Thinking Outside the SJUSD Box

Thank you to all of the awesome San Jose Inside readers who have supported me for the past year in our quest to bring a little accountability to the San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) system.  Over the past year, I encountered some successes and some failures. A brief summary includes the following:

  • Produced clear and color-coded data visualizations for 3 years of student ELA and Math academic performance for every school district in Santa Clara County communicated at http://sipbigpicture.com,
  • Conducted an Academic Olympics in Santa Clara County using academic achievement data at http://sipbigpicture.com/academic-olympics,
  • Shared the academic performance with readers in three separate San Jose Inside articles at http://sanjoseinside.com;
  • Attempted to share student outcome data visualizations at both SJUSD English Learner meetings and School Board meetings only to be rudely ejected from the School Board meeting, and
  • Established a blog of articles about professional practices, academic achievement and accountability at http://sipbigpicture/blog.

It is very clear that the crisis in student academic achievement within the San Jose Unified School District (SJUSD) will not be addressed let alone solved within the system.  The SJUSD Board and administration do not even recognize the crisis of academic achievement within their midst.  We must work together as a community to plan and implement a system that will support students, parents, and community members to ensure academic success for all of our students within the chaotic SJUSD system. Currently there is no real sense of urgency to address and solve the crisis. We must act from the outside to ensure change on the inside of the system.

I previously shared the annual consistently poor academic performance of students within SJUSD at my web site: http://sipbigpicture.com.  It is simply not OK that slightly more than half of 3rd graders meet or exceed English Language Arts and Math Standards in 2017. Only slightly more than a third of all eleventh graders meet or exceed Math Standards on the state Math test. The achievement gap is also a major academic performance issue within SJUSD as well with only 6% of eleventh grade English Learners meeting or exceeding ELA standards in 2017 and only 14% of Hispanic eleventh graders meeting or exceeding Math standards in 2017.  The results for 2018 do not appear to be much better as I will revise all of the data visualizations on my web site to show the new trends in performance once the somnambulistic bureaucrats get around to posting the necessary research files.

It does not appear that the SJUSD administration can face the brutal facts let alone address the issues of academic performance and the achievement gap with right planning and actions.  I tried to present the big picture of student performance using a poster that visualized 3 years of SJUSD student performance on the state math test by grade and by year. I also created a positive orientation to the work by sharing an award that SJUSD had won in the Academic Olympics. I got unceremoniously booted out of the Board meeting room by Deputy Superintendent Stephen McMahon.  Despite being a concerned citizen, I was ridiculed by the Superintendent, Nancy Albarrán, during my presentation as being just a vendor seeking to do business with the school district who the Board should ignore.  The Board president, Susan Ellenberg, went along with the bullying restricting my presentation to the mandated 3 minutes.

Not easily deterred, I offered to create a growth data visualization of English Learner academic and English Language acquisition to the SJUSD administration. This type of data visualization would be important to determine the effectiveness of English Learner programs within the district and to keep parents and the community apprised of the overall academic performance and English Language acquisition of English Learners within the system as my initial data visualizations pointed to some real problems in academic achievement across grade levels and across years.

I produced a carefully crafted data template that the school district could use to provide me with anonymized individual student data that would generate the data visualizations.  It should be noted that I have 40 years of experience in doing this kind of work for a wide range of school districts across the country.  I offered my services for free for my home school district. I was informed in an official letter from Stephen McMahon that the state would not allow the release of student data to an individual even though that is not what I was asking for!   Clearly, the District is not interested in sharing explicit and easy to interpret student data to the community and would prefer to hide behind the color-coded sham accountability dashboard system that obfuscates actual student performance and also minimizes the achievement gaps.

If an educator with over 40 years of high-level experience with the K-12 education system is so rudely treated and bullied by both the School Board and Administration, one can only imagine the intimidation that is felt by ordinary citizens who might want to address issues and concerns with the administration and the School Board.  It is a formidable and scary task to say the least.

The chaos and dysfunction within SJUSD manifest itself in self-similar ways within the system like fractals in mathematics.  I experienced the dysfunction at the parent level when a friend of mine reported that a teacher refused to give credit for several math assignments that her child had actually completed.  A key dysfunction here is that teachers unfortunately often conflate the completion of assignment with academic achievement and give academic credit for completion of assignments rather than the successful demonstration of academic performance at high levels.

Unfortunately, my friend interjected herself into the conflict very prematurely as helicopter Moms are wont to do. She did not have good strategies or tactics for working with teachers and was on the verge of alienating the teacher from her child. I provided several tactics that she could use to better equip her child with some communication techniques to respectfully address the issue with her teacher.    I also recommended that the child write the teacher a Thank You note to the teacher once there was a resolution to the issue. Of course, the issue was resolved and the teacher appreciated the Thank you note and the recognition from the child.  The sad reality is that parents do not often have the appropriate strategies and tactics to address how to better advance their children’s academic success within chaotic school environments.  It would be very helpful to develop a bank of resources that students, parents, and community members can use to address the ubiquitous educational pathologies that exist within the SJUSD system.

If the SJUSD school district is unable and/or unwilling to hold itself accountable for the academic achievement of all students, then we as a community of students and parents must develop our own theory of action, strategies, and tactics to effectively interact successfully with the system.  While San Jose Inside has been most supportive in communicating the dysfunction within SJUSD, I think that it would be idea to expand upon this effort, and initiate several new avenues of communication.  I propose that we engage in dialog using a Community-based radio station and to increase community member access to high quality resources students, parents, and community members can use to engage successfully with the school district.

I recently learned of an awesome communication gem within our community called the KCXU 92.7 FM Community Radio station.  Manu Martinez is the owner of this station and is willing to support the development of educational programming that will advance our cause to identify and implement ways to better help students, parents, and community members to successfully engage with SJUSD to improve professional practices and student outcomes.  In discussions, with Manu we came to realize that most of the solutions for improving SJUSD already exist within the community. Carefully planned educational programming will be a powerful way to increase awareness and catalyze change within SJUSD.  We would like to recruit a small number of interested students, parents, and community members who would be willing to engage in dialog to build out the plan for the educational program. If you are interested, you can contact me at billc@sipbigpicture.com.

I would also like to create a repository of student, parent, and community resources and tools to help us better interact with and engage the SJUSD School Board and Administration. The web page will support a wide variety of potential strategies and tactics to support better communication and influence with the system.  You will be able to access the tools and resources at http://sipbigpicture.com.  For example, I will continue to publish up to date data visualizations of student performance on state tests right after the state bureaucrats belatedly publish the research files.

Please let me know if you have any resources or tools that you have used to interact successfully with the SJUSD system and we will incorporate it into our web site.

The SJUSD School Board and Administration operate within a stifling fog that is characterized by a lack of focus on the essential work of ensuring academic success for all of its students. As students, parents, and community members, we can begin to help the SJUSD system dispel the fog and refocus on its main mission.  We must develop a coherent theory of action, strategies and tactics that we can use to effectively interact with and change the system. It is a worthwhile endeavor so let’s get busy and move forward on improving our school system from the outside in!

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