A NEW ERA IN EDUCATION
Since 1990, when she co-authored, The new handbook of teacher evaluation: assessing elementary and secondary school teachers, Linda Darling-Hammond has impressively argued for policymakers and practitioners to focus their energy and resources on strengthening instruction for diverse learners.
Arguing that diverse learners have suffered as a result of the economic inequity that is hard-wired into our school-funding systems, Darling-Hammond will soon have a grander platform to promote her thoughtful and evidence-based conclusions about what our school system should look like and could accomplish in her new role as President of California State Board of Education. I expect her to lead a very public discussion of why our education funding systems are derailing the American Dream. According to Darling-Hammond, money does matter and the gap she’s most interested in closing is the great divide caused by property tax revenues and correspondingly higher funding in schools serving higher socioeconomic communities (this is not breaking news, there have been a landslide of lawsuits filed in the last 30 years in an attempt to remedy inequities).
As a Superintendent of Schools in two school districts serving over 80% unduplicated students, I am acutely aware of the divide and have come to recognize that as the challenges mount as a result of privatization, school choice (including Districts of Choice), and charter profiteers, a war of words have further divided public education instead of bringing it closer together.
My districts have lost thousands of students to neighboring districts (some DOC) that have profited because they serve fewer students meeting the LCFF supplemental and concentration grant criteria, and subsequently their Dashboard is much more attractive then my district’s. Segregation, spurred by public shaming and subsequent bleeding to neighboring districts, not charters and privatization, continue to pose the greatest threat to public education. It’s a constant drain on human and fiscal resources for districts like mine and strikes at the very core of democracy, weakening a system dependent on policymakers ensuring not only its existence but its potential. My fellow educators and I live this reality everyday.
If you follow Darling-Hammond, who succeeds the former SBE president Michael Kirst, another Stanford professor emeritus who served on the State board for an unprecedented 16 years, you know that she is a tireless proponent for equity in our schools.
She has most recently written extensively on social-emotional learning and educating with the whole child in mind. Whole-child advocates are anxious now that the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is behind us, with its focus on raising student test scores at the expense of student health and welfare, including their physical, social, emotional, and psychological development, as well as their critical and creative thinking, and communication and collaboration abilities. Now that the threat of public shaming and other punishments are less draconian under ESSA (though still present), the most vulnerable of children have a better chance. But that chance is only possible if leaders are emboldened by policies that support desegregation and a shift from a compliance-driven climate that blames students for poor results to one focused on continuous improvement.
The best thing about a focus on the whole child and a general commitment to social-emotional learning is that it impacts all children. Schools that are committed to building classrooms and structures that are not designed to undermine achievement can help children overcome toxic stress and trauma.
Hope rests with PBIS and other similar programs designed to create a positive school climate and promote social-emotional learning, productive teaching strategies, and a focus on student achievement. While hope is not a strategy, it does propel schools towards creating environments that are ideal for all students, and especially those living with trauma and consequently struggling to learn.
I’m excited about the future of education in California under the current leadership. Governor Newsom, Tony Thurmond, and Linda Darling-Hammond are a formidable trio and I’m happy to follow their lead as we enter a new era in public education.