Thursday, August 31, 2017

Non profit analysis states education proposal has problems

source: The Willits News 8/30/2017

A national nonpartisan nonprofit commended the development of the state’s plan for student success designed to comply with the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but criticized its lack of a clear implementation process according to a report released last week.

“California’s plan includes several weaknesses that will limit its ability to effectively communicate with educators, parents, and other stakeholders,” the report hstates.
According to the report by the Boston-based nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners in collaboration with the Collaborative for Student Success, while the state appears to have solicited and utilized stakeholder feedback in the development of the plan and has also adopted high-quality standards and assessments, it is unclear how the state’s proposal for a “dashboard” accountability system will be gauged and incorporated into a comprehensive measure of school quality.

The U.S. Department of Education made public specific provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act after then president Barack Obama signed it into law on Dec. 10, 2015.
The law, among other provisions, advanced equity by upholding critical protections for America’s disadvantaged and high-need students, ensured that vital information was provided to educators, families, students and communities through annual statewide assessments and maintained an expectation that there would be accountability to effect positive change in low performing schools.

One specific concern outlined by the report is the state’s inability to completely spell out its approach to identify low-performing schools, which it says it will submit to the U.S. Department of Education in January 2018.
“The current method of measuring growth does not actually capture individual students’ improvement over time,” the report states. “Instead, it only tracks year-over-year changes at the school level, which is susceptible to differences in the student population enrolled in a given year.”

The report ranks the plan on a five point scale in nine categories. California earned low ratings in several of the plan’s component including a score of 2 for its overall vision articulated in the state’s academic goal for all student subgroups to achieve and sustain high performance.
“The state may find it somewhat difficult to quantify and track district, school and student progress towards realizing it,” the report states, adding the goal of all students achieving and maintaining high academic performance is tied to scoring high on state exams, which corresponds with meeting standards.


“The state has not yet determined the time frame over which schools must achieve this goal, or the time frame for schools identified for improvement to make sufficient progress. As such, it’s impossible to know if this goal is ambitious or achievable,” the report states.
The Bellwether Report also questioned the state’s plan to identify schools for comprehensive support and its methodology for identifying student groups most in need of targeted support.
The plan scored a 1 on this specific category because according to the analysis, “California has not clearly articulated how it will combine a school’s various scores across multiple indicators.”

The state’s proposal is based on multiple tiers of matrices designed to track performance levels using the School Dashboard. The average status score is a school that achieves around level three on an the state assessment, these schools are colored yellow. The average change score is also colored yellow and corresponds with little or no change from last year. For both these measures, the highest scores are colored green and blue, while the lowest are red.
The report said the current approach could potentially ignore some very low performing schools, for example, a high school could score red in both achievement and graduation rates but not be identified if it scored yellow on suspension rates.

Additionally, the state ranked poorly on the academic progress category, with a score of 1. The report points out there is little incentive for schools already performing above the state’s goals to reach toward higher levels, particularly because schools can score slightly worse performance from the first year to the next and still qualify as achieving its growth goals.
The state did however score high on the standards and assessments category with a score of 4 for its use of the Common Core state standards for mathematics and English language arts.


Although the implementation of the Common Core standards was controversial initially, local educators said there are advantages to using them and teachers have warmed up to them over time.
“It seems to me over the last few years the opposition from families has gone down,” said Jennifer Lockwood, director of Willits Charter School who added people were in an uproar at first over the fact students were not being taught skills in the same manner they learned, especially in mathematics.

“I like how the standards tie together to create a clear plan across grade levels,” she said. “It’s the same standard, but it expands over time. I think there was a lot of thought behind the creation of the common core standards to come up with a cohesive plan, before that was not the case. In math, for example, students have to know how to use skills and apply them to real life situations. I think California was pretty progressive when it came to implementing and training of Common Core.”
Willits Unified School District Superintendent Mark Westerburg said the issue is not with the standards, the real issue lies with state assessments.

