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my reflections on the September 27 meeting: closing the achievement gap in math?

I recently watched the archived webcast of the Sept. 27, 2011, meeting of the Pleasanton school board.

I want to offer my reflections on what I saw as the most interesting part of the meeting — the review of the testing completed last spring, which is analyzed over the summer and used to construct school-by-school scores on the API (Academic Performance Index). API ranges from 200 and 1000. All Pleasanton schools scored above 880 on the API, except for Village High School (a small continuation high school). District-wide, the average API was 906. (Here’s the headline from the Pleasanton Patch — Pleasanton Schools Exceed API Expectations.)

At the board meeting, board members and district cabinet members spent at least 45 minutes reviewing the district’s report on STAR results, in great detail. The other purpose of the California Standards Tests (CSTs) that almost all public school students take each spring, as required by the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program, aside from ranking schools with the API, is to allow districts, schools, and teachers to drill down into the student data, so that teachers and principals can work together to design instructional strategies for the 2011-2012 academic year.

In the full board packet (PDF) the agenda item 13.3 includes 21 pages of supporting text and tables.

During this portion of the meeting, board and cabinet members examined patterns in the data, to see what kind of progress the district is making in closing the achievement gap. They also looked at patterns across grade levels, in Math and English/Language Arts (ELA) and Science, to see how students are responding to recent adjustments in school practices.

The patterns that I am most curious about are about closing the achievement gap in Math, and ensuring that all students are making good progress in Math from year to year. Questions we can ask from the data are:

  • when students move from 5th grade into middle school, are they headed into math courses that challenge them without being overwhelming?
  • when students move on to high school, are they headed into courses that will prepare them for life after high school?
  • during high school, when are students meeting the minimum math standards for graduation (so they can pass the CAHSEE)?
  • what proportion of students meet the challenging standards required to apply for admission to one of the University of California or California State University campuses?

Regarding the achievement gap, there are related questions:

  • when students move into middle school, are they receiving equal opportunities to advance into challenging math courses, regardless of their ethnic background? are they performing at equal levels on the Math CSTs? If not, why not? Can the middle schools do something to help close those gaps?
  • when students move on to high school, are we closing gaps identified at the beginning of middle school, or do we have some ethnic groups racing ahead, while others lag behind? what can the high schools do to ensure that students get the math classes they will need?
  • just before high school graduation, what can we predict about whether students will be prepared to go to college, and where? If there are differences between ethnic groups, why?what can the schools or the district do to help close those gaps?

Some of these questions are answered in the archived webcast of the meeting, and other answers may be found in the 21-page budget backup for agenda item 13.3.

For more detail on the Sept. 27 school board meeting in Pleasanton, including other items that were on the agenda see this PDF.

FYI, the full board packet from the Sept. 27 meeting also includes minutes from the Sept. 13 meeting, for which I provided a preview of the agenda last month.

August 29: Tom Torlakson and Darrell Steinberg in the Sacramento Bee

Don’t miss this editorial by Tom Torlakson and Darrell Steinberg today:

Ask a baseball fan how good his team’s shortstop is, and he can point to more than two dozen statistics, from the number of double plays turned to how often the player strikes out with runners on base.

Ask about the performance of a public school in California, and you’ll get one lonely number based solely on one set of end-of-the-year test results.

It was never meant to work this way. The state’s school accountability system, adopted a dozen years ago, was supposed to adapt over time as needs changed and new tools developed. Call it one more piece of unfinished business in a state with a lot of work to do.

Read more in the Sacramento Bee: Click here.

