Education Reform Part 4: The San Diego Education Reform Plan – Keeping It Local and Working Together

by on September 15, 2010 · 11 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Education, San Diego, The Chronicles of Edumacation

schools girl gradIn previous installments of this series, we’ve discussed the history of education reform, examined school testing, looked at a high performing system in Finland and examined the latest federal plans for reforming our schools. This time around we’ll take a look at what’s on the boards for students in the San Diego Unified School District and tell you about ways you can become involved in this process. As much of this plan exists only on the drawing boards, it’s hard to make any judgments at this point. The plan is, on its face, very different from what we hear coming out of Washington DC, so it’s bound to be getting national scrutiny in the coming years.

A good starting point for understanding the SDUSD’s plans can be found within the pages of It’s Being Done, a landmark book on schools written by Karin Chenoweth, a parent and former education writer for the Washington Post. The author focuses on schools that are doing well and have high percentages of students with low incomes/diverse ethnic backgrounds. Success, according to the book, is judged based on consistent high levels of test score performance, and though visits made by the author that suggest that these schools are not merely gaming the system. She concludes that there are five things in common that all these schools have:

1. A focus on ensuring a high quality alignment of teaching and curriculum with rigorous quality standards.

2. Using both aggregate data and data on individual students.

3. A willingness to re-examine what they’re doing on a regular basis.

4. Making the most productive use of school time possible and expanding educational time where needed.

5. A focus on ensuring teacher excellence.

It seems, according to book, that the key to breaking the cycle of failure is to change the expectations of all the parties involved. Ask many teachers about their greatest frustration and the usual first response is “different students” (Or “more motivated students” and “better students”). This observation is regularly followed by a great deal of head nodding and “amens.”

It’s Being Done shows us is that they really don’t need different students, what’s needed are thoughtful grownups–school leaders and teachers who are able to develop a focused goal and a plan to get there. This book distills the experiences from these fifteen schools that previously had low expectations, but are now high performing schools that we all can learn from. It’s not easy and there are no magic wands here, but it can be done.

schools sdusd test scoresThe San Diego Plan

The SDUSD plan for reforms is, in some ways, a step backwards. Public schools were originally community centered– a notion that’s faded into our distant memories as School Districts nearly everywhere have embraced centralization along with standardization. The San Diego plan is to break the district down into nine “clusters”, starting with the elementary and middle schools that feed into high schools. Within each cluster, schools are supposed to be collaborative, with teachers being encouraged to work as a team to gauge student progress. Teachers, will, in effect, be reviewing their methods, successes and failures with their peers (as well as with the other players).

Teachers will have access to individual student data via use of the DataDirector student achievement database, an interesting piece of technology that allows teachers to examine factors that contribute to individual patterns of behavior and allows them to think on a case-by-case basis. Studies based on utilization of this type of data driven programs have shown a positive impact on teacher classroom behavior and improved student performance on state testing in the areas of math and language arts. (For those of you wonky enough to want to know more about this, go here.) What this means in practical terms is that the learning experience of students can be adjusted on the fly, before smaller individual challenges become larger school-wide issues.

schools rti_tier_circle2The success of each student thus becomes a school-wide challenge, and the district has adopted a program called Response to Instruction and Intervention (RtI²) that has emerged nationally as an effective strategy to support students. Key to the success of this program is a three tiered model that provides for universal screening and progressively increasing interventions for students with learning problems. (Wonk alert: more on RtI² here.) Parental involvement is an important step of the intervention process. This program encourages teachers, students, and parents within a cluster community to improve student achievement. For the SDUSD brochure, with all the details and flowery language, on these reforms go here.

schools effectiveschoolsThe school district actually began these reforms last spring, with administrators, teachers and counselors from throughout San Diego attending training seminars on how these new systems work. The second phase of this roll out, now underway, means getting the parents involved. There will be town hall meetings in each area “cluster” in the next few weeks to explain the concept of community based reform and discuss other issues relevant to education in San Diego.

The meeting for the Point Loma/Mission Bay clusters is set for Wednesday, Oct. 6th, from 6:30- 8pm at Point Loma High School (Media Center) 2335 Chatsworth Blvd. Information about other cluster meetings can be found here.

“I want people to know that [education] is a long, long journey. We need to be patient. We plant seeds, set examples and if we are consistent with our words and deeds, we can produce tremendous young people. It is not a race to the top. It is a marathon and not a sprint.” Rafe Esquith

Rafe Esquith is an innovative, multiple-award-winning teacher who’s been at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School, in Los Angeles for more than two decades. Ninety percent of his students come from families living below the poverty level, and most are from immigrant families, with none speaking English as a first language. Yet Esquith’s fifth-grade students consistently score in the top 5 to 10 percent of the country in standardized tests.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar RB September 15, 2010 at 10:50 am

There is no meat on these bones. If the District was as good at educating as they are at Power Point presentations there would be no need for reform. The Districts reforms topics with no rewards, consequences or benchmarks will last as long as the campaign for the parcel tax. I support President Obama’s plan for school improvement because it has rewards, consequences and benchmarks.

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avatar doug porter September 16, 2010 at 12:20 pm

you’re kidding about the power point, i hope. I’ve seen a few disastrous ones at school board meetings. you are right about the “meat” on those bones at this point. it’s only natural that if you’re working on a bottom up, community based strategy that you can’t fill in a lot of the details until you get input. getting that input and actually using it is the potential weak link here. i know that this kind of idea doesn’t have the pizazz of a “miracle cure” coming from washington or sacramento and i’m not opposed to have benchmarks, but in my mind “local” beats “national” when it comes to the very human process of education.

