-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Superintendent Harter's December message
Date: Fri, 01 Dec 2006 09:19:01 -0800
From: Paul Ehara <Paul.Ehara@...
To: Paul Ehara <Paul.Ehara@...
Greetings. View Dr. Harter's December Message (including photos) at:
Through the Cracks
Bruce Harter, Superintendent of Schools
If you stand outside any high school just about anywhere in America and ask the freshmen what they plan to do upon graduation, more than 90 percent will say “go to college.” Yet, only 80 percent of the freshmen who started school in 2002 graduated from high school in 2005 (the most recent year for which we have accurate data). And of those who finish high school only about 46 percent say they’re going on to either a two- or four-year college. Of the 2,529 students in our school district who were in 9th grade in 2001-02, fewer than 1,000 (37 percent) went on to a two- or four-year college.
The difference between the 90 percent who said they wanted to continue their education after high school and the 37 percent who do in fact go on to college represents what I call the “aspiration gap.” The students who wanted to go to college when they started high school but who weren’t prepared to do so when they finished are the ones who fell through the cracks.
Growing up today is difficult and the pressures on young people are enormous. Sadly, many young people don’t get the support, guidance and boundaries they need from family or the other societal institutions. From my perspective, funding for schools is less than half of what it needs to be. So it’s unrealistic to think that all 90 percent who say they want to go to college will be able to do so when they graduate. But we can and will make substantial improvements and dramatically close the aspiration gap over the next five years.
When I ask high school students why they failed a class, they’ll often tell me that the teacher didn’t like them. Teachers tell me that students fail because they don’t do the work. Success in school lives in the relationship between teachers and students. Where the connections are strong, we see high levels of achievement.
The small learning communities that are emerging at several of our high schools are beginning to show great promise in that they provide students with a sense of belonging that they had not previously experienced. The small learning communities are working best at schools where each student is known well by a caring adult in that school. Someone notices and acts when the student is absent or misses an assignment, or exceeds his/her previous performance, or engages in the discussion, or has an outside-of-school issue. These academies or houses are effective when there’s a family sense of what it takes to make sure that all are successful.
Another key initiative is bringing outside resources to support the school. Our best example is at Richmond High School (RHS) where Principal Orlando Ramos recently brought in more than 100 African American men to be role models and potential mentors for the 107 African American students at that school. Earlier in the year, he organized hundreds of community volunteers to make home visits to RHS students whose performance fell below standards. In the future, he’ll be bringing in Latino role models and creating connections for other unique populations at that school.
Our Board of Education has authorized starting school-based health centers like the El Cerrito High School Community Project at all our high schools. The Community Project provides reproductive health care through Planned Parenthood Express, individual counseling, support groups around different issues and the Student Success Team for academic support. The center coordinates Peer Conflict Mediation, Peer Counseling, Student Research Teams, Social Action groups and the Youth Documentary Project.
Health and related issues seriously impair students’ opportunities to be successful in school. Social work interns from various universities provide a variety of services. Students also get the opportunity to act on issues that are important to them such as school-based violence prevention or organizing to bring out student voices around issues like discrimination and racism.
Increasingly, when I’m visiting our schools (which I do every week), I’m seeing assignments that are designed to help students address the content standards, but that also allow students to make choices about how they’ll do it. Relevance often comes in the instructional practices within each course. Our professional development for teachers has included modules designed to increase the proportion of time that our teachers engage students in ways that are individually meaningful. These include Marzano strategies, CRISS strategies and Understanding By Design. For more information click on any of the links:
To increase the proportion of our students who are ready for postsecondary education, we also are creating more access to higher level courses. Two years ago we started providing the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) to all 10 th graders. We use the results from this test to place more students into higher level courses like those that meet the University of California’s A to G requirements.
We’ve also increased the number of students taking Advanced Placement tests by 42 percent since 2002. Students who take an Advanced Placement course are much more likely to not only go to college but finish college. AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, is another way we have to get more students into higher level courses. By providing support and tutoring many students who never would have taken higher level courses can now find success and the preparation they need to continue education after high school.
While the work is never easy, we can and will make great progress, decrease the “aspiration gap” and have many fewer students fall through the cracks.