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A closer look at how well unified districts in Contra Costa County are educating low-income and minority students

By Theresa Harrington
Sunday, April 7th, 2013 at 11:23 am in Antioch school district, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pittsburg school district, San Ramon Valley school district, West Contra Costa school district.

Last week, the student advocacy group Education Trust-West released its third annual report cards for the largest unified districts in the state, showing how well they educate low-income and minority students.

Here’s a look at the Contra Costa County districts included, showing whether or not they improved between 2011 and 2012. The organization assigned overall letter grades as well as numerical rankings for categories, based on standardized test scores, academic improvement over five years, the size of achievement gaps, and college readiness. Note: This was the first year the report included college readiness and high school graduation data.

ANTIOCH: Overall grade: D+ (up from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: C (up from D in 2011)
Improvement among students of color: D (same, but rank of 128 up from 135)
Improvement among low-income students: D (same, but rank of 127 up from 129)
African-American and white achievement gap: D (up from F)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (up from C in 2011)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 135 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 129 of 143)

MT. DIABLO: Overall grade: D+ (up from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: C (up from D in 2011)
Improvement among students of color: C (same, but rank of 44 up from 63)
Improvement among low-income students: B (up from C in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: F (same, rank up)
Latino and white achievement gap: F (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 128 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: C (rank 120 of 143)

PITTSBURG: Overall grade: C- (up from D+ in 2010) (No data from 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2010)
Performance among low-income students: C (same, rank of 107 up from 110)
Improvement among students of color: C (same, but rank dropped to 60 from 48)
Improvement among low-income students: C (but rank dropped to 61 from 48)
African-American and white achievement gap: C (up from D)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (up from C in 2010)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 134 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 137 of 143)

SAN RAMON VALLEY: Overall grade: B- (up from C+ in 2011)
Performance among students of color: A (same, but rank of 3 up from 4 in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: A (same, but rank of 5 up from 18)
Improvement among students of color: D (same, but rank of 136 up from 141)
Improvement among low-income students: C (but rank of 118 up from 119 in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: C (up from D)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: B (rank 6 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: A (rank 1 of 143)

WEST CONTRA COSTA: Overall grade: D- (down from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: D (same, rank dropped to 148 from 145)
Performance among low-income students: D (same, rank dropped to 147 from 145)
Improvement among students of color: D (dropped from C in 2011)
Improvement among low-income students: D (down from C in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: F (same, rank up)
Latino and white achievement gap: F (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: D (rank 69 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 130 of 143)

The complete report cards are at

How could districts improve instruction for low-income and minority students?

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44 Responses to “A closer look at how well unified districts in Contra Costa County are educating low-income and minority students”

  1. Anon Says:

    At least MDUSD has some improvement. All the districts should take a good look at San Ramon and use them as a model. I’m surprised WCCUSD’s rating fell given the billion or more in money they’ve spent on new schools, technology and other improvements.

  2. Theresa Harrington Says:

    EdTrust-West also pointed out what districts that scored well were doing on a “Promising Practices” site:

    Here’s what they saw that worked:
    1. There is strong, supportive district leadership that establishes a singular focus on excellence in instruction and high expectations for student performance. A focus on standards-based instruction, common assessment, and coordinated pacing is aligned at the district offices, with the districts providing supports to their school sites. (ie. Val Verde Unified in Riverside County.)
    2. There is a consistent focus on delivering high-quality instruction and leveraging time with their faculty to learn and refine research-based instructional strategies. Deep professional development and staff collaboration, including professional learning communities build teacher and principal capacity to function toward a common, student-focused goal. (ie. Sanger Unified in Fresno County.)
    3. There is a culture of data use to inform decision-making, which includes a consistent practice of using data to assess student performance relative to content standards. Specifically, there is an unrelenting effort to ensure students receive targeted supports based on data analysis at every level of the system – from classroom teacher to grade level teams, and from school to school as well as across the district. (ie. Desert Sands Unified in Riverside County)
    4. Districts engage students and parents with up-to-date information on students’ academic progress to strengthen home-school connections and proactively address students’ social or academic needs. (ie. Baldwin Park Unified in Los Angeles County)

    MDUSD does some of these things, but its efforts appear to be inconsistent districtwide. Based on presentations in the district, I have heard the least about number 4 — engaging students and parents to proactively address students’ social or academic needs. This appears to be a focus of the disproportionality plan. So, hopefully an increased emphasis on this will help.

