Partnership academies face squeeze

Partnership academies, the linchpin of the state’s career and technical education, face a critical year ahead. Funding expires for 210 of the 500 academies at the end of the school year. And there will be renewed pressure to remove protections that have preserved annual funding for the remaining 290.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, like governors before him, has praised partnership academies as a win-win for student achievement and the state’s workforce. But academies remain vulnerable to budget cuts with the state facing a $25 billion budget deficit.

Partnership academies are small communities within a larger high school. Students in the three-year programs take core academic classes and technical classes related to the academy’s theme, whether information technology, business, health, biotechnology, construction and engineering, or themes tied to other industry sectors.

Students must participate in business internships in their junior or senior year, exposing them to the work world and mentorships with partnering companies. At least half of the students must be at risk of dropping out.

Program evaluations consistently have been positive. As David Stern, professor emeritus at the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Education, noted recently, “Academies are one of the only education and youth programs that have produced long-term and sustained impacts on employment and earnings, especially for young males of color, the subgroup that is most vulnerable to long-term spells of unemployment.” Academy students tend to graduate and go on to college in higher numbers, and years later, report higher incomes.

And the academies are a bargain. Schools receive $900 extra per student who meets attendance requirements and completes course credits – up to $81,000 per year for the 90-student program. Business partners are obligated to put up a match.

Total funding for all 500 is $40 million – only about a tenth of 1 percent of expenditures for K-12.  But the timing is bad nonetheless. Five years ago, Schwarzenegger pushed through funding for an additional 150 academies through the general fund, and 60 additional green technology academies were separately established. Both programs will expire in June.

In September, Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 675, sponsored by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, which would have established 97 more green-tech academies by diverting $8 million from a small surcharge on electricity charges run by the Energy Commission. Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, a big proponent of developing alternative energy and a green economy, would presumably be more receptive to the bill if it were reintroduced. But there’s no obvious source of new funding for the other academies.

The 290 original partnership academies, some of which date back 25 years, have been funded as a separate categorical fund. One idea, proposed by the Legislative Analyst’s Office this year, would be to direct  the $19 million for them into a larger career and technology education block grant to counties, along with $383 million for regional occupational centers and $15 million for apprenticeship programs. Counties or districts could use the money however they wanted for career and technology education.

Stern, the Cal professor, thinks that’s a bad idea, because districts would no longer be bound to adhere to the elements that have made partnership academies successful: internships, cohorts of students learning together, an industry advisory board, a cohesive three-year program.

But LAO analyst Jim Soland said that the counties or districts would be free to create funding criteria that match partnership academies’ expectations: high graduation rate, inclusion of A-G core classes, successful internships. Districts whose partnership academies no longer are achieving results or have lost full industry partners could shift the money elsewhere.

At a time when the state Dept. of Education no longer has the staff to monitor all 500 programs – that job is now handled by two people – that may make sense. But it has taken many years to build successful partnership academies, and it would take only one year of discontinued funding for them to fall apart. Successful academies will need advocates and defenders this year.

Green-tech academies vetoed

“Green jobs”  in conservation and alternative energy will require workers exposed to careers in those fields and trained in emerging technologies. But a  bill  to create  97  green high school career-tech academies was killed last night by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

The academies under SB 675 would have been financed  by diverting $8 million from a small ($.00022 per kilowatt) surcharge on electricity. In his veto message, Schwarzenegger said the bill would set a “dangerous precedent” in funding programs outside of the Proposition 98 guarantee for K-12 schools. He also said that siphoning money from the Energy Resource Programs Account would force the California Energy Commission to increase the surcharge paid by all electricity users and drain money from its purpose: funding  energy-efficiency programs and  licensing renewable energy facilities.

There are currently 475 partnership academies, which are 3-year programs that offer hands-on training in a career area, work internships, and academic courses and supports, such as tutoring. But state funding for many  academies is due to expire within a year, with no money  for creating new ones. SB 675, sponsored by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, would have established academies in the fields of energy and water conservation, renewable energy, and pollution reduction.

Other education bills had their fates decided last night:

SB 1357, which would require that the state collect data on chronic absenteeism and truancy through the state student data system, known as CALPADS, and create an early warning system for districts of students deemed at risk of dropping out. In signing it, Schwarzenegger took a swipe at the Department of Education, expressing “serious concerns about the frustrating delays that schools, teachers, and parents have had to endure”  because of poor oversight of CALPADS by state education officials. He called on the Department and Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell to consult with State Chief Information Officer Teri Takai to get the system right.

Implementing the bill is contingent on finding federal funding.

AB 2446, which would have allowed students to substitute a career education course for a year-long course in either foreign language or the arts as a graduation requirement. The bill was supported by industry and manufacturing groups but strongly opposed by language and arts teachers, who expressed anger at dropping courses that develop creativity and prepare students for a diverse world. Scharzenegger vetoed the bill, but not for those reasons. He said he feared the bill would add costs to school districts and possibly create a state mandate to fund additional career education academies.

