EdSource Today http://edsource.org Engaging Californians on Complex Education Issues Fri, 18 Apr 2014 07:01:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Majority of California voters support universal preschool for 4-year-olds - by Lillian Mongeau http://edsource.org/2014/majority-of-california-voters-support-universal-preschool-for-4-year-olds/60991 http://edsource.org/2014/majority-of-california-voters-support-universal-preschool-for-4-year-olds/60991#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 07:01:17 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=60991 Most California voters think the state should increase the availability of preschool for the state’s 4-year-olds, according to a Field Poll conducted in partnership with EdSource. Of the 1,000 registered voters polled, 55 percent said increasing the availability of preschool to 4-year-olds in California was “very important,” while 24 percent said it was “somewhat important.” Among parents of children 5 or younger, 70 percent said increasing the availability of preschool was “very important” and 20 percent said it was “somewhat important.” Providing more publicly funded preschool opportunities has become a major issue in California. State legislators recently introduced a bill, SB 837, that would provide all 4-year-olds in the state with the option of attending transitional kindergarten, which is provided to children who don’t qualify for kindergarten because they turn 5 in the first three months of the school year. It has also become a national issue since President Barack Obama named it a top priority in his 2013 State of the Union Address and repeated the call for expanding state preschool programs in this year’s address. “I’m not surprised that 79 percent of Californians believe that providing early childhood education in preschool is (‘very’ or ‘somewhat’) important,” said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who is the lead author of SB 837, which is currently before the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Californians intuitively understand that the more we do for people up front, the more successful (the state is) going to be long term,” Steinberg said.

Complete list of poll questions.

Despite their support for expanding the program, only one in four voters polled said they had heard of transitional kindergarten, which began in the 2012-13 school year. When it was explained, 60 percent said they supported it, and 25 percent said they opposed it. Fifty-seven percent said expanding transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds would be “worth the investment” of $1.4 billion annually once the program was completely rolled out. Thirty-four percent said it was “not worth the investment.” California registered voters also strongly supported restoring the $1 billion cut from child care and state-funded preschool during the budget battles over the last several years. So far, $55 million has been restored since the end of the recession. Sixty-four percent of those polled said they were in favor of restoring the funds, while 28 percent said they were opposed to doing so. A major issue in the debate about how to expand public preschool programs in California and nationally is whether preschool should be offered to all children or only to those from low-income families. A majority of those polled, 51 percent, said they preferred an expansion of free preschool programs that would serve all children rather than a targeted program for low-income children. Thirty-eight percent said free preschool should be expanded only for low-income children. Currently fewer than half of low-income children in California have access to publicly funded preschool programs. Deborah Kong, president of Early Edge California, a major backer of the Steinberg bill, said she was gratified to see support for universal preschool, which would be available to students regardless of family income. Providing schooling to some students and not others is not the way the state provides public education, Kong said. “(The bill) doesn’t say that if you come from a particular zip code that you get public school,” she said. The poll also asked voters how they felt about what the state is doing to provide preschool opportunities. Fifty-six percent said the state “should be doing more,” 25 percent said it was “doing about the right amount,” and 12 percent said it was “already doing too much.” Adonai Mack, legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators, testified against the Steinberg bill at a hearing last week. He said the strong support for public preschool didn’t surprise him. There was support for the idea among his members as well, but many of the principals and superintendents he represents are concerned about costs, he said. Credentialing new teachers and adding classroom facilities to expand transitional kindergarten were not included in the current cost estimate for the program, Mack said. His members have reviewed the list of requirements for the new program and Mack said many worried the extra funds provided by the state to run the program would be insufficient. “Some of the mandatory requirements are going to cost money,” Mack said. For example, the requirement to have two paid staff in transitional kindergarten classrooms will be costly and could exceed the allocated funding, he said. It’s unclear what impact the support for public preschool shown in the EdSource-Field Poll will have on the outcome of the legislative battle in Sacramento. “It helps, certainly,” Steinberg said. “We represent the people and their voices and opinions matter.”

This poll was conducted by the Field Research Corporation in partnership with EdSource and underwritten by the Heising-Simons Foundation. Read the complete poll results here. Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her or follow her @lrmongeau. Subscribe to EdSource’s early learning newsletter, Eyes on the Early Years.

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Activists prep parent committee to review West Contra Costa schools draft accountability plan - by Alex Gronke http://edsource.org/2014/activists-prep-parent-committee-to-review-west-contra-costa-schools-draft-accountability-plan/61136 http://edsource.org/2014/activists-prep-parent-committee-to-review-west-contra-costa-schools-draft-accountability-plan/61136#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 23:08:26 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=61136 Concerned that West Contra Costa Unified officials have inadequately prepared the parent committee charged with reviewing the district’s spending plan for “high needs” students, five community and advocacy organizations convened a training session this week in Richmond.

The organizations were concerned that a majority of the newly organized District Local Control Accountability Committee was unfamiliar with parliamentary procedure and even the basics of public school financing, not to mention the details of the state’s new funding law. Nominated by principals and community organizations, the 36-person committee had met once before in March.

