Low college transfer rate dissected

President Obama has long been a champion of community colleges and he demonstrated that commitment Monday, when he traveled to Northern Virginia Community College to release his 2012-13 budget proposal, which calls for an $8 billion program to train students for jobs in high-demand industries.

One day later, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA released a series of reports warning that California’s economic future is threatened by abysmal transfer rates from community colleges to four-year colleges, especially for Latino and African American students. Those rates, according to the studies, are a direct result of extreme racial and economic segregation in high school.

“When you’re in 9th grade we can predict with high precision whether you’re going to be able to transfer from a community college, because of how far behind you’re going to be when you get to community college,” said Civil Rights Project co-director Patricia Gándara, who is co-author of Building Pathways to Transfer.

Transfer rates by level of high school resources. (Source:  Civil Rights Project, UCLA). Click to enlarge.
Transfer rates by level of high school resources. (Source: Civil Rights Project, UCLA). Click to enlarge.

Gándara and her team found that 30 percent of community college students who attended the lowest wealth high schools transferred to a four-year college, compared with more than 53 percent of students from high wealth high schools. The disparity is much larger when those numbers are broken down by race and ethnicity. Although nearly 75 percent of all Latino students and two-thirds of African American students who go on to higher education start at a community college, they comprised only 20 percent of all students who transferred to a four-year college or university.

At the other end, the authors write that “a handful of community colleges serving high percentages of white, Asian and middle class students are responsible for the majority of all transfers in the state.”

In a second report released by the Civil Rights Project, titled Unrealized Promises: Unequal Access, Affordability, and Excellence at Community Colleges in Southern California, the researchers found that the most segregated high schools with the fewest resources and weakest academic achievement tend to feed students into segregated community colleges, where many of them get stuck in years of remedial classes and never advance.

“Unfortunately, the community colleges tend to repeat the patterns of the low performing high schools, resulting in few transfers; this makes a mockery of the promise of equal opportunity,” said Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project.

Transfer rates from community college to four-year college, by race and ethnicity.  (Source:  Civil Rights Project, UCLA). Click to enlarge.
Transfer rates from community college to four-year college, by race and ethnicity. (Source: Civil Rights Project, UCLA). Click to enlarge.

Student Success Task Force not enough

In California, community colleges are the backbone of the higher education system, serving more than two-and-a-half million students a year who have diverse needs and goals. Some are seeking an associate’s degree, some a certificate in a skilled profession such as nursing or welding, and others hope to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree. The 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education includes all those choices and more.

After half a century it became clear that the plan for community colleges needed revising. So last year, the Student Success Task Force on community colleges, established by the Legislature, developed a set of 22 recommendations to improve and accelerate the time it takes for students to earn credentials, earn degrees, or transfer.

Orfield wasn’t critical of the report – “I’m not belittling it,” he assured – but he was unenthusiastic, saying the recommendations tend to tweak around the edges of a problem that needs a full-scale structural reform.  “It wasn’t a call for saying let’s redo the structure of higher education in California because it’s a catastrophe. It means that most of the kids who are growing up in this state aren’t going to have a reasonable chance to get what they need to be middle class families; that’s just absolutely critical to the future of California.”

Even colleges singled out in the Building Pathways to Transfer report for having a disproportionately high rate of transfers didn’t do it by making institutional changes.  It was more a case where a group of faculty and staff took it upon themselves to help students, said Gándara.

“Somebody has to demonstrate the interest; there’s nothing systemic that’s happens here,” Gándara said.  “So it isn’t like the chancellor’s office says, ‘Okay, this is something we’ve got to do, let’s get on board.’  It’s hit or miss.”

Giving Bachelor’s a chance

California doesn’t do too well on college completion even at four-year colleges and universities, according to Beyond the Master Plan:  The Case for Restructuring Baccalaureate Education in California.   First released in 2010, this report was also posted yesterday on the Civil Rights Project website.  It’s co-authored by former University of California President Richard Atkinson.  Among its findings:

  • California ranks 43rd out of the 50 states in the proportion of its college-age population who earn baccalaureate degrees,
  • California community colleges now enroll 40-to-50 percent of all students seeking a baccalaureate degree.

Atkinson and co-author Saul Geiser of UC Berkeley, don’t lay all the blame for California’s anticipated shortage of qualified workers with college degrees on the favorite whipping boys of the economic downturn, the growing population of immigrants and the failure of community colleges.  They point to a decision made in 1960, a time when enrollment in the state’s public four-year and two-year colleges was almost equally divided.

“But in a cost-cutting move, the framers of the Master Plan limited eligibility for admission to UC and CSU to the top eighth and top third, respectively, of the state’s high school graduates, diverting many students to 2-year institutions,” they wrote.

The Student Success Task Force report already recommends streamlining the transfer process and providing incentives for students to move quickly toward their goals.  Orfield and Gándara would add to that allowing community colleges to offer B.A. degrees.  It would create more spaces for students seeking four-year degrees without the added step of transferring.  Geiser and Atkinson see too many challenges to that model, such as cost and accreditation problems, but do recommend a hybrid model through which four-year and two-year colleges would collaborate to offer B.A. degrees.

Such changes may not be an easy sell as the chair of the Assembly higher education committee found last session.  Assemblyman Marty Block [D- San Diego] introduced a AB 661, a bill that would have created a pilot program for B.A. degrees in two community college districts.  It died on the inactive file.

