Intolerable Tolerance of Intolerance…

In the wake of the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty flap, it was nice to see people speak out against his homophobic, racially-charged, bigoted vitriolic diatribe.  However, what’s disturbing is the push back from his supporters.  The fervor of their argument is even more disconcerting, because it’s based on the presumption of free speech as an absolute right.

Yes, Phil Robertson does have the right to speak freely in terms of his personal views and belief systems–suffice to say he’s done that and then some as of late. What his supporters fail to realize is that his free speech is not an absolute right if it promotes intolerance, bigotry, racism, or hate in general.  In terms of the bigger picture, what we’re really seeing is a vestige of the intolerant and racialized undertone that still permeates throughout our society; and, raises its ugly head whenever hot button topic, issue, or incident catalyzes events, actions, or reactions and brings it to the forefront.

It’s not is though this type of behavior or sentiment is anything new.  Our proclivities relative to intolerance, racism, and bigotry are as old as the founding principles of this country.  Sadly, the support and backlash stemming from A&E’s decision to suspend Phil Robertson is a clear indication that folks are, indeed, willing to forsake principle and “tolerate” intolerance, racism, and bigotry.  Furthermore, the question bodes, just how “united” are we in terms of our willingness to respect the binding principles that “presume” all citizens should be entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

Indeed, we are a nation divided, to the very core of our belief systems in terms of equal rights and equal protection under the law.  We are a nation marred by the folly of our philosophical hypocrisies dating as far back as the very struggle for liberty in this land unfolded, while many of its founding fathers continued to hold slaves.  Bill Clinton once conveyed an ominous, if not foreboding admonition in a graduation speech when he suggested that at some point we will have to reckon with our past (in terms of slavery, racism, and intolerance), or it would must certainly lead to our future undoing.  Perhaps this incident affords us all another collective opportunity to pause, reflect upon our founding principles, and ask ourselves are we, indeed, “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”, or are they just hollow words of untruth?

In terms of what we have seen unfold, with regards to Phil Robertson, I am not sure one way or the other what is true of us as a society these days…

21st Century Teaching and Learning: the time has come to get real about technology

In 2003, I taught at a thematic (Sports Science) academy that served a student population comprised of 100% highest of high-risk youth in San Diego County.  Our thematic academy was quite successful due in large part to our community-based partners.  They were instrumental in assisting us in providing the technology-based resources, which enabled us to focus on the “Science” aspect of sports; hence, allowing us to advance and sustain project-based learning designs, as well as promoting an overall school-site ethos of high expectations for student achievement.  Our average daily attendance rate exceeded 95%; and, more-importantly, our overall (academy-wide) success rate in terms of recidivism exceeded state-wide and national averages.

In summer of 2003, my mentor approached me with an idea:  she envisioned a 100% paperless and wireless school site for at-risk youth that would be housed in the new regional technology center being constructed by the San Diego County Office of Education; the overriding rationale being if we provided the highest of high-risk youth with cutting edge technology, project-based learning designs, and high expectations for learning outcomes, they would attain academic success at or exceeding rates of students in traditional school districts.

On one hand, with regards to our individual belief systems–even back then–we viewed technology as “the great equalizer” that would in essence level the playing field for our students as it relates to equitable access to educational resources, information, and opportunities that would help our students advance themselves academically and socially. On one hand, however, part of me thought my mentor had completely lost her mind as it related to the political implications of her proposal.  Nevertheless, in terms of the 21st Century relevance, and potential to provide powerful and meaningful learning experiences; indeed, we were venturing into uncharted waters–but truly exciting ones as well.

Making a long story short, by the time I left South Bay Technology Academy in fall of 2005, our students were dual enrolled:  in core subject-area classes in the morning; and, as advanced standing students (next door) at the local community college; furthermore, hard textbooks had been replaced with interactive CD/ROM versions; and, paper-based assignments were replaced by email documents and drop box.  Indeed, we had achieved a 100% paperless and wireless school–in 2005.  Eight years later, I still long to see paperless and wireless schools that use technology-based resources to engage students; unfortunately, it seems we are no closer to that ideal than we were back in 2005.

In 2009, in the process of turning around a low-achieving and under-performing high school in West Los Angeles, we implemented a technology-based program to help students prepare for the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), which allowed them to access study materials through their smartphone:  that, plus an intrepid campaign we called, “15 minutes per Day” resulted in an increase in the school’s overall CAHSEE rate by nearly 15 percentage points.  Interestingly, we discovered that students were accessing their study materials via their smartphones while they walked to and from school, as well as while they traveled on the bus.  Hence, using 21st century technology-based resources, we engaged students in an intervention effort, which resulted in improving their learning outcomes.

Today’s generation of students are “digital kids”; meaning, they are “digital language learners”.  In most cases, we as educators are products of the 20th century; hence, we are “digital second language learners”.  Nevertheless, collective resistance and/or recalcitrance still permeates K12 public education teacher ranks in terms of using instructional technology, as a predominant resource, to engage the 21st Century learners in a manner that is meaningful and relevant; as we endeavor to enhance, enrich, and improve the learning experiences of students.

