Plaintiff in Historic Texas School Finance Case Remembered

Demetrio Rodriguez played a pivotal role in the creation of what is known as the “Robin Hood” school funding system in Texas. He was the lead plaintiff in the Rodriguez v. San Antonio ISD case, which was first brought in 1968.

In part, the case centered on inequality and whether children children had a constitutional right to an education.

The issue arose when students attending the poor, almost totally Mexican American Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio walked out of class, demanding better teachers and resources. They marched to the district’s administration building.

Rodriguez was a veteran and a sheet metal worker who became involved in the Edgewood Concerned Parents Association in San Antonio. According to the Texas State Historical Association, because of the area’s poverty and property tax based funding, the district was only receiving $37 per student, while wealthy children in neighboring Alamo Heights received $413 per child.

In Rodriguez, a federal district judge found the system unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned that decision. According to the historical association, Rodriguez responded by saying that “the poor people have lost again.”

However, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund tried another challenge with Edgewood ISD v. Kirby in 1984, and Rodriguez once again joined as a plaintiff. This time, in 1989, Edgewood won, and the funding plan known as “Robin Hood,” in which property-rich districts must send funds to poor districts, was born.

Rodriguez died this week at the age of 87, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

“He was my hero,” said his daughter Patricia Rodriguez, now a third grade bilingual teacher in Edgewood ISD, told the Express-News. “I would like for other people to remember him as a great warrior. Even though he wasn’t well educated, he didn’t let that stop him. It didn’t keep him from fighting for what he thought was right.”

To this day, inequalities between the communities persist. Edgewood ISD is about 98% Hispanic and 97% economically disadvantaged, and Alamo Heights is about 38% Hispanic and 21% economically disadvantaged.

In the 2011-12 school year, the academic performance gap was stark. According to the Texas Education Agency, of 10th graders initially taking the English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies exams, 80% of Alamo Heights students passed all the exams, compared with 40% of Edgewood students. Keep in mind, there are many other students who dropped out and of course were not tested.

The same year Edgewood had 506 high school seniors enrolled and 791 ninth-graders—quite a gap. Meanwhile, Alamo Heights had 353 seniors and 388 ninth-graders.

And the fight over adequate funding for Texas schools continues to rage on. Hundreds of school districts representing more than one million children have once again sued the state for inadequately funding schools. In February, a judge ruled once again that the school finance system is unconstitutional. According to the Dallas Morning News, the ruling centered on schools being inadequately funded, unequally funded and limitations on districts’ taxing levels. The state has planned to appeal.

During the trial, former Texas state demographer Steve Murdoch testified that more funding is needed, particularly because of the growing number of Hispanic and poor children in the state. Texas’ student enrollment is now about 51% Hispanic and 60% economically disadvantaged.

The Texas Legislature cut more than $5 billion in public education funding in 2011 to balance the budget.

“The debt all of Texas owes to Rodriguez can be best repaid by properly funding the state’s public schools,” wrote the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News.

Clearly, Rodriguez’s battle is not over.

Related Links:

– “Rodriguez, who fought for equality, dies at 87,” San Antonio Express News.

– “Rodriguez was a warrior for equity,” San Antonio Express-News

– Rodriguez v. San Antonio ISD, The Handbook of Texas Online.

– “Judge: Texas school finance system ruled unconstitutional,” The Dallas Morning News.

– “Latino-Majority Texas School System Faces Funding Challenge,” Latino Ed Beat.

Hispanic Students Improve on Economics Exam

Hispanic students are improving in their understanding of economics, but still lag behind white students, according to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in economics taken by high school seniors.

The exam was taken by 11,000 high school seniors in 2012, and the results have been compared with those of students who took the exam in 2006.

Overall, Hispanic students scored higher and a higher percentage performed at or above the “basic” level. The percentage of Hispanic students scoring at or above basic grew from 64% in 2006 to 71% in 2012.

About 26% of Hispanic students scored “proficient” or better, compared with 53% of white high school seniors.