The bill would not have affected districts that require students to pass all of the A-G courses needed for admission to a four-year state university. Students still would have to take the required foreign language and arts classes. But for other districts, the potential loss of arts and foreign language classes could have limited some students’ access to A-G classes.

Bill would create green academies

Two noteworthy education bills I haven’t written about are sitting on Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk. Both had substantial support in the Legislature, and, by all rights, deserve his signature. But with this governor, you never know.

SB 675 would create 97 “green” partnership academies in the areas of clean technology and renewable energy. It would pay for them by tapping  $8 million from an existing, small ($.00022 per kilowatt) surcharge on the price of electricity. Building a skilled workforce and spurring careers in alternative energy and resource conservation are a novel, appropriate use of the fund and will help California keep an edge as a national leader in green technology.

There currently are 475 partnership academies in the state. The three-year programs often are located within comprehensive high schools and offer hands-on training in a career area, work internships, and academic courses and supports, such as tutoring. Academy themes include computer design and graphics, architecture and building construction, manufacturing, and agriculture.

As with all partnership academies, the new green academies would target at-risk students. Program graduates could go on to a four-year college or, depending on the focus of the academy, might go to work as a solar panel installer or an energy auditor for a utility or continue with further job training at a community college or in an apprenticeship program.

There are challenges ahead. Only about half of the partnership academies have permanent state funding. Money for the others will expire in the next year or two, forcing districts and industry partners to come up with the difference at a tough time. SB 675 would guarantee $1,000 per student per year or the 97 new academies only for the next five years.

Because green partnership academies are so new, some districts may have trouble finding instructors from industry to teach technical courses, or find current career technical teachers who have updated their training.

But California should push forward just the same. And if the green academies are showing results in 2016, then the funding from the energy surcharge should be made permanent.

Early warning system for at-risk kids

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is the sponsor of both SB 675 and the other important bill, SB 1357. It would incorporate chronic absenteeism and truancy into the state student data system, known as CALPADS. It would establish an early warning system of students at risk of dropping out, and require the Department of Education to alert districts about who the students are. All of this would be contingent on the state’s obtaining federal funding.

The state reports would be particularly useful for tracking at-risk students who change districts. What’s surprising is that this information wasn’t part of the system from the start.

CALPADS’ operation has been troubled from when it went online in 2009, and it’s a year or more behind in collecting some data. So it’s probably wishful thinking to assume the state will be issuing the alerts any time soon.

In deference to districts that are already frustrated in dealing with CALPADS, the bill doesn’t mandate that districts upload absentee information to the state. The truancy and absenteeism reports will be useful only for districts that voluntarily supply the information.

Nonetheless, data on absences should be part of any statewide data system. The governor would be unwise to veto the bill.

Pathways to high schools that work

Recognizing that today’s high schools are failing to engage many students – or prepare them adequately for college or a career – the Legislature commissioned a study to lay out a long-term plan to expand the most promising development in secondary education. That is the establishment of small career academies within a high school that combine rigorous coursework with internships and real-world experience in various industries and career themes, whether health professions, green technology, building trades, engineering or computer technology.

In a 10-minutes VIDEO INTERVIEW (look left on this page), Gary Hoachlander, the president of ConnectEd: the California Center for College and Careers and a leading advocate of integrating college and career education, explains the study and its new vision for California high schools. Check it out.

Protect higher ed for you own sake, boomers

If baby boomers need another persuasive reason  why it’s critically important to invest more now in higher education in California, they should consider this: They’ll need more workers with college degrees,  if they want to make  money selling their homes in the next 20 years.

University of Southern California demography professor Dowell Myers made this pitch to self-interest Tuesday during the second hearing of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education. He and others  have warned about the coming threat to the state’s economy from a shortage of workers with college degrees.  Thirty-five percent of workers 55 to 59 years old have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 26 percent of workers aged 25 to 39.  Workers with a college degree earn on average 90 percent more than workers with a high school degree in California.

Continue reading “Protect higher ed for you own sake, boomers”

Silicon Valley’s great divide

In Silicon Valley, where some of the world’s smartest people live, many of the best young minds are wasting. The dichotomy is as stark as the Route 101 divide – a geographical shorthand for class and race (east, poor; west, rich) – separating them.

  • A youth unemployment rate that one workforce nonprofit executive estimates at 35 percent;
  • A high school dropout rate of about 27 percent;
  • A minuscule number of Hispanic students in a six-county area – 182  out of 13,700 – to pass the CSU Early Assessment Program in math.

For seven hours last week, more than 100 school, business and non-profit leaders in the valley heard leaders’ pleas to reach out to disengaged youths, and discussed how to do so at a conference co-sponsored by Cisco Systems, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, James Irvine Foundation and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Continue reading “Silicon Valley’s great divide”