In terms of 21st Century teaching and learning, there is no greater, more-bewildering paradox; and, there is much reason to be concerned as it relates to the planning and implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  Sure, there are some individuals who are ready, willing, and who actively embrace technology as a resource to engage students in 21st Century learning experiences; and, indeed, their instructional designs are prime examples of the exponentially limitless power and potential of technology-based resources to engage students in a relevant and meaningful manner. Collectively speaking, however, we are not ready for the 21st Century designs entailed in CCSS, because educators in general are not equitably willing or prepared to harness the power of instructional technology in a coherent and competent manner; to promote and sustain powerful teaching designs to support meaningful learning experiences, which are relevant enough to actively engage today’s 21st Century digital kids.  Moreover, the technological “deficit” as it were, is the starting point for the courageous conversation regarding 21st Century teaching and learning; and, the conversation needs to “start” sooner rather than later.

Change the mindset(s) to change the outcome(s)…



Support and Reflection

I was thinking about the incident at Arapahoe High School last Friday. There were parallel thoughts:  a) another school shooting, gun control legislation, the balance between the Constitutional interpretation of “absolute rights” v. the welfare and overall safety of the general public; and, b) behavior and guidance supports in schools in terms of the warning signs that we now know were, indeed, there.

I thought about this posting while I was watching a movie with my son over the weekend. So many things about the simple pleasure of catching a movie have changed since I was a kid:  back then it was the latest of the original Star Wars series and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The great thing about an afternoon or evening at the movies is the fact that it was truly a brief escape from everyday life; to go on an adventure to a faraway land, a mythical story, along with cool visual and sound effects. We didn’t put too much thought into anything else other than the movie:  big crowds; time of day; location of venue; no worries.

In contrast to my childhood experiences, the reality of going to see a movie with my kid these days is a much different experience.  Nowadays, some of us give much thought to other implications as well:  time of day, location of venue, how many exits are there in the theater in case there’s an incident, keeping my child safe, keeping everyone and everything in front of me so I won’t be caught off guard if something happens. Times and realities have, indeed, changed.  Yeah, we would like to think of the movies as an escape from reality, but there seems to be no escape from the realities of everyday life in terms of violence in America these days–even at the movies.  Rhetorically speaking, there is something wrong with our culture when we must think long and hard (twice or three times) before going to the movies.  However, what happened in Colorado may be more so about support systems in terms of behavioral guidance as opposed to politics—I’m still not sure.

What is certain, in terms of the young perpetrator’s behavior prior to the shooting, indeed, there were clear red flags–some coming to light nearly 2 years prior to the shooting.  Rather than embark upon the usual takes and tone as it relates to gun violence, there are different questions to ponder:   did anyone who observed this young man’s past behavioral tendencies reach out and ask for help as it related to the warning signs? What support systems were accessible to the school-wide community to respond to a behavioral crises?  What resources or systems of support were available to engage students and staff in conflict management or conflict resolution?  Are school-wide behavioral support systems adequately aligned with the high-stakes climates that typify public school settings?  What have we sacrificed in terms of site-based behavioral support to deal with budget cuts?

Indeed, more questions than answers; and, quite frankly, I’m not really sure I have any definitive answers either.  At this point, though, what I do believe is certain is reflective dialogue on these deep-seeded questions might lend a more productive contribution to the healing, learning, and action process moving forward than more of the same ole’ politically-charged, polarizing rhetoric.  These are real people who are all trying to make sense of it all; we owe it to them to talk to one another about principles rather than shout at each other about our politics.

May there be peace on earth, and goodwill among us all…

Equity and Adequacy in Common Core State Standards

As schools and districts in the participating states develop, plan, and implement Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I’m not sure whether there is an earnest national or regional dialogue regarding equity and adequacy of resource allocation or per-pupil spending.  In fact, the wide ranges in terms of budget allocations across the nation make it really hard to comprehend how the quality of implementation or allocation of resources will remotely be “equitable” whether we know exactly how much monies, with regards to per pupil spending, are adequate or not.

Adequacy 101

To reiterate in terms of adequacy, it is a term that comes from the Quality Education Model (QEM).  The related analysis is comprised of elementary and secondary prototype schools, with enough resources, e.g., administrators, teachers, textbooks and facilities, to deliver the quality of education necessary to elicit positive student learning outcomes.  The most critical component related to this task is that the analysis would also estimate the cost, which would give the legislature a benchmark as a reference to determine the annual budget for public education; whereas, other states have previously undertaken this task, and implemented QEMs with considerable success.

On one hand, the state boards of education are responsible for setting the standards of academic rigor it deems appropriate to obtain a quality education, while the legislatures allocate the fiscal resources it determines are necessary to attain that aim.  However, the driving principle of this analysis is for it to operate beyond the scope of political interference, to conduct an adequacy study based upon research and/or expert opinion.  Ultimately, the QEM analysis would determine the best prescribed course of action for the state relative to adequate and quality education, and exactly what resources it would take to attain the goals set forth in the standards set by the state board of education. The question bodes, can any analysis reasonably expect to operate beyond the scope of political interference in this day and age of acrimony and rancor?  I’m not sure that’s possible or realistic.

Thus, many states, including California, are reluctant to formally embark upon this analysis.  Granted, some outside entities, such as Stanford University, have performed their own QEM analyses; however, none have been universally endorsed at the state level, or “embraced” as valid or reliable.  Perhaps the fear of actually knowing the amount of money it would take to fix the problem and the scarcity of additional resources, coupled with the political reality that implementing any plan, which prescribes a potential tax increase, is tantamount to political suicide is why the QEM analyses have not transpired prior to the implementation of CCSS.  As rationale as it sounds to conduct these types of analyses, it’s anyone’s guess as to why this process is not part of the dialogue in terms of the bigger picture.  In short, it seems most are content or satisfied with embarking upon this implementation with a “ready, fire, aim” approach–so, onward we go, into the fog as it were.

