A report this week from a Washington think tank bolsters Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s call for significantly revising the state’s primary accountability measure, the Academic Performance Index. Now, if Gov. Jerry Brown would only read it…
“Ready by Design: A College and Career Ready Agenda for California,” published by Education Sector, recommends that the API shift focus from students’ performance on standardized tests to measures of readiness for college and careers, such as high school graduation rates, results of Advanced Placement tests, and percentages of students needing remediation in college. That’s essentially what Steinberg’s bill, SB 1458, would do without specifying what measures would be included, and that is what his bill last year, SB 547, would have done, had Gov. Jerry Brown not vetoed it with a snarky message sharply critical of quantitative gauges of school achievement.
The report concluded that additional measures would not be a panacea, “but an outcomes-oriented API would at least measure and reinforce what’s most important: graduating students from high school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in higher education and a career,” wrote co-authors Anne Hyslop, a policy analyst with Education Sector, and Bill Tucker, deputy director, policy development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report was funded by the James Irvine Foundation, a big promoter and funder of an initiative to combine college readiness and career technical education, called linked learning.
This is the second report from Ed Sector in a month on the California API. Last week, I wrote about “Academic Growth over Time,” in which author Richard Lee Colvin, a former executive director of Ed Sector, recommends Los Angeles Unified’s alternative way to calculate student results on standardized tests. The reports need not be mutually exclusive; recommendations from both could be combined.
When establishing the three-digit API index in 1999, the Legislature implied that it would be adding a range of measures, but never did. Instead, the API is based on California Standards Tests results, primarily English language arts and math, plus results on the high school exit exam, which are not indicators of preparation for life beyond high school. But by adopting Common Core standards two years ago, the state embraced the goal of aligning high school achievement with college and career expectations. The API needs to change to reflect this, the Ed Sector report says.
In his veto message of SB547last year, Brown said that changing API now, when facing the challenges of new Common Core curriculum, texts, and tests, “doesn’t make sense.”
Sharply rebutting that, the authors wrote, “In fact, what doesn’t make sense is implementing new standards, tests, and curriculum that are aligned with college and career readiness while continuing to evaluate school performance based on an entirely different goal. More important, Brown’s continued opposition to CALPADS, his refusal to apply for federal funds to improve the state’s data collection, and his veto of the API redesign, only serve to maintain the very status quo that he repeatedly condemns.”
While college acceptance rates are indicators of readiness, the report recommends adding evidence of post-high school achievement to the API, such as college remediation rates, percentage of students who return to college after one year, and the percentage of students who enter the military or who go straight to work after high school. Unlike states like Florida, which track students after high school, California has incomplete, voluntarily collected data – hence the criticism of Brown for forgoing chances for federal database money.
Underutilized EAP measure
California does have one measure of readiness that other states consider a model: the Early Assessment Program, a series of questions created by the California State University and administered as a supplement to CSTs taken by high school juniors. But the authors said that “while touted as a model for those developing Common Core assessments, its respect outshines its influence.” The University of California and most community colleges don’t use results of EAP, and most high schools aren’t using the followup courses in math and expository writing that would enable high school seniors to bypass remediation in college.
Quoting a 2006 survey that found 10 percent of high school teachers said their students graduated not ready for college, compared with 44 percent of college faculty who said students arrived unprepared, the report cited “mismatched expectations on both sides.” Including college readiness measures in the API would encourage high schools, colleges and business leaders to work closer to create common expectations and share expertise and knowledge. The report cited promising examples: collaboration between a San Diego high school and the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to redesign high school English courses; and the extensive agreements between Long Beach Unified and the local community college and CSU, Long Beach.
Calling SB 1458 “my highest priority,” Steinberg said, “I really believe this bill would bring about a change in cultures. It would create incentives to link education with needs of economy in a fundamental way.”
“The Administration is fine with the API the way it is. I disagree and want to limit the importance of testing,” he said.
The bill, which has passed the Senate, will be heard in the Assembly Education Committee on June 27. Steinberg said he hoped to negotiate with Brown on the measures in the bill. It includes the possibility of including school inspections, which Brown raised in his veto message and mentioned in his State of the State message in January.
Governor Brown, what are you thinking? Your proposal, to end the mandate that requires a second year of science for high school graduation, as a way to fix a dysfunctional budget process, makes absolutely no sense.
Since 1986 every student who graduated from high school in California has been required to take and pass one year of life science and one year of physical science. The second year of science requirement was added when it became obvious that a literate citizenry needed to know more about the science and technology that drives their everyday world than a one-year general science class could provide.
What has changed? Is it less important now, in 2012, for citizens of California to have the minimum amount of science necessary for access to careers or colleges after high school? The economy of California is heavily dependent on the technology that results from the work of scientists and researchers, and California citizens, the consumers of thattechnology, musthave a solid understanding of its origins, is applications, and its limitations to make sound decisions for the future. Decreasing the number of years of science required in high school for graduation is a step in the wrong direction.
Throughout all of the rhetoric surrounding this proposal, your office and the Department of Finance have argued that removal of the mandate will not affect the quality of education our students receive. They argue that the California State University and the University of California will still require two years of lab science as a minimum requirement for admission. This is likely true, but this fact does not address the large number of students who don’t see four-year colleges in their future plans. For those students, a reduction in the number of years of required science could mean a workforce that is even less prepared than they are now. Removal of the mandate could easily result in an underprepared workforce for California. In a time when employers argue that it is difficult to find qualified workers, anything that reduces worker preparation should be avoided.
Don’t trust the predictions
Supporters of your proposal argue that graduation requirements are still the responsibility of the local school districts and that districts would never reduce graduation requirements. I would caution that as schools face declining budgets and continued pressure to perform on standardized tests, districts may find themselves forced to make decisions that seem unconscionable today.
Teaching science is not cheap. The Department of Finance estimates that the cost of the second year of science requirement is $250 million per year. If we accept this amount, it should not be a stretch to see that a district that has to cut millions of dollars fromits annual budget will see elimination of a non-mandated cost as an easy way to maintain solvency. This possibility is further compounded by the realization that school districts have not been reimbursed at this level for years. Essentially, they are fulfilling this mandate from their general funding, since no additional support has been provided by the state.
Furthermore, districts that are struggling to meet their measures of Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), as called for in the No Child Left Behind law, will see this as an opportunity to place more emphasis on the subject areas that contribute the most to scores – mathematics and language arts – and eliminate a year of science. Evidence of schools’ willingness to do this can be seen every day in elementary schools throughout California. If a subject is not tested, it is often not taught.
The proposed elimination of the second year of science as a graduation requirement is a quick answer to a much bigger problem. Schools have, in good faith, met this two-year mandate for 26 years with little or no compensation from the state. Schools are owed almost $2.5 billion for doing a job that is required of them that has not been supported.
Yes, eliminating the mandate will stop the continued accumulation of the debt owed to the schools, but it will not fix the dysfunctional budgeting process. It will result in a further eroding of the quality of the workforce that is so critical to the financial recovery of California. It sends the message that science, as a core curriculum area, is not valued. It is the first step down a slippery slope that will result in fewer students entering college with aspirations in the fields of science and technology, and in an underprepared workforce. It will lead to a wider gap of college admission rates between students who traditionally attend afour-year college and students in underserved populations.
Governor Brown, I ask that you drop this proposal and find other ways to fix the budget problem. This problem was not created by the students or the schools in California, andyou should not place the burden of fixing it on them.
