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Chris Korsmo: My Ed Path

Chris Korsmo

When I reflect back on my education, it becomes clear pretty quickly that there was not one big “aha” moment. I didn’t just wake up one morning and was suddenly enlightened about everything on the face of the earth. And we haven’t yet figured out how to download information directly into our brains, like Carrie Anne Moss suddenly learning how to fly that helicopter. Everything I learned built on what I had learned previously. Graduation requirements at my high school were aligned to college-going. While rigorous, those requirements allowed for the arts. Seven years of marching band made me who I am today. All the stories about band camp are true.

This is why our vision at the League of Education Voters is for every student in Washington state to have access to an excellent public education – from early learning through higher education – that provides the opportunity for success. And this is why LEV is a proud member of the Cradle Through College Coalition.

To that end, during the 2017 legislative session, LEV is advocating for:

  • Additional funding for increased access and participation in high-quality early learning programs across the state
  • A system that attracts, retains, and supports qualified and effective educators, which includes teachers, para-educators and principals, while addressing needs for equitable access to quality instruction
  • Programs and funding targeted toward students who need it most, providing both academic and non-academic supports for students to improve outcomes and make progress in closing the opportunity and achievement gaps
  • An accountability system that provides transparency for families on school budgets and student outcomes, measures student and school success meaningfully, and provides effective state- and district-level supports for struggling schools
  • Additional funding to serve all students eligible for the State Need Grant

Here’s what we know about our kids: They all have assets. Every one of them has talent. They are not widgets. They want to know that what they’re learning has meaning. And they want you to know their names. For all the difficulty we ascribe to changing education policy, it’s really pretty simple:

  • Foundational skills that transfer with them to careers
  • Access to information about possible career choices
  • Individualization
  • Applied learning or relevance
  • And adults who care about them

Speaking of caring adults, none of my success would have been possible without great teachers. Research consistently shows that a great teacher has the single biggest impact on whether a student will succeed. I know this from personal experience, and I thought you might appreciate these photos from my education path:

League of Education Voters CEO Chris Korsmo's education path

Spring Day at Beloit College was a huge day of fun. There were no classes, and air band contests were the order of the day. Guess which band we were and who I was? I believe the year was 1983. I’m holding a toilet brush, in case you’re curious. For the record, the brush was brand-new.

I couldn’t have made it to Beloit without support from my favorite teacher, Sue Remley. I had her twice for math in high school and she took me under her wing. I could tell she was paying attention, which is why I did not want to let her down.

Her expectation for me was a motivating factor in applying to and going to college, because she let me know when the SATs and ACTs were. She even asked me who I was sending them to. She had 150 kids a day, in six or seven classes. And she knew everybody. I wasn’t the only person she was talking to. I wasn’t the super special kid. Everybody was super special. And that was cool.

Wouldn’t it be great if every student had a story about a favorite teacher, and every student had access to great teachers from early learning through higher education to help them along their education path? Call your legislators and encourage them to support the full education continuum at 1-800-562-6000. If you need help finding your legislators, just click here.

 

#MyEdPath

Posted in: Blog, Career and College Ready Diploma, Closing the Gaps, Early Learning, Funding, Higher Education, Legislative session, Teacher Prep

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Resources from the 2017 Parent & Community Training

League of Education Voters 2017 Puget Sound Activist TrainingThank you to everyone who attended LEV’s 7th Annual Parent & Community Training!

Here are presentations from the breakout workshops:

Update – School Discipline

Student Weighted Formula

Summer Splash Reading Literacy Program

Tips and Resources for Students with Special Needs

 

Education Advocacy for Black Students - League of Education Voters

From the keynote panel on Education Advocacy for Black Students: “We’ve had the research that tells us how to engage students of color and help them succeed. We just need to put it into practice.”

