Despite Slight Uptick in State Test Scores, Huge Achievement Gaps Persist

Despite Slight Uptick in State Test Scores, Huge Achievement Gaps Persist

Huge racial and socio-economic achievement gaps persist among students across the state and in Los Angeles, according to an analysis of the 2019 state standardized test scores released Wednesday.  

“This persistent performance gap is barely improving, and we are not addressing the real problems,” said Katie Braude, executive director of Speak UP. “One simple first step would be to release the data that show which schools are making a difference each year with children who start below grade level. Student growth data would highlight which schools are moving children upward on that trajectory and can serve as models for improvement.”

Despite a minuscule increase (of about one percentage point) from last year in the number of students statewide meeting or exceeding English Language Arts and math standards on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) standardized tests administered each spring, education advocates and the head of the California Department of Education expressed deep concern about the persistent achievement disparities for English learners, low-income and Black and Latino students. And eighth graders’ scores showed a decrease from last year’s scores. 

“This isn’t about white students or Asian students being smarter than Black or Latino Students,” said Tunette Powell, a South Central L.A. parent and doctoral candidate in education at UCLA. “These test scores are a literal illustration of what happens when you invest in one group of students versus another. And I’m not talking about a few years of investment, I’m talking about decades and centuries of under investment.”

The analysis of California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System results performed by EdVoice shows that only 39% of low-income seventh-graders in California met or exceeded reading standards, compared to 71% of their more affluent peers. In math, only 27% of low-income students, 21% of African American students and 28% of Latino students met or exceeded standards.  

English learners remained at the bottom of all student groups in California for at least three consecutive years, with fewer than 13% meeting math and ELA standards statewide. Students with disabilities or in special education scored slightly higher than English Learners with 16% of them meeting or exceeding standards in ELA.

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Governor Signs Charter Law Limiting New School Options

Governor Signs Charter Law Limiting New School Options

Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Thursday the most significant change in charter school policy in decades. Assembly Bill 1505 is expected to significantly curb the number of new public charter schools opening in California.

“The fact that you are standing together makes me proud as a Californian,” Newsom told CTA President E. Toby Boyd and California Charter Schools Association President and CEO Myrna Castrejón, more than a month after brokering a compromise that offered protections for most existing schools through new charter renewal criteria and a county appeals process.

AB 1505 passed both houses of the state legislature in late August, after the California Charter Schools Association gave up its fight and went “neutral” on the bill.

“This historic agreement affirms that high-quality charter schools are here to stay and that the charter school model is a critical lever in closing the state’s achievement gap,” Castrejón said Thursday. “AB 1505 can finally put to rest lingering questions about whether charter schools serve all students and help turn our collective attention to investing in and holding all public schools accountable.”

The original version of AB 1505, authored by Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), was one of a package of bills that threatened the continued existence of all public nonprofit charter schools in the state. It gave broad power to school boards to deny charters for any reason, with no right to appeal to the county or state.

CCSA, which represents the state’s charter schools, worked behind the scenes with the governor to push for amendments to prevent what it called “devastating consequences” for its member schools.

“We absolutely got to a better place,” CCSA’s Castrejon told Speak UP.

Nevertheless, many parents voiced displeasure with the process, and some leading education reform groups, including EdVoice and the Charter Schools Development Center, remained staunchly opposed to the bill.

“Parents were not included in any of these negotiations,” said Speak UP’s Roxann Nazario, a parent at GALS charter in Panorama City who led multiple parent meetings with legislators opposing AB 1505. “There was no one in the room voicing parent concerns on any level.”

While 10% of the state’s kids attend public charters, about 60% of public school parents support charter schools, according to a recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California. Thousands of parents, including many Speak UP members, called, emailed, traveled to Sacramento and flooded lawmakers’ district offices over the past six months to oppose the attack on parent choice. Many immediately took to Facebook to vent after news of a deal broke.  

“I feel so defeated and unheard,” said charter parent Tanya Do from La Habra. “This shows that politics benefit the one with the best cash offer. I’m really hoping that we have time still to fight it.” 

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Amended Bill Could Lead to Closure of All Charter Schools with Waitlists

Amended Bill Could Lead to Closure of All Charter Schools with Waitlists

Hundreds of parents and students spoke out at the State Capitol in Sacramento Wednesday against contentious bills that would give school districts the right to shut down successful charter schools and prevent new schools from opening.

