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Education reform advocate touts charter schools, online learning

Many education reformers focus their attention on low-income schools with a high percentage of English language learners and students who are in ethnic minorities.

But, Lance Izumi — an author and senior director for education at the Pacific Research Institute public policy think tank — says suburban campuses that don’t at first appear to fit the profile of low-performing schools can also benefit from education reforms.

During a recent speech to the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association in Pleasant Hill, Izumi highlighted Clayton Valley High School in Concord as an example of such a campus.

“At Clayton Valley, less than two out of 10 students are socio-economically disadvantaged, which means that the large majority of students are not from low-income families, and probably most are middle class,” he said. “Many people would therefore assume that the school would be higher performing. If you look at Clayton Valley test scores, however, one sees some real problems.”

He said 42 percent of 11th-graders failed to score proficient in English last spring.

“It was much worse in math,” Izumi said, “with a combined 68 percent of 11th graders taking the Algebra II and summative math exams failing to score at proficiency.”

Here is a link to a video of his speech:

Izumi also referred to a Global Report Card at, which shows how students in districts in the United States compare to students in countries such as Singapore, Canada and Switzerland.

He touted online learning as a good way to reach all types of students — from remedial to advanced, including English language learners and children with autism — saying programs adjust to students’ learning levels.

Some in the audience were receptive to his message, while others were skeptical.

Rene Maher, of Pleasant Hill, said she sent her children to parochial schools because she wasn’t satisfied with local public schools. However, she was encouraged by statistics cited by Izumi about improvement achieved at some schools in California with charters and online programs.

Some West Contra Costa district parents, on the other hand, told me they would have preferred that Izumi focus on improving teaching in the classroom. They questioned whether one purpose of his speech was to sell his books, which he referenced a few times.

Do you believe charter schools and online education offer suitable alternatives to traditional public school programs?

Posted on Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Under: California, Clayton, Concord, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, West Contra Costa school district | 1 Comment »

A closer look at spending and test scores in East Bay schools

A recent study by California Watch has found no correlation between the amount of money school districts spend per student and their level of academic achievement on test scores.

The study compared 2009-10 school district per student spending and 2010 Academic Performance Index (API) scores.

For each district, the study showed whether spending and scores fell into the top 25 percent, median 50 percent or bottom 25 percent. Based on this data, I looked at which East Bay districts got the biggest bang for their bucks, as well as those that didn’t.

However, it is important to note that elementary districts receive less funding from the state than unified districts and high school districts receive more, based on the increased costs of running unified and high school districts. 

BEST BANG FOR BUCKS (Spending in bottom 25 percent, with academic achievement in top 25 percent):
Brentwood elementary: spent $6,918 per student, API of 840
Castro Valley unified: spent $7,429 per student, API of 854
Fremont unified: spent $7,449 per student, API of 868
Walnut Creek elementary: spent $7,345 per student, API of 907

BIGGEST DISCONNECT BETWEEN SPENDING AND SCORES (Spending in top 25 percent, with performance in bottom 25 percent):
Emery unified: spent $13,680 per student, API of 709
Oakland unified: spent $10,958 per student, API of 719

For districts that didn’t land at one end or the other, I looked to see if spending was in the median range of $8,213 per student, compared to the median score of 783.

Districts that spent in the median range, but got test results in the top 25 percent, appeared to be getting a good bang for their bucks.

GOOD BANG FOR BUCKS (Median range spending, with API in top 25 percent):
Acalanes High: spent $9,327, API of 899
Dublin unified: spent $7,945, API of 878
Orinda elementary: spent $9,473, API of 954
Pleasanton unified: spent $7,599, API of 906
San Ramon Valley unified: spent $7,824, API of 916
Sunol Glen unified: spent $8,416, API of 909

Those that spent in the high or median range, but scored lower, appeared to be getting poorer performance for their money.

Top 25 percent of spending, but median API:
Berkeley unified: spent $12,092, API of 785

Median spending, API in bottom 25 percent:
Pittsburg unified: spent $7,995, API of 718
San Leandro unified: spent $7,709, API of 730
West Contra Costa unified: spent $8,899, API of 696

In several districts, the level of spending appeared to match the level of achievement.