Posted in: Advocacy and Activism, Closing the Gaps, Events, Funding, Legislative session, School Discipline

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Community Support for English Language Learners

By Joyce Yee, LEV Community Organizer

Vietnamese Friendship Association - League of Education VotersThe Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) offers after school and Saturday school programs to all English Language Learner (ELL) students who attend the Seattle World School in the Seattle school district.

Some unique challenges that ELL students face to being successful and self-sufficient are that their families face language barriers, poverty and discrimination, and are unable to help them be successful at school. ELL students tend to be one or more years behind their native English speaking peers, and only half graduate from high school, compared to the state average of 80%.

ELL students often come to the U.S. with little formal education as teens, and only have a few years to learn English and finish high school successfully. VFA served 239 students in their youth programs, ages 11 – 20: 98% were low-income; 46% were female and 54% male; 40% from Africa, 32% Asia, 26% South America, 2% Europe and the Middle East. Youth who participated in VFA’s programs achieved the equivalent of half a grade higher in math and reading by the end of the school year, compared to their peers. 78% of youth strengthened skills and assets that support positive social development.

VFA works in partnership with the Seattle World School to connect students to their programs through recruitment on their end and referrals by staff at the school. The school offers office and classroom space for VFA to offer after-school programs, plus staff referrals.

VFA offers after school and Saturday programming through strong partnerships with community based organizations including Coyote Central, Refugee Women’s Alliance, Jack Straw, Bike Works, and Neighborhood House. The other organizations provide programming, and VFA offers its expertise on how to work effectively with ELL students and families. In many of their programs, components are built in to offer both students and their parents/guardians learning opportunities.

VFA’s after-school programs include academic support, enrichment classes and job readiness. They offer academic support through their English/Homework help group and one-on-one tutoring. Enrichment classes include culinary, woodworking, and music. Jack Straw’s Guitar class meets twice a week to work on basic guitar skills. Students can also do service learning; they are assigned to teams that identify a community need that they would like to work on.

The Youth Job Readiness Training program teaches students skills such as resume preparation, interviewing, how to handle workplace conflicts, plus internship opportunities. It is offered to 20 students between 15 and 20 years old. While students learn about academics and career preparation, parents learn skills to support their students in being successful. A family engagement coordinator teaches parents how to navigate K-12 school systems and how to seek financial aid for their children to attend college. VFA holds regular family engagement meetings as part of the Job Readiness program for students only, guardians only, and also offers meetings that bring together both students and guardians.

The Saturday school focus is being revised to offer academic and enrichment activities. Academics include English 101 with content on math, reading, healthy relationships, and test prep for the World Language test so that ELL students can take the language proficiency test and earn elective credits for their language ability. The healthy relationship section teaches both students and parents through role playing how both can understand each other better, such as the challenges facing bilingual students versus parent expectations for them. A culinary series is also offered concurrently, where participants learn culinary skills through meal prep, cooking, and serving meals to Saturday school attendees. While students are learning, their parent or other adults in the household can take classes in English as a second language, and learn computer skills.

Over time, as families and their students get to know VFA through activities, they build a strong sense of community with each other. Parents have offered to prepare food for their group meetings for parents/guardians, and students who have completed the Saturday classes come back to volunteer.

Shouldn’t programs like the VFA’s be part of basic education?

#BeyondBasic

 

Read LEV’s blog post on Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

Posted in: Blog, Career and College Ready Diploma, Closing the Gaps, Funding

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LEV Interviews State Superintendent Chris Reykdal About His First 100 Days

OSPI Chris Reykdal - League of Education VotersLeague of Education Voters Communications Director Arik Korman sat down with Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to discuss the K-12 education funding plans on the table, how to close the opportunity and achievement gaps, and how to create a statewide system of career technical education.

