State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Comments on Federal Shutdown

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, who wants to hold off on some standardized tests.

SACRAMENTO—Warning that poor children are among those most likely to be hurt by a federal government shutdown, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson urged the House of Representatives to approve a measure already approved by the Senate to keep the government operating.

“The American people know a partisan stunt when they see one, and that’s what a shutdown of the federal government is,” Torlakson said. “Sadly, the first people affected will likely be some of the people who can least afford it—young children, students, and low-income families.”

Because many federally funded programs have already received this year’s appropriation (such as California GEAR UP), immediate impacts to California’s education system will be limited in the short term. However, some funding, including support for the Child Development Block Grant, which provides child care services for poor families, and Impact Aid Grants, which benefit the children of military families, could both be affected within days.

Also, payments may be delayed for U.S. Department of Agriculture funded school lunch and breakfast programs, although most programs are expected to continue to serve meals to children in the short run.

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California GEAR UP Statement on Sequestration

For Immediate Release


March 6, 2013 (Sacramento, CA) – As of Friday, March 1, 2013, sequestration went into effect.  On a national level, GEAR UP will be forced to take a 5.3 percent reduction.  On a state level, California GEAR UP is prepared to manage the implications of a mandated reduction with the least amount of impact on the schools and large communities served by the program.  For further information on the impact to the GEAR UP program nationally, please visit and http:///

Education Trust Awards:

The 5,370 Education Trust Award recipients should be relieved to learn that no reduction will occur in your award level. All Education Trust Awards to date have been fully funded.  Education Trust Awards provide $2,000 in resources to defray the costs of college attendance. The awards are available to students within one year of high school graduation and upon college enrollment.

The goal of California GEAR UP is to provide a network of support for schools towards implementing long-term, sustainable strategies to create a college-going culture.  We look forward to their continued growth and success as we collaborate to achieve this common purpose, regardless of the adversity presented by the current federal budget crisis.

Since 1999, California GEAR UP has impacted:

  • 256 California Middle Schools
  • 440,000 California Middle School Students
  • 51,000 Families
  • 2,100 Middle School Teachers
  • 5,370 Education Trust Awards

“GEAR UP is an efficient program in local communities designed to increase the number of low-income and first-generation students prepared to enroll and succeed in college. Our economic prosperity and global competiveness is at stake when we put programs like GEAR UP at risk. We urge our leaders to consider the impact on low-income middle and high school students to enter and succeed academically when funding for effective programs, such as GEAR UP, is decreased.”   –Penny Edgert, Executive Director California Education Round Table Intersegmental Coordinating Committee.

If you have questions regarding California GEAR UP and the effects of sequestration, please contact Sean Brennan, Communications Manager:, 415-948-9262.


Penny Edgert,  Principal Investigator, California GEAR UP 

Last Minute ‘Cliff’ Deal Avoids Education Cuts

In a late night vote Tuesday, Congress averted the deep, automatic spending cuts set to affect a wide range of federal programs, including many important to higher education. The vote to avoid the tax hikes and spending cuts, known together as the “fiscal cliff,” gives lawmakers two months to cut $6 billion from the federal budget and sets up a probable spending showdown later in the year.

The bill averts tax hikes for all but the wealthiest Americans as the Bush-era tax cuts expire. It also puts off sequestration, the across-the-board spending cuts originally scheduled to take place because Congress did not reach a long-term agreement on deficit reduction in 2012. Many programs important to higher education, including federal work-study, the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and funding for scientific research, as well as other federal education programs such as GEAR UP would have been cut 8.2 percent under sequestration.

The deal also extends the American Opportunity Tax Credit, a partially refundable $2,500 tax credit for college tuition, for five years. The credit was initially part of the 2009 stimulus bill, and Obama promised during the campaign that he would make the tax credit permanent. In an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed on Tuesday, Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, called the extension “particularly welcome news.”

The bill also made permanent other tax provisions with implications for higher education, including the student loan interest deduction and tax preferences for Coverdell savings accounts. On spending cuts, many questions remain unanswered. Congress will need to reach an agreement March 1 to cut $6 billion from the budget. Whether those budget cuts will affect programs important to higher education is still unclear.

The March 1 deadline will arrive at roughly the same time as another vote to increase the federal borrowing limit, and when a temporary law funding the federal government expires. Since the Republicans who hold the majority in the House of Representatives remain staunchly opposed to increasing federal spending, another showdown on Capitol Hill before those deadlines arrive is all but guaranteed.

While the Pell Grant program is protected from the sequester, previous agreements to avoid a government shutdown or a default on the federal debt have hit higher education programs hard.

