Mystery Education Theater 3000

Month: June 2007

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’

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