Thursday, December 26, 2013


A belated Christmas wish list.

1.  Dismiss all teachers by the end of the school year who have a documented record of failure should Vergara succeed in striking down the teacher protection statutes. SFUSD  decides whether it will be the protector of failing teachers or the protector of successful students.

2. Apply the cost savings from differential of dismissed employee salaries and new hires to further increase the base salaries for old and new teachers in hard-to-staff schools.  Salaries increases do not carry over if teachers move to other non-qualifying schools.

3. Increase neighborhood residence to highest preference after siblings for elementary, middle and high school. Remove CTIP classification and give 3rd preference to student applicants with lowest quintile MAPP scores.  Elementary classification to be based on socio-economic class using tax records.

4.  Sell a portion of surplus real estate and rebuild schools where infrastructure is lacking using SFUSD surplus real estate grand jury recommendations.

5. Establish per pupil minimum based upon general revenue funding  not specifically allocated  for categorical purposes. Hard-to-staff schools excepted for the purpose of base salary increases.  Remove favoritism in school site funding to assure that all students receive equal treatment under law. Abolish Superintendent Zones.

6. Restructure and enlarge Board of Education to elect district representatives on the same model as the Supervisors. Establish a two- term limit. Limit union influence on Board elections and give neighborhoods representation.

7. Increase school day by one hour for four days a week and implement homework period during regular school day, K-3 excepted. Shorten summer break by 5 weeks and expand quarter and semester breaks by 3 weeks. Funding to be applied from LCFF increases. Teachers to work one hour longer daily and school year to increase by 2 weeks to bring annual works hours closer to industry standards and to increase student achievement. Teachers will still work considerably fewer days than other state employees and far fewer than in private industry.

8. Increase annual instructional hours by removing the two winter and spring finals-only weeks in high school, with the exception of senior year to prepare for college.

9. Abolish teacher tenure. All teacher pay increases based upon merit and COLA.

10. Abolish social advancement. Establish multi-level remedial classes for students with failing grades to be paid for with supplemental and concentration LCFF grants. 

Monday, December 16, 2013


In Sunday's Examiner article, "School placements akin to college admission", writer Joel Engardio makes a strong case for the failure of the latest school assignment system. In response to Stanford's Center for Education Policy Analysis, which cited data demonstrating a propensity for families to self-select same race schools, Board of Ed Commissioner Matt Haney is quoted saying, "It shook me a bit. People are picking schools that look like them when their neighborhood school would actually be more diversified if everyone just went there."

I wasn't shaken by this revelation. It's obvious. This is what  our group, Students First, the creators of Prop H, had been saying all along - that neighborhood schooling would increase diversity throughout the district because of the uniquely diverse nature of a majority of neighborhoods.
Haney went on to say, "Some people say that what we have now is the best bad option. But I don't think we should just throw  parents to 'The Hunger Games' and say 'good luck'. If the system isn't working for people, we need to address that." Engardio elaborated on Haney's comment that parents face " a classic prisoner's dilemma", saying, "if ten families live on the same block, they could work together to improve a struggling neighborhood school. But if five families win the lottery for a top school elsewhere, five are left with less incentive to commit to the local school. They could opt for private education or leave The City."

And they do.  All the money spent, human resources, community meetings, Board meetings, committee meetings and testimony by experts that went into creating the assignment system is negated by the simple facts that we have more students in private schools and the fewest families percentage-wise of any American city. If Haney sees the high rate of African American suspensions (see last post) as problematic, he should be livid that America's most progressive city has a school policy which drives people away from public education and out of The City itself.
Haney said it all with this comment: "I was willing to excuse some of the anger, the frustration, families leaving San Francisco - because our crazy system had a bigger goal of better outcomes. Now I question if it is all worth it. If the system isn't accomplishing its goals, then what's the point?"
Exactly. Thank you, Matt, and please read my earlier post,"SFUSD Manipulating Assignment Data" to see how your administration has been manipulating data to hide the failure of its assignment system.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


I have wanted to write my next post on the Local Control Funding Formula, but I've decided to delay that post to discuss a new Board resolution to do away with suspensions for willful defiance that Matt Haney will propose as a first reading this coming Tuesday, Dec 10th.

Right off the bat let me say that I don't support this resolution because, first of all, it is central office meddling in school site affairs. It was the Board that mandated Restorative Practices in all schools and if it is constructive in resolving conflict why the need for a limit on suspensions? In addition, it is also creating an inequity to the extent that   it's more difficult for schools with fewer intervention resources to effectively moderate student behaviors compared to  schools in the Superintendent Zones which have more counseling and other intervention resources. The District should respect the school staff to do what's right, a point that Richard Carranza made just this last summer at the Administrator's Institute, though I suspect he probably supports this resolution anyway. 

I acknowledge that the high number of suspensions of African American students is a problem, but it is also as an embarrassment to a politically far-left District that views everything through the prism of statistical equity.   No doubt, suspending students who, often times, end up on the streets is a lousy outcome. I think we can all agree that suspensions ought to be a last resort to protect teachers, students and  classrooms as a whole from frequent or extreme disruptions to instructional time and quality and the District is rightfully obligated to assure suspension protocols aren't abused, though this resolution is something quite different. It is building a high bar for suspensions, but does nothing to increase services required to implement that bar.

I believe there are genuine cultural issues which make some unwanted behaviors understandable in context of the difficult circumstances some students face. In response, some critics of the suspension limit would say that  the necessary self-discipline and structure necessary to  to succeed in high school and successfully enter the working force or attend college requires a clear code of behavior. Others point out that suspensions as a behavioral tool aren't generally successful for inculcating discipline anyway. They say a school system cannot mandate behavior since education is a right in California and, therefore, the "system" must learn how to engage students such that they enjoy to be in school - a commendable if tall order for sure.   In fact, as tall orders go , this one is often ridiculous since some of the students who are habitually suspended are incorrigible.  

