Site-Based Budgeting

Almost a year ago, the WCCUSD Community Budget Advisory Committee had a great pre­sen­ta­tion from Barak Ben-Gal from the Oakland school dis­trict bud­get of­fice about their sys­tem of site-con­trolled bud­get­ing within le­gal and col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing con­straints called Results-Based Budgeting. Here is a link to the pre­sen­ta­tion he gave us:

Powerpoint and PDF

The Committee mem­bers were ex­tremely in­ter­ested in this ap­proach. Not only did we like the idea of putting fi­nan­cial con­trol as close to the class­room as pos­si­ble, we were also very in­ter­ested in this as a way of deal­ing with the eq­uity is­sue of ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers mi­grat­ing “up the hill.” By in­clud­ing ac­tual teacher salaries as part of the al­lo­ca­tion to the school it puts a fis­cal cap on this mi­gra­tion (only so many ex­pe­ri­enced teach­ers can be sup­ported at a school site). And, if the teach­ers in a flat­land school are still mostly in­ex­pe­ri­enced, the school would at least have more re­sources from this sav­ings to use on other things in the school.

Anyway, given the com­plete turnover here (Superintendent, State Trustee, and Chief Budget Officer), I thought this would be a good op­por­tu­nity to re­ally pro­mote his ideas. But, lo and be­hold, he had al­ready left. By a co­in­ci­dence, the next day, a par­ent di­rected me to a Wall Street Journal about Mr. Ben-Gal’s so­journ in the pub­lic sec­tor. here it is:

Another School Dropout

A lot of the con­cerns in this ar­ti­cle can be re­duced to the sim­ple fact that an ur­ban pub­lic school dis­trict is not a pri­vate Internet com­pany (Doh!), but there are still some things that a school dis­trict can learn from the busi­ness world. Hopefully, the RBB sys­tem is still in place in Oakland Unified, so we can study it in our school dis­trict.

Politicizing Graduation

My older daugh­ter re­cently grad­u­ated from El Cerrito High School. I at­tended her great grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony that fea­tured two ex­cel­lent stu­dent speeches, but through it all my ap­pre­ci­a­tion of this pub­lic party was sul­lied by the way that it has been politi­cized by the ma­jor­ity fac­tion on our School Board. I am re­fer­ring to the de­ci­sion by the School Board in January to only al­low stu­dents who had passed the High School Exit Exam to par­tic­i­pate in the grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony.

Here is the story from the Contra Costa Times about the last-minute protest of this at the June 6th meet­ing:
http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_6082367?source=rss

In or­der to prop­erly un­der­stand this, it’s im­por­tant to go back to the Spring of 2006. At this time a con­certed ef­fort was made by stu­dent and com­mu­nity groups along with Board mem­ber Dave Brown to have the School Board grant diplo­mas to stu­dents whether they had passed the Exit Exam or not.

Thankfully, this failed. It’s a State law and the school dis­trict is a gov­ern­ment agency un­der the State, so it shouldn’t have some up at all. Also, I agree with the idea of a com­mon State min­i­mum re­quire­ment for a California diploma whether it’s a set of tests or some ac­cept­able broader mea­sure.

Once this at­tempt to defy the State failed to pass, a pro­posal to im­ple­ment the Exit Exam was passed 5 – 0 (maybe 4 – 1?) that fol­lowed the mod­er­ate ap­proach adopted in other dis­tricts. The main part of this is that stu­dents who are done with school re­ceive a cer­tifi­cate of com­ple­tion in lieu of a diploma and par­tic­i­pate in the grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony with their fam­i­lies in at­ten­dance. The Exit Exam is up­held and some space is left for those who are un­com­fort­able with the Exit Exam. All is well…

Then, in November, a some­what po­lar­iz­ing elec­tion oc­curs. In January, af­ter the elec­tion, out of the blue, the now dom­i­nant (Ramsey-Pfeifer-Kronenberg) fac­tion sud­denly renegs on this arrange­ment and de­cides to show how tough they are by not just ban­ning stu­dents who have com­pleted high school from par­tic­i­pat­ing, but also re­fus­ing to is­sue cer­tifi­cates of com­ple­tion and ex­plic­itly ban­ning any al­ter­na­tive cer­e­monies for stu­dents who have com­pleted high school with­out pass­ing the Exit Exam. Although, in a later meet­ing, the Board in­con­sis­tently backed off a lit­tle by agree­ing to is­sue Certificates of Completion, the rest of the reneg­ging stood.

