Policy and Advocacy

What Mad Men Does Best

So it seems like there is a class on Mad Men and the issues of race, sex, and the 60′s at UC Berkeley. I can’t say that anyone who knows UC Berkeley could be surprised that such a course exists (actually student created and facilitated, but credit bearing nonetheless).  Even with all of the storylines dealing with issues of race and sex in the workplace, I think there is an issue that Mad Men deals with better than any other show I’ve seen in a long time – and it is not even specific to the 60′s generation. The 60′s is where it started to come to light as an issue in America as so many other things did.

Mad Men writers do an incredible job of dealing with the issue of divorce and how it impacts kids. Sally, the pre-adolescent daughter of divorced couple Don and Betty Draper could not have more emotional problems that stem from the dysfunctional relationship of her parents which escalated into a divorce early on in the series. She now goes to a psychiatrist and has learned to hide her true emotions from her mother for the sake of peace and sanity in the household – Sally is the grown-up here. She rebels in many ways including talking to a neighbor boy Betty had a run in with and forbid Sally from seeing, masturbating at her friends house and caught by the mother (look out Christine O’Donnell), ran away from her mother to try to live with Don, and on and on. Seeing the raw emotions of that little girl really gives you a glimpse into what happens to children of dysfunctional relationships and divorce.

Divorce and absence of one parent from a household has a deleterious impact on all kids. I can’t speak to how this makes me feel personally since my parents are going on 47 years, but as a principal I have seen it over and over again. This is just another gap that schools need to fill – all schools – as it crosses socioeconomic and racial lines.

Disclaimer – I know that divorce differentially impacts kids and that there are plenty of kids of divorced parents who turned out fine. There are also plenty of kids from gang-infested neighborhoods who turned out great as well. It just makes it less likely.

The Non-level playing field of college admissions

Tis the season hundreds of thousands of high school seniors across the country submit their college applications – particularly those applying to the most “elite” institutions. It’s scary how these places of higher learning are pre-determining a students’ future based on their high school test scores or more insidiously – their family connections. Since the most desirable corporations to work for strongly prefer to hire those who attend the most selective universities, students have their future decided for them on the whim of an admissions counselor. This is unfair, particularly to students of color, on so many levels. Richard Kahlenberg addressed this a couple of weeks ago in the NYTimes.

Most recently, Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, asks the question, why are all higher ed institutions trying to emulate Harvard as opposed to innovating themselves? Innovative schools, such as ASU struggle to get the same recognition as the more prestigious public universities such as Berkeley and Michigan because they can’t spend as much on graduate research and don’t cream students from the National Merit Scholarship list in order to increase their US News and World Report ranking. Does that mean students are getting any less of an education? According to many hiring managers – yes.

Fairness Matters Gala Tonight

Tonight, LPFI will be hosting the 4th Annual Fairness Matters Gala. The most compelling part of the evening for me will be the work of our students – the SMASHcasters – who will be interviewing guests and supporters of our educational programs and asking them the question, “Why does fairness matter to you?”

As someone who began this blog with the intent to try to illuminate why fairness matters for me, I am anxious to see the end product – which will be edited the next day by our amazing KEI Creative Staff. Look for a link to the video by Monday, posted in this blog.

Cal State Univ=Drop Out Factory

I love a good website that presents data clearly and in a unique way. A new website launched today called CollegeMeasures which examines the graduation rates, how money is spent, and default on loan rates of all of the colleges across the country. I first decided to dig into the public colleges in California, as the website makes it really easy to do so. I then decided to disaggregated the graduation data by race and wow!!! Here are some sobering figures:

- Cal State Universities graduate well less than 50% of the students admitted. 2 campuses LA and Dominguez Hills graduate less than 1/3.

- San Diego St. is the only CSU to graduate more than 50% of Black and Latino students. There is a 32% gap between White and Black graduation rates at Fresno and Bakersfield.

- UC’s are a little better, but the flagships, UCLA and Berkeley, graduate close to 90% of their students but only about 70% of Black and 80% of Latino students.