Piedmont unified: spent $11,589, API of 925

Alameda city unified: spent $8,630, API of 833
Livermore Valley unified: spent $8,213, API of 822
Mountain House elementary: spent $8,707, API 743
Mt. Diablo unified: spent $8,199, API of 784
New Haven unified: spent $8,182, API of 777
Newark unified: spent $8,089, API of 762
San Lorenzo unified: spent $8,096, API of 739

LOW SPENDING AND LOW PERFORMANCE (Bottom 25 percent for both):
Antioch unified: spent $7,578, API of 732

The complete California Watch database is at

NOTE: New 2011 API scores were released last week.

Do you think local districts are spending their money wisely?

Posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2011
Under: California, East Bay, Education | 80 Comments »

Does California adequately fund education?

Our Contra Costa Times readers’ forum question this week was: “Do you think California is adequately funding education?”

Unfortunately we were only able to fit six responses into our print edition, which were from West Contra Costa County and Dublin. Here are a few more responses from Central, East and West Contra Costa County readers, which I’m posting below, in case blog readers would like to add to the dialogue:

“Invest in future
California is not adequately funding education. Education is the engine of innovation, opportunity, and raising the tide for all boats. Growing the economy, maintaining public health, reducing crime, and pursuing the American dream all require increased investment in public education.

The motto of the University of California is: ‘Let there be light.’ I was fortunate to be a UC undergraduate at a time when I and everyone I knew there believed that it represented the pursuit of excellence.

I also believe that it is in the interest of all of us for the best and the brightest to go into teaching. No aspiration is worthier than excellence in education, and no segment of society is more important than educators. So educators should be among the most highly paid.

The University of California was a major factor in making California one of the biggest economies in the world. Investing much more in all levels of education in California is the best way to grow our way out of our current economic doldrums. Let’s do it!
Diddo Clark

Wasted money
President Jimmy Carter did not mince his words in 1980 by asking Americans to live with their means and lost the election to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan went on a massive military spending spree, and we have not recovered from that mindset 30 years later.

Why, when the entire nation is suffering from cutbacks in services and education, are we still spending such enormous treasures on defense and senseless wars?

Our country is bleeding from the wounds of war and military spending — $7 trillion in the last 10 years alone! We can’t afford this anymore.

The Joint Strike Fighter is an example of military spending gone wild. Each plane costs $144 million (maintenance aside) and we’re planning to acquire 2,500 of these.

I say reduce the number of these preposterously expensive war machines by half and fund colleges in the U.S. to the tune of $170 billion over the next 10 years. Now that would be money well spent.
Ismail Mahomed
San Ramon

Get rid of babble
California’s funding of education would probably be adequate if we could rid the system of sociological psychobabble indoctrination.

Public education should be based on an objective curriculum using teachers who do not use their position of power as a conduit for their social; agendas.

The nonacademic values that should be taught are responsibility, accountability, patriotism, self-reliance and honest economics, not the crony capitalism that politicians love.
Edward Zawatson

Cutbacks hurt
Having spent nine years in California’s public school system and now attending a private high school, I can see the difference that lack of funding creates.

Nine years ago, before California was in a debt crisis and when I was in kindergarten, the public schools in California (specifically my hometown, Brentwood) were absolutely outstanding.

I was able to take advantage of art, music, and computer programs, which were available at my elementary school on a weekly basis and were each taught by a different instructor for all six years that I attended.

Now there is no art or computer teacher and these programs are in the hands of the classroom teacher. While the music program remains intact, it is available only to fourth and fifth graders.

Evidently, there is a substantial difference between public elementary schools now compared to when I was an elementary school student.

Still with these cutbacks, I have had the privilege of being taught by many wonderful people in the past nine years. Though teachers have been subjected to many pay cuts, they have provided quality education to California’s students.
Adriana Ghiozzi

When I went into teaching as a second career, I knew what the real work hours were; my ex-wife was a teacher during the 14 years we were married.

Between 2005 and today, my average class size has increased over 45 percent. While my paid work hours and salary have not changed much, my unpaid hours have dramatically increased. All of this is due to the underfunding of education.

This is not an increase in efficiency, but rather a large decrease in actual education. With larger class sizes, I have less time to individually help students who need it. Classroom management time has increased, and education time has decreased in each period.

Some students might not act up with 27 students in the class but will with 40. We need to reduce class sizes with more teachers.