Students were tested in the areas of market economy, national economy and international economy.

Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, believes that improving performance of Hispanic students could have more to do with improving reading and writing skills than their actual comprehension of economics.

Related Links:

– “NAEP Economics Results Reveal Proficiency Woes,” Curriculum Matters Blog, Education Week.

– The Nation’s Report Card: Economics 2012 (National Assessment of Educational Progress)

Study Examines Teacher Assignment Inequalities Within Schools

We often hear about disparities in teacher quality between rich and poor schools. But what about the inequality that takes place within schools?

Every school has a mix of teachers of varying levels of talent and experience. School principals wield the power to determine which students they will be assigned. Experienced teachers may seek to handpick their students. Well-informed, affluent parents may also demand specific teachers.

A new study by Stanford University researchers published in Sociology of Education examined teacher assignments within the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system between the 2003-04 through 2010-11 school years. (Last school year, about 66% of Miami-Dade students were Hispanic.)

Researchers found that low-performing students were more likely be assigned to teachers with less experience, those from less-competitive colleges, female teachers and black and Hispanic teachers.

According to the study, teachers with 10 or more years of experience and those in leadership were more likely to have high-performing students in their classrooms. Teachers who are white, male or attended more competitive universities also tended to be assigned more high-performing students.

There was one interesting exception, however. Those schools under strong accountability pressure were less likely to place the high-achieving students with veteran teachers. But in most cases, campuses are assigning struggling children to less experienced teachers, and the achievement gap persists.

The study cautions that efforts within districts to lure more veteran teachers with financial incentives to certain difficult-to-staff campuses can backfire.

“Within-school sorting may prevent the most effective teachers from being matched to students who need them most even if the sorting of teachers between schools is minimized,” the study says.

According to the study’s survey of principals in Miami-Dade, about 28% of principals said they rewarded strong teachers with the class assignments they wanted. Their motivation was to retain the strong teachers.

In addition, the study notes that “If white principals tend to develop better relationships with white teachers in their school than they develop with black or Hispanic teachers, then a desire to reward their friends with desired classes may contribute to the racial differences in class assignments we observe in schools led by white principals.”

While researchers were critical of assigning students to less-experienced teachers, they were not as critical of the practice of assigning black and Hispanic students to black and Hispanic teachers. They point out that minority teachers may desire these assignments and may have a more powerful impact on their students’ achievement, prompting principals to support making such assignments as well.

This begs the question–is it bad to match students with teachers of the same race or ethnicity? And is some of this happening in regards to Hispanic students because of language issues as well?

In addition, how can the teacher assignment process be reformed?

Related Links:

“Stanford study finds troubling patterns of teacher assignments within schools,” Stanford Report.

“Systematic Sorting: Teacher Characteristics and Class Assignments,” Sociology of Education.

Schools Across Country Face ELL Challenge

For many children who are English language learners, the road to proficiency can stretch on for years. While many shed their ELL label after several years, others languish in special language programs well into their teens.

A recent Associated Press article describes the myriad of challenges that educators face when educating ELL students. For example, a study by the education advocacy group Californians Together found that 59% of secondary ELLs had been in the United States for six years or longer–still struggling to reach proficiency.

These students are more advanced than beginners with no vocabulary. The group’s director told the AP that they are just stalled at an “intermediate” level.

When the students’ language proficiency stalls, that places them at risk of dropping out of high school. The article notes that graduation rates for ELLs in a number of states are lower than 60%, including 29% in Nevada.

The article notes that educators are hopeful that the implementation of the Common Core standards will standardize courses for ELLs–so they don’t vary as much. Nationally, such children are educated through many different avenues, ranging from English immersion to bilingual education.

We may learn more about what methods are working best by examining which programs promote English proficiency, and which are producing more long-term ELLs. Last September, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that focuses more attention on long-term ELLs, beginning with tracking how many longterm ELLs attend specific schools and school districts.

The legislation was sponsored by California State Senator Ricardo Lara, a Democrat. Districts will have to report and collect data every year.

