing solutions, not gambling on the future of our children.”

Democratic Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco failed to convince members of the Senate Education Committee to put some limits on executive salaries during tough economic times.  SB 967 would have prohibited Cal State University trustees from increasing top administrators’’ salaries within two years of raising student fees.   It would also have capped salaries for newly hired executives at 5 percent above what was paid to their predecessors.

Yee’s bill grew out of frustration last July when the Cal State University Board of Trustees approved paying the new president of San Diego State University a $100,000 more than his predecessor.  During that same meeting, the Board increased tuition by 12 percent, or an additional $294 per semester for undergraduates. Last month, CSU trustees agreed to 10 percent pay increases for the incoming presidents of Cal State Fullerton and East Bay.  Even State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson criticized the board for its lack of tact.

“The students we serve and the public that supports our system enjoy no immunity from the consequence of the Great Recession, which has left millions without work and more millions more working harder for less.  Why should those we select to lead our campuses be any different?” wrote Torlakson earlier this month in a public letter to CSU leaders.

On the aye side of the voting, the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday passed a measure by Senator Kevin De León to increase eligibility for CalGrants, the state higher education program that provides merit and need based funds.

The committee also approved several bills aimed at bringing down the price of textbooks and making them available electronically.  Read more about those bills here.

Coming attractions

Some of the textbook bills are up for their next vote next week.  Legislators are also scheduled to move to the next step with bills that would require information on academic achievement of students for new charters and renewals, that seek to reduce out-of-school suspensions and expulsions,  (which we wrote about here), and create a middle class scholarship program for California residents attending UC or Cal State.

We will be updating action on education bills on a weekly basis.  Click here for a table providing the status of about three dozens of those measures.

Bills seek to curb suspensions

The school discipline pendulum is on the move again, swinging from the uncompromising zero tolerance policies enacted in the aftermath of horrific massacres toward efforts to give school officials more discretion.

The state Senate and Assembly education committees yesterday approved half a dozen bills with variations on the common theme of cutting back on expulsions and out-of-school suspensions by implementing programs aimed at reducing disruptive and dangerous behavior.

The shifting legislative momentum follows a series of reports in recent weeks shedding light on the vast number of suspensions, racial disparities in how they’re applied, and their negative impact on students.

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg discussing his bill to reduce suspensions. (Source:  Senate website) Click to enlarge.

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg discussing his bill to reduce suspensions. (Source: Senate website) Click to enlarge.

During the 2009-10 academic year, there were more than 750,000 suspensions in California schools, according to recently released figures from the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, which we first reported on here. That’s nearly as many as the entire population of San Francisco.

“It does seem like in past generations if a child was suspended from school it was a big deal. You took notice,” said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg at a news conference earlier this week. “And now it is the default for too many schools to suspend a kid just because it’s the easier thing to do than to work with him.”

Suspensions by race and ethnicity. (Source:  The Civil Rights Project, UCLA). Click to enlarge.

Suspensions by race and ethnicity. (Source: The Civil Rights Project, UCLA). Click to enlarge.

The most severe punishment is disproportionately meted out by race and ethnicity. Suspended Education in California, an analysis of the federal data released a few days ago by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, found that one out of every five African American students was suspended at least once in 2009-10, compared to one in 14 Latino students and one in 17 white students.

Steinberg’s bill, SB 1235, would require schools with suspensions rates above 25 percent overall or for a specific racial or ethnic group to implement a research-based alternative that holds the student accountable for their misbehavior but keeps them in school. (Click here for a list of all the bills).

“We know what happens,” said Steinberg, “A kid who doesn’t have to be suspended, who is suspended, stays home, falls further behind in school, is unsupervised, has a much greater chance of dropping out, and becomes a statistic.

A sweeping study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center looked at the records of every seventh grade student in Texas in 2000, 2001 and 2002, and found that 31 percent of students who were suspended or expelled between 7th and 12th grades were held back at least once, compared with 10 percent of all other students, and they were five times as likely to drop out of school.

Relationship between any disciplinary contact and repeating a grade or dropping out. (Source: Council of State Governments). Click to enlarge.

Relationship between any disciplinary contact and repeating a grade or dropping out. (Source: Council of State Governments). Click to enlarge.

Counterpoising those studies is research evaluating a decade of in-school interventions that show the success of programs like Restorative Justice and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) in changing student behavior, teacher contentment and school climate.

After implementing a PBIS program at Pioneer High School in Woodland, principal Kerry Callahan told the Senate Education Committee there was a cultural shift at the school.  She recounted dealing with an out-of-control student who wouldn’t stop cursing at her.  Under the Education Code, Callahan could have suspended the girl; instead, she took her to the front office, calmed her down, and learned that the student’s mother had just abandoned the family.  Rather than sending her home to an emotionally raw environment, Callahan talked to the girl’s father about getting her into counseling, and got her some academic support.