We, as a society, cannot afford to not spend more on students. Employment in California is dependent on an adequately educated workforce.

Outside of districts such as San Ramon and Acalanes, which can get more funding from parents, public education is generally not creating the next generation workforce. This will cost all of us in the future far more than any tax increase.
Arthur Pruyn

Fully fund
No. We have less per pupil spending then the majority of states. Public education is not a form of welfare, as some think.

Privatization is not the answer. Fully funded and supported public institutions create a sense of common purpose and hope for all economic brackets.

Tax rates should be returned to previous levels to pay for social stability. We should live up to our Christian nation hype and be our ‘brothers’ keeper.’
Wendy Brubaker

Do you think the state funds education adequately?

Posted on Monday, September 5th, 2011
Under: California, Contra Costa County, Education | 9 Comments »

No Child Left Behind: the federal education reform act everybody loves to hate

Educators across the state and country are struggling with what many view as an impossible task: bringing all students up to proficient levels in math and English in the next three years.

The task-master is the federal government, which has mandated success in every school that receives federal funding for its low-income students, under the law called No Child Left Behind.

But the mandate, established under President George W. Bush, has proven so difficult to achieve that it has become known among public relations and marketing professionals as “the most negative brand in the United States,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, during an education town hall meeting last month in Pleasant Hill.

“We’re trying to rewrite the Elementary Secondary Education Act,” said Miller, who is the ranking Democrat on the Education and Workforce Committee. “You can’t say No Child Left Behind. It’s really negative.”

The rewrite is four years overdue, causing Miller to refer to it as static and outdated. Yet, he defended its goals.

“One of the efforts in that legislation was to begin to shine a light on what was taking place in our K-12 system,” said Miller, who helped write the law 10 years ago.

Before that, states and school districts touted average test scores to the public, often showing gains each year. Under this system, a majority of high-achieving students could give the public the impression that all students were doing well, while ignoring the minority that weren’t learning what they were supposed to.

“What we were doing is we were whipping the top 10 or 20 percent of students a little bit harder to bring up the averages and we only reported the averages,” Miller said. “And when things got difficult, usually we’d change the exam.”

When the tests changed, education officials told the public the scores couldn’t be compared to those from previous years. Thus, the testing system enabled educational agencies to continue glossing over those students who weren’t achieving at grade level.

“We were hiding from you what was happening in schools,” Miller said.

No Child Left Behind forced schools to acknowledge that some students — especially those who were poor, black, Latino, English language learners or students with disabilities — were falling through the cracks.

Nationwide, only 6 or 7 percent of minority students were reading at grade level by fourth grade, Miller said. By eighth grade, only 9 to 12 percent were proficient in math.

“We have a problem,” Miller said he and others on the committee agreed. “So, we said that we wanted the states to start to be accountable for the schools and what was going on in them. And we wanted to know how each and every child was doing.”

But the federal government didn’t dictate how states measured students’ progress, he said. Instead, it allowed each state to develop its own assessments.

“It was very controversial at the time,” Miller said. “We found out there was a huge division in America, most of it based on minority and income. Yes, in fact were leaving children behind. We were leaving them behind in droves.”

As a result of the federal government’s intervention, the reading achievement gap nationwide has narrowed and substantial gains have been made in math, Miller said.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” he said.

Still, he said No Child Left Behind needs to be changed. He doesn’t think drastic decisions should be made based on one percentage point, resulting in labeling teachers and schools as “failures.”

“I think what we need to do is dramatically different than what we’re doing now,” Miller said.

He’s a big proponent of common core curriculum standards to be taught in every state, preparing students for college and careers. So far, 47 governors have signed onto the idea, but details still need to be worked out.

Miller also wants all children to have access to highly qualified teachers. Right now, he said, a poor child has a one in seven chance of having a teacher without any background in math.

In addition, he supports federal funding for early childhood education, which he said provides the best bang for the government’s bucks.

“Good early childhood education is the greatest predictor of success,” Miller said. “If it didn’t matter, why is it that rich people fight one another to get their kids into a program?”

What do you think is the appropriate role of the federal government in education?

Posted on Thursday, September 1st, 2011
Under: California, Education, United States | 31 Comments »

Lots of blame, but less accountability with state’s School Improvement Grants

Glenbrook Middle School students gather in the school library. The Mt. Diablo school district received a $1.7 million three-year School Improvement Grant to help boosts test scores, but forfeited nearly $1.2 million after trustees decided to close the campus.

