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Source: California Office to Reform Education

Each summer, CORE holds multi-day summer institutes for teachers in member districts on developing strategies and assessments for teaching the Common Core standards in math and English language arts.

An oversight committee is recommending that the U.S. Department of Education again extend a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law to six California school districts, collectively known as CORE.

Some of the districts had not met the deadline for improvements, particularly for adopting key parts of a new teacher evaluation system, but the committee concluded that all had shown enough overall progress to merit an extension.

“In order to support progress and continual learning, the Oversight Panel chose to recommend continued implementation of the waivers so that all districts, even those struggling to make progress in certain areas, are supported in furthering this important work,” David Plank, the committee’s chair, wrote in a June 18 letter to federal officials. The seven members of the committee, which included researchers and representatives of school and civil rights organizations, endorsed the waivers following an all-day review earlier this month.

CORE, the California Office to Reform Education, is a nonprofit organization that the districts formed to promote their work. The districts include three of the state’s largest unified districts: Los Angeles, Long Beach and Fresno, along with Santa Ana, San Francisco and Oakland. Together they enroll about 1 million students.

Federal officials will consider the committee’s recommendation; a decision on whether to extend the waiver is expected before the start of the new school year. Rick Miller, CORE’s executive director and a former California deputy state superintendent, said he was optimistic the waiver would be approved for one or three years. CORE also has asked federal officials to permit other California districts that join CORE to seek the waiver, starting in fall 2016. Those districts would have to make the same commitments to improvement, which include extensive data collection and analysis and collaboration with member districts.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has granted 42 states a wavier from the law in response to a deadlocked Congress’ failure to amend or rewrite No Child Left Behind, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. So far this year, Duncan has extended the waiver for an additional three or, in some cases, four years, for a dozen states and Washington, D.C., with more approvals expected in coming months (see here and here).

The biggest benefit of the waiver is giving school districts discretion over 20 percent of federal Title I money, which provides funding for low-income children, that they would have spent transporting students to better-performing schools and paying outside tutoring companies. States with waivers also have more discretion to decide how to improve their lowest-performing schools.

In 2013, after Gov. Jerry Brown and the State Board of Education balked at the conditions that Duncan required for a state wavier, the CORE districts sought and got the only waivers awarded to districts nationwide. Sanger Unified, where a longtime superintendent retired, and Sacramento City Unified, where resistance among teachers to the waiver was strong, were initially part of the waiver but have since dropped out while remaining affiliated with CORE.

In September 2014, the U.S. Department of Education gave a one-year waiver extension to the districts. While acknowledging that they faced “very challenging work,” the department put the districts on “high-risk” status because they had not completed work on some accountability metrics and had not progressed far enough in meeting requirements for a new teacher evaluation system, including the use of student test scores. CORE is not alone; other states also have struggled with teacher evaluations, and Duncan in August 2014 said they could seek a year’s extension.

The CORE superintendents and Miller say their distinct approach offers a model that could benefit California as the state board and other policy makers create a new school accountability system based on multiple measures, rather than using standardized tests alone. As one condition of the waiver, CORE districts are creating a School Quality Improvement Index, which will base 60 percent of a school’s score on students’ academic performance and 40 percent on indicators of school climate and culture and the difficult-to-quantify factors of perseverance and attitudes toward learning. The initial scores are due out in the fall.

The districts had to fulfill three key requirements, with multiple elements, to satisfy the conditions of the waiver:

  • Implement the Common Core standards, including creating districtwide interim tests during the year to show progress and providing training for all teachers and administrators. The CORE districts were among the first in California to roll out the new standards, hold joint trainings and design and share complex practice assessments. They are now among those furthest along in implementing the standards.
  • Implement the School Quality Improvement Index and show improvement among the districts’ lowest-performing schools, called priority schools, and schools with the widest gaps in achievement among student subgroups, called focus schools. CORE’s approach was to pair teachers and principals from the 47 priority schools with high-performing schools, called reward schools, both within districts and with other CORE districts, so that they could share successful practices. All schools were to form “communities of practice” – collaborative efforts among teachers to identify a key problem at their schools and work to fix it. Some districts had few priority and focus schools, while Los Angeles Unified had dozens operating within a complex structure of regional sub-districts. Two members of the oversight committee, Celia Jaffe, vice chair of the Education Commission of the California State PTA, and Brian Rivas, director of policy and government relations for the Education Trust-West, expressed skepticism that the district had shown sufficient evidence of progress.
  • Adopt evaluation systems for teachers and administrators that incorporate common guidelines, including measures of student learning. They should also include teachers and principals in the development of the evaluation; have preferably four, but at least three, rating categories; and provide meaningful feedback directed toward professional growth. Districts were supposed to have completed pilots of their evaluation systems in 2014-15 and, in the coming year, implement them districtwide for teachers who were scheduled to be evaluated.

