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?

Student Voice: Following McCleary

By MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters intern

MyKaila Young, League of Education Voters intern

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This is a quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The novel tells a story of contrasts and comparisons between London and Paris during the French Revolution. When I went to Paris by myself for Thanksgiving last year, I thought about everything I pictured going on in this book I read as a child. Two Cities was one of many on the shelves at the Tacoma Rescue Mission, a family shelter on 15th and Yakima where I used to live with my mom and sisters. The book didn’t have any obvious connections to my life like my favorite book of all time, Life Without Principle by Henry Thoreau. I was ten years old when I picked up out that piece of literature from the shelves.

A little bit about myself: I am a Tacoma native, senior at the University of Washington studying journalism, and I want to be a great author, writer and reporter someday. I love writing. In fact, if you were to ask me what gets me out of bed every morning, I could tell you that writing nearly makes it impossible for me to even get to bed. I could stay up all night writing.

I’ve probably read Life Without Principle a dozen times. Henry Thoreau gave me something to think about and challenge. His thoughts and perspectives intrigued me. I wanted to know what he was talking about and if there was any truth behind his wisdom. Naturally, I started questioning and challenging everything. On the subject of poverty, I wondered what makes a person poor. With education, who was really in control of what I was able to learn if we allowed individuals like Henry Thoreau, Martin Luther King, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Aristotle on the shelves at public libraries and in peculiar places like shelters?

As long as I had access to education and sources of knowledge, no one person, institution or experience would ever make me feel poor. In fact, I considered myself very wealthy because of all the knowledge that was made available to me.

Throughout Life Without Principle, Thoreau emphasized the importance of separating ourselves from society as a whole and living life according to our own works and decisions. Ultimately, after reading this book several times as a kid, I began to understand that just because I was poor and didn’t have everything that students whose parents could afford to send them to expensive private schools, with a wealth of resources that most public school students couldn’t access, it didn’t mean that I would never amount to anything or be able to go to college and excel.

I separated myself from the expectations of poverty, believed in myself, and viewed myself and my life situation as two separate entities. Growing up poor with a series of adversities, you have to find something or someone to believe in. Kids in poverty face a different experience than kids who grow up with the necessary means and resources. I continued to read and immersed myself into writing, mainly reflecting on the thoughts of many of my favorite authors, humanitarians and philosophers that I began to discover.

When I got my first public library card, I knew I could do anything. If I knew what the kids in the private schools knew and more, and still had access to public education, I was going to be fine. I was never working to prove anything; I was working to become all that I could be, because I remember how I felt growing up having to move homes so often because we didn’t have very much money, living in the shelters, watching my mom struggle, and a wide range of other hardships that I had to face. I wanted better for myself, and it wasn’t fair to my heart if I didn’t do something with this life that I was given. I felt it was a part of my greater birthright to be all that I could be and more.

The McCleary education funding debate is one that intrigues me. It makes me wonder how the opportunities it presents could change everything for kids adversely affected by the current system. I remember my experience going through the K-12 system, how hard it was, and how tenaciously I had to work outside of school hours to get to where I am today.

Over the next few months, I’ll be following the McCleary case and sharing the perspectives of educators, students, community leaders, and a little about my experiences in college.

Rethinking Our Education System

By the LEV Policy Team

Children standing in front of a chalkboard - League of Education VotersIn the 2017 legislative session, Washington state is poised to make historic investments in basic education. But what will those dollars buy? The current program of “basic education” is not robust enough to meet our “paramount duty” and ensure that all students have the knowledge and skills to compete in today’s economy and participate in our state’s democracy. The upcoming investment provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink our system of education and the resources and tools at our disposal to provide Washington students with the education promised by our Constitution.

What is required of our educational system will continue to change over time. We need to develop a program of basic education that can evolve based on current and future student needs and a funding mechanism that is flexible enough to support that shifting program. Let’s envision a program of basic education that is aspirational and that creates a new path forward for Washington state. The vision should include best practices, teaching and instruction that closes achievement gaps, supports that allow students to be the best learners, a program that doesn’t start with kindergarten and end with high school, but consists of the full education continuum—early learning through postsecondary.