Assembly Bill 1505 and AB 1507 both passed the Senate Education Committee Wednesday on a 4-3 vote and will now head to the Appropriations Committee before facing a vote on the full Senate floor, likely in late August.

The more sweeping of the two bills, AB 1505, which was amended last Friday, “would establish arbitrary, undefined, and even impossible to meet standards for consideration of petitions for and renewal of charter schools,” said Bill Lucia, President of EdVoice, a statewide education reform group.

In fact, the most recent draft of the bill would allow districts to shut down their most successful charter schools with waiting lists merely because they have more applicants than seats available and therefore do not serve “all pupils who wish to attend.”

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Bill to Eliminate Standards for Teaching Reading Is Shelved for the Year

Bill to Eliminate Standards for Teaching Reading Is Shelved for the Year

A controversial state Senate bill that would have eliminated the requirement for prospective elementary school teachers to show competence in research-based reading instruction is dead for the year.

Speak UP had joined educational justice groups such as EdVoice, reading experts and advocates for kids with dyslexia in opposing SB 614, sponsored by Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), who pulled the bill Monday and placed it on a two-year schedule. This means the bill may resurface in January.

The powerful California Teachers Association had supported the bill, claiming the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment was an undue barrier to entering the teaching profession, even though more than 80% of prospective teachers pass the RICA test.

Eliminating science-based standards for teaching reading does nothing to help kids, especially those that have the most difficulty learning to read.  

“When over half of California’s students cannot read at grade level, it is deeply concerning that the state would eliminate the sole uniform requirement for teachers of children in the early grades to demonstrate their knowledge of teaching reading with science-based instruction,” Speak UP said in a joint letter with EdVoice to lawmakers.  “It is especially alarming for at-risk students and students with dyslexia, who are often the most in need of strong, explicit, systematic reading instruction in order to become fluent readers.” 

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Task Force Unanimously Recommends Preserving Charter School Appeal Rights, a Rebuke to State Lawmakers Who Forced Through Anti-Charter Bill

Task Force Unanimously Recommends Preserving Charter School Appeal Rights, a Rebuke to State Lawmakers Who Forced Through Anti-Charter Bill

The Governor’s Charter School Policy Task Force unanimously recommended Friday that charter schools retain the right to appeal denials of their schools to both the county and the state – a strong rebuke to state Assembly members who pushed through a contentious anti-charter bill last month that could lead to the shutdown of every public charter school in the state.

“I’m very pleased that the task force was able to reach unanimous agreement on the preservation of charter school appeal rights as they exist in current law, which includes preservation of the state board of education as the appellate body of last resort,” said Margaret Fortune, Fortune School President and CEO and California Charter Schools Association Board Chair, who sat on the task force. “The state plays a critical role in preserving the fundamental protection of our due process rights, helping to ensure our families have access to high-quality schools that they deserve.”

Assembly Bill 1505 barely squeaked through in May, drawing widespread protests from parents who don’t trust politicized school boards to fairly decide the fate of their schools without any check, especially given that school districts often view charter schools as competition for student attendance dollars. Charter schools are public schools that are managed by nonprofit organizations and overseen by district, county or state authorizers. They have more freedom over curriculum, hiring and budgets in exchange for academic accountability.

Assembly leaders only managed to secure the votes to pass AB 1505 after arm-twisting several lawmakers who had initially abstained from the vote. In the process, the bill’s author promised to amend it to preserve a fair appeals process for charter schools. The bills are expected to move through Senate committees this month. The Assembly debate and vote wrangling, however, was so rancorous that two subsequent bills that would have placed caps and moratoriums on new charter schools died in the state Assembly and Senate without even coming up for a vote.

The governor’s task force also declined on Friday to support a moratorium on new charter schools or to give school boards the authority to deny them because they fear enrollment loss to charters will mean less funding. Those proposals were part of a package of radical anti-charter bills pushed by the California Teachers Association in the wake of teacher strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland earlier this year.  

Instead, the task force, chaired by CTA-backed State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, unanimously recommended several more moderate changes to charter school policy, while retaining student academic achievement as the primary concern. Those recommendations included giving school boards more discretion to consider the level of charter school “saturation,” as well as academic need when considering new petitions. “Saturation” was not defined.

The task force also recommended taking action to mitigate the financial impact on school districts when students transfer to charter schools. Districts should be given a one-year reprieve from any loss of attendance dollars when a students moves to a charter, which is what currently happens when students leave for other reasons, such as moving to other school districts or private schools. The cost of this policy to the state was estimated to be $96 million a year.  

