October 02, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Friday, October 2, 2009

A new study looked at student performance in all 50 states since 2002, when No Child Left Behind Act took effect. The focus: achievement gaps for minority and low-income students.
By Amanda Paulson/The Christian Science Monitor

The news from a major new education study is encouraging: Student achievement is going up, and the gaps in test scores between subgroups – such as between African-Americans and whites – are closing across all grade levels and subjects. The study, released Thursday by the Center on Education Policy (CEP), examines student performance in all 50 states since 2002, when the No Child Left Behind Act took effect. It paid particular attention to the achievement gaps for minority and low-income students. The report focused on "trend lines" – for Latino students in fourth-grade reading, for instance, or for low-income students in high school math – and examined the gaps between lines. The gaps narrowed in 74 percent of all trend lines the researchers examined, most often because the gains made by lower-performing groups outpaced those made by the top-performing group. (more...)

By Greg Toppo/USA TODAY

The USA’s largest teachers union will encourage local chapters to ignore contract provisions that in the past have kept school districts’ best teachers out of schools that serve mostly poor and minority students. Testifying Tuesday before the House education committee, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said the union, which represents about 3.2 million teachers and other workers, will ask local affiliates to draw up memoranda of understanding with local school districts that would “waive any contract language that prohibits staffing high-needs schools with great teachers.” Van Roekel said the move is part of the union’s “Priority Schools” campaign that will also encourage “the most accomplished teachers-members” to start their teaching careers in high-needs schools, remain there or transfer there. In the past, NEA has come under fire from critics for supporting contracts that allow experienced teachers with more seniority to transfer to schools that serve more middle-class children.” (more…)

By Stephen Sawchuk/Education Week

Lawmakers and teacher spokesmen had a spirited exchange here this week on the equitable distribution of effective teachers, illuminating the contours of a debate that will likely continue as Congress revisits the issue. Differing opinions about incentive-pay programs, the role of test scores in pay and evaluation, and how prescriptive the federal government should be in seeking to boost teacher effectiveness were aired at a House hearing. It came as the upcoming renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and implementation of the economic-stimulus law are helping to spur such debate. Improving the distribution of effective teachers to schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students should be a top federal priority, lawmakers agreed. “It’s stunning that we’re still discussing this topic with this level of engagement in 2009,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, which held the hearing. “This is not a mystery. (more…)

By Robert Tomosho/Wall Street Journal

With the Obama administration trying to turn around failing schools, the nation’s largest teachers’ union will ask its local bargaining units to waive contract language that might hamper school districts from staffing troubled schools with highly qualified teachers. For the National Education Association, the announcement represents a major shift away from some of its traditional stands regarding teacher staffing. Some observers, however, expressed caution about whether it will result in significant change. School administrators long have complained that collective-bargaining pacts often require them to fill job openings based on seniority, leading experienced teachers to transfer out of low-performing, high-poverty schools as soon as they can find an opening elsewhere in a district. Many union agreements also bar districts from using merit pay or other incentives to persuade their best teachers to staff these schools. (more…)

By Richard Whitmire and Andrew J. Rotherham/Wall Street Journal

Quick: Which newspaper in recent editorials called teachers unions "indefensible" and a barrier to reform? You’d be excused for guessing one of the conservative outlets, but it was that bastion of liberalism, the New York Times. A month ago, The New Yorker—yes, The New Yorker—published a scathing piece on the problems with New York City’s "rubber room," a union-negotiated arrangement that lets incompetent teachers while away the day at full salary while doing nothing. The piece quoted a principal saying that union leader Randi Weingarten "would protect a dead body in the classroom." Things only got worse for the unions this past week. A Washington Post editorial about charter schools carried this sarcastic headline: "Poor children learn. Teachers unions are not pleased." And the Times weighed in again Monday, calling a national teachers union "aggressively hidebound." (more…)

By Libby Quaid/Associated Press

An internal watchdog at the Education Department says states are using money from the economic stimulus to plug budget holes instead of boosting aid for schools. President Barack Obama did not intend for state lawmakers to simply cut state education spending and replace it with stimulus dollars. But Congress made that tough to enforce, and the Education Department’s inspector general said in a memo Thursday that some states are doing it. That means instead of getting extra help to weather tough times, school districts and colleges could wind up with the same level of state aid or with cuts, even as local tax revenues plummet. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said some states are flouting the president’s wishes. (more…)

