Schools are pushed to serve breakfast in class

California schools could be required to serve breakfast in first-period classes or during a mid-morning break, reports Jane Meredith Adams on EdSource. Assembly Bill 1240 would align California with a national campaign called Breakfast After the Bell.

Chart showing that schools with more students who are low-income must provide free breakfast, under proposed legislation.

More children eat breakfast at school if they don’t have to come early and report to the cafeteria. Eating breakfast improves students’ “test scores, attendance, concentration and behavior,” according to advocates.

The bill requires schools to offer breakfast if 40 percent of students come from low-income families. Schools with 60 percent of low-income students must offer breakfast after the school day begins.

If 80 to 100 percent of students are from low-income families, the school must offer breakfast by 2016-17, breakfast “after the bell” by 2017-18 and free breakfast for all students by 2018-19.

In Los Angeles Unified, school breakfast participation rose from 29 percent to 81 percent of students when schools moved to serving breakfast in the classroom.

Laura Benavidez, co-director of Food Services for Los Angeles Unified, said teachers can use the time to take attendance, collect homework and read to students. “The upside is you have a child who is focused and ready to learn,” Benavidez said.

However, teachers complained breakfast takes too much time and attracts vermin, reports the Los Angeles Times. Including the clean-up, teachers said they lose 30 minutes of teaching time each day, according to the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

Other “breakfast after the bell” models nationwide include grab-and-go breakfasts as students enter the school or mandatory cafeteria time before starting class.

Children eat breakfast in the classroom of their Ogden, Utah school. 

From ‘algebra for all’ to ‘algebra for none’

Thanks to the “algebra for all” movement, nearly half of eighth-graders were taking algebra or geometry in 2013, writes Brookings researcher Tom Loveless in High Achievers, Tracking, and the Common Core. In the Common Core era, only advanced — and advantaged — students will be accelerated.

California pushed 59 percent of students into eighth-grade algebra, though not everyone passed. Now districts have no incentive to offer algebra (or geometry) in middle school. In well-to-do Silicon Valley districts, parents are demanding eighth-grade algebra so their kids will be prepared for AP Calculus by 12th grade.

But urban middle schools with low-income, minority students usually place all students in the same math classes, writes Loveless. Smarter students can’t get ahead.

Accelerated math will survive in affluent school districts, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Parent pressure has been fierce. But students in lower-income districts won’t be on track for AP Calculus, unless they catch up in summer school or double up in math in high school.

Hector Flores, of San Jose, tried to ensure his son was on track to take calculus in high school — even sending him to a summer math institute. But the Evergreen School District placed him in an “integrated” Common Core eighth-grade math class, where he’s reviewing much of what he already learned. “He’s literally caught in the crack” of the Common Core transition, said Flores, a former math teacher. Now, to take calculus, his son will have to take an extra class in high school.

Low-income, black and Latino students who excel in math should have the chance to take the algebra-to-calculus track, writes Loveless. It’s not elitism. It’s equity.

Because of their animus toward tracking, some critics seem to support a severe policy swing from Algebra for All, which was pursued for equity, to Algebra for None, which will be pursued for equity.  It’s as if either everyone or no one should be allowed to take algebra in eighth grade.

Barry Garelick taught in a middle school that lets very few students take algebra in eighth grade, he writes in Out in Left Field.  A student asked him if she’d qualified for Algebra I. “I don’t want to be with the stupid people,” she said.

“In the name of egalitarianism and the greater common good,” the vast majority of students will take a watered-down Core version of algebra in ninth grade, he writes. They’ll end up as “stupid people.”

When English Learners don’t learn English

Parkview Elementary in El Monte

California schools are focusing attention on “long-term English Learners,” students from non-English-speaking homes who never reach proficiency in reading and writing skills, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Many were born in the U.S. They speak and understand English, but they test below grade level on state exams. Is it their English skills? Or, are they just below-average students?

Fairfax High Principal Carmina Nacorda said, more than 70 percent of her 125 long-term English Learners have educational disabilities.

Dasha Cifuentes, an English Learner from kindergarten through 10th grade, appreciates the slower pace of new classes.

On a recent morning, she and her classmates watched a “60 Minutes” documentary on Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin. Her teacher, Serafin Alvarez, then peppered the students with questions about it to check their understanding. What inspired Lin to play basketball? How many colleges offered him scholarships? What helped him succeed?

