“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?


C.C. County Board of Education Votes 4-1 to APPROVE Mt. Diablo Flex Academy Charter School!

Tonight the Contra Costa County Board of Education voted 4-1, against the recommendation of staff, and approved the Mt. Diablo Flex Academy Charter School. The final conditions of approval are being drafted by the attorneys for both sides and will be presented at the November 10 Board meeting. Flex’s ability to open next fall will depend upon enrollment and finding a suitable location for their campus.
The County Board asked difficult questions of Mark Kushner of Flex Public Schools/K12 and he provided the answers they needed to move forward. Dr. Foster was the first to voice her support of the charter high school and indicated it was time for parents to have a choice.
Here is a link to my previous blog post about Flex Public Schools.

MDUSD Change – Where we were and where we wanted to go

On February 28, 2008 Gary Eberhart and Paul Strange wrote what I believe was a heartfelt letter to the MDUSD community through their MDUSD Blog. The post was entitled What Next and Why Now? In light of the upcoming evaluation of the current superintendent I decided it would be a good idea for all those who wanted change in 2008 to be reminded – where we were and where we wanted to go.

“What Next and Why Now?

…It is critical that we change leadership in our district because much of the dysfunction in our district is directly attributable to the Superintendent and the majority of the Board… How can we serve children as Board members if we are denied access to critical information? How can we make critical budget decisions if the budget information that we are provided is incomplete or incorrect? How can we ignore the fact that employee morale is at an all time low? How can we stand by and watch the Superintendent maintain the status quo?

…many of the issues we face are tied to a failure to engage in strategic planning. We need to launch a full scale strategic planning process as soon as possible if we want to save this district… By failing to engage in such a process over these many years he has demonstrated that he does not believe in such efforts. Strategic planning requires employee buy in and collaboration – the Superintendent does not collaborate well. Community involvement is also necessary for a successful planning process. Given the current lack of community support for Mr. McHenry, he cannot lead the community in a planning process…

… it is a necessity that this district secure a parcel tax as soon as possible… the community is not in support – because the district has done nothing in the interim to inform or educate the community…

Our district is desperate for change. Our students depend on us as Board members to stand up and do what’s right. It is never too early to do what is right. This path that we have embarked upon is not the easy path, but it is the only path that will serve the students of the district. It would be far easier to continue to embrace the status quo, but the status quo will not begin to solve the challenges that we all face as a community. We were elected to serve the students and our community and we will stand up to our obligations, no matter how difficult that task becomes. We have no choice but to call things the way that we see them. Our district needs to change to better serve the community and that change requires that we find a new Superintendent who will help to rejuvenate and revitalize this district.”

Gary Eberhart and Paul Strange  –  Entire Post

I have no idea if our current Superintendent is right for the job.  I don’t know if he has had enough time on the job for any of us to know that answer.  I, like many people, have concerns.

It appears the board did not receive a complete analysis of the cost of Measure C before they voted to proceed.  Some or all board members did not receive complete information before approving the new Principals. The solar presentation that was presented to the board in June was fraught with math errors totaling almost $200,000,000. The Superintendent has publicly stated that he does not want to embark on strategic planning but would like to set goals and objectives instead. And crucial to so many of the fundamental problems in this district, and specifically the inability to gain community support, is the lack of willingness to provide clear, honest and regular communication.

Before anybody writes to explain the differences between these issues and those in the McHenry administration, I understand there are differences. It is the bigger issues of vision, inspiration, community, and ultimately quality education that are hindered by the actions of both administrations.

At the special board meeting in late summer 2009 the board was asked to list the qualities they would like to see in a Superintendent candidate. Here are their responses. Please note that they all may have supported certain attributes but were asked not to repeat what another board member had suggested.

Sherry Whitmarsh
Open and honest communicator
Works with bargaining units
Able to work with diverse cultures
Ability to analyze data
Understands schools
Experience moving schools out of program improvement
Technology competent

Linda Mayo
Understands instructional leadership, policies and practices
Has a financial background
Ability to achieve acceptance of all parents
Values each employee
Promote parent engagement
Able to analyze assessment data
Understands curriculum development and training
Inclusion – awareness of outreach to improve student performance
Meet with students, listen to student input
Experience with facilities and maintenance
Experience with collective bargaining and negotiations

Gary Eberhart
Visionary leader
Has a great presence
Track record and success in strategic planning
Understands business systems
Proven track record for fiscal
Open and Honest – full explanations / transparency
Understands customer service skills
Proven track record in important areas
Consistent and high quality evaluation of staff
Bridge builder
No status quo excuses – “that is how it has always been done”
Lives in the community

Paul Strange
Would consider non-traditional Administrator who possess leadership skills
Work with the board as a team
Analyze organizational structure and make recommendations
Active and engaged with the sites, has the disposition to be visible
Truly cares about students and the district
Bilingual good but should not be required
Values technology as a learning tool

Dick Allen
Ability to facilitate consensus building amongst the staff
Possesses the ability to foster strong community relations in a diverse community
Strength and character when relating to the board
Experience with Parcel Tax elections
Develop relationships with community service organizations
Strong oral and written skills

This post doesn’t ask a question, it is simply intended to provide a reminder.

When Excellence is the Only Option

GCSMaurice “Mo” Green became Superintendent of the Guilford County Schools in August 2008. In January 2009, after collaborating with over 4,000 stakeholders, he launched the school district’s first ever strategic plan. His motto is “Excellence is the only option.”

Like the our current financial crisis, Superintendent Green has had to face difficult budget cuts over the two budget cycles for which he has been the Superintendent, including a projected $40mil in cuts for 2010-11 (larger district, larger budget, larger cuts… severe none the less).