Blog by Valerie Strauss/Washington Post

*Sixty-four percent of Americans favor public charter schools–15 percent more than did five years ago. But many don’t understand what these schools actually are. *Almost three out of four Americans favor merit pay for teachers–with student academic achievement, administrator evaluations and advanced degrees the three most favored criteria. *Seven out of 10 Americans would like a child of theirs to teach in the public schools as a career–the highest such rating in three decades. These are some of the findings in the 41st annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools. It was published in Kappan, the magazine of Phi Delta Kappa International, an organization for professional educators. The results revealed some changes over time–and some confusion among Americans about basic issues in public education–including the nature of charter schools, which are publicly funded but permitted to operate outside the bureaucracy of the school system. (more…)

Also Noted for Friday, October 9, 2009:

Blog by Howard Blume/Los Angeles Times

The panel that oversees school construction in Los Angeles is poised to pass a resolution asking for the return of the official who heads the nation’s largest school building effort and for a reversal of decisions that apparently led to his departure. The Bond Oversight Committee reached its decision by consensus at a Wednesday special session and will formally vote on the resolution at its regular October meeting, said chair David Crippens. The hastily called special meeting was in response to the weekend resignation of Guy Mehula, chief facilities executive of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Mehula has managed the $20-billion construction and modernization program that is paid for by local and state voter-approved bonds. The construction program was set up to be independent of the school system bureaucracy, both to professionalize its operation and to insulate its work from both internal and external political pressure. (more…)

The schools were selected based on the results of the latest Academic Performance Index that offers a complex view of incremental improvements of local public schools.
By Paul Aranda Jr./Eastern Group Publications

Three local Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools have been identified as “Focus Schools” that could eventually lead to outside operators such as charter or nonprofit agencies gaining control of the campuses. LAUSD Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines announced on Sept. 25 that Garfield High School, Lincoln High School and Burbank Middle School are among 12 existing schools and 24 new schools selected to participate in the initial “Public School Choice” process as the District sets forth its efforts to implement a hotly debated reform measure passed on Aug. 25. The 12 existing schools were selected partly based on the latest data released by the state that measures academic performance. The results of the 2009 Accountability Progress Report (APR) by the California Department of Education showed that the District’s overall 2009 Academic Performance Index (API) score jumped 13 points, a single point shy of the statewide average. (more…)

Board president says layoffs likely if voters do not approve parcel tax.
By André Coleman/Pasadena Weekly

South Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge voters approved property tax increases in June to channel $1.7 million and $900,000, respectively, into cash-strapped local schools. Now Pasadena Unified School District officials have hired the same political consultant that those cities worked with to help pass a parcel tax aimed at closing an expected $18.5 million budget deficit and avoiding possible layoffs and school closures. The Pasadena Board of Education voted Sept. 22 to pay Tramutola LLC of Oakland $12,000 over the next three months to help evaluate the feasibility of a parcel tax. Their work will include examining the PUSD’s needs and priorities, then working with a pollster to develop a questionnaire and conduct a survey of 400 voters, according to district spokesperson Binti Harvey. Representatives of the company did not return phone calls seeking comment. (more…)

By Tom Abate/San Francisco Chronicle

The next generation of Californians could enter the workforce lacking basic skills as the two state institutions that help adults improve in reading, writing and arithmetic suffer from a lack of funding and coordination, a new report says. The study being issued today by the California Budget Project looks at the Adult Education Program and community colleges, two separate systems that offer remedial classes to 1.5 million adults who need help to prepare for jobs or additional education. "We’re talking about basic English literacy, basic math and English as a second language," said project analyst Vicky Lovell. "These are skills you need to get entry- level work right away, and they’re also the skills you need to succeed in higher education to get a better job." (more…)

The California Education News Roundup is produced by the Just Schools California project at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA). For the latest research, background and an array of resources on educational justice issues, visit www.idea.gseis.ucla.edu. If you wish to contact us, please e-mail vizcarra@gseis.ucla.edu

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