California Partnership Academies: They’re effective – and threatened

California Partnership Academies (CPAs) are college-and-career pathways that typically enroll 150-200 students within a large high school. The good news is that they work. The bad news is that their funding is threatened.

The state currently supports nearly 500 CPAs, each receiving a grant of about $60,000, depending on how many students are enrolled and whether students achieve performance targets for attendance and course credits. By law, the state grant must be matched by the local district, and matched again by contributions from local employer partners.

A report released last October found that 95 percent of CPA seniors in 2009-10 graduated at the end of the school year, compared with 85 percent statewide. And 57 percent of CPA graduates reportedly completed the “A-G” course sequence required for freshman admission to UC or CSU  – compared with 36 percent of graduates statewide. These results are especially impressive because at least half of the students entering CPAs must be “at risk” as indicated by low income and a record of low grades and test scores, poor attendance, and misbehavior.

The recent results closely resemble findings from a report on CPAs five years earlier. Since the 1980s, evaluations of “career academies” – the generic name for this kind of college-and-career pathway – have consistently found positive results for students during and after high school.

The most rigorous study, which randomly assigned some career academy applicants to the academy and others to the regular high school program, was conducted by MDRC from 1994 to 2008. The study corroborated many of the earlier results. Notably, among students most at risk, 79 percent of academy students stayed in school until spring of senior year, compared to 68 percent of the control group. Eight years after high school, students assigned to academies had average monthly earnings of $2,112, compared with $1,896 for the control group. The study also found both the academy and control groups had high postsecondary educational attainment.

In California, 3 percent of students in grades 10-12 are enrolled in one of the nearly 500 existing CPAs. The Linked Learning initiative is building support in school districts to sustain and expand the number of CPAs and other college-and-career pathways.

Unfortunately, the ongoing state budget crisis threatens the expansion and even the survival of CPAs. An immediate threat is loss of funding in June 2012 for about 200 CPAs that were authorized by two recent laws, SB 70 and AB 519, both of which are sunsetting.

A second threat is the push to consolidate or eliminate all “categorical” (special-purpose) grants from the state to local school districts. In theory, cutting the strings on categorical grants frees local decision-makers to target funds more efficiently on local needs.

The special-purpose funding for CPAs should be exempt from the policy to eliminate categorical grants. There are several justifications for such an exemption.

First, the evidence that these programs successfully prepare students for both college and careers is stronger than for any other existing approach to improving high school education for at-risk students.

In addition, the CPA legislation contains a unique combination of quality-assurance mechanisms.

  • CPAs are funded through a competitive application process, in which applications are scored by a panel of reviewers who have expert knowledge of the program.
  • Each CPA is required to submit an extensive annual report that details both the quality of program implementation and the performance of students enrolled in it. The state rewards the academy only for those students performing at required minimums.
  • These annual reports also provide information on required program components as specified in the Education Code, such as cohort scheduling, mentorships, internships, curricular integration, course sequences, and the membership and role of local advisory boards. This accountability process has led to the de-funding of dozens of non-compliant programs over the years.
  • The amount of state funding for each CPA must be matched by an equal contribution from local employers. This provides additional necessary resources, especially for work-based learning and other experiences outside the classroom, at no expense to taxpayers.
  • Each academy is required to have an advisory board that includes representatives of local employers and other community partners. Their participation, in addition to their material contributions to match the state grant, ensure that local employers and community partners are attentive to program quality.

California Partnership Academies are not a panacea, and there is room for improvement in their design and execution. But the evidence shows that they work, and the benefit they provide to California taxpayers exceeds their cost. Eliminating or cutting them would be a serious setback for California.

David Stern is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he joined the faculty in 1976.  His research, teaching, and policy work have focused on economics of education, high school reform, and educational equity. He has been Principal Investigator for the Career Academy Support Network since 1998.  

Community wins Promise grant

The Jackson Triangle in the Bay Area city of Hayward is one of five recipients of a federal Promise Neighborhood grant to give students in the low-income area academic, lifestyle, and community support to succeed in school. California State University, East Bay is lead agency on the project, which will receive $25 million over the next five years.

Map of the Jackson Triangle Promise Neighborhood (Source:  Hayward Promise Neighborhood) Click to enlarge.
Map of the Jackson Triangle Promise Neighborhood (Source: Hayward Promise Neighborhood) Click to enlarge.

Promise Neighborhoods are modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, a groundbreaking program that runs charter schools, offers afterschool and preschool programs, and provides free parenting classes, health care, counseling, and access to social services to thousands of children and adults to help break the cycle of poverty through education.

The Hayward Promise Neighborhood is a partnership of about a dozen schools and agencies, including the city, the Hayward Unified School District, Cal State East Bay, Chabot College, the local regional occupation program, the Child Care Coordinating Council of Alameda County, and the county public health department.

“Sometimes in education there are these wonderful points of light, but a lot of times they’re siloed,” said Carolyn Nelson, dean of the College of Education and Allied Studies at Cal State East Bay and principal investigator for the project. “The whole idea of the Promise Neighborhood project is to, if you will, de-silo these wonderful projects and community resources so that they’re all coherently focused on the big picture of contributing to student achievement.”

The Jackson Triangle neighborhood doesn’t have many points of light right now. It’s been hard hit by the recession, forcing multiple families to share single-family housing; it doesn’t have many resources for residents; and it’s generally lacking in stability. The grant application to the federal government describes the area this way:

“A severely neglected community of low-income families, 37% immigrants, and most with a high school education or less. Inadequate public transit, unsafe parks, food insecurity, limited licensed child care, and redlining drive social inequities. JT schools are chronically underperforming and many JT students drop out of high school and college. Residents are disproportionately unemployed, most lack college degrees, and 61.5% spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing.”