Let’s focus on the CSU system. At what point are these publicly subsidized institutions going to be held accountable for their results? Out high schools with similar drop out rates are under constant threat of re-constitution or closure, while these colleges continue to chug along, taking our money and the money of the students who have little, to no shot at graduating.  The Cal State website lauds themselves as, “a leader in high-quality, accessible, student-focused higher education”. I hate to see who is following them. And their reward? $199M more in money recently approved in the CA budget that just past and an additional $106M in federal stimulus funding. Our state is cutting almost everywhere, but this set of institutions is being increased and doing so with sub-standard results – even by their own standards.

I’m sure that those at the university level are going to blame the high schools for not preparing students – just as high schools blame middle schools, middle schools blame elementary schools, and elementary schools blame parents. None of these arguments are acceptable in K-12 education and they should not be acceptable in higher education. If CSU’s are truly leaders in “student-focused” higher education, perhaps they will take some of these new funds to help support the students that they themselves admitted in the first place.

The cost of attrition (fancy way to say dropouts) for the CSU’s – $132M a year.

As a case study (and there are many other stories like this), let me describe two of my students who graduated in recently from View Park Prep High School. Student A and B had the same exact GPA’s (about a 2.8), similar SAT scores (around 900 on 2 sections), similar home situations, and similar motivation and aspirations (college degree). Student A was resolute and wanted to go to a CSU – where all of their friends were going. Students B was open-minded and gained acceptance to a small, liberal arts school in California. Through the hard work of our college counselor, Student B got enough scholarship support so that the small, liberal arts school cost the same as the CSU. Student A went to the CSU and dropped out after the first year. She couldn’t get the classes she wanted, couldn’t talk to her professors when she needed help, and couldn’t negotiate with financial aid to make it work. Now, she is stuck at a local community college hoping to transfer. Student B is getting ready to graduate, almost completely debt free, and plans on graduate school.

Same type of  student – one variable.  By the way, of the 8 original students who have gone to this particular CSU, one remains. So much for the posse philosophy. Think twice before choosing a CSU and how much money you think it is going to save you.

I pray to his god he is not the future President

I had this moment when my parents moved to South Carolina and my wife was pregnant with our twins thinking maybe we’d move there – it would be nice to be closer to my parents who would help with the kids. Then I went to visit them and came across this headline in the paper, “SC State Board of Ed Weighs Teaching Intelligent Design”. It’s not that I am close minded to the religious version of evolution, but that they are close minded to the scientific version. That was enough to keep me put (the confederate flag on top of the capital didn’t help their cause).

Today, my decision not to move there was revisited by Sen. Jim DeMint. It is hard to pick out the scariest of all of his sound bites, but I think stating that openly gay people and women sleeping with their boyfriends out of wedlock should not be teachers may just be the one. I guess Sen. DeMint believes (as does his constituency who voted for him) that openly gay and “sexually-promiscuous” women would proselytize their  lifestyle on our impressionable children. Having been a principal who employed openly gay teachers and women living with their boyfriends (making no assumptions) as well as deeply religious Christians – with a fairly good sample size, I can say the teachers who most often tried to force their views on our students were the religious ones. I’m not sure how to count the closeted gay teacher who also attended religious sessions espousing they could reform gay people and brought that rhetoric into the classroom (he didn’t make it an entire year).

I also don’t know if SC ranking in the top 10 in teen pregnancies and in the top 20 in teen abortion rates supports or refutes what Sen. DeMint is spewing. What it does tell me is that the electorate of South Carolina is not practicing what they preach. As Sen. DeMint says, “Hopefully in 2012, we’ll make headway to repeal some of the things we’ve done, because politics only works when we’re realigned with our Savior.” Doesn’t education start in the home? It’s amazing how states rites is valued as in the constitution, but separation and church and state in that same constitution is blatantly ignored.

With all that is wrong with California, it’s great to live in a blue state.

Smaller is not always better

Brockton High School in Brockton, MA is proving that large schools with high percentages of students of color and free and reduced lunch populations can be turned around without reconstituting the entire school or breaking it up into smaller learning academies. I learned about Brockton High a couple of years ago at an International Center for Leadership in Education Conference. Over 4,000 students, a dozen home languages spoken, and traditionally failing, the school went from the bottom 10% in the district to the top 10% in 10 years – led by teachers and an administration within the constrains of the union. Now, the NY Times brings the story to light again.

