Obscure the Declining Performance of California Public Schools

School union protestEducational bureaucrats complain that charter and private schools are “unaccountable.” But in reality, no institution in America is less accountable than unionized, government-run school systems. Virtually no one gets fired when they do a poor job, and when Johnny can’t read, it’s not because he wasn’t taught well, but rather because funding was insufficient, class sizes were too big, poverty was overwhelming — or Betsy DeVos was making everything worse. And when the public schools are shown not to be living up to their promises, the educrats move the goalposts to disguise their shortcomings.

The latest example of this pattern is unfolding right now. The California School Dashboard is a comprehensive rating tool to assess educational performance. Schools, districts, and various student subgroups get placed into five color-coded categories ranging from red (bottom performers) to blue (best performers) on how students fare on the state’s annual standardized test, along with other measures including graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, and college readiness. If a district places in the red on two or more of these metrics, the county offices of education are called in for assistance.

Alarm bells sounded when the 2017 standardized test results in California were announced. They revealed that about 50 percent of schoolchildren can’t read at grade level. The news was especially dismal for black schoolchildren — almost 70 percent failed to read at grade level. When all the data were crunched, the outcomes revealed that, because of the poor test results, many school districts were deep in the red zone. But instead of acknowledging those schools’ failure, the State Board of Education simply decided to move a bunch of schools out of the lowest category. The board brushed aside criticism, referring to the lowering of standards as “a technical matter,” and the change was approved unanimously.

This brazen ploy is the latest in a series of similar efforts by the Golden State education establishment. Just last month, we officially said goodbye to the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), which the state legislature eliminated in 2015 because too many kids couldn’t pass it. The English-language component of the test addressed state content standards through tenth grade, and the math part of the exam covered state standards only as far as grades six and seven and Algebra I. Worse, the legislators chose to give diplomas retroactively, going back to 2006, to students who had passed their coursework but failed the test.

Some cities have used their own methods to lower standards. In 2015, the Los Angeles school board decided to roll back graduation requirements, allowing students to pass A-G courses (classes that are required for college entrance) with a “D” instead of a “C.” If that wasn’t enough, in Los Angeles and elsewhere, students who are destined not to graduate high school get to take “credit-recovery” classes. Some are effective, but many are devoid of meaningful content. Students often complete them in a few hours or over a weekend. Due to the courses, the graduation rate in L.A. zoomed from a projected 54 percent to 77 percent in 2016 within a few months. Referring to the higher graduation rates, L.A. School Superintendent Michelle King had the chutzpah to proclaim that she is proud “of the heroic efforts by our teachers, counselors, parents, administrators and classified staff who rally around our students every day.” King’s comments aside, is it any wonder that three quarters of California community college students and over 40 percent of California State university system students need remediation?

In San Francisco, only 19 percent of black students passed the state test in reading, yet the school board and union colluded to give teachers in the lowest performing school district in the state a 16 percent across the board pay increase. In a statement, San Francisco Superintendent of Schools Vincent Matthews said that the agreement was made as part of the district’s “ongoing commitment to attracting and retaining talented educators.

While San Francisco undoubtedly has some wonderful teachers, they do not deserve a raise en masse. We do not need credit-recovery classes. We should not have eliminated the CAHSEE. We don’t need the state board fiddling with the new dashboard because the results were poor. And as the Freedom Project’s Alex Newman points out, we also don’t need more “tax money, smaller class sizes, more LGBT sensitivity training, more interventions, more amphetamines, more dumbed-down ‘standards,’ or bigger government.”

What kids really need is basic reading instruction with a strong emphasis on phonics, which has served kids well for generations and would continue to do so, if we let it. But if we continue to stroll blissfully down Unaccountability Lane, adopting educational fads and eliminating standards, millions of young Americans will grow up to be functionally illiterate, with dismal future prospects. This is beyond shameful. School boards, administrators, and teachers must be held accountable for the failing systems they run.

Government Unions Wage War on Meritocracy

How can you persuasively counter arguments for diversity quotas, when implacable fanatics purporting to represent every identifiable group whose aggregate achievements fall short of the mean will argue it is discrimination, not merit, that determine outcomes? Expect no help from government unions. Resentment gives them passion, restitution gives them power. Undermining the meritocracy is key to their survival.

Imagine a public school system where the excellence of teachers was the only institutional criteria for their job security and prospects for career advancement. Imagine government bureaucracies where innovative, more effective practices were adopted even if it meant smaller budgets and fewer employees. Imagine law enforcement agencies that had zero tolerance for officers that abused their authority. Are we there yet? Not if government unions have anything to say about it.

But the government union war on the meritocracy goes well beyond protecting bad employees. Government unions representing K-12 teachers and college faculty have been overran by “social justice warriors” who preach identity politics as the new religious gospel and the new academic canon. They have taken their war on the meritocracy into the classrooms and lecture halls, saturating the curricula from kindergarten to graduate school. Their message? Unless you are a heterosexual white male, you are a victim of discrimination by heterosexual white males. You live in an unjust society. Merit, according to this doctrine, is a smokescreen. It is discrimination in disguise.