Ample and equitable funding is necessary to build a robust education system that works for all children. However, money is a tool, not a solution. New dollars should be seen as a tool to improve our system for all students. We believe that this can be done by rethinking how we:

  • compensate teachers and staff
  • leverage funding and human resources according to meet student needs
  • recruit, retain, and train teachers
  • provide additional student supports
  • measure the effectiveness of our investments and improve practice

How should we redefine basic education? Well, we don’t have to look far. There are programs and practices across our state that are working but need the proper investments in order to be sustained and spread to other schools and districts. Over the next few months, we’ll share how money can be used as a tool to fix teacher compensation; recruit, retain, and train qualified teachers; and add necessary student supports that yield positive outcomes and close achievement gaps. We’ll also share stories from around the state on how districts, community-based organizations, and citizens are closing gaps and subsidizing “basic education” with local resources. Asking the paramount question: How can money be used to go beyond our current basic education?

#BeyondBasic

Read Part 2 of our McCleary blog series, Teachers: The Most Important Part of Our Education System

Page Ahead on Stopping Summer Slide

Page Ahead on Stopping Summer Slide blog photoBy Nick Nogrady, Program Director, Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program, guest blogger

Each summer, during the annual hiatus from school, many students lose their reading skills. This phenomenon is sometimes called “summer slide” or “summer reading setback.” It impacts children living in poverty the most, and its effects are cumulative.  It is estimated that up to two-thirds of the reading achievement gap experienced by low-income children happens during the summer months.

This is where Page Ahead comes in. Founded in Seattle more than 25 years ago, Page Ahead has become the largest children’s literacy organization in Washington state.  We combat summer slide by giving students access to their choice of books as well as holding free book fairs for students in kindergarten through second grade at the end of each school year. The Page Ahead’s book fair program goes by the name of Book Up Summer (BUS).

Based on research by Dr. Richard Allington, ensuring easy and continuing access to free self-selected books to read over the summer is a useful strategy for addressing the summer reading setback and addressing the reading achievement gap. This book fair allows low-income students to self-select 12 free books to read over the summer for three consecutive years.  At the conclusion of three years Dr. Allington followed, study results indicated students gained approximately 40% of a grade level in reading.[1] These results are similar to children attending summer school during those three years, at just a fraction of the cost.

At Page Ahead, we target elementary schools with a high percentage of low-income students, and low third grade reading test scores. By targeting these schools, we reach students with little or no access to books in the home, and families unlikely or unable to visit the library in the summer months.  More than 80% of students we serve are low-income, and 40% are bilingual.

Book Up Summer works. In Seattle schools that have completed the three year intervention, the gap between low-income schools we serve and the citywide points average for the 1st and 2nd grade reading assessments has been closed by 70%.

Personally, this is a great program to run. I enjoy travelling across the state to meet with educators passionate about closing the opportunity gap. I meet teachers and administrators from farming communities in central Washington, mountain towns in the Cascades, from Seattle to Tacoma to Spokane—these educators know how much these books will mean to their students and families, as well as their communities.

The day of the fair is also very special. The kids can’t believe they get 12 books to keep forever. Just like adults, there are impulse buyers and discerning shoppers.  After they pick, each student gets a nameplate to put in each of their books; every book is new and truly their own.

This summer we served nearly 10,000 students at more than 60 schools across all of Washington state.  Next year we plan to expand the program to nearly 14,000 students. While the program is very cost effective with a budget of less than $50 per student, an expansion of this level will require a dramatic increase in the organization’s budget.  Page Ahead will be seeking new corporate and foundation partners, as well as developing resources in local communities where the program is offered.

If Washington state is looking for an effective and efficient way to improve the reading skills, and reduce the reading achievement gap for low-income students, Book Up Summer offers a promising model of reading intervention.

To learn more, get involved, or make a donation, visit Page Ahead’s website: www.pageahead.org

 

[1] Allington, Richard L., Anne Mcgill-Franzen, Gregory Camilli, Lunetta Williams, Jennifer Graff, Jacqueline Zeig, Courtney Zmach, and Rhonda Nowak. “Addressing Summer Reading Setback Among Economically Disadvantaged Elementary Students.” Reading Psychology 31.5 (2010): 411-27. Web.

 

Flexibility in exchange for accountability at Kent’s iGrad Academy

iGrad Academy Principal Carol Cleveland
iGrad Academy Principal Carol Cleveland

Kent School District’s iGrad Academy is a program unlike any other in the district. Comprised of six pathways, students choose from a range of opportunities.  They can earn a high school diploma or two-year AA degree as iGrad fosters unique plans for individual students that did not find educational success at their previous school. iGrad offers what Principal Carol Cleveland calls a 1418 program, which follows a nontraditional calendar year, nontraditional instructional hours, a lower teacher-to-student ratio, a lower counselor-to-student ratio, and commits to addressing the needs of the whole child.  These unique elements are what make iGrad one of a kind.