Keeping it Real:  Money Talks

Again, the problem with all this as it relates to adequacy moving forward is that it’s quite hard to comprehend how the resources essential to successful  implementation of CCSS will be equitably allocated throughout the participating states given the wide range of per pupil spending levels.  On one hand, you have some states (such as those in the Northeast and Upper Midwest)  that currently have per pupil spending levels in upwards of $14,000.00; meanwhile, many states, (primarily in Southwest) have per pupil spending levels around the $7,000.00; all, while some states (including California) have per pupil spending levels that are below or barely exceed $6,000.00.

Indeed, the implications of the CCSS roll-out are quite complex; building the capacity or infrastructure for the technological resources necessary to implement “Smarter Balanced” assessments (SBA) is an expensive, herculean task in itself.  So, as it relates to adequacy in all this, let’s just get real:  in the scope and context of district budget allocations required to employ the instructional technology(s) essential to implement SBA alone, it is extremely difficult to picture the long-term sustainability of resources necessary to support CCSS–or any other related 21st Century learning resource entailed for that matter–given the stark inequities of per pupil spending across the board.

Food for Thought

As we move forward with planning and preparation for CCSS, it is imperative that Equity and Adequacy in per pupil spending levels are part of the discussion; there is much to consider, and the implications in terms of budget considerations and allocations have wide reaching impact on the entire initiative.  Indeed, equity and adequacy are inseparable, interdependent, and interdependent terms that must be part of the CCSS equation.  The implementation of CCSS cannot be done “on the cheap”.  Otherwise, ultimately, “we’ll get what we paid (or didn’t) pay for”.  Moreover, as we embark upon the wholesale transformation in public education towards 21st Century teaching learning, entailed in the spirit and guiding principles of CCSS, we owe it to all children we intend to serve and benefit to “put our monies where our mouths are”; and, in essence “walk the walk” with regards to our lofty goals and noble endeavors…

Rethinking Common Core State Standards: the outlook on teaching, learning, and pedagogy

A Personal, Local, and Immediate Experience…

You never really think about the big picture in more immediate, and in some cases bleaker terms, until or unless you find yourself dealing with issues related to your own child.  Such was the case for me this morning amidst a preliminary SST meeting for my own child.  As I listened to the tone, the language, and the exchanges in the dialogue–In Sean Covey (2000) terms, I had my moment of clarity:  given the gaps and inconsistencies in professional development and essential (21st Century) skill set adequacy, along with contrasting viewpoints, perceptions, and belief systems about teaching and learning; as well, as regional and isolated conflicts; I think we’re headed towards some unknown, troubling waters as it relates to implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS). 

I’m usually pretty proactive and optimistic about things for the most part.  However, the tone and nature of what I’ve read about CCSS over the last few months–opposing or polarizing viewpoints as well as those in the middle–coupled with what I’ve observed and dealt with in a wide-range of places, spaces, ethos or climatic circumstances, and demographic settings over the last few years, makes me wonder whether we are fooling ourselves into believing we can implement Common Core State Standards in a coherent and concise manner locally, regionally, or nationally.

This morning’s meeting was case-in-point.  My child has a few learning challenges, and the purpose of the meeting was to compare notes:  talk about what we already know with regards to some possible cognitive issues; discuss his current and future progress as evidenced by learning outcomes; and to figure out some possible next steps in terms of formal assessment and short-term interventions.  Making a long story short, the meeting was marred by contrasting, if not conflicting, viewpoints regarding what my child was learning, how my child is learning, and what intervention responses were appropriate based on what we know my child is not learning.  Then it happened:  one of the examples of my child’s work product was a math lesson sheet that immediately likened to a lesson design I experienced myself–36 years ago!  Hence my moment of clarity:  my child is a 21st Century learner who is confronted, hence disconnected or disengaged, on a daily basis with 20th Century lesson designs and expectations; furthermore, intervention responses for the gaps in learning are met with a 20th Century techniques and mindset.

In the scope and context of CCSS and 21st Century learning, I am conflicted as to what part of the dialogue was “common” or reflective of a 21st Century mindset of teaching.  Moreover, this experience, coupled with observations, as well as reading the “chatter” have me really wondering if we are capable of “talking the talk” while “walking the walk” as it relates to CCSS and its underpinning principles relative to 21st Century learning skills.  The more the meeting progressed, disconcerting questions arose and I increasingly got into my own head.  Sadly, the only constant or common thread throughout the entire meeting was abundantly clear:  there was no talk about using instructional technology to promote engagement; no recommendations for educational software we might invest in at home to help our child with reading and writing; no discussion about concise, coherent 21st Century lesson designs that would truly reflect what our child is learning–or not.  I am conflicted because as much as I know my child is disengaged, if not disinterested in the learning process occurring in the classroom, my child IS indeed interested in learning while engaged on our various tablets, smartphones, and computers–at home!

Hence, in terms of the bigger picture, I cannot help but wonder, are we adequately preparing and equipping our teachers with the essential skills to teach 21st Century learners? I think we are quickly moving towards a critical crossroads where something, somewhere will have to give if CCSS is truly going to be effective.  Ian Jukes (2009) put it best when he submitted the struggle, hence the divide in 21st Century teaching and learning is the fact that while today’s students are “Digital Language Learners”, (most–not all) teachers are “Digital Second Language Learners”.  Moreover, if we do not come to some semblance of universal or “common” planning and professional development or training, as well as responsibility to and accountability for acquisition and implementation of 21st Century (i.e., technology-based) lesson designs, expectations, and skill sets, there will be nothing “common, coherent, or concise” about Common Core moving forward…

The Debate over Common Core State Standards: a courageous conversation

Listening to the Language

I have read many contrasting, if not conflicting, viewpoints relative to the impending rollout of Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  On one hand, I think CCSS is indeed a bonafide attempt to move curriculum and instructional designs toward a deeper depth and breadth in terms of rigor and relevance. I also believe the related assessment proposals are an earnest attempt to extract a deeper understanding of exactly what kids have learned with regards to the scope and sequence of lesson design; as well, as to pinpoint exactly where a child’s strengths and weaknesses are in terms of specific learning elements entailed in CCSS.