    Regarding WCCUSD, they are starting to engage their community to develop a new strategic plan:

    Hopefully, this will make a difference. So far in MDUSD, the new strategic plan has not been referenced once during any board vote. So, it’s unclear whether it is actually being implemented or influencing board decisions. Also, as previously noted, four out of five trustees told staff during the board retreat that there is a huge disconnect between the plan’s goals for creating a warm and welcoming environment for staff and what they hear from staff who believe there is a culture of distrust, fear of retribution if they speak up and low morale. The question is: what will trustees do about it?

  3. Wendy Lack Says:

    @ TH #2:

    Addressing root causes is a more effective approach than “hoping” (you used the word “hopefully” two times too many, for my tase!).


    School choice must be part of any genuine public school reform effort. It is only right that parents have a right to choose where their kids go to school.


    “In California, education spending has doubled over the last 40 years. The state’s teachers are the fourth-highest-paid in the country, with an average salary of $67,871, not counting their generous pensions. What do we have to show for it? . . . California’s fourth-graders ranked 45th in the nation in mathematics; in science, they ranked second to last, topping only Mississippi. Over the same 40-year span, California’s average SAT scores have dropped about 5 percent . . . .

    “Throwing more money at a failing system will produce only a more expensive failing system in a rapidly failing state.”

  4. Giorgio C. Says:

    I asked the WCCUSD for data regarding teacher qualifications-turnover. The reply is that it is a moving target, so they don’t have it just yet. How can this not be a piece of the puzzle? They need to be monitoring this sort of thing continuously. The WCCUSD does not appear to be data-savy. They have a hard enough time completing their SARC documents.

    Have you asked the WCCUSD if they plan on releasing a statement in response to this report?

  5. Michael Langley Says:

    @ Wendy Lack #2

    I always enjoy the way statistics are bandied about to further a particular view. The article you quote chose to show the increase in average California teacher salaries over a period of forty years. When given a statistic like that, my first question is “Why choose that time frame?” The next question I ask is “How does the increase in wage compare to inflation?” Finally, it is helpful to look at the origin of the piece to see what, if any, agenda the author and/or publisher may have that would influence the objectivity.

    Why forty years instead of fifty, thirty or twenty? In 1973, a much larger percentage of California teachers were under 30 years of age than in 2013. There was a tremendous growth in the California population in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, creating a demand for teachers. A higher proportion of less experienced teachers would lower the average salary in the state, thus skewing the base figure for calculation downward. Serrano v. Priest (1971) implemented beginning 1974, shifted responsibility to the state for equalization of funding, marginally increasing per student funding in the poorest districts. On the other hand, the Rodda Act (1975) allowed collective bargaining by teachers. Did any of these factors influence education’s cost, quality or ability to measure progress by the author of the linked article?

    The doubling of wages in forty years seems excessive until the cost of living is used as a comparison. Using the Rule of 72 as a rough measure, that reflects an annual increase of 1.8% while inflation averaged 4.31% annually over the same period. To match a cumulative inflation rate of 422.9% from 1973 to 2013, the average salary of $33,935 for a 1973 teacher would have to increase to $143,511 to maintain purchasing power. Unfortunately for teachers, like the rest of the American middle class, real wages have underperformed inflation over that time period.
    Finally, we look at your source. The Manhattan Institute aligns with both libertarian and conservative organizations that cannot be considered non partisan by any stretch of the imagination. Examples include: American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution. A cursory review of their positions on private sector vs. public sector, small government and conservative causes indicates their bias. It would be equally important to note if a linked article was the product of an organization with a liberal alignment, such as the AFL-CIO, Center for American Progress, or the Roosevelt Institution. In either case, the reader should be aware of the source and its political bias.