Glenbrook Middle School students gather in the school library. The Mt. Diablo school district received a $1.7 million three-year School Improvement Grant to help boosts test scores, but forfeited nearly $1.2 million after trustees decided to close the campus.

The state Board of Education meeting on Wednesday showed that when it comes to failing schools, there’s a lot of blame to go around, but seemingly less accountability.


As the board considered about $500 million in federal School Improvement Grants, discussion included blaming the U.S. Department of Education for failing to communicate clear and consistent guidelines, blaming California Department of Education staff for lax administration and oversight of the grants, blaming the state Department of Finance for denying a request for more money to send staffers on school site visits and blaming school districts for failing to reform their schools as promised.

Blameless in the discussions were the people the grants were supposed to help: struggling students. Yet, these students could suffer as result of failures by the agencies entrusted with helping them.

Although the discussions revealed several flaws in the process, the overriding failure by all agencies appeared to be one of communication.

If the federal government had communicated its expectations and grant requirements consistently and clearly from the beginning of the grant process, the state would have been better able to communicate those requirements to districts. But since the state wasn’t clear on the requirements, it gave often confusing advice to districts.

Districts wrote up applications based on this advice, trying to meet the requirements as they understood them. For 2010-11, the state approved 41 applications and disbursed the first year of more than $400 million in three-year grant funding, with the expectation that districts would follow through on their plans.

In March, the federal government sent representatives to three districts that received the grants to see how the money was being spent. The visits revealed that many schools had not done what they promised, such as replacing principals or other staff, increasing instruction time for all students and providing time for teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and other improvement strategies.

This led the U.S. Department of Education to send the state a highly critical report, outlining four areas in which California failed to administer and monitor the grants appropriately. Stung by the criticism, the state reviewed all 41 applications based on this new feedback and found that in most of schools, the plans didn’t meet federal requirements or weren’t being implemented on time.

Yet, the state didn’t officially inform districts of this until Monday, when it published a list of schools that needed “corrective plans” to come into compliance with the grant program in order to receive the second year of funding they were expecting for 2011-12.

In a stunning move, the state also denied all 25 applications it received for up to $69 million in new funding intended to help additional schools starting in the fall, saying the planned reforms weren’t rigorous enough. Since most districts wrote their new applications based on what worked the first time around, many felt blindsided by the denials.

Some district reps showed up to the meeting to oppose the denials, but were unable to explain why they thought their applications should be approved, because the state hadn’t yet given them any feedback.

Everybody was frustrated.

Trustees were frustrated by the “searing” report from the U.S. Department of Education. State Department of Education staffers were frustrated by being caught in the middle without fully understanding the rules. Districts were frustrated from being pushed and pulled one way, then the other, only to be told in the end that they hadn’t adequately followed directions.

A few earnestly insisted they were doing what was required and were being unfairly punished by the state. Others laid low, quietly waiting and watching to see if they’d get another chance to make things right.


Despite all the finger-pointing, the state Board of Education ultimately decided to dispense what amounted to “tough love” to districts. Trustees informed districts that the leniency to which they had grown accustomed has ended.

Now, districts throughout the state are scrambling to ramp up their efforts the get the money. If they succeed, the students they are supposed to be helping may receive much-needed instructional improvements.

But if districts are unable to comply with federal requirements by the first day of school, they won’t get more money and students may not get the help they were promised.

Are you satisfied that the board’s actions will prompt schools to implement required reforms as promised?

Posted on Friday, July 15th, 2011
Under: California, Education | 72 Comments »

36 Contra Costa and Alameda county students to receive ROP awards

Thirty-six students from Contra Costa and Alameda county schools will be honored Wednesday for outstanding achievement in Regional Occupational Program classes that give them hands-on experience in fields such as computer graphics, culinary arts and journalism (my personal favorite).

The Contra Costa County Office of Education administers the 361 state-of-the-art classes, which serve 11,000 students in 33 high schools Contra Costa and Alameda county high schools. ies that .

The teens will receive their “Students of Excellence” awards for outstanding achievement in ROP classes from 4-5 p.m. at the Lafayette Veterans Memorial Building, 3780 Mt. Diablo Blvd. in Lafayette.

