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.)

California teacher challenges agency shop

“We’re asking that teachers be able to decide for ourselves, without fear or coercion, whether or not to join or fund a union,” says Rebecca Friedrichs in a Reason interview. A California public school teacher for more than 25 years, she’s the lead plaintiff in a challenge to the state’s “agency shop” law requiring her to pay union dues.

The Supreme Court will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in the fall session. If agency shop is held to be unconstitutional, it will affect 26 states that require all public school teachers to pay union dues, even if they’re not union members.

California moves toward vaccine mandate

Rhett Krawitt, 7, who could not be vaccinated while he was being treated for leukemia, speaks to lawmakers in April in support of a bill requiring more children to be vaccinated. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Rhett Krawitt, 7, who could not be vaccinated while he was being treated for leukemia, speaks to lawmakers in April. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

California’s legislature has passed a bill requiring parents to immunize their children before entering child care or school. The new vaccination mandate removes exemptions for religious or personal beliefs, retaining only medical exemptions confirmed by a physician.

Parents could decline to vaccinate children educated at home, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Mandatory vaccination violates parental rights, said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, a Glendale Democrat. “The broadness of this bill likely dooms it from a constitutional standpoint,” he said, accusing the state of “infringing on the rights of children to attend school.”

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs it — it’s likely but not certain — it will be challenged in court.

Most California Latinos support testing

A majority of California’s Latino voters support school testing, while white voters do not, according to a USC/LA Times poll.

Fifty-five percent of Latinos “said mandatory exams improve public education in the state by gauging student progress and providing teachers with vital information,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Nearly the same percentage of white voters said such exams are harmful because they force educators to narrow instruction and don’t account for different styles of learning.”

Twenty-three percent of Latinos said students were tested too much, compared with 44 percents of whites polled.

“Once a family has achieved a certain level of financial success, they have the luxury of worrying about their children’s stress levels,” said Dan Schnur, head of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. “For families who haven’t yet made it, they see the stress that comes with testing as an acceptable trade-off in order to more precisely measure progress.”

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.