Monthly Archives: April 2010

TOOKIE’S REDEMPTION

The death penalty is barbaric.  I read today that in the middle east they are going to execute a guy for too many spiritual musings on his television show.  He got in a little too deep with the mystics.

But how is it any better here in America? In 2005, the state of California executed Tookie Williams.  He was one of the founders of the Crips and along his journey towards becoming an educator and author of children’s stories and a living model for staying out of gangs… San Quentin finally pulled the trigger.

Somehow, I don’t feel any safer that Tookie Williams was executed.  In fact, as a citizen of California, I felt complicit in his execution because we the people decide these things.

Then I read in the San Diego Union Tribune this morning that the state’s system for the “death penalty” is essentially broken.  That Tookie Williams was one of only 13 death row inmates actually executed since 1978.  Apparently far more people die on death row from natural causes– which I actually feel better about.  Except for the fact that the state spends $137.7 million dollars a year to sustain it’s “death penalty” option.  By contrast, to manage cases toward a verdict of “life without parole” costs only $11.5 million dollars a year.  So the seldom-actually-used death penalty in California costs 10 times what it costs to sentence an inmate to “life without parole”.

You know where I am going with this?

One of my students at USD posted a great piece on our class blog in which she examined the overall prison system in comparison to public education.

Over the last twenty years, state spending on prisons has increased by 40% while spending on higher education has decreased by 30 percent (Williams, 2007).  Today in California, 11 percent of the state budget goes to prisons while only 7.5 percent goes towards higher education.

We will spend  $7,000 per student at El Milagro, but it will cost $90,000 to keep inmates incarcerated on death row!

Seems like we have our priorities ass backwards again.  And it seems like an easy fix.  It will be far easier to sustain and improve public education if we dismantle the costly and barbaric business of capital punishment.

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Filed under California budget, education spending, El Milagro, public education, Uncategorized

RESURRECT A DREAM

A new study from the Center for Research and Reform in Education at John Hopkins University has concluded that “Spanish-speaking children learn to read English equally well regardless of whether they are taught primarily in English or in both English and their native language.”

In other words, bilingual instruction does no harm as it relates to the acquisition of English literacy skills; we can reintroduce the goal of bilingualism  and Spanish literacy – without any negative consequences to English reading acquisition.

In still other words… if it does no harm… and thus there is no adverse impact on test scores… then the advantages of bilingual instruction now outweigh the disadvantages… according to the latest research on the topic!

The director of the report, Dr. Robert Slavin, noted that

“Here’s a study that gives more solid information than has existed before that quality of instruction is important. The idea that the language of instruction is going to be decisive just doesn’t come through. You can succeed in either language. You can fail in either language.”

We have always said that it’s the quality of the teaching and the passion for promoting biliteracy that makes the difference!!!

Of course at El Milagro, we have stretched to squeeze every point we can from the California Standards Test.  Our student mobility and the drive to stay out of Program Improvement forced us to abandon dual language instruction.  But next year we are eliminating those external pressures by

• Dramatically increasing the number of multi-age classrooms on our campus

• Developing a rich, integrated curriculum for those multi-age classrooms

• Placing students in grade levels according to their performance level (and not according to their age)

• Promoting students only when they demonstrate mastery of their grade level standards

Not only does this allow us to satisfy all the AYP demands, it will allow us to reintroduce the arts, health and fitness, science and social study.  We can teach children to think again.  We can promote creativity and performance and  problem solving and innovation.  The multiple intelligences!

But it also suggests that it is time to resurrect our dual language program… and our dream of biliteracy for all children.

Joy. Authentic learning.  Dos idiomas.  El Milagro.

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Filed under bilingual education, charter schools, El Milagro, gifted children, innovation and change, school reform, teaching

BLAZED

Delaware and Tennessee were evidently the big winners in the Race to the Top dough.  Delaware, which was ranked No. 1 on the competition’s 500-point grading scale, will win about $100 million, while Tennessee, which came in second, will get something like $500 million.  That’s cool for them.  But I read their plans.  I studied the language.  They talk about:

Expectations, accountability, student achievement, test results, teacher evaluation, teacher quality, academic standards, standardized testing, labor and management and consensus and shared decision making…

Then I wondered…

Wasn’t  Race to the Top money awarded  to encourage school reform?  Real Innovation?  A billion dollars worth of fresh thinking?  Transformation? Transcendent change?

Isn’t it true that if you keep doing the same things over and over again… even if you call it something new… you’ll get the same results?

Tennessee’s Education commissioner, Timothy Webb said:  “We believe that if you take all of the technology out of the classroom, … but you leave the highly effective teacher interacting with students, the students will grow.  All those other things are great to have, but we know without a shadow of a doubt that we have to invest in great teachers.”

I get his point and they are not proposing to remove technology from their classrooms ( at least, I don’t think)… but the premise here is that teachers alone are enough to create extraordinary schools.  We know you can’t have extraordinary schools without them.  But what about a “highly effective teacher interacting with students” and using the tools that our students will actually need when they finally escape the gravitational pull of a K-12 public education system and go into the world to invent a new future?

Or at least try to keep up with the one we have.

Arne Duncan, our Secretary of Education said when awarding Tennessee and Delaware the RTTT  prize money:  “We now have two states that will blaze the path for the future of education reform.”  And I hope they do.

But if you are going to”blaze” a new path you have to first get off of the old path.

For less than the $500 million dollars that President Obama invests in racing to the top in Tennessee… there are schools that will be blazing!

El Milagro.

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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change, President Obama, public education, school reform, standardized testing, technology in schools