 

Listen here:


 

Listen to Governor Jay Inslee talk about his 2017 state budget

Listen to Senator Christine Rolfes talk about the Education Funding Task Force

Listen to Rep. Ruth Kagi talk about the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Children and Families

Listen to Washington state Teachers of the Year talk about teaching philosophy, classroom accomplishments and education priorities

Posted in: Career and College Ready Diploma, Career Technical Education, Closing the Gaps, ESSA, Funding, Higher Education, Legislative session, Podcast

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Making a Splash to Improve Literacy in Kent

By Joyce Yee, LEV Community Organizer

Kent School District Summer Splash - League of Education VotersThe Kent School District’s Summer Splash Reading program is a pilot summer program to help students improve their reading literacy levels and skills, funded by the Race to the Top Initiative. The district is partnering with King County Housing Authority and Kent Youth and Family Services to provide support to families at the Birch Creek housing community.

Summer Splash began in the summer of 2015 and is scheduled to end in summer of 2017. The district provided three teachers to work with students grades Pre-K through 6th, Kent Youth and Family Services provided three classroom assistants, along with three older students who are in high school or alumni of the district, to help out. Students are divided into three classrooms, with 25 students in each.

While their main focus is on kindergarten readiness and improvement in reading literacy, Summer Splash uses a whole child approach. They use the American Reading Company curriculum, and students read factual material on topics such as science. The pre-kindergarten students sit together in a kindergarten academy that helps them with readiness for kindergarten, four hours a day for eight weeks. Older students in grades 1–6 work on improving literacy skills through reading texts and doing research reports, and meet 2 hours a day for 7 weeks.

The student demographic at Birch Creek is mostly Somali, Latino, Iraqi, Russian, Ukrainian, as well as Black/African American. The Kent Youth and Family support staff, and summer school coordinator intentionally recruited students from various ethnic backgrounds by knocking on families’ doors, going to Pine Tree and Millennial Elementary schools to hand out applications, and making phone calls to such families in order to get them to enroll their children in this program. Students in the program have already made measurable gains in reading test scores. Of the 75 students who participated, 66 completed pre and post assessments. All students who participated maintained and improved their grade reading level, average reading growth level was 0.19 years, 4th – 6th grade students had a higher average reading growth level of 0.28 years.

The Kent School District is also working on sustainability of the program after the Race to the Top funding goes away. In the first year, they recruited teachers who weren’t experienced at working with students from diverse demographics. In 2016, they recruited two district teachers from schools with demographics that reflect Birch Creek families, as well as one Kent Youth and Family Services (KYFS) teacher. This year, they will recruit only one district teacher, and two KYFS staff teachers. Professional development has been job-embedded for all staff members working with these students so that the program will be more sustainable.

During the year, Summer Splash provides afterschool homework help including reading and math. Older students are recruited to be reading buddies with younger students. This is in response to 2015 data showing that students were still 2–3 years behind grade level, and older students in grades 4 through 6 are embarrassed to ask for help. Older siblings and cousins read to younger kids. This approach helps the older students to avoid being embarrassed to read materials at lower grade levels with younger students and learn at the same time.

Shouldn’t programs like Summer Splash be part of basic education?

#BeyondBasic

 

Read LEV’s blog post on Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps

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Helping Children and Families Succeed Through the Most Difficult Times of Their Lives

By Joyce Yee, LEV Community Organizer

Seneca Family of Agencies - League of Education VotersSeneca Family of Agencies began thirty years ago as a small residential treatment program for some of the most vulnerable foster youth in California. Now, Seneca works with over seventy school districts and charter public schools throughout California and Washington. Their model follows a team-oriented approach that helps build everyone’s capacity for an inclusive school environment to better serve students with trauma histories, mental health needs, disabilities or other barriers to success.

The philosophy of Seneca’s work comes from their experiences within and across public systems of care and in working with communities. They believe that the answers to even our communities’ most profound challenges can be found within individuals, and that parents are the primary experts on what works well for their children. And, they believe that designing schools that work for students who have historically struggled the most will result in schools that work for all students.