Additionally, the task force recommended that the California Department of Education should no longer be responsible for oversight of charter schools authorized by the State Board of Education. Only 39 such schools exist in the state, seven in Los Angeles, including New West Charter, a 2019 California Distinguished School, but also one school run by scandal-plagued network Celerity. The task force did not specify who should oversee these schools instead of the CDE.

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Parents Enraged by Passage of State Assembly Bill to Kill All Charter Schools in California

Parents Enraged by Passage of State Assembly Bill to Kill All Charter Schools in California

Parents across California protested Wednesday as the state assembly passed AB 1505, a bill that could eventually lead to the closure of every public charter school in the state.

The bill narrowly passed on a 42-19 vote after multiple assembly members initially abstained from voting. Forty-one votes are required for passage. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

“It’s a terrible day for kids,” said Speak UP parent Roxann Nazario, who spoke at a protest rally in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday. “If this bill also passes the Senate and gets signed by the governor, it is essentially the death of charter schools in California. Parents like me won’t stand for this. We will vote out lawmakers who won’t support our kids’ schools.”

Charter schools in Los Angeles are authorized and regulated by the school board and operated by nonprofit organizations. They are given more freedom over hiring and curriculum in exchange for accountability. Until now, they have had to prove results for kids to stay open.

AB 1505 eliminates state laws that require charter authorizers to make the academic performance of kids the most important factor in decisions about whether to renew or revoke a school’s charter. The bill also eliminates the right of a charter school denied or revoked by a school board to appeal that denial or revocation to the county.  

That means school boards could unilaterally shut down excellent schools that serve kids well, and there’s nothing a charter could do about it.

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New Analysis Confirms Charters Do Not Cause District Financial Problems

New Analysis Confirms Charters Do Not Cause District Financial Problems

Charter schools have become a popular scapegoat for financial problems facing districts across California. In fact, the state assembly is expected to vote this week on two bills that would significantly curb public, nonprofit charters, even though a task force appointed by the governor to study their impact has yet to issue its report.

The blame assigned to charter schools is misplaced, according to a new analysis from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, an independent, nonpartisan center at the University of Washington-Bothell. Speak UP spoke with Ashley Jochim, a senior research analyst at CRPE, and one of the authors of the California Charter Schools: Costs, Benefits and Impact on School Districts report. 

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Parents Protest Bills That Could Shut Down Schools Serving More Than Half a Million Kids

Parents Protest Bills That Could Shut Down Schools Serving More Than Half a Million Kids

Despite protests from hundreds of parents, students and African American faith leaders, the California State Assembly Education Committee voted to advance three bills Wednesday that could potentially lead to the shutdown of every high-performing public charter school in the state.

“If these bills pass, no charter school is safe,” said Roxann Nazario, a Fenton Avenue Charter parent who traveled to Sacramento to speak out against the bills. “It doesn’t matter how well they’re performing academically, how well they’re serving their community, how much they’re closing the achievement gap or for how long. It could literally close any charter school.”

The three bills, AB 1505, 1506 and 1507, are authored by Assemblymembers Patrick O’Donnell (D-Long Beach), Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and Christy Smith (D-Santa Clarita), and sponsored by the California Teachers Association. The Education Committee voted 4-1 (with one abstention) to advance AB 1505 and 1506 to the Appropriations Committee and to send AB1507 directly to the Assembly floor for a vote.

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Strange Bedfellows: Prison Officers’ Union Bankrolls Schools Chief Candidate Tony Thurmond

Strange Bedfellows: Prison Officers’ Union Bankrolls Schools Chief Candidate Tony Thurmond

Why would the state prison officers’ union invest significantly in the state schools chief race?

The group has no history of doing so in the past. Nevertheless, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has endorsed State Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Tony Thurmond and committed $500,000 for TV ads supporting his race against Marshall Tuck. 

Thurmond, currently an assemblyman representing Richmond in Northern California, has been very good to the prison guard union. Earlier this year, he voted to approve the officers’ latest contract, which included a 5 percent wage increase at a two-year cost of nearly $340 million.

That means wages for union members have increased 67 percent since 2001. Meanwhile, Los Angeles teachers are threatening to strike because state funding for schools has LAUSD on the verge of insolvency, with class sizes that nearly everyone believes are too large.