The three-hour meeting began at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Latina Center in Richmond. Organizers from Education Trust-West, the American Civil Liberties Union and other community groups walked participants through the basics of Robert’s Rules of Order before turning to the district’s newly released draft Local Control Accountability Plan.

The organizers urged committee members to ask questions about parts of the document that were unclear, and to not be daunted when an attempt at clarification failed. “It’s not about ‘dumbing it down’,” said Valerie Cuevas, director of external relations for Education Trust-West. “Just say, ‘I need you to explain it to me again.’”

There were six committee members at the meeting on Tuesday – out of a total membership of 36. They were joined by other parents, as well as a former school board member.

Cuevas criticized the district for failing to translate the LCAP – acronyms and all – into Spanish. “That’s the easiest thing a district can do,” Cuevas said.

Cuevas, who lives in Richmond, said she believes West Contra Costa school officials approached the parent engagement component of the LCAP with good intentions, but by her estimation their efforts have fallen short. Cuevas specifically wanted to know how scores of ideas submitted during six public meetings about the state’s new funding law were sorted, prioritized and incorporated into the spending plan. “I don’t think there’s been enough transparency,” she said.

In addition to Education Trust-West and ACLU Northern California, Building Blocks for Kids Richmond, Healthy Richmond and the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization organized the meeting.

“This is where it gets really complicated and can feel overwhelming,” said M. Laila Fahimuddin, an organizer with the ACLU of Northern California, as she held up a copy of the district’s 17-page draft accountability plan. Released last week, the LCAP outlines spending over the next three school years. Under the state’s new funding reform law, the plan targets funds for “high needs” students, defined as low-income students, English learners and children in foster care. The district expects to receive about $23 million in 2014-15.

During the training session, Fahimuddin pointed to an acronym under the Identified Need and Metric category in the plan. Fahimuddin asked what CAASP stood for. Not one of the roughly 20 people in the room offered an answer. That shouldn’t be surprising. It is a brand new term describing the state’s new standardized testing regimen, to replace the old Standardized Testing and Reporting program that had been in place for over a dozen years. Apparently, education argot challenges even school officials. The authors of West Contra Costa Unified’s LCAP omitted a final “P” on the acronym for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress.

“They purposefully talk in a confusing way,” Fahimuddin said, referring generically to school officials. “Even when you ask them to explain, they will still talk in a circular way.”

One of the parent committee members, Juanita Towns, who has a daughter at King Elementary School in Richmond, said she planned to raise her concerns about the draft LCAP at a district meeting held on Wednesday evening. “We need more than $100,000 for counselors and mental health support,” Towns said, referring to a specific item in the draft LCAP.

At the end of the training session, organizers handed out new notebooks to the parent advisory committee members. The small gifts were to remind the recipients of their responsibilities. “The community is holding you accountable to ask questions,” said Yuritzy Gomez, a community organizer for the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization. “You are accountable to us, the community and to your children.”

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Wanted: districts interested in being early adopters of new science standards - by John Fensterwald http://edsource.org/2014/wanted-districts-interested-in-being-early-adopters-of-new-science-standards/61076 http://edsource.org/2014/wanted-districts-interested-in-being-early-adopters-of-new-science-standards/61076#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:06:38 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=61076 QUICK HITS (USE THIS!!!)The California Science Teachers Association and the nonprofit education research and development agency WestEd are seeking a half-dozen school districts to take the lead in implementing the Next Generation Science Standards.

In exchange for committing to making science a core subject and participating in a new K-8 California Next Generation Science Standards Early Implementation Initiative, the districts would receive funding to train teams of teachers and administrators in the new standards over the next four years. Those interested must file a preliminary application to WestEd by April 30.

“This is an exciting opportunity for districts that are ready to move forward with the new standards,” said Laura Henriques, who chairs the science education department at California State University, Long Beach and is president of the state science teachers association. “It’s also important to the state for early adopting districts to serve as models.”

Last fall, the State Board of Education adopted the new K-12 standards, which are the science counterpart of the Common Core standards in English language arts and math; they emphasize science concepts over rote knowledge and the application of science processes to solve problems and think critically.

The Next Generation Science Standards are a states-guided initiative undertaken by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Eleven states and the District of Columbia have adopted them so far. However, many California districts have not yet begun to phase in the new standards, and the state is at least several years away from holding districts accountable for them. The State Board of Education is just starting a two-year process that will lead to the adoption of the curriculum frameworks, a comprehensive grade-by-grade teaching guide.  And the state Department of Education has yet to decide when tests on the new standards will be created – and by whom.

Meanwhile, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation* has agreed to fund the initiative, which WestEd will manage, to kickstart district implementation. For the five to seven districts chosen, it will consist of leadership training for key teachers and administrators, training in content and teaching techniques for dozens of teachers and creation of districtwide  implementation plans for the new standards.

Districts will have to share some of the costs. They will also have to choose integrated science courses, which blend elements of earth science, life science and physical science for middle school grades, instead of teaching the disciplines separately, one grade at a time. The new standards allow both options, and there are strong views among teachers on both sides, but this initiative requires the integrated approach.

