Achievement Gap Summit by wdt23119


									                                Achievement Gap Summit
                              Sacramento Convention Center
                                 November 13 & 14, 2007

                                     Bart O’Brien’s Notes

The Achievement Gap Summit was held at the Sacramento Convention Center on Nov 13 and 14.

Jack O’Connell welcomed the crowd of 4,000, and said that despite our past efforts at reform, there
is still a persistent gap in student achievement. This large group of committed California educators
has assembled because they are optimistically looking for improvements to close this gap. We must
have “urgent patience”…patience for all of us to do the hard work, which is essential to our
future—morally, socially, and economically.

Jack introduced the first keynote speaker, Doug Reeves. His topic was the implementation gap.
Doug said that when leading change, it was essential to consider the environment. He said there are
four questions for audience members to consider: (1) what do the students need to learn? (2) how
do we know they have learned it? (3) what are the most effective teaching strategies? and (4) what
are the most important systems schools and districts need to have in place to ensure student

Brand names are not the answer. “Programs don’t teach kids, teachers do.” Only deep
implementation makes a difference. Ninety percent of the staff must participate in the change. He
next discussed most effective strategies—the same, old tried and true strategies, including the
following: (1) writing and note taking; (2) recognition of achievement; (3) alignment of curriculum,
assessment and instruction; (4) assignment of teachers based upon student needs; (5) modeling and
mentoring instructional strategies weekly; (6) classroom environment; (7) post clear objectives for
every lesson; (8) deep content; (9) mentoring specific actions; and (10) teaching strategies.

Doug continued to emphasize “it’s all about implementation.” Students value achievement through
fourth grade, then it drops off. Why? What happens? Change killers include: (1) toxic feedback—
this would include giving a zero to students for missing work. He said the important thing is to get
students to complete the project, not to punish them; (2) hierarchy; (3) blame. If schools believe
they can make a difference, they can—the stronger the belief, the higher the achievement. Planning,
implementation, and monitoring create a three-part tool for improving instruction. Relentlessly ask,
“Is it working? Are you getting better every month?” Consider both what students and adults do.
Leaders need to spend time with those who are working hard to help their students achieve. Direct
observation of teacher leaders is THE most effective way (“by a country mile”) for teachers to learn
and improve.

The first breakout session I attended was entitled, “Moving California Schools from Worst to
First—what will it really take to leave no child behind?” The session featured Linda Darling-Hammond,
who was accompanied by a group of students. Linda began her presentation by saying she was inspired
from the film “From First to Worst,” which described the plight of California schools since the passage
of Prop 13. By 2000, California was 48th in expenditures as a state on the share of personal income
devoted to education; 50th in the teacher:student ratio; #1 in the number of students enrolled in public
schools. In 2003, students scored 47th in fourth grade reading and ranked 50th in eighth grade reading.
The achievement gap is the predictable result of our various policies that have cut short the importance
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of education. The largest or most onerous of the policies is how we train, prepare, and pay teachers.
California spends the same amount on higher ed as it does on prisons. More than fifty percent of
inmates are functionally illiterate. College freshmen decreased by 25,000 from 2005 to 2006 in
California. High Schools for Equity is a study released today; five California high schools that serve
students of color (primarily), and send virtually all their students to college are the subjects of this study.
The schools include a construction tech academy in San Diego, Leadership High in San Francisco, New
Tech High in Sacramento, and two others. These are personalized, with class sizes ranging from 20 to
25 students. There is an advisory system where students meet with their advisors once a week at a
minimum. They include internships in career-tech prep, community service, project-based learning, and
authentic assessment, exhibitions, portfolios, senior projects. There is a culture of revision and
redemption. Students can work towards competence, by building a record of success. The schools are
characterized by professional collaboration and learning, summer retreats for teachers, professional
development, inquiry about student learning. Leadership is focused on instruction.

Linda introduced the student speakers. London is from New Tech High. He said, “This school
works for students because there are excellent relationships between students and staff.” Jeremiah
Marshall from the June Jordan School in San Francisco said, “School has an advisory system that
supports student achievement. They know the students and encourage them to grow.” Anna is also
from the June Jordan School. “There is no tracking in the school, it is a great thing…School will
help me in life and I know it.” Teacher Chris Williams from New Tech High said, “Project-based
learning allows them to build strong relationships based upon real life problem solving—like
coaches typically develop with their athletes. Watching them develop over time is the real reward.”

Linda next directed her comments to the policy environment; what do we need?
   1.      Well-prepared teachers and leaders
   1.      Engaging real-world curriculum
   1.      Schools designed for teaching and learning; also for caring—“You can’t teach them if
           you don’t love them.” There are five hours a week built into the teacher work week and
           two overnight retreats at the June Jordan School in San Francisco.

