School improvement initiatives in Long Beach, California: The quest for higher student achievement, behavior, and dress standards
Cohn, Kathleen C
Long Beach, California is home to three large educational institutions, Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach City College, and California State University, Long Beach. This article presents a case of sustained educational improvement initiatives over the past four years that have moved parents and community to higher standards for all students. Lead by Long Beach Unified School District, California’s third largest and fastest growing large urban district, the three institutions have partnered to bring about Long Beach’s successful initiatives which all focus on improving student achievement, behavior and dress.
The article describes the Long Beach community and its education institutions in greater detail, the various improvement initiatives underway, and the initial successes being recorded. A single initiative and the role of the local community partnership in supporting the efforts of the school district to improve student achievement in written composition is then featured. Finally, the value-added effect of collaboration for all the partners and lessons learned are shared.
Last year, a Public Agenda research study (1997) revealed that there is a serious “disconnect” between what school reformers preach and value and what parents and the public want with regard to school reform. The standards movement is a good case in point. The current discussion centers on the usual turf fight about whether state or national politicians can “do it better” suggesting that the mere adoption of standards handed down from on high will drive serious reform at the local level. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Genuine school improvement at the local level is moving forward in several key communities around the country without waiting for governors, Presidents, and national commissions to resolve their differences.
High standards are being adopted at the local level, K-16 collaboratives are moving forward with unprecedented levels of university/school district and local business cooperation, and concrete results suggest that kids in local schools are dressing better, behaving better, and achieving at higher levels.
The Long Beach Unified School District, California’s third largest and fastest growing large urban district, presents a case of sustained improvement initiatives over the past four years that have moved parents and community to higher standards for all students while state and national politicians continue to debate their differences. Long Beach’s successful initiatives include several main thrusts which all focus on improving student dress, behavior, and achievement.
The first section of this article describes the Long Beach community and its education institutions in greater detail. The second section describes the various improvement initiatives underway, and the initial successes being recorded. The third section will focus on a single initiative and the role of the local community partnership in supporting the efforts of the school district to improve student achievement in written composition. Finally, the valueadded effect of collaboration for all the partners will be addressed.
The Education Institutions of Long Beach, California
Long Beach is a diverse urban community of approximately 430,000 people. The city has a highly successful port, but is slowly recovering from a serious economic slump brought on by the recession in California in general, but even more directly by the withdrawal of the Naval Station and Shipyard and the down-sizing of the aircraft industry.
The school district’s 86,000 K-12 student population is richly diverse, with a mix of 40.5% Hispanic, 20.3% African American,19.4% white,14.2% Asian, 2% Pacific Islander, 3.2% Filipino, and .4% American Indian. The growth has been primarily among Hispanic students, with all other groups remaining relatively constant. The district has been racially and ethnically diverse for many years. School district enrollment data reveal that the district had a sixty percent white enrollment in the 1978-1979 school year. Since that time the white population has declined in number and percentage, but has stabilized more recently. The district also has a sizable preschool program enrolling approximately 2,100 children. The adult school enrollment is 5,089. The percentage of Hispanic students in these two segments of the school district, 65% for the preschool and 61% for adult school, far exceeds that of the K-12 population. Also, the city is home to the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia which is naturally reflected in the school population.
The total pre K-adult district enrollment is 93,052, an increase of 23,000 over the past ten years. This growth has been steady over time with increases of 2,000-3,000 in most of those twenty years. Over one third of the students are limited-English speaking. The district and the city reflect a wide range in socioeconomic levels with wide regions of poverty and population density
There are two other public education institutions located in Long Beach. Long Beach City College, a junior college with approximately 25,000 students, is experiencing major growth attributable to the overall population growth, and to the implementation of the Welfare-to-Work Program. The racial and ethnic distributions are similar to that of the school district, and its current enrollment includes approximately 2,800 graduates of Long Beach Unified School District high schools.
California State University, Long Beach, has over 27,000 students and also reflects the diversity of the community with no one ethnic group making up a majority. The university is working to be the “University of Choice” and has launched a major recruitment and President’s Scholars program designed to attract and financially support high achieving students from throughout California. Many of the recent valedictorians of the Long Beach high schools have taken advantage of this full four-year scholarship.
