Thursday, September 22, 2011

Press Release: Camp Educate, November 11-13, 2011 Produced by Educate our State

Press Release

Fed Up parents “camp out” for better schools

San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA – September 21, 2011–  Outraged with a system that is failing their kids, parents are “camping out” and training themselves to better advocate for California public schools.
Now that their kids have headed back to school, the grassroots, parent-led group, Educate our State, plans to send their parents to camp. "Camp Educate" is a two day training session to help ordinary parent leaders become extraordinary parent advocates for our state's public school system. 

"We're tired of waiting for politicians and education reformers to solve our schools problems," says Crystal Brown, co-founder of Educate Our State. "The time has come for parents to unite from one end of the state to the other and demand high-quality public education for all of our children."

Already plagued by some of the lowest education funding levels and student achievement levels in the country, California faces additional massive funding cuts this spring unless the state’s economy turns around in the next two months.  The two-year-old non-profit plans its first inaugural “Camp Educate” in Los Angeles, November 11- 13 to show parents how to build a grassroots movement to demand high quality education for every child in California.

Training sessions will include such topics as: using social media tools to build and grow the movement, developing organizing skills and techniques to engage parents and community members, and creating local networks of like-minded parents looking for change.

Educate Our State has partnered with the New Organizing Institute (NOI), a dynamic training and education organization whose mission is to inspire democracy in action through engagement organizing. NOI-trained Educate Our State leaders and other parent advocates will facilitate Camp Educate’s training and information sessions.
“No matter what your politics are, public education is the civil rights issue of our era,” says event co- organizer Teri Levy, adding that participants should sign up before October 1st. “Come to Camp Educate if you want to make a difference for every child in California.”

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Educational Myths & Assorted Rambling Solutions

One of my pet peeves is the continued propagation of myths about education and the enterprise that provides educational opportunities that misguide us toward solutions that, while well meaning, are based on false assumptions. The danger here is that truth is a slave to perception; not vice versa.

Even more precarious is designing solutions for problems defined by these perceptions. Most of all, when people from outside the industry start suggesting they have the answer that will solve all educational problems & ills with panacea-laced language, and they base those solutions on false assumptions, they risk harming the entire enterprise, in no short order.  When all is said and done, we should be wary of those who claim to be experts and suggest unequivocally that their solutions is the right pill to swallow, after all, it's not the known unknowns, but the unknown unknowns that come back to bite.

Thus, the point of this post is to aggregate the myths as they occur, to cast aside the illusion that any one person can remedy the situation that it took a whole society to create. In the end, the fix for modern public education from pre-K to graduate school will require full society engagement, not the lone superman who will come to solve the ills only to succumb to whatever Kryptonite sours the solution.
  • Myth 1 - You need a college diploma to be successful. Sure, the research says in general, using the law of averages (and a few correlation coefficients), that if you only hold a high school diploma your earning potential is substantially lower than those holding college diplomas of many stripes, but there are numerous examples of extremely successful individuals who are absent degrees, and doing quite well (even if you cast aside Zuckerberg, Gates, and Jobs ).  What we really need is a much more inclusive, embracing & holistic definition of "success" that moves beyond the simple measures of fame and fortune/net worth as iconic and indicative of what matters in our society as proof of a successful life lived.  In fact, we may even need to take it a step further - that the only real, legitimate measure of success would involve and equation that is absent the fame and fortune variables.
  • Myth 2 - All schools today [can] produce functional citizens educated to a minimum base line.  As the tag line for this blog indicated, there is a serious difference between an equal opportunity for an education and an equal opportunity for an equal education.  The key words to this phrase are "opportunity" & "equal."  Expecting an education is very different than earning an education, and an education doesn't necessarily require a school-based experience, although it's customary to assume the existing industrial model is the right treatment for all people.  The opportunities for quality educational experiences vary greatly, with typically disadvantaged populations egregiously and continuously receiving the extremely short end of the resource stick.  While all students may have an opportunity to earn an education, it may not be an equal opportunity; which the race to the top clearly highlights by the criteria by which they allocate resources.

    The critical assumption here is that if you introduce a child to school, then that simple exposure will result at the far end with an educated, fully functional adult as if there was nothing going on between input to output. This is simply not the case. The throughputs matter, and the student is a vital ingredient to success in the production of a quality education.  In other words, what is done pedagogically to a students is subservient to what that student does her or himself.  For this reason, I always advise new professionals in the field to avoid positions that ascribe any kind of responsibility for ensuring student learning in the job description because it leaves out a critical component of the learning paradigm, the student.  Invariably, the bottom line responsibility for quality education rests with the student rather than the teacher, and many times over happens despite the teaching.  In fact, many recall cases where our schools and their functionaries do harm to the students, and the students learn despite (in spite of) these disadvantages.