  6. Jim Says:

    @5 Michael — You make a valid point about the relative lack of growth in teacher salaries, although one really ought to discuss overall teacher compensation, including benefits. Defined benefit pension plans, which have become as rare as hen’s teeth outside the public sector, are becoming particularly valuable in today’s super low interest environment. (Do most teachers have any idea how much savings an individual in the private sector would need to replicate their “guaranteed” pension? No, they don’t.)

    The equally interesting questions are:
    1) Why has the public become less willing to pay teachers more, relative to other workers? Is it because voters have all become stupid and unconcerned about the next generation? Or is it because taxpayers have become disillusioned and frustrated with the poor outcomes and general dysfunction in public education, and have decided to fund it accordingly?

    2) Although individual teacher salaries have not kept pace with inflation, ed spending on a per pupil basis has approximately doubled on an inflation-adjusted basis since the 1970s. Much of that increase is due to higher special ed spending, but much is also due to higher “administrative” expenses. I think it is entirely appropriate to ask whether we are getting our money’s worth. Although CA spending has stayed well below the curve, we can look at other places in the U.S. (such as the Northeast), with similar living costs, that spend 2-3 times what we do in CA, and they also get miserable results.

  7. School Teacher Says:

    @ Wendy #2

    Could you elaborate on what your vision of school choice might look like? When I hear this idea, my initial thinking is that everyone will just choose to go to the best performing schools. And, I don’t necessarily think that just sending any student to a higher performing school will make them more successful. There are other factors that influence their success. I recall a while back of talk about looking into involuntarily transferring “better” teachers to lower performing schools because this would improve the school. I understand the idea, bu I don’t think just moving the staff from a school like Miramonte or Campolindo to Mount Diablo is going to make that school change as much as people think. I do agree that the idea of “fit” between a student and a school can be influential, but I don’t think I would consider it to be a total cure all.

  8. Doctor J Says:

    @School Teacher #7 One has to decide if a low performing school will always be low performing no matter how good the teachers are; conversely then you must assume that a high performing school will always be high performing no matter how bad the teachers are. Or do you subscribed that good teachers can help every student work towards their potential and bad teachers will just babysit and let students pass the time with little learning ? I happen to believe that good teachers can make the difference in the learning of every student, no matter where they stand on the scale. So I happen to believe, as the studies are near unanimous, that excellent principals be placed in low performing schools and let them draft the best teachers, even involuntarily, and you will then see those student start reaching their potentials. Not all student potentials are equal, but every student can excel in their own realm.

  9. Jim Says:

    @7 School Teacher — May I offer a response? I’ve spent several years living in countries that offer widespread school choice, and even attended such schools for a time. The concept is not as implausible as many critics here make it out to be, which is why MOST advanced countries practice school choice. The idea of a geographically defined “district bureaucracy” deciding where a student must enroll, based on his/her address, would shock most people in the world.

    Typically, in choice-based systems, parents choose schools not based on some weird annual “performance” criteria. Because the schools are all free and nondiscriminatory, families choose based on a whole basket of factors like location, instructional approaches, discipline policies, the reputation of the school in educating students like their own, the “focus” of the school (college prep, arts, science and engineering, career prep) and so on. We think parents would choose solely on test-based “performance”, because we have so many lousy schools that people would do almost anything to escape. And because we don’t let people actually choose their child’s school, we have to rely on all of these second-hand, top-down, test-based performance indicators that don’t actually provide much useful information

    Most advanced countries do not have the tremendous disparities among schools that we have, because ALL of their schools have been accountable, long enough, to be performing within an acceptable range. Schools become known for doing well in certain areas, with certain types of students, and they tend to focus on that. If they didn’t respond to student needs, their enrollment would dwindle to nothing, and no one ever wants that to happen. So get this — they adjust and get better. Yes, certain schools are always in more demand, and people don’t always get their first choice. But when I talk to parents in Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, etc. their challenge is usually around choosing among multiple good schools for their child. Being “stuck” with one school because of their address would seem ridiculous to them. Because it is.

