Tracking is linked to higher AP scores

Tracking in eighth grade — usually in math — correlates with higher scores on AP tests at the end of high school, concludes the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education.

In eighth grade, the tracking question currently boils down to whether high achieving students who are ready for a formal algebra course will get one—or whether all students will take the same general math course.

States with larger percentages of tracked eighth graders produce larger percentages of high-scoring AP test takers, the study found. “The heightened AP performance held across racial subgroups—white, black, and Hispanic.”

There was no relationship between tracking and and the number of students taking AP tests — just to the number who earned a 3, 4 or 5.

Another section looks at how Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are changing instruction in math and reading.

Teachers are teaching more nonfiction in fourth and eighth grade, NAEP data show.

In addition, “data and geometry are receding in importance in fourth grade math, and course enrollments in eighth grade math are shifting away from advanced courses toward a single, general math course,” the report notes.

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco's Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco’s Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

That suggests fewer achievers will start on the path to passing AP Calculus.

San Francisco Unified middle schools no longer teach algebra, as part of the shift to Common Core standards, reported Ana Tintocalis for KQED last year.

For years, all eighth graders took algebra and many failed, said Lizzy Hull Barnes.  Now no one will take algebra till ninth grade.

This “is a social justice issue for SFUSD,” writes Tintocalis. “District officials say the controversial practice of tracking students — or separating them based on talent and ability — is simply wrong.”

Diversity vs. democracy in middle school

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Principal Lena Van Haren chats with former students Kayla Rash (left) and Honesty Williams outside Everett Middle School. Photo: Connor Radnovich, San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco’s Everett Middle School is two-thirds Latino and black, but students voted for white, Asian and mixed-race students for four top student council posts in an Oct. 9 election. Upset that the results weren’t sufficiently “diverse,” Principal Lena Van Haren withheld the results for more than a week, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Under pressure from parents and the district administration, she released the winners’ names — along with plans to expand the 10-member student council and appoint Latinos and blacks to the new slots.

“It’s not OK for a school that is really, really diverse to have the student representatives majority white,” Van Haren told the Chronicle.

“Their good intention got in the way of their common sense,” said parent Todd David. “It’s really, really disturbing to me that withholding the results somehow equals social justice or equity.”

Adding positions for “children of a particular race would likely violate the Equal Protection Clause and federal civil rights law,” writes Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.  It also “violates the California Constitution’s categorical ban on ‘discriminat[ing] against, or grant[ing] preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race … in the operation of … public education’.”

And it’s creepy for an adult to interfere in a student council election.

Libraries add ‘coder time’ to story time

Librarian Brooke Sheets uses colored cups to teach algorithms and debugging to girls at Los Angeles’ Central Library. Photo: Alex Schaffert-Callaghan, KPCC

To play a drawing game called Phenomenal Turtle, nine-year-old Perla Hernandez had to “break down big complex problems into small sequential steps,” writes Alex Schaffert-Callaghan on KPCC. She was one of a dozen children who came to a Los Angeles’ library for “coder time.”

 Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Children can program a turtle to create designs in Phenomenal Turtle

Librarian Joanna Fabicon “would love coding to be as ubiquitous in libraries as story time.” She works with an afterschool program to reach children at eight LAUSD elementary schools.

Girls feel comfortable coming to the library, said Brooke Sheets, a children’s librarian at the central branch. “More than half the kids in Hernandez’s class were girls, a ratio most computer science programs can only dream of,” writes Schaffert-Callaghan.

At the end of the lesson Hernandez showed her game to the group. “The kids watched as a small green turtle moved quickly across the screen, filling it with a rainbow of intricate pop-art patterns, earning a big round of applause.”

Within 10 years, all New York City schools will offer computer science, pledges Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Chicago plans to require a year of computer science for high school graduates by 2018, reports the New York Times. (Really! How many can add fractions?) “The San Francisco Board of Education voted in June to offer it from prekindergarten through high school, and to make it mandatory through eighth grade.”

SF plans computer science for all


Volunteer Aimee Menne helps teach computer science at San Francisco’s Mission High. Photo: Andra Cernavskis

San Francisco’s public schools plan to expose every child to computer science from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, writes Andra Cernavskis on the Hechinger Report. What does that mean? The district is trying to figure that out.

“We are not trying to produce an army of software engineers,” said Bryan Twarek, SFUSD’s computer science coordinator. “We want to open all doors to this industry, and right now those doors aren’t open to everyone.”

