Tuesday, January 31, 2012

IS SCHOOL CHOICE GOOD OR BAD FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION: Are charter schools and vouchers a good thing for American public schools?

from Learning Matters , a non-profit production company reporting about education | http://bit.ly/y7XHRr

January 19th, 2012  :: We produced the above piece for PBS NewsHour in November of 2011; the focus was on new school choice initiatives in Indiana and the backlash they’re receiving. School choice remains a major issue in education as 2012 begins, so we wanted to convene several experts for a discussion on the topic.

Andrew Coulson, Cato Institute

Listen to Mark Twain, among others, for advice

Andrew Coulson directs the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute. Before studying education policy he was a systems software engineer for Microsoft.

Is school choice a good thing or a threat to public education? The answer depends on how we define those terms. “School choice” can mean anything from open-enrollment, to charters, to vouchers, to moving house in search of a different school. That’s too broad a term to be useful, so I’m going to dispense with it and talk about specific policies instead.

“Public education” can simply refer to our current district-based, state-run school system; or it can refer to our shared educational ideals: universal access to a quality education that prepares children for both success in private life and participation in public life. I use “public education” in the latter sense.

As someone who is firmly committed to public education, I think it’s best to pursue it by the most effective means possible. So I spent four years in the mid-1990s studying historical school systems to discover which had done a good job of advancing our shared educational ideals, which hadn’t, and why. Subsequently, I collected and reviewed the modern scientific literature comparing different kinds of school systems all over the world, for a 2009 paper in the Journal of School Choice. And most recently, I’ve studied aspects of charter schools, vouchers, and education tax credits using statistical methods — trying to answer questions raised by my earlier investigations.

What I’ve learned is that one approach to organizing and funding schools consistently does a better job than any other: a free educational marketplace driven by the choices of families, in which parents pay directly for their children’s education to the greatest extent possible, and in which educators are free to teach what and how they deem best.

How to ensure universal access to such an education marketplace? To help middle-income families, cutting their taxes has proven the best mechanism, since it preserves their freedom of choice. Such programs, called direct education tax credits, already exist in Iowa and Illinois on a small scale.

To help lower-income families who owe little or nothing in taxes (and so don’t benefit from direct credits), scholarship tax credit programs are the best solution. These programs, operating in half a dozen states, provide dollar-for-dollar tax cuts to those who donate to non-profit K-12 scholarship organizations. The scholarship organizations use the donated money to help low income families afford independent school tuition.

So, to paraphrase the apocryphal Mark Twain quote: we can’t let our current approach to public schooling get in the way of public education.

Richard Kahlenberg, The Century Foundation

Look to public magnet schools as an option

Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at The Century Foundation and author of All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools through Public School Choice and Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race and Democracy.

Advocates of choice are absolutely right when they suggest that poor kids stuck in failing high poverty schools deserve a chance to choose a better school. School quality shouldn’t depend upon what sort of neighborhood your parents can afford to live in, and students don’t have time to wait and hope that the latest education reform will turn around their local failing school.

But the type of choice afforded to low-income students matters enormously, and those most in vogue today — charter schools and private school vouchers — have on the whole been disappointing.

Private school vouchers, the brainchild of conservative economist Milton Friedman, have consistently produced results that are no better than the regular public schools. Vouchers raise serious questions about public accountability and the separation of church and state. And fundamentally, they undermine the ideal of the “common school,” in which children of all different backgrounds come together to learn what it means to be an American.
Charter schools, largely freed of teacher union influence, are supposed to provide a superior alternative to unionized public schools. But despite the fact that 88% of charters are nonunion, the most comprehensive study of charter schools found that they outperform regular public schools only 17% of the time. Charters could in theory be more economically and racially integrated than regular public schools — and some are — but most are actually more segregated.

Public magnet schools, by contrast, produce far better results on the whole. These schools are designed to avoid what a long line of research suggests is harmful to education: concentrations of school poverty. By attracting a healthy economic mix of students, many magnets create an environment where classmates encourage achievement, parents are actively involved in school affairs, and excellent teachers educate students to high expectations.
Low-income students can achieve when given the right kind of educational environment. Economically disadvantaged students given the chance to attend more affluent schools are two years ahead of similar students stuck in high poverty schools on the 4th grade math portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Magnet schools recognize that school choice can be used to attack the real enemy of equal opportunity, which is not the existence of unions that give teachers voice but the reality of pervasive economic segregation in American schools.

Mike McShane, University of Arkansas

Any school can be a “public” school

Michael Q. McShane is a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas. Prior to that, he was an inner city high school teacher in Montgomery, Alabama.

When I tell people that I do research on school choice, I tend to get a common response. It usually goes something like this: “Oh, so I guess you don’t like public education.”

Commence slamming head into desk. I (and most school choice proponents) have absolutely no problem with public schools. I just define “public” differently.

As longtime civil rights leader (and school choice supporter) Howard Fuller likes to say, public education is an idea. It is the idea that we have an obligation to provide for the education of the children of our society. Too often we confuse the idea with the mechanism we have chosen to deliver it, that is, traditional public schools. But we don’t have to keep doing that.

In my opinion, any school that serves to educate students in the knowledge and skills that they need to succeed in life can be a public school. If in addition to knowledge and skills they want to teach religion or pretty much anything else, that doesn’t really bother me, provided that parents are free to choose to send their children there. Remember, no one is forced to use a voucher or tax credit scholarship or is forced to attend a school that teaches an ideology with which they disagree.

They are, however, currently forced to send their children to schools that fail to teach their children basic literacy and numeracy if they lack the financial means to move to a better neighborhood or pay private school tuition. And what’s worse, individuals who oppose school choice actively work to keep children trapped in these schools, even when they know that the children will not learn there.

Who doesn’t like public education now?

Cassandra Hart, UC-Davis

What’s the value of vouchers?

Cassandra Hart is an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis. She studies education policy, with a recent focus on means-tested voucher programs.

Particularly contentious are voucher programs, which channel public resources to private schools. Skeptics of these programs charge that they aim to strip public schools of much-needed resources and attract the most capable students away from public schools, leaving public schools with the hardest-to-educate students. While some (likely small) share of voucher advocates may hold such aims, the structure and enrollment patterns of these programs suggest that they may pose less of a threat than their opponents fear.

Because universal vouchers are politically contentious, most programs have been structured to target specific populations who may otherwise face genuine difficulties obtaining high-quality education through neighborhood schools. For instance, many states target vouchers to low-income students, because while wealthier families can afford houses in good school districts, housing zoned to high-quality schools may not be affordable for poorer families. However, voucher opponents may be justified in concerns that programs will become less targeted over time; Milwaukee recently lifted income restrictions to allow participation with family incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty line (~$67,000 for a family of four).

Moreover, voucher programs have historically produced less “cream skimming” than opponents fear. Research indicates that students who participate in voucher programs are relatively disadvantaged, even among the pool of income-eligible applicants. They also tend to be lower-achieving compared to both income-eligible public school students generally and compared to other eligible students within their original public school who opt not to use vouchers. These facts suggest that fears of cream-skimming may be overblown.

While voucher programs are not as threatening as opponents fear, however, neither does research suggest that they are a silver bullet that will fix all ills of the public school system. The value of vouchers remains open for debate.

James Boutin, Public School Teacher

Are we washing our hands of impoverished communities?

James Boutin is a public school teacher in SeaTac, WA. He is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network and previously taught in public schools in New York City and Washington, DC. He blogs at An Urban Teacher’s Education.

The argument over school choice is merely another argument over which should hold primacy: the group or the individual. Is public education about providing a quality education to all students, or only to those students whose families have the means and motivation to seek it out?

