Archive for August, 2010

High-Achieving, Value-Added, and New Principal

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

The fifth day of school and the year seems promising in spite of the constant buzz of depressing education news.  August 24 the news was that California didn’t receive Race to the Top funds.  Still, as a third year teacher, I feel more confident.

State testing news hit the paper August 17, not that teachers at my school were worried.  Our district does not have designated low-performing schools, and I don’t even teach at the strongest school in the district.

The day after we received student scores on the yearly California Standards Test (CST), the third grade teachers were basking in smiles. Third graders moving into fourth grade had done extremely well, 2 students were below basic, none were basic, the rest were proficient and advanced-about 80 students altogether.

I teach fourth grade, so it was lucky for me, but at the same time, I now know that my strategies for teaching must treat high-achieving students, not low performers.

The main difficulty for fourth grade students is the change from a class of 20 third graders to a class of 30 or more students and one teacher.  It takes a good month before the students have learned to support each other while working.  The first month is spent teaching student behaviors more than teaching curriculum.

Over the weekend I read in the August 22, 2010, San Francisco Chronicle editorial by John Diaz about teachers unions fighting with the Los Angeles Times about evaluating teachers using a statistical method called “value-added.”

From what I’ve read, the idea is to look at the effect of a year of teaching on student test scores.  Of course, this statistical measure depends on students who have scores from a previous year that can be projected to continue for the current year and then see the actual score received.  Teaching for the year is the “value added” and a teacher can receive a number (just like a student) to show how well he or she did.

I hear the rumble in the head of any teacher who knows all the variables that can affect scores aside from what the teacher is doing in the classroom.  No wonder the teachers unions are looking askance at this statistical measure.  Even the article’s discussion of the variables and how the “value-added” measure accounts for them leads to more questions than answers.  Go to the latimes’ article “Grading the Teachers” to find out more.

Get real.  Many Los Angeles schools are doing well.  But the schools that hit the headlines are so dysfunctional that it doesn’t take the money used to disaggregate student scores by teacher, flash it around to parents who for the most part are more concerned about the behavior of students in the school rather than test scores, and then say “see.”

In time I can understand using students’ scores as one aspect of evaluation of a teacher’s work.  The truth is each school community and each school district must have a defined program continuously supported by the school board.  Then a teacher can be held accountable so they are fired because of a measure of student test scores.

In my small district in which parents support their students-some call it hovering-the problem is only to keep scores up.  The union has been supporting the staff so that the primary grades manage to keep the 20 to 1 ratio and the district shaves off money from other budget lines.  We may have furlough days, but not one teacher was laid off because of lack of money.

Who would guess that the intervention specialist at the school used DonorsChoose.org and grants to get <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> 10 iPod Touch instruments for her students?  I’m going to do what she did.  The applications are endless: reading fluency checks; math games from remedial to enrichment; stories not available in the library that can be read aloud to a student.

Or that our worry would be about the new principal and changes in office staff at the school-how to support the new principal and still spend time on high curriculum standards?

Common Core Standards create a Medusa controversy for public education

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Who’s the head of public school education: local school districts, the state, or the federal government?  Colorado’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) has become a Medusa-like controversy.

Colorado elementary school

Colorado elementary school

The State Board of Education voted August 2 to accept Common Core Standards on a contentious 4-3 vote.  The vote broke along party lines, with the exception of Vice Chair Randy DeHoff (R-South Denver metro), who supported adoption.

Arguments against standards did not address the benchmarks themselves.  Opponent Peggy Littleton (R-Colorado Springs) argued that CCSSI is a “takeover” of education by the federal government.  DeHoff and other board supporters said the standards address the challenge of educating Colorado students to compete for jobs across the nation and the world.

Standards created independently of the federal government

The standards were not developed by the federal government.  They were written under the auspices of The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Other education groups, including the National Association of State Boards of Education, joined in.  Teachers added input and direction.  (Myths and Facts about CCSSI)

DeHoff said that standards opponents in Colorado have not directly attacked the benchmarks themselves because they are closely aligned to current state guidelines.  The CCSSI project allows states to adjust up to 15 percent of the standards to accommodate local needs.  (See standards k-12 by subject)

Local school districts will implement the standards based on the State Board of Education’s vote.  But according to the Colorado constitution, education is the responsibility of local school boards, not the state or the federal government.

Money has strings

With funding resources so low at the local and state level, however, local school boards are relying on federal dollars to backfill missing state dollars (Colorado budget cuts to education). The recent federal allocation of $10 billion to help local schools stay staffed up is critical to Colorado school district budgets.  Without that money, additional cuts over $200 million across all Colorado school districts would occur this year.

Once an entity above the local puts money into the education pot, that entity wants some say over the use of the money.  Colorado helps local school districts at about a 60/40 ratio.  Since the state started massive contributions to local schools in the 90’s, it’s demanded more and more authority over school districts.

The federal government at this point is much less invested in individual school districts.  But the federal government has given dollars now to help schools through the recession.

The bottom line is that money talks.  School districts in Colorado lost absolute control of local education when the state moved in with funding and added many requirements for that funding.  The federal government added more requirements when it contributed its funding.

These issues obscure whether the standards are any good.  Funding public education has taken on the quality of putting together a billion piece puzzle without a picture as a guide.  The puzzle box is titled “Who heads public education?”  As it turns out, the picture is of Medusa with all those snakes.

School Budgets in 2010-Squeezing California Oranges

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

You might as well know what’s being done by California state and local education entities to find a drop at the bottom of the juice glass to keep schools open, much less buy art supplies or basket balls for a successful school.

