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Education Desk: Mar. 26, 2014

SCUSD Budget’s $19 Million Surplus

It seems that happy days are here again for Santa Clara Unified’s budget. After a decade of brutal cuts – between 2003 and 2009 alone SCUSD’s funding dropped $26 million – a higher property tax revenue, and restructured state education funding has resulted in budget surplus of about $19 million, reported SCUSD Assistant Superintendent, Business Services Mark Allgire at the March 13 board meeting. The district’s revenue for the 2013-2014 year is projected to be $165.4 million, while its expense forecast is $148.8 million. The additional $2.6 million is carried over from the previous accounting period.

Contributing to this rosy financial picture is a one-time “wind-fall” from the shutdown of Santa Clara’s Redevelopment Agency. However, no additional money is coming in from San Jose’s former RDA – and the new schools that the district needs are in the North San Jose part of the district. That’s because all of the incremental tax revenue from North San Jose’s redevelopment projects must go to pay debt, according to the Santa Clara County Finance Agency.

Algebra II – Cause or Correlation

The March 13 SCUSD board meeting featured a presentation and lengthy discussion about the latest education fad: making Algebra II a requirement for high school graduation. The presentation was by Manny Barbara, of Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF), which will start implementing its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Leadership Academy program at Cabrillo Middle School next month.

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The SVEF subscribes to the current theory that passing Algebra II is a predictor for college graduation and future career success. Therefore, school districts’ goal should be getting as many students as possible to take it and pass it. Algebra II is also part of the “A to G” entrance requirements for California State Colleges and Universities.

“Research has shown that four years of math, and Algebra II are the best predictors [of college graduation],” said Barbara. “Not just if they took it, but being proficient in it.”

Barbara noted that students shouldn’t be forced into classes they’re not ready for. “Just placing all kids in algebra, the research has shown that is not effective. What research has shown is effective is placing students in right class. Don’t wait for those marginal students to fail.”

Trustee Andy Ratermann noted that blanket assumptions like “Algebra II for everyone” are fertile ground for proving the law of unintended consequences. For example, he said, “When we brought in the 5.0 GPA, we had students who wouldn’t take 4.0 [as the top grade] classes because it brought down their GPA.”

Whether Algebra II is the cause of success or merely a marker for other advantages is also questioned by the man who first found the correlation, Anthony Carnevale, Director and Research Professor of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And some suggest that the frustration of repeatedly taking a course they can’t master may discourage people from even finishing high school; although there are no statistics to be found showing that.

People who graduate from college are more likely to have passed Algebra II, but Algebra II may not make people more likely to graduate from college. “The causal relationship is very, very weak,” Carnevale told Mother Jones Magazine in 2011. “Most people don’t use Algebra II in college, let alone in real life. The state governments need to be careful with this.”

In a review of recent NYC student achievement study* he also observed that “Taking and successfully completing Algebra II in high school, however, is highly correlated with socioeconomic status.” The study also noted that graduating from high school was highly correlated with not being absent a lot in the ninth grade and not changing schools in the 12th grade.

The NY study also found that early literacy was also a key correlative to high school graduation – with 90 percent of students who exceeded the ELA standard in third grade graduating from high school within four years.

One state is bucking the national trend. Texas dropped its Algebra II requirement in late November allowing, instead, students to choose from a variety of math, science and technology classes.

Andrew Hacker, emeritus professor of political science at City University of New York’s Queens College wrote a few weeks ago in the NY Times, “There’s no evidence that being able to prove that (x2+y2)2 = (x2-y2) 2+(2xy) 2 leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis.”

* The Experiences Of One New York City High School Cohort, by Douglas Ready, Thomas Hatch, Miya Warner & Elizabeth Chu, tinyurl.com/edstudy.

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