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

March 2010

March 5: I’m Worried about . . . the Whole System// March 12: L.A. Welcomes Civil Rights Probe of Schools// March 19: Linking Teacher Evaluations to Student Test Scores// March 26: Two Proposals That Won’t Fix the School Budget Crisis

I’m Worried about . . . the Whole System

  • 03-05-2010
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Themes in the News for the week of March 1-5, 2010


Calling for a fair and fully-funded public system of higher education, thousands of protestors across California’s colleges and universities vented their outrage at the cuts and fee hikes that are undermining education—kindergarten through college. Nationwide, at least 30 states witnessed similar protests (Washington Post).

Across California, many called for mobilization and civic engagement to continue after the March 4 “Day of Action.” "Protest is one of the best chances we have of restoring funding and (to) rescue the education system from crumbling," according to state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, who sits on the Senate Education Committee (San Jose Mercury News).

Echoing the sentiments of many of the protesters, UC Santa Cruz student Rafael Velazquez said, “'my whole family went to California public schools. I plan to be a teacher, but it’s not my job prospects I’m worried about. It’s the whole system'” (New York Times).

New blows to higher education come in the wake of Sacramento pulling about $1 billion from California universities (CNN), and cuts could continue as California faces a $20 billion budget shortfall (San Francisco Chronicle). Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger commented this week “that he is making it a priority to find permanent funding sources for higher education in California” (San Francisco Chronicle).

The Legislative Analyst’s Office reports that Schwarzenegger’s plan would partly restore funding for colleges and universities, but further cut funding to K-12 education (Capitol Weekly), which is already reeling from deep cuts and massive teacher layoffs.

College and university classes are packed; faculty and staff contend with cut salaries and furlough days. California State University turned away all new students this semester, and more than 20,000 students will be denied admittance to community colleges next fall (San Francisco Chronicle). Also, higher education fees have spiked dramatically. At University of California campuses, the UC Regents approved a 32% fee increase in November (Sacramento Bee).

The protests yesterday also included K-12 education advocates. In downtown Los Angeles, students, staff and faculty from not only universities, but also high schools, converged on Pershing Square and then marched to a rally near the Ronald Reagan State Office Building. Some students at Oceana High School in Pacifica formed an "SOS" on a beach, while in San Francisco more than 50 Commodore Sloat Elementary fifth-graders boarded a Muni bus to the State Building (San Francisco Chronicle).

At the end of their long day of protest, marchers in San Francisco yelled out, "March 5! Don't stop the fight!" (Politics Daily). Speaking at a rally at the state capital, Senator Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, highlighted the importance of ongoing dialogue between young people and their representatives. "This should be the beginning of their advocacy throughout the budget process. More legislators and the governor need to heed their call"(San Jose Mercury News).

L.A. Welcomes Civil Rights Probe of Schools

  • 03-12-2010
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Themes in the News for the week of March 8-12, 2010

Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is the focus of a federal investigation to determine whether English language learners receive the educational resources they need to succeed. LAUSD is the first district targeted in a new push by the U.S. Department of Education to enforce civil rights laws.

“‘I believe this review could have a tremendous impact not only in Los Angeles, but across the nation,’” said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights with the department (Los Angeles Daily News).

One third, or 220,000, of LAUSD students are English learners (Los Angeles Times). Three percent are proficient in English and math (KPCC). Many students who enter school designated as English learners do not develop English fluency in Elementary school and are placed in separate classes for English learners when they reach middle school and high school. (California Watch). These separate classes stress language learning—often at the expense of students’ keeping up with their English speaking peers who are learning the standards-based content required of all students. This denial of “access to core courses …often leaves kids unmotivated about school and causes them to drop out,” according to LAUSD Board Member Yolie Flores (Los Angeles Daily Breeze). In fact, a recent study shows that English learners who are placed in regular classes in LAUSD have better academic outcomes than those in English learner classes (California Watch, Tomas Rivera Policy Institute).

“‘We have some schools who do well with English-learner students, but for the most part this district has failed these students,’” said Veronica Melvin, director of the non-profit Alliance for Better Communities (Los Angeles Daily Breeze).

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights hopes its investigation will provide data and insights to improve English learners’ academic results and close the achievement gap in LAUSD. The federal department will examine how the district identifies English learners, how they are evaluated, the quality of their teachers, how they are taught math and science, and the extent of their parents’ inclusion in decisions (Los Angeles Times, Daily Breeze). Focused on schools in the San Fernando Valley and Southeast Los Angeles, the probe “seeks to uncover policies and practices that result in a ‘disparate outcome’” for English learners (Los Angeles Times). If LAUSD is found to be out of compliance with civil rights laws, the Department of Education has the option of withholding federal funds. However, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he will comply with recommendations.

The LAUSD investigation is one of 38 reviews of school districts across the nation (Los Angeles Daily Breeze, USA Today). Contrasting nearly a decade of little activity in the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office (New York Times, Education Week), the new push is an effort to “‘reinvigorate civil rights enforcement,’” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan (New York Times). Overall, the investigations will look at racial differences in access to college preparatory courses, advanced curricula, and science and math courses (Education Week).