Pioneer High also cut the number of suspension days in half from over 600 to about 300, boosted its Academic Performance Index by 37 points, reduced staff turnover by 50 percent, and improved attendance bringing in nearly $100,000 this year in additional ADA funds.

“We’ve been pushing to have this at every school,” said Laura Faer, the education rights director at Public Counsel Law Center, who has been working on this issue for nearly a decade.  “There is absolutely no excuse for not using alternatives that work for all children.”

Not everyone sees it that way.  Throughout Wednesday’s hearings, two legislative advocates for the Association of California School Administrators played tag team presenting testimony against each of the bills.   Laura Preston said ACSA isn’t opposed to everything in the bills, but is concerned that they may be going too far in the opposite direction.

Under current state law, school principals are required to immediately suspend students, and recommend expulsion, for five actions:

  • Possessing, selling or furnishing a firearm
  • Brandishing a knife at another person
  • Unlawfully selling a controlled substance
  • Committing or attempting to commit a sexual act
  • Possessing an explosive

For other behaviors, notably “willful disobedience,” principals have more discretion. Preston understands the frustration of parents and students when administrators don’t use common sense in those situations and suspend or expel students for talking back to teachers or bringing a butter knife in their lunchbox.

At the same time, the school violence that led to these zero tolerance policies hasn’t disappeared, said Preston, and removing some of that behavior from the mandatory expulsion category could be dangerous.

“Parents expect their children’s schools to be safe,” said Preston.  “There’s an expectation of every parent that when they send their kids to school they’re going to be in a safe environment and it’s our responsibility to ensure that they are.”

Preston is pushing for a conference committee with legislators and all the stakeholders, such as Public Counsel and other organizations actively working on this issue to try to refine and consolidate some of the bills. She said these conference committees were more routine before term limits, and provided everyone with an opportunity for thoughtful conversations.  Hopefully, that process will help them find a balance.

Losing experience in teacher layoffs

California school districts should not be bound by seniority when budget cuts force them to lay off teachers, according to far-reaching report released yesterday by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office.

A Review of the Teacher Layoff Process in California also recommends changing the deadline for notifying teachers they may be laid off from March 15 to June 1, eliminating the teachers’ right to a formal hearing and giving more authority to local districts and bargaining units to determine the layoff process.

The LAO based its recommendations on responses to a survey from 230 out of about 950 school districts, although the Analyst’s Office said those responses included eight of the state’s ten largest districts.

Nearly three-quarters of layoff notices are rescinded. (Source: CA Legislative Analyst). Click to enlarge.

Nearly three-quarters of layoff notices are rescinded. (Source: CA Legislative Analyst). Click to enlarge.

One the main concerns was the huge number of “overnotifications,” or sending pink slips to far more teachers than necessary. According to the LAO, for every ten teachers given preliminary layoff notices last March, about 75 percent of them ended up keeping their jobs.

The problem lies in the timeline, which forces school districts to make budgetary decisions before the governor releases the May Revise, which contains the most current information on projected state revenues. To be on the safe side, districts issue layoff notices based on the worst-case scenario.

The report notes that lowering the number of initial layoff notices “would reduce the time and cost invested in conducting the layoff process, result in fewer teachers unnecessarily concerned about losing their job, and minimize the loss of morale in the school communities affected by layoff notices.”

Union leaders criticized that logic as overly simplistic. Shannon Brown, California’s 2011 Teacher of the Year and president of the San Juan Teachers Association, said moving the deadline for layoff notices may make sense from a fiscal perspective, but would have devastating consequences for laid-off teachers, giving them just a few weeks to find a new job.  That’s what contributes to low teacher morale, said Brown.  That and  the entire crisis in education funding in California that’s led to increasing class sizes, dwindling resources, teacher bashing, and the loss of some 32,000 teaching positions in the last four years. “The layoff notices only add insult to injury,” she said.

The high price of layoffs

It costs districts about $700 for each teacher who’s pink-slipped in the spring. Sacramento City Unified School District, which sent notices to more than 460 teachers last week, estimates the cost at $670 per teacher. That’s $308,000 for a district that’s been cut by $90 million over the past three years. Statewide, California school districts spent about $14 million last year in

Each pink-slipped teacher costs the district about $700.  (Source: CA Legislative Analyst) Click to enlarge.

Each pink-slipped teacher costs the district about $700. (Source: CA Legislative Analyst) Click to enlarge.

administrative and legal expenses, plus the costs of postage and paying for substitutes for teachers who challenged their notices before an administrative law judge.

Typically teachers will ask for a hearing if they believe the district made a mistake in their hiring date or the type of credential they hold; both factors that count when determining who gets laid off. But the LAO concluded that the hearings do not “add substantial value” to the process, and recommended that they be eliminated and replaced with a less formal review process.

