California court overturns Vergara ruling

The Vergara ruling, which threatened teacher tenure, seniority and other employment laws, was overturned today by the California Appeals Court on a unanimous vote, reports Mike Szymanski in LA School Report.

The three-judge panel reversed Vergara v. California, finding that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that minority students were subjected more to ineffective teachers than others.

“Plaintiffs elected not to target local administrative decisions and instead opted to challenge the statutes themselves,” the decision states. “This was a heavy burden and one plaintiffs did not carry.”

The trial evidence “revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools,” the decision concedes. However, “the evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact.”

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

StudentsMatter, which represents the nine student plaintiffs, plans to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

A Vergara-like lawsuit filed yesterday charges that Minnesota laws on teacher tenure and dismissal violate children’s right to a quality education, reports The 74. Partnership for Educational Justice, a nonprofit founded by The 74 editor-in-chief Campbell Brown, is working with Students for Education Reform Minnesota on the lawsuit.

Partnership for Educational Justice also is challenging tenure protections in Wright v. New York, which is before the New York Supreme Court.

We need hard data on soft skills

California’s nine CORE districts, which include Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, are researching the link between students’ social and emotional skills, such as perseverance, confidence and collaboration, and academic achievement, writes John Fensterwald on EdSource. Rating schools by students’ social-emotional skills — as measured by student surveys — is the next, very controversial step.

A sixth grade student at Oak Ridge Elementary in Sacramento writes into a "gratitude journal," identifying one thing each day that he is grateful for.

A sixth-grade student at Sacramento’s Oak Ridge Elementary writes in a “gratitude journal.”

The experiment is worth pursuing, writes Martin West, a Harvard education professor and Brookings fellow.

Some CORE districts, including San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento City, are trying to integrate teaching social-emotional skills into their curriculums and classroom activities, writes Fensterwald.

The new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires states to include at least one non-academic indicator of school or student success.

CORE’s surveys of four social-emotional skills — self-management, growth mindset, self-efficacy and social awareness — are valid predictors of academic achievement, West concludes. (The statistical reliability is not as strong for third and fourth graders.)

Middle schoolers’ self-ratings in social-emotional skills correlated with their schools’ math and English test scores, rates of suspension and absenteeism and students’ grade point averages, the study found. Self-management skills showed the strongest link.

Social-emotional factors will count only for 8 percent of CORE’s new School Quality Improvement Index, which CORE introduced this year without including the social-emotional survey ratings. That will came next fall.

CORE’s hope is that schools with high ratings will share what they do well, and schools with low ratings, particularly with subgroups of struggling students, will change instructional approaches. But many researchers remain skeptical of including soft, potentially manipulable measures for school accountability.

Using social-emotional skills ratings in a high-stakes setting — or even a low-stakes setting — could be problematic, West acknowledges. But he thinks the CORE experiment is “an enormous learning opportunity.”

Back to bilingual? Unz fights for English

Ron Unz led the fight against bilingual education in California public schools in 1998.

Ron Unz, the software entrepreneur who rolled back bilingual education in the late ’90s, has entered the U.S. Senate race in California.

He’s not in it to win. He’s running to defend his 1998  “English for the Children” initiative, which required schools to teach in English unless parents request a bilingual program. The Multilingual Education Act on the November ballot would repeal most of Unz’s initiative and bring back what he calls “the disastrously unsuccessful system of Spanish-almost-only ‘bilingual education’ in California public schools.” It’s received little attention.

Unz has created a Keep English for the Children website, he writes in a post titled Is the Republican Party too stupid to survive?

Old-style bilingual education has few defenders in California, I found in writing Learning English for Education Next.

What matters for English Learners is the quality of instruction — not the language of instruction — researchers have found. Quality was low before 1998, even bilingual ed defenders concede.

“In the old model, expectations were very low,” confirms Veronica Aguilar, director of English learner support in the California Department of Education.

. . . “When I was a bilingual teacher, there wasn’t enough rigor,” recalls Frances Teso, who taught in a San Jose elementary school before founding a charter school. “We called it the Pobrecito Syndrome. ‘Those poor kids, their parents aren’t educated. They have so many problems.’ It’s true, but what can we do here at school about it?”

. . . Since bilingual teachers were in short supply, schools often hired aides to teach in Spanish or imported teachers from Spanish-speaking countries who spoke little English. “We never had the teachers to pull off bilingual education,” says Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education and a Stanford education professor emeritus.