 “I have been researching how to turn around low-performing schools for 25 years. I have never seen greater accountability at a district level than what I saw in these reports.” – Jennifer O’Day

The differences among districts were most pronounced regarding teacher evaluations. Long Beach already had a satisfactory system in place at the time of the waiver, and Fresno, following 200 hours of negotiations, is ready to move ahead. But teachers in only one school in Santa Ana agreed to do a trial run in 2015-16, a year behind the waiver timeline, and there is no commitment from the teachers union beyond that. Former Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy antagonized United Teachers Los Angeles by creating a pilot evaluation system without consulting the union. Talks started from scratch when he resigned last year. In the teachers contract ratified in May, the union agreed to add a third rating category– the minimum under the waiver – and to continue discussions next year.

Oversight committee members said they recognized that some districts were out of compliance but agreed that cutting off the waiver would be a worse option. Ending the waiver would remove leverage for improvement, said Manuel Buenrostro, a policy and programs officer representing the California School Boards Association. “We should cite the fact that there are challenges, and districts need more time.”

The oversight panel served as a check on the CORE districts’ peer reviews. Administrators from two teams made up of three districts each – San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oakland; and Santa Ana, Fresno and Long Beach – met three or four times over the year to review districts’ performance data and self-evaluations. They graded the progress toward satisfying the conditions of the waiver. The feedback from other districts led to revisions and helped clarify thinking, said Michelle Rodriguez, assistant superintendent of Santa Ana Unified.

Miller, CORE’s executive director, praised the process of peer evaluations and criticism as more constructive than the traditional approach of  “checking boxes” to verify compliance. Members of the oversight panel agreed for the most part.

“I have been researching how to turn around low-performing schools for 25 years. I have never seen greater accountability at a district level than what I saw in these reports,” said Jennifer O’Day, a researcher and policy analyst with American Institutes for Research who also chairs the California Collaborative on District Reform.

The seven oversight panel members had access to hundreds of pages of peer reviews and conducted a half-hour presentation and discussion with each district before voting on the individual district waivers. The vote in each case was unanimous, although Rivas, a last-minute fill-in, abstained from the vote on Los Angeles Unified, saying he didn’t have enough information about the district’s work to close the achievement gap.

The oversight panel was supposed to have representatives from a cross-section of 14 organizations and government agencies. But Gov. Jerry Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and the California Teachers Association, which opposed the waiver, declined to send voting representatives. The State Board of Education sent an observer.

The only superintendent to attend the day-long oversight meeting, Christopher Steinhauser of Long Beach Unified, made his position on the waiver extension clear. The waiver, providing flexibility in Title I funding, shifting attention to “continuous improvement” and coinciding with the transition to local control through the LCAP process “came at a perfect time,” he said. “I am more excited now about education than any time before in my life.”


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  1. Concerned parent 1 year ago1 year ago

    As a parent, I am upset that The use of tests such as benchmarks for math have, since 2013 been removed from the report card where my elementary child attends. I believe that there is currently a lack of accountability going on and perhaps this pushes up grade inflation. testing is good. I know the star test is gone, but, there needs to be some kind of mandated testing to judge school … Read More

    As a parent, I am upset that The use of tests such as benchmarks for math have, since 2013 been removed from the report card where my elementary child attends. I believe that there is currently a lack of accountability going on and perhaps this pushes up grade inflation. testing is good. I know the star test is gone, but, there needs to be some kind of mandated testing to judge school teaching.

    I am tired of the political waiver games, the, let’s just postpone all things till we get in a new democrat president or something else.

    I want thenS.B.E. board members to mandate simple testing for math because of the severe grade inflation, in my opinion, that is sweeping California in this year of 2015-2016 school year coming up, and the past two school years.