Where did this come from? Part of it was a sim­ple po­lit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity to stick it to the arch-neme­sis of the dom­i­nant fac­tion, Dave Brown. Great.

Another as­pect of this is an ex­tremely self-right­eous mor­al­iz­ing at­ti­tude on the part of the dom­i­nant fac­tion on the Board. To me, it’s very sim­ple. You don’t pass the Exit Exam; you don’t get a diploma. You pass the Exit Exam; you get a diploma. But to oth­ers, this is an op­por­tu­nity to vent a lot of bile along these lines:

How pa­thetic the non-passers are. Why our fam­ily dog could pass the Exit Exam. We’re so great. The stu­dents who don’t pass are so in­fe­rior, yet some­how they and ad­vo­cates for them have the nerve to have any opin­ion at all about this.”

Believe me, I’m not ex­ag­ger­at­ing that much. I’ve read a lot of com­ments on ar­ti­cles and blog en­tries on this sub­ject.

Some of our lead­ers on the School Board have there own twist on this: It’s all the teach­ers’ fault. So, the teach­ers must be pun­ished by pun­ish­ing their “vic­tims.” Along with be­ing ridicu­lous, this is cer­tainly (not) a great at­ti­tude to be pro­ject­ing when our District is hurtling to­wards a teach­ers’ strike.

Anyway, now I’m done vent­ing. The District needs to cut out the mor­al­iz­ing in­ci­vil­ity. The way to do it in this case is to de­politi­cize the grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony and al­low stu­dents who are grad­u­at­ing — for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses — with a cer­tifi­cate of com­ple­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the cer­e­mony.

Update (6/​24)

From wc­cus­dtalk, I found out that the Alameda County Superintendent of Education, Sheila Jordan, has pub­lished an opin­ion piece in the Chronicle along the same lines I am propos­ing here:

An award for com­plet­ing school

A Book about WCCUSD’s History

Lots of peo­ple in our dis­trict in­voke this book:

Busing and Backlash:
White Against White in an Urban School District
by Lillian Rubin

as some kind of de­fin­i­tive text for un­der­stand­ing every­thing about our dis­trict now, 40 years later. I’m not so sure about that, but it’s cer­tainly worth read­ing. How many books are there about WCCUSD, any­way? If you can’t get to the book, you can read it on­line at:

http://content.cdlib.org/xtf/view?docId=ft9h4nb6db&brand=eschol

A Different Approach to Student Success (Meditation)

I came across a great story in the NY Times about the use of med­i­ta­tion in schools to help stu­dents calm them­selves to en­able them to bet­ter fo­cus on things (like school). Its’ called In the Classroom, a New Focus on Quieting the Mind. It dis­cusses pro­grams in Oakland and in Pennsylvania.

I like the idea of sec­u­lar­iz­ing tech­niques like med­i­ta­tion and yoga, de­vel­oped over thou­sands of years, for use in schools. It’s cer­tainly not a sil­ver bul­let, but it is one more “tool” for im­prov­ing the ed­u­ca­tion of chil­dren.

I can see two po­ten­tial prob­lems that need to be ad­dressed to get some­thing like this go­ing. Obviously, the sec­u­lar­iza­tion of the tech­niques must be com­plete be­cause sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State is a con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ment. Related to this, it’s im­por­tant to stress that the use of these tech­niques is not an at­tempt to ween kids away from their own re­li­gious back­grounds. The ar­ti­cle didn’t men­tion ei­ther of these as is­sues, so maybe these aren’t big prob­lems.

Anyway, I will check into the pro­gram men­tioned in Oakland to see how some­thing like this can be brought into WCCUSD.

Update

Here are some yoga-re­lated links to some con­tro­versy-type ar­ti­cles:

Yoga causes con­tro­versy in pub­lic schools

Parents get­ting bent out of shape over yoga in schools. Why?

Here is a link to just a reg­u­lar ar­ti­cle about a spe­cific pro­gram:

Time for ‘Yoga in Schools’