Edvoice - Issues

California’s accountability system masks real problems.

January 21 | Sacramento Bee

By Dan Walters

California’s education dilemma can be stated rather simply, to wit:

The state has 6 million kids in its K-12 public school system, 60 percent of them are classified as either poor or English-learners and as a group they trail badly in educational accomplishment.

The state’s political leaders and education officials acknowledge what they call the “achievement gap” and say they are working to close it, mostly by appropriating more money for instruction.

However, they also have minimized it by adopting an accountability system, called “the dashboard,” for schools that makes academic achievement only one of several measures of their competency, and leaves improvement largely in the hands of local school officials.

California's 2nd attempt to meet federal education law looks much the same

January 18 | KPCC

By Kyle Stokes

When California submitted its plan to comply with a new federal education law late last year, the U.S. Department of Education officials didn't seem too impressed.

California's plan to follow the Every Student Succeeds Act, or "ESSA" — the latest iteration of a longstanding federal mandate that states must identify and help the worst-performing schools — was essentially incomplete, the feds said. That response only fueled the fears of advocates and civil rights groups, already worried California's ESSA plan would shortchange vulnerable kids.

On Thursday, State Board of Education members voted to send a new draft of California's ESSA plan back to the U.S. Department of Education — but with barely any changes to the substance in the earlier version.

The subtext of state officials' message to both the feds and critics appeared to be "trust us."

Dozens of California districts with worst test scores excluded from extra state help

January 18 | CALmatters

By Jessica Calefati 

Dozens of California school systems with some of the state’s worst test scores and biggest academic achievement gaps won’t get any extra help this year under a support system launched recently by the state.

The new dashboard system rates districts in several categories that impact student learning. But—mirroring a nationwide shift away from a narrow focus on tests—it offers special help to ones with sagging academics only if they also suspend a high number of students or graduate too few of them.

If extremely low, declining performance on math and reading exams alone were enough to trigger state support, the number of California districts that could expect it would almost double from 228 to more than 400, a CALmatters analysis shows.

Politics California wanted to bridge the digital divide but left rural areas behind. Now that's about to change

January 18 | Los Angeles Times

By Jazmine Ulloa

Until a few years ago, most students in Winters — a farming community of 7,000 west of Sacramento — did not have computers at home. So the city’s then-mayor, Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, pushed for a program that enabled the school district’s sixth-graders to check out laptops along with their textbooks.

Their parents were required to learn how to use the computers as well. For some, it was their first time surfing the web or sending an email.

“Now they could be a voice for their child,” said Aguiar-Curry, who grew up in Winters. She recalled that some parents were moved to tears. “Now they could work in the fields during the day, and at night they could come home and get on their child’s tablet and find out how they were doing in school.”

Over the last decade, California’s urban centers have become technology hubs, cities where free Wi-Fi and fiber optic lines are ubiquitous. But in low-income neighborhoods, across the state’s inland regions and in rural communities — often home to large migrant populations — families struggle to connect at all.

Some elected officials see that reality as proof that a digital divide is leaving many people behind. And they’ve set out to remedy it.


Commentary: Brown relents a little on school accountability

January 18 | CALMatters

By Dan Walters

For years, Gov. Jerry Brown has preached a secular version of a religious principle called “subsidiarity,” asserting that local officials should have flexibility to act without micromanagement from Sacramento.

In practice, he’s not always adhered to the principle, but has been particularly stubborn about applying it to the state’s six-million-student public education system, rejecting demands of education reformers for more state intervention on behalf of “high-needs” students.

At Brown’s urging, the Legislature overhauled state school aid laws to provide more funds to districts with large numbers of poor and/or English-learner students, aimed at closing the academic achievement gap between them and more privileged classmates.

California to explain but not change school improvement plan federal officials criticized

January 16 | EdSource

By John Fensterwald

Despite significant criticisms last month by the U.S. Department of Education,  California will likely make clarifications but no substantial changes to the state’s plan for complying with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law that requires states to improve low-achieving schools.

At its meeting on Thursday, the State Board of Education is expected to adopt wording changes and elaborations while keeping most of the 100-plus page document intact.

At a meeting for education organizations that was webcast last week, David Sapp, deputy policy director and assistant legal counsel for the State Board of Education, acknowledged that federal reviewers’ questions and doubts had led staff to provide “more context” to the state’s “minimalist” approach to writing the plan.

Improving outcomes by democratizing education data

January 15 | Los Angeles Daily News

By Ryan Smith

Last year, just 40 percent of Los Angeles Unified students met or exceeded expectations in English Language Arts. While no student population is showing levels of achievement we should feel satisfied with, just 34 percent of Latino students met standards compared with 66 percent of their white peers.

We must do more to ultimately close these persistent equity gaps. The good news is, the public may soon have access to more of the data to improve outcomes for all students in the country’s second-largest school district.

Gavin Newsom learning what it’s like to be frontrunner for California governor

January 13 | Sacramento Bee

By Christopher Cadelago 

Republicans during the town hall event at USC’s Bovard Auditorium argued that the frontrunner in the contest to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown would be unjustly swayed by labor union endorsements and campaign contributions. Support from heavyweight public employee groups like the California Teachers Association cloud his judgment, they contended.

At the same time, two of the leading Democrats in the race tried to yoke Newsom to what they view as failures of the education system, painting him as a willing bystander and defender of an unacceptable status quo. Newsom’s chief Democratic antagonists, Antonio Villaraigosa and John Chiang, also pressed the former San Francisco mayor to provide answers about how California could afford his liberal agenda, including a statewide, single-payer health care system he promised to champion as governor.

Jerry Brown's budget takes a baby step toward school accountability

January 12 | San Diego Union-Tribune

By The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board

Six months before it would take effect, Gov. Jerry Brown unveiled his new state budget this week, and it was as cautious as expected. The main takeaway from the $190 billion annual spending plan — $132 billion in day-to-day general fund spending and the rest in special fund and bond fund spending — is that it sets aside more money than ever for the state’s rainy-day fund instead of expanding a range of government services. That’s smart given the likelihood that a recession will send California’s revenue roller coaster plunging in coming years and yield brutal cuts, as has happened repeatedly due to the government’s over-reliance on volatile income taxes.

With education, however, Brown was less predictable. To address a chronic shortage in special education teachers, he proposed $100 million in one-time funding for a recruitment and training program. To help 2.5 million young Californians improve job skills, he proposed $120 million to establish the state’s first fully online public community college by fall 2019. And to address years of concerns about his signature 2013 law, the Local Control Funding Formula, Brown is finally ready to require that school districts be more transparent about how the funds are used and how this spending promotes the stated goal of the law: to get more help to English-language learners, foster students and students from impoverished families.

California state budget: Here's why to hold the applause for Brown

January 9 | San Diego Union-Tribune

By The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board

Five years ago this month, Gov. Jerry Brown announced his support for what was billed as the biggest change in California public education in decades. Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula increased funding for districts with disproportionate numbers of English-language learners, foster students and students from impoverished families to help them all have better chances at leading successful lives. The legislation also freed up school districts from having to comply with many state-imposed mandates.

Now the Local Control Funding Formula is again in the news with a leak about the state budget that Brown will release Wednesday that notes the formula will be fully funded this budget, two years ahead of schedule. But hold the applause. As this editorial board has repeatedly noted, instead of formula dollars going specifically to help struggling students — as Brown promised in 2013 — formula dollars are instead treated like block grants by many districts. These districts use the funds to defray higher compensation costs — especially pensions, where phased-in higher payments mandated by the state Legislature’s 2014 bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System are a giant headache for every district in the state.