The Gatekeeepers of Education

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Students at Paramount Elementary School in their newly renovated library. Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

Although the drought is begging for much of California residents’ attention, changes and implementations within the state’s education department have been making quite an impression.

Education in California was dramatically changed in July of 2013 in regards to school district funding. This new finance system, Local Control Funding Formula, now gives districts increased funds and supplemental grants intended to support the needs of low-income students, English learners and fostered youth. After only a year a half with the new financial changes, the state demanded an accountability plan from every district at the start of this school year.

Schools across the state are seeing measurable progress in the achievement of students after just one year of implementing accountability, particularly in the city of Azusa.

Achievement gap on a national level

As students of color approximate half of the national public school population, new efforts are working to provide these students the resources and funds necessary to give an equal opportunity along with children who are fostered youth or come from low-income families.

The Education Trust recently released a 2015 Funding Gaps Report, which concluded that nationally, “Too many states still spend less on educating students who need the most attention.”

Allison Horowitz, a K-12 policy analyst for The Education Trust, tracks national and international data on achievement and opportunity and works to narrow the gap. Although achievement is higher now that it has ever been, the gaps are still far too wide and education is nowhere near where it needs to be, explained Horowitz.

“We face a lot of challenges and children only get one chance at an education,” Horowitz said. “It’s hard work to make sure that we are giving every child an opportunity to be successful in life.”

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Courtesy of The Education Trust

This 2015 funding report, based off the most recent data published from 2012, shows how 61 percent of California schools non-federal funding comes from the state. Further, districts that are serving the most students with color receive about 6% or $587 more per student from the state than districts that don’t and “the highest poverty districts receive $4,004 or 106 percent more, in state revenues per student than the lowest poverty districts.”

For Horowitz, the biggest challenge with California’s new funding standards is tracking what happens to the money once it goes down to the districts and how it is actually impacting students’ educational experiences.

Education and the State of California

The Education Trust is split into different branches and its West branch is equity-driven, data-centered and student focused, advocating “for educational justice and the high academic achievement of all California students, particular those of color and living in poverty.” Much of the work done by The Education Trust-West is analyzing data and policies from California’s Department of Education.

“The achievement gap isn’t particular to California – it exists in every state – but what is particular to California is the sheer number of students our education department serves,” explained Educational Trust-West’s Executive Director Ryan Smith and Communications Manager Jelena Hasbrouck, confirming the 6.2 million students in the state’s K-12 public schools.

California currently serves 1.4 million English learners, which is more than any other state in the country, accounting for nearly a third of all English learning students in the U.S. To help address this issue, earlier this month Governor Jerry Brown appointed Feliza Ortiz-Licon as an English Learner advocate to the State Board of Education, who also serves as the senior director of K-16 education for the national council of La Raza.  

Governor Jerry Brown’s 2015-16 Budget Summary shows how funding levels will increase by $2,600 per student from the last recorded numbers established in 2011-12. The estimated total of $47,173 million for next year’s K-12 education will be over 40 percent of the state’s available funds.

The Local Control Funding Formula implementation by Brown will adjust the base grant amount for K-3rd grade by 10.4 perfect and there will be a 2.6 percent increase for high school age students, according to the California Department of Education. At full implementation, each county will be given $655,920 and each district should receive a minimum of $109,320 in funding from just LCFF alone.

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Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

In addition to this base, there will be supplemental and concentration grants for districts that educate more than 20 percent of students who are English learners and in foster care.

In a press release from the Education Trust-West this past January, Smith explained how the $4 billion in the LCFF is a turning point for education equality. However, it will take nearly a decade until districts see the entirety of its funds.

The LCFF effecting the Azusa Unified School District

Azusa Unified School District currently provides education for a daily average of 9,251 students in its 11 elementary, three middle and three high schools. According to LCAP Watch, 85 percent of Azusa students are categorized as high-need.

The 2014-15 AUSD Budget claims that the district received a total revenue funding of $95,527,503, which includes $75,833,730 in LCFF funds.

Arturo Ortega, assistant superintendent of education services at the AUSD, explains how the LCFF provides a new mechanism for English learning students, fostered youth and low-income students to help and reduce the achievement gap that is prevalent in Azusa.

Since 2010, The Education Trust-West has released district report cards which grades districts on performance, improvement, gaps and college-readiness. Most districts in the state receive Cs and Ds on their report cards, which suggests the need to enforce a stronger emphasis on improving outcomes of low-income students and students of color.

AUSD over the past four years has seen an improvement as in 2010, it received a C and currently is graded at a C+ from 2013 data. Neighboring Azusa, Glendora Unified School District with a higher educational reputation recorded a C+ in 2010 and have since improved to a B-, matching the same progress as AUSD.

