September 25, 2009

Themes in the News for the week of September 21-25, 2009

School Cuts Have Consequences: Larger Classes, Less Attention

Now that summer has drawn to a close, and the tumult over education budget “compromises” has quieted, some might feel relieved—might think that another crisis has passed. In fact, the crisis has just moved out of sight and into classrooms.

Students and teachers at every level (kindergarten through college) and in nearly every school, district, and region of the state are feeling the crisis every day: more students per class, less teacher-attention per student, stretched learning resources, dwindling support services that include “cuts to clerical, custodial and cafeteria staffs and, in secondary schools, to counselors and administrators as well” (Los Angeles Times).

As in the past, some severe examples will merit a human interest headline, as when we learn this week of classes filled with nearly fifty students and still scrambling to find enough seats for everyone to sit (Los Angeles Times).

Fairfax High School history teacher John Collier must explain, “…it’s unreasonable to ask me to teach a class of 48 kids and give attention to everybody" (Los Angeles Times). Collier’s comment raises the very sad question: Is anyone actually asking him to “give attention to everybody”? Or is less attention simply one more cut alongside less bus service?

Student learning and supports are also compromised at the state’s colleges and universities: the University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and Community Colleges. Students in all three systems are facing “bigger class sizes, fewer campus services, and less accessible faculty members, all at sharply rising prices. (The New York Times)” UC students are paying 9.3 percent more in tuition, with additional fee increases under consideration. CSU students are paying 20 percent more, and Community College students are paying 30 percent more.

Cal State Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), in Carson, serves more students of color than any other university campus in California. The state budget cuts have an especially heavy impact on CSUDH because of the “funding formula of the system, which favors full-time students over part-time students,” and which “doesn’t recognize the complicated lives of the working-class students of color who attend Dominguez Hills” (The Daily Breeze).

Joshua Clover, an associate professor of English at the University of California, Davis, told NPR that, “students are getting less attention from their professors. . . ” “I’m teaching. . .introduction to poetry. I taught it two years ago. It had 80 students. And there were four discussion sections of 20 each that met once a week, in which they could discuss matters in detail. [This year there are] 120 students in the class and no discussion sections" (NPR).

Community colleges face increasing enrollment while battling with $840 million in funding cuts. "Opportunities are getting thwarted. For some people, community college is their hope for retraining and to get a college education”, said Audrey Yamagata-Noji, vice president of student services at Mt. San Antonio College. “It really is a bind for everybody" (Inland Valley Daily Bulletin).

Top Stories and Commentary for Friday, September 25, 2009

Editorial/The Bakersfield Californian

Dropout rates have a direct correlation to juvenile crime, so it stands to reason that keeping kids in school helps to keep our streets safe. And if that’s the case, few parts of California stand to benefit from effective stay-in-school programs more than Kern County, one of four Central Valley counties with dropout rates higher than the state average of 18.9 percent. And based on 2007-08 data from the California Department of Education, Kern County’s dropout rate is the highest, at 26.9 percent. It’s hard to precisely quantify the real-world cost of the dropout problem, in terms of juvenile crime, but the California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara has tried. Researchers’ best guess: $1.1 billion per year. The ongoing problem not only takes a huge chunk out of the state economy, it also threatens public safety, the researchers maintain. (more…)

By Nick Anderson/Washington Post

To the surprise of many educators who campaigned last year for change in the White House, the Obama administration’s first recipe for school reform relies heavily on Bush-era ingredients and adds others that make unions gag. Standardized testing, school accountability, performance pay, charter schools — all are integral to President Obama’s $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" grant competition to spur innovation. None is a typical Democratic crowd-pleaser. Labor leaders, parsing the Education Department’s fine print, call the proposal little more than a dressed-up version of the No Child Left Behind law enacted seven years ago under Obama’s Republican predecessor. "It looks like the only strategies they have are charter schools and measurement," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "That’s Bush III." Weingarten, who praises Obama for massive federal aid to help schools through the recession, said her 1.4 million-member union is engaged in "a constructive but tart dialogue" with the administration about reform. (more…)

The US education secretary’s approach involves finding and highlighting innovative solutions in schools around the nation.
By Marjorie Kehe/Christian Science Monitor

Arne Duncan, the US education secretary, is candid about his hopes for a major overhaul of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is overdue for reauthorization. “The first thing that’s got to go is the name,” said Secretary Duncan, his face somewhere between a smile and a grimace Duncan was in Manchester, N.H., on Wednesday at a forum on President Obama’s Fatherhood Initiative. Afterward, he gave an interview to the Monitor in which he talked about plans for reform of America’s education system. One thing he stressed: The leadership may come from Washington, but the best ideas on which steps to take will probably be found somewhere else. “When I worked in Chicago, I never imagined the best ideas came from Washington,” he says, referring to his years as CEO of the Chicago public-school system. “Now that I’m in Washington, I certainly don’t imagine that.” (more…)

By Alyson Klein/Education Week

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan signaled this week that the U.S. Department of Education is poised to launch reauthorization efforts for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as he used a packed meeting here to underline his likely priorities to a broad range of key stakeholders. He said the new version of the law will need to ensure effective teachers and principals for underperforming schools, expand learning time, and devise an accountability system that measures individual student progress and uses data to inform instruction and teacher evaluation. He repeated his assertion, made in a number of speeches since he took office this year, that the federal government “should be tight on the goals—with clear standards set by states that truly prepare young people for college and careers—but … loose on the means for meeting those goals.” (more…)