Underprivileged schools contain a diverse group of students. There exist both apathetic students with staggeringly low skills and students on and above grade-level who fight desperately to learn, and, of course, so many in between. School choice in the form of vouchers and charter schools serves only one section of any given underprivileged school when it works well (i.e. when charters and vouchers actually provide a more quality education than the traditional public school). Families who are displeased with the services being provided by their local public school choose higher performing charter or private schools and leave the often poorer, lower skilled student behind. Because the quality of a given school is largely determined by the students who attend, the traditional public school often then ends up with less money to accomplish a more difficult task. This is why Richard Kahlenberg argues so effectively in favor of magnet schools.

Arguments in favor of school choice often rely on the false notion of the rational market. Douglas Harris is right to point out that it is very difficult to know what a good school is. Few parents are provided the necessary tools to make a sound judgement, particularly when the market for schools has created obscene marketing techniques in cities across the country. Charter school networks like Harlem Success Academy have been accused of targeting the easiest students to educate - i.e. screening out those with disabilities or English language learners - and counseling out those with behavioral problems. When students who come from families with means and motivation are separated from those without, a new era of school segregation has begun, one just as pernicious as pre-1954.

Now we can see clearly that public education’s underlying tension is the same as at its inception: individual determination versus the advancement of the interests of our democracy as a whole. Because studies show that negative rates of obesity, teenage pregnancy, imprisonment, crime, and social mobility are all associated with countries that maintain relatively high rates of economic inequality; and it is clear that economic inequality is strongly associated with educational advancement; I think we’d be right to worry that our current version of choice may not be in our collective best interest.

If the purpose of choice is to improve the educational outcomes of as many students as possible, then choice will have to be refashioned so that it doesn’t allow for the negative effects on public schools and public school space we’re currently seeing from Los Angeles to New York to Miami.

If, on the other hand, the purpose of providing choice is merely to wash our hands of the problems of impoverished communities by saying, “Look, we gave you a choice,” I’m afraid we’ll all be paying for that choice for a long time to come.

Doug Harris, University of Wisconsin

What is the basis for parental choice?

Douglas N. Harris is an economist and Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Education has a problem. No, not the usual ones we hear about in hyperbolic news media and political debates. The one I have in mind goes to the nature of education and the potential of reforms like school choice.

The problem is that it’s difficult to know, at present, whether any given school is good or not. Even when people agree on what “good” means, the people we typically consider to be the key educational stakeholders — parents and taxpayers — don’t actually see what happens in the classroom.

This is a big problem for school choice. Whether in the form of charter schools, vouchers, or tuition tax credits, the argument for school choice is that it lets free markets reign, allowing parents and students in failing schools to search for better options, and that schools will be freed from the shackles of bureaucratic school districts. But if parents are making decisions based on limited or bad information, what ends up driving parents’ choices and school administrators’ practices? Unfortunately, not always the kinds of things we would hope for. Parents focus on student demographics, class size, and safety — and, increasingly, school themes like “science and technology” — none of which say much about school performance.

Student test scores are gaining interest, but these omit critical information about school climate and college entry and completion. Also, just reporting the raw end-of-year results tells us nothing about what schools contribute to student learning, which is what school performance is all about. As I argue in my book on the topic, we need to fix this by accounting for the level of learning students start when they enter the school. Schools should not be punished for serving students who start off far behind. Instead, they should be rewarded when they help these students grow and develop.

More than just a market issue, administrators need good performance information to drive internal organizational improvement. If neither administrators nor parents have good performance information, are schools likely to improve their practices? Perhaps a little, in the long run, but this just reinforces the fact that markets in these circumstances do not operate at anything like full tilt. Perhaps this is one reason why the evidence points to mixed results for charter schools and vouchers.

While school choice programs expand, we stand waiting for the tools to make them work.

Greg Forster, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Put the parents back in charge

Greg Forster is a senior fellow at the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. He is co-author of Education Myths and co-editor of Freedom and School Choice in American Education.

School choice is the best-proven way to improve public schools and private schools alike. Nationwide, almost 200,000 students are taking advantage of school vouchers and similar policies to attend private schools. Nine out of the ten empirical studies conducted using random assignment — the gold standard of social science — have found that school choice participants achieve better academic outcomes. Nineteen out of the twenty studies examining how choice impacts public schools (using a variety of methods) found that academic outcomes in public schools were improved as a result of the programs. In both cases, no studies have ever found a negative impact. The research also consistently shows school choice improves school safety and discipline, services to disabled students, the teaching of civic values, and racial integration; it also saves taxpayer money by removing inefficiencies like administrative bloat.

But the most important reasons to support school choice go far beyond these numbers. School choice improves education because it takes power away from the politicized bureaucracies that currently run the public school system, putting it back in the hands of parents and schools. There are lots of teachers in the public school system who want to do a better job of serving their students, but they’re limited by a system that’s designed to serve the bureaucrats, not the kids. By putting parents back in charge of education, school choice forces the political and bureaucratic system to get out of the way, empowering teachers who care about delivering a good education. Right now, education is a government monopoly; that’s why our schools are mediocre, and that’s why education is the only sector of American society where we still do things pretty much the same way we did them a hundred years ago. Only school choice can create space for educational innovators to invent the 21st century school.

Jane Hannaway, American Institutes for Research

A key tie is between accountability and consistency

Jane Hannaway is a Vice President at the American Institutes for Research and the Director of CALDER (National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.

School choice, in one form or another, has been part of education in the United States since the early days of the country. Publicly supported choice programs, however, are more recent and the form they take is continually evolving. Among other possibilities, they include charter schools, voucher programs, magnet schools, tuition tax credit programs, dual enrollment plans, and homeschooling.

From a public policy perspective the question is — with what effect? The arguments for and against choice programs are clear; but the consequences, especially from a public interest point of view, are less so. Are students who attend choice schools better off than similar students attending traditional schools? Do they learn more? Do the offerings or the school philosophy of choice schools better match the needs or objectives of their students? What are the societal and community consequences of choice schools that would merit public support? Are choice schools more efficient — presumably because they face market pressure? Does competition from choice schools spur traditional school to higher performance? On the downside, do choice schools foster economic or social segregation? Do they cream skim students, making them look more effective than they are, while simultaneously depriving traditional schools of the better students and, perhaps, the most quality-conscious parents. What information do parents use, and how well do they use it, when making choices about school alternatives?

Early research on choice schools, notably the work of James Coleman in the early 1980s, focused on comparing Catholic schools with public schools. More recently, research has focused on charter schools, no doubt because charter schools are increasingly promoted as a strategy for reforming sluggish public schools, especially in urban areas. Charter schools in the U.S., doubling to over 5000 in the last decade, now serve nearly 1.5 million students. In the District of Columbia nearly 40 percent of students attend a charter school, and over 60 percent in New Orleans. The federal government is promoting greater charter school development through its Race to the Top (RttT) initiative as a way to increase student achievement.

The research results on charter schools are mixed. Some charter schools outperform traditional public schools while others do not. The reasons for the differences are not entirely clear. Charter schools face two forms of accountability. They operate in a consumer choice system so presumably must be responsive to client preferences. However, there are good reasons to expect quality control through parental choice not to be particularly effective since there are costs to children changing schools which makes parents reluctant to do so. Charter schools also operate in a regulatory system — they receive their charter to operate from a public authority that can revoke the charter if they do not conform to the terms of the charter and perform up to par.

Revoking or not renewing charters and closing schools, however, has not been common. So, in general, external accountability has been weak, resulting in some schools doing well and others not. But things may be changing. New York City recently refused to renew a charter simply because its performance was mediocre, a pattern we might see emerging across the country. Under these conditions — where charter schools are really held to some performance standards — higher levels of charter school performance may more consistently emerge.

Clint Bolick, Goldwater Institute

Schools are not immune from the laws of economics

Clint Bolick is a Vice President at the Goldwater Institute.

One of the disappointing features of modern political discourse is to propensity to question the motives of one’s opponents, rather than to engage their arguments. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fight over school choice, in which opponents seek to characterize proponents as part of a nefarious conspiracy to de-fund public schools. I suppose such a tactic is necessary because school choice opponents lack substantive arguments to support their position.