Proponents of the resolution cite statistics that show African American suspension rates at approximately five times the district norm.  They maintain that this number reflects a racial bias and that removing willful suspensions will rectify what is essentially a racist policy.  I believe, though I'm not sure, that those proponents, at least the less ideological ones who dig deeper than a politically-favorable statistical correlation to use as a truncheon, believe that the cultural component of behavior is critical in understanding what they consider to be a soft racism in high African American suspension rates. I cannot discount this idea as invalid, though it is a rationale not a solution for destructive behavior in class and as such it fails to advance students towards the  skills and attitudes necessary to compete in a society that has fundamentally different cultural requirements for mainstream employment and upward mobility. For example, sagging in the black community is an acceptable dress code, but few employers will hire anyone who doesn't comport with their standards of appropriate dress and sagging isn't one of them.  The schools ought to promote standards that help not hinder student transition to adult life, whether that has to do with school dress code or, more importantly, the way students act and react to others when under stress. We can respect each other's differences and at the same time require a universal code of conduct. No school administrator anywhere in the world will tell you that a school can be run without a code of conduct or that conduct can be controlled without enforcement.

School isn't only about learning the core curriculum. It's about learning to get along and go along. Disruptive and defiant students should not be allowed to remain in the classroom regardless of the reason why they can't or won't change their behavior. Administrators need to be given the discretion and have the confidence of their superiors to do what is appropriate for the benefit of their schools, even if it means suspending students for willful defiance.  If District officials want site administrators to refrain from suspending students that's OK in certain less egregious circumstances as long as they don't insist that defiant students be placed in the regular classroom. Provide an in-school alternative to suspension and provide the services these students need. This resolution  speaks to the arrogance of the Board in lording over the more experienced site administrators. Mandating a suspension protocol without providing the tools necessary is irresponsible and pointless.

If Restorative Practices are beneficial for moderating conduct, why does SFUSD need to make it more difficult to suspend students when site administrators deem it appropriate? We have to ask ourselves whether our leaders are interested in preserving the integrity of the school as an institution of learning or whether the leaders just want to do what is politically correct and equalize suspension statistics? Or is it all just about getting the maximum ADA. One way or another, if suspensions are to be used only after a long list of other interventions have been exhausted, SFUSD will have to provide the financing necessary to implement those supports or their resolution will surely fail when administrators find themselves at their wit's .end to comply with another central office mandate.


Thursday, November 21, 2013


SFUSD has been hyping the success of SIG since the program ended in 2012-2013, last school year.  To be sure I was skeptical about this $45M grant from the get-go - what I considered to be an absolutely obscene amount of money to throw at nine schools over a 3-year period, especially with so little preparation time. That amount of money is more than the annual budgets of over 30 elementary schools combined. After having spent considerable time researching SIG during the first two years of the program,I commented repeatedly  on another blog, the SF K Files, about the waste, fraud and abuse that I discovered.  So, while I acknowledge I am not the most objective observer to comment on this $45M program, I also did a lot of homework on the subject.  I put this caveat up front so readers can review these results with that in mind. Of course, I believe that any bias I may have is not reflected in the numerical results or comparisons drawn. If anyone thinks otherwise I would like to know and please feel free to comment with any concerns. I'm not a statistician and is this not an in-depth analysis nor does this simple bread and butter statistical comparison require a higher level of  scientific procedure. We are simply reviewing the numbers based on information gathered from California Department of Education API reports.


In short, what I gleaned from the API data was that 5 of the 9 schools did little to no better than the District API achievement averages  and three did worse. Nevertheless SFUSD's  review is misleadingly positive. SFUSD  pats itself on the back for a job well done though $45,000,000 in grant money for approximately 3,860 student participants did not raise achievement numbers in any significant way for most of the schools.


The method of analysis I use  is simple. I compare the API of the last year before the start of SIG (2009-10) with the final year API (2012-13). Many of you know that the now defunct API index is a statistically adjusted achievement metric.  It is different from using STAR, an absolute metric, though individual STAR results provide the raw data for API.  That data is adjusted for statistical variants that would cause averaging errors. As examples, and there are many, new students are not included in an API because they don't figure in a school's growth and Students With Disabilities are not included as the kind and number of SWDs varies considerably between schools  and creates an apples to oranges comparison. Also, it should be noted that API has a subjective quality that gives additional weight to growth at the lowest quintile because that is where schools are expected to target remediation efforts and are statistically rewarded for doing so which handicaps the results at low performing schools for the better. This gives low performing schools a leg up and leans in favor of increased success when large grants are employed with the intent to focus on that lowest performing quintile. Also, schools in the lowest quintile typically show a potential for more upward mobility as there's more room to grow. Conversely, high performing students show less upward mobility in a sort of law of diminishing returns, if you will. In any case,  API results yield more favorable numbers than STAR test results. Since STAR is only assigned by individuals and grades, not to schools overall, and because of the adjusted quality of API for school-wide analysis and comparison,  API is a better tool than STAR and really the only tool, despite the preferential statistical treatment of lower performing schools.  

I would be remiss not to point out one problem with the STAR data used to create API. It has a Federally mandated test participation rate of 95% to be considered scientifically viable and  legal. Over the years few underperforming schools have met that target participation rate and the Feds  have looked the other way. Those of you who have reviewed STAR results may be aware of this participation rate issue. If you look at the results on the CDE's STAR site of high performing schools in SFUSD, invariably you will notice that participation rates are well over 95%. However, low performing schools often have much lower rates, sometimes as low as 80%. This is a variable that is hard to factor in, but the general rule is that test no-shows are low-performers. In effect, if rates were higher at low performing schools, it is likely that the results would be lower than they are. It's something to keep in mind and bears mentioning since it also handicaps results to favor low performing schools.

SIG was in effect for the school years 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13.  I compared the year (09-10) before the grant started with the year of the grant ended (12-13). This allowed for a comprehensive review since individual yearly statistics varied and the important numbers were how the schools started out versus how they ended up. Also, SIG got a late start in the first year and growth that year can't be compared correctly with the next in a year-over-year comparison.  Also, Chavez ES had its first-year tests invalidated due to some funny business during test administration.

The nine SIG schools are Bryant, Chavez, Carver, Muir, Buena Vista-Horace Mann, Revere, Everett. Mission and O'Connell. I will not be including Buena Vista Horace Mann in this analysis because that school became a K-8 and adjusted API data is not available.  Willie Brown received some SIG funding for school closure, though it is reopening soon. SFUSD favorably compared the SIG schools  to the other five schools in the two Superintendent Zones, Bret Hart, Drew, Malcolm X, Flynn and Marshall HS. Three of those schools actually dropped over the 3-year period which meant that SFUSD's comparison was really a joke. That is to say, it is easy to compare favorably to schools that lost ground (and rather ridiculous).  Below I have listed the nine SIG schools and the  five other schools included in the SZ. The names are followed by the 2009-10 API, 10-11,11-12 and the 2012-13 API. The BVHM numbers are not accurate apples-to-apples comparisons due to the merger of BV and HM.


