Tag Archives: health care


Meg Whitman once ran E-bay and now she is running for Governor of California. Her platform: she plans on creating jobs, cutting spending and fixing the education system.

Her fix for the education system?  More testing, more “accountability”, and converting failing schools into charter schools. E-bay must have gotten her best creative years.

I wonder, by the way,  what happens to failing charter schools on the Meg Whitman plan.  I wonder what she thinks charter schools actually are.  I wonder why every candidate running for public office wants to “fix” public schools… and if they can really see what is broken.

She says:

For years, California politicians have talked about building better schools. Few improvements have come despite billions of additional spending. Enough talk, we need action. We will lead the charge to put more control in the hands of local educators and parents.  We will put more dollars directly into the classroom instead of costly bureaucrats. If a school fails to improve after three years, under my plan it will automatically convert to a charter school. It’s time California schools make the grade. The future of our state depends on it.

Remember when Reagan was President and his education commission unleashed “A Nation At Risk?” They were convinced the education system was broken too. They said:

“Our Nation is at risk . . . . The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people . . . . If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war . . . . We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament . . . .”

An act of war?

But what if this notion of failing public schools is a myth?  a complete fabrication?   A distraction from the real root cause of America’s great divide?

If a house burns to the ground, do we blame the architect for the building materials used to construct the house?  Or do we recognize that the real root cause of the destruction… is fire!

If Meg Whitman wants to “fix” California’s schools, she needs to first “fix” the government and then “fix” the economy.  There is a reason why schools in low income areas are consistently outperformed by schools in high income areas: children in low income areas tend to be less ready for school, have less access to health care, be more susceptible to childhood obesity and type II diabetes, enjoy less parent support, have less learning resources and less access to technology.  For starters.  And they have no voice.

And while politicians like to call those ” excuses”… I wonder what would happen if the severe gap in economic prosperity was diminished.  What if all kids enjoyed the exact same benefits and life conditions whether they lived in Compton or Malibu?  What would our education system  look like then?

Politicians can’t fix schools– not with all of the standardized testing schemes in the world. Especially if they aren’t broken.  And there are plenty that aren’t broken.  Yet.

But those same politicians do have an opportunity to significantly improve the quality of life for children.

To tell you the truth, I don’t think Meg Whitman plans on doing that as Governor of California.  I don’t think her fellow politicians in Washington DC plan on improving the quality of life for children either.  Even though my students would benefit mightily from having access to health care, our senators and congressmen can’t seem to get that done.  They are dysfunctional.  They appear to be paralyzed by their own political systems and structures and culture.  They are influenced and driven by a collective greed that blinds them to their opportunity to rescue America’s children… if not their schools.

Bill Moyers wrote:

No wonder people have lost faith in politicians, parties and in our leadership. The power of money drives cynicism deep into the heart of every level of government. Everything, and everyone, comes with a price tag attached: from a seat at the table in the White House to a seat in Congress, to the fate of health care reform, our environment, and efforts to restrain Wall Street’s greed and prevent another financial catastrophe.

The house is burning and the people positioned to extinguish the flames, are instead blaming the builders.  I propose we re-think the the myth:

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre governmental performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”


Filed under California budget, California charter schools, childhood obesity, children at risk, health care, public education, school reform


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


obama-on-the-phone2OK… so he didn’t really solicit my opinion.  I think maybe I just had a dream that I was sitting in my office talking to a couple of students when I got a phone call– totally unexpected– from President-Elect Obama.

“Dr. Riley”, he says. “It’s good to finally reach you. I know you have been busy running a pretty amazing charter school there in Chula Vista, but man, you are hard to reach.”

“Yes sir, I am usually out in classrooms so I don’t always get to take calls.”

“Well, listen, I just wanted to let you know I finished your book The Lights of El Milagro, and I really enjoyed it. You are doing some great stuff there.”

“Thank you Mr. President. I am honored. I read your books too. Mine hasn’t made the NY Times Bestseller List like yours have… but we are definitely telling our story.”

“And that’s why I wanted to talk to you. You know I have to name a Secretary of Education… right?”

“Yes sir. And no thank you I can’t leave El Milagro.”

I think he laughs.

“Well what I really want to know is what is on your wish list for the new Secretary of Education. You know, what has to happen for you to get your kids to grade level and not sacrifice the quality teaching and learning that our students and teachers deserve?”

So I think about it for a second and consider whether I am dreaming or maybe I’m getting punked by those French deejays who bamboozled Sarah Palin or maybe I have just been working too hard lately and I’m hearing voices-like President-Elect Obama’s. But sometimes you suspend judgment long enough to roll the dice. And so I did.

10-priorities“Well sir… I have Ten Items on My Wish List For The Newly Appointed Secretary of Education To Address While We Work To Overcome Circumstances Created Less By Pedagogy than by Public Policy. If you wouldn’t mind passing them along to the Secretary, I’d really appreciate it.”

“Of course. What are they?”

“Well, if we are going to provide the world class education that everyone has been talking about, here is what your Secretary of Education could do:

1. Provide health care for all of my students to address the scourge of childhood obesity, diabetes, and poor nutrition;health-care

2. Ensure that every child has access to comprehensive eye exams and appropriate interventions when they are struggling just to see– let alone to read;

3. Ensure that every child has regular dental checkups and access to highly qualified dentists so that my students’ baby teeth aren’t rotting in their heads;

4. Provide the funding support and infrastructure so that all of my students can attend preschool like the affluent kids do;

5. Create a way for every child in America to have a laptop and access to the Internet so that poor children aren’t pushed further behind by the technology divide that favors their more affluent counterparts;

6. Divert the 10 billion dollars we are currently spending every month in Iraq and re-invest in the modernization and construction of state-of-the-art school buildings in every community in America;

7. Guarantee a college education of the highest quality for all children so they are motivated to apply themselves academically;

8. Eliminate unemployment so that the parents of my students can properly provide the basic necessities for their children-food, clothing shelter;

9. Significantly raise the minimum wage so that our parents are not forever struggling against the tide…fighting the unwinnable battle to stay ahead of a runaway economy and its stunning indifference to the working poor…standardized_testing

And… let’s see… I guess this is a big one…

10. Eliminate politically motivated accountability systems that, for the most part, test our students’ ability to test while ignoring all of  their other assets: like their creativity and their critical thinking and problem solving and communication skills; and their proficiency with technology and their ability to speak in multiple languages or lead others or serve their community…”

“Sir… are you still there?”

I can hear only music in the background and I am in the foggy no-man’s-land that exists somewhere between blissful sleep and consciousness. Still, I wonder if he got my list. I wonder of his new Secretary of Education: Linda Darling-Hammond or Joel Klein or Kennedy or Powell or Weingarten or Cornell West or Rhee or you or whomever he picks– will get my list. I hope so. El Milagro is no dream and our children are depending on it.




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