Focus on education

All the resources that will be brought to bear in the neighborhood are focused on one overriding goal: creating a continuum of services from cradle to career to make

Pathway from cradle-to-career in Jackson Triangle.  (Source:  Hayward Promise Neighborhood).  Click to enlarge.
Pathway from cradle-to-career in Jackson Triangle. (Source: Hayward Promise Neighborhood). Click to enlarge.

sure that students are ready for kindergarten and everything that follows.

“One of the things that we noticed in doing our needs assessment is that a significant percentage of our kids don’t come in with the level of language that you expect when they enter kindergarten,” said Andrew Kevy, the project manager and coordinator of child welfare for the Hayward Unified School District. “It’s our intention to start early on and to build the early childhood education network and then move up the pathway to elementary, middle, and high school.”

Many of the strategies to improve the schools and student achievement were developed last year through a $500,000 planning grant that the Hayward group received from the federal government, and are laid out in a 21-page plan.

Although the Harlem Children’s Zone inspired the Obama Administration to launch the program, the Hayward plan differs in one significant way: it doesn’t include charter schools. With charter schools, not everyone gets to participate, said Cal State’s Nelson, but the Jackson Triangle is inclusive.

“We’re starting with a public school and we’re working within the public school; we’re not creating a lottery system like a charter school, and I think that’s a distinctive difference which I can really embrace,” said Nelson. “You don’t pick and choose, and I think that will make a significant contribution to show what it really takes to make students successful within a public school setting.”

Bringing diversity into teaching

Tom Ribota, a teacher at a court and community school in San Joaquin County, has many of the same types of kids in his classes that he used to interact with when he was cop. So it’s amusing to imagine the day when he had his students do a crime scene investigation as a way to learn some math concepts. Ribota says hands-on lessons like that make learning relevant. As a Mexican American who grew up in this largely Hispanic community, Ribota himself brings relevance to his students.

“The kids look at me and they see themselves in some respect,” said Ribota, who left the police force due to a back injury. “I understand where they’ve been, and they understand where I’ve been, because I share that with them.”

Ribota is enrolled in an intern program run by the county where he teaches during day and is a student at night. Programs like his are becoming the “pathway of choice for under-represented minorities,” said Catherine Kearney, dean of Teachers College of San Joaquin, and founding president of the California Teacher Corps, which represents alternative certification programs.

New figures released today by the Corps show that nearly half the teachers in these programs are under-represented minorities. Of course, this requires some context. There are so few minority teachers in California that the numbers are still small, even though the trend is impressive.

Teacher demographics in California.  (Source:  CA Dept. of Education). Click to enlarge.
Teacher demographics in California. (Source: CA Dept. of Education) Click to enlarge.

Last year, for example, more than 9 percent of teachers from Corps programs were African American, compared to 4 percent statewide. Hispanics accounted for 25 percent of Corps teachers, above the statewide level of 17 percent. Some individual programs have much higher rates. Nearly 80 percent of the credential students at California State University Fullerton’s On Track Scholars Transition to Teaching program are Hispanic, and most of them have deep roots in the communities where they’re teaching.

California students are just about the opposite of teachers when it comes to diversity; almost three-

California student enrollment by race and ethnicity. (source: California Department of Education, Educational Demographics Office). Click to enlarge.
California student enrollment by race and ethnicity. (source: California Department of Education, Educational Demographics Office). Click to enlarge.

quarters of public school students are African American, Hispanic, Asian, or Pacific Islander.

“In order for students to aspire, it’s important that the people they see on a day-to-day basis, their teachers, reflect those possibilities,” said Kearney. That’s not just an intuitive belief. A new report from the Center for American Progress cites research showing that “students of color do better on a variety of academic outcomes if they’re taught by teachers of color.”

So, the 70 or so programs in the Teacher Corps spend a lot of time recruiting locally. Kearney credits attracting people with deep roots in the communities where they‘ll be teaching for the impressive retention rates of their graduates. More than 70 percent of Corps teachers are still in the classroom after five years. Typically – at least in years when they’re not being laid off due to the economy – half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years.

The goal of the California Teacher Corps is to place 100,000 highly qualified teachers in California classrooms by 2020. They’re already halfway there, but Kearney expects the state’s massive budget deficit to slow down the progress. According to the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, only half as many people are enrolled in teacher preparation programs in the state today as there were a decade ago.

If Tom Ribota has his way, some of his students will start to fill out the number and diversity of the state’s teacher workforce. Now that they’re succeeding in school, he says they see teaching as very real career goal, not some far-off dream. “I tell them that in order to change their environment, they have to become part of the change.”

No guarantee for career academies

Jerry Winthrop roared with laughter when the director of a career academy asked him if the programs will be protected in the event that California’s revenues fall short and the state pulls the trigger on education funding at the end of the year. Winthrop, who oversees more than 400 California Partnership Academies, told the 25 academy coordinators and teachers gathered at an Oakland High School last week that they may want to learn how to write grant proposals.

Jack Aiello, who asked the question, didn’t intentionally make a joke. His Electronics Academy at Independence High School in San Jose’s East Side Union High School District is about 20 years old. Aiello wants to see it reach 21.

In normal times, the school only had to submit an annual report and it was pretty much guaranteed continued funding as long as it met all the state requirements. In these uncertain financial days, however, there’s no sure thing, not even for the tried and true.