The economic plight of the city served as the impetus for the formation of a community partnership which ultimately brought the three educational institutions to work closely together for the first time. The partnership has thrived and deepened due to the whole-hearted support and personal collaboration of the three institutional leaders, all of whom are new to their positions since 1992.
Initiatives for Improvement of Student Dress, Behavior, and Achievement Effective school reform is driven by a clear vision or focus. In Long Beach Unifled School District, that vision is directed at improving student achievement, behavior, and dress, No single initiative can accomplish this. Rather a systematic collection of efforts over time move the organization closer to the ultimate goal of all students meeting high academic standards. This section of the article profiles several of the initiatives under way in Long Beach. While these initiatives are proposed and supported by the school board, they are implemented by strong administrative leaders, committed professional educators, and a community partnership effort which is unique in large urban school systems. All of these critical elements are identified and described in a report by the US Department of Education as key factors to guide successful educational reform (1996).
In the fall, 1994, Long Beach Unified School District initiated mandatory uniforms for all K-8 students. Within the first year, all incidents of school crime, including assaults and weapons violations, declined by 76 percent. That downturn has been sustained over time. Parents and teachers report improved student attitudes toward school and academic activities. Although there is an opt out provision, the overall district rate of participation is an overwhelming 99%. This translates into only 600-700 out of 70,000 eligible students officially requesting to be exempt from the uniform requirement.
Subsequent to the district’s adopting the locally initiated reform, the California Legislature enacted a law enabling other school districts to adopt such policies. Many districts in California and the nation have followed Long Beach by adopting similar uniform policies. They too report having experienced improved student behavior. Long Beach’s leadership and success with uniforms has drawn national attention. Both Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton visited Long Beach and praised the community’s leadership and courage for implementing such a policy. President Clinton used his appearance in Long Beach to introduce a US Department of Education developed handbook to assist and encourage other districts across the nation to follow Long Beach’s example.
Content Standards for All Students In 1995, content standards were adopted in language arts, mathematics, science, and history/social sciences. These were followed in 1996 by the adoption of standards for English language development and health education. The content standards are the result of two years of combined thinking of K-12 teachers, administrators, community members, nationally recognized subject matter experts and faculty from the university and the city college. For the standards design phase, teachers and administrators representing grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12 were selected and assigned to subject-specific design committees. Member selection was based on their strong knowledge of the subject matter at their grade level. These district experts were joined by community representatives such as parents, business partners, and faculty from California State University, Long Beach and Long Beach City College. The design committees varied in size from twenty to thirty members each, but all committees had classroom teachers as the majority of the membership. Funding for district employee participants’ release time was covered from multiple funding sources and reflected the funding source for that constituency. A combination of general, Title I, gifted education, Limited English Proficiency, private foundation funding for middle school reform, mentor, and school improvement funds were used to support this broadbased, inclusive project.
There were two basic principles or nonnegotiable issues which guided the standards-development process. The first was that the standards were to be rigorous and challenging, and that they were for all students. The second was that consensus among the committee members about what would be included in the standards was essential. The expectation was that the group could not hang onto something just because it was a favorite item.
The committees spent the first four months identifying and defining a unifying belief statement, followed by the actual design of high standards for each of the six core subjects. The discussion and consensus about a vision for each discipline was critical to the design phase. The committees had to answer a series of questions to reach their consensus. Questions such as the following served as the organizer for discussion: Why do we teach this subject? Why is it important? What do we want students to know about this subject over time? What does a Long Beach high school graduate need to know? The answers to these questions led to the vision, and from that the standards unfolded. Although the standards were developed by the district for the district, the committees relied heavily on state documents and curriculum frameworks, national standards, and the district adopted performance-based assessment, Curriculum Alignment System and Comprehensive Assessment System (CAS)2. Benchmark standards have been developed by the district and are linked to specific objectives at every grade level.