“The good news is that the automatic reductions have been avoided and this is a welcome development for scientific research conducted at universities,” Hartle said. “The bad news is that the uncertainty surrounding the proposed reductions remains and, if you look hard enough, you can see another fiscal cliff in the not-too-distant future.”


California GEAR UP Schools Complete Statewide Institutes


It took six hard earned weeks, but we are excited to announce all 48 California GEAR UP Middle Schools completed two day institutes across the state. These facilitated strategic planning sessions are the core of California GEAR UP work, involving all School Leadership Team members, Whole School Services Coaches, GEAR UP staff, and our statewide partnership organizations.

“The GEAR UP institutes provide out team the opportunity to further solidify our college going culture here at Samuel Jackman Middle School.  We are able to accomplish this through the team based guided discussions and common planning time that is available to us during the institutes. GEAR UP and the resources the program provides has been a tremendous asset to our school community.”  

-Principal Paul Burke, Jackman Middle School  

The two-day Institute uses the SSAR (school self assessment rubric) to look at school-wide perceptions  and offers strategies and techniques for focusing on the school-determined needs. It provides opportunities to learn about successes and challenges from other school teams. The institutes also provide additional opportunity for the School Leadership Team to work on the SSAR conditions and plan for implementation of their PDAP (professional development action plan)goals. Trained facilitators provide direction through a guided discussion and reflection promotes the beginning of a shared vision, the identification and coordination of resources, and the use of student data to develop and implement a unified schoolwide plan.

Featured activities at the institutes included Leadership Team panels to kick the first day off. In Glendale, Gage Middle School from Huntington Park, CA shared their pathway to becoming a GEAR UP School, and implementing a college-going culture throughout their school while increasing their API and gaining community wide buy-in for their common goals. In Northern California, Harris Middle School (pictured above) shared an inspiring story of coalescing a high functioning leadership team, and even finished their panel with a rousing school song. In Irvine, Vista Heights Middle School in Moreno Valley, CA shared their journey of engaging parents and families effectively while convincing teachers to continue to strive for high expectations despite ‘good’ API results, and the resulting ‘good to great’ transformation.

“California GEAR UP work is about building relationships with the adults who want to change school culture for the better, so that ALL students are prepared to go college. It is systemic change. Despite lay-offs, budget cuts and the changes that come along with these:  teachers, counselors and administrators want what is best for kids and it has shown in the amazing work of the leadership teams at our events.  This is truly meaningful work.”  -Gina Rodriguez, Whole School Services Manager.

Statewide Partnership Services were featured over the two day institutes and include professional development from The College Board and AVID, as well as family engagement services from PIQE and CEP. Presentations from MDTP (math diagnostic testing project) and CaliforniaColleges.Edu shared services to be used directly in the classroom.

Schools teams will now return to their sites with a better understanding of creating a transformative community-wide college going culture while being better equipped to leverage GEAR UP resources. Being a California GEAR UP school is a 6 year process, of which schools are embarking upon their second year. California GEAR UP School Services Coaches will meeting with schools across the state to facilitate use of GEAR UP tools, work on implementing Professional Development Action Plans, and scheduling Partnership and Statewide Services.

The purpose of California GEAR UP is to develop and sustain the organizational capacity of middle schools to prepare all students for high school and higher education through a statewide network of support for adults who influence middle school students, specifically their counselors, faculty, school leaders and families. As a result of this expanded capacity, a higher proportion of students, particularly from backgrounds and communities that have not historically pursued a college education, will enroll and succeed in higher education.

For more information on California GEAR UP, please visit our website.

To see pictures of California GEAR UP Schools in action, check out our Facebook page and let us know what you think.

National GEAR UP Week Celebration Announced in Elk Grove

September 7, 2012
Elizabeth Graswich
EGUSD Director, Communications


California GEAR UP and the Elk Grove Unified School District will celebrate National GEAR UP Week from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Monday, September 10, 2012 in the Board Room at the Robert L. Trigg Education Center (9510 Elk Grove-Florin Road, Elk Grove 95624).

Greg Darnieder, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education on College Access, will attend this celebration as a special guest. Event attendees will also include local and state education officials, teachers, students and family and community members.

National GEAR UP Week is September 10-14, 2012. Across the nation and in California, school communities will mark this occasion through activities, contests, college fairs and other events in celebration of college access for ALL students.

GEAR UP is a program of the U.S. Department of Education, developed to provide school-based services to ensure that students and their families have multiple college and career choices after high school. Since 1999, California GEAR UP has effectively served over 300 schools across the state by providing local and efficient community based services.

