Wednesday, December 15, 2021

 Dear Colleague,

The subject of standardized testing for students has become very controversial over the years, but with the Covid related shutdowns leading to varying degrees of learning loss, the debate has become even more heated. In The 74, Connor Williams posits, “Schools are More Likely to Do What’s Easiest for Them If No One’s Watching. Why Standardized Tests Are Critically Useful, Especially Now.”

But, as anyone who’s ever groaned at their car’s “Check Engine” light or wondered if that mole on their elbow is growing knows, problems don’t evaporate just because we refuse to find out. 

That’s why, as the pandemic finally allows schools to get back to safe, universal, uninterrupted in-person instruction, it’s important that they administer the full battery of annual federally-mandated assessments. These tests make up a relatively small part of the assessment footprint in U.S. schools: annual math and English Language Arts tests in elementary and middle school (and once more in high school); one science test in elementary, middle, and high school; and annual assessments of English learners’ progress learning English. And yet, they provide critical data points for measuring the depths of the pandemic’s effects on students’ learning. 

“This is controversial, and not everybody loves it, but I think we have to assess where kids are,” former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained why this matters on a panel at the end of last summer. “Let’s figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are, where they are, and then hold ourselves accountable as educators: can we help accelerate them? Can we help them move? To somehow think that we can just guess, or just assume by looking at kids that we know where they are today, for me, that’s education malpractice.”

To continue reading, go here.

On a similar note, Andrea Gabor writes, “The Los Angeles and San Diego school systems want teachers to stop penalizing students for bad behavior and poor work habits. That’ll just hurt the people the changes are supposed to help.”

I’m a teacher with serious misgivings about the wisdom of traditional grading systems. So my heart leaped a little when I learned that Los Angeles and San Diego are moving away from them.

On closer inspection, I’m not so hopeful. While I’ve long regarded grades as having the kind of toxic impact on student learning that petrochemicals have on the environment, the path taken by California’s two largest school districts risks dumbing down education and hurting the students it seeks to help.

The changes are fine in theory. They aim to give students an opportunity to revise their work and retake tests, ideas that have merit. Moreover, they come in response to a troubling increase in the number of D’s and F’s assigned in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and school closures; the traditional grading system, reformers reasonably argued, was widening educational inequities.

However, the most worrying aspect of California’s social-justice approach to grading is the directive to teachers that they not penalize students for “behavior, work habits and missed deadlines.”

To read on, go here.

In other post-Covid doings, The Wall Street Journal reports, “Schools Cancel Classes to Give Teachers and Students Mental-Health Days.”

School districts nationwide are canceling classes for what they are calling mental-health days, saying students and staff need the breaks to handle the pressure of returning to school during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is another way this era for K-12 education is unlike any other, as educators rush to make up for lost instructional time while simultaneously managing last-minute closures for quarantine, a lack of bus and cafeteria staff and, now, the need to take a break from stress.

The practice caught on in early November when many districts in the Southeast opted to create a long weekend by canceling school on Nov. 12, the Friday after Veterans Day, according to Burbio, a Pelham, N.Y., data company that is monitoring K-12 school closures in 5,000 districts across the country. The announcement of closures accelerated in the middle of the month as many school districts decided to cancel classes the entire week of Thanksgiving, said Dennis Roche, Burbio president.

“The volume was really high, really quickly,” he said.

There have been at least 3,145 school closures specifically for mental-health needs so far this year, predominantly in North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri, according to Burbio. That represents more than a third of the 8,692 school closures so far this year, which have mostly been for quarantine or staffing reasons.

To learn more, go here.

As public schools are depopulating, Los Angeles could be hit even harder than other districts, as attendance is off by 27,000 students, or 6 percent of the total. That number could balloon when a strict vaccine mandate for students 12 and older goes into effect after Christmas break in January. At this time, 34,000 students are not fully vaxed, and needless to say, any easing of Covid mandates is a non-starter for the United Teachers of Los Angeles.