What do you do if you believe in meritocracy? What do you do about this?

CPC-government-unions-merit-SAT-e

If you want to earn more money in a merit-based, productive market economy, quantitative reasoning skills are required. The more of these skills you’ve got, the more money you’ll earn. So what happens when you have far, far higher percentages of highly qualified individuals in some groups than in other groups?

When it comes to college admissions and college curricula, the solution of the social justice warriors, and the faculty unions who nurture them, is many faceted. Here are some of their mitigating strategies:

  • Invent “holistic” admission criteria that diminishes the importance of quantitative aptitude.
  • Concoct theories of cognition that claim math itself is an arbitrary and subjective expression of white power (yes, this really happened).
  • Create entire college departments that are academically weak but instead offer separatist political indoctrination.
  • Blame most if not all of the gap in aptitude on systemic discrimination by the “white patriarchy.”
  • Demand race-driven quotas of ever-expanding scope; in hiring, promotions, housing, wealth, political office, whatever.

The problem with these solutions, if you want to call them that, are their actual consequences. In pursuit of quota driven diversity, colleges are turning away qualified applicants at the same time as colleges are failing to produce anywhere near the number of STEM graduates that American industry demands. Meanwhile, the students that are waved in despite being marginally qualified to pursue higher education are being trained to ascribe any failures they may encounter to racism, and any successes they may encounter to fortuitous state intervention. And not least, there is the consequence of bitterness and cynicism being bred into the psyche of all those more qualified students and future employees who are passed over in favor of meeting diversity quotas.

How does one challenge the doctrine of equality over merit? How do you challenge allegations of systemic racism? How do you do it persuasively, with hard facts, but also with compassion and empathy? It’s not easy. College youth need passion, they need a cause, they need clarifying polarities. The teachers unions offer them a good one: A rich and wealthy white patriarchy that has exploited people of color for centuries, one that must be resisted, uprooted, and replaced.

Tough love arguments should be part of any campaign of persuasion. Reality therapy. Why are people with lower test scores admitted to college if they’re being discriminated against? That’s ridiculous. And why do they think taking classes that replace difficult coursework with political indoctrination – fomenting resentment and advocating separatism – are going to give them marketable skills? Do they really believe they need on-campus “cultural safe spaces”? Aren’t those just a 21st century version of Jim Crow laws? Where does this end? And why do Asians perform so well on college aptitude tests? Why are Asians so successful economically? Aren’t they also “people of color”? Could it be because they study so diligently, and that a meritocracy is colorblind?

Along with tough love, opponents of quotas should offer understanding. It is our individuality that defines our abilities and challenges much more than the groups we’re a part of. All ethnic groups are collections of individuals with infinite diversity; short and tall, thin and obese, weak and strong, plain and beautiful, slow and smart, timid and assertive, surly and charming, lucky and unlucky, good and bad. As individuals we succeed and we fail. We endure crushing disappointments and spectacular success. Life is not always easy or fair – for anyone. We are joined by our common humanity, no matter what color we are. And nothing overcomes prejudice, should it ever exist, better than a smile.

Despite occasional rhetorical acknowledgments, government unions don’t like the message of individual accountability. But that is the message that must prevail, if we are to avoid the tyranny of quota-driven equality of outcome.

This article was originally published by the California Policy Center

REFERENCES

Race gaps in SAT math scores are as big as ever – Brookings Institution (source for chart)
https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2017/02/01/race-gaps-in-sat-math-scores-are-as-big-as-ever/

CA Should Raise Teacher Pay By Reducing Unfunded Retirement Liabilities

Ashs-teacher-and-studentsFast-rising spending on pensions and other retirement costs is crushing teacher staffing and pay in California. As an example, retirement spending at San Francisco Unified School District grew 3x faster than district revenues over the last five years, absorbing $35 million that could have gone to current teachers. Worse, that happened despite record stock market gains and school revenues. Absent reform, teacher staffing and pay will decline further.

Something must be done. Public school students and teachers deserve fully-staffed classrooms and sufficient salaries. While the children of well-to-do parents can attend private schools or privately-subsidized public schools, most of California’s six million K-12 students cannot.

Someone must step up. Potential candidates fall into five categories: (i) the people who created the problem, (ii) taxpayers, (iii) students, (iv) current teachers, and (v) pension beneficiaries.