In fact, only 10 of San Francisco’s 18 high schools offer any kind of computer science class, with just 5 percent of all high school students enrolled in classes at any level, from introductory to Advanced Placement. Most of the students in that 5 percent are white or Asian males. Of the few hundred students who took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science in 2014, only 22 percent were female, and only 3 percent identified as African American, Latino, or Native American.

For the younger grades, educators want to design a program that isn’t just about bringing gadgets and technology into the classroom, writes Cernavskis. Computer programming is a form of problem solving, said Julie Flapan, the executive director of Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS).

Parents don’t choose diversity

Parent choice is making San Francisco schools more segregated, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mural at San Francisco's Cleveland Elementary School.

Mural at San Francisco’s Cleveland Elementary School.

One third of the city’s public schools are “racially isolated,” which means 60+ percent of students are of the same racial or ethnic group.

Overall, 41 percent of the city’s public school students are Asian-American, 27 percent are Latino, 13 percent are white, 10 percent black and the rest “other.” About 30 percent of the city’s young people attend private or parochial schools.

Here’s a non-surprise:

Diversity and integration are rarely cited as top factors in choosing a public school. Instead, district surveys of parents show the safety of a school’s neighborhood, the quality of its staff and its reputation are paramount.

Clarendon, the high-achieving school in the story is about one third Asian, one third white and the rest Latino, black and mixed. It offers a Japanese bilingual program for some students; the rest learn Italian.

At the low-achieving school, Cleveland, 82 percent of students come from low-income and working-class Latino families. Parents choose the school because it’s close to home. It offers a Spanish bilingual program.

Cleveland receives $360,000 more than Clarendon from the state each year — $1,000 per student — because its students are so poor and so many of them don’t speak English. The idea is to direct more resources to the neediest schools, but Clarendon more than offsets that through avid parent fundraising and donations from the Japanese and Italian consulates.

(Cleveland Principal March)Sanchez uses the extra state money for basic support, including separate Spanish and English literacy coaches, a technology teacher, tablet computers and laptops.

After being trained by a nonprofit to be an activist, mother Ana Hodgson is “done with public schools,” reports the Chronicle. She got her son into a summer program for low-income achievers that helped him get a scholarship at a private middle school.

Los Angeles requires ethnic studies

Ethnic studies will be a graduation requirement in Los Angeles Unified by 2019, reports KPCC.

District officials estimate the new requirement will cost $3.9 million.

Several ethnic studies courses, such as Chicano Literature, African American History and Asian Studies, are offered at 19 district high schools. Only 700 students out of 152,000 high school students districtwide take an ethnic studies course, according to Ethnic Studies Now. Ninety percent of Los Angeles Unified students are non-white.

“There is a saying: ‘The real story of the hunter will be told when the lion and the buffalo get to write,'” said LAUSD board member George McKenna, co-sponsor of the resolution who represents South Los Angeles.

San Francisco should require ethnic studies, says Sandra Fewer, the school board president. “Yes, it will mean that something else will have to go,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. Her first priority is expanding the course to all high schools.

In David Ko’s ethnic studies class at Washington High School, students learn to “talk about their experiences in a way that is less about the individual and more of the cultural norms or systems of oppression,” reports the Chronicle. Many of the students “were placed in the class because there wasn’t room in their elective of choice.”

It appears that few students are choosing ethnic studies over other electives, such as music, art, drama, journalism or an AP course. Why not let them decide?

The best of colleges, the worst of colleges

Washington Monthly‘s 2013 college rankings include the best community colleges as judged by a student engagement survey and completion rates. In addition, the Monthly analyzes why some of the worst community colleges are in the otherwise thriving San Francisco Bay Area.

Inside a ‘low-performing’ school

Everything You’ve Heard About Failing Schools Is Wrong, writes Kristina Rizga in Mother Jones after spending 18 months “embedded” at San Francisco’s Mission High. Rizga followed a Salvadoran girl who’d joined her mother in the U.S. after the rape, torture and murder of her beloved aunt.

At a San Francisco middle school, Maria learned almost no English in a special class for immigrants and then in a mainstream class.

At Mission High, the struggling school she’d chosen against the advice of her friends and relatives, Maria earned high grades in math and some days caught herself speaking English even with her Spanish-speaking teachers. By 11th grade, she wrote long papers on complex topics like desegregation and the war in Iraq. She became addicted to winning debates in class, despite her shyness and heavy accent. In her junior year, she became the go-to translator and advocate for her mother, her aunts, and for other Latino kids at school. In March, Maria and her teachers were celebrating acceptance letters to five colleges and two prestigious scholarships, including one from Dave Eggers’ writing center, 826 Valencia.