The draft content standards were reviewed by approximately 200 teachers. Additionally, parents, site and central office administrators, representatives from California State University, Long Beach and Long Beach City College and business representatives from the Long Beach Community Partnership reviewed the drafts. Considerable revisions were made as a result of the review process. The next level of review was provided by state and national subject specialists and served to guide the final revisions. These individuals were selected by the district because of their work on state curriculum development panels and state and national professional organizations conducting work on standards development. This broad-based development and review team led to wide acceptance and support for the final set of standards throughout the education community. Now that the State Department of Education is developing standards for all subject areas, the district will conduct a rigorous analysis and alignment of the district standards with those of the state.
While the new standards have been published and disseminated widely, their impact is felt most directly by students and teachers in the classroom. They can be found posted in all classrooms, often reprinted or restated in less formal text. Parents receive copies of them for each subject at such events as Back-to-School Night and from their child’s teacher during the routine parent-teacher report card conference. Christine Dominguez, Assistant Superintendent and the architect of the standards development project, has made a point to provide standards documents in a variety of formats to better serve the intended audience. This level of communication puts standards at the forefront of teaching and learning. Expectations of what all students should know and be able to do are articulated and clear. Students, teachers, and school principals are held accountable for the content standards. Professional development, current and proposed textbook and instructional materials, assessment and intervention strategies are all carefully and intentionally aligned with the standards which serve as the anchor for district policy development to ensure systemic reform.
K-3 Literacy Initiative
Developmental rates differ for young children, but the leadership of the Long Beach Unified School District realized that a specific goal for literacy was needed to guide the teaching and learning of literacy for all children and to assure parents of the district’s commitment to teaching children to read. Public Agenda’s Assessment of America’s Views on Standards (1997) points out that parents are not interested in “new-fangled” approaches, but rather favor pragmatic, straight-forward approaches. Standard 4 for Language Arts is stated in such a straight forward manner: “Learning to Read.” The Board of Education took the position that learning to read needed to happen early in the elementary school experience to ensure success in the later years of school. The K-3 Literacy Initiative undertaken in 1995 specified that all students will be reading on grade level by the end of third grade. This clearly stated goal responds directly to the pragmatists’ concerns described in the Public Agenda study. Once that goal was clearly and simply stated, all district efforts and strategies were linked to meeting this basic literacy standard.
Professional development was identified as an immediate need. As Darling Hammond and Ball point out in a policy paper prepared for the National Education Goals Panel (1997), teacher expertise is the critical link to improving student achievement. To begin to address this issue, a three-tiered literacy professional development plan has been designed for teachers at varying stages of their careers and proficiency. Tier 1 is the Beginning Literacy Training designed primarily for the new teacher. This level is grade level specific. Initially it was designed for K-3 grade teachers, but has been expanded to K-5. Grade level literacy concepts are addressed, the new teachers observe demonstration lessons, and practice strategies in their own classrooms. All new teachers participate in one full-day session a month over a fivemonth period. The institutes at all three tiers are led by literacy coaches from the school district. Literacy coaches are classroom teachers who are selected because of their knowledge and expertise in literacy development and best practices in teaching literacy. The institutes are sometimes co-led by university faculty who specialize in early literacy.
Tier 2 training is referred to as early literacy inservice training. It is designed for the slightly more experienced teacher and covers knowledge and theory about early literacy development and teaching. Training in such practices as the use and analysis of running records, which detail the number and nature of a child’s reading errors, and other assessment strategies served to ensure a consistent means for assessing student progress toward the goal of full literacy by the end of third grade. Study groups are formed at each school, common books are purchased for the teachers, and discussions are held, led by a teacher specially trained to facilitate the discussions focused on best practices in teaching reading. This training is delivered in two different models; 4 full days extended over several months, or twelve two-hour sessions after the work day about every three weeks.
The Tier 3 training is for more experienced teachers and addresses specific elements of the early literacy inservice training in greater detail. The groups meet five full days in a row with lecture/information sessions in the morning followed by demonstration lessons, participants teaching a group of students while being observed by a literacy coach. Each day culminates with a debriefing about the content and applications of the day.
