Saturday, July 26, 2008

California drop out rate crisis

Jack O’Connell: California’s Alarming Dropout Rate and the Support Our Children Need

In this week’s Democratic weekly radio address, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and Executive Director of the P16 Council José Ortega highlight California’s alarming high school dropout rate. They also call for the support needed to ensure our children are well-educated and our economy is competitive.

Hello, this is State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

This year, for the first time using student level data, California was able to report with much more accuracy information about the number of students who either dropped out or graduated from high school.

Implementing a system that revealed the truth about our dropout problem was a very important first step. Now we must face the alarming news that one in four students is dropping out of our California public high schools.

These high school dropouts will struggle to find employment, let alone find a job in which their true potential flourishes.

What's even more troubling is that the dropout rate is even higher among our African American, Hispanic, and low-income students. This achievement gap is a crisis. The loss of potential for students who do not finish school is simply staggering. And it is a major loss to our state’s economy.

To keep California’s economy competitive, we need the jobs a well-educated workforce attracts.

According to the California Dropout Research Project, each yearly wave of dropouts will cost California $46 billion through increased spending and reduced taxes.

These alarming dropout rate numbers are in part a legacy of our state's embarrassingly low per-pupil funding.

Among the fifty states, we consistently rank among the lowest ten.

So when California's State Board of Education recently mandated Algebra 1 for every single 8th grader, I and educators up and down our state were deeply concerned.

California's educators are rightly working hard toward the day when all of our students in 8th grade are truly prepared to succeed in Algebra 1.

But as of today, less than one in four 8th graders enrolled in General Mathematics is even proficient on standards that are taught in 6th and 7th grades.

Now in light of this fact, and our 24 percent dropout rate, it’s clear that in order to improve our students’ education, we need to increase the support of our schools.

Bringing California's per-pupil funding up to par with the rest of the United States is crucial to achieving our educational goals.

Attracting the 8,000 new algebra teachers we will need is going to require competitive recruiting strategies including increased salaries.

Our schools must be repaired and well-maintained if we're going to help our kids focus on their education.

Textbooks, after-school programs, school counselors: these were the basics previous generations needed to excel in school; our kids deserve no less.

Additionally, harnessing the power of today's information technology for educational purposes is an opportunity we simply can't afford to miss.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that the investments made in education benefit everyone in our society.

To sustain California's business innovation, our arts, culture and scientific achievement there is no substitute.

This has been State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, thank you for listening.
From: The California Progress Report.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Do the math

Do the math: Algebra mandate's a formula for failure

By Jack Stewart and Bob Balgenorth - Special to The Bee

California eighth-graders currently rank 44th among the states in math achievement. But despite this embarrassing showing, California has just become the first state to require every eighth-grader in public school to enroll in Algebra 1. While the goal is admirable, its application is flawed.

Even as middle school math scores plummet, the California state Board of Education, urged on by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, voted 8-1 to require every eighth-grader, ready or not, to take algebra.

Never mind that many sixth- and seventh-graders in California haven't even mastered basic math skills – or that we have a critical shortage of qualified math teachers – or that this mandate will cost billions of dollars.

Worse, we're spending money we don't have on a program that's not even proven to succeed. An investment of this magnitude should be based on data, not blind hope. After all, this money could be used to fund proven programs – such as career technical education – or look to fund promising concepts like preschool for all.

If the logic of teaching algebra to students who cannot do basic math escapes you, you're not alone. "It's going to be a firestorm in our state," says state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, who strongly opposes the plan. "We're setting every school up for failure."

Board member James Aschwanden, the only dissenting vote, agrees: "Not all children are developmentally ready to take algebra in eighth grade." If poor math achievement is the problem, is the new algebra mandate the answer? Let's do the math.

According to figures released this week by the Department of Education, about one in four California students drops out of high school – and the numbers are higher in many schools serving poor and minority students. Forcing students to take algebra in the eighth grade without adequate preparation will likely increase dropouts.

California already has too few qualified math teachers – and the problem is worse in schools serving poor and minority communities. Lacking instructors, students in these schools will be least prepared for the new requirement and will suffer disproportionately as a result.

For years, reform advocates have argued that our education system should be run more like a business – where challenges and solutions are scrutinized, cost-benefit analyses performed and decisions based on facts. We agree. Businesses also tend to invest their precious capital wisely, to ensure the biggest bang for their buck.