The state Department of Education and Achieve, a nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization, helped to create the initiative.

*The S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation is also one of EdSource’s funders.





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Report: Juvenile justice system schools “do more harm than good” - by Susan Frey http://edsource.org/2014/report-juvenile-justice-system-schools-do-more-harm-than-good/60975 http://edsource.org/2014/report-juvenile-justice-system-schools-do-more-harm-than-good/60975#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:05:05 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=60975 The education provided to the 70,000 juveniles incarcerated on any given day across the nation is “substandard” and “is setting them even further back in their ability to turn their lives around,” according to a report released today by the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit based in Atlanta.

The report – Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems into Effective Educational Systems – found that the effects of the juvenile justice programs are “profound and crippling,” setting youth back instead of helping them.

Many of these students have learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral problems, and health issues, the report found. Overall, 30 percent reported they had been physically or sexually abused, 37 percent had problems with hearing, sight or teeth, and 20 percent “wished they were dead,” according to the report.

In addition, most (63 percent) were incarcerated for offenses that did not involve harming another person, such as burglary, shoplifting, trespassing, truancy, running away from home, auto theft, and underage drinking and smoking.

“We conducted this study to get a clear look at what happens to a truly invisible population,” said Steve Suitts, vice president of the foundation and co-author of the study with Nasheed Sabree, in a press release. “The juvenile justice education programs that serve hundreds of thousands of students are characterized by low expectations, inadequate supports to address student needs, and ineffective instruction and technology. Students come out of the juvenile justice system in worse shape than when they entered, struggling to return to school or get their lives back on track.”

The vast majority of students in juvenile justice facilities are male and African-American or Latino. California, Hawaii and New Jersey had the highest rates of children of color (which includes African-American, Latino, Asian, and Native American) incarcerated, according to the report, which relied on national data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

In California, 58 percent of incarcerated students were Latino, 26 percent African-American, 13 percent white and 3 percent Asian. These data are similar to state and national suspension and expulsion data, with African-American youth in particular being over-represented. In California, only about 6 percent of the student population is African-American.

California high school students in juvenile facilities were more likely than youths nationwide to earn course credits. In 2011, 58 percent of students earned high school credit in California compared with 46 percent nationally. However, they were less likely to receive a high school diploma while incarcerated. In 2011, 5 percent of California students were able to earn a high school diploma while locked up, compared with 8 percent nationally.

The report references an earlier study of young men in the California juvenile justice system. That study found that “finishing high school served as a turning point in offenders’ lives,” especially for those youth arrested as teenagers.

Based on its findings, the Southern Education Foundation report released today recommends:

  • Reorganizing programs so they are designed and operated to advance teaching and learning.
  • Setting and applying the same educational standards for incarcerated students as students in regular schools.
  • Tracking the educational status of every juvenile in the system.
  • Developing and implementing an individual educational plan for each student.
  • Providing a seamless transition back to a regular school.
  • Creating data systems to measure institutional educational progress and identify areas that need improvement.



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State panel grapples with defining ‘college and career ready’ - by Michelle Maitre http://edsource.org/2014/state-panel-grapples-with-defining-college-and-career-ready/61060 http://edsource.org/2014/state-panel-grapples-with-defining-college-and-career-ready/61060#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 04:00:59 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=61060 Credit: iStockphoto.com

A state committee is working to incorporate measures of how well schools prepare graduates for college and careers into the Academic Performance Index. Credit: iStockphoto.com

Preparing students for colleges and careers shouldn’t be an “either-or” proposition and schools should be held accountable for how well they prepare students for both paths, an advocate for career education urged in testimony before a state committee this week.

“The state is building up the scaffolding” for a dramatically different focus on college and career readiness than ever before, Chris Cabaldon, executive director of the Sacramento-based Linked Learning Alliance, told a state committee trying to define what it means for students to be “college and career ready.”

One of the challenges, Cabaldon said, is not to lose sight of the importance of “career” in the equation, and to encourage schools to build programs that combine rigorous academics with real-world work skills for students.

Cabaldon was speaking Tuesday to the Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee. The committee is working on incorporating measures of career and college readiness into the Academic Performance Index, the primary measure of school effectiveness. The API has historically been based on scores on standardized tests, but a 2012 state law requires that 40 percent of a school’s API score include measures of career and college readiness – an amorphous and poorly defined term that the committee is struggling to quantify.

Cabaldon urged the committee to develop a formula that would integrate college and career paths – career technical education programs that also meet the requirements of college preparatory coursework, for example – among the areas schools will be rated on.

The Linked Learning Alliance advocates for programs that integrate academics with career experience, putting students into internships or other job programs as part of their high school course work. Research has shown that students in the programs graduate at higher rates, take more college-preparatory courses and report higher levels of engagement in school than their peers in traditional programs.

The students also develop a bevy of so-called “soft skills,” such as communication skills, teamwork and problem solving, that employers say are lacking in young employees just entering the work force.

Strong academic programs should contain elements of both college preparation and career training because each include key skills students need to succeed beyond high school – whether they go on to college or enter the work force, Cabaldon said. The state should consider that when developing methods to measure how well schools are preparing students for colleges and careers.

