September 02, 2008

Top Stories and Commentary for Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Blog by John Fensterwald/San Jose Mercury News

Educated Guess has been consumed by the newspaper’s new computer system, which has been taxing this brain the past week, but a few items did catch its notice. Timely and full public access to data is one reform that doesn’t cost money but is critical to getting parents involved in their schools. There will be much more data in coming years, when the the individual student identifier numbers under the state’s CALPADS data collection system start generating schoolwide data and if and when more control over budgeting is passed down to the school site level. Battles over who gets to see what numbers, down to the classroom level, have yet to be decided. But the SARC (Student Accountability Report Card) remains a test run. According to Public Advocates, a San Francisco-based non-profit representing minority and poor kids, reports that most districts have finally gotten into the hang of posting their school report cards on the web in a timely and comprehensive way.

Results for Santa Clara county students’ are rising but not as fast as the U.S. governments expectations.
By Sharon Noguchi/San Jose Mercury News

With federal standards getting much tougher this year, the state’s annual release of test scores — coming Thursday — has a lot of educators biting their nails. In 2007, 45 of Santa Clara County’s 392 public K-12 schools did not meet federal standards. If they had had to meet this year’s higher standards, 56 of them wouldn’t have measured up, a Mercury News analysis shows. Test scores in the county and across California have actually been nudging up every year because of greater academic rigor, more practice in test taking and a better match-up of what teachers teach and the state tests.

As costs keep rising, parents, districts adjust.
By Maureen Magee/San Diego Union Tribune

A shiny red apple for the new teacher? Maybe not in this economy. Many parents have already tightened their belts in the face of inflation and economic uncertainty. Now they are feeling the pinch of leaner school budgets that have been hurt by the rising costs of gas, food and utilities. Add to that a proposed reduction in state funding, and it doesn’t take a calculus student to recognize the math problem. Fewer yellow buses will transport children. School cafeterias will charge more for lunch. Teachers will reuse textbooks. Art and music instruction and other specialized programs have been scaled back.

College prep blends with job training.
By Chris Moran/San Diego Union-Tribune

Career technical education is targeted for students such as Luis Vargas Jr., who cut metal in a welding and metal fabrication class at Sweetwater High School. Sometimes it’s unclear which of Manuel Santos’ classes are college prep and which are vocational. Last year, he took medical terminology, classified as vocational but heavy on the advanced vocabulary he’ll need if he majors in pre-med in college. And though the Sweetwater High School senior has taken all the advanced science courses he needs to be admitted to his top college choice, the University of California Berkeley, it may be another vocational course, medical assistant training, that is best preparing him for pre-med.

By Sam Dillon/New York Times

With mortgage foreclosures throwing hundreds of families out of their homes here each month, dismayed school officials say they are feeling the upheaval: record numbers of students turning up for classes this fall are homeless or poor enough to qualify for free meals. “We’re seeing a lot more children in poverty,” said Lauren Roberts, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County school system, a 98,000-student district that includes Louisville and its suburbs. At the same time, the district is struggling with its own financial problems. Responding to a cut of $43 million by the state in education spending and to higher energy and other costs, school officials in Jefferson County have raised lunch prices, eliminated 17 buses by reorganizing routes, ordered drivers to turn off vehicles rather than letting them idle and increased property taxes.

McCain position on ederal School Law Is ‘Pleasantly Ambiguous,’ Analyst Says.
By Alyson Klein/Ed Week

At the Republican National Convention in St. Paul this week, President Bush was expected to anoint Sen. John McCain as his successor and the new leader of the party. But it remains far from clear whether Sen. McCain—and other top Republicans—will continue to embrace the federal mandates on school accountability at the center of the No Child Left Behind Act, Mr. Bush’s signature domestic-policy initiative, or whether the GOP will return to its role as a champion of limited government and local control of schools. “The biggest challenge within the Republican Party is really how much of a role should Washington continue to play,” said Eugene W. Hickok, who served as deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Education earlier in President Bush’s tenure.

Also Noted for Tuesday, September 2, 2008:

Eastside’s Murchison campus opens this week with about 100 sixth-graders. A survey finds that 70% of the city middle schools serving low-income students are failing federal education standards.
By Mitchell Landsberg/Los Angeles Times

Armando Sosa’s elementary school is just a quick scramble up a steep dirt path and over a crosswalk from his home in Ramona Gardens, an Eastside housing project known for its crime and violence. If he’s late, he can hear the school bell from his bedroom. His mother, Liliana Martinez, loves Murchison Elementary but worries that Armando’s zeal for learning will wither in middle school. She has seen too many children from the projects nose dive in sixth grade and begin gravitating toward the gang life that has devoured the youth of Ramona Gardens for generations. So, along with other mothers, most of them Mexican immigrants struggling for a foothold in U.S. society, Martinez helped start a movement to keep children at Murchison at least through sixth grade.

