‘Qualities of mind and heart’

For nearly two-and-a-half centuries Americans have fought and died to protect the nation’s fragile democracy. From the earliest days of the Union, the founding fathers recognized that maintaining freedom came with a cost and with a responsibility to ensure an educated citizenry.

President John F. Kennedy reaffirmed that conviction on June 6, 1963, in his commencement address to graduates of what was then known as San Diego State College. On this Memorial Day, we are sharing that speech as a reminder of a period in California’s not too distant past, when the Golden State led the nation in expanding the commitment to preparing future generations of educated citizens. Go here to listen to the president’s address. [Note:  All photos are courtesy of the San Diego State University Library, Special Collections.]

President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State College on June 6, 1963.
President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State College on June 6, 1963.

President Love, Governor Brown, Chairman Heilbron, trustees, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express a very warm sense of appreciation for the honor that you have given to me today, to be an instant graduate of this distinguished college. It is greatly appreciated and I am delighted to participate in what is a most important ceremony in the lives of us all.

One of the most impressive, if not the most impressive, accomplishments of this great Golden State has been the recognition by the citizens of this State of the importance of education as the basis for the maintenance of an effective, free society. This fact was recognized in our earliest beginnings at the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but I do not believe that any State in the Union has given more attention in recent years to educating its citizens to the highest level, doctoral level, in the State colleges, the junior colleges, the high schools, the grade schools. You recognize that a free society places special burdens upon any free citizen. To govern is to choose, and the ability to make those choices wise and responsible and prudent requires the best of all of us.San Diego State newspaper commemorating President Kennedy's visit.

No country can possibly move ahead, no free society can possibly be sustained, unless it has an educated citizenry whose qualities of mind and heart permit it to take part in the complicated and increasingly sophisticated decisions that pour not only upon the President and upon the Congress, but upon all the citizens who exercise the ultimate power.

I am sure that the graduates of this College recognize that the effort of the people of California – the Governor, the legislature, the local communities, the faculty – that this concentrated effort of mind and scholarship to educate the young citizens of this State has not been done merely to give this school’s graduates an economic advantage in the life struggle. Quite obviously, there is a higher purpose, and that is the hope that you will turn to the service of the State, the scholarship, the education, the qualities which society has helped develop in you; that you will render on the community level, or on the State level, or on the national level, or the international level a contribution to the maintenance of freedom and peace and the security of our country and those associated with it in a most critical time.

In so doing, you will follow a great and honorable tradition which combined American scholarship and American leadership in political affairs. It is an extraordinary fact of history, I think, unmatched since the days of early Greece, that this country should have produced during its founding days, in a population of a handful of men, such an extraordinary range of scholars and creative thinkers who helped build this country – Jefferson, Franklin, Morris, Wilson, and all the rest. This is a great tradition which we must maintain in our time with increasing strength and increasing vigor.

Those of you who are educated, those of us who recognize the responsibilities of an educated citizen, should now concern ourselves with whether we are providing an adequate education for all Americans, whether all Americans have an equal chance to develop their intellectual qualities, and whether we are preparing ourselves today for the educational challenges which are going to come before this decade is out.

President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State, June 6, 1963. (Click to enlarge)
President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State, June 6, 1963. (Click to enlarge)

The first question – and the most important –Does every American boy and girl have an opportunity to develop whatever talents they have? All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop those talents. Let me cite a few facts to show that they do not.

In this fortunate State of California the average current expenditure for a boy and girl in the public schools is $515, but in the State of Mississippi it is $230. The average salary for classroom teachers in California is $7,000, while in Mississippi it is $3,600. Nearly three-quarters of the young, white population of the United States have graduated from high school, but only about two-fifths of our nonwhite population has done the same.

In some States almost 40 percent of the nonwhite population has completed less than 5 years of school. Contrast it with 7 percent of the white population. In one American State, over 36 percent of the public school buildings are over 40 years of age. In another, only 4 percent are that old.

Such facts, and one could prolong the recital indefinitely, make it clear that American children today do not yet enjoy equal educational opportunities for two primary reasons: one is economic and the other is racial. If our Nation is to meet the goal of giving every American child a fair chance, because an uneducated American child makes an uneducated parent who, in many cases, produces another uneducated American child; we must move ahead swiftly in both areas.

And we must recognize that segregation and education, and I mean de facto segregation in the North as well as the proclaimed segregation in the South, brings with it serious handicaps to a large proportion of the population. It does no good, as you in California know better than any, to say that that is the business of another State. It is the business of our country, and in addition, these young uneducated boys and girls know no State boundaries and they come West as well as North and East, and they are your citizens as well as citizens of this country.

President Kennedy stands next to Governor Pat Brown as San Diego State President Malcolm Love speaks. (Click to enlarge)
President Kennedy stands next to Governor Pat Brown as San Diego State President Malcolm Love speaks. (Click to enlarge)

The second question relates to the quality of our education. Today 1 out of every 3 students in the fifth grade will drop out of high school, and only 2 out of 10 will graduate from college. In the meantime we need more educated men and women, and we need less and less unskilled labor. There are millions of jobs that will be available in the next 7 years for educated young men and women. The demand will be overwhelming, and there will be millions of people out of work who are unskilled because with new machines and technology there is less need for them. This combination of a tremendously increasing population among our young people, of less need for unskilled labor, of increasingly unskilled labor available, combines to form one of the most serious domestic problems that this country will face in the next 10 years.

Of Americans 18 years of age or older, more than 23 million have less than 8 years of schooling, and over 8 million have less than 5 years. What kind of judgment, what kind of response can we expect of a citizen who has been to school less than 5 years? And we have in this country 8 million who have been to school less than 5 years. As a result, they can’t read or write or do simple arithmetic. They are illiterate in this rich country of ours, and they constitute the hard core of our unemployed. They can’t write a letter to get a job, and they can’t read, in many cases, a help-wanted sign. One out of every 10 workers who failed to finish elementary school are unemployed, as compared to 1 out of 50 college graduates.