    Beyond reinventing the means by which we finance traditional education operations such that they are sustainable, supporting high quality operations across the board (to ensure an equal opportunity for an equal education), and not subject to the whims of political favor and the wild swings in our economy, what we need is an expanded definition of what constitutes "school," what qualifies as high quality pedagogy, and full involvement in the whole of society in the occupation of "teaching."
  • Myth 3 - A diploma earned will convert to a job obtained.  The common assumption is that there are some diplomas that provide professional educations that should lead to certain occupations - say, the JD is to lawyers as the MD is to physicians.  However, all diplomas yield no promise of related employment (e.g. the number of MBAs who are not working in business administration, or MFAs working in coffee houses).  Over the course of the last few decades, many have been led down the primrose path with the assumption that any brand of education will lead to certain and diploma related employment.  Prospective students should be wary of false promises of jobs at the far end of degree receipt.  In fact, prospective students should be skeptical, and ask specifically about what the curriculum will or should provide, not what might come after the program is concluded.  What we need is a redirection for what qualifies and serves as a measure of successful completion of a degree program from what happens after the "education" is "obtained" (as in job landed) toward what happens to the student during the program (the transformation of the individual as measured at the beginning by setting a baseline, and measured against their progress at the far end).  Because all students learn differently, any new (or old) measure of successful learning must be customized and tailored to a person, and should be balanced around what the "educators" expect to occur during whatever curriculum (hopefully balanced around clearly defined learning outcomes) they believe to be valuable at whatever school they build.
  • Myth 4 - All student success can be measured by standardized tests.  I'm not the first to say this, but "there is nothing more inherently unequal than the equal treatment of unequals."  Most of us are unable to remember the days before there was widespread standardized testing across all schools.  The results of the standardized testing experiment should be readily apparent at this time.   Balance that with the current suggestion that schools were better in the days of yore versus today, and we should ask are you satisfied with the result?  If you agree that all students learn differently, why should we subject them to the same test at the same age?  Perhaps more inciting, the very suggestion that tests should be standardized carries with it a subliminal message that we don't trust our highly educated teachers to know and understand their pupils such that they can customize tests based on their intimate knowledge of the children they are teaching.  In the days ahead, where conversations about our near possible ability to customize drugs to a person's own DNA, why can't we customize tests to the individual child? The assumption that tests must be standardized as if we had no ability to do otherwise, is wholly false.  What we need is to push out the multi-billion dollar standardized testing industry to allow for non-standardized teaching and testing so that customized education occurs at levels closest to the students that meets the learning styles of all. Granted, this is an expensive approach, but we should all find the mediocrity that our current system produces unacceptable.  If we saved the money we poured into the testing industry and spent it educating our children, we might get a better quality result.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What Happens When Educational Reform Needs Reform?

I hate the word "reform." It really doesn't go to the heart of what education in America needs - a complete overhaul of the basic architecture as what we have built upon was laid in the mid-nineteenth century.  The 21st century is substantially different.

The reality is that technology is there; education and learning can be completely customizable.  However, the barbaric or if you would like to call it industrial, or militaristic infrastructure for educational operations won't allow full blown customization as it views children as scrap metal to be molded rather than thinking individuals that should be cut lose from the restrictions of our institutionalize infrastructure.  Well, that, and individualized education will be highly expensive.

Even so, it seems crazy to me that we are at the cusp of considering personalized designer drugs bent around a person's DNA, but we can't talk about individualized and customized education woven around a person's learning styles.  One seems less expensive than the other, but which one might save more lives?

Part of the trouble with fixing education is that "educational reform" itself needs reformation. The bigger question is, if we were to build out say, a completely LEED Platinum Certified equivalent of a new architecture for education across the board, what would it look like?  That's not simply reform of what we have. I'm calling for a complete transformation of how we go about education in America.  The time has come before the entire educational operation sags and breaks under the heavy bureaucratic malaise that has gotten us where we are today.  Reform, as a practice, needs reform.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Assignment Processes Which Are Inherently Unfair Prove That We Have Disparity Among Our Schools

I read this guest post over at Rachael Norton's blog, and had to respond. I'm parking my response here as it's awaiting moderation, and I don't know it will be published. Time will tell.

This question goes direct to the very troubling concern that we, even though it has been an ambition for a great long while, have proof and ongoing longitudinal evidence that there is a serious difference between an equal opportunity for an education, and an equal opportunity for an EQUAL education.

I used to say that the good thing about the SFUSD assignment process was that, although it was arbitrary and unfair, at least it was arbitrary and unfair to every one. With this post and comments, I may have been off. Gaming the system is a natural side effect of the whole process - as parents we are notorious for at least trying to look out for our own children and doing what it takes to get them the education they need. But my experience - having received none of my top choices in either of the two iterations of the assignments process, and having had to badger the counselors at the SFUSD with weekly in person visits until about mid-to late August before getting in to our neighborhood school - if it's reflective of the process it takes to get your kid into the closest school, the process is most certainly broken.