Working in collaboration with nine schools in the Elk Grove Unified School district, GEAR UP provides direct support to students, principals, teachers, counselors and families. More information is available at

For more information about this event, contact Elizabeth Graswich at 619-686-7732 or Sean Brennan at or 415-948-9262.


Student Ambassadors Share GEAR UP Success Stories


Welcome to our first installment of an ongoing series featuring California GEAR UP Education Trust Awards Student Ambassadors. Rosie Powell attended Valley High School in Elk Grove, CA where she was a member of the GEAR UP class of 2011. She received an Education Trust Award from California GEAR UP and it has forever changed her life. Rosie participated on a panel with other ETA Student Ambassadors at the 2011 GU Community Conference. Their stories were the highlight of this statewide event and this article is the first of many students we will follow through their college experience.

Rosie was kind enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions about the impact of GEAR UP in her life.


Rosie, thank you for participating in the California GEAR UP Education Trust Award Ambassadors program. Your journey as a GEAR UP student will be an inspiration and example for young people for years to come.

How did receiving the Education Trust Award effect your educational path?

The Education Trust Award was my first scholarship, so it has more significance than just financial help. Receiving the award instilled in me a realization that it is possible to receive scholarships. The concept was something I knew before, but had doubts about. Being awarded with the scholarship encouraged me to apply for more scholarships and removed the intimidation I felt by the competitiveness of the scholarship world.

How did your friends and family respond to you receiving the Education Trust Award?

My family was very grateful for me receiving the reward, even more so after I received my financial aid package from Howard University. The scholarship removed a lot of stress from my families’ lives because it provided me with the money I would need to pay for books. My friends congratulated me on winning the scholarship which was more than enough for me, because my receiving the scholarship didn’t directly effect them.

How did being a GEAR UP Student effect your education?

Being a GEAR UP student was a profound experience. The GEAR UP staff tremendously aided my preparation to make the transition not only from high school to college but also from a young adult to a woman. Some of the information I received being a GEAR UP student I would have never otherwise asked about, but it was information that I needed and has helped me transform into the college student I want to be. GEAR UP helped prepare me to make time management adjustments and gave me financial aid advice along with advice concerning life as a whole.

What were some of the challenges in high school you had to overcome, and how did you get through?

About half way through my senior year of high school my mother moved to a different city. Of course I didn’t want to leave my current high school and she, being a very understanding mother, allowed me to stay. I stayed with Ms. Blick, a GEAR UP staff member, for six months and I enjoyed it, but being separated from the woman I had known and been attached to my whole life wasn’t easy. I talked to her every day but at times that was not enough. The love and prayer I received from both my mother and Ms. Blick is what helped me persevere with the severe homesickness I was feeling.

What is some advice you can give current middle and high school students that will help them stay on the road to college?

Don’t be discouraged by the amount of work that people say college is, because being a college student I found that if you are doing something you really want to do, working for something you really want to achieve, then the work does not seem so plentiful and at times may be something you will actually enjoy doing. I know many high schoolers love their friends and might not like this advice but anyone who is bringing you down or doubting you should not be a main factor in your life whether it be family and/or friends. A line from one of my favorite gospel songs is “sometimes you have to encourage yourself.”  If no one is telling you that you are going to make it, don’t let it discourage you. Encourage yourself, motivate yourself, make a way for yourself.

What are your initial impressions of college? Do they match your expectations?

My first impression of college, as far as academics, was that it wasn’t that different form high school. Yea, there is more information I have to learn on my own, but that was something I expected. Once you become a college student you really are independent. You make your own decisions and handle your own business. I can honestly say I do miss the days when my mother handled all the important things. Overall my initial impressions of college did match my expectations.

What can you tell younger students that will help them be more prepared for their first year in college?

The most important thing is to manage your time. I find that it helps if you reward yourself for accomplishing work. For example, If I finish my English essay Friday like I planned to then I can go out with friends Saturday night. Rewarding yourself serves as a form of motivation. A healthy balance between your social and academic lives is my main priority now and something younger students should work on before getting to college.

What else can you share with us about being an Education Trust Award recipient or GEAR UP student at Valley that might help other students?

