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You are here: Home Newsroom Our Ideas Themes in the News Archive February 2010

February 2010

Feb. 4: The California Recession: What Do School Principals See?// Feb. 12: Studies Point to Segregative Effects of Charter Schools// Feb. 19: California Leads the Downward Spiral

The California Recession: What Do School Principals See?

  • 09-23-2009
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Themes in the News for the week of February 1-5, 2010

A new report by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (UCLA IDEA) adds a new perspective to California’s public education troubles. For IDEA’s annual California Educational Opportunity Report (“Educational Opportunities in Hard Times”) researchers interviewed 87 school principals of diverse schools across the state. The San Francisco Chronicle[i] said of the study “. . .[it]offers a timely look through the eyes of principals at what the economic upheaval has meant for schools.”

 No one could be surprised by the study’s findings. Each day the media bring new stories of deferred textbook purchases, teacher layoffs, class size increases, erosion of public services, loss of family income, and so forth. However, the principals in the IDEA survey provide a unique and authoritative perspective from inside their schools of the constraints on children’s opportunities to learn and teachers’ capacity to teach.

 Most principals interviewed said they had increased class sizes and severely cut or eliminated summer school programs. Schools in low-income communities were hit hardest by budget cuts. “More than 66 percent of principals in high-poverty schools, for example, reported teacher layoffs compared with 15 percent in schools where students primarily come from middle- or upper-income families” (San Francisco Chronicle). “It's the bleakest I've ever seen," said one Los Angeles County school principal, who, like others in the principals survey, participated anonymously” (Los Angeles Times).

 The principals spoke of the extraordinary, even desperate, measures necessary to meet students’ needs. “The recession has unleashed an epidemic of student hunger, led some teachers to take in homeless students and decreased access to learning materials…” (Contra Costa Times). The study found that “67 percent [of principals interviewed] reported growing housing insecurity, which includes homelessness, families moving in together and families moving away for economic reasons” (San Jose Mercury News).

 IDEA director John Rogers said that the recession and state budget crisis has undermined recent academic gains and widened the disparity between schools in rich and poor communities. “"It's taken California several steps backward on the road to improvement," Rogers said. "It's also harmed the long-term prospects for California to rebuild a quality education system” (San Jose Mercury News). Educators are struggling to keep their core academic programs intact. Atwater Elementary School superintendent Melinda Hennes said, "We are down to baseline curriculum and classroom supplies. It used to be we were worried about our arts program being cut, but now cuts are beginning to grow" (Merced Sun-Star).

 Californians seem to recognize the need to increase their support for schools—even at some sacrifice by taxpayers. A report this week published by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that “two-thirds of Californians would pay higher taxes to avoid cuts in K–12 funding” (PPIC). “Nearly six in 10 Californians want to protect public schools and view that funding as more important than spending on health and human services, higher education and prisons. Two in three adults say they would be willing to pay higher taxes to maintain current levels of school funding” (Los Angeles Times).

 Such immediate infusion of funding is a crucial stopgap. And yet, the IDEA report points to California’s need for fundamental school-finance reforms that look beyond the current fiscal crisis. Without schools’ adequate and predictable funding, children’s education—and their corresponding lifelong opportunities—will be subject to the peaks and valleys of economic trends and political expediencies.

 A broader set of analyses of educational conditions and outcomes, including reports on each California legislative district and reports on each public high school and middle school in the state, can be found online at

Studies Point to Segregative Effects of Charter Schools

  • 09-23-2009
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Themes in the News for the week of February 8-12, 2010


Students’ race, family income, special needs, and home language are factors that underlie many of the debates for and against charter schools. However, these factors are often addressed in the general language of commitments to equity, hopes to provide opportunity for all students, efforts to close “achievement gaps,” and so forth. Now that three new studies shine a light on the segregative effects of charters, school reformers will have to ask whether this trend is acceptable, reversible, educationally sound, or compatible with an equitable and just schooling system.

The UCLA Civil Rights Project looked at charter schools in 40 states (including California) and the District of Columbia and found that these schools are more segregated than other public schools. Seven out of 10 African American charter school students attend schools that the study defines as “intensely segregated,” –or schools where 90 percent of the students are “racial and ethnic minorities” (UCLA Civil Rights Project, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post).

Charter school students of all races, including white students, are more likely to be in a racially isolated school than their local peers in non-charters according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project. This finding is significant given charter schools’ growing enrollment in recent years. “In 2008, more than 238,000 California students, or about 4 percent of public school enrollment, attended charter schools, up from 112,000 in 2001”(The San Francisco Chronicle). Charters may expand even further as the Obama administration encourages charter creation in its Race to the Top program. “We don't want the Race to the Top to become a race to the past,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, alluding to the era of enforced segregation (Los Angeles Times).

