The AP/IB challenge gap

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses could help close the “high-end achievement gap” —  if more low-income, black and Latino students take these rigorous courses, concludes Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students. The report is by the Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools.

Low-income students are one-third as likely to enroll in AP as their middle and high-income classmates. While 25.1 percent of Asian-American students take at least one AP course, that drops to 11.9 percent for whites, 9 percent for Latinos and 6 percent for blacks.

Ninety-one percent of public high school students attend schools that offer AP courses.

. . .  preparation prior to high school is part of the problem, and the nation’s schools need to work hard on that. But a recent analysis of PSAT scores by the College Board suggests there are far more students who have the potential to be successful, but are not enrolling. The College Board found that 72 percent of black students and 66 percent of Hispanic students whose PSAT scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP math course, as well as 69 percent of black students and 65 percent of Hispanic students whose scores suggested they had the potential to be successful in an AP science course, were left out of the program.

San Jose Unified has doubled AP participation rates for under-represented subgroups, the report finds.

In Washington state, the Federal Way went beyond open access to AP and IB courses. Now  automatically enroll students who scored proficient or better on the state exam are enrolled automatically in AP or IB.

Teachers found that some of the new AP/IB students didn’t need additional supports to be successful in AP/IB — they had been ready all along — but others did. Schools relied on the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program that was already in place . . . the district extended instructional coaching support to ensure teachers were capable of meeting the demands of their new classes, offering techniques and strategies for differentiating lessons to reach all their students.

The Road to Equity: Expanding AP Access and Success for African-American Students, a new report by the Broad Foundation, looks at six urban districts where more black students are passing AP exams.

San Jose teachers agree to ‘quality panel’

San Jose teachers have agreed to a contract that links pay increases to teaching skill rather than college credits and creates a career ladder for outstanding teachers, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Ineffective teachers could be denied a raise.

Instead of analyzing student test scores, the contract creates a teacher quality panel to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness. A proposal to pay teachers more to work at high-poverty, low-achieving schools was dropped.

While student performance will be part of the discussion on evaluations, teachers won’t be penalized if students don’t meet expectations.

“What will drive this is the belief that teachers can be trusted to self-assess,” San Jose Teachers Association president Jennifer Thomas said.

If the district finds outside sources of revenue, the contract will create new categories of teachers who will mentor, advise and evaluate their peers. With 30 years of experience, a “model” teacher could earn as much as $97,228 and a “master” teacher up to $112,278.

Across the state, teachers move up the salary schedule based on both longevity and college credits. Currently, a beginning San Jose Unified teacher with 44 credits beyond a bachelor’s degree earns $47,716 for working 186 days a year. Completing 16 more units adds more than $5,000; a master’s degree adds $2,576.

The new schedule will keep the longevity steps and degree stipends but replace the credits with categories based on skills and expertise.

Evaluations will be more detailed and will be done by both administrators and a team of teachers.

The contract lets the district add a third year to new teachers’ probationary status, rather than making a tenure-or-fire decision after two years. But that will require a state waiver.

Student performance must be part of teacher evaluations by California law, writes Chris Reed in Cal Watchdog.

Thanks to a 2012 Los Angeles Superior Court ruling, school districts in California are on notice that the 1971 Stull Act is still a binding state law. And among the law’s many provisions is a specific requirement that student performance be part of teacher evaluations.

Yet the way the Merc-News story reads, student performance can only be considered if it is positive — not if it is poor. Huh?

If the teacher quality panel decides that a tenured teacher isn’t doing a good job, does the teacher stay on, but without a raise?

According to Thomas, the teachers’ union president, a tenured teacher deemed ineffective by the panel can be moved to Peer Assistance and Review. Till now, that decision was made by the principal. “Now, the evaluations will be validated by a panel, not the single purview of an administrative evaluator. Additionally, if a teacher needs support or needs to improve, there will be another person to bring that to light if the administrator doesn’t. It’s a two-way system meant to make everyone better.”

College-prep reqs can backfire

Requiring all students to pass college-prep courses risks raising the drop-out rate, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California report.

San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego have raised their graduation requirements:  Unless they sign an opt-out form, all students must pass all the courses required for admission to state universities, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Without strong supports, weaker students may give on earning a diploma, warns the PPIC report, which analyzed San Diego’s transition to the new requirements.

“San Diego students will need to dramatically change the courses they take,” said report co-author Julian Betts, who is also a UC San Diego professor.  “Clear communication with students, parents, and teachers about the new requirements is critical — and that communication needs to begin in middle school, if not earlier.”

The study recognizes that students may have a harder time graduating with the more rigorous standards, unless schools undertake major interventions to ensure they can succeed.

Requiring college prep may discourage students from taking career tech ed courses, PPIC warned.

In addition, districts “will need to guard against two unwanted side effects: the watering down of a–g course content and possible grade inflation that allows students to graduate even though they are not mastering the content of a–g courses.”

When San Jose Unified required college-prep for all, teachers were under great pressure to give students a D- in chemistry, advanced algebra, etc. so they could earn a diploma.