Each student will each receive a certificate of merit and a $200 scholarship.

Congrats to the winners! (List is alphabetical by city)

Albany High School
Albert Chang, Computer Graphics, Instructor Jeff Castle
Cristina Spampinato, Culinary Arts, Instructor Leone Avery

Antioch High School
Garrick Ridolfi, Advanced Automotive Technology, Instructor Bobby Sturgeon

Deer Valley High School
Jazmine White, Journalism Productions, Instructor Charleen Earley

Berkeley High School
Madeline Angell, Sports Medicine, Instructor Jamie Faison
Camilla Dayrit, Advanced Photography, Instructor Lucinda Daly

Heritage High School
Sophia Ackelbein, Publications/Yearbook, Instructor Ken Silman
Kathryne Barsanti, Architectural Design, Instructor Barbara Worden
Patrick Berhan, Law Enforcement Careers, Instructor Matt Carr

Liberty High School
Jessica Caraballo, Desktop Publishing, Instructor Sharon Johnson
Starkisha Haskell, Medical Front Office, Instructor Cindy Powell

Concord High School
Christian Salazar, Accounting, Instructor Laurie Harris

San Ramon Valley High School
Jackie Lang, AP Environmental Science, Instructor Cindy Egan

Monte Vista High School
Alexander DeBoni, AP Computer Science, Instructor Bhupinder Anwar

Hercules High School
Chloe Lew, Journalism Productions, Instructor Natalie Wojinski
Richie Phelps, Careers in Teaching, Instructor Janet Headington

Acalanes High School
Blake Marggraff, Accelerated Biotechnology and Research, Instructor Jay Chugh

Alhambra High School
Erin McCauley, Advanced Sports Medicine, Instructor Scott Pygeorge
Mike Railton, Cabinetmaking, Instructor Jay Heeb

Campolindo High School
Jarrett Milner, AP Computer Science, Instructor Carol Paymer

Freedom High School
Eric Stone, Fire Science, Instructor Ben Whitener
Shannon Nuku, ROP Careers with Children, Instructor Elizabeth Rodriguez

Piedmont High School
Katherine Lim, Sports Medicine, Instructor Stan Nakahara

Pinole Valley High School
Devon Powell, Sports Medicine, Instructor Dan O’Shea

Pittsburg High School
Jasmine Juarez, Accounting, Instructor Phil Lucido
Ajay Kumar, Architectural Design, Instructor Andreas Kaiser

Richmond High School
Maria Martinez-Resendiz, Advanced Photography, Instructor John Ohlmann

Kennedy High School
Brian Phan, Digital Photography, Instructor, Steve Pinto
German Rodriguez, Advanced Web Design, Instructor Lane Good
JeremyWard, Computer Systems Maintenance, Instructor Alex Pakter

California High School
Talaivosa Hingano, Advanced Sports Medicine, Instructor Shane Borchert
Steven Lau, Journalism Productions, Instructor Brian Barr
Sydney Venierakis, Careers in Teaching, Instructor Cindy Bonagura

Dougherty Valley High School
Jason Jirjis, Advanced Sports Medicine, Instructor Juli Westcott
PamelaSendee, Careers in Teaching, Instructor Tom Ladouceur

Las Lomas High School
Masha Ksendzova, Analytic Forensic Science, Instructor Peat Sutherland

More information about the program is available by visiting Click on “ROP Students of Excellence Awards Ceremony.”

Do you think ROP classes are valuable?

Posted on Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
Under: Contra Costa County Office of Education, Education, Theresa Harrington | No Comments »

Will school districts follow state’s lead in canceling nonessential travel?

Although Mt. Diablo school board President Gary Eberhart has suggested that the district eliminate overnight travel to cut costs, the superintendent has not recommended such a budget reduction. Instead, the idea has been added to a list of potential reductions to be considered in the future.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson are taking decisive actions to eliminate such costs, due to the budget crisis.

Following the governor’s lead, Torlakson issued a letter to district and county superintendents and charter school administrators today (Friday) canceling the May 2011 School Recognition Awards Ceremony at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.

The program would have recognized Distinguished Schools, Blue Ribbon schools and Title 1 Academic Achievement Award schools.

