California School News — January 2018
Change Language:
Aec Highlights

One of California’s premier education events took place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 when CSBA hosted its Annual Education Conference and Trade Show in San Diego. Thousands of school board members, superintendents, administrators and education advocates filled the San Diego Convention Center for the General Session speakers and to participate in more than 120 workshops exploring five main themes: Equity, adequacy and opportunity; Innovation and student learning; Funding, finance and facilities; Leadership through governance; and School climate and engagement.

First General Session: Wes Moore

WES MOORE is a best-selling author, decorated Army veteran and CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, one of the nation’s largest nonprofits with a sole focus on alleviating poverty.

“We should never be OK with the idea that some kids aren’t going to make it,” Moore said during his rousing talk at CSBA’s Annual Education Conference and Trade Show.

Moore drew from his own background to discuss the thin line between student success and failure, and how educators can make the difference. Before a packed crowd at the San Diego Convention Center, Moore described his own background growing up in tough conditions in the Bronx. Thanks to a determined mother, Moore left those streets behind, and after a halting start at military school, found his way to college and service as an officer in the military.

Along the way, he learned of another young man who shared his name but not his good fortune. That Wes Moore instead grew up in poverty in inner-city Baltimore and eventually was incarcerated for life after being found guilty of first-degree homicide during a robbery.

Curious about how their paths diverged, the author Wes Moore reached out to the other Moore and befriended him. Touching on subjects such as race, poverty, discipline and familial influence, he chronicled their friendship and different stories in the book (and forthcoming movie) The Other Wes Moore. He has since authored The Work, a book about self-discovery, service and risk-taking.

In addition to the strong support of his family, Moore also credited opportunity and education for his success.

“In this country, potential is universal,” he said. “Opportunity, though, is not. ... Individual success means absolutely nothing if there is not a collective component to it.”

Moore, now the head of the Robin Hood Foundation in New York City, spoke of the chances he had to make good, even when he doubted himself as an adolescent military school student, and the individuals who pushed him to succeed.

By extension, he encouraged the audience to make those opportunities possible for others at a time of widening gaps among the haves and have-nots.

“The space between the opportunities for all is where we all come in,” he said. “Our job is not to determine who wins and who loses ... our job is to make sure that everyone has a chance. Nothing will move a child out of poverty more than their ability to receive a quality education, and there is nobody better to protect that than you.”

Second General Session: Diane Ravitch

DIANE RAVITCH is the nation’s leading advocate for public education. A renowned writer and research professor of education at NYU, Ravitch has published more than 500 articles and reviews for scholarly and popular publications.

The Second General Session featured education historian, advocate and researcher Diane Ravitch. The fiery 78-year-old has enjoyed a long career in education and began her speech with a dire warning: “Public schools in California and the nation are at an existential crisis. The accountability system is broken and outside interests threaten the public school system.”

Ravitch walked the crowd through the history of education in the United States. “What is the purpose of public schools?” she asked. “From the beginning of their history, and until recently, their purpose was to develop good citizens, to nurture good character, to procure young men and women to sustain our democratic experiment into the future.”

She emphasized the role of public education in cultivating good citizens — young adults who can read and inform themselves about issues vote wisely for the nation’s leaders, lead independent lives, contribute to their communities and serve on juries.

“But now education only focuses on one thing: test scores,” Ravitch stated. Beginning with the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind policy, test scores have become the sole focus of schools, she argued. Ravitch explained how NCLB set unattainable goals, caused the closure of too many struggling schools that just needed extra help and contributed to the explosion of the charter school industry. She posited that the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative only perpetuated the problem.

Ravitch pointed out that the focus on standardized testing has whittled down school curriculum to “teach to the test.” She lamented the loss of a full school curriculum that includes arts, physical education, history, literature, science, mathematics and foreign languages. She also questioned the value of the tests themselves. If teachers and students cannot know what they got right or wrong, and only how they have done in comparison with other students, the test has no diagnostic value, she explained. “Unless the tests have diagnostic value, they have no value.”

The remainder of Ravitch’s speech focused on the charter school industry and the threat she believes it poses to public education. She cited a long list of charter school scams and failing charter schools, and emphasized the danger in privatizing education. “Every dollar that goes to a charter school is a dollar taken away from a public school,” she said. “Can California really support two school systems — one that accepts all students and one that chooses its students and doesn’t get better results?”

Ravitch offered suggestions on how to get the American public education system back on track, including leveling the playing field before children begin school by prioritizing prenatal care and high-quality early childhood education, reducing class sizes, providing a full and rich curriculum at every school, providing wraparound services — such as healthcare access, counselors and social services — at every school, and using tests diagnostically.

Student board members receive training at AEC

Student board members are a critical connection between school boards and the students they serve. At CSBA’s Annual Education Conference and Trade Show this year, 70 student board members from 38 school districts came together to network, receive training and immerse themselves in conference activities alongside other education professionals.

Student board members attending AEC participate in a multiday program that includes an ice cream social, a continental breakfast and a networking lunch where students join in activities such as leadership training, open discussions about navigating district policies and more. Most student board members receive minimal training at the district level when they start their term. The AEC program, led by CSBA and California Association of Student Leaders staff, gives these young representatives the opportunity to build their advocacy skills while gaining strategies for becoming more effective members of their district governance team.

“It’s our job to be a liaison from the general student population to the board members,” said Madison Laster, student board member for Redondo Beach Unified School District. Using tools such as student surveys and town hall meetings, these appointed students collect data from their peers and present concerns to their school boards. Those who attended AEC this year shared stories of triumphs such as helping create a new girls’ wrestling team, securing a minimum-day schedule change that better fit students’ desires and convincing the school board to change a dress code that students found “sexist.” Julissa Sauceda, student board member for El Monte Union High School District, shared a story of how student surveys lead to the addition of a salad bar and healthier nutrition options in her district’s schools.

Student board members also discussed other issues their peers find important. For example, an AEC attendee mentioned that his peers are concerned with the debate about whether grade point averages or standardized testing scores should be the basis of student achievement data. Anthony Pacheco, student board member for Palm Springs Unified School District, said students in his district want more opportunities for career and technical education.

These student representatives take their responsibilities seriously. In a discussion about student board members’ roles, the students agreed that it is vital not to forget any student group. Student board members visit school sites and talk to other student groups such as Associated Student Bodies, Black Student Unions and Gay-Straight Alliances. Many student board members are also involved in other youth organizations that allow them to stay connected to their communities. For instance, AEC attendees Fabiola Moreno and Cindy Aguilar are youth commissioners for both the City of Gonzales and Gonzales Unified School District. The city and their school board work together to ensure that local governance hears youth voices.

Two new pieces of legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September are slated to change how student representatives sit on their district boards. Senate Bill 468 (Leyva, D-Chino) requires that all meeting documents and briefings given to school board members must also be offered to student board members. Assembly Bill 261 (Thurmond, D-Richmond) gives student board members the right to cast preferential or advisory votes. For more information about these bills and how to create a meaningful experience for your student board members, read CSBA’s December Policy News.