PUSD board to meet Friday June 3

See update below…

A new agenda has been posted for a special meeting of the Pleasanton Unified School District on Friday, June 3, at 2 pm. (PDF)

There are four items on the agenda…

  1. a board workshop on “relevant skills needed for collaboration as a board and with members of the governance team”, from 2-4 pm
  2. closed session (conference with the labor negotiator, and public employee appointment)
  3. report, discussion and possible action to approve modification to actions the board took on February 22, 2011
  4. report, discussion and possible action to approve the personnel document
I am heartened to learn that the board is continuing to develop collaboration skills. With a new superintendent hired last summer, two new board members elected last fall, and key policy and budgetary decisions ahead, taking time to talk about how to best work together is a wise investment.
I am curious about the potential for modifications to the February 22 list of possible budget solutions (PDF). Will this agenda item simply take action on the CSEA concessions, removing some staff positions from the cut list, or will there be a more substantive discussion of prioritizing items to bring back, if the state legislature actually manages to pass a budget on time for FY 2011-12?

UPDATE, Thursday, June 2:

I just learned via the Mohr PTA page on Facebook some details for the modifications being considered to the February 22 list of budget cuts.

At the Special Board Meeting scheduled for this Friday, June 3, Cabinet will recommend restoring the following programs for 2011/12:

.5 reading specialists at 9 elementary sites and .5 Barton ($400,000)
Physical education sections at elementary schools ($400,000)
Maintain 25:1 in grades K-3 ($1,300,000)
Counseling ($200,000)

It is anticipated that this issue will be addressed at approximately 4:30 p.m. on June 3.

I’m surprised to hear that these decisions might be finalized before the Sacramento legislature and Governor Brown finalize a state budget. Nevertheless, I’m delighted to hear that the school district might be able to bring back some of these programs!

I had especially advocated that reading specialists and the Barton specialists not see reduced work hours, because I believe that the services they provide are so essential. These staff members provide extra small group and one-on-one tutoring to any students who are not yet reading proficiently at their grade level. (In the Barton program, one specialist and one classified staff member support the work of more than a hundred volunteers who actually do the tutoring. I’m a volunteer tutor.)

If the board approves these recommendations, then the only items that remain on the list from February 22 would be:

  • grade 9 class size reduction in English and Math
  • three furlough days for management employees
  • securing funds from the Regional Occupational Program
  • securing funds from Categorical Programs (including summer school, adult education, TVIP for new teachers, and the Peer Assistance and Review program)
  • securing funds from Kids Club
  • eliminating the Health Services liaison position
  • reducing site and district office classified support positions
Those last two bullet points are probably also coming off the list, because of the way that concessions were negotiated with the Classified School Employees Association earlier this spring, but I’m not sure that’s a completely done deal yet.

Making sense of the Governor’s budget plan

Headlines can be so confusing. Here are some headlines from the past 24 hours, talking about Governor Brown’s most recent budget proposal for 2011-2012 (the “May Revise”):

Notice how the first two headlines emphasize a lower deficit, and the other four emphasize increased taxes? (And, actually, the Contra Costa Times and the San Jose Mercury News ran same article by the same reporter, but published with two different headlines — one emphasizing a lower deficit, the other emphasizing increased taxes.)

It just goes to show that skimming is not enough. To really make sense of the Governor’s budget plan, we have to read several different articles, commentary from different points of view, and ask our own questions.

What happens when we just skim? We draw erroneous conclusions. For example, here in a post on the Pleasanton Weekly Town Square forums, is some evidence of how those headlines can be misinterpreted:

State’s May Revise Gives More Money to Schools (WRONG!)

The parent who wrote the post implies that the Pleasanton school board might ignore the extra money the state might send to the district, still eliminate programs and fire teachers. Also, the parent misses a key fact: the May Revise is not the final budget.

Here’s what the Mercury News says the implications are for schools (in an article entitled “here’s what you need to know…“):

Q What happens to schools?
A Brown’s new plan would increase by $3 billion the amount of money going to schools from his January budget, funneling much of the unanticipated tax revenue to education. However, his budget message says that K-12 public schools could be closed a month early if the tax extensions aren’t approved and if an “all cuts” budget is needed. Neither Democrats nor Republicans in Sacramento support that.