San Juan’s Brown countered that the hearings in her district uncover mistakes nearly every year that result in people getting their jobs back. “If hearings were not held,” said Brown, “there would be people wrongfully terminated.”

Asked about the report at the Capitol yesterday morning, State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said although he hadn’t had a chance to review it detail, he sympathized with the financial dilemma facing school districts and noted that unless the Governor’s ballot initiative to raise taxes passes in November, the fiscal crisis will become even more severe.  At that point, some of the LAO’s recommendations will have to be on the table.  “We need to consider an array of options moving forward,” said Steinberg.

That worries the California Teachers Association.  Spokesman Mike Myslinski said the LAO’s plan is a misguided effort that fails to address the underlying problem of the state’s inability to balance the budget.  “The bottom line,” said Myslinski, “is that the state really is in extraordinary times now, and we want lawmakers to be cautious of using these current dire circumstances to make permanent policy decisions that impact student learning.”

Racial disparity in school discipline

In nine out of California’s ten largest school districts African American and Hispanic students are suspended and expelled at rates far exceeding their numbers, according to newly released data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Suspensions and expulsions by race & ethnicity in Los Angeles Unified. (Source:  U.S. Dept. of Education) Click to enlarge.

Suspensions and expulsions by race & ethnicity in Los Angeles Unified. (Source: U.S. Dept. of Education) Click to enlarge.

In San Francisco, where African American students compose 11.9 percent of the total enrollment, they accounted for 42.5 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 60 percent of all expulsions. Hispanic students make up 24.6 percent of the student population in Capistrano School District, yet they received 46.3 percent of out-of-school suspensions and, although there were only five expulsions, all were Hispanic students. [Click here for look at all ten districts].

Nationwide, African American students make up 18 percent of the students in the Civil Rights Data Collection [CRDC] sample, but accounted for 35 percent of suspensions and 39 percent of expulsions. The survey included more than 72,000 schools serving about 85 percent of the nation’s kindergarten through twelfth grade students.

“The undeniable truth is that the everyday educational experience for many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a written statement.  “It is our collective duty to change that.”

Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali released the data Tuesday afternoon at Howard University, in Washington, D.C. It covered the 2009-10 school year.  The Department had been issuing discipline data every two years, but it was suspended during the George W. Bush administration.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights praised the Department of Education for resuming the data collection and release as the first step toward investigating districts that may be violating federal civil rights law. “Instead of creating equal opportunities for all of our students to thrive, too many schools are still stuck in an educational caste system,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference, who pledged to support the Department’s efforts to enforce the law.

The information is especially useful in California, where districts are required to report the number of suspensions and expulsion but don’t have to disaggregate the data. “We know that looking at this data is essential to understanding what’s going on in any specific school district or school site,” said Diana Tate Vermeire, director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU of Northern California.

Tate Vermeire sees a shift among the public and advocacy organizations to do something about the bias indicated by the data. “There’s never been a concerted effort to look at the issue of over-disciplining students,” she said, “and I think the tide is changing as there is more research tying disproportionate discipline to increased dropout rates and to poor grades.”

California legislators have introduced seven bills this session aimed at providing alternatives – or, what some advocates describe as “common sense” approaches – to dealing with student behavior problems.  Although federal and state law require students to be expelled for specific actions that fall under “zero tolerance” policies, administrators have wide discretion for all other behaviors, and that’s the area the bills address.

California zero tolerance policy. (Source: ACLU of northern California) Click to enlarge.

California zero tolerance policy. (Source: ACLU of northern California) Click to enlarge.

Under SB 1235 by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), schools that suspend 25 percent or more of their students, “or a numerically significant racial or ethnic subgroup of that enrollment,” during one academic year would have to implement research-backed strategies aimed at changing the behaviors that lead to suspensions.  [Click here for list of all the bills].

Steinberg acknowledged that sometimes schools have to take the most severe action in order to protect students, faculty and staff, but warned that when those punishments are overused for minor infractions they can backfire. “When students are kicked out of school, they lose valuable class time and are more likely to fall behind, drop out and get into even more trouble on the streets.”

So many students are affected in some low-income communities that when the California Endowment asked residents in fourteen neighborhoods what they would change in order to improve the health and education of young people, high levels of harsh school discipline came up in nine of those neighborhoods.

“We know that it’s important to hold kids accountable, but it’s more important to prevent the behavior by teaching conflict resolution and other approaches that are more positive,” said Mary Lou Fulton, senior project manager at the California Endowment.  A pilot program run by Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, which focuses on making amends or restitution for harm caused to people or the school, and working out conflicts non-violently, has reduced suspensions at Oakland’s Cole Middle School by 87 percent.  The results were so powerful that it’s expanding throughout the district.

