Volume 14, Issue 3
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan likes to talk about states needing to concentrate reform efforts on low-performing schools. In California, teachers like Amy Kraft in Sacramento County have been doing just that for a few years now thanks to a CTA-sponsored law that's helping our schools of greatest need succeed.
Her school, Oakdale Elementary in the Twin Rivers Unified School District — one of 499 schools targeted by the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) — has made huge academic gains, thanks to extra resources provided to those sites. New data show significant academic growth is taking place at Oakdale, which nailed down a remarkable Academic Performance Index (API) score of 828 for 2008-09.
When the CTA-sponsored QEIA (SB 1133) was enacted in 2006, eligible schools were those in the bottom two deciles for performance. The legislation grew out of the settlement of a lawsuit between CTA and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over funding owed to schools under Proposition 98.
Kraft says, "QEIA has allowed us to fully implement our vision for Oakdale," a vision that includes meeting the individual needs of all students and expecting more from them. "Our students deserve the best education we can offer, and that means we need the necessary resources available to us in order to accomplish this. QEIA has been an invaluable resource for our staff and students."
No other state has made this kind of targeted commitment of resources to help its troubled schools. Over eight years, the targeted QEIA schools will get nearly $3 billion in help.
CTA President David A. Sanchez says new data showing success at QEIA schools are preliminary, but undeniable. The data show why investing in challenged schools instead of punishing them is by far the better choice, he says.
"These targeted schools of greatest need are making classroom gains because of proven reforms like smaller class sizes, extra teachers, more counselors and better staff training," Sanchez says. "What teachers predicted about the value of this landmark CTA-sponsored law three years ago is coming true today. Increased achievement by students in QEIA schools is happening across the state."
On average, the 499 QEIA schools scored 5 points higher than similar schools in the state's API for the 2008-09 school year — the first full year of extra QEIA resources. Also, 351 of the 499 QEIA schools met their API academic growth targets.
The state's API accountability system uses test scores to gauge progress and sets a target of 800 for every public school. Seven QEIA schools exceeded this 800 API score benchmark, and Twin Rivers Superintendent Frank Porter was elated that the collaboration of teachers, parents and students was paying off.
"QEIA provides the resources and focus needed to fundamentally improve student learning," says Porter. "At Oakdale Elementary, teachers, administrators, staff, and families have worked together in the best interest of students and have made an amazing difference. Oakdale, a school serving low-income students where 89 percent qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches, grew their school API score 152 points in two years. That represents significant student learning that may not have happened without QEIA."
In San Diego County, three QEIA schools in the same Chula Vista Elementary School District also had API scores greater than 800. The QEIA-funded resources, excellent teachers and committed administrators raised the API scores at Harborside Elementary (845), Otay Elementary (824), and Silver Wing Elementary (805), says Peg Myers, president of Chula Vista Educators.
Myers also cited smaller class sizes — about 24 students maximum in grades 4-6, and 20 in the lower grades — as a key to success, along with teacher collaboration time. "It's true collaborating. They plan together. Everybody has input and everyone is respected."
Parents and administrators are joining teachers in praising the new data showing the progress of QEIA schools. "Parents want the best for their children, and the data show that QEIA clearly can help to deliver a better education for more children and their families," says Jo Loss, president of the California State PTA, which has nearly 1 million members. "These findings also demonstrate that QEIA can be a crucial tool for closing the achievement gap among students in our state — and that is essential to building an education system that lives up to its promise for all children."
QEIA is helping schools that are serving more than 500,000 students who are mostly low-income, minority and English learners. All schools deserve adequate resources, but seeing QEIA funding help the three low-income Chula Vista schools top 800 in API scores is inspiring, says Jim Groth, who works in the same school district and represents the area on the CTA Board of Directors.
"This investment is paying off right now," says Groth. "It will only reap more and more academic rewards for our students in the years to come."
Schools leaving Program Improvement
Alameda County: Marilyn Avenue Elementary, Livermore Valley Joint Unified; ACORN Woodland Elementary, Oakland Unified.
Los Angeles County: Aeolian Elementary, Los Nietos Elementary District; Evergreen Elementary, East Whittier City Elementary District.
Orange County: Martin Elementary, Santa Ana Unified; Kinoshita Elementary, Capistrano Unified; Melrose Elementary, Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified.
Tulare County: Jefferson Elementary, Dinuba Unified.
Schools exceeding the state's API score target of 800
Sacramento County: Oakdale Elementary, 828 API score, Twin Rivers Unified.
San Diego County: Harborside Elementary, 845, Otay Elementary, 824, and Silver Wing Elementary, 805, all in the Chula Vista Elementary School District; Clover Flat Elementary, 825, Mountain Empire Unified.
San Francisco County: Miraloma Elementary, 851, San Francisco Unified.
Ventura County: Grace S. Thille Elementary, 827, Santa Paula Elementary School District.
The top three of the 51 QEIA schools that gained 50 points or more in API growth for the 2008-09 school year
Shasta County: Juniper Academy, 122 points, Redding Elementary School District.
San Francisco County: Malcolm X Academy, 99 points, San Francisco Unified.
Riverside County: Cahuilla Desert Academy Junior High, 98 points, Coachella Valley Unified.