In 1999, Matthew Miller conducted an interesting experiment that he wrote about in The Atlantic. He asked proponents and opponents of school vouchers whether they would support a combination of school vouchers paired with large increases in public school funding. School choice proponents (myself included) by and large said yes, while school choice opponents largely said no. That suggests that some self-styled public school advocates would trade the increased public school funding they so cherish in order to preserve a status quo in which they have outsized influence.

One’s position on school choice depends on whether one views public schools as a means to an end or as an end in themselves. Those who take the first position support strong and effective public schools, but also favor alternatives when public schools fail. Those who take the opposite view support public schools — and greater funding for public schools — even when they fail in their core mission.

The fact is that for millions of schoolchildren, especially those who most desperately need a good education, the public schools are failing. One-size-fits-all rarely works for anything, and especially not for education. We have the technological capacity to deliver a high-quality, highly individualized educational experience for every child. But the current system is more focused on the interests of providers than the intended beneficiaries. We should provide the greatest possible array of educational options, from open public school enrollment to magnet schools to charter schools to vouchers to distance learning to education savings accounts where families can choose from a cafeteria-style menu of educational options tailored to their children’s unique needs. We should be far less concerned about where children are educated and more focused on whether children are learning.

Schools are not immune from the laws of economics. Competition and accountability strengthen institutions. Public schools that are fulfilling their mission will flourish with greater educational choices. True advocates of public education support education choice.

Sean Corcoran, NYU

The risks deserve more scrutiny

Sean P. Corcoran is an economist and associate professor of education economics at New York University. His research focuses on three areas: human capital in the teaching profession, education finance, and school choice.

School choice comes in many flavors, from vouchers, charters, and magnet schools to open choice, inter-district transfers, and cyber schools. These policies differ in form, but share the same goals. First, they break the link between residential location and school assignment. When families are dissatisfied with the quality, safety, or services offered in their local school, they are empowered to pursue other options. Second, choice facilitates better matches between students and schools. With a wide variety of options, families can choose the school with the theme, size, curriculum, or philosophy best matches their needs or interests. Third, choice aims to be the “tide that lifts all boats,” creating a marketplace in which good schools thrive and bad schools improve or close.

Economists (like me) tend to be cautiously optimistic about the potential for school choice to improve educational outcomes. With respect to most goods and services, the marketplace does a fine job of fueling innovation, rewarding quality, and getting consumers what they like, want, and need (the recent financial crisis notwithstanding). Policymakers and parents wish the same for their schools, and few would disagree that families deserve a voice in where their children go to school.

But economists also understand that markets do not guarantee good outcomes for all. On the contrary, market competition systematically produces winners and losers: thriving firms and dazzling failures, highly-paid CEOs and the working poor, satisfied customers and the fleeced. Though tides may rise in the long run, many boats sink along the way. For most goods and services, this is a risk we are willing to take. But in education — our single most important pathway to personal and social prosperity — the risks associated with unfettered choice deserve closer scrutiny.

For example, education reformers embrace the idea of providing families information for choosing schools, encouraging new schools to enter, and “letting the market work.” But choosing a school can be a serious and complex task. In New York City, for example, incoming freshmen choose from nearly 700 high school programs on 360 sites. New schools open every year while others close their doors, creating a constantly shifting landscape. Students are encouraged to seek out quality schools, but school “quality” is hard enough for professionals to measure, let alone kids. As in any market, families with the knowledge, energy, and resources necessary to identify good schools will fare well, while those who do not will fall behind.

On the supply side, the entry of new players into the market will likely promote innovation and increase average quality in the long run. As in any market, however, quality may vary greatly, with a few stand-out performers and many failures. The empirical evidence on charter school effectiveness has already shown such a pattern. With children’s education on the line, the downside risk of failure is incredibly high.

If education is to benefit from the virtues of markets, policymakers must be prepared for the likely negative effects of market competition. Inequality in educational outcomes may rise, not fall, under expanded school choice. As niche markets form and students seek out schools tailored to their needs and interests, segregation by ability, race, gender, socioeconomic status, and aspirations may rise. Given what we know about how markets work, these effects are predictable. We should begin now.

Monday, January 30, 2012




Spencer Owen, left, Karl Nimtz and Ed Compton perform an experiment to determine the effects of drinking an energy drink on blood pressure during their IB Biology class at Montgomery High School on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012.

Christopher Chung / PD


Sunday, January 29, 2012 at 1:15 p.m. | Modified: Monday, January 30, 2012 at 7:49 a.m.  ::  Educators across California are lashing out at an item in Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2012-2013 budget that would eliminate a second year of science as a minimum requirement to graduate from high school.

The item, which has caught some officials by surprise, is causing outrage among educators who say California's students should be getting more science, not less.

“To me, it's absolutely astounding that the state of California, our leadership, would actually believe it would be appropriate not to have more science and actually have less science,” said longtime Santa Rosa School Board member Frank Pugh. “I hope the public really understands — they are dismantling, day-by-day, public education.”

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance, said the item is part of a larger push by the Brown administration to lift state requirements and give local schools a greater say in how they spend money.

“There is no reduction or elimination of dollars in association with the elimination of that mandate,” he said.

“This is being put forward as a part of a broader proposal to provide school districts with greater flexibility and greater local control,” he said. It gives “greater empowerment to local school districts to make local decisions.”

But school officials fear cash-strapped districts buffeted by deep budget cuts will choose to move funds away from no-longer-mandated courses to pay for those that are required by law.

Since fiscal 2007-2008, districts in California have seen their per-pupil funding cut and annual cost of living increases frozen, leaving districts with 80 percent of the funding they are entitled to by the state's minimum funding law, said Denise Calvert, deputy superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Keller McDonald, superintendent of the West County School District, called it a “forced choice” between such things as bus service, which is up for elimination in Brown's proposed budget, and a science class that might no longer be required.

“I just can't imagine that districts would see this as a positive,” he said, saying he expected El Molino and Analy High schools to continue to require the second science course for graduation.

“This is certainly counter to every initiative on how to better prepare students for college and the workforce,” said Anastasia Zita, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Santa Rosa City Schools. “I realize that in these budget times there are many things being discussed, but from an education standpoint, I simply can't fathom having less than a two-year requirement.”

Educators pointed to other programs that have been given funding flexibility in recent years — adult education, maintenance, art supplies, career technical and libraries — only to have them eliminated or severely cut as districts divert funding to required programs.

“To me, once you start not making it a mandate, people feel released from it,” said Phil Lafontaine, director of professional development and curriculum support division at the state Department of Education.

“I imagine that districts that are really struggling financially will probably pocket the money to help their finances,” Pugh said.

“They keep telling us that we have to meet world-class requirements in math and science. How do these recommendations co-exist with demands for highly successful schools? This is the mixed message that drives you nuts,” he said.

The proposed change to science graduation requirements comes as President Barack Obama is urging colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers who majored in the science, technology engineering and math fields.

Only 21 percent of 12th graders surveyed nationwide in 2009 by the National Assessment of Educational Progress scored proficient or above on questions related to physical, life, Earth and space science.

At the elementary level, a recent study led by the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley found 10 percent of California elementary school students regularly get hands-on science lessons and one-third of elementary school teachers feel prepared to teach science.

And the dearth of in-depth science study is more acute on campuses that serve low-income students, the study found.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools and districts are penalized if students don't produce target scores predominantly in language arts and math. If a school is struggling to meet those benchmarks, administrators might be tempted to cut the second science class and use those funds to support more English and math courses, Lafontaine said.

“Truth be told, there are some schools already doing that,” he said.

“There are some ramifications there in that the inequality could be children of poverty, children of low means, children that are struggling in school may not get science,” he said. “How are they going to be competitive with children who are getting two, three, even four years?”