There’s also another important detail that only a few news outlets (like the San Leandro Patch and the Orange County Register) have honed in on. The “increase” in education funding is not really an increase.

The OC Register quotes Ron Bennett, president of School Services of California, who explains:

“It would be a mistake to say education has a $3 billion windfall,” Bennett said.
“This deal is like saying to your brother-in-law, ‘I’ll loan you 50 bucks for your car payment,’ but then he comes up with the 50 bucks, so you say, ‘I’m not going to loan you the money anymore.’ “

School districts still have to continue making payments. They have just been given a brief reprieve.

The San Leandro Patch explains further:

Brown projected that the state will take in $6.6 billion more in tax revenue this year and next year than was originally expected, with $1.6 billion of that going to K-12 education and community colleges.

But that money is cash already owed to the schools. The Sacramento Bee reports that the extra cash would go towards reducing short-term IOUs to schools, which the governor’s previous budget proposal relied on, in part, as a form of “backdoor borrowing.”

Essentially, the state has been deferring payments to school districts. In this current fiscal year, the state told districts that they were budgeted to receive X million dollars, but they could only expect about 80% of that money to be paid in cash before the end of the fiscal year — 20% of the payments would be deferred, to be paid next year. Now, the governor is proposing that increased state revenue should be used to pay schools the remaining 20% on schedule, rather than deferring the payments.

So the fuss over education spending will continue. The budget is still being negotiated, and the best possible scenario is flat funding for next year. The worst possible scenario for next year looks less bad than it did last week — but it could still be pretty bad. After that, tax extension votes make everything uncertain again.

My prediction for Pleasanton

Based on what I have read so far, I would be surprised if the Pleasanton school board votes to rescind any layoffs at their next meeting. Rather, it is more likely that the budget will be approved in June based on conservative assumptions, and if the final state budget gives the district more leeway, then we may see some layoffs rescinded in July or August.

May 16 UPDATED: Gov. Brown’s May Revise of proposed CA budget

Back in January, Governor Jerry Brown issued his proposed budget for the state of California. Today, May 16, the governor released his revised budget proposal. (Here is the table of contents, and a link to the PDF.)

I especially encourage Educate Pleasanton readers to review the sections of the May revise that provide an introduction (PDF), and go into depth about K-12 education (PDF).

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

The May Revision proposes that the Legislature implement and the voters ratify a plan that preserves core services, including a reduced safety net. Current sales tax and vehicle license fee rates and the dependent credit exemption level would be extended for five years. Given the current revenue situation, the May Revision does not seek a 2011 personal income surcharge, but would reinstate it for the 2012 through 2015 tax years in order to fund core serves. Even with these extensions, State revenues, per $100 of personal income, would remain billions below the average level of the past three decades.

These revenues would be used for two purposes:

  • funding a major realignment of public safety programs. […]
  • protecting education funding. Schools have borne a disproportionate share of past spending cuts. These revenues will allow a reinvestment in education. Even under the May Revision’s increased funding for education, support for schools and community colleges will remain more than $4 billion below the 2007-2008 funding level.

I am reading those PDFs now, and will post again when I have had some opportunity to digest them.

Where to from here?

Now the negotiations begin again between the governor and the members of the state legislature. Two other proposed budget frameworks were announced recently, and will undoubtedly have an influence on negotiations. On May 12, Assemblywoman Conway (R-Tulare) issued a proposal for a no-tax increase state budget, that aims to protect education. That same day, twelve top business groups issued what they call a workout plan to encourage Democrats and Republicans to end the compromise and propose a particular set of principles for the budget and for legislative reform.

To influence Pleasanton’s state legislators, contact them!

Our state representatives are Mary Hayashi and Joan Buchanan.

Our state senator is Ellen Corbett. (Senator Corbett is also a member of the “big 5” since she serves as the Democratic majority leader in the State Senate.)

Let’s open up the dialogue here!

What will you tell legislators about the governor’s May revise? Are there elements of his proposal that you would support or oppose? Why?