Education advocates see the new investigations as an opportunity to highlight educational inequality issues and collect more data about disparities. Also, Cortines said that the probe “‘will find best practices that need to be spread’” (Los Angeles Daily News).

“‘We haven’t seen anything yet. But I can tell you there’s a lot of hope in the civil rights community that we are going to get some really good enforcement around a variety of issues, including education,’” said Raul Gonzalez, of the National Council of La Raza (USA Today).

For more information about the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and the complaint process go here.

Linking Teacher Evaluations to Student Test Scores

  • 03-19-2010
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On Tuesday, a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) task force recommended changing the teacher-evaluation process along with other recommendations designed to improve students’ access to highly qualified teachers. The 50-member task force made up of administrators, teachers, union members and parents began meeting in September. Headed by state Board of Education President Ted Mitchell, the panel will present its final recommendations next month to the LAUSD board of education.

Standardized tests would be part of a teacher evaluation system that includes other components such as feedback from parents and teachers, along with observations from peers and administrators.

Reactions have been mixed. Some people have praised the panel for suggesting much-needed changes, while others worry about too much weight placed on standardized test scores. (Los Angeles TimesThe Educated Guess). The final balance between scores and other factors is hard to determine before the final recommendations are settled and make their way into education policy.

Another recommendation is to extend teachers’ probationary period before they get tenure from two years up to four, and still another would offer higher pay to excellent teachers who were willing to teach at low-performing schools.

Recommended also are new procedures for dismissing ineffective teachers and promoting others to roles such as coaches and content experts. (Los Angeles TimesOrange County RegisterKPCC). Typically, teachers resist simplistic formulas for “merit pay,” but are more open to differentiated teacher assignments where some teachers are paid more than others depending on their unique skills and the greater responsibilities they assume.

John Rogers, director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, said for evaluations to work effectively they must operate as a system that provides opportunities for growth, meaningful feedback and support (Orange County Register).

However, the infrastructure that such a system must rest upon is further weakened by the current economic crisis with most schools cutting back on resources that help teachers in classrooms. Just this week, more than 22,000 teachers statewide received pink slips. According to the latest California Educational Opportunity Report released by UCLA IDEA, more than 70 percent of principals statewide reported cuts to professional development.

The new LAUSD recommendations appear to be consistent with the Obama administration’s education plan. Teacher evaluations feature prominently in Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion program that provides extra funding for states that realign their educational practices with the president’s reforms. The evaluations are also a component of the No Child Left Behind overhaul. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Congress on Wednesday that the president’s proposal would emphasize academic growth, encourage better teacher evaluation systems, and support education and career advancement programs. (New York Times,Education WeekChristian Science Monitor).


Two Proposals That Won’t Fix the School Budget Crisis

  • 03-29-2010
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Themes in the News for the week of March 22-26, 2010


Two school-finance fixes were under discussion this week, but neither one addresses the core funding obstacles that keep California schools stumbling from one budget crisis to the next—from canceling summer school to firing teachers to shortening the school calendar to widening the much-discussed “achievement gaps,” and on and on.

The proposals in question might airlift some dollars or flexibility to certain financially stranded schools, but they do not build toward a rational, coherent school funding system that California desperately needs. Given the state’s dire circumstances, they are too weak in the short term, and over time they can easily make matters worse.

First, is Gov. Schwarzenegger’s suggestion to suspend the state’s numerous mandates that direct schools to spend more than $400 million in specific areas. Some of these programs contribute enormously to students’ education, others could become better if schools had more flexibility, and still others are undoubtedly wasteful (NPR).

The suspension might allow some districts to drop or revise programs in order not to fire teachers or to pay the utility bills. On Monday, state Superintendent of Instruction Jack O’Connell said that 126 districts will be unable to meet their financial obligations and 22,000 teachers received pink slips (NPR). However, with $18 billion already cut from the state budget, and more cuts on the horizon, Schwarzenegger’s “temporary” solution—one that adds no new dollars to the system—could go on for years (ABC).

The second proposal emerging this week could add more revenue to some schools, assuming that the current level of funding is not diminished. Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, introduced a bill that would change the state’s constitution to allow local districts to pass a parcel tax with a 55-percent majority, a change from the current two-third requirement. “If the state cannot adequately help the local schools, then they have to help themselves,” Simitian said. (New American Media, Californians for Improved School Funding).

An EdSource study of 486 parcel tax elections from 1983 through last June and found that 261 passed with a two-thirds majority. If the 55-percent rule had been in place, however, 423 would have passed (Oakland Tribune).

However, parcel taxes, regardless of whether they are easier or harder to pass, do not correct the problems of an unequal, inadequate, or inefficient school-funding system. Disparities between wealthy and poor districts are exacerbated by parcel taxes, and poorer neighborhoods have to take on a higher burden and level of sacrifice in order to raise money comparable to wealthier districts.

Clearly, desperate financial circumstances have prompted policy makers to explore new strategies for avoiding painful cuts to California’s public schools. The emergence of these strategies demonstrates that appeals for relief are making their way from local communities to Sacramento (San Jose Mercury News, San Luis Obispo Tribune, Pasadena Weekly, Alameda Times Star). Yet, this week’s piecemeal policy suggestions should not be mistaken for positive and systemic education reform.


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.