Thursday, April 22, 2010

Community Schools Update

A couple weeks ago, Solynn and I were attended a Community Schools Forum in Philadelphia, put on by the Coalition for Community Schools. Despite a 3:30 a.m. arrival time due to an unexpected redirect of our flight, it was a great opportunity to learn more about national efforts. As we move further into this work it’s highly beneficial to see the experiences that have shaped other efforts across the country.

Several Seattle partners attended the conference representing community based organizations, the Alliance, and a couple district staff who were brought by external community partners.

At the heart of the community schools initiative is the goal of improving student academic success by addressing the many complex needs of our students and families. We had the opportunity to learn how other agencies have identified outcomes, engaged families, and built partnerships which are having a positive impact on students in their regions.

Here are just a few of the many themes that came out of the conference:

· Remember the importance of youth participating in the planning process

· Put the community back in community schools – start planning with community members and parents at the table from the beginning. Note: This summer, the Alliance’s community engagement effort will focus on this area, planning for a strong fall outreach to families and community partners.

· Remember the importance of data. This is about supporting students and what you count counts.

· Health is a very important component for a community schools effort

We’ve been talking about this for a while and the conversation is now moving forward. It isn’t just the Alliance that is working on this effort, but various organizations building a regional effort. Partners include universities, foundations, non-profits and civic leadership. These groups are learning from each other and moving our efforts forward in alignment rather than individual parallel efforts.

We are excited to be part of this process that hopes to build a safety net for all students and ensure that all have the opportunity to succeed.


  1. I'm not sure how to feel when I read you write the words "start planning with community members and parents at the table from the beginning"

    Odd that you acknowledge that it is critical in this one, narrow context yet totally disregard it in nearly every other endeavor.

  2. No need to be so secretive:
    Could you tell us, the community,

    1)which "Several Seattle partners attended the conference representing community based organizations" and the people representing those partners?

    2) which "external partners" paid for which "couple of district staff members"?

    3) If "what you count counts," which data is important in these efforts?

    4) which are the "many and complex needs" you (or others) are identifying as important?

    5)which of these "mamy and complex needs" will be linked, via data, to student success and/or failure, and then be taken into account during your "teacher quality" evaluations?

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  4. I'm a supporter of the idea of community schools. My vision is not guided solely by the goal of "improving student academic success"- though I think the end result would be the same.

    A community school can address some of the failings of school wide age segregation, allowing people of all ages to create, grow and learn together. A community school can dispel the myth of ___ classes as those of key value, allowing for courses and teachers reflective of the interests and assets of the community. A community school can inspire and train passive and active mentors, building relationships based on mutual interests. A community school can improve environmental and human health...

    It's not that I think community schools are the savior, but creating public space for discussion, learning and collaboration is soooo much more desirable than a building that sits empty, engaging only a segment of the community for part of the day. There are musicians, gardeners, poets, knitters, cooks, cat lovers, computer geeks, kung fu masters, hair braiders, and chess players in every community. Let's grow community schools not in response to our deficits, but in light of our strengths. Bring in the community and student outcomes will improve.

    An added bonus would be the active support of democracy through community participation in sharing and learning for the public good.

  5. Well put, Owlhouse.
    A community school can be a hub of activity, 7am to 11pm everyday. Students can put on plays, assisted by volunteers from the theater community. Health care clinic onsite. Adult education is available, as well as day care.

    The trick is getting the community to rally 'round the school, and by community I don't mean external entities who have their own vision of what the community (and the school) should "look" like; by community I mean a representative, democratic gathering of citizens.

    This is why I asked the questions I asked above: There are many who seek to "reform" our schools (AND our communities) towards their own, non-organic vision. They hire researchers to "prove" their data with biased surveys, they pay millions to steer district administration....THESE organizations are not the community I believe benefits students. So I wonder who the "external partners" are who are "paying for district staffers" to direct their agenda. You'll note that no one has come forward with a response to my questions. To me, that suggests not a democratic process open to all voices but a very narrow and directed group of "external partners" on a mission.

  6. I agree with both Owlhouse and Seattle Citizen... LIFE IS ABOUT LIFE-LONG LEARNING AND COMMUNITY, not about a narrowly-defined curricula outside the parameters of daily life, taught over a limited number of years, that is designed primarly to turn out people who will fit with the minimum of fuss, bother, protest and COST into a narrowly-defined range of 'useful', 'productive' (as in profit-making) occupations... which is how corporatist education reformers think the world should be run - teach children what they need to know to be good workers and good consumers and to do that with the minimum of deviation from the norm, minimum individuality, minimum dissent...

    The problem with life in a 21st century western capitalist economy fashioned by corporations, is that PEOPLE, even the young and very old - are seen as units of economic production...

    Society (or rather big business) is willing to invest just enough in these people (in some countries more than in others - such as basic infrastructure, public health and public education) to get them to maturity, where they will become 'productive' units - working and creating a profit for their private industry employers, paying taxes and consuming goods created via the process of exploitation of natural and human resources... Adults are expected to bring a Return on Investment (ROI) for society/corporations; if they dont/wont fit the mould, are temperamentally unsuited or are too ill/unstable, then they're considered to be worthless, a drain on resources, a DOG in Boston Consulting Group product matrix terms, rather than a STAR or a CASH COW...

    And of course, this is not a natural, organic, healthy expression of the human spirit, so what the corporatists see as 'dysfunction' breaks out and increases as the pressure to fit square pegs into round holes is increased... Of course, this is not dysfunction at all, but a completely predictable expression of a natural response to unnatural pressures and expectations...