Families that don’t comply will have to enroll their children outside of L.A. Unified or transfer them to City of Angels, an independent study program that was adapted this year to include some live online instruction. City of Angels has been beset by staffing shortages and instability. Parents of students with special needs have been particularly upset at the limitations of the program — and many students waited weeks before being able to receive any meaningful instruction.

Having earlier deadlines gives district officials more time to prepare for what could happen. About 16,000 students are currently enrolled in City of Angels. The possible influx of many thousands more would have the potential to overwhelm the program.

To learn more, go here.

On a statewide level the Bay Area News Group writes in an editorial that, “California education dollars must be targeted for real change.”

It’s been eight years since then-Gov. Jerry Brown restructured California’s school funding formulas to direct billions of dollars to the state’s neediest students.

But, in 2019, state Auditor Elaine Howle confirmed what critics had been saying for years: State and local tax money allocated under the formula had apparently been used instead to boost overall spending throughout school districts. It wasn’t exactly clear where the money had gone once it reached the districts.

Howle’s findings are reinforced by a new report this month from Policy Analysis for California Education, an independent research center that draws from Stanford, University of Southern California and the University of California campuses at Berkeley, Davis and Los Angeles. The academics also found that a lack of financial accountability allows districts to avoid spending the extra money where it was intended and where it could do the most good.

It’s time for state lawmakers to put an end to this wastefulness, mandate meaningful accountability and ensure that the money is targeted to provide real change. It’s unacceptable that California test scores continue to significantly lag the national average, and that the state has failed to close the achievement gap that divides along racial and economic lines.

To read on, go here.

“A proposed California ballot measure would make good schools a constitutional right,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dave Welch is trying to improve California’s education system. He tells me we need “accountability of quality education.” You may recall the 2014 Vergara v. California decision, a suit Mr. Welch and others funded. Filed on behalf of nine public-school students, the ruling found that five California statutes related to teacher tenure, firing bad teachers and layoff policy violated the state’s Constitution. In his ruling, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu noted, “Evidence has been elicited in this trial of the specific effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

No matter. The California Court of Appeal reversed Vergara in 2016 stating: “With no proper showing of a constitutional violation, the court is without power to strike down the challenged statutes.” In the court’s view, the California Constitution guarantees merely a free public education.

So Mr. Welch was back where he started, with, he says, an “educational system that doesn’t prioritize its actions to educate the children to a degree necessary to function in our society.” Bad teachers are constitutionally protected.

But with his background as a logically thinking Cornell-educated engineer, he set out to prove bad teaching was “a constitutional violation.” In the Democrat-controlled California Legislature, that was going to be a tough sell. Teachers were the fourth-largest campaign contributors to California’s legislative races in 2020 behind energy, prison guards and healthcare. “The Legislature won’t listen to the people,” Mr. Welch grumbles.

Fortunately, Californians can change their constitution through ballot initiatives. And voilĂ , a group named Kids First including Mr. Welch filed the Constitutional Right to a High-Quality Public Education Act. Here’s the key provision: “Any law, regulation, or policy, or any official action affecting students generally, which does not put the interest of the students first, shall be deemed to deny this right.”

To learn more, go here.

On the school choice front, we mentioned last month that there is a school choice initiative headed for the California ballot in 2022. And now there is a second initiative on the same subject. From the “Education Savings Accounts Act of 2022” fact sheet:

Parents are ultimately responsible for their children. They should have the choice and resources

necessary to provide the best education opportunities for their kids, including and especially for those in low or middle-income communities. Financial barriers have many parents feeling that they have no options but to send their children to neighborhood schools. Their children’s future should be based on their aptitude, not their zip code. Every child is entitled to a free K-12 education.

Education Savings Accounts are the answer! 

• Students can opt into a K-12 savings account with $13,000 a year in state education funds.

• Parents can send their kids to an accredited school or homeschool of their choice.

• Funds can be used for tuition and other eligible education expenses.

• Children from low to medium-income families get initial access in the first four years.

• Up to $60,000 of leftover funds can be saved for college.