The academy has a 95% graduation rate (15 to 20 percentage points higher than the rest of the school), boasts strong attendance, and sends a large group of students to community and four-year colleges.

But recently Aiello has been finding it difficult to do things exactly the way the State Department of Education wants them done, and that makes him a little tense. “There are so many stresses on budgets and trying to make everyone happy that it’s hard to follow all the rules exactly the way they’re supposed to be followed,” he said.

For example, students in California Partnership Academies are supposed to be in the same classes together so they can form a bond among themselves and with their teachers. But when an academy class in a core subject, like English, math, science, or history, has an unfilled seat or two, Independence High has been placing non-academy students in it. That could cost the program its state funding.

“Jack, I bleed for you, man, but I have 200 schools about to close. Your superintendent and principal signed on the line every year that you took money,” said Winthrop. “They’re taking state funds while not doing what they’re contractually obligated to do. They’re putting you in a position where you’re out of compliance.”

Money drying up

Winthrop is tall and imposing and, having started three academies during his teaching days, is arguably one of a handful of CDE staff who can hold court on California Partnership Academies. That’s what he did at Oakland’s Media Academy High School last Friday, running through a PowerPoint presentation and fielding questions on what to expect in state funding for next year. The answer: Don’t get your hopes up.

As we reported here last week, a new report from UC Berkeley’s Career Academy Support Network gave academies high marks, particularly for improving graduation and college-going rates for students considered at risk of dropping out of school.

Funding sources for partnership academies.  (Source:  Edutopia. Sept. 2010) Click to enlarge
Funding sources for partnership academies. (Source: Edutopia. Sept. 2010) Click to enlarge

At the same time, two major sources of funding for academies are drying up within a year, putting about 200 in jeopardy. So it was natural that most questions from academy directors focused on other places to seek funding, and the chances that they’ll be able to get a slice of a new, but small, state academy grant program for next year.

“Is there any other funding source?” asked one teacher. “Not that I know of at this time,” Winthrop answered, “but send me a note; there are lots of places to get money here and there if you know how to write grants.”

The woman sitting to my left, Brenda Calvert with the Green Hospitality, Tourism and Recreation Academy at John F. Kennedy High School in Fremont, cupped her hand over her mouth and whispered, “I’m really nervous about this.  Our first seniors are graduating this year.”

To my right, Ryan Cheshire had just started a multimedia animation and videogame design academy at Encinal High School in Alameda with a seed grant from the CDE.  He said they knew the program was sun-setting at the end of this academic year, but hoped the legislature would step in and extend the program.

“One year is just not enough time.  It’s a complex program, there are so many different parts to it that at one year, you’re just scratching the surface of being effective,” said Cheshire.

A brief history

As it turns out, there is one new state source of funding; it’s just so small that the competition is expected to be fierce.

During a special session last April, the Legislature passed SBX1 1, authored by State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Sen. Steinberg.  It was supposed to provide $40 million in

Growth of Career Academies. (Source:  Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarage
Growth of Career Academies. (Source: Career Academy Support Network). Click to enlarage

grants over five years, to support up to 100 clean technology and renewable energy partnership academies, with the money coming from the Renewable Resource Trust Fund and paid for by a small surcharge on utility bills from.

Republicans insisted that the funds come from Proposition 98 general funds for education.  So the program now has a little over $3 million for the first round of grants and no guarantee that the remaining $37 million will be available.  Instead of nearly 100 academies, the amended law will now pay for about 21 grants.  Nevertheless, Winthrop expects hundreds of schools to apply.

Another bill, SB 70, fades out at the end of this school year, but Sen. Steinberg said he is already in talks to try to refund it.

California first passed legislation for partnership academies in 1984, providing money for 10 pilot programs.  Three years later, a second bill added forty more academies.  Those funds have been renewed over and over since then.

That’s how Aiello’s academy continues to operate, and where Oakland’s Media Academy High School gets the bulk of its funds.  The Media Academy is marking its 25th year, and director Michael Jackson has been at the school for all of them.  Although his funding is the most secure – a tenuous commitment these days – Jackson says the state is moving too quickly to start new academies, especially when so many existing programs could use some help.

“Another way to look at it is there’s way too many of these academies to do them right,” said Jackson, especially for the $70,000 or so that they each receive from state Proposition 98 funds. “Why don’t they put more money and support into the ones they have that are working and see if you can’t built a little more slowly until the economy recovers.”

High marks for CTE academies

When I met Reanna Garnsey two years ago, she was a 4.0 junior at Laguna Creek High School in the Elk Grove Unified School District. As a ninth grade student, her GPA was 0.8. Reanna cut school – a lot. What brought her back from the brink of dropping out was the Green Energy Technology Academy (GETA), a program that combines academics with real-world skills in alternative energy, including research, mentorships, and internships. Reanna’s transformation was so stunning that State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg asked her to testify before the Legislature in support of a bill to fund more of those programs.

Her story may be on the far side of average, but programs like GETA, known as California Partnership Academies, are producing many success stories, according to a report released Tuesday by the State Department of Education.

“A Profile of the California Partnership Academies 2009-2010″ by UC Berkeley’s Career Academy Support Network, found that high school seniors in academies have a 95 percent graduation rate, compared with 85 percent of seniors statewide; they’re more likely to attend college and more than half – 57 percent – graduate with the courses required for admission to the University of California or California State University, a whopping 21 percentage points above the statewide rate.