The American Psychological Association has been promoting restorative justice for several years, especially an Association task force found no evidence that zero tolerance programs make schools safer or improve the school climate.

District officials need to ask themselves if the approach to school discipline they’re using is getting better result for the students and the schools, said Fulton.  “If it’s not helping students succeed, then why continue to go down this path?  There are so many difficult problems in California education.  This is something that can be solved; we know how to fix it.”

How should we measure our schools if not by API?

Ever since California and the federal government placed the weight of a school’s success on standardized test scores with the Public Schools Accountability Act and No Child Left Behind, there’s been a backlash against overreliance on high-stakes testing.

The question of what else should be considered in rating schools is the topic of this week’s forum, “Yes, but….”

Our opinion and policy makers are Darrell Steinberg, President pro Tempore of the State Senate; David B. Cohen, a National Board-certified high school English teacher; education lobbyist and legal counsel Fred Jones; former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig; and Jeff Camp, chair of the Education Circle of the Full Circle Fund philanthropy organization.

We hope you’ll keep the conversation going with other readers, and use the comment section to ask questions of this week’s contributors.

Darrell Steinberg: Reflect a well-rounded education

Darrell Steinberg

Darrell Steinberg

The Academic Performance Index has served a worthy purpose over the past 11 years, but let’s face it: It is, at best, an incomplete indicator of student achievement and school performance.

Gov. Brown’s veto of Senate Bill 547 left in place a measurement tool that sends one signal, and one signal only, to our schools: Get your standardized test scores up. At the elementary level, the API is almost exclusively focused on scores in just two subjects, English language arts and mathematics. At the middle and high school levels, no credit is given for keeping students on track to graduation.

Striving for the perception of steady improvement under this narrow accountability regime, many of our schools have responded with a laser focus on bubble tests. Such focus comes at the expense of a whole range of offerings that parents, the business community, and students themselves value: college and career preparation at the high school level; science, history, arts, and music across the grades; physical education; and opportunities for leadership and community engagement.

We need an accountability system that reflects the elements of a well-rounded education, and that connects public education to the needs of the 21st Century economy. I sought to begin that work by replacing the API with a new Education Quality Index, balancing test results with other important measures of school success. I have invited the Govenor to join me in crafting a new approach for next year. At minimum, it should contain the following elements:

  • Rapid implementation of existing law, which already requires that the API include graduation rates. Their inclusion is critical to underscoring the importance of student engagement and support in both middle and high school;
  • Greater emphasis on student achievement in science and history, to temper the overemphasis on English language arts and math;
  • A shift away from the existing API decile system (ranking schools relative to one another from 1 to 10) in favor of a scoring system pegged to an absolute standard, which creates a more accurate representation of performance.

I have worked on few issues in my legislative career that garnered more support than this attempt to ensure the state sends more appropriate signals about what it wants schools to accomplish. Republicans and Democrats, business and labor, educators and parents, law enforcement and civil rights organizations have coalesced around the need for change. We need the Governor to work with us to connect our schools to the needs of the economy we hope to rebuild in California.

Darrell Steinberg has been President pro Tempore of the California State Senate since 2008, chosen by his colleagues to that leadership post two years after he was first elected as Senator for the Sixth District representing the Sacramento area. He earlier served three terms in the State Assembly. He’s a strong advocate for education reform, children and mental health issues, and received the “John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage” national award in 2010 for his leadership in resolving the state’s 2009 budget crisis.

David B. Cohen: Why rank schools?

David Cohen

David Cohen

Imagine for a moment that California used letter grades rather than the Academic Performance Index to rate schools. If I were a parent whose child attended a high school with a “D” on its state report card, I would be gravely concerned that this school would fail to provide my student with the skills to succeed in college, and a college education is vital to my child’s future. If I had a choice, I would certainly want to move my child to an “A” school. I know these report cards aren’t perfect, but there must be a world of difference between the “D” and the “A” rankings, right? And if the “A” school was also listed among Newsweek’s Best High Schools, so much the better, I’m sure.

Wrong. The “D” school is better.

Or to be more precise, the “D” school is better if the measure of quality is college preparation. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this study – “College- and Career-Ready: Using Outcomes Data to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success” – from Florida. Writer Chad Aldeman sums it up this way: “While [the “D” school] got dismal marks from state and federal accountability schemes, it was actually quite successful in a number of important ways. It graduated a higher percentage of its students than [the “A” school] and sent almost the same percentage of its graduates off to college. Once they arrived on college campuses, [the “D” school] graduates earned higher grades and fewer of them failed remedial, not-for-credit math and English courses than their [“A” school] peers.

In other words, D-rated [High School] was arguably doing a better job at achieving the ultimate goal of high school: preparing students to succeed in college and careers. But because Florida’s accountability systems didn’t measure college and career success in 2006, nobody knew.

