4:30 am – 7:30 am EDT First Unitarian Church of Oakland Oakland, CA
Connecting Local Priorities to National Opportunities
Bay Area Leaders Discuss the Promises of High School Reform
Sponsored by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund,the School Redesign Network at Stanford University, the San Francisco Education Fund, and the Alliance for Excellent Education with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Key stakeholders from across the Bay Area gathered on July 20 at the First Unitarian Church of Oakland for a summit on high school reform. More than 110 educators, policymakers, civil rights leaders, community activists and other stakeholders met to discuss high school reform efforts taking place in the West Contra Costa, Oakland, and San Francisco Unified School Districts. Additionally, participants were encouraged to consider ways that federal initiatives could be informed by and support local reform.
Kimberly Thomas Rapp, director of law and public policy at the Equal Justice Society, opened the summit with thoughts on the importance of education to broader societal goals and aspirations. Paraphrasing President Lyndon B. Johnson, she suggested that, while improving education will not by itself address the nation’s civil rights concerns, without addressing that critical factor, the national goal of a just and equitable society cannot be met.
Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia, acknowledged the expertise in the room and thanked the audience for recognizing the importance of the subject of high school reform with their presence. During his remarks, Wise discussed the newly formed Campaign for High School Equity (CHSE), noting that “The particular focus of the CHSE, a partnership of nine major national civil rights organizations and the Alliance for Excellent Education, is to ensure that federal policy is supportive of the six million students most at risk of failing to graduate from high school.” He went on to share national and California-specific student performance data as a way of putting in context the need for effective reform, and ended by explaining the federal government’s investment in high schools—or relative lack thereof—and graphically demonstrating the different levels of federal investment in K–12 education through a presentation of “The Missing Middle,” a chart showing the Department of Education’s program funding levels.
The first session of the forum, Meeting the Goal of Every Child a Graduate Prepared for College, Work, and Life: How are We Doing as a Nation, State, and as a Bay Area Community?, featured Greg Peters, center director at the San Francisco Coalition of Essential Schools; LaShawn Routé-Chatmon, executive director of the Bay Area Coalition of Equitable Schools; and Wendell Greer, associate superintendent for secondary schools at West Contra Costa Unified School District. Each speaker discussed the context in which reform was taking place in their district and provided an analysis of the successes that have been achieved and the challenges that lie ahead. Afterwards, each speaker commented on how the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) could be improved to better support local reform efforts at the high school level.
Following the first session, members of the audience and speakers alike engaged in a rich dialogue about the Bay Area’s current reform efforts. Moderated by Ash Vasudeva, deputy director of the School Redesign Network at Stanford University, the forum attendees discussed issues ranging from parental involvement in high schools to the need for a greater federal investment in school leadership.
The second session, Working Together to Leverage the Federal Government’s Role in High School Improvement, featured Cynthia Medina, coordinator for bilingual education at the Alameda County Office of Education; Angel Luevano, vice president for the Far West for the League of United Latin American Citizens; and David Goldberg, program manager and zpecial counsel, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Each panelist discussed ways in which the reauthorization of NCLB could be leveraged to support local high school improvement efforts. Bethany Little, vice president for policy and federal advocacy at the Alliance for Excellent Education, moderated the session, setting the stage for the conversation by pointing out that currently, NCLB is “in need of improvement” with regard to high schools. She also addressed the need for federal assistance to improve the nation’s “dropout factories” (schools where less than 60 percent of high school students do not graduate within four years).
Forum attendees also had an opportunity to weigh in on how the federal government could further support high school improvement during a dialogue moderated by Little. Many audience members remarked on NCLB’s punitive nature and suggested that the law provide additional support to low-performing schools. Several others discussed the need to improve assessments and called for more sophisticated measures of student achievement at the high school level.
Welcoming U.S. Representatives George Miller (D-CA), chair of the Education and Labor Committee, and Barbara Lee (D-CA), member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, both of whom joined the summit at this point in the proceedings, Governor Wise provided an overview of the morning’s discussions. He noted the attendees’ strong interest in and concern about, in particular, the need for more local decisionmaking regarding school improvement supported by federal programs and regulation; the need for systemic district change; the needs of English language learner (ELL) students; the importance of gathering useful data to inform decisionmaking; and the need to reduce the incentive for schools to push poorly performing students out of school as a way to improve measures related to accountability.
Both members of Congress received standing ovations prior to their remarks from summit participants as they were introduced. Representative Lee emphasized the importance of making sure that all children have a real future. She noted that the “promise” of public education has not been kept for all children, but stressed the need to continue fighting to ensure that all students, regardless of race, class, or income, become beneficiaries of the American Dream.
Congressman Miller discussed some of the battles he has been involved in as chair of the Education and Labor Committee, particularly around the reauthorization of NCLB. Noting that he was a “proud author of NCLB,” Miller added that he “wanted to be the proud author of an NCLB that works.” The chairman also shared his growing interest in growth models as one of the ways to improve NCLB accountability requirements, and talked about the statewide longitudinal data systems necessary for their use. Specifically addressing the needs of high schools, Miller said that the law needs to ensure an honest definition of graduation rates, “not a definition that can be gamed by locals who are embarrassed or don’t know what to do about their graduation rate.” In addition to honest graduation rate calculations, Chairman Miller recognized the need for improved assessments, saying he thought the nation would move toward them, possibly as the result of a group of governors leading the way in developing some common assessments.
Following his remarks, Chairman Miller responded to questions from the audience, addressing a variety of issues related to NCLB and its reauthorization.
Governor Wise closed the summit by thanking everyone for their attendance and briefly commented on three themes: the federal role in school improvement, the responsibility everyone has to all students and the magnitude of the moment with regard to education reform at the local, state and national level. With regard to the latter, Governor Wise compared the importance of today’s reform efforts to that of the 1958 passing of the National Defense Education Act following the Soviet launch of Sputnik and the 1983 release of A Nation At Risk.
Kimberly Thomas Rapp
Director of Law and Public Policy, Equal Justice Society Video
II. SESSION ONE: Meeting the Goal of Every Child a Graduate Prepared for College, Work, and Life: How are We Doing as a Nation, State, and as a Bay Area Community?
The Bay Area High School Reform Story Video
Reform leaders in the Oakland, San Francisco, and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts will describe the accomplishments realized thus far in secondary reform, the challenges that remain, and the additional support needed to expand success to all secondary schools in their districts.
Facilitated Discussion Video
Opening Comments by Facilitator Video
Panel Discussion Video
How might an alternate and expanded federal role in supporting high school improvement efforts impact the Oakland, San Francisco, and West Contra Costa Unified School Districts?
Facilitated Discussion Video
Vice President for Policy and Federal Advocacy,Alliance for Excellent Education
Overview of Morning Discussion Video
President, Alliance for Excellent Education
Introduction of Luncheon Keynote Address Speaker
U.S. Representative Barbara Lee
Member, Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Video
U.S. Representative George Miller
Chair, Education and Labor Committee Video
Audience Q&A Video
V. Conclusion and Closing Remarks Video
President, Alliance for Excellent Education