By CTA President David A. Sanchez
I love the holiday season. While we’re catching up with good friends, repeating old family traditions, and taking time to reflect on the years behind us, we also renew our focus and begin to hope and plan for a good year ahead. I’ve also come to count on what has become a CTA holiday tradition, the December/January issue of the California Educator filled with stories about California educators who are making amazing differences in their students’ lives.
Every day, CTA members are working to make things better for our students and our profession. And it’s not the easiest thing to do, given our current economic climate. We already know that the fiscal forecast for next year is dismal. The state is facing a $28 billion deficit. Governor-elect Jerry Brown convened a group of leaders from across the state to discuss the budget a few weeks ago. I attended to make sure our lawmakers know that public schools and colleges have endured a disproportionate amount — more than 50 percent — of the budget cuts in the past three years, totaling $21 billion.
When Brown takes office in early January, we will be there reminding our new leaders of the irreversible sacrifices our students have already made. Larger class sizes; fewer teachers, counselors and nurses; and limited access to art, music, PE and career technical programs are not what our students need or deserve.
Our educators have been making sacrifices, too. The country’s and state’s economic woes have left many of our local school systems cash-strapped. Even those districts with rainy day funds are fearful to spend them, not knowing how much more rain lies ahead. Local chapters throughout California have stepped up to the bargaining tables this year with a clear understanding of what’s possible, what’s fair, and what’s best for the learning and working environments of students and teachers. Educators have taken concessions when they were necessary and fought against them when they were excessive. This was the case for Capistrano teachers earlier this year, and it is the case right now for the La Habra Education Association. I joined LHEA members and their dedicated local president, Danette Brown, on the picket line recently to stand up against proposed permanent take-backs, to stand up for our teachers and our students.
The teachers of La Habra experienced the strength that can come from adversity, and bonded together. They learned that we’re all part of the same family; they saw how crucial it is to look out for each other and why we are part of a union.
And just a bit north in Compton, our teachers and students are under an attack from a different angle. A privatization-driven group known as the Parent Revolution has filed a petition to turn McKinley Elementary School into a charter school. This is the first use of the “Parent Trigger” law implemented last year by the Legislature, and chaos has ensued for this small neighborhood school. Many parents claim they were misled and intimidated into signing the petition by the hired representatives of the Parent Revolution. Unfortunately, this deceptively named organization doesn’t have the best interest of the students or their parents at heart, but appears to be a front for for-profit charter schools. There are a lot of questions surrounding this law and the petition filed at McKinley, and the Compton Education Association is working with CTA to make sure the law was followed, that parents weren’t misled, and that the community knows the truth.
McKinley is actually a school that is a perfect example of how educational change can work when teachers, administrators and parents work together to best meet the needs of students. Although the Parent Revolution was able to target McKinley Elementary because it has not met the statewide API target of 800 out of 1,000 points, McKinley students have been making steady and significant progress for the past three years. And they have been making this progress since the implementation of CTA’s Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA). McKinley is one of nearly 500 schools serving at-risk students that are receiving $3 billion in additional resources over an eight-year period to lower class sizes, align professional development using student data, and create a collaborative approach to reform among parents, teachers and other local stakeholders. The good news is that McKinley’s API score has risen more than 70 points in the last two years alone. With continued progress, and to the credit of McKinley’s educators and the QEIA system, McKinley could be out of Program Improvement in the next few years.
The results McKinley is seeing from its participation in QEIA aren’t unique. A recent research report shows that QEIA schools averaged nearly 50 percent greater growth in API scores than similar non-QEIA schools in 2009-10. Just three years into the eight-year program, we are already seeing promising results in closing the achievement gap. I’m hopeful that in the year ahead our QEIA program will continue to reach some of California’s most at-risk students, increasing achievement levels and serving as a proven reform model for other schools in our state and nation.
It’s this type of teacher-led reform effort that can transform our struggling neighborhood schools into thriving ones that serve all students and engage our communities. These efforts and results give me hope for the year ahead. Through collaboration, through working with parents and lawmakers as partners, we can build a better state for public education.