Rick Pomeroy is science education lecturer/supervisor in the School of Education, University of California, Davis and is president of the California Science Teachers Association.
Like cream and sugar, or ice cream and cake, college and career ready roll off the tongue together as any good platitude should. In adopting the Common Core standards, California and other states agreed students graduating high school should be prepared for college and careers. Educators have been arguing ever since what that means. If not the same, then how is career readiness different from college readiness, and how should it be measured? We’ve asked five experts with different perspectives to share their views: the husband-and-wife team of Robert Schwartz and Nancy Hoffman, he of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and she of a national nonprofit focusing on workplace and education for low-income individuals; Robert Balgenorth, a union leader in the construction trades; Barbara Nemko, Napa County superintendent of schools; Gary Hoachlander, president of ConnectEd, the California Center for College and Career; and Devin Blizzard, CEO of much-acclaimed CART, the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, an academic career technical school in the Central Valley. We encourage you to share your views as well.
Schwartz, Hoffman: Early career counseling, job shadowing for all
All young people graduating high school “college and career ready.” Sounds great, but what does it mean? In California, at least, college-ready means meeting a set of course requirements prescribed by the UC and CSU systems, even though those institutions serve, at best, only a quarter of an age cohort. But what do we mean by “career-ready?” Because there is no parallel attempt by California’s business and industry leaders to broaden academic requirements to demonstrate their application in the work world and to add 21st century skills and activities that develop career-readiness, the phrase turns out to be a
If we were serious about creating policies to serve all kids, we would put career planning and experience in a variety of workplaces at the center of this discussion, not at the margins. After all, only about half of young people who start a two- or four-year degree actually complete one, but all young people, we hope, are going to go to work.
Our education system should help all young people make informed decisions about the career paths they want to pursue, even if they may change careers later. Young people these days have little work experience and few opportunities to learn to work. Yet we behave as if preparation for college is the main purpose of high school, rather than explaining to young people that college is a pathway to a career, and that they need to take courses that equip them with skills and credentials with value in the labor market.
If we were serious about career readiness, we would bring together employers, post-secondary educators, and K-12 leaders to design pathways in grades 9-14 that have recognized currency in the labor market. We would invest in career information and counseling for all students beginning in the middle grades. We would require, as the French and German systems do, that all students have at least two weeks of job shadowing or other workplace exposure before they enter high school.
We have learned from the highly successful Early College High School movement, now serving 77,000 students in 28 states, that the best way to ensure “college readiness” is to enable students to start taking college classes while they are in a supportive high school environment. Analogously, the best way to ensure career readiness is to provide workplace experience in the context of 9-14 career pathways. California has some great models in Linked Learning and Partnership Academies, but they serve far too few students.
Nancy Hoffman is a vice president and senior advisor at Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit in Boston focused on improving educational and workforce outcomes for low-income young people and adults. Her most recent book is Schooling in the Workplace: How Six of the World’s Best Vocational Education Systems Prepare Young People for Jobs and Life.
Robert Schwartz is the Francis Keppel Professor of Educational Policy and Administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where he co-leads the Pathways to Prosperity Project. He was an education advisor to the mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts, and served as first president of Achieve.
Robert Balgenorth: Restore value to ‘the other 4-year degree’
For years now, the construction industry, the manufacturing sector, and even auto mechanics have been clamoring about the need for students to graduate high school ready to work in our industries. Contrary to popular belief, these are not low-skilled jobs. Rather, they require significant knowledge of mathematics, algebra, trigonometry, physics, and computer science.
Today’s plumbers, electricians, and sheet metal workers are learning to use Building Information Modeling, a highly specialized computer program that illustrates the location of every wall, pipe, and outlet before a building is even built. Ph.D. computer scientists aren’t the ones doing the modeling; this work requires journeyman sheet metal workers and pipefitters who have come up through the apprenticeship system.
The construction industry has been using apprenticeshipprograms to teach skills to young people for the last century. They work under the tutelage of journeymen for 3-5 years while going to school to learn the theory behind what they’re doing on the job. Each of the 15 building and construction craft and trade unions, working in partnership with union contractors, operate joint apprenticeship programs that have provided the United States with the best-trained construction workforce in the world. These programs are overseen by the California Division of Apprenticeship Standards.
Because so many school districts have dismantled their vocational training and industrial arts programs, students are no longer introduced to what might become their lifelong careers.
Studies show that many students drop out of school because their classes aren’t interesting, and don’t seem relevant to their lives. Apprenticeship programs routinely report a 50 percent failure rate among those taking their basic math entry exam. Those test-takers were inspired to enter a construction career path, but are lacking the educational basics. If math, English, and science could be applied toward specific career goals, students might be more motivated to stay in school, and more prepared to enter careers upon graduating. Career Technical Education can provide that spark for students.
Only 20-25 percent of students will attend a four-year college, and when they do, they will rack up tens of thousands of dollars of debt before even landing an entry-level job. Apprenticeship is free, and offers students an opportunity to learn a skill while earning a paycheck.
That’s why we call it “the other four-year degree.” We fully support CTE because we need students to be prepared to enter apprenticeship and learn skills for our construction industry when they graduate.
Robert Balgenorth is president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council, and Co-Chair of the GetREAL-California Coalition (Relevance in Education and Learning).
Barbara Nemko: Inform students on all post-high-school options
The terms “college and career readiness” are often seen as synonymous, but are they? It’s relatively easy to understand what “college-ready” means: academic skills sufficient for the rigors of college work. “Career-ready,” however, is often left undefined. At a time when “college for all” appears to equate to “student success,” it is important to explore what “career-ready” means.
“Pathways to Prosperity,” a recent Harvard University report, argues that expecting all students to go to college is short-sighted. The report indicated that 63 percent of jobs do require some form of post-secondary education, but it also showed that many students who complete a post-secondary graduate program have given little thought or preparation to their career interest. How do we prepare high school graduates to be college- and career–ready?
Career readiness includes three major areas: core academic skills, and the ability to apply those skills to real-world situations and in routine workplace activities; employability skills (critical thinking, problem solving, communicating, and responsibility) that are essential in any career/life area; and job-specific skills related to a specific career pathway.
Career readiness provides a foundation that all students need to make informed decisions about their post-high-school options. These include post-secondary education, entry-level employment, apprenticeships, or military service that will lead to self-sufficiency and the attainment of the student’s aspirations, career, and life goals.
In today’s world, every student in California must have the knowledge and skills to make appropriate choices and successfully manage their careers throughout their lifetime. Graduating from high school both college- and career-ready will make that possible.
We need to enact changes to our accountability system to address more than just standardized test scores. Proposals like Sen. Darrell Steinbergs’s SB 1458, redefining the state’s accountability measures, hold the promise of expanding the scope of what we value and therefore measure in our schools – while creating incentives for districts to expand the programs and curriculums to help our students become career-ready. High School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs) should be required to include the percentage of students who are graduating career-ready, so that parents start to monitor whether or not schools are addressing this critical life skill.
The California State Plan for Career and Technical Education already has tools that can help districts and local school sites measure the status and effectiveness of their CTE programs. Existing quality criteria identified in the State Plan provide a great foundation on which to build a more comprehensive and responsive accountability system.
Policy leaders must pay attention to the need to strengthen the “career-ready” status of all of our students in meaningful and effective ways. We can no longer afford to ignore the reality that employability and career readiness do matter – for the economic growth of our citizens and our state.