In short, our current educational programs, much as they represent a burden upon the taxpayers of this country, do not meet the responsibility. The fact of the matter is that this is a problem which faces us all, no matter where we live, no matter what our political views must be. “Knowledge is power,” as Francis Bacon said 500 years ago, and today it is truer than it ever was.

What are we going to do by the end of this decade? There are 4 million boys and girls born each year in the United States. Our population is growing each decade by a figure equal to the total population of this country at the time of Abraham Lincoln just 100 years ago. Our educational system is not expanding fast enough. By 1970 the number of students in our public elementary and secondary schools will have increased 25 percent over 1960. Nearly three-quarters of a million new classrooms will be needed, and we are not building them at that rate. By 1970 we will have 7 million students in our colleges and universities, 3 million more than we do today. We are going to double the population of our colleges and universities in 10 years. We are going to have to build as many school and college classrooms and buildings in 10 years as we did in 150 years.

By 1970 we will need 7,500 Ph. D.’s each year in the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering. In 1960 we graduated 3,000. Such facts make it clear that we have a major responsibility and a major opportunity, one that we should welcome, because there is no greater asset in this country than an educated man or woman. Education, quite rightly, is the responsibility of the State and the local community, but from the beginning of our country’s history, from the time of the Northwest Ordinance, as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson recognized, from the time of the Morrill Act at the height of the Civil War, when the land grant college system was set up under the administration of President Lincoln, from the beginning it has been recognized that there must be a national commitment and that the National Government must play its role in stimulating a system of excellence which can serve the great national purpose of a free society. And it is for that reason that we have sent to the Congress of the United States legislation to help meet the needs of higher education, by assisting in the construction of college academic facilities, and junior colleges, and graduate centers, and technical institutes, and by stepping up existing programs for student loans and graduate fellowships and other student assistance programs.

We have to improve, and we have so recommended, the quality of our teachers by expanding teacher training institutes, by improving teacher preparation programs, by broadening educational research and by authorizing – and this is one of our greatest needs – increased training for teachers for the handicapped: the deaf, and those who can’t speak, and those who are otherwise handicapped. And it is designed to strengthen public elementary and secondary education through grants to the States for better teachers’ salaries, to relieve critical classroom shortages, to meet the special educational problems of depressed areas, and to continue and expand vocational education and counseling.

And finally, we must make a massive attack upon illiteracy in the year 1963 in the United States by an expansion of university extension courses and by a major effort to improve our libraries in every community of our country.

I recognize that this represents a difficult assignment for us all, but I don’t think it is an assignment from which we should shrink. I believe that education comes at the top of the responsibilities of any government, at whatever level. It is essential to our survival as a Nation in a dangerous and hazardous world, and it is essential to the maintenance of freedom at a time when freedom is under attack.

I have traveled in the last 24 hours from Washington to Colorado to Texas to here, and on every street I see mothers standing with two or three or four children. They are going to pour into our schools and our colleges in the next 10 or 20 years and I want this generation of Americans to be as prepared to meet this challenge as our forefathers did in making it possible for all of us to be here today. We are the privileged, and it should be the ambition of every citizen to express and expand that privilege so that all of our countrymen and women share it. Thank you.

Closing the bubble in foster care

Julio is not looking forward to his 19th birthday. On that day in December, he’ll lose his apartment, his living expenses, and the support of the state’s foster care system. One month later, in January 2013, the young Modesto man will be eligible to reapply for foster services under AB 12, the California Fostering Connections to Success Act of 2010.

Four weeks may not seem like a long time, but for Julio – who doesn’t want his last name used – it couldn’t come at a worse time. Next December he’ll be taking finals at Modesto Junior College, on the way to earning a four-year degree at Cal State Stanislaus, and he says the pending disruption in his life is scary.

“During that time I wouldn’t know where I would be and where I would get my money from; I would be pretty much homeless unless I found somewhere to live,” said Julio. “You wouldn’t have a place to stay even during finals, which is the most stressful time of the year; you would have to move at that time.”

Julio is one of the so-called foster care “bubble” youth. These are young adults who fall into an unintended consequence of AB 12. That bill, by Assemblyman Jim Beall (D-San José), allows foster youth to remain in the system until they turn 20 (possibly 21 if the Legislature funds it). But in order to win the signature of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Beall had to agree to phase in the change over three years.

  1. Effective January 1, 2012, extends foster care to eligible youth up to their 19th birthday;
  2. Effective January 1, 2013, extends foster care to eligible youth up to their 20th birthday; and
  3. Effective January 1, 2014, extends foster care to eligible youth up to their 21st birthday.

The way the legislation is written, young adults who turn 19 between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012 must leave the foster care system. They can reapply on January 1, 2013, and then go through the same thing again when they turn 20.

After 18 FAQs for foster youth. (Source:  Calif. Dept. of Social Services). Click to enlarge.
After 18 FAQs for foster youth. (Source: Calif. Dept. of Social Services.) Click to enlarge.

So this year Beall introduced AB 1712 to patch up the holes in his original legislation and provide continuous coverage up to age 21. It’s actually the second cleanup bill; last year, the Legislature passed AB 212, which established the process for implementing the age changes.

“It’s a fundamental shift in the whole mentality of the foster care system,” Beall explained. “You think any 20-year-old kid with limited education can find a job now? I don’t. The idea is to get them positioned to go into vocational training or get into college and get a degree.”

