Education miracles that aren’t

In seeking reform models, L.A. Unified should be cautious about untested solutions.

February 6, 2013

Beware of education miracles. Too often, there’s less there than meets the eye. Remember the extraordinary gains in test scores and lowered dropout rates in Houston schools more than a decade ago? They became the model for the federal No Child Left Behind Act and catapulted the schools’ superintendent, Rod Paige, to his position as U.S. secretary of Education at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration. Only years later was it discovered that schools were recording students as having “transferred” when they had in fact dropped out, and that students who were expected to do badly on standardized tests were often kept from taking them.

Then there was Atlanta’s schools superintendent, who won a national award for the gains made by her students. That was before investigators determined in 2011 that there had been rampant cheating by teachers and principals throughout the school district.

Another much-touted miracle: charter schools, which were supposed to lead the way to success for all students. Now, however, it seems that they have a decidedly mixed record.

A less-publicized addition to this list was the San Jose school district, widely admired for its high school graduation standard that requires all students to pass the full series of 15 courses, known as the A-G sequence, that qualifies them for admission to California’s four-year public universities. Supporters cited San Jose’s reported success when they persuaded the Los Angeles Unified School District to adopt a similar requirement in 2005, phased in so that this year’s freshmen will be the first who must pass the courses.

As it turns out, according to a report last week in The Times, San Jose fudged its success rates by counting students who had nearly completed the requirements. In addition, many students either passed the courses with a D grade, which is not accepted by the state universities, or took an escape route into the district’s alternative schools, which have lesser requirements. All in all, the proportion of students who qualify for the universities has barely budged over the decade the policy has been in place. The one bit of good news: Dropout rates did not increase, but probably in large part because students didn’t have to meet the true University of California and California State University requirements.

The notion that all Los Angeles high school students, no matter what their life plans, should be required to pass those college-prep courses was always problematic, even before the latest information about San Jose came to light. It was a well-intentioned but hard-and-fast overreaction to a shameful situation. In L.A. Unified, black and Latino students were routinely shuffled into lower-track courses regardless of their academic potential. At many inner-city schools, bright students with bigger ambitions couldn’t take all the necessary A-G courses even if they begged to. Their neighborhood high schools didn’t offer all the classes or, if they did, math and science were frequently taught by underqualified substitute teachers because most of the fully credentialed teachers used their seniority to take openings at middle-class schools.

Something had to be done, but requiring all students to take the full menu of college-prep courses was the wrong solution. Many high school teachers in L.A. Unified already complain that they feel pressured to pass students with Ds that haven’t been earned. Starting next year, freshmen will have to start passing those college-prep courses with Cs to graduate.

L.A. Unified leaders say students will be offered extra support to help them reach the higher standard. But San Jose school officials said the same thing when they adopted their policy. The risk is that even with more help, students will drop out or teachers will feel obligated to give students C grades that they don’t deserve, lest they be unable to graduate. If that happens, students will qualify for admission to universities where they can’t do the required work, at a time when the colleges themselves are under pressure to graduate higher proportions of students.

In 2012, 12% of L.A. Unified’s seniors were unable to pass the high school exit exam, a test of basic 9th- and 10th-grade skills required for a diploma in California. Though the district’s pass rate has been improving for years, this is a dramatically lower bar than the A-G requirement. The district’s students show little sign of being ready for this big new step.

With new information in hand about the real numbers in San Jose, the L.A. Unified school board should reconsider its policy. That doesn’t mean allowing the district’s past to become the future. It could, for example, make college-prep courses the default curriculum for all students but give teenagers and their parents the option of requesting a waiver. It could also adopt the parental “try just one bite” ploy by requiring students to take a year of college-prep classes before being allowed to switch to a more vocationally oriented program.

But the bigger message of the San Jose experience is that a single example of a school reform miracle, whether it’s a new test or a new teacher evaluation system, is not the same as evidence-based, replicated, time-tested educational change. It might offer an intriguing glimpse of future possibilities, but it should not be widely adopted without proof that it is necessary or helpful. This is something for the Obama administration, with its insistence on teacher evaluations that include “value added” scores on standardized tests, to remember. The impatience with the status quo is commendable, but the search for silver bullet solutions is leading schools in some dubious and possibly harmful directions.

Governor’s Special Session Aims to Take on Federal-State Healthcare Issues

Legislators have been convening in both the regular session and in a special session. Gov. Jerry Brown called the special session to pave the way for enrollment in Covered California, the first-in-the-nation health benefits exchange created to implement the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Covered California is authorized to organize the private insurance market so that millions of Californians can secure health care protections within their budget. The plan will provide less expensive costs, more competition among insurers, and more information for consumers about price, quality and service.

