Achivement Gap Persists in California

While Latinos make up the majority of California’s public school students, they continue to lag white students on academic achievement measures.

California may have more experience working with Latino students than other states, but that hasn’t translated into better academic returns. The Associated Press points out that Hispanic students often attend poorly funded schools with larger class sizes and fewer academic courses.

The article notes that only about one out of every four Hispanic sophomores don’t pass the state’s high school exit exam, compared with one in 10 white students.

But there are some success stories. The AP reports that the agricultural area where the Sanger Unified School District is located is making progress with the children of migrant farmworkers are improving. The article notes that Sanger was once a failing district.

A report by the Bay Area Research Group found that the district began to improve after spending time on changing its culture — offering more teacher training, for example. The district created its own testing system to analyze the effectiveness of its instruction.

The study detailed how Sanger changed its culture, including going from following textbooks to addressing student needs and from professional isolation to collaboration.

What can we learn from California about what works for Latino students and what doesn’t?

Related Links:

“Latino Academic Achievement Gap Persists,” Associated Press.

“Farm Town Develops Education Success Formula,” Associated Press.

“Turning Around a High-Poverty School District: Learning from Sanger Unified’s Success,” Bay Area Research Group and Stanford University.

Report Emphasizes Importance of Latino College Completion in California

Latinos in California have “unacceptably low rates” of college completion that must improve in order for the state to have a strong future, a new report says.

The report, “The State of Latinos in Higher Education in California,” was conducted by the nonprofit group The Campaign for College Opportunity.

The most stark fact illustrating the challenge is that in 2011, only about 11 percent of Latino adults ages 25 or older held a bachelor’s degree in the state, compared with 39 percent of white adults.

On the positive side, Diverse Issues in Higher Education reported that Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the campaign, noted that “surveys continue to confirm that Latinos have very high aspirations. Latino parents are very supportive of their children getting a college education. In fact, 92 percent of them believe that a college education is very important.”

While more Latinos are graduating high school, that isn’t necessarily leading them to graduate from college.

While many Latinos feel attending college is important, the study points out several factors that hinder their chance of finishing. Among those potential barriers, Latinos are less likely to enroll in a four-year university, less likely to attend a selective college, less likely to enroll full-time, or to complete a bachelor’s degree.

The group makes a number of recommendations for improving outcomes for Latino students. The list includes creating a statewide plan for higher education, investing in student services, increasing funding for higher education, strengthening the state’s financial aid program, and improving the relationship between K12 and higher education entities.

The report also suggests that the state create benchmarks based on Latino enrollment and publicize progress made toward those goals.

According to the study, about 94 percent of California’s Latinos under the age of 18 were born in the United States. When Latinos attend college, they are more likely to attend community colleges. According to state data, of the state’s freshman Latino students in fall 2012, there were 118,727 enrolled in community colleges, 23,046 enrolled in the California State University system, and 8,747 in the University of California system.

Many Latino students who enroll in community colleges must take remedial courses in order to be college-ready, and studies show those students are less likely to finish college. According to California state data, only about four in 10 Latino students complete community colleges in six years. Additionally, of those Latinos who complete community college and enroll in the California State University system only about 63 percent earn a bachelor’s degree within four years.

Meanwhile, well-prepared Latino students attending the UC system fare better: almost 74 percent graduate within six years, and 46 percent in four years. Additionally, almost 82 percent of Latino community college transfers to the UC system graduate in four years.

Related Links:

– “The State of Latinos in Higher Education in California,” The Campaign for College Opportunity.

“California’s Low Latino College Completion Rate Imperils State’s Future,” Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

“For Economy’s Sake, Latinos Need College Push,” San Diego Union Tribune.

Lawsuit Threatened over Funding for ELLs in Nevada

Civil rights organizations in Nevada are raising concerns about the scant funding for English Language Learners attending the state’s public schools, and are investigating a possible lawsuit against the state.

The Las Vegas Sun reports that the ACLU of Nevada, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Hispanics in Politics have met to discuss the situation. Hispanics in Politics president Fernando Romero went as far as to say that Latino students have become “collateral damage,” CBS reported, after funding for ELLs was cut by legislators last session.

The discussions come on the heels of a lawsuit filed just last week by the ACLU against the state of California on behalf of six ELL students and their families, alleging that the state has not adequately educated its ELL student population.

However, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed adding $29 million for ELLs to the budget for use over the next two years.

According to a recent study by the UNLV Lincy Institute, Nevada has severely underfunded services for ELL students. Clark County schools reported serving 53,073 students in its ELL program in February 2013, but 94,771 are defined as ELLs. The report says that Nevada is one of only eight states that does not allocate specific funds to the ELL population (beyond regular base per-student funding). Schools therefore rely on federal funding for additional money.

“The lack of a state vision and action plan for ELL education is especially problematic in Nevada, where despite its higher numbers of ELLs, has no funding mechanism for ELL education nor standards to guide the educational goals and achievement of its ELL students,” the report charges.