The prison guard cash infusion has critics calling into question the “EDUCATE NOT INCARCERATE” claim on his District 15 website. California spends about five times as much per prisoner as per student, so perhaps the prison guard union wants to make sure the next state superintendent doesn’t challenge that status quo.

Tuck, who formerly ran the Partnership For Los Angeles Schools and is a parent of a child attending his local LAUSD school, has highlighted the discrepancy in funding for prisoners versus pupils in ads that began airing several weeks ago.

“Did you know that every year California spends $71,000 per prisoner but only $16,00 per student?” one ad opens. “It's no wonder our public schools rank 44th in the nation.”

News of the half million for Thurmond came shortly after those ads began airing.  

“It’s ironic,” Tuck told CALmatters, “that Thurmond talks about moving money from prison to schools but has made votes to increase spending for prisons.”

Speak UP has not endorsed a candidate in the race for state superintendent, however, our organization strongly supports more state funding for education. And in the competition for dollars, we adopt the “schools not prisons” mantra.  

“State economies would be much stronger over time if states invested more in education and other areas that can boost long-term economic growth and less in maintaining extremely high prison populations,” wrote Michael Mitchell, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Directing more money to schools might actually diminish the need for so much spending on prisons. Increasing high school graduation rates, reduces crime rates and the costs of incarceration, according to a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

It’s shocking that such a progressive state as California would spend so much more per prisoner than per student. The power of the prison guard union may explain why. LAUSD Board Member Richard Vladovic ranted about the fact that the state won’t respond to a UTLA strike by giving schools more funding because “They gotta pay for prisons first,” he said. “They’re not gonna pay for children.”

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California Graduation Rates Lag Behind Other States

California Graduation Rates Lag Behind Other States

California ranks dead last in the nation on high school graduation rates, according to a recently released ranking from the website, a website that helps people choose where to live based on local housing and job markets, education and other quality-of-life measurements.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey for 2016, California graduation rates languish at 82.4 percent, 10 percentage points lower than top-ranked states Wyoming (93.2 percent), Alaska (93.1 percent) and Minnesota (92.9 percent).  

U.S. News & World Report also recently published a state-by-state high school graduation rate comparison based on information provided by officials in each state about the class of 2016. While U.S. News arrived at an even lower average graduation rate for California (77.4 percent), it had about 10 states trailing the Golden State. In that ranking, New Mexico placed last with a 67.9 percent graduation rate.  

Whether California is truly last or simply in the bottom of the pack, there is clearly room for improvement. And it’s not just the numbers talking. Consider the results from a recent survey by San Francisco-based non-profit YouthTruth. According to its Learning from Student Voice: California survey, only 42 percent of California’s public high school students agree with the statement: “What I learn in class helps outside of school." Just over half, or 52 percent, say, “My school has helped me understand the steps I need to take in order to apply to college.” And a mere 37 percent rate their school culture positively.

Among the survey’s conclusions: “Students need a seat at the table as co-creators of their educational experience. Asking for — and listening to — student feedback provides school, district, and state leaders, as well as education funders, with crucial insights about what’s working and what’s not.”

Locally, the results are mixed for LAUSD’s graduation rates. Preliminary figures shared at the June 19 Board meeting indicate the graduation rate for the class of 2017 four-year cohort—these are the students who completed all four years of high school at district schools—went up three percentage points from the prior year, from 77 percent to 80 percent.

Far more students also completed their A-G college prep class requirements with a D or better, putting them on the path toward graduation. Looking at LAUSD’s senior class only, the percentage of kids graduating with a D or better in A-G classes grew from 54 percent in 2016 to 59 percent in 2017 to 72 percent in 2018. Only a C or above, however, makes those graduates eligible to attend Cal State or UC colleges, and far fewer students hit that mark. For the class of 2018, for example, 85 percent of students completed A-G with a D or better, while only 53 percent attained a C or better.

Student fails are also down, though. In Algebra 1, for example, the A-G course with the highest failure rate, 58 percent of students in the 2015-2016 school year received an F. The following school year, that number decreased to 45 percent. Of course, a fail rate near 50 percent is hardly anything to cheer. Still, improvement is improvement.  

The news, however, was tempered by the fact that the state’s updated metric for calculating graduation rates will very likely mean that when official numbers are released, LAUSD’s graduation rate will, in fact, dip two or three percentage points.

