School lunch news: California poll, Kansas high school video, and praise for OUSD

Staff Photojournalist Jane Tyska
Photo by Jane Tyska/Staff

A recent statewide poll released by The California Endowment, a health foundation that promotes nutritious school lunches, found that 82 percent of students and 91 percent of parents surveyed support the latest changes in school lunch nutrition standards, overall. The changes include a greater variety of produce, more whole grains, portion size guidelines and calorie limits.

After hearing summarized arguments for and against calorie restriction, about 64 percent of students and 56 percent parents said they thought the calorie limits should continue, the California Endowment reported.

Students who made headlines with this music video parody, “We Are Hungry,” seem to feel differently. They argue that active students, especially those who play sports, simply need more fuel. (Some student-athletes at Berkeley High told me the same thing a few years ago, when I was doing a profile on Ann Cooper, who transformed the district’s lunch offerings.)

Continue Reading


California PTA moms try to reach voters in a new way: gangsta rap comedy

In case the sweet faces of underserved public schoolchildren aren’t enough to convince some California voters to approve Prop. 30 and/or 38 on Nov. 6, maybe this will get their attention.

In a 5-minute video promoted by the new parent group Educate Our State, PTA moms frustrated by conventional fundraising schemes turn to intimidation — via pseudo gangster costumes, Taliban references, fake guns and fog (and above all, noisy kids who spill stuff) — to get their schools what they need.

Unlike the pro-Prop. 38, anti-Prop. 30 “contrast ads,” which Molly Munger recently pulled, this “Shake You Down” video urges voters to say “yes” on both fundraising ballot measures. Los Angeles parents Elise Robertson and Mouncey Ferguson made the video; they cast parents from their school, Aldama Elementary, and their own kids.

Can you relate?


API and NCLB, all over again

Today was Test Score Day, which meant staring at numbers for hours — and, in my case, unwittingly informing a school principal that her award-winning school had fallen into Program Improvement.  (Not the worst news I’ve ever delivered, but still.)

Want to see the latest API scores? My colleague Danny Willis created an interactive database, and you can find my story on NCLB here. You might be surprised by some of the school districts that ended up in Program Improvement this time around.

Nearly a dozen more OUSD schools landed in Program Improvement, including Think College Now, Manzanita SEED, Montera Middle School and others that have won awards for closing the achievement gap.

No OUSD schools made it out this year, but we reported on a school in Hayward that did. Burbank Elementary School received a three-year, multi-million-dollar School Improvement Grant, beginning in 2010-11, and has been able to offer its students more ever since.

Below is the list of Oakland schools newly identified for Program Improvement, and you’ll find a link to the PI status of all schools in Alameda County here.



The hidden problem of chronic absence

Staff Photojournalistphoto by D. Ross Cameron/Oakland Tribune

We’ve just posted a story I wrote about chronic absenteeism — when a student misses 10 percent or more school days for any reason, excused or unexcused.

A small, but growing number of school districts in California have begun to crunch the numbers to see which of their students are habitually out of school, and how many. Traditionally, schools have looked only at how many of their students attend school each day, on average, or how many were truant or tardy.

When you count excused absences, the number of kindergartners who miss 18 or more days of school might surprise you (unless you’re a kindergarten teacher).

Continue Reading


2012 STAR test scores for California

The results of 2012 Testing Season are here. They show, grade-level by grade-level and exam by exam, the levels at which students tested this spring: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, or far below basic.

You’ll find a short story here. On that same page is a database that will let you find your school’s scores and a chart with Alameda County school districts’ results in reading, math, history and science.

In a few weeks, the Academic Performance Index (API)  scores come out, largely based on the numbers reported today.

OUSD’s data department has compiled a dizzying array of spreadsheets, as well as a document from the communications office that highlights the positive notes.

The percentage of Oakland Unified students testing at “proficient” or “advanced” levels remained flat in reading and math (up 1 percentage point in reading, to 45 percent and flat in math, at 45 percent), dipped by two points in history and rose three points in science.

In the document below, OUSD highlighted the positive trends at some schools.


OUSD’s test score highlights


Graduation and dropout rates for the Class of 2011

The four-year graduation rate in Oakland Unified rose about four points in the latest estimate released today by the California Department of Education. About 59 percent of students who started high school in 2007 graduated with their classmates in 2011. About 28 percent dropped out, and 12 percent were still enrolled in school when the data were collected.