  10. Doctor J Says:

    UCLA Study shows suspensions do more harm than good: “Researchers found that while suspension rates for Asian and white students remained largely unchanged between 1973 and 2010, suspension rates for African-American and Latino students doubled.”

  11. Giorgio C. Says:

    The WCCUSD high schools in the poorest communities have multiple school “academies” for law, biotech, Health-Science, and others. In the more affluent WCCUSD community of Hercules, the high school has only one academy. This one academy is for “Hospitality Management.” In Hercules, students are encouraged to seek hotel management jobs. In Richmond, students are encouraged to pursue law, biotech, and Health-Science careers.

    You can’t say the WCCUSD isn’t trying to provide at-risk students with opportunities.

  12. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Giorgio, Many MDUSD high schools also have such academies. In fact , both MDUSD and WCCSD are part of a “Linked Learning” pilot program to provide college and career paths for students. The pilot is intended to get schools from different dists to share and collaborate more.

  13. Doctor J Says:

    EdSource released the comparisons of how the top 50 districts in California will fare under Gov Brown’s Local Control Formula. A positive number in the last column indicates less under the LCCF — Mt. Diablo would lose $632 per student under Gov. Brown’s proposal, but still have over $9000 ADA per student.

  14. Theresa Harrington Says:

    According to the EdSource spreadsheet, WCCUSD would gain $456 per student under LCFF, but SRVUSD would lose $1,420 per student.

  15. Doctor J Says:

    Great article today about disproportionality in the SIA Cabinet Report on the recent Federal Government Accountabiliy Agency study on disproportionality. The GAO found only 356 districts in ALL of the USA were “significantly disproportionate” and California had the lowest rates. But guess what ? MDUSD is on that list — one of the worst of the worst and Steven Lawrence led us there. “The GAO found that California ranked among states with the lowest rates of disproportionality, with less than 5 percent of districts being cited for spending sanctions.” “Last fall, more aggressive federal attention on the disproportionality issue resulted in nearly 50 California districts being cited and required to undertake correction for mislabeling students. There is a sense that more districts are likely to follow this year. ” The article provides a link to the complete GAO report just in case you have insomnia some night. 🙂

  16. g Says:

    It seems to me that Lawrence and this district can “smell” money to be had. Have they delayed actual implimentation of Equity Standards or Significant Educational Improvements?

    Sink low enough and there are ALWAYS more Federal Dollars to be had, and that means more dollars for the very same employees and contractors who should have never let the downgrading happen in the first place.

  17. Doctor J Says:

    @G#16 To a certain extent you are largely correct, but once our district hit “Program Improvement” 15% of the Title 1 funds had to be spent on “staff development”. No rules how wisely it must be spent so we see the recent $20,000 party trip down to Whittier without any report to the Board. Once the district went from disproportionate to “significantly disproportionate”, again the Federal Government mandates percentages be spent on certain things — but no rules on how wisely. So how did this all happen on Steven Lawrence’s watch ? As Captain of the ship, he should have been manning the bridge commanding the ship’s course. Instead, he spent the first few months working almost exclusively on the solar bond issue, instead of evaluation the state of the district. Then he immediately launched into the formation of the SASS, and it has never even come close to meeting the intended purposes and methods he announced — either he never intended it to or else he failed to supervise Rose Lock, Asst Supt SASS. Anyway you cut it, he let the district get out of control fast and doesn’t have the know-how to fix it. Its time for a change.