Conversely, the state Board of Education is spending billions of dollars on a mandate that is not only unproven but also widely unpopular – even our state schools chief expects it to fail. This is no way to run a business, or a taxpayer-funded education system.

The unintended result? Programs like career technical education – which have proved successful at increasing graduation rates and preparing students for well-paid, highly skilled technical jobs – will lose more funding and curricular space to accommodate the new mandate.

In addition, tens of thousands of students will not be allowed to enroll in CTE or other electives in middle school if they haven't mastered algebra. This lack of student enrollment will kill the remaining CTE programs.

Tragically, even fewer students will graduate with the technical training needed by California businesses – and with fewer CTE options, more students will opt out of school.

Eighth-graders already have the opportunity to take Algebra 1 as an elective. But if all eighth-graders are required to enroll, students who are already struggling will have even less time to master the basic skills they need.

We must set high academic standards for the next generation. But these standards should be well thought out and achievable. The new algebra mandate is neither. The governor and the Board of Education need to revisit this ill-considered decision before they do real harm to our public schools.
Bob Balgenorth is president of the California Building and Construction Trades Council. AFL-CIO.
The co-chair: Get Real.
Labels: Algebra, California, math

Thursday, July 17, 2008

McCain Lays Down The Educational Gauntlet
Filed under: Education by Leo Casey @ 11:57 pm
In his speech last week to the national convention of the American Federation of Teachers, Barack Obama was clear and unequivocal in his opposition to using public money for vouchers for private schools. At that time, Obama made it clear that he supported public school choice — the ability of students and their families to chose which public school they would attend. In taking this stance, Obama reiterated what is a longstanding position of his — he had made the same point to the National Education Association convention earlier in July, and had explicitly disowned attempts by pro-voucher partisans to spin comments he made in a primary campaign interview into support for private school vouchers.
Today, John McCain chose the occasion of a speech to the august civil rights organization, the NAACP, to take on Obama — and teacher unions — on this very point. McCain said:
In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers last weekend, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, “tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice.” All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?
Over the years, Americans have heard a lot of “tired rhetoric” about education. We’ve heard it in the endless excuses of people who seem more concerned about their own position than about our children. We’ve heard it from politicians who accept the status quo rather than stand up for real change in our public schools. Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open doors of opportunity. When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. Some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school. Many will choose a charter school. No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.
Let us leave to the side McCain’s intellectually dishonest attempt to wrap the issue of private school vouchers in the mantle of public school choice: there are, of course, very sound policy reasons why Obama, the NAACP and teacher unions all draw a vital distinction between private school vouchers and public school choice, opposing the former and supporting the latter. But the real political import of McCain’s statement lies elsewhere — it is an attempt to force a political wedge between Obama and teacher unions, based on the raw power calculus that an Obama campaign without vigorous teacher and union support would be a far more vulnerable opponent.
To accomplish this goal, McCain has returned to the old Republican Dole and D’Amato playbook of attacking teacher unions. In an American trade union movement that has been decimated in recent decades, teacher unions stand out as a powerful exception, with most of the K-12 educational sector organized in either the NEA or the AFT. It is teacher unions that stand between the Republican right and the privatization of public education and the further dismantling of American public life. Like his predecessors, McCain understands this political reality. Teachers and unionists need to understand it as well, and organize for this election in a way that send a message every bit as powerful as the crushing defeats of Dole and D’Amato.

Leo Casey. Leo blogs on Edwize. The Blog of the New York AFT.

California moves toward honest drop out numbers

California high school dropout rate near one-quarter, report says

By Deb Kollars -
Published 12:00 am PDT Thursday, July 17, 2008

A new high school dropout report released Wednesday shows significantly higher rates of students leaving public school in California than reported in previous years.

According to the California Department of Education, one in four high-schoolers – 24.2 percent – failed to graduate or move into another program to continue their education. The estimates were derived from data from the 2006-07 school year.

By contrast, the state claimed a 13.9 percent four-year dropout rate for the prior year.

The difference is due to a more accurate system for keeping track of students, said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell. Under the system, students were given a unique identification number that enabled the state to better track their whereabouts in the education system.

It proved an eye-opening effort.