Barbara Nemko has been the superintendent of schools for Napa County since April 1997. She served on the Transition Team for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and is currently a member of his Technology Task Force. In previous administrations she served on several state boards including the State Plan for Career and Technical Education and the Master Plan.
Gary Hoachlander: Talk about college, career readiness together
College- and career-ready: as we dig into the new rhetoric surrounding today’s high school graduates, I hope we will focus on the word “and.” By exploring the intersections and connections between college and career readiness, we have the opportunity to expand our thinking about effective learning in both the classroom and the workplace.
An example: At a Health Careers Academy in a southern California high school, seniors spend three mornings a week in a group internship at local medical facilities. One morning I observed student interns at Kaiser Permanente learning how to perform electrocardiograms. Collaborating with the students’ classroom teacher, a physician’s assistant walked the interns through how to attach electrodes to the body and how to read the electrocardiogram results.
That afternoon, back in medical sciences biology class, the students focused on the human cardiovascular system and the role electricity plays in regulating the heart. They learned how different forms of heart disease can interfere with this electrical system, and they dug deeper into electrocardiography and related technologies such as pacemakers and artificial hearts.
This strong connection between real-world learning at a working hospital and the related academics later that afternoon in biology class did not, of course, happen by accident. It took a thoughtful, skilled teacher to structure that engaging learning experience and help her students integrate their hands-on experience with a classroom lesson.
We call this kind of integration Linked Learning, an approach that transforms students’ high school experience by bringing together strong academics, demanding technical education, and real-world experience. We know that high-quality Linked Learning produces greater student engagement, improved achievement, and a higher likelihood of postsecondary enrollment and increased earnings.
Presently this kind of learning tends to happen in spite of the system rather than because of it. Making it an integral part of student learning will depend on broadening our current accountability measures beyond standardized test results in isolated academic subjects. In the long run, this will require new balanced assessment methods that gauge student performance on interdisciplinary projects and industry-generated design challenges.
In the short run, we can look at ways to expand California’s Academic Performance Index to recognize such things as a juried student project, an internship evaluated by industry professionals, or completion of a certified Linked Learning Pathway or an integrated program of study offered through California’s Partnership Academies, Regional Occupational Programs and Centers, or standards-based career and technical education career pathways.
By connecting college and career readiness, we can change teaching and learning in ways that help today’s young people leave high school prepared for lasting success in both postsecondary education and career – no longer just one or the other.
Gary Hoachlander is president of ConnectEd: The California Center for College and Career. He began his career as a brakeman for the Western Maryland Railroad and, since completing his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley, has devoted his professional life to helping young people learn by doing – connecting education to the opportunities, challenges, and many different rewards to be found through work. To learn more, visit www.connectedcalifornia.org.
Devin Blizzard: Blend specific sector, broad interpersonal skills
True career readiness demands that an individual possess complex, vocationally tied individual assets. Having been a STEM and Career Technical educator since 1998, I can offer a perspective from workforce employers and young professionals.
Not surprisingly, work ethic and interpersonal skills remain relevant. Employers increasingly demand employees who can contribute to productive teams. Learning aptitude, responsibility, passion, perseverance, organizational skills, and professional appearance continue to be held in high regard. Organizations are increasingly investing in employees who demonstrate problem solving and innovation skills.
Employers understand that substantial investments must be made in college graduates to develop them into valuable contributors. Employers are also expressing concern that potential workforce members frequently do not possess the specific skill sets to serve jobs in their regions. In the Central Valley, a skills mismatch exists between a workforce formerly heavily invested in construction and employers seeking skilled machinists, medical technicians, automotive technicians, and other specialized tradespeople.
Deciphering the functional meaning of true careerreadiness should be done career by career. Only then may we responsibly develop ways to measure competencies aligned with employee success in a specific field. There is a growing trend to develop policy and fund initiatives that support a general career readiness ideal.
Because the career readiness construct is such a general term, any endeavor to quantify it will be at best a generic approximation. These things said, attempts to develop an exam grounded in career readiness and a national set of Common Core standards hold promise to be much better than our present arsenal of standardized tests.
Traditionally, standardized tests have surveyed students for their breadth of knowledge. I believe improvements are on the horizon. The SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium is endeavoring to build a next generation of assessments aligned to English Language Arts and Mathematics. Their aim is to infuse real-world-aligned problem solving tasks and simulated project-based elements in an assessment that can be administered economically online. It’s ambitious, and the new test’s architects admittedly don’t know how they’re going to do these things. But it’s promising to see test developers aspiring toward a better instrument.
We are moving strategically as a nation toward better assessments of global career readiness. Successful prototypes should inform instruction and learning. A score on a singular readiness assessment should never serve as the scorecard by which society determines who is invited to access college, career, or the global competitive economy.
A school administrator for two decades, Devin Blizzard is the chief executive officer at the Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART), an academic career technical education pathway school that is operated jointly by Clovis and Fresno Unified School Districts. He has served as the director of the Central Valley Robotics and FIRST senior mentor since founding CVR in 2002. He has presented at regional and national STEM, Career Technical, and Model Schools conferences.
John Fensterwald co-wrote this article. It has been updated to include a comment from the president of the district’s teachers union.
Despite the worst education funding crisis in decades, a California school district boosted achievement enough to win a spot in the final four of the 2012 Broad Prize for Urban Education. The 53,000-student Corona-Norco Unified School Districtin Riverside County is in the running for $550,000 in college scholarships from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.
Since the Broad Foundation began awarding the prize ten years ago, two California districts have received top honors: Long Beach in 2003 and Garden Grove the following year. Both were also finalists several times (there is a three-year fallow period after winning), as was Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which is one of the other three finalists this time around, along with nearby Palm Beach County and the Houston Independent School District. Runners-up each receive $150,000 in college scholarships.
California State Board of Education member Carl Cohn said he’s really excited about Corona-Norco being named a finalist because “there’s been a two-year drought where no California school district has been a Broad Prize finalist. I was starting to worry that the fiscal famine was taking a toll.”
Cohn spent seven years as a member of the Broad Prize review committee, and ten years as superintendent of Long Beach Unified, leaving the year before the district won the grand prize. To put the current fiscal climate in perspective, he said that during his tenure in Long Beach he cut the budget twice during the recession of the early nineties: $5 million one year and $9 million the next. “That’s absolute chump change compared to what districts are facing now, year after year.”
A data-rich decision
Districts can’t enter this competition or be nominated. They’re placed into a pool of 75 contenders that meet a specific set of criteria, including:
Serving at least 37,500 students
Having at least 40% of their students eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches
Having at least 40% of their students from minority groups
Being designated as an urban district
Those districts are then placed into a computer centrifuge of sorts, where they’re analyzed on a slew of criteria, such as how well students perform on state standardized tests; whether they’re closing the achievement gap by race, ethnicity, and family income; graduation rates; the number of students taking AP classes and passing the exams; participation rates and scores on the SAT and ACT college entrance exams; and student demographics by race, ethnicity, family income, English learners, and special education students.
The review panel gets a binderful of information on each district. “There’s an incredible amount of data that we see. The work that goes into this is really substantial,” said Christopher Cross, a member of the review committee and former Assistant Secretary of Education.
Cross is especially interested in making sure that a district’s improvements are sustainable. “It’s not a question of just having a good year, you have to have performance over time, ideally over four or five years,” he said.