“Schools and districts will now have the tools to properly track and address their progress toward improvement,” Lara said in a news release at the time.

Related Links:

– “English-language learners face shortage of teachers, and successful bilingual programs,” Associated Press.

– “California Eyes Tracking Long-Term English Language Learners,” Latino Ed Beat.

– “California Governor Approves Long-Term ELL bill,” Learning the Language Blog, Education Week.

– “Lara’s Bill, the first in the nation to create a definition for long term English learners Signed into Law,” State Senator Ricardo Lara.


L.A. Teacher Led Walkouts of Mexican American Students

Sal Castro, a Mexican American Los Angeles high school social studies teacher who played a pivotal role in the walkouts of Latino students demanding better educational opportunities, died Monday at age 79.

In Castro’s obituary, The Los Angeles Times noted that students at five high schools walked out in 1968 “in a dramatic bid to remedy overcrowded and run-down schools, soaring dropout rates, poorly trained teachers, and counselors who steered Latino students into auto shop instead of college-prep classes.”

The Times went on to note that Castro once said that the conditions were “like American education forgot the Latino kid.”

For his role in the protests that became known as the “blowouts” he was arrested, then fired and then later rehired but placed at first in schools where there were few Latino students.

University of California Santa Barbara Chicano studies professor Mario T. Garcia wrote in The Huffington Post that “what the walkouts really changed was the consciousness of the students. They recognized that it was within their power to produce social change.”

Despite his punishment at the time, eventually the Los Angeles Unified School District appreciated his legacy. This week, the district posted a tribute to Castro online. The district later named a middle school after him.

Superintendent John Deasy said, “Sal Castro held a mirror up to our district that showed the need for a youths’ rights agenda more than 45 years ago. Graduation rates, access to college-prep courses, allocation of resources—all of these issues needed fixing and that is why we have spent every day striving to provide the education each and every one of our students deserves.”

Related Links:

– “Sal Castro, teacher who led ’68 Chicano student walkouts, dies at 79,” Los Angeles Times.

– “Sal Castro and Chicano Educational Justice,” The Huffington Post. 

– “Sal Castro Dead: Chicago Rights Activist and Educator Dies of Thyroid Cancer,” Associated Press.

– “Latino Educator and Activist Salvador (Sal) Castro Remembered,” Los Angeles Unified School District.

Most Colorado Latino College Students Need Remediation

A new report by Colorado higher education officials finds that in 2012, almost 78% of Latino students enrolled in the state’s two-year colleges need remedial education. Latino students  fared better at four-year colleges, where 40% need remedial courses.

By comparison, 57% of white students needed remediation at two-year colleges and 19% at four-year colleges. African-American students fared the worst, with 90% needing remedial coursework at two-year schools and 56% at four-year schools.

The report by the Colorado Department of Higher Education breaks out the rates and numbers of students by college and university. The state also tracks the figures by school district and high school. THe highest rate was found to be 95% at Emily Griffith Opportunity School in Denver Public Schools, and the lowest at just 2% at D’Evelyn Senior High School in the Jefferson County School District.

About 51% of all students needed remediation in math, 31% in writing and 18% in reading.

Even if you’re not a reporter in Colorado, find out how your state tracks remediation rates. Examining which high schools graduate the most students requiring remedial courses can often be just as illuminating as looking at the graduation rates.

Related Links:

2012 Remedial Education Report, Colorado Department of Higher Education. 

“40% of Colorado high school grads need remediation before college,” The Denver Post.

Florida Scholarship Changes Could Hurt Latino Students

A Florida scholarship program known as Bright Futures may soon no longer have such a sunny reputation.

Recently announced eligibility requirement changes mean that significantly fewer Latino and black students will qualify for assistance. The required minimum GPA of 3.0 will remain the same.

State Impact reports that students graduating in the spring of 2014 would have to score at least a 1170 on the SAT or 26 on the ACT. Students now must score 1020 on the SAT or 22 on the ACT.