Cabaldon’s comments got to the heart of a key challenge facing the committee – defining and measuring career readiness. The concept is less concrete than college readiness, which can be measured by the courses students take and whether students ultimately enrolled in college. Earlier this month, the State Board of Education voted to suspend the API until 2015-16 to allow more time to incorporate the new measures as well as new tests students are taking aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

“The (reconstituted) API, when it first comes out, is not going to be a perfect vehicle,” said committee co-chair Kenn Young, superintendent of the Riverside County Office of Education. He said the measurements would likely be refined as more information is gathered on what it means for students to be considered ready for the work force.

In grappling with what it should demand of schools to measure how well they are preparing students for college and careers, the committee on Tuesday also heard from a nationally renown researcher on the topic, who the committee has contracted to help guide their work.

David Conley, a University of Oregon professor who founded the Educational Policy Improvement Center research firm, presented the committee with research papers on the effectiveness of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, as well as scores on the SAT and ACT tests, as measures of college readiness. Each of the items are indicators of success in college, he said, yet their effectiveness as measures to include in the API should be weighed against issues of equity – not all students have access to the same coursework, for instance – and other factors.

Conley urged the committee the settle on a few key criteria it sees as crucial to help guide the process, which committee members said they will consider in more detail at their June meeting.

“This is going to be an evolutionary journey you’re on and not simply creating a product,” Conley said.

Michelle Maitre covers college and career readiness. Contact her and follow her on Twitter @michelle_maitre. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

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Sample questions, more details on revamped SAT unveiled - by Michelle Maitre http://edsource.org/2014/sample-questions-more-details-on-revamped-sat-unveiled/61042 http://edsource.org/2014/sample-questions-more-details-on-revamped-sat-unveiled/61042#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 19:25:08 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=61042 Test-300x2261.jpgSome elements of a redesigned SAT made a debut Wednesday, offering a glimpse  of what will be required on a revamped test that officials say is more grounded in the skills and knowledge students need in college.

“No longer will students use flashcards to memorize obscure words, only to forget them the minute they put their test pencils down,” The College Board, creator of the test, said on its website. “The redesigned SAT will engage students in close reading and honor the best work of the classroom.”

The College Board announced March 5 it was revamping the college admissions exam, which is taken by about 1.7 million students annually. The SAT, last revised in 2005 when an essay was added, had been criticized as out of touch from what students learn in high school. Once taken by the majority of college-bound high school students, the SAT is losing ground to the rival ACT exam, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. And with research indicating that high school grade point averages are a better predictor of college success, a growing number of colleges and universities are making the admissions tests optional for students.

The College Board on Wednesday unveiled sample questions (see examples below) and more details about the revamped test, which officials said will make it more relevant to high schoolers’ lives. College Board President David Coleman, who was appointed in 2012, was also closely involved in the writing of the Common Core State Standards in math and English, voluntary guidelines on what students should know. The standards have been adopted by California and 44 other states.

The new test, which debuts for students in spring 2016, requires more analysis of texts, asking students to interpret meaning and demonstrate their answers. The math section focuses on problem solving and data analysis, algebra skills such as linear equations, and “advanced math.”

The essay section is now optional for students, and calculators won’t be allowed on some sections. The test is also shorter – three hours, down from three hours, 45 minutes – and the best possible score is again 1600; the top score had climbed to 2400 when the essay was added. Students who opt to take the essay will receive a separate score for the writing portion.

“The test will be more open and clear than any in our history,” said the College Board’s chief of assessment, Cynthia B. Schmeiser, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It is an achievement test, anchored in what is important and needed for kids to be ready and succeed in college.”

One critic, however, called the changes “cosmetic” and said they do little to address problems with the test, which include issues of equity and access for low-income students as well as questions about how relevant the test is for predicting college success.

“Rather than improve the measurement quality of the SAT, most of the upcoming adjustments seem designed to win back market share from the ACT and slow adoption of test-optional policies,” said a statement from Bob Schaeffer with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, which advocates for universities to adopt test-optional admissions policies.

Here are some sample questions released by the College Board:


The following question asks students to interpret the meanings of words based on context.

“The coming decades will likely see more intense clustering of jobs, innovation, and productivity in a smaller number of bigger cities and city-regions. Some regions could end up bloated beyond the capacity of their infrastructure, while others struggle, their promise stymied by inadequate human or other resources.” (Adapted from Richard Florida, “The Great Reset.”)

The word “intense” most nearly means

A) emotional.

B) concentrated.

C) brilliant.

D) determined.

Answer: B



The following question asks students to demonstrate a command of algebra.

“When a scientist dives in salt water to a depth of 9 feet below the surface, the pressure due to the atmosphere and surrounding water is 18.7 pounds per square inch. As the scientist descends, the pressure increases linearly. At a depth of 14 feet, the pressure is 20.9 pounds per square inch. If the pressure increases at a constant rate as the scientist’s depth below the surface increases, which of the following linear models best describes the pressure p in pounds per square inch at a depth of d feet below the surface?”

