Archive for March, 2012

Charter Schools-the Latest

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

David Sirota, liberal but not an expert on education details, wrote a piece for the New York Times, Friday, March 23, headlined “Charter schools aren’t solving education ills.”

a beach town elementary in California

a beach town elementary in California

No kidding! But dutiful as this blog is, earlier charter school posts, dated 9-9-2009, 12-9-2009, 1-27-2010, and 6-23-2010, were reviewed to see if some other answer could be found. Nope.

The topic is brought up every few months. According to Sirota “inevitably the conversation turns to charter schools-those publicly funded, privately administered institutions.” As of 2012 the statistics claim 2 million American students at charter schools all over the United States. Compare that number to 6 million students in traditional public schools in California alone.

In 2012, looking at current deficits, states can’t bear to rewrite state tests, put new evaluation procedures in place, provide adequate funds to train teachers at colleges, much less support school districts to turn around failing schools, the main reason education “experts” always claim charter schools are the “silver bullet.” Even so all those revisions must occur to close the achievement gap-the main goal for which charter schools have been contemplated.

The National Education Association (NEA) “believes that charter schools and other nontraditional public school options have the potential to facilitate education reforms and develop new and creative teaching methods that can be replicated in traditional public schools for the benefit of all children. Whether charter schools will fulfill this potential depends on how charter schools are designed and implemented, including the oversight and assistance provided by charter authorizers.”

And there’s the problem as we’ve read in report after report, some mentioned in Sirota’s column. The main criticism is that the charter school close to your home may not improve the child’s academic success (as shown by test scores). Why? For all the same reasons that your traditional neighborhood pubic school may not be up-to-par.

Then, what’s to talk about for your next conversation? Here’s the list. Charter and traditional public schools can insist on a test that follows the Common Core Standards that all but a few states have agreed to. Doesn’t have to be the same test-who wants to be accused of manipulating the free market for developing tests. The question once the tests are developed probably should be can the tests be compared to find out if the achievement gap among students is closing.

Next, young children who enter Kindergarten before 5 years of age might be allowed more than one year to prepare themselves for the rigors of first grade reading and mathematics in a 21st century education. Is your child young and does the local school (charter or traditional) provide this transitional opportunity if he/she is not ready? It’s been put off in California.

Finally,many education go-getters advocate for “choice” by parents. Home-schooling is the choice of one GOP candidate. To top it off, a fee voucher is put forward by so-called authorities to choose a parochial, private, or charter school. Charters are authorized with the promise to improve student achievement as a condition of relief from some of the¬†rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools. However, since the public school district already pays for a chartered school, why would a voucher help?

For writers of this blog, as the NEA suggests, employees of such schools should be subject to the same public sector labor relations statutes as traditional public schools. In addition, charter school employees should have the same collective bargaining rights as their counterparts in traditional public schools.

There we are-stuck with a conflict that cannot and will not be compromised. No new state tests, no new evaluation procedures in place, no adequate funds to train teachers at colleges, much less support school districts to turn around failing schools.

We’re Back to “Value-added” Again?

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

About one year ago the education world learned about the “value-added” statistical model (VAM), beloved by Eric Hanushek of Stanford and many others, when the Los Angeles Times used a formula calculating the “value-added” to give a score to all the third grade teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School district.

Teachers were unhappy and why shouldn’t they be? At the time, this blog advocated an evaluation plan be built first, including “value-added” statistics only if it would give those being accountable in some way to improve student academic achievement or help assess a school’s needs.

This year New York City schools used the tool to assess scores received by students and evaluating teachers for improvement. Of course, no evaluation tool, often called accountability, had received consensus ahead of the testing in New York City. After the value-added model (VAM) came out for New York schools and the lowest-scoring teacher had, in the past, been rated high-performing, disadvantages were noticed about a complex tool not yet understood.

The first objection is that the country, state, or school district has not agreed on a test that can be compared. Next, which teachers receive a “value-added” score? This is certainly a problem in the middle and high school, but also in the elementary school with resource teachers. Misjudgments about teachers can be made. A school’s change efforts can be hampered.

This blog has discussed several initiatives coming up in the November election. California has not looked into VAM or evaluation as a state-too concerned about money in the state budget. Some counties have investigated the term. In the meantime, just this week a report from the Council on Foreign Relations got involved in schools under the auspices of the well-known Condoleeza Rice and the former New York schools superintendent Joel Klein.

What does the Council on Foreign Relations know about “value-added?” The report caught the eye of this blog which is always looking for a good word for teachers. It states the country needs national security skills such as foreign languages and computer programming. Sounds good?

