by Mike Myslinski
Jane Robb, Dean McGee, Jeanne Contreras, Noah King, David Nevarez, Maria Ponce
California’s public schools of greatest need have great lessons to share that all schools can learn from.
New research shows dramatic gains in academic performance for California schools with at-risk students that reduced class sizes, provided more time for teachers to collaborate and share ideas, and focused on classroom data to improve student learning.
This latest research was unveiled Nov. 7 at a lively CTA symposium in Sacramento about the CTA-backed Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006. Some 160 educators, parents and administrators from QEIA-supported schools shared notes and listened to colleagues’ revelations about what can work everywhere.
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson and CTA President Dean E. Vogel noted how proven reforms are working despite high poverty and other challenges facing the campuses supported by QEIA resources.
“As evidence continues to grow that the reforms we enabled with QEIA have been successful, it’s time for the next step — spreading those successes to more and more schools,” Torlakson said. “Every student in California deserves to graduate with the experience, knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and careers.”
He said this school improvement program is showing the public how revenue should be spent. “This grand experiment with QEIA points the way to how we can invest those dollars: lowering class sizes (go figure!), more counselors helping students with the problems they have.” These reforms are working. “This offers a great pathway on several fronts on how we can invest in a stronger education for all California’s students.”
The largest school turnaround program of its kind in the nation, the internationally acclaimed QEIA is investing nearly $3 billion over eight years in 400 high-poverty schools for proven reforms like smaller class sizes, more high school counselors, and better teacher training. The funding came from the settlement of a CTA lawsuit against former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger over money the state owed to public schools.
Vogel said QEIA demonstrates CTA’s support for our students of greatest need. He noted that discoveries at QEIA schools can offer ideas for Local Control Funding Formula spending by school districts that must target at-risk students.
“The new research shows that lessons learned from exemplary QEIA schools should be shared. Teachers, principals and other stakeholders are saying that reforms like giving educators more collaboration time, building community accountability, reducing class sizes, and using student data to intervene are pathways to school improvement that many can follow.”
Symposium panelists included educators and a parent from Harmon Johnson Elementary in Sacramento, which is prospering from QEIA-funded smaller class sizes, better staff training and new computer labs. This Twin Rivers Unified School District campus also won a high-profile national award for excellence. Panelist Richard Carrazana, a sixth-grade teacher there, says QEIA enabled Harmon Johnson to purchase enough computers to open two labs.
“These computer labs are helping to prepare students for Common Core,” Carrazana said. “I couldn’t be happier with QEIA for giving our kids this access to technology. We feel this is going to help close the achievement gap for our low-income students. QEIA is providing resources many of our students don’t have at home. Thanks to this program, our reach as teachers is now beyond the classroom.”
Symposium panelists shared QEIA success stories from many public schools, which all enjoy higher Academic Performance Index (API) scores despite high poverty rates. The state’s goal is an API score of 800 for all schools; however, it should be noted that this is not the only determinant of success or learning.
While no QEIA schools are named in the new research report, the conclusions of stakeholders interviewed about how to overcome roadblocks to change might sound familiar if your school is enjoying the camaraderie that teamwork can build.
Stakeholders stressed five common features of their schools that helped them mitigate roadblocks and improve student learning: exemplary leadership, a common vision, willingness to change and innovate, ongoing and open communication, and “relentless drive and dedication.”
All stakeholders — administrators, parents, teachers — must have a shared commitment and willingness to change for the common goal of student success, teachers at these highly effective schools told researchers.
“First, we have to get everybody to decide that there’s a need for it,” one teacher told the researchers about recognizing problems. “Then, we’re more open to changing our ways. And that’s always the hardest part of changing human nature.”
Another teacher added: “You have to have a common goal, and the goal should be to move the school forward, making sure of setting up kids for success.”
Watch QEIA panel discussions on video
Candid words of wisdom about best practices were captured on video by CTA, and that’s a good thing for any educator who wants to learn more about shaking up school structures and meeting student needs.
These nine educators and a parent from QEIA-supported low-income schools shared their experiences at the Nov. 7 CTA QEIA symposium during two revealing panel discussions of less than one hour each. You can listen to their insightful comments on class sizes, teacher collaboration, parental involvement, building local accountability and other crucial topics on two videos posted at www.cta.org/qeia (just scroll down to the bottom of that page). Also, watch a video in which researcher Courtney Malloy of Vital Research discusses the lessons learned from QEIA.
The symposium panelists were:
Panel 1: Structures for School Success
- Jeanne Contreras, Teacher, Gulf Avenue Elementary (Los Angeles USD)
- Noah King, Teacher, Marylin Avenue Elementary (Livermore Valley Joint USD)
- Dean McGee, Principal, West High School (Kern High School District)
- David Nevarez, Principal, Harmon Johnson Elementary (Twin Rivers USD)
- Maria Ponce, Parent, Harmon Johnson Elementary (Twin Rivers USD)
Panel 2: Changing Classroom Practices: Meeting Student Needs
- Richard Carrazana, Teacher, Harmon Johnson Elementary (Twin Rivers USD)
- Yessenia Diaz-Huerta, Teacher, Ernest Geddes Elementary (Baldwin Park USD)
- Chris Jung, Teacher, Columbia School (El Monte City Elementary District)
- Gloria Rodriguez, Teacher, Evergreen Elementary (East Whittier Elementary District)
- Gabriela Tavitian, Principal, Evergreen Elementary (East Whittier City School District)
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