A) p = 0.44d + 0.77

B) p = 0.44d + 14.74

C) p = 2.2d – 1.1

D) p = 2.2d – 9.9

Answer: B

Additional sample questions can be found on the College Board website.

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Districts face challenge of prioritizing public input on school spending - by Louis Freedberg http://edsource.org/2014/districts-face-challenge-of-how-to-prioritize-public-input/60621 http://edsource.org/2014/districts-face-challenge-of-how-to-prioritize-public-input/60621#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 04:00:45 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=60621 California’s school funding reform law has triggered a burst of outreach efforts to solicit parent and community input in at least some districts – along with a plethora of suggestions about how to spend the additional education funds they will receive from the state.

But what is not clear is how these multiple recommendations – in some districts running into the thousands – will be prioritized so that they will be useful to school officials and school boards as they draw up their Local Control and Accountability Plans before the rapidly approaching deadline of July 1.

The funding law championed by Governor Jerry Brown that went into effect last summer requires parents and other key stakeholders, such as school personnel and community representatives, to provide input into the draft accountability plan. But the law is most silent on how they should provide that input. That is in line with the spirit of the new law, which is intended to shift the locus of decision-making from Sacramento to individual districts.

But some parent advocates worry that districts may have generated so much input it may not be focused enough to provide guidance to school boards and superintendents as they come up with their accountability plans.

San Diego Unified, for example, has sponsored five meetings to review its Vision 20/20 strategic plan, and is currently in the process of holding 16 smaller meetings to discuss the district’s LCAP. Lisa Berlanga, president of San Diego United Parents for Education, attended a meeting on March 20 at Patrick Henry High School  – the same school where her son is enrolled.  Berlanga said that all of the information collected by the district will pose a challenge for the people who end up crafting the LCAP.

Parents are concerned about how they are going to meaningfully use all this data,”  she said.

Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education and one of the architects of the new law, does not share those concerns.

“People are going to have to get used to a new system, and a new way of setting priorities,” he said. “I think most people realize that they are not going to get everything they want, and you can’t do it all in a year.”

He said that this is how the budget process is supposed to happen – get input from key stakeholders, then forward it to elected school boards to review what they have received and make decisions after they have done so. “The key thing is that there is an endgame here,” Kirst said. “It is the annual budget. It forces you to state your priorities.”

The Natomas Unified School District near Sacramento has generated over 3,000 suggestions from more than 1,000 people, gleaned from an aggressive effort to get community input. The suggestions are all listed on the district’s website in a file spanning 127 pages. The list is compiled from surveys of parents and teachers, community meetings, student gatherings, and a range of other sources.

The suggestions have been divided into categories such as “academic support,” “school climate and emotional support,” “college and career and student success,” “high quality staff,” and “English learners.” They include a range of ideas and suggestions, such as “better lunches,” “better Wi-fi,” and “more AP options.”

The six community meetings held in January and February in the West Contra Costa County Unified School District have similarly generated hundreds of recommendations, all written down on flip charts at the meetings, but not summarized on the district’s website. The recommendations run the gamut from tablets for every child and mindfulness/peer support programs to  all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes.

The 100-plus community forums held by the Los Angeles Unified School District or community partners, along with online surveys, have spawned more than 10,000 recommendations. In its draft accountability plan released last week, the district says these have yielded budget priorities such as increased employee salaries, expanding adult education and summer schools, reducing class sizes, and increasing the number of counselors and librarians in schools, along with funding for the arts.

District officials are taking different approaches to synthesizing the materials. San Diego, for example, is working with a doctoral student from San Diego State University to compile public comments and identify themes and priorities that emerged during the district’s public meetings.

The Santa Ana Unified School District is relying on WestEd, a San Francisco-based policy and research organization, to synthesize community members’ concerns garnered at each meeting.

Following the San Bernardino City Unified School District’s final LCAP meeting on April 23, Linda Bardere, the district’s director of communications, said the school system will form a writing committee to review the public input recorded during their meetings and start developing a draft of its accountability plan.

Paul Richman, executive director of the California State PTA, said one way for parents to prioritize their input is to tie recommendations to one of the eight “priority areas” stipulated by the new funding law, including indicators of student achievement, implementation of the Common Core state standards, school climate, and  levels of parent and student engagement.

In general, Richman said, the more input a school district can get the better. “It is very positive that we are seeing districts getting overwhelming feedback, because it shows that parents want to have a voice, and want to be involved in  decision making,” he said.  “But it is a whole new process and we are all going to have to learn together about how to make this work.”

In the coming months, the decision making process will shift to parent and district advisory committees that the law specifies must give input into a district’s draft Local Control and Accountability Plan before it can be adopted. These committees will have the chance to give more specific input than the more general community forums have typically done so far.  However, it will be challenging even for these committees to agree on a manageable set of recommendations that districts could then incorporate into their accountability plans.

Kirst noted that even though districts may be overwhelmed by a flood of recommendations, “not everything has to be done in 2014.”  “This can be done over time,” he said. “The board and the superintendent are in the hot seat. You approve some (recommendations), you turn some down.  This is what boards are all about.”

