“The Lottery” and “Stupid in America”, Arguments for School Choice

With shrinking budgets, declining enrollment, school closures, low performing schools, and less than desirable graduation rates can our current public school system be called successful and sustainable? With the failure of schools in urban areas like Kansas City, New York, and Los Angeles is it only a matter of time before large suburban districts feel the same pressures? Are the signs of failure right in front of us?

This weekend I had the opportunity to watch “The Lottery” a documentary film that followed four Kindergarten families through the charter school lottery process in Harlem. The heartbreak for the families whose numbers were not picked was juxtaposed against the sheer joy of those whose numbers were. There were 7 applicants for every seat in the charter school. For all of the parents who filled a convention center to hear the lottery results it was clear, for them, this process was about the future for their child.

Parents in MDUSD have recently had a dialogue on the local blogs about “choice” schools. Some say school choice is unfair and that “choice” schools should be closed. I will argue that it is unfair to our children that we do not have more school choice. Choice provides competition and competition raises quality. As parents, we should be demanding more choice for all of the children in our community. The myth that persists that parents in low performing schools don’t care, is just that… a myth. In 2006, John Stossel hosted 20/20 “Stupid in America” a look at public education and school choice. It is worth watching as is The Lottery which is avalable through Netflix.

After you watch Stupid in America please note that in 2010 South Carolina’s average SAT score for reading and math combined was still under 1000 and they are currently ranked 49th in the nation.

Choice or no choice?


Does Student Performance Depend on Which Schools are Closed?

Closing Schools in a Shrinking District: Does Student Performance Depend on Which Schools are Closed? This report is based on a study by a group from RAND Corporation, Carnegie Mellon University, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., University of Pennsylvania, and Vanderbilt University. The study evaluates the impact of school closures on student achievement by analyzing student achievement growth before and after the closures when a school closure plan explicitly seeks to move students from low-performing schools to higher performing schools. The methodology is complicated and detailed. The results are interesting. Here are some excerpt from the study:

Overcapacity was great enough that the district closed 22 schools at the conclusion of the 2005-06 school year. In selecting schools to be closed, academic performance was not the only criterion, but it was the first priority. The district designed the closure plan with the principle that any students who had to be moved because their school was closed would be moved to a school at least as high-performing as (and ideally higher-performing than) the one they left. Our aim is to examine the extent to which the district’s approach succeeded in producing better results for students forced to move, without undermining the achievement of students who did not move.

This suggests that the district’s strategy of seeking to move students to higher-performing schools was well founded: students moving to higher-performing schools saw smaller declines in achievement, and those who moved to substantially higher-performing schools could have seen no negative impact at all, as the benefit of the higher-performing school cancelled out the negative effect of moving.

Overall, this suggests that closing schools can have adverse transitional effects for students in closed schools, but these effects can be offset by relocation to schools with stronger academic performance. Moreover, there is no evidence that the influx of new students has negative achievement implications for the students in the receiving schools.

The results suggest that if a district needs to close schools, then closing low performing schools and transferring students to higher performing schools can minimize any adverse effects.

Does this support the argument to keep Scenario 3 off the school closure list? Should Silverwood be closed under these assumptions? Should the District implement more programs like Monte Gardens and Sequoia in order to provide more successful school alternatives?

School Closures Heighten Opinions on School Choice

All of the blogs have been talking about school closures for the past couple of weeks. There are opinions, theories, conspiracies, options off the table, and options on the table. While I have attended meetings and read the reports I am not sure this blog has much to add to that process. However, while discussing school closures there has been a great deal of discussion about school choice. Back in August I posted about Flex Academy Public High School. Flex is a charter high school and had applied for a charter from MDUSD, only to be turned down. In October however, the Contra Costa County Board of Education approved the charter. Flex Academy now plans to open a high school in the MDUSD attendance area next fall that provides parents with students in grades 9-12, living in the county or surrounding counties, a choice for high school.
If you are interested there are two informational meetings planned this coming week: RSVP HERE
Monday, January 24
7:00 PM
2001 Salvio Street
Concord, CA 94520

Wednesday, January 26
7:00 PM
2909 Ygnacio Valley Road
Walnut Creek, CA 94598
S.F. Flex Academy Brochure - Same program as Mt. Diablo Flex
For more information about the high school and a list of courses offered please see the two page brochure attached: S.F. Flex Academy Public High School The Mt. Diablo Flex Academy will be very similar to the S.F. Flex Academy.