Mike Roa, science consultant for the county Office of Education, called the reduction in science at all grades “not only absurd but obscene.”

“It's pretty essential knowledge in today's society,” he said. “How can you be a voter if you don't have a clue about global warming, smart meters, alternative energy sources, genetically modified foods, health issues?”

But Roa expressed sympathy for schools and districts trying to get higher test scores in English and math to avoid sanctions and a public black eye.

“Most districts will say ‘Wow, here is more money that we can put into language arts and math because that is what we are tested on,'” he said.

While the proposal calls for the reduction of science requirements to graduate high school, the minimum number of science classes required to apply to California State University and University of California campuses will remain at two years, with many students opting to taken even more to make their applications more competitive.

But for those students not eyeing a four-year college, a different delivery of science might not be a bad idea, said Nancy Brownell, assistant superintendent of the county Office of Education.

“If you are really locked into the CSU and UC sequence, you don't really have that much flexibility,” she said. “It's sort of that tension of what are the college and career options for our kids?”

Patty Dunlap, a Montgomery High School teacher who has spent 34 years teaching science in multiple grades and disciplines, said a student needn't plan to become a scientist or engineer to benefit from biology or earth science.

“It's a way to become analytical. They don't realize they are going to have to analyze everything they do in life,” she said. “All of our kids deserve the opportunity to have a well-rounded education.”

Lessening any emphasis on science in schools is “going in the wrong direction as far as our competitiveness,” said Jeff Weber, spokesman for Agilent Technologies.

“You never know when a light bulb is going to go off over someone and they just click,” he said. “Potentially we are going to be eliminating ourselves and our skill set in this critical area and technology leadership in the future.”

The fallout — educationally and economically — if California lessens its science requirement could be long term, said Rick Pomeroy, a clinical faculty member at UC Davis and president of the California Science Teachers Association.

“Science and technology is the way for California to return to being a vibrant, leading economy in the world and yet we think so little of science that we don't even require it to graduate from high school?”


a TopEd  forum  | http://bit.ly/z6FisB

  • Merrill Vargo, executive director of Pivot Learning Partners,
  • Eric Hanushek, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution
  • John Affeldt, managing attorney of the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates
  • Gary Ravani, vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.

In next year’s budget, Gov. Jerry Brown proposes to rearrange school funding based on a weighted student formula – a concept that State Board of Education President Michael Kirst fleshed out in a 2008 brief. Beyond a flat grant for all students, districts with large concentrations of English learners and low-income students would get a premium of potentially thousands of dollars more per student. Districts would decide how the money would be used. Under the initial plan, Brown would phase in the new system over five years but would not hold districts financially harmless; doing so would require new money or a  long timeline to implement. As a result,  there would  be district winners and losers. Proponents praise the transparency and equity of the new system. Skeptics have other concerns, as you will read. (See an earlier TOP-Ed post for details on how it would work.)

Four individuals who have given the issue much thought are Merrill Vargo, executive director of Pivot Learning Partners, which is involved in a weighted student formula demonstration project; Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who has written extensively about school finance; John Affeldt, managing attorney of the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates and a leading voice on education equity; and Gary Ravani, a frequent TOPed contributor who is a retired middle school teacher and vice president of the California Federation of Teachers.

Merrill Vargo: Why now is the hour for a weighted student formula

Merrill Vargo

<<Merrill Vargo

Most advocates of weighted student funding think that the reason to do it is that schools are over-regulated, while skeptics point out that schools already have substantial categorical program flexibility – flexibility that was granted, as it often is, as a sort of consolation prize when budgets were slashed.

This points to the first reason why now is the hour to move to a weighted student approach. Every veteran school administrator knows this drill: When budgets are cut, policymakers discover the value of flexibility and local leaders get to make the tough calls about what programs to eliminate; but when new money flows back in, it comes in the form of new programs. Without moving to a weighted student formula now, economic recovery will inevitably bring new money in the form of new programs, each with its own new regulations. This alone is sufficient reason to argue that now is the hour for a weighted student formula. But there is more.

Even critics of categorical programs rarely point out the economic costs of the way we currently fund our schools. Categorical programs are a recipe for inefficiency: Funding schools the way we do is like paying someone in gift cards rather than dollars. Fifty dollars at Target, $100 at Safeway, $75 at Macy’s…. Somebody might manage to spend money this way without waste, but at best it would be a lot of work. In our current budget crisis, we just can’t afford to make it harder for districts to use money efficiently. And the currently flexibility is only a partial – and temporary – fix. But there’s more yet.

As executive director of Pivot Learning Partners, I’ve had the chance to observe what two districts – LAUSD and Twin Rivers Unified, in north Sacramento – have actually done with the idea of a weighted student formula. Both LAUSD and Twin Rivers have made an important commitment that is implied by the reform put forward by the governor, but not actually included: They have committed to creating a system in which the “weights” dictate not only how much money flows from Sacramento to the school district, but also how much money flows to schools.

Surprisingly to those unfamiliar with education politics, this does not result from the current system of categorical programs; school districts tend to spend dollars intended for poor children on the schools they attend – but they balance this out by spending a disproportionate amount of unrestricted dollars on the schools without poor children. Local politics dictates that everybody gets the same amount, even when some students need more. The commitment by school districts to establish policies and processes to do something else is difficult in any circumstances, but it is far easier when people are arguing only about a principle. Once there is real money on the table, this discussion becomes far harder.

So that’s three reasons why today is the best possible time for a weighted student formula.

Merrill Vargo is both an experienced academic and a practical expert in the field of school reform. Before founding Pivot Learning Partners (then known as the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative, or BASRC) in 1995, Dr. Vargo spent nine years teaching English in a variety of settings, managed her own consulting firm, and served as executive director of the California Institute for School Improvement, a Sacramento-based nonprofit that provides staff development and policy analysis for educators. She also served as Director of Regional Programs and Special Projects for the California Department of Education.

Eric Hanushek: Liberals and conservatives are equally naïve

Eric Hanushek

<<Eric Hanushek

Weighted student funding has become a core idea of both liberals and conservatives. Liberals like the idea because, by their vision, it would push funding to schools that served more disadvantaged populations. These schools have traditionally engaged in less actual spending than more advantaged schools because they employ more rookie teachers, who come with lower salaries. Conservatives like the idea because, by their vision, it will push funding to charter schools that traditionally have received less than equal shares of the local funding for schools. Both groups see weighted school funding as providing more funds to the schools that they focus upon, and both see this as leading to improvements in achievement.

Both groups seem naïvely wrong. The liberals ignore the fact that local schools have no control over salaries of teachers or, for the most part, over the choice of teachers. Thus, the added funding does not allow them to make choices that improve the quality of teachers in a world where the quality of teachers is unrelated to the salary of individual teachers. The conservatives, focused on the funding from the state, ignore the fact that local funding would not necessarily flow with the child under a weighted student funding system, so that redirecting the state funding would not achieve the parity that they seek for charter schools.

Both positions also rely upon an untested view of politics that would lead to improved allocation of resources if only the actual flows of dollars were more apparent and more real. We have no reason to believe that their vision will occur.

The overall idea of weighted student funding – that some students require more resources than others because they require extra educational services – makes sense at the district level. But, hoping that this creates the right incentives if it is taken to the individual school seems naïve.

The thing that both liberals and conservatives really desire is improved achievement of all students. Thus, it is much more likely that rewarding success, rather than relying on a naïve model of political reaction, would work.

Here is the simple idea (developed in a book by Alfred Lindseth and me, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses) that changes incentives. Provide funding to districts that adjusts the base amount for each student – disadvantaged students, English language learners, or special education students. But, having provided funding that recognizes different needs to provide additional services, reward districts that promote more achievement of their students. And, don’t reward students who fail to attain higher achievement. In other words, provide incentives for greater achievement and do not reward failure.

Schools will not improve until there are greater incentives for improving student achievement.

