Funneling Anger into Action

In the classic Network, released 34 years ago, Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch) is at his anchor desk as the cameras go live and he eloquently unleashes his famous neurotic break with reality: “I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressman… All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad…I want you to get up right now and go to your window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!’

Today I feel the same as Beale, not related to his abject disgust with the trajectory of the nation, crime in the streets, depression, dirty air, banks, guns and unemployment, although those complaints still exist today. No; for me it is about the state of affairs with public education. The anger for me rises into rage when we continue to do the same things, bringing, in too many cases, abysmal results when we know how to create models that work for all students.

A few hours ago I came back from visiting a charter school model that if replicated for middle and high schools could lead the nation out of the crisis we have created for ourselves. However, the answer is not to scale charter schools up to 100 percent or to eliminate the traditional public school system. In fact, we can do this in all schools if we have the will. If we don’t I believe our nation is in peril.

In 2009 Stanford University’s CREDO (Center for Research on Education Outcomes) published the first national assessment on charter schools’ impact. “The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter school nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than if their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.”

The recent documentary Waiting for Superman appeared to have as its key thesis that charter schools are the cure to what is ailing the public school system. Unfortunately the movie glossed over the aforementioned important key findings contained in the CREDO charter report’s Executive Summary.

As one teacher told me at Summit Preparatory Charter in Redwood City, one of the schools featured in Waiting for Superman, the system of schools are failing the students and the situation is urgent. The sense of urgency comes from his experience teaching in South Central LA in high schools that were factories of failure.

When I got home I listed the ingredients of Summit’s success as I heard them from students, teachers, administrators and others with whom I had an opportunity to meet:

Hire teachers who care deeply about their work, their students, and their colleagues. Students told me what makes Summit a great school is that teachers really care and they all want them to succeed. Summit does not issue D grades.

Many of the teachers I spoke with were young second career professionals. A teacher who was an electrical engineering major had worked at a computer company in Texas, but was looking for more fulfilling work even though he took a significant pay cut.  He loves teaching and he enjoys doing so at Summit.

Pay was somewhat of an important factor however, what I heard was most important to attract high quality professionals to teaching is a supportive environment based on professionalism, where hard work can become “fun” work. Summit pays 10% per year bonuses based on performance, 25 percent of the bonus amount is based on student test scores.

Students rise to the occasion of teaching and learning when the expectations are equally high for all.  All students take A-G (admission requirements for UC and CSU) course requirements, there is no tracking. Ninety-three percent (93 percent) of Summit’s graduates attend a four-year college.  The Summit’s demographics mirror Sequoia Union High School District in all areas accept English Language Learners (11 percent at Summit vs. 18 percent at Sequoia).

Students told me there is tremendous support from their peers to succeed. Creating a culture of support and collegiality for all is an essential ingredient.

Summit is a professional development school site for Stanford University.

Tutoring and schoolwork on Saturday are routine.

Summit Preparatory Charter High School-Tahoma will be on the SCCOE agenda on Nov. 17 for authorizing its beginnings in the East Side Union High School District for 2011-12. If successful it plans to enroll 400 high school students, most from ESUHSD.

So I am mad as hell that we cannot get the will we need as a country to build these public schools with the ingredients presented above for all our children. If America can have the best military on the planet we too could (and must) have the schools to match.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

23 Comments

  1. > Students told me there is tremendous support from their peers to succeed. Creating a culture of support and collegiality for all is an essential ingredient.

    > Summit is a professional development school site for Stanford University.

    Well, DUH!!!

    It looks like all those big brains and eduction deep thinkers at Stanford simply rediscovered the HAWTHORNE EFFECT!!!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_experiments

    “The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied, not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.”

    Great!  So we treat every school in the country as a special, experimental school with PhD’s in labcoats and clipboards writing down Johnny and Susies every grunt and twitch, and—presto—improved educational outcomes!!! Sounds like a solution to me!

    And, as an additional benefit, Johnny can’t sneak outside behind the boiler room during recess and smoke a cigarette, because the labcoats will follow him.

    We could call this . . . THE NEW PROGRESSIVE MODEL OF EDUCATION.

    Bravo!!! Nobel Prizes for everyone!

    • except that it isn’t the Hawthorne effect: it is regular operations for 7 years running.  and not a labcoat anywhere.

      Perhaps “Teachable Moment” might visit the school for a teachable moment before reaching (for) an insight.

      • Observer-in-Denial wishfully clings to the hope that Teachable Moment might by snowed by educrat sophistry:

        > except that it isn’t the Hawthorne effect: it is regular operations for 7 years running.  and not a labcoat anywhere.

        Oh, right:

        “Summit is a professional development school site for Stanford University.”

        A “regular operation”?  How many other public schools in California are “professional development school site[s] for Stanford University”?

        A textbook case of the Hawthorne effect.

  2. You have lots of courage. Good Luck! Charter Schools are like private schools. They don’t have to put up with all of the government regulations and unions which impede the ability of good teachers to excel and protect the ones who should be fired.

    • Al,

      Thank you for your courage comment.  This site over the last two years has eroded much of my courage and energy toward change. I am now using my reserve tank these days. Your comment adds a little fuel for me to continue to attempt to be courageous in the face of misinformation and distrust of public servants.

      • Joseph,
        Don’t despair. Many people read your column and support your effort for change. Just because they don’t blog/post on here doesn’t mean you aren’t being heard, agreed with, or valued. 

        I find it sad and discouraging that posters don’t keep their comments limited to the topic too, but that is in part why SJI and other blogs have lost readership. I don’t think mean spirited attacks should be allowed either.

        Just know this, many of us do appreciate your efforts to educate us on the educational system. I may not always agree with you, but I do learn a lot from your columns. Thank you for hanging in there for the silent majority!
        wink

        • > I may not always agree with you, but I do learn a lot from your columns.