Advocates and many juvenile court judges agree. Beall’s legislation is supported by the California Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, California Coalition for Youth, and the California State Association of Counties.

Los Angeles County has been permitting foster youth to stay beyond age 18 for several years now, said Harvey Kawasaki, Division Chief of Youth Development Services. Even before AB 12, courts there routinely allowed young adults in foster care to stay in the system, and Kawasaki says a little over 78 percent, or 212 emancipated foster youth, decided to stay in the program. That’s a little more than the County expected.

“To me, it really is based upon what the youth wants to do and the ability of the youth along with their social worker to develop a plan and have concrete things in place,” said Kawasaki. “I get concerned when I hear, ‘Oh, I’m going to live with my friends.’”

Los Angeles County is one of a handful that does this willingly and on its own. The others are San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo. The group Fostering Media Connections, along with UC Berkeley’s Center for Social Services Research, created an interactive map showing where the counties stand.

During the gap period, Los Angeles County picks up the tab, which Kawasaki said varies depending on each foster youth’s circumstances and needs. In Modesto, Julio receives $776 a month for living expenses, including rent and food. A study on the costs and benefits of AB 12 estimates the annual price of extending foster care cost through 21 at approximately $37,948 per person. Of that, the federal government contributes $13,282 and counties pay $14,800.

Financial benefits of extending foster care. (Source:  California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act and the Costs and Benefits of Extending Foster Care to 21). Click to enlarge.
Financial benefits of extending foster care. (Source: California’s Fostering Connections to Success Act and the Costs and Benefits of Extending Foster Care to 21.) Click to enlarge.

But the researchers say the benefits far outweigh the costs in higher rates of college going, fewer high school dropouts, fewer teen pregnancies, better job training, and fewer people on public assistance or in prison. The study’s authors estimate that allowing young adults to remain in foster care until they’re 21 in order to attend college or vocational school increases their work-life earnings by $84,000.

AB 1712 is scheduled to come before the Assembly Appropriations Committee tomorrow. Today, several dozen foster youth are holding a rally in support of the measure at the State Capitol. Assemblyman Beall believes the committee will pass it. When asked why he’s so optimistic given the state’s fiscal troubles, he responded, “Because that’s the right thing to do. If you don’t do it, what does that say?”

To learn more:

CA breaks another bad record

More California school districts than ever before are heading toward insolvency. The State Department of Education’s Second Interim Status Report for 2011-12, released yesterday, named 188 districts with serious financial problems; of those, 12 have negative certifications, meaning they won’t be able to meet payroll and other bills for this academic year.

California schools that may not be able to make ends meet. (source: State Dept. of Education) Click to enlarge
California schools that may not be able to make ends meet. (Source: State Dept. of Education) Click to enlarge.

It’s a steep increase over the first interim report, released last February, which we wrote about here. At that time, there were seven districts on the negative list and 120 in qualified status. With the increases, more than 2.6 million of California’s 6.2 million school children attend schools facing uncertain financial futures.

“This is the kind of record no one wants to set. Across California, parents, teachers, and administrators are increasingly wondering how to keep their schools’ lights on, their bills paid, and their doors open,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a written statement. “The deep cuts this budget crisis has forced — and the uncertainties about what lies ahead — are taking an unprecedented and unacceptable toll on our schools.”

Given the years of budget cuts to education, the new numbers didn’t come as a surprise to school finance officials, said Mike Hulsizer, head of governmental affairs for the Kern County Office of Education. But it will get worse if neither of the school tax initiatives passes next November. “There is no question that this understates the risk that districts are facing,” said Hulsizer, because many of the districts counted on funds from Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase in planning their 2012-13 budgets.

K-12 schools would receive an extra $2.8 billion if the initiative passes, but Brown is proposing cutting K-12 schools about $5 billion – $441 per student – midyear if it fails. Districts weren’t ordered to budget one way or another. Although some county superintendents wanted schools to budget for the worst-case scenario, others told school districts to plan either way, but make sure they have a Plan B in case of a negative vote at the ballot box. “The county’s position is that a district needs to be able to weather the trigger if it does happen,” said Santa Clara County Office of Education Superintendent Chuck Weis.  “If a district is already on the edge, then plan for the worst.”

Joel Montero, CEO of the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), told a state Assembly committee two weeks ago that small and rural districts face the largest impact from another round of midyear cuts. “Small and tiny rural districts don’t really have an economy of scale,” said Montero. They don’t have enough money or students to absorb any additional losses, particularly when those losses come in the form of deferrals, the $9 billion-plus that the state owes to school districts.

Options for school districts that have run out of options. (Source:  Leg. Analyst) Click to enlarge.
Options for school districts that have run out of options. (Source: Leg. Analyst) Click to enlarge.

“So the decision that you have to make as a school district is whether or not you can afford to fund that deferral for the term and if you can’t then it becomes a cut for you in a way,” Montero explained to subcommittee members.

Five of the nine districts that received a negative certification fall into the small and/or rural category.  The tiniest, La Grange Elementary School District in Stanislaus County, will be shutting down at the end of this school year and sending its six students to other districts.

Two of the districts, Vallejo City Unified and South Monterey Joint Union High School, have already been bailed out by the state and are under a state-appointed administrator. Linda Grundhoffer, the Chief Business Official in South Monterey – formerly King City Joint Union High School District – said ever since the district went under state control in 2009 the onslaught of budget cuts “are just making it harder for this district to recover.”  The district is seeking to lower the interest rate on its state loan from 5.44 percent to 1 percent through legislation, but so far Senate bill 1240 and Assembly bill 1858 are on the suspense files in the appropriations committees of their respective houses.