The Florida College Access Network is pushing for scholarship eligibility requirements that don’t rely so heavily on standardized test scores, but instead will forgive lower scores if a student’s grade point average is high–and vice versa. The group also wants income to be a factor.

An analysis by the University of South Florida obtained by the access network found that 87% of Latino freshmen at state universities entering between summer/fall 2010 and summer/fall 2011 met the standards, but just 35%would qualify under the new requirements.

Additionally, between 7,000 -7,500 Hispanic freshmen met criteria for Bright Futures for Fall 2012, only between 2,700- 3,000 students would meet the new criteria set for Fall 2014, a drop of more than 60%.

Meanwhile University of Florida President Bernie Machen wrote an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times supporting the changes, saying that they would help keep the program solid financial and able to continue.

“When the Florida Legislature created the Bright Futures scholarship in 1997, lawmakers never intended the program to help students based on their racial status or family income,” Machen wrote. “Rather, the scholarship had only one purpose: to provide a financial incentive for Florida’s most academically talented students to attend the state’s public universities, raising the quality of their experience in college and improving our universities as a whole.”

He argues that minority and low-income students can be assisted through other programs. He cited the Florida Opportunity Scholars, which covers tuition and board for students first in their family to attend college and coming from homes earning less than $40,000 a year.

Meanwhile Florida College Access Network executive director Braulio Colon expressed that Bright Futures should offer access to more students.

“We believe all students can rise and meet high academic standards,” Colon said, and State Impact reported. “But the current scheduled increase in eligibility requirements for this important scholarship program is a dramatic jump that jeopardizes access for thousands of college-going students and relies too heavily on standardized test scores for measuring academic merit.”

State Rep. Ricardo Rangel, a Democrat, has filed a bill that would keep the standards the same, but The Miami Herald reports that it seems unlikely to pass. He relates because he learned English as a second language (his parents were immigrants from Ecuador) and struggled with the SAT–but went on to earn a master’s degree.

But Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Republican who is chair of the higher education panel, agreed with the changes.

“Are we going to say that Hispanic students can’t measure up?” the Miami Herald reported.

Related Links:

– “Change to Bright Futures scholarships hits poor, minorities,” The Miami Herald. 

– “More than Half of Black and Hispanic Students Will No Longer Qualify for Bright Futures Scholarships,” State Impact/NPR.

– “Column: Making futures

– “Number of Bright Futures scholarships awarded to Hispanic university students expected to drop by over 60%,” Florida College Access Network.

– Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program

L.A. Parents Use “Parent Trigger” To Create Unusual New School Plan

Empowered by California’s “parent trigger” law, the parents at one elementary school cast their votes Tuesday in an unusual election.

They were deciding whether the struggling 24th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles should remain in the L.A. Unified School District, break away and be run by a charter school operator–or opt for an unusual combination of the two.

While public school districts and charter schools often compete to enroll the same students, the parents took the unusual step, and 80% opted for merging both models together.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the parents voted for L.A. Unified to handle the kindergarten through fourth grades, and the charter school to handle grades five through eight. Parents will also participating in the hiring process for new staff.

The majority of the children at the school are Latino, and the vote gave voice to many of the Spanish-speaking immigrant parents. That was reflected during the vote. However, they did not work alone. The campaign was largely organized by the group Parent Revolution.

The Times reported that the vote, which took place in a park, had a festive atmosphere and included face painting, piñata and tamales.

“I’ve seen the struggle of some parents here that they’ve gone through so many problems with their children,” parent Esmerelda Chacon told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m very , very happy with the results we got.”

The California law allows a majority of parents at a failing school to petition seeking reforms, including replacing the principal and much of the staff to closing the school.

So far, the parent trigger concept has proved to be controversial. In Florida, for example, the debate has raged over whether the law reflects an effort to privatize education by converting public schools into charter schools run by companies.

It remains to be seen whether putting parents in charge of a school can be an effective turnaround model. But it’s an experiment many are setting their hopes on.