As a young girl, Principal Cleveland dreamed of becoming a doctor but education ran in the family. After substitute teaching in Georgia, she witnessed a lack of adequate attention given to students with special learning needs. These students were being directed down a path that would ultimately create a larger achievement gap. It was this experience that made her realize the education system needed her help.

Determined to influence educational policy, decision making, and progress for students like those with special needs, Cleveland began working tirelessly. In 2012, such determination brought her to her position today as the leader and principal of iGrad Academy.

As an advocate for specialized education systems, Cleveland is passionate about the iGrad program and curriculum. The basic principle of the program, she says, is to grant young learners and educators the flexibility to think and operate outside of the box to ensure that students are college, career, and life ready. Such a foundation enables all those who attend, and teach, to have more freedom. The teachers at iGrad all believe that students can learn and experience academic, social, and personal success. Common belief in individual potential creates a strong bond between educator and student and contributes to the success of the program.

At iGrad, relationships are everything. Principal Cleveland goes out of her way to get to know every single student. By setting up monthly meetings with students, Cleveland takes a hands-on approach as school leader. She hears directly from participants in the program about what is and is not working. For students to reach their goals, Cleveland values listening to what they want and what they need. As a result, iGrad has seen exponential educational growth.

After several years at iGrad and tracking the progress of the program and its students, Principal Cleveland is thinking about the future. By working to strengthen relationships between middle schools and high schools, businesses and colleges, Cleveland hopes to expand opportunities to teach students how to apply what they are learning in the classroom to the real world. Students gain greater insight and create more options for themselves when they learn from business professionals which skills and abilities are desirable in employees.

Unfortunately, funding remains a challenge for the program. In addition to statewide inadequacies in support for public education, Open Door programs have different accountability measures and that can directly impact funding.   Even though students don’t always show academic progress in accordance with state timelines, Principal Cleveland and her staff believe that every student can learn. Many students have been given the tools needed to move forward in their educational pursuit by attending iGrad and Cleveland hopes the community will continue to support her efforts to increase the number of success stories.

Carol Cleveland’s medical career never took flight but she is healing broken dreams and changes hundreds of lives every day. Through her dedication to closing the opportunity gap and her success as the leader of iGrad Academy, she has created a pathway to success for many young adults who have struggled to find their own way. The League of Education Voters celebrates this amazing woman and her stellar program.

Caring, innovative, supportive, flexible, and successful – shouldn’t Carol Cleveland’s approach be basic education?

iGrad Academy is grateful for the support students receive from community members.  If you are interested in making a donation, iGrad is always in need of the following items:

School Supplies:  paper, pencils, pens, pee-chee style folders, spiral single-subject notebooks

Metro Bus tickets / Orca Cards: Help students get to and from school

Graduation Items: Gowns, Caps, Tassels

Toiletry items: for males and females, all ethnicities

New undergarments: for males and females

Gift Cards for achievement prizes: Starbucks, Fred Meyer, Target, etc…

One time need:

Female and Male mannequin (to dress in caps and gowns for inspiration)

Young Adult Books:

Many iGrad students love to read and the Academy is working to build a library of young adult books for them. If you’re interested in making a donation, there are lists of suggested titles and authors below:

King County Library System Teen Booklist:

http://www.kcls.org/teens/booklists/bibliocommonsBookList.cfm?booklist_id=209620665

Alex Award for Young Adult Fiction:

http://www.ala.org/yalsa/alex-awards

Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers:

http://www.ala.org/yalsa/quick-picks-reluctant-young-adult-readers

Other Specific Publishers:

Orca

Saddleback

Other Specific Authors:

Ellen Hopkins

Allison Van Diepen’s urban fiction

Other Specific Title:

Nickel Plated

If you prefer to donate cash:

If you prefer to donate cash, iGrad Academy has established a trust fund which is used to purchase items that will allow students to focus on their learning. In addition to the above items, the Trust Fund may purchase online access for a student without internet, required materials for a college class, or a change of clothing for a homeless student.  Please call 253.373.4723 to express interest.

#BeyondBasic

New Achievement Gap Report Generates Concerns

By the LEV Policy Team

Education Equality Index slide

The recently released Education Equality Index takes a look at the achievement gap in student performance between low-income students and the whole student population. The report assesses the gap in 35 states and 100 large cities across the country, including Tacoma, Spokane, and Seattle. No state fared well on the index. On a scale of ‘no gap’ to ‘massive gap,’ 9 states’ achievement gaps for low-income students rated ‘large’ while the remaining 26 states have ‘massive’ achievement gaps for low-income students.

