Reps. Fattah, Honda Hail Launch of “Equity and Excellence”


WASHINGTON D.C. – Congressmen Chaka Fattah (D-PA) and Michael Honda (D-CA), the leading Congressional advocates for school funding equity, hailed the Department of Education’s appointment today of Commissioners who will launch and serve on the Equity and Excellence Commission.

The commission, first proposed and advanced by the two Congressmen in 2009, has been tasked with studying, and recommending solutions to, inequitable school finance systems and their effect on student achievement.

“This commission comes at a critical time in our fiscal history as a nation.  Now, more than ever, we are compelled to use scarce public resources efficiently and effectively,” said Fattah, an innovator and advocate for education reform who proposed the Commission concept at a meeting with the President on Feb. 26, 2009. “We know that there is no more prudent investment in the nation’s growth and prosperity than the education of our young people.”

Fattah, from Philadelphia, praised the work of Equity Commissioner Eric Hanushek, a Hoover Institution Fellow, who calculated that simply increasing the educational attainment of the nation’s lowest performing students would add $72 trillion to GDP, as well as a 2009 McKinsey report that found that the achievement gap has the economic effect of a permanent recession.

“The proof is there: Educational achievement will key our economic recovery,” Fattah said. “This is more than a question of fairness and equity, this is about the nation’s economic future.”

The Equity Commission is charged with collecting data, analyzing issues and obtaining broad public input on strategies for the federal government to increase educational opportunity by improving school funding equity. It will also make recommendations for restructuring school finance systems to achieve equity in resources and further student performance, especially for students at the lower end of the achievement gap.

For a list of the members of the commission announced today, and to read the entire press release, please visit Rep. Fattah’s website HERE.

Congressman Fattah will be a keynote speaker at the free California GEAR UP Community Conferences taking place on March 1 and March 8 throughout California. Register online now!

California Dropout Rates, Graduation Rates Increase

In a press conference yesterday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell released the annual report on graduation and dropout rates for 2008-2009 school year. 70.1 percent of public school students in California graduated from high school, up from 68.5 percent last year. The adjusted four-year derived dropout rate for the same school year is 21.7 percent, up from 18.9 percent last year.

When reviewed by subgroup statewide, the graduation and dropout rate data continue to highlight the achievement gap.

“The fact that our schools are operating today on $21 billion less than we had anticipated just three short years ago, I believe are contributing towards the drop out rate,” O’Connell said.

The 2008-09 data represents the third year of calculating student graduation and dropout rates by collecting student-level enrollment and exit data. Although this is the third year of using student-level data, this is the first year this data were collected through the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). Right now the California Department of Education (CDE) is collecting the student-level exit data for the class of 2010 that will produce all four years of data necessary to transition from using aggregate rates to more accurate student graduation and dropout rates at the school level. By this spring, California will be able to calculate for the first time these longitudinal rates that are required by federal regulations.

As the data was released, many local school districts expressed concern about the validity of the software used to collect the data. Dublin, CA school district showed a 99.9 percent dropout rate, clearly an error of some kind since it is a mathematical impossibility.

San Diego Unified’s dropout rate appeared to jump to 23.5 percent in the 2008-09 year. That’s more than 2 1/2 times higher than the previous year’s dropout rate of 9.2 percent. The state acknowledged problems with the data for San Diego Unified and a few other districts. It’s unclear why some districts were informed of the dropout reporting guidelines while others were not.

With this new data, we are finally getting closer to telling the truth about how our schools are serving our students, especially students of color who now comprise the ‘new majority’ in our state. While the CDE has been using student-level data to calculate dropout and graduation rates for the last three years, this marks the first year these data were collected through CALPADS.  By next year, CALPADS is set to provide the most accurate student-level graduation and dropout rates the state has ever had in place.

From Ed Trust West blog post

O’Connell expressed “deep concerns” that California’s dropout rate increased from the previous year. But he said the increased graduation rates, especially among Hispanic students — up 4.9 percent since last year — offers encouragement that the state is making progress closing the achievement gap between some student groups.

