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PACE/USC poll finds California tax initiative is vulnerable

By Merrill Balassone

PACE/USC Rossier School of Education Survey

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A slim majority of Californians favor enacting Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s ballot initiative that would raise taxes in order to avoid further spending reductions in education and public safety, according to results from a new Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE)/USC Rossier School of Education Poll released today. But the arguments against the initiative carry much greater weight with voters, imperiling the initiative’s chances of passage when Californians cast their ballots less than three months from now.

The poll found about 55 percent of Californians are in support of Proposition 30, and 36 percent oppose it, making it one of several statewide surveys that show support for the initiative is perilously close to the 50 percent threshold needed for passage. When arguments for and against Proposition 30 were compared, Californians were far more likely to agree with the initiative’s opponents.

About 49 percent agreed with the statement that politicians should focus on wasteful spending before raising taxes, compared to 35 percent who agreed that voters should “take a stand against further cuts to schools and public safety, make the wealthy pay their fair share and help balance the budget.”

Even among parents, 51 percent agreed the focus should be placed first on cutting waste before raising taxes to fund education and public safety.

“Californians are willing to spend money in order to protect their schools from spending cuts. But they also believe that state government is spending too much money on things that aren’t necessary and want to see that spending reined in before supporting the governor’s initiative,” said poll director Dan Schnur, who also serves as the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “Jerry Brown can still pass Proposition 30, but first he has to convince voters that state government can be trusted with their tax dollars.”

The proposition would raise the state sales tax by a quarter-cent for four years and hike taxes on incomes of more than $250,000 for seven years to fund schools and public safety.

The poll showed the other tax measure to fund schools and early childhood education, Proposition 38, was losing, with about 40 percent of Californians in support and nearly 49 percent opposed.

When asked where they would spend the money if either proposition passed, Californians said they would direct funds to restore previous education budget cuts and to prevent further cuts, reflecting low expectations for a state system that has been subject to repeated funding cuts in recent years.

If the tax initiatives fail and further education cuts need to be made, Californians said they would first choose to cut transportation of students to school (33 percent), increase class sizes (32 percent) or shorten the school year (31 percent) over cutting extracurricular sports and music programs (23 percent) or reducing teacher salaries (17 percent).

Technology important, but not a panacea

Three in four California voters said public schools should invest more in technology to improve students’ classroom performance, and a strong majority favored making online education part of the regular school day.

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll showed more than 56 percent of Californians said students should spend part of each day working independently online and part working with a teacher.

“These findings are quite striking. Although there are now some innovative models in K-12 using online learning for part of the school day, these are still the exception,” said David Plank, executive director of PACE. “Despite rapid changes in technology, most students continue to sit in classrooms all day long with a teacher standing in front of them, much like they did 100 years ago. Californians appear to be ready to see this change.”

But overall, teachers still trump technology, the poll showed.

While more than 77 percent of Californians said students are savvier about digital technologies than are their teachers, they overwhelmingly agreed (83 percent) that computers and technology cannot replace a teacher.

Thirty-six percent of Californians said schools should invest in new technologies even if it is at the expense of teacher hiring.

Lingering stigma for career-technical education

In addition to teaching the basics of reading, writing and math, Californians agreed that schools need to better prepare students for real-world work outside of high school.

A majority of Californians (51 percent) said the state should fundamentally change its approach to education so students can compete for good jobs, as opposed to 42 percent who said the state should maintain its approach but do a better job schooling students in the basics.

Nine out of 10 Californians said students should graduate high school with the skills to get a job. But at the same time, age-old stigmas about career-technical education seem to persist.

More than 48 percent of Californians agreed with the statement: “Career-technical education is for students who don’t do well in school,” and 45 percent disagreed.

Nearly 80 percent of Californians agreed with the statement: “Some students just aren’t good at academic subjects.”

“The poll shows a continued strong stigma associated with career-technical education as being for only certain types of students, stemming from the days when ‘vocational’ education was used as a vehicle to track poor and minority students into a second-class education,” said Dominic Brewer, Clifford H. and Betty C. Allen Professor in Urban Leadership at USC Rossier. “Although high-quality career and technical education is clearly needed to meet California’s labor market needs — and the poll shows voters recognize this — overcoming the lingering stigma is an uphill battle.”

State schools in bad shape

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll also showed Californians continue to rate the state’s education system as being in poor shape, with too much waste and bureaucracy and students not prepared for higher education or work after high school.

On average, Californians gave their state and local schools a grade of “C-.”