To learn more, go here. (We will feature a side-by-side comparison of the two bills when it is available.)

Anyone wishing to make a year-end donation to CTEN can do so very simply through a personal check or PayPal – here. As a non-profit, we exist and operate only through the generosity and support of people like you. (And to those of you who already regularly donate – our heartfelt thanks!)

It has been another exciting year for CTEN, and we look forward to an even more vigorous 2021. We are grateful for your interest and involvement, and wish you and your families the happiest of holidays. See you next year!


Larry Sand

CTEN President

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Dear Colleague,

Between school shutdowns and the presence of Critical Race Theory in some schools, public education has been taking a beating of late. As such, some districts in the Bay Area have taken to advertising their wares.

Most education officials don’t think of public schools as a product to sell, but just like fast food or sneaker brands, districts have billion-dollar budgets and compete in a crowded marketplace.

Now Bay Area public school officials, eyeing enrollment declines and teacher shortages, are hiring firms to boost their image. Those firms are looking to billboards, marketing plans and advertising campaigns to make their arguments.

While schools aren’t soft drinks, education over the past couple of decades has become a competitive marketplace with a lot of options for families, officials said. 

“Many times, families are making decisions about which is the right school or whether that’s a public school, private school or charter school, with limited information,” said Brian Epperson, CEO of Target River, a marketing firm working with districts in the Bay Area and seven states. “If they were a business, they’d have a massive marketing budget to support their efforts to attract and retain clients.” 

In this case, the clients are students, and each one is worth $10,000 a year or more in state funding.

To continue reading, go here.

Talking about families making decisions, there is a new proposed ballot initiative that would give up to $14,000 per student to attend private schools is quickly making headway into being on the ballot in 2022.

According to the California Education Savings Accounts Initiative (Educational Freedom Act), one of a slew of proposed ballot initiatives currently collecting signatures for next year, California would provide yearly voucher payments of $14,000 into education savings accounts for K-12 students attending accredited private schools. The initiative would include religious schools, eliminating the current constitutional ban on public funding going towards religious and other private schools. California would not be allowed to set requirements on certain standards, such as teacher credentialing, curriculum, or disciplinary policies, but would need to meet educational standards in order to graduate and advance in grades, as well as meet state health and safety standards.

Funds for the vouchers would come directly from both the California state General Fund and local property taxes, with any extra funds from the vouchers after tuition and other private schools costs going to college, vocational training, and other higher education costs. If funds remain by the time the student is 30, all remaining funds will go back to the state.

To learn more about the proposed ballot initiative, go here.

On the labor front, Mike Antonucci writes, “Amid Growing Parent Backlash, Teachers Unions Keep Trying to Rewrite School Reopening History.”

Give American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten a platform and she will deliver this often repeated claim about shuttered school campuses and the pandemic:

  • March 19, 2021: “We’ve been trying to reopen schools since last April.”
  • November 3, 2021: “When you see people say that teachers closed schools, don’t let that lie stand. We, the AFT, put out a plan in April 2020 and worked very hard to reopen schools safely.”

One part of those statements is accurate. The AFT did put out a plan in April 2020. The rest, however, is easily refuted by looking at what AFT and its affiliates actually did during almost a year-and-a-half of widespread school closures due to COVID-19.

I detail teacher union actions at the national, state and local levels in a new report for the Defense of Freedom Institute. It’s called “Teacher Union Resistance to Reopening Schools: An Examination of the Largest U.S. School Districts.” Districts studied included New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade County, Clark County (Nevada), Houston and Fairfax County (Virginia).

To learn more and read Antonucci’s report, go here.

At least one teacher in the Sacramento area is fighting back against mask mandates, and is paying the price for his activism.

Earlier this week, 50 students at Ponderosa High School protested the school’s mask mandate in what they’re now calling “No-Mandate Monday.”

Michael Wilkes, a business technology teacher at the Shingle Springs high school, said he chose to join the students by removing his mask during class. Later that day, he was told he was placed on administrative leave.

Michael told CBS13 he wasn’t surprised.

