September 24, 2009

Top Stories and Commentary for Thursday, September 24, 2009

Study finds that cutting the dropout rate in half would save $550 million and prevent 30,000 juvenile crimes a year. Law enforcement urges more dropout-prevention programs.

By Seema Mehta/Los Angeles Times

High school dropouts, who are more likely to commit crimes than their peers with diplomas, cost the state $1.1 billion annually in law enforcement and victim costs while still minors, according to a study being released today. The California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara found that cutting the dropout rate in half would prevent 30,000 juvenile crimes and save $550 million every year. "This study demonstrates the immediate impact dropouts have on both public safety and the economy," said project Director Russell W. Rumberger. "If California could reduce the dropout rate, it could subsequently reduce the juvenile crime rate and its staggering impact on the state budget." Drop-out statistics are notoriously difficult to pinpoint, but according to the state Department of Education, nearly 19% of students don’t graduate from high school. In Los Angeles County, the figure is more than one in five, and at some L.A. schools, fewer than half of students graduate within four years. (more…)

By Greg Toppo/USA TODAY

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan plans to challenge educators, civil rights groups and others to put aside "tired arguments" about education reform to help him craft a sweeping reauthorization of federal education legislation by early 2010. In a speech to be delivered Thursday in Washington to more than 150 education, business, civil rights, charitable and social services groups, Duncan plans to invoke the Rev. Martin Luther King’s 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail that made the case for non-violent civil disobedience as state and local governments dragged their feet in integrating schools and communities. Duncan will tell the group that after 50 years of school reforms, court rulings and "watershed" reports, "we’re still waiting for the day when every child in America has a high-quality education that prepares him or her for the future." (more…)

By Libby Quaid/San Francisco Chronicle

The Obama administration is committed to the school accountability at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law championed by former President George W. Bush but also wants to make changes, says Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Duncan credited the law for shining a spotlight on children who need the most help, according to a speech prepared for delivery Thursday. No Child Left Behind pushes schools to boost the performance of minority and poor children, who trail their white peers on standardized tests. Duncan agreed with critics that standardized tests are not ideal measures of student achievement. Yet "they are the best we have at the moment," Duncan said. "Until states develop better assessments," he said, "we must rely on standardized tests to monitor progress." (more…)

By Rob Hotakainen/Idaho Statesmen

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…)

By Cater Lee Swartzlander/Intersections

The first day of high school is an exciting and terrifying experience for any teenager. The agonizing decision of what to wear, what friends will be there, what teachers will be like - it is a day for the memory books. Now imagine entering a high school where there are 4,800 students, a size that’s larger than many college campuses. That is the reality for students at Garfield High School in Los Angeles. This school on East Sixth Street is the home of the "Big Bad Bulldogs," and on a beautiful September day in Southern California, it is pulsing with youthful activity. Garfield’s principal, Michael Summe, says it is a "formidable challenge" for the faculty of such a large high school to get to know the students within. One answer to trying to reduce the enormity of such a large school is the creation of small learning communities. (more…)

A new study finds breakthrough evidence.
Wall Street Journal

‘Creaming" is the word critics of charter schools think ends the debate over education choice. The charge has long been that charters get better results by cherry-picking the best students from standard public schools. Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford economist, found a way to reliably examine this alleged bias, and the results are breakthrough news for charter advocates. Her new study, "How New York City’s Charter Schools Affect Achievement," shows that charter students, typically from more disadvantaged families in places like Harlem, perform almost as well as students in affluent suburbs like Scarsdale. Because there are more applicants than spaces, New York admits charter students with a lottery system. The study nullifies any self-selection bias by comparing students who attend charters only with those who applied for admission through the lottery, but did not get in. "Lottery-based studies," notes Ms. Hoxby, "are scientific and more reliable." (more…)

Also Noted for Thursday, September 24, 2009:

Complaints over student-teacher ratios.
By Chris Moran/San Diego Union-Tribune

The two largest teachers unions in the county are filing unfair-labor-practice complaints against school districts that increased class sizes this year to deal with unprecedented budget cuts. The Sweetwater Union High School District’s union claims the school board failed to negotiate with educators as required before changing last year’s 28-to-1 student-teacher ratio to 30-to-1 this year. “I don’t think any party should take advantage of the economic situation to impose any long-lasting changes,” union President Alex Anguiano said. Leaders with the San Diego Education Association say they plan to amend a previous complaint against the San Diego Unified School District, the state’s second-largest, over this year’s changes. The school board members are “doing their unilateral action and we’re staking out our legal case against it,” union President Camille Zombro said. (more…)

By Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

It was a stunning change of fortune. Months ago, as San Diego Unified struggled to cope with massive budget cuts, it suddenly discovered that the problem wasn’t as bad as it thought. Budget staffers found that their expected shortfall had suddenly dropped from $180 million to $106 million — a 40 percent change — after they added up new numbers for state funding and the actual savings from freezing spending. It was good news — but it made skeptical observers even more skeptical of the numbers. And as San Diego Unified heads into another year of budget cuts, analysts say its budgets remain unreliable. Outside experts hired by the district to pore over the budget found that the system is still riddled with problems, according to a draft report obtained by voiceofsandiego.org. Employees frequently have to enter and sort budget data by hand, increasing the chance of errors. Millions of dollars have been put in the wrong place as a result. (more…)

Editorial/Los Angeles Daily News

To say "Shame on the school board," is very tempting. The Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education has decided to eliminate all special committee meetings and limit the number of speakers from the public allowed to talk during the remaining meetings. The board voted 5-2 for this new approach to conducting the public’s business. Board members said it was a cost-cutting measure. "We are in a crisis," said board president Monica Garcia, who proposed this plan. "And with this budget, we are not only challenged to do less … we must do things differently." This plan is too different. Garcia said her idea was partially drawn to address a 30 percent reduction in money for the district’s office of the board secretariat. The board secretariat coordinates all the district’s meetings and produces all meeting-related material. (more…)

By Katy Murphy/Oakland Tribune

Teacher Melinda Castrillon’s kindergarten class sang songs about elephants and sounded out letters of the alphabet. They talked about the weather, and she asked them for words beginning with O. But last week, when she invited them to pararse, half the group remained seated. And when she asked them to sentarse, the same children stayed on their feet until they saw their teacher signal with her hands for them to sit. Castrillon’s instructions, encouragements and gentle reprimands all were made in Spanish, a language still foreign to half of the children. But it won’t be unfamiliar for long — not if this new, Spanish-English immersion program at Melrose Leadership Academy works as designed. "Conejo, conejo, ce, ce, ce," they repeated after Castrillon, who held a large card with a rabbit and a giant letter C. Such "two-way language immersion" programs, in which children are instructed throughout the day in two languages, are cropping up in public and private schools throughout the state. (more…)

By Alejandra Molina/Orange County Register

After several online readers expressed discontent with staff at Laguna Hills High translating a weekly newsletter in Spanish, the high school’s principal is defending its decision to do so in order to foster more parent involvement and to meet state requirements. "A leading variable in student success is parent involvement," said Principal Sean Boulton Wednesday. "We need parent support as well. This is just one tool that we use to reach out to our parents." Tuesday’s online story about the newly translated newsletter sparked several comments with most disagreeing with the school’s decision. One reader commented: "This decision is one more reason for people to NOT assimilate. If Mr. Boulton wants to include everyone, then the newsletter should be translated into Farsi, Vietnamese, Arabic, Hebrew, and any number of other languages spoken at home." (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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