Karla Scoon Reid and Alex Gronke contributed to this story.

This report is part of EdSource’s Following the School Funding Formula project, tracking the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula in selected school districts around the state.



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At an East San Jose high school, students react to new Common Core test - by John Fensterwald http://edsource.org/2014/at-an-east-san-jose-high-school-students-react-to-new-common-core-test/60908 http://edsource.org/2014/at-an-east-san-jose-high-school-students-react-to-new-common-core-test/60908#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 04:00:29 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=60908 The students in John Daniels’ U.S. history class at James Lick High School in East San Jose are a smidgen of the tens of thousands of juniors who are taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium field test this spring. And their views of the new test on the Common Core State Standards are but a snapshot of many that the creators of the test and the state Department of Education will receive over the next two months.

But what they said last week, representative or not, would probably please the creators of the new assessment. As Glenn VanderZee, James Lick’s principal, observed, most of them “got it.”

Not necessarily the answers. Neither James Lick administrators nor the students will know how they did; as with all students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 in California and elsewhere, their tests won’t get scored. The purpose of the field test is to inform Smarter Balanced, a consortium of states that includes California, about the validity of the 20,000 questions that will be vetted and aspects of the computer-based technology that need tweaking.

In a classroom discussion and follow-up interviews, the James Lick students said they understood the nature of the new assessment – how it’s different from the California Standards Tests that they grew up taking – and why the new tests might be an improvement.

Desiree Jones Credit: John Fensterwald

Desiree Jones Credit: John Fensterwald

“With this test, you had to make your point and explain your answer,” said Desiree Jones. “In the future, you may have to do the same thing – back up your claim –where you work. You can’t just say, ‘That’s good.’ You’ll need to say what you think and why.”

Citing evidence, defending a position

Desiree was referring to the performance assessment part of the test. It represents the biggest change from the state tests. Students were given four articles about a contemporary subject they could relate to. (EdSource agreed, as a condition of speaking to the students, not to discuss any specific questions on the field test.) They were asked to take a position, using evidence based on what they read. They could use a split screen to cut and paste from the articles – a task that some students found difficult to do, especially for math problems, using their portable Chromebooks  – and they could write as much and take as much time as they wanted.

“With this test,” Desiree said, “you had to put down reasons you chose a specific answer – not just fill in a bubble.”

“People want you to lead in the future,” with an ability to think for yourself, said Jazmine De La Cruz.

Teaching students to think critically is a principal goal of the Common Core standards. High school English Language Arts standards emphasize learning how to analyze informational texts. Math standards stress understanding the concepts behind the formulas. The Smarter Balanced tests reinforce these broader objectives. Several of the math questions asked students not just to give the right answer but also to explain their work. The reading questions required typing short answers.

Test prep in the past included a strategy for making an educated guess on multiple choice questions by eliminating answers that clearly didn’t make sense, raising the odds of filling in the right answer. Demanding short answers to questions forces students to read passages and do the math – not blow past with random answers.

Thumbs up on online test – with some reservations

Students said there were annoying aspects to doing a test on a computer, but overall they said they preferred it. They said it was cumbersome to type out a formula; they complained there was no scratch paper to solve math problems (actually, scratch paper is allowed, but a proctor on the first day misread the rules).

Cyril Garcia said that an online test should use touchscreen technology. This was a first generation test – “not really thought out,” he said. But Javier Cruz said that jobs in the future will demand more technology, so it’s important to prepare students for that with online tests.

Jesus Vargas. Credit: John Fensterwald

Jesus Vargas. Credit: John Fensterwald

Desiree said she found online tests neither better nor worse, just different. At least initially, until the tests become routine, students will find that interesting, she said.

Jesus Vargas said with computer-based tests, students should get the results faster (that is Smarter Balanced’s intent). Results from state standardized tests were returned the following fall, too late to be of any use to students who wanted to know which areas they needed to improve, Jesus said.

Juniors at James Lick, as at most high schools, take a range of math courses reflecting their abilities and interest: Algebra II, Geometry, Calculus or nothing at all, since only two years of math are required to graduate.

Some of the students found the math section frustrating, since it included questions on a mix of disciplines – some hard, some easy and in no particular order.

“Geometry concepts are hard to remember,” said Daisy De La Cruz, who is now taking Calculus.

Desiree said, “In the past, questions went gradually from easy to hard. This one was jumbled.”

Field tests are designed to test the validity of questions, not simulate actual tests that students will take starting next year. As a result, there was an intentional randomness in the question selection and order that caught students by surprise. Questions ranged from pre-algebra they took in middle school to graphing problems in pre-calculus, students said.

Next year, that will change. Smarter Balanced is promising an adaptive assessment, an individualized test with questions based on a student’s correct or incorrect answers to previous questions. It will be an integrated exam, measuring a range of knowledge, said Deb Sigman, state deputy superintendent of public instruction and co-chair of Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s executive board. It will count not only as a school accountability tool but also as a measure of an individual student’s readiness for entry-level, for-credit  college courses, she said. That will be an incentive for students to take it seriously.

