September 22, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Tuesday, September 22, 2009

By Rob Hotakainen/Sacramento Bee

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed merit pay for teachers and lifting the cap on charter schools, the head of the California NAACP stood by his side. And when the Los Angeles school board voted to approve a plan that could turn over a third of its schools to private operators, Latino members and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa led the charge. The nation’s public school teachers are feeling the squeeze from all sides these days, and some of the heat is coming from unlikely sources: minorities and longtime Democratic allies. One of them is President Barack Obama, who is irking teachers by suggesting that student test scores be used to judge the success of educators. The pressure is particularly intense in California, where U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the state has "lost its way" with public schools. (more…)

Budget cuts have forced schools to expand class sizes. In Los Angeles, some classes are now pushing 50 students.
By Josh Kleinbaum/NBC Los Angeles

What happens when you strip $6 billion from California’s education system? You get classrooms that look like clown cars, overflowing with kids: Students sitting on the floor or standing in a corner. Kids sitting on filing cabinets. Three children sharing one desk. Welcome to the California classroom in the age of budget cuts. That’s the bleak picture painted by the Los Angeles Times this week, as most students begin their third week of the school year. While some California school districts have been able to minimize the budget cuts, others have been hit hard. Teachers who haven’t been laid off find huge classes — some classes larger than 50 students. Kelly Kapowski and Zack Morris never had it so tough. "I’m very frustrated," John Collier, a teacher who has 48 students in his U.S. history class at Fairfax High School, told the Times. "I mean, it’s a good class — it’s an honors class, and the kids are really good. But it’s unreasonable to ask me to teach a class of 48 kids and give attention to everybody." (more…)

National Journal

The nation’s economy lost roughly $335 billion in additional income from high school students who should have graduated with the class of 2009 but dropped out, according to a brief that the Alliance for Excellent Education released last week. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan often talk about the serious problem of high school "dropout factories" that graduate 60 percent or fewer of their students. But there is no broad consensus on how to address the issue. One solution, proposed by a Texas education official, is for states to voluntarily ban the hiring of high school dropouts as a way of keeping kids in school. What do you think is the best way to solve the high school dropout crisis? (more…)

Department must weigh expertise, potential for conflicts of interest
By Michele McNeil/Education Week

The U.S. Department of Education is seeking 50 to 80 outside judges to help award $4 billion in Race to the Top Fund grants under the economic-stimulus program—job openings that demand both education policy expertise and a detached interest in the high-stakes education reform competition. Finding such “disinterested superstars,” as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called them, could be difficult, given the scope, scale, and money attached to the competition, observers say. Race to the Top grant applications, which will be submitted by states starting later this year, will touch on most corners of the education policy arena, from teacher quality and data systems to turnaround strategies for struggling schools and common academic standards. Those are also the four education reform “assurances” in the economic-stimulus package. (more…)

By Jennifer Medina/New York Times

Students who entered lotteries and won spots in New York City charter schools performed better on state exams than students who entered the same lotteries but did not secure charter school seats, according to a study by a Stanford University economist being released Tuesday. Charter schools, which are privately run but publicly financed, have been faring well on standardized tests in recent years. But skeptics have discounted their success by accusing them of “creaming” the best students, saying that the most motivated students and engaged parents are the ones who apply for the spots. The study’s methodology addresses that issue by comparing charter school students with students of traditional schools who applied for charter spots but did not get them. Most of the city’s 99 charter schools admit students by lottery. (more…)

Also Noted for Tuesday, September 22, 2009:

By Rubén Moreno/La Opinión (text in Spanish)

Those who arrive each day to the Parent Center at Huntington Park High School are welcomed with coffee, pasta and beans. Snacks are never missing, and neither are the volunteers who arrive there each day to help out with the school’s needs, even if it just means organizing letters that administrators need to mail out. This school has one of the highest levels of community participation in the district. Betty Davis-Gonzáles has been working on making sure that parents, like her, are involved. Otherwise, as she says, ‘the kids will not succeed without support." Betty still remembers how just a decade ago, parents met beneath a tree, until she was able to get a bungalow that now works as a Parent Center. (more…)

AGREEMENT: District will save $1 million, return 1,092 workers to full-time status.
By Connie Llanos/Los Angeles Daily News

Group of Los Angeles Unified employees to make concessions, bus drivers have agreed to take six unpaid days off this budget year, saving the cash-strapped school district an estimated $1 million. The agreement by members of SEIU Local 99 Unit C comes as the district struggles with a projected deficit of about $1.3billion over the next three years. The district has agreed to restore full-time work hours for 1,092 LAUSD bus drivers in exchange for the furlough days. Without the deal, work hours for full-time district bus drivers would have been cut - from eight to seven hours a day - affecting salary and retirement benefits, said SEIU spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos. "This is a sacrifice, because it represents a pay cut for these workers … but it was important for these workers to protect full-time jobs and benefits," Gallegos said. (more…)

By Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

Sandra Ruvalcaba isn’t sure if she would have tapped Dominic Satterfield as a gifted child before. His reading was a little weak and he struggled with writing last year at Cabrillo Elementary in Point Loma. But when the teacher began to use strategies for gifted children with all of her students, Dominic suddenly seemed to stand out. He flourished. His mother Sadie said it was "100 percent different" than the way she was taught as a child, and she liked what she saw. Dominic relished getting into debates with other children about the ethics of playground squabbles. He is a pint-sized philosopher with a karate T-shirt and a frank and surprisingly adult manner, who readily picks out what his teachers call the "Big Ideas" — one of the buzzwords that mark the new strategies — in classic stories such as the Tortoise and the Hare. (more…)

By Sam Dillon/New York Times

Tucked away in an $87 billion higher education bill that passed the House last week was a broad new federal initiative aimed not at benefiting college students, but at raising quality in the early learning and care programs that serve children from birth through age 5. The initiative, the Early Learning Challenge Fund, would channel $8 billion over eight years to states with plans to improve standards, training and oversight of programs serving infants, toddlers and preschoolers. The Senate is expected to pass similar legislation this fall, giving President Obama, who proposed the Challenge Fund during the presidential campaign, a bill to sign in December. (more…)

Large scale mural project finished after eight months at Johnnie Cochran Middle School in L.A.
By Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

After eight months and more than 500 gallons of paint, two Los Angeles artists unveiled Friday a mural project that’s reshaped the climate at an 82-year-old middle school. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: Surrounded by dozens of middle school students, painter Raul Baltazar describes the design elements of a new 40-by-125 foot outdoor mural at Johnnie Cochran Middle School in L.A.’s Mid- City. Raul Baltazar: That earth becomes the head of an elephant and then you see the tusks that are coming from that. And with the background, there’s these cobras, I don’t know if you noticed that, and then the feet of the elephant that’s coming out towards you. (more…)

By Celia W. Dugger/New York Times

KHAYELITSHA, South Africa — Seniors here at Kwamfundo high school sang freedom songs and protested outside the staff room last year because their accounting teacher chronically failed to show up for class. With looming national examinations that would determine whether they were bound for a university or joblessness, they demanded a replacement. A student waited for transportation at Kwamfundo High School in Khayelitsha. The school was the site of student riots last year because of teacher absenteeism. “We kept waiting, and there was no action,” said Masixole Mabetshe, who failed the exams and who now, out of work, passes the days watching TV. (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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