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avatar RB September 16, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Doug: I posted my read on reforms at a couple of local schools. I am thankful they are already acting on their own and not waiting for any reforms coming out of the Normal St HQ. Local is beating everyone else because our local schools started two years ago.

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avatar mlaiuppa September 19, 2010 at 10:05 pm

I’ve never seen a good district powerpoint presentation.

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avatar RB September 15, 2010 at 11:38 am

I think it is important when exploring local reform to look at Point Loma High School.
PLHS is in the second year of an instruction and a school day reform program modeled after La Serna High School in Whittier, Ca. In an attempt to improve CAHSEE pass rates and lower high school drop out rates, PLHS operates a mid day intervention/lunch period.
Students with good grades and behavior get a one hour lunch. Students who are having individual subject problems can use the extra 30 minutes at intervention to see teachers or go to a study hall. Students who are failing or at risk now get time with an assigned teacher for 30 minutes of subject help. Also, all Freshman meet with a student group leader for 30 minutes during this intervention/lunch period. In short, teachers concentrate on instruction for failing, below proficient, and at risk students for 30 minutes a day, freshman are teamed with older students, and high achieving students need to find something to occupy their time. The cost for this program is cutting instruction time for all students by 5 minutes each period or 30 minutes a day.

Also, there has been a small change or local reform going on at Correia Middle school. Students are assigned math classes at Correia based upon results of classes, testing and teacher recommendation from Dana. Correia operates pre-algebra, algebra and geometry programs for its 7th and 8th grade students. The small change is were readiness, not elementary school grade determines math placement. Not every student is ready at the same time for the more abstract ideas of algebra and those few who are ready can also complete geometry before high school with the Correia math program.

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avatar Molly September 15, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Any parent with kids in local OB schools or any OBcean planning on having kids needs to be up on all this stuff. It’s important and Doug Porter is one of the few individuals who’s studying this for us, even though the general topic of school reform is in “the air.” Thank you Doug!

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avatar dave rice September 16, 2010 at 9:41 am

Ditto Molly’s “Thanks, Doug!” As always, I’ve been reading all of these pieces with great interest, but to date they’ve been well laid-out and informative to the point I’m not left with any real burning questions or points of contention to comment…

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avatar mlaiuppa September 19, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Sorry, but I see no reform here.

I just see taking a failure and making it more efficient. What you end up with is a more efficient failure.

There are many problems with school reform. One is that we don’t understand how children really learn. Probably because learning is such an individual experience and does not conform to the cookie cutter, assembly line, mass indoctrination that has characterized schools for a century. Another is that no one seems to agree on what a well-educated student should accomplish. Should they pass tests. Should they be qualified for a job upon exit from high school? Should they be able to successfully enter college and have the skills to acquire a degree? The last is that no one really wants to pay for any real reform. Any change from the instruction of the masses currently called school would cost money no one is willing to pay. In fact, no one is willing to pay for the current school system, as witness the nightly news reports of massive teacher layoffs, school budgets cutting to the bone (again) and district bankruptcies.

The San Diego Education Reform Plan isn’t a plan for reform. It’s just clarifying what they’re doing now and plan to do more efficiently.

I might add that none of this reform has had any input from those actually tasked with carrying out the plan. The teachers. I know of no teachers that were solicited for contributions of ideas for this plan. As usual, it’s a top down mandate dumped on teachers from somewhere else. What happens to reform efforts when there is no buy in? When those who are supposed to carry out the plan have no ownership in its creation?

Do you really need me to spell it out?

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avatar RB September 20, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Yes I need you to spell it out because you are incorrect.

First, there have been NO MASSIVE TEACHER LAYOFFS. (Please give documentation for you massive layoff position .) Locally, the district has cut student programs. Employee salaries have gone from about 82% of the budget to 91% of the District budget as a result cuts to student services. Also, the federal stimulus program has provided money to the states to avoid teacher layoffs.

Second, this current local reform plan has teacher input through their union and the union backed school board. It has been the students and parents that have been left out of the plan.

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avatar doug porter September 20, 2010 at 1:58 pm

for parents who are interested, you do have the opportunity to have input on local school reform, starting here:
The meeting for the Point Loma/Mission Bay clusters is set for Wednesday, Oct. 6th, from 6:30- 8pm at Point Loma High School (Media Center) 2335 Chatsworth Blvd. (Information about other cluster meetings can be found at the link in the above story.) The reason that the “plan” isn’t so fleshed out like something you’d get off the shelf from Washington or Sacramento is because they WANT parent input. all that has been devised so far is a process… and the process will go nowhere as long as people sit in their little ideological corners and point fingers.
(Look in the mirror to see if this applies–comment not aimed at anybody in particular, but look anyway)

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avatar RB September 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I suggest if District is really interested in what parents and the community think, if they really want a starting point for reform in Point Loma, they should read the Point Loma Cluster’s Strategic Plan. The parents of our community schools have been working on a plan to improve the local schools for more than three years. For those only now thinking of reform, the meeting at PLHS on Oct. 6 would be a good starting point.
http://www.pointlomacluster.com/ourpages/digital_filing_cabinet/Point%20Loma%20Cluster%20Strategic%20Plan/001%20PLCS%20Strategic%20Plan%20.pdf

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