Next year, all schools in the East Side Union High School District will switch from subject-specific math courses – Algebra, Geometry, Pre-Calculus – to Integrated Math, an option under Common Core. Integrated Math combines elements of algebra, geometry and statistics in a sequence of three increasingly challenging courses. So each subject should be fresh in students’ minds when they take the 11th grade Smarter Balanced math test, VanderZee said.

Way to reach disconnected students

James Lick has an overall Academic Performance Index of 674, nearly half its students are English learners and it ranks in the bottom fifth of scores on standardized tests. Daniels said he is “a fan of the Common Core for our population” and believes it is a way to engage students bored by traditional approaches to American history.

“Some kids in other demographics get skills, like critical thinking, outside of schools,” Daniels said. “We have to do it here so that students can learn to become problem solvers.”

Glenn VanderZee, principal of James Lick High. Credit: John Fensterwald.

Glenn VanderZee, principal of James Lick High. Credit: John Fensterwald.

VanderZee also is confident that Common Core standards will be a way to reach students who are disconnected from school. His observations after two years of watching students take the Smarter Balanced practice tests reaffirm his support. Paradoxically, some of his lowest-performing students seemed the most interested in the new test. They had the least to lose, he said, because in the past they didn’t have the skills to answer test questions.

“The previous state test took the approach, There is a correct answer, can you find it? This test focuses on them – their ability to come up with a response and defend it. It’s how we engage learners: What is your take?”

“Who complains about testing changes? The ones who did well on the previous test,” VanderZee said. “They did well on state tests as a point of pride. Now they have the most to lose, in terms of changes, and are reacting by saying, ‘You turned the rules on us.’”

John Fensterwald covers education policy. Contact him and follow him on Twitter @jfenster. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.

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Petition to ‘save’ job training program forwarded to governor - by Michelle Maitre http://edsource.org/2014/petition-to-save-job-training-program-forwarded-to-governor/60966 http://edsource.org/2014/petition-to-save-job-training-program-forwarded-to-governor/60966#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 23:58:59 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=60966 About 2,000 people signed a petition to “save” the Southern California Regional Occupational Center, or SoCal ROC, one of the state’s largest and oldest providers of career training for students that advocates fear may be shuttered next year because of changes in how state money is allocated, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi said Monday. 

The petition was delivered to Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, said Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, a former SoCal ROC board member who is working to maintain funding for career technical education programs that help prepare students to enter the workforce out of high school. Muratsuchi, who chairs the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, also invited the governor to visit the program, according to a statement from his office.

SoCal ROC and other similar programs previously received dedicated, or categorical, funding from the state. But the Local Control Funding Formula for schools relaxes that dedicated spending and instead allows districts to use the money any way they wish. Advocates fear career tech programs will be weakened or shuttered without dedicated funding. Department of Finance officials countered, however, that districts have vast leeway to fund programs as they see fit and they are not prohibited from spending money to maintain career tech programs.

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More non-profits teaching parents to read with children - by Lillian Mongeau http://edsource.org/2014/more-non-profits-teaching-parents-to-read-with-children/60896 http://edsource.org/2014/more-non-profits-teaching-parents-to-read-with-children/60896#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 04:00:54 +0000 http://edsource.org/?p=60896 Uriel Torres, 4, counts the windows on a building pictured in the Clifford book he's reading with his tutor, Lisa Hern, at his home in East Palo Alto. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

Uriel Torres, 4, counts the windows on a building pictured in the Clifford book he’s reading with his tutor, Lisa Hern, at his home in East Palo Alto. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

Uriel Torres, 4, wasn’t sitting quietly as his tutor read him a book about Clifford, that irascible big red dog. He wasn’t sitting at all. He leaned forward out of his high chair, almost laying his little body out on the kitchen table, to get a closer look at the illustrations.

Uriel is one of nearly 100 children in East Palo Alto who receive free books and private tutoring through the nonprofit 10 Books A Home, in exchange for a commitment from his mother: She reads with him every day. Programs such as 10 Books A Home, which focus on improving early reading skills by engaging parents, are spreading in California.

The programs have different approaches. For instance, the statewide Raising A Reader program and San Diego’s Words Alive! both work with child care centers and preschools to connect with children and parents. But all the programs have the same goal: To get children, and parents, excited about reading.

It’s worked for Uriel.

Rather than waiting for his tutor, Lisa Hern, to tell him the story of Clifford’s chance to be a volunteer firefighter, Uriel wanted to discuss how the smoke got out of the burning building. Or imagine the best way for Clifford’s humans to bring him along on vacation, since big red dogs don’t fit in cars. His tutor encouraged his questions and asked lots of her own about what colors Uriel saw and how many windows he could count on the drawing of the smoking building.

The 10 Books A Home program was founded on the idea that low-income parents are just as willing to “pay” for extra help for their kids as middle- and high-income parents. They may not have $60 to $100 to spend per home tutoring session, CEO and founder Paul Thiebaut reasoned, but he thought they’d happily commit to spending their time and energy learning the best ways to get their children ready for school.