On the other hand, however, it is starting to look as though the CCSS rollout across the participating states is anything but common.  A key common thread that seems unclear is a common timeline, replete with common milestones in terms of preparation, development, and capacity to ensure the rollout of CCSS is as smooth as possible across states, regions, schools, districts, and learning communities as diverse and unique as the wide-range of landscape encompassed within the implementation of CCSS.

Granted, I often defer to the comings and goings of the CCSS implementation in California; nevertheless, there are disconcerting rumblings across the landscape, from key figures; and, the tone is all too familiar–we’ve traveled down this road before.  With so much at stake in this lofty nationwide endeavor, it might behoove us to listen to the language of the debate a little, because it’s starting to become more pointed, acrimonious, recalcitrant, if not full of conflict:  without naming names, I often come across phrases like, “I will not support CCSS”, or “CCSS is the future so deal with it”, and, “CCSS is just as destructive as No Child Left Behind (NCLB)”.  Frankly, the rancor is quite troubling and leaves me to wonder whether or not we’ve really learned a thing or two from the last 12 years in terms of the tone of the dialogue:  I think we’re setting ourselves up for another extended wave of pitfalls–ala NCLB.

Lessons from the Past

At some point, key stakeholders will have to come to some collective understanding or consensus that many key elements of NCLB were a mistake and/or caused considerable detrimental impact on many school-wide learning communities, districts, and states.  Making a long story short, conceptually speaking, many who bought into NCLB were driven by rationale fueled by emotions in terms of the sheer numbers of schools and districts failing are children of targeted subgroups, such as minorities and low-socioeconomic status.  However, there were many voices of reason who expressed grave concerns regarding the implications of the mandate.  Twelve years or so later, the realities of the implementation saw much of the curricular focus narrowed down to intervention responses pertaining to English Language Arts and Mathematics, with a heavy emphasis on high-stakes assessment; and punitive sanctions on schools and districts that repeatedly failed to show steady measured progress towards proficiency across in the annual measured objectives in those two weighted core-subjects–with very little regard, emphasis, or focus on other content-area disciplines.  Moreover, NCLB has reduced K12 public education to a prescriptive or “scripted” design with very little room for creativity; in some cases (e.g., Mathematics), the curriculum has become “a mile-wide and an inch deep”.

Hey, let’s just get real about the results: many schools and districts have languished in 5+ years of program improvement; very few have made sustantial wholesale progress towards emerging from sanctions status.  In many cases, unified school districts have opted their secondary schools from Title I participation to avoid potential for escalating or languishing sanction status as, NCLB history has shown us the difficulties involved when it comes to middle schools and high schools emerging from program improvement:  it’s a slippery slope that is seemingly exacerbated by the sheer complexity of the secondary school setting–especially large urban or suburban high schools, which in most cases are comprised of 2,000-3000 students or more.

In keeping with the spirit of NCLB, here we are on the threshold of 2014–the “bellwether” year as it were; and we have not really pondered the essential question entailed:  just how close or far off the mark are we with regards to attaining that “mythical” 100 percent proficiency? Furthermore, what do our collective successes and failures indicate about NCLB in general; are we capable of having a courageous conversation about the results for the sake of the results alone–without the noise of competing and conflicting interests?  In short, we really need to take a good hard look in the mirror and at one another and have an earnest dialogue about the implications of 12 years of NCLB–before we move on to the next big thing (i.e., CCSS).  Again, in simple terms, one of the key pitfalls of NCLB is that it was a universally unfunded mandate; meaning, big ideas and lofty goals, but no direct or unconditional monies or resources allocated to support it in a manner that would ensure steady or universal progress toward fulfillment.  Indeed, many states were left to fend for themselves; and what funds were out there had so many strings and conditions attached (e.g., Title I) many districts would choose to forgo those funds–a state of affairs that is truly unconsionable in terms of equity and adequacy.  Given the economic downturn in recent years, many states, schools, and districts fell on very hard times just to make sure students had enough textbooks and school supplies to get through the school year.

Lingering Issues

On it’s face, CCSS is a bold endeavor to collectively change the face and nature of K12 public education; and, to align the standards and expectations of such with essential skill sets relative to the 21st Century.  However, there are lingering issues and concerns–some stemming from latent 20th Century mindsets–that threaten to undermine wholesale implementation, or some semblance of fidelity in terms of philosophical principle.

The first concern that comes to mind is adequacy of resource allocation and technological capacity or capability in terms of web-based, adaptive assessment (i.e., “Smarter Balanced” Assessment).  Although Proposition 30 has afforded public education a temporary stopgap from complete financial collapse, the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) has created a new wave of inequities and/or inadequacies that have many school districts teetering on the brink of insolvency.  In real terms, the general fund is proportioning per-pupil spending amounts at 2007 levels. Given the individual district burdens of creating technological capacity, coupled with the statewide task of ensuring enough user bandwidth to adequately implement web-based assessments, reasonable attainment of minimal capacity ahead of CCSSS rollout is a herculean order at best; at worst, a full-fledged disaster beyond comprehension.