Anyone who can be a GEAR UP student should be one. Teachers provide information about college, but sometimes they accidentally leave things out. The GEAR UP team being more than one person makes sure all questions are answered and leaves nothing seeming ambiguous. Besides providing a plethora of essential information about college, GEAR UP builds a family. It was with them that I went on my first camping trip. They make it so that while they are stuffing you with information they are also rewarding you for taking it in. I’ve always felt comfortable talking with my GEAR UP family about anything and they always helped me through whatever was bothering me. I know Valley has a bad reputation but if I had had the choice to attend a different high school I most definitely would not have taken it. Although Valley is not seen as the greatest high school it was the only high school that I felt adequately prepared me for college with its AP course options, career center, and genuinely caring faculty.

And finally, do you keep in contact with any of your GEAR UP teachers or staff?

Yes, I keep in contact with Ms. Blick and Ms. Davis. They continue to give me guidance.

Rosie is currently attending Howard University  in Washington, DC and achieved a 3.77 GPA in her first semester. She is interested in studying nursing and is loving her college experience.

For more information on California GEAR UP, Education Trust Awards, and inspirational stories from students, schools, and families please visit our website. You can also call our ETA line 916-479-6742, or email

Keep checking for updates, we will keep you apprised of Rosie’s continued success. Look for another Student Ambassador Story coming soon!

Helping Students Navigate the Path to College

As you may remember from previous posts, Doing What Works from WestEd, the American Institutes for Research and RMC Research Corporation, is a great multi-media site that is a wonderful clearinghouse for research based education practices online. This site from  the U.S. Department of Education offers an online library of resources that may help teachers, schools, districts, states and technical assistance providers implement research-based instructional practice.

This Practice Guide offers educators, administrators, and policymakers five research-based practice recommendations designed to increase postsecondary access, particularly for underserved, low-income, or first-generation college-going students. Fitting perfectly with the goals of California GEAR UP, each recommendation includes a summary of the research evidence and a level of evidence rating. Developed by an expert panel convened by the Institute of Education Sciences, the Practice Guide is the foundation for all the Doing What Works content on increasing postsecondary access.

As usual, the site provides easy to navigate tools and well produced multimedia all education professionals and families can use to help students navigate the path to college.

The Fostering College Aspirations section speaks directly to the GEAR UP community, which focuses on surrounding students with adults and peers who support their college-going aspirations. The practice guide and multi-media provides examples of ways schools can foster college-going aspirations beginning as early as middle school. Carefully designed mentoring programs connect students with college-educated professionals who can share their college experiences, talk about career planning, assist with the application process, and check on students’ academic progress.

Helping students navigate the steps to apply for college and understand financial aid is another extremely important piece of the college access puzzle. Knowledgeable school officials should offer one-on-one support regarding preparing for and taking admissions tests, searching for and selecting between colleges and other postsecondary education options that meet students’ needs, and completing the application and enrollment process. Under the Assisting with College Entry practice, the site provides additional support, downloadable guides, and video that further demystify the college entry process.

Checking out this extremely useful site is a must for all GEAR UP and education professionals concerned with college access. The wealth of materials and information is a one stop website that should be an automatic go-to for the GEAR UP community.

Let us know how you use the site on our Facebook page!

Study: Challenge in Income-based Inequality Degree Attainment

“I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”

– President Obama, 2009 address to a joint session of congress.

Increased scrutiny of college degree attainment is related to concern over the nation’s ability to remain competitive in an economy that is becoming more globally inclusive and complex. Many believe the nation’s standing and competitiveness is be- ing jeopardized as numerous countries begin and continue to surpass the United States in degree attainment. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2010), the United States ranks 12th out of 36 developed countries in the number of 25- to 34-year-old adults with some type of college degree (link). OECD data indicate that an increasing number of countries will catch or surpass the United States in tertiary degree attainment in coming years due to the lack of progress in educational attainment among the younger segment of adult Americans compared to their same- age peers in other countries.

In a new brief, Developing 20/20 Vision on the 2020 Degree Attainment Goal: The Threat of Income-Based Inequality in Education, the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education argues that most federal education policy discussions neglect to develop targeted interventions for students from low-income and working-class families. Using analysis from acclaimed higher education researcher Tom Mortenson, the report highlights that bachelor’s degree attainment for students from the wealthiest half of American families is higher than the bachelor’s degree attainment rates for all countries included in the OECD international comparison analysis. On the other hand, American students from families in the bottom half of the income distribution rank nearly last among other OECD countries in bachelor’s degree attainment.

Policy Recomendations:

1. Set and track goals to reduce income-based disparities on key educational outcomes related to the 2020 goal.

2. Funnel federal dollars, such as Title I funds, to the low-income, underperforming students who need it most. Invest in ways that offset disparities in per student expenditures created by state and local policies that give an advantage to students in wealthy school districts and neighborhoods.