Eric Hanushek is the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. He has been a leader in the development of economic analysis of educational issues. His most recent book, Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools, describes how improved school finance policies can be used to meet our achievement goals.

John Affeldt: Money must follow the student

John Affeldt

<<John Affeldt

Putting aside the key fact that the governor’s school finance reform plan fails to address the woeful underfunding of California public education, the governor’s plan should be applauded for proposing a more rational and equitable finance system than the one we currently have. The most alarming distributional shortcoming is its failure to make sure districts actually spend the weighted funds on the needy students who generate those dollars for their districts. Under the proposal, low-income students and English learners become a convenient mechanism for a district to receive more money to spend “flexibly” however it wants — including on students who are neither poor nor learning English. That is very troubling. The extra funds generated by these students need primarily to be directed to the schools where these students are.

Absent a requirement that the money follows the student, the proposal risks being worse than what we currently have. There are too many categoricals in California, it is true. But let us not forget that among the key reasons they originally came into being were to correct the fact that the neediest and often least politically powerful students were being overlooked by unfettered district “discretion.” More than one educator has privately conceded to me that absent rules requiring funds be spent in equal or greater measure on poor or EL students, districts will stray, pulled by pressures from adults — be they influential parents, effective local unions, or administrators with a different agenda.

This is doable. As Mike Kirst noted recently on KQED, Florida has implemented such a system. And, too, the concept is not all that different than requirements found with federal Title I, special education, and Economic Impact Aid dollars that they be spent on the needy students who generated them.

Like the proposed weighted funding itself, requiring that the money follow needy students to their schools can be phased in over time. This would allow districts to readjust their too often inequitable distribution of teacher quality dollars where typically the more experienced and expensive teachers teach the higher-performing students. If more expensive veterans do not want to move, at least the schools with concentrations of needy students will be able to purchase the extra staff that will provide for smaller classes and supplemental supports. In Oakland, which has been experimenting with site-based, weighted student funding, such measures have helped attract and retain young teachers where before they quickly moved on to the more affluent schools. Shoring up resource provision, including teacher quality, in low-income schools is the only way we will be able to begin to close the achievement gaps.  Only holding schools accountable on the back end — after the funds have been spent and gaps have not been addressed — will too often prove too little too late.

John Affeldt is managing attorney at Public Advocates Inc., a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that challenges the systemic causes of poverty and racial discrimination by strengthening community voices in public policy. He is a leading voice on educational equity issues and has been recognized by California Lawyer Magazine as a California Attorney of the Year, The Recorder as an Attorney of the Year, and a Leading Plaintiff Lawyer in America by Lawdragon Magazine.

Gary Ravani: Rearranging spreadsheets  on a sinking budget

Gary Ravani

<<Gary Ravani

The governor’s plan for weighted student funding, sending more education dollars to districts that have more “needy” (based on English learners and low-income populations) students is intriguing. Obviously, students of greater need require more educational supports to have a greater chance of playing on a level academic field.

As noted in a recent TOP-Ed  piece by Kathryn Baron on the Quality Counts report by Ed Week, compared to most states, California already does a pretty good job in this area: “The state’s … average means that poorer districts receive more funding than wealthy ones on a weighted per-pupil basis.” This does not mean that there are not some significant differences in school funding under California’s “revenue limit income” funding program that favor wealthier areas. If one takes into account the per-pupil funding available to “basic aid” districts, the disparities are even greater.

The problem is that California is relatively equitable in how it underfunds the majority of its students. The Quality Counts report places this state at 47th of the 50 states in per-pupil spending, some $3,000 below the national average in “adjusted” dollars. The RAND Corp., as well as others, cite California’s “unadjusted” dollars expenditure per pupil sinking below the national average in the mid-1980s and sinking lower ever since.

However admirable the governor’s weighted funding plan might be (and it is admirable in principle), this does not seem to be the appropriate time to consider it. Being 47th in per-pupil spending may well be the high point for some time. Even if the governor’s proposed tax initiative passes, it is not likely to improve the immediate school funding situation.

The new funding plan proposes to set a base of $6,000 per student with enhancements based on the number of English learners and economically disadvantaged students. This new variable, and possible cut in funding, is to be calculated by districts already being asked to budget for further cuts next year on top of the cuts from the last few years. The weighted plan does allow for implementation over time, but what are the prospects for improved funding “over time”? Where are there signs, other than the proposed Millionaire’s Tax Initiative that will plug some holes in the eviscerated education budget, that the state is ready to live up to its obligations to its public schools and children?

The equitable and responsible action, before embarking on reorganizing student funding, would be for California to commit itself, publicly and legislatively, to bringing its education spending up to the top tier in the nation, reflecting its international ranking as the ninth largest economy in the world and the nation’s wealthiest state. Only then can all  school districts be “held harmless,” and real improvements to educational programs as well as improved student achievement take place. Without the fundamentals of an adequate educational revenue stream in place, funding “reform” that potentially pits one stressed school district against another stressed school district is all just a matter of rearranging the fiscal spreadsheets on the sinking education budget.

Gary Ravani taught middle school for more than 30 years in Petaluma. He served for 19 years as president of the Petaluma Federation of Teachers, is currently president of the California Federation of Teachers’ Early Childhood/K-12 Council, and is a vice president of the CFT. He chairs the CFT’s Education Issues Committee.

FORMER ORVILLE WRIGHT PRINCIPAL SPEAKS OUT ABOUT HIS PUNISHMENT; Intensity of community outrage at his demotion remains high

BY GARY WALKER | The Argonaut | Westchester | http://bit.ly/xl6Qf1

Jan. 26, 2012  ::  Westchester has weathered a vast amount of upheaval from an educational standpoint in recent years. An aborted autonomy effort from the Los Angeles Unified School District, a dip in student enrollment and a controversial change from a traditional high school to a fulltime magnet.

But the demotion of Dr. Kenneth Pride, the former principal at Orville Wright Middle School, seems to have garnered the most sustained discourse of all the controversies. A raucous community meeting followed by a student led walkout in November stoked the passions of community members, parents and students at the middle school who have made it known that they want Pride reinstated.

Pride was demoted last year after an alleged sexual assault on a school bus between two students triggered an internal investigation at LAUSD. District officials determined that he had not complied with its policies regarding student safety and removed him from the school.

In an exclusive interview with The Argonaut, the ex-principal mentioned that he was currently negotiating a settlement with LAUSD. Asked if the agreement contained a provision of his possible return to Orville Wright, Pride responded, “I have seen nothing in any of the negotiations indicating a return to Wright.”

Currently assigned as a “pool” teacher to Washington Preparatory High School, Pride also has the indignity of having a notice of an “unsatisfactory act” in his file. “It’s something that follows you around,” he explained. “I feel like it’s a double whammy - the demotion and the ‘unsat act.’

“I question whether anyone else in the district has ever been treated like this,” the former principal added. “I didn’t want that in my file but I don’t hold the cards. I’m just a player.”

Pride said he believes that he followed all regulations pertaining to the alleged incident, but district officials claimed that he should have placed a call immediately to Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family after learning of an action that rises to the level of child abuse.

A part of the policy bulletin states that if administrators have a reasonable suspicion that child abuse has occurred, they are to notify the county department or a local law enforcement agency.

“I had not had a reasonable suspicion at that time, and I was told by the district that I should have made the call no matter what,” Pride said. “What happened to the subjective part of reasonable suspicion?”

Pride said he believed that he needed more information about the situation. “I don’t feel that I’ve done anything wrong,” he reiterated. “But again, I’m just a player in the game.”

Support for the former principal comes from a variety of diverse sources.

The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa sent a letter backing him earlier this month to LAUSD.

“This community was actively involved in the selection of Dr. Pride. We bought into his vision and have actively supported his efforts, which have led to a steady improvement at Orville Wright,” said Cheryl Burnett, the vice chair of the council’s education committee.