Lihi Rosenthal, Executive Director of Education at Seneca Family of Agencies, spoke about why some of these common sense strategies have not been widely implemented. “Because of how their funding streams are allocated, both Medicaid-funded mental health services for young people in need and special education services for children with disabilities follow a ‘fail first’ approach,” says Lihi. In other words, students have to struggle mightily after experiencing some sort of trauma before they can receive treatment and services to help them do better.

Once students’ difficulties rise to the level of crisis, then and only then are they cleared to receive expert help from qualified mental health specialists, special educators, and other transdisciplinary professionals. Yet, here again, treatment or services are reserved only for those who have already qualified for help, and are not made available to the school as a whole, even though there may be many other students who could benefit from them. According to Lihi, “The system tends to focus on the few students in crisis, rather than more holistically looking at delivering programs that might benefit all students.” As a result, families of students who struggle the most are often sent to multiple agencies located miles away from the school, decreasing the likelihood that individual interventions will carry over from closed-door therapy rooms into other domains of a young person’s life, from the classroom to the family dining room to the soccer field and the cafeteria.

In contrast, Seneca partners with schools to design interventions that are delivered not through isolated services, but which are integrated with a school culture of safety, belonging and academic curiosity. Wendy Durst, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Seneca Family of Agencies, says, “Seneca works with schools to design preventative and early intervention strategies that bring transdisciplinary experts out of their siloes and into the places where students spend the most time in schools – the hallways, lunch rooms, and their general education classrooms.”

This approach – Seneca’s Unconditional Education model – is currently being studied by SRI International, an external evaluator assigned to the program as part of a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant Seneca was awarded in 2013. After its first full year of investigation, the model has shown promising early results at the seven California schools included in the study, including statistically significant gains in literacy and math for students with disabilities and English Language Learners.

Shouldn’t this be part of basic education?

#Beyond Basic

 

Read LEV’s blog post on Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps

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Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education

By the LEV Policy Team

Student Supports - League of Education VotersPart of defining basic education is determining what each and every student should have access to in their school. Currently, our system does not guarantee access to student supports that are critical to many students’ academic success—including support staff like counselors or nurses, and programming like additional tutoring. There are a number of approaches we can take to making sure that students receive the supports and resources they need.

The Learning Assistance Program

Currently, Washington provides additional supports to students that are struggling academically through the Learning Assistance Program (LAP). Districts receive funding for this program from the state based on their enrollment of low-income students. Districts must spend LAP funds on services from a list of state-approved, evidence-based practices, including one-on-one or group tutoring and extended learning time, as well as limited use of funds for staff professional development and parent engagement. Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, districts must prioritize spending on K-4 literacy interventions. This focus on elementary literacy combined with limited LAP funding has resulted in some districts being unable to provide services to students in middle and high school grades.

The current funding formula for LAP does not align additional student supports and actual student need. While funding is provided to districts based on low-income enrollment, services are provided to students based on academic need, as identified by the district, regardless of income. This results in two potential misalignments. First, all academically struggling students may not be funded if there are more students in the district that need support than there are low-income students. Second, the full range of academic and non-academic needs of low-income students may not be met if they are not eligible for LAP services.

The funding formula also takes into consideration the salaries of certificated teachers in the district, even though many program services are provided by paraeducators. This creates inequities between districts because funding is different based on the characteristics of the adults in the district, not the students, even if student need is the same between districts.

LAP can be used as a mechanism to target the McCleary investments towards student supports with some changes to increase effectiveness. These changes may include:

  • Changing the funding formula to be based on student need, not adult characteristics;
  • Changing the formula to align with student eligibility for services;
  • Altering and/or expanding the allowable uses for LAP funds and increasing funding levels to ensure the needs of all eligible students are met; and
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of LAP interventions to ensure the program is improving student outcomes and closing gaps.

While considering changes to LAP, we should also be examining the needs of low-income students that are non-academic and, therefore, not addressed by the Learning Assistance Program.

