Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Look overseas for better education

There was an interesting study done recently that looks at how to improve education in the US. They looked at all manner of reform over the past few decades and found that we simply aren't hitting the mark. Even charter schools, when controlled for student background, are faring no better than traditional US schools. (We have seen the same here, but that's for another day.). Not surprisingly, the conclusion was that other countries have better models and we could do well to follow their lead.

My kids started school in Singapore, and I have worked a fair bit in Japan and Ontario, Canada, two of the other places cited in the study. While the results of this study tend to focus more on the national level changes than local changes, it starts from the same place I've been talking about for a while. Los Altos has some great schools measured against the State of California, but we need to do better. Our kids will compete globally. We need to prepare them to do just that.

It seems strange to be talking about building a better school in the middle of the budget cutting season, but we need to stay focused on that goal. I'm pleased to see that the Khan Academy continues to get great press coverage. It is one way we are trying to "Think different" (with apologies to Mr Jobs' English teacher)

Read the Mercury News article here

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Schools parents dream about

There was a really nice article about Sal Khan and the Khan Acadamey in this week's Businessweek. The best quote, in my mind, was this one:

Covington is one of three schools in the Los Altos district using the Khan Academy in some fifth and seventh grade classes. It's also the kind of school every parent dreams of.

The reporter talked about the physical campus, and descriped how 27 students sat down to 27 laptops to work on the Academy programs. Still, I couldn't help but think that this description was really much more about the environment. Our kids show up ready to learn, and our community values education and local schools. That is what parents dream about for their kids.

The Khan Academy project has several articles this week:
Full article in Blooomber Businessweek

Fast Company

Mind Shift - KQED

Enjoy the reading!

Thanks to the teachers and administration, for being willing to experiment with this new approach to learning, and of course- thanks to Sal, for bringing this to or kids.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Teacher Compensation

I have heard from many community members regarding the comments of the LATA recently published in the Town Crier. In an interview with the paper, the head of the union proposed some specific terms that the teachers "could afford".

I have been chastised in the past by the LATA leadership for what they perceived as "bargaining away from the table". In negotiations with public employees, there are restrictions about what can be said outside of the negotiation sessions. During the parcel tax campaign, it would have been beneficial to have talked publicly about some of the concepts we were discussing with our employees. Due to the confidential nature of those discussions, though, we did not. It is simply too difficult when the negotiation process is conducted in public.

I want to say simply that we are not done with this process. As a Trustee, I have spoken repeatedly about the need to bring employee benefits in line with what we see in private industry. We passed the parcel tax with the underlying message that all groups would do their part. Parents contribute through LAEF and PTA donations. The community supports the schools through two parcel taxes in addition to our property taxes. We expect that our employees will help make the district successful through meaningful changes to compensation that help reduce the structural imbalance we have.

I want to reassure community members that this dialogue is not over yet. We are not yet where we need to be.

Final Thoughts on the Parcel Tax and BCS

With the parcel tax now complete, there are a few closing thoughts I'd like to put out there. I don't pretend that this will change the past- please consider them "suggestions for the future". These questions directly address some of challenges we faced, and complaints we heard during the parcel tax campaign.

Why didn't we share?
BCS is fond of saying that LASD could share the tax revenue if we chose to do so. Yet when we asked them to find us a single example of a charter school that is NOT sponsored by their district that still shares parcel tax money, they found none.

LASD is legally responsible for the taxes we collect. Without direct control over the expenditure of those funds, we can't share the money. It would be like saying "LASD students walk along city sidewalks to get to school. Let's spend LASD money on repaving the sidewalks". That would be an improper transfer of funds from the school district to the city. The charter school, as a separate legal entity, is in the same position as the city.

Would weaken community support
Part of the process of asking for a parcel tax is assessing the need for the money. The opposition campaign made the question of "need" a central theme by suggesting repeatedly that teachers are overpaid, and that we'd wasted taxpayer funds. How, then, would we reasonably approach taxpayers and ask for additional parcel tax funds to share those funds with a program that spends $13,400 per student? The taxpayers would have rejected that request as outrageous. There isn't an elementary school district in our community that spends that kind of money. Asking the taxpayer to foot that bill wasn't rational.

The Charter School can still request a tax
BCS still has legal avenues through which they can request a parcel tax. LASD is not their sponsoring entity, so we're not in a position to sponsor a tax on their behalf. However, there's nothing that stops BCS from going to their sponsor, the Santa Clara County School Board, and asking the SCCSB to put a measure on the ballot asking for parcel tax money for BCS.

The No Campaign skirted or violated the law
Regardless of the outward positioning, it was clear to everyone that BCS was driving the opposition. Their failure to file the appropriate paperwork with the FPPC (that regulates Calif. elections) was, in my mind, a specific attempt to hide who was funding the no campaign.

I also believe that BCS violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the law that is intended to stop government entities from lobbying for or against ballot measures. As I told one BCS board member, our community will long remember that their superintendent published a letter on BCS letterhead that was a thinly veiled effort to stir up no votes. I actually believe they've hurt themselves. At some future point, LASD will need to consider a bond measure to reconfigure campuses and provide a future home for BCS. When that bond is put forth, people are going to remember that BCS declared open war on the students of LASD. In fighting Measure E, they have damaged relations more than they can possibly imagine.

Focusing on the Future
Having said all of this, I am still very pleased that we were able to pass the parcel tax and help the students we serve. As I have met with community members and friends over the pat week, the resounding theme is "thank goodness!" Measure E won't eliminate the need for layoffs, and our district continues to work to bring expenditures in line with revenues in a structural way. Measure E affords us some short-term assistance in making those transitions in an orderly manner.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many volunteers who made this happen. In an election this close, every singe volunteer makes a difference-- and in this case, they made a difference not just in the outcome of an election, but in the lives of the 4,500 kids we serve as a district, and in the quality of life in our community as well.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thanks! (Measure E passed)

Wow! Tonight I attended the Measure E campaign event. I joined with many, many volunteers who had devoted countless hours to the Measure E campaign. As we were going around the event thanking folks, the results came in. With 13,331 votes counted, we had 8,977 yes votes. That's 67.34%, just 89 votes over the 66 2/3% threshold we need for victory. There are still a few ballots to be counted (those that were cast ater 3pm today), but that shouldn't sway the outcome. Those with experience in the matter tell me that we have a victory.

Obviously this was an incredibly tight vote. It would be an understatement to say that every vote counted, and that's a great case for why we all need to speak up and vote for the things that matter. The other thing that occurs to me, though, is that every one of the volunteers from this campaign should also realize that their efforts mattered. Every person who made phone calls, posted lawn signs, walked precincts, or even just chatted with a neighbor over the proverbial cup of coffee- it all made an impact. Thank you, to everyone who put in such intense effort- and thank you to the voters of LASD, for expressing your support for our schools and our students. We will continue to show that your support is well placed.