Among the reasons for this, students who received diplomas through adult education schools will no longer be included in high school graduation rates. English learners and students with disabilities who are entitled and encouraged to do a fifth year of high school are no longer counted as graduates, either.

Board Member Richard Vladovic (BD7) worried how parents might receive news of the graduation rate decrease, especially without context. “Many times, people read the news and then they get up in the morning and put on their shoes and say, 'I’m going to take my kid to another school district.’” He and other board members insisted LAUSD get an explanation from the state for the changes, which he suggested were based on politics and not education.

“We are one of the few K-12s that still has adult school,” said Board President Monica Garcia (BD2). “And maybe we need an exemption… Where the district has to be really instructive to the state of California, let’s not work against our kids. It’s bad enough that we are at the bottom of investment. Let us not make it harder…I don’t want to just look good on the graduation. We’re not just trying to put forward numbers…We don’t want to water down anything. We just want more opportunity to create the pathway that perhaps the state is not committed to.”

—Leslee Komaiko

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CA ESSA Plan Finally Nears Approval, But State Still Not Doing Enough For Disadvantaged Students

CA ESSA Plan Finally Nears Approval, But State Still Not Doing Enough For Disadvantaged Students

The California State Board of Education’s long road toward compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) may finally be reaching its conclusion, but critics say the state is still doing far too little to address the needs of our state’s most disadvantaged and low-performing students.

“After two years of stalling and multiple rejected plans, California has finally figured out a way to comply with President Obama’s signature education legislation,” wrote Bill Lucia, President of education advocacy group EdVoice.  “The Sacramento education bureaucracy apparently has little sense of urgency for large achievement gaps and the more than three million students unable to read and write at grade level. With the ink barely dry, it remains to be seen if this is truly the final plan, or if the State Board of Education will now turn around and ask for waivers from ensuring extra federal funding is actually used to help disadvantaged students and their teachers.”

The state’s plan was revised again over the last month after the U.S.  Department of Education raised more questions in June and delayed approval of the plan for the third time in six months. The latest proposal must still be approved for submission when the Board meets next Wednesday and Thursday.  Then it will fall under federal scrutiny once again, but early signs appear to be positive.

Last Friday, the California BOE received a letter from Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jason Botel: “Our review has concluded that the June 25, 2018 draft of the plan appears to meet all applicable statutory and regulatory requirements. If California formally submits the draft as its final consolidated State plan, I intend to recommend that Secretary [Betsy] DeVos approve the plan.”

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How California Can Tackle Persistent Achievement Gaps

How California Can Tackle Persistent Achievement Gaps

California is failing many of its black, Latino and low-income students, according to recently released results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the nation’s report card. NAEP results show that 85 percent of the state’s black 4th graders tested below proficient in math, a number that actually worsens over time. By 8th grade, 90 percent of black students tested below proficient in math.

The figures aren’t much better for Latino or low-income students. Reading results for California’s students of color are also dismal, and the racial achievement gap remains a startling blight on our state. A full 81 percent of Latino 8th graders test below proficient in reading.  And in every category, white students performed at least 25 percent better than their black, Latino and low-income counterparts. Asian students made an even stronger showing across the board.  

LAUSD Board Member Monica Garcia (BD2) is introducing an ambitious resolution Tuesday to close the achievement gap at LAUSD, where nearly two-thirds of 3rd to 8th graders, as well as 11th graders, are failing to meet standards in both English Language Arts and math on Smarter Balanced exams.

The resolution sets high goals for all kids: It calls for 100 percent of 3rd graders to meet or exceed standards on state tests, and 100 percent of high school graduates to be eligible to apply to a California 4-year university, which means receiving a C or above in A-G college-prep courses. The resolution also calls for all kids identified as English Language Learners in kindergarten to reclassify by the end of 6th grade.

As LAUSD attempts to close the gap, Speak UP spoke with Ryan J. Smith, Executive Director of The Education Trust-West, an advocacy organization, about the sobering NAEP results. He said it’s not all bad news, and there is reason for hope. An abridged version of that conversation follows.

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Green Light from the Feds for the State’s ESSA Plan Might Finally Be Near

Green Light from the Feds for the State’s ESSA Plan Might Finally Be Near

The California State Board of Education held a special meeting April 12 to vote on the latest version of their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. (ESSA is the Obama administration’s 2015 replacement for No Child Left Behind.) The vote was unanimous to approve the plan, which was nearly two years in the making. It is widely expected that this latest iteration will be approved by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

According to Los Angeles Times’ Joy Resmovits: “Board members drew out the process because they were intent on keeping a focus on California's priorities rather than letting federal law determine the state's plans. They speak of the ‘California way.’” This includes hewing to the much-maligned color-coded Dashboard system used to identify school’s strengths and weaknesses.