College prep for all relies on false data

Starting with the class of 2002, San Jose Unified raised its graduation requirements: All students must pass the college-prep courses required for admission to state universities. The rule doubled the percentage of university-eligible graduates — and nearly tripled college readiness rates for Latinos — the district reported. Inspired by San Jose’s success, other districts raised their graduation requirements. But requiring college prep classes didn’t work in San Jose, the Hechinger Report discovered. The numbers were fudged.

 For six years, the district misreported its results, counting seniors who were close to completing the college-prep requirements as having done so. San Jose claimed that the percentage of graduates who got at least a C in all these classes rose to nearly two-thirds from just over a third. The rate for Latino students rose to nearly 50% from 18.5%, and for black students to more than 50% from 27%, the district incorrectly reported.

After the district corrected its errors, the district reported only incremental progress that was comparable to school systems without the requirements. Of that class of 2011, a little more than a third completed the college-prep sequence.

In 2000, before the college-prep rule took effect, 40 percent of San Jose Unified graduates fulfilled state university admission requirements by earning C’s or better in college-prep courses known as the A-G sequence. In 2011, the number was 40.3 percent.  Of blacks and Latinos who entered high school in fall 2007, about 1 in 5 were eligible to apply to a state university four years later.

Students could graduate with D’s in college-prep courses, while state universities require at least a C. Failing students were transferred to alternative schools with lower expectations. Thanks to compassionate teachers and the D-, the dropout rate didn’t rise.

While San Jose Unified was claiming success, I was writing Our School, about a San Jose charter school’s fierce struggle to prepare low-income and working-class Latino kids for college. I wondered how kids who’d scored “below basic” on the state math exam were passing advanced algebra and chemistry.

Los Angeles Unified will require the class of 2016 to pass the A-G courses with a D or better, reports Hechinger. Next year’s ninth-graders must earn a C or better.

L.A. school officials said their program will include the support necessary to help students succeed. Supt. John Deasy has insisted that requiring students to get a C or better in these classes is necessary for a diploma to be meaningful and to ensure that low-income and minority students don’t have to settle for coursework that is “orange drink” rather than “orange juice.”

“This is all about a kid’s civil rights,” Deasy said. “I am confident in our students, that they will rise to the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Long Beach Unified also is trying to qualify more students for state universities. Instead of requiring A-G courses, Long Beach sets annual improvement targets for its schools. Only 25 percent of Latino students and 27 percent of black students were eligible for state universities in 2011. That’s not great — but it’s better than San Jose’s real numbers.

Survey: Teachers’ unions lose support

Teachers unions are losing support, according to an annual survey by Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next. Only 22 percent of the public has a positive view of unions in 2012, down from 29 percent in 2011.  More striking, only 43 percent of teachers have a positive view, down from 58 percent the year before. Teachers holding a negative view nearly doubled to 32 percent from 17 percent in 2011.

Researchers ask:

“Some people say that teacher unions are a stumbling block to school reform. Others say that unions fight for better schools and better teachers. What do you think? Do you think teacher unions have a generally positive effect on schools, or do you think they have a generally negative effect?”

Respondents have five options: very positive, somewhat positive, neither positive nor negative, somewhat negative, and very negative. Many people choose the neutral option.

When people have just two choices on their assessment of union impact, 71 percent of teachers said unions had a positive impact. However, the public split down the middle on the either/or option: 51 percent said unions had a negative impact, while 49 percent said their effect was positive.

Gov. Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin recall election is good news for schooling and a big loss for the state’s teachers’ unions, writes Rick Hess.

Public-sector unions also lost pension reform votes in San Jose and San Diego.

Charter does more with same dollars

A San Jose charter elementary school with low-income students and very high test scores has won an award for financial  efficiency, reports John Fensterwald on Educated Guess.

Rocketship Education saves $500,000 per school per year by using online instruction to supplement classroom teaching.  The savings enables the network to pay for two hours a day of after-school tutoring for low achievers, a year-long internship for new principals, an academic dean to work with teachers and develop curriculum, higher teacher pay (for longer hours) and building new campuses — without relying on private donations.

Under the hybrid model, all 450 students in each school cycle through a block of math/science and two blocks of literacy/social studies in a traditional classroom setting with teachers who specialize in their fields. They also attend one block of learning lab, where they supplement math and reading classes with online work. Because the computer lab is not counted as instructional minutes, it can be run by a non-certified instructor. With three certified teachers teaching four classes, the school requires one fewer teacher per grade and five per school, along with five fewer classrooms.

Rocketship Mateo Sheedy, which primarily serves low-income Hispanic students who speak English as their second language, has an Academic Performance Index score of 926, which is high even for schools in affluent areas. A second Rocketship school opened this fall and more are planned.

John Danner, an Internet advertising software entrepreneur and a former elementary teacher, started Rocketship. He’s determined to run his schools on the same funding available to district-run public schools.

Here’s an Education Next short on Rocketship Mateo Sheedy.