  • Self-serving pension fund board members and elected officials blocked honest pre-funding of retirement promises, causing today’s unfunded liabilities. While it would be wonderful justice if they could be forced to pay for the problem they created, at nearly $100 billion and growing the problem is too big for their resources.
  • Taxpayers didn’t cause the problem but they’ve been paying for it. Income taxes were raised 30 percent in 2012 and school revenues are up 60 percent since then but pension spending in districts like SFUSD grew more than 100 percent over that same period and are heading higher.
  • Students and current teachers didn’t cause the problem but they’ve been paying for it in the forms of understaffed classrooms and inadequate salaries, especially in school districts without well-to-do parents to subsidize school budgetsIt’s no wonder poor and minority students in California perform worse than their counterparts in Texas, which spends less per student but has a better student-teacher ratio.
  • Pension beneficiaries didn’t cause the problem but unlike students, teachers and taxpayers they have NOT been paying for it. In fact, they garnered additional financial benefits from the actions that created the problem, as explained here. They need to step up.

Reducing unfunded obligations would free up billions for current teachers.

Shrinking unfunded retirement obligations by reducing un-earned future benefits would allow school districts to divert fewer dollars to retirement costs. For example, Rhode Island suspended annual increases until pension funds are better funded and moved some to-be-earned benefits to hybrid plans. Acting similarly in California could free up billions with which to boost current teacher staffing and pay. Such sacrifices by beneficiaries would be no greater than those of students, teachers and taxpayers and beneficiary retirement benefits would still be greater than those of the vast majority of their fellow citizens.

No one can be happy about making any innocent person sacrifice to meet unfunded liabilities created by corrupt pension fund board members and elected officials. But students need fully staffed classrooms and teachers need adequate salaries. Everyone needs to chip in to reach those goals.

One cannot both be progressive and be opposed to pension reform.

Unfunded retirement obligations are crushing the hopes and dreams of California’s public school students and teachers. Policymakers need to act.

NB: A different set of unfunded liabilities is crushing higher education. The University of California is losing $600 million this year compared to what it would’ve received had it simply maintained the same share of the state budget as it garnered a decade ago. Retirement beneficiaries didn’t cause that problem either but only they have avoided the consequences as taxpayers are paying more and citizens are receiving less. The state needs to reduce its unfunded liabilities. Beneficiaries must chip in there too.

ecturer and research scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

The Teacher-Shortage Myth

School-education-learning-1750587-hA nationwide shortage of teachers threatens quality education, according to the education establishment and its advocates in the media. But as with the population bomb, Y2K, and the devils of Loudon, the reality of the supposed crisis is quite different from its representation. A look at the data puts the situation into perspective.

The shortage claim has been around for some time. The National Education Association warned in 1921 that there was “an appalling lack of trained teachers throughout the country.” At the time, we had a student-to-teacher ratio of 33 to 1; we have more than halved the ratio in less than 100 years. The late Cato Institute scholar Andrew Coulson gave us a more up-to-date perspective in 2015, explaining that since 1970 “the number of teachers has grown six times faster than the number of students. Enrollment grew about 8 percent from 1970 to 2010, but the teaching workforce grew 50 percent.”

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education states that our teaching force is still growing proportionate to the student population. In fact, we now have over 3.8 million public school teachers in the U.S., an increase of 13 percent in the last four years. During that same time period, student enrollment rose just 2 percent. Mike Antonucci, director of the Education Intelligence Agency, adds that, between 2008 and 2016, student enrollment was flat but the teaching force expanded from 3.4 million to more than 3.8 million, a rise of 12.4 percent. University of Pennsylvania education professor Richard Ingersoll avers that not only is there no shortage of teachers, there is actually a glut. Ingersoll, who has long studied teacher-staffing trends, says the growth in the teaching force, which goes well beyond student growth, is financially a “ticking time bomb.” He adds that the “main budget item in any school district is teacher’s salaries. This just can’t be sustainable.”

And it’s not only the teaching force that’s ballooning: the number of other school personnel has been expanding at an alarming pace as well. Researcher and economics professor Benjamin Scafidi found that, between 1950 and 2015, the number of teachers increased about 2.5 times as fast as the uptick in students. But even more outrageous is the fact that other education employees—administrators, aides, counselors, social workers— rose more than seven times the increase in students. Despite all this new staff, student academic achievement has stagnated—or even declined—over the past several decades.

The myth that America suffers a scarcity of teachers is promulgated by the teachers’ unions and their supporters in the education establishment. On the California Teachers Association website, we read that “California will need an additional 100,000 teachers over the next decade.” But this statistic simply means that CTA expects about a 2.8 percent yearly attrition rate, and will need to hire 10,000 teachers per annum over a ten-year period to maintain current staffing levels—more of an actuarial projection than an alarming call for action. (The union adds that California must hire even more teachers to “reduce class size so teachers can devote more time to each student.” The claim that small class size benefits all students—another union promulgated myth—means more teachers, which translates to more dues money for the union.) In reality, California is following the national trend in overstaffing. According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, California had 332,640 teachers in 2010. By 2015, there were 352,000. But the student population has been virtually flat, moving from 6.22 million in 2010 to 6.23 million in 2016.