 Name                  09,   10,   11,   12

Bryant               696, 701, 731, 703

Chavez              685, NA , 661, 690

Muir                  635, 689, 715, 731

BVHM*...........653,  682, 727, 748

Carver.............701, 701, 740, 755

Revere              655, 683, 753, 772

Everett              607, 638, 693, 728

Mission........... 625, 642, 639, 641

O'Connell........603, 594. 667, 656


Bret Hart           627, 650, 655, 648

Drew                  710, 609, 677, 665

Malcolm X         800, 790, 724, 711

Flynn                  706, 710, 738, 694

Marshall HS       758, 774 ,768, 783

Summary of Data

The obvious first conclusion that can be drawn is that the Bryant, Chavez and Mission results are absolutely awful with or without an investment in millions. Underperforming the District, their 7 and 5, and 16  respective point increases over the  3-year period are negligible and statistically insignificant. Small variations are statistical noise as school APIs experience normal random fluctuation year over year. Remember that these numbers do not represent a one year change, but the total change over three years making these results very disappointing indeed. These lowest performers I term Tier 3 schools.

In the second tier, are the very mediocre results of Carver and O'Connell which rose 54 and 53 points over the period. This is mildly above the overall district results, but only when the low quintile weighting is not factored in. These results also do not speak particularly well to the efficacy of the SIG grants, though the results are better than the abysmal improvement of three Tier 3 schools.

In Tier 1, are Muir (96 pts.), Revere (117pts.), and Everett (121 pts.). These schools far outperformed the other SIG schools with the possible exception of BVHM which was not included in this comparison and they represent the high point of the SIG program.  These schools showed steady gains over the period. Bryant, Mission and O'Connell did not manage to post increases in all three years and Bryant and O'Connell scores dropped significantly in the final year, which is very disappointing considering that the implementation should have shown the best results in that third and final year.

In regards to the rest of the five schools also in the Superintendent Zones that were not SIG recipients, their results were terrible in the main, especially considering that these schools were also given many additional resources, though not nearly so much as the SIG schools. Of the five schools three of them, Drew, Malcom X and Flynn actually dropped over the same 3-year period. The other two, Bret Hart and Marshall saw district- average size increases.  What does this say about the benefit to SFUSD of Carlos Garcia's and Richard Carranza's Superintendent Zones - a program that has been the District's highest priority?

The School Improvement Grant program over the 3-year period  produced very different achievement results among recipient schools. Three schools did very well, over-performing district averages, and three did very poorly, underperforming district averages. Two schools showed mediocre but around average  compared to non-SIG schools, thereby under-performing as SIG recipients.  One school was excluded from analysis. Approximately $12,000 -$13,000 was spent per student on average in the nine schools over the 3-year period, factoring in attendance. It is difficult to concur with SFUSD that the grant program was successful since at least half the schools didn't do any better than the district as a whole and some did considerably worse, especially considering the statistical benefits enjoyed by low performing schools, as  previously mentioned. Despite the extraordinarily large and unprecedented windfall funding that was SIG,  the costs versus results point to a very uneven intervention with more poor results than good ones. The fact that some schools outperformed while others underperformed speaks to poor implementation at the district level where  money totaling in the millions was spent on administration.

I would be remiss not to point out that statistical comparisons are difficult for many reasons. Besides the bottom quintile advantage, the highest quintile sees the smallest gains year over year as it becomes more and more difficult to improve over-performance. So comparing districtwide averages gives a great  advantage point for point to the lowest schools. For example, a school above 900 is hard-pressed to raise a score by 30 points in a year but a low performing school  could easily see a similar point improvement.  The real gains of the SIG schools, especially the five Tier 2 and 3 schools was bad, indeed, considering the unprecedented funding made available to them during the last three years. So why is SFUSD gloating?

Saturday, November 16, 2013


As pressure mounts to do away with tracking in SFUSD middle schools, it seems only a matter of time before the Board of Education decides to apply their "equity"  standards to Lowell.  Granted, the college admissions process makes high school an entirely different animal than middle school. High schools without rigorous honors and AP classes put students at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to college applications and  testing. Spreading out high achievers from Lowell would likely increase the total number of district students in advanced classes due to the upsurge in interest, leaving SFUSD better positioned financially to increase the quality and number of advanced classes at every high school.  High schools would likely see a boost in their scores according to whatever the new standard will be now that API no longer exists, an achievement District leaders see as the holy grail in their quest to lower the achievement gap as a function of statistics, even if those average performance numbers belie real academic progress.  Spreading out student as well as teacher talent would have a leveling effect, no doubt,  but would it raise real achievement across socio-economic lines?

At present Lowell creams off 2,700 students out of the approximately 13,000  high school students.  The district effect of this concentration of high-performing students at Lowell  is a no-brainer - all the other schools have a much lower percentage of high performing students than they would otherwise.  For a district obsessed with diversity above even student achievement, a lack of academic diversity at SFUSD high schools - the result of Lowell's creaming process - makes Lowell's status as a merit-based school a political football.  If SFUSD could spread the top performers around, the District would look much better on paper and it would provide certain financial advantages in staffing and economies of scale. But it's unlikely that greater academic diversity will be a tonic for overall improvement across ethnic lines, partially because the loss of middle school honors does little to prepare students for rigorous high school classes, but also because separate honors and AP high school classrooms would still function as a brick and mortar barrier that separates  honors students from  general ed students within schools. That is to say, achievement gap statistics are fairly consistent across racial lines within diversified schools as compared to overall district achievement statistics.  The benefits of diversification  aren't entirely refuted by the disturbing prevalence of the achievement gap because there are social gains associated multiculturalism,  a more open and tolerant society. However, as schooling and achievement are concerned, diversity isn't all it's cracked up to be as a tool of cross-cultural academic progress.