Principal training began in earnest in the fall, 1996. During the summer, 1996, Governor Pete Wilson initiated Class Size Reduction, creating classes with 20 students beginning with first grade. This initiative was in response to public concerns about low reading scores for children in California. Many new teachers were hired to meet the class size ratio dictates, and the state required that principals as well as teachers receive specific training on basic teaching of reading with an emphasis on phonics. Principals also faced the challenge of providing supervision and support for a large number of new teachers, many of whom were not fully trained and certified. The district conducted a needs assessment with the principals to determine topics of greatest need. Workshops were developed based on the assessment and were voluntary. Principals could attend any of the topics which were repeated over several months in two-hour sessions. Participation was good the first year and increased in the second year as the high quality of the training became wellknown among the principals. At least 40 elementary principals out of about 50 participate regularly.
At the end of second grade and again at the end of third grade students are offered a free summer school tutorial if they are reading below grade level at these two benchmarks. Benchmarks are points in schooling, as reflected in the content standards, where all students must demonstrate that they have met the standards before moving on. In Long Beach there are four formal benchmarks, at grades 2, 5, 8 and 12. If a student is still not reading at grade level at the end of the summer following second or third grade, individual tutoring and other interventions will continue in fourth grade and beyond until the student is at grade level.
The first summer school intervention for third graders not reading at grade level was conducted during a six-week session in the summer, 1997. Known as the Third Grade Reading Initiative, it proved to be highly successful for those who attended. The chart below shows the percentage of students at the described levels of reading fluency at the beginning and the end of the summer tutorial. Fluency level is defined as the level a student should be reading at that particular grade level and takes into account reading accuracy and comprehension. It is measured on individual reading tests on benchmark books developed by the school district at each grade level. Benchmark books have been developed through grade five.
Over 600 of the 900 students who participated in the 1997 program met the district’s criteria to become fluent readers by the end of the summer tutorial. Students were required to read the grade-level benchmark book with 90% accuracy and answer four of the five comprehension questions correctly. Retention is only applied if a third grader is still reading two or more years below grade level after the summer tutorial or if the child did not attend the summer tutorial program. Third grade students who are below grade level, but less than two years below, may advance to the fourth grade. A conference is held with the parent to plan a continuing intensive tutorial and assessment plan. This category of student would only be retained at the parent’s request.
Now that the program has proven successful, the challenge the district faces next is to entice all non-fluent readers to take advantage of the intervention program. Fifty students elected to seek assistance from non-school district resources or services. Unfortunately, there were 340 students who were “no shows” for the summer program. However, they were provided other interventions during the subsequent school year, as were the one third of the summer participants who did not reach the district-required fluency level. The more specific criteria for retention outlined in the previous paragraph were developed in response to the concern about the number of students that did not participate in the summer tutorial.
Eighth Grade Educational Improvement Measure
Beginning with the eighth grade class of 1997, middle school students with two or more F grades in the final semester do not proceed to high school, but spend a minimum of one year at the Preparatory Academy focusing on all core subjects. The uniquely designed program utilizes specially selected and trained teachers and reduced class size at a newly built facility. The Academy features flexible scheduling, special mentoring and guidance services. Approximately 450 students initially enrolled in the Preparatory Academy, representing about 7.5 percent of the eighth graders in the school district. About 75 of these students had been inappropriately placed based on behavioral or academic performance and they were transferred to appropriate settings early in the fall semester. Data on the performance of the remaining students in the first year of the program are quite promising with 275 of the students having fully qualified to go on to the comprehensive high school. All of the other students have qualified to enter alternative high school programs in the district. The Preparatory Academy is of great interest to the larger education community and is the subject of a study being conducted on site by a Harvard University researcher.
Eleventh Grade Writing Initiative
The development of standards within the district provides for benchmark assessments at specified grades or check points. Literacy was established as a major focus for students in the early grades, but it certainly remains critical as high school students approach graduation. Colleges and universities decry the need for remediation in writing even among students who made good grades in high school. The California State University system, for example, reports that 60% of the entering freshmen require remediation in either writing or mathematics prior to their being ready for baccalaureate level classes. University representatives who served on the Seamless Education Committee had shared this concern with the curriculum leadership of the school district. All of the concerned parties found these deficiencies to be unacceptable and discussed possible intervention strategies to correct the situation. As a result, the school district has recommended the Eleventh Grade Writing Initiative which is proposed to begin with the class of 2002. It will require all students to pass a writing proficiency exam to qualify for high school graduation. The assessment will take place in the spring of the junior year, being administered over two days in 45 minute sessions. On `day one’ the student writes to a prompt which is designed to set the stage for the student’s writing. The student is expected to write a critical analysis of a controversial issue, a style of writing which has not been emphasized enough in the past in high school English classes to ensure skill development suitable to college-level writing. Day two is used for revision and refinement to produce a final draft.