In an unusual twist, this year’s negative list also contains a small but very wealthy district. At a little over $170,000, the median household income in the San Mateo County foothills community of Portola Valley is nearly three times the state average. But the district is now trying to stave off a state takeover after an audit found a shortfall of about $850,000 for this school year plus an additional half-million dollars allegedly misappropriated by the former superintendent, who’s already facing felony charges stemming from his tenure as chief financial officer in the neighboring Woodside Elementary District.

The list of districts on the negative and qualified lists may continue to set somber new records depending on what happens in November.  “Second interim certifications are assuming a better budget environment than realistically may be there after November,” FCMAT’s Montero told TOPed.  “Without that assumption, it is likely the numbers of qualified and negative districts would have been higher.”

Another strike at Transitional K

Governor Brown isn’t giving up on efforts to curtail Transitional Kindergarten (TK), despite being rebuffed by both the Senate and Assembly subcommittees dealing with education funding. The May Revision budget plan, released Monday, seeks to make TK a voluntary program and use the savings to restore proposed cuts to state-funded preschool.

The State Department of Finance estimates this plan would capture $132.2 million. Of that, however, $40.7 million would go to funding TK in the handful of districts that the department expects will continue or start a program, and to providing districts that lose students by opting out of TK with the mandatory one-time funding for declining enrollment. That leaves a net gain of $91.5 million.

“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Deborah Kong of Preschool California, adding that the Department of Finance savings estimates are “very questionable.” Preschool California posted an interactive map on its website showing that even though about three dozen districts are holding off on implementation of TK for now, more than 200, including Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, have indicated that they’re moving forward.

Still the law

Transitional Kindergarten was established under SB 1381, the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, introduced by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). It raises the minimum age for starting kindergarten by moving up the entry date one month in each of the next three years, so by the 2014-15 school year children will have to be five years old by September 1 to enroll.

The bill also created the TK program for the estimated 125,000 children who turn five during that three-month window between September 2 and December 2, and who will no longer be eligible for kindergarten. Sen. Simitian says the way TK is funded, there’s no cost to the state for the first 13 years because all the children in the new program would have been in traditional kindergarten otherwise.

Minimum age requirements under Kindergarten Readiness Act. (Source:  Preschool California). Click to enlarge.
Minimum age requirements under Kindergarten Readiness Act. (Source: Preschool California) Click to enlarge.

“It’s important for parents and school districts to remember that the Governor’s proposal is just a proposal,” said Sen. Simitian in a written statement yesterday. “Any changes to that law must be approved by the Legislature.”

Lawmakers have already spoken twice on the issue: once when they approved the bill two years ago, and again last month, when the budget subcommittees in both the Senate and Assembly rejected the governor’s proposal in his January budget plan to eliminate TK.

“The governor needs to understand Transitional Kindergarten is here to stay and that we stand firmly behind the Kindergarten Readiness Act,” said Assemblymember Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), chair of the Budget Subcommittee on Education that voted to protect TK.

When he first proposed eliminating TK in his January budget proposal, Gov. Brown argued that, given the budget deficit, this is not the time to create a new program. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office agreed, writing last month in a brief for lawmakers that the plan is “reasonable for budgetary purposes,” and that it “does not make sense to offer [an] additional year of public education to a select group of children at the expense of

Gov. Brown's changes to TK in his May Revision budget.  (Source:  Calif. Dept. of Finance). Click to enlarge.
Gov. Brown's changes to TK in his May Revision budget. (Source: Calif. Dept. of Finance). Click to enlarge.

funding existing K-12 services.”

Since January, however, the governor has changed the language on the trailer bill several times, and the most recent version could open TK to even more children. At the same time he proposed making it a voluntary program for school districts, Gov. Brown proposed that if those districts want to enroll children who will not turn five until sometime during the academic year when they’re admitted, the state will pay average daily attendance (ADA) funding for those students from the first day of school. Sen. Simitian’s office estimates that could potentially add another 250,000 four-year-olds to TK and cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

Preschool vs. Transitional Kindergarten

Back in January, when Gov. Brown first recommended ending TK completely, he was going to use the savings to help pay down the more than $10 billion in school deferrals from the state. The May Revision changes that and instead would redirect the $91.5 million to state-funded, part-day preschool. The January budget called for cutting the preschool reimbursement to providers by 10 percent, raising the financial eligibility requirements, requiring parents to work full-time instead of attending college or a job-training program, and eliminating full-day preschool starting in 2013.

Scott Moore of Preschool California said the idea that such a plan would save money is false for a number of reasons. One is that about half the 125,000 children who miss the cutoff for kindergarten and would go to TK instead are also eligible for state-funded preschool, so the 15,500 spots that would reopen in part-day preschool wouldn’t come close to accommodating the kids who need it. In addition, Moore says there are already more than 80,000 children on the waiting list for state-funded preschool.

“What the administration is trying to do is pit the TK community against the preschool community,” said Moore. “It’s sad that we’ve gotten to a moment where politics has really taken over what is sound policy.”

The political process will be different this time around. Since lawmakers have already rejected the governor’s proposal to eliminate Transitional Kindergarten, for all practical purposes, that recommendation is no longer a part of the 2012-13 budget plan. Restoring it isn’t just a matter of reconsidering that vote; it would require an entirely new proposal to end TK, and a complete turnaround by the same legislative committees that overwhelmingly killed the idea just two months ago.

California seeks to dump AYP

Three months ago, California’s proposal for a waiver from parts of the No Child Left Behind law was considered so weak that critics said it wouldn’t pass the federal government’s giggle test. Yesterday, the State Board of Education approved sending a more robust waiver request to Washington, although not through the same channels as most other states.

At issue is the part of NCLB (now commonly referred to by its original title, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA) that requires every student to be proficient in math and English Language Arts by the end of the 2013-14 school year. Last fall, Education Secretary Arne Duncan publicly acknowledged what teachers and administrators have known for years: There’s no chance of reaching that goal.

