Tuesday, March 22, 2011

"Free Fall: Educational Opportunities in 2011." - REPORT SHOWS CALIFORNIA BUDGET CUTS HIT POOR SCHOOLS HARDER + Executive Summary + Full Report + addl. coverage

By CHRISTINA HOAG - The Associated Press from BusinessWeek  | http://buswk.co/fKZ8hB

March 21, 2011, 5:35PM ET Los Angeles - Three years of state budget cuts have widened the gap between schools in poor and wealthy communities while diminishing the quality of education in California overall, according to a report released Monday by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"In 2011, California public schools struggle to provide all students with a quality education amidst economic crisis and deep cuts to education spending," said the report from UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access.

The report, based on a survey last summer of 277 high school principals throughout the state, said while $18 billion in budget cuts have hit all school districts, wealthier schools have been able to weather the financial crunch better.

Those schools have tapped parents to pay for items such as athletics and field trips, as well as for donations to preserve arts and music electives, while schools in low-income communities have not.

For every dollar a low-income school raises, a high-income school raises $20, said the study titled "Free Fall: Educational Opportunities in 2011."

But across the board, class sizes of 40 and more are increasingly common, summer school and after-school programs are becoming a thing of the past, and outdated textbooks and instructional materials are being used longer, the study said.

"We've cut as much at my school as we can, quite frankly, without giving blood," Paula Hanzel, principal of Sacramento New Technology High School, told reporters on a conference call.

Todd Ullah, principal of 2,500-student Washington Preparatory Academy in South Los Angeles, said 21 teachers are slated for layoff June 30 out of a faculty of 130. His school has already laid off roughly 60 percent of its maintenance and clerical staffs, and has had its textbook and supply allotment slashed by 70 percent, he said.

The study said schools are also coping with a rise in hungry and homeless students, which impacts their learning. "You see it on the kids' faces," Ullah said. "They feel it."


Free Fall: Educational Opportunities in 2011
Executive Summary


21 MARCH 2011 - For several years, UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access, in partnership with UC/ACCORD, has produced an annual report on the learning conditions and educational outcomes across California public schools. In last year’s report, we highlighted how the “great recession” created new challenges for California’s already weakened educational infrastructure. Now, the challenges California faces are worse.

High unemployment and decreased public education spending have moved California into unchartered territory. How are public schools coping with falling public investment in education? Have cuts affected the quality and distribution of educational opportunities? How do new school conditions affect student engagement, learning, and progress to graduation and college enrollment?

The 2011 Educational Opportunity Report draws on information gathered from California high school principals to address these questions. We surveyed 277 high school principals—almost a quarter of California’s high schools—about learning conditions in their schools. We also conducted follow-up interviews with a representative sample of 78 of these principals, to explore the effects of changing conditions on California’s students. The surveys and interviews reveal that district finances, school size, student demographics, and economic circumstances in the surrounding community place severe demands on schools. The data also highlight high school principals’ struggles to maintain educational goals with insufficient resources.

Core findings from our surveys and interviews include:

• California high schools are providing less time, attention, and quality programs. As a consequence, student engagement, achievement and progress to graduation and college are suffering.

• School reform has all but sputtered to a halt due to staff cutbacks and the elimination of time for professional development.

• Even as high schools across the state are impacted by declining budgets, inequality is growing across and within schools;

• California’s high schools face growing demands from families experiencing economic crisis that point to the inter-relationship of California’s education and social welfare budgets.

A growing body of research points to the potential benefits of extending learning time to closing achievement gaps through longer days, longer school years and summer programs. And yet, many principals have had to cut back. Nearly half (49 percent) have reduced their school year since 2008and 65 percent have cut back or eliminated summer school.

Principals are not purchasing or replacing critical instructional materials, and they are asking parents to chip in. Students at almost two-thirds of high schools (63 percent) have reduced access to calculators, measuring instruments and other mathematical tools.

Almost all (88 percent) principals reported that budget cuts have stalled reform and professional development. Fewer teachers are able to work together, access outside experts, or learn from experienced teachers. Speaking of the shrinking time allotted to collaboration, one San Bernardino County principal, said, “To really do the work, you can’t do it in 45 minutes a week. They’re not going to be able to work together to the same degree that they did before.”