In the past, dropout counts were self-reported by schools and districts. In many places, the figures were considered serious undercounts, especially when compared with the rates of freshmen who actually graduated with their classes four years later.

The Grant Joint Union High School District, for example, reported an 18 percent four-year dropout rate in 2005-06.

Yet, that same year, the district (which recently merged into a new district called Twin Rivers) graduated only 1,232 students – fewer than half of the 2,547 ninth-graders enrolled four years earlier.

For years, such disparities ran up and down the state, leading to calls for reform of the dropout reporting system. Laws passed in 1995 and 2002 paved the way for a more accurate system, but financial and bureaucratic barriers prevented it until this year.

"Thank God we've finally moved in this direction," said Delaine Eastin, who was state superintendent from 1995 until 2003 and advocated for a better tracking system. "It's too little too late, though, for some of these students, these real-life people."

Under the new system, the Grant district showed a 36.2 percent dropout rate – double its prior year's and one of the highest district rates in the Sacramento region.

The Sacramento City Unified and San Juan Unified districts, by contrast, ran just below the Sacramento County rate of 26.5 percent and slightly above the statewide rate.

"We knew it was high, but this is a startling number," said Frank Porter, superintendent of the Twin Rivers Unified School District, which absorbed Grant and three other districts July 1.

Porter said he was grateful for more reliable statistics: "It will give us a more accurate baseline," he said, noting that Twin Rivers is taking steps to keep more students in school.

The announcement Wednesday that a fourth of California high-schoolers – more than 127,000 teenagers – quit school prematurely left many disturbed.

Rates run even higher for African American and Latino students. And although younger students are not accounted for in the four-year rates, the report shows thousands dropping out as early as seventh and eighthgrades.

"It's plain unacceptable," said state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. "These are young people who are largely uneducated and unprepared for the high-wage jobs in the new economies of California."

Mary Shelton, associate superintendent at Sacramento City Unified, agreed too many students leave early. She cautioned, though, that the rates listed for individual high schools may overstate dropouts because of mobility factors.

Hiram Johnson High School, for example, had a 35.4 percent dropout rate. But the school also has a huge transfer rate because families move so much.

"It's like a revolving door," Shelton said. "Last year half the kids transferred in or out in the course of the year."

O'Connell said the new system was designed to make better sense of transfers.

In the past, he said, when students left schools saying they were switching to another campus, their schools counted them as transfers, not dropouts, without checking if the students actually re-enrolled elsewhere.

With the new student tracking system, the state was able to determine whether such transfers took place.

If not, such students were deemed "lost transfers" and counted as dropouts. They were a big factor in the uptick in dropout rates.

"Twenty-four percent of students dropping out is not good news," O'Connell said, noting that the more accurate data should lead to greater accountability and more focus on helping students complete school.

Wednesday's report said 8.2 percent of students were considered neither dropouts nor graduates because they moved to a private school, earned a high school equivalency certificate, left the state or died, among other things.

Alan Bonsteel, a Marin physician long critical of the state's dropout counts, said the numbers still are not accurate because they fail to account for middle school dropouts and students who move to other states, countries or private schools or leave school for other reasons.

"We're still undercounting," said Bonsteel, president of California Parents for Educational Choice, a nonprofit that advocates for charters and vouchers.

According to the Department of Education, an even more accurate tally will be available when the state launches a longitudinal data system in 2009-10.

It will enable the tracking of individual students over time, rather than producing derived rates based on a single year's data.

Go to: Sacbee
Note. Average numbers are deceptive. Since California schools vary dramatically, you need to look up the scores on the specific schools

Monday, July 14, 2008

Informal economy

The Know Nothing Party

From: The Daily Kos
GOP, the Know-Nothing Party
by smintheus
Mon Jul 14, 2008 at 06:58:54 PM PDT

Republicans have been in a lather since Barack Obama commented that American children should learn a foreign language in school. It demonstrates the extent to which they've become the party of ignorance.

Responding to a voter in GA who'd like more bilingual education, Obama said:

"Now, I agree that immigrants should learn English. I agree with that. But understand this. Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English — they’ll learn English — you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish. You should be thinking about, how can your child become bilingual? We should have every child speaking more than one language.