Nearly 42 percent of Californians graded the state’s schools with a “D” or “F,” and 26 percent gave their local schools those grades. When the poll was first conducted in May, just 20 percent of Californians gave their local school a “D” or “F” grade.

Californians were also asked to rank various aspects of the state’s public schools on a scale of 0 (worst) to 10 (best).

Respondents gave the best mean score — a 5 — to the question of how the state’s schools teach students the basics: reading, writing and math. They gave a mean score of 4.3 for “preparing students for a four-year university” and a mean rating of 4.3 for “holding principals, teachers and parents accountable for student performance.”

“The poll is an important new effort to inform policymakers on how Californians understand the challenges facing our education system,” said Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of USC Rossier. “While Californians are clearly frustrated, the results also give us a blueprint for how the intelligent use of technology — like including online education as part of the school day and training tech-savvy teachers — will help our students better compete in the global economy.”

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll was conducted Aug. 3 to 7, 2012 and surveyed 1,041 likely California voters online. The margin of error for the overall sample was plus or minus 3.0 percentage points.

The poll is the second in a series from PACE and USC Rossier. The first poll, released in May, found Californians strongly believe local school districts should hold more control over how money is spent, and the majority of Californians favored higher spending in poor districts even it meant shifting money away from their neighborhood schools.

New Schools, Overcrowding Relief, and Achievement Gains in Los Angeles – Strong Returns from a $19.5 Billion Investment

Aiming to relieve overcrowded schools operating on multiple tracks, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has invested more than $19 billion to build 130 new facilities over the past decade. In a new PACE policy brief, William Welsh, Erin Coghlan, Bruce Fuller, and Luke Dauter from the University of California – Berkeley analyze the effects on student achievement of this massive initiative. Tracking thousands of students who moved from overcrowded to new facilities over the 2002-2008 period, the authors discovered robust achievement gains for many students.

Elementary-school pupils who switched from an old facility to a newly constructed facility experienced significant achievement gains. On average, these ‘switching pupils’ outpaced the average LAUSD student by a gain equal to about 35 additional days of instruction each year. The largest achievement gains were found for elementary students who escaped severe overcrowding by moving to a new elementary school. Relative to the rate of learning for the average LAUSD student, this subset of students enjoyed achievement gains equivalent to about 65 days of additional instruction per year. Students who remained in previously overcrowded elementary schools experienced modest gains after a new school opened nearby, compared with the average LAUSD student.

Significant achievement gains were limited to elementary school students. New high school facilities produced weak and inconsistent achievement gains at best for their students.

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California’s Early Assessment Program: Its Effectiveness and the Obstacles to Successful Program Implementation


The Early Assessment Program (EAP) has emerged as a national model for states seeking to design policies that increase the number of students who leave high school ready for college and careers. In addition, the two national consortia designing new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards have recognized the EAP as a model for the design of new high school assessments, which California will implement in 2014-15. The report was written by Hilary McLean of Capitol Impact, LLC.

The report describes the key features of the EAP, with a particular focus on the ways in which the program can help to strengthen coherence and alignment in California’s fragmented educational system. The report reviews the available research on the EAP and its impact on student access and success in post-secondary education, and identifies ways in which the program could be modified to increase its value to California students and educators.

Developmental Students: Their Heterogeneity and Readiness

Developmental Students: Their Heterogeneity and Readiness

In the sixth of eleven PACE Working Papers, W. Norton Grubb et al. continue their analysis of basic skills education in California Community Colleges.

When one observes many developmental classrooms, the most striking aspect is the heterogeneity of students. Some are “brush-up” students, who simply need to remember skills they have already learned. Some have been misplaced by placement exams, and similarly need very little additional instruction. Many — almost surely the majority — have failed to learn certain academic skills in many years of K-12 education, for reasons that are hotly debated. Others have learning disabilities or mental health issues, and colleges have no way of either diagnosing or treating such conditions. The result is that the developmental classroom contains many students with different needs, while the instructor has only varying instructional approaches to offer.

While it may seem that community colleges are already highly differentiated, this working paper implicitly argues that they need to be further differentiated to respond to the variety of students and the enormous differences in their needs. The conclusion provides a number of suggestions for further differentiating colleges in order to serve all the needs of their enormously varied students.

Developmental Students: Their Heterogeneity and Readiness

November 18th Podcast – Strengthening Assessment and Accountability for English Learner Success: Challenges and Choices Facing California

Robert Linquanti, WestEd

Educational assessment policy must produce measures of performance that are fair and accurate for all students in order to convey clear and helpful information to educators, parents, and the students themselves. Achieving these objectives is especially challenging when it comes to the nation’s 5 million K-12 public school English learners (ELs). English learners are linguistic-minority students not sufficiently proficient in English to be able to benefit adequately from regular classroom instruction and demonstrate their knowledge and abilities using English. In California more than half of the children now entering public schools come from households where the first language is not English, and nearly 1.5 million are currently English Learners.