In terms of essential professional (i.e., technology-based) skill sets required to ensure consistent and coherent alignment with principles of 21st Century learning, it is difficult to think the collective majority of teachers and supporting professionals will be adequately equipped or prepared for implementation when many collective bargaining agreements still contain language that exempts or absolves their members of any responsibility or accountability for acquiring essential technology-based skills, and/or incorporating them into their routine instructional pedagogy.  Let’s just get real, how do we expect to ensure students are adequately and equitably prepared for 21st Century learning objectives when the folks who are charged with facilitating the learning process are not required to possess the necessary related skills?  In 21st Century, real-world terms, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever; again, a herculean order and, quite possibly, a recipe for disaster.

Finally for this particular argument, there is the notion of pedagogy.  The question bodes, after 12 years of prescriptive or scripted instructional designs, are our teachers really equipped with the pedagogical skills necessary to implement CCSS?  As much as content knowledge will be essential to success, the depth and breadth of knowledge acquisition or mastery entailed under CCSS will require excellent classroom pedagogical skill, replete with the ability to differentiate instruction and adapt to multiple learning modalities, while checking for understanding and/or responding to the needs of students who need additional assistance; as evidence by their learning outcomes.  Given the multiple logistical complexities of facilitating adequate and accurate professional development on a short timeline, in preparation for implementation against a backdrop of scarce or dwindling resources, I’m just not sure we’re making much wholesale progress toward ensuring teachers are adequately prepared to produce powerful and meaningful learning experiences with regards to pedagogy.  If I had to narrow things down to a particular component, I think the area of greatest concern in terms of critical focus is at the secondary level; especially given the inconsistencies that have depicted teaching, learning, and student outcomes in the NCLB with regards to the implications of program improvement:  for all we know, we could be dealing with a full-fledged vacuum at the secondary level–it’s anyone’s guess, and again quite possibly a recipe for disaster.

Food for Thought

Honestly, the point of all this has nothing to do with taking a stand one way or the other on CCSS.  On one hand, it’s quite possible that anything (if not everything) could be better than the current state of affairs as it relates to the condition of K12 public education in the wake of 12 years of NCLB.  On its face, CCSS is a noble, if not idealistic, attempt to correct the mistakes of NCLB and usher K12 public education into 21st Century relevance.  However, in terms of the big picture, there are deep-rooted and valid concerns out there that require less-contentous, or at least less-polarizing, dialogue.  Again, I think we’ve been down this road before.  For the sake of our children and the future success and relevance of K12 public education, I think we owe it to ourselves to learn from past mistakes, step back from our emotions a bit, and talk to each other–rather than at each other.

Just my 2 cents worth in all this–very personal, local, and immediate for what it’s worth…

Rethinking Local Control Funding Formula

I know I’m switching gears as it relates to the main issue (NCLB), but the topic of resource allocation is an issue that cannot be overlooked, ignored, or silenced. In fact, it’s the root of the problem as it relates to the topic of equity in education, so despite the repeated “round file reaction” to my scholarly writings on the subject, I will continue to air the concerns pertaining to “Fixing California Public School Finance”. I guess I do not understand why a common sense examination of how we go about the business of funding K12 public education in California could be so uncomfortable. Make no mistake, despite the collective sigh of relief folks in California feel in terms of Proposition 30 and Governor Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) initiative, per pupil funding and spending in California is still gross inadequate.

Many of us understand the historical underpinnings of LCFF as it relates to Governor Brown and the “Serrano” (1971) decision; the prevailing issues at the time were different, but in some ways similar to what we see now in terms of local adequacy in funding levels for public education. However, LCFF has created new inequities in terms of resource allocation. It has also created new potential for fiscal mismanagement that once drew the ire of the original proponents of Proposition 13; LAUSD’s iPad initiative rollout is case-in-point: while the initiative on its face is a worthy and relevant endeavor in terms of proliferating technology to level the playing field in terms of equitable access to 21st Century learning resources and skills; however, as indicated in recent LA Times articles, the rollout has been anything but stellar in terms of allocating and/or mismanagement–or just plain waste–of resources.

With a supermajority intact in Sacramento, Democratic state lawmakers have a wide rage of latitude in terms of budget allocations.  Without the potential for obfuscation or interference from opposition ranks, they are seemingly poised to make unilateral decisions in terms of budgetary allocations.  Thus, further examples of unabated resource mismanagement or waste could, once again, result in a public backlash and usher in new voter initiatives along the lines of Proposition 13; to limit or severely restrict the ability of state lawmakers to allocate or redirect resources in the general fund as it relates to K12 public education.

Rather than inundate the masses with all the historical background and details, I will simply submit the framework of my proposals.  Granted, they are not new ideas; rather, they are notions that never see the light of day because of their political implications.  Nevertheless, at some point we are going to have to have an honest, earnest dialogue regarding how we allocate resources to fund K12 public education.  Indeed, many people believe Proposition 30 is the “be all tell all” solution to undo the damage done by Proposition 13; however, the initiative is only a temporary fix–that will only continue to be functional as long as the economy continues on its growth trend.  Moreover, we have forgotten that the citizens of California already endorsed a functional solution, so why not simply make it better rather than try to fix the past by reinventing the wheel (as it were)?