True, legitimate general shortages exist in some school districts, while other districts may lack teachers in certain areas of expertise, like science and technology. Workers in these fields can earn higher salaries in the private sector; one solution would be to pay experts in these subjects more than other teachers as a way to lure them into teaching. Unfortunately, that’s not possible: throughout much of the country, and certainly in California, salaries are rigorously defined by a teacher union-orchestrated step-and-column pay regimen, which allows no room for flexibility in teacher salaries.

What’s necessary is to break up the unaccountable Big Government-Big Union education duopoly. More school choice, from privatization to charter schools, could go a long way toward solving the teacher glut. The government-education complex will always try to squeeze more money from the taxpayers, irrespective of student enrollment. Its greed has nothing to do with teacher shortages, small class sizes, educational equity, or any other rationale it can come up with: paramount to the interest of the educational bureaucracy is more jobs for administrators, and more dues money for the unions, which they use to buy and hold sway over school boards and legislators. While there is a surfeit of teachers and administrative staff, clarity and transparency regarding the reality of union control of the schools are scarce indeed.

School Segregation: Does it still exist?

School education“Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Those words were uttered in 1963 by Alabama’s George Wallace in his first inaugural address as governor of what is sometimes called the Cotton State.

Actually, legally-based segregation in America’s public schools was ruled unconstitutional in May 1954, when the United States Supreme Court, in an unanimous decision, banned the separation of public-school pupils by race.

In a case known as Brown v. Board of Education (Topeka, Kansas), the nine Supreme Court justices ruled that state laws permitting the separation of students by race were unconstitutional.

The court overturned an 1896 High Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, which allowed states to segregate public-school pupils by race.  The Plessy ruling permitted racial segregation by race as long as separate schools for whites and blacks provided essentially equal education.

In 1954, the High Court said: “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Today, more than six decades after the High Court’s desegregation decision, segregation is still an issue.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, a group of residents inside the Mt. Diablo Unified School District wants to secede from the district and form a new district called the Northgate Unified School District.

The Mt. Diablo district is 35 miles east of San Francisco. The district, which is ethnically diverse, includes the cities of Concord and Clayton. It also covers parts of Pleasant Hill, Lafayette, Martinez and Walnut Creek. The district is located in Contra Costa County.

The new Northgate district, if established, would include parts – generally affluent parts – of Concord and Walnut Creek.

Supporters of the Northgate plan have gathered more than 6,000 signatures from registered voters and are seeking permission from officials of Contra Costa County and the state of California to allow a public vote on the secession plan.

On June 26, 2017, according to the East Bay Times (June 28 edition), about 70 people rallied against the secession movement.

The school secession movement is not new. In Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, school secession movements do not require approval from any county or state authority.

According to U.S. News and World Report (June 21, 2017), school secession movements seek to protect white, wealthy communities from areas where the population is poorer and perhaps contains non-white individuals.

High-income parents have always had the option of choosing private schools for their children.  Two examples stand out. President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary, during their White House years, sent their daughter, Chelsea, to the Sidwell Friends School, a highly selective, private Quaker school which has locations in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. The two daughters of President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle also attended Sidwell. Presumably, neither president wanted to send his children to the public schools in Washington, D.C.

In the last 30 to 40 years, many public schools in the United States have come under attack, often because these schools are accused of providing inferior education.

However, affluent parents, especially those who do not necessarily have the funds or the desire to send their children to private schools, often move to communities where the public schools have a reputation for quality. In the East Bay region of San Francisco, communities like Danville, Orinda and Lafayette have public schools known for excellence.  These communities are largely white but also contain a smattering of Asians.

Segregation can also exist within a given school district that may – or may not – have affluent parents. Using a system called “tracking,” students are assigned to classes based on academic achievement. Tracking may separate students into such categories as “above average,” “average” or “below average.”

So, despite what the U.S. Supreme Court did in 1954, public-school segregation, even though banned by law, can still exist.

Two major questions are: (1) Will government intervene to stop public-school segregation on the basis of where parents live?  (2) Will government outlaw a public school’s separating students on the basis of academic ability?

Education update: Votes coming on teacher tenure, for-profit charters, other key bills

School educationBetween now and July 21, when they take a month off, state legislators will have to decide the fate of bills that passed one chamber of the Legislature and await action in the other. Among those are key education bills that would lengthen teacher probation periods, require more accounting for spending under the Local Control Funding Formula, mandate a later start time for middle and high schools and further restrict student suspensions. What follows is a summary of the bills EdSource is following.

Funding formula transparency

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires that school districts provide data on state and federal spending by school in more detail than before. AB 1321, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would go further, requiring a school-by-school breakdown of state spending by the Local Control Funding Formula’s component parts: base, supplemental and concentration funding. The latter two components are allocated to a district based on the proportion of English learners and low-income, homeless and foster children enrolled.