In its press release announcing the finalists, the Broad Foundation cited several areas in which Corona-Norco stood out. Last year, African-American students ranked in the top 10 percent in reading and math on the California Standards Tests. Between 2008 and 2011, both participation rates and scores on college placement and Advanced Placement exams increased for Hispanic and African-American students.
EdTrust-West found similar improvements in its annual district report cards released last month. Out of 147 unified districts measured, Corona-Norco ranked sixth overall, and stood out in particular on college readiness. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of African-American seniors who had completed the A-G courses needed for admission to Cal State and the University of California increased by 16 percentage points; for Latinos it was 10 percent higher.
For Superintendent Kent Bechler, 55, the Broad nomination is a great honor on his way out. Two weeks ago, he told Corona-Norco trustees that he plans to retire at the end of this year after five years leading the district. He learned of the Broad Prize honor Wednesday as he was heading to New Zealand on vacation and so couldn’t be reached for comment.
Corona-Norco School Board President Bill Newberry and other top administrators credited Bechler for guiding academic improvement. “He’s a superior leader,” Newberry said. “Training, from school board members on down, is important to him.” Every Wednesday, every school has an hour of collaboration time either at the start or end of school – a practice Bechler instituted. In part due to a wave of retirements, Bechler has appointed new principals at the district’s five high schools, most of the middle schools and many elementary schools. “He made sure that the leadership in the district office and in schools aligned with core values and expectations,” said Assistant Superintendent Robert Taylor.
(Updated) Bechler’s leadership also gets high marks from Bill Fisher, the president of the Corona-Norco Teachers Association, who attributed much of the district’s success to Bechler’s commitment to collaboration and problem solving. That has enabled the CNTA to become “more of an association and less of a union in working directly with the district” over budget cuts and scheduling. (The union has taken two straight years of 5 percent pay cuts to avoid layoffs.) And Bechler has brought in and promoted good leaders, Fisher said.
Even Broad Prize finalists, however, can find themselves ensnared by the No Child Left Behind law. In 2010, Corona-Norco became a Program Improvement district because it missed seven of 42 targets, some by a few percentage points, some by double-digits. Latino, African-American and low-income students for the most had made steady progress, but not enough to keep up with escalating targets in math and English-language arts. The screening jury considers failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress goals under NCLB goals as one factor of many, said Broad Foundation spokeswoman Erica Lepping.
School districts don’t pay much attention to the criticisms. The prize elevates them to model status. Superintendents are asked to speak around the country; other districts send administrators and teachers to visit and learn how to replicate the successes. “I’ve heard of superintendents being hired who have told the committees, ‘You hire me and I’ll make you a Broad finalist or a Broad winner,'” said Cross.
That’s exactly what the Broad Foundation is hoping for. They want the prize is to spur competition and provide incentives for districts to improve academic achievement of disadvantaged students and “restore the public’s confidence in our nation’s schools by highlighting successful urban districts.”
Over the next few months, Broad will send teams of researchers and educators to each of the four finalists districts for a week-long site visit where they’ll observe classes, conduct interviews and meet with parents and community leaders. All that information goes to a different review panel, known as the selection jury, which decides who gets the top prize.
Juror Richard Riley, who served as President Clinton’s education secretary, called the process very fair and well-thought-out. “It emphasizes progress, it emphasizes leadership and it emphasize governance,” said Riley. “All those are aspects that make up a really high quality district.”
The winner will be announced on October 23 in New York City.
When it comes to flip-flopping, forget the Republican primary and take a look at California’s vacillation on when students should learn algebra. Yesterday, a year and a half after the State Board of Education adopted new math standards, researchers, educators, and policymakers once again sparred over the wisdom of requiring Algebra I for most eighth graders.
When Phil Daro helped write California’s Common Core math standards, he was instructed to base them on evidence, not politics, and to take a close look at math education in the world’s top-performing countries. “What we saw, and what we learned, contradicts a lot of the assumptions on which California mathematics policy is built,” Daro told several hundred people attending Thursday’s Middle Grades Math conference at Stanford University.
The most elemental difference, said Daro, who co-directs UC Berkeley’s Tools for Change, is that even though Algebra I is considered the single most important mathematics subject, California rushes students through it when they’re still in middle school, while high-achieving countries spread it out over three years. “We’re saying let’s spend less time on Algebra I, the most important math; it doesn’t make sense,” Daro said.
Seated at a table in the back of the meeting room, farthest away from the speakers, some of the heaviest hitters in California education glanced at each other and exchanged a quick whisper. Algebra I is a can of worms they’d like to see buried beneath a massive compost pile, preferably in a neighboring state.
It’s been dogging the state at least since the 1997 content standards, which included math standards only through seventh grade. Grades eight and up were organized around content tests, according to a 2011 report commissioned by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation.* Citing anEducation Week article, the report’s authors wrote that “the goal was to increase the number of students enrolled in Algebra I, not to mandate enrollment.”
More than a decade later, under pressure to comply with No Child Left Behind, the State Board of Education made Algebra I mandatory for eighth grade students. That led to a lawsuit, an injunction against the mandate, and flexibility for eighth graders to take Algebra I or an Algebra prep class. Then came Common Core, and California, in a preemptive move, adopted two sets of eighth grade math standards, pre-Algebra for the national standards, and Algebra I for the state.
So it’s understandable if Daro’s recommendation to go more slowly to make sure that students fully comprehend the material – sound policy or not – didn’t elicit any huzzahs from policymakers at the meeting.
The core reason for mandating Algebra I in eighth grade is equity and access for all to college prep courses. Supporters hoped it would stop the practice of tracking low-income and other underserved students away from the A-to-G classes required for admission to the University of California and California State University. But researchers at the meeting warned that the policy, as it’s being implemented, could backfire and make it harder for those students to be successful.
There’s no doubt that it has achieved that goal. According to the SVEF report, the number of students taking Algebra I in eighth grade jumped by 80 percent between 2003 and 2010, with the most dramatic increase among low-income, African American, and Latino students. As that number rises, so too does the number of students reaching proficiency on the Algebra I California Standards Test. Nearly two times as many eighth graders met that bar, according to Algebra Policy in California, published by EdSource.
Then the laws of physics kick in an there’s almost an equal and opposite reaction, with 1.5 times as many of the students scoring below or far below basic. Even though more eighth grade students are taking Algebra I, that doesn’t mean they’ve been equally prepared for it, said Neal Finkelstein, a senior research scientist at WestEd. “There are many patterns of students who are not succeeding early, and are continuing to not succeed later,” said Finkelstein.
EdSource researcher Matt Rosin wanted to know what the chances were of a student who scored basic or below on the seventh grade California Standards test being put in Algebra I. When he analyzed algebra placements and test scores for nearly 70,000 eighth graders during the 2008-09 school year, he found that compared to middle class schools, more students at low-income schools were placed in Algebra I, and more of them scored basic or below on that state test.
“This is the achievement gap in action,” said Rosin. “Schools that have heard the call for greater access to Algebra I are answering the call, but they’re making decisions based on access, not on instruction and support.”
Others would disagree that standards alone are the issue. During a conversation with Daro after the conference, former State Board of Education president Ted Mitchell said teacher preparation is a problem, especially in elementary schools. He would bring in math specialists to help out.
Bruce Arnold seems to share that sentiment. He runs the Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project at UC San Diego, where teachers learn to identify the specific reasons a student is having difficulty grasping a concept, and get ideas on how to teach that lesson differently.