“The problem is measuring the standards’ success,” he said. “We are implementing them and using them at every grade level but they aren’t very consistent. The state has created a test that is not widely acceptable so a lot of districts have gone to using third party assessments.”
Westerburg said California is one of the few states that does not require a national standardized test to measure student success compared to national standards.
According to Janet Weeks, communications director for the state board of education, the state has been working on a plan for how state funding will be implemented since 2013.

Weeks said the federal government provides funding for low income students, English language learners and foster youth, approximately $1.8 billion a year or about 2 percent of California’s overall education budget and added the nonprofit’s report did not look at the entire educational funding picture. She said instead of looking at all the federal requirements, they came up with their own rubric based on what the group felt the state should be doing.
“Our response is that it’s kind of unfair to rate us without looking at everything the state is doing,” she said. “We are really proud of what we are doing in California. We have increased the amount of money school districts have been getting and we have given local school boards more power on how they spend those funds based on demographics and other factors.”

Children Now, a policy and advocacy group based out of Oakland analyzed the state’s ESSA plan and stated the final opportunity for public comment will be available during the Sept. 13-14 State Board of Education meeting.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Higher Education report card alarming

source: The Willits News, Friday Aug.25, 2017

According to a new report from the California Campaign for College opportunity, the state is falling short in meeting both the needs of an economy in need of a well educated workforce and students in regard to college preparation, access, affordability and completion.
The report, issued earlier this summer grades the state on those four criteria and the results are not encouraging. The Golden State fails in providing college access to students and in college completion and also scores a “C” in affordability. College preparation ranked the highest with a “B-” grade for a less than stellar overall grade point average of 1.17.

The college preparation grade measures whether the state’s high school graduates are academically ready to successfully engage in college work. According to the non-profit’s analysis, to produce 1.7 million additional adults with college credentials by 2025, California would need 100 percent of students to finish high school, but only 69 percent actually do, according to the cohort graduation rate for the class of 2014.
Additionally, the data shows only 47 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds enrolled in college, while only 6.3 percent of 25 to 49-year-olds with no college credentials enrolled. To produce the required number of adults with college credentials over the next eight years, the report’s authors estimate the state would need to increase production of undergraduate degrees annually by 23,000 from a baseline of 420,000. Only 12,584 additional degrees were given over the baseline in the 2014-15 academic year for completed university work.

It is alarming that today, just under half of adults in our state have a college degree or credential, as is pointed out by the report’s metrics. If a growing demand for a more educated workforce requires that 60 percent of adults have a college degree or credential by 2025, as Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity asserted, that means the state must produce close to 2 million more degrees over the next decade, a daunting task but one which can be achieved with some dedication and with a commitment from elected officials to provide much needed resources and funding.

Locally, educators are taking some steps to ensure that students have the tools to succeed and to meet the workforce demands of the future. Sanhedrin High School, once a credit recovery school has been transformed this year by the Willits Unified School District as a career Technical Education (CTE) site.
WUSD Superintendent Mark Westerburg said last year his first year on the job would be to focus on repairing the district’s aging facilities and added he would direct his efforts, along with district staff, during his second year to curriculum. So far he seems to be on track with his stated goals.

According to Westerburg, high school students who don’t attend WHS can instead choose to go the vocational education route by participating and choosing vocational programs at Sanhedrin, in order to graduate with marketable skills in multiple focus areas, or develop a personalized program that best fits their needs.
Willits students in grades 6 through 12 also have the option of attending Willits Charter School where this year staff are updating technology, including use of Google classroom and giving upper class students access to Chromebooks, as well as other platforms to ensure academic success and engagement.

Director Jennifer Lockwood said more Advanced Placement classes have also been added to address college accessibility at the school including the addition of AP courses in US history, environmental science, Spanish and calculus.
Educational success of course starts at the lower grades and Willits families have access to Willits Charter School, a free K-5 school for local students. According to Director Kara McClellan, this year teachers plan to emphasize history and social science, along with core academic subjects. There is also a push to strengthen the school’s art programs, music and other academic programs.