The MDUSDParent blog has posted a comprehensive look at Superintendent Green’s approach with respect to communication and strategic planning. There are links to his webpage where you can find the GCS strategic plan.

I am providing below excepts from a letter written by Superintendent Green as part of his budget proposal.

You decide…
Would this promote cooperation? Would this promote loyalty? Would relationships like these move a community to support a local parcel tax? Would it encourage volunteerism? If this was followed up by actions would you believe your children went to school in a district where their needs were number one?
Can MDUSD be all that?

April 6, 2010

Dear Board Members:

When we launched our character development initiative earlier this year, one of the traits we chose as important for our students to know, understand and act upon was perseverance.

In fact, we defined it as continuing to pursue worthy objectives in spite of difficulty, opposition or discouragement. Now, it’s our turn. As we face yet another difficult budget year, we have the opportunity to show our students, staff and community members that we will persevere, and stay true to the goal of educating all children well. Our strategic plan calls for educational excellence, and our students deserve no less.

We also value our hard-working employees, and have tried mightily throughout this two-year period of economic turbulence to preserve as many jobs as possible. Last year, we were able to find positions within GCS for most personnel displaced due to reorganization, budget cuts and enrollment shifts. We’re proud of this effort, and believe that keeping staff working during these tough economic times is the right thing to do.

….While the fiscal challenges we face are severe, we cannot lose sight of our students’ needs and the promises we’ve made to our community. Embedded in our strategic plan, these concerns call us to achieve more on behalf of the children we serve. That’s why we must persevere and press forward with the important work we’ve started in addressing the needs of students, including those who are struggling as well as those who aren’t being challenged enough. In 2008-09, we made progress on 19 of 24 interim academic achievement goals and we look to make progress again this year. For 2010-11, we must continue to raise expectations for all students; and, we must continue to find ways to support our teachers and principals in the difficult work they do in transforming our schools – and our children’s lives. We must press forward with the important work we started this year in turning around low-performing schools, improving services for advanced learners, launching our Character Development initiative, expanding Positive Behavior Support (PBS) to more schools and piloting Parent Assistant in six schools.

…At some point, even during turbulent economic times, the needs of our students must come first. We, at GCS, are doing our part. We have made deep cuts, and have made plans to do more, if necessary. We have redirected funds to pay for strategic plan initiatives to improve student achievement. We have increased our efficiency and productivity. We have raised expectations for students and staff, and both have responded in kind. Our children and young people deserve the very best we can give them. They know or will know how to persevere. Many overcome incredible odds just to get to school every day. Now it’s up to us, the adults in the community, to demonstrate that we, too, have character. We must persevere. We must put them first.
Maurice “Mo” Green

Measure C – 10 questions you should have the answers to before voting

1. Why does it seem that most people agree that a parcel tax would better serve our children but we are pursuing a bond instead?

2. If the bond brings in $348 million to the district why does it cost taxpayers $1.87 BILLION?

3. If this bond passes what exactly will I see at my local school that will lessen the impact from the most recent cuts and cuts still to come?

4. Can the direct proceeds from this bond go toward the general fund to save programs and teachers or are the funds restricted to costs associated with facilities and equipment?

5. The literature says the bond rate I approved in 2002 won’t increase but will my tax bill increase?

6. I hear the solar project will be up in 18 months, doesn’t that mean we will still have to deal with the current budget cycle, the next budget cycle and halfway through the 2011-12 cycle before we see the estimated $3mil in relief from energy costs?  How does that help us now?

7. I understand there are costs associated with the solar project but have not seen any information about maintenance, repairs, replacement, insurance, security, or administration?  What are the costs? Is there a feasibility study outlining the revenues, costs, and timeline?

8. What does the district mean when they say “provide safe places for supervised after-school activities like athletics and fine arts that help keep kids on the right track?” Does this mean new fields, aquatic centers, theaters, etc… because I don’t see those things on the list?

9. Why can so many other school districts including Oakland, Walnut Creek, Pittsburg, Matinez, San Ramon, and West Contra Costa County pass a parcel tax, even with the 2/3 requirement, and we can’t?

10. I have been told that our community really needs a parcel tax to be competitive with surrounding districts, will people be leary of voting for a parcel tax in the near future if they approve this bond measure now?

State Legislature Puts Teacher Tenure Reform on the Table

Amidst unprecedented education budget cuts, California legislators are looking at reforming key provisions of the State Education Code, including teacher tenure.

In February the Orange County Register ran an article titled O.C. school chief: ‘Eliminate teacher tenure’

In March the Los Angeles Times headline read California’s quality-blind layoffs law harms teachers and students

On April 21st, a California legislative education sub-committee voted 5-4 to pass along Senate Bill 955.  SB955 revises the teacher layoff notice deadline from March 15 to June 15, removes the seniority provision and allows districts to layoff teachers based on subject needs and teacher effectiveness, and provides school boards the final say when firing a teacher thus shortening the process of removing a teacher from the classroom.

The California Teachers Association (CTA) adamantly opposes this legislation.

Senator Bob Huff, author of the bill, is quoted as saying, “Schools should be able to decide which teachers will best serve our students. Hiring and firing decisions should not be based on an arbitrary last in last out policy. Our education system creates a quality-blind system when it comes to staffing decisions, and that’s not in the best interest of the kids.”

As parents in this district what are your thoughts? Do you support this kind of reform? Have your children been affected by seniority based layoffs?

Read more about SB955 here

SB 955 Bill Language