The index compares the percentage of low-income students that score proficient on a state assessment to the percentage of the entire student population that scores proficient. A rating score is then determined based on this comparison.  The report authors also adjust scores “to more fairly compare schools [and states] serving a higher percentage of FRL [free and reduced lunch] students.” States with a larger low-income student population receive additional points because of the added ‘challenges’ that accompany serving low-income students. And while there are issues with comparing one student group to the whole student population, addressed here, there are larger philosophical concerns with adding points simply for enrolling large populations of low-income students.

Awarding points for having a large low-income student population sets different expectations for schools, cities, and states serving low-income students, and, ultimately, sets different expectations for the students themselves. While poverty is a challenge, we cannot claim that education is the great equalizer if we allow our systems to count different outcomes as success for different populations of students.

This report reaffirms that we have large and unacceptable achievement gaps for low-income students across the country. But it also highlights that we continue to develop measures that do not further our understanding of how to better serve those students. Adding extra points for the mere enrollment of low-income students does not push schools, cities, or states to better serve students. How do we devise a measurement that acknowledges some students will require more resources and supports, without lowering the bar for systems serving those students? How do we determine what schools, cities, and states are giving kids the extra push they need, celebrate them, and learn from them? How do we encourage systems to guide resources towards students that need them the most?

Supreme Court Leaves Kids in Limbo

The Washington State Supreme Court issued a devastating ruling late on Friday afternoon, prior to a 3-day weekend and after charter schools had already started their year, declaring the way the state funds public charter schools unconstitutional.

The ruling puts the immediate future of over 1200 students in jeopardy. In addition to public charter schools, the ruling may impact tribal compact schools, Running Start, and other programs that do not fit into the Court’s narrow view of what can be funded with education dollars. Many strategies aimed at addressing the state’s achievement and opportunity gaps are at risk.

The parents with children in these schools, and the advocates who support them, will continue to work to ensure these schools stay open now and into the future.

  • Teams of supporters are reviewing the Court ruling and preparing a legal response.
  • Options for keeping these schools open are being explored.
  • Advocates are asking the Governor and legislators to act immediately to rectify the situation.

You can help by contacting your legislator and asking them to support a technical fix to ensure public charter schools are funded and other investments aimed at closing gaps continue now and into the future.

Emphasizing an education continuum

In 2014, after eight long years of work, Washington state updated its high school graduation requirements. The League of Education Voters worked with partners and community members to pass this 24-credit College and Career Ready Diploma.

Now the work begins for many school districts in implementing the new diploma. However, a number of districts are ahead of the game, and some have been for many years.

West Valley High School logoOne such school district is West Valley, in the Yakima area. West Valley began requiring 24 credits for high school graduation beginning in the 2001–2002 school year, when they increased their English language and social studies requirements. The second phase of the transition to a College and Career Ready Diploma happened in the 2006–2007 school year, when the district increased their math and science requirements. In 2013, more than 80 percent of their seniors graduated from high school, and of those who graduated, 67 percent continued onto college. Read More

A smart, balanced approach for all students

Community and technical colleges throughout Washington, as well as the six public four-year institutions, are partnering to use students’ high school Smarter Balanced assessment scores in fall 2016 in lieu of their campus-based placement tests.

Students who score at levels 3 or 4 on their 11th grade Smarter Balanced assessments will be able to enroll directly in credit-bearing college courses. Students who score below those levels will be enrolled in newly designed “Bridge to College” courses that will quickly raise them to college-level readiness rather than taking remedial courses that effectively copy high school courses they have already taken. These new courses are being collaboratively designed and developed by higher education faculty, high school teachers, and curriculum specialists from around the state.

“The Smarter Balanced Assessments will give 11th graders a much-needed heads up on whether they’ll place into math and English language courses in college, or whether they’re headed toward remedial classes instead,” said Bill Moore, director of K–12 partnerships at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. “Students then have their senior year to either catch up or take even more advanced classes.” Read More

Back to school: The excitement, the disappointments, and the magic. (It’s ok to be nervous.)

By Emma Margraf

An empty classroomI have always loved September. I love the warmth of the end of summer, I love new backpacks and pencils and notebooks… I love the promise, and the hope and the possibility. As Jane gets new books for new classes I get excited and say, “Oh boy! YOU get to read THIS!” and she rolls her eyes.

But the reality of back-to-school time has never lived up to my expectations. So my hopes for Jane and the new school year might be a little misguided. Read More