Unz’s anti-bilingual revolt spread to other states. From 1993 to 2003 the proportion of English Learners receiving “some” or “significant” native-language instruction decreased from 53 percent to 29 percent, according to federal data.

These days, double immersion programs are rising in popularity. The children of middle-class, English-speaking parents learn a second language while children from immigrant families learn English. It’s usually done well. Middle-class parents won’t accept a dumbed-down curriculum or unqualified teachers.

Before the Unz initiative, 30 percent of California’s English Learners — a majority of those in elementary school — were in bilingual classes. That’s down to nine percent. All are there by choice.

Aguilar, who runs the state’s English Learner programs, told me she supports the Multilingual Education Act because it would be easier for schools to place students in bilingual classes without the hassle of getting immigrant parents to sign waivers. That bothered me.

California stops rating schools by proficiency

California is previewing the new education bill’s shift from federal to state accountability, writes Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. Thanks to a No Child Left Behind waiver granted in June, schools are graded on attendance, graduation rates (“inflated by the demise of the exit exam”) and test participation, rather than by English and math proficency. The pressure is off.

For more than a decade, the release of federal scores indicating California public school students’ progress — or lack of it — has incited alarm, anxiety and anguish among educators.

 But when those marks were ever so quietly posted this month, barely anyone noticed. And it seemed few cared. For the first time in years, California schools met federal standards — but only because the yardstick had been replaced with an easier-to-meet measurement.
Some schools were freed from “Program Improvement” status, despite low achievement scores.

Statewide, only 44 percent of California students tested proficient in English, and 33 percent proficient in math.

Program Improvement “doesn’t have the importance it once did,” said Dorothy Abreu-Coito, director of instructional services in the Sunnyvale School District. “We have to jump through a few hoops.”

Ironically, high-performing Palo Alto High failed because too many 11th graders refused to take state standardized tests.

“Some fear that without federally mandated high expectations and demands for transparency, schools will continue to fail poor and minority children, the intended beneficiaries of No Child Left Behind,” writes Noguchi.

“Much of the pushback to NCLB came because the law actually succeeded, in part, at doing what it was intended to do: identify and intervene in schools that were not helping students achieve overall, as well as those with large disparities in outcomes among different student subgroups, and bring urgency to the need to improve,” writes Melissa Tooley in The Atlantic.  “Under ESSA, it’s no more likely that schools will know how to improve.”

ESSA advances: Will every student succeed?

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)– the long-awaited revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act aka No Child Left Behind — passed the House 359-64, and is expected to pass the Senate next week. Present Obama will sign it.

The compromise is endorsed by most major education groups, but it misses “the sweet spot of reason in evaluating schools and teachers,” editorializes the Los Angeles Times.

No Child Left Behind made the nation aware, as never before, of just how poorly students of color or with low incomes were faring.

The solution working its way through Congress, though more reasonable than No Child Left Behind, threatens to leave many poor and minority students in schools that middle-class parents would never accept for their children. At minimum, the bottom 20% of schools in California and other states with comparatively poor student achievement need to take concrete steps toward improvement; the looming federal compromise would require intervention only at the lowest-performing 5%. That’s unacceptable. And is this country honestly ready to allow high schools to continue graduating a mere 67% or 70% of their students, with no sense of public outrage?

California dropped its Academic Performance Index in hopes of creating  a broader measurement of school effectiveness,  notes the Times. “Early indications are that the state might end up dumping out a hodgepodge of data for each school, with no overall sense of student performance. How will the state help its neediest schools if it can’t even identify them?”

Conservatives should oppose ESSA, argues Lindsey Burke of Heritage. Although it eliminates average-yearly-progress mandates, the proposed ESSA would not make Title I funds portable or cut duplicative programs, she writes. The act “would maintain significant federal intervention in local school policy for years to come.”

Law requires gay history, but …

California law requires teachers to “provide fair, accurate, inclusive and respectful representations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in K-12 history and social studies,” reports Jennifer Modenessi for Bay Area News Group. And the contributions of people with disabilities also must be taught. What does that mean? Nobody’s quite sure.

1860s: Women who fought as men in the Civil War There are over 400 documented cases or women fighting as men in the U.S. Civil War. These are photos of a few of them ©Exclusivepix

Frances Clalin, a mother of three from Illinois, served as Union cavalryman Jack Williams.