I'm not certain that PTA sharing or partnering will work the way this post suggests as I know that many PTAs are just struggling trying to get any kind of involvement out of it's membership and just focusing on your own school's operation is a giant time and money sink as it sits. If I was pushed to partner with another school, I'm not certain I would have the energy for it, nor would I know the community well enough to determine the best way to engage them (just ask leaders of the Second District how hard it is to get system wide participation in any of their events). Parental/Guardian energy is a limited resource, and if you are a single parent, raising two/three kids, where do you find the time to pump into offsetting the poor investments of the SFUSD, particularly if you have to work two jobs just to put food on the table? You are lucky if you have some kind of energy to invest in the PTA functions of your own schools.

What we need is a complete mind-shift of the entire population that looks at schools not as babysitting functional units for our society, but as investment vehicles for our future. This would require an overhaul of how we finance the whole operation, and a doubling and tripling down on the investments, and a individual, customizable approach to improving all the schools in the entire system and spreading out the wealth unequally - yes, I said unequally - as we known that there is nothing more inherently unfair than the equal treatment of unequals. This means that those schools that are already well off and hitting all the performance measure would get the least amount of resources, and the under performing schools would get all the money and energy that would bring them up. Those high performing schools have a culture of parental involvement that would off set the diminished resources, and the would be better spent as investments in the lower performing schools.

Moreover, we have to break the shackles of standardization so that we unleash the creativity so that people can experiment within the schools to bring the curriculum in to the new century. The schools today are operating as if it were still 1982, it seems. And in this new Millennium, our children will demand it. When do we see the promise of charter schools realized as it was the original intent for experimentation to happen in them, and then the best practices replicated in the mainstream operation, no? It seems as if the charter school operations get all the resources for inventiveness, but there is no reciprocity where they sink energy into improving the mainline schools at all.

There are no easy, cheap answers, but Idealistic Mama is right on one point in particular, among many, that the fundamental flaw with the assignment system is that all schools are not equal, and we have a long way to go to make it right. Until every neighborhood school is desirable and parents in the hood fight to attend, we won't see this arbitrary and unfair system shift.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

It's Time To Double Down on Public Education

Those of you who have not been paying attention to the really awful budget situation in the Great State of California, may not know that even the best case scenario means a nasty multi-million dollar cut to public education.

When the children of California become caught in a nasty political squeeze play that has shaped the American political landscape over the last decade, you know that politics has sunk to a new low. No more politics as usual. We can't afford the political gamesmanship & our great State's future depends on fully & adequately, and dare I say it, even lavishly funding our public schools.

Let's show our elected officials the honorable way out and let them know that we won't sit quietly by while they mortgage the future of California for personal gain. It's time for the people to lead and the politicians to follow. All our children are all our children and they should bleed no further. Stop the hemorrhaging.

When cuts to education pull the already bottoming out budgets to below sustainable levels, the effect is a gutting of the schools by carving into infrastructure eviscerating the whole operation. In our city, for example, none of the Elementary schools have a vice principal - as if, there was no need for a lieutenant in charge of the many facets that Vice Principals used to stand watch over. Music, language arts, drama, and even science - yes science - have been relegated to enrichment programs as if they were afterthoughts to the required and mandatory curriculum dictated by standardized tests. Don't even get me started about how unbalanced a standardized, fixed, test-driven curriculum is and why it is a fundamentally flawed way to treat all children - as if they were automatons and learn in a uni-dimensional fashion.

Indeed, our State is in a financial pickle. But if you believe the hype that we are broke as a community, you are buying into the propaganda shoveled in heaping piles by those on the right that believe our money is better off in their pockets. Now is not the time to slash and burn California's and for that matter America's schools. Now is the time to invest in the children. Instead of decimating OUR schools, I say double down on public education, shoot we can even use the money raised by tripling down on public education.

Think about it. How much does it cost to incarcerate an individual? While it is not possible to calculate the good value a fantastically educated child can drive, but we most certainly know that uneducated individuals are a fiscal and social drain on every aspect of the very fabric of our society. Wouldn't you rather invest in the children at the front end and hopefully divert as many children into viable careers by educating them in positive ways?

We can't afford to settle on any thing less as a Nation, as if we abandon the investments in all our children, we abandon our own selves as a society. The status quo, and the initiatives driven from the right are not my values, and don't yield the America I believe in. And if you believe in all our children, you would support superior schools from the ground up as a means of investing in our future. In the long run, doubling, even tripling down on public education will save us money, and the ROI will be enormous; almost incalculable - priceless you might add.