Educational policy at times ticks like a metronome, however today the stakes are so vitally high for the efficacy of our country and its people that the pendulum can never swing back. We must be on a collective mission to increase rigor and relevance into the curriculum for each and every child, irrespective of the color of their skin.
“A Time to Act: Closing the Racial Achievement Gap,” a policy brief by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, points out that closing the racial achievement gap is the critical educational issue of our time. For me it is the single most important issue confronting America, not the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Great Recession. The achievement gap is inextricably tied into the future economic vibrancy of this country. Perhaps the only thing that equals the criticality of the issue is nuclear weapons proliferation.
The East Side Union High School District’s Board of Trustees will vote this week on a recommendation to use the UC and CSU course admission requirements as the default curriculum for students. It’s a tricky issue for them due to the fact they have seven elementary school districts (K-8) that feed students to the high schools, from Alum Rock to Oak Grove, Berryessa to Evergreen, Franklin-McKinley to Mt. Pleasant, to the smallest among them, Orchard.
The debate over the decision should include the foundational structures for success of each student from the seven diverse “feeder” districts. In fact, these outrageous Waltz Tango Foxtrot (“What The F”) moments argue for the County Civil Grand Jury’s recommendation to have all school districts unified, not duplicative fragmented pieces of the whole. I have requested a January discussion on the County Office of Education Board agenda highlighting the recommendations on the Civil Grand Jury report issued earlier this year.
Education policy makers believe there is a link between increased academic rigor for all students and the reduction of the achievement gap. ESUHSD will stand beside San Jose Unified School District as the only two districts in this county that have made the tectonic shift. In my view a good and important step, but not in isolation from many others as the SVEF policy brief stipulates, although district unification is not among them.
Last week SVEF’s CEO Mohammed Chaudhry convened a meeting to discuss the Policy Brief on the racial achievement gap by inviting Congressman Michael Honda to keynote the lunch meeting followed by a panel of local experts on the achievement gap debating the recommendations in the policy brief. The Congressman spoke with strong conviction about his concern that there are huge disparities in our public education system.
I know first hand that even in Santa Clara County alone having served as principal in Palo Alto Unified and in Gilroy Unified the education provided is enormously unequal. It is another Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot moment to think the most affluent children in the county receive the richest educational opportunities, but the racial achievement gap still exists in ugly ways even in a Palo Alto. a district that spends over $13,000 of public money per student. So again one can correctly argue it is not about the money, although money does help. Congressman Honda correctly asserts that we have a dysfunctional education system that must be radically altered to provide equity for each child’s individual needs.
San Francisco Unified has made some bold promises to their community and is now implementing A-G requirements for each student, again easier to do in a unified district than in ESUHSD.
Two statements that I give very high grades in the SFUSD 2009 strategic plan are:
Access and Equity: “We will ensure that every student has access to quality teaching and learning regardless of background, neighborhood, and income level.”
Achievement: “We will ensure that every student graduates from high school ready for college and/or career with the tools necessary to succeed.”
One panelist at the SVEF event last week was Fred Jones, Legislative Advocate/Counsel for the CA Business Education Association, said it is not enough to do just A-G as a default curriculum. Jones eloquently opined that Career Technical Education (CTE) must be an integral part of every high school student’s experience. He said CTE reached its zenith in CA in 1987 with 75% of students enrolled in at least one course. Sadly, today the number is 29% of students enrolled in a CTE class.
Therefore, I argue if we do rigor for all we must do relevance for all, certainly a missing link in our system. The STAR test are an enemy to application of relevant learning to real world situations. It is in our collective interest to change the equation.