If students misunderstand any of the prerequisite materials, that will stay with them and trip them up as they move to more advanced classes, explained Arnold. He falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to how much time to spend on the big concepts. Definitely not the three years that schools take in Singapore, however. “I would argue that students should take Algebra I as soon as they are ready,” said Arnold, “and that our goal should be to move students along as fast as they can be moved with success.”
* TOP-Ed is an editorially independent project of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation.
Ever since California and the federal government placed the weight of a school’s success on standardized test scores with the Public Schools Accountability Act and No Child Left Behind, there’s been a backlash against overreliance onhigh-stakes testing.
The question of what else should be considered in rating schools is the topic of this week’s forum, “Yes, but….”
Our opinion and policy makers are Darrell Steinberg, President pro Tempore of the State Senate; David B. Cohen, a National Board-certified high school English teacher; education lobbyist and legal counsel Fred Jones; former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig; and Jeff Camp, chair of the Education Circle of the Full Circle Fund philanthropy organization.
We hope you’ll keep the conversation going with other readers, and use the comment section to ask questions of this week’s contributors.
Darrell Steinberg: Reflect a well-rounded education
The Academic Performance Index has served a worthy purpose over the past 11 years, but let’s face it: It is, at best, an incomplete indicator of student achievement and school performance.
Gov. Brown’s veto of Senate Bill 547 left in place a measurement tool that sends one signal, and one signal only, to our schools: Get your standardized test scores up. At the elementary level, the API is almost exclusively focused on scores in just two subjects, English language arts and mathematics. At the middle and high school levels, no credit is given for keeping students on track to graduation.
Striving for the perception of steady improvement under this narrow accountability regime, many of our schools have responded with a laser focus on bubble tests. Such focus comes at the expense of a whole range of offerings that parents, the business community, and students themselves value: college and career preparation at the high school level; science, history, arts, and music across the grades; physical education; and opportunities for leadership and community engagement.
We need an accountability system that reflects the elements of a well-rounded education, and that connects public education to the needs of the 21st Century economy. I sought to begin that work by replacing the API with a new Education Quality Index, balancing test results with other important measures of school success. I have invited the Govenorto join me in crafting a new approach for next year. At minimum, it should contain the following elements:
Rapid implementation of existing law, which already requires that the API include graduation rates. Their inclusion is critical to underscoring the importance of student engagement and support in both middle and high school;
Greater emphasis on student achievement in science and history, to temper the overemphasis on English language arts and math;
A shift away from the existing API decile system (ranking schools relative to one another from 1 to 10) in favor of a scoring system pegged to an absolute standard, which creates a more accurate representation of performance.
I have worked on few issues in my legislative career that garnered more support than this attempt to ensure the state sends more appropriate signals about what it wants schools to accomplish. Republicans and Democrats, business and labor, educators and parents, law enforcement and civil rights organizations have coalesced around the need for change. We need the Governor to work with us to connect our schools to the needs of the economy we hope to rebuild in California.
Darrell Steinberg has been President pro Tempore of the California State Senate since 2008, chosen by his colleagues to that leadership post two years after he was first elected as Senator for the Sixth District representing the Sacramento area. He earlier served three terms in the State Assembly. He’s a strong advocate for education reform, children and mental health issues, and received the “John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage” national award in 2010 for his leadership in resolving the state’s 2009 budget crisis.
David B. Cohen: Why rank schools?
Imagine for a moment that California used letter grades rather than the Academic Performance Index to rate schools. If I were a parent whose child attended a high school with a “D” on its state report card, I would be gravely concerned that this school would fail to provide my student with the skills to succeed in college, and a college education is vital to my child’s future. If I had a choice, I would certainly want to move my child to an “A” school. I know these report cards aren’t perfect, but there must be a world of difference between the “D” and the “A” rankings, right? And if the “A” school was also listed among Newsweek’s Best High Schools, so much the better, I’m sure.
Wrong. The “D” school is better.
Or to be more precise, the “D” school is better if the measure of quality is college preparation. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this study – “College- and Career-Ready: Using Outcomes Data to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success” – from Florida. Writer Chad Aldeman sums it up this way: “While [the “D” school] got dismal marks from state and federal accountability schemes, it was actually quite successful in a number of important ways. It graduated a higher percentage of its students than [the “A” school] and sent almost the same percentage of its graduates off to college. Once they arrived on college campuses, [the “D” school] graduates earned higher grades and fewer of them failed remedial, not-for-credit math and English courses than their [“A” school] peers.
In other words, D-rated [High School] was arguably doing a better job at achieving the ultimate goal of high school: preparing students to succeed in college and careers. But because Florida’s accountability systems didn’t measure college and career success in 2006, nobody knew.
The study concludes, as you might anticipate, with a call for more data going into accountability systems, and it’s hard to argue with that. But the catch is that any rating or ranking is going to miss something, and is going to create simplistic lists of winners and losers out of what should be a more complex view of school quality.
It is time to distinguish between having data and claiming to know what it means. If we were conducting chemical experiments, it might be different. With schools, we are “measuring” extended periods of highly complex interactions among hundreds or thousands of people (different combinations of people every year), operating under different combinations of influences, and we have yet to agree as a state or society about the outcomes that matter most in that complex setting.
Ultimately, I would argue that the state should be in the business of providing resources and guidelines, and leaving the final assessments of quality and success to professional and local agencies. These agencies must ensure transparency and protect the interests of all stakeholders. They should be comfortable examining widely varying types of data and appreciating the value of each. Their judgments and conclusions would be informed by data and observations, but expressed in words – reports that don’t hide behind the false certainty or pseudo-objectivity of final scores, points, grades, or gold stars.
California high schools already engage in an accreditation process similar to that description, carried out by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Why not make it more meaningful, but less intensive, and expand the approach to other levels?
If our citizenry can’t handle that shift, then we have a goal for our educational system, not to produce citizens, media, and political leaders who would prefer to have a meaningless “A” or “D” slapped on a school, rather than understand and express the complex realities of school quality.
David B. Cohen is a National Board-certified teacher in Palo Alto, where he teaches high school English. He helps to direct Accomplished California Teachers and writes for the group’s blog, InterACT.
Fred Jones: Hold schools accountable for reality
For good or ill, California’s K-12 public education system is driven by what Sacramento – and to a growing extent D.C. – requires, funds, and measures. The “measure” driver has led to the axiom: If it isn’t tested, it isn’t taught.
But the current fixation on a narrow bandwidth of ELA and Math via fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests has not proven to be a meaningful gauge of a school’s overall performance. Moreover, it has led to the narrowing of curriculum that so many have railed against.
We should be expecting much more from schools as they strive to prepare their students for successful lives.
Many have chosen to jump on the “college for all” bandwagon, feeling this is a higher means of holding schools accountable. We have seen many districts require the UC ‘s A-G coursework of all of their secondary students.
But college should not be considered an end unto itself. In this era of dwindling public resources and exploding student debt, college should more appropriately be considered merely a means to an end: one that provides students – and the taxpayers who subsidies them – the disposition, skills, and knowledge to provide a return on the private and public investment.
There is a growing chorus of intellectuals, industry leaders, and loan-conscious parents who have begun to question the financial returns of college. Regardless of the merits of those arguments, the economy clearly does not demand that all workers have 4-year degrees.