“This difficult but necessary step will result not only in significant savings, but will also relieve districts of making an equally difficult decision whether to spend scarce funds to allow school staff to attend,” Torlakson wrote. “Some have called to express concerns about their ability to participate in the event.”

He pledged to continue working to remedy the state’s “fiscal emergency.”

“I look forward to the day when the state’s financial situation allows me to reinstate this wonderful event to recognize deserving teachers, classified employees, and administrators for their exemplary accomplishments,” he wrote.

Do you think all school districts should eliminate nonessential travel during the state budget crisis?

Posted on Friday, April 29th, 2011
Under: California, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 33 Comments »

11 East Bay middle and high schools named “Distinguished”

Congratulations to the 11 middle and high schools in the East Bay named today as “2011 California Distinguished Schools.”

Here’s a list of the East Bay winners:


Alameda City Unified: Lincoln Middle School

Albany City Unified: Albany High School

Fremont Unified: Mission San Jose High School

Oakland Unified: American Indian Public Charter Middle, American Indian Public Charter School II Middle, American Indian Public High, KIPP Bridge Charter Middle, Montera Middle School

San Lorenzo Unified: KIPP Summit Academy Middle School


Antioch Unified: Dozier-Libbey Medical High School (was also one of five schools in state to earn the “Exemplary Career Technical Education Program” award)

Brentwood Union Elementary: William B. Bristow Middle School

Here’s the news release from the California Department of Education:

“SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today announced 97 exemplary California public middle and high schools were selected as 2011 California Distinguished Schools as the state’s prestigious awards program celebrates its silver anniversary…

‘These schools are being recognized for attaining high levels of performance and sustained growth, and for making significant progress in closing the academic achievement gap,’ Torlakson said. “Becoming a Distinguished School is a direct reflection of the dedication, hard work, and vision of each school’s education community. They have succeeded despite a bleak economic environment and have endeavored to maintain their momentum and focus.’

In addition, five of the newly designated Distinguished Schools also earned the Exemplary Career Technical Education Program Award for offering exemplary career technical education programs…

The California School Recognition Program is now in its 25th year and honors the state’s most exemplary and inspiring public schools with the California Distinguished School Award. The 97 schools identified today join more than 5,300 public schools that have been designated or redesignated a Distinguished School since the program began in 1986.

Although participation is voluntary, the award is highly sought after by schools in all areas of the state. Elementary and secondary schools are recognized during alternate years.

Schools earning the Distinguished School title this year agree to share their Signature Practices with other schools and serve as mentors to other educators who want to replicate their work. An updated searchable database of these Signature Practices will be available later this spring by the California Department of Education.

To view the current Signature Practices Website, please visit

The 2011 California Distinguished Schools are geographically diverse with locations in small rural communities, suburban neighborhoods, and large urban cities. Most have significant populations of students living in poverty or learning English. Regardless of the setting, all these schools have teachers and principals committed to ensuring student success.

Schools were identified for eligibility on the basis of their Academic Performance Index ( and Adequate Yearly Progress ( results, which are the state and federal accountability models, respectively.

The applicants were also identified by their success in narrowing the achievement gap that exists between higher-performing and lower-performing students. All applicants underwent a stringent selection process conducted by the California Department of Education with the help of many educators from across the state. Each applicant was required to describe two Signature Practices that have led to an increase in student achievement and a narrowing of the achievement gap. Applicants were then selected to receive a thorough site visit to validate the Signature Practices.

The 2011 California Distinguished Schools will be honored during an awards ceremony and dinner at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim on May 20, 2011. Also being honored during the ceremony will be schools selected last month as Title I Academic Achievement Awardees and California’s nominees for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program.

The event and awards are funded by donations from many of California’s most prominent corporations and statewide educational organizations.”

The complete list of 2011 California Distinguished Schools is at

Last year, Delta View Elementary in Bay Point and Hidden Valley Elementary in Martinez were named as California Distinguished Elementary Schools in the Mt. Diablo school district. Delta View has shared some of its “signature practices” with other schools in the district.

Do you think this sharing of “signature practices” is making a difference?

Posted on Tuesday, April 12th, 2011
Under: California, Education, Theresa Harrington | 5 Comments »

Three East Bay educators named to new state Superintendent of Public Instruction’s transition advisory team

By Theresa Harrington

Outgoing state Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, who will be sworn in as State Superintendent of Public Instruction on Monday, has announced the formation of a transition advisory team that includes three East Bay educators.