Covered California will provide great benefits to those not currently covered, including Student CTA members, laid-off educators, and part-time employees.

How Teachers Can Stop the Organized Attack on Teaching

Teachers often feel powerless in the face of the assaults against their profession. Often they are directed to do things that they know are educational malpractice, and they have no choice but to comply.

The best way to resist is through collective action, like the testing boycott of the Seattle teachers. One person standing alone is admirable but will be fired. What is necessary is for entire faculties to speak as one. Think of the Chicago Teachers Union. Their detractors changed the state law to prevent them from striking, raising the requirement for a strike vote to 75%. Their enemies, organized by Jonah Edelman of the notorious Stand for Children, and paid for by the equity investors of Chicago, thought that 75% would make a strike impossible.

But CTU patiently educated, mobilized, and organized. When the vote came, more than 90% of the members authorized the strike. And the strike was supported by parents, who understood that the teachers were fighting for their children.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us all that mass protests could defeat big money and political power. He taught us not to be afraid. He taught us the power of collective action by the powerless. Together, in concert, when justice is on your side, mass action cannot be defeated.

A new book gathers stories about stories of courage in response to the attacks on teachers and on public education. This article profiles one teacher who organized his colleagues to resist a merit pay plan in New York City. Why resist a plan that would produce more money for teachers? Because it would harm students.

If all of us showed courage whenever possible, if all of us worked together to alert the public to educational malpractice, we could stop it.

Oh, and the merit pay plan that the city designed and implemented, the one described in the link? It failed and was canceled after a three-year trial and more than $50 million wasted. – Diane Ravitch

Rep Council Meeting Minutes 2/5/13

Rep Council Meeting Minutes

Blondies Bar and Grill

2/5/13 – 3:30-5:15


Members present – Katherine Epstein, Bob Blaine, Joy Holleran, Tom Buck, Miranda Merino, Cathy Valdez, Sylvia!, Tricia Cowen, Sylvia Shephard, Aja Cook, Kathleen Steiert, Carolyn Thomas, Alyson Brauning, Debbie Cavanaugh, Ginny Miller, JULIE TIMMERMAN,  Chris Fickes, Larry Baker, Mark Richardson, Linda Phelan, Samantha Mauder, Lili Fisher, Sofia Felix, Julie McGee, Russ Tucker, Gary Eisenberg, Marsha Rucker, Stephanie Munzinger, Linda Covey, Sharon Riehl, Christine Williams, Brenda Hensley, Moira McSweeney, Corey Penrose, Suzi Morgan, Helen Blood


Members absent – Todd Blanset, Diane Dahl, Lenore Hubal, Dawn Waid, Tracy Begley, Tom Kutz, Jenny Brown


1) – Approval of the minutes – the minutes were approved.


2) – Approval of the agenda – the agenda was approved after state council was moved up in the agenda.


3) – State council – Jerry Eaton, Julie Timmerman and Corey Penrose reported on the last state council meeting.  For the specifics, and the action items, please click here.


4) – Health care reform act – Brenda reported how the AHCA will likely affect health care costs for our district as the act is implemented in upcoming years.  The report finished with a discussion of the ramifications of the AHCA.  For more information, please click here.


5) – Presidents report – Moira reported on the following:


Leave update – Moira reviewed some of the district’s upcoming leave verification procedures including the bereavement leave requirements.


Budget – some of the specifics of the governor’s proposal were discussed.  The specifics for this handout can be found here.


NEA-RA delegates – The election for delegates will be held in March and the deadline for declaration of candidacy is March 8th.  Election packets will be given out at the March 12th rep council meeting.  There will also be an increased focus on improving our voting percentages and representation, especially with unit members who travel to multiple sites or work at the ESC.


Early college high school – will be starting with the 13-14 school year.  After reviewing the specifics of the program, Moira reported that we’ll meet with Mark Fraizer to discuss plans for staffing and address concerns about the effect this may have on members’ jobs in the future.  If you have some additional questions or concerns, please contact Moira.


Redwood Conference – it’s free and more information is available here.


Site Visits – have been going really well.  Feb 13th is the next opening for a visit, and there are more opportunities available in March either at lunchtime or after school..


Special Ed –reported steps to follow if you are injured or threatened by a student.


-Report the incident to the North Bay Company nurse.

-Complete a BER form for more serious occurrences.

-Email a brief account of the incident to your principal. Cc Jodi Pham, Shereen Wilkerson and Tammy  Parker. Keep documentation.

-Request an IEP.

-Request replacement of any personal item(s) damaged through Kari Sousa in Business Services and complete a request for reimbursement form if approved.


6) – Treasurers report – After reviewing the specifics, the report was approved.