Here is the gest of what I proposes–you decide…

Logical Sensibility versus Political Reality

Although many experts have progressive plans to rid California school finance of its woes, and usher in a new era of financial stability in public education by providing fully and adequately funded programs, there are no easy answers.  Indeed, many formulas seem relatively feasible despite the prospect that the public would share some proportional burdens, i.e., tax increases.  However, the current political landscape of the state renders any proposal involving tax increases virtually untenable presently and perhaps for the near future.

1.  Convene the Quality Education Committee

In accordance with the Master Plan for K-12 Public Education, the California legislature enacted AB2217 (2002), calling for the establishment of the QEC to determine the best the course of action to fund public education.  The legislature charged this commission with the task of creating a Quality Education Model (QEM) comprised of elementary and secondary prototype schools, with enough resources, e.g., administrators, teachers, textbooks and facilities, to deliver the quality of education necessary to elicit positive student learning outcomes.  Perhaps the most critical component related to this task is that the QEC would also estimate the cost, which would give the legislature a benchmark as a reference to determine the annual budget for public education; whereas, other states have previously undertaken this task, and implemented QEMs with considerable success.

On one hand, the state board of education (BOE) is responsible for setting the standards of academic rigor it deems appropriate to obtain a quality education, while the legislature allocates the fiscal resources it determines are necessary to attain that aim.  The driving principle for the QEC, however, is to operate beyond the scope of political interference, to conduct an adequacy study based upon research and/or expert opinion.  Ultimately, the QEC would determine the best prescribed course of action for the state relative to adequate and quality education, and exactly what resources it would take to attain the goals set forth in the standards set by the state board of education.  Moreover, if the BOE sets the goal (i.e., standards of instruction) and the legislature is responsible for providing the fuel (i.e., fiscal resources), then the QEC is the entity that would provide the roadmap, and  prescribe the vehicle, as well as the amount of fuel necessary to reach the goal.

Unfortunately, to date, the governor and his predecessor have been reluctant to convene a QEC to ascertain this important information necessary to fix and/or reform the current quagmire that comprises public school finance.  Some speculate that fear of the amount of money it would take to fix the problem and the scarcity of additional resources, coupled with the political reality that implementing any plan, which prescribes a potential tax increase, is tantamount to political suicide.  Therefore, at least for now, political survival has trumped any plans for an adequacy study in the near future; nevertheless, this process is critical to the future health and prospects of the greater public school financial picture.

2.         Consolidate or Eliminate Categorical Program Funding

Indeed, while categorical programs target specific student demographics to improve student-learning outcomes, there is no direct evidence that corroborates their efficacy, nor suggests that categorical funds elicit fiscal equity.  In fact, there is considerable evidence that suggests the contrary.  Izumi et al (2002), among others, submit that wasteful spending practices and restricted flexibility complicating implementation cycles on the school site level, coupled with ambiguous accountability requirements impede the success of these programs, in general.  In fact, some categorical programs create negative incentives that for the sake of funding acquisition encourage schools and districts to engage in practices, relative to implementation, that are detrimental to students.

Consolidating programs and/or eliminating the categorical caveats that preclude access to targeted grants, coupled with creating uniform reporting systems relative to accountability would increase monetary resources available to all districts and schools, and reduce the likelihood wasteful spending practices would continue unabated.  Granted, the challenge of sustaining categorical funding practices in long term, lies in corroborating their efficacy relative to student learning outcomes, i.e., increased test scores.  Nevertheless, structural or paradigm changes to improve efficiency can maximize allocation distributions system-wide; thus, in principle, enhances the benefit for all children.

3.         Revise Proposition 98

Proposition 98 is an amendment of the California constitution, enacted to provide fiscal stability to public education.  Unfortunately, it has recently provided nothing but the contrary.  As, politicians have used the minimum funding Test as a convenient fallback position during times of economic downturn.  In other words, consistent exploitation of the measure’s minimum funding test occurred to the extent that the provisions have evolved from a floor-spending plan, as was the original intent, to a virtual ceiling; leaving public education resources depleted in periods of economic decline.  Previously, Proposition 98 has the source of considerable legislative acrimony in the wake of it’s suspension during 2003 fiscal budget, coupled with the governor’s reluctance to reimburse public education nearly 2.2 billion dollars.  Thus, the proposition, itself, has become part of the problem, which plagues public education finance.

On one hand, politicians may be reluctant to lobby for a ballot measure to repeal Proposition 98, out of fear of possible public relations backlash associated with the appearance undermining public education; hence, falling out of favor with their constituents. On the other hand, however, the measure’s provision are presently incompatible with any legitimate efforts to convene the QEC and conduct an adequacy study; for the purposes of determining and allocating appropriate funding levels for public education. Therefore, a compromise plan consists of revising the proposition by consolidating the three funding level tests into one, which, for example, uses a fixed percentage of a multi-year average of state revenue similar to the manner investment portfolios stabilize Endowment fund withdrawals.  Such would decrease the volatility of fully funding public education despite economic downturns, without placing an inordinate political and fiscal burden on legislators themselves.  Hence, politicians, including the governor, may become more amiable to convening the QEC, and implementing fiscal policy relative to resource allocation for K12 public education that truly provides adequate and equitable funding levels for statewide per pupil spending.

So you decide:  is this valid or simply wishful thinking?

