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CTA Praises Torlakson's Quality Education Investment Act as "Model Intervention Program"

December 2, 2010

After watching and listening as teachers unions took a beating through the fall in newspaper articles and radio programs discussing filmmaker David Guggenheim’s charter school documentary “Waiting for Superman,” the California Teachers Association (CTA) this week rolled out a charm offensive to tout the results of the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) – a piece of legislation supported by the CTA that was authored by then-State Sen. Tom Torlakson (the candidate successfully supported by the CTA in November’s runoff election for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction.)

Touted in a press release on Tuesday as “a landmark law” and  “the largest public education reform program of its kind,” the CTA declared that “(the) Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006 is making sustained progress in helping at-risk students succeed in the classroom after two full years of implementation, according to new initial research” unveiled Tuesday at a CTA symposium in Sacramento on QEIA, attended by nearly 200 California teachers, education experts and lawmakers’ staff.

The CTA stressed that the report “shows that California educators are part of the conversation about meaningful education reform for our schools of greatest need” – a message that runs counter to the widely-screened Guggenheim film’s basic contention that privately run charter schools are good, and public schools run by large urban districts are bad.

The CTA release added that “Providing extra state funding for proven reforms like smaller class sizes at lower-performing schools, QEIA and its emphasis on collaboration among educators, parents and principals is helping to make strong academic gains despite challenges from student poverty, diversity and language, the new CTA research shows.”

“For the 2009-10 school year alone, QEIA schools, on average, experienced nearly 50 percent higher growth on the California Academic Performance Index (API) than similar, non-QEIA schools. Also, the report shows QEIA is helping to close student achievement gaps. QEIA schools are making ‘greater gains in API with African-American and Hispanic students, English Language Learners, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students’ than comparable lower-performing schools,” the report concludes.

David A. Sanchez, president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, said “Sustained intervention works. When schools are given the resources and assistance they need, and when teachers, administrators and parents work together, schools and students improve. QEIA is offering lessons in education reform that works, and that other schools can learn from.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Tom Torlakson, who wrote the QEIA law (SB 1133) also spoke at the event. “The Quality Education Investment Act puts the emphasis where it should be -- on the classroom and on teaching,” Torlakson said. “I think the successful reforms of QEIA could definitely make a difference in all of our schools of greatest need in California.”

The 40-page QEIA research report titled “Lessons From the Classroom: Initial Success for At-Risk Students” was conducted independently by Vital Research of Los Angeles and is available at www.cta.org.

The report found that over eight years, QEIA will provide nearly $3 billion in resources to nearly 500 lower-performing public schools serving nearly 500,000 students. Eighty-four percent of students at QEIA-funded schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunches – compared to 44 percent of students in all other California public schools; 41 percent of QEIA students are English Learners, compared to 19 percent in the rest of the schools, according to the California Department of Education. Hispanic students are 79 percent of those attending QEIA campuses, versus 41 percent in the statewide, non-QEIA population.

The new QEIA research report, comparing QEIA schools to only similar lower-performing schools, revealed these promising findings and lessons:

  1. Smaller class sizes matter. School implementation plans were largely focused on class size reduction, professional development, collaboration time and the adoption of curricular interventions.
  2. QEIA schools averaged a growth of 21.2 points on the API scale, 6.8 more points (47.2 percent higher) than comparable non-QEIA schools for the 2009-10 school year.
  3. 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.
  4. The overall API growth score for Hispanic students at QEIA schools averaged 64.3 points since 2007, compared to 51 points in comparable non-QEIA schools of greatest need. The difference was 52.4 points versus 40.7 points, respectively, for African-American students at QEIA and non-QEIA schools. The overall API growth score for QEIA campus English Learners was 12.3 points higher – 61.9 points compared to 49.6.
  5. Socioeconomically disadvantaged students averaged a growth score of 63.6 points versus 50.4 points in non-QEIA schools since 2007.
  6. Professional development decisions in higher growth schools were made in collaborative teams with teacher input, leading to greater satisfaction among all stakeholders.
  7. Higher API growth schools used student data to guide and focus professional development decisions.
  8. Higher API growth schools engaged in more teacher collaboration to develop lesson plans, create common assessments and analyze student data.

The CTA also launched statewide radio ads this week about QEIA and its impact on schools and students.

The CTA campaign came less than two weeks after influential educator Diane Ravitch (a Research Professor of Education at New York University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution) published a critique of the Guggenheim film in the New York Review of Books.  Titled “The Myth of Charter Schools,” the Ravitch article took Guggenheim to task for “the propagandistic nature” of the film, which she said is “revealed by Guggenheim’s complete indifference to the wide variation among charter schools.  There are excellent charter schools, just as there are excellent public schools.  Why did he not also inquire into the charter chains that are mired in unsavory real estate deals, or take his camera to the charters where most students are getting lower scores than those in the neighborhood public schools?  Why did he not report on the charter principals who have been indicted for embezzlement, or the charters that blur the line between church and state?  Why did he not look into the charter schools whose leaders are paid $300,000–$400,000 a year to oversee small numbers of schools and students?”

Ravitch also said “Perhaps the greatest distortion in this film is its misrepresentation of data about student academic performance.  The film claims that 70 percent of eighth-grade students cannot read at grade level.  This is flatly wrong.  Guggenheim here relies on numbers drawn from the federally sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).  I served as a member of the governing board for the national tests for seven years, and I know how misleading Guggenheim’s figures are.  NAEP doesn’t measure performance in terms of grade-level achievement.  The highest level of performance, “advanced,” is equivalent to an A+, representing the highest possible academic performance. The next level, “proficient,” is equivalent to an A or a very strong B.  The next level is “basic,” which probably translates into a C grade.  The film assumes that any student below proficient is “below grade level.”  But it would be far more fitting to worry about students who are “below basic,” who are 25 percent of the national sample, not 70 percent.

Source:  EdBrief staff, California Teachers Association, New York Review of Books