“They focused on aligning their plan to fulfill ESSA requirements with the state Local Control Funding Formula,” continues Resmovits. “But while the funding formula requires the state to find and help low-performing school districts, ESSA requires states to identify and aid individual schools.”

“The state plan spells out how California will improve the state’s lowest-performing, low-income schools (392 are identified by the Dashboard) in return for about $2.4 billion in federal funding to spend on low-income children, teacher training, services for migrant children and English learners,” writes John Fensterwald of EdSource.

However, he adds, “The board still has a lot of work to do before the plan goes into effect this fall.  Still to come are the details of what support for the lowest-performing schools will look like. The board will spend the next six months holding meetings to figure that out.”

Also to be determined, DeVos’ response to a waiver request from the board “to reverse a change they had reluctantly agreed to, involving the metric for measuring the language proficiency of English learners,” writes Fensterwald.

Many of the revisions in the plan won’t affect California classrooms, at least not in any significant way. But one change no doubt being cheered by education advocates is the inclusion of 11th grade Smarter Balanced testing results in the Academic Indicator for ELA and math on the 2018 Dashboard. Bill Lucia, President of EdVoice, Parent Revolution and Speak UP, argued for this in a joint letter to the board sent earlier this month.

“By ensuring this indicator appears distinctly on the Dashboard,” the letter stated, “parents can make better-informed decisions about how high schools are educating all students.”

--Leslee Komaiko

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More Of The Same With State ESSA Plan

 More Of The Same With State ESSA Plan

If it is true that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then it appears the State Board of Education’s planned proposal for following the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has entered the realm of crazy.

Implemented by the Obama administration, ESSA, the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind, was designed to identify and assist the nation’s lowest-performing schools. All states are required to submit a proposal outlining plans to comply with the law, and California submitted its plan last September.

But on Dec. 21, the United States Department of Education rejected California’s proposal after determining that it was incomplete and requested that the State Board of Education submit a revised plan by Jan. 9. Specifically, the DOE took issue with the plan’s failure to address long-term goals for high school students and deemed the state’s method of identifying underperforming schools to be inadequate.

The state wants to use its ever-evolving and oft-maligned California School Dashboard to meet the school identification component of ESSA. The Dashboard is a rating tool intended to provide a well-rounded way to assess school health by placing districts into color-coded performance categories for measures ranging from test scores and school attendance to graduation rates and college and career readiness.

The problem, however, as described by KPCC’s Kyle Stokes, is that “the state's accountability system is not a hand-in-glove fit with ESSA: the state's system identifies the districts in the need of most help, but the federal government requires identifying the schools” in most severe need.
"We're worried that if you only look at districts, you're going to overlook some pretty poor schools," Brian Rivas of the organization Education Trust-West said in public comments reported by KPCC. "We don’t want districts to be able to hide a bad school in the system."

Last Thursday, the State Board voted to send its revised version of the original proposal back to Washington, but to the chagrin of many, it appears largely unchanged from its original version.  There were attempts to make a few small clarifying details requested by the DOE, but according to a report in the Los Angeles Times’ by Joy Resmovits, the revised proposal, “clings to a vision some Board members call the ‘California Way,’ a road map rooted in the unique needs of the state's diverse student body. It doesn't so much address broader federal concerns, but rather aims to justify the state's decisions.”

Carrie Hahnel, Deputy Director of Research and Policy at Education Trust-West told the Los Angeles Times: “We have seen no substantive changes to the ESSA plan. It's clear that California wants to press ahead and is not going to make adjustments because the federal government asked for them.” 

Advocacy group EdVoice was equally scathing in its reaction to the Board’s revised proposal. 

“[Thursday’s] foot dragging on accountability leaves parents and local communities wondering if there will ever be help for teachers and schools so that English learners, students of color and low-income students can graduate, go on to college and get a good paying job,” said Bill Lucia, President of EdVoice. “The federal law requires states to use this extra money to ensure schools provide extra help to disadvantaged students, but the state has shown it isn’t committed to ensuring every student reaches their full potential.”