You know, it’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe, and all we can say [is], ‘Merci beaucoup.’ Right? You know, no, I’m serious about this. We should understand that our young people, if you have a foreign language, that is a powerful tool to get a job. You are so much more employable. You can be part of international business. So we should be emphasizing foreign languages in our schools from an early age, because children will actually learn a foreign language easier when they’re 5, or 6, or 7 than when they’re 46, like me."

Hard to argue with that. It's obvious too that learning a foreign language helps you to understand your own language better. It also brings perspective on how to think, speak, and write. While thinking critically about ideas you learn to communicate them more precisely.

Predictably, right-wingers flew into a rage at Obama's un-American call for better language skills. For example, John McCormack at the Weakly Standard labeled language education as snobbery and elitism. John Derbyshire called Obama's suggestion "idiotic" because "not many human beings can learn another language", as his own failures prove. He combines that with characteristic condescension:

In fact, below some cutoff point, which I'd guess at around minus one standard deviation in IQ (that would encompass sixteen percent of the population), education beyond the three R's is a waste of time, and foreign-language instruction a total waste of time.

Many right-wingers just skipped what Obama actually said and declared that he wants to forcibly indoctrinate their children in Spanish, or make Spanish the official language of the US. Fox News knew what Republicans wanted to hear. Neil Cavuto brought on the Philly-cheese-steak bigot Joey Vento to denounce Obama: "This man is a sick man. He is a scary man."

Even before it embraced creationism and made attacks on science a guiding principle, the Republican Party had proudly turned itself into the party of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. But Obama's call for children to learn more languages (which he stands by) has given the GOP an opportunity to link two of its favorite cudgels, ignorance and bigotry against immigrants. Truly the modern heir to the Know-Nothing Party.

How un-American are you?

I speak 1 language.
I speak 2 languages.
I speak 3 languages.
I speak 4 languages.
I speak 5-7 languages.
I speak 8 or more languages.

Monday, July 07, 2008

State budget and schools

The school systems in most of our cities in California are currently at a crisis point. Schools can continue as they are. A segment of society will be well-educated, another segment will continue to fail. The economic crisis for working people and people of color will continue to grow (Mishel, Bernstein, Allegretto, 2007). Alternatively, schools can be transformed into places where education is a rich, compelling, and affirming process that prepares all young people to make thoughtful contributions to their community in economic and civic terms.
Reforming the schools requires money. And, the Legislature is currently deadlocked. Their issue is how much to cut this year . Frederick Douglass spoke to this issue in 1849 when he wrote the following:
The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all absorbing, and for the time being putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physically one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will. (Douglass, 1849/1991, p. vii)
WE need to invest in California schools, provide equal educational opportunities in these schools, and recruit a well prepared teaching force that begins to reflect the student populations in these schools. We must insist on equal opportunity to learn, no compromise. When we do these things, we will begin to protect the freedom to learn for our children and our grandchildren, and to build a more just and democratic society.
The struggle for education improvement and education equality is a struggle for or against democratic participation. The struggle for multicultural education, based in democratic theory, is an important part of the general struggle against race, class, and gender oppression.
Schools serving urban and impoverished populations need fundamental change. These schools do not open the doors to economic opportunity. They usually do not promote equality. Instead, they recycle inequality. The high school drop out rates alone demonstrate that urban schools prepare less than 50 percent of their students for entrance into the economy and society. A democratic agenda for school reform includes insisting on fair taxation and adequate funding for all children. Political leaders in California have not yet decided to address the real issues of school reform. We cannot build a safe, just, and prosperous society while we leave so many young people behind.
The conservative/ media emphasis on accountability is a distortion. We know which schools need improvement, and we know how to improve them.. Teachers and parents together face a political choice. Shall we continue to call for high standards without providing the necessary resources for all schools to have a reasonable chance to attain such standards? Shall we continue to punish schools and their staffs for low test scores, even when we know that the tests are poor instruments for measuring learning and that their construction guarantees the failure of many students? Is increased competition and privatization the answer for schools when it has not been the answer in other sectors of our society, particularly for low income and diverse people?
The problem is to provide the resources, including well prepared teachers with adequate support, needed to make the current schools successful. We face a choice between providing high-quality schools only for the middle and upper classes, and underfunded, understaffed schools for the poor. Or, we can also choose to work together to improve schools that are presently failing.

Duane Campbell