Education Opinion

Change Gonna Come

By LeaderTalk Contributor — June 20, 2009 3 min read
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What a compelling confluence of events this week:

• Iranian patriots riding Twitter to their next revolution.

• California in near collapse as they face a $25 BBB-illion deficit!

• A Stanford University concludes that students in charter schools are not faring as well as students in traditional public schools.

• California Charter Schools Association invents a new scheme to hold charters more accountable.

• California’s highest performing school, a charter school, emerges as a beacon of light in an otherwise dark and tempestuous storm. Or not.

So how do these seemingly separate events connect?

A change is gonna come.

I am inspired by Tehran and the passion of the people there. I have been reading “iranelection” tweets from Twitter’s Trending Topics. The courage is there. The hope for a better future. The vision of a better way. The leadership. The synergy.

So I wondered how we capture the energy of this historic moment and bring it home from Persia. My state, California, is reeling. The proposals coming from our Terminator on how to bridge the mind-boggling deficit are absolutely disastrous as they apply to our children:

• Cut $4.5 billion from K-12 public education
• Cut Healthy Families (health insurance!)
• Cut CalWorks (aide to families)

Simultaneously, Stanford University determines that charter schools aren’t the answer... or more accurately, they are not consistently the answer. According to the report issued on June 15: 17% reported academic gains that were better than traditional public schools and 37% showed “gains” that were worse. Perhaps that inspired the California Charter Schools Association to come out a few days later with their own scheme to “hold charter schools more accountable for their academic achievement.”

As if we could be more accountable. My students families are being moved around the community like they are on roller skates. Their homes are being foreclosed. Their parents hang on to their jobs with that white-knuckled fear that the worst of the economic damage has not run full course. 1/3 never had health insurance to start with and now the potential cut to the programs that link children to pediatricians and optometrists and dentists are on the chopping block. Collateral damage.

Then, for a fleeting moment, it is not all doom and gloom: I discover an LA Times article about a charter school that is “spitting in the eye of mainstream education.” Hope? One of California’s very highest performing schools is actually a charter school! It sits in a low income community in Oakland and has managed to defy all Stanford odds and achieve an Academic Performance Index of 967!

But wait. Not so fast. This school... the one that every school in America should emulate... the one to whom we should run to analyze and replicate; the one Governor Terminator called “a miracle” and the Koret Foundation determined was the “model for public education in California”... may have soared to its amazing heights on the wings of Icarus.

So now I am processing this whirlwind of events that have played out on multiple levels. I scale in and out of them as easily as manipulating Google Earth. First the 20,000 foot satellite view and a crisis a world away. Then the street view. I can see the economic realities come home to roost; I can see them parked in the driveway. But there are no easy answers, no quick fix solutions. Anywhere.

It is Saturday and the first full week of summer vacation for our students.

I am watching, out of the corner of my eye, as motorcycles burn on Tehran streets. The video is shaky but what do you expect from amateurs running through chaos with cell phones and downloading history on CNN IReports? Freedom finds its throat in the fury there.

Next week promises to be at least as interesting. There is only one outcome we can predict with any confidence or accuracy-- somehow, some way...

A change is gonna come.

Kevin W. Riley
El Milagro Weblog

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.