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MDUSD still waiting to hear if it will get School Improvement Grants

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, October 28th, 2011 at 6:29 pm in Education.

Last July, the state Board of Education decided to required most of the school districts that had been receiving School Improvement Grants (SIGs) to submit Corrective Action Plans because they were not adhering to the federal grant requirements.

The Mt. Diablo district submitted its Corrective Action Plan in September, without presenting it the school board for approval. It is still waiting to hear if it will get the funding.

At issue was the district’s initial failure to increase instructional learning time for all students and to develop a more rigorous teacher and principal evaluation system based partially on student performance. To remedy these issues, the district negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with the MDEA teachers’ union to extend the school days at the three schools receiving grants: Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools in Bay Point.

The district and union also agreed to pilot a new evaluation system for teachers at those schools. Both of these agreements may be extended to Meadow Homes Elementary and Oak Grove Middle School, which plan to apply for SIGs later this year, as part of a second round of funding. All districts that applied for this second round (including MDUSD) were rejected by the state because they didn’t comply with the federal requirements. So, all eligible districts can reapply.

The district’s Corrective Action Plan notes that instructional learning time at the three campuses has increased by 9,369 to 16,490 minutes, depending on the school and grade level. However, it does not appear to mention that the district is seeking to reduce this school year by five days, which would substantially decrease instructional learning time gained through extending the days.

The California Department of Education is behind schedule on informing the district whether or not its grant will be approved. I spoke with a CDE rep about a month ago, who said the state was still awaiting clarification from the U.S. Department of Education on instructional learning time.

However, I received the following information in an e-mail from a U.S. Department of Education spokesperson on Monday:

Q: What is the status of the CA SIG grant

“Answer: As you probably know, the state makes determinations on whether to renew a school district’s SIG grant with respect to schools that are not meeting their goals and making progress on their leading indicators. If a SIG school does not meet its annual achievement goals established by the school district, then the state has discretion to examine factors such as the school’s progress on the leading indicators or the fidelity with which it is implementing the model in deciding whether to renew the district’s SIG grant with respect to that school.

The Department has been working with the California Department of Education and has provided additional guidance to them on increased learning time. The state has all the information it needs to make its decisions about administering its grants, including renewal decisions.”

Q: Many California school districts are reducing the number of school days due to budget cuts. Would this prevent them from qualifying for School Improvement Grants? (If the overall instructional time is reduced.)

“Answer: No, it doesn’t prevent districts from applying for a SIG grant. Two of the SIG models do not require increased learning time; for districts applying to implement the two models that do require increased learning time, their applications would likely be assessed, in part, on the amount of instructional time they added, either through the school day, before or after school, or before or after the school year.”

The reform models that do not require increased learning time are school closure and restarting the school under new management.

The district’s Corrective Action Plans also call for four-week “early back” programs available to all students in the summer.

Do you believe this plan merits renewed funding?

CAP Mt Diablo Unified School District09152011

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  • Doctor J

    There are two critical letters that MDUSD has ignored in preparing their Corrective Action Plan [CAP] for the SIG Grants, Cohort 1, Year 2 which puts the potential approval of the CAPS in jeopardy. (1) August 11, 2011 letter from State Supt. Torlakson and (2) August 12, 2011 letter from the U.S. Dept of Education. The CAPS were not submitted until September 12, 2011.
    The Torlakson letter basically addresses Federal and State concerns about school districts not providing for the “increased learning time” requirement. The USDE letter focuses on teacher and PRINCIPAL evaluation, performance and REWARDS.
    Lets take the second issue, firt. Not one iota of discussion in the MDUSD CAP is devoted to discussion of teacher REWARDS nor of Principal evaluation — but here is what the USDE says: “one ofthe most critical components ofthe transformation model is rigorous, transparent, and equitable evaluation systems for teachers and principals. These systems must take into account data on student academic growth as a significant factor, as well as other factors, such as multiple observation-based assessments of performance, ongoing collections of information on professional practice reflective ofstudent achievement, and increased high school graduation rates.” USDE further sets the bar to include “compensation and rewards” as part of the evaluation process: “The piloted systems should be capable of being used for decisions regarding, for example, retention, promotion, compensation, and rewards, no later than the 2013-2014 school year.” and that applies to both teachers and principals. Instead, MDUSD remains locked into a rigid step and years of service schedule, regardless of the performance of the teachers or principals. The so-called MOU with MDEA [never voted on and approved by the Board] does NOT address any of these factors of “retention, promotion, compensation, and rewards.” Nor does the CAP.

    The first issue of “Increased Learning Time” is plagued by several ommissions and inconsistencies. First, the District intentionally omits and thus conceals that its approved budget contains FIVE school days off for “furlough days” and thus significantly reduces its represented increased learning time. This is clearly misrepresentation and when Lawrence signed the document, he knew it. The Torlaksen letter clearly states that “research supports the effectiveness of increasing learning time by a minimum of 300 hours” — MDUSD clouds the issue by using minutes instead of hours. Well, 300 hours equals 18,000 minutes, and none of the MDUSD plans reach this minimum BEFORE SUBTRACTION OF 5 days of furlough days and some are just half of that. Once you subtract FIVE furlough days, it isn’t even close. One last point: the CAP doesn’t address ALL of the various learning areas that USDE and CDE are looking for increased learning time.
    It seems to me that the District did not even consider either the Torlaksen letter or the USDE letter in preparation of the CAP and it has a great likelihood of failure. Even if it “gets by” the new penalty for failure to impliment is RETURN THE MONEY !

    Read for yourself: http://www.cde.ca.gov/BE/ag/ag/yr11/documents/sep11item05a1.pdf#search=corrective%20action%20sig&view=FitH&pagemode=none

    http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/ag/ag/yr11/documents/sep11item05a4.pdf

  • Theresa Harrington

    Here’s a link to the Parent Advisory Council’s discussion about plans for furlough days this year: http://qik.com/video/44834498

  • Doctor J

    The Agenda for the State Board of Education meetings on Nov 9, 10 do NOT include the consideration of any of the Corrective Action Plans for Cohort 1. Additionally financial experts are warning that the educational funding triggers set in place by the Legislature and Governor have a good chance of being triggered because revenues are a long way from predictions. One of those “solutions” is to reduce the school year by an additional 7 days, and with the 5 school days already in the MDUSD budget there would be no possible way the “Increased Instructional Time” would be accomplished. The next State BOE meeting is mid January. Cohort 2 Applications [Meadow Homes and Oak Grove] are still due Nov 14 for school year 12/13 and would also be in jeopardy. Doesn’t look good for SIG funding to continue.

  • Theresa Harrington

    A shortened school year shortchanges students, says Education Trust-West: http://bit.ly/scxyqY

  • Doctor J

    @TH#4 “Increased Instructional Time” not less, is one of the foundational pillars of the SIG grants. Chipping off 12 days of instructional time — 2 1/2 weeks — first 5 days and now possibly 7 more is NOT the way to improve a failing educational system. SIG wants a minimum of 300 additional hours to what was the status quo was 2 years ago.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Superintendent Steven Lawrence says it’s unfortunate that budget cuts are forcing many districts to cut school days: http://bit.ly/vCEjpw