The idea of diversity as achievement is a scam of politicians perpetrated on a trusting and radicalized SF school public that accepts all liberal tenants as appropriate policy objectives even when they aren't. Education experts have never substantiated  diversity is an educationally beneficial school reform, but that hasn't stop the social justice zealots on the BOE from applying it as policy and squelching lack of diversity also called elitism and its bastard child, Lowell High School. Lowell represents  a smoking gun to this failure of policy - the living proof that low socioeconomic status is not a perfect predictor of student outcome (far from it) - that poor students not only can outperform, but excel. That inconvenient truth exposes SFUSD's skeleton in the closet - the strategic plan uses diversity as a political tool, not an educational tool.  This is true for the student assignment system and for the district's funding policies. Lowell is SFUSD's fly in the ointment, that ointment being  a magical balm with which SFUSD soothes lingering racial fears and promotes its social justice agenda - diversity - propaganda as panacea for the achievement gap  which remains SFUSD's own illegitimate child. 

Common sense tells us schools are about student achievement, not redistributing communities for a social good that has little to do with education. And the high courts have ruled that racial diversity is not the purpose of public education when it is not part of a court ordered desegregation plan. But to the extent that SFUSD can hype the idea that diversity increases achievement even when it doesn't, the district can continue down the path to remove "inequities" like honors classes and honors schools (read: lower achievement gap), thereby promoting a mediocrity that is analogous with lower overall performance but smaller differences between performance. (It just isn't fair that some students do better than others, even if they work their asses off and any school that does better will be punished with less funding. Lowell was the only school  I know of that had a per pupil decrease in funding for the current 2013-14 school year. (That's sarcasm just in case you weren't sure.)
Predicting what a Lowell-no-more scenario would do to enrollment is tricky as the current SAS has proven. No doubt some higher performers would bolt the district, but it is also possible that more students would attend city high schools with each school providing greater academic opportunity. Given Lowell's stringent Band 1 entry requirements, many high caliber students who didn't quite make the grade would be encouraged by the citywide expansion of honors and AP classes and the increased number of high performing students, as would high-performing students who chose not to apply to Lowell for any number of reasons. It is likely that private middle school applicants to public high school would drop, at least initially, due to the loss of the exclusivity and overall cache that is Lowell's mantle currently.  But it's also possible that public middle school applicants to public high school could rise.  Cost of private school and pressure on the middle class has spurred an increase in public school admissions and that phenomenon could drive greater high school enrollment as well, particularly if high schools provide more attractive prerequisites and college bound opportunities. 

I would be remiss if I didn't add that Lowell is a school with a very long and very proud tradition. It has many influential backers and I suspect that this has prevented (think political clout) the BOE from making any changes despite its predilection  to do so.  My older son attends Lowell and loves it, so I'm not an impartial observer.  For my part I would not be inclined to want to see Lowell closed unless SFUSD went to some extraordinary lengths to provide the kind of quality education for high performers districtwide that Lowell, despite lacking in equitable district support,  provides now. What I see is SFUSD going to extraordinary lengths to help certain low-performing schools,  and the rest, including a majority of low-performing students at better schools, have to make due with less - hence the small class sizes at the so-called underserved schools while most other district schools burst  at the seams, particularly Lowell, even at a plus-950 API. 
I agree with many who say Lowell's creaming effect on the rest of San Francisco high schools is not a good thing. But until SFUSD can come up with a way to honor its honors students, to nurture excellence while tackling failure, and to give every child a fair share of the services he or she deserves, let's celebrate Lowell's real year-over-year successes.

One thing is for sure: Cardinals kick ass!


Saturday, November 2, 2013


I'm not prepared to write a post on the subject of MAPP so, in the interest of moving the discussion  forward,  I have copied an article from  Regarding the question of federal funding, whether the Feds would actually withhold funding as a result of AB484 is uncertain considering that they have never done so before (if you don't include RTTT, only Title), but the risk is great considering the amount at stake, anywhere from $1.5B to upward of $3B. It well may be that California blinks. In any case, the move to MAPP is certain with Common Core in effect. It is hard to comprehend why the Feds would require obsolete STAR testing in an era of the Common Core Curriculum. I don't get it given that the content and tests don't match. I suspect this is what happens when the Federal Government, which has no constitutional mandate in education, gets involved in the business of the states.

October 15, 2013
By Katy Grimes

Most California’s K-12 public schools will go through the 2013-14 school year without standardized testing after Gov. Jerry Brown just signed Assembly Bill 484 into law. The following school year, 2014-15, less rigorous federal Common Core tests will begin.

AB484 is by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Contra Costa, and coauthored by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. The bill was sponsored and pushed hard by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, also a Democrat. Torlekson claimed AB484 would overhaul California’s assessment system “to address the deeper learning called for by the Common Core State Standards.”
AB484 authorizes new Common Core-aligned assessments known as the Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress – MAPP Testing.
Additionally, AB484 would suspend the public release of student data performance for 2013, and possibly in years to come.
“This legislation will continue to be guided by what’s right for California’s children — moving forward with instruction and assessments reflecting the deeper learning and critical thinking our students need to compete and win in a changing world,” Torlakson said. “Our goals for 21st century learning, and the road ahead, are clear. We won’t reach them by continuing to look in the rear-view mirror with outdated tests, no matter how it sits with officials in Washington.”
No love of testing

“Brown never liked testing, or research data,” Lance Izumi told me; he is the Senior Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute,’s parent think tank. He’s also the author of “Not as good as you think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice,” Obama’s Education Takeover,” and “Short Circuited: The Challenges facing the Online Learning Revolution in California.”
California students had been tested once each year in math and English under the state’s K-12 Standardized Testing and Reporting system, known as STAR testing.

 Rather than waiting until the Common Core curriculum goes into effect in 2014, the governor saw this as an opportunity to rewrite state standards, and toss out STAR testing, Izumi said.

Bonilla’s bill now replaces the standardized testing with a system that has yet to be vetted, according to Izumi. Students will take field tests, and only be tested in math or English. Tests will no longer be given in both math and English.
“The MAPP testing program will be made up of assessments being designed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two multi-state organizations formed to create the next generation of assessments aligned to the Common Core,” a press statement from Torlakson explained. “Field tests of the new assessments, set for the spring of 2014, are designed as ‘tests of the tests.’”

