QEIA’s early promise (and its faults)

The California Teachers Association is citing positive early results from an eight-year program to improve some of the state’s lowest performing schools. But the $3 billion Quality Education Investment Act, which the union pushed to create, is an expensive reform that combines smaller classes and other measures. Assuming QEIA does prove effective, it won’t easy to determine why.

The California Teachers Association has issued early data pointing to positive results from an eight-year, $3 billion program for low-performing schools that the union fought hard to create and is fighting equally hard to preserve. Just last week – four months into the fiscal year and after some dragged-out battles – the Assembly passed a bill securing full funding for another year.

I have been a skeptic of the program– the Quality Education Investment Act — since it was created in 2006, although I applaud the CTA for going to the mat on behalf of low-income schools. I have had two problems with QEIA:

  • It  benefited only a third of the approximately 1,500 schools in the bottom two deciles of Academic Performance Index (API) scores.
  • It also committed the bulk of the money to class-size reduction, even though smaller classes, while popular with teachers and parents, is the most expensive school reform, with largely unproven results. The CTA disagrees with most researchers on this key point and cites studies showing gains from smaller classes. Continue reading “QEIA’s early promise (and its faults)”

Privacy at risk in many states’ data bases

In looking around at other states’ longitudinal data bases, California should learn a lesson from what they’re not doing well enough: guaranteeing security and privacy of information.

Responding to yesterday’s post on an important data bill before the Legislature, a reader alerted me to a new study from the Fordham University Center on Law and Information Policy pointing out that states have done a poor job ensuring  the security of personal information in longitudinal student data bases.

The study examined protocols for all  states’ systems and concluded that the majority had  detailed information in what appeared to be non-anonymous student records. Many states didn’t have clear access and use rules, and  nearly all didn’t have policies to purge  the data over time. Continue reading “Privacy at risk in many states’ data bases”

SJ 2020: Will districts work together?

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County Superintendent Chuck Weis are leading SJ2020, an ambitious initiative to end the achievement gap in the state’s third largest city by 2020. But will the city’s 19 school districts collaborate in ways they’re not accustomed to in order to make it happen?

Mayor Chuck Reed and Santa Clara County Superintendent Chuck Weis are betting that an appeal for collaboration,  a moral imperative and a hint of money will work where the iron fist of No Child Left Behind law hasn’t. Here’s hoping they’re right.

Weis and Reed are the instigators of SJ2020, an initiative to see that all students in San Jose are proficient at grade level by the end of the next decade. Last Thursday, a handful of superintendents, college presidents, charter school leaders and non-profit executives were among the 300 people at City Hall to pledge their efforts.

No Child Left Behind demands that all children be proficient in English language arts and math by 2014. There’s been incremental progress — but, with five years to go, at least 40,000 students — and probably closer to 60,000 or more than 40 percent of San Jose’s children — aren’t at grade level. Continue reading “SJ 2020: Will districts work together?”

Governor squelches finance reform

In vetoing AB 8, which would have taken the first step to overhauling the irrational way the state funds K-12 education, Gov. Schwarzenegger once again gave the back of his hand to recommendations of his Eduction Excellence Committee.

If  the blog had been up last month, I would have ranted about this then.  The Educated Guess is still fuming, so let me vent.

It’s not often that by near-unanimity, Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature agree on a potentially significant education reform.

That happened with the passage (79-0 in the Assembly, 31-6 in the Senate) of AB 8, which would have taken the first small but important step toward rethinking how the state funds K-12 schools.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, with water, levies and dams on the brain , vetoed it hours before the signing deadline for legislation.

He did so with a puzzling and dismissive veto message.

He did so even though AB 8 was in line with the recommendations of his own Advisory Committee on Education Excellence.

He did so even though the Hewlett Foundation* had offered to pick  up the costs of the study that the bill created. Continue reading “Governor squelches finance reform”

Distorting facts about Race to the Top

Critics of Race to the Top say that the amount coming to California — at most $500 million — is not worth battling over and that the program is the Obama administration’s ploy to impose merit pay based on a standardized test. Both claims are distortions.

The Educated Guess will consume many kilobytes in coming months writing about Race to the Top and related,  $5 billion federal competitive grant programs that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is hoping will spur innovation in the states.

Education reform has always been Washington’s biggest shaggy dog, and, for now, Race to the Top is wagging it. What’s surprising is how a relatively small amount of the $100 billion stimulus money for K-12 is already changing conversations nationally, with states changing laws on charter schools and data restrictions (California) to position themselves to pursue grants. Serious discussions about national standards for reading and math, teacher evaluations, and strategies for turning around low-performing schools are happening in Washington and in state capitals. If nothing else, Race to the Top has, for the moment, broken through the polarized debate over No Child Left Behind.

But  Race to the Top have also generated considerable opposition. Some of the criticism is legit: There is a long checklist of requirements that states must meet to qualify, and some of these have little to do with the program itself; it’s Duncan’s leverage to force change.

And some critics say the prescriptive draft regulations are at odds with the program’s goals: to let a thousand flowers of reform bloom.

But in California especially, critics – particularly the California Teachers Association and some Democratic legislators — have mischaracterized Race to the Top, perhaps to discourage the Legislature from acting and the state and school districts from earnestly applying.

Continue reading “Distorting facts about Race to the Top”

It’s great to be back

Thanks for stopping by for the christening of  this blog. In popping your  virtual Champagne, a  few of you may be experiencing deja vu.

This is the second time I have launched The Educated Guess. About two years ago, while doing this blog at the Mercury News, I put Educated Guess in dry dock after an eight-month run. (The archives are available; some remain relevant and make a good read.)  Staff cutbacks at the Merc, where I worked for 11 years as an opinion writer,  made it hard to continue the blog. But now, through a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, I can recommit time and energy to it. And the timing is right for a blog on education policy in California, for three reasons:

  • Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top competition for $5 billion in grants and the debate over the renewal of No Child Left Behind — or its successor — have renewed serious interest in education reform. Continue reading “It’s great to be back”

Hearing today on important data bill

An important bill improving the state’s new education data systems will get a hearing today in the Senate. SBX5 3 (Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto) would expand the CALPADS student longitudinal data system down to preschool and up through community colleges and four-year public universities. It also would ensure that researchers get access to the data.

Educated Guest

(I’ve invited John F to fill in for me today. John is … and his book is()

by John Fensterwald

In the next six weeks, the Legislature, at Gov. Schwarzenegger’s insistence, will consider bills that would make the state more competitive for Race to the Top grants. Some of those actions, particularly those dealing with parental choice and sanctions for the worst-performing schools, will be hard-fought.

But passing legislation in one area, dealing with the state’s new data systems, shouldn’t be. The state should be moving ahead, regardless of Race to the Top incentives.

Today, there will be a legislative hearing on SBx5-2, sponsored by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who has been pushing for an effective statewide longitudinal data system for years. Continue reading “Hearing today on important data bill”