When Elizabeth Aracic teaches Civil War history at Orinda’s Miramonte High School, she tells students that some women dressed in men’s clothing to join the fight. A few continued to dress as men after the war was over.

I have to wonder: Is Walt Whitman chopped liver just because he was a gay male with no transgender points. He nursed the war wounded, wrote the easy-to-parse O Captain! My Captain! and was . . . not a factoid.

The state Department of Education is considering updates to its history and social studies framework suggested by a Committee on LGBT History.


“Jack Williams” fought in 18 battles, was wounded three times and taken prisoner.

“Proposals include discussing how frontier conditions during the Gold Rush led men to take on women’s roles, or women to live as men,” writes Modenessi. “Another suggestion is to look at how the Industrial Revolution allowed transplants from farms and small towns to form same-sex relationships in the anonymity of large cities.”

In the Moraga School District, teachers discuss Native American attitudes toward “two-spirit” people — those said to be born with both male and female spirits — in eighth-grade history, says Superintendent Bruce Burns. It’s a two-fer! And mildly interesting.

Seventh-grade students learn about Renaissance artists. Some of the really good ones were gay! (John L’Heureux’s The Medici Boy is all about homosexuality and art in Renaissance Florence, but no teacher will assign it to middle-school kids.)

Is it possible to teach subgroup-inclusive history without trivializing?

Muslim students feel safe, welcome

Fifty-five percent of California’s Muslim students say they’ve been bullied at least once because of their religion, according to a report by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA).

However, more than 83 percent said they feel “safe, welcome and respected” in school and felt “comfortable” telling classmates they are Muslim.

Of the 29% of girls who wear hijabs, xx% say they've been touched in appropriately.

Of girls who wear hijabs, 29% reported being touched offensively and 27% say they’ve experienced discrimination by a teacher.

CAIR surveyed 600 Muslim students, ages 11 to 18.

Three-quarters report feeling comfortable discussing Islam in the classroom, a slight drop from the 2012 survey.

“Girls who wear the hijab are often stereotyped . . . as uneducated or oppressed for wearing it and must constantly affirm to others that it is their choice to wear it,” the report said.

Poor kids do well in California charters

More than half of the top-performing schools serving low-income students in California are charters, according to an Education Trust-West analysis.

Seven charters were among the top 10 schools based on eighth-grade student math scores. Five of 10 top schools were charters in third grade and 11th grade English language arts performance.  Nine percent of schools statewide are charters.

America's Finest Charter School students hike in Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary.

America’s Finest Charter School students hike in Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary on an after-school field trip.

The results will help build the charter sector’s political clout, predicts Cabinet Report, which is geared to superintendents and their staff.

Overall, 44 percent of California students met or exceeded standards in English language arts, 34 percent in math.

Achievement gaps between racial/ethnic subgroups “can’t be explained away by poverty,” concludes Ed Trust-West. “Low-income White students perform about as well as Black students who are not low income.” Low-income Asian students perform far better than Latinos and blacks from middle-income or higher families.

Education Trust-West analyzed data from schools where at least 60 percent of the students come from low-income families, notes Cabinet Report.

At the top of the list for schools finding success in English language arts instruction was America’s Finest Charter in San Diego, where 77 percent of third graders – among a school population that is 95 percent low-income – met or exceeded the standards on statewide tests.

American Indian Public Charter in Alameda, with an 81 percent low-income student population, was the top-performing school in math with 75 percent of its eighth-graders meeting or exceeding expectations.

Downtown Business High, a Los Angeles Unified magnet school, topped the list for 11th grade English scores. About 83 percent of students are low-income.

“Schools like these dispel the damaging myth that schools can do very little to help students overcome the barriers of poverty,” report writers noted.

B’s in high school, remediation in college

California’s state universities should stop admitting students who need remedial math or English, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast. Unprepared students should start at community colleges.

He teaches at a college-oriented high school in an affluent Sacramento suburb.  Forty percent of graduates who go to Sacramento State require remediation. Overall, 53 percent of Sac State freshman are placed in remedial classes, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“Experts say the primary factors are a lack of collaboration between universities and high schools, inadequate information about the expectations of college and an increase in the emphasis on attending college for students who previously would have pursued another track,” reports the Bee.

The Cal State system requires a B average or lower grades with above-average test scores. It’s supposed to admit the upper third of the graduating class.