Access to Support Staff

Washington provides districts with minimal funding within the current funding formula for support staff, such as counselors, social workers, nurses, and family engagement coordinators. Many of the allocations for these positions are fractions of full-time employees, meaning the amount of money districts receive is inadequate to hire these staff for more than a couple of hours a week. Our current funding structure also does not require districts to spend money allocated for specific staff positions to hire those staff. This allows districts flexibility in staffing to meet the needs of their communities, but, particularly in our environment of inadequate funding, also means that students may not have access to these staff because districts are unable or choose not to hire them. Possible ways to ensure that every student has access to the services provided by support staff could include increasing funding for support staff; requiring minimum staffing levels for support staff, potentially triggered by high-need student enrollment levels; and facilitating and encouraging partnerships between community-based service providers and districts and schools.

Special Education and Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program

Washington provides districts with additional funding for students qualifying for special education services and for English Language Learners (ELL). These funds must be spent on qualifying students, however, the funds provided by the state may not be adequate to meet the needs of all students. Particularly with special education students, the state limits the amount of special education funding to 12.7% of district enrollment. As a result, districts with larger special education student populations than the state cap may not receive the necessary funding to serve all of their students.

While special education students and ELLs receive specialized services, they also interact regularly with all school staff. However, often only the specialized staff are trained in best practices for working with these student populations. This means that outside of the specialized programing students receive, they may not be adequately supported in the school setting as a whole. Students receiving special education or English language services also may have non-academic or additional academic needs outside of those programs, and require access to other school support staff and services.

As we explore ways to better support every student in Washington schools, this could include examining the adequacy of funding for special education and the Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program (ELL students), funding professional development for all school staff in working with special education and ELL students, and encouraging schools and districts to integrate the services and supports students need outside of the specialized programming, rather than providing services in a silo.

Integrated Student Supports and Non-Academic Considerations

Students’ academic success is determined by a number of factors, including social emotional skills, physical and mental health, academic self-concept, family situation, and expectations of school staff. It is important that students have access to both the academic and non-academic supports they need in order to be successful. Washington has been taking steps to improve access to non-academic supports in recent years, including the development of social emotional learning (SEL) standards and the passage of HB 1541, which creates the integrated student supports protocol. The Washington Integrated Student Supports Protocol (WISSP) will be a tool districts can use to assess student need, strategically partner with families and community based organizations, and leverage district and community resources. These are important steps in our state’s efforts to address all of the factors that impact student achievement, but more can and should be done as we invest in 2017. This could include funding professional development for school staff in cultural competency, trauma-informed practices, and social emotional learning; funding family engagement coordinators for schools; and investing in continued implementation of the WISSP and SEL benchmarks and standards.

Investing in student supports, both academic and non-academic, and providing student access to services through staff, state investment, and partnerships can ensure that our McCleary investments will improve student outcomes.

#Beyond Basic

 

Read Part 1 of our McCleary blog series, Rethinking Our Education System

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding, Legislative session

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LEV Interviews Governor Jay Inslee About His 2017 State Budget

Governor Jay Inslee - League of Education VotersLeague of Education Voters Communications Director Arik Korman sat down with Governor Jay Inslee to discuss his 2017 education priorities, how to build bridges in today’s political climate, and how to close the opportunity and achievement gaps.

 

Listen here:

Listen to Senator Christine Rolfes talk about the Education Funding Task Force

Listen to Rep. Ruth Kagi talk about the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Children and Families

Listen to Washington state Teachers of the Year talk about teaching philosophy, classroom accomplishments and education priorities

Posted in: Career Technical Education, Closing the Gaps, Early Learning, Funding, Higher Education, Legislative session, Podcast, STEM, Teacher Prep

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Student Voice: Just as the First Lady Said, “When They Go Low, We Go High”

By MyKaila Young, LEV Intern

MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters internThere isn’t a law that forbids any one of us from understanding how capable we are or how capable we are allowed to be. A few posts back, I mentioned my friend Deonte Bridges and how he was, in a figurative sense, the “Guru of Virtues.” The other day, he posted something online that I feel we should all understand. He wrote, “The system is run by two things in my opinion: Fear and Dependency. Until you give those up, you will find yourself mentally and physically controlled by things and faces that you have never seen.”

