Every week until the election, we will have a question for the DJUSD School Board Candidates. We have a word limit of roughly 350. This is the final question.
Please also see the Vanguard Candidate’s forum from Sunday, September 18.
Question 4: For the most part the classroom of today could be plopped into a classroom of 100 years ago. How can we build the classroom of tomorrow – discuss how to incorporate technology and innovative learning like STEM in your answer?
Question 7: How can we solve the achievement gap within the next generation of students?
This question acknowledges that closing the achievement gap involves “we,” – the combined contributions of many – and I’m proud that our board and the district have not shied away from accepting responsibility for our part of the solution. In a series of presentations throughout this past year, we developed a solid understanding of the programs and strategies already in place for our at-risk students, and what challenges still exist for them. There are many.
The era of No Child Left Behind illuminated achievement gaps, but it also taught us what does not work to close them – state intervention, scripted instruction, and punitive accountability measures. Based on those lessons, public education advocates are taking a new approach. We’re implementing the Common Core which provides deeper, richer and more relevant instruction for children, and embeds differentiated instruction in its pedagogy.
We now define student success more broadly than academic achievement. We strive for social and emotional well-being, as well as college and career readiness. Strong community partnerships help close the opportunity gap for children and families.
International education reformer Michael Fullan, working closely with the California CORE Districts, establishes a framework for action in Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts and Systems (Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2016):
- Focus Direction: Set a small number of ambitious goals directly related to student achievement, mobilizing the whole organization to support the moral purpose: improving society through improving educational systems.
- Cultivate Collaborative Cultures: Foster collaborative cultures focused on instructional improvement within and across schools, as well as between schools and the larger system.
- Deepen Learning: Improve teaching and learning at all levels of the system using a capacity building approach.
- Secure Accountability: Introduce transparent and non-punitive accountability approaches that focus on student success and acknowledge responsibility for continuous improvement.
In Davis, we’re investing critical resources in teachers and technology – enhancing classroom instruction with more creativity and critical thinking to meet the learning needs of every student. With focus and leadership from the board and the continued good work of Davis educators, families, students and community members, we are poised to close the gaps.
There has been a tremendous amount written about the achievement (or opportunity) gap over the last several decades. The achievement gap is the persistent disparity in academic performance between groups of students, with the groups most often separated into minority and disadvantaged students (primarily Latino and African American students from low income families) and their white and Asian American counterparts. In a university town like Davis, the case can be made that the achievement gap is more related to parental education than to family income given our population of lower income graduate students with families, although precise data is lacking.
Over the last year, the School Board has devoted considerable time to better understand the achievement gap in our community. Steps have been taken to try to address the gap (see October 6th Board meeting agenda under VII.a.l). However, our programs need to be evaluated regularly for effectiveness and successful programs should be available to any at-risk student regardless of home school.
We do need to invest in quality early educational programs. There is good evidence that if a child is reading at grade level in 3rd grade, ultimate school outcomes are better. Quality preschool programs close the gap, but the closure is not sustained. Thus, early educational programs are necessary, but by themselves are insufficient to solve the problem. I support the Yolo County Board of Education’s effort to modestly increase the county sales tax in order to offer quality preschool for every child in the county.
We do need to have high expectations and a challenging curriculum for every student. Evidence is clear that if teachers expect more from their students, students achieve more. Struggling students should receive extra help when they need it. This is an area where tapping in to our large and diverse university student population for tutoring help is important. Extending instruction time beyond the traditional school day (i.e., after school, weekends, summer) is essential for many students if serious progress is to be made. I would work to find quality after-school and summer program options for at-risk students. The District, City, UCD, community non-profits, and the private sector should work collaboratively to make opportunities available.
We do need to recruit and retain a highly qualified and diverse workforce. This was discussed in an earlier Vanguard question and doesn’t need further elaboration here. It is important that each at-risk student find a teacher or staff member that they can connect with at school on a regular basis.
We do need to make sure that there are no artificial or unrecognized barriers to participation in extracurricular activities by at-risk students. For example, lack of transportation and lack of access to technology are two possible impediments to participation.
Ultimately, I don’t believe that our schools can single-handedly close the achievement gap, although they need to play a significant role. In my view, the achievement gap will be a topic of discussion for the foreseeable future and will not be fully addressed until we find solutions to income inequality and inadequate funding of public education in California.
Our Board has made closing the achievement gap a top priority. The first school board meeting of each month has been dedicated to reviewing district data and programs related to closing the achievement gap. We have been presented with the fact that 50% of all African American and Latino children in the district were assessed below state standards. This is unacceptable.
We must continue to study as a district the most effective strategies to improve our schools. Over the next four years, I will push for continued efforts that focus on each child’s needs. This may include increasing preschool, providing additional academic supports, and reducing class sizes.
One of my top priorities as a Board Member has been addressing the achievement gap and providing additional support to our struggling students. There are over 8,600 students in our schools, and they all deserve an educational system tailored to their individual strengths and needs. Meeting that enormous challenge requires collective engagement—with the students themselves, as well as with teachers and support staff, parents, and with the Davis community as a whole. As a consensus builder with real experience in bringing diverse groups together I am equipped to take on the challenge of narrowing the achievement gap.
My focus has been and will continue to be adopting policies and pursuing initiatives that build an inclusive culture of collaboration throughout our schools.