Monthly Archives: April 2009


*Apr 28 - 00:05*

…Education, Iraq, swine flu, press conferences, basketball, being American, economic recovery, green energy, housing, kids, race relations, jurisprudence, Pakistan, college costs, the White House website, Republican demise, GM, Oval Office photos, American voters, health care, health care for kids, Guantanamo, choice, Hispanic caucus, charter schools, Twitter, Michelle, the cabinet, Ted Kennedy, NY Times, NY Yankees, Bo, Peace Corps;

JFK, Teach for America, Hugo Chavez, Washington DC, the Obama kids, on-line media, high speed rail, Isreal, stock market, Arlen Specter, waterboarding,  MSNBC, US troops coming home, Fair Pay Act, a new NCLB, affordable student loans, Air Force 1, families, world travel, stem cell research, change, civil rights, the US Constitution,  gun control, global warming, New Orleans, honest communication, US reputation abroad, GNP, the VP;

Jazz, Rachel Maddow, early childhood education, NASA, environmental protection, fuel economy, Earth Day, veterans, immigration, S-CHIP,  Americans with Disabilities,  G-20 Summit, jobs,  home ownership,  fairness, nutrition, 21st Century skills, work-family balance, performance, Social Security, foreign policy, Nuclear waste disposal, Islam; 

Darfur, fossil fuels, US tax code, executive orders, National Academy of Sciences, clean energy, urban America, fitness, organic gardens, homeland security, the arts, poverty, dynamic speeches;

Two terms.


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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, environmental studies, health care, President Obama, public education


At this defining moment in our history, America faces few more urgent challenges than preparing our children to compete in a global economy. The decisions our leaders make about education in the coming years will shape our future for generations to come. Obama and Biden are committed to meeting this challenge with the leadership and judgment that has been sorely lacking for the last eight years. Their vision for a 21st century education begins with demanding more reform and accountability, coupled with the resources needed to carry out that reform; asking parents to take responsibility for their children’s success; and recruiting, retaining, and rewarding an army of new teachers to fill new successful schools that prepare our children for success in college and the workforce. The Obama-Biden plan will restore the promise of America’s public education, and ensure that American children again lead the world in achievement, creativity and success.

President Obama’s education initiatives are broad-sweeping and on the mark.  Yesterday he presented his plan to make college more affordable and student loans more available to students who really need them.

in-schoolsBack on March 10, he described his “5 Pillars of Education Reform”.  His speech on education highlighted his k-12 agenda, where he intends to

  • Reform No Child Left Behind
  • Support High-Quality Schools and Close Low-Performing Charter Schools
  • Make Math and Science Education a National Priority
  • Address the Dropout Crisis:
  • Expand High-Quality Afterschool Opportunitie
  • Support College Outreach Programs
  • Support College Credit Initiatives
  • Support English Language Learners
  • Recruit Teachers
  • Prepare Teachers
  • Retain Teachers
  • Reward Teachers

If we go there– if we improve educational access and opportunity at the pre-school level as well as the K-12 and post-secondary levels, he can leverage the reform he is looking for.  At least in some small degree.   The problem is, for all the detail and ambition, the Obama education vision still does not reach far enough.  His education plan is still missing one critical component– without which–  the success of all these other reforms will be compromised.  Partly because this list of initiatives has already been implemented. There are examples and best practices of these approaches all over the country, and yet, the academic achievement gap persists.

So what is that one, profoundly  revolutionary change that will finally transform public education in America?

roceli1Universal health care.   

Just as his plan to revive the economy hinges on health care, so too does any significant hopes of educational reform.  

It’s the health care.  And the reason is quite simple: 

American schoolchildren should not have to suffer through illness or medical trauma while our health care system shuts their family out from the treatment they require and deserve.

They should not have to come to school with teeth rotting in their heads for lack of dental care.

They should not fall behind in reading (never to catch up), simply because they have undiagnosed vision problems that are often easily corrected with glasses.

They should not suffer in silence, as a first grade child at El Milagro did two year ago, while we negotiated for hearing aids with Childrens Hospital.

They should not have to endure the physical discomfort nor the  social alienation associated with childhood obesity.

They should not have to manage the debilitating side effects of poor nutrition or childhood hunger.

They should not be denied access to mental health treatment, or counseling, or therapists or specialists available to other students whose parents have complete health coverage.

Learning is hard enough to do for students, especially in a climate of ever-tightening accountability.  But where there are inequities in academic outcomes, we almost inevitably find families in economic distress.  While parents struggle to maintain their homes, keep their jobs, make a living, make a life…  they should at least have the confidence that the health care needs of their children are provided for.

If President Obama can deliver on the promise of universal health care for our children, and if public schools fully harness the power of that reform, we will see a significant reduction in the academic achievement gap that has perpetuated the inequities across socio-economic levels for decades.  

The Obama doctrine on education states:

At this defining moment in our history, America faces few more urgent challenges than preparing our children to compete in a global economy.