I learned a very long time ago, mainly through my stepdad’s harsh but necessary teachings, that you cannot depend on the system entirely as the sole source for your education, and you should always, if necessary, depend on something that is strong and logical. For me, I depended on actual people who made real changes in this nation through their perspectives and strength to prevail, because I figured that form of education would always be necessary. I happened to be right for once.

I believe if Malcom X or Martin Luther King were still alive, they would want us to remember that we didn’t get to where we are today by waiting for the system to change. We got to where we are today by challenging the system and taking back what was rightfully ours, and we must continue to do the same now. There is so much more power in shared knowledge and perspective than there is with restricted access to basic awareness that the broken system provides. I hope that now, more than ever, students recognize that the power is within them, but it’s up to them to embrace it.

My reaction to the election was that this is yet another time when a nation has been seized. Throughout the election, I wondered and if anyone ever thought to ask, “When was America ever great? And how could he possibly make America great again if it was never really great?” Despite what has shaken a nation over the past several days, and what will be a very different reality moving forward in the next four years, we all have to remember that this country was built on unjust ground due to an unfair system. Certain individuals took it upon themselves to decide who would be privileged and who would be burdened, without any logic or true understanding of what it takes for a person to truly be privileged, and how easy it is for a person to be burdened by intellectual poverty and be completely unaware of it.

What surprised me the most was that now, more than ever, millions of people understand a day in the life of a student who has to go to under-resourced schools, taking on ample amounts of adult challenges and anxieties, and continuously having and deal with systematic bullying and oppression as early as 9 years old due to the education system alone. It was shocking how an entire nation felt these emotions all at once. It’s not just certain people or ethnic groups who have to deal with the burden of being uncertain. Now we all do.

The system may never change, but that’s why it’s more important than ever to consider what your role is within the system, and how you can make a difference. Sure, protesting and uniting in that way does some good, but it’s time to support each other’s progressions and fundraise for our kids who will now probably have fewer resources than before. It’s time to use the unity and bond that has been created over the past several days and progress it. Sure, one person can make you feel as if you have no value or power, but the opportunities surrounding the McCleary education funding debate ask you whether that is something you will continue to believe. Will you settle for believing you are worth less than you are, because someone makes you feel that way? I hope the answer is “No,” because you can’t allow fear to carry you through a lifetime of experiences that have already been deemed to be uncertain.

What is McCleary saying to us now? Well, it’s saying that things are going to be different moving forward, but that the fight for quality, equitable education must always be at the forefront of what we continue to advocate for. Every person, regardless of background, color, age, or sexual orientation, is going to be affected in some way by this election. However, it is up to us to change the perspective for our students and help them to redefine the barriers of privilege and poverty, because nowadays you have to ask yourself, “Is there really a difference now with the current changes in the White House?” Could McCleary be saying that, despite the unfortunate event that has transpired, the one thing we still need to do is come together and figure out a way to engage and inspire our students in a unique way? I think that’s exactly what it is saying.

George Eliot once wrote, “There is no despair so absolute as that which comes with the first moments of our first great sorrow, when we have not yet known what it is to have suffered and be healed, to have despaired and have recovered hope.” Regardless of the outcome, the presence of McCleary will always serve as a reminder for every student, now more than ever, to believe the power that they hold is unique to them.

McCleary is trying to get people to realize that, although the American Dream is just an illusion, it doesn’t mean you stop dreaming and give up. Instead, change the perspective of your life and live as best as you can. Remember how this nation was built, and how hard individuals have had to fight for change and equal opportunity in all areas of life in America. Education is the foundation for all great things and, sadly, many people in power understand that. What must we do moving forward? Be optimistic. Encourage our students to believe in something greater than themselves.