Implementing a Local Control Accountability Plan

“The LCAP is the accountability piece of the LCFF,” said Ortega, explaining how the plan is revised annually.

The process of determining the LCAP is based on a four-step process by parents, students, educators, city leaders and stakeholders: inform, consult, plan, adopt. The priorities of the LCAP is to provide basic services, implement state standards, encourage parental engagement, seek student achievement, adapt to school climate, obtain access to courses and determine measurable student outcomes and goals.

AUSD has established five goals with the implementation of the LCAP: Increase student achievement; increase English learners’ academic language development; Increase all students’ college and career readiness; increase parent and student leadership; and, improve district facilities, transportation and nutrition.

“We are doing well with our LCAP,” said Ortega. “There are areas that we need to improve on, but overall we have implemented some great programs, some great professional development, broader courses and support.”

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English Learning classes are being changed and adapted due to the district’s new funding. Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

The schools within the district are given a certain power to determine where these increased funds will go and so far, finances have primarily purchased new learning material to align with the Common Core standards and English learning departments.

Azusa High School is particularly interested in using its increased funding to help support its new program “English 3-D,” said Ramiro Rubalcaba, principal at Azusa High School.

This new program specializes in innovation, giving students a double-dose of English during the school day, instead of an after-school tutoring program. Rubalcaba claims that Azusa High’s classification rates tripled from last year due to the increased attention given to this program and sending more students to college and enrichment fairs.

The United States Department of Education recently released a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, which found that the national graduation rate is 81 percent as California holds an 82 percentage. Azusa High School currently holds a 92 percent graduation rate, according to Rubalcaba.

Common Core help’s AUSD

California’s Board of Education adopted the Common Core in 2010. However, California is just about to end its first school year with the curriculum’s full implementation.

Ortega explains how the district is seeing a constant improvement in student achievement and how the Common Core is a “game changer,” at least in the state of California.

To Rubalcaba, the Common Core requires getting educators trained by switching mindsets and changing routines. The new educational plan focuses more on writing, collaborating, persuading and arguing points.

As much of a challenge it has been to implement new testing and curriculum, Rubalcaba has seen it as a positive change due to the investment in resources, renovation of computer labs and updating of technology particularly in high-need areas such as Azusa.

Community and Parent Involvement

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Azusa Unified School District seeks to increase parent involvement and parents at Paramount Elementary are encouraged to sign in and walk their children to their classrooms. Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

Often Brown’s new financial plan is defined as adequate and equitable funding, which Robert Allard, principal at Paramount Elementary in Azusa, defines it “simply doing what is right.”

According to Allard, Paramount Elementary currently educates 46 to 50 percent of English Learners and 88 to 90 percent who are categorized under Free and Reduced Lunch, being economically disadvantaged. These statistics seen at Paramount Elementary fall among the averages of the Azusa Unified School District percentages.

The lack of experiences is what primarily makes Azusa students disadvantaged and these funds will give opportunities to students that most children have had their entire life, said Allard.

One of the major challenges currently being faced is parental involvement. According to Allard, often parents in the district have not had the opportunity for a higher education and do not know how to navigate academic achievement and the level of involvement needed.

Joe Rocha, Mayor of Azusa, works closely with all five of the Azusa School Board members and believes that including parents as well as the community is essential in making a difference.

“By working as a community we can get much more done, instead of working separately,” said Rocha.

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Community programs such as CHAMP are intended to invest in the lives of students, showing significance and excitement for education. Photo: Kelyn Struiksma

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Clynched by Loretta

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Courtesy of The New York Times / Gabriella Demczuk. At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this past January, Loretta Lynch gives her testimony.

On Thursday, the Senate finally got around to confirming Loretta Lynch as the nation’s first black female Attorney General after a five-month delay.

In the 56-43 vote, Lynch was welcomed as lead of the Justice Department, replacing Eric Holder, by all present voting Democrats and 10 Republicans, which included Senator Mitch McConnell, majority leader.

Hours before the confirmation, 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz spoke against Lynch, claiming she was “unfit” for the job and was the only senator to miss the vote.

The republicans suspended the vote for Lynch based not on her qualifications, but in their rage against President Barack Obama’s executive action regarding immigration. According to The Huffington Post, the president’s decision would give “1.8 million undocumented immigrants” deportation relief.

The Associated Press explained how at the confirmation hearing this past January, Lynch responded to her support of Obama saying that she “believed Obama’s actions were reasonable and lawful,”

Although the republicans were against Obama’s actions, he is not the only president to have made efforts in granting temporary relief as nearly every president since 1956 has used their power the same way, reported the Huffington Post.

“Today, the Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch to be America’s next Attorney General – and America will be better off for it,” said President Barack Obama in an official statement. “Loretta’s confirmation ensures that we are better positioned to keep our communities safe, keep our nation secure, and ensure that every American experiences justice under the law.”

