By Mike Myslinski
Oakland educator Julie Palacios is rightfully proud of the academic progress her inner-city elementary school has made in the face of many challenges — and she’s hopeful about its future.
Despite a lower-income student population and a campus in a high-crime part of Oakland, promising new data shows that New Highland Academy is making impressive gains because of proven reforms funded by the CTA-sponsored Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006.
“The smaller class sizes and collaboration time provided by QEIA are critical for us,” says Palacios, who is a member of the Oakland Education Association. “We have time to make decisions about professional development and how to deal effectively with the needs of all of our students.”
New Highland Academy had an outstanding Academic Performance Index (API) growth of 108 points to 735 over the past two years, the time that QEIA has been fully implemented. The API is determined largely by test scores, and the highest possible API score is 1,000. The state has an API goal of 800 or above for all schools. Palacios feels that’s within reach at New Highland, where two-thirds of the students are English language learners, and about 85 percent qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
The scope of the landmark reform QEIA law is unprecedented. As a result of a settlement of a Proposition 98 dispute between CTA and Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2006, nearly 500 low-performing California schools with about a half-million students are sharing $3 billion in extra resources over eight years. The funding goes for proven reforms such as smaller class sizes, more counselors, better training for teachers and principals, and allowing vital collaboration time to foster effective teaching practices.
Symposium sets the tone
Palacios was one of nearly 200 California teachers, education experts and legislative staff members who took part in a Nov. 30 CTA symposium on QEIA in Sacramento — the largest public education reform program of its kind in the nation.
“California has to stop playing the blame game with our public schools and start doing what’s best for our children’s future,” CTA President David A. Sanchez told the crowd that packed a hotel conference room. “We have a real opportunity to build on the right reforms that you will hear about today — proven reforms like smaller class sizes, better training and collaboration time for teachers, additional counselors and parental involvement.”
QEIA’s reforms are lifting up our at-risk students, he said. “And if early indications hold true, QEIA is an investment that will continue to generate benefits for these schools, communities and California well into the future.”
State Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Tom Torlakson, who authored the QEIA legislation, was loudly applauded when he asked the audience, “Isn’t it time to put a spotlight on the positive things going on in California schools?”
He added, “Isn’t it time we stop blaming teachers, and time to point to the success?”
A new QEIA research report unveiled at the symposium highlights that success. It shows that this teacher-led reform law is helping to close achievement gaps and supporting at-risk students so they can make gains in the face of challenges from poverty, language and diversity.
For example, during the second year of QEIA implementation, the average API growth of QEIA schools was nearly 50 percent higher than that of similar, non-QEIA schools.
The report, “Lessons From the Classroom: Initial Success for At-Risk Students,” went beyond test score gains and included 10 lessons learned from interviews conducted over four months at 22 QEIA schools by the independent research firm Vital Research of Los Angeles. Courtney Malloy of Vital Research reviewed the gains made as a result of QEIA, and discussed what best practices can be shared with other schools, as shown by the ongoing QEIA research for CTA.
“We wanted to make sure that other QEIA schools — as well as a broader set of schools in the state — could learn from what’s happening in QEIA,” Malloy said.
The research report showed the sustained progress being made, measured by the state’s growth on the state’s API. Comparing QEIA schools to similar lower-performing schools, the research found:
Smaller class sizes matter. School implementation plans were largely focused on class size reduction, professional development, collaboration time and the adoption of curricular interventions.
The reforms are working statewide. Since QEIA funding began in 2007, QEIA schools averaged a growth of 62.7 points in API growth, compared to 49.3 points in similar, non-QEIA schools. Poverty is being overcome. Socioeconomically disadvantaged students averaged a growth score of 63.6 points versus 50.4 points in non-QEIA schools since 2007. The academic gains at QEIA schools come despite the challenges for these students. And the gains hold promise for closing the student achievement gap.
The new CTA research report includes six profiles of successful QEIA schools where principals, teachers and parents comment on how the program is helping students succeed.
“QEIA has made a huge difference” in lowering class sizes, said fourth-grade teacher Rebecca Stewart at San Francisco’s Miraloma Elementary, which has an API score of 865. “With 23 students in fourth grade, we actually have enough space to move around, to have diverse instruction.”
Lessons from the classroom
At successful John Muir Elementary in Merced (API score 806), QEIA provides vital time for teachers to collaborate and share strategies, educator Teresa Pitta said. “Money matters when it comes to school improvement, and collaboration is critical.”
Sacramento’s Fairbanks Elementary in Twin Rivers Unified had a surge of 108 API points in two years to 754. QEIA keeps K-3 class sizes at 20 students or fewer while other schools see them rise, teacher Teri Leo said. “We’re fortunate to not have 35 students in our classrooms.”
And in Santa Ana’s Martin Elementary (API score 779), where 76 percent of students are English learners, teacher Antonio Magaña is grateful QEIA is keeping his fifth-grade classes small.
“With smaller classes, I am able to pinpoint those students in need,” Magaña said.
What’s next for QEIA?
Another round of intensive training is set for CTA site contacts at QEIA schools: in Emeryville on Jan. 31; Santa Ana, Feb. 18; Pasadena, March 1. More training details are coming to this vital statewide network of CTA members stepping up to make the interventions a reality at their schools.
In the spring, CTA will be releasing a more comprehensive report that covers a broader range of information sources on QEIA implementation and impacts. Beginning in February and continuing through June, additional in-depth case studies will be conducted at a diverse sampling of QEIA schools. This vital research is to provide a voice for stakeholders at QEIA schools. It will uncover promising practices that can be shared not only among QEIA schools, but with those schools which have not participated in the program that is making a difference in classrooms across the state.
To see the new 40-page CTA research report on QEIA progress, along with videos of teacher interviews, go to www.cta.org/Issues-and-Action/QEIA/QEIA.
Educators discuss QEIA successes
10 lessons learned