“Going into it, I knew obviously as a teacher, if I chose to support these students in protest, there would be professional consequences,” he said.

Now, Michael says he believes his job is at stake.

Lexi Wagner is also paying the price for the protest. The Ponderosa High School senior helped spur the movement. Her mom, Andi Wagner, says Lexi has been “removed from class multiple times and ultimately asked to find ‘alternative learning’ because she will not comply.”

To read on, go here.

According to the Orange County Register, “Some parents find a long-term solution in at-home learning.”

Families are coming to homeschooling at record rates during the pandemic, with the numbers doubling from 5.4 percent to 11 percent between March 2020 and March 2021, according to the U.S. Census. Homeschool associations across California saw memberships and social media followings grow, and places that offer curriculum received calls from first-timers eager for solutions. 

There are many reasons these families say they are making the switch from COVID-19 concerns to the quality of distance learning. Parents report that some children with sensitivities struggle with masks, others want learning centered around religious world views, and still others worry about bullying and racism in the standard classroom. After 18 months of uncertainty, and with so many Californians still centering their lives around the home, some families may never return to brick-and-mortar schools.

“I have seen nothing like this in the last 27 years that I’ve been reading and studying or following this area,” says Martin Whitehead, spokesperson for the Homeschool Association of California. Whitehead, who homeschooled his two daughters all the way through high school, describes the pandemic increase as a “breakthrough” number.

It’s hard to know exactly how big that number is in California because the state doesn’t track how many students homeschool in its many forms. Under the umbrella of the public school system, there are independent study programs and homeschool charter programs. The traditional route is where parents choose a curriculum and teach their kids themselves. To get an estimate of how many parents are doing this, many turn to data on private school affidavits.

To continue reading, go here.

“They stuck to their anti-vax beliefs. Now these teachers and school workers are out of jobs.” So writes Howard Blume in the Los Angeles Times.

Two teachers, a teaching assistant and a cafeteria manager — all were opposed to the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for Los Angeles school employees. One remains teaching, but lost a beloved position; another was fired outright. An employee who won an exemption is out of work anyway. And yet another gave in to a jab at the last minute, but only because of a family crisis.

Their anti-vaccine views are outliers among some 73,000 colleagues, 95% of whom have had at least one shot. But Jamal Y. Speakes Sr., Hovik Saponghian, Angela Karapetyan and Nadine Jackson paid a price for holding to personal beliefs in the face of public-health policy mandates and experts who cite strong evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

The Los Angeles Unified School District was among the first school systems in the nation to require employees to be vaccinated. The Oct. 15 deadline prompted a last-minute surge among thousands who were hesitant. No vaccine meant no entry onto a campus — and likely no job.

To learn more, go here.

Regarding Glenn Youngkin’s defeat of Terry McAuliffe in the gubernatorial race in Virginia earlier this month, the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess asks, “Just what educational lessons should be taken from what unfolded in the Old Dominion.”

First, to say this race was about “education” is to say it was really about school closures, parental frustration, and concerns that ideological extremists are calling the shots on public education. Other than insisting that schools stayed closed too long last year, that parents need to be heard, and that there are serious problems with what falls under the label of Critical Race Theory, Youngkin didn’t get especially concrete on education. This is not education policy as we’ve grown used to debating it over much of the past two decades. Sure, Youngkin, a private-equity executive, had the standard five-point plan, which featured planks like “getting every student college or career ready,” “raising teacher pay,” and creating charter schools, but his breakthrough on education wasn’t fueled by his stance on accountability, standards, school spending, or the rest of the familiar school improvement checklist. It was all about values, frustration, and parental empowerment. And that is potent, deeply personal stuff.

Second, while McAuliffe, Harris, and the talking heads at MSNBC described Youngkin’s critique of CRT as a race-baiting appeal to the base, a quick look at the polling suggests something very different. In an election where turnout was almost 50 percent higher than expected, Youngkin won independents and made notable gains with women and minority voters. This has a lot more in common with how Bill Clinton, Bush, and Obama used education to court the middle than with how Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Biden used it to energize the base in 2016 and 2020. The map suggests that going after the ideological extremism underlying CRT helped Youngkin win back suburban voters that Trump lost, a fact Democrats ignore at their peril.