Few of the 10 students answered the questions correctly, but it was unclear whether they didn’t understand the documentary or didn’t care to pay attention. Alvarez said student apathy is one of his biggest challenges in teaching the more sophisticated language needed for college and careers — a recent vocabulary list included “mandated,” “effective,” “interact” and “discipline,” words few of the students hear at home, he said.

Dasha admits she didn’t read books or use the dictionary, as her teachers and parents advised. She didn’t ask for help. Now she talks about her problems with a mentor teacher.

At Parkview Elementary in El Monte, a language development program “pushes students in preschool through third grade to use richer language in curriculum incorporating literature, social studies and science taught through such popular themes as animals and the solar system,” reports the Times.

Teachers use “collaborative conversation” between pairs of students to develop oral skills, vocabulary charts and frequent writing assignments.

Can charters require parents to volunteer?

Thirty percent of California charters require parents to provide unpaid labor, according to a Public Advocates report. “Forced work” is an “illegal school fee” that restricts access, charges the group.

Requirements range from one hour per year to 96 hours, according to Charging for Access.  Some schools charge parents $10 to $25 per hour or the equivalent in school supplies for unworked hours.

A parent helps a student with vocabulary at a KIPP school in Los Angeles.

A parent helps a student with vocabulary at a KIPP school in Los Angeles.

A charter school “may lawfully include reasonable admission criteria, including a requirement that parents agree to do work for the charter school,” according to a 2006 memo by a state Education Department attorney.

The report calls on the department to end the practice or face a lawsuit.

Charters should not make service hours an enrollment requirement, says the California Charter Schools Association. However, CCSA is unaware of any school that’s excluded a student “as the result of the parent’s failure to volunteer.”

I checked out the local charters on the report’s list.

ACE charters in San Jose require one hour a month: Parents may volunteer from home, such as phoning other parents with information.

Rocketship schools require 30 hours a year. Again, there are opportunities to meet service hours after school, on weekends and from home.

“Parent participation” schools ask the most.

Village School, a “district dependent” charter in Campbell, asks parents to volunteer three hours a week. It’s not clear whether parents have alternatives

Discovery, which also uses the parent participation model,  promises to “work with you individually to find a mode of involvement that works for you.” No child will be turned away because parents can’t volunteer, the web site states.

Photo: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle Ma Elena Villagas (center in pink) a teacher at Adelante Academy in San Jose gets help from parents.

Ma Elena Villagas (center in pink) a teacher at Adelante Academy in San Jose gets help from parents.

Some district-run schools also require parents to support their schools. In Alum Rock, a heavily immigrant district in East San Jose, Adelante Dual Language Academy, a district school of choice, requires 30 hours. 

Alum Rock considered requiring all parents to volunteer 30 hours a year, not just those at schools choice. That idea didn’t fly.

Two district-run choice schools in Sacramento require parent hours, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Leonardo da Vinci sets forth an annual parent contract requiring at least 40 hours a year for a family with one child enrolled, according to the school’s website. “Parents who fail to meet the obligations of the contract will lose sibling preference and may be given voluntary school transfer opportunities,” according to the school’s website.

The Phoebe Hearst website specifies that families “are required to donate 40 hours of volunteer time per year” and can do so by helping in the office, ensuring safety on the playground or in the school parking lot or helping in the classrooms. Parents can also donate $5 an hour in lieu of volunteering to cover up to 20 hours, according to a parent participation form that families are asked to submit each month.

Asked about the requirement, a district spokesman said “the language would be removed from both schools’ websites,” reports the Bee.

I suspect most California schools will drop the requirements. But is it wrong for a school of choice to require parent participation?

Parents lie to avoid English Learner label

Eager to keep their children in mainstream classes, parents are lying on surveys designed to identify “English Learners,” reports AP.

If anyone in the family speaks a language other than English, the child will be given an English proficiency test. Some four- and five-year-olds are too shy to speak to a strange interviewer, even if English is their only language. Only 9 percent of new kindergarteners pass.

Once classified as an English Learner, it’s hard to shed the label. Some students remain ELs from kindergarten through high school.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nieves Garcia came from Mexico at age 6 and spent most of her elementary school years in California classified as an “English learner” even after she had picked up the language. Now a 32-year-old mother, she didn’t want her daughter labeled the same way and subjected to additional testing.

And so she lied.

When Garcia signed up her daughter for kindergarten, she answered a standard four-question survey by saying her family spoke only English at home, even though her husband doesn’t speak the language.