  18. g Says:

    And don’t forget, after ‘studying’ our fall into Disproportionality status in 2008, we finally fell right off the cliff and that got us another million+ more to do what? Hire more consultants, pay extra to “team” employees and “Study” it some more.

    From 2008 to 2013 what did we get? Another Power Point on where we are, and where we need to go—when we finish studying it.

  19. Teacher Says:

    What happened at Tuesday’s closed session board meetings?

  20. Teacher Says:

    Please disregard previous post I think meeting s next Tuesday

  21. Flippin' Tired Says:

    Aren’t there ANY schools in MDUSD that are bringing up scores for low income and minority students? What are they doing right? I’ve heard about Ygnacio Valley Elementary’s “rounds” and it sounds like a good program. Any idea what it’s all about?

  22. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I have not heard of that program. Also, it appears that SIG schools have made gains. Data analysis and Professional Learning Communities seem to help, along with high expectations and the belief that every child can succeed. Professional development also seems to help.
    I know that several schools also have various programs addressing school climate, which may help.

  23. Doctor J Says:

    @FT The SIG schools made massive improvements in the SECOND year when the Feds required them to implement the required “increased insructional time” requirement of SIG that Steven Lawrence and Rose Lock had promised but ignored in the first year. So afer the Feds and State audit, the Feds shut off the money unil a Corrective Action Plan was actually implemented — they didn’t trust them the second time around to just “promise”. That funding ends this year, and it doesn’t appear that Steven Lawrence intends to keep it going for these schools. All of the federal research shows that increased instructional time is one of the most important factors for low socio economic and English learners to improve their learning. Instead of being a lesson learned — it is a lesson forgotton — putting the children second to raises for the administration and teachers.

  24. g Says:

    Trying to straighten out When, What time and What for on board meetings for the next several days.

    Tomorrow, THURS. 4/11 8:30pm Employee Dismissal etc. does not say how many employees or other details.

    ***(Theresa your Times story at 5:30 today says “Tuesday”–did you mean Thurs? If so, can you change it?)

    Monday, 4/15, 6:30 with Pleasant Hill Council
    Tuesday, 4/16, 2:00 Equity Advisory Team
    Tuesday, 4/16, 6:30 Special Board (no Agenda yet)
    Monday, 4/22, Next regular meeting.

  25. Theresa Harrington Says:

    g: Meeting today is at 6 p.m. Our editors changed it in print and I have asked online editors to change it on our website.

    Also, here are a couple other stories about MDUSD:
    Oak Grove MS teacher on leave after allegedly hitting student with wrapping paper roll:

    And MDUSD honors its two district Teachers of the Year:

  26. Anon Says:

    g@24 & Theresa, I believe Theresa posted on the other blog string that tonight’s meeting relates to two employees and is a continuation of the 3/27 meeting. I understood from her post that she obtained this information from Hansen; Hansen also told Theresa that Ochoa & Moore will not be advising the board tonight. Theresa, is that correct?

  27. g Says:

    Thanks Theresa, but the district’s website says tonight’s start time is 8:30. Wierd late start time.

    Most curious to know of any updates to Borenstein’s months of dalayed PRA requests. Is he getting files? Any smoking guns in the files? Or was the entire holdback just Rolen doggedness on display?

    Or are they still digging for more?

  28. Theresa Harrington Says:

    It turns out the meeting time was changed because one board member couldn’t make it at 6 p.m. Board President Cheryl Hansen left me a message confirming that the meeting will concern the same two employees listed on the March 27 closed session. She said she anticipates the meeting will last about two hours.
    Anon: You are correct that the law firm will not be participating in tonight’s meeting. Hansen said trustees do not need the law firm tonight.

  29. Doctor J Says:

    I guess it will be a late night — take a pot of coffee.

