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

Rashidah and Dylan cropped.jpg

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.