Why it’s important: Weber and student advocacy groups argue the public needs to know if schools with large proportions of high-needs students are getting money intended to go to them. In some districts, that’s clear. In most, it is not. Gov. Jerry Brown and school management groups counter that detailing every dollar spent would add accounting expenses without much benefit — and divert focus from the funding formula’s overriding goal of figuring out how to improve outcomes for underserved students. They argue that it’s premature to change the funding law.

Status: The bill passed the Assembly unanimously. Brown is expected to fight the bill as it moves through the Senate — and may veto it.

Teacher tenure

The probationary period for new teachers in most states is three years or longer. In California, it’s technically two years, though realistically 18 months, since the deadline for notifying teachers in the second year is March 15. AB 1220, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would give districts the option of extending probation a third year in instances in which they believe teachers could benefit from more supervision.

Why it’s important: Weber and sponsoring groups argue that districts often let go promising teachers go rather than grant them lifetime due-process protections known as tenure. Districts would make wiser hiring decisions with more time, they say. The California Teachers Association responds that a longer probationary period would send a negative message to potential teachers, compounding the state’s teacher shortage. The CTA wants due-process rights for probationary teachers in exchange for another year of probation. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: The Assembly Appropriations Committee weakened provisions of the bill; Weber must decide whether to add them back in the Senate. Senate Education Committee will hear the bill July 12.

Teacher shortage

The 2017-18 state budget includes $30 million to alleviate the state’s teacher shortage. Authors of two key proposals that were not funded are moving forward to establish the programs through two bills, in hopes that it will be easier to fund them once they become law. AB 12171, by Raul Bocanegra, D-San Fernando, would create the California Teacher Corps, a teacher residency program in which new teachers would work under a mentor teacher and receive a stipend in exchange for working at least four years in a high-need field, such as special education. AB 169, by Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would establish Golden State Teacher Grants, which would provide $20,000 stipends to new teachers who also agree to teach four years in a field facing a shortage.

Why it’s important: California is facing a teacher shortage in high-cost regions, like the Bay Area, and in specific fields, including science, math, special education and bilingual programs. The shortage is worse in urban schools serving low-income students.

Status: Both bills received overwhelming support in the Assembly. AB 1217 passed the Senate Education Committee on June 28; AB 169 awaits a hearing.

Suspensions for willful defiance

This fall, California will begin evaluating schools on their progress in lowering student suspension rates. SB 607, by Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, renews a law due to sunset on July 1, 2018 that removed “willful defiance,” a term with no specific definition, as a justification for suspending students in kindergarten through 3rd grade or for expelling students in kindergarten through high school. Skinner’s law extends the ban to kindergarten through 5th grade and proposes a temporary ban, through July 1, 2023, on willful defiance suspensions in 6th through 12th grades.

Why it’s important: Willful defiance suspensions accounted for more than 50 percent of all suspensions before the current law was passed. Advocates of alternative approaches note that suspensions for willful defiance, which rely on a school official’s interpretation, have been issued for minor offenses such as laughing, and are far more likely to involve African American students than students of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. But nearly 9 in 10 teachers surveyed by the California Teachers Association in 2016 said they need training and more access to school mental health providers if they are going to successfully cut back on disciplinary referrals. The California School Boards Association is asking that the bill be amended to allow suspensions for disruptive or defiant behavior in high school.

Status: Passed the Assembly and heading for a floor vote in the Senate.

Meal shaming

Across the nation, and in many California districts, students who don’t have money to pay for subsidized lunches are given a token meal, like a cup of milk and a piece of fruit, or, in some high schools, nothing at all. Sometimes, their hand is stamped in front of their peers in line, as a reminder to get their parents to pay on time. SB 250, by Robert Hertzberg, D-LA, would establish a uniform, statewide policy to ensure that a pupil whose parent or guardian has unpaid meal fees is served a full meal and is not shamed or treated differently than a pupil who is paid up.

Why it’s important: Teachers agree that students who are hungry can’t concentrate on their work; recent research from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that student test scores in California rose with good quality school lunches.

Status: The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the Assembly Education Committee 6-0. It will move to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

English learner reclassification

Researchers and advocates for English learners agree that determining when English learners are proficient in English and no longer need language assistance needs to be uniform — but are fighting over how to do this. SB 463, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would standardize the four current reclassification criteria: performance on the state assessment of English language proficiency; evaluation by teachers; consultation with parents; and the mastery of basic skills, comparable to English-only students, on the Smarter Balanced assessment. Researchers and academicians want results on the new English language fluency test, called ELPAC, to be the primary factor; the test will debut in 2018.

Why it’s important: A 2014 study found that most districts adopt more rigorous, often subjective criteria for determining English proficiency, and a delay in reclassification can deny English learners access to advanced high school and college prep courses. Bill proponents worry that premature reclassification will deny English learners needed supports. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: The bill passed the Assembly unanimously and will be heard by the Assembly Education Committee.