So what shall we hold schools accountable for delivering to every K-12 student? And how do we measure that?
In his veto of SB 547, Gov. Brown acknowledged the difference between quantitative data streams and qualitative considerations, and the difficulties in measuring the latter, often more meaningful outcomes. Paradoxically, his veto actually undermined the effort to get a more relevant accountability system.
SB 547 was a good-faith effort to broaden the accountability matrix. It sought to include more than just standardized test scores, while attempting to keep the additional criteria objectively quantifiable.
Such additional criteria would have included a school’s performance in adequately preparing students for postsecondary education opportunities, access to career planning and training coursework, dropout rates, and other substantive and serious considerations. Einstein’s quip that “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts” certainly applies. Schools must begin to report what needs to be counted to adequately measure true success.
Fred Jones has nearly 20 years of policy experience in the State Capitol as both a legislative staffer and, since 2000, as a registered lobbyist and legal counsel to several education-related clients. His primary CTE-related client is theCalifornia Business Education Association, which is also a founding member of Get REAL California, a coalition of employers, labor groups, educators, and others concerned about CTE in California schools.
Bill Honig: Provide information for school improvement
The first crucial question to be answered is what is the purpose and context of the measurement. Is the emphasis primarily on using test-based results for state accountability and intervention for low performance? Or is measurement primarily used as part of a broader strategy to provide useful information to schools and districts to help continuously improve teaching and learning while still supplying information to the public about school success? This second strategy requires a shift in emphasis from penalties and interventions to building a sophisticated local and state infrastructure to support school-site team building, coaching, and professional development.
The former “test with consequences” strategy rests on the assumption that setting standards, testing results, and penalizing low-performing schools, by itself, will cause major improvements. This approach does produce some beneficial results, but by neglecting the investment in building the capacity for growth, the overall effect has been found to be limited. This strategy also engenders significant negative side effects such as narrowing the curriculum, lowering morale, and encouraging staffs to game the system. All the international world-class performers, as well as U.S. states such as Massachusetts and highly successful California districts such as Long Beach, Sanger, and the charter school network Aspire, have pursued the latter, more powerful, capacity building strategy.
Gov. Brown has warned of the danger of over-relying on narrow high-stakes testing in his quest to broaden measurement and the way it is used. We should explore his suggestion that the state develop local peer review as one method of feeding back useful information to guide continuous improvement.
The second key question is what kind of measurements help drive the system in the right direction? Relying too heavily on reading and math or low-level multiple-choice tests has been problematical. It has motivated legislative leaders such as Sen. Steinberg to pursue legislation to broaden California’s Academic Performance Index both for accountability and instructional feedback. The API is a useful measure, but I agree that it should be broadened and deepened:
API does test a broad array of subjects at the high school level and some at middle grades, but needs to cover history, science, civics, and art in a more profound way, especially at the elementary and middle-grade level. This can be done in several ways. The weighting given to these subjects should be examined. Currently at the elementary level reading and math are weighted at 94%, science at 6%, and history at 0%. At middle grades it’s not much better – 85% reading and math, 7% history, and 7% science. These weights directly contribute to a narrow curriculum.
The state needs to add history, art, and more science to the elementary level tests, or at least embed those subjects in the language arts and math sections of existing tests, and add civic understanding assessments to the high school level.
While the new tests for California being developed by the SMARTER Balanced group will move away from over-relying on multiple choice for reading and math, I would also add matrix sampling of those and other subjects to the individual tests so that a broader curriculum and deeper learning, such as the ability to write essays or develop a science project, can be assessed more efficiently.
At the high school level, one major change would be to explore how to hold schools accountable not only for the number of students meeting A-G requirements but also for how many students at least qualify for entering a tech-prep program at community colleges. The API would apply to a broad range of students: dropout rates, 4-year college prep rates, tech-prep rates, and course performance. I would also add some measure for the advanced students such as the number of AP courses passed.
Bill Honig began his career in education as an elementary school teacher before becoming a California State Board of Educationmember and district superintendent. He was elected in 1982 to serve the first of three terms as California Superintendent of Public Instruction. He subsequently published “Teaching Our Children to Read” (Corwin Press) and founded the Consortium on Reading Excellence (www.corelearn.com), which helps schools, districts, and states implement best practices in reading and math. He is a Bay Area native, father of four, and grandfather of five.
Jeff Camp: Schools must produce an economic return (broadly)
[NOTE: An article posted here earlier today was a draft and not intended for publication. This is the correct article. We apologize for error]. The success of schools must not be our primary concern. Schools, after all, are only a means to an end. The center of the proverbial target is simpler, but even more difficult: prepare EACH child for adulthood.
The effort to provide opportunity for each student is a costly undertaking, and public education is its biggest component. Spending on universal K-12 education in California adds up to about $65 billion annually when all the sources (state, local and federal) are counted. To put this number in human context, taxpayers in California invest on the order of $140,000 in each student’s thirteen years of K-12 education – roughly equivalent to paying about two dollars above minimum wage for every hour a student spends in class.
As with any big investment, success must be measured in terms of Return on Investment (ROI). Measuring success on these terms requires long-term data about each student’s long-term success, viewed broadly and over a time frame spanning decades, not just school years.
What is the long-term economic payback on that $140,000 investment for each student? Today, we don’t really know. Evaluating the return requires estimating both value produced and costs avoided. Education produces value by helping each student find his or her place in the world, including work that earns enough to pay taxes. Education avoids costs by helping students grow into self-supporting, resilient and law-abiding adults. Our system is set up to track neither.
For the last decade, the Academic Performance Index (API) has been the dominant tool for summarizing a school’s performance in California. This score, distilled annually from a changing assortment of annual tests, serves as a shorthand metric of academic achievement at the school and district levels by grade level. Unfortunately, the API only measures the academic success of those who show up. If every struggling student in a school were to drop out, the API score for that school would, perversely, rise.
The state’s system of measurement for education should be built online, in a manner that allows students to show what they know regardless of their nominal grade level. If this seems like whimsy, take a look at the coaching module of Khan Academy for an early example of what the future of measurement may look like, at least in math.
The public has grown accustomed to the idea that products and services should be evaluated, rather frequently, and that evaluation should lead to action. In order to sustain public support for investing in education, California needs to make a set of serious investments to systematically provide everyone involved with better, more personally useful information over a more meaningful arc of time. We rely too much on summary numbers partly because that is all we have at present. California should do better.
For starters, California should invest in modern data systems to track and support investments in human development including education. In the age of Facebook, it is no longer OK for California’s education system to operate with outmoded data systems.
California needs a platform that usefully connects parents, students and teachers, including accurate data to inform the work they do together. This is not an investment that each district can or should pursue on its own; it is far too difficult, much too important, and frankly its implications extend beyond education.
Jeff Camp chairs the Education Circle of Full Circle Fund, an engaged philanthropy organization cultivating the next generation of community leaders and driving lasting social change in the Bay Area and beyond. He is the primary author ofEd100.org, a primer on education reform options in California. Since leaving a career at Microsoft to work for education change, Jeff has served on multiple education reform committees including the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence.
Students whose high schools don’t offer the required courses or enough sections to qualify them for admission to the University of California or California State University would have a right to take those courses online, under an initiative that sponsors are targeting for next November’s ballot.