Some Oakland high schools had dropout rates in the 40s. Life Academy and Metwest lost the lowest percentage of students among OUSD schools, though their dropout rates were still higher than 10 percent. Charter schools are listed separately; you have to call each of them up individually to see how they did.

This is the second year the state has followed a cohort of students — each, with a unique ID — through four years of high school to get what is supposed to be the most reliable estimate yet.

The above link takes you to the rates by ethnicity. Go here (or read the summary below) to see rates for English learners, special education students and low-income students.

To find stats for other districts, schools or counties, go to the CDE’s DataQuest page and click “dropouts” from the drop-down menu, along with the level you’re looking for.


African American students: 55.1 percent graduation rate, 30.8 percent dropout rate, and 12.7 percent still enrolled.

Latino students: 51.8 percent graduation rate, 30 percent dropout rate, and 16.6 percent still enrolled.

White students: 72.7 percent graduation rate, 23.1 percent dropout rate and 3.5 percent still enrolled.

Asian students: 78.5 percent graduation rate, 15.1 percent dropout rate and 5.1 percent still enrolled.

English learners: 40.8 percent graduation rate, 36.6 percent dropout rate, 12.2 percent still enrolled.

Special education students: 39.4 percent graduation rate, 33.7 percent dropout rate, 18.3 percent still enrolled.

Low-income students: 58.6 percent graduation rate, 26.9 percent dropout rate, 9.2 percent still enrolled.


New rankings for California’s public schools

Wonder how your school’s 2011 composite test score (a.k.a. API) measures up to those of other schools in the state, or to schools with similar demographics and challenges?

The California Department of Education released the new statewide and “similar schools” rankings today — based on tests taken more than a year ago, not this past spring.

Our data man, Danny Willis, has created this API rankings database, searchable by district and county.


Child care cuts and kindergarten readiness

photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group

Readers, how I’ve neglected you this week… I blame the impossibly complex nature of California’s child care system, which faces a 20 percent cut for the upcoming fiscal year.

I’ve spent the last 48 hours trying to figure out what the governor’s May budget revision would mean for working families (mostly single parents and their kids) and the system as a whole, how it differs from the original budget proposal in January, and how the different programs work now. In addition to tracking down facts and figures, I’ve been interviewing people from around the Bay Area who receive child care subsidies — and, finally, trying to put it all together into a somewhat readable format. (I don’t normally include acknowledgements, but Carlise King, the research director for the California Child Care Resource & Referral Network, must have devoted almost as time as I did in this endeavor, helping me find those numbers and very, very patiently explaining what they meant.)

You can read the story here.

As I talked to parents, including a single dad from San Ramon whose quote didn’t make it into the story, I was struck by the reality of single parenthood. All of the people I interviewed had white collar jobs — an administrative assistant, a facilities manager, an insurance salesman/customer service rep. If the proposal is enacted, all of them will lose their child care subsidies.

If that happens, the dad from San Ramon and his daughter will probably move in with Grandma in Discovery Bay; the administrative assistant will rely on relatives to watch her 3-year-old, rather than an educational setting; and the other mother still hasn’t figured out a Plan B.

Child care is often framed in terms of accessibility — the number of slots available to kids, and eligibility levels for families. But the other side of the equation is the quality of the program. Experts say the proposed cuts are so deep they fear that poor children — even those whose parents retain their benefit — will have access only to the relatives-and-neighbors variety of care, rather than the kind that will get them academically and socially ready for school.

A couple of months ago, I cited a long-term study that shined light on the potential benefits of excellent pre-k programs:

For decades, researchers with the Perry Preschool Study followed a group of 123 low-income African Americans from Ypsilanti, Mich., who were 3 or 4 years old in the 1960s. Some children were randomly assigned to the same high-quality preschool program, and the others weren’t.

When tested at age 5, those in the preschool group were more than twice as likely to have IQs of 90 or higher (67 percent vs. 28 percent) than those who didn’t. By age 14, they were more than three times as likely to have reached a basic achievement level. They were less likely to be placed in special education programs, more likely to graduate from high school and, as adults, to be employed. They were also less likely to be arrested for violent crimes.

The study’s cost-benefit analysis found that for every dollar invested in the preschool program, $16 was returned — $12.90 of it to the public, mostly from crime saving and increased taxes as result of higher earnings.

It seems that the budget crisis has forced California to move in the opposite direction. K-12 teachers: Are you ready for what may lie ahead?