Thursday, October 22, 2020, 4:30pm

Lawmakers urge Gov. Newsom to restore funding for science teacher program

Nearly 20 California legislators have sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him to restore funding for a professional development program for California science teachers that focuses on best practices and how to implement the Next Generation Science Standards that California adopted in 2013. The Exploratorium K-12 Science Leader Network is offered through the San Francisco-based Exploratorium museum and was previously supported with $3.5 million in state funding before the funds were cut from the current state budget.

Since 2016, the program has partnered with California school districts to train more than 800 teacher leaders in the science standards and teaching strategies, and about 90% of those teachers work in Title 1 schools that enroll large numbers of students from low-income families. The Exploratorium had plans to expand its reach to nearly 125,000 teachers by 2023 before the funding was lost.

Since the coronavirus pandemic has caused most schools to offer distance learning, the Exploratorium science teacher program has shifted its lessons online to provide teachers with science teaching strategies specifically for a virtual classroom. “The impact of COVID-19 with the requirements for Californians to remain at home and the shift to distance learning imposes new demands for teaching and learning science,” the letter reads.

Sydney Johnson

Thursday, October 22, 2020, 1:28pm

Liberty Union School District sets reopening date

Liberty Union School District in Contra Costa County will reopen campuses on Jan. 12.

Wednesday district trustees approved a hybrid model of instruction that has students rotating onto campus on alternate days to reduce class sizes, reported the East Bay Times. Teachers opposed the plan, saying it would increase their workloads and would not keep students or teachers safe.

Contra Costa County is in Tier 2, or the red tier, of the state’s Covid-19 tracking system. Since the county has remained in that tier for more than two weeks schools are allowed to reopen. — Diana Lambert

Diana Lambert

Thursday, October 22, 2020, 11:47am

General Motors will donate a half million masks to schools

General Motors is donating 500,000 cloth face masks to California schools, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced at a press conference Thursday.

The California Department of Education will prioritize distribution of the masks at schools with a high number of Native American, Black and Latino students, who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, Thurmond said.

General Motors has donated over 6.5 million face masks to people around the world since the pandemic began, said Gerald Johnson, the company’s executive vice president of global manufacturing, in a video played at the press conference.

“In the early stages of the pandemic we mobilized our teams to help support those in need in these times of crisis,” he said. “With speed and urgency we mobilized thousands of employees who worked around the clock to save lives by producing face masks, protective equipment and critical care ventilators.” — Diana Lambert

Diana Lambert

Thursday, October 22, 2020, 9:42am

75 schools eligible for $47 million in literacy funding under lawsuit deal

The California Department of Education has followed up on the settlement in February of the “Ella T v. California” lawsuit that 10 student plaintiffs attending struggling schools in Los Angeles, Stockton and Inglewood had brought against the state for failing to provide them quality reading and writing instruction.

The administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed to fund $47 million over three years to develop literacy programs in the 75 elementary schools in the state with the lowest third-grade scores on the Smarter Balanced reading and writing test in 2018 and 2019. This month, the department published the list of eligible schools, located in two dozen school districts, and the rules for the program.

Every school will initially get $50,000 to consult with parents and teachers on how to address poor reading and writing instruction, including how to support families’ efforts to help their children. Schools can then apply for larger grants. An additional $3 million will be used to select a county office of education with expertise developing and supporting districts in literacy instruction as the Expert Lead in Literacy to guide the state’s efforts.

At the time of the settlement, plaintiffs attorney Mark Rosenbaum, from the law firm Public Counsel, said, “The state will make certain not just that they have the financial resources,” but also proven programs in place “that we know work in terms of teaching kids how to read.” Public Counsel filed the lawsuit in 2017.

John Fensterwald

Wednesday, October 21, 2020, 9:01pm

Prop. 15 in tight vote, Prop. 16 losing in final poll before election

Proposition 15, the initiative to raise property taxes on commercial property by amending the tax limitation law Proposition 13, continues to have around 50% support, and Proposition 16, which would repeal the constitutional amendment banning affirmative action, continues to lag far behind, in the latest — and last — Public Policy Institute of California poll before the Nov. 3 election.

The latest results show 49% of likely voters support Prop. 15, 45% oppose, and 6% are undecided. The bad news for unions and community groups advocating for it is Prop. 15 has lost a little ground, and undecided voters are trending “no” since the September poll, when 51% backed it, 40% opposed and 9% hadn’t decided. Both sides are doing massive TV advertising.

Proposition 16, which would allow gender and racial preferences for college admissions, hiring and public contracting, picked up a little support, but it has a long way to go, with little time to make it up. In the latest poll, 37% of likely voters said they’d vote yes, 50% would vote no, with 12% undecided. A month ago, it was 31% yes, 47% no and 22% undecided.

There was a partisan split for both initiatives, with Democrats largely in favor and Republicans opposed. The survey of 1,701 voters took place between Oct. 9 and Oct. 18.

Among other findings, 57% of Californians said they would probably or definitely get a vaccine for Covid-19 if it were available today, while 40% said they definitely or probably would not.