3. Protect the Pell Grant against cuts that will reduce college access for low-income students.

4. Increase supplemental college access and support services for low-income students throughout the educational pipeline. Tap into the many benefits of supplemental academic support and outreach services such as TRIO and GEAR UP that are needed to help students from low-income families with the support they need to enroll and excel in college.

The recommendations they offer will not singlehandedly achieve the Administration’s goal, but they provide reasonable solutions that can help the nation reduce income-based inequalities in educational attainment and make progress toward the goal pos- sible by the year 2020.

Ed Chief Praises California GEAR UP Success at Tincher

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held a round table discussion at California GEAR UP distinguished school Tincher Prep yesterday in Long Beach. The purpose of his visit was to learn best practices of the school and to hear how Tincher has been so successful in creating distributed leadership and a school community working for the same goals.

Principal Bill Vogel said it best: “You give teachers choice in their professional development, you let them lead the direction of the school, and you let the school have discretion in how to best serve their students.” The teachers chose to participate in California GEAR UP three years ago.

“We need funds to keep programs and people” he said. “We need programs like GEAR UP, AVID, and funding for those programs.”

The secretary listened intently as administrators and teachers talked about the programs that make Tincher a success. Mr. Vogel and the staff repeated listed California GEAR UP as a key program in their development. The East Long Beach K-8 school, where more than 50 percent of the students are designated as disadvantaged, has been lauded for its gains in test scores and was named a “School to Watch” by the California Middle Grades Alliance in 2009.

Duncan said the Tincher sets an example for other school districts in the country.

“I’ve studied your school district for a long time, and I think you have so much to be proud of,” he told a crowd gathered in the school library. “I don’t say this lightly, but more so than the vast majority of school districts that I visit, this school district has gotten things right for a long time.”

Also in attendance was Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Long Beach., who said federal funding should be streamed directly to school districts instead of being “tied up” in Sacramento.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addressed No Child Left Behind, and the fact that virtually every school in Los Angeles Unified School District will be classified as failing by 2014 if the law is not urgently reformed.

That has led to a narrowed curriculum that focuses intensely on those subjects, sacrificing the well-rounded education that every child needs, he said.

Middle school music teacher Laura Strand said No Child Left Behind should have a greater focus on art, music and sports programs that are in danger of being cut in the budget crisis.

“I see students being pulled out of these programs when they’re finding success and it breaks my heart,” she said.

“No Child Left Behind is fundamentally broken,” Duncan said. “We want to fix it before we go back to school this fall.”

He said Congress needs to rewrite the law to be more “fair, flexible and focused” this year, so it can be implemented for the next academic calendar.

Tincher Prep has been a California GEAR UP school since the fall of 2008 and is part of a cohort of schools receiving professional development services with the goal of creating a college-going culture throughout the school community. Tincher recently received the California GEAR UP Leadership Team of the Year award at our Southern California Community conference, and as the Secretary of Education has pointed out, continues to be a model school.

To learn more about how Tincher has become a leader in the GEAR UP community, please visit our website and check us out on Twitter and the other articles on our blog.

10% of California Schools are in Deep Trouble

A recently released report by State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson shows 13 school districts have “negative” certifications.  That means they may not be able to cover their bills through the end of next year.

Nearly 2 million students—roughly 30 percent of pupils in California—now attend school in a district facing serious financial jeopardy, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced.

“The emergency confronting California’s schools is widening and deepening,” Torlakson said. “As disturbing as these numbers are, unless the Legislature moves to place the Governor’s tax extension plan on the ballot, they are just the tip of the financial iceberg facing school districts up and down the state.”

Torlakson’s findings came as he released the results of the first semiannual Interim Status Report that represents budget certifications for California local educational agencies (LEAs) through the end of October 2010. The reports reflect a certification of whether an LEA is able to meet its financial obligations.

The number of LEAs on the negative certification list rose to 13 from 12 last year at this time. The number of LEAs on the qualified certification list dipped slightly to 97 from 114 last year at this time.

“Schools face the daunting challenge of up to $4.5 billion in additional cuts if tax extensions are not placed on the ballot by the Legislature and approved by voters in June, an additional cut of 10 percent.” added Torlakson. “This would be devastating to an education system that has already sustained $18 billion in state funding cuts over the last three years – a loss of one-third of the annual budget for schools.”

With an already decimated education budget in California, massive teacher reductions, the loss revenue from these tax extensions could be devastating. Now more than ever, support for GEAR UP programs will continue to be the lever of change throughout school districts in California.