The assessment was piloted in the Spring, 1997, and was field tested with 3,577 students in Spring of 1998. Two different prompts for the writing assignment were utilized. Data are report for each prompt. The results of the field testing reported in Table 2 have been analyzed by a team of school district high school literacy coaches and university and city college composition faculty. These effects will guide the revision and development of additional prompts, development of sixpoint or leveled scoring rubrics, and identification of anchor papers. Anchor papers are selected as representative of each of the scoring levels of the rubric and serve as guides for the readers in assigning scores consistently, one paper to the next.
Papers are scored for rhetorical effectiveness and language conventions, and must receive a passing score in each category to meet the graduation requirement.
Multiple intervention strategies are planned both prior to the assessment for students who have demonstrated through classroom work that they are at risk of failing the test, and after the assessment for those students who did not pass. If the student does not pass the exam in the eleventh grade, tutorials, writers workshops, and senior composition classes will be provided until the student successfully passes. Currently, such interventions are being piloted in a collaborative project between the school district and the university where workshops and tutorials are provided by graduate students with expertise in composition and possible interest in teaching as a career.
Students are not the only ones who need assistance. High school English teachers, many of whom were literature majors rather than composition majors as undergraduates, also need assistance. Professional development has been designed to assist English teachers to further develop their teaching-of-writing skills. Sessions are conducted during the school year, and a new collaboration with California State University, Long Beach faculty will offer a two-week National Faculty Summer Institute in Composition for high school English teachers in 1999.
Promotion/Retention Standards for Students Grades K-8
Once standards for promotion of eighth graders to high school had been established, a task force was formed to study the options for promotion standards for all grade K-8. The task force composed of teachers, administrators, parents, and business partners was led by an area superintendent. It made its recommendations to the board of education in February, 1998, which adopted the recommended policy. In addition to the third and eighth grade components already mentioned, fifth graders who do not meet exit standards in literacy and math will be required to participate in an elementary program where one or more of the following options are required: all-day literacy/math development; intensive reading programs; and possible before- or after-school study courses. Decisions about retention are to be based upon multiple criteria and are primarily reserved for grades three, five and eight which are key years for the standards and benchmark assessments. The two or more years below grade level in reading is the primary consideration at those grades. The policy does permit retention to be considered at other grades if deemed an appropriate intervention for the student. ?arents as Partners is a key component to the plan for the student. An in-depth profile is developed by the parent/school partners to guide the decision-making process.
For nearly four years, the three educational institutions within Long Beach, Long Beach Unified School District, California State University Long Beach, and Long Beach City College, have been collaborating on numerous projects through their membership in the Long Beach Community Partnership. The most noteworthy activities have been through the Seamless Education Committee of the Partnership. The leaders of the three institutions fully understand and appreciate the interconnectedness of their organizations, and support the active participation of administrators and faculty on joint projects which benefit students in all three institutions.
The Long Beach Seamless Education Conference held in April, 1996, has come to represent the coming of age of the Partnership. Over 450 educators from all three institutions came together to discuss the importance of content standards, to meet and talk with other educators in their academic discipline, and to begin to organize professional growth activities for K-18 educators which have now been sustained for two years. Through their continuing affiliation, they have developed ways to work together to support a “seamless” educational experience for Long Beach students at all levels. The next section of this article will discuss the impact of the standards movement in Long Beach on the collaborative activities of the Seamless Education Partnership, especially as it relates to the university.