Two of the district’s elementary campuses are predominantly Latino, while the other two are mostly white. Some parents worry their children are getting shortchanged.
By H.G. Reza/Los Angeles Times

Kinoshita and Del Obispo elementary schools are just an athletic field apart, but for many in San Juan Capistrano, the gap is a potent symbol of an issue that has roiled this south Orange County town in recent years: school segregation. The schools are on the edge of a middle-class, mostly white neighborhood. But while Del Obispo’s students are about 55% white, Kinoshita’s enrollment is about 95% Latino. It is a disparity that former district teacher Gia Lugo said highlights the wide gap in race relations in this historic community.

By George Sanchez/LA Daily News

Even while grappling with funding shortfalls, the Los Angeles Unified School District is employing more than 800 consultants - paid, on average, more than twice as much as regular employees - to oversee school construction. The Facilities Services Division spends about $182 million on its 849 consultants, almost $215,000 each. The division’s regular employees are paid about $99,000 each. The practice has prompted concerns and a growing number of inquiries from the district’s board members and LAUSD’s bond oversight committee. "It’s the big secret everybody knows and the taxpayers of L.A. County are paying for," said Connie Moreno, a labor representative of the California School Employees Association.

Tactics used by United Teachers Los Angeles are getting increasingly aggressive — the latest, a campus sleepover to protest Anna Barraza’s alleged incompetence.
By Jason Song/Los Angeles Times

The group outside Dolores Street Elementary School had eight tents, four Costco pizzas, a rented portable toilet and one goal: getting rid of Principal Anna Barraza. Nearly 75 teachers, parents and teachers union representatives gathered on the front lawn of the Carson campus late last month, vowing to sleep on the grass to draw attention to allegations of Barraza’s incompetence. They waved signs and spoke to reporters who flocked to the scene, complaining that the principal was uncaring and arrogant. Barraza denies those claims, which are nearly impossible to prove.

Blog by Katy Murphy/Oakland Tribune

I hope no one came to this morning’s Special Committee on School Admissions, Attendance and Boundaries meeting expecting solutions to chronic overcrowding at the city’s hills schools. What the committee did seem to conclude, however, was this: Moving from full-day to half-day kindergarten isn’t the best or most effective way to increase a school’s capacity. To make sure all neighborhood families have a home school, the district will have to add classrooms to various schools (Montclair was mentioned), move attendance boundary lines, or both. The district needs to balance out the number of special education students at various schools (Some schools, if I heard correctly, have none; in others, special needs students make up to 30 percent of the student population). District staff needs to address “split-street” boundary lines, where kids on different sides of the same street attend different schools.

By Terri Hardy/Sacramento Bee

It has been 20 months since the Natomas Unified School District purchased 41 acres of farmland just north of Sacramento for $13.4 million, a record price for the area. Just more than a year ago, Superintendent Steve Farrar admitted he had concerns about the purchase and launched an internal investigation. Now, in response to that investigation, Natomas school officials say they believe they paid too much for the land and have hired a malpractice attorney to discuss remedies with the deal’s participants.

Blog by Caroline Grannan/San Francisco Examiner

I happened to switch on NPR yesterday evening and heard an edition of "Counterspin" about New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina. Of course I fixated on the portion about schools, with guest speaker education researcher Leigh Dingerson of the Center for Community Change. I knew that New Orleans schools had been turned into a massive experiment in privatization, but I hadn’t quite realized that every teacher in New Orleans schools was fired after Katrina. I’ve been posting my concerns about the notion — which I consider wrongheaded and either blindly naive or cynically dishonest — that experience is a bad thing in the teaching field and that seasoned veterans should be kicked out to make way for bright-eyed newcomers.

By Eddy Ramírez/U.S. News & World News Report

The United States won the most medals of any country at the summer Olympic Games in Beijing, but it turned in a dismal performance at the Education Olympics. Americans took home only one medal from those games, for an embarrassing 20th-place finish, ahead of only Germany, Hungary, and Iceland. The top medal winners across all 58 education events were Finland (35 medals), Hong Kong (33 medals), and Singapore (16 medals). Now, we know what you’re asking: What are the Education Olympics? Why wasn’t the public told about these games? And did Michael Phelps compete? We had the same questions, too, when we first learned about the thrashing team USA took.

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