The study concludes, as you might anticipate, with a call for more data going into accountability systems, and it’s hard to argue with that. But the catch is that any rating or ranking is going to miss something, and is going to create simplistic lists of winners and losers out of what should be a more complex view of school quality.

It is time to distinguish between having data and claiming to know what it means. If we were conducting chemical experiments, it might be different. With schools, we are “measuring” extended periods of highly complex interactions among hundreds or thousands of people (different combinations of people every year), operating under different combinations of influences, and we have yet to agree as a state or society about the outcomes that matter most in that complex setting.

Ultimately, I would argue that the state should be in the business of providing resources and guidelines, and leaving the final assessments of quality and success to professional and local agencies. These agencies must ensure transparency and protect the interests of all stakeholders. They should be comfortable examining widely varying types of data and appreciating the value of each. Their judgments and conclusions would be informed by data and observations, but expressed in words – reports that don’t hide behind the false certainty or pseudo-objectivity of final scores, points, grades, or gold stars.

California high schools already engage in an accreditation process similar to that description, carried out by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Why not make it more meaningful, but less intensive, and expand the approach to other levels?

If our citizenry can’t handle that shift, then we have a goal for our educational system, not to produce citizens, media, and political leaders who would prefer to have a meaningless “A” or “D” slapped on a school, rather than understand and express the complex realities of school quality.

David B. Cohen is a National Board-certified teacher in Palo Alto, where he teaches high school English. He helps to direct Accomplished California Teachers and writes for the group’s blog, InterACT.

Fred Jones: Hold schools accountable for reality

Fred Jones

Fred Jones

For good or ill, California’s K-12 public education system is driven by what Sacramento – and to a growing extent D.C. – requires, funds, and measures. The “measure” driver has led to the axiom: If it isn’t tested, it isn’t taught.

But the current fixation on a narrow bandwidth of ELA and Math via fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests has not proven to be a meaningful gauge of a school’s overall performance. Moreover, it has led to the narrowing of curriculum that so many have railed against.

We should be expecting much more from schools as they strive to prepare their students for successful lives.

Many have chosen to jump on the “college for all” bandwagon, feeling this is a higher means of holding schools accountable. We have seen many districts require the UC ‘s A-G coursework of all of their secondary students.

But college should not be considered an end unto itself. In this era of dwindling public resources and exploding student debt, college should more appropriately be considered merely a means to an end: one that provides students – and the taxpayers who subsidies them – the disposition, skills, and knowledge to provide a return on the private and public investment.

There is a growing chorus of intellectuals, industry leaders, and loan-conscious parents who have begun to question the financial returns of college. Regardless of the merits of those arguments, the economy clearly does not demand that all workers have 4-year degrees.

So what shall we hold schools accountable for delivering to every K-12 student? And how do we measure that?

In his veto of SB 547, Gov. Brown acknowledged the difference between quantitative data streams and qualitative considerations, and the difficulties in measuring the latter, often more meaningful outcomes.  Paradoxically, his veto actually undermined the effort to get a more relevant accountability system.

SB 547 was a good-faith effort to broaden the accountability matrix. It sought to include more than just standardized test scores, while attempting to keep the additional criteria objectively quantifiable.

Such additional criteria would have included a school’s performance in adequately preparing students for postsecondary education opportunities, access to career planning and training coursework, dropout rates, and other substantive and serious considerations. Einstein’s quip that “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts” certainly applies. Schools must begin to report what needs to be counted to adequately measure true success.

Fred Jones has nearly 20 years of policy experience in the State Capitol as both a legislative staffer and, since 2000, as a registered lobbyist and legal counsel to several education-related clients. His primary CTE-related client is the California Business Education Association, which is also a founding member of Get REAL California, a coalition of employers, labor groups, educators, and others concerned about CTE in California schools.

Bill Honig: Provide information for school improvement

Bill Honig

Bill Honig

The first crucial question to be answered is what is the purpose and context of the measurement. Is the emphasis primarily on using test-based results for state accountability and intervention for low performance? Or is measurement primarily used as part of a broader strategy to provide useful information to schools and districts to help continuously improve teaching and learning while still supplying information to the public about school success? This second strategy requires a shift in emphasis from penalties and interventions to building a sophisticated local and state infrastructure to support school-site team building, coaching, and professional development.

The former “test with consequences” strategy rests on the assumption that setting standards, testing results, and penalizing low-performing schools, by itself, will cause major improvements. This approach does produce some beneficial results, but by neglecting the investment in building the capacity for growth, the overall effect has been found to be limited.[1] This strategy also engenders significant negative side effects such as narrowing the curriculum, lowering morale, and encouraging staffs to game the system. All the international world-class performers, as well as U.S. states such as Massachusetts and highly successful California districts such as Long Beach, Sanger, and the charter school network Aspire, have pursued the latter, more powerful, capacity building strategy.