Food for thought…

Prologue: Belief Systems and Expectations

The background of all this is almost as important as the substance of my thinking, so bear with me with all this…

The Origins of Passion

The Seeds of Trouble

My passion for improving the quality of K12 public education starts with my own story.  My personal journey in public education started in the 3rd grade.  My parents pulled me out of private primary school because I was a behavioral nightmare–or so it was what they believed based on what they were told by school officials.  From the onset of preschool, my parents received daily phone calls regarding my behavior–completely out of control:  I recall my mother telling me how she would take a deep breath before releasing me to the school every morning, while silently pleading to her higher power, “please just let us have one day with no problems at school”; Unfortunately, there was no peace to be had.  At the end of my Kindergarten year, my parents were brought in for a meeting with school officials to discuss my behavior; in short, they were told the obvious:  I was extremely hyperactive; and, an uncontrollable disruption to the learning environment–if not the entire school.  Hence, they were presented with an ultimatum:  either they were to confer with our family pediatrician and have my problem controlled with ADDHC medication, or they would have to remove me from the school–and so, the Ritalin regimen began.

With a regular daily dose of Ritalin, things settled down a bit during my first grade year; however, the peace did not last long enough.  In retrospect, what had happened back then was the early stages of academic tracking; for a long time I could recall many learning situations where challenges and scenarios were separated or sorted, and so too were students sorted and separated–by (perceived) ability.  As coincidences or circumstances would have it, I was almost always paired or grouped with kids who were (perceived) as either “slower” or “lower performing”.  As time and this situation progressed, the disruptive behaviors returned periodically, then more frequently; after a while, they once again became the norm. My mother never understood why things were so different at home:  where she had me reading mystery books and historical fiction considerably outside the normal ZPD for a typical 5 year old; and, engaged in a subscription writer’s workshop (for 5th-and 6th graders), which would typically have me writing my own mystery stories, plays, poems, and short stories–sometimes for hours on end.  Indeed, my mother and father were fraught with frustration, confusion, and an overall feeling of helplessness, because they did not or could not understand the disconnect between the daily negative reports they received from the school, in contrast to what they observed at home. Then came a defining (and damaging) moment in this ordeal:  the (first) IQ test.

To make a long story short, school officials were completely perplexed by my behavior versus my parent’s pushback, so they administered the infamous IQ test to me at the beginning of my 2nd grade year.  The results seemingly validated school officials in terms of their overall mindset and beliefs about me as it related my behavior and academic capability; hence, stiffened their resolve in terms of tracking or grouping me with lower achieving students, as a means of controlling or mitigating my unabatedly incorrigible behavior–it all went increasingly downhill from there.  By the spring of my 2nd grade year, my parents had all but given up on my current school, as well as the Ritalin.  They pulled me off Ritalin, cold turkey, and I experienced horrible withdraws; I became so sick that I missed the last 2 weeks of the school year.  Then, fate intervened:  my father suffered his first heart attack (to some extent I think the daily stress I caused was a contributing factor); my parents felt it was time for a reset, so they decided to pull me out of private school and send me to the local elementary school for 3rd grade.

Things Change but Ultimately Remain the Same

There was relative peace throughout 3rd grade year; free of Ritalin and with a fresh start in a new environment, I thrived because I was fortunate enough to be placed with a classroom teacher who saw through my disruptive tendencies and met them with increased academic challenges–with an extraordinary focus on reading and writing.  By the end of 3rd grade, there was an entirely different tone and outlook as it related to my progress and potential.  There was also another recommendation for IQ testing at the end of 3rd grade year; this time, the results revealed an entirely different picture, and the conversations about what to do moving forward centered around how to keep a highly intelligent and curious child challenged and motivated to focus his energies on academics as a means to abate disruptive behavior, which seemingly manifested out of boredom or frustration; summative testing supported this line of thinking–finally it seemed someone got it right.

Grades 4-6 marked a change in schools, from primary to elementary; nevertheless, progress was steady and summative testing continued to reflect above-average, if not exceptional, intellectual capability in reading and writing areas; as well, as inductive reasoning.  A prime example of this occurred during a 5th grade Social Studies lesson on the pyramids, where the teacher posed a predictive question to the class as to how or what the ancient Egyptians were trying to accomplish in building their pyramids; and, I suggested “the pharaohs built their pyramids in alignment with the stars they studied in the heavens”–to the complete astonishment of the teacher, because she never provided any content or background information that might reasonably hint at that notion.  This particular “incident” was probably the high-water mark in terms of my intellectual capabilities validated by the outcomes of my learning experiences.  Sixth grade year was characterized by continued academic and intellectual validation and accomplishment; the only behavioral incident that occurred during the entire year was a fight–6th grade bully nonsense. 

I do not know why, but I do know things changed dramatically in middle school; and, it started before I ever set foot on the campus; during pre-registration meeting with the guidance counselor.  Indeed, things went very negative from that point onward, because the guidance counselor came into her dealings with my parents and I with her own judgments and preconceived notions.  Consequently, the tendency to track me into lower achieving classes and/or groupings with lower performing students once again ensued, and so too did the disruptive behaviors. Despite repeated interfaces between my parents several members of the counseling staff, the pleas for reconsideration of course placement fell on deaf ears; yet there were infrequent “flashes” of my potential that could not be ignored:  my outcomes-based achievement in English Language Arts and Social Studies were so high and far above anybody or anything the instructors could conjure up to prove otherwise, placement into advanced classes was the only alternative solution–with input and intervention from the principal.  Nevertheless, the struggle continued through 7th grade and throughout 8th grade as well; the “revelation” moment came in the spring of 1979, during one final, fateful intervention meeting between my parents and the entire counseling staff and the principal.