Academies are programs located within comprehensive high school that focus on growing industries in their communities, such as alternative energy, health care, the arts, or building trades. They’re small, usually serving about 200 students in grades 10 through 12, who stay together for three years. At least half of the students must be considered at risk for dropping out or failing. School districts have to supply matching funds and develop partnerships with local business and industry.

“This kind of hands-on learning, this connection to the real world, makes so much sense,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson during a phone call with reporters yesterday. “It engages students to see the relevancy of the mathematics, the science, the language arts that they’re asked to do.”

So I was surprised to receive an email last week from Eric Johnson, the Laguna Creek teacher who started GETA, asking for help because the program’s funding runs out at the end of this academic year.

“This means that we must now go through the entire grant application process to secure future funding,” wrote Johnson in an appeal to business partners to write letters of support to help GETA make its case for new funding from the state.

Funding is starting to fade

Money for more than 200 of the state’s 500 partnership academies is slated to sunset at the close of the current school year. However, there are new funds available. During a special session last April, the Legislature passed SB 1x 1, authored by Sen. Steinberg, which allocates $8

Funding Sources for California Partnership Academies (source:  Career Academy Support Network) click to enlarge.
Funding Sources for California Partnership Academies (source: Career Academy Support Network); click to enlarge.

million a year through 2017, from the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, to pay for about 100 academies focused on green energy and technology.

Despite its successes, GETA will have to reapply for the money, going up against every school that decides to enter the pool.

“No question that not only do we have to expand what we’re doing, but before we can expand we have to keep what exists and what is successful intact,” said Steinberg during Tuesday’s telephone conference call.

Keeping the doors open at all 200 academies will cost about $15 million. Some of that money would be available if lawmakers reauthorize SB 70, the bill that initially established the California Partnership Program. Steinberg said his office will be working on that during the next session.

Still, partnership academies aren’t exactly sweeping the state. There are just under 48,500 students enrolled in the programs – about 3 percent of all students in grades 10-12, raising questions about their cost effectiveness.

Exit exam pass rates by race & ethncity (source:  Career Academy Support Network) click to enlarge.
Exit exam pass rates by race & ethncity (source: Career Academy Support Network); click to enlarge.

What’s more, the overall gains seem to have slowed a bit. Back in 2004-05, 80 percent of academy tenth graders passed the California High School Exit Exam in math, compared to 74 percent for all other tenth graders. The gap was even larger for the English language arts section of the exam. But by 2009-10, statewide pass rates increased to within 1 or 2 percentage points of academy students, whose rates barely changed.

But that’s not the case for tenth grade Hispanic students in academies, who outperformed all other Hispanic sophomores in math and English language arts. The report also found that both African American and Hispanic seniors in academies graduated at significantly higher rates than those not in academies – 16 percent higher for African Americans and 14 percent higher for Hispanics.

Those are the statistics that Steinberg said should provide strong incentive to keep these programs funded and continue to expand them. “In my view, this report illustrates the future of high school in education, not only in this state but in this country,” he said. “It shows that we do not need to make the false choice between academic rigor and real world learning. High school courses must include both.”

Community colleges get job grants

A consortium of community colleges in California’s economically distressed San Joaquin Valley has been tapped by the U.S. Department of Labor for the first round of funding in a $2 billion federal program to train laid-off and dislocated workers.

“This initiative is about providing access to training that leads to real jobs,” said U.S. Labor Secretary and former California Congresswoman Hilda Solis.

Solis and U.S. Under Secretary of Education Martha Kanter, former Chancellor of California’s Foothill-De Anza Community College District, announced winners of the competitive grant program yesterday during a telephone call with journalists. Each year, for the next four years, the program will distribute $500 million to U.S. community colleges. It’s funded as part of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.

The proposal from the Central California Community Colleges Committed to Change, also known as C6, is one of 32 programs selected by the Labor Department from over 200 applicants. C6 will receive $20 million over three years to develop and implement credential and degree programs in conjunction with local industries to meet their needs for skilled workers.

“I’m extremely delighted about this grant; I think it will mean a great deal for the Central Valley,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott.  “That’s one of the areas of California that has the highest unemployment rates, so that’s going to be particularly meaningful to them in their career technical programs and other programs that put Californians to work.”

Areas Served by Grant- 16 Counties in San Joaquin Valley covering 27,282 Square Miles (C6 Consortium abstract). Click to enlarge.
Areas Served by Grant- 16 Counties in San Joaquin Valley covering 27,282 Square Miles (C6 Consortium abstract). Click to enlarge.

There are twelve community colleges in the consortium, covering sixteen counties in the Central Valley.  The region’s unemployment rate ranges from 9.7% in Inyo County to 17.5% in Merced County, according to a report issued last month by the California Employment Development Department.

The consortium proposes to provide hands-on instruction to train more than 3,000 people for jobs in the region’s up-and-coming and changing industries including alternative energy, agriculture, manufacturing, and health care.  [A huge prison health care facility scheduled to open in Stockton in 2013 will house about 1,700 inmates and is creating a demand for nurses and psychiatric technicians].

“This grant is a game changer for higher education in the Central Valley,” Dr. Frank Gornick, Chancellor of West Hills Community College District, which is taking the lead on the grant, told the Hanford Sentinel.  “Over the next three years, this grant will allow us to focus on raising standards, increasing student success and changing education practice and policy throughout the state.”