  30. Doctor J Says:

    I was thinking after the Board meeting tonight, perhaps a gathering at the Buttercup might be appropriate ? 🙂

  31. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s the Contra Costa County Office of Education announcement of 22 Teacher of the Year reps, including two each from MDUSD, SRVUSD and WCCUSD:

  32. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s a CC Times database where you can look up dropout rates by school district:

  33. Vindex Says:

    When did scientists and data become the barometer of good teaching? We act like the students are measurible Petri dishes. We analyze, collect data, add variables, collect data, and we have best practices! This works in the lab of a well controlled easily replicated study, but classrooms are not labs. Learning is very difficult to measure. Theresa, I’m sorry to say, that I disagree with your approach to data, student achievement. You are a FANTASTIC journalist, but your worldview is wrong on this issue. It is very apparent that you have not taught in a classroom as you would realize that teaching is 90% art and 10% science. The human mind, heart, soul is extremely complicated and science cannot explain these things. Sure brain research is helpful (science), but it can’t explain how an amazing teacher can help a 13 year old relate to the exploits of U S Grant during the civil war. So, administrators and many teachers bow down to science to explain human learning and are praised as progressive. However, ask any student at any school, and they will never mention those teachers as the great teachers. Good, yes, great, no. They will mention the teacher who has perfected the ART of teaching and has inspired them to become life long learners of that subject. Sure the science based approach gives us structure and comfort, but it isn’t the most effective based on thousand of years of teaching models

  34. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Vindex: I am only reporting on the data that is being released. Many schools have had success in analyzing test data to find out what students are learning, then tailoring their instruction to target areas in which students are having trouble.
    But, obviously, data analysis alone is not the ticket to success. I hear over and over again that the keys to success are “rigor, relevance and relationships.” Teachers who are able to make rigorous curriculum relevant to their students while building personal relationships with them are the most successful, based on what I have heard from many experts.
    Certainly teaching can be considered an “art,” but it is also important for teachers to assess whether or not their students are learning what is being taught. If not, the teaching method may need to be tweaked.

  35. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here is a blog post aimed at inspiring teachers:

  36. vindex Says:

    Theresa: Well said. Thank you. I fear the pendulum swings to far one way of the other. Relationships, Rigor and Relevance… Perfect

  37. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Thanks. Again, I just want to clarify that these are not my ideas. These are ideas that I have heard many times at education reporter conferences focused on what works.

  38. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here is a webinar about getting it done with challenging school populations:

  39. Doctor J Says:

    We still haven’t heard a report from Bill Morones on the $20,000 Whittier trip — when ?

  40. g Says:

    What? You want a report? You mean like the one we didn’t get when Morones took his hand-picked team from the YV feeder pattern to Oregon for RtI training in 2011?

    How’s that RtI training working out two years later? Are those trainees now training the rest of staff? No? We still need more RtI contracts?

    How many district employees are now considered ‘certified’ in RtI–?

  41. Doctor J Says:

    G, but it was a hell-of-a party.

  42. Theresa Harrington Says:

    g: You make a good point about that Rti training. As I pointed out when the disproportionality plan was released, most of the “new” ideas in it appear to actually be old ideas that were never adequately implemented districtwide, including Rti.
    Hopefully, the board will follow up on this to ensure that it is really being implemented effectively at all school sites now that disproportionality is at stake.
    Other “new” old ideas include student support teams and support calls from teachers that are supposed to result in immediate intervention by administrators when students are acting up. But, as the OGMS whistle-blowers pointed out, that wasn’t really happening.
    Going on staff development field trips and creating impressive plans isn’t enough, if the practices and plans aren’t well-implemented.

  43. g Says:

    What they get from Staff Development field trips seems to be just another line on their resume. What the district gets is the bill. What the students get…? Oh yeah…Subs.

  44. Doctor J Says:

    The STAR tests will tell the truth if there is actual learning going on — or if is just SSDD.

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