The California Student Bill of Rights would greatly expand high school online education, while breaking down geographic and other barriers that are denying many rural and urban students equal opportunities to attend a four-year public university. If their schools don’t offer AP history, or if calculus conflicts with their schedules, they could take the course through another publicly funded program. The initiative would also create a California Diploma for students who have accumulated the credits, known as A-G, for entry into UC or CSU, however and wherever they’ve taken the courses – in school, online, in one or more districts.
Two leaders behind the initiative are administrators at Riverside Unified School District: Superintendent Rick Miller and David Haglund, principal of Riverside Virtual School, the largest district-run online school in the state. Both say they are acting as private individuals at this point, and the initiative’s web site doesn’t identify their affiliation.
The initiative, said Haglund, “will create a right of access. ZIP codes should not determine college readiness – not with technologies that have the ability to deliver synchronous and asynchronous learning environments.”
The academic performance of students in online courses has been mixed nationwide, with recent studies in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Minnesota concluding that online students generally did worse than students in traditional courses. The California initiative would impose requirements on online providers that would address concerns about quality:
The courses would need to be certified by the University of California as A-G eligible;
The online provider – which could be a district, charter school, community college, or private provider under contract with a district – would have to be accredited;
The teacher would need to have a California teaching credential or the equivalent if a college instructor;
The online provider would be required to document student work, and students would have to pass a proctored end-of-year exam.
“These are high bars but not insurmountable,” Haglund said. “Quality is our highest concern.”
The initiative would leave it to the state Department of Education to create regulations governing payments between providers and districts and verification of work performed. The provider of an online chemistry course could contract with the students’ home districts to offer the lab work and to proctor exams, for example.
Tie reimbursements to student outcomes
Haglund said he would propose tying tuition payments to online providers to student performance, as is being done in Florida. A quarter of the payment would be eligible only if a student got a C in the course; the final 25 percent should be tied to passage of the final exam, as determined by the state, he said.
The initiative has been submitted to the Attorney General’s Office; signature gathering is expected to begin in December. Haglund, who chairs Education Forward, the nonprofit organizing the initiative, won’t say who’ll fund it until checks start coming in, but he expects to receive support from education foundations and business executives in Orange County and Silicon Valley. He assumes he’ll be able to raise the $25 million needed to run a successful campaign.
Riverside Virtual School serves about 115 full-time students, with between 2,500 and 3,200 students from Riverside Unified and other districts taking courses. But state restrictions on online providers have hindered online growth. California ranked last in a new rating of states’ openness to online learning by Digital Learning Now! – a project of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, headed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit headed by former Democratic Gov. Bob Wise of West Virginia.
The Bill of Rights would push aside some obstacles, including a restriction that limits an online provider to offering courses only in the county in which it’s located and contiguous counties. Online providers aren’t automatically entitled to tuition for part-time students; they must negotiate payments with the students’ home districts. Full-time online schools are classified as independent study operations with strict student-teacher ratios.
Haglund acknowledged that the initiative reflects frustration over failed efforts to amend restrictions on online learning, the latest being AB 802, sponsored by Assembymember Bob Blumenfield, a Democrat from San Fernando Valley. There will be another legislative effort next year.
The Student Bill of Rights initiative “is not intended to be leverage (for passing a bill), but if it became leverage to get the Legislature to do the right thing, we would be happy with the outcome. This is just the first step,” Haglund said, to opening up online learning in California.
Calling it “yet another siren song of school reform,” Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would have expanded the state’s accountability system to include measures other than standardized tests.
SB 547,the top education priority of Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, was one of 15 education-related bills that Brown killed on Saturday, the day before the deadline for acting on legislation before him. Among the others: SB 185, a direct challenge of Proposition 209’s ban on considering race and ethnicity in admitting students to CSU and UC; and AB 203, modifying the Parent Trigger law.
In a sharp, two-page veto message of SB 547, Brown mocked “academic ‘experts,’ ” backed by “editorialists and academics alike,” who have “subjugated California to unceasing pedagogical change and experimentation.” He singled out the “current fashion” of collecting “endless quantitative data … to distinguish the educational ‘good’ from the educational ‘bad.’ ” Instead, Brown indicated that he favors a “focus on quality” instead of quantity – with measures such as “good character or love of learning,” as well as “excitement and creativity.”
As to how to do this: “What about a system that relies on locally convened panels to visit schools, observe teachers, interview students and examine student work? Such a system wouldn’t produce an API number, but it could improve the quality of our schools.”
Steinberg and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, a sponsor, had rounded up widespread and diverse support for SB 547 from business groups, some advocates for low-income children, the career technical education (CTE) community, and much of the education establishment – the PTA, school boards, and administrators associations. (The California Teachers Association, which will cheer Brown’s anti-testing rhetoric, took no position on the bill.) Even an organization representing gifted students signed on.
Replace with Education Quality Index
Some supporters, Steinberg included, fundamentally disagree with Brown over the use of data to measure student and school performance. Others acknowledge that standards-based reforms and standardized tests, as demanded by the Legislature and the federal government, are here to stay. All agree that the current system, basing a school’s Academic Performance Index mostly on annual math and English language arts tests, narrowed the curriculum in many schools and created perverse incentives to focus on testing.
SB 547 would have replaced API with an EQI, an Education Quality Index, that would have added more indices, particularly in high school. Measurements could have included dropout rates, the need for remediation in college, success with career technical education programs, and graduation rates. Standardized tests would have counted no more than 40 percent in high school, no less than 40 percent in K-8, as determined by the state Department of Education and the State Board of Education. Backers of the current system questioned whether the EPI would be too squishy. Brown took the opposite view – that it would have demanded more of the same, hard data.
In his veto message, he also criticized the timing, taking effect at the same time that the state was switching to Common Core standards in math and English language arts, with their own set of demands. The combination would “add significant costs and confusion,” Brown wrote.
But Steinberg disagrees, noting that the transition to the Common Core standards, with a focus on college and career readiness, is the right time to change the accountability system to reflect that priority.
“It’s a fine idea that the governor wants qualitative pieces, but that does not change the fact that our high schools are not focused on the economy and what we expect young people to do when they graduate from high school,” Steinberg said in an interview.
“I disagree with his view on data, which can show what works and what doesn’t; that is what taxpayers want with their money. What we are doing (with SB 547) is not negating quality measures, just trying to improve quantitative measures.”
Steinberg said he would meet with Brown soon to create a bill in 2012 that fixes “a flawed system that has negative consequences for children and schools.”
(Readers: Is Brown a visionary or a policy Luddite? What do you think?)
More applied learning meeting A-G
Brown did sign two other bills that Steinberg sponsored to encourage more hands-on learning in high school. SB 611 will encode in statute the new UC Curriculum Integration Institute,which brings together CTE and core academic teachers, along with UC professors, to design innovative courses, blending applied learning, that satisfy A-G course requirements for admission to UC and CSU. The Institute has created a half-dozen so far with limited funding; with SB 611 in hand, Steinberg says he will approach foundations to underwrite the effort for hundreds of additional courses.
SB 612 complements SB 611 by reauthorizing the California Subject Matter Projects, which provide teacher training and development for courses created by the Institute and related courses.
SB 185: In his veto message, Brown said that he actually agreed with the intent of the bill, which would have allowed CSU and UC to consider race, gender and ethnicity when considering undergraduate and graduate admissions, and that he wrote briefs backing the position when he was attorney general.
But the courts, notthe Legislature, must determine the limits of Prop 209. Passing the bill, sponsored by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), “will just encourage the 209 advocates to file more costly and confusing lawsuits.”