By Ronald Roach/Diverse Online

One strategy to reduce high school dropout rates among African-American and Latino teenagers is to better align counselors and high quality teachers with the most vulnerable students as they move from elementary to middle to their high school freshman year, a Johns Hopkins University senior researcher told attendees Thursday during the Education Braintrust session at the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Annual Legislative Conference. Dr. Robert Balfanz, associate research scientist at the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, said that analysis of the 2,000 high schools which account for roughly half of the nation’s dropouts showed that four out of five ninth-graders at those schools have either repeated grades making them older than traditional ninth-graders, or are doing academic work far below their grade levels. (more…)

By Terence Chea/Education Week

As schools grapple with a resurgence of swine flu, many districts have few or no nurses to prevent or respond to outbreaks, leaving students more vulnerable to a virus that spreads easily in classrooms and takes a heavier toll on children and young adults.
The shortage of school nurses could lead to more students falling ill from the H1N1 virus, which can be particularly dangerous for children with weakened immune systems or respiratory conditions such as asthma, experts say. "It’s really irresponsible of the school district to not really provide medical oversight while kids are in school," said Jamie Hintzke, who has two kids in Northern California’s Pleasanton Unified School District, including a son with severe food allergies. The district has one nurse for 15 schools and almost 15,000 students. "I’m playing Russian roulette every single day he goes to school." (more…)

By Garance Burke/The Associated Press

Over the last decade, the drinking water at thousands of schools across the country has been found to contain unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and dozens of other toxins. An Associated Press investigation found that contaminants have surfaced at public and private schools in all 50 states - in small towns and inner cities alike. But the problem has gone largely unmonitored by the federal government, even as the number of water safety violations has multiplied. "It’s an outrage," said Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech who has been honored for his work on water quality. "If a landlord doesn’t tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail. But we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school children safe?" (more…)

Blog by Carla Rivera/Los Angeles Times

A coalition of 80 civil rights, student and community organizations representing Asian and Pacific Islander Americans today filed a legal brief with the California Supreme Court supporting a state law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state fees at public colleges and universities. Thousands of immigrant youths, many from low-income families, would find it impossible to afford college if the law is invalidated, said Yungsuhn Park, an attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, which co-wrote the brief. The state’s highest court is considering the case, Martinez vs. Regents of the University of California, which challenges the 2001 state law, AB 540, allowing documented and undocumented students to pay in-state rather than out-of-state tuition if they attend at least three years of high school in California, graduate from a state high school and promise to apply for permanent residency. (more…)

Also Noted for Friday, September 25, 2009:

By Jeff Nachtigal/Bakersfield Californian

Juvenile crime costs California at lot: an estimated $8.9 billion every year. The cure is complicated, but the formula is straightforward: reducing the dropout rate, which reduces economic loss due to crimes committed by kids, according to a study released Thursday by the California Dropout Research Project. The study also finds that juveniles commit one in six violent crimes; high school dropouts are twice as likely as graduates to commit crimes; and cutting juvenile crime by 30,000 cases would save the state another $550 million per year. The biggest finding? Savings realized by reducing juvenile crimes would pay for the programs to reduce dropouts. (more…)

Blog by Emily Alpert/Voice of San Diego

Buried in all the documents for the school board meeting next Tuesday is a disturbing report on why San Diego Unified identifies so many black students and English learners for special education. This isn’t a surprise: Another expert studied San Diego Unified two years ago and found that black children are disproportionately likely to be labeled as emotionally disturbed and English learners also make up a disproportionate part of special education classes. Harvard professor Thomas Hehir worried that students shunted into separate classes might be underserved compared to if they had stayed in mainstream classes and been given extra help. But the report sheds light on why, exactly, this seems to be happening. The "current system focuses on identification rather than prevention and punishment rather than support," wrote Jaime Hernandez, a consultant hired by the school district to examine the problem. (more…)

By Diana Lambert/Sacramento Bee

Teachers, parents and students packed the Natomas Unified School District headquarters Wednesday night to beseech board members to save classes and special programs. But bloodletting was unavoidable. The County Office of Education had exhausted all warnings to the district and, as of Wednesday morning, had stepped in to right the district’s finances. County education officials told Natomas trustees to cut $200,000 from this year’s budget and $5 million from the budgets of each of the next three years. Assistant Superintendent John Christ told The Bee Thursday that the district’s financial trouble is due to a number of factors, including administrators being overly optimistic about incoming federal money and potential state budget cuts. (more…)

By Celia W. Dugger/New York Times

Thousands of children marched to City Hall this week in sensible black shoes, a stream of boys and girls from township schools across this seaside city that extended for blocks, passing in a blur of pleated skirts, blazers and rep ties. Their polite demand: Give us libraries and librarians. The marchers in Cape Town, who numbered in the thousands. The marchers echoed a children’s uprising against apartheid in 1976. “We want more information and knowledge,” said a ninth grader, Abongile Ndesi. In the 15 years since white supremacist rule ended in South Africa, the governing party, the African National Congress, has put in place numerous policies to transform schools into engines of opportunity. But many of its leaders, including President Jacob Zuma, now acknowledge that those efforts have too often failed. (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 If you wish to contact us, please e-mail

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