Westerburg said the district offers a smaller sized school like Sherwood Elementary where multi-grade classrooms allow for more one-on-one instruction with teachers. Middle School students can also select independent study options managed through Sherwood.
There is a lot state elected leaders can do to achieve the goal of ensuring students have the degrees and credentials needed to succeed and meet the state’s workforce demands including expanding financial aid funding in state and community colleges for low income families and students, reducing the time it takes for students to get through college programs and making sure completion of the college ready (referred to as A-G requirements) for students becomes a reality to open up doors for more of them to gain admission into the UC and CSU systems.

Only by maximizing our local efforts in these areas with the support and accountability from elected officials can the gaps in college preparation access, completion and affordability be bridged.
Ariel Carmona Jr is the city editor for The Willits News. He can be reached by email at or by phone at (707) 841-2123.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sunday rumination: Federal probes of leaks threaten our Constitutional rights

According to The Washington Post, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday the government was stepping up its efforts to crack down on unauthorized sources of sensitive information.

Presumably the announcement that the Justice Department has more than tripled the number of leak investigations compared to the number under the Obama administration was made to appease President Donald Trump who has attacked the attorney general for not doing more to clamp down on leaks and, according to the report, to scare government officials away from talking about sensitive matters.

As the Post article points out, Trump "has complained vociferously" about unauthorized disclosures of information, especially when the leaks result in stories that are unflattering to the administration. (And there have been a lot of those since he took office as we all know.)

The most disturbing part of the report in my estimation is when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein refused to rule out the possibility that journalists would be prosecuted saying, "I'm not going to comment on any hypotheticals."

The Post article goes on to state that it has long been Justice Department practice in leak probes to try to avoid investigating journalists directly to find their sources.

It's hard to imagine that in the Trump era, where the commander in chief has branded legitimate news outlets like CNN and The  New York Times as "Fake News," an appellation which is as unfair as it is inaccurate, that previous policies such as those which were in place when then Attorney General Eric Holder Jr said that as long as he was  heading the Justice Department no reporter would be jailed for doing his or her job, will remain unaltered.

Admittedly, and to be fair, attacks on the fourth estate have never been exclusive to any partisan agenda. As the Post also pointed out in their report, prosecutors in the Obama era brought nine leak cases, exceeding the total of all previous administrations combined, and in the process called a reporter a criminal "conspirator." and surreptitiously went after a journalists' phone records in an attempt to identify the reporters' sources.

When the leader of the free world embraces the phrase "Enemy of the People" to describe the American news media, there are real negative consequences and he makes it okay for the public to view journalists with more distrust than they already do and recklessly puts journalists doing important work in danger.

Don't believe me? Think this is mere hyperbole on my part? Well considered what happened to  Guardian political reporter Ben Jacobs earlier this year.

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter. In other instances, Trump supporters have been photographed at rallies wearing t-shirts emblazoned with such dictatorial rhetoric like "The best journalist is a dead journalist."

Americans who support the First Amendment and its guaranteed freedom of the press and who are also supportive of journalists' role in a democracy should shudder in fear when Sessions states that the government is reviewing the entire process of how media leak investigations are conducted, adding that they don't know yet what changes are coming down the pike, because they are taking a "fresh look."

The cornerstone of a free and democratic society is a free press. In America we don't jail members of the press for doing their jobs and part of that job entails speaking to sources and not compelling reporters to reveal their sources. Doing so would undermine a process that has been in place for years and which works to the benefit of society, not the converse, which the Trump administration would have us believe.

Without insiders providing information, journalists would be hampered in conducting probes and investigating government, an essential part of the checks and balances in our democratic process. Can you imagine Woodward and Bernstein being able to break a huge story like Watergate in the Vietnam era without the protections politicians have been trying to erode ever since?

Of course, Trump has shown himself to be either ignorant of these fundamental Constitutional processes freedoms and guarantees, or worse yet, he flaunts them openly in an attempt to conduct government in a fashion that dangerously borders authoritarian practices.

 So when Rosenstein, Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, among others in the White House elite announce they will be looking at reviewing policy in regards to leaks, it makes me very nervous and concerned. You should be as well.