A New Blog on Education

A new blog on education has made a debut under the name K12 Reboot. The name K12 Reboot impies that education may need to “reboot” in order to successfully address the needs of our children. K12 Reboot explores topics that are national in scope and local issues that are unique to MDUSD. Topics include school choice, the closing of underperforming schools, online learning, teacher effectiveness, etc…

You can visit K12 Reboot at http://www.k12reboot.com

School Closures – What makes the most sense?

Theresa Harrington reported online today that the School Closure Committee has come up with potential scenarios for closing schools. The committee has put together 10 options and the “Superintendent’s Council” has offered an 11th. What do you think of the choices?

1 – 1: GLENBROOK (to El Dorado, Oak Grove, Valley View);
SILVERWOOD (to Ayers, Mountain View, Highlands);
HOLBROOK (to Wren, Sun Terrace, Monte Gardens, Westwood);
Savings: $1,504,453

1 – 2: SILVERWOOD (see above);
HOLBROOK (see above);
EL MONTE (to Wren, Westwood, Woodside);
GREGORY GARDENS (to Hidden Valley, Fair Oaks, Valhalla);
Savings: $1,738,320

2- 1: GLENBROOK (to El Dorado, Oak Grove, Valley View);
WREN AVENUE (to El Monte, Holbrook, Monte Gardens, Westwood);
SILVERWOOD (to Ayers, Mountain View, Highlands);
Savings: $1,533,504

2- 2: WREN AVENUE (see 2-1 above);
SHORE ACRES (to Rio Vista, Bel Air and possibly Delta View);
SILVERWOOD (see 2-1 above);
GREGORY GARDENS (to Sequoia Elem, which becomes partial neighborhood school like Monte Gardens; Hidden Valley, Valhalla);
Savings: $1,819,386

3-1: SEQUOIA ELEM. (to home schools);
SEQUOIA MIDDLE SCHOOL (to home schools);
WREN AVENUE (to El Monte, Holbrook, Monte Gardens, Westwood);
Savings: $1,607,769

3- 2: FAIR OAKS (to Bancroft, Cambridge, Strandwood);
SHORE ACRES (to Bel Air, Delta View, Riverview and Rio Vista, which all become K-8);
OAK GROVE (to Foothill, El Dorado, Pleasant Hill and other surrounding if necessary);
Savings: $1,543,916

4- 1: SEQUOIA ELEM. (to home schools);
AYERS ELEM. (to Silverwood, Highlands, Mountain View);
MONTE GARDENS (to home schools, residents to Westwood, Wren);
FAIR OAKS (to Pleasant Hill Elem., Gregory Gardens, Bancroft):
Savings: $,685,242

4- 2: SEQUOIA ELEM. (to home schools);
SEQUOIA MIDDLE (to home schools);
MONTE GARDENS ELEM. (to home schools, residents to Westwood, Wren Ave.);
Savings: $1,563,095

5- 1: WREN AVENUE (to El Monte, Westwood);
SILVERWOOD ELEM. (to Ayers, Highlands);
GREGORY GARDENS ELEM. (to Valhalla, Strandwood);
BANCROFT (to Fair Oaks, Walnut Acres, Woodside, Valle Verde);
HOLBROOK (to Sun Terrace);
RIO VISTA (to Shore Acres, Bel Air);
Savings: $2,761,978

5- 2: GLENBROOK MIDDLE (to Oak Grove, El Dorado);
plus any two elementary schools from scenario 5-1;
Savings: $1,470,929 – $1,615,613, depending on which elementary schools are chosen

Superintendent’s Council recommendation:
OAK GROVE (to 6-12 campus at Ygnacio Valley HS);
GLENBROOK (to 6-12 campus at Mt. Diablo HS);
Convert Riverview Middle School to 6-12 campus;
Savings: approximately $1.5 million

For the full story Contra Costa Times or On Assignment

Engaging Students – Michael Wesch, Kansas State University

Gary Eberhart responded to the last blog post and made the following comment:

I think the idea to discuss what’s going on in our district relative to what other districts are doing is a great idea. I would eagerly participate in doing so.