Reserve cap

Ever since Gov. Jerry Brown agreed to a deal with the California Teachers Association three years ago that places a cap on the amount that school districts can keep in reserve for emergencies, the California School Boards Association has been trying to get rid of it. Neither of two bills in play would do that, but both would ease the restrictions that districts object to. AB 325 by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, would keep the limits, about 6 percent of the size of the budget for an average district, but set new, tighter preconditions on when they would go into effect. SB 751, by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, which the school boards association prefers, would exempt most small districts and raise the cap to 17 percent for others.

Why it’s important: That depends on who you ask. The CTA says much is being made over nothing, since the conditions triggering the reserve cap are still years away. Districts say there should be no cap at all under local control, and Brown, the patron of the Local Control Funding Formula, had no business imposing it. See earlier EdSource coverage.

Status: Talks continue on a compromise. If there’s a deal, it will likely come at the end of the summer. Whether Brown will get involved is an open question.

Ban on for-profit charter schools

AB 406, by Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, would prohibit the creation of for-profit charter schools after Jan. 1, 2019.

Why it’s important: There are only six for-profit charters in California. The bill’s author said he was motivated when he learned that a for-profit company obtained millions in taxpayer funds while operating K-12 online academies that graduate less than half of their high school students. The company also allegedly counted students as present for a school day even if they were logged on for as little as a minute. The company last year reached a $168.5 million settlement with the state on those allegations. McCarty said the bill will end the privatization of public education and puts student success ahead of corporate profits. The bill’s critics say the legislation is really designed to curb the charter school movement. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2015. He said the bill could be interpreted to restrict the ability of nonprofit charter schools to continue using for-profit vendors.

Status: The state Assembly approved the bill in May. The state Senate education committee is now reviewing the legislation.

Restrictions on charter school expulsions and suspensions

AB 1360, by Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, would create new regulations that charter schools would have to follow when attempting to suspend or expel students. It also prohibits charter schools from requiring parents to volunteer for school activities.

Why it’s important: There has been push for all public schools to lower suspension rates, which are disproportionately high for African-American and Latino students. Charter school critics claim that some schools use suspension policies to push out low-performing students. Charter school supporters say the bill infringes on their state-mandated freedom. The California Charter Schools Association says its members should have the latitude to create their suspension and expulsion policies.

Status: The state Assembly approved the bill in May. The state Senate’s education committee is now reviewing the bill.

Late school start

SB 328, by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, would require middle and high schools to start their regular school days no earlier than 8:30 a.m. by July 1, 2020, except for those in rural school districts that obtain waivers from the state Board of Education to delay implementation for at least two years. The requirement would not apply to so-called “zero period” classes offered at some secondary schools as extra periods before the regular school day begins. It could require the state to reimburse districts for mandated costs.

Why it’s important:  It is based on recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention related to the adverse effects of sleep deprivation on teenagers. It is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, California State PTA, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, California Federation of Teachers, California Sleep Society and several hospitals, school districts and student advocacy groups.  If adopted, California would be the first state to mandate a later start. The bill could improve attendance rates and graduation rates and reduce tardiness, according to a Senate analysis. However, the analysis also cited “potential unintended impacts” on working and single parents who may not be able to adjust their schedules, districts’ home-to-school transportation costs, extracurricular activities, and before and after-school programs. The California School Boards Association and California Teachers Association oppose the bill.

Status: Passed in the Senate, with 23 members voting in favor, 13 voting against and two not voting. It is scheduled for a July 12 hearing in the Assembly Committee on Education.

Sanctuary state

Senate Bill 54, by State Senate President pro Tem Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles), would prohibit local police and other authorities — including those who work at schools — from cooperating with federal immigration agents without a warrant.

Why it’s important: Immigrants make up 30 percent of California’s population, and half of the state’s children have at least one parent who is foreign-born, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. De León said the bill would bolster trust between immigrant communities and state agencies, and lead to improvements in public safety, school attendance and public health. Dozens of cities and school districts around California have already declared themselves safe havens or sanctuaries, offering varying degrees of protections for immigrants. The Trump Administration has threatened to withhold grants for so-called sanctuary cities and states, saying they hinder the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. Some California county sheriffs have also opposed the bill, saying they can’t afford to lose federal grants and should have the flexibility to cooperate with federal immigration agents in certain situations. Other law enforcement officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, are supporting the bill. In April, a federal judge sided with two California counties that had sued the Trump Administration over its threat to withhold funding.

Status: The bill passed the State Senate on April 3 by a vote of 27-12. It’s currently under review with the Assembly judiciary committee.

This article was originally published by EdSource.org

Reformers Achieve School Board Shakeup in Los Angeles

Los-Angeles-Unified-School-District-LAUSDLike many big-city school systems, the Los Angeles Unified School District is in disarray. On track for a graduation rate of 49 percent last June, the district instituted “a “credit-recovery plan,” which allows students to take crash courses on weekends and holidays to make up for classes they failed or missed. Combined with the elimination of the California High School Exit Examination, the classes, which many claimed were short on content, raised the district’s graduation rate to 75 percent practically overnight. In 2015, only in five fourth-graders in Los Angeles performed at or above “proficient” in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Due to out-migration and the proliferation of charter schools, student enrollment in the district—now about 500,000—has dropped nearly 250,000 since 2004.