But Maria, who’s still learning English vocabulary, scores poorly on state exams.  Despite a rising graduation and college-going rate, Mission High scores among the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in the country.

The article — go ahead, read the whole thing — reminded me of The New Kids, a book on a small New York City high school for recent immigrants. The school pushes all students –who come from Tibet, Africa, Haiti, China, you name it — to college.  But they’re way, way behind in reading, writing and math. Some have missed years of schooling. Or they just haven’t had enough time to learn English. Can they really make it in college without the mentoring their high school provides? If the problem is just weak English skills, the super-motivated probably can. But what makes sense for the rest?

Rethinking special ed

Special education is costing more and more, yet results are disappointing, writes Rick Hess. Nate Levenson, a former superintendent who reduced special-ed spending while improving achievement, has written Something Has Got to Change: Rethinking Special Education.

Levenson suggests:

  • a relentless focus on reading, including clear and rigorous grade-level expectations for reading proficiency, frequent measurement, and early identification of struggling readers with immediate and intensive additional instruction, up to 30 extra minutes per day;
  • rethinking what special ed students are taught in general education classes to avoid overplacement of special ed students in special classes and keep them in front of the best teachers;
  • maximizing class time with content expert teachers.

Special education teachers know how to identify disabilities, but aren’t trained in how to teach math, English or reading, even though that’s their primary duty, Levenson writes.

Also in for some tough medicine is the practice of co-teaching, where a special ed teacher is paired with a general ed teacher in a regular classroom for students with and without disabilities. Levenson writes, “Co-teaching is like dieting. Lots of people want to lose weight and look good in a bathing suit, but actually doing so is hard.”

Miriam Freedman talks about what Massachusetts is doing to speed resolutions of disputes (SPED-X) and cut down on paperwork (Process Lite).

Some states, such as Massachusetts and New York, identify almost twice as many students as disabled as other states, such as Texas and California, notes Fordham’s  Shifting Trends in Special Education.  The poverty rate doesn’t explain it, writes Mike Petrilli. But it does correlate with per-student spending, adjusted for the cost of living. High-spending states have higher rates of special-education identification.

Thirteen percent of the difference in identification is correlated to spending, estimates Harvard Education Professor Marty West. “It could be that better-resourced systems identify more kids because they have the capacity to serve them separately, but even if that were the case there is a lot of variation that it can’t explain (look at Rhode Island and Texas, for example).”

Petrilli wonders whether tighter school budgets will result in smaller special-ed caseloads.

San Francisco school officials want to save money by mainstreaming all special education students, reports the New York Times.  That includes mainstreaming 16 students with severe behavior problems who attend a private, nonprofit school at district expense.

(Sylvia) Hewlett’s son attended six San Francisco schools before his ninth birthday. His mother said he sometimes became so frustrated that he physically attacked his teachers and classmates.

Ms. Hewlett enrolled her son, who is autistic and turns 12 in July, at Erikson four years ago. “Now the boy can write,” she said. “The boy can read. The boy can spell.”

Alternative programs exist for a reason, writes  Ms. Cornelius.  Seriously disabled students get a chance at an education and other students and teachers get a shot at a safe, peaceful classroom.

San Francisco may order ‘sad meals’

San Francisco may ban “happy meals” that come with a toy, unless the meal includes a serving of fruit and vegetables or meets the city’s nutritional requirements, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

San Francisco’s “sad meals” should include “creepy, insulting and/or humiliating promotional toys with any meal that fails to meet the city’s exacting nutritional guidelines,” writes Zombie on Pajamas Media.

* Circular metallic stickers featuring a frowny-face and the words “I’m a fatso!” or “Lard-butt.” Parents will be required to affix the stickers to their children’s foreheads during meals eaten in public.

* Wind-up toys which speak any of ten different phrases, including “You’re morbidly obese!”, “Sure, keep stuffing your fat little face,” and “You make me sick, you disgusting pig!” Children can choose either the Sinister Clown, Nagging Granny, or Scary Bully designs.

* Miniature flipbooks featuring full-color photos of actual surgical procedures taken during heart bypass operations and liposuction sessions.

* A new line of collectible figurines called Chubbies, with names such as Friendless Fritz, Diabetic Debbie, and Acne Ashly.

Very few children eat most of their meals at fast-food restaurants. Obesity begins at home. Parents have to stop buying junk food — often for themselves — and start pushing fruit and veg.