Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dear Mr. O'Connell....

At the suggestion of Debbie and Kelly, I am now "officially" a blogger!

My first post is a letter I wrote one afternoon after an SLC meeting I attended at Nobel Middle School. What I learned at that meeting was that schools like Nobel (and Beckford) who didn't qualify for Title One funding nest year (there's that ugly word again!), are basically...(for lack of a better word) screwed! If we had qualified (keep in mind that Nobel missed reaching this threshold by less than 1%!) we would be receiving $919 per student, as opposed to the less than $200 per student that we''ll end up getting. This letter was born of the frustrations from that SLC Meeting.

Addressed to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction:

Dear Mr. O'Connell,

I was visiting the California Department of Education website and couldn't help but notice your proclamation that "[t]he Core Purpose of the California Department of Education is to lead and support the continuous improvement of student achievement, with a specific focus on closing achievement gaps. " (emphasis added).

I, too, agree that there are gaps in student achievement that must be bridged and that are deserving of our attention and resources. However, I happen to (strongly) disagree with the methods being used to construct those bridges. It is not right that the current system of funding only rewards (or awards - as in money!) those schools who do poorly on state tests and has nothing to offer, no incentives or rewards, for schools whose students excel on state tests and who consistently meet their API's.

My son is a 7th grader at Nobel Middle School in Northridge. Nobel has consistently out-scored other LAUSD middle schools on state tests and has been labeled a "California Distinguished School". I think most would agree with me that this is a huge accomplishment for the students, administration, teachers, and faculty of Nobel.

Now, here's the part that doesn't make sense to me. Instead of recompensation for their achievements - rewarding them for a job well done - you respond by making sure the "other" schools, the ones that don't live up to state standards, get more money. Nobel, for all of its hard work and effort, gets absolutely nothing except for a "distinguished school" title . I guess it makes sense if, by "closing the achievement gap," you mean "bring down the top performing schools so they are closer in line with the under-performing schools." That is one way of closing the gap, I guess, but certainly not the best way and certainly not a way that is in the best interest of those schools at the top.

Shouldn't schools like Nobel be the standard by which we model other schools? Shouldn't we be raising the standard instead of lowering it? If something is obviously working, shouldn't we support and encourage it? Otherwise, what is the incentive for schools to excel and achieve? What kind of backwards logic only rewards those who fail or do not live up to expectations? Isn't this basic Pavlovian science - you reward behavior that you want repeated? Owing to the fact that Nobel only has 38% of its student population eligible for free or reduced lunches (missing the 40% threshold by a mere 2%) and therefore does not qualify for Title One funds, it will not be able to afford basic necessities next year - things like a school nurse, a school psychologist, security staff, an intervention program, a technology coordinator, reduced class sizes, and much, much more. I have a problem with this. I cannot in good conscience just sit back and pretend that this is acceptible when in reality I find it appaling that one of California's "distinguished schools" will not be able to afford to pay for a school nurse or security staff next year.

I'm not claiming to have the solutions to all of these problems. What I am saying is that there needs to be a more equitable distribution of funds between schools. The disparity between what is allocated to Title One schools and what is allocated to non-Title One schools needs to be reduced as much as the gap in student achievement does. I'm not saying Title One schools shouldn't get extra funding, I think they should. I just think ALL schools should get more money to start with and that Title One funds should not come at the expense of Non-Title One schools or their students.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Well said! Same could be said for closing the gap between funding for special ed and gifted programs...