Proposition 13 became California law in 1978 and, slowly but surely, funds for schools, school districts, county districts, community college districts, as well as the State Department of Education and teacher credentialing services have dried up.  The current sum makes one think of California raisins rather than golden oranges.  This reduction in funds doesn’t count the services for local municipalities that disappear as this post is written.

As the recession has gripped California, the last bit of money has been sucked from the orange rind.  Besides trying to revise sections of the Proposition 13 statute (see last week’s post 8-4-10), here are the changes the state has turned to in order to balance the state budget and also provide the least possible amount-the floor compelled by CA Proposition 98-to support public education.

First, the amounts that the state had contributed out of its revenue to equalize funding for each local education agency (LEA) has been reduced.  California schools provide education dollars at 30% per student below the national average.  The student/teacher ratio is 37% below the national average.  In fact, schools in California have 30% fewer teachers for 6+ million students.

Second, in order to stretch dollars the state has negotiated to make federal Title I monies and state monies assigned to programs like Quality Educational Investment Act (QEIA) more flexible.  Originally QEIA was designated by CA SB 1133 in 2006 to provide $3 billion over 7 years to support schools serving low-income families, special needs students, and English Language Learners.  Not any more.

Third, the state has scaled back the amount of yearly formal testing.  For example, some special needs students are not tested.

Fourth, the state has authorized school districts to shore up their budgets by digging into a higher percentage of its reserves.  In addition, furlough days have been negotiated with the teacher’s unions which decrease salaries, but also avoid lay-offs.

Fifth, the state has revised its rules for curriculum adoption.  Formerly, every seven years new textbooks were designated for schools.  In 2008 this provision of the education code was halted.  No new science or social studies books were chosen.  Even with the changes identified by the Common Core Standards adoption, textbook purchases will be on hold for an indefinite time.

Next, the deferred maintenance budgets for school district buildings have been revised and the monies can be redirected to support other needs.  In addition, surplus property rules for a district have been changed to bring in money.

Last on this list, a suggestion has been offered to have multiple districts create an education finance district in order to increase the chance of passing a parcel tax.  The complications are numerous, but be prepared to read about it in the newspapers if California’s budget problems aren’t resolved soon.

In 2008-2009, the state revised three times before a balanced budget, ripe for spoilage, was signed.  This past year 2009-2010 the budget was fought over until September.  By now funding deferrals that force borrowing by education entities leave a higher number of districts at risk of insolvency–oranges dropping to the ground.  What then?

A detailed report on the crisis in California school finance can be read in Edsource‘s January 2010 report Budget Cataclysm and its Aftermath.

School Finance Debacle–Proposition 13, 30 Years Later

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Like wrangling over Common Core Standards (CCS) in California, legislators and school district personnel can’t bring themselves to “do something” about the 1978 Proposition 13.

For the CCS, California can accommodate Algebra I in the 8th grade and few of the English/Language Arts standards need reworking.  As of Monday, August 2, 2010, the California Board of Education finally adopted the standards.  Now to implement procedures and allow time to make sure school district personnel, not only teachers but principals and administrators, have the resources to use the standards to improve academic achievement.

Which brings us to the old Proposition 13 that has done its worst to bring down our schools.  Not only is every local municipality stretching its few property tax dollars to cover services, so also are schools.

Things are so unstable that legislators are finally looking at revisions of some aspects of the legislation passed by voters in 1978.  Never fear, your grandmother’s property will not be touched.  She will still only feel an increase of 2% on the tax she currently pays based on the 1% assessment of her property’s value 35 years ago (in 1975) as the law states.

Legislation to fund school budgets in California is “complex, irrational, and inequitable” according to the Getting Down to Facts Project report.    Still, looking at the news in 1978, 38% of the voters believed the state could absorb the 40% estimated reduction in tax revenue.  Voters were sick of high tax liabilities without an increase in their ability to pay, just like today when wages were stagnating well before the great recession.

Simply put, the answer over time has been to assess fees for every municipal service, set bond and local utility or parcel tax proposals, and authorize a plethora of special assessment districts such as flood control and drainage.  These tithes supplement the minimum funding for schools and provide funds for local municipal services.

But in 2010 with a $19 billion deficit in the state budget and nothing agreed to by the legislature and governor as of this post, here are two possibilities to increase funds for municipalities and schools.

In December 2008 Senator Joe Simitian offered SCA 6 (amended several times) to change the 2/3 provision of Proposition 13 and make 55% needed to pass special tax legislation.  Such a change would improve the chances that local parcel tax measures written for specified school purposes would pass.

This change is difficult.  Recently Californians for Improved School Funding tried to collect enough signatures to put an initiative similar to Simitian’s bill on the November 2010 ballot and failed.

Assembly member Tom Ammiano has offered AB2492.  It revises how property tax is calculated on commercial properties which by 2009 benefited far more than any voter understood in 1978.  Though never talked about during the campaign, the Jarvis-Gann proposition was devised to serve commercial properties far more than homeowners.  For example, in Los Angeles County, 1979 commercial property taxes were 47% of the total, while in 2009 taxes from commercial properties were 30%.

The assembly bill changes how ownership of a commercial entity is defined.  It refines the circumstances under which a sale occurs and reassessment must be made.  Revising this section of Proposition 13, while complex, would close an estimated $7.5 billion corporate tax loophole for the benefit of local municipalities as well as local schools.

Another way to reform the commercial property loopholes is called “split roll” by which residential homeowners’ tax assessment remains as is, but commercial properties are assessed at 1 ½% and reassessed more often.  Provisions in the reform offer +65 owners breaks and low-income family breaks, applicable to landlords of rental housing.  Lenny Goldberg hopes to bring a ballot initiative up for the 2012 elections.

Either of these proposals will bring more budget control to local districts and still protect individual taxpayers.  Most important, revenue sources will be made evenhanded and help the state overcome its budget debacle.