To continue reading, go here.

If you have any valuable resources that you would like to share, or report on what your school district is doing – good, bad or indifferent – to deal with the “new normal,” please do so by emailing or posting on Facebook, if you prefer. The CTEN page can be accessed here.

Also, anyone wishing to donate to CTEN can do so very simply through check, money order or PayPal -  As a non-profit, we exist only through the generosity of others. Thanks, as always.


Larry Sand

CTEN President



Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Dear Colleague,

On October 1, Governor Newsom announced plans to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccinations required to attend school in-person when the vaccine receives full approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for middle and high school grades, making California the first state in the nation to announce such a measure. Following the other first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination measures, Governor Newsom announced,

“The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19. Today’s measure, just like our first-in-the-nation school masking and staff vaccination requirements, is about protecting our children and school staff, and keeping them in the classroom,” said Governor Newsom. “Vaccines work. It’s why California leads the country in preventing school closures and has the lowest case rates. We encourage other states to follow our lead to keep our kids safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

But there is indeed a difference between the traditional vaccines and the Covid vax. While children are directly impacted by mumps, etc., they do not have a significant risk from Covid, nor are they “super spreaders.” Teachers are far more likely to catch the disease in the teachers’ lounge than in the classroom.

As Dr. Scott Atlas explains,

…it’s unconscionable that a society uses its children as shields for adults. The children do not have significant risk from this illness.” He adds, “My role as a parent is to protect my children. My role is not, and I will never use my children as shields to somehow protect me. And that’s really just a heinous violation of all moral principles in my view.

To learn more, go here and here.

It was announced at the end of September that enrollment in the Los Angeles Unified School District “dropped by more than 27,000 students since last year, a decline of close to 6% — a much steeper slide than in any recent year.”

Last year's enrollment total for pre-school through 12th grade was 466,229. This year's figure for that same date is 439,013, according to data provided by L.A. Unified that will be presented to the school board Tuesday.

Other data released by L.A. Unified indicates other potential concerns. The district estimates that between 70% and 80% of the school staff are on target to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the district's deadline of Oct. 15, indicating that thousands of employees face termination, which would exacerbate another problem: more than 2,000 unfilled jobs.

"We’re still seeing the impact of COVID," said Veronica Arreguin, the district's chief strategy officer, about the enrollment decline. Arreguin also noted that much of the decline was expected, in line with many years of dropping enrollment related to lower birth rates, families moving to more affordable areas and other factors.

Even so, the shortfall is about twice what planners in the nation's second-largest school district predicted. The district plans to act aggressively to understand what is happening and what to do about it.

On a similar note, it had been reported in April that California’s public schools lost more than 160,000 students or 2.6% during the 2020-2021 school year, the largest enrollment drop in two decades, which could lead to “serious educational and financial challenges."

To read on, go here and here.

Anticipating an increase in student misbehavior, California has released new discipline guidelines.

Schools should offer more counseling, suspend fewer students and address the underlying mental health challenges of students who misbehave in class, according to the state’s new school discipline guidelines.

The guidelines, released last month by the California Department of Education, are intended to help schools navigate an anticipated uptick in student misbehavior following more than a year of remote learning, said department spokesperson Scott Roark.

Educators expect more disruption and difficulties from some students due to the pandemic.

“Students in in-person attendance may exhibit disruptive behaviors due to increased anxiety and depression. Students in independent study may not complete assignments due to mental health barriers,” Roark said. “A focus on social-emotional learning is more important in addressing behavioral health.”

The guidelines wrap up reforms of laws and policies related to suspensions, expulsions and other forms of discipline in K-12 schools over the past several years. They were drawn up with input from Public Counsel, a public interest law firm, and CADRE, a nonprofit focused on racial disparities in south Los Angeles schools.