With hundreds of millions of dollars spent on creating smaller learning academies (which is still going on today despite a complete lack of evidence that it does anything) and billions of dollars spent in California on class size reduction, maybe we are starting to realize that smaller is not necessarily better. Despite research stating that class size does not make a difference until you reach around 17 students, California threw a budget surplus (I know – California with a budget surplus!! When was that?) at the idea of class size reduction. And what did that get us: 1. A greater need for teachers. 2. A reconfiguration of junior high to middle schools where 6th and 9th graders were pushed into schools they are not socially or emotionally ready for. 3. An exodus of experienced teachers from the upper grades as the higher tenured teachers ran to lower grades with  maller class sizes, displacing less experienced teachers who may have had more experience in the younger grades than those displacing them. 4. A fundamental belief and entitlement from parents and teachers that smaller is actually better.

Now that we have cut education spending 3 years in a row and class size reduction is no longer financially beneficial to school districts, parents and teachers are screaming that their children have to be in classes of 23 instead of 20. As a parent I would rather have my children in a larger class with a better teacher than a smaller class with a marginal one. As a former teacher I would rather teach 35 students per class (as was the norm) than 25 when the 50 students (10 for each of 5 periods) would usually get a teacher who did not care about them. But hey – is schooling about the adults or the kids?

Is it better for teachers to teach fewer kids in smaller schools? Probably – fewer papers to grade, parents to call, report cards to do, etc. I hope someone comes up with something innovative like making K-3 classes of 40 with one master teacher, one apprentice teacher, and one paraprofessional all working together. How about an algebra class of 100 with one master teacher and three apprentice teachers where students are flexibly grouped into discussion sessions (just like college). This would require fundamental shifts in school construction, teacher training and credentialing, and public perception about what school is. In the 21st century, our schools use 20th century technology, with a 19th century curriculum and pedagogy, in an 18th century school structure.

Momma, Don’t Let Your Kids Grow up to be Colorblind

An amazing new study was release from researchers at Northwestern, Stanford, and Tufts that confirms what many have been saying for years – teaching kids about our similarities as opposed to our differences will actually make them less sensitive to issues of race and diversity. I think that we’ve been telling ourselves to accentuate the similar as opposed to valuing the different because it is much easier to do. This leaves me with the terrifying reminder of how I need to continue speaking to my kids about recognizing diversity in a positive way and not reacting to others who are different by shunning them, making fun of them for their differences, or acting completely oblivious to them even though they are only 4. Terrifying, because I think it is a more difficult conversation than the “where do babies come from?”.

I practice my parenting skills on the first year teachers I teach in a university teacher-prep course. Even though the focus of the class is methods, I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to engage my students around issues of race and how they relate to effective instruction and serving as a mentor for students from a very different background from them. I partially rely on what worked for me (not pretending I’m something I’m not, drawing on student strengths, using culture and race to increase relevancy of instruction, et. al.) as well as a great book from Glenn Singleton and Curtis Litton, Courageous Conversations About Race.  Even though I have the pleasure of serving on a state Board of Ed commission with Glenn and I read his book several years ago, it took me a few meeting with him to put two and two together. Anyway – a great read.

The Wrong Headline about Charter Schools and the Economy

On the home page of www.sfgate.com, there was an article entitled, Charter Schools Defy Recession. The headline should read Charter Schools Forced by State to do More with Less. Charter schools already get 17% less per student than traditional public schools. Charters usually have to pay for facilities where school districts do not – another 8-14% depending on the “deal” schools are getting. So charter schools are essentially educating students with 25-31% fewer funds than traditional districts – and in a state that has cut another 12-15% from the education budget the last few years.

The article highlights three ways charters are coping with the recession (extremely poorly written from my perspective). First, charters are hiring less experienced teachers. Second, they are going without sports facilities, performing arts space, etc. Finally, they are -more creative in staffing and instruction. Only the third point is one we should celebrate. As charters continue to serve the most under-served communities, having less-experienced staff teaching in sub-optimal and “no-frills” facilities is not what students need and deserve. Yet, charter schools are routinely compared to traditional public schools with mixed results.