Gov. Brown has warned of the danger of over-relying on narrow high-stakes testing in his quest to broaden measurement and the way it is used. We should explore his suggestion that the state develop local peer review as one method of feeding back useful information to guide continuous improvement.[2]

The second key question is what kind of measurements help drive the system in the right direction? Relying too heavily on reading and math or low-level multiple-choice tests has been problematical. It has motivated legislative leaders such as Sen. Steinberg to pursue legislation to broaden California’s Academic Performance Index both for accountability and instructional feedback. The API is a useful measure, but I agree that it should be broadened and deepened:

  • API does test a broad array of subjects at the high school level and some at middle grades, but needs to cover history, science, civics, and art in a more profound way, especially at the elementary and middle-grade level. This can be done in several ways. The weighting given to these subjects should be examined. Currently at the elementary level reading and math are weighted at 94%, science at 6%, and history at 0%. At middle grades it’s not much better – 85% reading and math, 7% history, and 7% science. These weights directly contribute to a narrow curriculum.
  • The state needs to add history, art, and more science to the elementary level tests, or at least embed those subjects in the language arts and math sections of existing tests, and add civic understanding assessments to the high school level.
  • While the new tests for California being developed by the SMARTER Balanced group will move away from over-relying on multiple choice for reading and math, I would also add matrix sampling of those and other subjects to the individual tests so that a broader curriculum and deeper learning, such as the ability to write essays or develop a science project, can be assessed more efficiently.
  • At the high school level, one major change would be to explore how to hold schools accountable not only for the number of students meeting A-G requirements but also for how many students at least qualify for entering a tech-prep program at community colleges. The  API would apply to a broad range of students: dropout rates, 4-year college prep rates, tech-prep rates, and course performance. I would also add some measure for the advanced students such as the number of AP courses passed.

Bill Honig began his career in education as an elementary school teacher before becoming a California State Board of Education member and district superintendent. He was elected in 1982 to serve the first of three terms as California Superintendent of Public Instruction. He subsequently published “Teaching Our Children to Read” (Corwin Press) and founded the Consortium on Reading Excellence (www.corelearn.com), which helps  schools, districts, and states implement best practices in reading and math. He is a Bay Area native, father of four, and grandfather of five.

Jeff Camp: Schools must produce an economic return (broadly)

Jeff Camp

Jeff Camp

[NOTE: An article posted here earlier today was a draft and not intended for publication.  This is the correct article.  We apologize for error]. The success of schools must not be our primary concern. Schools, after all, are only a means to an end. The center of the proverbial target is simpler, but even more difficult: prepare EACH child for adulthood.

The effort to provide opportunity for each student is a costly undertaking, and public education is its biggest component. Spending on universal K-12 education in California adds up to about $65 billion annually when all the sources (state, local and federal) are counted. To put this number in human context, taxpayers in California invest on the order of $140,000 in each student’s thirteen years of K-12 education – roughly equivalent to paying about two dollars above minimum wage for every hour a student spends in class.

As with any big investment, success must be measured in terms of Return on Investment (ROI). Measuring success on these terms requires long-term data about each student’s long-term success, viewed broadly and over a time frame spanning decades, not just school years.

What is the long-term economic payback on that $140,000 investment for each student? Today, we don’t really know. Evaluating the return requires estimating both value produced and costs avoided. Education produces value by helping each student find his or her place in the world, including work that earns enough to pay taxes. Education avoids costs by helping students grow into self-supporting, resilient and law-abiding adults. Our system is set up to track neither.

For the last decade, the Academic Performance Index (API) has been the dominant tool for summarizing a school’s performance in California. This score, distilled annually from a changing assortment of annual tests, serves as a shorthand metric of academic achievement at the school and district levels by grade level. Unfortunately, the API only measures the academic success of those who show up. If every struggling student in a school were to drop out, the API score for that school would, perversely, rise.

The state’s system of measurement for education should be built online, in a manner that allows students to show what they know regardless of their nominal grade level. If this seems like whimsy, take a look at the coaching module of Khan Academy for an early example of what the future of measurement may look like, at least in math.

The public has grown accustomed to the idea that products and services should be evaluated, rather frequently, and that evaluation should lead to action. In order to sustain public support for investing in education, California needs to make a set of serious investments to systematically provide everyone involved with better, more personally useful information over a more meaningful arc of time. We rely too much on summary numbers partly because that is all we have at present. California should do better.

For starters, California should invest in modern data systems to track and support investments in human development including education. In the age of Facebook, it is no longer OK for California’s education system to operate with outmoded data systems.