To download state, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates, please visit the CDE DataQuest Web site HERE.

WestEd: Improving Educational Outcomes for Hispanic Children

A new report from SchoolsMovingUp discusses closing the achievement gap for hispanic students. Here are some of the recommendations:

Federal level:

  • Recognize and share with colleagues that the majority of Hispanic children in ELL classes are U.S. citizens by birth
  • Clearly define Limited English Proficient (LEP) and former LEP students in Title III of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
  • Create a 50-state consortium to share best practices and develop common academic standards, assessment, and reclassification procedures
  • Recommend teacher education policy to ensure all current teachers and teacher candidates learn about second language and literacy acquisition, reading across the content areas, and sheltered instruction and ESL methods
  • Educate parents about college requirements and funding options for post-secondary education
  • Educate and prepare students for various workforce opportunities in addition to traditional college options

State and local level:

  • Introduce college awareness in middle school
  • Coordinate in a comprehensive manner the policy and procedures in ELL placement, reclassification, and assessment;
  • Call for transparency in ELL placement, assessment, reclassification, and aggregate public dissemination of the data
  • Recognize and reduce disparities across schools in the quality, experience, credentials, and professional training of teaching staff
  • Require objective data on the effectiveness of different instructional programs

SchoolsMovingUp, a WestEd initiative, helps schools and districts address the challenge of raising student achievement. In an interactive web format, SchoolsMovingUp offers resources to help education professionals make sound decisions and take action in their school reform efforts. You may remember our post on Doing What Works, also a WestEd initiative.

For the access to the entire report please visit SchoolsMovingUP.

More Minorities Taking ACT But Gaps Remain

Being widely reported across California, ACT has announced the scores of the graduating class of 2010.  While hispanic students showed an increase in college readiness, their scores continue to fall short of those necessary to be successful in college.

“A record number of California students took the ACT college readiness examination in 2010…While the percentage of ACT-tested California graduates who are ready for college coursework is higher compared to five years ago, the findings indicate that there are still too many high school graduates who are not ready to succeed in college-level work. The ACT results also provide further evidence of the achievement gap; a lower percentage of students who are African American or Latino are meeting the ACT’s college readiness benchmarks compared to students who are white or Asian.

“Preparing more students for success in college is key to ensuring that California’s economy remains strong in the global economy of the 21st century. These results tell us that we must continue to focus on implementing strategies that effectively prepare all students for success in college and the workforce.”

-California Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell

The ethnic and racial patterns of the score report prompted renewed calls for extra attention to the needs of struggling students.

David Hawkins, the director of public policy and research for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, noted that the ACT results show modest progress toward one definition of career readiness, but that such definitions vary from one postsecondary program or institution to another. In gauging a student’s preparedness for higher education, he said, high school grades and coursework are also key indicators of his likelihood of future success. (from Education Week article)

While the California GEAR UP community strives to address the Achievement gap it takes a dedicated education community to make meaningful gains in scores such as the ACT.

The disconnect between secondary and postsecondary institutions lies at the heart of the problem: Many high-poverty public high schools lack the resources to prepare students for college reading and writing requirements; many colleges and universities, meanwhile, are unaccustomed to extending meaningful academic opportunities beyond their campuses.  In this way, low-income high schoolers are very often confronted by both the weakest bridge between high school and college and the widest gulf to cross.  (Education Week: Commentary “The Promise of Early College” by Stephen Tremaine)

What is your school, program, or community doing to address these gaps?

API Rankings Reveal Unequal Access to Best Schools

The Education Trust-West released the first Equity Alert which highlights California’s recent statewide API rankings which expose an “all-too familiar” achievement gap. The 2009 Annual Performance Index unveil that race and class continue to play a material role in shaping opportunity in our schools and the inequity is systemic and pervasive. Findings include:

  • 39 percent of African-American students attend the state’s bottom 30 percent of schools. 44 percent of Latinos and 45 percent of economically disadvantaged students are concentrated in the bottom 30 percent of schools.
  • By contrast, 54 percent of white students attend the top 30 percent of schools and only 9 percent attend the bottom 30 percent schools.
  • Economically disadvantaged students represent 54 percent of California’s school-age population, but they make up 83 percent of students in decile 1-3 schools.