The U.S. Department of Education offered states flexibility on meeting some of the toughest targets of ESEA on the condition that they implement a teacher and principal evaluation system, among other things. So far 38 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have applied for one of Sec. Duncan’s waivers. California has been a holdout, not because state officials don’t want the waiver, but because they believe the teacher and principal evaluation system would be too expensive, and isn’t required under the law.

Instead, the State Board approved submitting a “state-defined waiver” through the general waiver provision written into ESEA that allows the Secretary to approve waivers if states show that they will:

  1. Increase the quality of instruction for students, and
  2. improve the academic achievement of students.

California proposes to achieve those goals primarily by dumping No Child Left Behind’s Adequate Yearly Progress assessment system in favor of a single system using the state’s Academic Performance Index (API), and sharpening the focus of the API to concentrate on improving instruction in schools with the absolute lowest scores and largest achievement gaps.

“It’s time to leave behind No Child Left Behind,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a written statement. “This request capitalizes on our strengths – our well-established accountability system. It also provides school districts an opportunity to get the relief they deserve now, and the flexibility they need to direct limited funds where they will do the most good.”

If Sec. Duncan approves the waiver, California schools that don’t meet the proficiency targets of AYP would no longer be labeled as failing schools and put into program improvement status.  PI schools are required to use some of their federal Title I funds on things like paying private companies to provide after-school academic programming for students, without requiring them to prove that they’re successful.  According to the State Department of Education, 63 percent of Title I schools are in program improvement.

The State Board wants to let low-performing schools use the money to examine data and use it to improve instruction, provide tutoring and give teachers time to collaborate.

“I don’t think this is at all at odds with what the Administration wants,” said State Board of Education President Mike Kirst following the vote.  “We want relief from the parts of the federal law that aren’t working, but that doesn’t mean we’re retreating from accountability,” he added in a written statement later in the day.  “Our system is better than NCLB at identifying which schools need help.”

The current proposal, while more detailed than the earlier one that was a subject of ridicule, is still short on specifics.  What measures will be used to identify the lowest performing schools?  How will the API be changed to provide deeper information that’s more useful to teachers?  Should the API target be raised from 800 to 875 to provide a more accurate measure of proficiency?  What sort of interventions will be available for schools at the bottom?

“The details matter when it comes to kids,” said Bill Lucia, President and CEO of Edvoice, a nonprofit that works to close the achievement gap.  He described the plan as “a starting point for a conversation.”

Arun Ramanathan is far less convinced of the state’s sincerity.  The Executive Director of EdTrust-West reviewed waiver applications for the U.S. Department of Education.  He said the guidelines require specific plans describing how the state intends to close achievement gaps between subgroups, and California’s letter doesn’t meet that standard.  “As a reviewer of state waiver applications, the letter is actually insulting to those 37 states that did the hard work in al three areas – common core, teacher evaluation and accountability systems.

Federal education officials haven’t indicated publicly which way they’re leaning on California’s application.  Gov. Brown discussed it with Sec. Duncan on a trip to Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago.  Observers suspect there may be some back and forth behind the scenes over the summer, but don’t expect a decision before September, when the third round of applications under Sec. Duncan’s waiver process are due.

Whichever way that goes, Sherry Skelly Griffith, a legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators, said she’s encouraged because this issue has brought stakeholders and policy makers together at the same table to start talking about how to strengthen the state’s accountability system and evolve the API.  She’s all for giving the proposal as much time as necessary to ensure that, in the end, it’s a well thought out plan and transparent plan.  “I think this dialogue has gotten us started on the right path to do the right thing for California; it’s a catalyst.”

CA may try for NCLB waiver

The State Board of Education will once again consider applying for a waiver from some of the more untenable requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, only this time the request is personal.

Instead of applying for the waiver package that Education Secretary Arne Duncan has offered to states, which requires a substantial quid pro quo, the Board next week will discuss seeking relief from some NCLB mandates under a separate waiver provision written into the law.

Secretary Duncan’s waiver package requires states to sign off on a lengthy, and potentially expensive, set of assurances that includes adopting a teacher and principal evaluation system in every school and accelerating implementation of Common Core standards.

41 states and the District of Columbia applied for Sec. Arne Duncan's NCLB waiver package. (Source:  U.S. Dept. of Education). Click to enlarge.
41 states and the District of Columbia applied for Sec. Arne Duncan's NCLB waiver package. (Source: U.S. Dept. of Education). Click to enlarge.

In February, the U.S. Department of Education granted first-round waivers to eleven states. Another 26 states and the District of Columbia applied for the second round, which will be announced this spring, and four more plus Puerto Rico stated their intention to apply for round three in September.

Following meetings with school districts, education advocacy groups, teachers unions, and state education officials, the State Board of Education wrote a nine-page draft letter to Michael Yudin, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, explaining the financial and legal reasons why California is taking a different route. “California state law requires that the state reimburse local educational agencies for the cost of any state-mandated activities. Given California’s severe, ongoing fiscal challenges, it is impossible for the state or its districts to implement the requirements of the Secretary’s waiver package effectively and within the required timeline, and we are not willing to make promises that we are unable to carry out.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson contends that not only would the cost of the federal requirements be prohibitive, but also that the evaluation component is outside the bounds of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – the once and current name of NCLB.

“NCLB/ESEA is about student academic performance; teacher evaluation is not part of ESEA,” said Christine Swenson, director of the improvement and accountability division in the State Department of Education. “This isn’t appropriate and in California’s view it doesn’t belong in an ESEA waiver.”

