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Report: California Education Reforms Yield Higher Test Scores

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This story comes courtesy of California Watch.

By Louis Freedberg

A major squabble between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his adversaries on K-12 funding early in his administration has had a positive outcome: higher test scores in many of the state's lowest performing schools.

That is the finding of a report to be released today by the California Teachers Association on a nearly $3 billion program established as a result of a settlement to a lawsuit filed against Schwarzenegger by the CTA and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell five years ago.

At the time, the CTA and O'Connell alleged that Schwarzenegger had failed to fully fund the schools under Proposition 98 in 2005 in accordance with an agreement he had reached with the education community in 2004.

The lawsuit was settled out of court and resulted in SB 1133, known as the Quality Education Investment Act, authored by Assemblyman Tom Torlakson. Torlakson was recently elected to succeed O'Connell as state superintendent in January.

A core element of the Quality Education Investment Act, or QEIA (pronounced "kweeya" in Sacramento vernacular) is to target nearly 500 low-performing schools and provide them with funds for a variety of purposes, with a focus on keeping class sizes low: 20-to-1 in K-3 classes, 25-to-1 in grades 4-8, and 25-to-1 in reading, math, science and history/social science classes in grades 4-12. Other elements included keeping student-counselor ratios low and giving teachers more time to collaborate with each other.

To carry out this mandate, QEIA schools have been receiving $500 per K-3 pupil, $900 per student in grades 4-8, and $1000 per student in grades 9-12.

It is one of the most ambitious, and expensive, reforms introduced in California schools since the state's $1 billion annual class-size reduction program was introduced in 1996.

The results? According to a study commissioned by the CTA and carried out by Vital Research, LLC, on average schools which participated in the program saw a 21.2 point increase in their Academic Performance Index, 6.8 more points than a comparison group of schools that did not participate in the program.

In addition, the API scores suggest that schools are making the greatest improvements with African American and Hispanic students, English language learners and students from low-income schools.

"We are pleased to see that early on the program is getting results, and we would like to see it continue and to see its approach expanded to more schools," Richard Zeiger, Torlakson's chief of staff, told California Watch. "It targets money in those schools that really need help. It shows that for schools to make strides, resources do matter."

Hilary McLean, a spokesman for O'Connell, said "we certainly think it is addressing real student needs and is targeting investments to those students and schools that can most effectively use the resources."

Admittedly, Torlakson, O'Connell and the CTA were all key players in creating the QEIA program, so critics could argue that they have a vested interest in demonstrating that the program works.

Zeiger said that the results of the Vital Research/CTA study "matches what we have been hearing anecdotally from the field. It makes sense, so my guess is that the results are accurate and on the right track."

At the same time, he said, "as we move along we should have outside groups do more analysis to make sure that these gains are sustained over a longer period of time."

Because the funds were mandated by the lawsuit, QEIA schools are guaranteed support for the program over a seven year period, helping to protect them from some of the budget cuts affecting many other schools in California.

In light of the state's continuing multi-billion dollar deficits, it is hard to imagine similar programs being instituted in other struggling California schools without major reform of its convoluted, and often irrational, school financing system.

For a detailed description of the QEIA program, check out this EdSource report.

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Report: Education reforms yield higher test scores