The Equity Alert outlines actions state policymakers and education leaders can take to address these patterns of inequity. These actions include:

  • implementing policies to identify, recruit and retain highly-effective teachers and principals;
  • ensuring that high-need students have access to the supports and interventions they need from the earliest grades;
  • providing additional resources to the state’s lowest performing schools in exchange for greater accountability.

We have our work cut out for us. The indicators of what is missing and what is needed are consistently repeated in all of the current research. Our efforts in these struggling school communities often provide the catalyst and the will to address pervasive achievement, resources, and opportunity gaps.

-Shelley Davis, Director, California GEAR UP

We know by bridging research like this with with successful practice already going on in our schools, the achievement gap can be systematically addressed. The questions remain: why aren’t we leveraging every resource to address these issues? What successes can we celebrate and duplicate?

California Department of Education Announces Online Resource Kit for School Partnerships

State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Offers Education Agencies a New Tool to Combat the Achievement Gap

SACRAMENTO – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell today announced that a key recommendation by his California P-16 Council is being implemented with the release of a new online tool called the Resource Kit for Developing Partnerships to Close the Achievement Gap (Resource Kit).

“Family and community partners are powerful and critical allies for schools working to improve student success and close the achievement gap,” said O’Connell. “The success of our students is directly connected to the success of our state and national economy. That’s why I urge businesses, faith-based organizations, parents, community groups, and others to get involved in their local schools. We all have a stake in preparing all students to compete in the hypercompetitive global economy, and schools need our support and assistance to reach that goal.”

The Resource Kit may be used by families, communities, and organizations to develop partnerships with schools that can help narrow the academic achievement gap that exists between higher-performing and lower-performing students. This online tool can help anyone understand the importance of partnerships, how to create them, and help existing partnerships improve. Users may access links to information on different types of partnerships with families, faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, business, government agencies, institutions of higher learning, and youth service organizations. The Resource Kit also offers examples of real-life successful partnerships.

The Resource Kit is a result of one of the recommendations made in January by O’Connell’s California P-16 Council. The P-16 Council was formed in 2004 to examine ways to improve student achievement and create a comprehensive, integrated system of student learning from preschool through higher education. The Council researched factors that inhibit successful student learning and grouped them into four themes called ACES:

  1. Access: Do students have equal access to good teachers and rigorous curriculum?
  2. Culture and Climate: Are students’ learning environment safe and promote a sense of belonging?
  3. Expectations: Does a culture of excellence exist for students and adults alike, so that a common, high standard is the norm for all students?
  4. Strategies: Are proven teaching practices being used?

One of the ACES recommendations is to develop partnerships to close the achievement gap. The P-16 Council found that connecting schools with educational organizations, city and county agencies, faith-based organizations, parent groups, and businesses is necessary to foster partnerships that will support a well-defined student support system. Such partnerships recognize that students have needs outside the classroom that, if unmet, can significantly and adversely affect their ability to learn. Breaking down barriers and creating partnerships throughout California is an important step toward implementing a consistent approach to a high-quality and inclusive educational program.

“Too often in government, when recommendations are made by task forces or blue ribbon commissions on complex issues, they are forgotten as soon as the group disbands,” added O’Connell. “The Resource Kit is one of 14 recommendations by the P-16 Council to narrow the achievement gap that we are engaged in implementing. I fully intend to implement all 14 recommendations before my term in office expires so that we can improve conditions at the state level that help close the gap. We must ensure that every child has a chance to succeed academically and in life.”

The Coordinated School Health Work Group Steering Committee worked with the statewide P-16 Council to create the Resource Kit. The Committee represents education and community health partners, and other state-level stakeholders.

The Resource Kit is available online through the California Department of Education’s Closing the Achievement Gap Web site at <> . For more information on the P-16 Council, please visit