According to the study, the Miami-Dade Schools in Florida provides funding of $4,677 per ELL student, while in the Clark County schools in Las Vegas provides just $119 per student.

Just last week, the ACLU, Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP sued the state of California for its alleged failure to provide an adequate education to some 20,000 ELLs. They allege that about 250 school districts say they are providing no to few services to the students. The state has responded that it is committed to making sure ELLs receive appropriate instruction and help.

What sort of funding does your state provide to ELLs? In addition, how are school districts actually using the funding? Are ELL students receiving language services?

Related Links:

– “Education advocates threaten lawsuit over funding public schools,” Las Vegas Sun.

– “Latino Students Are “Collateral Damage,”” CBS Las Vegas.

– “Study of a New Method of Funding for Public Schools in Nevada,” American Institutes for Research.

– “Nevada’s English Language Learner Population: A Review of Enrollment, Outcomes and Opportunities,” UNLV The Lincy Institute.

– “Calif. Neglecting Thousands of English-Learners, Lawsuit Claims,” Learning the Language blog. Education Week.

– “California ignoring some English learners, lawsuit says,” Los Angeles Times.

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. 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. 

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.

Latino Test Performance Varies Significantly by State

It’s often said that the zip code a child is born into is a strong predictor of their future academic performance and the quality of education that they will receive. But perhaps the same can be said about the state where a child is born.

The New York Times recently reported on an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics of the five states with the largest populations, showing the different performance levels of Latino students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam.

Those “mega-states” studied are California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas. Th five states enroll more than half of the country’s English language learners, a total of 2.9 million–nearly 1.5 million of whom are in California. They also enroll about 40 percent of the nation’s public school students, or 18.7 million students.

NAEP scores are seen as the best tool by which to compare academic performance across state lines.

One notable headline: California Latino students struggled considerably across the board, while Florida and Texas were strong-performers. While the analysis also shows that Latino students continue to lag white students considerably in performance on the tests (full report here), there was considerable variation in Latino performance between states.

The percentage of Latino eighth-graders performing at the proficient level or above in math in 2011 are below, with Texas leading the nation:

California: 13%, Florida: 22%; Illinois: 19%; New York: 13%; Texas: 31%; Nation: 20%.

And the performance of Latino eighth-graders proficient or higher in reading in 2011, in which Florida and Illinois led the nation:

California: 14%; Florida: 27%; Illinois: 23%; New York: 20%; Texas: 17%; Nation: 18%.

The performance of fourth-graders proficient or higher in math, in which Florida and Texas leading:

California: 17%; Florida: 31%; Illinois: 20%; New York: 20%; Texas: 29%. Nation: 24%.

The performance of  Latino fourth-graders proficient or higher in reading was as follows in 2011, with Florida leading:

California: 12%;  Florida: 30%Illinois: 18%; New York: 20%; Texas: 19%; Nation: 18%.

And here is the performance of Latino fourth-graders proficient or higher in science in 2009, with Texas and Florida leading:

California: 8%; Florida: 23%; Illinois: 10%; New York: 13%; Texas: 16%; Nation: 13%

And the performance of Latino eighth-graders proficient or higher in science, with Texas leading the nation:

California: 11%; Florida: 24%; Illinois: 11%; New York: 12%; Texas: 23%; Nation: 16%.

Jack Buckley, commissioner of the NCES, said there was no “consistent pattern among these states,” The Times reported. And that, “each state seems to have areas where it shines and others where they lag behind its counterparts.”

The analysis includes the data broken out by other racial/ethnic categories and factors such as income and ELL status.

Learn more about the analysis of performance in the top five largest states here.

Related Links:

– “Test Scores of Hispanics Vary Widely Across 5 Most Populous States, Analysis Shows,” The New York Times. 

– Mega-States: An Analysis of Student Performance in the Five Most Heavily Populated States in the Nation. 









Analysis Challenges Calif. School District’s Touted Achievements

The San Jose Unified School District set a lofty goal 11 years ago. The district announced that all students would be required to pass the classes needed to be admitted to California’s public universities.

At first, the majority-Latino school district earned accolades for its seemingly miraculous success. Other districts wanted to emulate San Jose.

But an analysis of data by The Los Angeles Times and The Hechinger Report casts doubt on the district’s much-touted achievements.

The news outlets found that the majority of the district’s students are not qualifying to attend a state university–and that the percentage of students qualifying has barely budged in all the years since the policy change.

In 2000, prior to the program’s implementation, about 40% of students met requirements to enter the University of California or California State university system. By 2011, despite the program’s implementation, only about 40.3% of students qualified.

Even worse, the analysis found that only about one out of five Latino and black students who began high school in 2007 were eligible to apply to state colleges after four years.  (During the 2011-12 school year, about 52% of the students were Latino.)

So how did it come to pass that the district was able to claim so many students were graduating that were qualified to be admitted to college? The article mentions that the number of qualified students was overestimated because the district misreported data by counting seniors who had not yet completed their college-level coursework as having done so.