          Kathleen:

          You ALWAYS agree with Joe.

          But it’s OK to ALWAYS agree with Joe.

          You don’t need to apologize.  You don’t need to fib.

          If Joe were always right, I would be happy to always agree with him.

          Unfortunately, he has fallen into learned error, and I, as a Good Samaratan, have made the effort to pull him out of the ditch when others walked by and looked the other way.

        • Teachable Moment,
          Thank you for proving my point so quickly and efficiently!

          Now, do you have anything of substance to add to the conversation, or is bullying the only topic you excel in? wink

        • > Thank you for proving my point so quickly and efficiently!

          That you always agree with Joe?

          Why is that “bullying”?

          You’re VERY sensitive.  Aren’t you.

        • Teachable Moment,
          Not sensitive just tired of anonymous posters like you who have nothing of substance to say. I’ve looked at several of your posts and they all contain a jab at some poster you disagree with.

          If you’re so integrity ridden why don’t you post under your real name? May be it’s because you enjoy coming on a public blog bashing everyone you disagree with while enjoying zero accountability for the ignorant things you say. Yep, you are certainly proving my point with each smug comment you make.

          BTW- Why don’t you give us a teachable moment and tell us what YOU think needs to be done to improve the educational system? I’m sure others on this blog would love to read something worth hearing from you.

        • > Mr. Di Salvo I appreciate your opinion.  I believe that parents should have all the options in choosing the best form of education for our children. 

          Great sentiment.  But you’ve got the wrong Joe DiSalvo.

          Mr. DiSalvo does NOT believe that “parents should have all the options in choosing the best form of education for our children”.

          He is a functionary of the government monopoly school system.

          He does NOT endorse tuition vouchers for private schools, tuition tax credits, or home schooling.

          He speaks soothingly about charter schools only because he has to.  “Charter schools” are a mere crumb of an option reluctantly allowed by the educrat-teachers union axis.  Charter schools are barely tolerated by the government monopoly education establishment, and as soon as the public stops paying attention, the monopolists will take back the charter schools like body snatchers in a horror movie and turn them into government controlled zombie schools.

        • Teachable Moment,
          Sounds like you have a personal axe to grind with Joseph. Why don’t you contact him, meet up, and get to know him before you make the kinds of judgements about him that you are?

        • Kathleen,
          I appreciate your support for a civil conversation about the failure And future of the public education system. I would welcome the opportunity to meet and discuss the areas of disagreement. I think there might. Be areas of agreement, too.

        • I agree also Kathleen.

          Mr. Di Salvo I appreciate your opinion.  I believe that parents should have all the options in choosing the best form of education for our children. 

          I hope the County Ed vote goes well for Summit.  I know I will be signing up my child for Summit if and when its approved.  I like the small school model and value the dedication and commitment of the Summit staff to bring an alternative to the traditional 2500+ student campuses.

        • Joseph,
          Blogs end up losing readership, writers, and posters when the discussion goes off topic and personal attacks start. For blog owners, the problem of censorship becomes an issue and discourse attracts readers. (I know it is sad to think one could be attracted to mean spirited behaviors, but some people are.) On the other hand by allowing all this bashing and off topic commentary serious readers end up leaving.

          I have been guilty, at times, of being harsh to a poster or writer, and I’m working on changing that. I hope that posters will realize that differing opinions can be a good thing as long as it is done respectfully. On a few occasions I’ve changed my mind on a topic when good, respectful arguments are presented. I hope that happens more often, as we are never too old to learn!

        • Kathleen,

          I am still awaiting a request for a meeting with Teachable Moment. I continue to look forward to an intelligent conversation with TM about public education. Tonight the SCCOE Board will vote on the authorization of Summit Charter High School -Tahoma. The discussion prior to a vote should be illuminating.

    • DiSalvo writes:
      “Jerry Brown being once again elected Governor, Gavin Newsom as Lieutenant Governor, and Larry Aceves as Superintendent of Public Instruction. I proudly advocated through money and mouth in all four of these potentially historic events.”

      And somehow we’re expected to think you are anything but a democrat party/teachers union beholden apparatchik?

      Courage eroding?  Drawing on your last energy reserves?  Sounds like you need an educational conf at some sweet locale on the taxpayer dime.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdqQTIQhn5A

  3. If the film “Waiting for Superman” has anything important to say, then why did they give it such a juvenile title?

    (I’m assuming its not a Nietzsche reference.)

  4. Joseph you write: “Students rise to the occasion of teaching and learning when the expectations are equally high for all….Creating a culture of support and collegiality for all is an essential ingredient.”

    Middle schools mostly enroll students who have completed elementary school.  High schools mostly enroll students who have completed middle school.

    What a student learns and experiences in elementary school impacts the remainder of the educational experience.  Can some students significantly improve between 4th/5th grades and 11th/12th grades?  Sure.  But students are well on a success trajectory for their levels of mathematics and language arts achievement by the time they finish elementary school.

    County Boards of Education have a unique role to lead because they have less day-to-day statutory authority than local school boards.  I hope SCCBOE will really focus on the best practices of elementary schools that achieve high test scores, with special attention to neighborhood public elementary schools that achieve with challenging SED, ELL and PEL demographics.

    If our public education leaders demand success and accountability at the elementary levels, then middle school, high school and college achievement will improve.  And, our Community Colleges also will gain better options, since they will face less need to spend scarce resources on remedial coursework.

    Some charters may be successful.  But, the real focus should be on neighborhood public elementary schools that achieve at high levels.  Let’s highlight and spread those best practices.

  5. I could not agree more with your thinking. The SCCOE must lead to improve teaching and learning for all beginning in every public elementary school. As one Summit teacher told me the situation is urgent.