The budget cuts have affected all California public schools—from urban to rural, big to small campuses—but the impact has not been equal. Some schools have been able to protect vital services by appealing to their communities. Schools with few students from low-income families raise $20 for every $1 raised by high-poverty schools.

High schools with few poor students have been more likely to charge families for services or materials that were previously provided free to all; for example, field trips, athletics, art and music supplies, and even books. When schools don’t have to use their core budget to cover such items, they can protect other valuable services. “We get nickel-and-dimed, and it is the poor schools that are suffering more because of this,” said a Los Angeles County principal about the differences between low- and high-poverty communities.

Many students are hard hit by hunger and housing instability. Unemployed and underemployed families are finding it harder to pay for college. Seventy-eight percent of principals surveyed blamed the economy for fewer graduating seniors moving on to four-year colleges and universities.

Over the last decade, high school reform has emerged as a central issue for state and federal policy and a great deal of attention has centered on the problem of high dropout rates. Equally important has been the press to expand access to college.

The high school principals whose experiences and voices are at the heart of this report understand the direct and immediate connection between the opportunities they can provide and whether or not their students move on a pathway toward graduation and college. To thrive in school, their students need more instructional time, more attention from teachers and counselors, more and newer materials, more engaging and rigorous curriculum, more social supports. Yet, budget cuts and the economic crisis have left their schools with less, often much less, of these critical conditions. Schools serving large numbers of low-income families have been hit hardest. Staff layoffs and the elimination of professional development have halted many improvement efforts. In the last three years, California’s high schools have fallen from advancing reform to just barely surviving.

UCLA/IDEA: "Free Fall: Educational Opportunities in 2011."

California students face tight budgets at school and at home, UCLA reports

Rick Rojas - LA Times?LA Now | http://lat.ms/gvkHiF

March 21, 2011 |  1:18 pm

Principals at public high schools in California report that the sour statewide economy has had increasingly dire effects on their campuses, leaving students to face continuous budget cuts at schools while struggling families deal with the remaining effects of the recession, according to a UCLA survey of school administrators released Monday.

To that end, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson also released a report Monday that showed 2 million students -- or 30% of pupils -- in California attend a financially troubled school.

In the UCLA survey, conducted by the Institute of Democracy, Education and Access, 74% of responding principals told of dramatic increases in class sizes, with some nearly doubling. Summer school had been reduced or cut altogether at 65% of schools. Half of the schools reported a significant reduction in their ranks of counselors.

One principal in Riverside County said her budget was so tight, the school couldn’t afford the frogs for a biology class to dissect (the school bought only one frog, which the students watched their teacher cut open).

While the effects of budget cuts are felt on campuses, the principals said their students also are feeling  increased economic hardships at home: 75% of principals said they’d seen an increase in homelessness among their student population; 56% saw increased food insecurity.

The UCLA report is “a wake-up call for California and its leaders,” Torlakson said in a conference call on Monday. “We have to invest in education again and start to turn things around.”

The UCLA  survey questioned 277 principals across California selected to represent the geographic and economic diversity of the state. Researchers then followed up and interviewed 78 principals, reflecting the same diversity.

Todd Ullah, principal of George Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles, said the school had managed to raise test scores, attendance and college-enrollment rates despite the budget cuts. But he said he’d had to rely on contributions from the community to keep those efforts going.

But, like many principals across the state, he said he had reached the point where further cuts would inhibit his students’ education, and there aren’t other sources of funds left to tap. “Under the current budget scenario," Ullah said, "it’s going to be very difficult to ask people to do more with so much less.”

Paula Hanzel, principal of New Technology High School in Sacramento, offered a dire warning: The state’s failure to invest in education and continued cuts are “mortgaging our future” in California.

In her own school, Hanzel said that the “impact on the kids is really starting to show.”

“We’ve cut as much as we can cut at my school without, quite frankly, giving blood,” Hanzel said. “I wonder when people in the state of California will realize you get what you pay for.”

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