Risking federal education funding

In addition to the disregard for the importance of standardized testing, the bill puts California at odds with the federal government’s education requirements, and the upcoming Common Core curriculum.
U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, opposed AB484, and warned state officials that if AB484 passed, California could lose $1.5 billion in federal funding for the current school year.

And California schools will no longer have to report students’ test scores to parents. “If you don’t respect individual student outcome data, parents and students don’t know how they are doing,” Izumi said. “And you can’t hold schools and teachers accountable.”

Common Core vs. STAR

Izumi said administering STAR testing costs California $25 million a year. During the committee process, Torlekson and Bonilla advocated dumping STAR testing, ostensibly to save the cost, and said the state should instead put the money toward Common Core.

 But according to Izumi, the governor has already allocated $1.25 billion for Common Core curriculum implementation and administration.

 The state also will spend an additional $2.1 billion on schools to implement the Local Control Funding Formula, Brown’s plan to spend more money on low-income school districts, minority and immigrant student populations, and non-English speaking students. To do that, Brown said he will take some of the current education funding from the better-performing schools.

I wrote about this in “Gov. Brown calls for redistribution of school funding,” when Brown cited a lack of civil rights and social inequities as what is wrong with California public schools.

Race to the bottom

According to Izumi, President Obama “strong-armed the states into adopting these Common Core standards through a number of devices, principally through the Race to the Top competition for federal grants.”

 The Race to the Top $4 billion grant scheme was awarded to states “leading coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform.” The grant was authorized under the federal “stimulus” program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

According to Izumi, the federal and state Departments of Education had developed numerous experimental educational programs promising to be reform breakthroughs in education. But the reforms were later discarded as failures, wasting large amounts of the taxpayers’ money.

Not all schools can play

Izumi said all tests have to be given by computer. But not all schools districts will be able to participate in the new MAPP testing. And Torlekson’s California Department of Education has no idea how many school districts don’t have computer systems.

Izumi warned, “Some kids may not get any testing.”

 - See more at:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013



Long before I went back to school for a teaching credential, when I was 15 and half years old to the day, I got my California driver's permit in what was then and is still today a teenage rite of passage. Since then, I've had the good sense not to drink and drive, but if I hadn't that sense, a driver's license wouldn't have granted me a lifetime guarantee behind the wheel of a car any more than having my teaching credential should guarantee me a lifetime place at the teacher's desk in a public school classroom. We expect drivers to continue to drive responsibly as long as they get behind that wheel and we codify driving standards  for the public safety, just as we  require minimum competencies to practice medicine or to practice the Law and most other jobs that share a compelling public interest.  That's not the case with public school teachers. Year after year, thousands of derelict teachers are given what amounts to a license to deprive students of their constitutional right to an "equal" public education.

Underperforming Teachers
That is true thanks to five California statutes that make it practically impossible to dismiss even the most woefully underperforming teachers. For too long powerful teacher unions have kept thousands of inept teachers on the job, holding those teachers' jobs sacrosanct and the respective students' education hostage, subservient to a system controlled through political patronage. Beholden to unions and inured to the plight of California's public school children,  (a class of minors without legions of lobbyists in the halls of the Capitol), the State's education establishment effectively grants teachers an ironclad assurance of a job due to the practical impossibilities of dismissal. The aging, sclerotic and outmoded hiring/firing paradigm allows the people of the State of California to employ new teachers, but never to dismiss incompetent ones. This has strapped hundreds of thousands of public school students with underperforming teachers who fail to provide an education that is equal in quality to the education the majority of students get from  better-performing teachers and it has enabled private and  charter schools to thrive in the void left by bad public policy and worse public schools.

Parents want the best and most affordable education possible for their children and when they are confronted with a public school model in which the adult's financial interests trump the child's educational interests, they vote with their feet. The exodus from traditional public education is a harbinger of the need for reform, albeit the teacher quality issue is not the only factor that is driving down achievement in our schools, it is certainly one of the most important inhibitors of achievement. Increasing the quality of education at the school site is a multi-faceted process that begins, first and foremost, with quality teaching in the classroom. And it is of no small significance that updating teacher quality standards and employee dismissal laws are among the most financially feasible reforms that would have immediate  payoffs for student achievement in a state where already high taxation and vast state retirement obligations make it difficult to raise additional funding for education.

The Legal Sand Trap
Vergara vs. California,  a constitutional challenge of  five contested teacher employment statutes sponsored by the reform organization Students Matter, hinges upon navigating an old and established sand trap for education reformists. Apportioning responsibility to teachers for the academic outcomes of their students has been a long and slippery slope. Accountability of this sort is hard to pin down with any precision by researchers and administrators alike with little to no agreement on who's responsible for the widespread failure in large swaths of public schools. Lacking any hard and fast documentary proof for assigning blame, no court to date has found teachers individually culpable for their student's lack of progress.  

There's no shortage of research on the subject of  teacher performance relative to student academic achievement, despite the lack of agreement as to how to quantify the degree to which student achievement can be attributed to teacher quality. Nevertheless, everyone except the most hardened union voices agree on the point that there's surely some degree of responsibility for teachers, though there's no general agreement on the larger question of what constitutes academic achievement, that is, what it means to be educated in this society at any given school age. Is it standardized test scores, student grades or even, as some would dubiously argue, attendance as well as suspension and expulsion rates? (See a previous post "Are Suspensions and Expulsions the New Measure of Student Achievement?" on this blog.) It stands to reason that if teachers are important in a student's progress, they can be for the better or for the worse.

When unions parade out actors and other celebrities before the cameras to pay homage to teachers who've figured large in their lives, they undermine their own  credibility in court, for if teachers can be credited for their successes they also can be blamed for their failures. And they cannot have it both ways in the public's eye. Such stories raise awareness of the  fine work of all the excellent school teachers and that's a good thing. But such high-profile antics belie the legal stance of the unions vis-à-vis teacher quality and student performance, which is to deny any profound causality between the two, to confound any agreement on their relationship and to keep the argument mired in discord as hedge in court.   