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Governor's Budget Increases Ed Funding But Not Enough, Critics Say

Governor's Budget Increases Ed Funding But Not Enough, Critics Say

California Governor Jerry Brown unveiled his final state budget proposal Wednesday, a plan highlighted by substantial increases in funding for education. But while the additional funding itself was celebrated, there remains growing concern that the proposal and larger expenditures still fall well short of empowering California schools and districts to serve the needs of all its students.

According to the Governor’s 2018-19 Budget Summary, “the Budget proposes an increased investment of $4.6 billion in K-14 education.”  The most significant portion of the spending increase is an additional $3 billion earmarked for the final funding of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which provides additional funding for low-income students, English language learners and foster youth and provides more local control.  Original estimates for LCFF had final funding not being realized until 2020-21, but the new budget advances that timeline by two years...

While these proposals and the Budget’s increase in dollars dedicated to education have been applauded as a sign of the state’s commitment to it students, reaction from many district board members and educational groups has been tempered enthusiasm. Critiques have largely centered on a lack of transparency and accountability in regards to LCFF funding and the overall feeling that the increase in expenditures is merely a small first step in the much longer journey California still must take in order to rise to the level of per-pupil support of other states in the nation. 

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CA Board Of Ed Changes School Ratings Dashboard To Make Failing Schools Look Better

CA Board Of Ed Changes School Ratings Dashboard To Make Failing Schools Look Better

Numbers are often celebrated for their ability, in their simplest form, to tell objective truths. However, their close cousin, statistics, are more easily manipulated and -- through subjective selection or omission -- can be powerful tools used to bolster any side of a given argument.  Now it looks like the California State Board of Education will be engaging in such statistical shenanigans. 

When faced with dismal school performance ratings, California’s answer was not to fix the problems but to change the ratings system, instead, to make the schools look better.

 On Wednesday, State BOE unanimously voted to revise the criteria for rating performance on standardized test scores to magically reduce the number of schools and districts that will be considered part of the lowest-performing group required to receive intervention from their counties. This will make an already complicated rating system even less useful to parents trying to determine how well their schools are doing.

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The Fate of Ed Bills As State Legislative Session Closes

Here's a scorecard from EdSource on the bills that passed, failed and stalled during the recently ended legislative session.

Among the legislation that stalled was a bill to create a state-sponsored STEM school, which Speak UP supported. Also held by the author was a bill that Speak UP supported to extend the teacher probationary period to three years before receiving tenure. 

Speak UP applauds the failure a bill, SB808, that could have led to the closure charter schools by local districts without any chance of appeal. A bill to mandate later schools start times also failed. And in the pass column was a bill to end "lunch shaming" by giving inferior food to families who have not fully paid their school lunch bills. 

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State Board of Ed Approves ESSA Plan


Sept. 14

The State Board of Education approved a plan to submit to the federal government under the Every Student Succeeds Act that fails to do enough to address the achievement gap or to define an ineffective teacher based on student outcomes. To read more from LA School Report, click here.

Sept. 13

The State Board of Education will address three topics at this week’s State Board Of Education meeting, according to the Los Angeles Times.

1.  State standardized test scores. Last year’s scores have not yet been released because of a data glitch.

2.  The state’s plan to satisfy requirements of the Every Students Succeeds Act. Many groups, including Speak UP, believe the state plan is inadequate because it fails to identify and outline ways to improve the bottom 5 percent of schools. While the plan was recently amended to make sure the definition of an ineffective teacher did not include every teacher in an intern position, the definition of an "ineffective teacher" still does not include how a teacher affects student outcomes.

3.  The Local Control Funding Formula and how the state will identify and assist low-performing school districts.

To read the entire Los Angeles Times article, click here.

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Parents Support New State STEM School

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The LAUSD Board votes Tuesday on a resolution to oppose the creation of an innovative new state-authorized STEM middle and high school intended to increase the pipeline of qualified under-represented students of color and women attending elite STEM universities and entering science, technology, engineering and math professions.

The resolution against this proposed school, which would be located in Los Angeles and operated in partnership with UCLA, demonstrates a reflexive opposition to innovation and ignores the desperate need for underserved kids to have more high-quality school options in math and science.

District 1 Board Member George McKenna and District 3 Board Member Scott Schmerelson are sponsoring the resolution opposing AB 1217, the state bill that would create the new school. The resolution claims that with 97 existing STEM magnet programs, Los Angeles is “already addressing the need for STEM education.”