Impact of Standards-Based Education Reform and Collaboration on University Policies and Practices
Precollegiate Academic Development Project
The adoption of the Eleventh Grade Writing Assessment immediately brought into question the types of interventions which should be planned for students who were likely to fail the test. The composition faculty at the University had already been working closely with English teachers from all five comprehensive high schools to examine writing samples from twelfth graders and college freshmen. The goal was to have common expectations and understanding of acceptable writing at the respective levels. Discussions about piloting the articulation of high school exit and university placement exams were underway. These local discussions were taking place as the Trustees of the California State University system debated how to deal with the unacceptably high need for remedial courses in writing and math among entering freshman to the system.
The California State University system administers a grant program funded through the California legislature to support individual campus activities related to Precollegiate Academic Development. California State University Long Beach has used the grant to assist the school district with tutoring and workshops for high school juniors who were not successful on the eleventh grade writing exam. The model is also being used to assist high school students in successfully passing the university’s Entry Level Math exam (ELM). Tutors are selected from English and math majors or graduate students who also express an interest in a career in teaching. They are trained by the university composition and math faculty who work closely with the high school teachers to identify skills and concepts in most need of remediation. There are 31 high school teachers participating with tutors assigned to two of each teachers classes. Tutors attend the class so they know the content being addressed. The tutorial sessions are conducted at lunch time or after school. University faculty visit the high school classrooms weekly to observe the tutors and to confer with the high school teachers. Summer and Saturday workshops have also been conducted by the University tutors. The project is in its second year and is part of the field testing of the district’s writing assessment.
The faculty from the university, the school district, and the city college are also looking at the possibility of an alternative assessment, such as portfolios of writing samples, which could substitute for the proficiency or placement exam.
Prior to the introduction of K-12 standards in Long Beach Unified School District, there had never been a common understanding of where high school content left off and university/college level work began. Long Beach educators are very close to developing a means for students to transition seamlessly from high school to college because of their continuing dialogue about standards and assessment to inform and guide university/college placement. This will ultimately lead to a reduced number of university freshman needing remedial coursework thereby redirecting scarce resources to support baccalaureate education.
Teacher Preparation Program Development.
The College of Education is involved in strategic planning and has been examining its programs for effectiveness and relevancy with regard to the preparation of educators. Representatives from Long Beach Unified School District sit on the College’s strategic planning committee. When the implementation of class size reduction in California created a high demand for new teachers in Long Beach and other surrounding districts, the College of Education moved quickly to expand existing programs for teacher preparation. By collaborating with the school district to design two new alternative programs for teachers who were employed on an emergency basis, the College of Education was able to ensure the relevancy and effectiveness of the quickly developed programs. Participants in the program are employees teaching in Long Beach Unified School District. Course syllabi have been revised to include and emphasize teaching to standards, assessing student progress toward standards, and planning appropriate interventions. University and school district curriculum leaders work side by side to develop and deliver the courses and provide the added support that new teachers need.
School district curriculum leaders with expertise in standards-based education are providing training about standards for teacher education and liberal studies faculty. The College of Education is now moving to revise the curriculum to include teaching to standards in the various alternative programs leading to the credential for elementary teachers.
The next step is program redevelopment for the undergraduate preservice training for future teachers. The model will be a five year integrated program, one which blends content preparation and professional preparation. This is in stark contrast to the current approach used throughout California which delays professional preparation of teachers until after the baccalaureate degree is awarded. This new integrated professional preparation will include a heavy emphasis on standards-based education.
All the College of Education program development committees include K-14 educators as full participants. In fact their expertise is central to the work of the committees.
Standards-based Courses at the University.
The Colleges of Education, Liberal Arts, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics have written a collaborative proposal and are seeking external funding to support the development of standardsbased courses at the university. Courses would be linked together and faculty would coordinate the activities and assignments. For example, a course in US History might be linked to either a composition or literature course with reading and writing assignments addressing US historical issues. The identified courses are part of the liberal studies undergraduate major which leads to the elementary teacher professional preparation. The university faculty involved in training teachers believe that the pedagogy practiced in university courses should serve as a model for the professional training of teachers. Current university teaching is overly dependent on the lecture, limited discussion method. The proposed standards-based courses would model the integration of disciplines and teaching to standards, a concept quite foreign to some university faculty. Significant faculty and program development is built into the model. Our K-12 partners have contributed to the discussions and planning of this project and will serve as consultants as the project evolves. None of this planning would have come about without the adoption of standards-based education in Long Beach Unified School District.