There is always going to be someone or something that is going to tell you that you cannot do something or be something. But as Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bike. The key is to keep moving forward.” I lived my life in fear for quite some time, not knowing whether I was going to need another unexpected surgery that I couldn’t afford, or whether I was ever going to be able to become a great writer. Now that I am a few years older, I have learned that often we don’t fear things because we are afraid; we fear things because of their presence.

No one knows what the future holds, and it’s a scary reality. I’m sure we all dream of an equitable and prosperous educational system that empowers every student but, truth be told, why are we depending on a broken system to empower the fresh and priceless minds of our kids that is supported by a divided nation? How can we as advocates, parents, and teachers help our kids perfect and realize their power and skills?  I have an idea, but it’s going to require some time, patience and, most importantly, hope in not the system but in each other.

Education is the art of learning and creating perspective. No one can ever take away your ability to learn, as long as you agree to never stop thinking, reading, and questioning everything. That’s how I found my way to journalism.

 

Read MyKaila’s fourth post, Is McCleary Paving the Way to a New American Dream?

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding

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Student Voice: Is McCleary Paving the Way to a New American Dream?

By MyKaila Young, LEV Intern

MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters internDuring my sophomore year through the helpful guidance of a great mentor of mine, I was admitted into the Masters in Education Policy class at the University of Washington. It sounds really impressive but, truth be told, I was terrified. I was in a class with current teachers, Masters candidates, and students in the processes of pursuing a doctoral degree. I was just a sophomore who wanted to be part of revamping the current education system. I had no knowledge of how advocating for policy changes worked. I didn’t know if I would ever have the confidence to challenge the very people who had so much power over my K-12 schooling. All I really had was my experiences and memory of the great fight that I put up to make it through the system by any means necessary.

The first day of my graduate class was actually the first day of my bio anthropology class. Evolution never really intrigued me until I changed the perspective. The first chapter and lecture was on the evolution of birds. It’s not a super exciting topic but I worked with it. The book gave a very bland example of birds in the Galapagos Islands and how they changed or “evolved” over time. It was tragic (not really) in the sense of birds evolving over time and eventually dying off. There were birds with small beaks and birds with larger beaks. In hindsight, there was a variety of birds that carried their own unique traits, some that carried advantages within their own birthright, and some that did not have any advantages at all. A drought happened, which caused the seeds – the main food supply on the small island – to become enlarged. The disadvantaged birds were the ones that had smaller beaks. They couldn’t eat the larger seeds once they became enlarged due to the drought. They were disadvantaged because they were not physically equipped to break down or swallow the enlarged seeds that were produced by the environment. I remember thinking, “Well that sucks – how unfair.” The birds with the larger beaks were seen as the ones with the greatest advantage because they could in fact digest and eat the seeds, and take away the food supply from the disadvantaged. The only reason the larger-beaked birds survived over the smaller-beaked birds was because of their given or inherited advantages. The short-beaked birds died off because they found it impossible to survive without the proper resources. My professor mentioned that he believed that they tried to survive, but were unable because their disadvantages were just too great. That really intrigued me.

I remember not paying attention really until he started going in-depth about how there was always a “struggle for existence.” Learning how organisms have evolved and survived over time was fascinating in the sense that animals are not the only organisms that compete to survive in unruly or extremely disadvantaged environments.

One thing that I was reminded of this past week when I attended the Washington Student Achievement Council’s Pave the Way Conference in Tacoma was that, when it comes to education and the reality of the current system, receiving a quality and equitable education should no longer be a means of survival.

In society, an individual’s socioeconomic status (SES) is seen as a determinant in how a person is able to maintain, sustain and progress in life. Whether it be going to college or finding a career, SES in a sense allows you to see your advantages and disadvantages within the scope of your environment. The disadvantages within the environment are circumstances that can include addiction, poverty, abuse, neglect, and a wide range of other issues on top of a failing education system that a student is required to participate in.