Related Links:

– “Parents choose LAUSD, charter school to run Jefferson Park campus,” The Los Angeles Times.

– “Parents choose unique school takeover model in ‘trigger’ vote,” Hechinger Report. 

– “Florida Senate revises ‘parent trigger’ proposal,” The Tampa Tribune. April 11. 

Hartford, Conn., Schools Reach Agreement On ELLs

Years after concerns were first raised about how the Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut were instructing English Language Learners, the district has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, pledging to make a number of changes to address the needs of the population.

The Center for Children’s Advocacy first filed a complaint with the OCR in April 2007. The student population includes many Spanish-speaking students, in addition to refugees from various countries.

The February 2013 agreement includes ensuring that ELL students receive at least 45-60 minutes a day of ESL instruction from an ESL-certified teacher (or bilingual) and that ELL students receive support in learning core content. It also required the district to actively recruit qualified ESL- and bilingual-certified staff, and offer professional development on ELL instruction to general education teachers.

In addition, when administrators meet to review school performance data they also will review ELL data, including examining the students’ academic progress and graduation rates. In addition, the district will make interpreting services available to parents–but agreed to avoid using students as interpreters.

The district also must provide certain information to the Office of Civil Rights by October 2013, including the numbers and types of ELL staff at each school, a description of professional development opportunities, and a copy of its plan for communication with non-English speaking parents.

By December 2013, the district must provide information including a list of all ELL students and their proficiency levels, the schedules of ELL teachers, and a description of support services in core content for ELL students.

According to the Learning the Language blog, attorney Stacey Violante Cote with the Center for Children’s Advocacy said that the group became concerned about a lack of services for ELL and immigrant students.

“That’s why this agreement with OCR is so necessary,” she said. “We need something that is going to outlast any administrative turnover or changes in the district’s reform agenda.”

Meanwhile, the blog reported that Mary Beth Russo, the school system’s lead facilitator for ELL services, said the district began implementing changes far before the agreement was signed. Those changes included offering school choice to ELLs. Hartford also began publishing a guide providing information about ELLs at every school, including their academic performance and the staff working with the population.

ELL students face considerable hurdles to overcome. According to the Hartford Courant, only 49% of ELL students in the district graduated in four years in 2010, compared with 62% of non-ELLs.

Related Links:

– “Hartford Schools, Civil Rights Officials Agree on Services for ELLs,” Learning the Language Blog/Education Week. April 9. 

– “After Federal Probe, Hartford Schools Agree to Improve Services for ‘English Language Learners,'” The Hartford Courant.

– Hartford Board of Education Resolution Agreement

Report Cards Grade California School Districts on Latino Achievement

States grade their school districts each year based on accountability tests and other factors. In California, The Education Trust-West has created its own report cards for the state’s largest 148 school districts. The group proved to be a pretty tough grader.

The report noted that the highest overall grade of a B was earned by Baldwin Park Unified school district. Most districts received grades of Cs and Ds, leaving plenty of room for improvement.

The group’s evaluation focuses on the academic achievement and graduation rates of three targeted groups: Latinos, African-Americans, and low-income students. The four categories are performance, academic improvement over five years, the size of the achievement gap, and college readiness.

The Education Trust makes a number of recommendations to the state based on its findings:

– Report data on achievements gaps between groups, so the public is better informed on the issue.

– Analyze district, school, and subgroup improvement scores, therefore showing progress made over time.

– Focus more on college readiness

The report also noted that successful districts tended to use data to make decisions, zeroing in  down to the classroom teacher, grade level, school and district level. In addition, successful districts tended to focus on parent involvement.

Related Links:

– “Ed Trust-West Releases Third Annual Report Cards Grading the 148 Largest Unified Districts on Outcomes for Latino, African-American and Low-Income Students.” The Education Trust-West.

– California District Report Cards.

– “Sanger Unified’s grad rates lauded in education report,” The Fresno Bee.

– “Many Bay Area districts fail to adequately education low-income and minority students, report finds,” Contra Costa Times.