A second new study from the Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) of the University of Colorado and the Educational Policy Research Unit (EPRU) of Arizona State University found that charter schools serve fewer special education students and English language learner (ELL) students than other public schools. “As compared with the public school district in which these charter schools reside, they are substantially more segregated, and the strong segregative pattern found in 2001 is virtually unchanged through 2007” (EPIC/EPRU). Similarly in yet another study, Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy, Inc. (META) found that English language learners are underrepresented in Massachusetts charter schools (META).

All three studies point to the same phenomenon: Charter school enrollments often do not match their surrounding communities. The three new studies should prompt a much closer look (research, analysis, and public discussion) at who attends charter schools, who attends non-chartered schools, and who benefits from these arrangements. Policy makers are grappling with a long and contentious list of charter school “issues” including public/private control and funding, testing and student achievement, support for “innovation”, alternatives to poorly performing existing schools, opportunities for alternative teacher certification and faculty hiring standards, and much more. They should also be watching for trends toward greater school segregation, imbalances in the distribution of learning opportunities, and whether the benefits of charters are both real and worth the risks.

National education funding crisis worses

  • 09-23-2009
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Themes in the News for the week of February 15-19, 2010

California Leads the Downward Spiral


California schools are in worse shape than most states, and funding to California districts is so unequal that a lawsuit is looming. Dire predictions first made years or decades ago have arrived, and yesterday’s worst case scenarios can be seen in today’s classrooms. A school reform agenda addressing the problems and/or solutions of accountability, standards, teacher unions, parent involvement, wasteful spending, charter schools, and so forth, will not succeed if schools can’t afford a full curriculum, can’t meet their payrolls, or can’t distribute learning opportunities fairly to all students.

States across the nation face combined shortfalls of $55.5 billion in fiscal 2011 and $68.8 billion in fiscal 2012 (The Wall Street Journal). Already, 25 to 30 states have cut education funding (The Wall Street Journal), leading to “more teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, smaller paychecks, fewer electives and extracurricular activities, and decimated summer school programs” (The Washington Post). Many states, including California, are expecting further cuts.

The federal stimulus funding distributed last year staved off some damage to schools, but critics say that the aid has worsened funding inequalities. “‘A lot of states used [stimulus funds] to make the distribution of money to their high-poverty districts worse,’ said David Sciarra,” the director of Education Law Center (Education Week). This happened because states parceled out the funds through existing, inequitable channels (Education Week), a situation that has undermined budget reform efforts (The Educated Guess). What’s more, the benefits that the stimulus package may have provided will soon evaporate as states use up the funds (The Washington Post).

California faces a $20 billion overall shortfall (The Wall Street Journal). Already down by 4 percent, per-pupil spending in the state would be cut by an additional 8 percent under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget for 2010-2011 (The Washington Post). Programs have been cut and class sizes increased (Press Democrat). The decreased expenditures have curtailed districts’ abilities to narrow racial and economic achievement gaps. “These cuts hurt some of our poorest and neediest kids,’” said San Francisco Unified Superintendent Carlos Garcia (The Washington Post).

Exacerbating inequalities are the district-level differences in capacity to raise local taxes. “Wealthier communities are filling school budget gaps with local tax increases and aggressive fundraising, but could worsen inequality and undermine the larger system for paying for public schools,” said IDEA director John Rogers (The Washington Post). The Los Angeles Unified School District is proposing a $100-per-land parcel tax that will be brought to voters in June. However, it is uncertain whether the measure will pass, given the history of parcel taxes succeeding in wealthier districts and failing in those with more poverty (Los Angeles Times).

The inequality in education funding is the central issue in a lawsuit likely to be filed this spring. (California Progress Report). The California School Boards Association (CSBA), along with other education groups, contends that the conditions set in the Williams v. California suit, settled six years ago, are not being met. The Williams case demanded that the state’s poor students and students of color have equal access to adequate school facilities and teachers. A CSBA memo says the state “‘has violated its constitutional duty to operate a functioning ‘system of common schools’” (California Progress Report).

Weekly Themes In The News

Each Friday “Themes in the News” explores one of the current week’s “breaking news” topics—selected by IDEA staff and its partners—for summary and reflection.   Hyperlinks of the news stories, which are cited, allow readers to explore the theme on their own.