In the meantime and to muddy the waters further, both teachers and administrators have criticized NCLB for its narrow focus on achievement and the way in which standardized tests measure it, a point that is well received in educational circles. NCLB critics make a good case for returning to a more holistic and creative pedagogy, one that doesn't apply only high-stakes testing as the litmus of what it means to be educated.  More nuanced instructional approaches and evaluative techniques are by definition less measurable and this would make it all the more difficult to quantify teacher performance. So the rejection of NCLB by the unions may have  a valid foundation in theory as well as practice, but it also plays to their hand by further obfuscating the relationship between teacher and student outcome.

Unions have other ammunition to perpetuate the seeming scholarly confusion over teacher quality. It is well-established that family life/socioeconomic factors are the dominant influences on a student projected outcome. That is to say,  a teacher's ability to exact progress is limited to within the confines of what a student brings to the classroom from home and the community or culture from which he derives. And it's undoubtedly true when viewed through the prisms of achievement and demographic statistics as surely will be demonstrated by the defendants at the Vergara trial. There's no argument that the majority stake in student academics is  the advantages or disadvantages a student carries with him to school. What professional or casual observer of student achievement can honestly expect a student without any advantages to academically outshine another one with every advantage, regardless of the quality of teaching? The intrinsic disadvantages are real, but doesn't that make reform schools all the more necessary? And given those disadvantages for some, what happens when these underperforming students are strapped with underperforming teachers at underperforming schools year after year? The results are compounded and catastrophic.

The union's position on teacher influence is based on the self-serving and cynical notion that all student underperformance is a function of the drag of low socio-economic factors and is virtually unrelated to teacher quality.  The union's answer to underperformance can be summed up in a word - poverty. But low SES Asians are an exception as they score much higher and that blows a hole in the poverty-only cause of low achievement. The union viewpoint is akin to that of a doctor's influence on a patient's health. The doctor can provide excellent care, but if the patient  doesn't have healthy habits the doctor is limited in her ability to prevent the kinds of health conditions that often stem from bad habits. Yet, the Asian example exposes that theory as questionable since not all low-SES students bring bad habits. Nevertheless, if  we conclude that it is impossible to educate some students due to social-economic factors, should we rethink the purpose of public education for our most underperforming students? 

The answer is a resounding no. The union position is untenable on its face. If it wants the public to believe teachers can do nothing to change what it considers to be a forgone and negative educational outcome for poor students, why are many schools  able to buck the underperforming trend?  They do so because of highly effective teachers and instructional programs. And how can teacher's claim to be universally successful if they believe in a strict interpretation of the predictive power of demographics? How can they be successful when their students fail?
With "value-added" measures of teacher effectiveness, measures that take various factors into consideration, teachers can be held partially responsible for relative academic progress within the context of each student's own abilities, and such an acknowledgement of accountability can be a driver of greater productivity.  Across the country districts have instituted enhanced teacher evaluations and have shown that it is indeed possible to craft evaluative tools that apply multiple strategies in ascertaining teacher quality, most of which include peer review (teachers reviewing one another) and spur student achievement, the ultimate goal. 

This doesn't stop critics of enhanced teacher evaluations who claim they allow teachers to be used as scapegoats in a blame game. They miss the point for ending LIFO. Having professional standards will strengthen the integrity of the teaching profession and give new and promising teachers an  opportunity to develop their craft while weeding out those who consistently fail their students.  Teachers  claim they already have professional standards, but that's like saying we have already have laws without any system of  enforcement.  It is essential to remove those who  habitually fail and to nurture the next generation of promising teachers. At present many newer teachers cannot remain employed due to LIFO requirements of law.  Having real standards and real consequences will motivate teachers to do their best and to seek improvement when necessary - to continue to hone their craft and employ best practices in order to maintain their good standing within the community of their schools for the benefit of their students, their colleagues and society in general.  The fact is that there's no incentive at present built into a system which effectively grants de facto fire-proof job insurance for the best as well as the worst teachers  and everyone in between.

Some legal observers maintain that Vergara must establish a causal relationship between teacher quality and student quality, something which has never been done at trial. Why is this obvious relationship between teacher and student so illusory? No one doubts the parent's influence on the child, but many students spend more time with their teachers than their parents.  To acknowledge that teachers are a primary influence on students is a no-brainer for students, parents and administrators alike, but somehow it's an impossibility for the courts to assess, as if the smoking gun of the derelict teacher is just a figment of the imagination of the whole school community. 

Trying to calibrate a specific degree of influence,  that is, documentary proof of influence, is the straw man in the debate over teacher evaluations. It's a game with no winner. The truth of the matter is that teacher influence on student outcomes is not quantifiable nor does it need to be in the strict sense.  How teachers impact students varies tremendously from school to school and person to person and there's no doubt that evaluating effectiveness is a difficult business. But why are we are attempting to drill down and assign a number to quantify quality, looking for a mythological Atlantis in the halls of Academia, while failing teachers stand out at their schools like sore thumbs?

No doubt courts see these issues such as teacher culpability through a very different lense than those of parents or  educators.  Former reformist litigation (Reed, Deasy) attempted to prove to the court that the constitutional rights of students are violated through individual teacher incompetence  and the courts have rejected teacher culpability for lack of evidence, ignoring the sore thumb or the legal "smoking gun". But this time around the plaintiffs have found another way around the sand trap of teacher accountability. For LIFO to be overturned their case depends on the success of this strategy.  

Hard-to-Staff Schools

The  way around this problem is to focus on teaching staffs rather than individual teachers, showing how seniority and LIFO exacerbate teacher programmatic quality issues at hard-to-staff schools by laying off better teachers and keeping the worse teachers, en masse.  The thinking goes like this: since underperforming schools typically have less senior teachers on staff  these schools are disproportionally affected by teacher layoffs due to the last-in, first out (LIFO) statute and when layoffs happen it is not uncommon for a huge percentages of such teachers to be dismissed, breaking the continuity of  the school's year over year instructional program. Such large scale layoffs are well documented to have significant negative consequences for students at the affected schools and there is no disagreement on the negative academic impact of those consequences. Moreover, the  consequences are not strictly teacher quality-dependent. For this reason Vergara may be able to convince the court of a different causal relationship between teacher and student quality, one of general staffing rather than an individual quality. And there are legal precedents that support the student rather than the teacher in the hard-to-staff school situation.