California needs a platform that usefully connects parents, students and teachers, including accurate data to inform the work they do together. This is not an investment that each district can or should pursue on its own; it is far too difficult, much too important, and frankly its implications extend beyond education.

Jeff Camp chairs the Education Circle of Full Circle Fund, an engaged philanthropy organization cultivating the next generation of community leaders and driving lasting social change in the Bay Area and beyond. He is the primary author of Ed100.org, a primer on education reform options in California. Since leaving a career at Microsoft to work for education change, Jeff has served on multiple education reform committees including the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence.

Brown’s turn: $7 billion for schools

(Kathryn Baron co-wrote this post.)

Gov. Jerry Brown released his much-anticipated ballot initiative Monday, to temporarily raise sales and income taxes and use the money to repay K-12 schools and community colleges billions of dollars owed to them. The governor is hoping to qualify the initiative, titled The Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012, for November’s election.

The proposal calls for a half-cent sales tax increase for four years, in lieu of Brown’s failed attempt to get the Legislature to approve an extension of the one-cent sales tax increase that expired July 1. The measure also would raise income taxes on California’s wealthiest 2 percent. Together, the tax increases would raise $7 billion annually for education. But it’s not quite new funding. Two billion of that will compensate the schools for what they lost this year when the state diverted sales tax revenue to counties and cities to pay for added safety services. By approving the initiative, voters would make that tax shift to local governments permanent.

With the initiative, Brown is acknowledging that schools have been disproportionately hit with budget cuts over the past four years and, under Proposition 98, are legally entitled to a larger share of new revenue when the state economy rebounds. He’s also banking on what a series of polls over the past month have said: Voters are willing to pay more taxes – if the money is earmarked for education.

“This initiative will not solve all of our fiscal problems,” Brown wrote in a two-page letter to the public. “But it will stop further cuts to education and public safety.”

Brown’s plan will join perhaps a half-dozen other tax initiatives, some with big backers, that have either been submitted to the Attorney General for review or soon may be. One, by the California Federation of Teachers, was submitted to the State Attorney General’s office just hours after the governor’s. That proposal and another from Los Angeles civil rights attorney Molly Munger would raise income taxes exclusively on the wealthy to pay for education. ** (see correction) A third, by the Think Long Committee for California, would lower the income tax while extending the sales tax to cover services, such as accounting fees and nail salons. A fourth would tax oil production in California. The initiatives also vary on who would benefit. One would include preschool funding; others would fund the state’s public four-year colleges, UC and CSU. Brown’s initiative would fund neither, only K-12 and community colleges.

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez, both Democrats, issued a statement together praising Brown’s initiative. “The Governor’s revenue plan is fair, focused and forward-thinking,” said Perez. “We’ve done enough damage …. It’s time to stop the bleeding and begin reinvesting in public education and local public safety. The Governor’s plan dedicates new revenue where it’s most needed,” said Steinberg.

At the same time, Mark Hedlund, Steinberg’s press secretary, and Steve Glazer, Brown’s political adviser, acknowledged that the governor will need to negotiate with sponsors of other initiatives to whittle down the choices on the ballot, ideally to one. “People need to be convinced to back the best. This (Brown’s) is a good approach to take,” said Hedlund.

Glazer was more cryptic: “The governor is talking to the other folks. We’re confident there would be good environment next November.”

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare, on the other had, condemned “a massive $35 billion tax increase (five years times $7 billion) on hard-working Californians and job creators,” and pledged that “Assembly Republicans will again stand united as the last line of defense for taxpayers.”

Brown blamed continued intractability by Republican lawmakers, who first refused to put the initiative on the ballot, for forcing him to take his plan directly to voters. Brown and unions that are expected to support the initiative will need to collect 807,615 voters’ signatures by April.

The governor released  the densely worded 14-page initiative and a short open letter without explanation, leaving veteran Sacramento budget watchers scratching their heads over the details.

Need for clarification

It’s not clear how much of the $7 billion would be new money, versus funds to cover past debts. It could be about half, depending on what happens next week, when the State Department of Finance announces whether to order the automatic midyear budget “trigger” cuts of up to $1.5 billion due to lower than hoped for revenue predictions. The state also owes schools about $14 billion for failing to fully fund Proposition 98 in past years; the tax increases will enable some of this to be repaid as well.

The half-cent increase will raise the state sales tax to 7.75 percent ­– still a half-cent less than Californians paid before a temporary 1 percent increase expired July 1.

The higher income tax would affect only individuals earning more than $250,000 (couples $500,000); they’d pay 1 percent more, increasing their rate to to a rate of 10.3 percent. Individuals earning between $300,000 and $500,000 (couples $600,000 and $1 million) would pay 1.5 percent more, raising their rate to 10.8 percent. Individuals earning more than $500,000 ($1 million for couples) would pay 2 percent more: 11.3 percent. The tax would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012 if the initiative passes.