    And to make matters even worse, Tom Torlakson has rolled out the GOLD RIBBON AWARD for all middle schools Which have already been given out, and these GOLD RIBBON AWARDS do not use tests or testing to be earned by any school.

    So, I envision all winners to paint GOLD RIBBON AWARD on the walls of each school, but…

    Without clear transparency, the parents will never be told that the GOLD RIBBON AWARD was won or given without any testing…

    This is a type of pedagogy, I, as a parent do not grasp….

    I callon the SBE to stop the gold ribbon award.

  2. Marie 1 year ago1 year ago

    How about more common sense and less common core? A H.S. exit exam should be just that. What did the students learn in order to graduate from high school? Not all have to be prepared for college. Let the colleges test for what they are looking for. I remember also having to be interviewed by the college I wanted to attend. Tests, grades and an interview. Maybe that would take care of … Read More

    How about more common sense and less common core? A H.S. exit exam should be just that. What did the students learn in order to graduate from high school? Not all have to be prepared for college.
    Let the colleges test for what they are looking for. I remember also having to be interviewed by the
    college I wanted to attend. Tests, grades and an interview.
    Maybe that would take care of the complaints about students not being prepared for college.

  3. Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

    CORE, NCLB waivers. Arne Duncan: All yesterday’s news. Time to move on.

  4. Bruce William Smith 1 year ago1 year ago

    I would be excited to see Congress waive No Child Left Behind for the entire country, without unworkable conditions, and hope to see that happen this year. Work must begin with the House amending its Student Success Act by removing the federal mandate for annual testing, a position that must survive reconciliation with the Senate bill, the result of which the president should sign or have his veto overridden. Leverage for those like me who … Read More

    I would be excited to see Congress waive No Child Left Behind for the entire country, without unworkable conditions, and hope to see that happen this year. Work must begin with the House amending its Student Success Act by removing the federal mandate for annual testing, a position that must survive reconciliation with the Senate bill, the result of which the president should sign or have his veto overridden. Leverage for those like me who oppose the forced, frequent, cheap external tests ushered in by No Child Left Behind (although they were already established in California before that mistaken federal law) can be found in the encouraging opt-out movement that has been spreading around the country and that could render any extension of NCLB’s annual testing moot because unenforceable. California has been going its own way with regard to Secretary Duncan’s misleadership of education reform for the last six years, and that has at times been commendable; but its embrace of the Common Core is ensuring education of inferior standard in its state schools for an innocent younger generation, who deserve better, and who will only find it in private schools, which should be voucher-supported, unless the educational leadership takes a new direction in our state as well as our country.

  5. Don 1 year ago1 year ago

    "CORE’s approach was to pair teachers and principals from the 47 priority schools with high-performing schools, called reward schools, both within districts and with other CORE districts, so that they could share successful practices." John, when Carlos Garcia was superintendent here in SF he started the program called the Superintendent Zones, two groups of low performing schools prioritized for special funding and policies. One aspect of this program was to bring together high and low performing … Read More

    “CORE’s approach was to pair teachers and principals from the 47 priority schools with high-performing schools, called reward schools, both within districts and with other CORE districts, so that they could share successful practices.”

    John, when Carlos Garcia was superintendent here in SF he started the program called the Superintendent Zones, two groups of low performing schools prioritized for special funding and policies. One aspect of this program was to bring together high and low performing school leaders at principal meetings to share best practices. The idea was scrapped quickly when disarray and anger prevailed at the meetings, after which the Superintendent decided to have separate meetings for Zone principals. What went wrong? So called “underserved” schools were showered with extra funding while the successful schools were starved to the bone and in this milieu of favoritism the Supe’s plan to enlist successful principal’s to help out the “poor” school leaders generated ill-will as high performing school principals were busy struggling to figure out how to maintain bare-bones services while low-performing schools principals were busy deciding what to do all the extra money thrown their way. One principal, a former city supervisor, was quoted as saying he didn’t know what to do with it all.

    The moral of the story is don’t expect to get help from the people you treat like dirt. Of course, the real casualties were the students of those “rich” schools. Evaluation of the progress of the Zone schools, excluding the last two years of STAR hiatus, reveals the Superintendent Zone program to be an unmitigated failure in raising student achievement. Despite SFUSD lopsided funding scheme it has comparatively the lowest performing students of color in the state.

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