In addition, not only are low performing schools and their students subjected to constant staff changes, the revolving door also figures largely and detrimentally in retaining teachers in hard-to-staff schools. By making it difficult for new and successful teachers to maintain gainful employment as a result of LIFO, we are damaging the longer term prospects for quality teaching staffs in this state and we are doing that so  we can keep underperforming teachers on the job. To succeed at trial, Vergara must make hey of that problem which is profoundly convoluted and anti-student, particularly if faced with the uphill challenge to "prove" the teacher/student relationship.

The public accepts the idea that most teachers perform to acceptable standards and many excel, but at what point does the minority of underperforming teachers affect the majority? Typically teachers may work alone in the classroom, but schools are a team effort and weak teachers often break the link in the chain. One or more weak teachers, especially in succession, can cause a student years of delayed progress, according to recent research. Here the 80/20 percent rule is in effect. Sometimes a small group can have a large impact on the whole, for better or for worse.  This is often the case with underperforming teachers as they adversely impact the school as a whole.  Schools with larger numbers of such teachers are hit hardest of all.

Some have suggested applying the "50% rule" to remedy the hard-to-staff school problem. I'm no legal expert, but common sense tells me that constitutionality shouldn't hang on a fraction. Under that remedy, if 49.9% of staff remains intact, LIFO is discarded, but if the retention rate is above 50% LIFO  is preserved. In other words, one teacher more or less may determine whether the everyone is retained or removed by LIFO under such a scenario. Even more importantly, the 50% rate is instructionally arbitrary. Any teacher will tell you that a 50% layoff rate is extremely destructive to the instructional continuity at a school, though 80% is certainly worse and akin to a school consolidation, a near total staff replacement. An organization that replaces half of its staff is usually an organization that is failing, especially when such staff changes are commonplace.

It's clear that 50% rule is a strategic maneuver that when legally applied  might be an acceptable compromise in court for unions in strategic retreat from a potential loss of LIFO in its entirety, but when practically applied in schools it would be a less than effective tool for closing the revolving door,  maintaining instructional continuity and the development of interpersonal relationships forged through hard work between teachers, students and families. Codifying the 50% rule would end up institutionalizing a slightly-improved but ultimately less than adequate solution to underperforming school staffing problems associated with LIFO.  If we want to support underperforming schools it is necessary to maintain staff at those schools with as little turnover as possible and definitely at a figure far below the 50% mark.  Last-in first-out should be entirely discarded as constitutionally unequal treatment.


Legal protection for teachers to the detriment of students must end. Tenure and  LIFO reform are essential to raise student achievement in a state with the strongest employee protections and among the worst student  results.  Ask any parent if there's cause for debate on the teacher quality issue and you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks teachers are not a major factor in the education of their children. Not burdened as researchers are with the exertions of assigning proportional influence through statistical analysis, almost every parent can tell a personal story of a "bad" teacher and in the vast majority of cases those  teachers are roundly criticized in the school community by students, parents, teachers and administrators alike.  

There really is no way to quantify the exact degree of ownership of individual educational outcomes and its unlikely there ever will be. It isn't the lack of an answer that deters us from meaningful reform, but the fact that we are asking the wrong question. We shouldn't be asking how to find a magical number that will quantify  a teacher's effect on her students, but what it is we can do to better that teacher's effect?  Not everything in this world can be proven, but most things can be improved.  If the justice system is held hostage looking for an impossible and fleeting proof, like a dog chasing its tail, then surely there is no chance to make the necessary changes that are staring us and the future of our students in the face.



Thursday, September 19, 2013


The first article I copied below I previously put up on the preceding thread. Due to the significance of this lawsuit  I decided I would put up it again in its own post. I also included a second article that follows the first. That one is reprinted from the Huffington Post. 

Vergara vs. California is the most significant lawsuit to date to address the issue of teacher protectionism and the Constitutional rights of children to receive a public education.  A group of us will be meeting with a representative of the plaintiff to give accounts of how ineffective teachers have harmed the education of our own children. If anyone is interested in attending this meeting please email me at The meeting takes place next Monday evening so don't delay. It is imperative that we support this lawsuit for the benefit of our children and to help teachers out from under the shackles of their own failed union leadership.

Make no mistake about it, this is a major piece of litigation that will either dilute the protections of the teachers' unions and protect and empower students. or will  enshrine teacher protections. It will either dislodge  the status quo  protections of teachers or, conversely, go another step further in making them ironclad.  However, should the plaintiffs ultimately lose it will likely end up on the California ballot. Currently, polling suggests that such a proposition would easily win.  So if the case loses in LA and eventually  on appeal in the appellate court and the California Supreme Court, a successful ballot initiative could propel it to the USSC. That would be something the unions would like to avoid at all costs.
 First Artcile

Los Angeles, CA – Yesterday afternoon, the nonprofit group Students Matter ( sponsored a groundbreaking lawsuit against the State of California and the California Department of Education to strike down outdated state laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of effective teachers. The lawsuit focuses on improving overall teacher effectiveness because of the critical role teachers play in their students’ lifetime achievement.

The lawsuit asks the court to strike down state statutes related to the guarantee of permanent employment after only minimal and cursory reviews; bureaucratic procedures that make it prohibitively expensive and timeconsuming to dismiss ineffective teachers; and LastIn FirstOut (LIFO) senioritybased layoffs that ignore teacher effectiveness. Unlike many previous education lawsuits brought against the state, the lawsuit sponsored by Students Matter would impact all school districts throughout California.

Students Matter consulted with a range of education experts and organizations in the development of the lawsuit to determine how to best bring about improvement in student achievement, and has formed an Advisory Committee which includes Alliance for a Better Community, Students for Education Reform, Democrats for Education Reform, Parent Revolution, Students First, The Education TrustWest and New Schools Venture Fund (partial list).

Theodore J. Boutrous and Theodore B. Olson, two of the lead attorneys who are fighting to overturn Proposition 8 in federal court on behalf of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, head up the Students Matter legal team.

“These state laws create inequalities by depriving students taught by ineffective teachers of the fundamental right to education guaranteed by the state constitution, and they have a disproportionately negative effect on lowincome and minority students, ” said Mr. Boutrous. “The statutes prevent school administrators from prioritizing or even considering the interests of their students when making employment and dismissal decisions. The number of grossly ineffective teachers is small, but their impact on students is enormous.”