The problem I see, as well as many advocates, is that the current system is not designed to support the advancement of every child. Instead, it’s tailored more to generalized outcomes than actual investments in advancements.

At some point in time, those who come from a particular SES – whether it be high, middle or low – that individual has to live in the “reality” of that status for some time. That’s a tough reality that we all have to face. We are given our disadvantages and advantages based on a status that is imposed on us at birth. I am sure there are many people much like myself who have looked at their surroundings while growing up and have said, “I didn’t ask for my life or parents to be this way,” or “I didn’t ask for all these problems.” Our survival abilities as humans come from how we deal with our unruly environments and imposed status and realities, but for most kids who are counting on the education system to help them to make it out and have a better chance at life, that’s failing them as well.

We need to stop expecting children to have the answers to overcoming poverty because there isn’t a special algorithm, especially when a quality education isn’t yet an option for everyone who wants one.

I haven’t heard of a school system that has properly equipped, fully funded without question, and strategically and morally invested in giving every child the proper resources to achieve. Instead, I continue to see a child’s background and SES being used as a shield or a reason to not fully invest, because they are seen as not as having as much potential as students who come from moderately stable (if not extremely stable) environments. It is not up to the system to decide who has the most potential and who is worth investing in, and who is not. That decision should be left up to the child.

Just as those short-beaked birds didn’t choose to be born in what would later on be considered as a “disadvantage,” they had no choice but to figure out a way to survive within their environment and to make that disadvantage work, or literally die trying. People do not choose to be born into harsh situations and environments. I can’t imagine someone waking up and saying to themselves, “Today seems like a great day to be burdened with hunger or extreme poverty.” I couldn’t imagine a child choosing to be in that position or in disadvantaged environment as a direct result of their family’s socioeconomic status. I strongly believe that McCleary is trying to get the very people who have the power to change the life experience of every child through a quality, immersive, and fully funded education.

We see in today’s society the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer, and those in-between making it, but barely making it. Even within school districts, we see certain schools that have more access to resources because they are performing at higher levels than the schools who do not, which is only a direct result of not having a multitude of resources on top of the imposed realities that their education conveys to them. That was one of the strongest points that I heard at the Pave the Way Conference.

McCleary is helping to ensure that the decision is left up to the child and not the system. It only makes sense to invest in all students equally because if not, that sounds illegal.

At the Pave the Way Conference, I remember checking the agenda of breakouts after the morning speaker, Gary Orfield, finished his powerful address. He focused on the impact of policy and equal opportunity for success in American society. I checked my agenda and took notice that one of the sessions was about the “Realities of Poverty.”

One of the main goals of the session was to educate individuals on how poverty affects the development of an individual’s self-concept and influences a person’s values and beliefs. One thing that really resonated with me was that, when it comes to creating policies and truly advocating for kids from various backgrounds who may be experiencing various levels of poverty, there must a deeper understanding of how barriers are built within children that burden them every morning they walk through the doors of their respected schools. We have to see how poverty becomes a frequent reality for tomorrow’s adults, which is primarily due to a social system that does not provide pathways out of poverty that are realistic and long term, but instead generalized investments for expected outcomes.

I think McCleary is challenging the very people who have the power to create change within the current education system in the state of Washington. I believe that McCleary is asking what they are really afraid of.

The Pave the Way “Realities of Poverty” session went into great detail about how, in today’s society, we are socialized to judge and to not fully be aware, which causes us to miss out on the understanding piece. The facilitator gave a powerful example of how she once saw a man with rotten teeth and her first thought was, “He must be on drugs,” instead of taking a step back and thinking about our American society where over 40% of underserved communities do not have access to quality, affordable healthcare. Maybe his teeth were rotten because he does not have the means to see a dentist. She then went on to speak about how children see themselves through what is given/expected of them. McCleary could allow every student in the state of Washington to know that they will survive and access the American dream. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s adults.

 

Read MyKaila’s third post, Could McCleary be Asking for More Inspiration?

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding, Higher Education

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