“It matters to me because I want my son to succeed,” said Uriel’s mother, Clarisa Torres, as she watched her son and his tutor closely, picking up ideas for the next time she read with Uriel.

Getting parents at all income levels excited about reading to their young children has become a growing trend as more research has emerged about the importance of early language development to later success. Reading and talking to children under 5 years old on a daily basis is critical to their vocabulary development, their verbal communication skills and their ability to begin reading on time and at grade level in elementary school, said Dana Suskind, director a University of Chicago research laboratory focused on early language acquisition.

“The difference in early language exposure really is the beginning of the achievement gap,” Suskind said.


Source: Hart and Risley, Meaningful Differences, 1995

And the difference can be vast. Research first published in 1995 by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, of the University of Kansas, established that a 30 million-word gap exists between the vocabularies of 3-year-old children from low-income families and 3-year-olds from middle-income families. Since then a large body of research has confirmed and expanded this initial finding.

“How much parents talk to kids has a huge impact,” Suskind said, calling the extensive research on the subject “indisputable.”

Involving parents was common sense, Theibaut said. “Think about people accepting awards: After God, sometimes before God, (people thank their) parents,” he said.

Torres, who is married now and has a second son, said she used to think the program’s requirement that she read to her son every day was “pointless.” Her parents hadn’t read to her as a child and she didn’t see the importance of reading to Uriel, then a toddler. And reading to a 2-year-old can be frustrating.

“I would try to read him a book and he would just grab it and say whatever he wanted,” Torres said. “So I would give up.”

After watching Uriel and his tutor reading together over the past year and a half, Torres said she better understood her son’s behavior.

“He was just too small,” to sit silently and listen, Torres said she learned. “He needed my support to work with him on (a level appropriate for) his age.”

Many studies that were limited in scope have found positive preliminary results for programs like 10 Books A Home. But there have been no large-scale studies that track the academic trajectory of children whose parents are enrolled in programs that focus on teaching them the importance of reading to and speaking with their children. That’s about to change.

Starting this year, Suskind will be able to test her own parent-outreach program, the Thirty Million Words Initiative, by comparing the language development of children whose parents are enrolled to that of children whose parents are not. The longitudinal study will follow the children for five years with help from a $19 million grant from the PNC Foundation, the philanthropic arm of PNC Bank.

“Unless we really connect ourselves to science, unless we see that we can change outcomes, you can have a lot of feel-good organizations,” and no real change, Suskind said.

That shouldn’t stop nonprofits from doing what they can to help parents talk and read more with their children, Suskind said.

Children at FranDelJA Enrichment Center in San Francisco get into a story about five little monkeys pushing their mother's old car up the hill. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

Children at FranDelJA Enrichment Center in San Francisco get into a story about five little monkeys pushing their mother’s car up the hill. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

Organizations across California are taking different approaches to the challenge. Raising A Reader is one of the longest running programs of its kind in the state. Founded in California, the program has gone national over the last 15 years. Participating schools get regular read-alouds from Raising A Reader staff, training for teachers, classes for parents, and a collection of books for students to borrow.

At FranDelJA preschool in San Francisco’s Bayview–Hunters Point neighborhood, 16 children listened to “Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons,” read aloud by Raising a Reader’s Michele Callwood, a Bay Area program coordinator and former special education teacher.

It was raining, but being stuck inside hadn’t dampened the children’s interest in the story about a singing cat who manages to lose his four shirt buttons.  The children delighted in singing along with Pete about his shrinking assembly of groovy buttons. In the last scene, the only button the cat has left is his belly button, which turns out to be fantastically funny, if you’re 4.

When Callwood finished, one little girl shouted: “Read it again!”

Inspiring children to love reading is part of the plan, said Molly Wertz, executive director of Raising A Reader, Bay Area. A child handing a parent a book and saying, “Please read with me,” makes the ideal ambassador for reading more at home, Wertz said.

“It doesn’t come naturally (to parents) if that hasn’t been a part of (their lives), if children were seen and not heard, if the only book at home was the Bible and nobody touched it but daddy,” Wertz said.

Sheryl Rowser of San Diego said when she was a young mother, she worked several jobs to make ends meet. She tried her best, but she rarely had time to sit and chat with or read to her four boys, now adults. Besides, academics weren’t encouraged in her neighborhood, she said.

“You were a nerd if you were a book scholar,” Rowser said.

Rowser is now raising her fifth child, 6-year-old Dakari, and she’s done worrying about the nerd label. Last year, Rowser enrolled in a reading club for children and parents offered by Words Alive!, a San Diego nonprofit. The club met weekly to make crafts, read books and learn about early childhood development at her daughter’s public preschool.

“I never realized when a child is reading he’s using his imagination and becoming more educated just by opening his mind,” Rowser said. “It was like the breath of fresh air to me.”

Rowser said Words Alive! made a huge difference to her, but she knew several women in her neighborhood who were eligible for the classes and didn’t sign up.

In the end, Rowser said, “you gotta want to make change for yourself.”

Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her or follow her @lrmongeau. Subscribe to EdSource’s early learning newsletter, Eyes on the Early Years.

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