  7. PART TWO:

    Corporatists are willing to allow some of that 'dysfunction' and rebellion to continue only as long as it doesnt affect profitability beyond a certain point. There's a certain level of acceptable loss in 'human capital' they're willing to carry...

    We've had that cycle occurring over the past 200 years... public education sprang up in response to the need to convert and move a rural agrarian labour pool into the cities, to man the factories and keep the machines of the Industrial Revolution running...

    Over time, profits grew, standards of living generally improved, but in conjunction with that, workers - thanks to education and being able to read - developed an independent mentality and wanted a greater share of the pie their sweat created for their bosses...

    So, what were once the favoured positions of the upper middle and upper classes, began to be infiltrated by people who came from much 'humbler' roots... the rich were being told to move over and share, and an (unintended) side effect of universal education was an increase in rebellion and the ability to communicate and mobilise that rebellion into action...

    That period culminated in the 60s and early 70s, at which point business got seriously worried and decided to take back control of education. The CORPORATIST EDUCATION REFORM movement began to step in behind the scenes and to push its agenda into public education... see
    this from the Broad Foundation’s Annual Report for 2009:

    “The election of President Barack Obama and his appointment of Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, as the U.S. secretary of education, marked the pinnacle of hope for our work in education reform. In many ways, we feel the stars have finally aligned.

    With an agenda that echoes our decade of investments—charter schools, performance pay for teachers, accountability, expanded learning time and national standards—the Obama administration is poised to cultivate and bring to fruition the seeds we and other reformers have planted.”

    As Dora Taylor wrote on the Seattle Ed 2010 blog:
    "If anyone ever doubted that our Secretary of Education has the same agenda as the Broad Foundation, I believe the above quote will dispel any such thoughts. The relationship between the Broad Foundation and Arne Duncan started when Duncan was CEO of Chicago Public Schools, if not earlier, and according to Eli Broad, it is blossoming for him and other education reformites.

    If the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Broad has spent and urged others to spend on this movement had instead been spent on school districts, more teachers to create smaller class sizes, and curriculum materials that are lacking in the classroom, we would all be much farther ahead without people who have no idea about what goes in a classroom dictating to others who do how they should teach and instead creating a high-pressure, factory like atmosphere in our schools."

    and see here, for the 'how to' for would-be reformers to get involved in shaping public education, while AT THE SAME TIME MAXIMISING THEIR ROI IN SELLING PRODUCTS INTO AND PRIVATISING THE SAME PUBLIC EDUCATION...

    It makes me sick to my stomach... and I cringe that A4E is pretending its not part of this incestuous cess pool charade, masquerading as a 'grass roots' organisation caring only for the wellbeing of our kids...

    If you really cared about our kids, you wouldnt be helping in these efforts to narrow "education" even further...

  8. Jim Hightower - a very wise man - says this at

    "...One big difference between real populism and... the tea party thing is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of corporations. So you can't say, 'Let's get rid of government.' You need to be saying, 'Let's take over government.'"

    As Hightower's fond of saying, the water won't clear up until we get the hogs out of the creek.

    "I see the central issue in politics to be the rise of corporate power," he reiterated. "Overwhelming, overweening corporate power that is running roughshod over the workaday people of the country. They think they're the top dogs, and we're a bunch of fire hydrants, you know?"

    Of President Obama he said, "It's odd to me that we've got a president who ran from the outside and won, and now is trying to govern from the inside. You can't do progressive government from the inside. You have to rally those outsiders and make them a force... Our heavyweight is the people themselves. They've got the fat cats, but we've got the alley cats..."

    This weekend, Jim is being honored at Texas State University-San Marcos with an exhibition celebrating his life's work as a populist journalist, historian and advocate. They're calling the event "Swim Against the Current" because, as (Bill) Moyers says, "That's what he does."

    In fact, "Swim Against the Current" also is the title of Hightower's most recent book, subtitled, "Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow." He comes from a long history of flow resisters, a critical, American political tradition. "I go all the way back to Thomas Paine," he said. "I mean, that was kind of the ultimate rebellion, when the media tool was a pamphlet." The men who wrote the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence "didn't create democracy. [They] made democracy possible.

    "What created democracy was Thomas Paine and Shays Rebellion, the suffragists and the abolitionists and on down through the populists and the labor movement, including the Wobblies. Tough, in your face people... Mother Jones, Woody Guthrie... Martin Luther King and Caesar Chavez. And now it's down to us.

    "These are agitators. They extended democracy decade after decade. You know, sometimes we get in the midst of these fights. We think we're making no progress. But... you look back, we've made a lot of progress... The agitator after all is the center post in the washing machine that gets the dirt out. So, we need a lot more agitation.... "We can battle back against the powers. But it's not just going to a rally and shouting. It's organizing and it's thinking. And reaching out to others. And building a real people's movement."

    How much is the Alliance for Education a real people's movement? You aren't, not at all... So what gives you the right to have so much more influence in SPS than do parents and community members? The right taken by virtue of the money that backs you?

  9. Dear Alliance,

    I'm afraid you have so befouled your reputation with the "Teacher Quality" survey that even this good idea meets with skepticism when coming from you.

    I think you need to fold and start clean, or split in to an Corporate-funded branch and a Community-funded branch to regain any sense of integrity.

  10. Wow! The Alliance sure does have a lot of pull. You start talking about Community Schools and it appears on the agenda for the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee this month. That's instant action!