Sunday, October 19, 2008

Conversation Recap for October 19, 2008

The day after the Achievement Gap Summit, we check in, and straggle in, but we are here. About 17 of us assembled.

Today we heard Colleen’s story.

In it we heard of several people who were bright and yet poorly served by schools. There is a clear pattern in schools of defining learning rather narrowly, and responding rather poorly to kids who learn outside of those bounds. One way to think of it: the schools seem designed to serve middle class white little girls, and not much else.

In the discussion we heard more stories of kids who were smart but didn’t fit into the schools. As part of these stories, a common thing to emerge is that parents find ways to blame themselves when their children have difficulties. Another theme: MANY of us have similar stories in our families. One part of it seems to be the categories used to classify kids—what constitutes adequate learning, what constitutes “behind” something like “grade level,” what constitutes adequate measurement of the standards, and so on.

One message that emerged: The kids have a much better chance of finding a path to success if they have parents who are highly skilled advocates. That seems to be a gigantic source of inequality. The kids who are not well-served by schools and who don’t have highly skilled parents face huge barriers.

The conversation in this group may have to add one more dimension. Note how the Achievement Gap Summit was built on the premise that there needs to be an incubator of ideas for people in schools, and connected to schools, so that people can take something useful back to their schools—go out from the incubator and produce change. This group turns out to have a wide range of skills and experience, and can come up with some original ideas. We should develop a team to get some funding to connect some of the people in this group, and to do this work. We can easily name three of us that have the right mix of knowledge and experience to work on the issues we care about—such as the achievement gap.

We turn to a related topic: What several of us are working on.

Dexter told us about HB2722. Years ago, a number of people—like Thelma Jackson, the Tacoma Black Collective—started to advocate in many forums for changing education to better serve African American children. At some point the strategy shifted to getting a law passed so that designated resources could produce an agenda. That resulted in HB2722, which in particular, it has the state recognize specifically the unmet needs of African American students.

The committee Dexter is part of is empowered to meet and set goals to promote change, suggest needed policies, programs and strategies for the state and local schools to consider, and to suggest benchmarks for achieving the goals.

Two committee meetings are left: Thursday, Nov. 20, from 10 until 2 or perhaps 4 (somewhere in Renton); and Thursday, Dec. 11, from 10-4 (somewhere in Olympia). A town hall meeting will be November 20, 6:30-8:30.

For more, CLICK HERE.

Tom told us about the Black Collective, which has been engaged with the school district for years. Things have gotten to the point where the Black Collective can no longer assume the School Board is going to act in good faith. Instead they have expressed to the Board a set of expectations about what constitutes progress, and set a condition on it: if progress has been made, they will support the Board’s future requests for voter approval of levies and bond issues; no progress, they will encourage members and allies to not support those requests for money. Several allied organizations have said they will also send this message to the School Board.

Tom also told us about the Tacoma 360 initiative. Remember GetSmartTacoma? They had several rounds of planning and discussion, and it sounded like a commitment to take action—but no money and commitment to specific steps to implement those ideas. Also, remember about a year ago when Tacoma Schools sent a team to a conference at Harvard, charged to come back and be a catalyst for change? The Harvard study group met for a few months, but support from the Tacoma administration evaporated…. just after Superintendent Jarvis was chosen as the Superintendent (previously he had held “interim” status).

Tacoma 360 is an effort to draw together the School Board, the city, Metro Park, and others to commit to an action agenda—the main device being the appointment of a person who will have the job of bringing those plans to an action level.

Eve told us about the “Meaningful High School Diploma Initiative,” which you can read about HERE. The state legislature asked the State Board of Education to develop a better set of graduation requirements, and Eve is one of the people involved in this. They have drafted a new credit framework called “Core 24.” This is from the website:
CORE 24 is based on the following principles:

  • Equip everyone: Prepare ALL students for life after high school—in gainful employment, an apprenticeship or postsecondary education. Expect more: Align requirements to meet the increased expectations of the 21st century workforce.
  • Provide flexibility: Allow students to customize their education, creating relevance to their interests.
  • Give focus: Encourage students to align course work to achieve their future career goals.
  • Plan ahead: Emphasize the High School and Beyond Plan to offer students personalized guidance to prepare them for work, postsecondary education, or both.
  • Start early: Prepare students to enter high school and create opportunities to meet high school graduation requirements in middle school.
The central idea, then, is that we need multiple pathways to graduation, and no matter what path in life a graduating senior has chosen, they are prepared to do it successfully. This is a proposal to make that happen, now before the Washington State Board of Education.

Colleen described the activities of the education group. We attend Board Meetings, get involved in discussions of issues before the Board, and on alternative Thursdays meet to discuss strategies and tactics. Recently we chose to ask the Board for demographic detail of programs, by school building, in programs like AP, IB, and various special ed programs. Several years ago the Federal Way schools put together these data for their district. In one of those odd concatenations of events, the person who put together the data for the Federal Way schools now works for the Tacoma schools, and knows how to do it.

We suspect that AP and IB programs dramatically underrepresent African American children, and that special ed programs dramatically overrepresent them.

As a side note: The HB2722 group is strongly suggesting the publication of such data.

We broke into small groups to consider action items related to these initiatives.

One group came up with the following:

Run a candidate for school board, be thoughtful about how the education group links with the Conversation and with other groups (the Ed Group should be a leader of where the Conversation should go), perhaps focus the Conversation on education issues for several months or until a goal is achieved; develop an approach to identify particular children and help them succeed; perhaps develop a model of what a good school looks like, by constructing it; and maybe take over one or all of the schools that are within a year of failing the AYP standards; perhaps develop an affiliation with the school district (precedents include the Tacoma Urban League Academy and the Tacoma School of the Arts.

Another group came up with the following:

The data that we are uncovering needs to be seen by a lot of people; something like a Town Hall, for students, for parents, to discuss this type of thing, and we could make recordings of them to encourage growth of such initiatives; in every school there should be some kind of person that has links to student families; each of us could think about the communities we are connected with, and find ways to connect them with our efforts.

In summary, Dexter suggested we need a way to take this conversation forward, distill the ideas and come back to the larger group. We will look at draft of such a thing next week.