As our first order of business, we voted by a large margin to support lifting the ban on marijuana dispensaries in El Cerrito. ECDC President Crosby has sent a letter to the El Cerrito City Council to notify them of this action.
Our June program focused on education. Our first speaker was Chela Delgado, graduate of UC San Diego, who has a Ph. D in education from UC Berkeley. Her presentation was informed by the research she did for her dissertation Framing the Gap: Education Reform and Conceptions of Racial Equality.
She is a graduate of Oakland public schools, a teacher at Oakland Tech High School, and the parent of two children enrolled in Oakland public schools. Her first teaching job was in a charter school in Palo Alto.
She asked, “Do we have same Democratic control of charter schools that we have over the traditional public schools?” She pointed out that since charters are run by private organizations there is no assurance of transparency.
Overall, charter schools in Oakland have lower test scores than the traditional schools, even though the pathway for entrance – entering a lottery for instance – provides a de facto screen for parent involvement. In addition, there is no safeguard preventing charter schools from developing idiosyncratic participation and discipline standards that can provide the basis for expulsion. There is a great deal of truth to the charge that charter schools “cherry pick” students.
Dr. Delgado pointed out that the education budgets of our nation’s school districts are a target for profiteering and privatization. A lot of people are making money off education.
The current state of public education; a few of the problems plaguing our schools include the achievement gap between Caucasian and Asian students relative to African American and Latino students, campus safety issues. We do need to improve schools, especially for students of color. That truth of failure of the schools has been used to fuel charter school explosion
The push back against charter schools comes from unions and liberals. Often the charter schools do not have to abide by the contracts the unions negotiate with schools districts. In addition, charter schools discipline kids more harshly. And as the charter schools proliferate, the data indicates that charter schools don’t perform better than other public schools overall, although there are exceptions.
Those in favor of charter schools are often very critical of the contracts with union teachers; they believe that charter schools allow school administrators and teachers to do what works.
Unfortunately, as the charter schools expand, they take more and more resources from the regular district schools, which exacerbates conditions in those schools. There are fixed costs for every district; in West Contra Costa these costs include contractual obligations for health care for teachers who were teaching through 2010. Since school funding has been allocated by pupil, when students leave the district schools for charter schools, the fixed costs have to be covered by fewer students. That eats into the funds available for attracting and retaining teachers, providing updated instructional materials, field trips, special services, etc.
This leads to a self-perpetuating downward spiral; Dr. Delgado cited a study by the Journey for Justice Alliance, Death by a Thousand Cuts: Racism, School Closures, and Public School Sabotage that details how pervasive underfunding of public schools and policies like mass school closures and charter expansion are harming students in low-income and minority communities. The cycle of underfunding and criticism of public schools drives families to charter school alternatives, so the conditions of public schools worsen, they lose resources and generally have smaller student bodies (albeit with a higher proportion of high needs students), so schools close, driving more families towards charter schools.
Another issue that charter schools introduce is the phenomenon of separate and unequal facilities. In many cases, charter schools are co-located with district schools, using a block of classrooms inside a regular public school building. Given that charter schools are able to attract funding and support from private foundations and affluent individuals, they have better food service, more up to date computer labs, more and more interesting field trips, and other opportunities that are not available to the non-charter students attending school in the same building.
While the expansion of charter schools was in response to real crisis; overall they underserve students. The results have been less than amazing, and a lot of the schools have been closed. This has a disproportionate impact on families in communities of color. Again, according to Journey to Justice Alliance, when schools close in communities; those closures destabilize the students which leads to diminished teacher effectiveness. This is especially difficult when charter schools just close down, and leave.
There are a lot of amazing innovations in public schools; we just need to demand better, and we have a better chance of holding district schools accountable than charter schools.
Our second speaker was Madeline Kronenberg, an ECDC member, elected to the West Contra Costa County Unified School District Board in 2006. She presented what she called A Show and Tell about the district. Our district has 54 schools for 250,000 residents. Our schools push for college and career. Of our students, 9,034 are English language learners, 3,884 have special needs kids, 50% are Latino, 19% are African American, 12 % are white, and 12% are Asian.
She also pointed out that there is a financial issue for the district with charter schools; the funding goes with the student to the school, but all of the bills don’t go with the children. As more and more children leave, they leave behind a big pot of bills to be spread among fewer students, which results in a funding drain.
That has nothing to do with quality of the school; that’s the way the economic formula work. Different states handle this different ways, but children who stay in district schools are the most vulnerable, and children of color the most vulnerable
She used slides from the District’s website to describe some of the many achievements of our district. The decrease in suspensions and expulsions was especially interesting since it highlighted the suspensions and expulsions by demographic category and provided a way to concretely quantify the narrowing of the achievement gap in our schools.
Only district is also the only one with a health center in each High School; we are going to full day kindergarten. We have made a big commitment to STEM, as well as pre-kindergarten and transitional kindergarten.
Our district has a strong focus on career academies and health academies, and has developed partnerships with businesses in the county to provide opportunities for internships. In addition, we have Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), and opportunities for learning the hospitality and tourism industry, as well as summer law interns, and other summer professional development.
Our biggest challenge is how to recruit, develop and retain teachers; forty years ago, the starting pay was $8,000, equivalent to $49, 137 in today’s dollars. But our starting pay now is only $42,000.
We are trying to raise achievement by utilizing best practices; programs to support teachers; we have had conversations re impact of poverty; impact of racism, as well as other adverse childhood experiences. We strive to provide full service community schools, including health centers, parent education; and partnerships with Community Based Organizations.
There is a major feeding program including lunch, supper, and summer meals; and gardens in almost all of the schools.
Our district also participates in the Black Lives Matter movement; we have many BLM meetings, and a BLM orientation. Our rising scholars and African American pipeline help students fill out college applications; there is also tutoring, and trips to colleges around the country. The WCCCUSD graduation rates higher than anywhere else in the Bay Area for African American males!
Our members had a lot to say about this topic. Ruby MacDonald spoke in favor of Prop 13 reform as a way to increase funds for our schools, and Sean O’Connor spoke in favor of preserving resources for our traditional district schools as opposed to putting resources to charter schools.
Scottie Smith spoke about her concern for quality of education for African American students, making a point that she believes that spending $22 million football field instead of school facilities for more students is essentially racist in essence.
Finally everyone agrees that schools are failing students and families but disagree on how to fix things.