Kelly Kane, a Westchester mother who is one of the community’s most well-known education activists, remains upset that Pride was demoted.

“Everyone is in agreement that this is the guy that should be at Orville Wright,” Kane said. “He was loved by everybody: parents, faculty and especially the students.”

LAUSD Board Member Steve Zimmer, who represents Westchester, said what happened with Pride is regrettable.

“The situation at Orville is one of the most difficult things that we’ve had to do as a district,” Zimmer, who attended the Nov. 7 meeting, lamented in an earlier interview. “There are no winners and there’s a lot of loss.

“I supported the selection of Ken Pride and up until the moment that that disciplinary action was taken, I was very supportive of Ken Pride’s leadership.”

LAUSD officials have been reluctant to comment on Pride’s case.

“Due to legal constraints regarding confidential personnel matters, we are not at liberty to discuss specific details of his reassignment,” Local District 3 Superintendent Brenda Manuel wrote to Orville Wright families Nov. 3.

Zimmer said he understands the public outcry in support of a popular school leader, but he said LAUSD has a rigid set of rules that it must abide by.

“This was not just an issue of paperwork. The outrage from the community was absolutely understood, heard and warranted,” he said. “And the role of the school district is to make sure that the rules, guidelines and policies are enforced and are followed and to take action when they’re not.”

Burnett feels that mindset could cost the district funding and students in the future.

“LAUSD should not be surprised that parents abandon local schools when the community’s fervent and consistent participation and support is returned with disregard and indifference,” she cautioned.

Kane was even more forceful, laying much of the blame with Zimmer. “I think that Steve Zimmer has become a part of the downtown bureaucracy and has lost sight of what’s important to our community,” she asserted.

Pride took issue with Zimmer’s remark about student safety.

“I have always considered students’ safety during my tenure at Wright. From the moment I stepped on the school site to the day I was directed not to return,” he said. “Obviously, the district has a different opinion and since they hold all the cards, some may say that their opinion outweighs mine.

“I will say that if I were not concerned about the safety of all children, then most assuredly I would not be so admired by the staff, faculty, parents and the students. Here, reasonable minds clearly differ regarding how this matter was handled”.

Pride is on stress leave due to his demotion. “It’s really taken a toll on me and on my family,” he said. “There are a lot of sleepless nights.

The former principal says he has never been subjected to any disciplinary action in his career, but says he does not blame LAUSD. “It’s not the district’s fault and it’s not my fault,” he said. “It’s something that exists and has to be dealt with.

“They have their view and I have mine.”

Pride is gratified at the level of encouragement that the Westchester community has shown him. “I was at Local District 3 when I began receiving text messages that a number of students had walked out of their classrooms,” he recalled. “I was somewhat taken aback because middle school kids don’t do that.

“It brought tears to my eyes and it deeply touched my heart,” Pride continued. “No one had thought it worthy of them to speak to them to explain what was going on, and it greatly upset them.”

Westchester resident Denny Schneider and the Westchester Neighborhood Association have begun raising money for a defense fund for Pride, in the event that he were to seek legal action against LAUSD.

“I am appalled to see someone who is making a difference to improve our schools get dragged through the muck for having the initiative for making things better,” asserted Schneider, a member of the Westchester-Playa council.

LAUSD representatives rescheduled Pride’s settlement discussions for Friday, Jan. 27.

Pride remains steadfast that he does not feel that he has been treated fairly and takes a great deal of solace in the community’s embrace. And now, he awaits a decision on his future as an educator in LAUSD.

“I feel that the district has not looked at the totality of the circumstance and all of the facts in the case to make a logical decision,” he concluded. “I lived and breathed Orville Wright.

“Based on this experience, I will never, ever apply for a principal position in LAUSD - but I would go back to Orville Wright.”


Argonaut’s Reader's Comments:

Jeannine Giesregen wrote on Jan 30, 2012 11:14 AM:

" I think what happened at Orville is terrible for both Dr. Pride (who is a wonderful leader) and for the students. If proper supervision can't be afforded on busses there should be no busses.

That poor school has taken enough abuse. The newest Bully event shows there is not enough staff to watch over the students properly as it is. The bottom line is cuts are hurting everyone at every level mainly our children. "

Robert Acherman wrote on Jan 26, 2012 4:24 PM:

" As one of my teachers once said, the official policy of LAUSD is, "No good deed goes unpunished." This is appalling what happened to Dr. Pride. Now is the time for Westchester/Playa del Rey to have its own school district by breaking away from LAUSD. "



By: Amy Crawford | San Francisco Examiner Staff Writer | http://bit.ly/A2081y

San Francisco schools

SF Examiner file photo

01/17/12 4:00 AM  ::  While current kindergartners became eligible if their fifth birthday occurred by Dec. 2, by 2014 that date will be Sept. 1.

Kindergarten teachers and advocates for early education are protesting Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to defund a kindergarten program that would serve children whose fifth birthdays come after a new cutoff date for entry. 

“It’s balancing the budget on the backs of these kindergartners and their families,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, a member of the Senate Education Committee.

Simitian sponsored the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, which gradually increases the age at which children become eligible for kindergarten.

While current kindergartners became eligible if their fifth birthday occurred by Dec. 2, by 2014 that date will be Sept. 1.

Beginning this year, the law also requires school districts to offer children with birthdays that fall between the old and new dates a year of “transitional kindergarten.”

But in a budget proposal released last week, Brown called for the elimination of per-pupil funding for students who would have been in transitional kindergarten.

The governor estimated the move would save California $223.7 million.

Debra Weller, former president of the California Kindergarten Association and a teacher in Orange County, said that transitional kindergarten would save the state more money in the long term because children who are not well-prepared to start school are more likely to need special education or remediation, or have to repeat a grade later on.

“He doesn’t realize the repercussions of his proposal,” Weller said.

While the Legislature would still have to repeal the 2010 law in order to realize the immediate savings, the governor’s proposal puts parents of November babies in a quandary.

“For parents, this is a real nightmare,” said Catherine Atkin, president of the advocacy group Preschool California. “They’ll be sent scrambling looking for a place to send their kids while they’re working.”

Making that more difficult, Atkin noted, is another item in the governor’s proposed education budget: $516.8 million in cuts to child care funding.

STATE AUDITOR QUESTIONS SPENDING OF FEDERAL STIMULUS ON EDUCATION: CDE hasn’t adequately pursued corrective action from school districts and has no control over monitoring system used to track education funding

Courthouse News Service

By NICK MCCANN | Courthouse News Service | http://bit.ly/y9JxDl

Monday, January 30, 2012 | Last Update: 2:20 PM PT  ::  SACRAMENTO (CN) - The California State Auditor found room for improvement when it comes to spending federal stimulus dollars on education and health care.

     The annual report details how the Departments of Education, Health Care Services, Community Services and Development, and the State Treasurer's Office managed federal money from President Barack Obama's 2009 Recovery Act.

     Its analysis focused on cash management, eligibility for federal programs and use of the funds by individual counties.

     State Auditor Elaine Howle found that the Department of Education, which received nearly $3.1 billion in federal funds, "has not adequately pursued corrective action from local educational agencies." That department also has no control over an online monitoring system used to track education funding, the 19-page audit states.

     Howle also took issue with the Department of Health Care Services, noting that the agency did not properly track information related to uninsured pregnant women who applied for temporary Medi-Cal benefits.

     Medical providers in California are required to submit a weekly summary of "presumptively eligible" Medi-Cal patients, but Hewlett-Packard, Which processes Medi-Cal payments, does not track eligibility in its systems, the report found.

     "As a result, Health Care Services does not know whether Medi-Cal payments being made for presumptively eligible women are for women actually enrolled by medical providers," the report said.

     The auditor's report also detailed mismanagement of funds in the Department of Community Services and Development and the Office of the State Treasurer.