In this seminar Robert Linquanti discusses how next-generation state assessment and accountability systems can be made more responsive to the needs and strengths of ELs. Linquanti argues that innovation must be grounded in a clear understanding of the EL population, as well as of English language proficiency and its relationship to academic subject matter learning and assessment. He explains how the common core standards “push the envelope” for ELs and educators, and argues that comprehensive assessment systems can and must strengthen teacher pedagogical practice with ELs. Finally, he suggests ways in which California educational leaders and policymakers can exert national leadership on these issues.

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Innovation in Developmental Education: The Landscape and the Locus of Change

In the third of eleven PACE Working Papers, W. Norton Grubb et al, continue their analysis of basic skills education in California Community Colleges.

Community colleges are full of innovation in developmental education, and some of these have the promise of changing the “remedial pedagogy” that can be so ineffective. In this working paper the authors review six kinds of innovations: (1) the efforts of individual practitioners, which can be found in many colleges but which reach very few students; (2) the developments in limited numbers of departments that have come together, under particular conditions, to create their own alternative pedagogies; (3) learning communities and linked courses, unfortunately less common than the authors had hoped; (5) reforms following K-12 initiatives, specifically Reading Apprenticeship and the writing process methods of the National Writing Project; (6) the formation of Faculty Interest Groups to stimulate faculty discussions that might in turn lead to reforms.

There is, then, no dearth of good ideas about how to improve developmental education, though the scale and thoroughness of these innovations vary enormously. The conditions that nurture innovations are also critical to their success, and we uncovered one pattern — innovation from the middle, with the joint efforts of senior-level faculty and middle-level administrators — that seems necessary for widespread reform.

Innovation in Developmental Education: The Landscape and the Locus of Change

October 7th Podcast: The Case for Increasing the Priority of Community College Career Technical Education Programs

Nancy Shulock, Executive Director; Colleen Moore, Researcher; Jeremy Offenstein, Researcher; Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy (IHELP), Sacramento State.

The career technical education (CTE) mission of the California Community Colleges is a vital part of the agenda to increase college completion and shore up economic competitiveness; yet this area of college academic programming gets too little emphasis and support. There is growing evidence of high market value of certificate and associate degree programs in select areas. There is also evidence that career-oriented programs can increase student motivation and improve outcomes, helping to meet workforce, equity, and productivity goals for California postsecondary education. Yet the attention given to CTE has not matched that given to the junior college transfer mission or to developmental education.

This session reviewed the evidence produced to date in a multi-year research agenda on community college CTE. IHELP researchers documented the high student interest in CTE along with the very low numbers of certificates and associate degrees awarded. They summarized the results of a system-wide inventory of CTE programs, by college, that suggests the need for far more attention to developing coherent program structures that deliver value to students and employers. They also discussed some of the challenges facing the colleges presented by the organizational structure around the CTE and workforce development mission and drew some contrasts with other states that have assigned a higher priority to the CTE mission.

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How Diverse Schools Affect Student Mobility: Charter, Magnet, and Newly Built Campuses in Los Angeles

In a new PACE Working Paper, Luke Dauter and Bruce Fuller, University of California, Berkeley, explore “How Diverse Schools Affect Student Mobility: Charter, Magnet, and Newly Built Campuses in Los Angeles.” Achievement often suffers when families or students change schools. Yet pupil mobility is now encouraged in urban districts like Los Angeles, as mixed-markets of charter, magnet, and pilot schools sprout. Over 60 new facilities were opened as well during the 2002-2008 period, thanks to $27 billion in school construction mounted by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). This paper reports on the likelihood that students exit their school mid-stream, before completing a grade cycle or graduating. The authors find that African American and White students were more likely to exit their school, compared with Latino, non-English speaking, and foreign-born students, yet students attending overcrowded schools – often situated in low-income Latino neighborhoods – exited at higher rates. Charter and magnet school students left their schools at much lower rates, compared with peers in regular schools, after taking into account family background. As LAUSD opened new high schools, pupil mobility slowed markedly. The authors also found that Latino students were more likely than Black or White peers to move to a newly built school, rather than entering a charter or magnet school, likely due to the district’s commitment to relieve overcrowding in L.A.’s most densely populated communities.

How Diverse Schools Affect Student Mobility: Charter, Magnet, and Newly Built Campuses in Los Angeles