The report also suggests Common Core Standards-a good thing supported by all; students should have “choices” for schools-which means money; and a national security audit should be developed by the states-what does that mean besides the “cost?” Several members of the task force did not agree. Go to Tuesday’s PBS Newshour for more information. The news reports did not discuss how teachers will be accountable for student success so that the national security will be upheld.

A 2003 RAND Education report did provide both advantages and disadvantages to “value-added” evaluation. For those that like clean mathematical models, the “value-added” model is wonderful, as it cleans up any variables that influence scores like family background. On the other hand, a long range database must be developed to find enough data so that the numbers are reliable-a problem for most research. VAM is looked upon with suspicion by teachers and school districts because it involves a complex system of statistical tools.

Teachers are waiting for time to develop a decent accountability plan with strategies to guide them. They rarely have time to read the research and understand the pros and cons of “value-added” models, though several are available, but not established. A policy goal from the Council on Foreign Relations that worries about national security is far down the road.

Distinguished Schools

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

California, like many states, has an award program started in 1985, funded by prominent corporations and state education organizations. No taxpayers involved directly.

The program’s purpose is to honor schools in the state-reaching about 5% each year of the more than 900 public schools in this large state of fifty-two counties. The program recognizes exemplary schools and identifies excellent interventions used in these schools that show improvement in closing the achievement gap. In other words, the school doesn’t already have to have an Academic Performance Index (API) over 900 (out of 1000) to qualify for the award. In reality, what school has time to do all the preliminary work if the school doesn’t already have the numbers?

Look it up. The eligibility criteria for elementary schools in 2012 are consequential. If the school is lucky, the necessary scores, tables, and charts have been generated electronically. In the Bay Area, this is probable, but in some small rural district? Maybe, maybe not. Wait for the state? The county?

In this day and age, does the state think that most schools have teacher time to put all that material together and still teach the standards? Many teachers are put on the spot in March, worrying about layoff notices, upcoming tests, and improving school targets.

As much as it is necessary, closing the achievement gap does not only depend on picking the correct program. It depends on budget funding. Teachers keep teaching. They benefit and students benefit from professional development that distinguished schools can share, but money is the key.

Politicians can say all they want, but the schools that need help need infrastructure, teachers, tutors, and administrators that can oversee a new program and make sure it is implemented well over time. They don’t need less money like many call for.

If the school is honored with the California Distinguished School award that lasts four years, does that mean more money to show off its excellent programs? This blog doesn’t think so. It means only that the school can put in more time and effort for the National Blue Ribbon award.

March! Who Gets a Layoff Notice?

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

What a time to think about layoffs. March is disconcerting enough as I’m getting students ready to be good test takers a well as teaching curriculum. I’m also completing a thesis for my master’s degree before I graduate in May.

California elementary school

California elementary school

As a group, my students have learned to write better than I had hoped. My thesis included research in non-fiction writing and how students learn to write better essays when they read non-fiction. I spent writing time this year looking at non-fiction reading and writing techniques. When I examined the last essay, not only had most students used the strategies we had practiced, but some had learned other techniques that were not specifically taught. The project did not require a pre- and post- test; instead I used the standards taught in fourth grade. What an improvement I saw in student writing. I hope they remember next year. And I don’t have to worry about being laid off just as I succeed.

According to the news it must be March, at least for California education regulations. Notice of layoffs must be made by March 15. My district, one of about 990 in the state, has solved its pink slip furor. In this year of budget cuts (depending on what voters decide for initiatives in November 2012), not a single teacher is probationary in my district. If you were hired for this year, you understood from the first day that it was a temporary position and your job ends when the school year ends. In the district there are not even enough teachers for all the positions available, so after returning “leaves” are assigned, only new temporary workers will be added or rehired.

My district is unlike San Francisco schools where pink slips float down from the heavens. Take away the fourteen schools on the superintendent’s low-performance list.¬† New teachers willing to work in those low-performing schools under the guidelines set out to improve the academic success of students will not be laid off, no matter how low they fall on the seniority list. In a post written last year, schools in Los Angeles were allowed to keep teachers only after a lawsuit about unequal treatment of the students caused by layoffs of new teachers.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has put forth legislation to “lay off teachers at low academic schools at the same rate as others with higher rankings.” See the Editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle of Friday, March 2, 2012.

Which side do I stand on? Most teachers know that unions were started to stop administrators from giving arbitrary reasons for dismissal. Also so that teachers had influence on pay and health benefits.

But now I don’t think we should even hold arguments about layoffs. The California Teachers Association (CTA) needs to cut off such talk and come up with a solution.

After all, do you recall that working citizens have repeated in survey after survey that education is at the top of the list for California and every state in the union? However, when asked to provide funds, most often by taxation, the American people look the other way.