Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Is your child's teacher "highly qualified"?

New law labels interns 'highly qualified teachers'

Civil rights advocates are blasting new federal legislation that allows states to classify teaching interns as "highly qualified" teachers and regularly assign them to schools with mostly poor, minority students.
The measure, which remains in effect until the end of the 2012-13 school year, was signed Dec. 22 by President Barack Obama as part of an unrelated federal spending bill.
The legislation nullifies a Sept. 27 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that California illegally classified thousands of teachers in training as "highly qualified" in violation of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Under that law, all students are supposed to be taught by "highly qualified" teachers who have earned state teaching credentials, but a 2004 Bush administration policy allowed states to give that status to interns working toward certification.
The San Francisco-based appeals court struck down that policy, siding with low-income families in Richmond, Hayward and Los Angeles that claimed that a disproportionate number of uncredentialed teachers were teaching in their schools.
That 2-1 ruling would have required districts to distribute teaching interns more evenly across schools and to notify parents when their child is not taught by a fully credentialed teacher, but the new legislation temporarily allows teachers in training to keep the "highly qualified" status.
Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who leads the House Education and Labor Committee, said the amendment was necessary because the 9th Circuit decision "could cause major and unpredictable disruptions to schools across the country if it was implemented before Congress can fully address issues of teacher preparedness, effectiveness and access."
But civil rights advocates who filed the lawsuit said the legislation will hurts the tens of thousands of mostly poor students of color who are taught by inexperienced teachers.
"With this amendment, Congress is really turning its back on low-income, minority students," said Tara Kini, a staff attorney with Public Advocates, a San Francisco-based nonprofit law firm that filed the lawsuit.
Kini also complained that the amendment was approved by Congress at the last minute and without debate.
"There was just no opportunity for the public to weigh in," Kini said Tuesday. "That's not how we should be making foundational education policy in this country."
The lawsuit claims that more than 10,000 interns were teaching in California public schools in 2007. About 62 percent of interns taught in the poorest half of California schools, and more than half were assigned to schools with at least 90 percent students of color.
The number of teaching interns has dropped to about 8,000 because state budget cuts have led to fewer teaching positions and fewer people are entering the teacher credentialing programs, Kini said.
Nationwide, more than 100,000 intern teachers are classified as "highly qualified," according to the lawsuit.

A letter from a student regarding class size

Published in the El Cerrito Patch, 12/09/2011

To to the Editor:
My name is A. R. and I am a freshman at El Cerrito High. And I am writing to you to explain to you what I think needs to be changed in maybe not just my school, El Cerrito High, but in many other schools too: class sizes.
I think some classes should have less students than now. My reason for this is that some classes aren’t physically big enough to have 35 or maybe even 40 students all together in one room. It’s not really fair because students don’t really get the chance to fully listen to what a teacher is saying most of the time. Although the students think they’re whispering, the amount of noise automatically increases and it becomes impossible to study.
Also, in some classes, all the desks are crammed together, and it’s really dangerous for students and teachers because in case of a fire someone could get hurt. Teachers are another reason; they don’t get paid enough to teach 35 or 40 students per class every day of the week, and students are not always able to receive that one-on-one help they might need because the teacher is too busy dealing with a classroom full of students.
A. R.
Freshman, El Cerrito High School

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who is assessing the performance of WCCUSD? (Letter to CCCOE)

The following is a letter to the director for the Hercules area, Mrs. Ellen Elster.  CCCOE Superintendent Ovick was copied.  The County Board website is found here

Dear Director Elster,
As a former WCCUSD teacher and current parent of future district enrollee, I am seeking clarification on the role of the CCCOE with respect to oversight of school district performance.   I understand that each school is enrolled in an accreditation (WASC) program.  Are the districts as a whole also being assessed on their performance?  Does your office conduct a performance review of each district?  How do I know our district is following best management practices?  For example, I recently requested org charts and job descriptions of the district staff, specifically those of the Superintendent and assistant superintendents.  

I was told these job descriptions are "ancient" documents, not readily accessible.  If so, then by what metric are these employees being assessed if not on the ability to meet the stated requirements of their job description?  How are these positions being advertised without such documents and shouldn't they have been updated?  Is the school board assessing the performance of each district superintendent?  Is there a standardized assessment form used for this purpose?  If so, can I please have a copy?

The Washington State Auditor conducts such a performance evaluation of the school districts.

Has anyone conducted such a performance evaluation of each district in Contra Costa County?  If so, am I permitted to view them?  Thank you for the clarification.

Giorgio Cosentino, Hercules parent

Guide to Understanding Teacher Contracts

The Education Sector provides a great guide for the public to discern elements of the teacher contract. One hopes that our elected representatives provide the voice of parents and taxpayers at the bargaining table, but it’s always best to “trust , but verify.”
In the past, WCCUSD teachers traded earnings for benefits, but that came to an end in the last contract. Our teachers earn substantially less than the peers in neighboring districts. New benefit provisions eat deeply into young families’ pockets. It’s a crying shame, IMHO.
Keep your eye on the evaluation section of the next contract proposal, making its way into the public record soon. The longstanding evaluation procedures can be found in the UTR contract . Very few ways exist to compel any teacher that does not want to grow. 3 of the 4 evaluation options require no direct observation. I’m told one of the methods allows supervisors only to mark “satisfactory” or “incomplete” on the form.
Truly, only the teachers themselves can rectify this situation. Implore UTR leadership to invite constructive evaluation w/ or w/o test scores. I don’t see how NEA Keys is going to prompt change, which is the method our district seems to have chosen. We can use the new teacher projects Evaluation Rating Tool as a basis for examining potential measures. Our current system fails the mark on nearly all measures. Let your elected representatives know that you want serious evaluations in the next contract while reminding them that you vote.
Todd Groves

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where is the oversight of the "District"?

The state auditor has just blasted the state architect for lack of oversight of construction of schools.
The question I have is who is responsible for assessing the performance of each school district? There are accreditation audits of individual schools, but I want to see an audit document of the WCCUSD reported by an objective oversight agency. A report from the WCCUSD superintendent does not qualify as "objective."
The state has oversight and it is transparent as they place all audits on their webpage
Where are the audit documents for the WCCUSD? On the webpage of which oversight agency are they found? How do I know if the WCCUSD is following Best Management Practices?
Lack of money cannot be the default excuse for every single problem with our district.
If such oversight does not exist as evidenced by the lack of publicized district specific audit reports, then such oversight needs to be established immediately.

Example of lacking protocol

A teacher said to a parent "Didn't your child (elementary school) tell you I placed them in a literacy intervention program?"  The communication to the parent was anything but formal.  I requested from district assistant superintendents and the school principal, and district-school document describing their implementation-communication of a literacy intervention program.  I cited the following as an example of what it was I was seeking.

No one had an answer for me.  Nothing.  The default should have been a guiding document drafted at the state level.  Such guiding documents are very useful for those too busy putting out fires as is the common scenario in our district.  So maybe the real problem is at the state level.  To handle such sensitive, critical issues without strict adherence to some sort of protocol is at the very minimum, irresponsible.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Day 1: Sharing your observations and concerns

Welcome to the first day of the WCCUSD Quality Improvement Project.  This first post is an opportunity for parents, teachers, students, district staff, and all other community members to share what is on your mind with respect to the WCCUSD.  Please be respectful and try to avoid using names of individuals, including teachers, administrators, etc.