If the initiative fails, however, there would be more massive cuts, including the likely suspension of Proposition 98. What’s more, cities and counties would be left holding the bag, since the $5 billion in sales tax revenue to pay for all those services the state pushed on to them would revert to the general fund, while the obligation to provide those services would remain at the local level.

** The Advancement Project initiative by Molly Munger would raise the income tax for all wage earners, although, with the progressive structure of California’s income tax, 92% of the additional tax would be paid by couples earning more than $70,000. For couples, the increases range from 4/10ths of 1% on incomes after all deductions under $35,000 to 2.2% for couples with income after all deductions over $5 million, according to the initiative website.

High marks for CTE academies

When I met Reanna Garnsey two years ago, she was a 4.0 junior at Laguna Creek High School in the Elk Grove Unified School District. As a ninth grade student, her GPA was 0.8. Reanna cut school – a lot. What brought her back from the brink of dropping out was the Green Energy Technology Academy (GETA), a program that combines academics with real-world skills in alternative energy, including research, mentorships, and internships. Reanna’s transformation was so stunning that State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg asked her to testify before the Legislature in support of a bill to fund more of those programs.

Her story may be on the far side of average, but programs like GETA, known as California Partnership Academies, are producing many success stories, according to a report released Tuesday by the State Department of Education.

“A Profile of the California Partnership Academies 2009-2010″ by UC Berkeley’s Career Academy Support Network, found that high school seniors in academies have a 95 percent graduation rate, compared with 85 percent of seniors statewide; they’re more likely to attend college and more than half – 57 percent – graduate with the courses required for admission to the University of California or California State University, a whopping 21 percentage points above the statewide rate.

Academies are programs located within comprehensive high school that focus on growing industries in their communities, such as alternative energy, health care, the arts, or building trades. They’re small, usually serving about 200 students in grades 10 through 12, who stay together for three years. At least half of the students must be considered at risk for dropping out or failing. School districts have to supply matching funds and develop partnerships with local business and industry.

“This kind of hands-on learning, this connection to the real world, makes so much sense,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson during a phone call with reporters yesterday. “It engages students to see the relevancy of the mathematics, the science, the language arts that they’re asked to do.”

So I was surprised to receive an email last week from Eric Johnson, the Laguna Creek teacher who started GETA, asking for help because the program’s funding runs out at the end of this academic year.

“This means that we must now go through the entire grant application process to secure future funding,” wrote Johnson in an appeal to business partners to write letters of support to help GETA make its case for new funding from the state.

Funding is starting to fade

Money for more than 200 of the state’s 500 partnership academies is slated to sunset at the close of the current school year. However, there are new funds available. During a special session last April, the Legislature passed SB 1x 1, authored by Sen. Steinberg, which allocates $8

Funding Sources for California Partnership Academies (source:  Career Academy Support Network) click to enlarge.

Funding Sources for California Partnership Academies (source: Career Academy Support Network); click to enlarge.

million a year through 2017, from the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, to pay for about 100 academies focused on green energy and technology.

Despite its successes, GETA will have to reapply for the money, going up against every school that decides to enter the pool.

“No question that not only do we have to expand what we’re doing, but before we can expand we have to keep what exists and what is successful intact,” said Steinberg during Tuesday’s telephone conference call.

Keeping the doors open at all 200 academies will cost about $15 million. Some of that money would be available if lawmakers reauthorize SB 70, the bill that initially established the California Partnership Program. Steinberg said his office will be working on that during the next session.

Still, partnership academies aren’t exactly sweeping the state. There are just under 48,500 students enrolled in the programs – about 3 percent of all students in grades 10-12, raising questions about their cost effectiveness.

Exit exam pass rates by race & ethncity (source:  Career Academy Support Network) click to enlarge.

Exit exam pass rates by race & ethncity (source: Career Academy Support Network); click to enlarge.

What’s more, the overall gains seem to have slowed a bit. Back in 2004-05, 80 percent of academy tenth graders passed the California High School Exit Exam in math, compared to 74 percent for all other tenth graders. The gap was even larger for the English language arts section of the exam. But by 2009-10, statewide pass rates increased to within 1 or 2 percentage points of academy students, whose rates barely changed.

But that’s not the case for tenth grade Hispanic students in academies, who outperformed all other Hispanic sophomores in math and English language arts. The report also found that both African American and Hispanic seniors in academies graduated at significantly higher rates than those not in academies – 16 percent higher for African Americans and 14 percent higher for Hispanics.

Those are the statistics that Steinberg said should provide strong incentive to keep these programs funded and continue to expand them. “In my view, this report illustrates the future of high school in education, not only in this state but in this country,” he said. “It shows that we do not need to make the false choice between academic rigor and real world learning. High school courses must include both.”