Sunday, June 27, 2010

Politicians and candidates fail the schools

The U.S, and the school systems in most of  our cities, including Sacramento, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and others,  are currently at a crisis  point.  The current economic crisis has ended almost all school reform efforts. Politicians  and candidates like Meg Whitman continue to pontificate, but lack of funding and the demoralizing cuts in school budgets and staff have ended almost all real reform.   Whitman proposes to cut the state budget $15 billion, at least  40% of that would come from k-12 education. 
If anti tax radicals win the elections,  Schools will  continue their decline. 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, Paul Krugman, The return of depression economics and the crisis of 2008.  (2009) Dean Baker,  Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy, (2009) Nomi Prins.  It Takes a Pillage: Behind the bailouts, bonuses and backroom Deals from Washington to  Wall Street. (2009), and the numerous other others cited on this blog in posts on the economic crisis. )
Alternatively, schools could  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.

The possibility for change exists and gives those of us dedicated to democratic schools hope.  Current   proposals promoted by conservative institutes   such as school choice and using public monies to fund private education  will not lead to democratic reform. Rather than continue these privileges, a reform movement must build on democratic ideals of progress and equality of opportunity. These traditional values can triumph over the hostility and violence produced by racism, sexism, and class bias presently accepted as “normal” and natural in our schools.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Teach for America: what the evidence says

Professor Su Jin Jez, of Sacramento State’s Public Policy and Administration Graduate Program, has coauthored an education policy brief titled, “Teach For America: A Review of the Evidence.” 

The brief looks at the impact of Teach For America, which aims to address teacher shortages by sending graduates from elite colleges, most of whom do not have a background in education, to teach in low-income rural and urban schools for a two-year commitment. The brief is available at
Research on the impact of TFA teachers produces a mixed picture, with results af- fected by the experience level of the TFA teachers and the group of teachers with whom they are compared. Studies have found that, when the comparison group is other teachers in the same schools who are less likely to be certified or traditional- ly prepared, novice TFA teachers perform equivalently, and experienced TFA teachers perform comparably in raising reading scores and a bit better in raising math scores.
The question for most districts, however, is whether TFA teachers do as well as or better than credentialed non-TFA teachers with whom school districts aim to staff their schools. On this question, studies indicate that the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well in reading and mathematics than those of credentialed beginning teachers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Endless Teacher Layoffs

An endless summer awaits many of Detroit's teachers and school buildings this Thursday. Detroit, one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in America, is about to add thousands of teachers to its unemployment rolls and dozens of buildings to its vacancy problem. A third of this cash-strapped city is reported to be vacant already. The closing of more schools could be the death knell for many of the remaining neighborhoods in these dire economic times.
Although the city has a five-year plan to renovate or replace school buildings, funded in part by federal stimulus, 32 buildings will be closed permanently by the end of the year, with a dozen more to follow over the next two years.
Detroit is not the only urban school district facing massive staff layoffs, and tasked with shuttering schools. Kansas City will close 26 of its 66 schools. Cleveland will lose 14 schools. And the state of California is braced for massive teacher reductions.
With the edu-jobs bill still stalled in Congress -- and likely to remain their over the summer break despite the recent personal appeal by the White House to pass it -- Detroit is unlikely to be financially able to hire back many, or any teachers, making the 2010/11 school year a challenging one for school officials, parents, remaining teachers and their students.Regardless, the schools are gone and no amount of last minute funding will bring them back. by Ann Bibby

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Testing teachers, ignoring education

See the excellent article, "Coming Soon to Your Favorite Credential Program; National Exit Exams," by Ann Berlak in the current issue of Rethinking Schools.
Ann is a faculty member at San Francisco State.  I have recently heard from students at San Francisco State about their experiences with PACT.
PACT ( called Performance Assessment) was imposed on many CSU campuses in the last three years. It forces teaches in training to divert as much as 1/3 of their time toward test preparation rather than teaching. Student teachers are pushed away from originality and creativity in teaching.
In one of my own semesters, some 3 students out of 24 did not pass PACT.  But, they were not the weakest students in the cohort. They were the most creative, the most divergent. The students who pass PACT easily are the least creative. They modify their instruction the least to encourage critical thinking. A group of faculty have tried to stop PACT, but we have been unable to change it. Our unions helped a little.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

School update

School Beat: 2009-2010 School Year in Review

by Lisa Schiff, 2010-06-03
Note: Starting next week School Beat will be on summer vacation until school starts again in mid-August.

The 2009-2010 school year is finally at an end. This has felt like a long one, mostly due, as it usually is, to the external pressures and challenges facing our schools. In the midst of the worst financial crisis in years and a political climate that is almost equally as turbulent, students, educators, families and other public education supporters have struggled with some success to keep our schools going and to push them higher on the list of priorities of things to be maintained, if not strengthened. With leaders like Governor Schwarzenegger, who continues his efforts to strip public schools of resources, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who enthusiastically promotes standardized testing and competitive grant-based learning models, California’s K-12 system has been hit hard from all sides.

The recession and related budget crisis have been felt strongly throughout this year. After tense negotiations, our district ended up having only four furlough days for teachers and just under two hundred pink slips ultimately issued. Hopefully this will be reduced even more if the emergency funding for education jobs finally comes through Congress. Even with that, it’s a clear measure of just how bad things are that the loss of that many teachers and the reduction of even a few educational days can feel like an aversion of disaster.

Discussion of where to cut took up much of the year and can be tracked through various documents and timelines on the San Francisco Unified School District’s (SFUSD) budget page. The deficit action plan laid out a set of proposed cuts that were presented and discussed atcommunity meetings and were ultimately accepted by the Board of Education (BOE) as options Superintendent Carlos Garcia could put into place as needed.

Two positive outcomes around the budget also occurred this year. The first was a fantastic Town Hall meeting organized by some SFUSD parents in an effort to galvanize action around the perpetual underfunding of California’s schools in both boom and bust times. The Funding our Future event, attending by elected officials, and hundreds of parents and public school supporters is now evolving into a new effort, called Educate Our State, the specific goals of which will hopefully be unfolding soon, revealing tasks we can all join in on.
Read the entire post at Beyond the Chron

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Torlakson for Superintendent of Public Instruction

There are three candidates for Superintendent who have any reasonable chance to win; Gloria Romero,  Tom  Torlakson, and  Larry  Aceves.
Romero and Torlakson have similar advantages and disadvantages.  They are both termed out legislators seeking a new position, not leaders in education.  A prior post examined Romero’s role and position.
While the eduwonks  (who do not work in schools) and Romero  continue their efforts and California achievement scores remain stagnant, others blame the  economic crisis that California and 42 other states find themselves in.

In Robles-Wong v. California (May 2010)  the plaintiffs note: Currently, the state ranks 47th among all states in its per-pupil spending on education, spending $2,856 less per pupil than the national average.
Yet most Californians, according to a recent poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, believe there is not enough state funding going to public schools, and a majority single out K-12 education as the area that they most want to protect from spending cuts.
“We require students to meet high education standards and then deny them the resources they need to meet those standards,” said Jo A.S. Loss, president of the California State PTA. “We must have a system that allows schools to deliver a high-quality education for all children – in good times and in tough times.”
The Governor and elected officials discuss the economic crisis as if  the crisis is a neutral act, or as if a natural act- like rain or snow.   But, the  California school budgets are  a disaster not because of   some natural phenomena.   The sustained crisis was created by the governor and the  state legislature.