Archive for April, 2012

Truancy Rears Up

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

The education world sees a long snake hiding behind the rocks and rising up to snap. Whether you are worried about how “Stand Your Ground” legislation affects young people, the arts in schools being ground underfoot by budget cuts, or the off-the-wall high school that serves a lot of students, but not those who score well on tests, the snake bites and chokes.

rural California high school with truancy problem

rural California high school with truancy problem

Think truancy. It begins in the elementary school when students skip or are late to school often. Have you read the cover article by Brenda Payton in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Insight (Sunday April 22, 2012) that tells how the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation looks at truancy data for third graders to see how many prison beds will be needed in the future?

Not only is California worried about the snake slithering in the grass, states all over the country have programs to correct truancy rates. Some are punishing and some are helping. All of these programs try to get children to attend school, especially high school so the graduation rate improves. Not only do truancy numbers flail their heads, but the rate affects high or low graduation rates.

What to do about this vicious challenge?

You’ve all read this blog’s answer: low-performing schools, where truancy is a big problem, need money to change around their programs. They also need high-performing administrators to insist on improvement. Easy to say, hard to do. If Congress weren’t so stingy and determined to reduce departments, no matter what gets bitten or choked, legislators might look at programs that actually have reduced truancy.  No state has used the same model; no county has used the same formula. Even the counties in the Bay Area of California pursue different strategies although all parents end up in some kind of Truancy Court if the attendance of their child doesn’t improve. Even so, 2011 California truancy rate was 29.8%.

Other states and counties’ programs and rates can be seen on the Internet: Georgia, Duke University, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Colorado are a few. It will be a long time before a variety of schools exist so students can choose. It will be a long time before the economy improves and money is again available to schools. See the Tool Kit for Creating Your Own Truancy Program.

Education will improve if parents see the value of sending their students on time every day. A heartless technocrat advocates doubling down on the free market answer, although plenty of studies have shown the snake can only be expelled from public schools with a strong truancy program set in motion and stuck to persistent ly.

A good year!

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

It’s spring. Time to think about a good year! My thesis for a master’s degree is nearly finished. Yearly tests will take a week to complete. Then we begin the last fourth grade unit in science and social studies.  Students choose one more book. We complete one more math topic. Another year will be done.

I will have another degree so my salary will rise. Lucky me, I have no loans to repay, no tuition still unpaid. Most of my friends have been not only talking but wringing their hands about all money items. Even with a raise in pay for a master’s degree, my friends will be in debt for a long time. As one can guess, I’ve been reading the newspapers, education magazines, and on-line articles that come my way. University of California pieces share demonstrations against tuition increases, and items describe Congressional votes against funding of federal Pell Grants, which are relied on, remember, because the pitiful amount doesn’t have to be repaid.

No one talks anymore about funds for the DREAM Act which would have helped some people I know who are from illegal immigrant families, but have lived here for a long time. What is it against these people? Almost everyone has some defect: legal, physical, mental. Nowadays, we have to listen to TV news about the GOP candidate who assures all us women teachers that the U.S. Department of Education will be closed down. Don’t candidates realize that the main country-wide changes to improve education have occurred in the last three years because of guidelines from the federal government? The states or local districts haven’t been prodding for change, that’s for sure.

Usually, I read the news items about elementary schools, mainly about the advantages and disadvantages of Proposition 98. Recently, I read an article addressing organized games at recess.  Sounds good until you realize that the teacher is supervising the playground. There is no money to find a teacher to organize and supervise games in any but a few California schools.

Now I concentrate on the articles about money for my college friends.

When Are Things Bad?

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

Think 21st century. The reputation of a public school district depends on where it’s located and the money available. Think of a particular school district in a particular state, any state. Here is a q & a to help establish a rep.

Does it snow in the winter? Students need light and heat. Don’t cut into the cost of electricity. That’s all the U.S. has right now.

Hot in the spring and fall? Everyone wants air-conditioning.

Does the school have a lot of high-income kids or only low-income? Parents want kids to have their own textbooks-either way. Don’t save money by sharing books.

Are a lot of kids packed in each classroom? Have schools been closed and kids stuffed into another school? Parents and students want smaller class size and more teachers.

Do students live far from the school? How far before the school district cuts the busing cost? In some urban areas, students walk or ride bikes; in far off rural districts students just don’t attend, creating drop-out and graduation problems.

Has the school been known for music and sports? Parents and students don’t like those programs to be cut. They will pay fees, raise funds for instruments and uniforms, and drive (with their own insurance costs) to provide these activities, but don’t cut the teachers and coaches.

Have custodians been laid off in the district? And the teachers told to sweep and empty waste baskets? Who do you think does the work? Clue: instructional minutes in the school day. As services are cut, this has long been an exercise in elementary schools. Now middle and high schools.

How long has the school had librarians, nurses, and uniformed security personnel? Are their services being cut?

Has the school district cut the equipment and teachers who provide computer training? Computers are part of the 21st century world. Every graduate needs to have some skill with electronic equipment. Not every student has a computer, cell phone, or Internet service at home.  Or the family income to support it.

Have vocational programs and teachers been cut from the school district? Not every graduate will attend college.

Have counselors, special education teachers, and tutors been cut or eliminated from the school district? Are the services continually on the edge?  Mental health and special education are the most difficult services to maintain and upgrade in a school district.

Look up Texas, New York, and California to see how each of these states have financially chomped up parts of school districts. Forget about test scores, standards, and evaluation. Just look at the school infrastructure.

Raise Your Voice! Resist! Reform!

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Union! Union! Sometimes good. Sometimes too late.

Last year Los Angeles needed a legal settlement before the district spread layoffs around, not keeping to the rule of seniority. Earlier this year, San Francisco had its chance, wiping away seniority when turning around failing schools. Of late Oakland Public Schools teachers face the same long-established union rule, waving their hands in resistance to a plan to reform some of its very low-performing public high schools-first of all, by ignoring seniority and making all teachers re-apply to teach in the three high schools. See “Teachers resist radical reform” by Jill Tucker of the San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2012.

If only a decent teacher-administrator-school evaluation was part of California’s Education Code. Some education experts blame the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers for resistance to change the rules. Other pundits cheer the need to bargain. Think of the current debacle in Wisconsin.

The state legislature has proposed a considerable number of bills to address education issues, but only one calsl for evaluation legislation for each district. Money seems to be the first issue.

Assembly Bill -AB 18 has offered the largest reforms depending on funds, even supported by Tom Torlakson, current Superintendent of Instruction. AB 721 and AB 1741 have been read to the legislature to promote similar reforms for post-secondary education, including mechanisms to restore funding.

On the other hand, there is a pro and con silent argument over the part of the education code that requires sex education and proposes a bill to “opt out.” Look at AB 1756 versus AB 1857 which includes teaching curriculum on sexual violence and requiring administrators to perform specific roles similar to requirements in elementary schools (AB 1880). Senate Bill-SB 1080 supports particulars of sex education also.

Speaking of funding, the big issue for California schools from kindergarten to post-secondary is the passage (or not) of one of the initiatives in the November election.  Bills that address the funding issue are AB 2202 and SB 1461 for post-secondary services.

The only bill that addresses evaluation-seniority comes in here-is Senate Bill 1458, written it seems to benefit the Tom Torlakson and the state’s Department of Education if a waiver proposal is sent to the U.S. Department of Education. The bill asks for changes to teacher and student accountability; changes to the scores used as benchmarks for the state’s Academic Performance Index (API); and graduation rate changes.

Will such a California bill pass and be signed? There are months and months to wait for new legislation in 2012.