John Fensterwald

Wednesday, October 21, 2020, 11:43am

Efforts to boost computer science education take a hit during Covid-19

Nearly 1 in 5 computer science teachers across the U.S. temporarily suspended instruction during the coronavirus pandemic, and rates are even higher among teachers in high-poverty schools and rural schools, according to a new report from the Computer Science Teachers Association and the Kapor Center, a nonprofit that focuses on equity in the technology field.

The organizations surveyed nearly 3,700 K-12 computer science teachers to understand how the transition to virtual learning has impacted K-12 computing education. More than half of all teachers at schools with higher proportions of Black, Latino and indigenous students said that distance learning posed a major challenge to computer science instruction, according to the report.

The study comes amid a statewide push for more equitable computer science education in California schools, and authors of the report say the report’s findings could exacerbate already disparate access to technology and computer science education across the state.

To build more opportunities for students to learn computer skills that prepare them for jobs in technology, the authors recommend prioritizing closing the gap between students who can access the internet at home and those who can’t, investing in teacher training for computer science and integrating computer science as a core course offering.

Sydney Johnson

Wednesday, October 21, 2020, 10:56am

More equitable admissions at San Francisco high school

All students in San Francisco Unified will have a chance next year at entering the long selective Lowell High School, under a new lottery system passed by the school board on Tuesday.

Lowell High offers opportunities such as AP classes and foreign languages that are not all available at other district high schools and is considered one of the best public high schools in the country. For years the district has only admitted students with high grade-point averages and test scores to Lowell High. But this year, the district doesn’t have grades from the spring, because after the coronavirus pandemic, it switched to a pass/fail system for the semester, and standardized tests were canceled statewide.

The change will only be in place for admissions for Fall 2021. The issue has sparked contentious debate in the city, with some saying the current system is elitist and racist while others say students with higher grades deserve a spot at the school.

Zaidee Stavely

Monday, October 19, 2020, 4:37pm

Biden trounces Trump in state’s mock student election

Reflecting the challenges of organizing and engaging students online, the number of students participating in this year’s California Student Mock Election dropped precipitously from four years ago, according to figures release by the California Secretary of State’s Office.

But the outcome is the same: Middle and high school students lean Democratic and don’t like President Donald Trump any more than, according to polls, their parents do. Democratic candidate Joe Biden defeated him 68% to 18%, with a victory margin exceeding Hillary Clinton’s 58% to 20% win in 2016; in that election, more students than this year voted for Libertarian and Green Party candidates, accounting for the difference.

This year, students in 181 middle and high schools cast 43,294 ballots from home — about a third of the number of schools and 21% of the ballots cast four years ago, when voting was done in-person, with rallies and civic events in schools preceding voting. Election Day this year was Oct. 6.

The students also cast ballots for initiatives. A majority backed every one, and gave overwhelming support for Prop. 14 (the bond for stem cell research that they will be paying back, with interest, well into adulthood), Prop. 15 (a significant commercial property tax increase), Prop 16 (allowing affirmative action for college admissions) and, not surprisingly, Prop. 18 ( permitting 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they’ll be 18 by the general election).

John Fensterwald

Monday, October 19, 2020, 11:43am

State schools chief wants donations to expand anti-hate training

State grants to train teachers to teach students to be tolerant of other races and religions, as well as to people in the LGBTQ community, drew interest from 200 school districts within a week of being announced, said Superintendent of Public instruction Tony Thurmond at a press conference Thursday.

The grants were funded by a $200,000 donation from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation.

Thursday Thurmond asked that other foundations donate additional funds to expand the program, so that all school districts that want the professional development can offer it.

“I want to put a call out to other foundations as well, to help us work with those 200 school districts that are saying yeah, I want to be part of the solution at a time when there are those, even in the White House, who would divide us,” Thurmond said.

The grants are part of a “Education to End Hate” initiative launched last month. The initiative includes student and teacher webinars on how to end discrimination and a roundtable with political and social justice leaders on how to create safe learning environment.

“We want to send a strong message that we will not allow our communities to be separated, that we will teach about the impacts of slavery, that we will address that antisemitism is on the rise and that we must address the awful acts of police brutality and racism that we see playing out on our television screens, almost, almost nightly,” Thurmond said. — Diana Lambert

Diana Lambert

Friday, October 16, 2020, 2:57pm

Oakland’s McClymonds High declared safe for students after chemical contamination last spring

McClymonds High in Oakland Unified, which was shut down last February after trichloroethylene, or TCE, was found in groundwater near the school, is now safe for students and staff, officials said Friday.

However, the entire district is in distance learning due to Covid-19 and has not yet decided to reopen any of its schools to students. The approximately 350 students who attend McClymonds in West Oakland have been learning remotely since the district closed all of its campuses for in-person instruction last March.

The district, in partnership with the county and state, tested air and water throughout the campus and found that there is no threat of TCE. It did find PCE, or tetrachloroethylene, in the outdoor air around the school, but not inside the school.

Principal Jeff Taylor said some staff members are already working on the campus. The district has installed air purifiers in all classrooms and other school facilities such as the gym to ensure that students and staff have the cleanest air possible, said district spokesman John Sasaki.

The likely sources of the TCE, Sasaki said, were a nearby metal shop or the ABC Dry Cleaners. He said the district would continue to advocate with the city to clean up environmental pollution and toxins, which he called “injustices” that many people in Oakland and other urban areas are unfairly subjected to.

Theresa Harrington

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