Fiscally, the situation is no better. In December, LAUSD Chief Financial Officer Megan Reilly told the school board that the district may not be able to meet its financial obligations because it faces a cumulative deficit of $1.46 billion through the 2018-2019 school year. While the deficit figure has been disputed in some quarters, there’s no doubt that the district is facing a daunting budgetary crisis.

Many of L.A.’s education woes can be traced to its school board and the United Teachers of Los Angeles union, which has controlled the board for years. And that’s why what happened on May 6 is so remarkable. Two reformers—Nick Melvoin, a former inner-city middle school teacher who lost his job due to union-backed seniority rules, and Kelly Gonez, currently a charter school science teacher—were elected to the LAUSD board. Reformers now constitute a majority of the seven-member governing body in America’s second-largest city.

Melvoin, especially, was vocal in his campaign that the school district needed a major shakeup, calling for more charter schools. He also stressed the need for fiscal reform, including a reworking of the district’s out-of-control pension and health-care obligations. His opponent, sitting board president Steve Zimmer, said in February that the election was about “losing children to the charter movement.” Zimmer garnered 47.5 percent of the vote against Melvoin and two other candidates in the March election, but he needed 50 percent to avoid a run-off in May.

Not only did the young Turks (Melvoin is 31 and Gonez 28) defeat the unions’ candidates; they also raised more money than their opponents, a rarity in school-board elections, where teachers’ unions historically outspend their challengers. But this time, the unions could not compete with the likes of philanthropist Eli Broad, who donated $450,000 to the campaign, and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, who contributed over $2 million. Additionally, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings donated nearly $7 million since last September to CCSA Advocates, the political wing of the California Charter School Association, which spent nearly $3 million on the school board election.

On the union side, United Teachers Los Angeles was the big spender, pitching in about $4.13 million, according to city filings. But much of this money came from the UTLA’s national partners: the American Federation of Teachers gave UTLA $1.2 million, and the National Education Association contributed $700,000.

The spending disparity and resulting defeat did not sit well with the unions. The NEA speciously claimed that parents and educators were pitted against “a group of out-of-town billionaires,” an ironic charge for a Washington, D.C.-based organization to make. According to its latest Labor Department filing, the NEA sent money to Colorado, Georgia, Maine, and other states in 2016 in attempts to sway voters, donating nearly $27 million in all. And besides, the NEA’s charge was wrong. The bulk of the reformers’ donations came from three Californians—Broad and Riordan are Angelenos and Hastings lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

In a press release, California Teachers Association President Eric Heins reiterated the NEA message about billionaire donations and, alluding to charter schools, added, “public education should be about kids, not profits.” Heins and other union leaders sound this theme constantly, though there is no evidence to support the claim that anyone is getting rich off of charter schools: the California Charter School Association reports that out of the state’s 1,200 charter schools, only six are organized as limited-liability corporations.

“We will fight against privatizing our public schools and against creating ‘separate and unequal’ for our kids,” said UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl—and he’s eager for the fight to begin. In anticipation of the upcoming June 30 expiration of the teachers’ contract, Caputo-Pearl told his union’s leadership last year that, “the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018. There simply may be no other way to protect our health benefits and to shock the system into investing in the civic institution of public education.”

With the June 30 deadline looming, and Melvoin and Gonez set to be sworn in on the school board the next day, the fireworks you hear coming from L.A. on July 4 may come only in part from patriotic celebrations. The Los Angeles school district has distinguished itself by poorly educated students, a dubious graduation rate, shrinking enrollment, a serious financial shortfall, and a zealous teachers’ union leader who, more than anything, wants to maintain—and in fact increase—his union’s power, even if it takes a “state crisis” to do so. Should UTLA succeed, it will be a disaster for children, their parents, and the already beleaguered taxpayer.

Union leaders launch hyperbolic grenades at Trump education budget

shocked-kid-apDid you know that the Trump/DeVos budget is manifestly cruel to children and catastrophic to public schools? Are you aware that Trump/Devos are planning to slash funding for public schools, and use voucher schemes to funnel taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools?

Well, I sure didn’t “know” these things till the two national teachers union leaders told me. But actually, climbing out of the union rabbit hole and venturing back to the real world, one regains perspective. And the reality is that the Trump/Devos budget cuts – which of course will have to run through the Congressional obstacle course before becoming law – don’t warrant the union leaders’ outlandish hyperbole. Not one iota.