The Crossroads, the Punchline, and the Point

That final meeting with the counselors and principal truly was a defining moment in terms of my future academic journey, because it was the day the underpinning belief systems of all involved or charged with the responsibility of providing me with the information and opportunities to advance myself academically (and socially).  Somehow, somewhere, and someway in the heat of the moment during the meeting my parents expressed their frustrations at all that had and was occurring with me in terms of their desire for me to go to college–and “the truth” revealed itself, and depending on one’s perspective, it either set my parents free or bound them with the burden to come:  the counseling staff’s response to my parents’ concern and frustration was, “they were mistaken to think I was college material. In fact, their best hope for me was that I could latch on to a vocational program somewhere and perhaps learn a trade”; little did they know, my parents were, once again, contemplating enrolling me into a private high school; in preparation for that possibility, I had taken an enrollment admissions examination that placed me in the top 15 percent of all applicants.  In the wake of that examination outcome, the private school recruitment staff actively and aggressively followed-up with my parents in an attempt to have me enroll as a student in the fall of 1979:  it was very rare for them to encounter an African American male with such, seemingly innate, intellectual curiosity and academic potential; in fact, when I ultimately enrolled in the fall of 1979 I was the only African American in the entire freshman class, and one only FOUR in the entire school–of 400+ students at the time. 

I remember that meeting very well; the meeting changed my life forever; it was my last day attending a public school; upon that “revelation” of belief systems regarding my future potential, my father abruptly halted the dialogue, informed the counseling staff and principal their perceptions and responses were completely unacceptable, and informed the staff, “they would be withdrawing me from any further dealings with the school district at the end of the school day–there would be no further discussion”.  I walked around in a daze for the rest of the day, distraught that I would not even get the chance to say goodbye to my friends; it was over with my father’s decision.  Fortunately–or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), fate intervened in the form of an incident that afternoon where I was struck in a crosswalk by a distracted driver (no texting while driving back then though–in case you were wondering); in the wake of the accident, empathy got the best of my father, he let me finish out the school year and participate in 8th grade completion ceremonies.

The other details of those days and times are all but a distant memory; however, the ordeal as it relates to my education and everyone involved in determining its course remains vividly clear; looking back I remember it as the point in which I lost my relationship with my father, because from that point forward, he sacrificed his entire being, and took on 4 “moonlight” custodial jobs to make enough money to pay the tuition for my high school education:  he refused to accept the prevailing belief systems about his son; and took it upon himself to secure an “equitable” (brought and paid for) academic setting that would provide him (me) with the essential depth, breadth, and quality of rigor to prepare him for college. 

In essence, my father traded his own life, personal satisfaction, peace, and happiness for me to have at least an equitable opportunity in terms of access to being prepared for college.  Believe or not, an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degrees later all I really wanted was my father; nevertheless, I am always mindful of and grateful for his sacrifice–it was the greatest expression of love and selflessness I could ever imagine one person could undertake or commit himself to. However, in the wake of his death in 2011, I selfishly mourned for the days and memories lost because of his sacrifice:  ironically, all I ever really knew of him was his tireless work ethic–a noble attribute that came with a price. 

My point, hence my enduring passion and struggle, as it relates to public education is that no person should ever have to sacrifice his or her entire quality of life and living just to ensure his or her child has equitable access to a quality, relevant, powerful, meaningful, Free and Public Education.  My personal odyssey–both private and public–was defined by contrasting (if not conflicting) expectations borne of nothing else other than individual and/or collective belief systems.  My question for others to ponder and perhaps discuss is, would this have been the course, hence the constant ordeal, if it were not for the fact that the situation involved an African American male?  Indeed, we have longed intellectualized, rationalized, and/or dismissed the salient impact of institutional or systemic bias.  Regardless of the initiative, I submit it may very well be the single-most important contributing factor to the perpetual nature of the achievement gap.  In terms of my professional journey, I did not find public education; rather, it found me.  My charge has been to ensure that every person around me believes and demonstrates through their pedagogy that all children can learn; all children deserve a rigorous, powerful, and meaningful education that will afford them access to the information and opportunities to advance themselves academically and socially; and, that all children, regardless of their social cultural background or socioeconomic status are entitled to exponentially limitless opportunities; and should be supported and motivated to achieve all that is possible–as far as their visions and dreams will take them.

This is how and why “it” happened for me; my hope is that all will deem this lengthy articulation a worthy read; and food for thought that resonates in the scope and context of the current state of affairs, relative to the endeavor to improve and enrich the lives, learning experiences, and outcomes of all our youth who comprise the constantly evolving dynamic of public education…

getting started

There are many reasons why I have chosen to get started with my blog at this time. The most important reason is I am 7 years removed from my doctorate; and, the daily grind has constantly impeded the focus needed to create a scholarly articulation worthy of publication. Consequently, I have long suffered from writers block.   However, a change in circumstances has created the space and conditions, hence the motivation, for me to devote my focus and energies towards a bonafide research endeavor.

Indeed, I have had many different, if not contrasting, experiences in K12 public education over the last 7 years since graduating from the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education Ed.D program:  many tall triumphs and a few deep valleys along the way.  The common thread binding all the experiences together, without a doubt, is the impact of “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB); its affect on instruction, leadership, student learning outcomes, and most importantly how it has detrimentally impacted the student learner in terms of their readiness for success in college. I intend to use this platform to articulate this notion in a scholarly manner; my hope is that my words will be thought provoking; hence, a catalyst for critical reflection and perhaps dialogue on how we have gone about the business of teaching and learning in the NCLB era,  its lingering effects on the postsecondary student learner; and, what we must do differently as states, districts, and schools shift to Common Core State Standards.

And so the journey begins…