          – Committee reports –


Action – Corey reported on the following:


A VTA resolution supporting our Garfield High School’s teachers – was approved unanimously.  This resolution will be distributed via a press release and can be read here.


The new – was unveiled and some questions were answered


Chamber Mixer – will happen this Thursday.


NCUEA – despite an error in the cost from the Chair, our introductory membership was approved.


Bargaining Brenda reported that bargaining is continuing to meet determine what articles they’ll recommend to E-board for sunshining.  Once E-board has approved/revised the recommendations, we’ll give official notification at the next school board meeting and rep council meeting.


The final version of the 12-13 contract is now available here.


Grievance –Sylvia reported on the following:


Class transfers– the official board language (which can be found here) was reviewed and a proposed revision (which can be found here) was amended.


MOTION – direct Sylvia to pursue a revision of AR 6152, as amended – seconded and approved.


Non-reelects – three unit members will not be re-elected.


Human rights –Alyson reported on the following:


Professional Development – will be offered on Bullying Interventions on February 7th.  A workshop focusing on GLBT issues will be offered March 21st as well and site reps are urged to be sure to promote these workshops with membership.


Equity and Human rights conference – is coming, please click here for more information.


Women’s Issues – none


VTA-PAC – our next mixer is happening right after the rep council meeting.


Special ed – none


Leave bank – none


– Conference reports – Brenda summarized the content of the Issues conference.


          – Others


Issues with unit members leaving early on when going on recess – was discussed. Moira will address this with John Niederkorn tomorrow and report back on the conversation at the next rep council meeting.


J&S performing arts center – needs to be promoted.


Raffle – Mark Richardson won a ten dollar subway card, and Cathy Valdez won a ten dollar starbucks card.


– Adjournment – the meeting was adjourned at 5:20 pm


Respectfully submitted, Corey Penrose




Governor’s Proposed State Budget 2013-14



Governor Brown today released his proposed 2013-14 state budget. The proposal includes additional resources for public schools and colleges as approved by voters last year in the passage of Prop 30. According to the budget proposal, funding for K-12 schools and community colleges increases by $2.7 billion next year, while UC and CSU each see an increase of $250 million in funding. The governor is also proposing to change the state’s funding formula for K-12 schools. The Local Control Funding Formula moves toward a system that provides a base grant to all districts tied to average daily attendance and then adjusts allocations to account for differential expenses between grades. The proposed formula also provides additional money for English learners, low-income students and foster kids. This plan is just a proposal, and the new funding system contains many unknowns-at this time. CTA legislative and bargaining specialists are reviewing and analyzing the budget details.

Talking Points:

As a new report by Education Week shows that California now ranks 49th in per-student funding, it’s good to see a state budget proposal that begins to turn the tide. California educators are pleased that Governor Brown’s proposed state budget reflects the will of voters and includes additional funding for students, public schools and colleges as approved in Proposition 30 last year.

• After years of drastic cuts, it is necessary for the future of our children and the future of California that money owed to students and public education begin to be repaid. Funding for California schools and colleges has been cut by more than $20 billion over the last four years. It’s time our students had a chance to focus on learning instead of facing threats of larger class sizes, fewer classes to choose from, higher tuition and fewer teachers in the classroom.

• CTA is interested to hear more about the proposed new funding formula for K-12 schools and will review all details as they become available. We appreciate the focus on local schools and allocating additional resources to students who need extra help. CTA recognizes there are many unknowns in this proposal.

– CTA is concerned about the overall structure of the new K-12 funding system, the quality of the data and timing of implementation. We are concerned about moving forward with a new funding system before schools have received the money they are owed from years of cuts.

-CTA wants to ensure the state has adequate resources to reduce class sizes and implement the Common Core State Standards. We commend the governor for including the state’s Class Size Reduction program for K-3 in the new funding formula, but the 24:1 ratio is higher than in current law.

-CTA also wants to ensure that the new funding system includes accountability for how dollars are spent. If the state removes the policy requirements that have been the historical basis for program-based funding in the current system, the state must look toward developing strong penalties for those districts that fail to provide basic services to all students.

-The plan must include some type of audit requirement to ensure that the data used in the new formula is accurate and calculated equally in all schools. Currently, districts may use their own method for identifying English learners and reporting students eligible for free and reduced lunch. To ensure equality, the state must arrive at definitions of poverty indexes and student classifications.

• Because all research shows that students learn best with a teacher working directly with them in a classroom setting, CTA also wants to learn more about the governor’s proposal to expand online learning programs to K-12 schools and colleges.

Overall, thanks to the voters of California and Governor Brown, this proposed budget is a good first step toward restoring much-needed funding to our public schools and colleges. We look forward to working with the governor and all lawmakers on behalf of California’s students and educators throughout the year.


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