Of course the results are mixed. Even the charters that are doing really well are doing so without a lot of the basics most Americans takes for granted are part of a student’s education. They also talk about philanthropy and how charters are relying on this segment of funding. However, this is the vast minority of charters in California. Their example was the $50 million federal grant KIPP received. Even with 13 schools in California, that represents only about 15% of all KIPP schools. This money is not going to go directly to their schools anyway. Philanthropy should not be a method to get through a recession or close a funding gap. It should be used for innovation and expansion in serving the students most in need.

Another dream deferred

Do we really have the luxury in this country to place roadblocks and barriers in front of some of our most talented and resourceful students? I was meeting yesterday with three amazingly dedicated women all involved with established and well-respected college access foundations. We were sharing insights and looking for ways to partner in our work. We started to share stories about amazing students who beat the odds and graduated from college despite one of the biggest roadblocks in front of them – a lack of access to federal financial aid. Here is my story – this is why I care:

Thomas (name and many details changed to protect identity – but still a true story) came to the US when he was 8. His parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic in search of a better opportunity and landed in Miami. He lived there for six years and went to four different schools, living in a dozen different houses, apartments, and cars. His father went back to the Dominican when his parents split and his mother moved in with a new boyfriend, shipping Thomas off to live with his aunt in Los Angeles. This is where I met him as Thomas enrolled in my school as a tenth grader – several credits behind. I only met Thomas’ aunt that first time she enrolled him and never saw her again. Thomas, in fact, moved from friend’s house to friend’s house, really only to sleep and shower. Thomas was working two cash paying jobs doing odd jobs for people and went to adult school at night to catch up on his credits. He graduated with a less than stellar 2.6GPA and applied to several Cal State schools. Admitted to one, he could not apply for any financial aid and seemed destined not to go. Our college counselor found an angel who “adopted” Thomas and paid for full tuition, room and board and books for four years. Thomas is poised to graduate in May with few prospects besides deportation.

The DREAM Act could have changed all of that. Attached to the Defense Bill in a last ditch effort by Harry Reid to get it passed, it was instead deferred by our legislators. Thomas earned a 2.6 in high school and only slightly higher in college, not because he wasn’t smart enough and hard-working enough to do better in school, but because he was smart enough and hard-working enough to know that he couldn’t count on the system and needed to find his own way to making money and supporting himself. I fear for what is going to happen to Thomas and the 65,000 students just like him every year. With the incredible demand  for people to fill degree requiring jobs, can we really dismiss the tens and thousands of students each and every year who could contribute positively to our economy? I guess our country only wants immigrants to fill the jobs we don’t want (picking fruits and vegetables) as opposed to the jobs we claim we have to outsource (high tech).

And oh, by the way – Thomas wants to be a teacher.

Italian-Americans choose the wrong causes

I grew up in New Jersey, close to NYC and vividly remember protests of Italian-Americans against the cancellation of the Columbus Day Parade in NYC. This happened close to 20 years ago and still goes on today in other communities. I couldn’t help thinking to myself then if we just shouldn’t have a parade for Mussolini as well. Now, a story from the NYTimes brings to light the Italian-American movement at CUNY to enforce affirmative action – for Italian American professors. Since 1981, when CUNY started to become more race-conscious in hiring, Italian-American professorships did rise – however, not as quickly as Black and Latino. In a university system where 70% of the students are Black, Latino, or Asian, 54% of the professors are still white – even after 30 years of improvement. If anyone should remain outraged it should be the Black, Latino, and Asian professors.

The other thing I remember Italian-American’s protesting is The Sopranos. Really? The greatest TV series of all time? How about protesting Jersey Shore instead? (full disclosure – I never actually watched Jersey Shore but spent many a summer down there and could see how Italian American’s could be shown in a bad light). I hope I don’t need to tell Italian Americans who may be reading this that I had a lot of Italian American friends growing up so I couldn’t be racist against them.

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