Studies show that teachers have the greatest impact on students’ lifetime achievement. Students taught by effective teachers are more likely to attend college, attend higherranked colleges, earn higher salaries, reside in higher quality neighborhoods, and save for retirement. According to one of the nation’s foremost economists, teachers near the top of the quality distribution can get an entire year’s worth of additional learning out of their students compared to those near the bottom.

Students taught by grossly ineffective teachers suffer lifelong problems and fail to recover from this disadvantage. One recent study found that a student who is taught by a single ineffective teacher remains “stuck below grade level” for years to come. Another recent study found that replacing a grossly ineffective teacher with even an average teacher would increase students’ cumulative lifetime income by a total of $1.4 million per classroom taught by that teacher. (See

“The mission of Students Matter is to help improve student achievement in California by enhancing the overall teaching environment,” said Students Matter founder Dave Welch. “We are challenging a system that was fashioned by special interests and has burdened our schools with an inflexible environment for hiring and retaining the best teachers. This system is not designed to benefit students, and that’s unacceptable.”

The lawsuit also names the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the Alum Rock Union School District as defendants in the claim. Recent reports estimate that in the Los Angeles Unified School District alone, there are approximately 1,000 or more teachers who are grossly ineffective; these teachers are responsible for teaching on average 30,000 or more students annually. In a recent survey, 68 percent of teachers reported that there are grossly ineffective tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.

High poverty schools serving predominantly Latino and AfricanAmerican students often have a disproportionate share of the least effective teachers. A recent study of the LAUSD found that a lowincome student is more than twice as likely to have a low valueadded English Language Arts teacher as a higher income peer, and 66 percent more likely to have a lowvalue added math teacher.

“Achievement gaps will persist unless we can reform an educational system that results in our highest need students often being taught by the least effective teachers,” said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education TrustWest. “ETW strongly supports the efforts of the plaintiffs in this suit to challenge and fix the state laws that allow these inequities to persist.”

Students Matter is committed to ensuring that all of California’s children receive a quality education. Numerous studies show that teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement. Teacher effectiveness has more impact on student achievement than class size, education spending, teacher pay, or student demographics/background. Students Matter is filing a lawsuit to dismantle the outdated and unsuccessful laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of the most effective teachers, so that all our children can have access to a quality education. For more information, please go to


 Firing Teachers: Students Matter, Silicon Valley Nonprofit, Files Lawsuit Challenging California Teacher Protection Laws


Earlier this year, the Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice brought suit against Los Angeles Unified over the pro forma way it conducts teacher evaluations. But here, the suit isn't seeking to overturn the Stull Act, which defines how evaluations are done; it says that the district (along with nearly every other one) has chosen to ignore the law's requirement that student performance be included in teacher evaluations.

firing teachers
There's no shortage of critics of the tenure, dismissal, and layoff laws, which teachers unions have lobbied hard to preserve. California is one of few states that have not lengthened the probationary period for teachers. More than two dozen states have strengthened their evaluation systems in the past several years. California's dismissal law, with its 10-step process laden with due process, can cost districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to fire a teacher on the grounds of unsatisfactory performance, which is why districts often work around it by paying teachers to retire or pushing them from one school to another.

Persuading a judge that the practical problems and the effects of the laws rise to the level of a constitutional violation is another matter. (In an analogous case, California is among the nation's bottom spenders on K-12 education; it has tough standards and a challenging student population. But attorneys last year failed to convince a Superior Court judge in Robles-Wong v. California and Campaign for Quality Education v. California that adequate education funding is a constitutional right.)


The tenure law may be particularly challenging. As the suit points out, something like 98 percent of probationary teachers have gotten tenure. The two-year probationary period (actually 18 months, since teachers must be notified by March of their second year) is not long enough. Too often evaluations have been slapdash. But the law itself doesn't require a district even to cite a cause in denying tenure; the power of dismissal lies with the employer.

Students named in the lawsuit are from Los Angles Unified, Pasadena Unified, Sequoia Union High School District, and Alum Rock Union Elementary District, although only Los Angeles Unified and Alum Rock, which serves 11,000 students in San Jose, are specifically cited as defendants, along with Gov. Brown, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, the State Board of Education, the state, and the State Department of Education.
The only specific reference to Alum Rock was in the identification of plaintiff Daniella Martinez, 10, whom the lawsuit says chose to transfer to a public charter school because "of the substantial risk that she would be assigned to a grossly ineffective teacher who impedes her equal access to the opportunity to receive a meaningful education." The initial filing doesn't cite evidence of specific teachers who negatively affected Daniella or the other seven defendants. It refers to studies by such groups as the National Council On Teacher Quality, which issued a blunt assessment of the tenure and dismissal practices of Los Angeles Unified, and on research by Hoover Institution author Eric Hanushek, who concludes that just by dismissing 6 to 10 percent of weakest teachers, students' academic achievement and long-term earnings as adults would increase significantly.

Los Angeles, as the state's largest district, may have been named as a defendant because its superintendent, John Deasy, has been outspoken about the need to change labor laws. United Teachers Los Angeles has also sued over a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that Deasy has put in place.

Deasy would appear to be a friendly witness for the plaintiffs. In a statement, he said he supports lengthening the probationary period, quickening the dismissal process, and reforming the state's layoff law. "To my dismay, we have lost thousands of our best and hardest-working classroom instructors through the last hired, first fired rule. When forced to reduce our teaching staff through budget cuts, we are compelled through state law and union rules to base these difficult decisions primarily on seniority," Deasy said.
But when questioned, Deasy will be pressed to acknow
ledge that it may not be the laws but the implementation that counts. Since joining the district, first as deputy superintendent, then superintendent, Deasy has pushed administrators to apply more scrutiny in granting tenure and more perseverance in dismissing bad teachers. Last year the district terminated 853 teachers. Furthermore, the number of probationary teachers denied tenure rose significantly last year: from 89 in 2009-10 (10 percent of those eligible) to 120 teachers in their first year and 30 in their second year. Other superintendents would agree that well-trained, persistent principals can document the case for teacher dismissals, notwithstanding cumbersome, excessively burdensome requirements.

John Fensterwald is the editor and co-writer of Follow him on Twitter (@jfenster). Read more of his work and more at