So a lot of high schools are giving B’s in college-prep courses to students who aren’t prepared for college.

At Grant Union High School in Sacramento, all students are enrolled in college prep classes, said Jacqueline Perez, associate superintendent of teaching and learning at Twin Rivers Unified. Despite this, only 10 of the 54 students who were accepted into Sacramento State passed the placement tests in math and English.

Sac State hopes to cut remedial classes by partnering with school districts, community colleges and education nonprofits.

The university is hoping to provide curriculum to schools, as well as math and English courses that could be taught at the high school or at the university. CSUS officials are encouraging high schools to promote exams like the SAT and PSAT and Accelerated College Entrance coursework that will help incoming freshmen avoid remediation and even earn college credits . . .

“Share the standards, let us know what college students need–and let us provide that education to students,” writes Darren.  “Those that master it will be ready to attend a university. Those that don’t, won’t be.”

Sixteen or 17 years ago, when I was on the editorial board of the San Jose Mercury News, the new head of the Cal State system, Charles Reed, came in to discuss his plan for cutting remediation. Statewide, more than half of new students required at least one remedial class.

The big innovation was limiting university students to one year of remediation before they had to go to community college. CSU also put an option readiness test on the state exam, so 11th graders could see if they were on track for college-level courses. And, of course, CSU was going to work with high schools.

Reed said moving all remediation to the community colleges was politically impossible.

Achieve’s How the States Got Their Rates looks at high school graduation requirements. Only a few states require all students to meet “college and career readiness” standards.

California dumps exit exam — retroactively

California has ditched its high school exit exam because it’s not aligned with Common Core standards. (It’s much easier.) Furthermore, the state will grant high school diplomas to anyone who met graduation requirements but failed the exam since the class of 2006, reports Sharon Noguchi for the San Jose Mercury News.

Nobody knows how many people might qualify for a diploma. Some 32,000 people didn’t pass the exam by the end of 12th grade, but some may have passed later in adult ed, while others may have failed other requirements.

Britne Ryan, 25,  finished high school in 2008, but couldn’t pass the exam, reports Noguchi. She “hopes to go back to school and get into the medical field or work in an office.”

Erika Ortega, of Oakland, hopes a high school diploma will enable her to earn a certificate in early childhood education. Photo:  Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group)

Erika Sandoval hopes a high school diploma will enable her to qualify as a preschool teacher. Photo: Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

“I am really happy,” said Erika Ortega Sandoval, 25, of Oakland. A learning disability made it hard to master English after arriving in the U.S. at age 14. She failed the exam multiple times.

“Now she’s hoping to study child development at Merritt College in Oakland, and become a preschool teacher,” reports Noguchi.

Not surprisingly, failure rates were higher for students with disabilities and English Learners. Critics said that was unfair.

But here’s the problem: Anyone who couldn’t pass the exit exam, with multiple tries, is going to find it very hard to pass community college classes.

The math portion — which had the highest failure rate — was based on sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade standards. It was a four-option multiple-choice test. Students needed a 55 percent score. If they knew arithmetic and guessed on everything else, they could pass.

The English section, which was based on eighth-­, ninth- and 10th­-grade standards, required a 60 percent. Solid eighth-grade skills and guessing should have been enough.

“How many millions were spent creating the exit exam, training us on its use, actually giving the exam for all those years, grading that exam, and reporting its results?” asks Darren, a California math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast.

In an e-mail, a colleague also wonders about the wasted money and time.

Well, give ’em all diplomas and trophies, too, and I’m all right with it. But I hope that our esteemed education leaders forgive us lowly classroom teachers if we don’t get excited about the next big thing that is going to really make a difference this time . . .

The pendulum has swung back to “it’s all good as long as you try,” writes Darren.

In theory, the state could design a new exit exam aligned to Common Core standards. It would be a much harder exam with a much higher failure rate, so it will not happen.

Math-phobic “Anna” couldn’t “walk” with her class because she’d failed the exit exam, writes Lauren Seymour, a former “math recovery” teacher, in One Point Short. “Despite its worthy goals,” the test “could have robbed her of her future.”

Anna passed the math exam in summer school, enrolled in community college and has a career as a grant writer, writes Seymour. Without the exit exam, she “would not have worked so hard to acquire the minimum math skills necessary for graduation.” But others never quite got to 55 percent.