“I just said we spoke English, English, English and English,” Garcia said.

Parents like Garcia fear that by acknowledging the truth, their kids will be siphoned off from native English speakers or stigmatized, and could miss out on learning opportunities.

In elementary school, English Learners typically are pulled out of mainstream classes for English as a Second Language instruction.

Parents fear their children will be placed in less-demanding courses in middle and high school if they’re considered English Learners.

Earlier this year, Tesha Sengupta-Irving, an education professor in Orange County, registered her son for kindergarten. At the time, her parents were visiting and she was speaking to them in their native tongue, Bengali, so she wrote on her survey that the language was spoken at home.

Her son, who knew but a few words in Bengali, was tested and classified as an English learner. She said the results were ironic since she had tirelessly tried to pass the language on to him and still he spoke only English.

The survey “is catching too many kids,” said the professor.

Status quo wins in California

Triumph of the Status Quo is Ben Boychuk’s look at the California superintendent’s race.

. . . reformers had high hopes for Marshall Tuck’s insurgent campaign against State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. The 41-year-old former investment banker and charter school president tried to paint the 65-year-old incumbent, former legislator, and fellow Democrat as a creature of the state’s powerful teachers’ unions. . . . the race did expose a growing fissure between traditional union-aligned Democrats and an emerging faction of pro-business, pro-reform Democrats. But the biggest difference between Torlakson and Tuck—their respective plans for reforming the state’s tenure and dismissal statutes—didn’t galvanize voters.

The California Teachers Association spent $11 million “touting Torlakson and denouncing Tuck,” while the challenger raised nearly $10 million from “well-heeled education reformers, including Los Angeles real estate developer Eli Broad and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg,” writes Boychuk in City Journal.

Tuck attacked Torlakson for supporting the state’s appeal of Vergara v.California, the class-action lawsuit that threw out California’s tenure, seniority, and dismissal rules.

Surveys after the ruling showed strong support for dumping “last hired, first fired” rules, writes Boychuk. But “nearly 60 percent said they didn’t know what the lawsuit was about.”

Tuck also touted his experience as president of the Green Dot chain of charter schools. He voiced his support for California’s landmark parent-trigger law, which lets parents at failing schools petition to force their school district to implement certain reforms, including charter school conversion. Here again, though, voters don’t completely understand charter school reforms.

. . . The teachers’ unions and their surrogates, such as Diane Ravitch, used Tuck’s charter school ties to paint him as a racist, a bigot, and a tool of “the power elite.”

Their attacks worked, concludes Boychuk.

Hire guards, not victims’ ‘advocates’

To protect students from sexual assault, California community colleges should hire counselors to help victims, says Chancellor Brice W. Harris. California Sen. Barbara Boxer has asked the state’s college and university leaders to “voluntarily implement” her proposed S.O.S. Campus Act

Community colleges don’t have dorms or frat parties, but do have night classes, responds Matt Welch. To prevent assaults, they need better lighting and more security guards.

California OKs 4-year degrees at 2-year colleges

Fifteen California community colleges will be allowed to offer bachelor’s degrees in vocational fields. That makes California the 22nd state to let students earn four-year vocational degrees at two-year colleges.

‘Some college’ pays — for some

California faces a shortage of “middle-skill” workers with technical certificates and associate degrees. The wage premium is high in “allied health” fields, where demand is growing. However, “some college” workers in other fields, such as child care and solar installation, earn no more than people with just a high school diploma.

Vocational certificates requiring one year of schooling or less can raise earnings significantly, a new study finds.

Gov. Brown appeals Vergara ruling

California Gov. Jerry Brown has filed an appeal of the Vergara ruling that struck down traditional job protections for teachers.

The state’s two largest teacher unions also will appeal.

The decision, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu, threw out the state’s tenure process for elementary teachers, reports the Los Angeles Times. “It also stripped instructors of rules that made dismissing them more difficult and expensive than firing other state employees. And he eliminated regulations that made seniority the primary factor in deciding which teachers to lay off.”

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, a Democrat and teachers union ally, issued a statement backing the appeal.

“We do not fault doctors when the emergency room is full. We do not criticize the firefighter whose supply of water runs dry. Yet while we crowd our classrooms and fail to properly equip them with adequate resources, those who filed and support this case shamelessly seek to blame teachers who step forward every day to make a difference for our children.”

Torlakson faces a strong challenger, education reformer Marshall Tuck, in the November election.