California Educator

APRIL 2010

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Teachers turn around Anaheim High Five years ago, teachers decided to transform Anaheim High School with a group called, oddly enough, “Critical Friends.” Faculty from all departments and grades began meeting regularly for candid discussions about what was — and wasn’t — working at their campus. They dis- played the work of their students and asked colleagues for their hon- est opinions. They began open- ing their doors and watching each another teach and giving feedback. They decided to trust each another. Teachers had to lead the path to change because there was a vacuum in leadership at the time. The school and the district were in between princi- pals and superintendents. The campus, in the second decile on the API with more than 70 percent English learners, was floundering. Salvation arrived in the form of a $500,000 Comprehensive Schools Reform grant from the federal government. With no administrative leadership, teachers took control of the money. “I ended up being in charge of it,” says Dean Elder, a chemistry teacher and mem- ber of the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association (ASTA). “So I gathered a group of teachers together to figure out what we were going to do with the money.” ASTA members opted for Doug Wager Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association using the money on profession- al development modeled on the Critical Friends Group program based in Bloomington, Indiana. They hired consultants from the South Basin Writing Project to help them. And slowly, things improved. “We began creating bench- marks,” recalls Elder. “We began looking at data. We organized our departments so teachers were basically teaching the same standards in the same classes. We began emphasizing critical thinking skills instead of filling in the blanks. Quality assign- ments replaced worksheets.” The full-inclusion school also opted to have mainstream and special education teachers co-teach certain classes together, to address the needs of struggling students as well as students with special needs. In- tervention classes were added. Improvement was staggering: From 2004 to 2008, the school’s API ranking went from 571 to 701. The culture shift rocked the school, says English teacher Doug Wager. “People were willing to open their doors and talk honestly in an make schools better? Does competition The corporate viewpoint is that there’s nothing like “healthy competition” to improve quality. But should a school be run like a business where the emphasis is on winning rather than doing one’s personal best? And, when it comes to education, is the phrase “healthy competition” an oxymoron? “There is too much focus on states competing for dollars rather than laying a solid foundation of resources on which states and local districts can count,” asserts CTA President David A. Sanchez. “Because of devastating budget problems across the country, states are laying off educators and increasing class size. A competition for grants is a cruel hoax on state and local taxpayers that desperately need a reliable stream of funding.” 18 California Educator | APRIL 2010 A system that rewards “winners” and punishes “losers” based on test scores does not achieve the goal of helping struggling schools improve, adds Sanchez. “What would work better is a system built on proven reforms like smaller class sizes, more counselors and quality professional development for all educators. Reform works best when parents, teachers and principals work together to meet the needs of students in that particular neighborhood school.” At the state level, the California Department of Education released a list of 188 low-performing schools, which were immediately labeled by the media as the “worst” in the state. Many of these schools are improving: 129 had a positive change in their API score from 2005 to 2009, and 20 had a change of 50 or more points in their API score from 2005 to 2009. Now they are threatened with one of four options: a loss of funds unless they fi re staff; closing down; transformation; or conversion to a charter school. When schools are labeled “bad” as the result of competition, it can hurt schools rather than help — and even become a self-fufi lling prophency. Parents remove their students; the school gets less state funding due to declining enrollment; students and teachers have low morale; experienced staff leave; and members are stigmatized. Charter schools can have an advantage, since they can choose students through strict requirements resulting in the most motivated students and families. They can exclude students with learning disabilities or limited English skills, and can drain students and dollars away from other schools. “Increasing charter schools and promoting competition are very limited ways to improve education overall,” says Sanchez. Promoting competition is not an effective means to achieve lasting reform, says Don Bridge, a CTA Board member and high school history teacher in Chino Valley Unifi ed School District. “I look at Race to the Top and other contests as a way for our detractors to implement rules and regulations that are not benefi cial to us by dangling the carrot of money,” he says. “It is one-time money that will go away after these regulations are in place. How will that make for a sustainable reform or an ongoing successful school site, or make teachers successful in the classroom?” Competitive funding will be a disservice to students everywhere, and

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