To continue reading, go here.

On October 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 101 into law, requiring California high school students to take an ethnic studies class to graduate, starting with the class of 2029-2030.

“The inclusion of ethnic studies in the high school curriculum is long overdue,” said Assemblymember Jose Medina, a Democrat from Riverside who authored AB 101. “Students cannot have a full understanding of the history of our state and nation without the inclusion of the contributions and struggles of Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans.”

But not everyone is happy with the new law. In the lead-up to Newsom’s signature, Holocaust survivors and their descendants urged the governor to veto the bill.

“We are 74 organizational supporters of the California Jewish community, who are deeply concerned about the ethnic studies requirement bill, AB 101, and the enormously harmful impact we believe it will have on Jewish students and the Jewish community if it becomes law. We strongly urge you to veto this bill,” wrote the groups in their letter to Newsom today.

The organizations are alarmed because, although AB 101 was amended to include language expressing the Legislature’s intent that local educational agencies (LEAs) “not use the portions of the draft model curriculum that were not adopted by the Instructional Quality Commission due to concerns related to bias, bigotry, and discrimination,” the bill does not, and by law cannot, prevent an LEA from adopting any part of the overtly antisemitic first draft of the ESMC. The first draft was opposed by 20,000 Californians, virtually every Jewish organization in the state, and the Legislative Jewish Caucus, whose members rightly warned that such a curriculum would “marginalize Jewish students and fuel hatred and discrimination against the Jewish community.”

To learn more, go here and here.

On the school choice front, a lot is happening nationally due to mask mandates and Critical Race Theory, among other issues.

In the first half of 2021, seven states—including Oklahoma neighbors Arkansas and Missouri—enacted new school-choice programs. Five of these were ESAs, which give parents an account they can use to pay for educational expenses like private-school tuition or tutoring services. The other two were tax-credit scholarships, which give donors a tax credit for contributing to scholarship funds that help students attend private schools.

That’s far from all. Fourteen states expanded 21 existing school choice programs in the first half of 2021. Oklahoma was one of these states, expanding the cap on its tax-credit scholarship program from $3.5 million to $25 million. Neighboring Arkansas and Kansas expanded student eligibility in their school-choice programs, allowing more students to access choice.

In all, 18 states enacted or expanded 30 school-choice programs. There are now 76 total school-choice programs—and counting!—in 32 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico. These programs serve over 600,000 students.

To continue reading, go here.

A proposed 2022 California ballot initiative will try to define “high-quality” education. Its backers hope to make it easier to challenge teacher tenure and other laws that they claim harm students.

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur who unsuccessfully took on teacher tenure in court is now supporting a constitutional amendment aimed at requiring California to provide “high-quality” public education for all students.

The effort expressly takes aim at state laws, policies and regulations that “interfere with a right to a high-quality education.” It also says that the proposed remedies “shall not include new mandates for taxes or spending,” a strategy that some say will limit the options to provide a “high-quality” education, should voters support the amendment in November 2022. 

David Welch, who underwrote the Vergara v. the State of California and the California Teachers Association litigation in 2012, is among those proposing the Constitutional Right to a High Quality Public Education Act, which they submitted on Thursday to the California attorney general.

…The current wording of the Constitution guarantees Californians only a “free public education.” The Legislature and the courts would have to define what constitutes “high quality.” But adding that phrase as a constitutional right would “finally empower public school parents with a seat at the table” to advocate for students, the proponents said in a statement preceding the amendment.

The new wording would assert that any law, regulation, policy or official action that “does not put the interests of students first” shall be deemed to interfere with a right to a high-quality education.

To learn more, go here.

If you have any valuable resources that you would like to share, or report on what your school district is doing – good, bad or indifferent – to deal with the “new normal,” please do so by emailing or posting on Facebook, if you prefer. The CTEN page can be accessed here.

Also, anyone wishing to donate to CTEN can do so very simply through check, money order or PayPal -  As a non-profit, we exist only through the generosity of others. Thanks, as always.


Larry Sand

CTEN President