We all returned to the main conference room in the Convention Center for the great debate,
featuring Chester Finn, Chris Cross, and Rick Rothstein. Chester Finn said there are actually
numerous achievement gaps and only slight evidence of the narrowing of any of these. Chester Finn
also said the gap is a result of poor schools. School makes an enormous difference for kids from
underprivileged families. Some schools are far more effective than others. We are not good at taking
poor schools and turning them into good schools. We can spot them, but we haven’t figured out
how to fix them. Finn would like to give students the option of leaving these poor schools with
vouchers. We need high quality pre-school that has a strong cognitive component and a strong
curriculum. Rick Rothstein said the gap cannot be closed from student achievement improvement
alone. Issues of class and income are far too entrenched and expansive to be addressed simply by

The first afternoon session involved urban superintendents and their districts. Mike Hansen from
Fresno Unified School District (a relatively young man), Maggie Mejia from Sacramento City
Unified (who came to Sacramento in 2004—she was at Montabello before that), and Dr. Laura
Schwalm from Garden Grove. She has been in her district for 30+ years—9 as a superintendent.
Chris Steinhouser from Long Beach has been in his district 26 years, and became the superintendent
in 2002.

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Laura opened by describing the Garden Grove District; there are 49,000 students, 14% white, 80%
non-native English speakers, 60% free and reduced lunch.

Long Beach is made up of 88,000 students—50% Hispanic, 18% African American.

Sac City has 50,000 students, 58 different languages, two-thirds of the students live in poverty, 11%
are special ed, 32% are Hispanic, 21% are African American.

Areas of focus for each of the districts—in Long Beach, an AP program was expanded to allow all
students who want to be in AP to participate. They give the PSAT to all 10th grade students. AVID
is open to all middle and high school students, and it is soon to spread to all elementary schools.
Math 2D is a staff development for math teachers to help students get A-G requirements with a C
grade or better, because the issue is with math.

At Sac City, they are working at creating a system of continuous improvement.
    1.      They are building leadership capacity from classroom to the district office
    2.      Ongoing professional development based on school-determined needs
    2.      A high school initiative called E-21 (Education for the 21st Century). Six large high
            schools are organized into seven learning communities with six to seven career paths.
            Also built four small high schools, as well.

At Garden Grove, the focus is on good education for all students.
   1.     Implementing a data system that can track students’ progress—one band of growth in
          CST each year (60-65% of their students make it typically). EL students progress on the
          CELT as well as the above goal.
   1.     Increase the number of students completing the A-G requirements. They have used
          AVID to impact instructional practices in all subjects—AP, as well.
   1.     Interventions—who are the kids who haven’t advanced in two years, this is, met goal #1,
          above? Identify those students and provide them remediation.

Lessons learned:

From Sac City: (1) provide continuous support for people within your belief system; (2) there are no
silver bullets or magic programs to create improvement in your district; (3) challenge is to offer staff
development to help people thrive in the modern world; (4) all students must meet A-G graduation
requirements in the district.

In Garden Grove: the work is slow, painfully so. All of the issues are adult related, because the
system was designed for them, by them. Try to make issues less complex because they are difficult
enough in their simplicity. Stay focused, and focused means FOCUS!

Long Beach: keep focused on target; improve continuously and communicate why we are doing
what we are doing; keep your values; share leadership and recognition. Teachers and the teachers
union are two different things. The union is there for adults.

The second day of the conference (November 14) began with a keynote speech by Tavis Smiley.
His presentation was rich with sound bytes. He said educators do nothing less than work each day to
deliver the opportunities that are as good as the promise of California/USA. What kind of legacy will
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you live? Write your eulogy now and go out and live it. Content without context is pretext. (This is a
statement that Jessee Jackson made to Tavis during one of their meetings.) Public policy has to be
elevated to the level of the American promise. For most of us, a teacher is the first person outside of
our family to encourage us to be our best. Many of us respond by trying to achieve so that person will
be proud of us. Racism is the most intractable issue in California and the USA. We need to deliver on
the promise to shrink that gap. Be Socratic, live a reflective life. It doesn’t matter who you
are—whether you are a gazelle or a lion, you need to wake up every day running. It needs to be a
calling, not a job (referring to teaching). If it is a job, you are living beneath your privilege, and you are
hurting children. If it is a job, look for another one. What are you doing to deserve to be here? Walk in
your purpose and take advantage of your gift. When your gift matches the need, you are in your
purpose and calling, and you are living your purpose. Be Socratic; if this is not your purpose, move on.
Is this your gift, calling, or a job? Leadership—if you call yourself a leader and no one is following, you
are just out for a walk. What is leadership? How do we redefine it for our current time? We are the first
generation who may offer less and do less for the next generation who won’t do as well as us. Smiley’s
definition of leadership—you can’t lead if you don’t love, and you can’t save people if you don’t serve
people. What is the depth of your love? What is the quality of your service? Do you see your role as
creating an America that is as good as its promise? Everyone you meet or have contact with should be
better because you came in contact with them. It all comes down to love and service. It is not a disaster
not to reach your dream; it is a disaster not to dream.