California’s offer

A waiver wasn’t any state’s first choice. They were banking on Congress fixing the problems when it reauthorized the law. That was supposed to have happened four years ago. The window has surely closed for now until after the November election.

Reauthorization would be the best path forward, said Sue Burr, Executive Director of the State Board of Education. “In the absence of that, we are asking the federal government to waive those parts of the law that they acknowledge aren’t working.”

Specifically, the state is seeking relief on these fronts:

  • Suspending the requirement that every student has to be proficient or above on state tests by 2014,
  • Eliminating requirements to identify schools and districts that fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as program improvement schools that have to take extra measures to improve achievement,
  • Allowing districts greater flexibility in how they use ESEA funds.

The last item ties in to what California would do in exchange for being granted a waiver. Under current law, Title I schools in program improvement for failing to meet AYP must set aside some of their Title I funds for professional development. The state wants to let those schools use the money where it would be “most effective for improving teaching and learning.”

California also wants to essentially do away with AYP and concentrate on its own accountability system with the Academic Performance Index. “The proposal seeks to move us back to a single accountability system that does a better job than NCLB of identifying which schools are truly low-achieving and not improving, so we can focus our efforts there,” said Burr.

California’s system is stronger, said the State Department of Education’s Swenson, because it allows schools to show improvement without being labeled. “API allows you to show growth, and we can make decisions about whether it’s enough growth,” she said. “In the current AYP system, you’re either all fine or all failing; AYP is all or nothing.”

SIGnificant improvementS

John Fensterwald contributed to this report.

California received a double dose of good news this week about the School Improvement Grant (SIG) program. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced yesterday that a $63 million check is in the mail to cover the second-year funding for schools awarded SIG grants in round two. And, perhaps more promising, a new study found that student test scores in SIG schools showed significant improvement in the first year.

Schools that implemented SIG-funded reforms increased their API scores by an additional 34 points beyond what would have been expected if they hadn’t received the funding and implemented a schoolwide reform. That amounts to a 23 percent jump toward closing the gap between their API scores and the state’s goal of 800 points, according to the study, “School turnarounds: Evidence from the 2009 stimulus.”

“The results were striking; it was more than we would expect to see at this point,” said Stanford University education professor Edward Haertel, who provided feedback on an early draft of the study.

Small API differences separated some SIG and non-SIG schools. (Source: School Turnaround report).  Click to enlarge.
Small API differences separated some SIG and non-SIG schools. (Source: School Turnaround report). Click to enlarge.

The author, University of Virginia researcher Thomas Dee, analyzed achievement in 82 of California’s 89 schools that received grants in the first SIG cohort. He eliminated those that chose to reopen as charters or to shut down completely. Dee found the biggest differences between schools butting up against each side of the eligibility line; on one side were those whose baseline achievement was just low enough to make them eligible for SIG grants, and on the other side, almost close enough to touch, were schools whose scores were just high enough to make them ineligible.

In addition to receiving SIG funds, the schools that improved the most were almost exclusively those that implemented the turnaround model, the most severe change short of shutting down. Turnaround schools are required to replace the principal and at least half the teaching staff. Just 29 schools in California’s first cohort chose that model. Nationwide, 20 percent of SIG schools were turnarounds.

“This underscores the role of school culture and a break with a past of low expectations,” said Dee. “It could be that the turnover in staff was catalyzing that change.”

Still, Dee hadn’t expected the improvement to be so strong. He had followed the painfully slow process of awarding SIG grants in California and knew that many schools got a late start on implementation. “Schools were told they won the awards once they were in session or were about to start. Elements of their plans could not be implemented in the first year,” explained Dee. “That is another reason why results surprised me.”

California received more SIG funds than any other state from the U.S. Department of Education’s $4 billion program. In the first round, which started two years ago, the state received $416 million, about $1.5 million for each school in the three-year program. Since then, another $129 million has been awarded to 36 schools in cohort two.

Don’t overlook the buying potential of those funds in contributing to the API improvements, said Fred Tempes, director of the California Comprehensive Center at WestEd, which is helping the State Department of Education with SIG implementation.

“When you have a lot of money then you can actually pay people to sit down and do the formative assessment exams, have coaches go in and look in the classrooms and make sure that people are actually following the reorganized curriculum.  So I suppose you could go faster,” said Tempes.

Plus, the first year is always the easiest to show improvement because a bunch of small tweaks can go a long way, Tempes said.  “You tighten up the curriculum, you institute some formative assessment that’s common to everybody, and it’s just kind of the low hanging fruit syndrome.”

What happens next may offer a clearer picture into the sustainability of the reforms. Dee calls it the “fade out” period that occurs after an initial big jump in scores, and intends to keep following California and other states to see what happens after SIG runs its three-year course.

Even Secretary Duncan tempered his delight – a bit – and urged patience.  “These data are still preliminary. Several years of data will be needed to demonstrate robust, long-term growth in student outcomes in SIG schools,” said Duncan in a news release.  “But Dee’s careful study belies the conventional wisdom that little can be done to significantly boost student achievement in low-performing schools.”

It’s a bill’s life

California school buses won’t be wearing anything but yellow for the foreseeable future.  This week, the state Senate Education Committee killed SB 1295. Introduced by Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, it would have permitted school districts to selling advertising space on the outside of buses to raise revenue.  This is a shortsighted decision by Democrats on the Senate Education Committee,” said the Diamond Bar Republican.  “We should be providing solutions, not gambling on the future of our children.”

Democratic Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco failed to convince members of the Senate Education Committee to put some limits on executive salaries during tough economic times.  SB 967 would have prohibited Cal State University trustees from increasing top administrators’’ salaries within two years of raising student fees.   It would also have capped salaries for newly hired executives at 5 percent above what was paid to their predecessors.