The team, which will provide strategic advice to Torlakson during his first few months in office, includes Mt. Diablo High School vice principal and teacher Liane Cismowski, Antioch Superintendent Donald Gill, and Tim Sbranti, who is Mayor of Dublin and teaches at Dublin High School.

Torlakson expects team members to help him identify and set goals to address key issues that affect students, schools, districts, and the California Department of Education. He has named Linda Darling Hammond and David Rattray as co-chairs of the team.

Darling Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University. Rattray is senior vice president of Education & Workforce Development for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and President of UNITE LA.

“I am delighted Linda and David have agreed to lead my Transition Advisory Team during this extremely challenging time, and that so many outstanding teachers and other stakeholders have come forward to be part of this team,” Torlakson said in a prepared statement. “I know their comprehensive knowledge of the issues facing our students and schools will be enormously valuable as we work to chart the best course for California’s schools.”

He expects his team members to join working groups to discuss key issues, such as:
- School finance reform and funding
- Curriculum and assessment
- Accountability and data
- Educator preparation and evaluation
- Early childhood learning
- Education supports for the whole child
- Secondary transformation (including linked learning, career technical education and A-G guidelines)
- Flexibility and efficiency initiatives, school facilities/construction reform and modernization.

Here’s the complete list of team members in alphabetical order by last name:

Catherine Atkin, President, Preschool California
William Barr, Lecturer, University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Education; former Monterey County Superintendent of Schools
Cruz Bustamante, Former Lt. Governor, State of California
Dennis Cima, Senior Vice President, Education & Public Policy, Silicon Valley Leadership Group
Liane Cismowski, Vice Principal and Teacher, Mt. Diablo High School, Concord
Yvonne de la Peña, Program Director, California Fire Fighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee
Cesar Diaz, Legislative Director, State Building and Construction Trades Council of California
Jim Dierke, Principal, Visitacion Valley Middle School, San Francisco Unified School District
Linda Galliher Vice President, Education and Healthcare, Bay Area Council
Patricia Gándara, Professor, UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences and Co-Director, UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles
Abigail Garcia, Teacher, Animo Leadership Charter High School, Inglewood
Donald Gill, Superintendent, Antioch Unified School District
Jay Hansen, Chief Strategy Officer, California Medical Association
Marty Hittelman, President, California Federation of Teachers
Adam Hodess, Commissioner, California Apprenticeship Council, Division of Apprenticeship Standards. Business Manager, UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 159
Mat Holton, Superintendent, Chaffey Joint Union High School District in Southern California
Richard Jackson, Professor, UCLA School of Public Health and former California State Public Health Officer
Ann Johnston, Mayor of Stockton
Maureen Kindel, Chair of the Board of Visitors, Loyola Marymount University School of Education
Diane Levitt, Executive Director, Safe Cities Foundation
Ted Lempert, President, Children Now
Bill Lloyd, President, SEIU California State Council
Dave Long, Former California Secretary of Education
Sonia Martin-Solis, Teacher, Hillcrest Drive Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District
Charles McMinn, Co-Founder and Former CEO, Covad Communications
Hydra Mendoza, School Board Member, San Francisco Unified School District
Molly Munger, Co-Director, Advancement Project Los Angeles
Barbara Nemko, Superintendent of Schools, Napa County
Jeff Patterson, Teacher, Antelope Valley High School
Jennifer Peck, Executive Director, Partnership for Children and Youth
Willie Pelote, Assistant Director, Political Action Department, AFSCME International
Jose Pérez, Chair, California Utilities Diversity Council and Publisher, Latino Journal
Chet Pipkin, Chairman of the Board, Belkin International, Inc.
James Ramos, Chairman, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and Board Member, San Bernardino Community College District
Diana Rodriguez, Board Member, Sacramento City Unified School District
Alex Rooker, Government Affairs Director, Communications Workers of America Local 9400
Russ Rumberger, Vice Provost for Education Partnerships at the UC Office of the President
David Sanchez, President, California Teachers Association (CTA)
Tim Sbranti, Mayor, City of Dublin and Teacher, Dublin High School
Barry Schuler, Former Chairman and CEO, America Online
Jack Scott, Chancellor, California Community Colleges
Gregg Solkovits, Secondary Vice President, United Teachers of Los Angeles
Suzan Solomon, Board Member, Newhall School District and Vice President for Education, California State PTA
Jai Sookprasert, Assistant Director, Governmental Relations, California School Employees Association (CSEA)
Chris Steinhauser, Superintendent, Long Beach Unified School District
Lillian Taiz, Professor of History at CSU Los Angeles and President of the California Faculty Association
Diane Watson, Member of Congress, California’s 33rd District
Carl Wong, Superintendent of Schools, Sonoma County
Kristin Wright, Chair, California Advisory Commission on Special Education
Antronette Yancey, Professor, UCLA School of Public Health