I like that idea and would like to expand the discussion to include college campuses where the trends seem to be a bit ahead of K-12.

Michael Wesch, a Professor of Anthropology at Kansas State University, along with the collaboration of 200 students created this video:

Should we change the way we teach our children in order to not only engage them, but provide them relevant skills for careers in the 21st century?
Skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.
The use of digital media/internet can transform teaching from the dissemination of information to coaching, facilitating, and mentoring students. Information is everywhere. Students must learn to qualify the information they find. They need to know how to recognize bias and credible sources. Do they need to memorize massive amounts of information and historical dates? Or instead do they need to understand why what happened on those dates is relevant.
Yesterday a teacher, inspired by Michael Wesch, wrote on his blog Ten Simple Strategies for Re-engaging Students. Can you guess what his 10 strategies were?

More from Michael Wesch:

Of utmost concern to me, was the nature of questions I was hearing from students, which tended to be administrative and procedural rather than penetrative, critical, and insightful. My least favorite question was also the most common: “What do we need to know for this test?” Something had to be done, so I set to work creating the World Simulation.

The World Simulation itself only takes 75-100 minutes and moves through 650 metaphorical years, 1450-2100. It all takes place in large room where all of the “cultures” interact with one another with props for currencies, natural resources, and other elements that recreate the world system. They simulate world history in an attempt to understand the underlying social and cultural processes that interconnect us all. The ultimate goal is to allow students to actually experience how the world system works and explore some of the most important questions now facing humanity such as those of global inequality, globalization, culture loss, environmental degradation, and in the worst case scenario, genocide.

How can we engage high school students and make their experience in the classroom as content rich as their interactions outside the classroom?
How do we keep the curriculum relevant and rigorous?
With the entire world a click away how can we expand the school experience and make it a global experience?

Can MDUSD and MDEA join the reform movement like Baltimore?

Wednesday Baltimore City teachers voted almost 2 to 1 to pass a contract that will change the way teachers are valued and compensated.

The Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD) has six of the 188 lowest performing schools in the state and are at an impasse with two of their non-teacher labor unions. MDEA (the teachers union) and MDUSD have yet to even sit at the negotiating table. Do we have any hope of seeing sweeping change in this district? Is the California Teacher’s Association so strong in this state that our legislators will never have the political will to do what is right for our students and change the Education Code? I would strongly argue that reform would be good for our dedicated and effective teachers as well as for our students.

Here are excerpts from the Baltimore Sun:

“Baltimore is now one of a handful of cities that is leading the nation in innovative contracts and making teachers real partners in reform,” U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan said in a statement.

Under the new pact, teachers will no longer be paid based on step increases, which are automatic raises based on tenure or the number of degrees acquired. Instead, they will climb a four-tier career ladder, which will see an elite corps of teachers earning six-figure salaries. Teachers will also have the opportunity to vote on working conditions at their schools, such as longer school days.

In addition, in the last two years of the contract, teachers’ pay will be based on an evaluation system not yet drafted by the Maryland State Department of Education that would tie a proposed 50 percent of student performance to teacher evaluations. The contract could also serve as an example to other districts as the state works to reform how teacher evaluations are conducted.
Baltimore Sun 11/17/10

The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board salutes the city teachers who recognized that this contract — which establishes a new way of doing business by evaluating teachers more on their abilities and their students’ performance than on years of seniority — represents the wave of the future and launches our city into the forefront of the national school reform movement. Well done, Baltimore educators.
Baltimore Sun 11/17/10