Yee’s bill grew out of frustration last July when the Cal State University Board of Trustees approved paying the new president of San Diego State University a $100,000 more than his predecessor.  During that same meeting, the Board increased tuition by 12 percent, or an additional $294 per semester for undergraduates. Last month, CSU trustees agreed to 10 percent pay increases for the incoming presidents of Cal State Fullerton and East Bay.  Even State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson criticized the board for its lack of tact.

“The students we serve and the public that supports our system enjoy no immunity from the consequence of the Great Recession, which has left millions without work and more millions more working harder for less.  Why should those we select to lead our campuses be any different?” wrote Torlakson earlier this month in a public letter to CSU leaders.

On the aye side of the voting, the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday passed a measure by Senator Kevin De León to increase eligibility for CalGrants, the state higher education program that provides merit and need based funds.

The committee also approved several bills aimed at bringing down the price of textbooks and making them available electronically.  Read more about those bills here.

Coming attractions

Some of the textbook bills are up for their next vote next week.  Legislators are also scheduled to move to the next step with bills that would require information on academic achievement of students for new charters and renewals, that seek to reduce out-of-school suspensions and expulsions,  (which we wrote about here), and create a middle class scholarship program for California residents attending UC or Cal State.

We will be updating action on education bills on a weekly basis.  Click here for a table providing the status of about three dozens of those measures.

Heavy editing on publishers

It’s a sure sign that an issue has hit crisis mode when Republican and Democratic legislators are on the same page about what needs to happen. In this case, it’s a fraying page from a textbook industry that needs some help embracing change.

The Senate Education Committee yesterday handily approved two more bills aimed at lowering the cost of textbooks from elementary school through college and moving them more quickly into the e-book era. In all, seven bills dealing with textbooks are making their way through the Legislature.

Publishers would have to provide, in one place, information on the differences between editions, how much the books cost in all their forms from hardcover to paperback, and a list of other texts on the same subject and their prices.

“Today’s K-through-12 students have grown up immersed in digital technology,” Senator Mimi Walters (R-Laguna Niguel), author of SB 1154, told the committee. “However, California students are attending schools equipped with outdated, heavy, hardbound textbooks, some of which are at least ten years old.”

Walters’ measure has three parts.  1) Textbook publishers would have to provide instructional and supplemental materials in both print and digital formats; 2) publishers could not require schools to buy textbooks bundled with other materials – they’d have to make the items available à la carte; and 3) publishers will have to offer free digital versions of textbooks to schools that buy the hard copies and allow students to access the digital material through a secure, district-based online database.

The other bill approved by the committee yesterday, focuses on college textbooks. SB 1539, by San Leandro Democratic Senator Ellen Corbett, seeks to make it easier for faculty to compare prices and content. Publishers would have to provide, in one place, information on the differences between editions, the cost of books in all their various formats from hardcover to paperback, and a list of other texts on the same subject and their prices. Corbett said having access to this information would enable faculty to easily compare prices and content and save their students some money.

As anyone who has paid for college lately can attest, textbooks are a second serving of sticker shock after tuition. A report by State Auditor Elaine Howle found that “in the four-year period ending 2007-08, textbook prices rose at rates that significantly outpaced increases in the median household income in the United States.”

Annual Student Fees and Textbook Costs for Full‐Time Students Enrolled in the State’s Postsecondary Educational Systems Academic Year 2007–08.  (Source: California State Auditor). Click to enlarge.
Annual Student Fees and Textbook Costs for Full‐Time Students Enrolled in the State’s Postsecondary Educational Systems Academic Year 2007–08. (Source: California State Auditor). Click to enlarge.

At that time, Howle reported that textbooks accounted for 13 percent of the costs of attending the University of California, 23 percent at Cal State University, and 59 percent for community college students. Some of that is due to markups by college bookstores that ranged from 25 to 43 percent at the nine California campuses the auditor reviewed.

But publishers still take most of the heat for such practices as issuing updated editions that often do little more than switch the order of chapters, but in so doing make it impossible for students to sell back their books or buy them second-hand.

“From our perspective, we view textbook publishers as highly exploitative,” Justin Goss, a student senator at UC Davis, told members of the Senate Education Committee. “While I am sure that they are perfectly nice people, it continues to baffle me why a reordered table of contents and a shiny new binding warrants and additional $50, $60, or sometimes $100 on the price tag.”

For their part, publishers argue that some of the bills are redundant and could drive up costs more.  Most of the information required by the bills is already online, said Stephen Rhoads with Strategic Education Services, a consulting and lobbying firm that represents the Association of American Publishers.

There are already several federal and state laws governing textbooks.  Both the Higher Education Opportunity Act, passed by Congress in 2008, and California’s College Textbook Transparency Act, which took effect at the start of 2010, require publishers to provide nearly all the information contained in Corbett’s bill.  A third bill, SB 48, by Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), gives college textbook publishers until 2020 to offer electronic versions.

Federal and State Textbook Laws. (Source:  Strategic Education Services). Click to enlarge.
Federal and State Textbook Laws. (Source: Strategic Education Services). Click to enlarge.

“We actually think the marketplace is working for books,” testified Rhoads yesterday.  He cited statistics compiled by the market research firm Student Monitor showing that prices have been dropping in recent years.  However, a closer look indicates that students have more options today to buy less expensive books or to rent them online.  What’s more, Student Monitor reported that more than 40 percent of students said they didn’t buy all the required books because they couldn’t afford them.

But publishers have other concerns about the bills that pose legal and ethical questions.  It’s one thing if school districts that buy the textbooks also receive a free digital copy for students to access, but publishers want to be sure it’s a secure platform that protects the work from copyright infringement.  If they have to develop that platform, then shouldn’t they be compensated?