Torlakson will be sworn into office by Barbara Nemko, Ph.D., Superintendent of the Napa County Office of Education. The inauguration will take place at 9 a.m. Monday at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord — where he last taught science, math and world history.

Later in the day, Torlakson will host a reception from 3-5 p.m. in the lobby of the California Department of Education in Sacramento.

Both events are open to the public. RSVPs may be made by e-mailing or calling 925-682-9998.

Torlakson remains a teacher-on-leave with the Mt. Diablo Unified School District. Contra Costa County Superintendent of Schools Joe Ovick — along with all but seven district superintendents in the county – supported Torlakson’s opponent, Larry Aceves, in the November election.

Gill and Mt. Diablo district Superintendent Steven Lawrence were among those who did not support Aceves. Torlakson beat Aceves with about 55 percent of the vote.

Do you think Torlakson’s Mt. Diablo school district roots will help Contra Costa County schools?

Posted on Friday, December 31st, 2010
Under: California, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 1 Comment »

A closer look at Contra Costa dropout rates

By Theresa Harrington

According to high school graduation and dropout rate reports issued by the state Tuesday, nearly 16 percent of Contra Costa County students dropped out of school in 2008-09, compared to almost 22 percent statewide.

Here’s a rundown of the increases and decreases in county districts from 2007-08 to 2008-09. Data from 2007-08 is listed first, followed by 2008-09, then a + or -, indicating if the rate went up or down.

Four-year estimated drop out rates for Contra Costa County school districts:

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY: 16.0%; 15.9% (-)
Acalanes Union High: 3.5%, 3.3% (-)
Antioch: 25.9%, 25.7% (-)
John Swett: 25.8%, 16% (-)
Liberty: 6.5%, 5.4% (-)
Martinez: 6%, 7.6% (+)
Mt. Diablo: 23%, 22.2% (-)
Pittsburg: 26.4%, 30.7% (+)
San Ramon Valley: 3%, 3.7% (+)
West Contra Costa: 21.3%, 22.2% (+)

For most of the districts, the rates didn’t change much. Notable exceptions are John Swett and Pittsburg.

John Swett reduced its dropout rate by nearly 10 percentage points, while Pittsburg’s grew by more than 4 percentage points, making it the district with the highest percentage of dropouts in the county.

You can find school results here:

Here’s a rundown of the 2007-08 to 2008-09 dropout rates for the Mt. Diablo district’s six comprehensive high schools:

Clayton Valley High: 12.6%, 6.1% (-)
College Park High: 13.5%, 10.8% (-)
Concord High: 14.3%, 10.8% (-)
Mt. Diablo High: 35.9%, 27.7% (-)
Northgate High: 9.5%, 3.3% (-)
Ygnacio Valley High: 26.1%, 31.4% (+)

District: 23%, 22.2% (-); (includes continuation high schools)
County: 16%, 15.9% (-)
State: 18.9%, 21.7% (+)

As you can see, all schools except Ygnacio Valley reduced their dropout rates fairly substantially, but the district’s overall dropout rate is higher than both the county and state averages. Northgate has the fewest droputs, with just over 3 percent.

Mt. Diablo High had the highest dropout rate in 2007-08, but fell below Ygnacio Valley in 2008-09. Mt. Diablo slashed its dropout rate by nearly 9 percentage points, while Ygnacio Valley’s climbed by 5 percentage points, making it the comprehensive high school with the highest percentage of dropouts in the district.

What do you think districts should do to prevent dropouts and help students graduate?

Posted on Wednesday, December 8th, 2010
Under: California, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington | 4 Comments »