There’s just one glaring problem: McKenna and Schmerelson fail to address the quality of those programs. Speak UP asked McKenna’s office to share the percentage of students that are meeting state proficiency standards in math at LAUSD’s STEM schools that admit all students – not just those serving kids chosen to attend because of high test scores.

“That would not be relevant,” said Sharon Robinson, McKenna’s chief of staff.    

We beg to differ. A quick look at the data suggests that Los Angeles has a serious need for higher-quality options. Right now, 75 percent of LAUSD 11th grade students are failing to meet or exceed state standards in math.

LA’s existing STEM schools are also underperforming in science. The average number of proficient students in schools that have “science” in their name was 51 percent, which is below the LAUSD average of 53 percent and the county average of 60 percent, according to analysis published last November by LAUSD math teacher Benjamin Feinberg on his School Data Nerd blog.

California is the fifth worst state in the nation in terms of 8th grade science performance, according to a report card from the National Assessment of Educational progress. 

And while Latino and black students represent 56 percent of total secondary enrollment in California, they only represent 28 percent of those enrolled in a calculus course, which is considered the gateway to university-level STEM degrees.

Part of the problem is the shortage of teachers qualified to teach high-level math and science.

This new STEM school proposes to address that problem by tapping university professors and science and tech professionals to teach alongside credentialed teachers – something magnet and charter schools are not able to do in the large numbers this school envisions. Universities such as Caltech and MIT have signed letters supporting the creation of this school.

Parents also see this as an incredible opportunity for kids. Speak UP member Rashidah Shakir-Blackshere, who lives in Board District 1, has a third-grade African-American son interested in studying aerospace.

“STEM education is not just about technical aptitude. It's about building confidence in problem solving and critical thinking, “ she said. “What better way to foster that confidence, especially in underserved, largely minority communities, than by hands-on collaboration with scientists and engineers?”

Shakir-Blackshere teaches at LA Trade Technical College and sees first-hand how much her community needs better high school math instruction. Eighty percent of the new students test in at a remedial 6th-8th-grade level in math and have a hard time catching up. “If they’re coming in at an 8th grade level, something is missing in their formative years,” she said. “They’re stunted.”

As for a new public STEM school run in partnership with UCLA: “I only see good things coming out of it,” she said.

The entire tone of the opposition to the school suggests a hidebound mentality that puts bureaucratic rules before the needs of kids.

“It’s not a matter of not wanting to try something new,” Robinson said. “It’s a matter of the process and procedure of doing it. And there are guidelines in the state of California.”

The McKenna-Schmerelson resolution makes the tired argument that a state-run school will siphon dollars away from the district and existing LAUSD STEM schools. “If we have 100 kids in the building or 300 kids, we still have to turn on the lights,” Robinson said.

It’s high time that LAUSD reexamined that assumption and its stubborn adherence to a failed status quo. If a program is losing enrollment because it’s not successfully educating students, perhaps its time to consider turning off the lights and creating something new and better instead. 

Improve failing programs, expand the seats available at more successful programs or cut bureaucratic staff when enrollment declines. But please don’t limit quality choices for parents and kids. That’s not a kids-first solution to LAUSD’s fiscal problems.

In fact, opponents of this bill may be squandering an opportunity to help all of LA’s kids. The visionaries behind this new STEM school hope to have university professors and industry experts conducting teacher trainings to increase the pipeline of qualified STEM teachers in LA, benefitting all kids.

Fourteen other states, including Illinois, North Carolina and Texas, have established similar state-run STEM high schools that have trained thousands of teachers and produced graduates who attend the nation’s best STEM universities and who go on to be leaders in STEM fields.

Los Angeles currently has no public schools serving under-represented populations that are considered regular feeder schools to top STEM universities. This is a chance to change that.

Because the school would require a new state-authorizing model, lawmakers may have legitimate questions about transparency, accountability and local control. But that’s no reason to reject this plan out of hand, especially given the auspices behind it and the fact that other states have similar models that are successful. 

As for fears about oversight quality because of the distance between LA and Sacramento, let’s not forget that we already have schools authorized and overseen by the state, such as New West Charter, which is successful and in demand.

The bottom line: California has the country’s largest tech workforce, and its largest city should be producing graduates who are qualified to enter the field. And as Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach struggle to create a more diverse workforce, this new school, if allowed to succeed, could be part of the solution.

We urge board members not to stand in the way of progress.