Those issues are still being worked out said Everett Rice, a spokesman for Sen. Walters.  “The senator’s goal was never to essentially try to not allow the textbook companies to function,” said Rice.  “We’re just trying to create greater flexibility based on the changing technology and to give school districts more room for negotiation, and to only give them what they need.”

State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is pushing for greater change.  He and Sen. Alquist have two bills that go hand-in-hand.  SB 1052 creates the California Open Education Resources Council, charges it with developing a list of the 50 most widely used college textbooks for lower division college courses, and allows faculty, publishers and other experts to bid for funds to produce 50 high quality affordable, digital open source textbooks and related materials.

The companion bill, SB 1053, creates a digital open source library jointly run by the University of California, Cal State and California Community Colleges.  His goal is to have the first 25 books ready by the fall of 2013, with the second group of 25 coming a year later.

With students and parents struggling to pay for college, “our goal is to move fast, because there is great urgency,” Steinberg said at a December news conference announcing his bills. “The book publishers are used to a particular model; the world is changing.”

Your name here

Now that California school buses will be running for at least another year, why not let districts use them to make a little cash on the side – the side of the buses, that is. State Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff has introduced a bill to do just that. SB 1295 would allow school districts to sell advertising space on the outside of school buses and keep the revenues.

“California’s fiscal mismanagement has resulted in budgetary woes for our state’s public education system,” said Senator Huff in a news release. “My legislation provides a new and needed source of funding for our schools at no cost to taxpayers.”

There’s no solid estimate yet of how much money the ads could generate.  Eric Thronson, who prepared the analysis of SB 1295 for the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said one advertising company he checked with charges advertisers anywhere from $40 to more than $200 a month, and the company takes its cut from that.

Colorado was the trendsetter, approving bus ad regulations almost 20 years ago, and districts there have met with mixed success. Colorado Springs, the first district in the country to advertise on the outside of buses, takes in about $40,000 a year, but that’s out of a total budget around $225 million.   Another Colorado district with 103 buses earned only about $3,000 a year and recently made some changes in the hopes of increasing its earnings to $10,000 a year.

The anti-tax group, CalTax, anticipates much higher revenues in California.  In a report released earlier this month, the organization estimates that advertising on the outside of buses could raise $31 million in annual revenue for school districts.

Whether it’s on the high end or low, Sen. Huff cites the recent fiscal status report released by the State Department of Education showing that 127 school districts are in danger of not being able to pay their bills within the next two years as evidence that school districts need more freedom to raise money.  “The senator’s feeling is that any amount of extra revenue is welcome, and it gives school districts freedom to use it how they want,” said Huff’s spokesman William Bird.

School bus as moving moving billboard for schools. (Source:  Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood). Click to enlarge.
School bus as moving moving billboard for schools. (Source: Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood). Click to enlarge.

Rural Southern Humboldt Unified School District is ready to start moving on the ads.  Last week, the school board passed a resolution in support of Huff’s bill and posted a sample letter on its website for parents and other residents to send to their local state senator. Last January, when the mid-year trigger cuts eliminated school bus service, the district sent two busloads of students and parents to Sacramento and successfully lobbied lawmakers to restore the funds.

“It’s an indication of how desperate rural districts are to maintain their transportation,” said school board member Barbara Lindsay.  Humboldt is both tiny and huge. It has 780 students in kindergarten through 12th grade attending seven schools scattered around 773 square miles.  As it is, some children spent two hours each way on the school bus.

“The rural school children are the ones who really need to go to school,” explained Lindsay. “A lot of our kids live so rurally that they really need a place a to go to socialize with kids their age.”

Too little for too much

California is already one of 26 states that expressly permits, or doesn’t disallow, advertising inside school buses.  Districts can also sell space on the exterior of campus buildings, lunch tables, in hallways, and in yearbooks or other school-related publications, said Huff’s spokesman, Bird.

SB 1295 has also been amended since it was first introduced to set some parameters for size and content of the ads.  Districts cannot display ads for the following:

  • Tobacco, alcohol, guns, or anything sexually explicit
  • Discriminatory content or nature
  • Implies an endorsement by the school district
  • Is political in nature or relates to a political activity, campaign or candidate
  • Is false, misleading, deceptive, or promotes an illegal activity or antisocial behavior

Additional rules set restrictions on where the ads can be placed and how big they can be so they don’t block the bus drivers’ line of sight, distract other drivers so much that they don’t see the flashing red lights on the bus, or pose any danger of falling off.  But none of the arguments is swaying critics.

Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood opposes the ads on moral grounds.  “It’s terrible that schools today are struggling financially.  But commercializing children’s education is not the answer,” says the group on its website.  “Advertising on school buses will exploit a captive audience of students, turn schools into endorsers of products that may be harmful to children, and could make the buses less safe.”

So far, however, there is no research to show that buses with ads on them are more likely to be involved in accidents. But given the potential physical danger and manipulative impact on children, they’re simply not worth the income, argues the watchdog group Public Citizen.

“School districts that permit bus advertising generate revenues that are a drop in the bucket when compared to their total budgets,” according to the organization’s report, “School Commercialism:  High Costs, Low Revenues.”

Huff’s bill passed the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.  A separate bill, AB 1448 , by Assemblymember Warren Furutani would “prohibit the Legislature from reducing funding for home-to-school transportation below the amount established in the Budget Act of 2011.”  That measure cleared the Assembly Education Committee last week with bipartisan support, and now heads to appropriations.

Barbara Lindsay, the school board member in Southern Humboldt Unified School District, is rooting for and working toward getting both bills through.  Lindsay runs her family’s cattle ranch, and doesn’t want to have to leave the area because there’s no money for buses.  “It’s still a really good place to raise kids,” she said, “if you can get them to school.”