California weighs the hefty cost of NCLB relief

Staff Photojournalist

This fall, frustrated by the glacial pace of Congress in rewriting the decade-old No Child Left Behind Act, the U.S. Department of Education decided to go around it. The administration announced that until the law was revamped, it would grant states temporary relief from some of the act’s key provisions — such as the requirement for all students to be on track in reading and math by 2014 — if they agreed to adopt a set of school reforms.

But acquiring such relief could cost the state of California and its school districts well over $2 billion, even after potential savings are taken into account, California Department of Education staffers told the State Board of Education at a meeting today (For more detail on the CDE’s estimates, go to Item 5 on the previous link and open the Addendum document. The figures are listed on a chart on pages 8-14).

As I reported in September:

If California does apply for a waiver, it will have to rewrite a 40-year-old law that governs how teachers are evaluated in a way that satisfies the U.S. Department of Education’s standards. It will have to create a new accountability system that rewards the state’s best schools and helps the ones that are struggling the most, as well as schools with low graduation rates and the highest test score gaps between students of different backgrounds. It will also need to put in place new, national teaching standards designed to better prepare students for life after high school.

Some board members and public speakers said they were afraid California schools would go to great lengths and expense to receive a temporary waiver only to face a new set of rules when Congress finally reauthorizes the law. Continue Reading


The end of NCLB?

Wonk alert! Here is a look at the (major) changes a bipartisan group of lawmakers have proposed for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, otherwise known as No Child Left Behind.

The law was up for renewal in 2007, but the process has moved so slowly that President Barack Obama announced last month his administration would circumvent Congress’s halting progress by letting states apply for waivers in exchange for agreeing to certain education reforms.

Education Week blogger Alyson Klein has a nice summary of the proposal, which is a dramatic departure from the current federal law in that it leaves much up to the states’ discretion. It was introduced by by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Here’s what our nation’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, had to say:

“A bipartisan bill will not have everything that everyone wants, but it must build on our common interests: high standards; flexibility for states, school districts and schools; and a more focused federal role that promotes equity, accountability and reform. This bill is a very positive step toward a reauthorization that will provide our students and teachers with the support they need, and I salute Senators Harkin and Enzi for their good work and their bipartisan approach.”



Former Oakland teacher a lead organizer for Save Our Schools March

Anthony Cody (courtesy photo)

Anthony Cody, an Education Week blogger and former math and science teacher and coach in OUSD, is one of the organizers of Saturday’s Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C. March participants don’t like the direction in which education reform is headed; among other demands, they are calling for an end to the practice of using student test scores as the basis for decisions about school closures, layoffs and pay.

I reached Cody on Tuesday for this story about the movement. I also talked to Molly Servatius, from San Francisco’s Paul Revere Elementary, who is about to begin her third year in the classroom.

Servatius said she joined the Save Our Schools movement online on the day she saw the Waiting for Superman documentary about the failings of the nation’s public schools — a film that many teachers criticized as skewed and simplistic. She said she looked around and saw people crying during one of the film’s poignant scenes.

She was crying too, she said — but for a different reason. Continue Reading


A celebratory dunk

Photo of Benjamin Schmookler courtesy of Howard Ruffner

Benjamin Schmookler, principal of Media Academy — a small school on East Oakland’s Fremont Federation campus — agreed to be dunked today during a celebration of the school’s improved test scores. Media Academy’s state test scores went up by 79 points to 600 (on a scale of 200 to 1,000), the biggest gain seen in all of the district’s high schools this year.


Test score gains: more knowledge or better prep?

Between 2008 and 2009, 80 percent of Oakland’s elementary schools improved their scores in math AND in English language arts, according to a school district analysis. (A list of the most-improved schools is posted below.)

Oakland’s not alone in its upward trend. On the page 4 and 7 of this news release, you’ll see increases in English and math scores, statewide, especially in the early grades.

John Boivin, who administers the STAR Program Office at the California Department of Education, said there were no major changes this year in the test, itself, or in the scoring of it. He said his team hadn’t yet drawn any conclusions about why the scores went up.

Boivin did say, though, that the law only requires the state to change half of the questions on each test from one year to the next. In other words, experienced teachers have a pretty good idea of what’s going to be on it. Continue Reading


The Plan? Just fire the teachers and start over

As you might have read by now, President Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, plan to encourage school administrators to close and re-open 5,000 of the nation’s worst schools — and hire a new slate of teachers and principals, or convert them into independently run charter schools  — with $5 billion in education stimulus funds as an incentive.

If that’s the secret to improving public education, Oakland is really ahead of the curve. I wonder if the district is even eligible for these funds; it’s already closed and re-opened most of its lowest-performing schools and converted some to charters. Continue Reading


Obama calls for merit pay and an end to “the same stale debates” in education policy

President Obama probably didn’t make too many teacher union friends this morning after a speech about education at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Obama called for the support of successful charter schools, a new academic calendar that would add more instruction time, and better assessments of student achievement — and of teacher performance.

Here’s an excerpt from a detailed CBS/AP story:

He did not propose any specific legislative goals on education in his speech Tuesday at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Instead, the president talked about how America must work much harder to keep pace with international competitors. Continue Reading


Oakland teachers get praise — and moola

Teachers at Monarch Academy and at Lighthouse Community Charter School‘s secondary program (grades 7-12), will get more than a pat on the back for the academic strides that their students made last year.

They will share $67,000 and $29,000, respectively, thanks to an award from the Effective Practice Incentive Community (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), a new initiative of New Leaders for New Schools. It amounts to roughly $3,500 per teacher.

The award money, itself, comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Incentive Fund. That, if you recall, is the same source of cash bonus money that the Oakland teacher’s union rejected in 2007 Continue Reading


News flash: CA schools are unequal

Tribune file photo by Ray Chavez

California schools don’t have enough funding and they provide “inadequate and unequal learning conditions and opportunities,” according to the latest annual report by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access.

The report is more of an advocacy piece than a research analysis, but it does raise (and answer, in no uncertain terms) important questions about the state of public education in California — its class sizes, course offerings, college-going rates, graduation rates, among other measures.  Continue Reading


More turmoil in the Skyline principal’s office

The principalship at Oakland’s largest high school is notorious for its political challenges. It’s no place for beginners. But from what I’ve heard, Skyline High School‘s various factions have embraced Al Sye, a veteran administrator — and the latest in a string of people to inhabit the principal’s office.

Recently, however, Sye became the subject of a central office investigation, and it remains to be seen how long he’ll stay at Skyline, or whether he’ll return for a second year. Chris Dobbins, a school board member who represents the high school, said Sye is off for two weeks, but didn’t say why.

What happened? Continue Reading