AB 203: The veto of a bill dealing with the “Parent Trigger” law was a surprise, since the sponsor, Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), who chairs the Assembly Education Committee, had gone to great lengths to get Parent Revolution, the chief proponents of the law, and skeptics to agree to the language. It clarified pieces of the parent empowerment law, which the Legislature passed in a hurry in late 2009. The law permits a majority of parents at a low-performing school to petition for a wholesale change, such as a conversion to or takeover by a charter school.
But Brown said that the State Board has spent a full year writing regulations covering the petition process and these should be allowed to work before changing the law.
In a statement expressing her disappointment, Brownley said the bill “could have reduced potential litigation over the law’s ambiguities” by clarifying aspects of the signature process. Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution, credited Brownley for collaborating and listening to parents with his group, then added, “But I do think the Governor’s veto sends a strong signal that it’s time to stop tinkering and start implementing the Parent Trigger.”
This year’s high school graduates from California outperformed the nation on the ACT, and on average are better prepared for college work, according to the annual report of the college entrance exam. But in the same breath, consider two qualifiers: Only a quarter of California high school students took the ACT, compared with 49 percent nationwide, so it’s a self-selected group; and, while improving, the nation’s test results aren’t a lot to brag about.
In California, 30 percent of the Class of ’11 had high enough scores to be deemed ready for college in all four parts of the ACT exam: English, reading, math and science, compared with a record high 25 percent of students nationwide. In 2007, 27 percent of California students were college ready in all four. ACT defines college ready as having at least 75 percent odds of getting a C and 50 percent chance of a B in a first-year college course at a two- or four-year college.
Broken down by subject matter:
72 percent of California students were deemed ready for freshman English composition (66 percent nationwide);
57 percent were ready for a history or social science course (52 percent nationwide);
57 percent were ready for college Algebra (45 percent nationwide);
34 percent were ready for Biology or a college science course (30 percent nationwide);
48 percent of California students met three or four of the college readiness benchmarks compared with only 40 percent nationwide. But 23 percent — nearly a quarter — were not ready for one college course, compared with 28 percent nationwide.
The ACT is more popular in the Midwest and South than in the West and Northeast. While the number of ACT takers exceeded the SAT for the first time this year, in California, 99,000 students took the ACT while 211,000 took the SAT. The SAT scores won’t be available until next month, but the 2010 scores for California closely mirrored those of the nation, except for in writing, where California students did significantly better.
ACT is becoming more popular in California, with a 60 percent increase in takers since 2007. During that time, Hispanics have registered the sharpest increase, rising from 21 percent of California test takers to 35 percent in four years.
Both SAT and ACT are accepted by the University of California and California State University. The ACT is more of a curriculum-based test of high school knowledge.
The disparities in achievements among ethnicities that start in early elementary grades not surprisingly follow the same patterns with the ACT (see chart).
Only 10 percent of African-American and 26 percent of Hispanic Californians are college-ready in science, compared with 49 percent of Asians and 51 percent of White students. While 69 percent of White and 65 percent of Asian students have met three or four of the college-readiness benchmarks, only 19 percent of African-American and 25 percent of Hispanics have.
ACT found that students who take what it calls a core curriculum – comparable to the A-G course load required for admission to a UC or CSU campus – are far more likely to be prepared for a post-secondary education. And it said that the best predictor of college readiness would be the level of achievement in middle school. “If students are to be ready for college or career when they graduate, their progress must be monitored closely so that deficiencies in foundational skills can be identified and remediated early, in upper elementary and middle school,” the report said.
ACT also looked at the future job market and student aspirations and found an ominous disconnect in California, especially for Silicon Valley (see graph).
The five fastest growing careers in California demanding at least an associate’s degree will be, in order, education, management, computer/information specialties, marketing/sales and community services. Ten percent of new jobs by 2018 will be in the area of computer and information. But only 2 percent of students who took the ACT expressed interest in this field.
In 2002, ten African American and 39 Latino students enrolled and declared a Computer or Information Sciences major at all of the University of California schools. Six years later, eight African American and 25 Latino students graduated with that degree, according to UC’s office of the President. There is clearly an opportunity gap for students of color in computer science.
In Silicon Valley, across California, and around the nation, there is a vast shortage of computer programmers in the tech industry. Tech companies have had to rely on outsourcing their programming needs. Meanwhile, high schools in California and across the country are being chastised for not preparing students, particularly students of color, to be able to major in STEM fields in college – what the need for outsourcing is blamed on. What if a simple change by the UC system could help bridge this gap?
Recently, I took the introductory Rails for Zombies course for Ruby on Rails. Ruby, as it is known, is one of the newest and fastest growing programming languages on the web. I was a double major in college – biology and classical languages – and have always loved learning new languages. That’s all Ruby on Rails is, after all. There is unique vocabulary, confusing punctuation, and alien grammar. Ruby is replete with idioms, synonyms, and shortcuts that only those entrenched in the language understand. It is very much a foreign language.
The UC system should be innovative and grant high school students credit for learning a computer language as their “E” requirement of 2 years of a “Language Other Than English.” All California high school students, in order to be “UC eligible” (a standard supported by most educators in California), must complete a series of courses at their high school deemed the “A-G” requirements.
A = 2 years of History/Social Science
B = 4 years of English
C = 3 years of college prep math (4 recommended)
D = 2 years of lab science (3 recommended)
E = 2 years of language other than English (3 recommended)
F = 1 year of visual and performing arts
G = 1 year of a college prep elective (computer science currently fits in here)
The UC approves high school courses to fit in each of the categories for individual high schools through a process that involves the submission of a detailed course syllabus by each school for each course. Statewide, only 35 percent of studentscomplete a-g requirements upon graduation (by subgroup: Whites: 41 percent, Asians: 59 percent, Latinos: 26 percent, African Americans: 27 percent).
I see the potential of affluent districts rushing to implement a policy such as this while lower-income districts struggle to find the resources (human and technological). In order to ensure that this is fairly and equitably implemented and to monitor its impact, begin it as a pilot program in high schools with the lowestpercentages of A-G eligibility. In this way it can tackle three issues together: (1) opportunity and achievement gap; (2) increasing need for computer programmers; (3) the lack of diversity in the tech industry.
Tech companies should then adopt districts and provide them with their slightly used computers expressly for the purpose of teaching computer science. They should also think about dedicating an employee to oversee the program and teach the courses. One teacher/tech employee can reach almost 200 students a year. If that’s not building a diverse pipeline in tech, I don’t know what is. Companies would probably need to release that employee only once or twice a week as online programming courses continue to pop up and the programmer could pop in to provide targeted guidance for the school and students and answer questions remotely. If I’m pushing 40 and can learn Ruby using an online course, I’m sure any 15-year-old can.
Computer Science provides students with marketable skills other languages do not while still providing the same cognitive benefits of learning a foreign language. Empoweredwith computerscience skills, students will see a path forward in college and career in one of the highest paying and fasting growing job sectors.
Robert Schwartz is the Executive Director of the Level Playing Field Institute, a San Francisco-based non-profit that promotes innovative approaches to education and the workplace by removing barriers to full participation byunderrepresented groups.He spent the three years before that as Chief Academic Officer for ICEF Public Schools in South Los Angeles. Prior to that, Robert taught middle school science in East and South Los Angeles. He earned his EdD in Urban Educational Leadership from USC.