One of the foremost challenges is figuring out how to keep students in school long enough to get through the programs. Community colleges are plagued with dismal graduation and transfer rates; about 70 percent of students don’t earn a credential or degree, or transfer to a four-year college.

So the C6 project is attempting to systematically change the way education is delivered.  “We’re trying to streamline the process so people can get in, take the courses they need to transfer or be career ready, and get out,” said Carole Goldsmith, Vice Chancellor of Educational Services and Workforce Development for West Hills Community College District.

The consortium has established eight “guiding principles” that research shows have the best chances of keeping students in school by building in support services, using technology to help accelerate the courses and creating cohorts of students who go through the program together.

  • Integrated Program Design:  Students enroll in a single, coherent program.
  • Cohort Enrollment:  The same group of students registers for a pre-determined sequence of courses and class schedules.
  • Block Scheduling:  Providing a fixed classroom-meeting schedule, consistent from term to term.
  • Compressed Classroom Instruction:  Providing online curriculum materials and instruction to reduce the time needed to move students from training to degree to work.
  • Embedded Remediation:  Providing developmental skills review in tandem with the job training program.
  • Increase Transparency:  C6 programs will be advertised, priced and delivered as high-value programs leading to clearly defined credentials and connected to regional employer need.
  • Transformational Technology:  C6 will redesign courses to incorporate new and  existing technology as well as blended learning models, and will seek out open-source textbooks to save money.
  • Innovative Student Support Services:  Student support services will be embedded into the programs using technology and partnerships with employers to supplement traditional support services.

The consortium colleges will spend the first year or so of the grant pulling together the industry partners to create a detailed strategic plan that will be sustainable long after the federal money is gone, and can be replicated at community colleges throughout the state and the nation.

“Our approach is to help shape policy through practice,” said Goldsmith.  “I’ve been in the business now for 15 years and this is the largest, most comprehensive planning project I’ve seen.”

Worldwide college rates pass us by

There’s a lot to celebrate in not being the worst. The United States’ education system has taken a beating on the international stage over the past decade, but, according to the latest report on the state of education in the world, we’re not terrible. We are, however, stagnating while other industrialized countries move ahead. To paraphrase Woody Allen, the relationship between education and global competitiveness is like a shark: “it has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

That’s harsh, but consider this figure from Education at a Glance 2011, published this morning by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation

Countries's share of higher ed degrees by age group (from OECD report) click to enlarge
Countries’s share of higher ed degrees by age group (from OECD report) click to enlarge

and Development (OECD). Of the 39 million 55- to 64-year-olds around the world with college degrees, more than a third are in the United States. Those are the highly educated baby boomers. But the number of people attending college has been increasing rapidly worldwide and now there are about 81 million college graduates between 25 and 34 years old. Of that group, just over 20% are Americans. At the same time, China’s proportion has tripled.

“The one thing that you see today if you just look across age groups, the United States is quite alone in that young people entering the labor market are not better educated than the people leaving the labor market,” said Andreas Schleicher, head of OECD’s Indicators and Analysis Division. “There’s nothing that points to a decline – the United States is actually growing its college completion rate – it’s just that the growth rate is not as high as other countries’.”

California‘s labor gap

While the United States is falling behind other countries, California is lagging behind other states in much the same way. Among baby boomers, 35% have a bachelor’s degree or better. That dips to 27% of 25- to 29-year-olds, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

The PPIC report, “Closing the Gap: Meeting California’s Need for College Graduates,” estimates the state will have one million fewer college graduates than it needs when the boomers retire. To fill all the skilled jobs, we’ll need 60,000 more baccalaureate degrees per year by 2025.

Getting to this sluggish point is sort of a classic Tortoise and the Hare fable. “Other countries have taken the U.S. model of investing in schools more seriously than we have,” said Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Eric Hanushek, adding that that doesn’t bode well for our economic health.

“What we’re finding is we’re becoming less and less competitive in terms of human capital and schooling and it’s going to come back to haunt us,” said Hanushek.

Hold on, the decent news is coming

The drop in degrees is not just about being too complacent. There are other trends in the United States that harm our global position.  College is very expensive; average tuition is higher than any other country.  “The United States really is in a class by itself in the price of higher education,” Schleicher says, although he acknowledges there’s no hard data to prove that this is causing the decrease in college graduation rates. [*See correction below].

And here’s a humorous point, according to OECD statistics, the reason for the higher fees and smaller public support is that we pay low to average taxes

Costs of higher education around the world (from OECD report) click to enlarge
Costs of higher education around the world (from OECD report) click to enlarge

(emphasis added) compared to most developed nations, so the cost of college falls hard on families and students run up tens of thousands of dollars in loans that cut into their future earnings.

It’s not a lost cause for the United States, however, not even close.  The 500-page OECD report is a treasure trove (overused term, but true in this case) of amazing statistics and many of them place the U.S. in good standing.

  • 99% of our K-12 teachers meet state qualifications.
  • Even though classroom instruction time has taken a hit, we still exceed the OECD average at 1,068 hours for high school.
  • Ditto for class size; it’s increasing but remains lower that most other nations.
  • Despite the high price tag for a college degree, graduates more than make up for it in future earnings and lower unemployment rates.
    • The unemployment rate for high school drop outs is 15.8%, but for college graduates it drops to 4.9%.
    • College graduates earn about 87% more over their lifetime than high school graduates who don’t go on to college.
Employment by level of education (from OECD report) click to enlarge
Employment by level of education (from OECD report) click to enlarge

College education bought the same benefits in nearly every developed nation.  What’s more, says Schleicher, is that the earnings premium stays put no matter how many more people attend college.