The National Faculty Satellite Center at California State University Long Beach
The school district has been working with The National Faculty, a non-profit K12 professional development service organization which contracts with university faculty from across the nation who are experts in the content areas. The National Faculty Institutes in Long Beach, provided through the generous support of the Knight Foundation and the Clark Foundation, have been very well received by teachers in the school district, but because the scholars on The National Faculty come from around the country, the cost to the district is considerable. At the suggestion of the school district and because of the quality and depth of the work between California State University Long Beach and the district already in progress, The National Faculty has approached the University about becoming a satellite center for The National Faculty in Southern California. A joint proposal was submitted and has been approved by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation to support the initial Institute which was focused on writing and mathematics. Further projects will be developed over time in other content areas, and other regional university faculty will be invited to join the Southern California National Faculty Satellite once it is firmly established in numerous disciplines at California State University, Long Beach.
In the meantime, the Seamless Education Committee meets monthly to monitor the various projects and initiatives. Discipline-based subcommittees of K-18 faculty meet to explore and discuss pedagogy, assessment, deepening their understanding of their subjects, and reflecting on the teaching and learning of their field. The active discipline groups are history/social science, English (literacy), mathematics, science, languages, and English language development. Most meet monthly; many consult one another more frequently; all meet at least twice a semester.
Although much of the work of these groups of educators and the many projects in which they are involved are the result of a sound partnership among the three educational institutions in the city of Long Beach, this work takes on greater significance because there is a common understanding that standards serve as a road map for teaching and learning. Standards send a message to students and parents that there are high expectations for student performance. Standards are a pledge among educators that the products we send on, the students from K-12 to the university and community college, and the newly prepared teachers sent on from the university to the K-12 classroom, have reached high standards which are expected and understood by all. Standards hold all faculty, P-18, accountable for the learning of their students. They do not allow for a bell shaped curve; nor do they allow students to fail. When standards are high, students achieve at higher levels.
Long Beach educators have learned that with each new accomplishment in standards development, another area of the curriculum or instructional program needs to be aligned. For example, if all students are to achieve these high standards, then there can be no failure. The grade of “F” should not exist. That is an issue that must still be resolved and requires a major shift for teachers. This shift involves all teachers accepting responsibility for all students reaching the standard, even if it means searching for another teaching strategy, and another, and another. Assessment in particular has emerged as a high need area for further professional development and alignment.
Another lesson is that this is a process which takes time. It is important to take the time to do it well, and to involve as many people from all parts of the district, the broader education community, parents and business partners. This ensures the ultimate ownership and support for the final product. The key to developing a meaningful standards-based education system is to apply the standards to the full range of students, with a clear understanding of what the high school graduate should know and be able to do. Then, beginning with preschool, every one along the way must direct their energy and efforts to achieve that goal, keeping the eye on the prize.
Long Beach has taken the lead in setting high standards for student dress, behavior and achievement. This community has not waited for state or national leaders to mark the way. Checkpoints have been reached, successes are being charted. There is still much progress to be made, primarily in the area of assessment and continued professional development, but collectively these P-18 educators will continue to lead and shed light on the educational challenges faced by urban communities like Long Beach and others around the country.
Hammond, Linda Darling, & Ball, Deborah Loewenberg. (1997). Teaching for high standards: What policy makers need to know and be able to do. Paper prepared for the National Education Goals Panel. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Immerwahr, John, & Johnson, Jean. (1996). Americans’ views on standards: An assessment by public agenda. New York, NY: Public Agenda.
Klein, Steven, Medrich, Elliot, Perez-Ferreiro, Valeria, & MPR Associates, Inc. (1996). Fitting the pieces: Education reform that works. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.
Lewis, A. C. (1997). Staying with the standards movement. Phi Delta Kappan, 78, 487-488.
KATHLEEN C. COHN
Associate Dean, College Of Education California State University, Long Beach 1250 Bellflower Boulevard Long Beach, CA 90840
CARL A. COHN
Long Beach Unified School District 1515 Hughes Way Lone Beach, CA 90810
Copyright Project Innovation Winter 1998
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