In a nutshell, the budget does away with some programs that are wasteful and many that can be funded elsewhere. Alaska Native Education, Native Hawaiian Education, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers are on the elimination list. (A good summary of the budget cuts can be accessed here.) All in all, the proposed budget will pare federal spending by $9 billion, which represents a 13 percent cut. The budget also includes $1.4 billion “to support new investments in public and private school choice.” Most of the money earmarked for school choice would be an increase to the part of the existing Title 1 program that provides supplemental awards “to school districts that agree to adopt weighted student funding combined with open enrollment systems that allow Federal, State, and local funds to follow students to the public school of their choice.”

Is a 13 percent cut worth the hysteria? Hardly.

First of all, 92 percent of education spending comes from state and local sources, while federal dollars account for just 8 percent. Reducing that 8 percent by 13 percent means that each state will be losing a shade over 1 percent of its total education funding. That’s it. Hardly a slash. More like a minor paper cut. And of course any state that loses federal funding (Alaska and Hawaii take note) is perfectly capable of adding the 1 percent back via the legislative process.

As for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, they are typical of bureaucratic waste. As Brookings Institution Mark Dynarski writes, “To date, more than $12 billion of federal tax money has been spent on a program that a preponderance of evidence indicates doesn’t help students.”

It’s also instructive to step back and examine the effect that spending in general has on student achievement. And it has been proven time and again that there really is no correlation. In fact, between 1970 and 2012, our education spending tripled (in constant dollars) and student achievement was flat. On the 2015 international PISA test, which measures math, reading and science for 15 year-olds, the U.S. was in the middle of the pack – average in science and reading, but below average in math, trailing Estonia, Poland, Finland et al, while outspending those countries considerably. Additionally, a stunning 60 percent of all U.S. students now entering college need remediation.

President Trump recently told Congress, “We need to return decisions regarding education back to the State and local levels, while advancing opportunities for parents and students to choose, from all available options, the school that best fits their needs to learn and succeed.”

Trump is right on target here. Education should not be controlled by a federal bureaucracy. As Center for Education Reform CEO Jeanne Allen said in response to the budget, “Throughout the nation, at all levels, policymakers, parents, teachers and innovators are leading critical new endeavors to focus on student achievement, some by using new technologies in the classroom, some by implementing new schools of choice, some through boosting the traditional activities of districts.”

Only the special interest teachers unions and their fellow travelers could disagree.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

This piece was originally published by the California Policy Center.

Los Angeles Charter School Advocates Win School Board Majority

LAUSD school busCharter school advocates in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) won a major victory Tuesday as two of their candidates won seats on the school board, giving them the majority.

Steve Zimmer, president of the LAUSD – the nation’s second-largest school district – lost in District 4 to teacher and attorney Nick Melvoin. Kelly Gonez also won a tight race in District 6 over Imelda Padilla, who was backed by the teachers’ unions.

Gonez and Melvoin will join incumbents Monica Garcia and Ref Rodriguez, creating the first-ever four-member majority of charter-school supporters on the board, reports the CBS local affiliate.

The school board races involved millions of dollars in campaign spending, the Los Angeles Times reports, with the candidates expressing frustration at times over the amount of outside spending from charter school advocate groups and unions making an impact on the campaigns.

According to the Times report:

Outside groups funded by charter advocates painted Zimmer as a charter school foe. Anti-Zimmer mailers characterized him as a gun-happy militant, a protector of pedophiles and the mastermind of the school district’s iPads-for-all debacle.

Groups bankrolled by public employee unions tried to link Melvoin, 31, to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and President Trump, both of whom are extremely unpopular in Los Angeles.

Neither of these portrayals were accurate. Zimmer has voted many times to approve new charter schools and Melvoin is a Democrat who has been critical of the Trump administration’s education policies.

The unions reportedly spent some $2.5 million on Zimmer’s campaign and more than $2.34 million on that of Padilla. Charter school promoters spent upward of $5.69 million on Melvoin’s campaign and $3.3 million on that of Gonez.

Charter school advocate Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings – a Democrat – donated $5 million to California Charter Schools Association Advocates, which managed much of the spending for the charter candidates.

LAUSD has the highest number of charter schools and charter students of any other school district, though charters still only represent 16 percent of enrollment.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

California poised to adopt new school-grading system

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

In a significant shift in how it grades public schools, California is crafting new report cards with the goal of capturing a more detailed snapshot of what each campus accomplishes.

Critics call the new accountability measures an avalanche of confusing numbers and jargon that downplay test scores, obscure schools’ failings and make it impossible for parents to tell how well schools are serving their kids.

The proposed school evaluations, expected to be adopted when the California State Board of Education meets Thursday and Friday in Sacramento, succeed the three-digit API scores that measured schools’ worth.

For 14 years, Californians could get a clear — albeit limited — snapshot of how local schools and school districts were performing, with the state issuing a single number representing achievement of schools, districts and student groups. The Academic Performance Index pegged schools’ worth to results of math, English and science tests, graduation rates and high school exit-exam passage. …

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