“The one message that is very important messages that emerges from this publication is that the increase in the number of higher educated workers has not led to a decrease in their pay.”

But don’t let that go to your head.

“I think that the competition of the future in the world is based upon what people know and the quality of their human capital,” said the Hoover Institution’s Hanushek, “and we’re sinking relative to all the other developed countries.”

*  The number of Americans earning college degrees has been steadily rising, from 11% of the population in 1970 to 30% in 2010. Younger Americans, however, are not keeping pace with their peers in other developed countries, so among 34 countries in the OECD report, we have fallen to 15th place in the percentage of 25 to 34 year olds with college degrees.

Baker’s dozen bills before Brown

(Kathy and John combined efforts on this post.)

It all comes down to one person. Dozens of education bills passed in the final days of the legislative session are now in Gov. Brown’s hands. He has until October 9th to sign or veto. Here are highlights of some of the most controversial and comprehensive measures.

SB 611 (Darrell Steinberg, D- Sacramento): The University of California has approved thousands of Career Technical Education courses as qualifying for admission to UC and CSU campuses under the A-G requirements. But nearly all of them have been approved only as electives, not as core subjects. This bill would authorize a new UC institute to work directly with high school teachers to develop dozens of CTE courses that would qualify as math, English, and science courses for UC and CSU admission – a big shift in UC’s approach to CTE and potentially a boost for partnership academies and programs that stress career and college readiness.

SB 547 (Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento):  This bill would replace California’s long-standing school rating system, known as the Academic Performance Index, or API, with an Education Quality Index, or EQI. It would also fulfill the original intent of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999 by requiring the State Department of Education, in consultation with an advisory committee, to develop multiple measures for the EQI rating that include graduation rates, a college preparedness index, and a career readiness index in addition to the STAR test and High School Exit Exam. A similar bill, AB 400, passed the Legislature in 2007, but was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.

AB 1330 (Warren Furutani, D-Long Beach): High school students would be able to substitute a year-long career technical course (CTE) for either a year of foreign language or of visual/performing arts as one of 13 courses needed to graduate from high school. Supporters of the bill say it would give students at risk of dropping out an engaging alternative to keep them interested in school. Opponents, who include those who want to qualify more students for four-year colleges, worry districts will cut back courses in arts and foreign languages, making it harder for students to qualify for CSU and UC campuses. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year.

AB 47 (Jared Huffman, D-Marin): Under the 2-year-old Open Enrollment Act, students in the state’s 1,000 lowest-performing schools are theoretically eligible to attend better schools outside of their own district (it’s too soon to see how often it’s been used). This bill would tighten eligibility rules to weed out schools that, because of quirks in the law, are not among the lowest-performing 10 percent. It would  exclude schools with over 700 API, among the new requirements. Open Enrollment was passed to strengthen the state’s Race to the Top application. Republican senators strongly opposed loosening the law.

SB 300 (Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley): California’s science standards haven’t been touched since their adoption 13 years ago. This bill, written by the California Science Teachers Association, would establish a process to revise them by 2013. Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson would appoint a committee of science educators that would do the work under a tight timeline; the State Board of Education would have to approve the new standards. The standards would be based on Next Generation Science Standards, a multistate effort that would become the science version of the Common Core standards. Traditionalists who created the current standards are skeptical.

AB 131 (Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles): Undocumented students who meet certain requirements have been allowed to pay in-state tuition at California’s public colleges and universities since 2002. But efforts to provide them with public financial aid have failed for years. That began to change this year when Gov. Brown signed AB 130, the first of two bills by Assemblyman Cedillo collectively known as the California Dream Act. While AB 130 allows undocumented students who meet the in-state tuition requirements to apply for private financial aid offered through state colleges and universities, AB 131 is a harder sell. It would open CalGrants to these students. Opponents say that in a time of steep budget cuts it’s unfair to legal residents to give money to undocumented students, and they warn that it could create an incentive for more people to come here illegally.

AB 743 (Marty Block, D-Lemon Grove): Nowhere is the disjuncture between high school and college expectations more pronounced than in the state’s 112 community colleges. Between 70 and 85 percent of students who take a community college placement exam aren’t ready for college-level math or English. But there’s no consistency in the tests, because there are nearly as many different exams as there are community colleges. AB 743 would establish uniform placement exams in math and English.  They wouldn’t be mandatory, but colleges that continued to use their own placement tests would miss out of big savings from the volume discount.

SB 161 (Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar): Children who suffer severe epileptic seizures risk brain damage or even death unless they receive emergency medical care within five minutes. SB 161 would allow school staff to voluntarily take a course to learn how to administer Diastat, a an emergency anti-seizure medication, with parents’ written consent. State law already allows teachers and staff to administer other emergency medications, but Diastat is different because it’s given rectally. Although the bill has strong bipartisan support, it’s been targeted by major labor unions, including both teachers unions and the nurses association, which tried to use it as leverage to reverse the loss of school nurses in recent years due to budget cuts.

Foster youth

AB 194 (Jim Beall, D-San Jose): Assemblyman Beall has been a strong proponent of legislation to help foster youth complete their education. AB 194 requires the 112 community college campuses and California State University campuses to grant priority enrollment to current and former foster youth up through age 24, and urges the University of California to do the same. Supporters hope the bill will help keep foster youth in college by making it easier for them to get the classes they need to graduate, especially as budget cuts have forced public colleges to reduce the number of course sections they offer. Currently, about 20 percent of foster youth enroll in college, and barely 3 percent graduate. The bill would sunset July 1, 2017.

