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.

Teachers back college for all — at some schools

Fifty-eight percent of teachers at low-poverty schools said college and career readiness for all is a “very realistic” goal, according to an online survey by EdSource and the California Teachers Association. Only 20 percent at high-poverty schools agreed.

"Linked learning" -- programs integrating career and academic skills -- should be expanded, said California teachers in a new survey.

“Linked learning” — programs integrating career and academic skills — should be expanded, said California teachers in a new survey.

Only 30 percent of teachers said their districts have “clearly defined standards for what constitutes college and career readiness,” reports Louis Freedberg for EdSource. “Thirty-five percent say that their districts have standards, but that they are not clearly defined. Eight percent say their districts have no standards at all.”

Most high school teachers are confident they know how to prepare for college, but only 14 percent have received training in helping students pursue other options.

Teachers strongly supported offering more career pathways.

Most teachers supported Common Core standards “with reservations.”

If unions lose agency fees, what next?

Teachers’ unions could lose money, members and political clout, if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against “agency fees,” writes Michael Antonucci in Education Next.

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association challenges the California law requiring teachers who haven’t joined the union to pay fees meant to cover collective bargaining, but not political activity.

Friedrichs plaintiffs assert that the agency-fee system infringes their rights to free speech and free association, he writes. “They maintain that collective bargaining in the public sector is itself inherently political.”

Wisconsin eliminated agency fees (and weakened unions’ bargaining power) in 2011, notes Antonucci. Union member has fallen by more than half.

Minnesota is an agency-fee state with about 111,000 K-12 employees, of which about 75,000 are teachers union members. Arizona, with no agency-fee law, has about 103,000 K-12 employees and only 16,000 teachers union members.

“In 2014, NEA membership in agency fee states grew by 5,300. In states without agency fees, it fell by more than 47,000.”

A typical California teacher pays $1,000 in dues asa union member, $650 in fees as a non-member. If non-members saved $1,000 a year, membership could go down sharply, Antonucci suggests.

The American Federation of Teachers pays heavily to play politics, reports RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

According to its 2014-2015 financial disclosure, the “second-largest teachers’ union spent $42 million on political lobbying activities and contributions,” a 45 percent increase over influence-spending levels in 2013-2014.

AFT gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and another $250,000 to the Clinton Global Initiative, “the other non-explicitly political wing of the Clinton family’s always-political efforts,” writes Biddle. The union has endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Now, the truth about college readiness

Common Core test results were reported this week in many states. As expected, they’re bad. It’s a wake-up call, writes Mike Petrilli. We can stop lying to ourselves about college readiness.

Several national studies, including analyses of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), show that just 38–40 percent of high school graduates leave our education system at the “college-prepared” level in reading and math. Considering that almost 20 percent of our children don’t even make it to graduation day, this means that maybe one-third of our kids nationally are getting to that college-ready mark. (Not coincidentally, about a third of young people today complete a four-year college degree.)

The Common Core raises expectations, starting in kindergarten, he writes, But it will take time for achievement to rise.
Students who met or exceeded the standards in English
In California, which is using the Smarter Balanced test, 44 percent of students are reaching targets in English, 34 percent in math, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Achievement gaps are wide: In English, 72 percent of Asian students and 51 percent of white students tested at grade level or better compared to 32 percent of Latinos and 28 percent of blacks.

Twenty-one percent of students from low-income families — 53 percent from affluent families — scored proficient or better in math.

Purity and stupidity

California schools and roads named for Confederate leaders will have to be renamed if Gov. Jerry Brown signs SB 539. Two elementary schools in the state are named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee. That seems to be it.

Two California public schools are named for Robert E. Lee.

Two California public schools are named for Robert E. Lee.

“The small coastal city of Fort Bragg, a former military outpost named for an officer who later defected to the Confederacy, was exempted,” reports the Sacramento Bee.

Why stop with Robert E. Lee? asks Darren in Stupidity From Sacramento. If the goal is ideological purity, then a lot more renaming will be necessary.

Berkeley was named after “a slave-holding Anglican priest,” he writes. George Berkeley’s sermons explained to the colonists why Christianity supported slavery,” according to the New World Encyclopedia. Rename it!

And how about all those Catholics — you know, those people who don’t like abortion like good Californians do — we can’t have cities named after them!  Say good-bye to San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Cruz, San Jose, Santa Barbara, etc.  And Sacramento–the capital of the state! — is named after a religious activity, a sacrament!  Who were the natives around here, the Maidu?  Let’s find a good Maidu name for Sacramento.

California’s major cities are named after missions founded by Father (soon to be saint) Junipero Serra, who enslaved and tortured the Indians.

Should California honor Junipero Serra?

Should California honor Junipero Serra?

My friend Elias Castillo’s book, Cross of Thorns, describes how even Serra’s contemporaries were shocked by treatment of the Indians, many of whom died of disease and despair.

If Confederate leaders are verboten, so should cities named after Serra’s missions and all the schools, colleges, roads, etc. named after Serra himself. (The Junipero Serra Freeway has a statue of Serria so ugly that it’s more of a disgrace than an honor.)