“Preparing our children academically to compete in a global economy”, hinges on their ability to come to a safe school, to focus, to work hard, to believe in their own capacity as citizen-learners.  It hinges on their physical, emotional and mental health.  In fact, if he can provide all of our students with HEALTH CARE, President Obama will prove to be the most influential leader in public education in our lifetimes.



Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, health care, President Obama, public education, resiliency


testsWe are two weeks from the 2009 iteration of the California Standards Test.  The clock is ticking. We are prepared.  We are in a zone.  And we better be…considering the high stakes.

High stakes?  Isn’t that just residual hyperbole left over from the NCLB-era politics?  Well let’s check it out.  

Here are a dozen ways that standardized testing has resulted  in high “stakes” outcomes and their unintended consequences:

• High stakes because the results are going to follow every student for the remainder of their school careers.

• High stakes because schools will use the results to determine students’ eligibility for after-school programs and tutoring opportunities and Advanced Placement classes and extracurricular activities. Even for eligibility (and thus in-eligibility) for participation in athletics and the performing arts.

• High stakes because school officials will use the scores as a criteria for classifying children as gifted– public education’s most coveted label.  Similarly, they will cite these scores when diagnosing children as learning disabled.

• High stakes because schools will (illegally) weigh the portents of  these scores before admitting new students.  Or they will consult them– the final straw– before expelling or disenrolling kids; before recommending ‘delinquents’  to a continuation program or independent study or homeschooling or some other version of learning in Siberia.

In high stakes testing, the results matter to everybody. 


• They are “high stakes” because presidents and governors and mayors run for elected office on the promise of improving local trends in standardized test scores.  School board members too.  And the superintendents that school boards hire will survive on their ability to deliver higher scores on metrics like the Academic Performance Index (API).  Likewise the principals that the superintendents hire will come and go like bad wind and pretty much everybody will feel the pressure when the next wave of leaders are clearing out their desks and insuring their colleagues that they have always wanted to return to the classroom.  

• High stakes because that pressure to raise test scores will drive teachers with the most seniority (and experience) toward the schools with the higher API (800+) and lower stress levels. 

u-haul-1• High stakes because schools with low API’s (<700) will continue to replace those migrating veteran teachers with brand new inexperienced teachers who will take five years to learn their craft… and then they will migrate too.  And while they are learning, those younger teachers will be just starting to raise families of their own.  So you can expect those teachers to be out two to three months on maternity leave and to be temporarily replaced by long-term substitute teachers who have less training and less experience than the inexperienced young teacher they are replacing.

And the community will witness the invisible forces of the high stakes tests in ways they could never imagine.

• High stakes because when educated, upwardly mobile young couples start looking for a suitable neighborhood in which to raise their families they inevitably consider the quality of the schools.   They consult websites like and identify the school districts with the highest test scores.  And that is where they buy their home.  



• High stakes because when large groups of young, upwardly mobile couples get together to raise their children, they insist on state of the art pre-schools and they start volunteering in the elementary school before their kids are old enough to walk. So a whole community evolves around a culture of high achievement. It becomes pre-ordained and the Academic Performance Index of the schools go even higher.

• High stakes because the schools with low API’s struggle for any organizational momentum at all. They tend to serve families who are less educated and thus less upwardly mobile.  They tend to serve families that are in survival mode. They do not tend to attract the new young families who just moved to town and who are looking for the very best schools.  

• High stakes because the communities with large clusters of well educated and upwardly mobile families experience far fewer home foreclosures than those where families took greater risks with loans.  (In San Diego County, for example, the top five zip codes with the highest number of home foreclosures featured schools with an average API of only 754.) Home foreclosures lead to higher student mobility rates as families migrate toward more affordable housing options.  

High stakes.  

high-stakes2• High stakes because we are all compelled to strike hard against the mountainous challenge of quantifying children’s learning on the basis of  a single standardized test.  We will balance the winners and the losers and the inevitable damage caused when the best of intentions collide with unintentional consequences.  And that is, by definition, high stakes– where our systems align poorly or not at all. And  for that incongruence…our children pay.

In California, there are only two weeks remaining until we administer  the next version of the CST. When it is complete, we will dutifully send our thousand student answer sheets off to Sacramento with a blind faith that they will be accurately scored.  And the cycle of waiting for the results and the early analyses will begin anew.  

Our students are ready to play the game. It is high stakes. We are “all in”.


Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, El Milagro, gifted children, public education, standardized testing



Spring Break just ended and I have now gone the longest I have ever gone between posts.  It is bad practice, no doubt,  to miss my weekly publishing day (which is normally Saturday!).  But I have a good excuse.

dsc_04111Anne and I have just returned from New Orleans where we volunteered for service with Habitat for Humanity and helped build homes in Musician’s Village. That is, we helped in the way that volunteers help when they have limited experience with actually building, using power tools, climbing ladders or hanging from roofs. But we helped. 

And as always, the ambiance of New Orleans was amazing.  

But so is the heartache. And so are the wonderings.