AB 709 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): It’s not uncommon for foster children to be moved to different schools many times during their youth.  This bill would add a section to the state’s Health and Safety Code, bringing it into conformity with provisions of the Education Code requiring schools to immediately enroll foster youth even if they can’t provide the school with all their medical records, including proof of immunizations. This bill has no opposition and passed the Senate and Assembly without any no votes.

Common Core

Three bills before the governor would combine to place California on a timeline to prepare for the implementation of Common Core standards and assessments.

AB 250 (Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica): The State Board of Education approved Common Core standards in math and English language arts a year ago. The state belongs to a multistate consortium that is developing the Common Core standardized tests that will be aligned to the new standards. This bill would start the process of filling in the gaps. It would require the State Board to adopt new curriculum frameworks, which flesh out standards into a detailed road map, by May 2013 for math and a year later for English language arts. It would require the state Department of Education to work with the State Board on developing training for teachers in Common Core subjects. It also would extend STAR, the current standardized tests, until the replacements are introduced in 2015.

SB 140 (Alan Lowenthal, D- Long Beach): California has postponed any new textbook adoptions until after Common Core standards are in place. But with those new standards come the new student achievement tests. In order to make sure that students are prepared for those Common Core assessments, this bill would require the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education to develop criteria for evaluating supplemental instructional materials that include Common Core content standards, and then to compile a list of those materials for kindergarten to eighth grade for English language arts and kindergarten to seventh grade for math. (Eighth grade math isn’t included because of a disagreement about whether the state’s math standard should include Algebra 1 in that grade.) Schools wouldn’t be required to choose from the list, or to use any supplemental materials. SB 140 has no organized opposition; however, votes in the Assembly and Senate were almost entirely along party lines.

AB 124 (Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar): Fuentes’ bill ensures that the Common Core standards extend to English learners. It would require the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene a group of experts in English language instruction to revise and align the curriculum, materials, and assessments for Common Core so they’re appropriate for English learners.

Tom Torlakson’s blueprint

Create a Commission on Educator Excellence to jump-start policies on teacher and principal development; increase the adoption of digital materials; incorporate phys ed  into a school’s API score.

These are among dozens of recommendations in Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s “Blueprint for Great Schools,” a 25-page report released on Tuesday. Seven months in the making, it’s the product of his massive transition team, 59 advisers consisting of  parents, business leaders, teachers, academicians, and school administrators.

Sweeping in its scope, the report makes a number of reasonable suggestions without hard edges – a reflection of Torlakson’s consensus style, temperament, and interests: teacher training, career-technical education, and early childhood education.

In California’s fractured division of K-12 responsibilities, Torlakson doesn’t set policy; the State Board does. But his priorities also match up well with those of Gov. Jerry Brown, State Board President Michael Kirst, who chaired Torlakson’s school finance subcommittee, and key Democratic legislators, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in particular. And, from all appearances, Torlakson and the State Board are making great efforts to work together. So there’s a chance that some of the report’s proposals – especially those not requiring substantial new money – may gain traction. The report also has the weight of the transition team’s two co-chairs, Stanford University School of Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and David Rattray, senior vice president of education and workforce development for the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.

Revive languishing programs for teachers

Budget cuts, combined with flexible spending, have shrunk teacher and administrator development and training programs. California has cut or malnourished model programs – like BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment), Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) – for mentoring underperforming teachers, as well as School Leadership Academies. There is little collaboration time left for teachers.

The Commission on Educator Excellence will focus on reviving some of these programs. Darling-Hammond, who chaired the educator quality subcommittee and has agreed to serve on the State Commission on Teacher Credentialing, champions another idea which the report says could “dramatically strengthen educator preparation”:  enforcing the new performance assessments that all beginning teachers must take and using the results to measure the quality of teacher preparation programs.

An effective teacher and administrator evaluation system would be the glue binding these programs together. The report does recommend the creation of one without venturing into the hot-button details, other than to say the new system should incorporate “appropriate evidence of student learning.”

Integrating career technical education or “linked learning” into high school while better aligning K-12 courses with college and career expectations is a focus of the report. It urges removing the constraints that  A-G – the courses required for admission to a CSU or UC school – and standardized tests have imposed in discouraging students to take, and schools to offer, courses in engineering, biotechnology, and technology. They are electives, not sciences, under A-G.

It also recommends removing barriers preventing high school students from taking community college courses and – listen up, Jerry Brown – urges linking CALPADS, the K-12 student database, with higher education and workforce databases to track students’ records of success.

Other recommendations include:

  • Building on a process started by Gov. Schwarzenegger, speed up the instructional materials adoption process to allow more digital materials and create incentives to provide inexpensive Internet and computing devices to all students. “It may be structured as a  public-private investment as long as the benefits are provided for all kids,” Darling-Hammond told me;
  • Revise the high school exit exam to make it more relevant to preparing for college and career goals;
  • Protect First Five State Commission and county commissions’ funding to preserve vital services for children up to age five;
  • Develop a web of support for children, maternal education, and home visits to infants;
  • Increase access to high-quality summer learning programs, especially all-day programs that blend recreation and academic support;
  • Support legislation allowing passage of a parcel tax by a 55 percent majority vote;
  • Create incentives for district consolidation to save money;
  • Use emerging technologies for more efficient operations and improvements in instruction; revise regulations on minimum instruction time to capture efficiency.