Two loopholes also played a role. Students could meet requirements by earned just a “D” in their classes, even though universities required a “C.” In addition, students were allowed to transfer to alternative schools with less challenging coursework  if they were struggling in school.

Latino students, in particular, struggled. As a result, many ended up pushed out of the regular high schools and attending less-demanding alternative schools. The story notes that alternative programs enrolled about 50% more Latinos than regular high schools.

“The ethnic imbalance is ironic given that San Jose’s college-prep program grew out of concern that far too many Latino students, the largest group in the district, were not on track for college,” the article notes.

The Contra Costa Times reported that school district officials defended the program.

“We are clearly in a better place than we were,” Superintendent Vincent Matthews told the newspaper. “However, clearly, we still have a long way to go.”

The paper notes that the district places in the middle of the pack among the 11 districts in Santa Clara County, in terms of the percentage of Hispanic graduates meeting requirements for entering state universities. For the class of 2011, the percentage was 26.6%, compared to a high of 44.1% in Palo Alto Unified School District.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is moving toward new standards that will require this year’s freshmen to pass a certain number of college-prep courses with a D or better to graduate, and eventually move toward requiring a C or better for next year’s freshmen. It remains to be seen what sort of impact that may have on the district’s students, and in particular, the Latino majority.

Related Links:

– “L.A. school district’s college-prep push is based on false data,” The Hechinger Report/Los Angeles Times.

– “San Jose Unified defends 40 percent college-preparation rate,” Contra Costa Times.

– San Jose Unified School District

Parents Rally in Support of ‘Parent Trigger’ at Calif. Elementary School

At the predominantly Latino 24th Street Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, frustrated parents are rallying to take over the failing campus and turn it around.

They are seeking to use California’s new and controversial “parent trigger” law passed in 2010. The law empowers parents to petition to make major campuses at campuses, which they can achieve by getting the signatures of at least 50 percent of parents of students enrolled. Changes include turnaround models such as staff changes or converting to charter schools.

Parent Amabilia Villeda began attending protests about the poor quality of education at the 24th Street school three years ago and is among those trying to gather enough parent signatures.

“We have the opportunity to make a change at this school because now we have the right support to do it,” she said in Spanish, reported The Hechinger Report. “They weren’t listening to us before, and with the law, now they’re listening.”

The school serves a population that is 80 percent Latino, with many of the students from low-income households. The campus has failed to meet state standards. Hechinger reports that more than 80 percent of third-graders and 71 percent of fifth-graders are not reading on grade level, and the campus has the second highest suspension rate among elementary schools in the L.A. school district.

After a long battle, parents at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., recently became the first to use the law, and plan to turn the campus into a charter school. By state standards, 24th Street is actually lower performing.

Members of the group Parent Revolution are organizing the 24th Street parents.

On the web site GreatSchools, the school is rated a one out of 10. Many of the parent online reviews are highly critical of the principal.

The school’s website lists a positive vision very different from the one that parents see: “24th Street Elementary is committed to creating a healthy, safe and positive environment that develops lifelong learners who will become socially responsible, global citizens.” According to the site, the school has a parent center that provides workshops and a parent representative.

We hear so much about the lack of Latino parent involvement. But in this case, parents are actively protesting and mobilizing around the issue of education reform. It should be interesting to see how well known the law is among Hispanic parents in California, and how many of those parents plan to pursue it.

Related Links:

– “One week after ‘parent trigger’s’ first success, new campaign announced at Los Angeles school.” The Hechinger Report.

– “Parent Trigger Law at LAUSD: 24th Street Elementary School the Target of New Parent Petition.” Reuters.

– 24th Street Elementary School, Los Angeles Unified School District. 

– Parent Revolution.

Many California Children Live in Poverty

A new study finds that 30 percent of Hispanic children ages zero to six years old in California live at or below the poverty line–threatening the state’s economic strength in the years to come. The rate is higher than the average of 23 percent for all California children.

The report, Prosperity Threatened, was released by the non-profit group The Center for the Next Generation, which focuses on improving opportunities for children and families.

The researchers highlight the stark differences in poverty rates by age, reporting that fewer than one in ten of the state’s senior citizens live in poverty.

They also looked at data by county, finding that Merced County had the highest overall poverty rates and San Mateo County, the lowest.

The group recommends increasing funding to the highest poverty school districts, and urges the state to create a new school financing system. They also say that family income stability can be improved by strengthening benefit programs.

The argument that childhood poverty now threatens economies of the future is becoming a common theme elsewhere in the country. Former Texas state demographer Steve Murdock testified that the challenges facing Latino children require greater investment from the state during a school funding trial last October.

How have you framed this discussion in your own state?

Related Links:

– “Childhood Poverty Threatens California’s Economic Prosperity.” National Journal The Next America. 

– “Prosperity Threatened: Perspectives on Childhood Poverty in California.” The Center for the Next Generation. 

– “We can’t abandon the next generation.” The Sacramento Bee.