And so I wondered, 4 years after Katrina, why there are still hundreds (thousands?) of homes with holes in the roofs and boarded up windows and debris piled in the yard.

dsc_0376_2I wondered why so many  of those uninhabited houses still bore the crimson “X’s” spray-painted by search and rescue teams and framing the cryptic code for the number of  victims still inside.  And I wondered how those search tattoos worked on the psyche of children and adults alike.

I wondered why in some neighborhoods, all of the properties are restored, while in the poorer, more segregated neighborhoods, entire block are still abandoned. (Actually, I didn’t really “wonder “why this is happening at all.  These are the same people that were abandoned from the day the hurricane hit. They were left on bridges and rooftops and dumped into sports arenas.  And they still aren’t getting much help.)

So I wondered if the guy they keep trotting out as “the next Republican contender for president, the governor of Louisiana, has been in the Lower Ninth Ward lately.  I wondered how you can approach the problems and challenges of the presidency if you can’t tend to the needs of your own community.

I wonder how many people moved back into homes that they shouldn’t have moved back into.  Homes where the walls are filled with mold and the cockroaches prop up rotting foundations on their backs.

I wondered why so many schools still aren’t operational yet and how much longer it is going to take.

But then again, I wonder what we can all learn from a resilient city that has bet the majority of its waterlogged educational system  on the promise of charter schools .

I wondered, with the return of so many musicians to New Orleans, could the city’s full revival be far behind?






And I wondered how the children are since Jazz Became Hope.



Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, resiliency, spiritual intelligence, Uncategorized



Our students were exhausted on Wednesday night but they had enough left in the tank to finish their reflections in their college tour journals:


• “I know now that it is possible for me to go to college.  They have something called grants and loans.  There are no excuses…”

• “The students we met at USC were inspiring.  Especially since one of them went to high school in Chula Vista!”

• “No one in my family has ever visited a university before.  Or gone to one.  I will be the first.”

• “At first I didn’t know why we were going to the Museum of Tolerance during our LA College Week.  What does the holocaust have to do with going to college?  We have been reading about the holocaust but it is deeper than that and I am still thinking about what we learned there. Maybe there is no right answer but I am beginning to see a connection.

• “When I get home I am going to check my class schedule for next year.  I could have taken some more challenging classes but I told the counselor I wanted to just take basic stuff.  But now, I don’t think basic stuff will get me to USC.”

• “When I first saw the championship banners hanging from the rafters in the Pauley Pavilion I just stood there and cried.  I have dreamed about this.  I know I can go to school here some day.”

And so on.


Our 8th graders may be only 13 and 14 but they get why we load them on buses and take them to LA for three days in April.  This is our second year in what will become our annual LA College Week.  It is an extraordinary journey through some of Southern California’s most prestigious universities:  USC, mono-cardinal-white-bigUCLA, Pepperdine, Cal State Long Beach, UC Irvine.  Our students already visited San Diego State and the University of San Diego and UCSD when they were in 7th grade.  As juniors at Chula Vista High School they will vist UC Santa Barbara, Stanford and UC Berkeley.  By the time they are seniors, they will have been on the campuses and met the students of 15 to 20 colleges and universities. They will have been to the bookstores and worn the t-shirts and filed their photographs and memories. And of course, they will have demystified the college experience.

Ryan and Marisol designed a three-day itinerary that kept them moving and introduced some very interesting features of LA life:  Universal City Walk, the Santa Monica Pier, the Getty Museum and the Museum of Tolerance.  It is a lot to pack into three days.  And it all connects.  And it all reaches them at one level or another.

And now they know that if they can go into 9th grade with a strong wind at their back. They can compete in AP courses.  They can involve themselves in community service and leadership roles.  They can play sports or march in the band or join a dance team in the School for the Creative and Performing Arts.  They can surround themselves with positive people who have the same goals and aspirations.  They can rise above the inevitable challenges and difficult circumstances that will no doubt try to push them back from the edge of their dreams.

uclabldg1But in their experience here, in their exhaustion and deep reflection– some of which may even have been written down– 60 more American 8th graders will understand that we determine our own destiny.  There are no limitations, no excuses, no barriers.  They are as likely to be enrolled at UCLA in five years as any other scenario that they might themselves imagine.  

Late on Wednesday afternoon, while our students were still processing the awful lessons of the Museum of Tolerance, we drove to the Getty Museum and breathed the different air.  There was light there.  Our students looked at each other in the eyes.  Their playful spirit returned.  

“I liked the gardens of the Getty Museum. And the stairs and all the fountains.  And I liked the view of LA.  I could see UCLA from the back balcony.  I could see myself there in the future.”

We asked our students to find a spot on the sprawling stairs leading up to the main museum and to adopt a distinctive pose.  We took a a group picture. There are no names in the caption.  The figures are too small to identify.  But together, there is a synergy that we hope will last.  They laughed as they scrambled for their own place to stand and fumbled through several awkward iterations of their final pose.  Some never quite found it.  Others became impromptu models.  And even 8th graders, having the time of their lives, discovered right there on Getty’s steps that life can indeed imitate art.


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