     Among other findings, Community Services did not closely monitor how counties spent federal funds meant for low-income Californians, and the treasurer did not submit certified payrolls from contractors that ensure workers are paid prevailing wages, the report said.

from the audit report: http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/01/30/audit.pdf





Record turn-out for the state senator's annual education forum where he spoke about upcoming proposals and a number of funding-related issues.

By Avni Nijhawan | Cupertino Patch | http://bit.ly/zAbn9B

30 January 2012 | 2:46 pm  :: The two overflow rooms for state Sen. Joe Simitian's weekend education forum said it all.

Saturday's record turnout at the Palo Alto school district office for the state legislator's bi-annual update on education in California mirrored the worry over education funding that nearly everyone—from teachers to parents to boards of education—are expressing this year.

"Unfortunately, the size of the crowd each year is often an indicator of the level of concern that people have about where we are with education issues and education funding," Simitian (D-Cupertino) said.

School district board members, teachers, and parents from Santa Clara County, San Mateo County and a Santa Cruz County comprised most of those at the meeting, asking the senator questions ranging from community college funding to funding for mental health services in schools.

"This year will be as uncertain as any year we have seen over the last decade," he said. "If there's a word to describe what we're about to walk into, it's 'uncertainty,' I think."

Simitian spent much of his time explaining Gov. Jerry Brown's upcoming proposals, one of which includes a tax to fund education.

If the tax proposal passes, education funding will likely receive a 10 to 11 percent increase—$5 billion—which will be mostly used to pay back yearly "deferrals."

"One of the ways we have managed to cobble together a budget every year at the state level is by saying, 'Well, we're not going to cut the program, but we're going to defer the payment to next year," he said. About 20 percent of education funding is deferred each year.

The governor, he said, aims to "pay down the wall of debt" with his tax proposal, a combined half-cent sales tax and a tax increase on upper income earners.

If the law passes in November, those making $250,000 or more will pay an extra one percent on their income, $300,000 and up will pay 1.5 percent more, and those making $500,000 or more will pay two percent extra. The sales tax would be in place for four years and the income tax would last five years.

"I think he's picked the right number of years," Simitian said. "That being said, I do think it should be temporary."

Proposition 98, the 1988 bill that theoretically guarantees a minimum level of education funding, will do little to help this budget this year if the tax proposal fails, Simitian said.

Another funding proposal Brown wants to phase in over the next five years is called a "weighted student formula," which would simplify the maze-like world of state school funding—Simitan likened it to the Winchester Mystery House—and distribute money on a per-student basis.

"We're going to say, 'For every kid, here's what you get,'" Simitian said. Disadvantaged students, including low-income and English language learners, will receive an additional increment.

Revenue limit and basic aid schools would would be affected by the change in different ways. All districts receive a minimum amount of state funding, some of which is derived from property taxes; revenue limit districts are those which need extra funding from the state because property taxes alone did not meet the minimum requirement. In contrast, basic aid districts—roughly 10 percent of those in the state, or 100 districts—exceed funding through property taxes alone. 

Basic aid schools don't receive money on a per-student basis, but for a variety of programs, Simitian said. 

"If you eliminate those programs and fold all of the funding into a basic, per-pupil allocation with a supplement for disadvantaged students, then the funding you received as basic aid districts is likely to disappear, with the exception of the categoricals that remain in place," he said.

For revenue limit districts, those with more disadvantaged students benefit, Simitian said.


THIS FROM SENATOR SIMITIAN’S WEBSITE: Save Transitional Kindergarten from Budget Cuts!

http://bit.ly/wbVz9C  |  (Download this fact sheet as a PDF.)

Transitional Kindergarten

Senate Bill 1381 (Simitian, Chapter 705, Statutes of 2010) changed the kindergarten entry-age in California from five years old by December 2nd to five years old by September 1st.  The new age requirement will be phased-in over three years beginning in the 2012-13 school year.  Those “young fives” (children turning five from September 2 – December 2) whose kindergarten is delayed by the new cut-off date, will be served in a transitional kindergarten program, at no additional cost to the state, using a curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate.

The Governor’s 2012-13 Proposed Budget calls for the elimination of funding for transitional kindergarten in order to save $223 million for the state.  Below are some of the potential negative impacts of changing the kindergarten cut-off date without providing transitional kindergarten:

  1. Approximately 125,000 children (born between Sep. 2nd – Dec. 2nd) would be displaced from the K-12 school system;
    • 60 percent of these students attend Title 1 schools and 40 percent are English Learners
    • this would be the largest displacement of children from public schools in our nation’s history
  2. Permanent reduction to Proposition 98 guarantee

    • since ADA is a multiplier in the Prop 98 formula, displacing 125,000 children from kindergarten, and subsequent grade levels for the following 12 years, would result in a lower guarantee in the future when the leading small cohort(s) have graduated and statewide ADA returns to what it otherwise would have been
  3. Loss of funding for special education (approx. $100 million)

    • districts are responsible for providing special education services to children once they turn 3 years old, however, these children don’t generate funding for schools until they enroll in kindergarten
    • districts would lose $75.6 million in AB 602 special education funding (assume $600 per student as the statewide average)
    • districts would also lose $30.4 million in revenue limit funding that supports affected special education students born in the fall (assume $5,000 per student as the deficited statewide average revenue limit for a unified school district)
  4. Budget cuts to local school districts (displacing the fall cohort would save money for the State, but not necessarily for districts);

    • losing ¼ of the funding for the kindergarten cohort doesn’t translate directly into savings for school districts; depending on the size of the district and distribution of the local population, “savings” or at least cost avoidance would vary significantly
    • smaller school districts would lose ADA funding, but may not be able to eliminate classes or lay-off teachers
    • losing enrollment on the margins results in 100 percent loss of the associated ADA funding, but fixed costs remain
  5. More teacher lay-offs in a bad economy and in the midst of billions in cuts to K-12 education;

    • 4,500 teacher jobs would be eliminated (assuming all districts could eliminate classes with 25-30 students per class), these teacher lay-offs would be repeated annually at each subsequent grade level for 13 years
  6. Negative financial impact on families that would be required to pay for an additional year of childcare/preschool or loss of income from a care-giver out of the work force for an additional year;

    • this would be an especially hard impact on working families that cannot afford preschool (State preschool program isn’t an option since there are currently 83,000 children on the wait-list)
    • the lack of access to preschool is further compounded by the fact that the Governor’s proposed budget calls for the elimination of 71,000 child care slots
    • $6,000 (part-day) to $15,000 (full-day) average cost of a year of preschool (depending on location and the quality of the program)

How to Help

You can read more about transitional kindergarten and find ways to get involved on the website of Preschool California

Senator Simitian will serve the 11th district which includes 13 cities—Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Cupertino, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Campbell, Santa Cruz and Capitola—until November, when his 12-year term ends. There are 931,349 people in the district. Simitian announced plans to run for the District 5 seat as Santa Clara County Supervisor.


By CHRISTINA HOAG, Associated Press - from the Silicon Valley Mercury News | http://bit.ly/z77vxQ

1/28/2012 12:35:12 PM PST   ::  LOS ANGELES — Students at Roosevelt High School have declared a food fight to win back peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Fed up with new, healthy cafeteria cuisine that features dishes like ancho chili chicken with yakosoba edamame and tortellini with butternut squash, they're petitioning the school district to return old favorites like PB&J and calzones to the lunch lineup.

"We, the students of Roosevelt High School, would like to be served food that we can enjoy eating, rather than the 'healthier' food that we just throw away," states the petition being circulated at the 3,200-student school located in a low income neighborhood just east of downtown Los Angeles.

School districts across the nation, including Los Angeles Unified, are revamping lunch trays to meet tighter federal nutrition standards designed to stem obesity, which affects about a third of children nationally. The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week announced new guidelines calling for milk to be skim or low-fat, grains to be whole, and double the amount of fruit and vegetables.