Click here for a video of the official announcement.

Uber’s Job Controversy Continues

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Courtesy of Creative Commons / Wikimedia

Uber is causing quite the controversy and recently estimated that in 2015, it will employ over one million new drivers. The six-year-old company has seen significant growth within the past year, claiming that 50,000 new jobs are created each month. However, the jobs created are not traditional full-time positions that promote economic success and lower unemployment rates.

There is no denying the high-function and popularity of Uber, but the company’s choice of words regarding job creation is up for debate as only part-time positions are offered for independent and contracted drivers.

Typically, monthly reports determine unemployment rates, which are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Recently, these reports have not shown any significant change in numbers of those unemployed, even though 390,000 new jobs were created in the past two months. Uber’s jobs opportunities for independent contractors, a demographic not included in the reports, falls under the bureau’s category of “alternative employment arrangements.”

For Uber drivers, this means they are not given standardized pay or health benefits and are expected to pay any costs acquired on the clock–gas, parking and insurance.

The company currently provides services in nearly 300 different cities, but doesn’t share how many drivers they have. Slate explains, if Uber changes its drivers from contractors to employees, the company would definitely take an economic hit.

Alan Krueger, a professor at Princeton and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, found in his study that Uber has approximately 160,000 drivers who have provided at least four rides in the past month.

Uber and its main competitor, Lyft, both are going to court to battle the distinction between employees and contractors and will no doubt, put up quite a fight.

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Courtesy of Uber

The swan song has changed

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Courtesy of NPR / Emily Jan

Over the past century, there have been two requirements needed to be named the lead in Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, Swan Lake — being feather-weight and snow white. However, Misty Copeland, 32, and Brooklyn Mack, 29, have broken this unwritten rule of ballet dancers needing to all look the same. For the first time in history, these two black dancers were featured as leads for the American production of Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on Thursday, April 9.

According to NPR, the two have started an revolution in the industry and the crowning roles of the pure white swan and matching prince have forever been changed. Copeland, a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre, is playing the roles of both Odette and Odile as Prince Siegfried will be performed by Mack, one of Washington’s Ballet’s own.

Becoming a successful ballet dancer is challenging enough without trying to fit a particular aesthetic, but Copeland and Mack were both trained by teachers who saw their potential early in their careers.

After practicing multiple times every day and moving though different dance companies, Mack has been given the biggest role of professional career as Copeland has a Cinderella-like story of her own.

Courtesy of NPR / Emily Jan

Courtesy of NPR / Emily Jan

“I think it’s important as a child to feel like you belong,” said Copeland in an interview with Huffington Post. “But belonging shouldn’t mean you are like everyone else. You want to feel accepted, but you don’t have to look like everyone around you, you don’t have to follow the exact same path as someone before you.”

The duo will preform one last time at the Eisenhower Theater on Sunday, April 12 for the company’s closing show at 6:30 p.m.

The Liberty Pursuit

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was the first Republican to announce a 2016 GOP presidential candidacy at Liberty University on March 23

“God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet,” Cruz said, as the crown interrupted with applause. “I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to reignite the promise of America, and that is why today I am announcing that I’m running for president of the United States.”

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Courtesy of theBlaze.com. Heidi, Caroline and Catherine Cruz support their husband and father in his 2016 presidential campaign.

With his 38-usage of the word “imagine,” Cruz encouraged his audience to see the “promise of America” and understand his political ambitions as a hopeful conservative nominee. He began his announcement with a nine-minute outline, linking the history of his immigrant father and the principles of the United States’ founding fathers, claiming that America’s answer comes not from the White House, but “from men and women, from people of faith, from lovers of liberty, from people who respect the Constitution.”

After his rather lengthy family history, Cruz began to attack the efforts of the Obama Administration, encouraging the audience to imagine a federal government that opposes economic stagnation, deaths of small businesses, support of the IRS and educational mandates. 

However, it has been challenged that his comment regarding economic “crushing stagnation” and the record numbers of  small-business failure, as being far from accurate. There was also inaccuracy regarding his hopeful attempt to repeal the Common Core, when the federal government has no effect or financial influence on its implementation, according to its standards.

Cruz believes America needs to remove itself from ideals set by the current administration, and suggests implementing a flat tax rate, creating high-paying jobs, refusing Iran nuclear power, defeating the radical Islamic terrorism that exists and staying true to conservative family ideals of upholding the sacrament of marriage and defending life.

Cruz ended his speech and said: “[Liberty] will only come as it has come at every other time of challenge in this country, when the American people stand together and say we will get back to the principles that have made this country great. We will get back and restore that shining city on a hill that is the United States of America.”

Click here for the full speech.