The first morning breakout session I attended was presented by Kate Kinsella (;
707-473-9030). Over the last several years, she has adopted two children and moved to Healdsburg.
Kate began her presentation by saying teachers need to get students engaged in the lesson with
evidence checks of a concrete, positive response to the instruction. Students should respond in
complete sentences.

Teacher behaviors should include:
• Moving around the room, working the crowd.
• She shared examples of sentence starters and what she called “smart words.”
• Structured student engagement
• Rehearse with a partner
• Repeat in a public voice

One of the students she had with her was named Jeff; he also directed students to use their “smart
words.” Kate shared a great video clip of some excellent young teachers in their classrooms. She
referenced a website (—there is a “Kinsella” link with lots of files, including those she
shared in this presentation, as well as video clips. She said the task must be written on the board and
the teacher must model verbal and written responses.

The second breakout session I attended was Connect-Ed, the California Center for College and
Career—getting students ready for college and career. Matt Perry was one of0 the presenters in this
session. The focus was creating multiple pathways for academic and technical study, funded by the
James Irvine Foundation. The overwhelming majority of students say they’d work harder if there
was a clearer connection between school and their future career. Fifteen industry sectors are the
organizing themes from the State CTE framework. There are four essential components of
    1.      An academic core. Meeting A-G requirements, as well as requirements for 2-year and
            4-year colleges.
    2.      A technical core. Meeting industry standards, providing certification
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   3.      Workplace learning
   4.      Support services

All of these begin ideally in grade 9. The academic and technical curriculum should be integrated.
There should be mentoring, job shadowing, virtual apprenticeships. Students develop strong
relationships with adult role models, and students are immersed in an adult world. Many models
already exist; about 290 Statewide partnership academies; about 300 more career pathways. There
are theme schools, as well. The idea is “go to school and get to work.” Matt Perry described his
experience at Sac City, where he was hired in 2003 to open one of four small high schools. He had
two years to focus on a health professions high school. In year three, they opened in a $20 million
facility. He shared a three-minute DVD—showing healthcare topics integrated into every class. Four
years of science is required. Teachers all work together to help students learn, succeed and gain
experience in the health field. Results in year 3 with 9-11th graders—126 of 146 students are still in
the program. Black students—16% in math, 18% in English are above the State average in their
passing rates for the CAHSEE. Hispanics—18% in math and 35% in English are above the State
average for the CAHSEE. We also heard from a rep from Laguna Creek High School, where there is
a manufacturing, production, and technical academy that is possible because of their 4x4 bell
schedule. They have a specific list of courses with manufacturing themes. It includes an articulated
2+2 agreement with CSUS. Students have to get a mentor after the 10th grade. There was a
Powerpoint presentation outlining the specifics of the program.

The next keynote presentation was by Glenn Eric Singleton. He entitled his topic “Courageous
Conversations about Race,” which is also the title of his book. His mother was in the audience from
Baltimore. He lives in San Francisco and teachers at San Jose State University. He said our economy
now needs more college-educated workers. Over the next twenty years, the US and California will
continue to grow, and 50% of the growth will be through immigration. All of our students need to
do better for the US to continue to thrive. Poor white kids perform better than middle income
Blacks and Hispanics. This is what confirms that race is a factor in the achievement gap. Why is the
gap there? Factors which educators believe determine student achievement include:
    1.      Family support
    2.      Poverty
    3.      Language
    4.      Mobility.

“What do these factors have in common?” He asked. “They are wrong.” He said there is race. The
essential question is: Why is the racial achievement gap so persistent? He said, “We need to look at
the problem, and then determine the cause.” We have traditionally skipped this second step, but to
be successful, we have to find the cause and then suggest solutions, then create an implementation;
what he called “a binder.”
Causes suggested in his book are:
    1.      Passion
    2.      Practices or beliefs
    3.      Persistence; stay the course.
            By persistence, he gave an example of how (1) in 1996, classroom teachers looked at race
            and dealt with it. (2) In 1998, the whole school focused on all students’ success.
            (3) In 2000, it was district wide. (4) In 2003, there was a regional consortium, and
            (5) in 2005, a statewide consortium in Ohio and Connecticut.

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After this last session, I sat out on a bench and watched the many hundreds of people mill about. It
occurred to me that in my more than 30 years in the district, I have attended many conferences in
many locations. The issues are always the same: some students achieve, some don’t. Yet, we live in
an increasingly complex society where we need all students to achieve.

Again and again, it seems to come down to the need for excellent teachers working with kids in a
dynamic environment where the students see the relevance of what they are doing. On paper it is all
so easy: hire great teachers, give them the tools they need, and let them work. In reality, things are
far more complicated.

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