FREEDOM. LIBERTY. DEMOCRACY. WHY WE SHOULD CARE.
If, as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin believed, the purpose of public education is to establish and promote the ideals of freedom, liberty, and democracy to ensure a civil society, we’ve failed. In fact, the dark history that spawned our current education system has never totally escaped us. Certainly, significant progress has been made since the era of Dame Schools and the exclusion of African American children, yet second-tier systems still exist today.
It’s fair to look at alternative models to educate children who historically have been underserved. Why then aren't we all aggressively pursuing creative remedies to failure? The perfect learning environment remains elusive despite a couple hundred of years of trial and error. We continue to choose the low-risk, low-reward approaches - the proverbial simple solution to a complex problem.
I pose the following question to my doctoral students upon entering the program of advanced education studies at California State University, Fullerton: Has the fact that education is not a fundamental right under the Constitution hampered America’s ability to use education to realize the ideals of freedom, liberty, and democracy?
After all, each of the countries recognized for having superior education systems, according to the PISA Study and other international comparisons, has a constitutional, or statutory, guarantee of the right to an education. According to the Constitute Project, constitutions around the world include a constitutional guarantee to education. Finland, the world leader in education based on international comparisons, succinctly asserts in its constitution, “Everyone has the right to basic education free of charge” (Chapter 2, Section 16).
Is the latest national attempt at education reform (Common Core) America’s way of admitting that the state-approach hasn’t worked, allowing the international approach to educational rights to sink into our collective conscious?
That’s the second question I pose to my students. We have been studying Hattie’s work and the PISA study for close to ten years. It’s impact is finally being felt. If we don't learn from our mistakes, we don't learn.
Those of us in California who understand the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) recognize that they're euphemisms for more oversight, not more local control, at least in Los Angeles County where the County Board of Education (LACOE) is intimately engaged in ensuring that LCAPs are compliant. As an example, last year, LACOE issued a mea culpa after acknowledging that it mistakenly approved Long Beach Unified’s LCAP that shortchanged the high-need category of children (e.g. low-income children, foster and homeless youth, and English learners) $24 million under the LCFF. But Long Beach was not alone. Fresno Unified and Los Angeles Unified have also been cited. The nonprofit law firm Public Advocates and the ACLU have questioned other district's plans as well and as a result LACOE has agreed to demand that districts more thoroughly justify what they intend to do with money for student groups entitled to extra funding under the LCFF in pursuit of equity, ultimately supporting America's democratic values, which of course are the fundamental beliefs and Constitutional principles of our society.
The LCAP is changing the way education leaders in California are planning and allocating their resources. But many education leaders lack the skills to craft effective strategic plans. The LCAP is not a strategic plan. It's a budget for planned spending for districts with large numbers of high-needs students resulting in extra challenges and higher costs. Under the LCFF, if 55% of a district’s students fall into the high-needs category, the district qualifies for an additional concentration grant based on the number of high-needs students above the 55% threshold. Many districts in California don't come close to the 55% threshold. A strategic plan on the other hand is a roadmap for a district to realize its vision as an organization. Here's an example of the strategic plan for my current district.
There has never been a better time than now for school districts to strategically plan to meet the needs of their students. Students deserve it and democracy depends on it.