But as many parents can attest, getting kids to try new foods, especially ones that are good for them, can be a battle of wits and wills. Little kids tend to be less finicky than big kids, who look for that elusive factor of "coolness" in everything from fashion to French fries.

"Essentially, you're competing with McDonald's," said Susan Levin, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who works with school districts on their menus. "But it can be done."

The emphasis on nutrition is a major swing from the 1990s when some schools featured brand-name fast-food burgers and pizza for lunch and sold potato chips, cookies and sodas in vending machines.

With national attention turning to climbing rates of childhood diabetes and other weight-related ailments, many districts have now outlawed everything from trans fats to deep-frying. Some have even dispensed with chocolate milk because of the added sugar.

But districts have found that getting kids to change eating habits isn't easy, and involves both smarter menus and a dollop of marketing.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, which serves 650,000 meals a day, saw school lunch participation plunge by some 12 percent after unveiling the new dishes. Kids have gradually come around—participation is now down by only 5 percent as compared to last year.

Chicago Public Schools saw a 5 percent drop when it did a menu makeover last year.

High school students have some of the toughest palates to please.

The new menu has been a major gripe at meetings of student representatives from four Los Angeles high schools, said Sergio Duran, student president of Roosevelt's math and science magnet school. His unscientific homeroom survey found that 20 percent of students ate the lunch, but less than 1 percent liked it.

The district, which last year turned down British TV chief Jamie Oliver's offer to make over school lunches as part of a reality TV show, is now tweaking the lunch lineup, slashing flops like beef jambalaya and vegetable curry and improving others. Some dishes—vegetable tamales and manicotti—have proven hits. But chicken nuggets and corn dogs are gone for good.

"We're staying the course," vowed deputy food services director David Binkle.

Districts have taken a variety of approaches to get kids to eat healthier.

Some have had luck introducing changes gradually. Others have relied on cooking up more nutritious versions of staples, such as pizza with low-fat cheese on a whole wheat crust or all-beef hot dogs on whole wheat buns, while others employ "stealth health" tactics such as switching white rice to brown rice with no fanfare.

It's also about simple marketing ploys. "Even having a person behind the counter say, 'have you tried this?' works," said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Pew Trust's Kids' Healthful and Safe Foods Project.

Supermarket-style sampling is effective. In Broward County, Florida, the day after veggie burger samples were distributed in the cafeteria, they "sold like crazy," Levin said.

Jazzing up dishes with fun names like "broccoli blast" boosted selection by 27 percent, while placing healthier items like vegetables at the beginning of the lunch line increased pickup by 11 percent, according to Cornell University's Smarter Lunchrooms program. A convenient, well lit fruit bowl doubled the amount of fruit taken.

"Rearranging the lunch line is a very simple, low cost, no cost thing to do," said Brian Wansink, program co-director.

He advocated giving kids one popular item on the tray, such as a cookie or chocolate skim milk, as incentives for them to get the school lunch because the alternatives—not eating or eating snacks or even home-made lunches—are poor options.

"Three quarters of lunches from home are nutritionally worse," he said.

The San Diego Unified School District fashions lunches to fit teen habits.

A major reason why high school students don't eat the cafeteria lunch is because waiting in line takes up too much time.

"Lunch is No. 1 about socializing, and No. 2 about eating," said Gary Petill, food and nutrition director.

So the district takes the food to the kids, wheeling canopied carts into the courtyards. Dubbed "Sandy Coast Café" with a student-designed logo, the carts serve items such as barbecued chicken sandwiches on whole-wheat buns and a kung pao chicken bowl, dishes that don't need a tray.

The district posts menus on Twitter and Facebook.

Lavish salad bars have proven popular, even with elementary students, because kids love choice, Petill said.

LAUSD, the nation's second-largest school system where nearly 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, has a key obstacle many other districts do not. Most school kitchens are equipped to do little more than heat pre-cooked food, and don't have facilities to even offer salad bars.

The district, which has won awards for its emphasis on nutrition, contracts with suppliers who deliver the food, which is placed on cardboard trays and served. Unconsumed lunches are donated to local charities.

Some parents say it's frustrating meals aren't more appealing.

Mother Sally Pea said she's packing more lunches for her 10-year-old son this year.

"He just complains the food doesn't taste good," she said. "They serve chicken wings, which is ridiculous, and a lot of Mexican food."

Food services administrators were taken aback that so much of the new menu ended up in trash bins since dishes had been taste-tested by thousands of students and parents.

Although a recent lunch of barbecued chicken, salad, sliced apple and low-fat milk looked fine, kids said some foods just aren't well prepared or were tasteless. They were also wary of items they had never heard of, like quinoa salad.

Student leader Duran described what he thought was a spinach dish as "nasty. I couldn't tell what it was," while a piece of chicken was like a rock.

Students' confidence in the food was also undermined by the contractor's delivery truck, which bears a logo stating the food is suitable for prisons and schools, Duran noted with a grimace.

Duran is set to meet with food services administrators next month to present his petition and survey, and discuss ways to get more foods students like.

Food services director Dennis Barrett knows it's an uphill battle to win kids' stomachs, but he's convinced that with time, it will work.

"The campaign to get people to stop smoking didn't happen overnight," he said.


Bill Boyarsky

by Bill Boyarsky • LA Observed | http://bit.ly/xiKNyz

January 28 2012 4:18 PM  ::  A big parental revolt is shaping up in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside as federal budget cuts reach deep into the Los Angeles Unified School District.

At issue is the school board’s 6-1 vote in December to take federal poverty funds away from 23 schools, a number of them in middle class Valley and Westside neighborhoods. Nevertheless, they have student bodies that include substantial numbers of poor youngsters.

The funds are distributed to school districts under Title 1 of the federal school aid act, a program begun in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. They are designed to provide schools with additional funds to help students overcome obstacles from impoverished families and neighborhoods. The money pays for more teachers, counseling, instructional material and training for parents.

Washington has reduced Title 1 funding. In the past, with more Title 1 money, the Los Angeles district distributed its share to schools where at least 40 percent of the students are classified as living in poverty.

Now, with less money to allocate, the school board voted to raise the level to 50 percent. This means funds would be cut off to the 23 schools. “We have less Title 1 money to give out,” Los Angeles Superintendent John Deasy told me. He said the district should “concentrate the funds in schools where there is the greatest concentration” of poverty.

The impact would be painful. Los Angeles Times reporter Howard Blume told how the decision would affect Superior Street Elementary in Chatsworth, where 43 per cent of the students are low income. The cut would deprive the school of $200,000 a year, which pays for an instructional coach, intervention teachers, teacher aides, a library aide and a clerical worker, who also acts as an informal nurse. The school’s academic level has risen. “We could not have made these gains without the support of this funding for these children,” said Principal Jerilyn Schubert. “I’m devastated,” said Schubert, “I just want to cry. I really do.”

At the Westside’s Los Angeles Center For Enriched Studies (LACES) Magnet, Principal Harold Boger said the school would lose $460,000, which pays two teachers, a counselor, a three-and-a-half day nurse, math intervention programs, a parents representative, two educational aides and choir assistance. One of my granddaughters is a student there, and through my daughter I have seen the extensive e-mail and organizing campaign being waged by the parents.

“Are the low-income children at LACES and the other affected schools somehow less deserving of intervention services, tutoring and after school programs than a student who attends a school a few blocks away with a slightly higher percentage of Title 1 student?” parent Elizabeth Dennehy wrote to school board member Steve Zimmer, who voted for the cut.

School board member Tamar Galatzan, the only board member to vote against the cuts, said the district, in allocating the money, doesn’t know what programs work. Before cutting, she said, “we need to know what programs are helping. Is it dropout prevention, is it Saturday classes, and is it smaller class size?”

At Galatzan’s town hall recently, many parents asked questions about the Title 1 funds. They had been alerted by calls from Galatzan’s office, and by protest organizers’ e-mails and letters.

An LAUSD source told me the matter still could come up again. Perhaps the protests are working